Connect by Connecting

Buddha on the road

I’ve spent my life writing. I work as a journalist, but I also write fiction and poetry. The creative work solves something inside . . . a need for discovery, a need to grow.

I’ve taken a wealth of writing classes, read scores of books on writing. I’ve taught writing for years. One thing I’ve seen that’s true – you never stop learning how to write. Another true thing – you reach a point when only writing teaches you how to write.

It’s the same with spirituality. I’ve studied spirituality, and I’ve taught spirituality. Here’s what I’ve learned: If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him. Or . . . if you meet the writing teacher on the road, ignore him. Killing him isn’t necessary.

Spirituality is connection . . . connections inside, connections outside, connections in every moment. In time, nothing teaches us how to connect except connecting.

We each have our own spiritual DNA. Everything is everything, but each thing has its own particular way. We learn this in writing. If you want to talk about struggle, you talk about one person’s struggle. In To Kill a Mockingbird, we learn about the Jim Crow South from one young girl, Scout. In The Diary of Ann Frank, we learn about the Holocaust from the specific experience of one 13-year-old girl.

We learn about spirituality from our own particular path.

Instruction helps. Books help. Meditation helps. They teach us about the world within, how the path is laid out in perfect detail, designed exquisitely for each one of us, designed for where we are and how we are. If we trust it, it will become as familiar as our own skin, in time, more familiar.

We learn our path by traveling our path. We learn how to live by trusting this path.

I spent years learning enough about writing to finally let the writing teach me. I spent decades learning how to let the path within guide me. I will spend the rest of my time learning to trust that path.

Image from fractalenlightenment.com

My Hill in the Michigan Woods

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When I was about eight, I used to play in the woods with neighborhood kids. We played war mostly, using sticks as rifles. I found a perfect hill to hide behind. It was about one story high, with sand on the side where I would hide. On the side facing my enemy friends, the hill blended into the woods. I could take sniper aim at them, and nobody saw me.

But that’s the not point. Once I nestled into the hill that first time, I was surprised to find the hill knew me. Simple to say, hard to explain.

That day was normal. Saturday in late spring. Not yet summer, but late enough in spring to be confident of the warm.

Sitting on my hidden perch, I notice this was the exact right place to be. An uncommon feeling for an eight-year-old. During those young years I had this feeling occasionally when I was out in the woods – that the world welcomed me. I never had those feelings in my home. People in my home loved me as they were able, but the world wasn’t theirs to offer welcome. They were struggling, and I was just part of their struggle.

Because it welcomed me, the hill was mine. Other kids came up over the hill after me, and we played and fought, but the hill was just a hill to them. And they were just kids. It didn’t matter if they were on this hill or any other hill. For me, though, the hill was exquisitely unique.

The kids raced off into the woods, shooting each other with their stick guns, but I stayed behind on this hill that held me in comfort. To feel welcome in this world is to feel loved. Back then I wouldn’t have called it love, but that’s what it was.

As the days went by, I’d walk by the hill on my way to school. Sometimes I run up to the top. When I did, I’d feel that homey welcome. Sometimes just walking by it was enough to feel its easy warmth. But I had worldly things to do, so I didn’t tarry long. It was enough to know the hill was there and that I wasn’t alone in this peculiar world.

Photo source: Summit Metro Park

I Don’t Mind What Happens

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When you begin to see life without fear, frightening things become acceptable. Or so it may seem.

At the same time, we may feel called upon to act in response to a world that is out of balance, whether it’s someone in trouble or larger harmful developments.

This world matters even if we are convinced our experience in this world will dissolve into oneness.

It’s a spiritual fantasy to believe that nothing matters, that the world before us is not real. The world is not real is the same way as the eternal inside inside, yet it functions as real in our spiritual journey.

In the late 1970s, Krishnamurti famously asked an audience whether they wanted “to know his secret.” Audience members reportedly leaned forward in anticipation. Krishnamurti quietly said, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes.

Another quote I love comes from Angela Davis, and it seems to say the exact opposite:

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

This twist on the Serenity Prayer is a commitment to act in the world.

These two ideas live inside me comfortably, though it took a few years to understand they are not in conflict.

We offer ourselves to the presence within. We ask for guidance, and we ask to be useful. “Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will.” And we surrender the outcome.

We will be okay. The world will be okay. Whatever happens. And we give ourselves over to the guidance to do what we can do.

I Don’t Understand Spirit

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I heard a great line: “I understand God about as much as my dog understands my credit card.”

That’s right. Yet it doesn’t matter how well we understand God or spirit or the presence within. Understanding is not possible. It’s also not necessary.

What matters is how we experience the presence of spirit – whatever spirit is. That experience is real and it can have an astonishing impact on our lives.

How we experience spirit is individual. It’s like learning your body. You step here, but not there. You lift here, and you release there. You lean toward this, and you lean away from that.

Some spiritual practices nourish. Some leave you hungrier still. And it changes over time.

Some spiritual practices always help, year in and year out. In this effort, we are not really learning anything about spirit. We’re learning about ourselves and how we connect to spirit.

That’s all that matters. In time, we become more efficient in the process. We learn how to drop a fruitless effort quickly. We learn how to recognize what works. We gain a taste for what effectively brings us to awareness.

After walking in the desert endlessly, we come to streams and forests and gentle pastures. The effort teaches us an understanding of how we connect. With practice, it comes easily. At first, however, that notion seems ludicrous.

The Wisdom Within

Reading books and blogs on spirituality, listening to talks, watching YouTube videos, all of it brings calm and reminds me to pay attention to the soft hum in my chest and arms.

It doesn’t bring wisdom.

Stepping into spiritual writing and discussion draws me closer to a place within and gives me ways to express what’s inside.

If I’m not careful, I can go years without any awareness of the language within.

Some time ago, I attended a spiritual talk with a friend. Afterwards I asked what she had learned. “I didn’t learn anything,” she replied. “I didn’t expect to.”

“Then why did you go?”

“I need to be reminded.”

I need to be reminded as well. When I put myself into the stream of spiritual language, I am reminded of the presence and I awake yet again to the guidance inside.

For me, access to the wisdom within requires continual reminders, and I am grateful for each one.

Living in the Quiet

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I used to want peace. Now I’m not sure what peace is.

The absence of stress? Taking away stress doesn’t necessarily leave us with peace.

So I’ll take quiet as the metric.

The absence of noise in my head doesn’t result in complete silence, but I don’t need complete silence to be quiet.

Birds, the breeze through the bushes, far-off horn honking, the tapping of a woodpecker a few trees away – that’s quiet enough.

Not fretting over the past, not uneasy about the future – just quiet.

My muscles relax and yet I’m not sleepy.

There are worse ways to live.

There are worse ways I’ve lived.

It’s not a long journey to be quiet. It’s right here, and I don’t worry whether it’s peace, whether I’m in the now, or whether I’m all right. It’s just quiet.

Watch The World Come Home

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When we get these feelings of spiritual connectedness, when it seems we are one with all that’s around us, even at one with our own lives, maybe we’re seeing a crack into the next world. Or the in-between world where spirit breathes for a moment before we enter a new earth with new skin.

Or maybe the world is spiritual in its essence and the connectedness is a brief view of what is actually true.

We wake up with needs, we wake up with pain, we wake up and choose to see the connectedness behind the pain and need. We wake up and see the need and pain of others and our own troubles subside. We attend to the needs and pain of others and the connectedness seeps in and the needs and pain drift away.

And what world is here before us?

Trees and houses and moons and clouds and dogs and wind and water. Is our pain among these?

Is our connectedness elsewhere or is it mixed into the world before us? Is our connectedness taste and skin and smells and the weight of air? Is our connectedness relief from this world, a reminder that our mammal life is just a moment along a curve of outrageous beauty?

For now, I am here among so many people, alive in the exquisite presence of love that doesn’t even know it’s love.

The I Am Behind Who I Am

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Do you ever get the sensation there is someone with you, in the background of your life somewhere? When I was a kid, I had a feeling of something faint in the background. I didn’t think it was God, because I associated God with church on Sunday, and most of what I felt about church was shoes that hurt and an itchy coat.

That childhood sense of something with me was most pronounced when I was by myself out in the woods or fishing or catching snakes or frogs by a pond. Something that knew me was near me. I don’t remember that is was comforting or loving, just that it was there. I didn’t think much about it.

When puberty began, that sense completely vanished. I spend a few years out of sorts with my family and school. I was awkward and hopeless, completely on my own, lost and alienated. In my late teens, experiences with psychedelic drugs brought that feeling back, but only later did I connect it what that feeling I had as a kid. At the time, it seemed the presence I felt was part of the drug experience.

When I began to meditate a few years later, I would experience a sense of presence. The sensation was in my arms and chest, and it came with a feeling of peace and well being. Sometimes the feeling was just above my head and a few inches behind me, connecting to the back of my head.

I thought of it as the sensation of spirit, a sensation of connectedness. I didn’t think of it as consciousness or awareness, and I certainly didn’t think of it as part of myself. Actually, I still don’t.

Then I ended up in the hospital – long story – where I was put into a coma for three weeks. I emerged from the coma with delusions – common when emerging from a sustained coma. The delusions are marked with vividness. Only later did I learn they were delusions. At the time they were exactly like real life.

As I came out of the delusions and began to get my “self” back, I had the sensation of something else looking out through my eyes. The feeling wasn’t alarming; it seemed natural. Everything was so crazy during that time, it was just another part of my bizarre recovery. I had to learn how to eat and walk again – those seemed to be the more pressing issues.

Yet that sense of something looking out through my eyes didn’t subside as things slowly returned to some sort of “normal.” The sensation has not left to this day, many years later. Something is looking out through my eyes. Some of the sensation is exactly like meditation, with a warm buzz in my chest and arms and a sense of well being and peace.

At any time, I can bring it into my awareness, in traffic, during moments of anxiety. It almost always calms me. I suspect that what I’m experiencing is the awareness of the larger “I Am” behind or beyond the self. If I were to choose one word for it, it would be “awareness.” Whatever that means. There is an awareness with me that seems to be looking out my eyes.

I believe it’s the same thing I experience as a kid in the woods, the same thing I experienced during psychedelic experiences and during meditation. Only now, it is much more pronounced. I can’t explain it, but it has become the centering focus of being alive.

This Day I’m Thankful for. . .

This day I am thankful for

The taste of water fresh from the sky,

The sound of the moonrise,

The crisp rocks of the Sandia Mountains,

My dog’s eyes when she wants a walk,

Bare feet on the carpet,

The absence of mail,

The first taste of coffee, and the second,

My son talking through the night,

My friend showing up unexpected while I’m working,

The smell of rotting apples on the dirt,

A spoon I’ve used for decades,

Everyone who is reading this,

Words,

Black type on a white screen,

The presence behind my mind that writes,

The feeling in my arms when that presence is in my chest,

Breath,

Each story in an AA room,

Someone’s whisper,

The young woman minister when she tears up,

The pain of peppers,

My bed in the afternoon,

The smell of fall’s first heating,

The nativity scene carved in a gourd, a gift from my ex-wife who signed it, “to my husband,”

The touch of the uterine lining my child grew in,

My Harris tweed jacket,

Each day I’m alive.

How Do You Live Now?

How much changes everything? Your thoughts belong to you no longer. They drift into the streets and over the houses. They enter the struggle and spill out onto the lawns with answers that float and bloat. You watch the green that shoots through the leaves and becomes life.

The change is not just you. You’ve known it all along. The world you woke to has become intimate. Moons hide where resentments used to collect. Your resentments, like your thoughts, are not personal. They become human and leave their families, seeking brethren.

You can smell the fresh rain at dawn and feel the trees stretching skyward. How do you live now that the next world is seeping through your skin, making you young again? The whispers in the air are spelling out relief – you were alive all along.

You once stood in these streets, crushed by alienation. Now you return to the very spot and you can’t believe the beauty in the air. Was this spirit always here? Did it always move so easily through your cells? Did these voices always know your name?

The same world that had nothing to do with you has now memorized your dreams. They spill out on these once-bitter streets in hope and kindness. In the end you were right. Some distant spirit backed your losses, every fiber of pain drawn taut in blood.

It’s all a window now that looks out onto the dead as they pick themselves up and walk into their glory.