Category Archives: Stories

My Story

Hi, my name is Tom and I’ve lived all over the world. That always seems to be the most interesting thing about me when I introduce myself to people. Everyone wants to know where you’re from. Well, in my mind, I am from many places, and I am not from anywhere. I am a wandering spirit, as are we all.

I was born in Israel, just like Jesus. Not to draw any implicit connection, but you know, just sayin’. It’s not a bad place to be born. This was just before things got really heated over there, but anyway I don’t remember too much about Israel. We moved by the time I was 2 years old. My parents are not Jewish nor military folk. My dad was an adventurous software engineer, and these days he’s an adventurous manager. He wanted to travel, and travel we did.

My parents are both from Belgium. This is how I usually phrase it. I don’t say that I’m from Belgium. Not that I have anything against Belgium. My bloodline is from Belgium. But only for a while. If you trace it back, century after century, it goes on branching and wheeling across the world and eventually, I guess, into the Ocean, and back to the stars. But my spirit is from many places. For my spirit, discovering different cultures is like remembering the many masks I have worn throughout time and space. Does that sound cosmic enough?

I’m a pretty cosmic kind of guy. To me, what is happening nowadays, this whole globalization business, is pretty cosmic. I like to look for the highest potential in everything. There’s a lot that is not perfect about globalization. But to me the hidden gift of globalization is the ability for every individual to remember their universal nature. To realize that every culture, every language, is just a different way of expressing essential human themes. And at the heart of these is the pair of longing and embodiment… longing for home, and embodying love. Because love is our home.

One of the shadows of globalization is that it seems to be creating a world where money rules everything, and we’re all becoming the faceless agents of a system beyond anyone’s control. A system driven only by profit, that is draining the world’s resources and exploits those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s like a great virus that covers the richness of humanity in sheathes of materiality. But maybe this virus is a necessary devil, acting as a carrier for a global communication network that can birth a new consciousness: that of all humanity as one global family. That’s my dream. That perhaps we can all awaken to the fact that we are all united and our only real purpose is to serve one another. That everything else is just a distraction.

For the last 14 years I’ve lived in the United States. Before that I lived in Taiwan and Belgium. In the States, I’ve lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Chicago, and California. I loved going to school in Washington DC. I didn’t like school in Virginia. I didn’t like North Carolina either, I was very rebellious and North Carolina felt far too conservative for me. I wanted to leave as soon as possible. Chicago was my relief from North Carolina, my great hub of culture and sophistication, but in Chicago I felt cut off and isolated. The city felt cold and hostile, although it had its moments of beauty.

But looking back, I spent a lot of my life feeling isolated and cut off. I was an introverted kid, I spent a lot of my time in books and in thought. I had a mean narcissistic streak, and felt like others couldn’t relate to me. But I don’t think I tried too hard to communicate my feelings to others. They were too obscured in complex ideas about the world and why, ultimately, it was a meaningless and hopeless place. Deep down, I was probably kind of depressed.

I ended up studying Philosophy in Chicago. I’ve always been fascinated by the big ideas of mankind. The big bang. Quantum theory. Theism vs. atheism. The meaning of life (42, incidentally). Death. And one avenue into many of these contemplations was psychedelic drugs. I loved taking drugs. They put me into an entirely different world that most people didn’t understand. Like the gateway into Narnia! I felt that in one night on mushrooms I had more thoughts than the average person had in a year. I thought about things most people would never care to think about. And it felt so… strange! They were like nothing else I had ever experienced.

But my experiences weren’t always pleasant. Sometimes I touched a deep hopelessness, a feeling that life was a meaningless charade where we all pretend everything is fine but deep down we all know it is doomed. At other times I would become aware of a presence that seemed so powerful it would overcome me completely, and for it to enter Tom would have to die. That was the most terrifying.

As I continued to experiment with psychedelics, these experiences became more and more frequent. Something wanted to take over, and I struggled to hold onto the reigns, even as the absurdities of my life were highlighted for me. I felt like an actor who refused to read the lines the director handed me, and instead stumbled around on stage foolishly and self-consciously.

This was also accompanied by a feeling that my friends and other people around me weren’t real, they were also just actors playing out their roles. This made me feel crazy, and then I became afraid that I would be seen as crazy and terrible things would happen to me. I was on a bad trip, folks. And it would have kept getting worse if I hadn’t, somehow, found it in myself to surrender.

If there is a message to my story, it is all captured in this word–surrender. I feel that it is perhaps the most profound thing we, as human beings, can do. To give up our need to control life. To trust. To let go of our ideas, our beliefs, our reason, our faith and our doubt. All of these can be ways that our minds go on attempting to control life. To give up our tendency to complain or blame others for our problems. To give up our tendency to judge others and ourselves. Essentially, to give up all the noise in our heads that keeps us from just being in the present moment, and becoming the silent witness of what is happening.

Surrender. I feel that I surrendered to two things simultaneously. I surrendered to a higher power and I surrendered to my physical experience. Before that happened, I never could have understood how deeply connected those two are. Our bodies are always having some physical experience, but we spend most of our time distracting ourselves from how our bodies are feeling. We move around, we go around doing things, we talk to each other, we drink and eat and sleep. But we usually spend very little time just sitting, closing our eyes, and feeling what’s going on with our bodies. It gets uncomfortable very quickly. I think most people realize this when they take psychedelics–it’s pretty uncomfortable to be in a body. Even when your body is perfectly healthy, it’s still liable to have all kinds of aches and pains just from sitting still. And when you’re high, it feels even stranger. You sweat for no reason, it just feels damn weird. You feel like a spirit that’s been thrown in a strange cage of bones and flesh and fluids. The body is weird!

But what does that discomfort have to do with a higher power? Well, as I said, most of our minds’ activity seems to be about distracting us from the present moment. Our minds are very future and past oriented. So much of our time is spent complaining about the past or anticipating the future. We work jobs we don’t like looking forward to when we get out of work. We go on vacation to places where we can go on distracting ourselves, with food and drink and this and that. And if anything happens to snap us out of our distraction, we get frustrated! And along the way, we develop a strong sense of who we are. We identify with our beliefs, with our behavior, with where we’re from, with what we’ve done, with what we like, and so on. But what happens when we start to just sit with the discomfort of the present moment? All that stuff starts getting burned away.

The ego starts getting burned away. When we surrender to the present moment, to just sitting with ourselves and reality as it is, all of our thoughts about the past and future and ourselves start to get burned away. They don’t serve any function anymore. There’s just this moment and the sensations going through the body, which are all impermanent. And there is the consciousness that is witnessing the body, witnessing the present moment. The consciousness that has always been there. The consciousness that was there when Tom was born, when Tom became 12, when Tom became 21, the consciousness that is here right now. But this consciousness has not always been Tom. Tom is an idea that appeared in this consciousness at some point. There is no point in tracing where this idea came from. But there is great value in seeing that it is an illusion. It is a useful illusion. A beautiful illusion, even, at times. But it is still an illusion. And the truth is far greater. The truth is that I am consciousness. I am not my beliefs, not my thoughts, not my deeds, not my past. I am not where I’ve lived, who I’ve known, or what I’ve done. I am consciousness, just as the deer outside my house is consciousness, my girlfriend is consciousness, my parents are consciousness, and you are consciousness. We are all consciousness, and consciousness is all there is. And this is beautiful. This is unifying, harmonizing, and it is peaceful.

And in the space of seeing this, something else becomes apparent. What becomes apparent is that there is a force moving through all things. I see, with more and more clarity, that I am not the source of my actions or my deeds, any more than I am the source of the sensations in my body or the things I witness externally. In fact, everything is just happening, and if I can do anything at all, I can surrender to what is happening. I can surrender to the flow of life through me. I can surrender to the sensations I feel. I can surrender to the situations life brings me. And in this surrender, there is a sense of communion. A sense that I am coming into harmony with the source of all of this.

And it’s also a sense that Tom is dying. Not that my body is dying, but that identification with the body is dying. That identification with thoughts is dying, so thought patterns that used to be very strong start to unravel. Thoughts like “this is good” and “that is bad.” When there is just consciousness observing and embracing what it sees, these thought patterns start to unravel. And so the sense of Tom unravels as well. The whole flavor of life changes. And it’s wonderful! It’s liberating, and peaceful, and full of love and beauty.

So when I tell my story of living, I start to tell a story of dying. As one of my spiritual teachers said, “The art of living is also the art of dying.” Because we all die eventually. And they say that the wise are those who, rather than despair, use this realization as the fuel for their desire to find what is deathless. Because saints and sages of all traditions have told us there is a deathless. And it is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of inquiry into your own being and realizing the truth for yourself. As we realize this, on a collective level, all the divisions of religion and creed will drop away.

When I tell my story, I always find myself drawn to what I consider to be the essential. My girlfriend has a different style, she loves to chronicle events and people and use the stories to share her wisdom. I just go straight to being. I don’t think that one is right and the other is wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong to be interested in the every-day realities of material life, to highlight the dramas we all play out. I just know that my spirit just wants to rest in this truth–we are all consciousness. And we don’t need anything else! We can just be consciousness and sip the divine tea of freedom.

This is also why I love tea ceremony. It takes being and turns it into an art. When we sip tea, we sip being. We meet as one and leave as one, and the ceremony reminds us of our unity.

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I love my parents, I love Belgium, I love God, I love Jesus and the Buddha and Lao Tzu and Mooji and Goenkaji, I love my brother and my girlfriend. I love the US and Santa Cruz. The more I lose myself, the more I love, because I don’t need anything to be any particular way. I just accept and embrace everything as it is. And if an impulse arises inside me to make an adjustment, to fix something, to change something, to protest something, then I embrace that as well. Because I see how everything is a part of the whole, and the whole goes on changing. And sometimes the changes come through us. It’s a beautiful paradox that cannot be understood, only lived.

Life is a beautiful paradox that cannot be understood, only lived.

When all’s said and done, this isn’t my story, it’s our story. That gives me hope. I look forward to a day when we encourage our kids to meditate, when we hold compassion in greater esteem than knowledge. I pray that my life can be a pure light of illumination for others, and that together we heal the wounds of the world through the depth of our surrender.

OK, I think that’s enough for today. I hope this finds you all well, inspired, peaceful and loving. May all beings be released from suffering. May we all be supported in walking this holy path. May we have fun too!

love

In The Time of Daffodils : A Star Wars Fable

Specious, the dreaded Sith Lord, stands on the bridge of his star-ship. His gaze extends far, far beyond the specks of light visible in the expanse of space. He sees the ripples in the force, he scours the Galaxy seeking those little sparks of force-sensitive life.

Specious is old, old from devouring life, weary from anger and vengeance and cruelty. He is tired, and the old games of cat and mouse don’t thrill him anymore. His apprentice is out there now, tightening his grip around the necks of the beaurocratic officials of Specious’ empire. Specious sees his own madness reflected in his apprentice. This endless thirst for power and control that leads nowhere. On his throne of thrones, Emperor of the Galaxy, feared by all his denizens, Specious is coming to find that his whole life has been a sort of sad joke. The Force is laughing at him. The Jedi are laughing at him. It has all been meaningless, and brought him nothing.

Specious’ apprentice, Lord Razin, does not share his master’s obsession with the Jedi. For centuries Specious hunted the Jedi. He fed on their life energy, extending his own life beyond any Jedi or Sith he has encountered in life or legend. But not even this can bring him satisfaction.

Out there, in the web of the Force, little sparks of light are growing and gathering. How long has Specious been the King Spider of this web? And yet, he has never succeeded in snuffing out the Jedi. The light always seems to rekindle itself out of nothing. For many years Specious has suspected that somewhere out there is a Master of Light, older even than Specious and capable of bending the Force to mask his own presence. Perhaps it is this Master who goes on initiating new Jedi, ensuring that the lineage is never lost. This idea is the only that brings Specious any semblance of excitement anymore. Perhaps he longs for a worthy opponent who could put an end to his miserable existence. But maybe, just maybe…

The idea is ludicrous. How could he, Lord Specious the Terrible, return to the Light? It’s inconceivable. Specious knows he must suffer his fate, and he is ready.

“There,” he points his skeletal finger at a solitary star blinking in the void. “That is where we must go.”

He taps his finger on the holo-console and selects the star from a field of millions. To the uninitiated, the stars are distant islands of life scattered in a vast emptiness, eternally disconnected. But those who see through the eyes of the Force see things differently. Specious sees, when he allows himself to, that there is no separation. The whole cosmos is woven of the Force, and brighter even than the stars are those beings who have learned to tap into this omnipresent field.

And on a distant planet that seems light-years away, these very beings are now gathering.

“Chart your course, lieutenant.”

“Yes Sir,” responds Specious’ captain, and in a matter of moments the Vessel goes into hyperdrive, slipping between the folds of space and time.

~~~

On the planet of Kawaiis, something rather unusual is happening. Jedi are celebrating. The Universe is in darkness, throttled by the Sith, and yet, the Jedi are celebrating!

They are young and they have found each other. From distant corners of the Galaxy, each has heard and heeded the call that brought them to Kawaiis.

Jenna, the beautiful and rebellious Princess of Alon who can tame even the fiercest animals.

Marko, the philosophical mystic whose understanding of the Force goes far beyond words, whose very presence is palpably entrancing.

Tai, the brilliant and soft-spoken leader of the group.

and Esma, poet and musician of the Force, whose very voice has the power to heal.

These four are not warriors, they’ve never even seen a lightsaber. They heal the wounds in the Force through their very presence, through their joy and their freedom. They walk by the Grace of their Master.

None of them have ever met their Master in the flesh, but each has gelt the Divine Hand of Guidance leading them to this moment. They too have come to meet the Master of Light. Just by meeting each other, it as though they have come to meet themselves.

Indescribable bliss flows from the meeting on Kawaiis. Throughout the Galaxy, business goes on as usual. Lord Razin is oblivious to the outpouring of Light, his mind focused on the little dramas of his bureaucratic life.

But the ripples travel through the Force. The plants can feel this Ecstasy, they babble happily to one another. And those who are connected to nature through their hearts can feel a new vibration of joy rippling through.

Now the celebration has quieted down. Esma’s flute sings softly into the warm murmur of night, and the four friends sit around a fire under the majestic light of the moon and stars.

“Rapture…” Marko whispers. “I met a man once, in my home world, who was madly in love with a woman he had seen only once. He was working at the docks, scrubbing the facade of a loading bay, when he noticed her boarding a Class-1 star-ship. There was something about her… he couldn’t put it into words, it was just a recognition. She turned around and saw him too, and he said she almost didn’t board her ship. But she was distracted by an attendant ushering her onboard… she cast one last glance back and then disappeared into the ship.

He was so in love with her he said every cell in his body felt as though it were on fire. And he showed me something remarkable: He put his hand into a flame and it didn’t burn. His skin didn’t even redden. And even though he felt all the pain of his lost love, he struck me as one of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”

“What happened?” asked Esma, putting down her flute. “Did he ever see her again?”

“I don’t know,” said Marko. “I hope so.”

“I read once that the Ancient Jedi disapproved of romantic love,” said Jena. “Why do you think that is?”

“Why would anyone disapprove of Love?” asked Tai. “Without Love there would be no Life. There would be no Force.”

“If the Jedi disapproved they must have had a reason,” said Esma. “Their wisdom told them that detachment and solitude would be for the highest good. But we have our own lives to live, our own stories to write. I wouldn’t want my life to tell future generations that there’s anything wrong with a natural desire for companionship and intimacy. I would rather encourage them to trust their own experience and wisdom, and be happy and free.”

“Also, many of the Ancient Jedi were warriors,” reminded Marko, “and losing a loved one can easily drive a warrior to rage and vengeance. Those are difficult paths to turn away from once you act on those impulses.”

“Can we say a prayer for all those who have known the Force and lost their way?” asked Esma.

At that very moment, the Vessel entered Kawaiis’ atmosphere a few miles from where the friends were sitting, an enormous meteor carrying a tail of fire and steam.

“It’s Lord Specious,” said Tai.

They had all known this moment might come. Strangely enough, none felt the cold grip of fear. There was just a heightened awareness. Along with the presence of Lord Specious was another Presence, a voice calling from the forest, calling Her children home.

“It’s our Master,” said Jena. “She is calling to us.”

As one unit, they headed into the forest. Bioluminescent plants and insects lit up a path through the woods, which eventually brought them into a clearing encircled by four great trees. In the middle of the clearing stood a large black obelisk. The obelisk had four sides, and on each side was a different colored crystal.

Marko ran his hand over the obelisk. “It’s obsidian,” he said.

Each of the four found themselves attracted to a side of the obelisk, to a different color crystal. And as they placed their hands on the crystals, they discovered that the crystals were held in place by some sort of magnetism, but slid easily out of their grooves.

“What are they?” asked Jena, mesmerized. Her purple crystal began to speak to her.

All of life is one crystalline consciousness. You, your mind, your personality, are just one perfectly unique facet of infinite consciousness. The crystal you hold in your hand resonates with your unique soul signature.

Once upon a time, Jedi used these crystals to power their lightsabers. These crystals represent your power. But they represent much more than that. They represent your integrity and your love. They act as a bridge between your mind and cosmic consciousness. They allow you to speak with the Divine Mother, and seek guidance and illumination.

In time, you will find your own ways to use your crystals. For now, just know that they are the guarantee of my Grace.

Everyone heard the message, in their own way. Marko’s crystal was blue, and he understood how all life was a crystalline language, a script which reveals its essence as we surrender to it. He could read the script of his own life, and it set him free.

Tai’s crystal was orange, like a soft sun or rich honey. He felt every cell in his body activating as a little mirror crystal, with a great stillness, relaxed integrity that poured energy into his heart.

Esma’s crystal was a beautiful emerald green and she knew, instantly, that all plants and trees and blades of grass are exquisite, flowing, living crystals. Each crystal communicating through creative resonance. And at the heart of this mystery language, one message:

“I am You. We are Whole.”

~~~

“Lord Specious, our scanners show four life forms in the clearing ahead.”

“Very well, lieutenant. I will go on alone.”

The captain did not argue, he knew better than to question his Master’s orders. “Hold position, men” he said over the com, as the old Sith Lord walked steadily on.

Lord Specious did not know what he would do when he confronted the young Jedi. Perhaps they would attack, out of fear, and he would destroy them. Perhaps they would run, and he would simply watch them flee. He could see only these two options. Could there be a third?

He stepped into the clearing and the Jedi were gone. Were they hiding? He could not see even a trace of them in the force. But…

There was something strange about the obelisk. The black stone was a blind spot in the Force. It cloaked the whole clearing in darkness.

Specious approached the obelisk cautiously and studied the carvings on the outside. Ancient, far older than he, but he recognized a few of the designs. They were of some imporance to the Ancient Jedi, symbolizing the balance of Light and Dark.

Finally, he touched his tired hand to the obsidian.

The obsidian spoke to him about darkness. All he had gained in his turbulent life was shown to be nothing. His empire, his ships, no more than clouds in the sky. Only a dream.

Every wound he had ever inflicted, every cruelty and deception, pointed back to a single wound. A great pain housed deep in the cells of his body. A cancer that was eating him from within. His whole life had been nothing more than an attempt to control this cancer and keep it at bay. But he was done struggling. Eat me, be done with it, he said, and surrendered.

~~~

After about an hour, Specious’ lieutenant worked up the courage to step into the clearing and see what had happened to his Master. The only trace he could find was Specious’ unmistakable handprint scorched into the surface of the obelisk. There was no sign of a struggle, only birdsong and wind blowing gently through the trees.

When Razin learned of his Master’s demise at the hands of four powerful Jedi warriors, fear gripped his heart. He loaded a ship with gold and priceless artifacts and fled to a distant star system.

With the disappearance of their Sith overlords, the Empire began to buckle and shake under the pressure of the popular uprisings, triggered, to some degree, by rumors of the return of the Jedi.

Meanwhile, four friends travelled through the Galaxy, sharing their knowledge of the Force and awakening a new revolution… a revolution of peace and joy.

the Sun Hermit: “Angels?”

teadreams

I am on a pilgrimage with the Sun Hermit to the Holy Mountain. It’s a bit of a cliche, perhaps. I think in the West we are at times too obsessed with originality. Originality is wonderful, but life thrives by repetition. Repetition, repetition, repetition. We grow by repeating simple patterns that catalyze sudden leaps and shifts. This, to me, is the value of ritual and tradition.

“I’ve been experiencing a recurring world-weariness,” I told the Sun Hermit. It’s an interesting experience that has visited me since I was an adolescent. It accompanied my early contemplations of death.

I have been very fortunate in many regards. I think one of the greatest fortunes I’ve been granted is the innocent honesty of my mom. When I was very young, 5 or 6 years old, I asked her: “What happens when we die?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

What a blessing! So many other parents would have given me some answer to remove this primal uncertainty. But my mom told me the simple truth. I don’t know.

“Maybe it’s like falling asleep,” I said, “and you start to dream…”

“Maybe,” my mom replied, happy with my innocence and imagination.

When I was that age, I had a phrase I would repeat often, to the delight of my family: “Dat weet Tom ook niet.” It translates to, “Tom doesn’t know either.” What a beautiful wisdom, and what an irony that I spent so much of my life trying to become the Tom who does know. This is where I believed happiness lay.

And this is perhaps the source of my world-weariness. A child is in awe of everything, and has no time to be weary.

It is our ideas which make us weary, isn’t it?

When I told the Sun Hermit of my weariness, he said it was time to return to the Mountain.

“The Mountain will rekindle your awe,” he promised.

The creations of humanity can be incredibly beautiful, but the natural world is the creation of God, and brings us closer to the divine source. And perhaps the most potent aspect of the Holy Mountain is the fresh water, which brings crystalline clarity to the mind.

I think of this water like the angels, that order of beings that emanates directly from the Godhead, prior to the accumulation of history, karma, form, matter.

“Teacher, can you tell me about the angels?”

“What can be said? To be in their presence is to know pure Grace. Open your heart to them and steep in their qualities and you will inherit their Kingdom.”

“What are the qualities of the angels?”

The Sun Hermit paused for a moment and I could feel a shift in the energy of the room.

“Timeless, serene beauty,” he said. “A fearless innocence that sees the One Light in everyone and everything. An exquisite, playful dance of Grace. Patience, detachment and compassion.”

They are hidden in plain sight, I thought to myself.

“How can we cultivate these qualities?”

“The first step is to recognize their value, and place them far above material things. This is called ‘getting your priorities straight.’ It’s a mental exercise, but it’s also an invitation. When material challenges arise, we are invited to use these challenges to cultivate our virtues. And then, we can use our virtues to face the challenges. There’s a mental shift–the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity.”

The sublime gift of seeing our challenges as Grace. This is a realization that goes on returning and returning–a shift in perception can change everything. Not that the challenges necessarily become less challenging, but recognizing them as Grace puts us in touch with a vast reservoir of inner power.

Many of my greatest challenges have come through love and loss. I am a romantic, a believer in true love, but the journey of loving another so deeply can be immensely painful. But I have been immensely fortunate to find this spontaneous prayer well up within: “If this is the price for true love, I am willing to pay.” And with it, a great opening came to my mind. A new perspective, a new spaciousness, and I found the power to go on surrendering.

And I believe there is a universal truth here. Our ability to face challenges is proportional to our aspirations, our ability to imagine what we stand to gain. The whole quality of life shifts when we turn from material aspirations to the desire to cultivate inner qualities and virtues.

“Are there more steps?” I asked.

“Associate with those who embody these qualities. They are God’s most precious gift to you. You may find that these virtues awaken in you spontaneously simply by being in their presence. Take full advantage of their company, but be mindful not to become dependent on another. Ultimately it is your own efforts which will serve you most.”

Thus have I heard, once upon a time Ananda, faithful disciple and care-taker of the Buddha, said to his master: “Lord, I have been thinking, and it occured to me that noble friendship must be half the noble life!”

“Don’t say so, Ananda,” reprimanded the Buddha, “Noble friendship is the whole of the spiritual life!”

We human beings influence each other much more profoundly than we typically realize. And I feel that the key insight here is that “energy flows where attention goes.” Are we focused on harmony or conflict? Doubt or faith? Confusion or illumination?

For a master, as far as I can tell, there is no possibility of falling out of the awareness of the perfection of the present moment. They have embodied this fully. And in the presence of such a master, all our projections of imperfection lose their footing and are washed away. Ironically, this is why being in the presence of a master can be deeply uncomfortable. Ignorance will struggle to preserve its illusions.

Our path may be littered with sages and saints, but if we don’t have the eyes to see them, their blessings will pass us by.

“Anything else?”

“Sit by the fire and drink tea!” the Sun Hermit chuckled. “Speaking of which…” He got up to rummage around the cupboards for tea and a pot. I poured some water in the kettle and set it on the fire.

“Choose pastimes which enrich the soul,” the Sun Hermit explained. “Cherish simplicity, as a child does. Be content with simple pleasures that bring peace of mind and a pleasant afterglow. Enjoy and create art that reminds one of the abundant wonders of living.”

We sat watching the water as it slowly came to a boil. “The art of tea is all about timing and patience. It is about moving from dullness to peace, steeping our minds in the emptiness of waiting.”

Life is short. Too short to waste on distractions that don’t bring fulfillment. There is so much beauty and magic all around, but we have to open our hearts to let it in. We have to learn to appreciate every fleeting moment and feel gratitude for the people in our lives. I notice that when I shift my perspective from how I would like others to be to appreciating them as they are, there is an immediate influx of love and joy. So simple and powerful!

I watch as the Sun Hermit pours the boiling water into the tea pot and gives the tea its first rinse. He pours the tea onto the fire and it hisses into clouds of steam. The second steeping goes into our two elegant clay cups. The cups absorb and transmit the memory of the many teas they have held. It’s like they say–the past only exists in the present. In the inexplicable richness of this cup of tea…

Another parable comes to mind. A young man sets off on a journey of spiritual illumination. He goes to the home of one reputed to be “the wisest sage of the land.” To his surprise, the sage lives in a lavish palace with people running to and fro, a center of art and learning. He is led to the master’s hall, who makes a point of personally welcoming every visitor.

The two exchange formalities, and the master asks the young man why he has come.

“I come seeking illumination, sir,” explains the young man.

The master smiles and assigns a simple task. “I would like you to take this spoonful of oil and carry it through every room of my home without spilling a single drop.”

The young man obliges, happy that his quest will be so easily fulfilled. When he returns to the hall, the master sees that he has not spilled a single drop.

“Very good!” he exclaims. “Your concentration is very strong. But tell me, did you notice any of the exquisite Imperssionist paintings we have in the gallery? Or did you take a moment to appreciate the Indian ragas being performed in the courtyard?”

The young man had missed it all.

“I would like you to go out again, and enjoy the sights and sounds of my home!”

The young man went out and marvelled at the many treasures, and basked in the radiant joy of creation that filled the palace. He returned to the master glowing with excitement.

“I can see you’ve enjoyed yourself!” laughed the master. “But what has happened to your spoonful of oil?”

The oil had long since been spilled.

“Enjoy the world, but don’t spill the oil!” said the master. And this was enough.

The young man understood the point of the lesson. The spiritual path isn’t about abstinence or indulgence. It’s about training the mind on inner stillness and harmony, while at the same time enjoying and contributing to the world. The middle way.

Somehow, it seems that the tea draws my awareness inward, to silence and contemplation. Perhaps it is the lingering imprint of the masters who have handled and cultivated this tea, of the patience it took to allow the tea to age for many years.

“Whenever possible, be a guardian angel for others. Forgive them their faults and celebrate their gifts. Grace is so rare… its touch can transform lives. Don’t underestimate the light within you!”

“Thank you Teacher, I have taken your words to heart.”

I steep in the transmission and feel gratitude for the peace and love it has stirred within me. May you feel this as well. A moment to slow down, relax, and listen deeply, coaxing the beauty out of every moment.

Be well, dear friend!

the Sun Hermit: Letters from my Brother

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Dear Teacher,

The wind is high, the day is beautiful, I am at ease. Challenged, but at ease with the challenge. I am open to guidance. I am not jumping to conclusions, I am open to discover.

My brother has asked, “What are sanskaras?” How better to understand mindfulness, equanimity and non-reactivity, in the realm of thoughts, sensations and emotions?

As for myself, I am inquiring into my work, this new project venture I am contemplating, and what it means to be a guide. Is there anywhere to guide others? Is it arrogance to present oneself as a guide? Or at least, is this truly my path, or just an idea I have taken on? Where is my creative joy taking me? What is my next step?

I pose these questions not expecting immediate answers, but as avenues into contemplation, into deeper wisdom, into deeper serenity and strength both. I hold my accumulated knowledge lightly. I am indebted to it, but I can also transcend it if need be. Teacher, please open the door to communion with you!

Yours truly,
Tao

The Sun Hermit reads my letter silently by the light of a flickering fire. He folds it and gestures for me to join him.

I sit next to him by the fire.

“Close your eyes,” he tells me. “Touch the silence within.”

happyzen

My life is centered on a great joke. Tea as dark as earth, secret societies and esoteric knowledge, real cloak-and-dagger type stuff… all these are the perfume of a great joke.

Keys… keys to what? A key to a book of keys to doors that were never locked and cannot be closed. A key to more keys. A key to a mystery that is always opening into greater mystery! A journey that leads to blissful nowhere. And all swirling around this question, “Who am I?”

Do not rely on your work to bring you a sense of self. Mystery is mystery is mystery! Being, clarity… is a flower mysterious? When a child sees a flower, is the flower mysterious? Or is mystery colored by a sense of danger, fear of the unknown? Mystery, seduction, beauty, innocence…

Spirit is at work, always in all ways.

Who am I? The wandering fool? The friendly and humble counselor? The mystifying mystic? The father, the son, the holy spirit?

Do I long for greatness or do I long to disappear into the unknown, hidden nooks of the world?

And at the end of the day, which is the greater blessing to the world, questions or answers? So many wars have been fought over conflicting answers, but questions lead a soul away from war, into the quiet spaces of life that offer themselves for contemplation.

I will share with you the doctrine of sanskaras as I understand it. It is a doctrine which comes to us from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and approaches life in terms of Mind and experience, rather than matter and physical laws. The science of sanskaras, then, is a science of how a particular experience gives birth to more experiences. It is intimately tied with the notion of karma, though the contemplation of sanskaras leads one to a more impersonal perspective.

Here’s how it works: An experience rises in the field of consciousness. This experience is composed of sensory awareness and mental awareness. The conditioned tendency of the Mind is to react to these experiences, through either craving or aversion. With craving, Mind judges the experience to be pleasant and wants more. With aversion, Mind judges the experience to be unpleasant and wants to get rid of it. So long as Mind is caught up in craving and aversion, there is no balance, because the ephemeral, impermanent nature of these experiences keeps unbalancing the mind and keeps it seeking after a permanent state of pleasure that is not actually possible.

Each instance of craving and aversion also creates an impression in the Mind, and over time builds up a conditioned set of behaviors that the Mind identifies with as “me.” Any time these beliefs and behaviors are challenged more suffering arises. And, acting out of ignorance, the Mind will attempt to solidify its own illusion to protect it from what the Mind perceives as threats.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this vicious cycle of disharmony and suffering. When the Mind rests in its true nature as an empty, dispassionate vessel for experience, no new sanskaras are accumulated and old sanskaras begin to unravel.

Now, whether an experience is pleasant or unpleasant, Mind sees its true nature of impermanence and emptiness of self or identification, and simply allows the experience to come and go. As this process deepens, even decision-making and acting are seen as impersonal experiences that rise and pass away in harmony with the totality of the field of experience.

In this way, the notion of separation dissolves, and Mind remembers its true nature as the underlying source and reality of all that is.

Many great sages of the past gave us techniques to begin to cultivate this awareness, such as meditation on the breath or bodily sensations. Identification with beliefs and emotions runs so deep that it is usually necessary to begin by challenging our identification with the body, which is where the unconscious roots of our beliefs and emotions actually lie.

From this perspective, the goal of life is not to have pleasant experiences, but to learn detachment from experiences such that the Mind can return to its original state of peace, bliss, and universal love. To remember what Zen calls “choiceless awareness.”

“Will this knowledge help my brother?”

“It will help anyone who takes the time to really digest this teaching. It is beautiful, profoundly beautiful. It is the way out of suffering. It might seem technical and dry, but there is a magic inside it that is always ready to be born. There is no yearning of the Mind so great as to return to its true nature. Within every experience, it is always seeking itself.”

“Is there anything you would add or take away?”

“Much has been said regarding the value of finding a teacher. I would speak to the value of love and surrender. It’s a necessary step. Once you begin to understand your goal, you must surrender to a path or teacher who can challenge your ego and keep you going until you reach the final goal.

Without this it’s easy to remain stuck in a comfortable cycle that keeps you from breaking through deep unconscious layers of attachment and identification. We must dare to fall in love with something or someone that allows us to taste the nectar of wisdom and freedom, and then we must surrender to the fire that burns away all falsity.”

I can attest to this from my own experience. I have seen how love and devotion change everything. A teaching from someone you have not surrendered to can easily fall on deaf ears, but when the same teaching comes from someone you are devoted to it goes right to the heart. We have to be true to ourselves. If we are following a path or practicing a technique without genuine love and devotion, it can only take us so far. Realization always requires surrender.

For many of us I think surrender is probably the most difficult aspect of the path. Our over-analytical nature makes it difficult to trust. Our ideas of will-power and individuality make it difficult to fully open up to something we perceive as being outside ourselves.

“Teacher, what is the greatest service we can render to the world?”

“Love the Truth above all else, and dare to give it a voice, a medium to dance its way into the hearts of your brothers and sisters. This is the only service, and whether its forms are small or large doesn’t matter. Every manifestation of love is a manifestation of the One.”

Unity.

To bear testament to the reality where all paths meet as one.

May my voice sing this gentle reality for all who seek it…

Love and salutations
to Lord Jesus Christ

Love and salutations
to Lord Buddha

Love and salutations
to Lao Tzu and all sages of mad wisdom

Love and salutations
to all contemporary teachers of insight and inquiry

Love and salutations
to you and me and the place where we meet as one

Love and salutations to all beings!

The Sun Hermit ~ Desert Ruminations

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And then there was the desert. The desert is a mystical place, where things are put in context. It reminds me of reverb, delay pedals and “The End” by the Doors echoing into the big sky. The desert teaches you the value of water, about survival and surrender.

The Sun Hermit & I have spent many lifetimes together, and I still remember meeting him in the desert. He offered an invitation to me then that I turned down. The desert can be oppressive, overbearing. The desert can be bleak and unforgiving. But there are few things as sweet as a warm desert night as the setting sun paints the big sky red, orange, pink and violet.

I remember walking through the sand and feeling it between my toes, the intoxicating sense of nakedness and intimacy with nature, sun and silence throw you into an altered state where you experience yourself not so much as a person but more as a body–a sweaty, vulnerable body driven by a deep survival instinct that knows to just keep walking.

It’s liberating, for a while at least. Your ordinary cares seem less important when it’s just step, step, step, step. Or I’m reminded of that America song, “Horse With No Name.” The line, “In the desert, you can’t remember your name / cause there ain’t no-one for it to give you no pain.” Or is it shame? I like that sentiment. You lose your social identity, your handle that opens you to praise and blame. In Buddhism they call blame and praise two of the “worldly dharmas.” You practice to transcend them.

And now I feel called back to the desert. The Sun Hermit lived in a little adobe home, way out there on his own. He would sit out in the hot sun and drink tea and play his slide guitar. From lifetime to lifetime, some things do not change. There is always tea, music, and my guru. And my love. She’s always there too.

When I met the Sun Hermit in the desert I thought I might end up like him, content to my solitary existence, content to my smallness under the big sky, but with a mind as vast and open as any expanse I had ever known. There was an appeal to this lifestyle, but also a fear–what would I miss out on? And I think this fear always exists within the seeker, the fear of ending the quest and losing the seeker. The sage has found everything and has reached the end of the path. But I think sometimes that finality frightens us.

What is the greatest achievement of a lifetime? What is worth striving for, dying for? What vision does not end, leading us right back to where we started?

This great and terrible vision of the wheel of samsara sometimes comes to me. It is an image that was imprinted in my mind at a very early age. I sometimes feel that memories of past lives return to us in childhood through books, video games and movies. Well I can vividly remember walking through that deserted Tibetan monestary and studying the engraving of the “wheel of suffering” on the wall. It was mystifying, but I knew there was something terribly important about it.

And as I got older, I began to have these moments where it felt as though I was rising above the clouds of my life, seeing the big picture of life and all lives, interwoven in inextricable feedback loops. It was all a great circle. I could see my own life rising and falling on the tide of eternity. And I could feel all life breathing and experiencing as one vast organism, in awe of the tremendous fact of being alive. Of being life! Life as life as life, ever one, eternally here and now…

And I began to know, also, my own forgetfulness. How easy it was to slip back into living life as Tom and identifying with a limited perspective. What a strange, funny and tragic game! My own belief is that remembering is not about the desire and effort of the ego, but an impulse born in spirit to remember itself, which then moves through the ego… perhaps as sustained effort, perhaps as deepening effortlessness. This is how I have understood my own experience of attaining without effort, the strange dynamics of forgetting and remembering.

But that’s just how it is with exalted states. There is still a rise and fall. I do not feel that attaining is really about achieving some permanent cosmic state. Even in the simplest, most mundane activities, there is no self. Chop wood and carry water, as they say. There is no Tom when Tom is meditating and there is no Tom when Tom is filling out his taxes. There is no Tom in writing, no Tom in dreaming, no Tom in drinking tea. There is only the wind.

Like a cool breeze in the desert. Everything changes with that cool breeze.

the Sun Hermit: “Money and society?”

It was a grey and cloudy day, rain fell gently every now and then, tiny drops of water kissing blades of grass and rolling to the soil. I was in an interesting mood. I had just witnessed a fight break out in front of a tavern, two men yelling obscenities at each other and quickly everyone began taking sides. The police, fortunately enough, got there before things became too violent, but I was still shaken by the episode.

I have hope and faith for humanity, but sometimes when I look into the depths of our aggression toward one another, I have to wonder what our fate will be. It does, at times, seem that we keep making the same mistakes over and over. We’re such an emotionally volatile species, so quick to judge and blame and attack. There are so many arbitrary distinctions and labels we use to divide and categorize each other and our attachment to these divisions is so strong. I know how long it can take to break an identification with such deep roots. But I also know that revolutions and rebirths are inevitable, sudden tidal waves of light illuminating the mind and breaking through even the darkest clouds.

I can understand the desire to run away from society. On a collective level, human society looks like a barely constrained chaos, perpetually tearing at the seams. And on a personal level, society so often presents itself as an insurmountable wall, an endless maze of red tape where any idealistic hope of accomplishing anything is inevitably crushed or eroded to little pebbles of hopelessness. And at the same time society is this endless pressure to accomplish something, to be somebody, to save the world without posing as a messiah, to be a genius without pushing anyone out of their comfort zone.

The more I think about it the funnier it gets. I know how easy it is to be overwhelmed. But there is also an innocence to the insanity, and clarity opens up the doors to freedom.

In any case, at the time I had my own concerns. I had run out of money. I was lucky enough to have certain benefactors, but I didn’t like relying on them too much. In theory, I wanted work that I could enjoy, that would help me cultivate my God-given gifts and also serve humanity. I just wasn’t sure if that was a realistic desire, and I wasn’t sure how idealistic I could afford to be.

It was with all this in mind that I made the walk up the hill to the Sun Hermit’s cottage. I could see the smoke rising from the chimney, and the sweet smell of squash soup flooded my senses as I made it to the door.

“Come in,” he said, before I had even knocked. His voice was like a gentle rumble of thunder, or the sound of distant rain on this bleak day. Deep and familiar, comforting. Soft and melodious.

I opened the door and walked in. He continued to stir his soup without turning to greet me. Why should he? For us there was no coming or going. I joined him by the fire and warmed my hands. He hummed quietly as he stirred, and it seemed that he was imbuing the soup with his holy voice. I loved to watch the way he lived. A detached and easy celebration of every moment, simple and humble and loving.

My concerns were already drifting away on the smoke through the chimney, but I had made up my mind to seek his council so I drew them quickly into words.

“Teacher, will you speak to me about society?”

As I made this conscious connection to his wisdom, it felt like a little sun ignited inside him and began to shine on me.

“Mmm… society. When you mature in wisdom you will be able to love every person fully without falling into any traps. They won’t have any bait left to catch you.”

“How can I serve humanity?”

“Live simply and honestly and see the beauty in everyone you meet. Speak your vision.”

“What about money? How can I support myself and those who depend on me?”

The Sun Hermit put a lid on his soup and quieted the fire. “Let’s take a walk,” he said.

The light outside was soft and beautiful, as though the dissipating clouds were illuminated from within. The breeze brought fresh air and cooling moisture. The plants danced and swayed to a silent music. I imagined that the Sun Hermit could hear it, and that it carried the answer to my question.

“Is this question your own, or is it another’s?” he asked me softly. “Have you ever truly asked this question? Has your heart cried out for money, the way it has cried out for love or wisdom?”

“No… it hasn’t.”

“Or even when your body cries out for food, haven’t you received it?”

“Yes.”

“And love and wisdom?”

“They have arrived, in their own way, in their own time.”

“God supports all things. Money is a little devil of man’s ache to be self-sufficient. Who are you to foster faith in little devils? You are a man of God, of greatness, of the self-birthing light… you walk in the grace of miracles. These concerns are always opportunities to allow your mind to expand to the greatness of the path that has found you. Even in the most ordinary, mundane and cloudy days, you walk the path of royalty. The path of spirit. The path of illumination and salvation. Don’t allow the confused voices of society to distract you from who you are.”

The self-birthing light… my mental faculties stumble and stutter on the paradox that offers no resolution, only the unfolding of wonder and awe and celebration… Why should I value myself by money when my Creator is value itself, ever expanding and self-revealing, and I am an extension of His majesty? Or Her majesty, if you prefer. Mother and Father both, this tender power that births all worlds, imminent and transcendent…

“All little doubts are roads back to the glory of God,” says the Sun Hermit. “Faith is salvation as believing becomes knowing.”

The Sun Hermit had not directly answered my question, but pointed me back in the direction of my own wisdom. This is why I have such faith in him as a Teacher. Beyond this, it is because I see something of divinity through him. It’s not just a belief, it’s a feeling. And it’s not just a feeling, it’s an opening… an opening of perspective and mystery and wonder. I am so grateful for his company and his guidance.

“You are wondering if you should be making more of an effort,” he said. “If you should be trying harder.”

“Yes, that doubt shows up from time to time.”

The Sun Hermit remained silent for a while. We were standing in the wet grass, looking out over the hills, as the sun came and went between the slow-moving clouds. Just as grace seems to come and go, the sudden flashes of insight that inspire a course of action, but then seem to leave us in darkness, so that we wonder if perhaps they were just a dream, a figment of…

“Imagination?” asks the Sun Hermit. “Trust your imagination. Go on feeding it. The imagination has its own momentum that will carry you. Think back to when you were a child. Do you remember reading books about the Buddha? Already you were imagining a great story, already the seed of awakening was there. Your vision calls out to you, and you cultivate it by believing in it. Don’t try to create what isn’t there. Nurture what is there.”

I could feel what he was saying. Nurture isn’t so much about effort, though it sometimes requires hard work. “I have to trust that what has been set in motion has its own life, and will cry out when it needs attention, and also that it will help support me as it becomes mature.”

“Exactly. Your art continues to develop even when you don’t seem to be consciously working on it. It develops through your spirituality. Your devotion to the path feeds your creativity and your love. Your love feeds your devotion. Your devotion magnetizes your art. In every moment, trust what is there, because it’s all interconnected. Everything you do is an opening to your inner world, your sense of self and awakening.”

“When I think of money, often there is just this emptiness and sense of detachment.”

“Money is not real. It’s an invention of the mind. Your mind is just a means, it doesn’t have substance in itself. The body is real, although it is impermanent. When you are hungry, you don’t ask ‘Should I eat? Should I care about eating?’ Hunger speaks for itself. And spirit has its own hunger. It is hungry for awakening. Feed the spirit and allow the mind to remain empty.”

Inspiration comes when it comes. I remember how necessary it is to allow life to have peaks and lulls, and continue to trust. I will allow my life to flow along the river of faith. I believe in the path and I believe in myself. I will not invest my energy in struggle, but allow these tension to push me inward. And whatever wisdom blossoms within, I will allow it to move outward, in its own time.

The sun is shining now, and I feel renewed. I walk with the Sun Hermit back to his cottage. We walk silently, happy to simply be.

the Sun Hermit: “What about the Immortals?”

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“For some reason, I am wondering about the Immortals. Do they really exist? Do you know anything about them?”

The Sun Hermit and I were walking along a stream, one of his favorite activities. He said the sound of the stream could clear the mind, just as the water cleans the body.

“Immortals?” he asked. “Hmm… what do you think, is this stream immortal? Everything is changing…”

“Yes, but is it possible to live forever with the memory of your own history? Or at least a very long time?”

“Even your memories are changing, and your history is just a set of stories you keep telling yourself. Those who desire immortality push it away, and those who do not desire it already have it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that everything is changing, and those who seek immortality seek to preserve something that is not real to begin with. There is no substance to the self. It is like this stream, always changing, made of many different things moving together. But those who surrender the self and its stories and memories and allow the stream of their lives to follow the course of gravity realize more and more the timeless aspect of existence. We realize we are already immortal, at one with life, in timeless being. And so, in a sense we are Immortals, though our bodies may die.”

“But the body could be preserved?”

“Anything is possible. But the body of an immortal is the world, not this little physical entity.”

“So really the immortals are everywhere?”

“Yes, and they are always at play, always calling you into the timeless present. They may talk to you through a bird call or a branch knocking you on the head… or an unexpected wave jumping out of the Ocean.”

“So to hear them I just have to be open to recognizing their voice?”

“Yes, and embody the qualities they love. Be kind, generous, gentle, compassionate and wise. Laugh often and share the wonders of life. Create music that is soothing for the soul. And awaken others to the magic all around, especially in nature! You really should spend more time outdoors…”

“It’s beautiful and calming. I forget how much I like it.”

“It likes you too. The forests appreciate slow-moving humans who take the time to delight in their little treasures.”

When I walk with the Sun Hermit, I feel at home in nature. Movement and silence become one and the same. I can stop and appreciate a fleeting beauty without expecting anything grandiose or dramatic. I can hear the meandering music of the wind and feel it connect with my breath. Everything becomes quiet and simple and though I walk without a destination, I know I’m on my way home.