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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Waiting for the Unknown to Take You Back

I've been in Kauai the last week and am heading to Maui tomorrow. I've spent much of my time here meditating on beaches. There is a moment when one stops watching the water flow and becomes the water flowing. There is a moment when the light dancing across the water's surface becomes the shimmering of one's own essence. Each day, I sit until this moment reveals itself to me.

Sometimes it comes in less than an hour. Sometimes I reach the two hour mark before this mind of mine surrenders to a view that is something other than its habitual way of encountering experience. However long it takes, I wait. There is no hurry. There are hills to mount, trails to hike, sites to see, friends to dine with, dances and tennis lessons and so on, but there is also time to wait.

It always comes. It never fails. There is only the question of how long we are prepared to wait for such a simple thing -- for nothing special at all, just the ability to perceive in a more authentic way for some period of time. Just a breather from our conditioned minds and the illusions they bury us beneath while lying to us that we have seen something real. I do not wait to see what is real. I cannot see what is real. I wait simply for a break from the illusion that the unreal is real. I wait for the space of unknowing to drink me up, call me back, and end me. It is always worth the wait.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

The Direction of Causation

It's funny when you really think about it. We go through our lives thinking this event or that thought is causing us to feel a certain way, when in fact every emotional experience is coursing through us in every moment. A certain feeling emerges from the pack to dominate our awareness, and our ingenious ego mind instantly finds a justification for that feeling within our present experience or most recent thought. Then we think the event or thought actually caused the feeling, when it simply is not so.

If you sit in meditation enough to settle into the depths of what is present within you, if you can keenly watch the many layers of your present experience and witness the endless shifting of random emotions, all while you just sit there, thinking about nothing except "what am I feeling right now?" -- if you can do this, you will see that it is as I describe. First comes the feeling. Then comes the justification for the feeling, unless you are sufficiently aware to see that there is no justification for the feeling. It is just the way you feel. And then this is. And then this. No reason.

It is a common statement of psychotherapy that no one can make you feel anything. They act, you have thoughts about their action, and then you react emotionally to those thoughts. But I would go further to specify that it isn't even just about other people's actions. Even your thoughts have very little to do with causing your emotions. You may habitually associate certain thoughts with certain emotions, but that is a matter of correlation, not causation. You feel every way within an endless ocean of wavering emotions. And the only meaning any of it has is the meaning you decide to give to it.

My take on this is, if I'm going to feel all the joy, sorrow, anger, frustration, and amusement without regard to what I am thinking, doing or experiencing, what the heck. Why not just enjoy the show and stop caring so much what's on the screen? Whatever it is, it will assuredly change in another moment. Fundamentally, it is all just the play of consciousness. And what is true and unchanging, that is so beneath this shifting emotional experience. So I sit and watch with amused curiosity, and occasionally catch a glimpse of that beloved, glowing eternity beneath it all.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

Tea as Meditation

I am not going to pretend to be a connoisseur of tea. There are many true experts out there, and I suggest you look to them for an "expert opinion." What I'd like to share with you is my experience of some quality teas I have recently discovered, coming from a spiritual point of view.

The first tea that opened my eyes to the meditative nature of tea drinking was pu-erh. A friend brought by a 12 year old sheng, meaning it had been stored green and allowed to age under the proper conditions for 12 years. He served it to me gongfu style, meaning he used a tiny yixing teapot and two 1-ounce cups, and made many quick steeps that each served just a few sips for each of us.

When I first smelled the tea it reminded me of earth. As I took the first sips, it was as if the Earth itself was entering me. I guess drinking old tea is about as close as you want to get to drinking liquefied dirt. Not that the tea was muddy at all. It was transparent and quite pure in that regard, with a deep reddish-brown color typical of a black tea. But the feeling of the tea was truly like taking the Earth into one's body. Pot after pot, as I looked out into my backyard garden and drank this tea, I felt more and more like I was camping somewhere, then like I lived in the woods, and then like I was a mere extension of nature myself, a walking tree.

I am not someone who can handle caffeine very well. My nervous system is hyper-sensitive. This serves me well when it comes to spiritual connectedness and healing work, but not when it comes to being able to enjoy nervous system stimulants. They put me over the edge into an anxiety that is utterly physical, like I need to jump out of my body, but I can't, so instead I just tremble with clinched muscles all over my body. Not exactly an afternoon treat.

Pu-erh is low in caffeine, lower than even green tea. Only white tea has less caffeine (and I will talk about white tea in a future article). Normally if I drink even green tea one morning I will have a hard time sleeping that night. It's not that the caffeine is still in my body that long, as caffeine is processed by the body in about 5 hours. It is more that the hyper-stimulation of my nervous system takes many hours to abate after the stimulant is no longer present. I had pu-erh around 1pm, and had no problem falling to sleep around 11pm that night. I share this aside for those of you who have avoided tea because of the caffeine.

There was a point when I was drinking the tea when it felt like I was hitting my caffeine limit, even with this low caffeine variety, and needed to stop or pass into jittery mode. My friend encouraged me to keep going. I rationalized that it was a Saturday, so what the heck if I was up all night. The fascinating thing is, two steeps later the experience came around full circle. Instead of further stimulating me, it actually felt like I was taking a nervous system tonic that was calming me, but in a way that was mentally crystal clear.

In meditation, what you are going for is to be fully relaxed and yet keenly alert. You are totally immersed in the bareness of what is, and at peace with it. A lot of people confuse spacing out or blissing out with meditation. I dare say, if there is any "out" involved, you're probably not meditating. Drinking the pu-erh brought me into a meditation that was so grounded in the Earth and yet as spacious as the sky. It was truly a phenomenal experience.

My friend left, taking his pu-erh with him, but a few days later I couldn't stop thinking about that tea experience. I have a daily meditation practice, but have struggled lately to keep it at three times a day. I always do my morning meditation and usually do my evening meditation, but have a hard time getting myself to break in the middle of the day for another meditation session. I work at home and set my own schedule, so there is no external reason I can't do it. I've just had a hard time getting myself to switch gears mid-day, even though when I do it refreshes and refocuses me so that I work better afterwards. I realized that if I had the tea I might take meditative tea breaks right after my "working lunch" and thereby get in my third meditation session each day. (As it turns out, even with the low caffeine, there is a degree of nervous system stimulation from the pu-erh, and I can only handle every other day. That's where the white tea comes in.)

Since my friend who introduced me to pu-erh was traveling, and I knew he got his from a shop near his home in Santa Cruz anyway, I had to hunt around online to find a good source for my own pu-erh setup. A key find was the Pu-erh Tea Community, which led me to Generation Tea, where I bought a 25 year old shou and sheng blend, and Imperial Tea, where I bought a 4 oz. yixing and gongfu tasting and aroma cups.

This is the second time I am mentioning the term "sheng," so let me explain more about that now. Basically, sheng pu-erh is green tea that has been allowed to age under the right conditions, while shou pu-erh is a fermented tea that has been manipulated by man to have the taste of a very old sheng, though it is actually quite young. Needless to say, shou is cheaper, but sheng is for the true connoisseur. The blend I got of the two was a compromise. I spent $28 per ounce and got a tea that tasted 25 years old and that carried the energetic quality of 25 years of aging, even though the quantity was "extended" by shou "filler."

From Wikipedia's Pu-erh page: "Pu-erh tea can be purchased as either raw/green (sheng) or ripened/cooked (shou), depending on processing method or aging. Sheng pu-erh can be roughly classified on the tea oxidation scale as a green tea, and the shou or aged-green variants as post-fermented tea.... Unlike other teas that should ideally be consumed shortly after production, pu-erh can be drunk immediately or aged for many years; pu-erh teas are often now classified by year and region of production much like wine vintages."

I have come to truly love my midday breaks with this tea. I use it as an entry point into meditation. I spend about 30 minutes enjoying multiple steeps of the tea, then meditate for 20 minutes. I start my meditation from a mental state that is already very close to what meditation produces, so that my 20 minutes deliver quite an effect.

Last week I got to share the tea with my Buddhist teacher. We have tea together rather frequently, but usually he is the one sharing tea with me. This time I got to introduce him to pu-erh, a tea he had never even heard of. First I checked that he was okay with having a Chinese tea, since he is Tibetan. He said that tea was universal and he had no problem with enjoying it. And enjoy it he did.

At the first sip he was visibly affected and his literal response was "oh! This is very good tea." He drank more and then added, "I can feel this is really doing something for my body. It is very cleansing." We drank for about an hour before we even spoke about anything else. We simply sat enjoying the tea and each other's presence. As we sat, it was as if our Buddha Nature expanded. I felt like I was at day 3 of a meditation retreat. We then began to converse, but the conversation took a very different form than the sorts of things we normally talk about. For the first time, I felt I was sitting with a dear friend, and not just a teacher. He has often described me as a friend and himself as my spiritual friend, but I never really accept that, and always refer to him as my teacher. Yet in that moment, I sat with a friend, and we spoke of his life as friends would.

I will end this introduction to the meditative qualities of pu-erh here, though really I could go on. I would invite you to go into a Chinese tea shop and experience the tea for yourself if you are near a Chinatown or an Imperial Tea Court (Berkeley/San Francisco). The investment to get started if you buy everything like I did would be about $100. I was willing to spend a little more than that because I had already had the tea served to me. It is a big leap to invest that much for your first cup. Though I suppose you could get away with just buying the tea and using it with your current teapot and teacups. Drinking it gongfu style is recommended though. That truly is a part of the meditative quality of the overall experience of the tea, and also changes how the tea tastes. Brewing a pot and pouring it into a 6-12 oz. cup is simply not the way to drink pu-erh.

You can watch this Gongfu cha dao How-to video to get a good introduction to the method, but you don't have to be a total purist to get the benefits of the method. Just note how he uses the aroma and tasting cups and uses a very small teapot and small teacups. He steeps the tea many times, and truly the most delicious pot of pu-erh to me is generally around the 4th or 5th steeping. You simply steep the tea longer each time, starting with about 10 seconds for the 1st steeping, which you pour off (it contains most of the caffeine, and also washes the leaves). The second steeping is generally around 30 seconds, on through the 6th, which is generally about 3 minutes. Again, this is just a guide and how I like it. You must experiment for yourself to find your "sweet spot" based on personal taste, the variety of pu-erh you purchase, and also how much tea leaf you are putting in the pot. You can read more about gongfu cha dao on Wikipedia. Enjoy.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Too Simple

There is a beauty that is too simple for most to see. There is a peace too pervasive to embrace, and a joy too unearned to satisfy. Thankfully, there is also a power we each carry within us to make a new choice, a different one in this moment. We can choose to accept what is simple, pervasive, and unconditional as the very thing we have sought, and thereby come to full rest within this very moment.

This is it. This is the moment you have waited for. This is the breath you needed to exhale, and see how the one you needed to inhale comes so effortlessly following after.

There are still so many habits that rule your life and determine your actions and reactions. Yet the antidote to them all is so simple. Sit in meditation each day. Learn through meditation how to let habitual action and inner reaction pass through without identifying with it as "I" or "my experience." Just watch it, as an attentive observer. Be the silent and impartial witness to the cascade of inner turmoil, joy, sadness, anger, and judgmental chatter that calls itself feeling and thought.

Notice too the viewpoint that is watching. Watch the watcher. The truly miraculous thing is that the impartial watcher within you is the same as the one within me, and every other sentient being. There is only one watcher, taken form in many different bodies and watching the passage of many different life stories, all at once. We are not connected; we are one.

And we are enlightened right now. Notice. And appreciate the simple things.

The inner chatter and habitual behavior doesn't necessarily stop when you awaken to your ever-present perfection. It eventually will because you won't be feeding it with the energy of new "I" identity energy, which it depends on to grow, but at first and for probably a long time it will still be there. Yet through meditation you will have trained yourself to not be bothered by it and to most assuredly not feed it. And so, there is the habitual mind, and there is the perfection, and it is all here right now, in peace.

The fire
Has roared near you.
The most intimate parts of your body
Got scorched,

So
Of course you have run
From your marriages into a
Different
House

That will shelter you
From embracing every aspect of Him.

God has
Roared near us.
The lashes on our heart's eye got burnt.
Of course we have
Run away

From His
Sweet flaming breath
That proposed an annihilation
Too real,

Too
Beautiful.

~ Hafiz

Choose again. Sit, watch, and learn to separate Truth from untruth, the Divine you from the temporary form of you. It truly is just that simple. Anyone could do it. I've taught it to convicts right there within prison. Absolutely nothing about enlightenment is the stuff ego pride can grow on. So what do you truly choose? Your next actions will answer that question for you, honestly.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Namaste

What have you been looking for that is so much more rewarding than what is here right now? Is it a dream of accomplishment you seek - affirmation that you are valuable and needed? Is it for the world to love you more, this time enough for you to actually feel lovable? Do you need the roar of the crowd to feel it, or is even that not enough? Is it the security and freedom that you believe more money will buy? Is it the promised impenetrable bliss that enlightenment is said to provide?

Are your distractions from your present moment experience more of the variety of entertainments or defenses? Are you grasping or pushing to get away from here -- to get away from "right now?"

I ask these questions because I see myself in all of them. As I sat in meditation at the Buddhist center yesterday, all these questions kept arising in my mind. In short, "Why exactly is it that I keep chasing after something in my mind instead of appreciating what is here within my experience right now?"

I am a smart woman. I know full well that happiness can only be had as an experience. The thought of happiness is the basis of hope, but actual happiness is better than the hope for future happiness. Unless there is dread of future suffering that is stronger than anything else within one's awareness. And I think that is the root of the issue for me. You should look within yourself, within the lessons of your life, and see what the root is for you. I share more on mine now, in case we are alike in this way.

Having identified this root, I next seek out the genesis of the root so that I know how to uproot it and make sure it never takes hold again. Seeking this, I recognize the programming of my childhood and early adulthood. I was programmed for self-hatred. The world often tried to convince me that I had no value -- because I was a girl, because I was black, because I was poor, because... fill in the blank. Society rarely comes right up to your face and speaks those words, though sometimes some of us have even experienced that.

Actually it is easier to be defended against it when it does say it plain. It's when the lesson comes from people's behaviors and the situations they thereby create, that the programming is particularly effective. You never even realize a lesson is being learned. You simply embody and then repeatedly re-create the beliefs that are carried by the lesson. There is more that is taught like this than merely self-attack, but that is the lesson I particularly want to focus on now. It is the one that leads to this ever-present anxiety about what lies behind the next corner.

Within us all is a sense of justice. I believe this in an inescapable human trait. That is why criminals always do stupid things that eventually get them caught. A part of them wants to get away with it, but another part wants to be punished, because they are convinced they deserve it. I tend to agree with the criminals that they deserved to face the legal consequences of their behavior, but what about you? You have never shot, stabbed, robbed, beaten, swindled or otherwise preyed upon those around you. Why do you deserve to be punished?

If you protest, "No, I know I don't deserve to be punished," then go back to the start of this article and begin again. Now, tell me, why is it that you believe you deserve to be punished? What is it about you that is so bad it must face pain and suffering in order for all to be right in the world?

Yes, and there is the pain, is it not? There is the tear, and the agony, and the why, and the not fair. There is that wounded child, a little bird that was ripped from its shell too soon. And I cry with you. And I cry for you. And I cry out to you, "Please stop."

Stop punishing yourself for the crime you never committed. Stop accepting your programming as truth. Recognize that all you believe is something you were taught, and that now, as an adult, it is your responsibility alone to conduct your reprogramming.

You must program yourself for love, or you will not be able to settle into the peace that is here within this moment. You will not be able to surrender the future to the future until you no longer believe that assuredly some great harm awaits you there -- a harm you must take action or expend thought to ward off now, instead of simply being present with what is.

Breathing in, think, "I love myself." Breathing out, think, "I embrace what is." Breathing in and breathing out, over and over, we proclaim and attend to the truth, and thereby create a new mental habit, one that works in harmony with our peace instead of obscuring it.

Notice that I say, "obscure," not "prevent" or "interrupt." There is nothing that ever prevents or interrupts your peace. Your peace is eternal, ever-present, and unshakable. Your peace is right here right now, as it always is. But are you present with it? Do you take it for granted, or do you worship it with the full holy awe to which it is due?

If there has ever been a small infraction by you that might warrant any suffering, I would say it is this. That you do not exhibit the proper gratitude for the sacredness of your life. You fritter away the moments thinking about the past or the future, regretting this, wanting that, warding off some other thing, and meanwhile moment after moment of life comes and goes unacknowledged by you with so much as a nod. You should be on your knees.

The greatness of who you are in this very moment is so awesome, so beautiful and radiant and powerful, you should be on your knees.

I bow to you. I salute you. I embrace you. I thank you for coming to Earth. And I do it all, now.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dare to Care

With so much turmoil and suffering in the world, and 24-7 news availability making sure we know about all of it, it's easy for anyone to start shutting down emotionally. You may not even realize it is happening. It's like boiling the frog slowly, so that it never realizes there is a crisis and that it needs to jump out to save its life.

Your open heart is the path to your spiritual unfoldment. The awakened heart IS what it means to be awake. Therefore, anything that causes you to close your heart is a direct threat to your spiritual health. You must respond with action and not wait for things to get bad enough that you are noticing impairment in your day to day life. By then you have already lost so much.

There is a meditation you can easily do in just 5 minutes each morning to re-attune yourself to the path of awakening. Just sit with eyes closed and begin to imagine all the fear and worry people are feeling in their lives right now. Maybe start with people you know personally and the worries you know them to have, or start with the things you worry about yourself, but make sure you expand your awareness to realize that all around the world people are worrying about what is going to happen in different areas of their lives. This worry eats them up inside and dulls their ability to feel joy. Really imagine this until you can feel the feeling of their worry within yourself. Then imagine all their worry being consumed by a beautiful bright light, vanishing out of existence in a flash.

Then begin to think of other feelings of suffering people live their lives buried beneath. The anger, the sadness, the guilt -- imagine each one being liberated into light all around the world. (Perhaps note to yourself that this light is real, all-powerful, and all-pervasive. It is always present, and is in fact your own essential nature.) In the end, spend another minute watching as each person the world around shines their inner light brightly, no longer being dulled by the clouds of fear, anger, grief, shame and the mental confusion these turmoultous inner states cause.

When you are done, rise and go about your day with the conviction that you will be a beacon of light in the world, living your own life free of these conflicting emotions and helping those around you to do the same. Remember to notice each person you meet as an individual and greet them with an open heart. Be well.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Daily Spiritual Practice

Many people think of spiritual practice in terms of seated practice. You sit on a cushion and meditate or do a sadhana. But actually those are preparatory steps and the practice happens after you get up and go out into the world.

The real practice comes in our dealings with others. It's easier to develop the proper frame of mind during seated practice since there are controlled circumstances. It is quiet. We are alone with ourselves. We have a clear intention to do nothing but develop ourselves in terms of patience, joy, clarity, peace, etc. It is a good learning lab.

Then we go out into the world that is filled with distractions, focused on materialistic gain and self-aggrandizement, and characterized by competition (and even cruelty) in much of human relations. The practice is to maintain the view and intention of our spiritual paths in the midst of that. We practice. That means we try and fail then try again, repeatedly.

I have met so many people who present themselves as advanced practitioners who I see as absolute beginners. They make no real effort at integrity in the way they live their lives, and seem to have even missed the teachings on the value of simple kindness and human goodness. You know, the kindegarden kind of stuff. I don't care how many retreats a person's been to; if they lie, cheat, steal, and abuse people as their daily fare, they need to pick up a spiritual practice.

And they need to start with the beginner's material, not the advanced stuff. When people begin beyond their level, they never truly begin. A person can spend 20 years acting out "spirituality" with no actual progress. They may have a shrine room, membership on the boards of a dozen religious organizations, and privileged access to high officials in their faith, but if they aren't living their daily lives with integrity and kindness (even when they know they won't get caught), they have not yet begun the path.

If you recognize yourself in this description, my heartfelt advice to you is "No regrets. Just start." And start from where you are with great joy and humility. Begin at the beginning and you will find yourself swiftly moving up the mountain path, with a spring in your step, at last.

[This post was revised on Oct. 26, 2005]

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