“I can tell you deliverance will not come from the rushing noisy centers of civilization. It will come from the lonely places.” – Fridtjof Nansen
I have always felt like a “stranger in a strange land”. I first felt this way when I was seven years old, and after God had stolen my heart, and has yet to return it to me.
In my youth, I often visited the “rushing noisy centers of civilization,” in search of love and glory. I found it for a while, and then the lights would come on at 1:00am as they did hundreds of times, only to find myself in the streets of the city making my way back to that place from whence I was convinced the journey would lead me to what I felt I most needed.
I would occasionally seek refuge in the “Institutes of Knowledge” which I would never underestimate their contributions to civilization. Yet, here we are in the 21st Century still debating the fundamental issues of humanity: The right to life; to live free of the fear of discrimination, injustice, poverty, and illness; the right to full self-expression, freedom from repression and oppression, equality and war.
Being the first-born son of a “conservative capitalist” “meaning of life,” was defined, for me, a definition I would quickly reject and in doing so, be rejected. Early on I was exposed to the “Industries of Commerce,” in an effort to try to shape and form me toward that ends. There I heard Mara’s voice and his promises of wealth, security, and glory? I would not be enticed, well not entirely. Remember God has my heart, and regularly interrupts my thoughts.
I have travelled the world, crossing one bridge after another. It was not until I burned my bridges behind me and had no choice but to make the journey on my “own two feet,” things began to change for me, and which made all the difference. A journey to the “lonely places,” where my “deliverance” continues to come. But before you pack your bags and book your seat, allow me to warn you. The Buddha could have very well said, “Life is Disappointing”. The Road you will need to travel is “narrow” and, whenever you think you have reached the ridge, “there is always another and a higher one beyond that one which blocks your view.” The conventional will not suffice here, you will need to think so far outside your box that you will have no choice but to travel blind, but in the end when your eyes are opened and your Vision restored, the View will transform you and, you will know perhaps for the second time – Being Home.
We tend to think of “Home” as an address, that place where our clan lives and interacts with us also. It is far more true however that, “Home is where the heart is.” Tony Bennett may have, “Left his heart in San Francisco,” but where did you leave yours. Until you find “yourself,” until you find “your heart,” nothing else you believe, you do, or you may have, matters; and for that you need the “lonely places,” solitude and contemplation, and community.
There is a saying, “If you can’t find your way out, find your way in.” We have been conditioned to believe that the solutions to our discontentment are all around us, they are not, they never have been. Jesus once explained that you “need eyes that can see,” the Kingdom of God everywhere. This sight is a function of an “internal” transformation, and nothing external except perhaps a “conducive environment” in order for the transformation to take place, will ever suffice. After years, for some, decades, of neglect and ignorance, going inward often proves to be the most difficult journey of all possible journey’s. Bring a torch with you, not to light your way, that Light is provided to those who sincerely step into the stream, but to “burn those bridges”. That way you will have no other choice but to continue. If you don’t burn them, you will find any and every excuse to turn back, and you’ve been doing that all your life.
We are living in a time of real crises, humanity is once again threatened by Mara’s temptations: “Greed, Hatred, and Indifference”. The promises of a “job in every pot” will not see us through this crises. “Man does not live by bread alone,” but by acts of mercy and compassion, loving-kindness, and benevolence, as well. The solutions to our National and Global crises is not an economic one, but a human one, a moral one. When we finally adjust our priorities and heal our humanity toward ourselves and each other, and insist the same with our leaders, “Right economies” will naturally surface. Healing, equality, justice, and peace are “bi-products” of a people who live by and demonstrate mercy, compassion, loving-kindness, and benevolence, toward each other. Happiness and Well-Being, Global Prosperity, and World Peace, are the fruits of the Tree, not the root. The “root” of the Tree is a Vision, one that is inclusive, one that recognizes that we live in an “interdependent and interconnected” reality. This is not some philosophy or “alternative fact,” it is “Reality,” the denial of which is the root cause of our current crises and threat to our very existence.
Where to begin? I have asked this question and have been asked this question for some time now. Again and again the answer resounds within me, and I have attempted to translate that sound to others. What is needed for now is “Retreat”. The dictionary defines “Retreat” as, “Withdraw to a quiet or secluded place; change one’s decisions, plans, or attitude…” Before we can ever change the world we must change ourselves. The world we have, is a reflection of our inner state of consciousness. The peace we wish for the world must come from within us. We can only give the world what we have, and that is exactly what we give to the world. So we need to be the change we want for the world — first. “Change Your Mind, Change the World.”
Retreat, does not require total disengagement. In Zen we retreat to the monastery on the hill in order that we can return to the world more able to engage, to respond, and to do the work at hand. This is what I believe is missing in most people’s lives especially “spiritual people”. Often I have written about this and have talked about it as “Authentic Spirituality” including the essence of meditation and yoga. These ancient techniques were designed for a singular purpose, that purpose being “the realization and actualization of one’s inner divinity in order to manifest one’s own enlightenment in the world, for the benefit of the world.” They are meant to be tools for working on my life, not just for relief or form of some self-gratification. When applied appropriately, not only is my life transformed, but the world is transformed. They are meant to enable and to empower us to return to the world fully engaged and capable to meet the challenges presented to us, and to affect real and sustainable changes. We all, myself included, sometimes live very busy lives. As a parent and a monk, I find myself regularly juggling and balancing parenthood, religious life, work that produces an income, and time to retreat. I understand! I understand! Too often what feels difficult to do is difficult only because we have not addressed our priorities. So much of our “busyness” is a function of our dysfunctional and conditional behavior, which is the stuff we need to work on. I tell people, “You will never find time to meditate or come to Pine Wind.” I mean that. “You need to make the time.” As a parent I have always been convinced that the most important contribution I have to make to my daughter is, “My happiness and well-being”. So my “religious life” which informs my life as a parent, and as a person, is a priority.
We need to create both a “sacred space” in our home for retreat and, regularly connect with others in Sacred Community, to train and to grow as we need to, in order to meet the challenges of an ever fast-paced changing world. We need to make the journey on “our own to feet,” side by side with others making it on their own as well. “Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light…” without which the journey remains self-serving and only compounds personal and global suffering. Community grounds us in “Reality,” that, “interconnected and interdependent” reality of all existence. It provides us with both moral and social support. We are by nature “social beings,” and the Buddha recognized “community” as one of the Three Jewels or Refuges of the Buddha-Way. Community empowers us to take that essential step toward enlightenment, “Forgetting ourselves”. One of my Monks has often shared a saying I enjoy, “I’m not much, but I am all I think about.” (The Truth will not only set you free, it will sometimes make you laugh.) As I mentioned earlier, when my meditation or yoga practice is just about me feeling better, more peaceful, or looking good, it is self-serving or “egocentric,” and that’s where all our suffering begins.
I am often asked if I have any hope for the world. I don’t. What I have, is a conviction: I am convinced that each of us, are “Parts of a Whole, called by us Universe”. That when I a student of Dharma look at the real form of the Universe and all Its Parts, I see that it is by Nature Compassionate, Benevolent, filled with Wisdom, and Infinite Potential for Love and Kindness; and, it is my Conviction which give me hope for the World.
I Love You,