It’s Christmastime ~ Bang That Drum


Christmastime and the winter holidays invoke sensations that could be labeled anything from anxious and fearful, to joy and warmth, or even indifference. When you break it down, as we do in inquiry, it’s all perception–with an overlay of personal meaning. The taste of nut-buttery cookies; the scent of pine; the vision of colored lights that glow everywhere in these long, dark nights; the sounds of voices singing; and the touch of friends and family who come to share all of this. The perceptions themselves are neutral. We give them all the meaning they have for us. Hence, there are Scrooges and there are jolly old Saint Nicks, and everything in between.

For as long as I can remember, there has been the ongoing discussion of the “true meaning” of Christmas, how this not-really-agreed-upon meaning is overshadowed by commercialism and the glaring poverty of those who are unable to even participate in the excess of consumption. Tiny Tim and the Little Drummer Boy weigh in on the side of that spirit of Christmas that has nothing to do with money, though the Madison Avenue contribution is a very loud drumbeat, if not a deafening roar.

It is, officially and nominally, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Not everyone who celebrates goes to church, but many do pay homage, in their own private ways, to the underlying message of love, forgiveness, and peace on Earth.

It could be said that the last temptation of Christ was, metaphorically and literally, bearing witness to his humanness, in giving up his personal will to live and die as a man. As men and women we have no other choice but to celebrate this humanness–because we live as human beings. We can come to see both the divinity and the humanity in life, by forgiving and honoring the differences in expression that are the foundation and inexorable beauty of our fleeting personhood. The inclusion and acceptance of both, of all the contrasts is the miracle. Nothing less than the whole enchilada will do.

There’s going to be no exhortation here to live or celebrate one way or another, no plea to “love one another.” Buy big-ticket items, or ladle out food in soup kitchens. Neither one makes for a morally superior person. They’re both expressions of giving that seem to go along with the-not-really-agreed-upon meaning of Christmas. All else is opinion, that which divides and separates. Opinions are also part of this, though held lightly as opposed to fiercely.

If we can’t agree upon the true meaning of Christmas, perhaps we can agree to dispense with all judgment, and certainly any judgment about those who, either by choice or religious affiliation, do not celebrate it at all. If we refuse to give in to the temptation of believing that there is a right way to do Christmas–or anything else–then there can be no wrong, or not-quite-right way. This is how conflict is born, and world and personal peace are thereby sacrificed. We can refuse the temptation to judge in the same way that Christ refused temptation in the desert–all appeals that succumb to human frailty and neediness are responded to with trust, and the unwavering commitment to that which sustains us.

Or we simply surrender to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the feel of the season. These freely-given and always-present perceptions are all we ever have. That is the celebration. There is no other to judge in this or any other regard. Whether the sights and sounds evoke joy, sorrow, or grumpiness, may you embrace (hug) it all, and may peace be with you in the midst of Christmastime, wintertime, and in all the seasons of (your) life. I bang this drum with solemn yet gay reverence for all the beats that have ever contributed to the symphony and cacophony that is this life. Bang that drum, however the spirit moves. There’s the meaning, whatever it means, however it manifests. Shall I play for you?

LIsten: Little Drummer Boy ~ Jars of Clay

Holly and Mistletoe

When Tragedy Provokes


When Tragedy Provokes


What the Buddha said…

Wait, what did he say?

Oh yes, it’s all grief, all the time.


There is only one loss,

Only that single pernicious conflict,

But Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays.


We are fellow mourners

Who know not how to comfort

Blinded as we are by our own grief.


Yet when we cease to carry heavy things,

And let go the burden of living discretely,

We shall have arms to hold.


And what Jesus said…

Blessed are they who mourn,

for they shall be comforted.


One loss, one solace, one love,

Blows and embraces along the way

Be it the funeral or the wedding procession.


Attend the wake yet vow to awaken,

The sage invites us, and rouses the heart;

May I never love less than when tragedy provokes.

Blah-Blah-Blah: Moving Beyond Jibber Jabber.

social influence

There is much talk, many words written, not only in an effort to describe an “indescribable experience,” but also in an effort to point the way towards the indescribable. Perhaps we have heard the words, “who you really are,” or “you are neither the thinker or the doer,” enough times. Are these oft-repeated phrases doing the trick? We presume to know, or not know, because of the lulling tone of a familiar language. Presumption is approximation, like having a berth on an ocean liner that is eternally headed toward an ever-disappearing coastline. Thus at this juncture, the language can become a hindrance, a conveyance that fails to deliver.

Do you know who you really are? No? Then begin there, in that “no.” (If yes, no need to read further.) This is usually the point at which the neti-neti, or via negativa, dialogue begins. Do you know who you are not? A well-versed nondualized mind knows the answer straight away. Does that help? Not this, not that, and so on, but still, “who am I?”

Beginners mind–fresh, unencumbered by shoptalk–is a good place to start. First off, no one else actually has an answer to that question, and no one ever will. There is only the asking. This is why all the best books, satsang, retreats, and even trips to India, rarely provide the answer to this mysterious question. But they are fun to read and attend on occasion, so in all seriousness–let us read, go, do, practice, find a sangha, discuss. It’s all great fun, and life might as well be that, even in the absence of knowing our true identity. It’s not all that different from joining a traveling theater troupe. Revel. Enjoy. That’s all most of us are really after isn’t it? A life enjoyed, lived fully, with no regrets? Do it all, and regret nothing. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s a waste of time if you’re having a good time, following teachers, getting to know some of them, having great flashes of insight, bouts of peace and clarity. It’s just life. There is no correct way to live. There’s no folly bigger than another when its a folie à deux world.

Keep the question close to your heart, and be immensely curious. Let everything you do be an open-ended question, and everything that happens becomes the benevolent response. Life is a call and response kind of activity. Be a lover, not a worrier of things. And when you just cannot love, let your annoyance and your distrust steer you towards new beaches and alleyways. Catastrophes and disappointments are nothing if not serendipitous detours to wholly new terrain. Is this not the promise of world travel, Gypsies?

I write this because there is a weariness with nondual blah, blah, blah. Yet the moment the language ceases to appease the mind, and reason fails, there is a very clear window of opportunity. When a natural curiosity replaces the habitual tendency to conform to industry standards, the answer is here in plain view, unfettered by conceptual jibber jabber. This is the strength and the promise of the inquiries–questions are posed rather than answers given. The experience is the answer, and it is beyond even Advaitic and nondual terminology. It is a wordless knowing, related to no perceptual framework. “Oh,” is the most appropriate, immediate response–or simply laughter.

Beth Bellamy and I are offering another Deepenings Course beginning in late January/early February. Neither of us will provide second-hand answers, but we may attempt to disabuse cherished beliefs. And as always, if you’re interested in inquiring one-on-one, contact me for further details. We have only our most obscuring and possibly erroneous assumptions to lose, and who knows what lies underneath the dust of our convictions?

Getting Older is not a Future Proposition

Time-PhotoAn acquaintance recently suggested that the inquiries might be useful in regard to aging, a looking into what to do as we confront the challenges of growing older. Great idea. As facilitators we regularly offer a body identification inquiry, and of course there can be a general sense of deficiency when we start to experience the limitations that we are culturally conditioned to believe are part and parcel of heading into the second half of life. “I can’t do this anymore” is a common lament, a general theme. As we age, everywhere we go, we look around and are startled to discover we are the oldest people in the room. The world appears to be getting younger faster. It’s like being on a train that’s headed in the opposite direction from all other trains, that are going the other way at an accelerated speed. Yet we are slowing down and headed back to the station where the journey began, looking out the windows at the scenery we passed by seemingly just yesterday, but was it really so long ago?

My 83 year-old mother suffered a massive stroke this weekend. My father seems more at risk of dying than she, because he has no idea how to take care of himself. These these last few days he has looked like a vision of terror, like an abandoned child. So what to do?

It is so clear that, as simple as it sounds, there is never a time of life where the central issue is not the capacity to live in the present moment. Whereas the idea of using the inquiries to address the aging mind and body initially appeared to be about the most obvious concepts of physical limitations and mental sluggishness, I now see that it’s an ageless, timeless, genderless, collective concern. Are we living in a world of regret or nostalgia, or the terror or hope of what’s down the road? Or can we be fully present in this momentliterally, abandon all preoccupation with what was, or what is to come?

My father has almost literally left his mind and body out of sheer terror. His waking nightmare has always had to do with a dire future. He is a master of worst case scenarios, and is continually living in those movies as if they are real and true right now.  My mother is resting and healing, and seemingly has a better quality of life in comparison to the horror show my father appears to be living in. Right now, it appears as if he needs drugs more than she, just to get through the day. I do not tell my father to be here now (only once, gently.) I show him how to do the laundry and find affection for simple things, like how that sock still looks like the foot it so recently covered. My mother is physically incapacitated on most of the left side of her body, from her face down to her toes. She cannot, for the moment, go anywhere or do anything, as most of us feel we must, most of the time, so she rests without compulsion, without his debilitating agitation.

If I lived in the future, I might look at these two and think, “This is our fate,” this slowing down, this incapacitation, the whole spectacle of death and dying. You don’t have to see my mother’s immobilized, slackened body in the hospital bed to know or suspect this possibility. But I might just hear my father’s starkly panicked voice over the phone in regard to an uncertain and dismal future–and just stop.

Stop all movements toward any other moment but this. No matter what your age in years, just stop all thought of an imagined bleak, or better-than-this future. Relinquish all ties, debts, and lingering resentments about an equally imagined past, right now. This is the paramount opportunity of a lifetime, because we are never really old or young outside of the present moment.

Scott Kiloby’s upcoming book about addiction, Natural Rest, has the simple yet profound prescription to rest, simply rest, into this present moment. Rest, right now, with what is. It is the age-old admonition to be here now. We can come up with all kinds of inquiries to deal with all kinds of apparent “problems.” But there has never been a better time, nor will there ever be, to live from this universal axiomatic truth in regard to surrendering all to the present moment. What else is there?

This is it; this moment. I sing this song to myself. No one or nothing from the past or the future can hear it. But the melody lingers sweetly.


Objects & Awareness: Smiling World

coincidence-1What are objects but a combination of sense perceptions? What is awareness but this sensing, or experience itself? Objects and awareness are inseparable. If you cannot see, hear, touch, taste or smell a cup, it doesn’t exist. Awareness is the experience of seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling. Thus the body is also awareness precisely because it is all about sensing. The cup exists because it is experienced–not by the body as a separate sensing subject, but as the experience itself, ipso facto.

Close your eyes and touch the cup. Is there, in the tactile experience, a cup and a hand? There is only an unnamable sensation. The words “cup,” “hand,” “touch,” are added on, a mental, linguistic overlay, dividing a singular experience into three things. It is this mental overlay, the naming that divides, and creates the appearance of separation. The cup and the hand are therefore inseparable, and inseparable from the experience of touch. There is only this experiencing.

This could sound like boring non-dual gobbledygook. But when you drop the words, you have the wordless, unnamable experience of inseparability. The experience itself is not boring; a sensation itself cannot be bored. Try and find boringness without the idea that there is a separate, individual, experiencer.

Or try wrapping your arms around something or someone you love. (And there can always be that, words pointing to separate something’s, or not.) There is touch, smell, sound, sight, and even smell. That’s it! And that is everything. All else is added on, is a mental overlay, a conditioned response to a belief in separation. And there is that wonderful thing we can agree to call love, just for fun. Wrap your arms around the world as it presents itself to you now, eternally now. Just love, by seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling all of it. No need to add a separate someone into the mix. Experience stands alone, and neither requires nor creates an other to behold. Only beholding.

And this is boring non-dual gobbledygook until it is experienced…and it is known that there is no experiencer…only experiencing. Loving arms, loving nothing, but everything. My love for you knows no bounds. Take out the “my,” the “you,” and all boundaries–what have you got? Poof! Love. Then put them all back together again, just for fun.

Object/awareness inquiry is not the only way to experience the inseparability of the mind/body/world. See that if you smile, the whole world smiles back; if you scowl, the whole world scowls back…with a wink. This is the only tenable use of the concept create your own reality. Take the you out of the equation, a smile emerges, and there it is–smiling world.