Monthly archive

June 2020 Musings

A geranium suggested the direction for this month’s “Musings.” That might sound absurd to some, but for us Awareness Practitioners a geranium with an idea is perfectly normal. When we’re HERE, everything is clearly alive, conscious and supremely capable of communicating with us if we’re receptive to it. After all, inspiration arrives, intuition informs, insight drops in…formlessly in awareness. Why can’t flowers and birds and clouds be the forms through which Intelligence speaks?
But I’m getting ahead of myself!
I was sitting in the garden attempting to write an article, tussling with a thread of thought that had tickled my imagination. No matter how hard I pursued it, there was no tapestry to weave from that thread. It simply lacked the life force that translates an idea into something more substantive. So I abandoned myself to the flowers, the bees, the drunken motes of dust, the busy hummingbirds and the plaintive notes of a mourning dove. And then the geranium said, “Interview me.” Obediently, I picked up the recorder…and lo and behold…a tapestry unfolded.
The practice of interviewing objects that share our lives was offered in a recent workshop. We ask the object these four questions:
What do you love about being you?
What do you love about me?
How do you want to be treated?
What would you like me to know?
… and then record and listen to the answers.
This simple projection exercise, done several times a day, has the power to magically transform one’s world from inert and inanimate to vibrantly alive. It is as if the life force that pulses through the arteries of the universe has suddenly found voice. I find myself surrounded by friendly, wise and whimsical companions, willing to engage with me at any time with the wave of a recorder. In listening to them talk about themselves, I was introduced to my Self, not the ego-I that lives in a bleak, mental, prison of anguished sameness but the True Nature that wonders, delights, laughs and observes with a nuance, acuteness and attention that is enchanting.
The geranium had much to say, and it was no surprise that what it spoke about directly addressed the struggle I’d woken up into. It spoke to me of its favorite moment, when the first rays of the morning sun caresses its petals. It waits breathlessly for this encounter, a moment of transitory intimacy when it experiences itself in spirit. For what is a flower other than sunlight in form, synthesized solar energy in a wild and gorgeous blossom? It tells me that it revels in its sense of itself while glorying in its connection to its sister flowers and brother leaves and mother roots and cousin stems; all individually perfect and growing out of the same Source. It wishes that I too could feel my wholeness and enjoy my sufficiency, for what was I but another blossoming of synthesized sunlight?
As far as I know, a geranium has no ability to experience itself as separate from Life. In fact, as I look at its beautiful lilac pink petals, it drops in that its sufficiency is so complete that it doesn’t need to be on a path to Self-realization. It is realized consciousness. Someone who is Awakened to their True Nature is like a geranium in the sense of being completely satisfied with who they are. “Be Who You Are” has been the clarion call of many a sage, but the translation of that invitation into a practice of recognizing one’s wholeness has been a recent revelation.
We are told in all the teachings of the East that ignorance of our True Nature is the experience of insufficiency. This dissatisfaction propels the desire to experience wholeness, but through incorrect means. We look for someone or something “out there” to complete us. Because there is a momentary satisfaction when we “acquire” experiences or objects of our desire, we’re falsely lulled into believing that our wellbeing is conditional. We get attached to those objects. Attachment (defined as psychological or emotional dependence on someone or something else for our well-being) fuels insecurity because no-thing can predictably and eternally deliver satisfaction.  Attachment breeds greed, fear of loss, and sorrow from loss. Attachment also breeds anger, for what is anger other than thwarted desire, expressed as hatred toward the “other” (circumstance or person) that has failed to fulfill our desire? This is why we begin a Zen Awareness Practice by training to ignore the refrain of self-hate’s “something wrong, not enough.”
Joseph Campbell, in an essay on Zen, referred to it as the “way of the monkey.”
In India, two amusing figures are used to characterize the two principal types of religious attitude. One is the “way of the kitten” and the other, “the way of the monkey.” When the kitten cries “Miaow,” it’s mother, coming, takes it by the scruff and carries it to safety; but as anyone who has ever traveled in India would have observed, when a band of monkeys comes scampering down from a tree and across the road, the babies riding on their mothers’ back are hanging on by themselves. Accordingly, with reference to the two attitudes: the first is that of the person who prays “Oh Lord, O Lord, come save me!” And the second of the person who, without such prayers or cries, goes to work on themselves. In Japan the same two are known as tariki, “outside strength” or “power from without,” and jiriki, “own strength,” “effort or power from within.”
The journey to wholeness by “the way of the monkey” is a wild ride. My experience was that of the baby monkey hanging on for dear life to the threads of practice while bounding through valleys of tears, dark nights of the soul and painful crucifixions of identity. But after years of battling the ego, I have arrived at this clarity.
No matter what avenue ego chooses for its attack—physical pain, emotional anguish or mental desolation—the Life force witnessing it all remains serenely unaltered. As attachment is stripped from the human being, what emerges and thrives is intrinsic wholeness. The “output” of the way of transformation is sufficiency. It is a recognition of the strength of the power within.
“I” did not choose Zen. It was chosen for me. If I had known there was a choice, “I” would rather have chosen the “way of the kitten” (based on my previous belief in my inability to save myself!), and yet what is absolutely clear to me now as a practitioner of Zen is how perfectly I’m guided. In other words, the “way of the monkey” is also the “way of the kitten.” Nothing is achieved by “my” power, and yet what saves “me” in some mysterious way is the Power that “I am.”
As I write this, I am aware of a voice that says, “You’re writing about geraniums when protestors are taking to the streets and brutality is on the rampage? How is that helpful?” How is it not helpful? Nothing in spirituality says we should not combat injustice. In fact, the most famous teaching of Hinduism, The Gita, is an elucidation of the reasons to fight a “just” war. Without fighting the battle within, can we ever hope to tackle any injustice? The Buddha’s teaching there is crystal clear:  
“Hatred never heals hate. Only love heals hate.”
Ego screams for action, admonishing us for not doing enough, for not being enough. There it is again…insufficiency. So it might behoove us to begin by sitting still in a garden and letting a geranium teach us about wholeness; from that place of “being who we are,” we cannot also be the person who puts their knee on another human’s throat and chokes the life out of them. From that place of wholeness, whatever arises as action will not add to the never-ending cycle of samsara.