“Grace” through the Cracks…

The funny thing about making it a point to practice gratitude is that when you go looking for things to be grateful for, you find them – go figure.

What’s even more interesting is that we find things to be grateful for in unexpected places and in the strangest of forms.


I was walking my son to the bus stop, as I do every morning. We traversed the same crumbling asphalt road as we had every school day for almost two years. Nothing had changed. Everything was the same, and yet I saw something different. Maybe only because I was different. Maybe because “I saw” differently.


Stabbing upwards through the fractures and fissures of the road were these subversive blades of grass. In piercing their way through the pavement they had lacerated their way into a portion of my own experience. They were unapologetic in penetrating their way through the gravel and pitch of my mind. 


On my walk back home, I stopped and took this picture:

I’ve spent what some might say is far too much time staring at this photo, staring at these blades of grass. There is something so bold, so defiant, so rebellious, about the way the foliage finds a way through the ordered obstruction of the asphalt. And yet, there is also something so graceful about its poise, balanced perfectly upon the edge of strength and vulnerability. 


Maybe that’s what gratitude does. Maybe gratitude cuts through the breach of our concrete defenses. Maybe when our callousness begins to crumble just enough, the recalcitrance of grace and gratitude finds a way to reach through.


Leonard Cohen says “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


Maybe gratitude is obstinate. Maybe grace is insubordinate. Maybe gratitude is a kind of mutiny. Maybe, as Jay Baker says, “Grace is Anarchy“.
Gratitude refuses to be submissive or obedient. Grace resists “staying in line” and objects to “staying in its place”.


The grace of gratitude says “fuck you” to the authority of the “No Trespassing” sign and finds a way to slip through the fence anyway. Sometimes we are cut deeply by the barbed-wire that stands between us and where we are told we are not allowed to go. With radical noncompliance we wear our scars with pride, knowing that the scars of grace are our gift to the world.


Francis Su explains that “our shared struggles” are opportunities for “extending and sharing grace”.


Sometimes its the seemingly crushing conditions that create the perfume of our existence, fragrance of our aliveness, a sweet savor unto our collective human condition.


I am grateful for the grace that grows through the cracks and crevices of our fractured Being.


I am thankful for gratitude found in unexpected places and in the strangest of forms…

Art in Pieces…

Nietzsche says that “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” I can relate. While I can’t say for sure if I’m actually able to “give birth to dancing star”, I can say that everything I create begins in chaos, an inner chaos that manifests itself into outward expression. That physical expression of an internal anarchy is what I call my creative process.


Everything that I make begins its life as a fever of a thought typed into Evernote, a jagged idea roughly hewn and scraped into a notebook or across a Post-It, like the photo above.

The line inscribed on the pictured Post-It note first appears in a conversation I had with Brady Hester on an episode of his podcast. It then took up residence as a random annotation. And, would eventually find a home in an essay called “I Am Grateful for the Insight of the Other.”


This leads me to wonder…


What if it’s the Post-It notes, the scaps of paper, the unseemly assortment of uncured ideas, that are more important then the completed essay?


What if it’s the sketches, the rough drawings, the drafts, that are of greater value than the finished painting?

What if “the process” is the place of artistry?


What if it’s all the various “pieces” that make up a piece of art that are the real ‘masterpieces”? And what if we treated them that way?


What if we created a Gallery of First Attempts, a Museum of the Primordial?


What if we framed the early iterations and filed away the finished product?

Maybe that’s what it means to be liberated from the “outcome”…

“Everything is Connected” – Transcript

A few weeks back I had the privilege of recording a few thoughts for The Riverside Church’s podcast “Be Still and Go“. The podcast has been exploring the connections between spirituality and the environment through meditative reflections from various practitioners of differing traditions. I am humbled and honored to be included in such an interesting and insightful group of thinkers. 


At one point in time ecological thinking played a pivotal role in some of my creative work and writing. It was invigorating to bring environmental thought back into current work. Below you’ll find a link to the episode and a rough transcript of my reflection. Enjoy!


Spiritual traditions are at their best when they’re breaking down binaries, when they are bridging the gap between binaries, when they’re dismantling and deconstructing dichotomies, when they’re collapsing all the categorizations that we’ve constructed to keep ourselves separate divided and disconnected.


I think one of the dichotomies, one of the binaries, one of these places of division that is most in need of being dismantled, and deconstructed, and broken-down is when we believe that we are separate from this earth, separate from the land, when we believe that we are disconnected from this planet, this environment that we are a part of.


I think that’s one of the things that attracts me most to Buddhism, and specifically Zen. They begin with this idea of “interdependence” and “inter-connectivity”, this idea that everything that “is” is dependent upon everything that is in order to continue to be. Everything is connected, everything connects, everything is engulfed by this lively mesh of existence and “Being”, this tangled brew of life.


In Buddhism we take refuge in something called the Three Jewels, we have these refuge vows. We say that we take refuge in the Buddha, we take refuge in the Dharma, we take refuge in Sangha. The Buddha, the dharma, and the Sangha. The teacher, the teachings, and the community. But, I think the reason that these refuge vows, these three jewels, are so important to the this practice and to this tradition is because there is a way to see them play out that shows that they are an expression of this interdependence, this inter-connectivity.


I think when we say that we take refuge in the Buddha, the teacher, we’re not saying that we take refuge in the historicity of a figure, or that we take refuge in the particularities of a person. I think what we’re actually doing is saying that we take refuge in the “universality” of awakening. We are recognizing that all of existence  exists in an already awakened state.
And if that’s the case, when we say we take refuge in the dharma, the teachings, we’re recognizing that because everything that exists is an expression of this on-going process of awakening, then everything that exists, everything that is, has truth to impart to us. Everything is the teachings, and everything has something to teach us. We have lessons to learn in the examination of all that lives.


When we say that we take refuge in the community, we’re not saying that we take refuge in the spaces and places of fellowship. We’re not saying tat we take refuge in our communities of practice, our communities of observance. We’re saying that we take refuge in the community of all being. We tale refuge in the community of life as a whole.


There’s a zen master by the name of Dogen who says that “Mountains practice with one who meditates. Water realizes the way with one who practices.” He goes on to say that “Because earth, grass, trees, walls, tiles, and pebbles of the world of phenomena…all engage in buddha activity, those who receive the benefits of the wind and water are inconceivably helped by the Buddha’s transformation…and intimately manifest enlightenment.” He says that “The sutras are the entire world… There is no moment or place that is not sutras.” There is no moment or place that is not the source of truth, the source of the teachings.


“The sutras,” he says, “are written in letters of heavenly beings, human beings, animals, fighting spirits, one hundred grasses, or ten thousand trees. This being so, what is long, short, square, and round, as well as what is blue, yellow, red, and white, arrayed densely in the entire world… is no other than letters of the sutras and the surface of the sutras. Regard them as the instruments of the great way and as the sutras of the buddha house.”


Mountains, rivers, lakes, streams, grasses, everything that we encounter, everything that is, are the letters of the teachings, they form the letters of the lessons we have to learn. They form the expression of how we’re connected. And when one meditates, when one sits down to practice, when one becomes observant, all of existence becomes observant. When one of us wakes up, everything wakes up. When one of us comes alive everything comes alive…

New Video! “Is it True? W/ Rajan Shankara”

Recently, I had the good fortune of interviewing Rajan Shankara for an episode of the podcast. you can listen to the full episode below.

Today I released the video of our conversation:\

Rajan is a former Hindu monk who lived the monastic life for 12 years. Almost a year ago he left the monastery and returned to the world. He’s now a personal trainer, a meditation teacher, and a life consultant.

He and I began chatting near the end of year after we had both been guests on the Project Mindfulness podcast. You can find Rajan’s episode here: https://projectmindfulness.com/podcast/audiobiography-of-a-yogi/

And mine here: https://projectmindfulness.com/podcast/episode-7-facing-the-reflection-in-the-mirror-with-duane-toops/

We wanted to collaborate together in some way but, we just weren’t sure how. Since our initial contact I started my podcast and the time was finally right for us have a recorded conversation.

Rajan was an absolute pleasure to speak with. We talk about what pushed him into the process of taking up a spiritual path. We discuss his time spent as a monk, and what inspired him to leave monastic life. We compare notes between Zen and Hinduism, and we even touch on some big topics like ‘Enlightenment’. We had a great time and I really hope you enjoy it!

Be sure to connect with Rajan on Social Media:

Facebook Business – https://www.facebook.com/Rajanshankaraofficial/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/rajan.shankara.5

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rajanshankaraofficial/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/rajan_shankara

Shout out to my Patrons and Supporters:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Jerome Shaw – https://anchor.fm/jshaw

Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/revjerryhtx/

Rajan Shankara – https://rajanshankara.com/

If you want shout-outs in podcasts and videos, if you want to get early access to videos, and if you’d like exclusive access to Patron only content, then check out my Patreon Page. For $3/month you get it all!

Be sure to check out my Website to stay up to date with what I’m up to, and feel free to hit me up on Social media – links below.

YouTube – www.youtube.com/duanetoops
Twitter – https://twitter.com/duanetoops
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops/

Keep showing up, keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

New Video – “Lessons of Liberation W/ Rev. Jerry Maynard”

I sat down with Rev. Jerry Maynard. Rev. Jerry is a Priest, activist, and Interfaith Minister. He works within the Int’l Church of Mary Magdalene, which is a ministry of the Independent & Progressive Catholic Religious Order, Order of Mary Magdalene. He is also the founding pastor of The People’s Church.

In this conversation we talk about theology, atheism, activism, “liberation”, and so much more. I think you’re going to love it!

If you want to connect with Rev. Jerry you can find his social links below:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/revjerryhtx/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/revjerryhtx

The People’s Church on Twitter – https://twitter.com/ThePplsChurch

Shout out to my Patrons and supporters Jim Martin from The Unusual Buddha ( https://theunusualbuddha.com/ ), Ben Bridges, and Jerome Shaw from The Open Palm Podcast ( https://anchor.fm/jshaw )

If you want shout-outs in podcasts and videos, early access to YouTube videos, and access to Behind-the-scenes Patron only videos, blogs, and photos, then check out my Patreon page. For $3/month you get it all! – www.patreon.com/duanetoops

And be sure to connect with my at the social links below:

YouTube – https://youtube.com/duanetoops
Twitter – https://twitter.com/duanetoops
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops/

Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

New Podcast Episode! “Lessons of Liberation W/ Rev. Jerry Maynard”

This week I sit down with Rev. Jerry Maynard. Rev. Jerry is a Priest, activist, and Interfaith Minister. He works within the Int’l Church of Mary Magdalene, which a ministry of the Independent & Progressive Catholic Religious Order, Order of Mary Magdalene, He is the founding pastor of The People’s Church.In this conversation we talk about theology, atheism, activism, “liberation”, and so much more. I think you’re going to love it!

If you want to connect with Rev. Jerry you can find his social links below:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/revjerryhtx/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/revjerryhtx

The People’s Church on Twitter – https://twitter.com/ThePplsChurch

Shout out to my Patrons and supporters Jim Martin from The Unusual Buddha, Ben Bridges, and Jerome Shaw from The Open Palm Podcast.

If you want shout-outs in podcasts and videos, early access to YouTube videos, and access to Behind-the-scenes Patron only videos, blogs, and photos, then check out my Patreon page. For $3/month you get it all!

Be sure to connect with me at the social links below:

YouTube – https://youtube.com/duanetoops

Twitter – https://twitter.com/duanetoops

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops/

Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

“A Purposeful Purposelessness” – Transcript

Hey friends! This is the transcript from one of my most recent podcast episodes titled “A Purposeful Purposelessness“. If you’d like to listen to the episode you can click the link above, listen below,

or you can find “The Process & The Path” on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and any where else you get podcasts. Enjoy!

My favorite part of creating and sharing content are the conversations that follow. The conversations mean the most to me. Those conversations are where I learn the most. It’s that learning that is most important to me, it’s learning from those conversations that inspire me the most.


I was fortunate enough to receive some great feedback and some really interesting push-back from Jerome Shaw of The Open Palm Podcast.


He was struck by something I said in one of my previous podcast episodes titled “Something About Nothing“. I was talking about how I’m almost addicted to being busy, addicted to always doing something, or working on something. And, that sometimes I implicitly equate my worth and value as a person with my productivity. I almost instinctively tie my identity to what I “do”, to what I produce, and to what I create.  Because of this compulsion to be productive at all times, I feel anxious and uncomfortable whenever I’m not doing anything, and I almost never really allow myself to do ‘nothing’. The one exception is my meditation practice. I said that the 20 minutes a day I sit in meditation is the only time during the day that I give myself permission to be unproductive.


That last remark is what caught his attention. He said that he wouldn’t be able to produce on the level that he does without his meditation practice. He described it as a slowing down to speed up. And, he said he feels as though he is producing tons when he sits. He remarked that even though you seem to be doing nothing, you are doing something.


First off, I really appreciate the push back. I love the engagement of curious and respectful rebuttals. Not only does is create quality conversation, it also deepens the understanding of all parties involved. Sometimes due to the constraints of the platforms we create and communicate on, we offer fast and dirty remarks, we provide our “hot takes”, when we should be more thoughtful. I feel like these moments when I get to respond to probing questions provides me with the opportunity to examine things more fully.


When we talk about the productiveness or un-productiveness of meditation, I think its really more a difference of semantics rather than a point of outright disagreement.


(I probably should say before going any further that I am in now way a meditation expert or teacher. I’m just a guy trying his best to figure all this shit out, while trying to talk about his personal experiences in a clear and understandable way.)


I agree with the image of meditation as a “slowing down to speed up”. I was in a really bad place for a few years and I had let go of any and all of my creative aspirations. It was practice meditation that awoke the creativity that I had allowed to become latent and dormant. It actually sparked and ignited a depth of creativity that I didn’t realize I had. My deepening practice of meditation was and is the catalyst behind all of my current creative work.


My engagement with meditation has been primarily within the Zen tradition. The style of meditation I practice is called “shikantaza” which translates to mean “nothing but sitting” or “just sitting”. We don’t sit to achieve something, to gain something, to produce something, or to do something. It is sitting only for the sake of sitting. It is a goal-less endeavor, a purposeless practice. It is sitting with no ulterior motive beyond simply sitting.


In fact, the instant we introduce an ulterior motive to this practice of meditation, it ceases to be meditation. In his book The Way of Zen, Alan Watts writes that “it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.” He goes on to say that “The moment a goal is conceived it becomes impossible to practice the discipline of the art, to master the very rigor of its technique.” The discipline is the art. The practice is the goal. The process is the path…


Yet, meditation is an ambiguous exercise, a paradoxical practice. It’s an enacted contradiction. When we practice this kind of meditation we are “doing nothing”  and yet, somehow, in some strange way, “something happens”. It reminds me of something I read in Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. He writes that “Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying…Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.” He says that “When we sit…we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. insights accrete.” 


When we put in the reps and build the muscle memory, when we consistently show up, for the sake of the discipline, for the sake of the practice, and for the sake of the art alone, something shifts within us. We find a flow that feels both foreign and familiar. We have changed and yet we have never been more the same. Everything remains in its place and yet somehow everything has been dramatically altered.
So much of my time is spent striving towards a goal, pushing towards a desired end. I pray to more fully comprehend the practice of a purposeful purposelessness.  

New YouTube Video! “Just For Fun”

I posted a brand New YouTube video today!

I’m definitely guilty of being too serious, especially when it comes to what I make and create.

With that being said, I think I’ve been to much pressure on myself and what I do. So, this video is my attempt at trying to do some things just for fun.

I reference an interview I did with Jim Martin from The Unusual Buddha. The full podcast episode is below:

If you’d prefer to watch the video of the full length interview, you can find it below and here:

If you want to check out Jim Martin and his work with The Unusual Buddha see the links below:


FB – https://www.facebook.com/theunusualbuddha/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/theunusualbuddha/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/notthebuddha

Shout to my Patrons and Contributors Jim Martin and Ben Bridges

If you want to get shout-outs in podcasts and videos, if you want to help support this work of learning out loud, and if you’d like to help create a community of curiosity, then check out my Patreon Page.

Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something Meaningful!

Content Update: Mid-Week Check In…Not done yet

On Monday I posted my content creation to-do list for this week. It was a bit ambitious, perhaps even a little too ambitious, lol. But, I’ve been hard at work trying to get everything done that I set out to do. In fact, yesterday I got a lot done, including some things that I didn’t plan on doing this week.

For instance, last night I finished color-grading the video from the interview I did with YouTuber Jack Stolz for an episode of my Podcast “The Process & The Path“. So far, I’m pretty happy with how its turning out. My plan is to get it finished up today and get it scheduled to post on my YouTube Channel on Friday! Subscribe and hit the bell so you get notified when it drops.

With that being said, Patrons gets early access to video before they go live to the general public. So, if you want to see it before everyone else then, be sure to check me out on Patreon.

If you want to listen to the audio of the Jack Stolz interview, check it out down below:

Also, on Monday I talked about how I wanted to make it a point to make a few more fun and lighthearted videos and vlogs. Well, I actually managed to do it! I’ve already posted it to my Patreon page. However, it will be dropping today at 3pm EST on my YouTube channel.

And, speaking of new video content, I made an unplanned and unexpected video yesterday for Simple Shines Cleaning. Simple Shines Cleaning is a residential and commercial cleaning company that my wife and I own and operate. It was my first time shooting something like this for our company. It was a lot of fun and I’m planning to try to do some more. Check out Simple Shines Cleaning on Social Media if you want to see the video:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/simpleshinescleaning/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/simpleshinescleaning/?hl=en

Twitter – https://twitter.com/SimpleShines

Now, what I haven’t done…I haven’t had a chance to finish writing Part Two of my series on the book From Mindfulness to Insight. And, I haven’t had time to work on the video for Part One. But, I’m still planning on trying to tackle writing Part Two this week. However, working on the video…I don’t know if I’ll get to that this week, lol. I’ll do my best. You can find the Part One article here and the Part One podcast here.

Lots of content still to be made! Stay tuned!

Keep showing up, Keep doing the Work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something Meaningful!

New Video! Art Meets Mysticism

It’s no secret that I’m in love with learning, seeking, exploring. I’m infatuated with creativity, art, and the whole creative process. Above all I’m driven by the desire to be a better person and to make the world a better place, at least in some small way. Joel Tauber inspires in the pursuit of all of the above.

Recently, I got the great opportunity to talk with Joel Tauber. Joel is an artist, a filmmaker, and an Associate professor at Wake Forest University, teaching video art and film-making.


Joel’s work combines environmentalism, art, and mysticism in a really fascinating way. He does so with the aim of creating meaningful conversations. His great hope is that these conversations will help to generate a greater degree of social and cultural ethics.


Joel is also the co-host of a podcast called “Belt: A Two Man Memoir“. In the podcast Joel and Eric Wilson try to take a closer look at issues of modern masculinity.


Also, Joel’s project UNDERWATER opens at the Adamski Gallery in Berlin on June 22 and runs through August 17, with a one week break from July 20 to July 27.

I’m excited to share this conversation with you and I really hope you enjoy it!


If you’d like to look further into Joel Tauber and his work, check out the links below.
https://joeltauber.com/

The Sharing Project –  https://thesharingproject.net/

You can watch his film “Pumping” on Amazon Video –   https://www.amazon.com/PUMPING-Film-Joel-Tauber/dp/B01HFNWAHA

And also on Green Planet Stream –  https://greenplanetstream.vhx.tv/products/pumping-a-film-by-joel-tauber

You can also watch his film “Sick-Amour” on Amazon Video –  https://www.amazon.com/Sick-Amour-Joel-Tauber/dp/B00NKVFNDK

And on Green Planet Stream – https://greenplanetstream.vhx.tv/products/sick-amour

Big thanks to my Patrons Jim Martin and Ben Bridges.


If you’d like to help create a community of curiosity, get shout-outs in podcasts and videos, and get access to exclusive behind-the-scenes content, then check out my Patreon page! www.patreon.com/duanetoops

Keep showing up, keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful!