More and more, the teaching practice takes me into the community where I engage directly with students. My focus right now is on bringing the continuity of the Dharma into the market place. Although retreating is an important form for self-knowledge, I find myself less interested in the immediate results of a retreat and more interested in helping students investigate their relationship to the ups and downs of their everyday life.
Nature, death and spontaneous freedom continually interweave themselves into my teaching. From the forest of Thailand, where I spent several years, I bring a deep awareness of the healing quality of nature into my teachings. Relaxing into our true nature allows us to realize what it means to be a human being. It is here we find a resting point, a counterbalance to the speed and turbulence of our culture.
My work in hospice brings a sense of urgency into my teaching. Working with the theme of death and dying reveals the here and now of life to us, how important it is to open to each loss, change and transition that marks our path. Life is precious. We need to awaken without hesitation.
Many of us crave to be more calm and centered. We know that life has more to offer than this fleeting material world. For each of us, the Dharma offers an immediacy of freedom for which we do not have to strive or wait. In practice, we can learn to relax deeply into the moment and rediscover spontaneous freedom.
The ability to enlarge our knowledge base is essential to our success, in our careers, schooling, and home life. Sophistication, the skillful use of knowledge in a civilized and cultured manner is valued, but innocence, which can be seen as guileless and inexperienced, is not. Much of our self-image is formed by how knowledgeable and sophisticated we are and we can find ourselves competing with others to prove how much information we have obtained. When we know something, we place a fixed objective view onto life and freeze it within our past associations. The problem is that nothing is fixed.
This continuum speaks to the need to belong that is deeply rooted in our social and biological makeup. This need may well be one of the driving forces in our yearning for spiritual completion. Even when we group like-minded people around us, most of us still feel a subtle sense of alienation that we cannot overcome. We seem to be outside observing life rather than embedded within it.
The more defined and clear our individuation, the more isolated we feel. We gain our selfhood from creating physical and psychological boundaries upon our surround. Our self-definition is created by our physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual definitions. Freedom is coming out of these shadowy images created by our imposed boundaries and accepting the clear light of our humanity.
There are three central reasons we get lost in our spiritual journey despite the rigor with which we practice and the sincerity of our purpose. The first is that we do not know the direction the journey takes and we get lost in the sideshows and entertainment of the process. The second is we attempt to move forward using motivations lurking in the shadows of our unconscious. The third reason we easily go astray is because our stated objective and our dharma intention are at cross-purposes.
We often miss how close we are to the sacred. We make it into a journey of distance and time when actually it is an excursion into stillness. We want some proof that all this work has been worthwhile and that proof is in comparison to what we were and what we are becoming. Though this comparison supports our spiritual egoic image, we will not find the sacred in the past or the future, but only within the living present.
A spiritual journey ultimately takes us beyond a self-focused life where “I” predominate, into a life of inclusion where we are not the center of our world. Moving beyond what is best for “me” seems so implausible as to be impossible, but it only seems that way because we do not know what we are or how we are formed.
There is an acceptable tension we each carry and are reluctant to address spiritually. That tension holds our thoughts, attitudes, self-beliefs, and projections together in a systematic self-serving way. It is the collection of aggregates laced together with our narrative that we will protect at all costs, and it is all tied to our current worldview.
In the Third Foundation of the Satipatthana Sutta the Buddha asks us not to weigh in and attempt to change or alter the mind no matter what its current disposition. “Notice,” the Buddha says, “When the mind is delusional or not, confused or not, etc.” He does not encourage us to change the mind, just to notice how it is regardless of its configuration. What is the Buddha trying to show us in this instruction?
A continuum is a story or narrative about awakening. Myths are spiritual narratives that often can be condensed into a continuum with a beginning and an end and various highs and lows throughout the process. An important point is that though a continuum is depicted as a linear journey it is not a timeline, though from the perspective of the individual it may seem like it is. (These talks are related to the book by Rodney Smith: Awakening: A Paradigm Shift of the Heart.)