My opinions

Week 2: Buddhist Boot Camp

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Warm greetings from wildly windy wintry Cape Breton!Summary of Week 2:

~ We spent the entire week in silence…and I loved it!
~ Am still struggling with getting enough sleep at night and then staying awake during meditations.
~ Am surprised by some memories surfacing [details below], and having glimpses of total stillness: just being present.
~ Am having more experiences with snow shoveling than I expected…or needed 😉 Makes me feel like a real Canadian, eh?
~ Am gradually getting more comfortable with the whole scene here. There is a lovely, predictable rhythm to each day, and a wonderful simplicity.
~ Mindful eating is clearly something I need to learn, and this is the perfect opportunity!
~ Ani Pema Chodron’s presence and teachings are indeed a blessing. She is translating the arcana of Tibetan Buddhism into something human and immediate. She is the very embodiment of egoless humility and total compassion…with humor as a bonus!
~ Overall, after a full week of silence, am feeling more in my deepest heart and soul. It’s not new; no big surprises. After so many decades of meditation, I seem to know myself pretty well. This deeply peaceful environment is supporting my hanging out there again. Perhaps in the remaining 2 silent weeks there will be further deepening into vast, spacious, loving presence.

The details are below if/when you have the time and interest to climb inside my head. It’s definitely “inner space” explorations!


The Power of Silence:In our second full week of Winter Retreat, we have moved into almost total silence. The first week we could speak socially during/after lunch until the afternoon practice period began at 3:30, then silence was kept through supper and breakfast and the morning practice. This week, and the following 2 weeks we’ll do lunches in silence in a ritual way in the Shrine Room with chanting before/after we eat a “one bowl meal.” So the only talking all week is “functional speaking” during work periods when we need to coordinate our tasks. Ziji and I are choosing an additional brief verbal exchange at the end of each day: he comes to my room and we compare notes on our experiences of the past 24 hours, then have a long standing hug before saying good night. We’re all observing a vow of celebacy, so that’s as intimate as we’re choosing to get. It’s very sweet!

After the first silent day I journaled: “The stillness is getting both thicker and clearer. It’s deeper than any I’ve experienced. The outer environment is totally still today: no wind at all. We’ve been in silence all day: wow! It’s a dream come true! I had tastes of this at a couple of ashrams, and this is way deeper and more thorough. We’ll be in silence all week…yay!”

Now, as our Free Day is approaching tomorrow, I imagine it will be a shock to go back to regular conversations. Ziji and I both want to practice We Space Meditation on our Free Day. I am curious what will arise between us in the We after so much deep inwardness all week.

Energy is unpredictable:

Am still struggling with being too awake during the nights and too sleepy during the days. Some of that is to be expected at my age, yet it does make it difficult to fit into this demanding schedule of meditation. If I participated in all sessions of meditation [alternating sitting and walking] it would be 6.5 hours per day plus over an hour of chanting! So far, I have needed naps during meditation period at some point every day.

Meditation images:

Ani Pema gave a talk on a Buddhist way of working with the emotions. One image really spoke to this former pilot: to remember that above all clouds and storms the vast blue sky is always there. It helped with the drowsiness. I “see” that the drowsiness is in the energy body, like a layer of clouds. I can be aware of Consciousness going way beyond that. In the second sit I saw the vast blue sky stretching over an endless plain of snow: white below and blue above…forever! I again saw the red/orange fire rising up through my root and out the crown. This time instead of white light coming down, it was golden: like a single ray of sunlight meeting the earth fire in my heart. So the sky was Consciousness; the fire is Energy. Even though the sky seemed horizontal, I sensed the vast space between earth and sun and beyond into all the galaxies: unimaginably vast “emptiness” full of Consciousness. Then I saw/felt the vast galaxies [bones, organs, etc.] within this body similarly full of the Consciousness. This body is a passing shell containing merely a drop of Consciousness. Yet “I” am all of It: beyond time and space.

Overall, am feeling a deep clarity now, and so appreciating the collective container we are creating with the guidance and support of Ani Pema and this lineage. I bow to The Guru in this form and pray for guidance along the path.

Soul memories:

Surprising things are coming up during these meditations, including old memories, many quite vivid. I enjoy them, then just let them evaporate. The most vivid and striking was a couple of days ago when the winter winds were howling with great swirls of snow and wildly churning waves on the ocean. It evoked a strong visceral memory of deep sadness.

Some of you have heard about my history with the story of the Titanic, which has intrigued me since age 11. Ten years ago I had a vivid past life recall session in which some details emerged of my experience in the lifeboat and during rescue. Perhaps because here on the north tip of Nova Scotia I am only 400 miles from the site where she went down I am now having a strong recollection: Titanic had sunk and I was sitting in the life-boat, shivering with cold, fear, and unutterable grief at all those still crying for help and the others already silent. What a shockingly powerful lesson in impermanence! One moment we were living the good life on the finest ship in the world, and moments later she had sunk and we felt doomed to freeze to death on that heartless, icy black ocean.
Now I am recalling the time after arriving in New York on the rescue ship. Again, as on the lifeboat, I was plunged into grief and wonder. I stood in the wind looking east over the vast Atlantic, sobbing. I now recall so vividly feeling “why was I spared?” and wondrous gratitude for the grace of God. Perhaps it was that experience that gave this soul such deep trust in divine guiding love. I do seem to have had this trust my whole life, though that could be my mother’s devout influence.
Besides instilling a deep trust in grace, that horror also left a lingering mistrust of large corporations, who put profits above people. Now it is Boeing acting that out unconscionable greed. Again I am appalled and outraged.
As I sat in the Shrine Room, aware it’s now 2020, I could so feel that heartbreak and how it shaped the later portion of that lifetime and now this one. Having been spared that death in 1912, how did I relate to World War I a few years later? More heartbreak for sure: profound sadness at human folly.
Somehow that grief and the sense of divine grace guiding me led me to this lifetime of seeking greater connection with a greater consciousness.
I do appreciate this Buddhist orientation of acknowledging and working consciously with human suffering. I do agree that the heart needs to be broken to fully open. Maybe that’s the process that began for me with Titanic: such a sudden and shocking display of suffering!
As I sat in meditation, and now as I write, I can fairly “feel” my soul: that part of me that carries both the depth of sadness and a strong longing to make the world a better, more conscious place, to help uplift humanity. I so appreciate that is also the aspiration of Shambhala and was Chogyam Trungpa’s vision. Am grateful that Ziji deeply shares that vision/yearning as well; it is one of our deepest bonds.Mindful Eating:So far one of the biggest takeaways is getting to practice eating as meditation…what a concept! All my life I have treated eating as a task to get done quickly, usually while carrying on a conversation or reading or looking at news on the web. Sure, I’d enjoy the taste, albeit briefly…efficiently. Here I am with 22 others, all eating silently, mindfully…wow! I am learning to slowly move my spoon toward my mouth, pause to smell the food, then take it in without chewing at first: just savor the sensations of texture and taste. Then chewing slowly releases many more layers of flavor. It’s almost orgasmic! Instead of preparing the next shovel-full to be inserted as quickly as possible, I pause after I swallow, and take a breath or two to savor that experience, then fill my fork or spoon, and repeat. I truly am in awe how much more pleasure I am having! I’ll probably eat less and enjoy it more after this retreat.

Digesting Tibetan Buddhism:

Shambhala is a complex amalgamation of 2 major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, which is itself an amalgamation of original Indian Buddhism with the earlier Tibetan shamanic practices dating back to unknown antiquity. So I am finding the language and images both rich and very hard to understand, even though I have 40+ years in the Yoga tradition from India, which arose from Hinduism, and is itself replete with a vast array of arcane language and images. I’m in a steep learning curve, which has ironically put me more into my head and ego: worrying I’m not getting it, feelings of failure, and general stress.

The spiritual teachings I like best are the simplest ones. The teachers I most respect and resonate with convey their teachings in almost child-like simplicity. If the ultimate truths are beyond words, I prefer pithy poetry to elaborate erudition. Think Rumi, not Nietzsche.

My favorite poet-philosopher is my beloved friend/mentor James Broughton [1913-1999]. He sums up reams of philosophical treatises with these succinct lines:

Image result for broughton this is it"

So as I am attempting to translate all this new liturgy and iconography into a digestible form, I’m finding it helpful to review what I now understand from all I have learned and experienced thus far over all these decades of study and practice:
~ Formless Pure Consciousness [“Emptiness”] is the ground/source of All Form.
~ Sant Kirpal Singh taught, “Each embodied soul is a drop in the Ocean of Consciousness.”
~ To take it further, water vapor is everywhere and invisible. It gradually forms into clouds, then into separate rain drops [birth in a human body]. Each drop begins a mysterious and frightening journey of falling out of control toward an unknown obliteration [death]. All drops feel separate from one another and afraid of their fate. Some land on mountains, some on tress, cars, houses, and have many varied experiences before merging with the streams, rivers and the ocean [home again as simply water!]. All eventually evaporate back into the invisible vapor of Pure Consciousness.
~ The challenge is to become aware, while we are a falling rain drop, that we always were and always will be the same water vapor of Pure Consciousness.
~ Then fear evaporates. Love is all.

Learning to meditate beyond all doing: to Just Be.

For 46+ years I’ve been using mantras as my main tool to focus the mind. Here I am learning to let go of mantra, or any doing, and just be: to not resist whatever arises in the mind, yet not entertain it either. We can just notice the play of the mind and let it go and become aware of their source: the field of Consciousness out of which all the thoughts and images arise then dissolve. They are of no substance: totally ephemeral. Only Consciousness IS…our ultimate identity.

I am reminded of a metaphor that may work for those old enough to remember when “movies” actually involved a moving strip of film being projected onto a screen by a light bulb. In meditation, I am the movie-goer being aware of the bulb in the projector instead of getting caught up in the drama on the screen. The light of Consciousness is the source; all the images are merely its play.

I continue to ponder the Buddhist denial of a self, even though they speak of an ego. At least Trungpa does. What is the difference? To me, the ego/self is a necessary part of being in a body. It contains all our memories of experiences and learning, and so guides us. The problem is the ego sees itself as separate, and concerned with MY survival and well-being, without awareness that we really are all one. So the ego needs to be cleansed, educated. The mind needs to be calmed so the light can shine through. Today I meditated on the projector: I “am” the bulb, and my ego/self is the film, with my thoughts/emotions on the screen of mind being my projections. The light shines through the film of my ego to create my thoughts/emotions, which are not “real”. I am not them, nor the film. I am the light! Maybe that’s what Buddhists are trying to say.

Week 1: Buddhist Boot Camp

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Wow! This is about as close as I’ll ever get to Tibet [see map]. It feels nearly as remote and wintry, with mostly sub-freezing temperatures and oodles of fresh snow almost daily, mostly of the wildly windy variety.
It’s perfect being in a cosy warm monastery with 22 sweet souls ranging in age from 20s to 70s. Half are monastics; 2 are “life-monastics”, and the other 10 are “temporary monastics” who commit to at least a year of living the vows. Most of the rest are long-time “Shambalians” who’ve been in this tradition founded by Chogyam Trungpa in the 1960s. I feel like I’m visiting a very foreign county with an unfamiliar language and exotic customs. There’s a lot to learn!
Happily last week we eased into the very full daily schedule which has us engaged from 6 AM to 8 PM every day except Mondays. Am savoring a day off, and internet access. I feel like I’ve come up for air!
Overall I am surprise how much I am enjoying sharing a big house and all meals with 22 others: quite a change for someone who cherishes solitude and autonomy. The people are truly lovely, gentle, open-hearted and kind. I feel immersed on love.
I do find the schedule daunting though. The nights are too short. The mornings are way too early, and the meditation times do not align with my natural rhythms. So I am fighting drowsiness during meditation which is a new challenge. I hope my system will soon land in this time zone!
A major irony for me here: I feel in some ways like I’ve come full circle back to [a much more enlightened version of] Catholicism of my roots. The practices here are highly ceremonial and liturgical. We chant many chants in monotone, and move from sitting to standing to kneeling on one knee, with much bowing and many prostrations. The decor is bright and uplifting, as is the energy of the place and people.
Now all I need to do is figure out how to get enough sleep so I can be awake enough to fully enjoy and engage in it.
There is a great sense of reverence for this ancient tradition and lineage, dating back 2,500 years to Buddha, and further back to the Bon tradition in Tibet which apparently originated in remote Syberia! The reverence and devotion is ultimately toward the consciousness that underlies all manifest reality. Theistic traditions would call this God.
Pema Chodron is directing our training, and leading some rituals. At 83 she looks like a frail bird, yet speaks with a wonderful dry humor and deep compassionate wisdom. I feel blessed to be in her presence and tutelage. She is focusing on working with emotions in meditation, and is recommending we read:
  1. “ Emotional Rescue” by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.  

  2.  “Welcoming the Unwelcome” by Ani Pema Chodron

  3. “ Emotional Awareness” by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekmans book

Overall, the effect of being in this remote location in such a consciously constructed and maintained home is that the energy feels amazingly pristine. Am loving being in such a conscious community of caring aware beings! There is such mutual consideration, kindness, gentleness…so sweet! It affirms who I want to be and who I wish we will all become. The bodhisattva vow is to dedicate my life to uplifting all sentient beings. These practices affirm that intention again and again, sinking deeper roots in that soil.

Because of lack of sleep, most of my meditations have been either dull/drowsy or “busy mind.” But one brought up an inspiring image: “…fiery orange/red rising up from earth through root and up/out crown while white light descended like water flowing over me, and the combo creating a golden egg-shaped aura that morphed into a flame. Then all our flames were like candles on a cake: each separate, yet each made of the same wax and flame. So each was unique and all were the same! Our separate flames grew larger/brighter gradually becoming one. Then I saw the whole globe as the “cake” with 7.5 billion candles…all growing, glowing brighter becoming one flame of love light surrounding the planet.”

Arriving for Yarne Winter Retreat

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Ziji and I arrived yesterday into snowy Halifax. Our landing in blowing snow went slightly awry: we slid off the runway! Though it sounds dramatic, it was imperceptible from the cabin. The approach was turbulent in gusty blowing snow, but the landing and roll-out seemed normal. Then we stopped for a minute or so until the captain explained “uh, folks, we’ll be here for a while. We ran off the end of the runway, and will be needing to get towed in.” He gave us regular updates as he was informed a tow was not possible from that location, and buses would be dispatched to fetch us. 90 minutes later we walked down slippery steps in wildly blowing snow to waiting buses.
Then we wondered and inquired when our bags would be retrieved. No one knew. We waited another 4 hours. I happened to speak with the airport manager at 6pm who said “we’re still trying to figure out how to get equipment and lights out there to safely unload all that luggage”. We then concluded it was unlikely they’d unload them [by hand] until daybreak. We went into Halifax and had a relaxing evening in our hotel, including a nice dinner and sauna. Phoning Westjet we were assured they’d send our bags to the Abbey today: a 6 hour drive!
We had a scenic drive today: 4 hours by a taxi from Halifax with 2 other retreatants, then we were met by one of the monastics for the remaining 2 hour trip, which was very scenic: a beautiful winterscape.
Now all is well. Here by 3, we received a warm welcome.
Am loving the energy here! [See website and video.]
The stillness is palpable: not only in the external environment, but in the orderly calm of the place. Everyone in residence [about 14 I think] is very warm-hearted. Most are Americans with bright spirits exuding kindness.
I feel deeply grateful for this opportunity for solitude in community: so grounded and clear!
The schedule this week will be a gentle introduction, and we’ll get into the full rigors next week.
Mondays will be “wifi day” and I’ll do my best to give you updates about our journey of exploring “inner space.”

Baba Haridas

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Last evening as I participated in satsang with Baba Haridas Vancouver community, I felt his presence and grace very strongly. At the end, prayers were offered for his health, which was said to be declining [at 95].
I just received this announcement about his passing today.
He was one of the two Indian gurus who deeply touched my heart. It was at his ashram at Mount Madonna near Santa Cruz, California, that I felt inspired to take the name Sequoia: on my 35th birthday in 1979. That inner guidance profoundly altered my life: it symbolizes being my authentic self.
I am so grateful for the grace he brought to me and to so many. May his grace touch you as well, now that he is free of his aging body.
Some of his photos:
Here he is shown with his famous chalkboard, which he wore around his neck for decades, as he observed a vow of silence. He would answer complex questions with a few choice words.
This image is from 1999:
His presence was a blessing.

Om Guru Om!

A father’s scientific and deeply heart-felt perspective on homosexuality.

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What most resonated for me was feeling this man’s intense love for his son, and witnessing him express that love so whole-heartedly in public.

For many if not most straight people, we queer folk are a total mystery very foreign to their felt experience of life and love and sex. Those who know us personally are forced to somehow “understand” us. This doctor uses his [very limited] scientific lens in that attempt to make sense of his intense love in the face of the stigma that still surrounds sexual minorities. I appreciate his core message: his son, hence gay men, hence queer people are not merely tolerable or acceptable. We are essential threads in the fabric of human society. We make the family, the culture, and the world a better place.

It’s to his loving affirmation of us that I say a big YES!

Inter-generational love

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Am delighted to be making some deep connections with amazingly conscious young men in their 20s and 30s: a whole new generation of wonderful relationships.
When I was exploring gay life in the 1970, older queer men were generally quite unattractive. Aside from their physical aging, they were generally quite emotionally unhealthy as well. I now realize this was a result of the terrible oppression they encountered in the years before Gay Liberation, which really began in the early 70s, just as I was “coming out.” They were often bitter, cynical, jaded and plagued by low self-esteem, which was painful to see.
So it’s a happy surprise, now that I’m in my 70s, to experience young men drawn to me, not despite my age, but because of my maturity. Inter-generational friendship and love are becoming quite common among queer men. In part that may be because we are somewhat rare: so many of my generation were wiped out by the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s.

This summer, Ziji and I celebrated our shared August 7th birthday: he turned 32, and I 73:

I find hanging out with young people helps me stay young…or at least be in denial of my actual age 😉

Shadow and Light

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A friend wrote me this morning:
“Have you ever had any experience with negative entities?  Even something that could be considered the devil?  I’ve been dealing with negative entities a lot lately (they’ve been following me home, basically) and I’ve just been trying to focus on cultivating love within myself to repel them.  We’ve never talked about it and I was just wondering if you’ve ever experienced them.  And if so, if you know any ways to repel or disempower them…it can get a little scary sometimes.”
The thoughts I shared in reply:
“In terms of negative entities, the best understanding I’ve come across is from the Buddhist traditions, where they often have icons of the Buddha surrounded by “wrathful dieties” that challenge the seeker to confront their own shadow side before gaining access to higher consciousness, which is represented by the figure of the Buddha.
Just as in dreams, where all the beings we encounter are actually facets of ourselves, any negative entities can be acknowledged as part of ourselves.
Am remembering Walt Whitman‘s line, “I am large! I contain multitudes!”
Am also recalling the teaching from A Course in Miracles that in every moment we have the same choice in various guises: we can choose Fear, or we can choose Love.
My struggle has been with my own shadow side. If I begin to develop any pride in being “spiritual” I quickly get reminded of my own pettiness, judgements, selfishness, resentments, etc., etc…reminded I have feet of clay and always will. Any spiritual insight I may have are not “mine” but fleeting flashes of grace.
There’s a wonderful Rumi poem that helps me grapple with all this.