Day at the Beach

It is a short walk to the bus stop at the end of your block, where the number 5 McAllister regularly runs along Fulton, parallel to Golden Gate Park. Even though it stops every two blocks, you are only 8 blocks from the end of the line, at Ocean Beach. As you get closer to the beach, the anticipation mounts. You don’t question it, you are just really excited at the prospect of another great day at the beach, and then soon enough you have arrived.

You can barely contain your happiness as you disembark from the bus and race through the arcades of Playland-At-The-Beach, redolent with the intoxicating aromas of cotton candy and french fries carried on the bracing salt air breezes of the Pacific Ocean just across the street. What a wonderful day, you are bursting with joy!

You run across the Great Highway to the sea wall, then down the steps, kick off your shoes, pull off your socks, and plant your feet in the fine warm sand. Ah, yes! Now you race down to the water’s edge where the cool ocean swirls up and around your ankles. Then the tide turns and rushes out, and your feet have sunk down into the wet squishy sand. You feel a very particular surge of ecstasy that is unlike any other. As you look out over the water to the far horizon, the sunlight glints and shimmers on the expanse, and you deeply inhale and exhale. If there was ever a time you felt a profound sense of timelessness, it is here, now.

You are not thinking about what led up to this moment, nor are you pondering how the rest of your life will unfold. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but the sea and summer sky, and this tremendous physical joy that arises with each breath, with each happy beat of the heart within your chest. This is all the magic you had ever hoped to find, and now you are here where you love to be, all thanks to a short bus ride!

As you stroll along the sand, you pause here and there to pick up and examine random shells which have washed in to decorate the shoreline. You eventually spot one that immediately attracts your attention. It is different from the others, but not just in terms of its shape. As you hold it close to your face in order to get a better look, it seems, amazingly, as if you have suddenly been drawn into the shell itself.

Now you are sliding around its spiraling internal architecture, as if on an amusement ride at the carnival across the street. You are no longer in control as you are swept along, gradually increasing in speed until, with a great swooshing sound, you are deposited back on the beach. However, it quickly becomes apparent that you are no longer on the same beach you were at just moments before. The ocean water is no longer the characteristic blue-green, but now is an aqua-turquoise, and what before was a surface of rolling waves is now more like an immense serene lake, gently lapping along the shoreline’s edge.

In the sky above, there appear to be several pale moons arcing across a pinkish dome, while twin suns hang suspended, radiating a soothing and benign warmth. It all seems so lovely that you forget for a moment that you have somehow been transported to another world. Nor does any of that seem to matter anymore because you feel so utterly at peace.

Indeed, it feels like home in some mysterious way, and so you just sit down and indulge yourself in the beauty expanding all around you. At a certain point you sense a thought arising, an idle question really: “Is this a dream?” However, the thought dissolves before you can even ponder the question, and you return to your blissful silence.

Years pass by as you sit in the sand, just gazing out to sea. Centuries come and go, but you pay time no heed, it is merely an idea you no longer are inclined to harbor. Mesmerized by the gentle tidal murmurs, which form a kind of extended mantric melody, you relax deeper and deeper into the pleasurable harmony of this scene, never tiring of its pristine beauty.

For some reason, who can say, you happen to glance down at your hand, and you notice that there is a seashell in your grasp. You hold it closer for inspection, but as you do, it seems as if you have suddenly been drawn into the shell itself. Now you are sliding around its spiraling internal architecture, as if on an amusement ride at some carnival you once knew. You are no longer in control as you are swept along, gradually increasing in speed until, with a great swooshing sound, you are deposited back on the original beach you were walking so long ago.

You gaze around to get your bearings, then shake your head in wonder and astonishment. Looking down, you notice that you are holding that same shell in your hand. Without thinking, you draw your arm back, and then in a fluid motion you skip the shell out over the waves, where it disappears in the ocean. After a moment, you head back across the street to the Amusement Park, and order a tray of warm french fries. They are so delicious that you forget all about the shell, and ask instead for more ketchup. When you finish your snack, you exclaim out loud to nobody in particular: “What another great day at the beach!”

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Exquisite One

(A Trio)

1.

Exquisite One, at rest
on the green couch, inhaling,
exhaling, surrounded by the guardians,
timelessly adrift in their smiling embrace . . .

I sit before you, watching you as you sleep.
The heart’s true satisfaction – it is always here.

We’ve swung through doors, we’ve met again.
Nothing has changed, yet everything is new.

These forms we’ve assumed for the Dance du Jour
will peel away at our merest touch, revealing
the secret the guardians keep, the one
that keeps them always smiling.

All quest for confirmation spontaneously abandoned,
you’ve effortlessly reclined to vanish into yourself,
while the Traceless sits awake, aware.

Any space between us – just some old idea.

You, leaning slightly off balance, the newspaper
gently clutched in your hands made of Light –

Ah, when I am touched by your hand,
touched by your hand . . .

There is a white candle
I lit on the table before you.

I am that burning, at the tip of that flame
I touch you, where the seen and unseen interpenetrate.

Dishes done, kitchen swept while you nap,
and now you slowly open your eyes,
you look up, smiling like dawn,
like sunrise in Paradise:

we say “I love You”
at just the same time —

we always tell each other the Truth.

2.

Exquisite One, I am a dead man.

I have come through that door to be with you,
to fall and break again with you upon the long sky
of our own flashing light, this pouring paramatman light,
streaming down to lift the forms of light we are
into a luminosity so vast, so unbounded in its beauty,
that we have no choice, taken by the pull of our own light,
loving it, lifted out of words and what they can’t say,
still saying it, over and over and over again —

my Love, my Love!

Your light is that kind of medicine,
elegantly trickled into a dead man’s mouth:

this dusty corpse yawns and stretches,
rises up with mouth billowing yellow marigolds,
swirled round in desire’s dance, drunk deep of desire,
desire at last exceeded by itself in the wheeling roundness
of its own momentum, tuned so tautly now, trembling
on the threshold of itself till something serenely
slides into itself, vastness impregnating itself
with sheer delight, with Yes to Yes,
nothing less, not even this.

3.

Exquisite One, although the city sleeps,
this eternal sobhet continues.

Those only know, whom She lets know.

We’ve cast off the stupor of knowing’s burden
with a grateful sigh — all past stories rendered obsolete,
the impartial gears of this compassionate totality
softly crushing into languorous synch, a wink,
a dare, a destiny duet on pink-pillowed dawn,
and in the near distance, twin peacocks’
sudden thrilling cries of

“Victory!”

echo throughout this palace of ashes
we’ve made of ourselves in our sublime incineration.

Ashes won’t return to tinder, nor we go back to sleep.

The rippling notes from the peacocks’ throats
waken heaven and earth with pure joy.

buddhas

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War

They had been gone for centuries,
only to return to the same sorrow.

It was still a time of war.

The ancient blood lust had not abated,
it had only become more sophisticated.

The incessant slaughter — would it ever finally end,
or would it merely re-cycle itself perpetually?

Regardless of time, place, or nationality,
the eyes of the dead are always the same.

Oh, the uniforms were different now, sleeker,
the locations of the battlefields had changed,
yet it was the same war, always the same war.

Even from within the womb they already knew it —
there is a mysterious network which connects
all the children that are waiting to be born.

They prepare each other somehow for what lies ahead,
and now at birth, rather than the customary cry,
they could only sigh. It seemed a weary sigh.

War — would this self-inflicted wound ever heal?
What would it take to halt the carnage?

Apparently, not enough people were willing
to stop, to refuse, to resist just yet.

All were preoccupied waging their own internal wars
and lacked the courage or free attention to stand up
and shout a loud “No!” to the war machine.

There was simply too much fear for that.
This is a land that is ruled by fear.

Fear is churned out like mothers’ milk
and fed directly to the young so that they will
not question when they’ve grown a little older
and are called away to the ceaseless war.

If war is all they have ever known,
could they imagine a time without it?

The controllers had fashioned an economy
which depended on the business of war –
“The struggle will make us great again!”
read the billboards and omnipresent posters.

Yes, there was profit to be gleaned from the demand
for better weapons, smarter bombs, higher walls
to hide behind and feel secure.

Everyone wanted to feel safe and secure.
Everyone sought their own profits.

For the war to be continuously pursued, a steady stream
of enemies needed to be designated and then condemned.

The threat must always appear real and imminent,
there must be little doubt that the fear people felt
was appropriate: the cunning enemy could attack
at any time, our women taken, our children enslaved,
our 500 television channels reduced to just one!

Some — a few — wondered if the war would ever end.
Their sleep was restless, their dreams filled with conflict.
They awoke exhausted, haunted by a free-floating dread.

Still, they had to keep their questions to themselves —
there were suspicious eyes and ears everywhere.

After all, it was still a time of war.

 

all-will-be-yours

 

(Picture by Leunig)

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Believe

1.

We were young and they told us lies.
We believed them because they too believed.

At least it seemed to us that they really believed,
though if they didn’t, they told the lies anyway,
because they felt that they must say something,
they had to explain, and they didn’t know
what else to say but the lies they themselves
had been told when they were also young
and ready to believe almost anything.

In any case they had something, they told themselves.
The alternative was not an option — without a belief
where would one be, who would they be?

Indeed, if enough people believe, it must be true,
or true enough to get by, and we all wanted that —
to get by, to persist, even though we were not sure
what it meant, or where our beliefs would lead us.

It was inevitable that we’d fall back on borrowed beliefs,
the convenient lies that pass for how and why and who,
and even at this time we still keep falling, believing
we are standing all the while on solid ground.

2.

Regardless of anything else we claim to be,
we are all unique versions of our own religion.

Everyone is practicing the yoga of themselves,
despite nominal affiliation with any institution.

We worship at the altar of our magical thoughts,
and then project whole biblical stories based on
a fictional character we imagine ourselves to be.

We need to believe in our solid and independent existence
because otherwise, we fear we might fall into the void.

Likewise, those who once believed the earth was flat
feared sailing out to the horizon and falling into space.

When consciousness assumed these poignant forms,
it sailed out to sea and sank into the deep unknown.

We call it “life” and enjoy making up imaginative tales
to confirm that we are something, rather than nothing.

Something and nothing are two featured stories in which
we invest our beliefs, even though both are fantasies.

Beyond our personal daydreams there is no other religion,
but maybe that is too much to bear, maybe we aren’t ready.

We wave our flags, salute our dreams, and pledge allegiance
to the party, country, or god of choice, but set that aside,
relax, and sit very still — feel the body breathing.

3.

When we pause to contemplate our own tenuous appearance,
isn’t it as if we are reflecting on a vague and restless dream?

For all of our efforts to acquire what we imagine we want,
should we somehow chance to encounter that world beyond
our fantasies of belief and fabrication, we invariably retreat
to the conditional safety and comfort of the bland familiar,
which for every dreamer is after all the dream in which
they so haplessly drift, absorbed in the scenes of time.

However, if we are able to persist in our focus of attention
to the timeless substratum upon which all of the manifest
and even the invisible realms depend for their existence,
we may discover that only the fluid poetry of mad savants
who have renounced belief, position, or any landing place
will serve to hint at the exquisite and ineffable light
which is awakened in those lovers who submit themselves
to the limitless infinite — our own true face and nature.

That luminosity is none other than the mystery which lives us
now and always, whether with our knowledge and consent
or not, it matters little — it is not a belief, it is what is,
there is only that, and thanks and praise be to it!

 

don-farrell

(Picture by Don Farrell)

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The Memo

Today the background soundtrack is a scintillating jazz groove — so infectious that you can’t help bobbing along in rhythm as you make your way from the parking lot to the office.

Standing in the elevator on the way up, you sport a sly smile, and those who silently accompany you can’t help but feel slightly elevated themselves, as if winter was nearly over, and a gorgeous spring was massing along the seasonal borders, preparing to invade with floral blossoms and mating bird songs.

Once at your desk, you notice that a number of messages are awaiting your reply — the usual company business — but today you are feeling serendipitous, a bit of devil-may-care.

You push the clutter aside, and as you slowly sip your latte, you slide into a dreamy reverie without the slightest resistance.

Now you are a patron at the restaurant of a world-renowned chef, and as you sit transfixed, admiring scenes of elegant cuisine, some inexplicable emotional opening suddenly rends your heart so profoundly that you burst out into tears of utter joy and gratitude!

You gladly reach to lift your glass of wine, but now you are holding a plastic bottle of dirty water instead, and as you gaze around, you realize to your shock and horror that you are surrounded by a crowd of destitute refugees, camped along a muddy stream in the midst of intermittent bombing and machine gun fire.

You blink your eyes in disbelief, and on the white linen tablecloth you see a plate of chilled apple pie with raisins, just the way you like it, and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream studded with tiny particles of real vanilla sits atop the pastry, waiting for your indulgence.

You breathe a great sigh of relief, but before you can lift your fork an explosion to your immediate left has all but obliterated two of your family members who had fled the carnage of invasion, only to be caught here in a cross-fire between the rebels and the army.

You shriek in pain as you realize that your left arm is dangling by a thread of sinew from its socket, and you are on the verge of fainting when the waiter approaches your table to insure that you are satisfied, and then drops off the check with a slight bow, smiling all the time.

Conveniently, the bill slip has calculated an appropriate gratuity, but as you reach for your credit card, a bit bewildered yet well-fed, your cell phone rings, and suddenly you find yourself in your office, the messages are waiting for answers, but your boss has sent a memo that you better read first, since that’s how things work around here.

You rub your eyes and begin to read it, although there is a lingering taste of apple pie mixed with gun powder in your mouth, and your left arm is throbbing in pain.

The memo is curious and even rather strange, so you find yourself reading it over and over again. It says:

“The birds all chirp at the light of day.
The insects dart in the mid-day sun.
The soft breeze toys with the fallen leaves,
whispering softly, have no fear.”

waiter

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A Painting

“The coming and going
of birth and death
is a painting.

Unsurpassed enlightenment
is a painting.

The entire phenomenal universe
and the empty sky are nothing
but a painting.”

~Dogen Zenji

 

Feeling deeply into this moment, can’t we see that there is something terribly heart-rending about the exquisite fragility of any and all appearances? Really, just to pause for a moment and allow our feeling being to communicate from the depths of itself is a truly courageous act — an art in itself — because everything we can see and taste and hear and know is permeated by the looming transiency of existence.

In such recognition the first impulse may be to simply go numb, or to engage in any manner of distraction, due to the overwhelming nature of it all. Nevertheless, for those who are willing to bravely plunge below the surface levels of these feelings in order to inquire at their root, there is a further revelation waiting. That is all I will say about that, except that the effort is a worthy one, regardless of the outcome.

Lying on the lawn in my backyard garden, I would spend hours as a child utterly losing myself in the endlessness of blue, watching the white clouds drifting and changing into shapes both familiar and strange, and letting my consciousness expand out to merge with the totality of the Mystery.

From time to time I would be moved to ponder the nature of the appearance of the world of things, including my own appearance. Inevitably, however, I would always get to a point beyond which my mind could not go, and so I would sink back into the comfort and relative safety of mindless abandonment in the beauty and silence of the infinite display above and all around me.

Since I had no way to account for the awareness of my own being-ness, I realized intuitively that it could come and go. After all, I was apparently here now, but could just as easily not be. In that sense, my life and consciousness seemed totally arbitrary, and hence there was no real security in any object of attention, whether it be a self, a person, a cloud, or a thought.

This recognition immediately disabused me of any notion of permanence, and though I had not yet witnessed the death of a loved one, I knew that nothing that I loved or cherished or even didn’t like would survive the play of time. It all could go away, just as it did when I drifted off to sleep, and like a vanishing ripple on a pond, it would be as if it all never happened – this ripple of my life, of this world, of consciousness itself.

At the young age of 8, I had a dramatic experience of total dissolution – all of my existential supports just dropped away in a sudden moment, flinging me into the vast unknown, and leaving me bewildered and mute. It was this experience – the culmination and exclamation point to my backyard lawn inquiry — that profoundly changed my relationship to the world, as well as my sense of self.

I could never look at things the same way again, from the viewpoint of the “person” I had assumed myself to be. Now all that was in question. I fell into a state of utter not knowing, and any remedial efforts would quickly prove to be nothing more than distractions from the fundamental truth of my inherent ignorance.

Although nominally raised as a Catholic, I did not turn to the religious dogmas in order to make some peace with my experience. All the pious platitudes spouted by the nuns and priests seemed shallow and irrelevant, and certainly unable to touch the depths of what I was feeling and recognizing. Nevertheless, I felt moved to test my hypothesis by entering into a Catholic Seminary, where I spent 7 years exploring that institution before coming to the conclusion that there was nothing there but more ignorance.

Eventually, I realized that any answers would have to come from within myself, and yet I also recognized that my own mind had no way to account for that which preceded it – for whatever it was that pertained prior to the arrival of my own consciousness. Calling it “God” was utterly beside the point, since it was merely another mental construct, and a second-hand one at that.

Furthermore, who or what was “myself”? Whatever self-image that tried to coalesce as an identity was sooner or later replaced by another, and so there was nothing that I could really grasp that was “me” or “mine”. Settling on or fixating on any particular self-sense was strictly related to immediate circumstance, but had no staying power. Only awareness itself persisted, but what is the source of awareness?

Being de facto inconceivable, any effort to comprehend it all by using the mind was clearly futile, and so this left me with a momentary sense of meaninglessness. Even that sense, however, was soon recognized to be a temporary and non-binding superimposition on the Mystery, and so I was left with no foothold to gain some philosophical traction or security. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to dwell.

Moreover, the concerns of my peers held little interest, consisting mainly of exploiting the possibilities of gross energies for the purposes of self-confirmation, petty gain, and mere entertainment. Observing the lives of my parents and other significant adults, I saw little difference, except in scale. Unwitting players being spun around on a great wheel beyond their knowledge or consent, they seemed not unlike a herd of sheep being led from birth through an often stressful life and then on to a waiting death, without ever seriously comprehending their purpose or true nature.

Paradoxically, a spontaneous feeling of real affection for everyone and everything was discovered pulsing behind the intellect’s impossible search for meaning. This sense of affection had no need for some mental justification and required no rationale. It simply presented itself in my feeling being as a natural characteristic to being alive – this sincerely loving regard, without clinging or attachment, to the appearance of anything and everything. Whatever is, whatever I happen to encounter, is loveable and even beautiful in and of itself, especially considering its poignant brevity and dream-like quality.

However, the pragmatic evidence of experience in the world of relationships also taught me over time that such emotional vulnerability which love and affection elicit could prove dangerous. Humans are complex but still rather primitive animals, often clever and quick to violence, and mostly imbued with certain conflicting traits, such as greed, envy, hatred, and above all, fear. These afflictive qualities make navigating through their midst somewhat perilous, and so I was forced to learn to discriminate in the objective world, at least until I could find the circumstances in which my accumulated armor could be discarded and I could stand naked and free to be myself, whatever that might be revealed to be in the company of Love.

For decades, I diligently studied the various wisdom traditions, strategies, and doctrines that have been promulgated by the spiritual heroes of humanity. I spent time living as a mountain hermit, and later spent 3 years living with a Zen master in a Rinzai Zen Monastery, studying that branch of Buddhism. Although I found much that seemed agreeable and even revelatory, in the end, I came to see all the various concepts as comparable to paintings – subjective fantasies of interpretation that merely served as artful descriptions of that which is ultimately indescribable.

Moreover, as the years passed, I had filled my mind with a great gallery of these magnificent paintings, and yet, despite my appreciation for their awesome beauty, they belonged to someone else. They were not my own experience, in other words, but the renderings from the experience of others. Certainly, there were a number of seemingly profound experiences, but they too soon became artifacts of memory, and although I may have been show amazing revelations, none of it had the power to touch the deeper yearning at my core. Thus, I came to understand that no experience, in and of itself, is anything more than a modification of consciousness, subject to the mind’s conditioned filters.

Prompted by continuous self-inspection (and augmented by a powerfully transformative experience during a near-fatal automobile accident), I arrived at a summary realization that it all must be discarded, every last painting, every memory and trace of identification. There needed to be a systematic room cleaning, right down to the bare bone rafters, and only then perhaps would I be able distinguish the real from the merely provisional.

In the course of this conscious process, I came to understand directly that the only recourse, finally, is silence. Only by plunging resolutely into the heart of silence could the original nature of awareness spontaneously shine forth and reveal itself as it is — both empty and at the same time pregnant with a mysterious impersonal knowing.

In such silence, all thought, feeling, perception, inclination, attachment, and position are naturally transmuted into a kind of wordless wisdom – not as an acquisition, but as revelations of the native state or original nature of being itself. All are intimately unified in the recognition of their inherent indivisibility, and appreciated as nothing less than the manifested display of a divinity beyond words or stories, an unconditionally loving divinity of which I and everyone are unique and completely free expressions.

Indeed, everything is rapturously painting itself on a canvas of its own being, and even though it is akin to writing on water, what beguiling pictures emerge to shine, linger for a moment, and then dissolve back into the Great Emptiness from which they arose! Rather than mourning their fragility, we can delight in the astonishment prompted by the appearance of anything at all – the great magic and miracle of consciousness itself, which expands to infinity like a beam of clear white light, traveling on through the ebony void of endless space and time.

 

ashes-and-snow-15

 

(Picture by Gregory Colbert)

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Dawn of the Age of Anxiety

Today I sat in the supermarket parking lot watching the shoppers coming and going. Each was a self-contained universe unto themselves, only marginally interfacing with each other at the matrix of food gathering. Soon enough they were driving off into the thought galaxies where mentally fabricated worlds revolved around them — their own worlds, worlds they had constructed out of thought energy which then appeared solid and enduring because the power of projection held them in their orbits. At the center, each individual shone like their own sun, granting these many worlds the power to exist.

The implications of this all stretched forward and backward at the same time. For example, I remembered being a child at the local playground, and as I played my childhood games, there was no other world than that playground. When I went to school during the day, there was no other world than that school. Now as I sat in the supermarket parking lot, there was no other world but this lot, surrounded by the tall pines that thrive throughout this mountain town, and peopled by shoppers towing their own universes around with them as they came and went. Really, there are endless universes in this physical dimension alone. Just imagine all of those blinking in and out of existence throughout the infinite dimensions of creation!

Even here, within this seemingly self-contained world, who would imagine that there was so much going on beyond the parking lot? Just a few miles away, in fact, almost 200,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes due to a water emergency at the big dam nearby. Many had migrated for the duration up the mountain, and now were coming and going from the local SaveMart.

Likewise, as a child in the playground, I was shocked when one of my friends announced that the Russians had launched a satellite into outer space. Who were the Russians, and why was I supposed to be afraid now? They had never come near the playground, which was the same place it had been before I heard about them. Now, however, I was made aware that there was a much bigger place I was living in, and it was being threatened by some evil beings who wanted to drop A-bombs on our playground, homes, and school too.

Soon we were preparing for that eventuality, which might happen any day. We listened for the air raid sirens and practiced the special procedures, which involved getting down under our little desks and covering our eyes and ears in lieu of the atomic blast. Soon I was walking through a post-apocalyptic landscape in my dreams at night, with the local playground and school gone up in radioactive flames, just like they portrayed on the Audio-Video presentations in the school auditorium.

Yes, now I knew that there was a world beyond the playground, and even though I could not see it, I knew it was trying to kill me. That’s what I was led to believe, and why should I doubt it? Of course this was disturbing, but then I went back to play, and forgot all about it until the night, and the dreams.

I did not realize it at the time, but each of my playmates also lived in their own thought universes, and the only real interface was the school and playground, which were now being threatened by the bad Commie Russians, who wanted to destroy our worlds for some incomprehensible reason, and now had a satellite, a “Sputnik”, floating over us in outer space, and maybe as it passed over our playground it would drop the Big One.

Now all of our thought universes were infected by this fear, but because our thoughts did not stand still, but continued weaving mental constructs like busy little spiders, new planets were created, populated by Davy Crockett and Wyatt Earp, Superman and Saturday Matinees at the Balboa Theater, and then I heard that San Francisco was going to get its own major league baseball team — the Giants. Surely enough, I was about to find a new hero who would transcend the Russians and their evil thought schemes that haunted me at night. His name was Willie Mays, and boy could he swing a bat!

 

dreams

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