Learning Transcendence

Copyright Tam Black 2013 Edited for susanwithpearls.com June 2013 by permission
Copyright Tam Black 2013
Edited for susanwithpearls.com June 2013 by permission

When I was a child, I had moments of knowing I was connected to something greater than myself. Today, with my adult brain, I would describe these moments as feelings of Oneness or Unity or Whole Love. At the time though, I was not thinking of it in quite that way—I was a kid; all I knew is it felt right, it felt like my body was in a current of flow that went on forever. I think children in general have greater access to feeling “in the flow” than adults: they have not built up the emotional and mental barriers that get in the way of this flow.

One such moment for me was when I decided to try to meditate. I was probably 13 or 14, and had never been formally introduced to meditation or eastern philosophies. My sister was my biggest influence; she was reading the Seth books by Jane Roberts, the “Tao Te Ching” by Lao Tzu, and other such books and I, as the little sister, followed and wanted to know what these things were about. I read about Tao and flow, and consciousness and “reality”. There was something there I was learning, that was shifting something in me. Somewhere, I don’t even really know where, I came across a description of meditation—upside down. It seemed as though the meditation posture was intended to be uncomfortable and since I come from a Catholic background, where pain is incorporated into the atonement of sins, it just made sense to me that meditation would be the same way. I had already had feelings—moments—of feeling the flow, and thought meditation would help me figure out how to do it more often, so I tried it. My head on a pillow, up against a wall in my bedroom, I did a headstand. Mind you, I had not read any “instructions”, any pointers, or any warnings of “don’t try this at home.” In other words: I did not know what I was doing! But I knew what I wanted to achieve. I closed my eyes and sat (stood?) there… And sat there… And sat there… I may have passed out. I may have fallen asleep. I don’t know…but I knew when I “woke up” (returned to consciousness; re-entered my body?) that I had succeeded! I was so calm, peaceful, and happy. My body hurt like heck, but that to me was just a symbol of the success—I achieved surpassing the bodily aches and was totally absorbed in the flow of the mind—and I had done it intentionally.

It became purposeful for me when I realized that being in the flow changed my performance on the basketball court. Basketball was very much a part of my personal identity, starting in fifth grade. My sense of self, my feelings of success or failure, my self-esteem, were very much tied to basketball. I read about diets for athletes, and did what I could to follow them; I read books about basketball drills, and practiced by myself almost every day in the off-season; I ran and lifted weights, all to be as good as I could at basketball. But basketball—as with any sport or activity—is as much mental as it is physical. I trained my body, but did not know how to—or even that I should—train my mind, or improve my emotions. That happened coincidentally, the incidental convergence of my pursuit of “flow” on the one hand and my pursuit of basketball on the other.

Many of the games would start at eight o’clock in the evening; often we did not get back from away games until eleven. I have always been an “early bird” and turned into a pumpkin around 10; I had to do something so my body would be able to stay awake, so I took naps.

After one particular nap, I woke up with that feeling of clarity, joy, and flow I had experienced several times before when “meditating”. I played a great game; it was so freeing! Now, there was a correlation between that feeling and my activity. Now I had a reason to pursue that feeling: it made me a better basketball player.

After that, when I would nap before a game, I would try to do the same thing, try to recreate the same result. I never really got the same result. I don’t know what I “did”; I did not know how to replicate the experience. I would replicate other actions as well—taking baths, walking at night, breathing, “meditating”. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I never really knew what made it happen, what caused the feeling of being in the flow. It frustrated me but it made me expand my exploration. I still had those moments, but they would not come on demand; they would only come, it seemed, when they wanted to.

I have been practicing and learning to cultivate that feeling ever since, and I now call “that feeling” transcendence, or enlightenment. Whatever the word, the effects are the overwhelming feelings of being in a flow, of clarity, of love, peace, wholeness, completion, trust, and happiness (not always all at the same time). In a broader sense, transcendence is connected to a very solid, practical, purposeful goal. Beyond basketball, it became applicable to life, because I noticed that when practiced and pursued consciously, the effects slowly expanded, making life’s activities, relationships, and choices clearer, more peaceful, more gentle.

When there is intention and flow to the practice, life-activities have a “flow” to them.

I now know that it is the continual cultivation and intention that allows those moments into experience, because transcendence does not just arrive, it must pursued, invited, and welcomed. We are all capable of transcendence.

I think about it this way:

  • Jesus and Elijah transcended into Ultimate Transcendence; many Christian mystics and saints have transcended (and probably many unknown lay-people who never made it into the history books).
  • Shakyamuni Buddha became enlightened, and entered Parinirvana; many historical Buddhas became enlightened.
  • Jesus said, “All of this and more than this shall you also do”
  • One of Buddhism’s main tenets is that we all have the possibility for enlightenment in this lifetime.
  • Jesus, Shakyamuni, and all the rest, learned transcendence (Jesus learned through prayer and fasting. Shakyamuni learned through fasting and meditation) until it became “Ultimate transcendence”
  • Why not me?
  • Why not you?

I Am NOT a Wimp

Copyright Tam Black 2013 Edited for susanwithpearls.com June 2013 by permission
Copyright Tam Black 2013
Edited for susanwithpearls.com June 2013 by permission

Apparently, I am “wildly out of style”, or at least my style is out of style. This, from Psychology Today, in the article “A Nation of Wimps”  (full article link below)

“Messing up, however, even in the playground, is wildly out of style. Although error and experimentation are the true mothers of success, parents are taking pains to remove failure from the equation.”

My life is my playground! I am willing to mess up! Willing to experiment! Willing to try stuff and figure out if it works for me! Don’t get me wrong—I don’t enjoy making mistakes; I don’t intentionally screw something up. Quite the contrary: I give my best, I give my all; I do what I can, do what I must…and then, if a mistake comes up, I know it was a mistake. I can then look back over my intentions, my process, and my actions and figure out what happened, and how to correct it. If you mess up, make it count!

Mistakes happen. They do. There is no reason to be fearful or timid or cautious. Mistakes are an argument for being bold and courageous!

Give me life experiments! Give me my growing pains! Give me surprises! Give me mystery! Give me ups! Give me downs! Give me questions and problems and challenges! Stretch me to my limits so when I return to normal, my normal is never the same! Expand my mind! Open my heart! Challenge my thoughts! Question my beliefs!  Yes, do!

Cloak yourself with awareness, figure out who you are, try yourself on for size, then try someone else’s self on for size and see how that feels. Take from others what feels like a good addition to you, and expand your sense of who you are. Integrating more and more and more of people and experiences, expands your ability to move through situations and experiences with ease.

I want to grow. I want to learn. I want to know everything  I can know. I want to experience all life contains. Have you ever looked around you and thought, “There is so much here! I need to hustle if I am going to take it all in!” Maybe at Disney World – but, if at a constructed playground, why not life’s playground? What is the difference? There is wonder and amusement at those constructed fantasy worlds to entertain people who can’t find wonder and amusement in life. Find it here, and you won’t need to find it there.

But asking for wonder and surprises and growth is scary, too, isn’t it? That’s because life gives it to you. Life will give you as much as you ask for. The choice is yours: grow, live, learn, gain insight, be challenged, stretch, experiment…or… not. Fear of making a mistake versus fear of going boldly forth. Which do you choose?

Life is its own reward.

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External link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200411/nation-wimps

There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

For susanwithpearls.com June 2013
For susanwithpearls.com June 2013

In a world of abbreviated texts and quick communiqués—LOLs, ROFLMAO, IMHO, etc—I’d like to pause a moment to remember the now oft-forgotten predecessors of these acronyms. Some of my personal favorites:

SOL, “shit out of luck”: I learned this from my dad who used it infrequently, but when letting us know that we (my siblings and I) could not have the what-ever-it-was we were asking for.

RHIP, “Rank has its privileges”: This is important when learning about the military, any hierarchy, or just being a kid (“when you grow up you can….”)

SOS, “shit on a shingle”: This one, also, was from my dad. It apparently refers to toast smothered in creamed corn beef, often served in military mess halls. Maybe that’s why they are “mess” halls?

TANSTAAFL, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”: I learned this one in college. It means that you don’t get nothin’ free; I suppose it’s a vulgar version of “quid pro quo”, this for that, if you want something, you have to give something.

Personally, I never quite believed TANSTAAFL. I learned it as a young adult, which means it was not embedded into my consciousness, my patterning, and my belief systems as I was growing into adulthood. I never quite believed that everything given was based on getting something in return. That’s just so…so…selfish. If people believe in TANSTAAFL, then not only are they always looking for what’s “in it for me”, but they are also denying others the gift of giving freely. When I give, there is no expectation of return. I don’t think “you owe me”; let me give just because I want to!

…I was in the register line today at one of my regularly-visited health food grocery stores buying just a few items, among which was a little piece of cheese for lunch. This store sells cheese “batards”—small, leftover pieces at the end of dividing the big cheese wheel. It’s fun to buy these leftovers—it lets me try cheese without a big commitment!

Waiting, waiting, waiting in line, I started to think.

I got centered, focused, and remembered to practice. Every morning, every evening, I become still and focus and remember to remember that I want to know the Truth, I want to know God, I want to be kind and loving; I ask for learning; I ask for knowledge—this is one way that I practice. Mornings and evenings are easy. Apart from the bustle of activity, I can be still. But generally, once my day begins, it becomes a challenge to remember to remember. So, I do my best to remember as often as I can. I remembered while waiting in line.

I thought (asked), “How do we Know the Divine?” “How can I Know I am divine?” “Do I believe I am Divine?” And I realized that I had an answer. My body shifted, I felt a different energy, a flow, and I realized (in the sense of seeing with real eyes), that I do actually believe I am divine. I am a divine being! Who knew!?  I know it somewhere, and I saw that I know it somewhere. And then, I understood why it’s not obvious: I don’t know what this means. What in the world—literally, in this world—does it mean, could it possibly mean to be DIVINE??? There are so many labels and definitions and things we call Divine, but what is it like to BE divine in this world; to experience being Divine? How do we understand Divine in this mundane life??

As these thoughts and questions went through my head, I moved up in line, the clerk scanned most of my items, and then came to the cheese. The register gave a little disapproving “buzz” when she scanned it. She did it again, and again the register disapproved. The manager came over, scanned the cheese, again the buzz. She typed in the SKU and still the register would not accept it. She looked at me and said, “Register can’t find it, enjoy!” and handed me the cheese.

Not only did this validate to me that there is such a thing as a free lunch, it also answered my question, “how do I experience the Divine” in daily life.

A Little Good Goes a Long Way to Fend off the Cranky Monster

Original Tibetan artwork Artist unknown Edited for susanwithpearls.com June 2013
Original Tibetan artwork
Artist unknown
Edited for susanwithpearls.com June 2013

May 25 was the celebration of Shakyamuni Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and final state of Nirvana. Shakyamuni Buddha is the Buddha of this age and Buddhism begins with his enlightenment. Buddhists believe that all humans have similar potential for enlightenment in this lifetime, or over many lifetimes. Enlightenment is learning how to go beyond the birth-death cycle, which is the manifestation of the root of all suffering (the root of all suffering is ignorance, specifically the ignorance of how things exist). Essential to overcoming suffering are things like loving-kindness, compassion, and emptiness. There are many teachings about achieving this; the Buddha himself left 84,000 of these teachings.

The festival that celebrates this event is called the Saka Dawa Festival.  It is held on the Full moon (15th Lunar Day) of the 4th Lunar month of the Tibetan Calendar and this year, the date fell on May 25th, 2013, in the Western Gregorian calendar.

On this day, Buddhists perform purification activities and generally “do good”. The merit that is achieved on this day is increased by the mindful intentions of collective effort. It is kind of like a world-peace day or a world prayer day. All goodness enriches, enlivens, and increases as more people participate.

I didn’t know any information regarding Saka Dawa the morning of May 25th when I woke up.

I woke up uncharacteristically grumpy and cranky…very cranky. I could feel my thoughts burdening me, my emotions on edge, anxious, tainted from feeding on thoughts of how much there is to do, how much isn’t done, how little time there is, how angry I am there is so little time to get things done…I recognized the past in many of these thoughts and emotions: past habits, past situations, past emotions. But when steeped in the encompassing emotion, even recognizing its origins does not help in yanking my consciousness free of it.

I often turn on soft/meditative music when I begin activity, after the period of silence when I first wake up and direct my thoughts. This day, May 25, I was inclined to listen to chanting. I have a YouTube playlist with about 14 different healing, peace, and in-light-ening chants.

Cranky as I was, I needed the vibration of healing, peace, and light!  Somewhere within me I knew this, but certainly, not consciously. The actual thought to put on the chanting was quite buried.  My thoughts were in a stupor, my decision and actions were thoughtless; there was just something in me, moving me, telling me that chanting would be very nice to listen to.

The YouTube playlist I chose had very special meaning, for a very specific purpose. I had taken some time last October to cleanse my house (a sort of a Native American smudging ritual), bless the space (inviting healing and transformation to all who enter), and to draw loving and healing energy to the land for the past, present, and future. In this ritual, the bodhisattva Kuan Yin was invoked as the Mother-Goddess-loving, healing, presence. The playlist was called “Kuan Yin”. It contains the chants “Om Mani Padme Hum”, the “Heart Sutra”, the “Gayatri Mantra”, “Om Kriya Babaji Nama Om”, “Om Vajra Sattva Hum”, as well as several other such chants.

When I started the music, I also decided to pause to light a candle at the sacred space in my house. The sacred space is a place that acts as a reminder to me of all of the beings who bring or brought love, healing, and kindness into the world, and who serve humanity– Jesus, Babaji, Shakyamuni Buddha, Kuan Yin, White Tara, Green Tara, Sarasvati, Vajrayogini, and several others.

In reminding myself of their deeds and love, I see my own potential for deeper love and kindness… usually. Not the morning of May 25, though!  Crankiness, funkiness, tiredness, and stress abounded and the fog in my mind was thick. But I paused anyway to light a candle.

Blankly, dimly, incoherently, tripping over thoughts that were fragments, my offering of light was weak and poorly articulated.  I think I ended up just saying something like, “To Divine Love, Light, and Life; you know my heart, accept my offering”. But I didn’t feel it; all I knew was the stumbling along.

Then I went on with my day– chores felt like chores; I felt burdened and put upon.  Work usually feels like an offering of devotion, like works of love.  Somewhere in my fog–and I really could call it a dark cloud–I wanted to transform, offer up, bring clarity to those feelings.

Faintly the syllables of the chants hit my eardrums as I worked—dishes, laundry, floors. When I could manage, I intentionally direct my thoughts away from cranky and toward transformation; I silently and to the best of my cranky ability kept the mantras in my consciousness as they played. The vibration filled the space, recalling the original blessing of transformation and healing to all who enter (including me).

All together it was almost four hours of chanting, four hours of chores.

At some point… because I didn’t even notice that it happened… everything was just “fine”. My mood was fine. The cranky was gone. I was happy and peaceful and rolling along. It was so very subtle; it was like I was “normal” again, back to my ol’ self. I didn’t give it a second thought.

The rest of the day was spent in peace and playfulness with friends and family, cooking and socializing, as though that was all that had ever existed.

I went to bed around 10 and (uncharacteristically) checked my email before lying down. My friend, Karma Jinpa Tarchen had emailed me with information about the day of Saka Dawa. He wrote:

“So on this day as is clearly taught by the World Conquering One himself Shakyamuni Buddha, merit is increased 100 million times on this day. Do good, think of and apply discipline to your activities and involvements of your body (things you do), speech (things you say) and mind (things you think), being as aware as possible with right and gentle effort towards kindness, understanding, patience, and to stop from engaging, as much as possible, in self centered interest in what you do, say or think especially this day. At the close of this day offer all that may have been virtuous no matter how small or great to the benefit of all others, to the ending of famine, to the ending of illnesses, to the relief of all sentient being’s suffering. Just taking to mind on even this one day these things in this very other motivated way such offering and generosity of care and compassion is extremely vast in benefit for you and all.”

At first, I thought, “Damnit!, I wish I had known about the significance of this day when I woke up, rather than when going to bed; had I known, I really would have ‘done’ something with the energy of the day.”

Then I realized…I had…or, rather, perhaps that the energy of the day did something with me…and I was very, very thankful.


For More on Saka Dawa visit: http://www.yowangdu.com/tibetan-buddhism/saka-dawa.html

Herman Hesse’s Siddartha can be found for free here: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page