The Writer’s Life



you're so wonderful

An old mentor of mine, whom I left for being so positive – “That’s wonderful! You’re so talented!” – when I felt the need to be shredded –  just became disabled. Some kind of brain injury. Now she can’t talk, can barely walk, can only write. When I was in her group she would often tell us stories of her own difficulties. She wasn’t lying. Her life had been a tough one, and I was helpless to do more for her than sit and listen. Most of us, I think, can only be with so much of another person’s trash until we have dealt with our own, can’t we? Continue reading “The Writer’s Life”

Self is the Lord of Self…

Self is lord of self | true spirituality, true religion | authentic life
Self is lord of self?

We read in the Dhammapada that “self is the lord of self.” Does this make sense? It depends on whether we are speaking of self-will or self-control. If self-will, then the self – the desires, ambitions, lusts, and resentments within the self have no lord. No direction. They only run their own courses to self-destruction. If self-control, then there is a “lord” over them, a higher self, that knows what is right, and chooses it.

Which self is self?

What is “self?” There is the inner self, which we can call, “nous,” which observes what is and isn’t. The outer self can be angry; the nous recognises the anger rather than being swept away in it. The outer self may be intoxicated; the nous observes the intoxication. The outer self may be consumed with lusts for this or that; the nous asks if this is right. The Western world has translated nous as intellect. This is a problem because the intellect is another part of the outward self, processing opinions and insights as it sees fit. The nous, the inward, spiritual self is, or must be, free from that attachment.

Religion, or Spirituality?

“Religion” has become a bad word in our Modern culture. Many say, “I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.” An Evangelical Christian claims, “It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.” What are they saying, really?

Isn’t spirituality about who we really are? We are, after all, spiritual beings. Spirituality, then, is a relationship, whether we see it as with Christ, the Tao, bodiless spirits, or our inner selves. I believe this is so. This world, as the ancient Celts would say, is a thin place, after all. So, then, if spirituality is about our inner experience then religion is simply how we express and nourish it. We are spiritual, so we need religion!

So, then. . .

True religion, authentic spirituality, enables the nous to live unattached from these passions, and to live wisely. The liberated nous is able to guide the self above what would degrade and destroy it. Passion is part of being human. In itself, it is like a horse which, rightly trained, is a powerful friend and servant. Untrained, it can cause great harm. When the nous is aligned with the Tao one lives wisely, and, being free from the selfish and mindless passions, can guide them to do great good in the inner, and outer, world.

Bigger on the Inside

An open heart is the key to self-knowledge. We are bigger on the inside.

How big is the universe? How big is the mind? How big is the human heart? Modern reasoning would tell us that the first is the largest, and the third the smallest. Is it, though, or might we be bigger on the inside? All the “secrets of the universe” are there to be analysed, categorised, and conveniently packaged by the human mind, so the mind must be greater. Likewise, the ancient sages, who have known the human heart most fully, tell us that the first step of prayer or meditation is to bring the mind into the heart. So, at least in potential, the greatest space in all of nature is the very center of our own being. You’re really bigger on the inside – the inner world, your own heart!

King David, of early-ancient Israel, wrote in a hymn of praise, “You have set my heart in a large place,” and, “You have enlarged my heart.” In the speech of that day wisdom was seen as having a large heart. Today, a friend is someone who has given us their heart, and we, ours, to them. First of all, in doing this we give that friend the gift of space, of the possibility to be truly him- or her-self, and as our hearts enlarge we discover our place in the universe, and its place in us.

The Buddha gave us lessons on how to be more mindful of the workings of our hearts. Lao Tse taught that the Tao, the way to enlightenment is found in all places. Zen teaching tells us we find that road we have found its destination. Jesus said, “the kingdom of Heaven is within you.”

So, the inner road is greater than any outward avenue. It is also harder find. This is the greatest frustration of our day. We  can find maps in drugstores, truck stops, and GPS apps on how to get from New Orleans to Timbuktu. Finding the Way  which leads to this Inner Kingdom remains a mystery to most of us. It’s not for lack of information. All kinds of such is out there. It’s just too confusing for many of us, though, when so many people publish maps, and none of them seem to agree. Some tell us our true destiny is a “self-discovery” that means nothing but embracing our own passions. Some take it further, and make it about business success or finding “true love.” Passions are just “what happens.” “True love” most often means finding someone who is willing to affirm us as we are. No change, no growth, no progress.

The Tao of Prayer is a guidebook to help us find, and follow, the real Way. Where the sages agree, they’ve got something. Where others insert throw in own opinions they lead us on side-roads to nowhere. This book follows the path of agreement – not just in what the map looks like, but how to follow it. Kind of like an ancient Waze to spiritual fulfillment. After all, we’re bigger on the inside!

Holy Nature

meditation blue mtns
Holy Nature – finding the wonder in the “ordinary.”

The Celts never doubted it, and surely few peoples ever did. They saw it in every landscape, on the Green Isle. We see it in snow-covered prairies, bald stone mountains, or green bogs that go on forever to the gaze. There is a sense of majesty that, at the same time, appears to us as infinitely Other, and yet quietly draws us. We somehow, intimately, take part in the whole of it. “Holy” means different, special, set-apart. There is enough of that “other-ness” that we can say that all of Nature is truly “Holy Nature.”

All of Nature is, after all, Creation, even the smallest creation. Any snapshot or trinket speaks of a personhood,  behind – or, within it. We can see as the artist sees, hear as the musician hears, as  the Universe sings of a beauty beyond even the colors and lights before us.

Finding the wonder

I have stood atop a mountain, two miles high, and felt the urge to throw myself as a soaring bird into the beauty of the peaks below.  The encompassing swell of the sea has called me with the soft, unyielding power of its waves. The green sod of my ancestral Isle has called to me, “here you will rest.” None of this is unusual. Haven’t you felt the same, even gazing at the transcendent colors of an evening’s sunset?

In “another life” I worked as a photographer. I made my money on smaller things. I recorded the joy of a wedding, the love of a family reunion, or the tragedy of a fire or a tornado’s damage. No film, no matter how fine, could hold what was before me. No lens, no matter how perfectly polished, could ever do more than say, “it was there,” or, “it happened.” The only way to experience such things is to be in them.

Sharing the wonder.

In the same way, what little I have experienced, what shards I know, of the Tao’s mysteries can only be known first-hand. The best photograph, the most detailed painting, tell us first of all not of the thing pictured but the artist’s skill at capturing the image. Even so, I must seek to know all I can of this wonder, share what little I can. Then I disappear. So, the Wonder, and not this wanderer, will endure.

Zhuang Tse wrote that the sages experience much of the Tao of Heaven. They listen with their ears, and with their spirits. They see the out-working of it through all of Nature. Yet, he says, they can’t pass on their experience, but only, “the dry bones of their writing.” In The Tao of Prayer I’ve gathered some essential fragments that we may see the map they have left us. The Tao, of course, is the Way found in all traditions, especially the most ancient. This book helps us to see our own place along that Way, and how to best travel it for our own spiritual perfection bringing our own lives to completion.

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