Tag Archives: prayer

31 Mar

How Meditation Practice Changes the World ~ Ben Riggs

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I arose early on Sunday morning—a custom I follow every Sunday in order to have an hour of quiet meditation. ~ Martin Luther King

As a child, I spent many a Sunday mornings drawing dinosaurs, airplanes, and rocket-ships on the back of offering envelopes at the Waskom, Texas Baptist church.

I loved church.

I loved the ride to church. I always sat next to the same man on the church bus—his name was Jimmy, I think—he had Down syndrome and he loved to sing, boy did he love to sing. My favorite number he performed was the Bob Seger classic, “I Like that Ole Time Rock-&-Roll.”

I met my first girlfriend at that church. I ran home one Sunday afternoon excited about this giant leap forward—wasn’t quite sure what, but my first girlfriend felt like a big deal—only to be told, “We don’t date black girls.”

It’s interesting to me that this is some ‘thing’ I had to be taught. Martin Luther King once said, “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

We come into this world without ‘things.’ We come into this world seeing people. We are taught to see things.

What is a thing?

In order to measure a curve you must install points. You must fix upon this crooked line various points and measure the distance between them. So it is with things…

Life is a curve. Our life is fluid and in order to measure it we install fixed reference points. These reference points are ‘things.’ Things are thoughts. They are practically the same word, as Alan Watts cleverly pointed out when he said, “a thing is a think.” A thing is a label, a name, a point used to measure our experience, a curve.

Why is this important?

‘Things,’ in-&-of themselves, are not problematic. They are useful social conventions that enable us to communicate and share ideas with one another. It is our attachment to things that is problematic.

We ‘think’ about ‘things’ too much.

It is, as Dr. King alluded to in the before mentioned quote, our orientation toward things that is of concern. We become attached to things, and since ‘things’ are ‘thinks’ an attachment to things is an addiction to thought. Simply put, we think about our own thoughts until we lose touch of the surface we set out to measure. There is nothing wrong with taking a measurement, but problems tend to arise when we mistake the map for the territory.

The metric system used to measure life is the ego. It is what we think about our self. If some ‘thing’ or someone affects us in a positive way, we consider them a friend or the love of our life; if they affect us in a negative way, we consider them an enemy or an asshole; on the other hand, if they fail to affect us in a positive or negative way they do not pop up on our radar. We do not ‘think’ about them at all. They are not worthy of being a ‘thing.’ So, it is the ego—what we ‘think’ about ourselves—that is the common denominator.

‘I’ is the original ‘thing.’ It is the first ‘think.’ This is what it means to be self-centered. The whole world is defined by or measured against, our self image. This produces a narrow, prejudiced mind. It is like using a ruler to measure its own length. If some ‘thing’ fails to reflect our image, then it doesn’t measure up, which is to say that it is worthless.

Insanity is a point of view inspired, not by the present moment, but by the previous thought. We think about our own thoughts for so long we lose sight of reality. We are out of touch—we no longer feel life; we only hear what we think about life, our commentary. We see our version, which is delusion. We see only our measure of life. When we look at a person we do not see a person, but a thing: a liberal, a conservative, a friend or enemy.

Likewise, when others look at us, they do not see a person, they see their own thoughts. And just as we exist independent of what they think about us, they exist, not as ‘things’ but as people independent of what we ‘think.’

This state of independence is called freedom.

Not only do ‘I’ exist independent of what ‘they’ think, but in some sense, ‘I’ {capital ““} exist independent of what ‘i’ {lower-case “”} think. This inner-freedom is silence. We came into this world without a name, and still—right now, this very second—who we actually are is nameless. We may get caught up in thinking about our self, thereby thingifying our Self. We may get all wrapped up in our names and our titles—husband, wife, son, daughter, friend, enemy—but in the final analysis who we actually are is much too vast to be measured or encompassed by thought. Our true nature is thinglessness.

In silence we reconnect with the immediacy and precision of our true life by letting go of what we ‘think’ about ourselves and the world we live in. In silence, we move beyond all the differentiating levels of consciousness—all the points placed along the curve—and resurrect the universal spark of humanity that animates us all. Not in a theoretical sense, but in a real and meaningful way we step beyond the layers of thingness that obscure our vision and reconnect with the deep and abiding sense of personhood embedded in our body.

Meditation practice is the practical application of silence.

In mediation we consent to silence—that state of indwelling freedom beyond what we think about ourselves. In silence there is no sense of self. There is no “my” happiness or “your” suffering; no “my” wealth and “your” poverty. Through meditation practice we come to realize, first hand, what Dr. King meant when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Through meditation practice we come to embody compassion and compassion changes the world. In compassion, we are people, not things. In compassion, King’s dream is realized: “Little black boys and girls can hold hands with little white boys and girls.”

26 Mar

Weeding the Garden of Life with Discipline ~ Ben Riggs

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“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

We are not talking about a botanical garden. The garden is the body, the dust of the earth. Eden means, “abundance.” It is a symbol for the image of God—the seed of basic goodness planted in the heart of man-kind.

The term garden designates a degree of intention and investment. Gardens do not grow themselves; they require attention and work. We have to cultivate the soil and water the seeds. Our ideas and plans can be big and truly insightful, but if they are not supplemented by action, they fail to grow.

Walking the spiritual path requires motivation and dedication. When something resonates with us, it is said to have meaning. Motivation is the movement or eruption of meaning. It is enthusiasm or “en-theos”—in God. Something touches us and suddenly the motivation to engage our situation arises—to cultivate that sense of meaning. This is an act of investment.

When we arrive at the gateway of the spiritual path we find that our awareness is “spread out in the worry of many things,” as Jesus put itThe modern way of life is a busy life; we are perhaps the first generation of humans who have successfully eliminated silence. We wake up to the offensive sound of an alarm clock. We watch the news or listen to music, while frantically drinking our coffee and fixing our hair. Then, we run out of the door. We get in the car, turn on the radio, and fight through traffic until we arrive at our cubical. We play solitaire, answer e-mails, and make a few phone calls.

During our lunch break, we scroll through the news feed on Facebook, while mindlessly consuming our tuna fish sandwich. Then we return to our cubical for more e-mails and phone calls, supplemented, this time, by minesweeper. Finally, 5 o’clock rolls around. We fight back through traffic until we are back home. We help the kids with their home work, prepare something for dinner, and wash the dishes. We plop down on the couch and stare at our favorite TV show. Eventually, we start dozing off. So we go to bed, where we remain until the offensive sound of our alarm clock wakes us up and we start over again.

We have removed any and all periods of silence from our day.

We even take our phones to the bathroom with us! The absence of silence is driving us mad. The modern way of life is claustrophobic. There is no room to breathe, and the breath nourishes inspiration. We desperately need a breath of fresh air. We crave silence. Our state of well-being—basic sanity—breathes silence in the same way that our lungs breathe oxygen.

So when our life is cluttered, we feel suffocated. We begin to gasp for air; panic sets in. This sense of panic is the sprouting of wisdom. It is a gap in our false self system. We are beginning to appreciate silence by learning to take seriously the consequences of perpetual noise.

This appreciation brings us to the practice of meditation. Perhaps, we get on-line and locate a meditation center or practice group. Or maybe we just watch some YouTube videos that teach us the basics. There is a great deal of excitement regarding our lifestyle change. We are fired up about starting a daily practice. This excitement serves as a wave of momentum that we can ride for a few days, but unfortunately it dies out. We find ourselves suffocating in the busy-ness of our daily life, yet again.

After three or four days meditation became just something else we swore we were going to get around to. If we truly hope to produce real, sustainable change, we must invest. Action generates change.

True inspiration leads to gratitude, and gratitude is an action, not an idea.

If we are truly grateful for something we will take care of it. If we are grateful for our car, we will wash it, vacuum it, and change the oil. Gratitude is down to earth. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the idealistic wave that brought us here.  But transformation is dependent upon grounding this energy.

We have to channel our energy into action; rather than allowing it to slowly seep out through the couch cushions as we sit around talking about our big ideas.

The gulf between idealism and pragmatism is bridged by diligence. When Milarepa, the great Buddhist sage of Tibet, was ready to give his most precious teaching to Gampopa, his chief disciple, he called him over and showed him his butt, which was callused from all the meditation practice Milarepa had engaged in. Ideas do not change people, experiences do. Experience is the result of experimentation or practice. As Milarepa told Gampopa, “There is no substitute for diligence.”

Remember, a garden is a particular space endowed with potential value, seeds that we seek to cultivate. Before we can begin to cultivate that space, we must locate it. So, we need to listen for echoes of value in our daily interactions. The practice of meditation is a great place to start. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, many people will find within a moment of silence the spark of wakefulness they crave. There is a precision and freshness that is rejuvenating. The practice of meditation is a great way to reconnect with this basic sense of vitality on a daily basis. You may find a similar quality of liveliness in rock climbing, but most people cannot go rock climbing every day.

Meditation not only lifts the spirit, it enables you to become more familiar with the presence of spirit, so that you may recognize this presence in a variety of different activities.

The third great quality of meditation practice is its ability to increase your sensitivity. So not only will you reconnect with the quality of wakefulness and become more familiar with the characteristics that accompany the spirit of wakefulness, but meditation practice will enable you to be more sensitive to this presence. Through the practice of meditation you will become aware of subtler and subtler dimensions of wakefulness. So, it really is a great foundation. It is a down to earth, action based commitment that resonates with the intuition of meaning and encourages other activities that do the same.

Spirituality is a fidelity to the unfolding of our true life.

Inspiration gives birth to change only when it is coupled with action. Action is fueled by the winds of inspiration. An inspired way of life is contingent upon physical commitments that resonate with the spark of wakefulness within us.

We have to be willing to work against our own psychological momentum and install these commitments. They will not just fall out of the sky. It will require work. When we find that jogging arouses the divine spark we discovered in meditation, we must be willing to pencil it into our day and defend that time slot with our life. If we find that cooking is a path to meaning, then we must remove any obstacles that prevent our meeting with meaning in the kitchen. In this way, we can identify the various plots of earth we intend on cultivating.

It is inevitable that the day will come when we do not want to uphold our commitments. We must dig deep and reconnect with our capacity to do what we do not want to do, and not do what we do want to do. Sustainability is dependent upon independence from the whimsical nature of self-will.

This is true freedom.

In the beginning, it will seem like we are cultivating our cooking skills, our concentration, or our physical fitness. But over time, we will begin to see that our body is the patch of earth that we are cultivating. The seed of divinity planted in our hearts has many attributes.

As this seed unfolds into the fulfillment of its potential, these divine qualities begin to surface. These qualities include principles like generosity, dignity, patience, courage, presence, and wisdom. Here we begin to find that, while these qualities may be aroused in meditation, prayer, jogging, study, or painting, they seek fulfillment in our daily affairs. This does not mean that we abandon our meditation practice. On the contrary, we begin to practice even more, as our practice is no longer limited to our cushion. We have discovered the abundance of faith that is forever pouring forth from the point of ‘no-thingness’ at center of our heart. This energy cannot be limited or restricted in any way, not even to the cushion. So, it begins to pour out into our daily life.

So, we start to feel ourselves pulled off of the cushion and into relationship. We begin to see that a committed relationship is difficult, because it demands that we give of our self. This is difficult because we are selfish or need to cultivate generosity. We cannot hope to grow in patience without an asshole in our lives. Patience is growing out of the seed planted in your heart’s soil, and the frustration associated with certain relationships is a sign that we have not been tending to this particular fruit of the spirit—it is a festering wound that is becoming septic due to our neglect. So the relationships and tasks that present us with difficulty are revealed to be the path we must cultivate. Hence the emphasis on diligence.

Just as it first appeared that we were exercising our cooking skills, now it appears that we are cultivating various relationships. But upon closer examination we begin to realize that it is the universal principle of faith itself that has brought us into this relationship. It is as if the whole universe is working as a mid-wife, assisting in the birth of our true Self. But this is not a self-centered situation. The same is true for the other person.

There is something deep in the other that yearns to be realized, and it has identified a relationship with you as the path towards completion. The longer we stick with this process, the more obvious it becomes that we are not in control. There are forces, which are beyond the jurisdiction of our conscious mind, that arise out of the darkness at the center of our being and organize our life.

Once we become aware of this, we can consent to these forces, instead of resisting their subliminal influence. In a moment of consent, we relax into the portal that these virtues are seeded in. We fall into the earth, into our body through these rabbit holes. While on the surface it appears that all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that are pleasing to the eye and good for food—their roots all draw from one source, faith.

As we grow in sensitivity and become more aware of our inner-life, we begin to sense a singular thread of energy animating every aspect of our lives. In fact, the idea of ownership—“our”—no longer seems applicable. The idea of ownership works only when there is a disembodied sense of identity that is fixed in the thinking mind. The cramp in our head we call “I” feels as if it were a foreman looking down on a process called “life” that it owns and does.

When every aspect of life—our career, cooking, relationship, meditation, chirping birds, vanilla ice cream, fresh cut grass, anger, a mote of dust passing by a sunlit window, and every thought—is revealed to be a leaf or a fruit growing on a single tree that is rooted deep in the earth, then and only then, do we begin to see that our life is not our own.

We come back to the depths. We see that life exists in the darkness. It is surrounded by light, and “I” is just another form illuminated by the light. It is not the source.

There is a spirit stirring deep in the body, and everything—the claustrophobia that started this journey, the freshness of the in-breath, our meeting with meaning in the kitchen, our friends, and our enemies—has been calling us back to the deep and abiding presence of unborn wakefulness. Only diligence, nothing else—not epiphanies, philosophical insight, or realized teachers—can answer the call.

This spirit is the same spirit that said, “Let there be light.” We cannot stay in the darkness. Who we are is forever expanding into the present moment. The abyss opens up and breathes. Life comes shooting out of the darkness like a comet tearing across the night sky. We can ride these burst of life like a horse by meeting them with conscious participation. And when we do we emerge on the surface as a creative expression of the void—a husband, wife, parent, a son, a daughter, writer, or a friend; a unique expression of the enlightened spirit.

These modes of expressivity do not belong to us. We have to let them go. We cannot take who we are at work to the house. We cannot identify with them because we are not the form. We must be willing to die to the forms—however unique and interesting they might be—so that we may return to the abyss, out of which we will be re-born as a musician, an enemy, a son, a daughter, a grandparent, an artist, a chef, or some other unique representation of inspiration.

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