Originally Published: APRIL 13, 2015 BY REMINGTON COONEY
As I sit here at my desk, the trees in my courtyard are now covered in a fresh green foliage continuing to sprout new leaves with the passing days, and tiny white blossoms sprout between them. The cold sun is warming this month; as we draw closer to Summer the days are lighter and lighter. In a months time it will be the lightest day of the year. I have sat at this desk and watched these two trees change all through the seasons – from my time moving into this apartment last Summer to the Spring at this very moment - seasons are something that I am still not used to, having grown up on the equator, hardly witnessing a change from summer to winter. Watching these two trees outside my window change throughout the past 8 months, has not been unlike watching my own inner transformations, as if my internal processes are reflected in the external processes of the seasons. There’s always an ongoing shedding happening in all of us, exacerbated by the winter, which slows in the spring as we too begin to bloom.
I really feel that blooming now. Without even fully realizing it, the winter is always such an internal time, for me, and likely for most others. Even though externally there’s a continued functioning of the body, as we carry on with our day to day lives in wintertime, there’s always a level of internal hibernation. An internal brooding which then sprouts into new expressions, creative or otherwise as Spring arrives. This month, I prepare for teaching meditation workshops to engineering employees and a trip to Kyoto, Japan where I will be presenting on meditation in education at a holistic education conference. My internal blooming has manifested into some of the most exciting events to date.
And simultaneously, certain core doubts in the depths of my being resurface through this shedding and blooming process. For me, even the most positive of events can trigger the doubts and insecurities deep within me. As if the lightness of a positive situation also shines a spotlight onto my shadow side, revealing that which I am most afraid of. Perhaps this is what it means to step into one’s truth – to fully face the whole of oneself, which contains so much beauty and ugliness. I have heard many spiritual teachers say, it’s learning how to hold both. Some days I am amazing at it. I live the life of a 25 year old, evenings spent having fun drinking and making music with my friends, feeling very free and easy, and content, knowing that the next day I will be on the cushion (maybe with a slight hangover!) observing the mind’s dilly dallying and bringing it back to center moment to moment, or perhaps, on my mat practicing modified asanas to suit my inflexible hamstrings.
And then other days a seriousness will overwhelm me: a judgement on myself that I am not living the true life of one that aspires to teach spiritual practice – that I am young minded and confused and not disciplined in achieving my goals. That the image I present to others of myself as an aspiring spiritual teacher, is far from the man I am right now. Where this judgement comes from, I’m not sure. But I know that we all have some sort of ill-judgement of ourselves at times; we all have something hidden in the shadows that we are afraid of other people seeing.
The practice itself is about honesty – being gentle and honest with oneself as we go deeper into the experience of our lives. That’s why I now come back to my writing, and to this blog. I’ve missed my writing practice and it’s occured to me that I need it in order to be able to explore this light and shadow of the self, in order to further progress as a practitioner and simply as a human being.
I look forward to sharing further.
Originally Published: AUGUST 17, 2014 BY REMINGTON COONEY
I am not much of a fisherman. And I haven’t been fishing in quite some time. But I do remember, when I was much younger, going fishing with my Dad. It usually was on our beach holidays in Malaysia – we’d stand at the end of some rickety resort jetty and cast out our lines. And sit, and wait, and wait, and wait… As we did so, I would begin to slowly detach from my thinking and tune into my surroundings: the lapping of the waves against the jetty; the occasional squawk of sea birds above; the shadowy islands on the horizon; the sparkle of the sun against the surface of the ocean. My times fishing in those early days may have very well been my introduction to meditation. I remember how my initial boredom would eventually wash over into a calm contentment as we just sat, often in complete silence. Every now and then Dad would break the silence with a story of his early days fishing, or with a tutorial on ‘how to organize the tackle box.’
The tuning into surroundings that I was so naturally doing as a child, is what psychologists and scientists are now calling ‘mindfulness.’ Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, but the definitions vary. Some claim it’s just tapping into the present moment. Others say that this is a misconception and that mindfulness is not passively observing the present, but rather, engaging in actions that fuse us with the present (breathing being the most popular).
Originally a Buddhist term, at the core, mindfulness and meditation really aren’t that different, although some scientists will say otherwise. The reason mindfulness has become so popular is because it captures all the positive benefits of meditation – calm, healthy mind, de-stressing, breaking old habits – without carrying all the hippie and/or religious ‘baggage’ that meditation is stereotyped as having. In other words, it gives meditation a secular image, despite being a religious term.
My definition of mindfulness is summed up in a simple formula: Meditation – (incense + long hair/no hair + chanting + lotus position) + scientific proof = Mindfulness.
cormorant fishing = no snags.
When I was fishing, there was only one thing that would interrupt this mindful state I would zone into: getting my line snagged on something – usually rocks on the sea-bed, or barnacles on the jetty supports, or even on a crab’s greedy claw. I’d immediately break my meditative flow and start tugging on the line in frustration, in all different directions; fighting and resisting whatever had snagged the line, until my dad would calmly come over, laughing. He’d tug the line a few times himself and if it really was snagged, he’d get his pliers from the tackle box and, without hesitation, cut the line. He’d proceed to tie the remaining end of my line to a new hook, and then turn to me and say: ‘let’s start again shall we?’
I’ve noticed lately that in my own meditation/mindfulness practice I’ve been getting a lot of ‘mind-snags’: when your mind gets hooked on some thought or issue and it just won’t let go. This happens to me most when I’m in a point of transition between countries, or jobs, or amidst a big life change. Often when this occurs, the mind automatically goes to the source of the snag (the niggling thought) and repetitively works through it by resistance; that is, trying to pick apart the conundrum so that it can be solved. In other words, I begin to pull on the problem that is bothering me and the problem becomes more tightly wrapped up in my mind.
What Zen meditation (zazen) practice has taught me to do, however, it to simply “cut the line” – that is, calmly cutting the cord attached to the thought, just like my Dad would do with the snagged fishing line. And then I inwardly turn to myself, just like my Dad would turn to me, and say, ‘let’s start again shall we?’
According to Zen philosophy, the art of meditation is being able to drop our stories – the emotions, thoughts, and incidents – that create mind-snags, and come back to what is really going on around us. It is those mind-snags that are really causing us suffering, and by tugging at the line and making it taut, we are just further entangling the mind’s line. Eventually, the line snaps.
So next time you encounter a mind-snag, instead of going through the process of pulling the line until it gets so tangled it breaks, make life a little easier for yourself: first, laugh; then, calmly cut it; and finally, turn to yourself and say, “let’s start again, shall we?”
Originally Published: APRIL 27, 2014 BY REMINGTON COONEY
Spiritual practice is the method whereby we rebuild what has broken in a way that is loving and compassionate. When you develop a strong practice: whether it be a yoga practice, a meditation practice, a lovely art practice, a music practice, a good dish-washing practice you begin to rebuild the parts of you that are broken in a way that is loving. Life is a constant process of rebuilding. This is due to one principle: impermanence – nothing lasts forever, and thereby, in its inherent nature, it is already in some way broken (if not now then later on in life). If we can approach life with the attitude that we know this will occur at some point or another, we are able to no longer fear and avoid that breakdown, and further, can treat the rebuilding process with caring compassion until the point where we can rebuild no more.
As I wrote in one of my earlier posts, the Taoist is skeptical of the boxes that the ego so neatly stacks because he/she understands that life is not so neatly packaged. Just when you feel like all your boxes are in line, one on top of the other, one slips off the edge and knocks the others down. A common attitude is that we have achieved true success when our boxes are the highest and the mostly neatly stacked; but the real achievement comes when our boxes tumble down and we are able to start re-stacking in an entirely new configuration, all the while with love and compassion for oneself, and also, for others. Conjuring up positivity in times of adversity is not easy for anyone, but it is the practice of a Taoist to behold that strength at those times.
I write this because at the start of this year, the boxes I was so independently focused on neatly stacking, tumbled down upon me. I was under the impression that even spiritual practice was a matter of neatly stacking boxes upon boxes – as if I was achieving something solely through the various courses and study I was doing via the practices of yoga and meditation. Actually in a sense, I was achieving something; however, my achievements did not lie in the momentarily well-stacked boxes; my achievements lay in my ability to eventually recognize that when boxes come tumbling down, that’s when things really come to life. Because our viewpoint on life is forced to open to panoramic proportions as we re-configure the stacking of boxes.
In other words, only when we are able to step outside the neatly categorized, but narrow casing that the ego creates, do we get to see life for what it’s really worth. And it is also in those moments that others really come into our viewpoint as well and we get wholly appreciate what they are really worth to us. Don’t get me wrong, the ego is a wonderful device that our mind’s create, as it helps give us our independence as beings. But if we are so busy stacking boxes and looking up to see how tall they have gotten, we forget to take time out to look at all those standing around us. It’s often only when everything comes tumbling down that we take that moment to look around and see that others too go through life stacking and re-stacking after things have fallen as well. When we look to see others going through the re-stacking process we can then assist them and, in turn, they can assist us.
I’m not saying our lives are destined to be like that of Sisyphus: a Greek king cursed by the gods to roll a rock up a hill only to watch it roll down the other side, for the rest of his existence. But if we don’t take time out to look around us and see that others are also stacking boxes, and that we can help each other (perhaps even stack boxes together!), we end up living a bit like Sisyphus. Why? because – harking back to impermanence – at one point or another, our boxes do eventually come tumbling down, and in this moment the ego is forced to step way out of its comfort zone. In those times it’s comforting to know that there are others arounds us that we can call upon to help us. The key difference between us and Sisyphus, is that he was alone. We are not.
So take some time out to look around and see how other’s might need assistance in re-stacking boxes, and somewhere down the line they might help you. Allow your spiritual practice, whatever it may be, to show you the joys in the stacking, tumbling, and re-stacking process.
Originally Published: February 19, 2014 by remingtoncooney |
In my last post, written a couple of months ago now, I wrote of how my life was in a point of transition – a gap had formed between past completions and future plans as I waited (and am still waiting) to hear back from universities in regards to graduate programs. I’ve also been trying to decide whether I should continue a life in Canada.
I wrote about how it was this gap, this period of limbo, that called for me to put into practice many of the things I’ve been learning and teaching through my studies of Zen, meditation, and yoga. For me, it was a lesson in how to sit still in uncertainty; how to accept the shape of my life at this point; and really, at the heart of it, how to be present with what’s going on right now, in a way where I’m still planning for the future, without been attached to the future.
And I’m not going to lie, it’s been really, really hard. Realizing this has been incredibly humbling. And it’s reminded me (once again) that to be present in your life and to trust the process in times of uncertainty, takes a lot of will-power and compassion towards oneself. It’s one thing to have a vast amount of knowledge of what the wisdom traditions (yoga, Buddhism, Taoism) say you should do in situations of uncertainty and/or difficulty. But it’s a completely different thing to really be able to put such practices into play at the times when it matters most.
Understanding this has made me feel honored to once again return to the beginning of my studentship. I may be “further” along my path, but maintaining an attitude of “beginner’s mind,” allows for a constant recycling of humbleness along this path.
Even a proficient Buddhist or yogic teacher will keep their teachings fresh by cultivating the attitude of “beginner’s mind,” where all activity is seen through the eyes of a novice. To wake up everyday and view your life anew, is a key teaching of the ancient sages. Everything is new – so fresh; you never take the same breath twice.
During this time of transition I also undertook a yoga teacher training, which I just recently completed. An intensive yoga training was a really fantastic thing for me, because I was having difficulty sitting completely still within this period of transition, so yoga offered me this stillness within movement. This was a much more flexible way to work with the anxious mind at this point in time, because the mind can stay occupied by focusing on the movements of the body, whilst simultaneously still focusing on the slowing of the breath. It was also great to be part of a Kula (community) sharing and training with warm, like-minded people.
At the same time, it was interesting to witness how, during the intensives, the difficulties I experienced in my training – in regards to fear, anxiousness, and at times, physical injury – were mere reflections of what was occurring outside in my everyday life. Perhaps this is why the practice is so often referred to as the “mirror of yoga.”
We all experience, times of deep uncertainty, whether it be daily, weekly, or otherwise. Eckhart Tolle sees the process of uncertainty as a gift. He says, “if uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.”
Originally Published: December 20, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
Sitting here as I write this, I can see fresh clumps of snow falling off the tree outside my window as layers build on its bare branches. The day is already darkening, despite the early hour. This city becomes so silent when the snowfall hits. So still. Everything slows down. Earlier today I also slowed down. I took time out to walk through the forest near my house, now caked with fresh powder. Opening my ears I allowed the sounds of a snowed-in forest to come forward, and there it was: nothing. Nothing except the occasional woosh of snow piles dropping from the top of the tallest pines, ending in a plume of white mist. This is stillness, I thought. Stillness sitting in the wholeness of life. And although the snowfall drew my attention to this apparent stillness, the reality is that snowfall doesn’t bring stillness; stillness is always there, ever-present. Stillness is always sitting within the wholeness of life. But my question lately has been, how do I sit still in the wholeness of life?
Since arriving back to Vancouver, after my Summer in Japan, this has been a very interesting time for me. Having finished my degree and now surveying options for my future, it is perhaps the most unknown period I’ve experienced yet. I think it’s this period that every Arts graduate fears most – the “Arts-istential crisis.” And I can now understand the apprehension. Since being back, I have definitely experienced some deep bouts of anxiousness as I wonder what really is next on my path. What does the future hold for me? What role do I step into next? Is it a new course? A new job?
Such thinking can act like a pendulum of anxiety – one day it will sit on the anxiousness side, and then all of a sudden it swings to full-blown excitement about the infinite freedom the unknown offers. After all, excitement and anxiety really are two sides of the same coin; it just depends which way you decide to flip it.
But having this period of limbo has been quite a blessing in many ways. I’ve really had to turn around and look at my life deeply, in full view, and in close detail. In response, I’ve had to be still with that – to not run away from what my life looks like at this point in time.
As a result, this period of the “unknown” has provided the perfect opportunity to deepen my spiritual practice and to work with a certain fear of the unknown, that I really haven’t had the space to fully work with yet. I’m learning how to convert this feeling of fear into one of excitement, as I step into the next phase of my path – one step at a time. And it hasn’t been easy. There have been plenty of moments where I’ve caught myself in incessant worry, fretting that my earlier life choices might now leave me stranded in some abyss of limited opportunity. That maybe pursuing passions as a career path is as foolish as cynics say it is.
But having more time on my hands during this period has allowed me to broaden my studies of East Asian wisdom. Using yogic and Buddhist teachings, I’ve been able to work with difficult emotions in a spacial way, knowing I have no place to run to, no set future to hide behind. I’ve also been fortunate to have the time and space to further my zen and yoga training, commiting more to my sangha, particpating in more retreats, and coming into contact with more teachers.
In other words, this limbo period has offered me an opportunity to sit still in the wholeness of life. Of course, no matter who you are or what you do, the opportunity to sit still in the wholeness of life is always there for you at any given moment. Personally, in the past it was difficult for me to sit still within my own spiritual practice because I was always trying to gain something from it. But now, I’m simply practicing just to practice. Although I’m trying to maintain an inner stillness, this is not something I can gain through grasping. It comes from letting go of trying to gain something. It’s surrendering to the unknown.
With an unknown future, the goal at the end of practice has diminished. Where is my practice leading me I think? And until an answer is presented, I can only be still. Perhaps there will never be an answer.
During my last retreat, Zen master Hogen Bays told us, no matter where we are in life, no matter what stage we are at, our life is whole and lacking nothing. There’s simply nothing missing in this moment. There are times right now where I really can’t get my head around that, but, if I am still, I can feel the truth of this statement deep in my heart – even if I can’t quite grasp it in my head. My life is whole and lacking nothing.
So I share this for those who might be in a rut in their lives, and, at the same time, for those whose lives are chugging along as seamlessly as ever: take a moment to be still and feel how underneath the layers of mind, at the bottom of our hearts, life feels whole; it is lacking nothing.
Originally Published: April 9, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
As I mentioned in my last post, I began to study philosophy at the time that I was beginning to rise out of a very low point in my life. Philosophy became an outlet for this intense questioning process that had begun during my early teens. All my dissatisfaction was able to be channelled into the bigger questions that my classmates were now asking: questions about existence, the nature of being, the theory of knowledge, the meaning of love, and ethical dilemmas. But the one topic that I found most fascinating was that of free will versus determinism – the questioning of whether we are indeed free agents within our own lives.
I found this topic interesting because I wanted to know how instrumental I was in manifesting my own reality, and also, how much this had to do with the depression I so recently experienced. Was I destined to feel that way? Or was it something that I brought on myself? Am I destined to do something in-particular in life? Or is it all completely up to me? In other words, am I solely in charge of my life’s purpose, or is there something else deciding it for me? I spent many hours contemplating this topic and ended up writing my IB extended essay on a thesis with the basic premise that one is both pre-determined, and simultaneously, possesses free will.
I now see that Taoist thought can be applied to this juxtaposing theory, which in philosophy is known as ‘compatibilism.’ Remember how Taoist philosophy thrives on paradoxes? Well, let me explain the compatibilist theory that I conceived, through a Taoist’s eyes:
Recapping, we know that The Tao translates to ‘The Way,’ but it can also be translated as ‘path’ or ‘road.’
A determinist would believe there is only one path or way, and we are pre-determined to walk it right from birth. Therefore, it would not be necessary to find ‘the Way,’ and because of this, life would be very boring. The determinist argument always gets people down because if it were to be true, we would only be puppets in life’s play, with something greater than us always pulling the strings.
Alternatively, a libertarianist (believer in free-will) would believe that life has an infinite number of paths and we are completely in charge of whatever path we choose to walk.
My belief (compatibilist) is that within our lives we all have one set path or ‘Way’ that aligns most harmoniously to our being, and each person’s path is completely unique. Hence, finding the path we align to most, is a creative process of self-discovery. Even so, we are free to walk any of the other paths that are opportune in our life, but all these other paths won’t align as congenially to our being as this one ‘Way.’ Perhaps I could describe it as there being many ways but only one ‘Great Way.’ In Zen Buddhism, this Great Way is known as the ‘Buddha Way.’
I also believe that there are certain events in our life that are pre-determined. For example, we are all pre-determined to die and when and where are also pre-determined factors. Furthermore, many (but not all!) relationships in our lives are pre-determined meetings. But the sandwich that you will eat tomorrow, that is not pre-determined. This was my extended essay thesis in a nut-shell.
To reiterate, there are many roads we can walk, but only one Great Way or great road that we must find. Along this Great Way are certain pre-determined events, but not all events in our lives are pre-determined. This is all getting a little complicated (as philosophy tends to be), and no doubt you can probably pick multiple loops-holes in this theory. So, in good Taoist fashion, let me offer an analogy that will simplify it all:
We are all actors in life’s great play. We have all been assigned individual roles and we all have individual scripts to adhere to. If we want this play to go smoothly, we have to follow our scripts accordingly.
Within life’s great play are multiple cues for each actor. And what happens when an actor misses their cue? The play becomes staggered and everything becomes out of sync. So a Taoist in this play would aim to follow his/her cues as accurately, smoothly, and attentively as possible. We are all thrust into this play without choice, but once we are in this play we do have a choice. We can choose to adhere to the script that we have been given, or we can choose to rip it up and walk out (that being said, all death – including suicide – is a pre-determined factor). In life’s great play, we may choose to half-heartedly act our role, to mumble our lines, and just go through the motions. In contrast, we can choose to re-invent the script; to make it our own; to put life and passion into it – to act with vigor. However, what many of us tend to do is trail off from our script. We lose focus (aka get out of the present moment), and then all of a sudden we start missing our cues.
Life is constantly throwing us cues that are intended to make our journey along the Way a smooth and harmonious one. Following life’s cues comes from tuning into the Tao; tuning into the messages that our surroundings are sending us. It’s amazing what can happen when you take a walk in a forest and just allow yourself to be still. So many of the cues you’ve missed begin to show up.
Following life’s cues comes from doing two simple things: becoming present and aware (mindful). A good actor will never lose their centered presence and awareness when acting in a play, otherwise they will miss their cues. In life’s great play, we must also strive to do the same.
Originally Published: March 31, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
At the time that I began studying philosophy, in the first year of IB (grade 11), I was re-emerging from a phase of grave disillusionment with my life. Although everything was peachy on the surface, deep down I was already questioning the validity of my existence and my purpose of being here on Earth. I felt like it had to be something special, but when I looked around, nothing seemed very special to me. As far as I could see, there was no “special recipe” that could enhance my life.
Despite the fact that I was living in cushy Singapore, surrounded by wonderful, talented friends and a strong loving family, there was still something really missing. But I didn’t like to talk about it too much because I felt very guilty about being so dissatisfied, even though my life was so abundant. Nevertheless, this void feeling led me on an investigation into the purpose of my own existence.
The entry point to this disillusionment phase occurred when I was about 15, when I had my first sense of an existential crisis. I didn’t know what the hell was going on at the time. All I knew was that I was suddenly feeling very anxious, and after a long period of holding onto this anxiety, I eventually became very depressed. The trigger? Probably just the transition from childhood to adolescence – the realization that the world is not always sunshine and rainbows; that we can’t always be happy with the fact that we exist; that, to some extent, life is burdensome. The difficult thing about an existential crisis is, although people can offer their support, no one can really answer the big questions such a crisis exposes.
In my case, I began asking my Mum these big questions: “what is the meaning of me being here?” “why do I feel sad even though everything around me is fine?” “how do I find happiness?” And although she could never answer these questions (she tried many a time), she was able to point me in a direction that gave me some serious relief – towards spiritual practice. At first she took me to a yogi, and he told me that my anxiety and depression was all in my head (which it was). But when suffering from anxiety or depression, you get caught in a cycle or downward spiral, and it’s difficult in the midst of it to clearly step back and realize that 99% of it is in your head. So rather than repeating this in words, the yogi showed me, via yoga poses and breath exercises. That night I did them before bed and something within me immediately shifted. I felt a sense of relief, which was the beginning of this step back and a (subconscious) realization that the mind creates suffering and this can be overcome.
Not long after I met this yogi, my Mum also began taking me to meditation classes. My first experience of meditation was one of extreme discomfort. I was unable to sit cross-legged for more than a minute before having to get up and shift, and in the process, disturbing the rest of the class. But this learning of breath control and the practice of stilling the mind also sparked a sense of peace in me. From then on, I didn’t look back; Pursuing such a path began to fill this void that I had come to experience in my early teens.
It wasn’t spirituality per se that was filling this void. In other words, walking a “spiritual” path does not bring us into a blissful state by default. Meditation does bring a sense of stillness and peace when practiced in a disciplined manner, but what it also does is make us confront that which we don’t really want to see. As my teacher says: spiritual practice allows us to see the whole “spectrum of emotion.” But what’s so special about spiritual practice is it allows us to see this spectrum of emotion clearly; that is, seeing our lives without delusion attached to our perception.
What spiritual practice was doing for me, was allowing me to come back to my life: which was right here, right now. It allowed me to see what was, rather than what wasn’t; because anxiety and depression cannot exist right here, right now; they can only survive in what isn’t (the past and the future).
As I practiced meditation more and more, I was able to see my life more and more clearly. I could see my anxiety with clear eyes, my depression with clear eyes; but most importantly, I was able to see the things in my life that really mattered, with clear eyes: my relationships with these wonderful friends and this loving family; my relationship with nature and mother earth; the abundance that encompassed my existence.
Although these things had been there all along, I couldn’t really see them because the suffering my mind was creating, was getting in the way. What was missing in my life was not spiritual practice. Rather, what was missing was the ability to see that which really existed. However, spiritual practice was a tool that helped me realize that my life was not beyond this moment. And it was this very moment, that held the “special recipe” to life that I so desperately sought.
Although in this post I have only spoken about myself, I feel this theme applies to everyone. Because in one way or another we all experience suffering. As the Buddha once said: “life is suffering”
In my case, it was anxiety. Upon reflection, I see how my anxiety became a tool to help me discover spiritual practice, which then acted as another tool to help me really fall in love with my life. In a similar way, you too should try and use both the positive and negative elements in your life, as tools to help you fall in love with your life.
To be continued…
Originally Published: March 17, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
For the last few weeks I have been asking myself the question, “what makes my life full?”
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “If you want to become full, let yourself become empty.”
Upon seeing this you may ask, “well, what does that even mean?” It seems to defy logic. But paradoxical statements like these are used by Lao Tzu so that we can drop underneath language. Because underneath language is really where the answers reside. All words can do, is point – in a signposting fashion – to The Tao.
There is a famous Zen saying: “do not mistake a finger pointing to the moon as the moon itself.” In other words, descriptions of things only serve as a reference (a finger pointing) to the experience (of the moon) itself. Implementing this into our lives, we have to ask ourselves: how do we really feelLao Tzu’s words? How do we really experience fullness by becoming empty?
During one of my classes, I posed this question to my students. I asked them to meditate on the feeling of fullness and emptiness just by examining their own inhale and exhale. We then conversed about what things in our life truly make us fulfilled.
And we all came to a fairly similar conclusion: the things in our lives that make us feel most full, are not tangeible things that you can acquire. My example: the breath. The breath is something that can fill us with such peace, such joy. But we can never hold onto it. We can never keep our breath; if we want to keep living, we must always let it go.
Returning to Lao Tzu’s words: “if you want to become full, let yourself become empty,” we can see that the breath has an almost literal correlation to this. In order to feel full of prana or “life” force, we must first empty our selves of it. In this way, our breath is always fresh, and with fresh breath comes fresh experience. If your breath becomes shallow, your experience becomes shallow. So, I say to my students, keep the inhale deep and the exhale long: then each moment of your experience becomes so deep. Each moment becomes so long. And then we really see how the universe does indeed exist in each moment.
Another example given – of something that is non-tangeible and un-acquirable, and yet, completely fulfilling – was relationships. You cannot grasp the connection that is a relationship. If you cling to a relationship, sooner or later it will surely fail. Relationships also need room to breath; they need to empty themselves before becoming full again, just like the inhale and exhale within our lungs. As soon as you hold your ‘breath’ in a relationship (whether with friend, lover, family member) the recipient becomes stifled and suffocated. They will try to make an escape. Relationships are about inhaling and exhaling. Letting go and coming forward.
It seems in our current society emptiness and fullness have lost their appropriate placements. It’s common-place to believe that filling up your life, is reliant on tangible, external factors. Take a look around you, how do people fill up their lives? By acquiring. And what are they acquiring? The right degree, the right job, the right amount of money, the right partner, the right car, the right clothes, the right ‘stuff’… and on it goes.
True, these are valid in their own right (it’s much harder to live a ‘full’ life when you are impoverished, for example), but relying on such things alone, creates a sense of ‘false fullness’ – something that is very temporary. And then we wonder why we get to the middle of our lives and still feel such a void….
Fresh breath; fresh experience. Letting go and coming forward.
I believe Lao Tzu when he says, in chapter 22, “When the ancient Masters said, ‘If you want to be given everything, give everything up,’ they weren’t using empty phrases. Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.”
So empty your life, and feel how full it becomes when you do so. This does not mean being anti-materialist. It’s a lot more subtle than that. But you have to work it out for yourself. Filling up your life is a creative process. Maybe even the most creative. But when you discover the moment of emptying your self only to be filled by the universe, then you are bowing down to the universe.
I’ve had some pretty wild times in my life: late nights clubbing, globe-trotting, near-death experiences; but I tell you something folks, bowing down to the universe is the most wild time you can have.
[On an offhand note, I would just like to credit Michael Stone for providing me with concepts such as “fresh breath = fresh experience,” “dropping underneath language” and the initial idea of filling up our lives by emptying them. A recent podcast discussing these very issues, inspired me to write this post. If you would like to download these podcasts (and they are very worthwhile!) please visit this site: http://www.centreofgravity.org]
Originally Published: March 1, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
Arriving a little after 7.30 pm, I’m confronted with a crowd of about 150 as people file into Semperviva’s beach yoga studio; excited chatter rising and falling as myself and a companion attempt to squeeze through the ebbing mass. We find some empty space in the middle and seat ourselves on top of blue yoga blocks; there we will remain for the next two hours. I look to the front of the class and see Michael Stone seated on a cushion, cross-legged and bald, under a spotlight. Silently, he surveys the crowd as the stragglers trail in and the doors close gently behind them. Michael opens with a guided meditation, leading us through deep breathing as we return to a centered space, away from the busy city lives that we have left just outside the now closed doors – or so I think…
As the meditation ends and we open our eyes, Michael begins to talk about the eight limbs of yoga – the Ashtanga philosophy that he’s studied so intensly for the last few decades of his life. He speaks of how these ‘limbs’ do not just apply to our yoga practice, they apply to every aspect of our lives. The angle he’s coming from is that there is no separation between yoga practice and ‘life practice.’ In other words, yoga is our whole life, and our whole life is yoga. What we encounter on our yoga mat emotionally, mentally, and physically within these in-depth postures, is the entire spectrum of our life. Since I’ve been studying Michael’s teachings for a while now, this concept comes as no surprise to me. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that this philosophy really forms the foundation of my writings: all aspects of our life lean on one another, just like all eight limbs of yoga lean on one another. Yoga opens us up to the very nature of this belief system.
When question and answer period arrives, I ask how we can overcome the mental compartmentalization that our mind so eagerly forms in our lives. How do we capture this sense of oneness that is so often spoken of in Yogic, Taoist, and Zen traditions? To paraphrase, my question went something like this:
“It seems that you are suggesting we construct bridges between what is occurring on our mats in the yoga studio, with what is occurring “out there” (“out there” is referring to life that is not literal yoga practice i.e grocery shopping, driving your car, taking out the trash). How do you recommend we construct such bridges so that one no longer sees spiritual practice in a yoga studio, as separate from the rest of their life?”
In short, I was questioning how we can bridge the gap that creates compartmentalization.
Michael’s answer was that this very way of thinking (that there is a difference between being in the yoga studio and “out there”) is a dangerous way of thinking. He responds that there is no “out there” in comparison to “in here” and we should never think there is. It’s all the same, whether you’re buying groceries or doing down dog.
While this was a great answer, I felt like he did not really hear the core of my question, which was looking more at how do we break down this dangerous way of thinking. It turns out, however, that he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t quite see it from my standpoint:
As I exit the studio I overhear two girls arguing about the validity of my question. One of them understands the angle I’m coming from, but the other is so perplexed by it, it has caused her brow to wrinkle into a contorted look of dismay. I observe this and decide to continue where I left off, in attempt to explain to the second girl what I meant by the question which now seemed to be causing her such discomfort.
I say how in my life, I compartmentalized what I was doing spiritually from the rest of my life because many people around me did not understand, or have interest in the spiritual viewpoints I was following. Particularly in my younger years, practicing yoga and meditation, and having ‘far out’ metaphysical perspectives was considered a little freaky. As a result, I would keep it separate from my social life, my partying life, my school life, and sometimes even my family life. I would refer to this growing compartment as my ‘spiritual life.’
Drawing such a dichotomy led me to believe that what was ‘spiritual’ was separate from the other facets of my existence. And I feel I’m not alone in creating this sort of categorization.
The girl with the creased forehead was trying very hard to put herself in my shoes, and her inability to do so was causing her great angst. She kept questioning why I see the world like this. At first, it was uncomfortable to be reminded that some people perceive the world in a completely different way from how I do. Her pained expression showed me this: that sometimes my questions only exist in my world and have never even crossed the minds of others.
Initially, I found this incredibly irritating; I found her so incredibly irritating, because she was yin and I was yang. But in the moment that we collided head on, I realized that this was perfect. That we needed each other. That I needed her more than she could ever imagine. I needed her to remind me that the world consists of infinite angles, not just one. And to really see this is to become the bamboo shoot in a hurricane.
And so, maybe those religions that butt heads, those political parties that despise one another; the Capitalist and the Socialist, the Democrat and the Republican, the hipster and the homie. Maybe they need each other more than they could ever imagine. After all, extremities serve as reference points and in the middle of them lies the Tao. (Way).
To answer my own question, I have found a successful bridging process and that is to write.
To write about the absurdity of such instances in my life, helps me to breakdown the compartmentalization that I create. And so I ask you:
How do you break down the compartments in your life to reach a sense of oneness?
Leave me a comment. I’d be interested to know.
Originally Published: January 23, 2013 by remingtoncooney |
I’m back in Vancouver and I must say, this time around I’m feeling unusually overwhelmed by it. Perhaps it’s the sudden change in climate. I went from being in weather above 30 degrees to barely above 0 degrees, in the span of 24 hours. Perhaps it’s the jet-lag; the sensation that part of my being has been left behind and is taking its sweet time to catch up to me. Perhaps it’s the anxiousness and excitement to get new projects off the ground – to continue following my dreams in what still feels to be a fairly foreign land. Whatever it might be, it’s in times like these that concepts that I’ve previously written about, really get put to the test. I think it’s important to mention that I am no master of the things I write about; I am not yet a master of working with the Tao. But I strive to be, and that is why I enjoy writing about it. I’m keeping a log on my progress of finding The Way. You should do this too. You don’t have to write about it, but keep a mental note of what actions feel smooth and harmonious in your heart, and what actions just don’t sit well. It really helps with the numerous choices we are confronted with in day-to-day living.
At this point in my anxiousness, I ask myself, “Well, what are you anxious about?” and the answer comes to me very clearly: I am anxious about the future. I am anxious that the future will not fall into place the way I WANT it to fall into place. Right here you see my rigidity. I have a map in my head of exactly how I want things to pan out, and I’m anxious that it won’t unfold the way I envisage it. This condition is universal, I am sure. Especially for people at my age. Many of us have mapped out our lives down to the finest detail in our heads, and we want to see results that meet this mind-map. But the Taoist does not like such rigidity. For the great sages say, “where is the movement in such stiff living?” How can one become the bamboo shoot in the hurricane if they are holding such rigid ideas in their heads? My projecting into the future has caused me to become the oak tree; hard, rigid. Under external pressure I will snap. So best to just be the bamboo shoot.
To become a bamboo shoot, I must step out of my future projections and be here, now. It’s okay to have goals to aim towards, but they must be reached through the present. I read a lot of books that say all answers exist in being present, but rarely do they give detailed, practical strategies on how one does that. So many Zen masters say, “just sit,” “just be present.” But for those who do not know how, there needs to be some sort of method to start with. For me, it’s following the breath. It’s not simply just breathing because we breath all the time and that doesn’t get us anywhere in times of stress or anxiety. It’s about really following your exhale right to where it drops. One image I like to create in my head goes a little like this:
Imagine your exhale is a river. On this river sits a small boat. As you breath out, follow this boat along the river all the way to where the breath drops. Following the breath to where it drops, is to reach the waterfall at the end of the river. And if your boat can reach this waterfall consistently with each exhale, then the bamboo shoot within you is being deeply nurtured.
Cut down the Oak tree and grow a bamboo shoot.