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“Sick of whatever it’s called, sick of the names.
I dedicate every pore to what’s here.”
There is a light at the end of the tunnel regarding this pandemic. We have been struggling with anxiety and isolation for a year and it seems like the sun is coming out now.
Well, I can’t speak for everyone. I’ve been struggling with anxiety and isolation. We have had to face things that we weren’t prepared for. Not only that, but now here in the United States we are a deeply divided people. “People with different views are the enemy” is something that appears to be all too common now. Maybe the pandemic made people a little more prone to that kind of lashing out.
In September I got married, bought a house, and moved. It may have been the most eventful month of my life. Right in the middle of the pandemic my life had some big changes. And in October I got a new position at work.
At some point I realized I really was not meditating anymore. I enjoyed thinking about meditation. But I had fallen off the wagon.
I wanted to do something to re-commit myself. That’s when I started building a statue garden. My house had a shocking amount of old dead leaves in the backyard and some vines. I started cleaning that up and I discovered there had once been a tiered garden. As I was out there thinking about putting up Buddha statues, I found a statue. It was Fiacre, the Patron Saint of Gardening. I suspect he’s one of the lesser known Catholic saints. I decided to keep him in my Buddha Garden. He gets to stay and represent what used to be there.
I was making space for statues and then one by one getting them and placing them in the garden. There’s still some clearing to do out there and probably always will be. It’s a work in progress that never ends.
The spiritual life is too. I think there’s a deeper meaning to this. I didn’t create a sacred space. I uncovered one. You don’t become your true self, you don’t even awaken your true self, really. On the spiritual path you REVEAL your true self. Like finding a statue buried in leaves. It was there all along.
I have a statue out there that’s roughly the same size as me. And he’s surrounded by various other, smaller statues. And I go out and I spend time with them. I burn incense and rake. And one day I found myself chanting.
Chanting is my least favorite spiritual practice…or at least it was.
Being out there in the Buddha Garden, clearing leaves in a mindful way, brought me back to my practice. I’m chanting the Vajrasattva mantra for personal transformation 108 times per day.
Then a stranger reached out to me and offered to give me a big indoor statue. I have a big white Buddha in my living room. Like the one outside, this statute is life size. Getting that statue felt important. And having him right there, reminding me every day to practice…that means so much. I sit with the Buddha every day, burning incense, sitting, counting my mala beads, and chanting.
The truth is I struggled with everything.
I’ve been really interested in having a really simple spiritual practice. I wanted to just grab my cushion and sit for a little while each day.
And ultimately that wasn’t working for me anymore. Stilling the mind wasn’t enough. Taming the mind wasn’t enough.
The truth is that I needed something that hasn’t been part of my practice for a while. Heart centered practices.
I’ve for a long time had this view, “I want to be a Zen Buddhist, I want to be a Zen Buddhist, I want to be a Zen Buddhist.”
But the truth is putting myself into a box hasn’t given me everything my practice needs. I’m a Mahayana Buddhist. I practice the Great Vehicle, the Way of the Bodhisattva, the path of Wisdom and Compassion. The box isn’t real and it never was.
I don’t need to limit myself. All of the teachings and practices are available to me. They’re available to everyone and on this path no one gets left out.
I’m looking at a more open-hearted practice, a practice that builds bridges and brings people together. That’s not to say I’m changing all my teachings. I’m not. But I’m learning that practices that bring kindness and equanimity are just as important as practices that bring clarity and wisdom.
All these things run together as part of the spiritual journey.
My first encounter with Buddhism was the Tibetan tradition. I’m still leery of Tibetan Buddhism, but I’m welcoming elements of it back into my life.
The spiritual journey
It’s with that in mind that I’m going to do a series of teachings on Training the Heart soon. Look for that in the near future. Let’s open our hearts and minds. Let’s open them as widely as we can. No one is left out.
Training the Mind is important, but Training the Heart is too. And if I’m sharing any teachings with others, it needs to be the teachings that I’m finding benefit from myself.
I didn’t cry at all between the ages of 15 and 40.
The reason I know that for sure is because I was 15 when my father died. A part of me shut down. This means I didn’t cry when my mother died, or when we found out she was sick. I never cried when I lost a job or when I struggled to pay bills. I didn’t cry during my first divorce. I didn’t cry during my second divorce. I’ve lost everything and had to start over more than once but I never shed a tear.
And then one day last year I cried. My feelings were suddenly wide open. It was a combination of things. I’ve grown as a person, of course. I have a wife that has helped encourage and empower me to be vulnerable. It was during the pandemic and I’m sure the pandemic has opened all sorts of things for people. I was watching Hamilton with my wife and I cried during the last song. (if you know it, you know it) And it was as though a door opened in me. Things make me cry now. I have feelings and I’m not afraid to express them. I thought I was dead inside.
I spent a lot of my life keeping everything in. I spent a lot of my life being a bitter, sad, and negative person. And it has been a process to grow out of that. Honestly for years I thought I was broken and that there were a lot of things wrong with me. I have grown so much.
I think our culture doesn’t serve us very well in this area. Men are taught to not be sensitive. We are taught that sensitivity and emotion are weaknesses. It’s not always direct. “You shouldn’t be sensitive” isn’t something I ever heard. But I did hear “Don’t cry like a girl.” That’s not a good thing to say. Why do men have a higher suicide rate than women? I think it’s because we’re taught to bury our feelings. It’s not healthy and it’s not good.
Open heartedness is not a weakness. It’s a strength.
Vulnerability brings connection, compassion, and empowerment. Cultivating it is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the world around us.
I see a lot of people saying things like “People are too sensitive these days”. I respectfully disagree with that. We should be sensitive. Facing the world with kindness and an open heart is a good thing. It’s what can uplift humanity and bring us together. Maybe nothing else can.
If the world is leaning more and more toward caring about the feelings of other people I think that is a good thing.
This teaching was recorded on 10/23/17 in my home in Kansas City Missouri. It’s about my experience volunteering with the Rime Center group and some visiting college students at Harvesters. But, really it’s about those experiences in life when we are closed off from the people around us for no reason. Let’s be open instead.