“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…

“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.