Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Just Like That - TEOTWAWKI

Some rather random musings as I sit in the semi-darkness.

One moment, everything is going along exactly as it has for years, and then, suddenly ... Nothing!

In this case, the power went out. Here where we live, it happens so often that I have the PGE Outage number on my cell phone and can quickly call to report the outage, and also call back to see if they have an expected time for the return of power. Today, they estimate about two hours. It's the middle of the day, we have the woodstove going. Basically, no big deal. But one person here as already headed for the city to their more comfortable place. I'm typing this on my computer; of course, I won't be able to post it until power is back on and I can again connect to the internet.

But each time we have a power outage, I am reminded that there are many things that can be finished - Just Like That! Life for one. Civilization for another. In our situation, we are relatively okay in a power outage. We have a propane stove for cooking; we heat with wood; we have our own well (although we need electricity to pump it); we even have a composting toilet and an outhouse, should we need it. But nearly all these things, which would make us far more ready than 90% of the US population, would all still be very temporary if such an outage was permanent. Wood would be relatively endless, but depending on where we were in our tanks, propane would run out in a few months. Without a generator or some other means of creating sufficient electricity, we would quickly be forced to carry water up from the stream, or set up some kind of rain collection system from the roof.

But believe it or not, this is really NOT about the end of civilization. This is more about just the end - Death, or any other manifestation of..

If you're not familiar with TEOTWAWKI, don't worry. It's not a real word. My friend Linda chanced upon it in writing me an email. It stands for The End Of The World As We Know It - TEOTWAWKI. I love it. It sounds like one of those indiginous words that they name movies after. So, every time we have a power outage, I am reminded of TEOTWAWKI. It could come at any time. Any moment. And go on forever. I know, for instance, that there are many, many more ways than most people want to imagine for the end of the world as we know it to suddenly drop on us. One would be a cataclysmic power outage that would simply be un-fixable. Just Like That - TEOTWAWKI. No more computers, TV, gas getting pumped. It would be an immediate and permanent end of everything we know. Once it became known what had happened, grocery stores would be emptied in hours. Within days, there would be massive looting and murders. Within weeks, thousands, if not millions would be dead.

Again, this really isn't about that. This is about the other big Just Like That - DEATH.

The point I really wanted to make is that no one is really ready for death, because on one level, no body believes in death. Although I've told the Most Wonderful Thing story a gazillion times, it can bear another quick retelling. It is a story from the Mahabharata, where the King Yudhisthira is in the woods and is accosted by the God of Death challenging him to answer 100 questions. One of those is "What is the most wonderful thing in the world?" Yudhisthira responds that, "Every day people see that relatives or friends or others die, but they think that they themselves will never die. This is the most wonderful thing in the world."

I am currently reading Aghora by Robert Svoboda which is the narration of Vimalananda, Svoboda's guru, who was an Aghori - one who follows the "left hand path" to God. Much of that revolves around sitting on human corpses and praying to God or Goddess. It is the complete recognition and surrender to the reality of death. Most people want to avoid death at all costs, just like they want to avoid suffering, 'negative' emotions, and anything that is even minorly unpleasant, at all costs. But his is simply utter foolishness. It is literally choosing to be blind and stupid. It is like the child covering their own eyes and going, "You can't see me!" But we can, and simply hiding from the miseries of janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi -- birth, death, old age and disease -- will not make them go away. In fact, truly seeing these very four things is what led Siddharta, the then future buddha, toward His Enlightenment.

Here in the West, we live in a culture that does EVERYTHING possible to hide the truth. Everyone wants to be pretty and young. Fifty is the new twenty. Don't have old age. Don't have poverty. Consume, consume, consume. It's almost as if we know that our car has no brakes, so we might as well go full throttle and end in a blaze of glory. Elders are no longer sought for their Wisdom, but shuffled off into 'facilities'. We hide birth, illness and death in hospitals away from relatives and loved ones. When the God of Death comes for us, we are helpless and alone. Electronic beeping and buzzing surround us, and very possibly not one individual who cares will be with us. Of course, we all make that passage alone ultimately. Especially if it happens Just Like That - TEOTWAWKI. I have known a number of people who have died instantly. One simply fell down dead and was said to have been gone before he hit the floor. Imagine that. Perfect health one moment....dead the next. And that can literally happen to any of us.

So, it's been 2 hours, and we have reached the time when the power company originally said our power would be restored. However, since that time, checking (with my cell phone) they have recalculated, from the original 2 pm, to 3 pm, and now to 6 pm. The other very interesting thing is normally it tells you "There have been 63 reports and 600 people affected." Now it tells me, "There have been 4 reports and 1 home affected." In other words, us. Now, I know that's not the case, or at least assume it's not, since I can't reach anyone at the local store which uses a cordless phone (requiring electricity). But why would the system do this? Well, one BIG change since our last outage is that they installed digital wireless readers on every home, so they no longer have to send meter readers. Hmmmm?! Curious. Does that mean that it simply registers that way, or do they actually have to go to every home now and reset something in order to get power, which is why it may take 4 extra hours? Of course I'm totally speculating here, but did their improvements not only put all the meter readers out of work, but also increase their work load. Technology has a way of doing that which people often aren't aware of. For instance, it was commonly thought by most people that survival in antiquated times required much harder work than today. It turns out, recent anthropological studies have revealed that most indiginous cultures spent maybe 2 to 4 hours a day on survival, and the rest was spent together. In other words, a much shorter "work week" of hunting and gathering, and still having all the necessities of life with much more tribal and family community time together. No father off to work one way, mother off to work another, children in this school, that day care, grandma and grandpa in the facility. Just togetherness. Wow, what progress we have made. However the good news is that one way another, whether by natural disaster, economic collapse, or, of course by death - it could happen .... Just Like That - TEOTWAWKI.

Well, Well. Power back on and an hour and a half early. I guess we've escaped TEOTWAWKI once more.

Happy Happy!!!!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Positive Buoyancy

"Effortless & choiceless awareness is our real nature. If we can attain that state and abide in it, that is all right. But one cannot reach it without effort, the effort of deliberate meditation. All the age old vasanas (inherent tendencies) turn the mind outward to external objects. All such thoughts have to be given up and the mind turned inwards and that, for most people, requires effort."
Ramana Maharshi - Teachings of Bhagavan pg 78

When I was a kid, my father and brother got into SCUBA diving, and so I did as well. This is where I learned about buoyancy, and that I had a very limited 'positive buoyancy'. Buoyancy, as you might guess, is how well you float. Most people have something like a 20% positive buoyancy, which means if you just do a dead-man's float, letting go and simply relaxing on the surface of the water, on your back, you'll pretty much do okay. Your face will remain above the surface and you'll be able to breathe. With me, however, if I do that. I'll basically sink just enough below the surface where I'll be taking in large amounts of water. I have like 5% positive buoyancy. If I try to remain on the surface with my head above water, I start to DROWN.

I don't know if this relates to the quest for Truth, but on some level, it seems like it does. Most people have a much stronger 'positive buoyancy'. In other words, they WANT to stay on the surface of life; they want to remain superficial and float on the surface of the ocean. However, this tendency doesn't do one much good if you are seeking the depths of Consciousness. As Sri Ramana states above, IF you can get down in abidance and stay there, GREAT. That is what most people want to do - just sort of let go and float. But they don't recognize, or don't want to recognize, that they're still on the surface. They are still fully identified with the vasanas, attachments, identifications, concepts, beliefs, and so forth. It is absolutely necessary to get below that.

Imagine taking a piece of Styrofoam below the surface of the water. The deeper you take it, the faster it tends to shoot back to the surface when you let it go. Some things will just bob up and down on the surface, and others will sink like a rock, for instance... a rock. Take a piece of wood and HOLD it under water long enough, and eventually it will become waterlogged and it, too, will sink like a stone. But, as you know, that takes quite a bit of effort for quite a bit of time.

When scuba diving, one wears lead weights to get to the bottom, to counteract the positive buoyancy that we have. I had to wear fewer. If you try to swim to the bottom of the ocean without them, the moment you stop swimming... zoom... up you go to the surface.

Spiritual practice is the constant swimming downwards. In most cases, the moment you stop swimming you begin to surface again. Unfortunately, our tendency is to stop swimming downward, to take too long of a break, to go into idle mode, or to just say, "This is good enough." So, not only does it take effort, it takes consistent and unending effort. That may seem harsh, but this is even what the scriptures will tell us - "constantly, without stopping, without turning away, without other-ness, consistently, every moment", and so on and so forth. They don't say, "give a little push, and off you go" with a little smiley icon beside it. They say cultivation of real spiritual knowledge and wisdom is the most difficult thing you will ever do, which is why so few people truly succeed. Going the other direction, for instance, (UP), out of the billions of people on the planet, how many have reached the summit of Mount Everest? Comparatively few.

The principle thing to keep in mind is that it seems positive buoyancy is built in. To try to reach Truth is in many ways contrary to our nature. Even the Bhagavad Gita says, "Daivi hi esa gunamayi, mama maya duratyaya - This Divine Illusion of mine, consisting of the material modes is VERY difficult to escape". However, he then continues, "Mameva ye prapadyante mayametam taranti te - Those who surrender to Me can cross beyond it." So, it takes our effort, but also recognizing that our effort alone is insufficient. Krishna says to surrender to Him. Ramana says it takes constant effort and (in other places) Grace. He also says surrender is grace. The bottom line, however, is that, from whatever level we appear to have choice, we must choose to relentlessly seek Truth, God, the Absolute, and at the same time, surrender ourselves to That Absolute.

Happy Diving!

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Magician's Trick

Everybody loves a magician. Well, they used to. Maybe now, they're not quite as exciting as once upon a time because everybody knows how they work. Basically it's always an operation of misdirection - while you're looking at the right hand, he's doing the real mischief with the other, but flaunting that right hand. And suddenly, VOILA - the trick is performed. It's done.

The whole phenomenal world is a bit like the magician's trick. We're looking at one thing while the 'real stuff' is going on somewhere else.

On the level of the phenomenal world, this is going on every moment. Here in the U.S., the left and right continue to appear to fight with one another. The Obama group is charging the right wingers as "Right wing domestic terrorists", while the Department of Homeland Security is enlisting the 3.4 million Girl Scouts as part of their 'Preparedness" gang. Meanwhile, NASA is shooting bombs off at the moon! All the while, the bankers and corporations are making out, not like bandits, more like major international criminals, and we pat them on the head, give them more money, and they laugh their heads off all the way to the, well, bank - in their case, home!

So, how are we to deal with this, or in other words, get 'free' from all of this? First, you have to understand that on one level - "These things are going on." In other words, the bottom line is it's just 'stuff'. And in the phenomenal realm, there appears to be 'good' stuff and 'bad' stuff. Truly, there is stuff in the modes of Goodness, Passion and Ignorance (sattva, rajas, and tamas in Sanskrit), and they each have their own nature. The mode of Goodness leads to happiness and illumination; the mode of Passion to greed, excessive action, etc. and the mode of Ignorance to inertia, sleep and laziness. But even the mode of Goodness is binding. It binds one to happiness. I know, that seems like something that would be fine bondage, but bondage is still bondage. A prison of gold is still a prison!

What one has to recognize is that all of these ideas - the modes, the good, the bad, and all of that are OF THE MIND. It is the mind that tells us "He is right, she is wrong" or "I am right, and those ones are 'domestic terrorists'" and so on and so forth. Essentially if there is any conviction or belief or even a thought around it, it is of the realm of mind, and therefore part of the 'Magician's Trick!' Because, at the base of the Magician's Trick is the mind, and the source or very root of this trick is the illusion of the 'false I' - the ego (ahankara or I-maker in Sanskrit) upon which all the other illusions or tricks are based. We are SO identified with the 'right hand' of Mind, certain that it is real and powerful and ALWAYS right, that we are not even seeing or aware of the 'left hand' of transcendence which precedes it.

So, how do we overcome this? (Here it comes....one of his dumb movie analogies.) There have been a number of these, but the first one that comes to mind is Independence Day. The whole world may be bickering with each other (okay, killing each other), but suddenly when we are attacked by aliens from outer space, then we are forced to come together. Otherwise, we are doomed, and it is only in that coming together that we can gain the strength to fight such a powerful foe.

On the phenomenal level, it will only be by giving up left versus right and religious dogmas and all other beliefs, and coming together to realize that the banking and corporate powers that be have a strangle hold on the peoples of the planet and are killing the humanity in ALL of us (and in many cases, outright killing humanity!) We will never be able to be happy here until we can come together and see that the illusion of monetary and economic independence is the trick of the banksters and corporate powers who are ultimately the ONLY ones who ultimately gain, while those below fight for scraps (and yes, even a few billion dollars of illusory money are ultimately scraps).

And on the transcendent level, all of this is happening on the stage of temporary phenomena, much like the movie or TV show appearing on the screen. Ultimately, it too is entirely an illusion and we must turn our attention to what precedes it, to that which is Aware of it, or in other words... Awareness Itself, Infinite Presence, Divinity, God, Beingness - whatever it is 'you' want to call it.

In the end, it always requires discrimination and the intention to NOT be fooled by the obvious. Remember the bumper stickers "Question Authority"? I think they're still around although I certainly don't see them as often. How about one that says, "Question Appearances" or "See Past Each Illusion" or better yet, "Question EVERYTHING"? If you are truly interested in, or driven to Truth, never allow yourself to become complacent. On each level, there is always further to go, another truth just under the surface of 'this' one. Never let yourself be totally tricked by the illusions of the Magician.

And remember, the Magician isn't Evil - He's just an Entertainer!