Tag Archives: spirituality

02 Jan

In Daily Life the Meditation Bell Sounds Like A Crying Child ~ Benjamin Riggs


My favorite time of day is noon.

I’m usually in the living room hunched over my laptop, promoting my book or working on an article. Then suddenly my single-pointed focus is interrupted. A loud scream rips me away from my computer. I immediately feel irritated.

I want to finish what I’m working on: write one more paragraph, make one more change, just get to a good stopping point. But that cry will not be ignored. It pierces my concentration.

I put my work aside and make my way down the hall. As soon as I open the door that cry is transformed into an innocent laugh. My frustration falls away. I crawl in the bed with my two-year-old son. He lies next to me smiling, but only for a second before he starts climbing on top of me.

There is nowhere else I would rather be. This is my favorite time of the day.

All of the world’s great spiritual traditions agree that self-centeredness is at the root of human suffering. And they all provide us with practices meant to peel us away from our identification with the false self. Meditation, prayer, yoga, self-examination, and study all help dissolve our delusion and shine the light of awareness on the false-self.

But daily life is the only practice I have encountered that ruthlessly slaps at our self-grasping hand. This is particularly true of relationships.

Spirituality is an ambiguous word. I define it as “a resonant mythos infused with an actionable path of self-analysis, prayer, and meditation that enables us to transcend the false-self system and reconnect with the vitality of the body.”

In short, spirituality is concerned with one thing and one thing only: transcending the ego.

This can happen in meditation, prayer, savasana. It can happen while we are walking, running, or studying. But it can also happen while we are loading the dish washer, cutting the grass, or arguing with our spouse—if we are present and willing to respond with authenticity. The moment of awakening might be heralded in by a honking horn or a crying baby, rather than a meditation bell or a choir of angels.

There is more than one way to skin a Buddha.

The Tantric traditions of India—Buddhist and Hindu—have long understood the immense spiritual potential packed into daily life. In these traditions it is the moms and dads, the husbands and wives, the shopkeepers and farmers that are venerated, not the monk or the recluse.

Unfortunately, daily life is too often seen as an obstacle to spiritual growth, rather than the path itself. Perhaps our spouse says something that pushes our button or our child is being especially needy that day. We become impatient. Anger and frustration start bubbling up. The ego’s tendency is to blame the other. It lays our feelings at their feet. It says that our frustration is the result of their behavior. This leaves us feeling stuck.

Blame chains us to our misery, waiting on the other to change their ways so we can be happy.

The truth is that our feelings are the result of our own self-clinging. Circumstances expose the ego. They point out the areas of our life the ego has claimed.

When my child wakes up from his nap and his cries pull me away from my work, I’m only frustrated because I am identified with that work. I have become hyper-focused on that work. In the Buddhist tradition, we would say I’m living in the animal realm—piggishly pressing forward with blinders on that blot out everything except for the mud hole my ego is wallowing in.

In my case, it is doubly interesting because I am most likely writing about spirituality when all of this happens, which means I’m looking at the finger and not the moon. I am focused on the words but have forgotten their meaning.

Spiritual practice is about letting go of the ego. When daily life exposes our self-grasping tendencies, we are granted an opportunity to actually practice spiritual principles. In that moment, a portal opens. If we choose to drop our self-centered narrative and step through that gate, we discover our path.

Spirituality does not exist independent of our suffering. The Buddha said as much in the First Noble Truth. “Our path” is like a series of stepping stones that appear the moment we become aware of our shortcomings. What we call obstacles, pitfalls, and shortcomings, the Buddha calls the spiritual path.

Spiritual principles do not exist in a vacuum. They are born into the world through our actions and daily life is our midwife. Take patience as an example. In order to practice patience, there must be an asshole trying our nerves. When someone pushes our buttons they are inviting us onto our path. Without impatience the practice of patience is just a simulation. This is true of all spiritual principles.

We cannot practice generosity without a needy person—whether that be a toddler or a beggar—demanding something of us that we cling to. Morality is little more than a self-righteous façade without the presence of temptation. It is temptation that invites us to move beyond self-will by affording us the occasion to do what is right, regardless of whether we stand to profit from it or not.

We often think of freedom as the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want. This is not freedom. It is bondage. It is the bondage of ego.

True freedom is found in freedom from self. When we are free of the ego we are no longer reactive. If, when our buttons are pressed, we move beyond the petulant, self-centered narrative between our ears, down into the silence of body, we will discover the power to meet anger with loving-kindness, fear with courage, temptation with character, and our frustrations with patience.

This is spiritual growth. Growth doesn’t happen in the safe and quiet space of bedroom. We cultivate the capacity to let go during our formal practice, but true growth happens in relationship.

Meditation, prayer, and yoga are all practices—and practice is essential—but daily life is where the rubber meets the road.

Practice pulls back the veil a bit. It enables us to glimpse the truth of selflessness, but that truth is born into the world through our actions. It is in daily life, in relationship—when we are caught up in self clinging—then and only then, are we afforded the opportunity to let go.

We cannot practice letting go, unless we are holding onto something. Anytime we are disturbed—whether we are angry, depressed, jealous, afraid, obsessed, or bored—it is because we are clinging to ego. This clinging is not only the cause of our suffering, it is the only thing that prevents us from reconnecting with our True Life. And we are often unaware of this clinginess until something tries to pry open our hand. So when we step off of the cushion or the mat and into our daily life, we are passing through the eye of the needle. We are stepping onto the path and on the spiritual path, the meditation bell sounds more like a crying child or a beggar asking for a dollar.

I will close with a relevant excerpt from my book Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West:

“Relationships are difficult because they demand that we give of our Self. This is hard because the false-self is selfish. It wants to avoid discomfort and clings to immediate gratification. Creative love matures us by reminding us that we cannot hope to grow into our True Self without something demanding our false-self in return.

“The resurrection of our True Life is proportionate to the death of our inauthentic life. The false-self is incapable of accepting this truth. It is bound to itself. Love is free to accept this maxim. This is the power of love to endure all things: marriage, divorce, success, failure, friendship, rivalries, heartache, and death. The freedom of love enables us to adapt to life’s changing circumstances. From the point of view of creative love, there are no problems, only opportunities. If the problem can be solved it is not a problem, just something for you to work with; if it can’t be solved, it is not a problem, just something to accept and move on. Creative love sees everything as workable.”

26 Mar

Weeding the Garden of Life with Discipline ~ Ben Riggs


“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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