“We may spend much of our time unaware and unenlightened, yet the presence of Truth and God, like a deep and ancient friend, can shape our entire lives. So the inner task becomes how do we make a lasting friendship with the Unities that are larger than us? How do we keep their light in our heart when no stars appear in sight?” — Mark Nepo
These days are the toughest I can remember in a very long time. I remember thinking months ago when COVID19 surfaced, “Dear God, This and Cancer?” “When preoccupied with survival, we become pragmatists, pessimists, and even nihilists. When lost in the gears of existence, we’re always challenged to let in beauty while we’re suffering, to let in love while we’re struggling. What holds everything together, what releases resilience, and what renews us when we’re struggling is relationship. Relationship is the lifeblood of inner health.” Relationship is also the battleground for Enlightenment.
“To Marry One’s Soul, being true to who we are means carrying our spirit like a candle in the center of our darkness. If we are to live without silencing or numbing essential parts of who we are, a vow must be invoked and upheld within oneself.” I regularly must remind my eleven year old daughter, “Never be afraid to ask questions and, always Speak Your Truth.”
You and I are born into a culture of fear, which teaches us early on to be “seen and not heard.” Early on we loose our voice quickly, then proceed to spend a lifetime devotion, at least for some, to find it again and to set it free; In the process waisting what can never be returned to us. That was not the case for me, I resisted, I refused, but not without a price. A price I could not possibly understand at the time but learned quickly, a price to this day, worth paying.
The life of the contemplative for the truly spiritual becomes, “How do we make a lasting friendship with the Unities that are larger than ourselves? How do we keep the light in our heart when no stars appears in sight…Our constant challenge is to accept how life wears away what doesn’t matter until the miracle of life is revealed in everything.”
“The same commitments we pronounce when embarking on a marriage can be understood internally as a devotion to the care of one’s soul: to have and to hold … for better or for worse … in sickness and in health … to love and to cherish, till death do us part. This means staying committed to your inner path. This means not separating from yourself when things get tough or confusing…This means accepting and embracing your faults and limitations. It means loving yourself no matter how others see you. It means cherishing the unchangeable radiance that lives within you, no matter the cuts and bruises along the way. It means binding your life with a solemn pledge to the truth of your soul.”
In his book, “The Book of Soul — 52 Paths to Living What Matters.” Mark Nepo quotes the great Archimedes, “Give me a place to stand on and I will move the Earth.” The quintessential questions of life today as it was during the times of Archimedes remain the same, “What am I standing on, and What am I standing for?” “Stand on turns us back to a time of timeless foundation, to some sense of Source, to all that is larger than us, from which we’re renewed as integral beings.” I have repeatedly emphasized that we live in an integrated reality, an interconnected and interdependent reality and, only when we act as if the opposite were true we personally and globally suffer.
“Standing For leads us into the heart of what we value the ethics by which we live in the world. Standing on gives us a compass. Standing for gives us a direction to stay true, to remain true by following the compass.”
The two perennial questions need to be asked of ourselves more today than ever before and, If we are ever going to create a world of equanimity, justice, and real freedom. They have and remain generations since Archimedes the very foundation of a lasting and sustainable future without which nothing, I repeat, nothing is possible. They are the basis for honest relationships which is the basis for community’s, neighborhoods, cultures, societies, and nations. Until the two fundamental questions are resolved individually and globally, governing “for the people, by the people, and of all the people will not thrive.” You who chose to walk the walk, you who are on the road, must have a code that you live by. Without which we are easily distracted from here to there and back to here again. Driven by an ego which knows only survival and lives in a constant state of fear, sometime minutely subtle at other times profound.
“Life consists in learning to live on one’s own spontaneously freewheeling: to do this one must recognize what is one’s own — be familiar and at home with oneself. This means basically learning who one is, and learning what one has to offer the contemporary world, and then learning how to make that offering.” An offering which benefits the world, which promotes freedom, justice, and benevolent service. Any other offering proves always to be self-serving and rooted in an ego which knows only itself as separate from the rest, and is incapable of seeing other.
Most of our discontentment lies in the fact that most of us have no idea who and what we are. Thomas Merton says to us, “To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.” Here Merton provides the spiritual being a “place to stand,” “something to stand on,” and “something to stand for.”
Imagine if you can a squirrel deciding to live as a fish. It’s not difficult to understand the results, the squirrel would most certainly die. If “Love is the reason for my existence; Love is my true identity; Seflessness my true self; my true character, then at any time I live otherwise, it follows I will suffer and certainly will never find contentment in such a lifestyle.”
The place I stand is “on my own two feet,” “Love is the ground I stand on,” “Loving myself and other is what my life stands and exist for.” This is how “we keep the light in our heart when no stars appears in sight.” Love is the light we bring to the darkened corners of our world and, light our path in order that if we ever are led astray into any one of those corners. And if we were to be, Love is the light which guides us home.
Pine Wind Zen Community exists to be one of those lights in the darkened corners of the world. Pine Wind grounded in Love, Kindness, Compassion, Hospitality, and Benevolent Service exists to serve all who come to her doors or today reach out to her via the internet. Its monks and lay members stand on their own two feet together as witnesses to the possibilities of the Human Heart. Ordinary men and women working to live extraordinary lives in a difficult reality. We are meant for each other, all sentient beings exist for one another. To be there for each other as our motto teaches us:
“Community is the spirit, the guiding light, whereby people come together to fulfill a purpose, to help others fulfill their purpose, and to take care of one another.”
It is my hope and prayer that during these difficult and transitional times that the words of St. Benedict inspire us all to stand, to stand up, and to stand together.
I Love You,
“How important it is to dream together…. By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built Together.” — Pope Francis
“There is a power in each and every one of us that lives by turning to every other one of us, a thrust of the spirit to cherish and care and stand by others, and above all those most in need. It is called love, and its path is to give ever more of itself.”
We all are continuing to make our way through a long dark night, seeing only glimpses of The Light, as we continue toward the eventual dawn, which shines in the darkened corners of our world. These are not celestial bodies as we know them, but rather fellow human beings who dare to dream and whose words and actions invite us to dream together. Paraphrasing His Holiness Pope Francis, “It is only when we dream together that we are able to build together.” And build together we must. For we are in this together and always have been and, we can only rise out of the darkness together if that, “Light On A Shining Hill” is ever to burn brightly for all our fellow human beings here and abroad.
Fundamental to our Way-of-Life, The Monks of Pine Wind, hold to a common belief that, “Community is the Spirit, The Guiding Light.” We exist in a relational reality “called by us universe”. Whenever we forget this reality which guides and sustains life forms throughout the cosmos we suffer. The remnants of our forgetfulness can be found everywhere.
In Community we turn toward “every other one of us,” because we know for a fact that — “We are More Together Than Alone.” In Community we share with every other one of us a “shared purpose” together doing for every other one of us what we would hope would be done for us — “to help every other one of us to fulfill their purpose,” and “To take care of one another.”
I have been a dreamer all of my life. Since the time I was seven years old I dreamed of Love, Spirit, and Community. I have never doubted my dreams once. I have always been convinced that we most certainly are “spiritual beings immersed in a human experience,” to make a difference, which extends outward and fills the entire cosmo.
I believe in an interconnected and interdependent world, I am convinced about it. All the myriad forms are manifestations of Tathagata, Buddha, God, Universe, including you and me. That when we “dream” we cannot dream alone. Our dreams extend beyond me toward “every other one of us,” connecting us to what is seen and what only the heart can see.
We continue to find ourselves today both in the Nation and around the world, in the most difficult of circumstances often leaving us with the experience of feeling separated, apart from other, even alone. These are all to be understood as “delusional manifestations of ego” and not reality. But to see and experience “reality” we must rely on the only means that can see what is real. For as Merton writes, “There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us.”
If we ever expect to rise up out of the ashes of greed, hatred, and indifference which cover society today, we must realize that the only instrument that can effectively and skillfully support us is, “The Heart”.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Our work (spiritual practice) is to focus on strengthening the weakest of all the energy chakras — “Your weakest chakra is the Fourth Chakra, or Heart Chakra, located in the center of the chest around the heart. This chakra is connected to unconditional love, empathy, compassion, self-love, and acceptance. When the Heart Chakra is imbalanced you may feel apathetic, hopeless, unworthy, and unwilling to forgive.”
The foundation or context for the work at hand is — “There is a power in each and every one of us that lives by turning to every other one of us, a thrust of the spirit to cherish and care and stand by others, and above all those most in need. It is called love, and its path is to give ever more of itself.”
Let me repeat, We exist in a “relational reality,” When we live and behave as if the opposite is real we suffer and our suffering is compounded in the world by our thoughts, words, and actions which promote and support what is not real. Whenever we live and act on what is not real we feel groundless, we feel pulled in multiple directions. Therefore our “healing” process begins by strengthening our “root chakra”.
The root chakra is located at the perineum and extends through your legs and feet. “The foundational energy is what enables us to feel secure and grounded into our birthing experience what it means to be a human being, right at that moment, it’s important to have that foundation because once that is stabilized, that energy is activated within us, then we can go on to the other developmental stages of our lives.”
Meditation and contemplation are two of the three tools we will use to reestablish and sustain our relationship with Reality. Each day we spend essential time in quiet and serene meditation focusing on that area of our bodies which is located at the very base of the spinal-chord, often referred to as the perineum.
Sitting upright yet comfortable, focusing on our breathing, we take a deep breath and imagine directing that breath deep in the perineum and allowing it to settle there. (We continue to follow this technique until we begin to feel,“settled” as in “settled-in”.) Relax there now for a while. The amount of time does not matter as much as the quality of attention you give to not being distracted by thoughts (mental formations) and the “narrative” forever calling you away from yourself.
How do I know my “root chakra” is opening and beginning to balance? You will begin to experience the force of feeling grounded. Choices for example become simpler and essential, not just reactionary and fleeting. Because the root chakra has a direct connection to the earth, your body may begin to feel heavier, as if planted to the ground. There may be the sensation of heat and tingling. Another side effect is sleeping or resting and dreaming come easier, more relaxed and less convoluted.
For many years I have warned students that, “Your ego got you here, but it will not keep you here.” Your feelings, and ideas, and desires brought you to this moment of considering a spiritual path for your life. But the problem with ego is that, “Ego” is fleeting, ever-changing, and easily distracted. Without grounding ourselves, or as I say, “Dropping Anchor” there are no possibilities for cessation and awakening.
“There is a power in each and every one of us that lives by turning to every other one of us…” Dharma, Love, is always moving toward us, we are the ones always walking away from it. Dharma is always calling us toward each other. The Buddha defined the Third Nobel Refuge necessary for cessation from suffering to be The Sangha, The Community. We are relational beings living in a relational reality. Our very existence depends on us, “Turning toward every other one of us…a thrust of the Spirit to cherish and care and stand by others.” As Thomas Merton reminds us, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”
The more we focus on strengthening our “Root Chakra,” grounding ourselves in “Relational Reality,” the Heart Chakra can begin to open and we can begin to experience emotional, mental, and spiritual healing and growth.
When meditating we begin by directing our attention toward the Root Chakra setting our intention to heal and strengthen our groundedness in life and in our relationships with others including the whole of Nature. Try to take a walk as often as possible in the Natural World. Allow it to touch you and to be touched by you.
We need to stop running away, running around, toward every stimulus we are attracted to. We need to recognize that our happiness and our very salvation lies in our relationships with others, especially the Sangha, or that spiritual community we belong to. “We are More Together Than Alone.” The more I ground myself in my spiritual practices, my spiritual relationships, my responsibilities, I will not so easily be distracted and drawn away from what is essential.
Our third tool which strengthens and opens the Heart Chakra becomes evident once we are grounded. Our third tool being, “A thrust of the spirit to cherish and care and stand by others, and above all those most in need. It is called love, and its path is to give ever more of itself.” We need to stop taking other for granted, always assuming they will be there, always assuming they have no needs. If this pandemic has taught us anything it is “we need each other”. If we are ever going to change the future into the world of our dreams, we will not achieve it by, “Battling what we Hate, but only by saving what we Love.”
We begin to open the Heart Chakra by random and spontaneous, as well as planned, committed acts of love for ourselves and for others. Reciting affirmations or mantras which reinforce our worthiness to be loved; forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and shortcomings, accepting our brokenness; being mindful of our speech, the words we use to communicate love, as well as the thoughts we dwell on. Caring for ourselves, our bodies, the home we live in, and anything we have invested time and energy into. We can ask ourselves how do my words and/or actions communicate “I Love You”? And make the necessary changes.
Gratitude is another powerful tool to opening the Heart. Becoming mindful of the negative narrative and how it may be reinforcing the walls around our heart. Being and expressing daily as often as possible our gratitude for what we have, rather than complaining about what we don’t have.
The future and how it will be is entirely up to us. No one is coming to rescue us, we must be a Messiah, a Buddha, a Human-Being, for each other remembering always — “We are indeed, More Together Than Alone.”
I Love You,