Take a Walk

A Zen teacher once remarked that one of the things we can do to get started on the spiritual path is something very simple: take a walk around the block. Give ourselves a break and some time to think about spiritual things. Take a simple walk around the block, and do some thinking on your feet. Take a few minutes where you’re not being disturbed, turn off your phone, don’t think about work, and let your mind drift towards spiritual matters. Allow your deeper questions to come to the surface, while you’re walking along. Just the simple act of walking can give the body/mind enough to do so it will give us a break to look at higher things. Too often our minds believe spiritual matters to be affairs of the head and the imagination only, not something we actually have to do.

This teacher also said that until we realize we do nothing, we must face the fact that we are what we do, not what we imagine ourselves to be. The simple act of walking while allowing our inner problems and questions to surface for review can lead us into two places. One, a greater consciousness of who, or what, we really are and what we need to work on: our blocks and obstacles that stand in the way of our direct realization of ourselves.

And two, we begin to equate walking or ‘doing’ with spiritual work. We perform the simple act of walking around the block, with the even simpler act of allowing ourselves to take a look at our selves. We may eventually come to see that we ‘do’ nothing, but this is not an intellectual concept or conclusion. It comes after much work and loss of face.  We can only become that which is nothing, that which is One, from the position of the doer, not the imagination. We then will walk while noticing that the body/mind (that which is walking) is not us, and we are only the witness of the action. Not in our imagination, just after the fact, but as it takes place in real time. Then, our mind can take a walk, while we rest easy in our Self.

Take a Walk

Take a Walk

So give yourself a break by ‘doing’ some work: take a walk.

 

- Bob Fergeson

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I Started Seeking as a Finder

I started seeking as a finder. I joined an eastern Bhakti path early in youth, complete with a guru and the promise to clear my way to God. It afforded me a direction, meaning, fellowship and family. I left the path after being disappointed and finding it unable to fulfill its promises. Leaving a committed path after 20 years was no easy matter. I had however gained a direction in life that had in the least given me a practical ego. Here my attitude towards spiritual transformation led me truly to become a seeker. I made an intention to look in all directions, turn over every rock however mundane. I had had a guru so it was easy for me to ignore the circus around the “stars” of groups and traditions I found. Looking directly into what was being offered during my search changed my focus as a seeker from the heart to the head. I dug into inquiry with quite an amount of zeal. I was largely solitary in my approach without guru, peers or friends on the way. After 5 years of this I made an intention to find someone with integrity to help me drive this new direction home. Almost immediately I found TAT and Richard Rose. Where I hadn’t felt any integrity from the spiritual types I encountered Rose seemed to personify it. I contacted the local rep and started attending get togethers. After a time the fog and confusions of all the various teachings and traditions, my beliefs and attitudes, began to par down. I was shown to see past them to what was more real. The path became one more accessible to me directly. It wasn’t on high and available to those who please a divinity or until one acquired the requisite qualifications .These new influences led to the recognition of the simple message that all the teachings and traditions east and west ancient and contemporary are trying to direct our distracted attention.

Guiding Stars

Guiding Stars

I thought at one time I had gone too far off. Going this way and that. Traveling away from the goal. Progress seemed slow and hard come by. Complaining about this to a friend he commented that I have never left the path. Whatever I had been doing was serving me. Robert Adams has said “Every desire every urge is a search for the Self. But we’re misdirected”. I’d agree as it seems my path has turned out to be one of reorientation. Finding my way now to a point that must be reconciled with myself.

- Tim Howell

 

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Summer Love

It’s a blade of grass in the summer moonlight
A sprinkler hisses, then a mist and cold spritz
It’s a pastel sidewalk, the colors the child
A jump, a skip, a call and response

It’s a porch, its swing and lantern, the tree underlit
A mother breaking dusk, calling her son back home
A dog sniffing the ground, you can’t help but laugh
While the grasshoppers chirp and the fireflies flick

It’s the town’s outdoor pool, water twirling up and dropletting down
It’s riding at night on a Schwinn Stingray bike
On the small town streets chasing the smoke fog
of the DDT truck, the smell heaven, better than ant subway’s

It’s Wyoming on the farm, going to the Indian dance
The irrigation canals, the alfalfa and manure
Sleeping on a high bed, on soft flannel sheets
The whooshing of tires down the highway before sleep

It’s the trip down Wind River to Thermopolis Hot Springs
My mother and sister, my virgin aunt who eats her Reeses
My virgin uncle driving, he sings in the fields
My grandparents who only speak German and love

The hot soaking pools, my mother really happy
The high dive off the board, the low dive of my sister
The park with the bridges, the sulfur, the steaming streams
And riding the Screaming Mimi down into the pool

It’s Elitches Gardens, the mecca of all yeows!
The Tilt-a-Whirl, the Calypso, the Wildcat coaster
The Skyride brushing the tree branches, the Tropadero Ballroom,
The ponies, the funhouse mirror, and softie twists

The feel of bare feet on hot asphalt, then on cool grass
The slapping of street in Converse All Stars
Levi jeans, white tee shirt, no wallet
The music box rhapsody of the ice cream truck

Music lifting heavy heads behind window screens
In the parks, in passing cars, on the bed table in the dark,
The handle on the radio and the knobs gleaming fake chrome
A spaceship transporting sounds for dreaming the world

The green glow dashboard of the Plymouth Valiant
Cruising the loop over and over with bench seats filled
The Dairy Queen stop, the lime-aid and Mr. Misty
The young girls untouchable but seeable, giggly and gangly

It’s winding down in the cool basement evening
Watching TV shows before there was irony
Flickering blue plasma lava across whitewashed walls
Shirtless back stuck to the emerald green vinyl sofa

Never end day. Never end night, Never end this.
When sleep finally comes, it comes easy at first graze
Of warm skin on cool cotton, head surrendering to pillow
Dreams no more magical then life, as innocent as mornings

Children of summer, dancing and yard running
We were all awe, we were the sun god revolved ‘round
I could sing you until I couldn’t breathe anymore
Even now, knowing it was never made to last

- by Paul Schmidt

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Two Poems by Norm Milliken

Before the Beginning

before the beginning
came forth
from great silence
from great holiness,

God longed in sleep
to know God,
mystery became awareness
of mystery.

thus came
the seas
the land
the birds and fish
and heavy things
on their legs.

though it is told different
light came last.

heavenly host
expression of the awareness
that created itself
from itself,
sudden flood
illuminating creation
complete.

imagine God’s wonder
of all at once.

and imagine that cosmic
loneliness
when, like perfect eyes
God found himself
everywhere,

and yet nowhere.

 
I was a place once

I was a place once,
all songs and light.
choirs that held candles.
faithful midnights,
then out into the snow.

visions were almost free.
I had a handful.
life was a waltz those days.

we drove after service.
my father knew
where the lights
were overdone and gaudy.
my sister made up names
and blinked colors
across her eyes.

brother’s ghost
sat with mother.
my father drifted quietly
in and out of the past.

Old Homestead

Old Homestead

there was a house
with trees full
of ivory stars.

our blue car
collapsed along
towards Christmas.

it always seemed
to be snowing.

- Norm Milliken

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Sacred Leaves, A Seekers Story by Rupert Crisswell

Being asked to write a Seeker’s Story by Tess, poses an interesting challenge for me. Although, for a long time, people have told me that I should write, for as long, I have found this peculiarly difficult. Even determined attempts to do so would wilt under an enervating sense that it just didn’t feel right to do so. This would grow into a kind of revulsion if I tried to write about myself, particularly if the slant was in some way spiritual.

Recently I read Black Elk Speaks, the dictated autobiography of the Ogala Sioux medicine man.

I found myself nodding in agreement whilst reading his opening words: ‘For what is one man that he should make much of his winters even though they bend him like a heavy snow? So many other men have lived and shall live that story, to be grass upon the hills.’

Despite fighting against the army and cavalry to save his people and homeland, he witnessed their massacre and loss. He travelled abroad with a wild west show and lived on to old age to finally share his story with the poet Reinhardt, but he would still claim that ‘this is not the story of a great hunter, or of a great warrior, or of a great traveller.’

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

 

He explained that although the incredible adventures of his life, ‘may come to seem to be the very tale itself,’ in truth, ‘it was the story of a mighty vision given to a man too weak to use it; of a holy tree that should have flourished in a people’s heart with flowers and singing birds, and now is withered, and of a people’s dream that died in bloody snow.’

In his final words, Black Elk called out to the Great Spirit, in the frail voice of his age and dereliction, ‘ With tears running, O Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather- with running tears now, I must say the tree has never bloomed. A pitiful man you see me here and I have fallen away and done nothing. Here, at the centre of the world where you took me when I was young and taught me. Here, old I stand and the tree is withered, Grandfather, my Grandfather.’ When I read these words, I want to stop writing my own because what offerings are they in comparison? And who am I to do so?

But it is the words that follow that give me pause for thought, ‘ It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then.’ Aye, Black Elk, my silence is not worthy of you, and if you can raise your frail voice to the Great Spirit, I’ll raise mine for you and for the nourishment you so desired.

And so it comes to be, that after all this time, I am asked to write three times in one day and it seems to me that the universe is telling me to do so as if shouting in my ear to be heard through the cankered wax and deafness of my disbelief. And though I am not on a mountain, nor a medicine man, but sitting in a chair in my living room, still full of misgiving, I ask you Great Spirit to help me.

As I was walking home this evening from work, through the cold and dark of an early winter’s evening, a man crossed the road in front of me and with swift, aggressive purpose smashed the ground floor windows of a house with a hammer. The violence was stunning in the sleepy fishing village where I live and I was the only person on the road. After phoning the police, the man disappeared as quickly as he had come, I wondered that if the hexagram patterns of life are an I Ching of meaning, what would this mean for me? I wondered too about the dream I had last night in which I ran desperately through the streets and markets of an Asian city knowing that I was going to miss my flight. I wondered too about my father dying hopelessly and slowly from cancer bereft, it seems, of even the smallest root of the sacred tree in the wasteland of his despair.

Is it presumptuous of me to conclude that this is the tableau of a warning that I would be foolish to ignore, as I have ignored gentle advice and encouragement for many years, and that the truth will out, if not with shouts, then with the swift aggressive purpose of Job’s devastation?

The night before Halloween, I lay awake, death-suited, thinking of my father, worried that the physical pain that had begun to afflict me was, in some way, my body’s reaction to the contamination of his fear in a sympathy of cancer. Eventually I slept, to be woken at 6.00am by my two young sons of six and three dressed in their halloween costumes, standing by my bed. Torin, the eldest, was dressed as a skeleton, and Lachlan as a wizard with a pointy hat and long white beard.

‘Daddy,’ said Torin, ‘ I have to tell you my dream.’

‘What was that?’ I replied, bemused by their costumes and seriousness.

‘ I dreamt I was walking through a graveyard, Daddy, and I was scattering seeds amongst the gravestones. As I looked down, I could see that trees were growing up beneath the gravestones and pushing them aside, and as I looked around, I could see huge trees growing everywhere where there were gravestones, and I danced for joy, Daddy, because I had done such a good job.’

Aye, Black Elk, a small root flourished in my boy that night, and through him, it nourished me. And I heed your warning Dad, Great Spirit, Grandfather to my boys – the Buddhists always say that the blessing of angels can come in terrible forms – and I honour your devastation, your dark night as holy ground, and it is for you that I offer these pages, these sacred leaves from our branch, so that your pain may prove fertile ground for the nourishment of the tree where birds are singing and flowers grow.

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The Ego’s Sorcery

Sorcery of the Ego

Sorcery of the Ego

Once you allow the ego to grab a direct experience (say of love, selflessness, or beauty), it will claim ownership, and you may never actually go back to experience the eternal quality in real time again. Instead, the mind will merely reference the memory of the experience. The ego is perfectly satisfied with memories or imagination, being unable to tell the difference in value or meaning between imagination, memory, and direct experience. We will tell ourselves we ‘know’ all about the experience when we’re actually no longer in direct contact with it, we’re just referencing an old memory, and then playing about in the imagination. It’s a subtle but ruthless trick that takes us out of present awareness and places us in a time-based illusion of the mind. As long as we believe this easy way out, of never having to be in the moment again by using memory as a cop-out, we no longer exist. We have instead become the ego of  “been there, done that”.

- Bob Fergeson

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Self-Remembering

” When a man remembers himself he seeks not to be identified with his Personality. He seeks another feeling and sense of himself. He seeks to not know himself, as it were – to empty himself of himself. He makes himself passive. He wishes to receive something that has hitherto not been granted him. He seeks to lift himself above himself – above the noise of himself – above the inner clamor of negative emotions….” – Maurice Nicoll

emptying the soul

emptying the soul

 

 

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Friendship by Richard Rose

 

I passed through a deep crevice at twilight,
And I saw a narrow vista of trees,

Crevice in the Rocks

Crevice in the Rocks

Magical in the mists-
Vocal to the hush of meaning,
Whispering to the wisdom of shades,–
Of degrees,–
Before the backdrop of eternity. . . .
And I had a friend. . .
Whose dust with mine was not the bond,
Whose love with mine was not the bond,
Whose teaching with me was not the bond,
Both of us had been to this same place,
To the twilight in the narrow crevice,
And because of this place, we are eternal.

- Richard Rose

 

 

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Isolation – The Solitary Retreat

Isolation is a period of time spent completely alone, cut-off from the world’s distractions, for gaining self-knowledge. People have ventured into deserts, forests, and mountains for thousands of years to escape their fellow men, to find peace, and to find answers to their deepest questions. Such time alone may be an undistracted attempt to delve within in search of the truth of our being. Such time may also be an escape into daydream and fantasy. For me, a few days or weeks alone each year allowed a clearer perspective on the rest of my life and was a time to pursue meditation with full intensity. At the very least, it was an amazing adventure into a tradition few modern people dare to explore. What follows are some suggestions for the process.

Solitary Retreat

Solitary Retreat

 

First, you need a reason for a stint in isolation — something you wish to think about or investigate. I remember the first time I chose to spend a day alone. I sat on a blanket by the edge of a field. Shortly, I realized I had nothing to focus on. I simply had heard that it was good to spend time alone. My mind wandered from one thought to the next for half a day. Finally, I packed up and went home. Of course, it wasn’t a total waste. You learn something from any experience if you take time to ponder what happened and why. I am trying to save you a few steps, though.

 

Perhaps explaining more of the benefits will help clarify your reasons for undertaking an isolation. Many people like taking a few minutes at the end or beginning of the day to review and plan. Isolation is an opportunity to review and plan for months or years of your life. Sometimes in my isolations, I reviewed my journals from the past year. This was a priceless opportunity to see how I changed, how I spent or wasted my time, and what my actions said about my priorities. In short, to learn from my history. Next, I planned for the coming year, and developed a strategy for how I wanted to live my life.

 

You can use isolation for reviewing and planning, or for creating and discovering. Think about the scientist working late at night in his lab, the artist in their retreat, or the Native American on a vision quest. This is isolation as meditation. Eliminating distractions so we can look within and see what arises. For a moment, we put the demands of society on hold. No cell phones, no bills to pay, and no class or job to attend. Just you and the universe — you and life at its simplest. In this case, your reasons may be harder to articulate — taking the form of a feeling or intuition.

 

Once you realize a reason for isolation, the question becomes how long to spend alone. I’ve spent anywhere from a half a day to thirty days in isolation. I know others who spent up to sixty days. Avoid the thirty-day marathons for your first time. Best to start out too short rather than too long, since the ramifications of extending your time are clearer than those of shortening a stay.

 

Life is a sticky business, so you’ll need to reserve a block of time and prepare to cut the cords of responsibility. Get your life in order so you won’t worry whether or not your dog is starving while you are supposed to be contemplating the meaning of life. The older you get the harder this becomes, as not only your dog, but your kids also might wind up starving. Few students realize the luxury of time the college age provides. One’s twenties are a window of opportunity for the grand adventure of spiritual seeking.

 

Where to go is the next consideration. There are numerous spiritual retreats and even a book or two listing them (such as Sanctuaries: The Complete United States). Make sure you will be left alone. It is best to not even see another person for the duration. Having to dine with others, or listen to singing and chanting can be distracting. There are options besides official retreats. Maybe a friend or friend of a friend with land where you could pitch a tent. Parks and National Forests are possibilities. I know people who simply holed up in a cheap motel room for the weekend. What is wrong with using your own home? Many reminders of your life in the everyday world, easy to be disturbed by friends or family, and too many distracting temptations like the television.

 

Wherever you go, plan to keep your life simple while you are there. Food preparation can become a time-consuming chore or a major distraction. Some people simply choose not to eat. Fasting is worth a try. Over-eating will make you sleepy, as will lack of exercise. The more primitive your housing situation, the more planning it may take to keep things simple — how will you cook, clean, use the toilet? Beware of too broad a focus for your isolation. Don’t plan to read ten books in two days. Or plan to decide on a career, a mate, and to discover the source of thoughts. Plan a major thrust for your isolation time and let all other actions be in support of that goal.

 

So you found a reason, a place to go, and a plan to make your isolation happen. Now you are there, so what are the unexpected hurdles? Typically, people find reasons to leave. You decide isolation was a stupid idea, or you are not prepared, or now is not the best time, you feel weak or sick, you have too much nervous energy (can’t focus), or there is some emergency at home. My advice is to not shorten you isolation. If you said you would stay a week, stay a week. However, use your best judgement. If you vomit blood once (I’ve seen it happen), don’t panic and leave. If you vomit blood for two days, and are unable to identify and correct the cause, then you’ve got a problem.

 

Generally, decisions to leave can be negated by changing another aspect of the isolation. Once, I meditated so long that my knees hurt day and night, so I kept changing up my sitting style so I could continue. Another time, a book I thought would be inspiring was a dud, so I used another book. I could have said my knees hurt too much or that the book was uninspiring and I might as well go home. Adapt the details of your plan in mid-stream, if necessary to preserve the whole.

 

There is knowledge and change that will come from the isolation experience. The answer to your deepest question may not come during isolation and you shouldn’t expect it to. On a long afternoon of the twentieth day of a thirty-day isolation, as you are wishing you could sleep away the rest of time, this will seem solely an exercise in determination. That may be one value, but other values are not realized until far in the future.

 

Richard Rose gave me the best description of the attitude one should take. He said not to approach isolation as challenging God or the universe for an answer. Don’t draw a circle in the sand and say you won’t come out until you are enlightened. Instead, and this is my interpretation, work as hard as you can and be thankful for whatever happens.

 

Isolation is an invaluable experience, but even it may outlive its usefulness. Eventually, I felt isolation was no longer useful for me. Perhaps the focus of my isolations had so permeated my everyday life that I was always alone; always looking for an answer even in the midst of an outwardly typical life. Along this line, I do not recommend a cloistered life. Escaping the world through permanent isolation will become another cage from which we must escape.

 

- Shawn Nevins, from the TAT Forum -November 2002

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Notes on Nostalgia:

For using nostalgia in meditation in a practical manner, I see it like this: Richard Rose used to say that guilt is a mixture of fear and nostalgia, fear being we’re afraid of being punished for the act that brought on the guilt, and nostalgia being the longing for the relatively innocent state we were in before the act. Think of it in terms of a lifetime. We may feel guilty about having lived what we come to see as a meaningless life, or an unfulfilled one. The fear manifesting as the fear of being punished for our life asleep, of not being awakened, of wasting our chance. We will die, and not know why we lived, perhaps have to pay karma for our mistakes, and just the plain old fear of death, the unknown. The nostalgia would be from the longing for our innocent state before life affected us, such as the innocent state of a baby. We didn’t have problems or even an identity then, and sense it was better. Especially if we have children or have been around babies, we can pick this up.

Road to...

Road to…

Nostalgia is the key to using emotion to find our way back to our original state. If we only use the mind and the imagination in our search, it becomes dry and hollow. The emotional element is brought in by the nostalgic mood; it lends a direction, a practicality, and a motivating factor missing from the head only approach.

 

- Bob Fergeson

 

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