The World Needs *More* Warriors


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The World Needs More Warriors

.     (This is my abridgment and adaptation of Sakyong Mipham’s article “We Need to . .
      Be Warriors
,” on pages 15 – 19 of the January 2013 issue of “Shambhala Sun”)

As the speed of life continues accelerating, more and more people—which is to suggest that more and more of us—are doing more and more things in perfunctorily—in half-steps, in a routine, rote, mechanical, cursory, even superficial way, with little interest, attention, enthusiasm, or engagement. Parenting, work, driving, shopping, eating, conversations, relationships, sex, all done in a path of least resistance / only partially engaged way; not in a wholehearted deeply present and attentive way.

Because of all of the distractions and horror in the world these days, it is getting harder and harder to show up deeply for the present moment and truly engage our lives. And as a result, our kindness and care are on the wane. In part because our advertising culture keeps lulling us into thinking that somehow someday life is going to get easier, better, et cetera.

As the speed of life continues increasing, what the world actually needs is more engagement, not less. We need more people who are willing to care more; not less, be more attentive, not more distracted; be more thorough, not less; be steadier, not more up and down.

In short, the world needs more warriors—more people who are willing to show up and engage the moments of their lives—the everyday, seemingly ordinary and even mundane moments of their lives—with greater attentiveness, clarity, wisdom, and bravery. The world needs more people who are dedicated and determined to engage life wholeheartedly and with an inquisitive, focused, steady mind.

Steadiness—resolve, not having a lot of ups and downs—along with bravery, is one of the basic qualities of warriorship. In this culture, most of us are constantly flip-flopping—mentally, emotionally, physically, and in every other way possible. So many obstacles and distractions are unknowingly empowered by us to sway us and drag us away from what we’re doing. And this is just an inescapable byproduct or consequence of engaging life in a half-hearted, half-focused, cursory way—the more indifferent and shallow our attention, the more easily distracted we are and become. One feeds and increases the other, and vice versa.

The process of being truly present—and remaining so—takes energy. But it also creates it. But first we have to surrender our patterned ingrained ways of escaping. When we surrender to reality, we have to keep showing up in order to make progress. And that takes effort, discipline, dedication.

Fifty percent of engaging life is just showing up, being there physically—be it showing up on the meditation cushion, classroom, work environment, home, family life, et cetera. Just showing up is fifty percent of the battle.

But it’s only fifty percent.

The other fifty percent is in how we show up. And the most important element in this is care—having a sense of respect and real interest in what we’re doing. Without care and respect, we become disengaged, and even something as potentially profound and centering as meditation becomes hollow. So how we show up is crucially important. When we pay attention to what we do, we naturally care. They feed each other.

These days, when people pursue a spiritual path and a more spiritual approach to life, they can be very enthusiastic at first, but then at a certain point some people will tend to just want to shelve it; they think they’ve practiced enough, seen enough, gained enough, and they just want to hold and stay where they are now, or even cash out and revert back to their comfort zone.

Many people seem to want a spiritual path on their own terms. And this is not possible. When we are truly engaged, we are actually giving our body, our speech, and our mind to the world.

Personally, the more my path unfolds, the more I see the need for the kind of steadiness, discipline, structure, resolve, and paying attention that keeps us on the spot, that allows us to be more deeply aware of how we show up, how we speak, what we do, how we engage with others. Because even with practice—even with a spiritual practice—and even as we are trying to practice something as noble and as profound as the dharma, it’s still easy to develop little places to which we escape, little cocoons of comfort where we withdraw when life gets uncomfortable or stale. But the training of warriorship is there to help us with those neutral and uncomfortable moments, to help push us through to an even deeper and a more profound form of practice—a deeper and more profound engagement with our practice. Without that sense of steadiness—devotion, determination, fixedness—we are always in the back of our minds looking for our retirement—a place where after we have worked hard and invested ourselves for a while, we can flop ourselves and relax and just let everything hang.

But the path of engagement does not get easier. There is no retirement on it. There is however a profound sense of delight to be developed from it. But no retirement. Engagement is the path. And this is the way of a warrior—engagement without the aim of retiring.

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If You Only Knew . . . .


The sole means now for the saving of the beings of the planet Earth would be to implant into their presences a new organ of such properties that every one of these unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can destroy the egoism that is now completely crystallized in them.” – G. I. Gurdjieff

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If You Knew” – Ellen Bass

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

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“We all have to say goodbye to everything eventually. All of us are here only for the time being, tumbling along as we all are in the river of time, on our way to the endless ocean. We will each wake up one morning and realize that a whole period of our life—our youth, our career, our marriage, our health—is no longer what it was, and has passed. We are vulnerable—intrinsically vulnerable—to sickness, old age, and death. Nothing will save us from this, our common fate. However puffed out our chest may be, however booming that voice of ours, however many tall buildings or stocks we own, we too are exquisitely, excruciatingly exposed to the fact that, sooner or later, our place in this life will be cleared and we will be gone.

“When we remember this, something softens in us. Our judgments soften, our hurry slows down a little, our worries return to proportion. We breathe a little deeper and more meaningfully. After all, every one of us is in the same leaky old boat. Everyone we meet, everyone around us—the wise, the foolish, the saintly, the murderous—all of us alive today are heading together, in one great fellowship, toward the final waterfall—even as we argue or lash out at each other, care for each other, love each other, betray or reject each other, support or affirm each other—regardless of what it is we do or don’t do.

“This is why ours is an exquisite vulnerability. It is exquisite because it is so touching, so life-affirming, when we see through the shell of a person—our own or another’s—to the tender reality beneath. One of the women I pass in the café most mornings was in the local supermarket the other day. We had sometimes smiled in recognition, but never spoken. She always seemed busy and brisk to my eye; in charge of her day and what she was doing. When we bumped into each other in the supermarket I greeted her by saying how colorful she looked in her bright blue shirt. She said her husband had died recently, and it was the first day since then that she had felt a little alive. I am so sorry, I said. She burst into tears and clung to my shoulder, sobbing. The wave of her grief washed through and over me.

“I had had no idea.

“I would never have known.

“She was not in charge at all. She was just trying to do what she could to get through.”

– Roger Housden, adapted from his October 18, 2011 blog post—

http://rogerhousden.com/blog/

http://rogerhousden.com/read/

Why Are You Pissing Your Life Away Asleep and Living as if Life Goes on Forever?


How do you view yourself and your life?

Do you see yourself and your life and your actions as an ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil, darkness and light, within yourself?—your good and healthy inclinations versus your unhealthy and bad inclinations?—your inclinations to stay comfortable and have an easy life opposing your inclination to grab life by the stones, to wake up and live courageously and much more honestly and with heart- and mind- and eyes-wide open?—to get yourself up out of the muck and mire and live in a much more ennobling and virtuous and wise and—dare I say it—”Godly” way?

How do you see yourself and your one little precious life?

Some of us are very good people, some of us are very bad, even evil, people, but the vast majority of us are somewhere in between.

We might therefore think of human good and human evil as a kind of continuum. And as individuals we can move ourselves one way or the other along the continuum. With sustained effort—right effort—we can move ourselves more and more toward the good, and with sustained denial and neglect and abnegation of responsibility we can move ourselves further and further away from the good and closer and closer to the bad or toward evil.

Just as there is a tendency for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, so too there seems to be a tendency for the good to get better and the bad to get worse, the wise to get wiser and the foolish and unhealthy to get even more foolish and mentally unhealthy.

(Adapted and elaborated on from M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil,” pg. 88)

So what accounts for this?—what is necessary or required for us to move ourselves along the continuum in the right direction, from less healthy psychologically to more healthy psychologically, from less goodness to more goodness? 

Two things, in my estimation.  The first is awareness—call it mindfulness, self-awareness, self-consciousness, being “awake,” leading an examined life; it’s the capacity to realize what we we’re doing while we’re doing it.  Without this capacity, life is either a senseless blind descent into the ground, or always lived in retrospect and only understood by looking back, never by looking clearly at what’s in front of us and where we are right now.  This sort of awareness requires intelligence, as well as tremendous honesty and inner grit/courage, and a good bit of humility—swallowing our pride and denial, not being afraid to admit when we’re wrong, not being afraid of feeling ashamed, embarrassed, inadequate, less than; because if our self-esteem is so low that we are afraid to take these hits—bear these narcissistic injuries and slights to ourself—then we will continue on the path of excessive and malignant emotional self-protection—avoidance of feeling badly about ourselves at all costs, even when it means hurting others and forcing them to take the hit emotionally rather than ourselves

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15: 13)

And some degree of external necessity.  Few of us will come to great levels of self-awareness and wakefulness and wisdom by virtue of inner necessity alone; we will need to have our hand forced, compelled, or even guided by something outside of us—Grace, a teacher or mentor or guru, a path, a religious or spiritual path (meditation, the Dharma, a twelve step program), a great loss or series of losses, great pain, a near-death experience, a cancer-scare or heart attack, something along those lines that will force us to cut through our crap and start the habit/discipline of looking squarely and directly at ourselves and leading much more honest and examined life.

Some people—a very small minority— are compelled by inner necessity to wake up and get serious about living much more honestly and sincerely.  They are graced (cursed?) with powerful, even horrifying, glimpses of their own impermanence and fragility and brevity—the impermanence and fragility and brevity of all things—that there is nothing in this world to cling to, that we are born without any real idea why we are here or for how long (“I stick my finger in existence—it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How did I come to be here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? Who is it that has lured me into the world? And why was I not consulted?” – Søren Kierkegaard), that talk of God and an afterlife is largely some combination of hand-me-down stories and inner wish-fulfillment and desperation.  And a glimpse such as this—all at once searing and piercing and terrifying—of oneself and one’s lot is enough to get some people to cut the crap and to get busy living more honestly, sincerely and in a much more awake and responsible fashion.

But most people are not graced—or cursed—with such experiences or glimpses into the way things (likely) really are.  Instead they live asleep behind a curtain of words and ideas and social conventions and expectations, anesthetizing themselves on drink, relationships, Sunday church, a Monday through Friday routine of 8-5 work then a commute home for dinner and an evening in front of the TV, conversations about sport, gossip, politics, and other trivial matters, facebook, web browsing, dissipating and numbing themselves constantly in a thousand different ways all so that they never have to come up against or feel and face the likely truth of their existence.  Instead they’d rather “tranquilize themselves on the trivial” (Earnest Becker’s term, from “The Denial of Death”), focus on the little happy sounding things in life—building self-esteem rather than character, being happy rather than being good, being comfortable rather than being awake and fully born, being content rather than having a mature conscience and an active soul, fitting in the status quo rather than growing up as much as one can emotionally and psychologically and spiritually.  It is these people who will require some sort of external inducement or aid to help them wake up and live more sincerely and honestly and mindfully.  They will require a guru or teacher, or some sort of calamity, or hitting rock bottom in some way, before they will have the impetus to get living in a more courageous and noble way.

“If you will but stop here and ask yourself ‘Why am I not as pious as the first Christians were?’ your own heart will tell you the answer: that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.” – William Law

Our capacity to choose changes constantly with our practice in life.

The longer we continue to make the wrong decisions (i.e. taking the easy way out, the path of least resistance—choosing the easy wrong over the difficult right, choosing the easy and quick-fix wrong over the difficult and more long-term right, choosing comfort over truth, opting for half-baked solutions and easy answers, scapegoating, abdicating responsibility, blaming others, spinning out emotionally, refusing to look at ourselves, being hypersensitive to honest criticism and scrutiny, et cetera)—and refuse or are unwilling to see our decisions as such, the more our heart will harden (our heart will have to harden in order to keep out the light and keep us in the dark and keep us in denial).

On the other hand, the more often we make the right (courageous, noble, virtuous, honest) decision, the more our heart softens—or perhaps better, comes alive.

Each step in life which increases my courage, my honesty, my integrity, my conviction, and my wisdom also increases my self-confidence, my discernment, and my capacity to choose the desirable alternative (the difficult right over the easy wrong), until it eventually becomes more difficult for me to choose the undesirable wrong (the easy way out) rather than the desirable right.

On the other hand, each act of surrender and cowardice—each time I blame/scapegoat others and or life and refuse to master myself and my own reactions and emotions and avoidant (drapetomaniacal) tendencies, and instead reactively opt to abrogate or abnegate responsibility—weakens me, opens the door to further acts of surrender, and eventually freedom is lost.

Between the extreme when I can no longer do a wrong act and the extreme where I have lost my freedom to right action and parent or govern myself in a healthy and conscientious way, there are innumerable degrees of freedom of choice.

In the practice of life, the degree of freedom emotionally (limbically) and psychologically to choose is different at any given moment.

If the degree of freedom to choose the good is high, then it requires less effort from me to choose the good.

However, if the degree of freedom is small, then it requires either favorable circumstances, help from others (borrowed functioning, emotional support, other-validation, encouragement), or it requires great effort on my part—grit, self-mastery, a productive character orientation, honesty, courage, inner reserves and resourcefulness, a strong conscience, a strong and well-developed ethics of personal responsibility, and so on.

Most people fail in the art of living not because they are inherently bad or so without will that they cannot lead a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see when they stand at a fork in the road and have to decide.  They are not aware when life asks them a question, and when they still have alternative answers.  Then with each step along the wrong road, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to admit that they are on the wrong road—most likely because that would require them (a) to admit to themselves and others that they are on the wrong road and (b) that would further burden them to admit that they must go back to their first wrong turn, atone and make their amends and reparations, and (c) accept the fact that they have wasted a lot of unnecessary energy and time living pridefully and in fear of feeling ashamed, embarrassed, not good enough, et cetera.

(Adapted and modified and elaborated on from Erich Fromm’s “The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil,” pp. 135-138)

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The resolve to awaken requires the integrity not to hurt anyone in the process.  Dharma practice cannot be abstracted from the way we interact with the world.  Our deeds, words, and intentions create an ethical ambiance that either supports or weakens our resolve.  If we behave in a way that harms either ourselves or others, our capacity to focus on our work will be weakened.  We will feel disturbed, distracted, anxious, uneasy, and our practice will less and less effect. . . .

Ethical integrity requires both the intelligence to understand the present situation as the fruition of former choices, and the courage to engage the present moment as the arena for the creation of future consequences (karma).  It empowers us to embrace the ambiguity of a present that is simultaneously tethered to an irrevocable past and yet still free for a future that is not wholly determined.

Our ethical integrity is threatened as much by attachment to the security of what is familiar and known as by fear of what is unfamiliar and unknown.  It is subject to being remorselessly buffeted by the winds of desire and fear, doubt and worry, distrust and anxiety, fantasy and egoism.  The more we give into these things, the more our integrity and resolve are eroded, and the more we find ourselves being carried along on a wave of psychological and social habit.

(Adapted and modified from Stephen Batchelor’s, “Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening,” pp. 45-48)

Bhante G on Developing Self-Discipline, Patience, and Mindfulness as a Way of Learning How to Better Engage the Full Intensity of Living and Loving


(The following is riffed on from the book “Mindfulness in Plain English,” by Bhante Gunaratana, pp. 86, 122-125, 146, 170.)

“Discipline” is a touchy subject for many of us. It conjures up images of somebody standing over us with a stick, keeping us in line, correcting us harshly when we’re wrong.

But real self-discipline is different. It’s not self-scolding or self-denial. Rather, it’s the skill of seeing through the hollow shouting of the vast majority of our impulses and piercing their secret—that they have no real power over us, that it’s all a show, a deception, a misdirection, a bluster. Our urges scream and whine at us, they cajole us, they coax us, they threaten us, they seduce us, they con us, but really the vast majority of them carry no allure, no substance at all. We give in out of habit. We give in because we never really bother to question or investigate them or ourselves. We never really bother to look beyond the allure or noise, beyond our urges and see how empty most of them are—do I really need this? Will this matter in the end? What am I really after? What would happen if I didn’t give in to this urge or temptation?

There is only one way to learn this lesson, though. And the words on this computer screen or page won’t do it. Instead, we have to look directly within and observe the stuff coming up—the restlessness, ennui, anxiety, pain—just watch and observe it but not get involved. That is self-discipline—watching ourselves in an uninvolved way. Because, much to our surprise, the vast majority of what comes up will go away. It rises; it passes away. It’s as simple as that.

There’s another word for self-discipline. It’s called patience.

If you truly want to change something, the first thing you have to do is to see it the way it is. Self-discipline, patience, not immediately gratifying our every urge, is what allows for this, is what allows us to see how the vast majority of our desires are simply distractions, discursive, a chase after our own tail, and they simply arise and then fall away if we don’t give in and get involved trying to placate and gratify every one of them, but instead just watch and observe ourselves.

Questioning ourselves and our desires is a particularly useful way of remedying our monkey mindedness and impulsiveness. Do I really need this? What am I really after? What will I have wished I would done right now if I were to die tomorrow? What would happen to me if I didn’t define myself in this way by giving in to this urge or temptation? In order to answer these questions—in order to even ask these questions—we must learn something of the quality of the distraction. To do that, we must divorce ourselves from it, take a mental step back from it, disengage from our id or our monkey mind, and engage our higher brain and view ourselves more objectively. We must stop feeling the feeling or thinking the distracted discursive thought if we are to step back and view it as an object of inspection and observation. And this very process is an exercise in mindfulness, in uninvolved, detached awareness. The hold of the chain of distractions is broken, and mindfulness is back in control. The key is not to fight distracting thoughts or urges, not to strain or struggle, because the energy we put into resisting tends to only make the thought or distraction stronger. Instead, just observe the distraction with bare uninvolved attention—mindfulness. Mindfulness—the Pali word “appamada,” means clear-thinking or the absence of madness. By observing more and more what’s going on in our minds, we eventually reach a state of ultimate sanity. As genuine mindfulness is built up, the walls of the ego are gentled and taken down, craving diminishes, defensiveness and rigidity lessen, and we become more open, more flexible, and we grow more in wisdom and compassion and equanimity.