A Window is Where the Wall is Absent

The life impulse to express and to connect arises in me and in all of us. This blog is a celebration of these life impulses. Please feel free to join in the conversation or to just visit. There is a Family Photo Album beneath the posts so you can "meet" my family and I. Welcome!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Distinguishing interpretation from actuality

               The drawing is either two faces or a candlestick, depending on how we look at it.

     Yesterday I sat in a room with a few hundred other people as Eckhart Tolle intertwined his fingers and said something like this, "Often people think that their interpretation of an event and the event itself are the same thing.  There is no such thing as a dreadful event.  All events are neutral.  'Dreadful' is an interpretation that is added to the event."  Eckhart disentangled his fingers, saying, "Waking up is when we see that the interpretation is not reality."  Eckhart held out one hand to represent the world of the mind, with its interpretations, judgments, opinions, and painful stories.  The other hand represented actuality, the event without any overlay of thought.  Presence is awareness freed from identification with mental forms.  It is who we are beneath our stories of who we are.

     Eckhart was talking with a woman with health problems who had lost her job.  "There are no dreadful events," he reiterated.  "There are only events, which can be challenging.  Challenges are real.  Problems exist only in the mind."   Eckhart's comments to this woman may sound unsympathetic, but they were the opposite. "Freedom is not dependent on pleasant conditions but on clear seeing," he said, and the woman looked as if a load had been lifted off her shoulders.

     For decades one of my worst fears has been the possibility of becoming obese, as obesity runs in my family.  Eckhart also pointed out that what we fear, we tend to attract into our lives.  When my husband and I became engaged to be married seventeen years ago, I said to him, "Promise me that you will divorce me if I ever get fat."  He smiled and replied, "Okay, I promise."

     Around the time I turned forty I went through four pregnancies in six years (three Cesarian sections and one miscarriage).  Gradually my fear of gaining weight became reality.  My sweet husband has also put on a few pounds, and thankfully he broke his promise to divorce me if I gained weight.  For years now, every day there is the relentless march of shameful thoughts in my mind for being overweight.  Every day there is a ready-made excuse to complain and hate myself and obsess over myself, etc.

     Can I distinguish between the interpretation and the actuality?  The actuality is the body weight.  According to a medical definition, I am overweight.  This actuality is neutral.  Further actualities are that I am physically fit, I am pain-free, and I enjoy walking.  I have a higher risk for weight-related health problems and I would like to lose weight.  None of these actualities produces suffering.

     The suffering comes in from the agony of thoughts of embarrassment, shame, unworthiness, and separation from others.  The suffering comes from the judgments, "This shouldn't be.  Things should be different.  I am a failure." etc.

     I am learning to distinguish reality (body weight) from the mental interpretations (this is a problem, this is unacceptable, this makes me miserable).  I am beginning to feel more at peace in my body right now just as it is.  I am in fact grateful for this body with its capacities of sight, hearing, taste, touch. I am grateful for the unfathomable mystery of this body that has been the doorway into this world for the three human beings I love most-  Chris, Mary, and Jack.

     Problems disappear when they are seen to be nothing more than mind-waves.  The actuality remains, but it is what it is, and it is non-problematic.  Even when the mind-waves reappear (habitual thoughts pop up again and again) they can be seen as innocent mind-waves rather than as a source of distress.

     This is similar to the shift that can occur when looking at a picture such as the one above; nothing actually changes, but there is a transformation in perception-  where there had been two faces there is now only a candlestick.  Actuality bathed in transparent awareness free of judgments emanates the peace that passes understanding.

(Addendum: Please see comment # 7 on this post for information about a subsequent talk where Eckhart speaks of dreadful events in the world.)


Monday, April 26, 2010

"You either love what's broken or you don't love."

 I came across a poem today by Naomi Shihab Nye and I'd like to share some excerpts with you:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,
how he was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

    Sometimes I feel I am trying to present a face to the world that will garner warmth, while I hide all the doubt about myself inside.

    The strange wanting to be liked is a cruel master.

    The torsion of  incongruency between the social facade and the being underneath is a drain of energy.  I am learning mercy of my own fear and of the fear of others.  Fear is not shameful and it is not a sin or a failure. Fear is the fabric underlying the mind, it is a layer that we can descend into and pass through.

     Purity isn't the rejection of impurity but the embracing of it.

     Is the energy of fear different than the energy of love?

     There is one energy that takes many shapes, it takes the shape of fear and it takes the shape of love.  I have rejected a lot of energy in myself, I have rejected the energy of fear and I have rejected the energy of anger and I have rejected the energy of sadness and I have rejected the energy of selfishness.

   Now I am opening to what I have rejected.

   In being more honest with myself and opening to the magnitude of fear within this body and mind, there is at the very center the discovery of fearlessness.

   I am opening beyond the mind and everything it thought it knew.

   I'm not running away from this moment.  I'm standing my ground.  I feel the life that is here, the life that I am. The substance of this moment is emptiness shimmering with being.

    Kindness is a living energy within every person beneath the fear.  As the poem says, it is what we have been looking for. Today I feel attention physically moving from the region of the forehead to the region of the sternum, right where the heart is beating.  Kindness need not be a pretense, it is something vital and real, a medium we feel at home in.

Note: The title of this post is quoted from http://wwwaphorismscom.blogspot.com/. Thanks to the blog author, nothing profound.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


   "Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone. "  (Alan Watts)

   "The most significant thing that can happen to a human being [is] the separation process of thinking and awareness."    (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, p. 261-2)

    Muddy water is cleared by leaving it alone. Awareness is separated from thought by leaving thought alone.

    Whenever there is awareness of a thought, there is a separation between that thought and awareness.  This separation is clarity,  it is freedom from entanglement in thought.

     The separation process between thinking and awareness occurs when the muddy waters of the mind are left alone.  Simple rest clears the water.

    Water is always equally clear, whether mud particles are dispersed in it or settled at the bottom.  Awareness is always clear, whether it is filled with thought or whether thought is absent.

    However, when water and mud particles are mixed together, the clarity of the water is obscured.  When water and mud particles are separated, the clarity of water is easier to see.  There is no fundamental change, but the clear water that was always there is more evident when the mud particles settle to the bottom and are separated from the water.  Similarly, the clarity of awareness is unobscured when the mind is left alone and the process of separation between thought and awareness is allowed to occur.

    Why is the separation process of thinking and awareness the most significant thing that can happen to a human being?

    Our true nature as awareness is unrecognized when it is mixed up with thinking.  When the two are separated the clarity that has always been present shines forth unobscured.  There is recognition of essence.

   There is an art to leaving muddy water alone, to not resisting what is.  There is an art to true resting and non-interference.  Leaving things alone, letting thoughts settle down, requires a high-frequency energy of alertness.  Leaving things alone doesn't mean inactivity; it means yielding to the life flow instead of resisting it.

   Leaving muddy water alone means giving up the fight against what is.

   There is a natural attraction to the ease and effortlessness in which freedom is recognized and the sense of being a separate self dissolves.

    We are all one with the unfolding of reality in this instant, every instant, whether we are consciously aware of this fact or not.  We can't do it wrong.  Only thought says we can be wrong.

    In the ease of leaving thought alone, in the ease of not arguing with thought, there is the clearing of  muddy water and there is a separation of awareness from thinking. There is a separation of identity from the thought stream.  In this separation is the clarity of freedom, the freedom that has always been here and is now enjoyed.



Monday, April 19, 2010

Thinking doesn't solve problems, it creates them.

   A poem fragment I came across recently keeps coming to mind. I'd like to share it with you:

I know that stars are born
only to die
we see the light
of heavenly bodies
long since gone

this also I know:
Your light shines in me
the universe holds no terror
   (Gabriel Rosenstock, Uttering Her Name, 2009)

   Appearances disappear.  There is no getting around this fact.  Oblivion is the destiny of every appearance.  Maybe it can be stalled a bit by people who make a big splash of some kind, but we will all be equally forgotten at some not too distant point in time.  Is this fact depressing or liberating?  I've certainly experienced this fact as depressing.  From the perspective of great swaths of time, everything seems so pointless and meaningless, at times I have felt the apathy of "nothing really matters in the long run, why bother to care about things that will soon be forgotten?".

  What about the second half of the poem, "Your light shines in me/  the universe holds no terror" ?  Is there anything other than appearances disappearing and appearing and disappearing?  Is there anything other than perpetual transformation and flux?  The universe crackles with the dynamic energy of change, but is there anything that doesn't appear and disappear?

   The answer to this question is not a fact to be memorized or believed or pondered or mulled over.  Reality, the great space of formless being in which everything appears and vanishes,  is to be met directly in this moment through silence, not through mental noise.

   I dropped Jack at school this morning and did some errands.  Driving along the mind was quiet.  I once heard Jack Kornfield relate that his teacher one day picked up a cup and asked, "How should you relate to this cup?"  After a pause the teacher said, "Relate to this cup as if it is already broken."

   For me, this means drop unnecessary worries.  Accept impermanence, even celebrate it. Today I imagined the cup as already broken, I imagined a thousand years from now, just a blink of an eye in the cosmic time scale, when there will be virtually no trace whatsoever that I ever existed.  Talk about a weight lifted off!  There is exhilaration in the furnace of time that burns away every appearance.  The essentially illusory nature of separate self-hood  is revealed and there is a sense of being unbounded, undefined, undefinable...no longer in need of any self-definition.  

  This sense of not being encapsulated in a mental definition of self, of not being confined to a million beliefs, doesn't make me feel irresponsible or in any way detached from others.  On the contrary, I feel eager to meet this day and my children and whoever shows up in any moment, without all the usual barriers of mind.

   Suddenly all my so-called problems seem like just a bunch of judgments in the head, and there's nothing actually wrong with this moment.  I'll deal without whatever challenges arise, as Eckhart Tolle points out, but "problem" is just a notion in the head.  It's like the chicken - egg mix-up:  it seemed that thought solved problems, when in fact it is the other way around.  Thought creates the mind-mirage called "problem", and this mind-mirage in turn perpetuates the stream of thought.  There is this compulsion to think endlessly about so-called problems.  There can still be an appropriate and valuable use of thought to deal with practical, present concerns; but the endless agonizing over past and future is needless thought-activity that produces seeming problems where in fact there is no true problem.  I can think of many concrete examples in my own life where I was convinced there was a problem when in fact there was no problem.  My first child Chris will soon turn 16, and he was born with an X-linked genetic abnormality that caused brain damage. He is unable to walk or talk. He has needed many surgeries.  For years I was convinced this was a problem.  Yet now it is impossible for me to see any problem.  Where is the problem?  Chris is a radiant and joyful human being. He is in fact the most loving person I have ever known in my life.  There is no problem, even though thought at one time told the story that there was a problem.

    If you have examples in your own life of something that you thought was a problem, but that you then realized was not a problem, feel free to leave a comment to share your shift in perception. Whether you leave a comment or not, thanks for visiting this blog and sharing in this life adventure that we are all part of.

(photo is Hubble Telescope image of The Pleiades)


Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Mastery of life is the opposite of control."

(Vermeer, c. 1664)

  "Mastery of life is the opposite of control."  Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks, p. 23.

   These words made me do a double take, and then I instantly felt their truth.  My efforts at controlling myself and others, my efforts at controlling life have amounted to a fight against life.  Control tends to be a fear-based activity, and fear does not lead to freedom or joy.

   Maybe abandon is the opposite of control.  Sweet abandon to the movement of life in this moment, in every moment.  Maybe it's not a sin to relax and be happy.  Maybe that's more genuinely productive than all the grim attempts to arrange everything perfectly.

    Jack, my 9 yo, and I hiked a mile on a nature trail at twilight this evening.  Harmony, alignment, connection, oneness- with my deeper self, with my son, with nature, with the Totality- is not a future goal.  Harmony is being in alignment with life in this very moment.  From this harmony right action unfolds of itself.  Right action is mastery.

   For me the key is noticing where there is a sense of being out of harmony.  Not to judge myself, but to bring attention to that little (or large) sense of hurry or impatience or dissatisfaction that is pulling me out of sync with the life flow in this moment.  The simple noticing of resistance tends to trigger a spontaneous release of that resistance, like noticing a hot potato in your hand would trigger the release of that potato.  But there have been plenty of times that I have been so busy running around or so caught up in my head that I haven't noticed the hot potato in my hand, and therefore I've carried that hot potato unwittingly for a long time.  Silent, benevolent noticing of what's going on inside the mind is an unspectacular but surprisingly powerful action.

    When I slow down and get quiet I start to feel all the feelings I've been avoiding.  Boredom, self-doubt, insecurity, like a flock of little birds they all come out, and they are allowed to breathe.  I'm allowed to be out of sorts.  I'm allowed to be out of harmony. After all, what other option is there...forbidding myself to be out of harmony has never produced harmony.  Harmony can't be forced.  But in noticing all the little frictions and mental complaints against what is, there is a softening.  The lungs relax and can take in more air.

   In the honesty of seeing and feeling the contractions in the mind and body, something happens.  Surrender is the opposite of control, and there is a sense of giving up the fight against what is, giving up the war against myself.   There is a sense of noticing and releasing that hot potato so long clutched unnoticed in the hand.

   For me this is a very slow, gradual, gentle process.  The contractions are many and deep and they don't become unknotted overnight.  Peace is not a quick fix.  But harmony is possible, and I have the inbuilt wisdom to feel my way into harmony with the life flow.  There are moments of waking up out of the story in the head and recognizing alignment with life.  Everyone has that inbuilt compass pointing  toward harmony with the life force.  Mastery is the flow of harmony.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Background

     Lately there has been a noticing of the Background.

     My husband Greg and I were talking about it yesterday, and spent some time in silence relaxing into the Background.  Attention moves to a region behind the head, and the mind tends to quiet down effortlessly.  Jean Klein and others recommend letting attention rest perhaps an inch behind and outside the lower part of the head. This helps siphon off all the attention often concentrated in the area of the forehead.

     Then let awareness fan out and notice the whole Background area.  What helps me to get a feel for this is the analogy of ripples on the surface of Being, ripples on the surface of an ocean.  The ripples on the surface are sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings.  The surface ripples are wonderful and it is blissful to let them slosh about however they will.  There is no need to interfere with the surface ripples at all.

     Now what's really interesting is the Background, that which is underneath all the surface ripples.

     Can you notice and feel this Background?

    It's not hard to do.  It seems to help when the awareness is soft and expanded and quiet, and then this field of the Background is sensed directly.  For me it feels as if it is physically behind and beneath me, behind and beneath everything I see and hear and think and feel.

     It's so delightful to sense the subtle presence of this field, this Background.  As I go about my day, again and again I find myself asking "Where is the Background?", and just like that awareness opens to it.

    Whatever is going on is going on, and at the same time there is this wonderful Background field.  I sense it this very instant.  There are the surface ripples, and there is that which is beneath the surface ripples and supports them.

   What is this Background?  I refrain from the temptation to think too much about it or to try to figure out what it is or to define it perfectly.  That's a side-road I've gotten lost in many times.  I get pulled back into the mind and the vibrant sense of this Background fades.

    I'm learning to be with it without thinking too much about it.  Feeling or sensing the Background becomes increasingly compelling, and it is a source of endless, subtle joy.

    Leaning into the Background, there is a sense of merging with it, a sense of being unseparated from it.  It's a vast field in which everything arises and subsides. It makes all experience possible yet it itself is not an experience.  Call it the field of being, call it the great impersonal I AM in which everything is steeped, call it emptiness.  Call it the Great Silence.  Whatever pointer clicks for you, call it that.  For me it is the Background.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Not knowing

To the ego, not knowing is frustrating.

To the soul, not knowing is ecstasy.

"Not knowing does not signify dullness, or having no interest or curiosity.  On the contrary, I would imagine it to be a condition of unusual aliveness...As if our own small breath became joined to the big breath of the world-  which it always is, of course, except now we know it to be so; not as a piece of information, but as a movement of the blood."

(Roger Housden, commentary on "The Mind of Absolute Trust" by Seng- Ts'an)

When I notice the mind clamped down on an imagined "need to know", I step back and take a breath.  There is enormous relaxation in the acceptance of not knowing.

What is not known will always be a vaster field than what is known; why not accept this fact?  The field of not knowing can be entered and enjoyed.  It is a quiet place full of wonder.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Touching peace

     This morning some words from Thich Nhat Hanh have expanded my awareness outside of the usual house of thought into new spaces.

     "Peace is all around us-  in the world and in nature-  and within us-  in our bodies and our spirits.  Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed.  It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice."
    (from Be Still and Know, p. 54)

     I take a few minutes to let these words sink in.  We can learn to touch peace!  That in itself is an amazing fact. What better way to employ the human capacity to learn?  Now I am gently dislodging my attention from the usual gallop of thought in the head, and letting it touch the peace in the cloud floating outside the window. Awareness likes to touch this peace.  Now I am letting awareness touch the breath as it moves into the body.  Awareness is breathing peace.  As awareness touches the peace without and within, healing and transformation occur spontaneously. Still touching peace, I move forward into this day.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Trust is true power

  Here is a passage by an anonymous person interviewed in a book called Everyday Enlightenment, edited by Sally Bongers, p. 78.  The words struck me deeply, and they point out that seeing through the thought-created sense of identity is not a loss of anything. The integrity of the personality remains intact, even as unnecessary thought-burdens are gently released.

     There's no need to worry and there's no need to struggle.

     Ask yourself who's doing the pushing?  Ask yourself who is the one who wants something to happen?  Who is the one who wants something?  Just be gentle to her, watch her.  Don't be impatient with her.  Every now and again ask yourself: "Who is the one who is anxious about this? Who is it? Who's there?"  The question is also not so much: "Who is there?" but "Where? Where?"  Try to locate that person.  "Where is that person?"

      It's beyond your power to move you forward.  So trust in the process.  Trust in the fact that everything's just fine.  Don't give yourself a hard time.  You're where you should be and if a feeling is still there, it's there for a reason.  There's value in it as well.

      From somewhere there is the thought that you are going to lose your very self in the process of surrendering.  There's value in the integrity of the personality, in caring about your personality, in the integrity and conception of yourself.  There is value in that.  It's not as if it's all something to be got rid of.  That's the thing, you know?  You're not required to give up anything, but you think you are.

      Seeing through the imagined self-image, seeing that any image is only an image, and that it is not who I am, does not mean becoming a spineless wimp.  Ironically, realizing my powerlessness to control the universe is empowering. I stop fighting a losing battle and recognize a seamless unity with the power that is flowing through the universe. This is genuine empowerment. Have you ever felt this? The power of trusting in the unfoldment of life as it is occurring in this moment puts me at ease, and from this ease more is accomplished than ever was when I was trying so hard to accomplish something. Let this be a day to relax and to enjoy the flow of power in this very moment.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Life in a psychiatric institution

    I was walking across the courtyard between buildings at the psychiatric institution where I work yesterday. Several people who have lived here for many years sat on benches under shady trees and we waved hello to each other, enjoying the beautiful day. Over the years I've been honored to have many people tell me about their lives. Like most people, I have felt that our life stories largely define us. The story of my life was my life. I have felt that the stories people told me about their lives- the childhood experiences, relationships, successes and failures, health and illness, good fortune and bad fortune- told me who they were: I was riveted by the story. I wanted to do whatever I could to help people have a happy life story. I wanted to do whatever I could to also have a happy life story myself.

     But more and more I realize that life is not a story.  Life is not primarily a string of experiences in time. I realize my attention has been captivated by and confined to concerns about the life situation, while life itself has been largely taken for granted, overlooked, and ignored.

     Eckhart Tolle makes the distinction between life and the life situation. We all know what life situations are, we all know what the story of our lives is: but what is life? Not even the greatest scientist, theologian, or philosopher can say what life is. We are alive, we are life, but no one can really pin down exactly what this life that we are is.

     After years of paying a lot of attention to my life situation, I am now beginning to pay more attention to this life that I am. This life that has nothing to do with any story or situation; this present life can be felt, sensed, known directly, inhabited, noticed, attended to, realized. Thinking about the life that I am at this very instant takes me away from it. Every day I am enjoying being more deeply and consciously this life that I am, without thinking about it.

Riveted to the story of life situations, I was blinded to the presence of life itself.

    As I put less weight on the particulars of my own story, I am noticing a shift in my experience of the people at the psychiatric institution. Whether the story of someone's life seemed overall "good" or "bad" had seemed terribly important. The goal in life was to have a happy story. If the story was unhappy, that meant it needed to be fixed. As for those at the opposite end of the story spectrum, those celebrities who seemed to have fairy tale success stories- beauty, wealth, talent, accomplishment, recognition- I was, along with so many others, many pressed up against the "window-pane" looking in longingly through the magazine and television pictures, feeling that my hum-drum life was pale by comparison.

     So it comes as a shock every day that this life that I feel myself to be in this instant is an endless wonder of vibrancy. The story, the situation, is no longer the be-all and end-all of my life. The particulars of the life situation are no longer my primary focus when I talk with people at the hospital. I sense the life of the person I am talking with, I sense who they are apart from their story.

    There is a shift in attention. Attention had once been constantly plotting how to improve the story of my life, how to improve my life situation, and how to improve the life situations of the people I work with. I still want a happy life story and I work to achieve positive situations in my life. I still wish to help people at the hospital to improve their life situations. But attention is drawn more deeply every day into the wordless wonder of being alive, the wonder of life itself independent of the life story. The life force is inherently joyful and it doesn't need to win the lottery to be happy. There is a deeper happiness available in every instant that has nothing to do with the circumstances in one's life.

  When I said hello to the people in the courtyard, the inherent joy of being was present as the life within myself and as the life within the people who live here at the hospital. Our life stories don't separate us from the joy of being and our life stories don't separate us from each other.


Thursday, April 1, 2010


"A tree gives glory to God by being a tree."

(Thomas Merton)

 Sitting outside on a beautiful day there is sunshine, bird song, green earth, and soft breeze. It's a waterfall flowing through the still space of awareness that I am.

   I give glory to God by being alive.

   Being alive is the gift I both receive and give.

   Being alive is the supreme and effortless achievement in this moment, in every moment, and it is an achievement far greater than any measurable achievement, such as money, status, education, etc.

   When we realize our true achievement we are freed from the burden of feeling inadequate and chasing lesser achievements. We inhabit our innate and humble dignity as living beings, like the tree.

   I wonder how much suffering I have experienced  from mental notions about "needing to achieve" something? The obsession with "achievement" is ravaging the earth. Many are enslaved by mental notions of "getting somewhere" that compel a ruthless drive toward busyness. Re-framing the notion of achievement to point toward the stupendous Fact of being alive now, rather than toward some fantasy of future accomplishment, frees the power of attention to unite with the power of present reality. From this unity true achievement emerges.


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