Wednesday, August 26, 2020

An Open Letter to My Fellow White People

Dear fellow WHITE people,

Please explain why (BLACK) unarmed Breonna Taylor, a medical technician who didn’t kill anybody, was shot and killed IN HER BED by police who busted into her house on a no-knock warrant, and still no one has been charged. 

Please explain why (BLACK) unarmed George Floyd who didn’t kill anybody had a man’s knee on his neck choking him to death for almost 9 minutes even when he was saying (caught on video) “I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe.”

Please explain why HEAVILY ARMED Dylann Roof (WHITE) shot and KILLED 9 people (ALL of them BLACK) in a mass murder inside a church during Bible study, and was gently handcuffed and taken into custody. 

Please explain why Timothy McVeigh (WHITE) who KiLLED 168 people and injured 680 others in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was gently handcuffed and taken into custody. At the time of his arrest, McVeigh was ARMED with a pistol in his jacket that was visible to the arresting officer.

Please don’t pretend like you don’t understand why we keep saying BLACK LIVES MATTER. That’s dishonest of you. You know why we are saying it, you just don’t want to admit it. 

And we’re NOT saying other lives don’t matter. We're not saying BLUE lives don't matter. We're not saying WHITE lives don't matter. We’re saying there’s something really disturbing happening here in the way BLACK people are being murdered by a justice system that privileges WHITE people, and it’s been happening for a very long time. It needs to stop. 

We’re saying there is an imbalance in the way people of different colors are being treated under the law, and it needs to be addressed. 

But before a problem can be solved, it has to be SEEN for what it is. It has to be acknowledged as a PROBLEM. 

For 400+ years, BLACK people who were brought here by WHITE people have been enslaved, murdered, raped, bombed, tortured, shot, lynched, burned alive, hung in trees, dismembered for souvenirs, excluded from white communities, excluded from educational opportunities, excluded from vocational opportunities, excluded from voting (until fairly recently). And yet you don't think our American government is AT ALL in the wrong in regards to its treatment of BLACK folk? This continues today in our unequal treatment of BLACK people in the "war on drugs" (invented by the vile, impeached President Nixon as part of the "Southern strategy" for electing GOP leaders) and the evolution of the mass incarceration of BLACK people.

Once the problem is seen and acknowledged for what it is, then potential solutions can at least be discussed. But as long as a vast swath of our society willfully refuses to even acknowledge that such a problem exists, it will continue. 

And as long as it continues, so many WHITE Americans will will continue to poison themselves with ignorance, denial, and hatred. 

And so many BLACK Americans will continue to die unjustly, and disproportionately, under the law. 

That’s NOT okay with me. If it IS okay with you, I would suggest you get in a time machine and travel back to 1939, and live in Hitler’s Germany, because that’s where your HEART belongs.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Gradual vs. Sudden Awakening

Almost 20 years after embarking on an earnest spiritual path of meditation and study of Buddhism and other philosophies and approaches to awakening, I’m discovering (okay....I’m a late bloomer) that the old Buddhist debate about gradual awakening or sudden awakening is a big red herring and sort of pointless to debate. The path is both gradual AND sudden.

I’ve been through stretches in my life and my meditation practice (sometimes these stretches can last for years) when it seems like the practice is not really having much impact, and I’m not really growing very much in spiritual terms. Progress towards the ever-elusive goal of awakening, if it’s noticed at all, is measured in small amounts. And it seems like the obstacles encountered along the way and the hot messes and tragicomic dramas in my life are all bigger than any progress that might’ve been made on the path.

But I’ve also been through times in my life and my meditation practice (and these times can be like the 5-day silent meditation retreat I did around my birthday at the start of 2020, or the 14 weeks I spent enclosed in intensive silent retreat and teachings with Pema Chödrön when I  was a monk for two years at her monastery from 2009 to 2011, or they can be like a week or a day or a single instant when you turn a corner and the unexpected is suddenly right there in front of you) when suddenly the energy of life surges forward unexpectedly in a great leap, and in a single moment you feel the huge momentum behind your meditation practice and your dedication to it pushing everything forward so rapidly that it takes you by surprise. You can observe meaningful changes happening rapidly within you and all around you, in your heart and in your mind, in your world and your sphere of influence. Suddenly all these things feel aligned in the same direction, and a jump forward happens.

It may or may not be THE jump forward, like the fabled one the Buddha suddenly experienced the night that (as legends tell us) he sat beneath a bodhi tree and shot forward like a bolt of lightning through all of the many stages of awakening, and by the following morning he was Enlightened with a capital “E” — fully awakened, fully realized, all his personal obstacles and hang-ups and the psychological shadow material that every human being lives and struggles with, suddenly left behind in their entirety, with no remnant of the life that came before except his consciousness and his body and his memories. But now suddenly omniscient, suddenly fully awake, suddenly at one with all of existence, suddenly free of any psychological or spiritual limitations, suddenly all-knowing, suddenly thrust forward into a moment of awakening that actually has no end. Sudden awakening. Complete awakening. Permanent awakening.

That overnight, cosmic, metaphysical leap forward — into a permanent oneness with the very highest mode of consciousness possible for any sentient being — is not something that I've experienced.

But what I HAVE experienced are the smaller quantum jumps forward. The “Aha!” moments on the spiritual path when you do see sudden progress happening, and you recognize that it’s happening suddenly. Who knows, maybe it's because of all the practice you did in years past that you can experience this little forward leap in this moment of your life. And even if this forward leap turns out to have been a small one when you reflect back on it next week, next month, next year, next decade, next lifetime, that forward leap FEELS big when you're experiencing it. It enables you to see, to know that sudden awakening does happen.

So it's not THE sudden awakening — the big cosmic, transcendent, earth-shaking kind like the Buddha’s, with angels trumpeting in the sky and forest animals frolicking in the dewy grass to celebrate the glory of your divine achievement — but, still, it’s something. Something big (or small) has happened, is happening. And it’s happening....suddenly.

The old debate about gradual vs. sudden paths to awakening is a bust.

It’s gradual. AND it’s sudden. It’s both. It was always this way, you just didn’t know it.

But (suddenly) you know it.

February 4, 2020

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Way

by Dennis Hunter
January 7, 2020
San Carlos Retreat Center
Delray Beach, Florida

"The Way"

The way the hummingbird seeks out
the color red, tasting the nectar
of flowers, its tiny heart beating
twelve hundred times per minute.
The way the green grass feels
on the soles of your naked feet.
The way the spider's web is built
of filaments almost too fine to see,
the shocking symmetry
of its architecture, the way
it bends and stretches, holding
to the branches as it twists
in the breeze: its strength
arising from its flexibility.
The way the sound of the water
flowing from the shower head
changes pitch when
the water becomes warm.
The way the warm water soothes
your naked and fragile body.
The way water, softest substance
on earth, also carves valleys
in the stone, eroding mountains
and reshaping the beaten earth.
The way the seed dropped by the tree
carries inside the genetic code, the DNA
for creating a whole new tree.
The way the code remains locked
inside the seed, until the seed
is convinced to extend roots
down into the beaten earth,
and offered water and sun from above.
The way the new tree will bear red flowers,
seducing the local hummingbirds just as its
ancestors have always done.

Friday, January 10, 2020

On How to Be

by Dennis Hunter
January 5, 2020

Be like the water of the lake:
Calm and steady, but fluid,
reflecting the clear sky above.
Let the cool morning breeze make ripples
Across your surface and pleasant goosebumps on your skin.
Watch the ripples come and go
without disturbing the nature of the water.
You do not need to climb down in the lake
with the alligator and the catfish,
and try to smooth out the water's wrinkles
with your hands, like a bed sheet.
Be like the sky above,
clear and bright and open,
the low Florida sun beaming across it,
warming your bones and reflecting
on facets of the rippling water like glittering jewels,
inviting the trees and the grass to stand up straighter,
to reach higher, towards the life-giving light.
Here, there, a cloud dots the sky, lingering,
passing across the open expanse.
The sky doesn't mind.
You do not need to stand up
and wave your arms at the clouds,
gesticulating like a madman, trying
to chase them away.
Only stay. The way the lake stays,
ripples not disturbing its deeper stillness.
Only stay. The way the sky stays,
holding space for clouds to come and go.
Only stay, the way the sun stays,
bringing light and life to each part
of the turning world, this part then that part,
each corner waking and sleeping, sleeping then waking again.
Each new day that breaks is an invitation
to root down in stillness like the water
and to stretch open in welcoming like the sky,
to both root down and stretch open like the trees and grass.
But look, now. You stood up too fast,
and startled the catfish
in the muddy shallows at the water's edge,
where she had come, like you,
to warm her scales and blood
in the morning sun.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

How Are Your Alligators Doing?

I've just returned from a 5-day silent meditation retreat, and I want to share the first meditation instruction I received when I arrived at the retreat center, before the retreat even began. This sage advice was posted on several signs surrounding the lake behind the retreat center: 

"Do not molest or feed the alligators." I never saw an alligator while I was there, but it's practical advice, given that we are in south Florida. This is gator country.

As the lessons of this retreat rippled within me, I realized that this pragmatic warning is also a teaching. The theme of our retreat was the Five Hindrances — the five cognitive and emotional blockages that, according to the Buddha, keep us from being fully mindful and present, both on the cushion and in our lives:

  1. Sense Desires (the attachment and craving that arise from them — the grasping state of mind)
  2. Ill-will (aversion and anger — the pushing-away state of mind)
  3. Sloth and Torpor (the dull, murky state of mind, like falling asleep or being in a fog)
  4. Restlessness (agitation, anxiety, and the worried, fidgeting mind)
  5. Doubt (the confused, hesitant state of mind that doesn't know which way to go)

These Five Hindrances are the alligators in our minds: the creatures that attack from the dark depths of our unconscious, thwarting our practice, upsetting our lives, holding us trapped in their powerful jaws. When these alligators attack, there is nowhere to run and no way to escape, because the alligators are us. At times it can feel like we are under assault by all five alligators at once, the hindrances in our minds confounding us from every direction. We joked during the retreat (during the times we weren't in silence) about "multiple hindrance attacks," but our laughter was a way to diffuse the tension of recognizing how often we all fall under the spell of the hindrances, and how much suffering they cause for us in our relationships and our lives.

"Don't molest or feed the alligators" is good advice. We are the ones who molest our own minds with the Five Hindrances, and our afflictive emotions only have as much energy as we feed to them. 

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this advice is not of much practical value when we find ourselves under attack by the alligators in our minds.

Here's the thing about alligators, though. Their ghastly jaws are fearsome and strong when they chomp down on their prey. But the opposing muscles of their jaws, the ones that open the mouth, are quite weak. The powerful jaws of the alligator can be held shut with a simple rope or elastic band.

That rope or elastic band is our meditation practice. To the extent that we are able to be mindful and stay present with our experience and fully open ourselves to its energy — even if it's painful and chaotic, or perhaps especially if it's painful and chaotic, because life so often is — letting go of the storylines and drama that we habitually attach to our experience, then we are able to at least partially subdue the alligator's attack by binding its jaws. 

I came back from silent retreat to the news of Iran launching ballistic missiles into Iraq, attacking U.S. bases, and the devastating earthquakes in Puerto Rico, already afflicted so much by the hurricane two years ago. The president is being impeached, while at the same time instigating *another* war in the Middle East by ordering the assassination of one of Iran's top generals. This world we live in is angry and confused, full of sloth and ill-will and worry and agitation — ravaged and devastated, in other words, by the Five Hindrances.

When Thich Nhat Hanh was fleeing Vietnam, he said that the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats would sometimes encounter storms or pirates on the journey to safety. During these crises, everyone would start to freak out and panic. But he said that if just one person on the boat could stay calm and centered, not freaking out, it could diffuse the panic and, as he stated, "show the way to survive."

I am that person on the boat. If you've read this far, *you* are that person on the boat, too. It's up to us to bring the mindfulness and compassion we cultivate in our practice into this aching, burning world of pain, and offer it to those around us, showing the way to survive. Each of us who lives with conscience in this suffering world bears a huge responsibility. This is the world we are in. This is the world that needs the healing gifts each of us can bring. 

As one of the teachers at the retreat, Piero Falci, kept reminding us, "This moment is the first moment of the rest of your life." What are you going to do with this precious moment? And this one? And this one? And this one? And this one?