Open Heart

Chapter 10 – According to Our Nature – Tao Te Ching, interpretation by William Martin

Can we embrace both the acceptable
and unacceptable parts of ourselves?
Can we breathe as easily as innocent babies?
Can we see the world clearly
and without judgment?
Can we act with loving-kindness
yet remain unknown and unsung?
Can we watch all things come and go,
yet remain undisturbed?
Can we accept our countless thoughts and opinions,
yet not take them seriously?

If we can do this we are acting
according to the virtue that is naturally ours;
nourishing all things, but possessing nothing;
enjoying all things, but clinging to nothing;
working diligently,
but claiming credit for nothing;
growing is wisdom, but controlling nothing.



Recently, while listening to the Plum Village chant, “Namo’avolo” I had an experience that is still too new and too personal to share in detail. But my heart opened. It wasn’t an intellectual breakthrough, it was a breaking of my heart. I realized that my whole life has been an attempt to armor against being vulnerable, against being “weak.” I have avoided “open-hearted” spiritual practices and kept my mind searching for more rational, intellectual, and armored paths. My ways of approaching Zen and Taoism have been precisely this.

The crux of this opening is the realization that I no longer have to be assured of being on the “winning side.” Humanity may crush its open-hearted members under a load of fear and illusion. But now I realize that, it doesn’t matter! I am not asked to save humanity. No one is asked to save humanity. “Humanity” may never become what it could have been, but – I want to become that! That is all that matters – my own humanity, my own heart, my own soul. I don’t want to succumb to a heart closed in fear and armored in rationality. If some Divine authority were to tell me, “Humanity will not, as a species, wake up and become what it could have been. It will perish.” I would still choose the open-hearted path and live as fully into that existence as I am able.

This is a raw and new sensation and I am sure my psyche will hurry in an attempt to repair the armor, but it’s too late. I’m no longer afraid, not like I have been. I’ve set my direction; and however I practice Taoism, Buddhism, shamanism, or any other “ism” from now on, it will be to keep my heart opening into ever more spaciousness and freedom from fear.


No Mind

no mind

(This post is a follow up to my previous post of Wu-Wei Mind and expands on my experience of letting go of conditioned thinking.)

 

This is a path of letting go
so there will be room to live.
If we hold on to our opinions,
our minds will become dull and useless.
Let go of opinions.
If we hold on to possessions,
we will always be at risk.
Let go of possessions.
If we hold on to ego,
we will continue to suffer.
Let go of ego.

From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 9

Nancy and I have been “rearranging” (to say the least) our life style for the past few years in order to feel more congruent with what we believe is an appropriate way of living for human beings on this planet Earth. We now live in an older Winnebago motor home parked on 3 acres of property that has been in my family for almost 70 years, now owned by my sister. Our possessions are now limited to what can fit in said motor home. We live near Mount Shasta, California, in the midst of astounding beauty and hundreds of miles of wilderness trails to be explored. Finances are minimal but life is very, very good.

As more and more cultural baggage falls away, I am left with a stark awareness of the heaviest baggage of all – the ponderous weight of my conditioned mind. Nothing tires a person more than a day spent lugging a load of thought through every single moment. Every thought carries an emotional component, usually unnoticed, which generates physical responses in the body. So without adding any other “work” component to the day, my body is continually responding to mental stimuli with tension, contraction, the release of various chemicals, and other physiologic events.

My conditioned assumption is that this thought-filled mind is what makes me human. Without it wouldn’t I be “no one” – like a Alzheimer’s victim? On the contrary, the conditioned mind that seems so “normal” is actually an inhuman quality that has been added to our psyches through millennia of modern civilization. The truly normal mind is  “mushin” – or “no-mind” – an open, spontaneous, spacious place of creativity without ownership; action without agenda; rest without resistance; and compassion without strings of any sort. It is devoid of the clinging, fearful, avaricious, obsessive, compulsive, and downright crazy thought processes that dominate our minds today.

As I continue along my “Tao” of simplicity, freedom, and joy, I find myself reaching the point where the burden of my conditioned mind needs to be laid aside. I have returned to meditation, formerly an essential part of my practice, and found it to be far more important and effective than I had previously experienced. I use the “Serene Reflection” method of Zen meditation taught by the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. It is simply sitting still and cultivating a relaxed distance from the stream of thinking. I don’t try to stop thinking but whenever I am caught up in thought, I drop it and return to the sensations of the present moment – nothing more complicated than that. As I learn to do this while sitting quietly, I find I can do it anywhere. Anytime I am caught up in the cacophony of craziness my mind has learned to produce, I simply stop. Then I return to the sensations of the moment and go on with my life. My mind gradually relaxes into its preferred state of openness; its natural quality of “mushin.”

All the external shifts of the past few years have been essential and transformative. But it is in “Mushin” or “No Mind” that freedom, simplicity, and joy find their fullest expression. It is from that spaciousness that creativity and compassion truly arise.

Wu-Wei Mind

clutteredmindLife does not have to be as effortful as I make it. When presented with a “difficulty” – that is, anything slightly different from the anticipated smooth and successful navigation of the river of my life – my mind leaps into action. It worries. It imagines scenarios and plans responses. It holds imaginary conversations with real and imaginary people. It argues with itself. It draws fears around itself like a shroud. It whispers demonically how things are all my fault. It whispers self-righteously that things are all somebody else’s fault. In short, it acts as a perpetual motion machine, burning mental energy at an exhausting pace, leaving itself without the resources to respond naturally and appropriately to an actual situation.

At the heart of Taoist philosophy is the idea of wu-wei – a combination of Chinese characters that literally mean, “not-doing” or “non-action.” This phrase is an expression of the Way the Tao, as it moves in all its Cosmic manifestations and responds to situations without undue strain or conscious effort. It is behind the idea of Flow – of the way water moves with fluid power over, under, around, and through obstacles.

I have always been an advocate of wu-wei but not always a very skillful practitioner of that process. I use Qigong and Taiji to assist my body in remaining relaxed, fluid and flexible. I’m not as attentive to keeping my mind relaxed, fluid, and flexible. I realize now that wu-wei must begin in my mind or it will not truly manifest in my external world. This means that I must return to Lao-Tzu’s advice in The Tao Te Ching of, “Can you wait for the mud to settle and the water to clear and right action emerges by itself?”

My mind is not used to waiting. It is conditioned to be impatient and to see the almost infinite stimuli it receives as, “extremely urgent.” To just sit without imaginary conversations, scenarios, and alternative plans until I see clearly, drives my conditioned mind crazy. This practice, however, is the only way for effective action to occur. Action without clarity is the norm in my culture and is the way I have learned to respond. Clarity is almost unknown because it requires hours, days, even months of calmly waiting for the conditioned mind to quiet and for the Tao Mind to see, know, and act. The conditioned mind wants to act immediately and the tragic results fill our world with violence, pain, and ecocide.

When I enter a situation having rehearsed countless scenarios, conversations, and responses I am unable to see and respond to what is actually happening in the moment. I superimpose my projections on the situation or person and respond to that projection. I miss the reality of the person and of the context. My actions are seldom helpful and lead my conditioned mind right back to the, “I should have said …” or, “I should have done …” process and the cycle begins anew, only now reinforced by yet another layer of self-punishment.

I can’t use the same process to quiet my mind that is used to clutter it. That strategy ends up with imaginary conversations and plans about being still and quiet. The classic advice is to patiently wait and the mind will naturally quiet itself. As frustrating as it might seem, it is the only effective way to a wu-wei mind because quiet mindfulness is the natural state of the mind. It has taken us a lifetime to be trained to forget this truth. It will take great patience to return to it. I find that meditative sounds and mantras can help, but all techniques require a quiet accepting patience. If we learn to let the mind quiet for a few seconds we are on our way. Then we’ll find that we can be still for a minute or two. Eventually we will be able to enjoy wu-wei stillness as a habit Then we will find that our mind is ecstatic with relief at finally being itself again and our actions and words will emerge from a place of quiet competence.