At Arm’s Length

I haven’t seen him in a while, but I think of him often when my car rolls up to the intersection. His response to my arriving had been a gentle reminder to pay attention, to turn attention inward to illuminate the self.

The unfolding was predictable. I would arrive at the corner in my car at 5:50 a.m., just as he would walk in front of me in the cross walk. He would raise his arm, palm open in the universal signal that means stop. Presumably, it was an attempt to protect himself from harm—make sure that I see him and that I don’t drive into him. Even though the pattern was set, every once in a while I would feel offended. What a surprise! Sensations and ideas would arise based on the attachment to a “self.” Ideas such as, “Doesn’t he trust me yet? Doesn’t he recognize my car and know that I am a careful driver? Can’t he see I’m already stopped?”

This is defending identity—living at arm’s length.

In sports, when a team plays offense the opposing team plays defense. Likewise, in our ordinary understanding of a day’s events, we often interpret the actions of “other” as directed toward us. The feeling we know as taking offense transforms into self defense—a need to defend our identity.

This is how we live when we assume we are someone in particular. When we engage the game of duality, we see life as a series of events taking place in relation to me and opposed to me. Each encounter, each instance is evaluated relative to our preference, pleasure, or entitlement. We live with an unrecognized comment, “Stop assuming something about me that does not match who I am!”

This is living life at arm’s length.

But who am I exactly? Believing that we are independent, persistent beings living within a life of externals, we have removed ourselves from wholeness—the full, undifferentiated expression of reality that is ever tumbling out of itself. The belief in persistence is bolstered, sustained by a narrative which has been stored and recomposed as necessary in order to make ourselves comfortable in this world of “externals.” We carry on believing our narrative to be ultimately true including the characterizations of “self” and each instance of “other.” To protect the narrative, we react to life’s arising by guarding against it. We turn away from life as it calls to us, because we are afraid of being wrong. We don’t want to be wrong about how we’ve put ourselves and the world together. What we think is comfort is really pain.

We risk losing our reputation, so we act to defend it. We risk losing our life, so our actions are to defend it. We risk losing control, so we build an identity and defend it. In all this defending, we block what really matters. We miss our one chance to live this life NOW. We miss the opportunity to know another as ourselves, to see that everything we meet is us. We miss the opportunity to be present and available when our children or our parents want our attention, when the task at hand wants our attention. All because we don’t want to get hurt.

But real pain is that which occurs when we separate ourselves from the full, undifferentiated expression of reality. We attempt to alleviate the pain by accumulating some perfect combination of “things.” Will satisfaction come with the perfect relationship, the most fulfilling job, a family, an environmentally friendly car, a vibrant personality, the ideal body weight? All these are only temporary. These conditioned states are impermanent. They cannot satisfy because the world is always changing, and the actions that bloom out of this self-protection radiate and perpetuate pain. The ripples cannot reverse course.

The practice of awareness is to see that we’ve gathered sensations occurring NOW and interpreted and identified the gathering as me. This fabrication can vanish—be forgotten—simply by seeing through … finding nothing substantial in the activity of interpreting. Freedom is found in this way of knowing. There’s nothing to defend and the full expression of life is no longer hindered by interpretation.

A man in a cross walk raises his arm to feel safe. Living at arm’s length, I do the same. Confused, I seek comfort by attempting to keep the world “in its place.” Self/other, offense/defense… this is dualistic understanding. See the fluidity and insubstantiality of definitions and characterizations, and the world is known and actualized as undifferentiated wholeness. Security is found. Whatever we “meet” is our own life met with tenderness.

© Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness, 2010–2013. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

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Discovering Right Effort

It is common to bring a misplaced effort to awareness meditation.

Zazen (simply sitting), is immersing into the activity of the posture with no judgments about it nor judgments about whatever might arise in the mind. The attention and effort of awareness meditation is simply to become the posture. Full presence as posture includes noticing when the mind has wandered away. In that noticing, there is already the return to the activity of simply sitting. The breath is an anchor to bring attention to the present. Breath is always in accord with NOW, so it is a most perfect anchor.

There are two actualizations of return or presence:

Ordinary. The sensations/activity of breath-body-mind are known through intellectualizing—from the vantage point of an observer. This is not simply sitting. The assumption of an observer hinders the clarity that is presence. This type of return, however, is a worthy practice—and completely appropriate—for the opportunity of clarity can be found in right in the midst of this assumption.

—or—

Beyond ordinary. Fullness without comment. The sensations/activity of breath-body-mind are realized as wholeness (without boundary) and emptiness (without division). The sensations/activity of breath-body-mind are simply the unfolding of life in its fullness. The activity of presence is open response and full participation.

The observer can vanish. Immerse into any task fully and—though observing is included—a specific enduring observer cannot be found. Awareness itself is realized.

While meditating, if waiting or watching for enlightenment (or something special) has arisen… just notice that mental activity. With practice, the noticing itself is the shift in awareness that is realized as life unfolding NOW. Allow breath to be an anchor (or sound might be an anchor, or touch, or smell). Eventually breath (or any other sensation) is no longer known as an object, but rather the full expression of reality unmediated by the sense of ego.

Meditation—wholeheartedly attending to life here/now—is the opportunity inherent in any expression of this life. Wake up to this life unfolding, by the simple, effortless effort of noticing.

© Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness, 2010–2013. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

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True Life

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Arriving

elliptical

Arrive. Arrive in this life completely.

To arrive does not mean to seek for that moment between past and future. That snippet of time cannot be determined nor held. Seeking in this manner, is an intellectual activity that assumes a persistent, yet changing self that is separate from that which is sought. We assume that some sort of intellectual straining will bring us to the present—as if we could bring our awareness to a point-like unit of time. This is like attempting to be two places as once.

The secret that is never hidden is that we are never removed from the currently unfolding expression of Now. Never is life unfolding at some other time or some other place.

Do not dwell in fabrications and assumptions of mind. Let go and arrive.

Precise effort allows for mind to dwell in life currently unfolding.

Life currently unfolding is offered constantly.

Life currently unfolding is revealed when the idea of a separate self is has vanished.

Arriving as life currently unfolding, participation is not bound by ideas of self, self-interest, self-fortification, self-protection. Arriving as life currently unfolding, participation opens to the cries of the world.

For a related entry see Time Ripening.

© Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness, 2010–2013. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

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No to Minnesota’s Amendment to Restrict Marriage

Holding Hands

Let me say first, that I know intimately, the fear that arises when my foundations of truth and understanding are at risk. I can imagine what it is like to be sure of what is moral and see the world around me begin to change in ways that make me uncomfortable. I can imagine the gnawing in my stomach at the thought of what other people are doing. I can imagine what it is like to be overwhelmed by the diversity of humanity and find comfort in applying the simpler one-size-fits-all approach.

I can also imagine what it is like to be blamed by another for the discomfort they feel. I can imagine what it feels like to be treated without the dignity and acceptance that all human beings hope for. I can imagine what it would be like to love someone, be attracted to someone, and not have the blessing and respect of society.

I am a Dharma Teacher at Dharma Field, a religious community in Minneapolis. I have, until now, resisted any public comment on the proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the definition of marriage to one man and one woman. By posting this, I violate what I consider to be the logical separation of church and state. This agreed upon separation is what allows religious organizations to claim tax-exempt status. It is also what keeps our government from being controlled by religion. It is what keeps our government from becoming a theocracy. If one religion, or category of religions, is successful at controlling government, religion becomes government. I suspect that if we look into our hearts, we can see that this is not really what we want. We can imagine a religious organization that is different from our own gaining control of our lives. No one would consider it “freedom of religion,” if their own religion has been limited by the powerful influences of another’s religion on government. I don’t have to imagine it.

I find that I must speak out because there are religious organizations spending large sums of money and organizing voting campaigns to push this amendment through, and no one seems to be crying foul. I maintain that the freedom of any and all religions to express their teachings is at risk if this trend continues. If this amendment passes, my ability to carry out the teachings of my religion through the expression of ceremony and sanctity will be permanently limited.

The religion that my community practices, invites us to see the equality of all human beings. We are accustomed the inverse golden rule: Do not do unto others, as you would not have them do unto you. This inverse version is extremely valuable and equitable, for it doesn’t force anyone to act upon another. It asks us to be considerate of others. For instance, if I would not like government to dictate to whom I can or cannot be married, I would not enact laws that would make that the situation for others. What we do unto others is what we do to ourselves, and to society.

Our sexual drives are very strong. I think we can all imagine what it would be like to be told to stop being attracted to the gender we yearn to be with. Some of us don’t need to imagine this.

Having been ordained in my tradition, I am able to legally perform marriage ceremonies. I would be honored to conduct a marriage ceremony for any two people who are associated with our religious institution. Minnesota law prevents this, but I can hope that continued conversations can bring all of us to appreciate the societal benefits of including same-gender loving couples, and families with two moms or two dads. I can hope that clergy of other religions would see this way too, but it would be inappropriate to force my view and practices upon another institution. If the law were respectful to all religions, we could again be a society that appreciates “freedom of religion.”

We are all responsible for our actions. As humans we have been given the ability to think, and respond to the cries of the world. Everyone cries at some point. We all hope to be heard when we do.

On Tuesday, I will be voting “no” on the amendment. I value highly, the dignity of a committed, loving relationship that has developed within and amongst two people no matter their gender. Let’s let the conversation run its course naturally, rather than shut it down with an amendment to the constitution. Mutual respect is our best hope for humanity.

© Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness, 2010–2013. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

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Mudra: The Authentic Seal of Awareness

Today’s entry is my contribution to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Hands.

This posterized photo is the hand gesture of the Buddhist practice of awareness. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi called it the cosmic mudra.

I have always understood the definition of gesture to be a motion of the hand or hands. I have resisted using the term when I demonstrate and describe the mudra during meditation instruction, because there is no movement expected once the hands are placed. Instead, I describe the mudra as a hand position.

Looking up the word gesture, I see now that its archaic definition refers to carriage corresponding to the state of mind. This discovery brings a smile, though awareness is not a state of mind. Awareness is openness; life not crimped by held assumptions.

Awareness is first, original; the base and whole of experience. Assumptions are interpretations of this direct experience.

An obsolete definition of gesture refers to the position or attitude [of the hands] especially in prayer, a tip-off to the word’s religious roots. Is Buddhism a religion? That’s a topic for a future post. Meditation is far from the popular understanding of prayer (to ask, entreat, or implore). If prayer is to live as open response (“how can I help?” rather than “please, may I have?”) then this obsolete definition brings a smile, as well. Mudra; the expression of open response.

The cosmic mudra hand gesture is stationary, but expresses the life of wholeness, openness, spontaneity, fluidity. To fill this hand gesture with awareness is authentic practice. Our peonies burst into full bloom today. To flower, to open, to respond to sunlight, is the mudra of peony. A flower does not put partial effort into its aliveness. To fulfill the life of the zazen posture—including the cosmic mudra—is the authentic seal of awareness.

© Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness, 2010–2013. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

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What is a Zen Center?

What is a Zen center? A community that invites and encourages inquiry. As practitioners of Zen, we are invited to look at our assumptions, see that we believe them to be absolutely true, see that they do not correspond to life unfolding, and find liberation in realizing assumptions are empty.

How does this invitation manifest?

Our teachers guide us as they live their lives as expressions of knowing, and they remind us to keep our practice pure.

Our practice guides us as we breathe life into the effort that is awareness.

Our community guides us as we navigate the formalities of meditation hall etiquette while discovering the spontaneity of response that is exactly compassion.

Our conditioned lives guide us as we realize the manifestation of the unconditioned.

Our teachers, our practice, our community, our lives, are not really ours; but are expressions of wholeness. A Zen center is an expression of wholeness that supports the practice of awareness.

© Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness, 2010–2013. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

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