Buddhist Priest, Yoga Practitioner & Instructor, Mystic, Photographer, Writer, Web & Graphic Designer, Traveler, Beekeeper, Honorary South Bronx Puerto Rican, Citizen of The World. And now Bloggeur.
This New Year, 2014, also happens to have fallen on a New Moon. Two strong symbols of newness, possibility and intention.
Typically, New Years is a time of the infamous resolution. I will quit…. I will stop…. I will give up…. I will lose…. A view that something—some aspect of our Life—is negative (a behavior or our body itself) which we want to change. So we resolve to give up smoking, alcohol, sugar; to lose 10 pounds, go to the gym every other day; watch less TV, spend less time on-line. Etc., etc.
And, also typically, the gym and the Yoga studio are packed for the first 2 weeks of January. Then the numbers drop as our resolve wanes. We keep up the new behavior, or extinguish the old behavior, with the zeal of a convert. And it becomes easier to slip into old habits.
Typically, we “fail” at New Year’s resolutions.
In Buddhism, one of the 8 spokes of the Dharma Wheel is Right Intention. Not right in opposition to wrong, rather as in correct or proper amount. One discerns the correct, proper amount, then gives that to the moment.
So, that path of Right Intention in Buddhism can also be known as “right purpose”, “right motivation”, “right thought”, “right resolve”, “right conception”, “right aspiration” or “the exertion of our own will to change”. In this factor, the practitioner should constantly aspire to rid themselves of whatever qualities they know to be wrong and immoral.
We “know” that behaviors such as smoking, drinking to excess, overeating or eating things that are not good for us, or wasting time are harmful.
The New Moon is a symbol of beginnings. The New Moon cycle is one of breathing deeply, feeling grounded, moving slowly and inviting the ability to see one’s life more clearly.
So, this Year, perhaps we can reframe our aspiration to make changes. Rather than resolving to stop a behavior or state of being that we view as negative, we can begin to discern what is good for our Life, then move more towards the direction of that way of Being. We can aspire to be Whole, aspire to not harming ourself or others.
We change the focus from cutting out to filling in. From fragmentation to wholeness. From what makes us “bad” to what makes us whole/holy.
And since this process is based on intention/aspiration, we cannot “fail”. We begin, we do our best, we do not attach to outcomes/results, we persevere then accept where we are. We can then reassess, then recommit. It is a process rather than the pass/fail of resolution.
Ultimately, we can make this decision at any moment; we do not need an event like New Years. Or a New Moon. Next breath… health. Next breath… wholeness. Next breath… Peace. But that is a more difficult process.
We’ll work up to that one….
Blessings for the New Year. May You be Happy, Healthy, Free….
I am sitting in a hummus place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, NY, having an impromptu lunch with my Buddhist Sister Michele.
We acknowledge that it is Father’s Day. She raises her coffee and I raise my water to toast our Fathers.
I mention that I am traveling to LA this week for a belated Mother’s Day; my Brother—who was busy in May—will also drive down from Reno to join in.
Michele asks me of my Father. Is he still living? (Which, given that we are both long-term, serious Buddhist practitioners is more of a courtesy question/curiosity since we experience that nothing dies, though it may no longer be in the physical realm).
“He passed away my Senior year in College. It was his death that began my Spiritual Journey.”
I was raised lukewarm Methodist, I was attending a Lutheran College. I turned to those expressions for some comfort and understanding, which I did not find (In retrospect, plus to be fair, I doubt that anything would have aided me at that time).
So, I began to read voraciously about other Traditions. I went to Catholic Mass, Quaker Meetings, Unitarian/Universalist Society Services. Friends took me to their Episcopal Church.
After some time, a Friend Geof said to me: “Ya know, I have been going to this Meditation Center. You should check it out. I think you might like it.”
So, I went. On Wednesday, 5 May. Steve, who later became a Friend as well, gave me beginning Meditation instruction:
“Go sit on that cushion. Turn to face the wall. Fold your legs and put your hands in your lap.”
So, that was the beginning of my conscious Spiritual Journey….
That Journey which has taken me to LA, Yonkers, Auschwitz, Santa Fe, back to LA, NYC, back to Santa Fe, Bruxelles, back to NYC, Brazil. Zen Centers, Interfaith Services, sitting on the stage at talks by H.H. The Dalai Lama, Tibetan Centers, Santo Daime Works and Episcopal Services on Good Friday & Easter. And, today, the Upper West Side….
It has brought me Friends, Lovers, Brothers & Sisters, Teachers. A certain amount of notoriety…and a certain amount of infamy—when my tendency to move off the mark has lead me to fuck up and shoot myself in the foot.
I have Meditated, Chanted, Counseled, performed Weddings plus Funerals & Memorial Services, Prayed, Sang, Danced, received Hymns, Read & Written, practiced Asana, Taught.
I understand the importance of remaining true to the Path. I realize how fortunate I am to have been born and I realize I am lucky to be alive. I am filled with Gratitude.
Part of me wishes that I could have seen my Father then as I see him now. And part of me wishes he could see me for who I have become (though my Life would have been different without his pivotal passing when he did).
I came through him. He taught me some things. I see now that he was doing his best—living with alcoholism, judgment plus living with the Life he had with his Father. And though he left me with each of those legacies, he also gave me a strong work ethic.
So, I have persevered. And I experience great compassion for him…now
I have had conversations with my Father over the years; mostly monologues (or, early on, rants) directed towards him. And yet, I have met with him several times over the past couple years—in ceremony or dreamtime. He is doing fine. He is being attended to, taken care of, taught and healed.
So, I Thank & Love my Father now, 26 years after his passing, in ways I was unable when he was alive.
Honor to Thee Dad.
And to all Fathers.
There is one elementary Truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment that one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too…
Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goëthe
Guidelines for Being Human
YOU WILL RECEIVE A BODY. You may like it, you may hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period this time around.
LESSONS WILL BE PRESENTED. You will be enrolled in a full time informal school called life. Each day in this school you will have an opportunity to learn lessons. You may learn lessons or you may think them irrelevant and stupid.
THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, ONLY LESSONS. Growth is a process of trial and error and experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works”.
A LESSON IS REPEATED UNTIL LEARNED. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms and with more and more energy until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.
LEARNING LESSONS DOES NOT END. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
“THERE” IS NOT BETTER THAN “HERE”. When your “there” has become a “here”, you will simply obtain another “there” that will, again, look better than “here”.
OTHERS ARE MERELY MIRRORS OF YOU. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself.
WHAT YOU MAKE OF YOUR LIFE IS UP TO YOU. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. All the choices are yours.
YOUR ANSWERS LIE INSIDE OF YOU. The answers to life’s questions lie inside of you. All you need do is look inside, listen and trust.
YOU WILL FORGET ALL THIS.
From If Life Is A Game, These Are The Rules by Chérie Carter-Scott
A while ago, I was walking through the 42nd Street/Times Square Subway Station, listening to my iPod on Shuffle.
I had gotten off the train to the strains of Miles Davis.
As I wandered through the station, Miles gave way to Vivaldi’s Winter Concerto from The Four Seasons. I Love that whole piece, but especially Winter. So, I am walking through the swirling flakes of the Music.
As I climb the stairs to another level to reach another platform, I begin to hear some music over the strings coming through my earphones. It becomes louder as I walk.
I turn a corner to see a tall, blonde woman playing a violin. She has an open case with CDs, business cards and a couple of dollars & loose change.
I pull out one of my earbuds.
Karen, (as I learned from her business card [and a 20 year orchestra violinist who also gives lessons—as I learned from a poster on her music stand]) is playing….
Vivaldi. The Winter Concerto from The Four Seasons.
I smiled, pulled out my other earbud then put my iPod in my pocket.
I stop and stand to listen to her play the rich tones, sometimes closing my eyes. I fill in some of the other instruments from my memory & imaginiation. She was very good.
The low ceilinged, tiled walls and concrete floored station proved to be an acoustical wonder.
She finishes. I applaud, joined by the dozen others who had stopped to listen to the sweet tones of Karen & Vivaldi.
I pick up her card, then leave her some change.
We catch each others’ gaze then share a smile. “Thank You”, I say .
From then on, I have given up plugging into my iPod. I have learned that the Music of Life trumps what I have collected. The Sound of Existence outweighs my preferences of tunes or retreat.
I now notice the hundreds of people (what one commentator calls “sheeple”) walking through the stations or sitting on the trains with earphones & Dr. Dre Beats™ headphones. At least every other person. And the other person has their nose in their smartphone….
If I had not unplugged, I wouldn’t have noticed Karen & Vivaldi nor the strange synchronicity/coincidence (?) with what was playing on my iPod.
If I had not chosen to unplug, I wouldn’t have been aware of the wacky Jazzman who blew his tenor sax on the train last night—mixing Coltrane, Davis and noise with his banter.
And if I had not given up my iPodophilia, I would not have stopped to have a conversation with Leroy, the Black Vet with his jokes and rap. And his brown eyes ringed in blue…
And I would not notice the many conversations in different languages which pass by me on each trip through the City. Russian and Spanish tonight. Polish last night.
To borrow from Timothy Leary (Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out)…. Drop out, Turn off, Tune In.
The World is made of Music….
Happy New Moon and Happy Lunar New Year, all you Water Dragons. NOW is the Time to make some Resolutions….
I am just returnéd from a Laya Yoga Seminar. Nikolay, a Russian Yogi & Daimista, is my Friend & Brother. He has found this group in Russia who are working to transform Planet Earth—through Meditation, Yoga and a clear Spiritual focus in order to transform one’s personal Consciousness, then by extension, the Consciousness of Others & The Planet.
We were instructed in Russian (Leo & I, the only non-Russians, were treated to two tag-team translators throughout the evening).
The last item on the Program was a Puja to the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi. Puja is modeled on the idea of giving a gift or offering to a deity or important person then receiving their blessing. Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of Wealth, Prosperity (both material and spiritual), Light, Wisdom, Fortune, Fertility, Generosity and Courage; and the embodiment of Beauty, Grace and Charm.
After some chanting, we entered into a Meditation. We were directed by the female monk to first, imagine Lakshmi in front of you in all her radiance. Then, imagine her inside of each of you. Then say silently to yourself: “I am Lakshmi”.
It was a powerful Meditation. My Mind & Heart were transformed from my busy day —To a place more present, more kind.
After the Seminar, under the Full Moon, I walked out to head home. In part, I guess, as Lakshmi. Passing the partiers on the street. Past some event at Madison Square Garden with the trailers & trucks outside. A guy on a Harley with a skull face mask.
Into the Subway. As I walked through the turnstile, the A Train was just arriving. A stroke of “luck”. And, the entrance to which I had walked placed me at the tail of the train; where I needed to be to get off at my stop. Another stroke of “luck”.
The doors closed. It was crowded. I was leaning against the doors. I closed my eyes for a bit. A chant came into my head.
It was a Buddhist Chant, The Song Of The Jewel Mirror Awareness. It speaks of an Awareness/ Understanding/Experience of the Absolute (Universal) that is like a jewel mirror, reflecting into the World. There is a line therein:
You are not it
It is actually You
Suddenly, I was aware that “It” is me. And You. And Everyone. Always present.
Lakshmi. God. Buddha. Allah. Jesus. The Absolute. Brahman. Great Spirit. Nature. Art. Music. Beauty. Truth. Wisdom. Compassion. Love. What ever your “It” may be.
I saw all the folks on the train. It is them.
All of you reading this, It is You.
We have all had this moment, a glimpse of It. Our sense of our small self drops away. For a moment, the illusory line between Self & Other, Inside & Outside, Subject/Object, Lover & Belovéd, Human & Divine, melts. We flow. We breathe. We are….
To have this understanding is what the Laya Yoga folks are all about. If we have that awareness, then our Worldview is dramatically & radically plus irreversibly altered. And,the World around us is transformed as a result. All Traditions point to this State of Consciousness. This State of Grace….
To have this awareness can alter one’s perspective, Life & interactions.
So, go forth with this awareness. Make Art. Make money. Make a difference. Be Love.
Be with and for the It within you.
Happy Full Moon, Y’All
I saw her again. That beautiful, smoldering young Black woman on the bus. The same bus.
She was sitting in the middle, aisle seat. I always survey the bus when I get on; looking at the amazing faces.
I got the sense that she recognized me as well. Again, there was that fire in her eyes.
I looked in those eyes for a bit. Smiled & nodded my head.
She held my gaze for a while, then turned her head slowly to look out the window.
I exited the bus a few stops later. I did not look back to see her. I did try to catch a glimpse through the window as I walked away from the bustop. I could not see her through the reflection on the window.
Though I have moved from the Harlem neighborhood where we “met”, I take the buses on 125th from time to time. I look for her. Perhaps, sometime, we will get a chance for words again.
She haunts me a bit, that fiery woman. I want to sit to talk with her. Not so much to show her I am a good person, more to just allow her to vent or tell her stories in order to release some of that anger. To allow her to free herself from its grip. To show her that her Life is a work of Beauty.
And we’re back. Lest y’all thought I got “raptured”….
After last month’s New Moon Resolution, 13 pingback/spam attempts on my blog posts and an e-mail request for help from Heidi & Lisa, I find my way back to The Whole9 orbit. I am never that far away; I just use the excuse of my crazy, busy Life to avoid putting posts on my blog. Mea culpa.
Having not yet contributed to the process, I was glad to travel by subway, commuter train & taxi to an Industrial Park in Cranbury, NJ, where I had the opportunity to photograph the loading of a 40′ shipping container with 19 pallets of canes and crutches (plus pads & tips), destined for Sierra Leone as part of Operation Rise. Wheelchairs & 3 pallets of items which did not fit into this shipping container will be sent at a later date.
I spent the better part of a day photographing the stuff, it’s repacking then loading by the folks at Invacare, a company which makes then distributes adaptive medical devices. They were part of the collection of businesses & individuals who came together to make Operation Rise possible. Items are being shipped to the UNICEF programs in 7 sites in Sierra Leone.
I was struck by the immensity of the project; the amount of stuff plus the labours of innumerable people (most notably Lisa & Heidi) to bring this idea to fruition.
I am honored & humbled to be a part of this project as well as a part of The Whole9.
n.b.: Just to be clear: my choice of this title is a self-deprecating, chiding comment on my own shilly-shallying in maintaining an active blogging presence, NOT contributing to The Peace Project or Operation Rise or The Whole9. So there….
A New To Harlem Adventure from a few weeks ago….
I noticed her standing waiting for the bus. Big woven yellow-green coat; the color of spring grass. Lion’s mane of hair. Pretty young Black woman….
As is my custom, I allow others on the bus first. The bus was crowded. I was carrying a bag of laundry; I was catsitting for two Friends a few blocks away, so I was off to launder.
The bus that arrived is the one that shuttles back & forth to LaGuardia Airport along 125th Street, the main drag through Harlem. There are racks & shelves over the wheel wells for peoples’ luggage.
I boarded the bus then placed my bag on the shelf over the front wheel.
“You could say excuse me!” she said.
I was taken aback. I wasn’t aware of anything that I had done.
“YOU PEO—ple!” she said loudly in a tone of disgust.
I looked her in the eyes. “I am sorry, I did not realize that I had gotten so close to you with my bag”.
“And your well-de…served su…per…i…or…i…ty”.
A flash of anger arose with in me. I thought of all the things I could say about her well-deserved anger. And space issues on a crowded bus in New York City. But I said nothing, just looking at the fire in her eyes.
The crowded bus lurched forward as the driver braked suddenly. Our elbows touched. She pushed me away from her. “Don’t stand so fucking close to me!”
Anger morphed into sadness as I realized that something, perhaps many somethings had happened to this pretty young Black woman to create in her such anger.
I focused on my breath. I breathed in her anger & breathed out Compassion. I tried my best to be non-defensive.
A couple stops later, she exited the bus. ”Have a nice weekend”, I offered.
My stop was yet a few more streets away. At the next stop, a man who had been sitting next to the shelf on which I put my bag (and whom I thought I might have touched with my bag, inciting this encounter) got up to exit. He looked me in the eyes then shook his head. I have no idea what he meant by that.
At the the next street, as I prepared to exit, an older Black woman, who had been standing next to the young Black woman where she caught our whole encounter, caught my eye. She smiled then shook her head. She reached out to touch my arm as she passed by to exit the bus.
I like to think of myself as at home wherever I find myself. I like to think of myself as not being the Whitest guy in the room. In the 2 months I have been in this new neighborhood, I have initiated contact with Reggie, a middle-aged Black man in a wheelchair who hangs between the subway stop & my place; I have given him two pairs of gloves and I speak with him every time I see him. In spite of all these ideas I have about myself, I realize that I may always be a Stranger in A Strange Land. Representing something, perhaps many somethings to folks who, through no fault of their own, only view Life on the surface. To some, I may always represent “You people”.
My heart goes out to them, my Brothers & Sisters. The struggle. The anger. The resentment. The separation. The alienation. The pain. The fear. The whatever that keeps them in that place.
I breathe in that whatever. And breathe out Compassion, Peace & Loving Kindness for them.
Happy New Year!
I have written here before about New Year’s Resolutions/Intentions. How, in Nahuatl (Aztec) Belief, the first 12 Days of a New Year correspond with the 12 months of the New Year. One can ensure the changes by implementing them in the first 12 days of this New Year. I thought of reprinting that piece, since I like the story/intention behind it.
But then, I thought about this. And I came to see things a bit differently.
Ideas & paradigms & beliefs are all OK, but they can cloud what one must truly do in one’s Life in order to live more in accord with one’s True Spirit (and, by extension, the Divine Spirit — whatever the feeling or name). It is too easy to settle on some system, then use those beliefs to be the default setting. Orthodoxy is easy & it is lifeless. I believe thus & such, so I don’t need to question anything. It all fits in this little box, which is wrapped up purty with a bow. I am content… I am happy… I am a Spiritual automaton… going through the motions.
Every day is a New Year. Each moment is a whole New Year. One is confronted with experiences, which, appear similar (waking up in the same house with the same people, drinking the same coffee, driving the same car to the same job), yet everything is new & different. Different you, different people, different day. And, different opportunities to discover who you truly are as well as what you are truly meant to be doing in this Life.
The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (who was, after all, an awake human, with no talk of being Divine or a Prophet), said:
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
So, everyday, we can make a Resolution. New Year’s Resolutions can be trite & conventional; they are for amateurs. Therefore, they are rarely kept. To be willing to put oneself on the line each day, challenging one’s position by continually inquiring, that is one way to be fully alive.
So, here is to living each Day/Moment), being fully present to the unfolding; no past — no future. Only living in accord with one’s own Spirit. Following your Heart. Living your Divine Spark: Your Love, Your Art.
Neil Gaiman’s New Year’s Eve Benediction:
“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”
If you can Imagine it, you can Create it.
If you can Dream it, you can Become it.”
William Arthur Ward (1921-1994: American Scholar, Author, Editor, Pastor and Teacher)
(I began this blog earlier, then stored it in my drafts folder. It is from the first week in October; October 9th would have been John Lennon’s 70th Birthday)
I was walking through Washington Square Park in NYC’s West Greenwich Village. I became aware of piano music.
This Summer, New York City was having a public art program of placing pianos in parks & busy areas like Times Square. People were encouraged to play the pianos.
A lanky guy in distressed jeans, black t-shirt, fingerless gloves & a straw porkpie hat was playing Imagine by John Lennon. The chords rose up in the air in the Park.
And, today is the 30th Anniversary of the Death of John Lennon.
For me and some Friends in High School at the time, this was the day the Music died. A unique voice for Peace & Revolution from the old mores was silenced forever.
Walking through the Park, listening to the piano Music, I tried to Imagine what could have transpired in the last 30 years. How would things have been different if John Lennon had continued to write & protest & speak out?
Unfortunately, we shall never know.
We can however, pick up the mantle to do what we can for Peace & Justice in the World. And Imagine/Dream what a different World could be like.
Imagine by John Lennon
Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one