Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unification Anxiety and Nonduality Terrors

Shiva the Destroyer, one hand in 'fear not' mudra
You're losing your grip on reality. Your identity is in doubt, slipping through your fingers like sand. You compulsively grasp at anything within reach as you spiral into dreams from which you may not awaken, in which your separate existence is also a dream. You have a strong feeling that your secret is about to be exposed, but you don't know what your secret is.

Is this the beginning of a descent into madness or dementia? It could be, but you know what it really is.

A monstrous truth lurks just below the surface. When you drop your guard and doze off, you awaken with a jolt, terrified. You shout, "I do exist, I do exist! I think, therefore I am! The more I think, the more I am, so I shall think and think and think!"

To escape the growing feeling of dread, you overshop, overeat, overspeak, overact over anything that will bolster your crumbling sense of being a separate and distinct entity unconnected to anything else. You seek respite in the distraction of adventure novels and science fiction movies. But even there, images and words remind you and frighten you.

"I am Locutus of Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

Submerged, you look up and see the surface of the water from below. On the other side is yourself, enjoying the warmth of a sunny day, smiling in the blossoming awareness of interdependence. Below, your painstakingly constructed personal identity fabricated over a lifetime, begins to come to terms with its illusory and temporary nature like a wave on the ocean.

As we unfold, may we be considerate of the part of us which literally fears for its life, and be understanding of its desperate and sometimes destructive attempts to cling to a separate identity.

May we practice and be kind.

May we take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the beloved Sangha.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Rescue of Dallas and Austin

Austin surveying the snow - we're definitely not in Texas anymore.

This is just a little adventure story.

2006 had a sad beginning. Both of my wife's parents passed away three days apart. Her very dear friend died after suffering a head injury. And Duke died.

Duke was our elderly springer spaniel. His litter-mate, Duchess, had been put down a year earlier. For the previous ten years, they were our constant companions and our daughter's playmates. Duke's departure left a big hole in our lives.

It wasn't long before my wife began combing the internet and found English Springer Rescue America. There were hundreds of springers up for adoption all over North America, but only a few available pairs. We narrowed these down to a couple of boys, Austin and Dallas, of Dallas, Texas.

As rescue situations went, theirs was far better than most. They had been well treated, but their humans were splitting up and moving into smaller premises and neither could take take the dogs.

We started to correspond with Lori, the dogs' mum. So that they would recognize me, Lori suggested I send a 'snapshot' of myself, in the form of an old t-shirt. For the benefit of US Customs, the package was labeled: "This envelope contains one used t-shirt (no monetary value). Sender will be visiting addressee on November 4, 2006 to adopt 2 spaniel dogs. T-shirt is to acquaint dogs with sender before arrival."

To get from Victoria to Dallas, I took the Coho, a Washington State ferry, from Victoria to Port Angeles and drove to the Sea-Tac airport near Seattle. Because I arrived in the evening and was catching a morning flight out, I just slept in the parkade in the back of our station wagon.

I arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth and checked into a motel. Beth, the dogs' 'social worker' from the agency, drove me across town to meet Lori and the dogs. Whether they recognized me from my 'snapshot' or were just friendly, I'm not sure, but when I arrived, Austin and Dallas ate me alive. Although Lori was clearly glad that we got along so well, I was sure she was dying inside, trying not to think about saying goodbye in the morning.

The flight would be leaving at 7 a.m., and because I was transporting dogs, I was supposed to arrive at the airport by 5 a.m. Which meant I had to be at Lori's around 3 a.m. Which meant I had to get up around 1 a.m. for Beth to pick me up at 2 a.m.

My cell phone alarm went off at 1 a.m. and I groggily had a shower, got dressed, packed, went downstairs, checked out, turned in my key to a rather puzzled desk clerk, and went outside to wait for Beth. For some reason, I glanced through the lobby window and noticed that the wall clock said 11:45. I don't recall exactly what I said, but WTF??? comes to mind. After the clerk confirmed that the clock was right, I sheepishly asked if I could check back in for a couple of hours. Evidently, my not so smart phone re-set the time to PST thinking I was still in British Columbia.

At Lori's, the goodbyes were as heart wrenching as I had feared. We loaded Dallas and Austin into their large brand new crates in the back of Beth's van while Lori tried unsuccessfully to keep a brave face. I gave her a big hug and promised to look after her boys.

After the plane landed at Sea-Tac, a porter and I trundled the surprisingly cheerful dogs in their crates on trolleys out to the parkade, only to discover that evidently, not so smart Dave had neglected to check some important measurements. There was no way the crates would fit into the station wagon. We had to take them apart and nest the four halves together, and let Dallas and Austin loose inside the car.

Although I politely asked the boys to stay in the back seat, they weren't having any of it, and insisted on keeping me company in the front. In fact, Dallas insisted on sitting on my lap and trying to drive, which made for an interesting trip up Interstate 5. By the time we reached the ferry, we had bonded nicely.

On the Coho, the dogs were rather subdued. I don't know if they were missing their mum, or whether it was just the strangeness of the smell of the salt air and a floor that moved.

When we got home, the dogs ran inside and immediately ate not only my wife but also my daughter alive, confirming that they found us to be satisfactory, and the big hole in our lives was instantly filled.

We corresponded with Lori to let her know how the boys were doing, and sent her some photos of them doing what they love most.

Running when it's sunny

Running when it's rainy

Running when it's snowy

After running

Dallas watching Patsy Cline - Austin not so much...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Take a Bow

Leonard Cohen at the 2011 Prince of Asturias Awards Ceremony (watch video)

The audience, only moments ago transfixed by a flawless performance, erupts. Cheers and whistles punctuate the applause. Everyone stands up, unspoken message clear: "We are honoured by your performance and appreciate you from the bottom of our hearts!"

The performer, hand over heart, bows deeply, unspoken message clear: "I am honoured by your response and appreciate you from the bottom of my heart!"

Performer and audience, their previous actions so different, yet in that moment, in their hearts, so similar, perhaps even identical.

Did something in one, recognize and bow to itself in the other? But what bows?

The present moment is continually unfolding. As life evolves, awareness of self and other, and self in other, emerges. Life bows to life.

Of course, these are only thoughts and words. What actions will bring them to life? Well, yes, bowing to each other, but what I had in mind was manifesting respect in our lives. Respect what? Literally everything. With our every thought and action. Just another never-ending chore - you know, like liberating every last sentient being. One moment at at time.

Respect for little things like keeping the floor swept. Respect for all of creation by diligently attending to our daily practice. Respect for the person behind by holding the door open. Respect for our bodies by giving them healthy food and exercise. Respect for nothing in particular by whistling a happy tune.

One of my favourite Zen personalities is Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, author of Opening the Hand of Thought, former abbot of Antaiji, disciple of Homeless Kodo Sawaki.

This was Uchiyama Roshi's final poem, completed on the last day of his life.

Just Bow

Putting my right and left hands together as one, I just bow.
Just bow to become one with Buddha and God.
Just bow to become one with everything I encounter.
Just bow to become one with all the myriad things.
Just bow as life becomes life.

Before I sign off, I'd like to put in a plug for Why Do Buddhists Bow? posted last year by Seth Segall over at his terrific blog The Existential Buddhist.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Music Hath Charms

Some things are just a big mystery to me. Music is one of them. How vibrations in the air that move your eardrum can completely change your mood boggles my mind.

Here are a few YouTube clips that made an impression on me. Some are a bit lengthy, but you can get the gist of them in the first minute.

The first clip makes me think of the cybersangha practising together all around the world.

The second clip is a graphical representation of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. It's hard to imagine that one person is playing all those notes. Apparently both hands and both feet are required.

If you're feeling a bit down, a little bluegrass might raise your mood a notch - especially Earl Scruggs and friends playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

If that music didn't make you smile, perhaps this might... OK maybe the image helps too...

The last clip is Suo Gan, a Welsh lullaby that was made popular by the movie Empire of the Sun. I don't know if music can make you feel compassion, but this one must come close.

On that 'note', warm wishes for a harmonious New Year!
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