Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on October 15, 2014

The Germans call it Weltschmerz, and the Tibetan Buddhists consider it one of the four key reminders for awakening. From my first taste of the dharma, what are called "the Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind to the Dharma" has been pivotal. These are the thoughts that the Tibetan Buddhists feel are the ones that, if we take them to heart, will turn our mind away from all of our endless distractions and toward the dharma itself. These four thoughts are like dharmic smelling salts. As a naturalist, for me they were a no-brainer because they are like a page out of Mother Nature's notebook, and I liked that. They were already my personal Bible. For those of you who don't know the "Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind," meaning make us stop and think, they are:

(1) This human life is precious. Put it to good use.
(2) Impermanence. Life is very fragile.
(3) Karma. Our every action has consequences.
(4) Samsara – This world is inherently undependable.

Yet it is that Fourth Thought (Samsara has shortcomings) that always confounds me a bit, the one about the renunciation of this world, which often is just stated as "Revulsion of Samsara," with samsara being this cyclic world of ups and downs we all live in.

"Revulsion at Samsara." That phrase has always bothered me because I kind of love this world of Samsara, at least parts of it. I am not sure I ever want to be revolted by it, so I have stayed away from that word "revulsion." Instead, you might hear me say (about the Fourth Thought) that samsara is undependable and that you can't count on it, or that samsara is stacked in the House's favor and we will never game the system, and, finally, that we will never (ever) get our ducks all in a row – things like that. I can live with that view.

But recently I have received a clue as to what the Buddhists might mean by "revulsion," although like so many dharma experiences that you read about, the reality of the experience can be quite different from the textbook description, and in a good way. But this experience might be just the bridge over that revulsion-concept that I have been looking for. It involves monitoring my mindstream, which I do a good amount of the time anyway. So this is going to get a little personal, please.

And I don't just do it on the meditation cushion, if that is where I'm supposed to have these thoughts. Meditation does not have to be done sitting in a corner; I can do it on the run too, while I move around, doing whatever it is that I do in a day.

Sure, I can search in the past, rehearsing and digging up whatever is back there for me and playing with it. However, peering into the future is not as certain and not so much fun. There is more tension there, which leaves me with the present. I know the slogan is "Carpe Diem!" – cease the day and all of that. My approach of late has been much more low-key. Let's see if I can put this into words and you tell me if this makes sense.

Lately the present moment for me does not lend itself to aggression or even action, but rather to waiting; it literally requires a "wait and see attitude." I would like to say it is like sitting around a warm fire, but it is not warm, but more like a pool or a deep well from which stuff gradually emerges that I become aware of. I am talking about the mind here.

Perhaps it is not even so much the sense of waiting, but rather just allowing the mind to settle out, like a pool has to clear after it has been stirred. I am allowing that to take place. Or, more correctly yet, it is not wanting to make any effort on my part to "try" this or that, but rather preferring that no exertion of any kind be made. The Buddhist clearly say not to alter the present moment with effort, trial, or in any way whatsoever. My guess is that I'm coming around to that way of thinking and, more important, being.

Tired of trying and sensitive to the direction of things, I am paying more attention these days to the aerodynamics of the mindstream, while remaining at ease and not exposing anything to the winds of change or chance than I can help. I can intuitively feel when I push or go against the momentum of the moment, so I just don't. And I am not holding real still through any effort, either, but rather resting or floating on the stream of time, a bit of flotsam and jetsam, held aloft by the currents and not by anything that I do.

And I have tried to study this by looking and delving into what books I have on meditation, as far as I can, until the words no longer work and I sink back into where I am -- mostly empty-handed. I have sucked what sense from books that I can, as Gerard Manley Hopkins might put it.

I don't call what I am doing "meditating," but what should I call it? Over and over I have found that what I can take from books does not exactly add up to the reality of my actual experience, but rather is quite different. I seem to always end up having to make my own way and only later discover that what I am doing is already known as this or that term, something right out of the textbooks, but they don't match up.

Spiritual progress is really not something we can prepare for intellectually. It is not only beyond words, but whatever words I can manage to pull together, before the actual experience of it, don't do it justice, don't describe it properly. The reality is almost unrecognizable compared to the written traditional descriptions, so there is a real disconnect there, at least for me.

Take for example, right now. I have been coming back to this present moment I am describing here (the same present moment you have right now) for some time, as if to take a sip or a peek, but that too is wearing thin. In truth I am at a loss more of the time as to where else I want to go other than right here and now. So here I am, obviously doing nothing but just being right here. I can make up excuses, but the fact of business is that I have nowhere else to go or, if I do, I don't want to go there because it would obscure the clarity I am having here. So, folks, here I am.

Indeed, is this the onset of a kind of meditation, perhaps the same meditation that meditators have done throughout history, i.e. just sitting there for long periods of time? I have never enjoyed sitting that long anyway. I once did a two-year practice where I had to sit for two hours a day. I didn't much like it.

Lately I have been feeling different. I don't feel like making an effort at much of anything. Every effort seems wrong and goes against what I might call the clarity or rest I find myself seeking. I have made efforts all my life. Now I want to be effort-less. I resist allowing my intellectual mind to make rules, commitments, or jump to conclusions. At my age I am less interested in drawing conclusions.

Right now I am describing what I am doing, but is that all I am doing? What I am describing is what I am doing, but what I am doing is not just describing. If I don't describe it or if I stop describing it, what am I then doing? The answer is that I am being "aware." I should stop worrying about all this, entirely, and just be aware. If this is what is called "Samadhi," then perhaps I have to be in that state more of the time, like as much as possible.

Actually, I "AM" doing things, moving around and so on, but it is like a waitress carrying a tray of drinks or an African woman balancing a huge basket on her head. There is some mindfulness there, but not mindfulness with effort, rather just mindfulness. The mindfulness is becoming more the point than whatever else I am doing. That being said, I can't make a point of doing this either. Do you understand? I have to allow it to just happen.

Cesarean or forced delivery of the moment is not it. Aggression, even action with the intent to speed up the process (whatever process) is best left undone in favor of a passive delivery. Like a midwife of the moment, let nature takes its course. Let it happen as it will. Like the Buddhist analogy, the snake will uncoil itself.

Anyway, I go to the porthole of this moment and look out into the present. Like looking at an open sky with no clouds, there is nothing to be seen but the looking itself and I can't see that either. I am looking, but my looking can find no object. Since there is nothing to be seen, I see nothing. I am just there mindfully resting my gaze. It is clear and present. That could be enough right there!

As mentioned, my not wanting to "do" anything finds me resting in the present more of the time, if only because the past and the future take effort and that's what I don't feel like doing. So here I sit, so to speak.

Therefore my not wanting to "do" anything finds me once again in the present with nothing to do. Only doing nothing feels just right. Anything else feels wrong and goes against the grain. And all that against-the-grain out there keeps me floating in midair, repulsed and held aloft like a hovercraft or reversed magnets. Or held aloft by repulsion or revulsion, by not really wanting to do anything else. I am content doing nothing, which is not exactly what I call revulsion. Nevertheless, something keeps me in the pocket of the present.

There I said it, "revulsion," not being game to do anything else, not feeling like it because to do anything would mean effort, pushing against the present flow, and dimming the clarity of the mind. I am dead tired of pushing and trying. So I am not "revolted" by anything, just not interested in making efforts to look outside of the present moment's clarity because there is not as much light there. I may have to rearrange my life to spend more time in this moment.

I have kind of gone off-topic here, but tell me if you know: what's going on?

[Here is a drawing of me made by the well-known Beat artist Ed Newell at the Gas House in 1960, a famous Beat art gallery and coffee house right on Venice Beach in Santa Monica, California. Newell and I were friends. At the time I lived in an abandoned walk-in cooler in the basement of the Gas House and I thought I was going to be an artist, a painter in oils. While that didn't happen, certainly what I suffered from back then was "world sorrow.]