Michael's Writings


THE BUDDHA NEXT DOOR

BY

MICHAEL WILSON




 

WITH APOLOGIES TO ALL CELESTIAL BEANS

 

          In the State of Becoming, in a pittance of a town, floating in a sea of business and residential addresses, on a street graced by old oak trees, in a modest house next to mine lives the Buddha.




WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  I.

 

          With burning lungs and aching calves I paced to cool down before my neighbor’s house.  Using my Redskins T-shirt to wipe the salty sweat from my eyes, I looked over and noticed my neighbor sitting beneath the branches of an apple tree in the side yard.  Legs were crossed, hands resting lightly on knees, back erect as though the spine was a pile of quarters.  Eyes behind half-drawn lids floated on an inner lake of peace.

          “What are you doing neighbor,” I asked.

          “I am letting the hardness of my heart dissolve, the barricades of my mind give way.  I am resting in my true nature.  I am meditating.”

          My neighbor sat with back resting against the trunk of the tree, legs stretching out on the grass laden with dew.  I lowered myself onto a large root.

          “What happens when you meditate?”

          “Oh sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh.  Sometimes all the silver ball bearings rolling around in my head settle into the holes of the puzzle.  My thoughts slow to a halt and I rest in the true nature of my mind, my heart, my life, all life.”


WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  II.

 

          “How did you learn to rest your mind?”

          “My parents are very rich who only wanted the best for their child, to follow in their footsteps.  When I was born, my ancient great grandmother looked at my green eyes, examined the lines in my palms and declared, ‘This child will be either a great sage or a great real-estate developer.” 

          “As most parents, mine wanted to protect me from the miseries of the world, so we moved into one of their shopping malls.  There I had everything I wanted within this protected world.  Then one day an old woman came in the mall.  I had never seen one before.  I thought they had creams to protect one from all those wrinkles and you never got old.  The next day a child came in who was crippled.  My parents had managed to shield my from the reality of disease.  The day after that a man was eating a hot dog from the Dog House Doggies and choked on a pickle.  He died on the spot.  I never knew of death before.”

          “What did you do?”

          “I left the mall.  I went hitchhiking across this great and terrifying land looking for answers to the suffering that I now knew was life.  I went to the woods in Vermont and fasted and prayed, and fasted and prayed.  I nearly starved myself to death when two hikers came by.  They made some chipped chicken in cream sauce over rice from a little packet and fed me.  We camped and talked together for many days.


III.

          “Then one day I remembered being a small child, before we had moved into the shopping mall.  We lived in a house with a backyard bigger but much like this.  In that back yard was an apple tree.  I would sit there and let me heart and mind rest in the scent of the wind, the growing of the tree against my back, the tender earth holding me up, the sky embracing me.  Sometimes I tasted the sweet tartness of an apple.  As this child, existence settled down into that one moment of clarity and bliss, of all encompassing love.  All my childhood fears were replaced by love.”

          “And that is how you learned to meditate?”

          “Yes.  I had received instruction from masters in my journeys across the country, but now I remembered I already knew how to meditate.  To meditate be as a small child.  Sit comfortable.  Relax, release, and rest.  Relax your body and your intentions.  Release your grasping on your thoughts.  Rest in the true nature of your mind, the beauty of the moment.”

 


CLOUDS DRIFT BY LIKE THOUGHTS

 

          Muscles still pushing from the effort of my run, I walked past my meditating neighbor to the elm tree in my back yard.  Sitting in suburban silence filled with early morning bird song, yipping dogs, muted cries, and cars grinding to a purring start, I was terrified to witness the clutter and clatter of my thoughts.  I tried to stop thinking, to stem the flow of my mind.

          “Damn it,” I said.  “I can’t dam up my thoughts!”

          “It’s not you that is thinking, it’s your brain doing what brains do.”  I opened my eyes to see my neighbor standing beside me.

          “Lying on a mountainside in Vermont, I would watch the clouds drift by.  Let’s lie on the grass together.”

          Hoping that everyone was too busy in their houses brushing their teeth or grinding coffee beans to see us, we lay side by side on the cool grass.  I had forgotten how like my mother’s lap the earth felt, how like my father’s protective smile was the sky.

          “What do you see?”

          “A deep blue sky filled with clouds.  That one looks like a whale on a motor cycle, that one...”

          “What does the light look like?”

          “The light?”  I had to stop and look in a different way.  “It is so white it is clear, so clear it is like a rainbow.”

          “And how big is the sky?”

          “Big enough to hold everything.”

          “Big enough to hold all thoughts as they drift by like clouds.  Now give 75% of your attention to the nature of this clear sky expansive enough to hold everything but holding onto nothing.”

          “And the other 25%?”

          “Bring your attention to your breath when your find yourself following the clouds.”

          We lay there until I heard the slap of the newspaper being thrown at the front door and I knew it was time to go to work.



ALL THAT STUFF RATTLING BETWEEN OUR EARS

 

          Days later, in a morning aglow with mist, I once again stretched my muscles while leaning against a tree in front of my neighbor’s house.  Beneath the apple tree my neighbor leaned back and called out to me.

          “How has your meditating been going?”

          “Terrible,” I said walking to the tree.

          “Terrible?”  Does it fill you with terror?”

          I was surprised at the question.  “Well yes, there is so much stuff rattling between my ears.  Sometimes I can let my thoughts pass now, not give them any of my energy and they peter out.  But I have so many angry thoughts welling up in my stomach!”

          “Good!”

          “Good?”

          “How can we deal with these angry thoughts, solve and dissolve them if we are ignorant of their existence?”



LET LIFE BE YOUR MEDITATION

 

          “What are you doing?” I asked as my neighbor buried egg shells at the bottom of a plant in the garden.

          “Fertilizing my plants so they may grow and produce vegetables this summer.  And I am meditating.”

          “Meditating?”

          “Anything I do and remain mindful of it is meditating.”

          I had to stew on that one for awhile.  When I jogged down the street and heard only the wind in my ears, felt only the flow of wind round my body, muscles under my skin, the rise and fall of my chest, was I meditating?  Had I been doing it all along?

          “What is the purpose of meditation?”

          “Meditation is only a tool, a way, a path to develop our compassion.  When we recognize our fears we can learn to release them.  When we see what we grasp onto, we can learn to release our grip on it.  (the hand thing)  When we begin to glimpse our true nature, we can be released from our ignorance, we can be free.  Meditation opens the heart like morning glories to the clear light of dawn.  Meditation opens the heart to the radiance of our true mind so that our natural compassion for ourselves and for others can flow freely.”



BUIDLING A BOOKSHELF

 

          On a rainy Saturday afternoon filled with projects around the house I went over to my neighbor’s to borrow some coarse sandpaper.

          “What are you working on?”

          “A book shelf I decided to make myself.  But maybe I should have bought one, it’s a lot of work.

          “To build a bookshelf requires hard work, but the results are yours and not someone else’s.  The grain is rough at first and the beauty of the grain hidden, but hours of sanding reveals the true grain, let’s the beauty shine out.  I have some sandpaper I will give you.  You must do the work.”

 


THE INVISIBLE IS ALWAYS WITH US

 

          My neighbor and I enjoyed spending an afternoon watching soccer on TV together, but that afternoon we were on my roof adjusting the satellite dish hoping to restore what wind had damaged.

          Above the branches rattling in an autumn wind, above the houses and cars and the sounds of children, one could see the sky.  It was up there when I was a child that I thought God existed.  He (or she, I never thought of the “Supreme Bean” with genitals) watched over me, waited for me.  But that was long ago.

          “How can I believe in the invisible now that I am an adult?” I asked.

          “As adults in this age of science it should be easier to believe in the invisible.  Can you see the deodorant commercial taking place around you?  The Bugs Bunny cartoon?  The Monster Wheels competition?”

          “No, they’re on TV.”

          “No, they are around us now, only we don’t have the instrument tuned in the right way to see them.  How can we not believe in the invisible in the age of TV, radio, and even more?  Don’t force yourself to jump off into belief, just stay open the possibility of it’s truth.”



TO GAIN AND TO LOOSE

 

          Above the roar of the bulldozer, the shouts of sweating men, I heard my neighbor saying, “What are you building?’

          “See that house across the street?  They expanded their kitchen and put in a center island.  And next to them they added a library with a patio.  And over there, the new dormer with the three skylights?”

          “Yes, they were jobs well done.”

          “My addition will have a new bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub, an extra bedroom, and a family room with skylights, bay windows, and French doors that lead out to a wrap around deck.”

          “Your crew is working very hard!”

          “They could come over to your house next.  Knock out the side wall and give you an eat-in kitchen, a huge family room with a fireplace...”  I stopped when I noticed the look of sadness on my neighbor’s face.

          “Then I would loose the patch of flowers over there that greet me each spring morning.  The bush under which the cat sleeps would be gone.  The trellis where the humming birds feed off the morning glories would be just a memory.  And my apple tree where I meditate each morning would be gone too.  I would loose too much to gain so much.”

         


SEE THE SPACE BETWEEN

 

          As my neighbor walked into my family room, I was throwing the tape measure across the room.  Side-swiped by the trash truck of despair, I slumped down on the new couch, the plastic it had arrived in crackling under me.

          “It won’t fit,” I said with a wave of the hand that sent a can of cola off the arm and spilling onto the floor.

          “Very nice furniture.  One couch, a loveseat, two chairs, a table with four chairs, three lamps, an entertainment center, and a bookcase.”

          “And a fish tank.  They’re in the kitchen sink until I fill up their new home.  I think I over filled the room when I bought all this.”

          “We all buy too many things, afraid we will be unhappy without them.”

          “I can’t return them now, they were on sale.”

          “Maybe we could tear down the walls and enlarge the room.”

          “I can’t do that!”

          “We can only find the solution when we bring the mind peace.  When we bring the mind peace we will have the wisdom to know what we can do, and the wisdom to know what we cannot.  Only with peace of mind will we be able to accept what we cannot do, and the strength to do what we must.”

          “But how can I find this peace of mind to make this kind of decision?”

          “When you meditate what do you do?”

          “I put on my old sweat pants, I get comfortable, I follow my breath...”

          “So right now, you look comfortable.  Begin to give part of your attention to your breath.  Think of the furniture as the clouds, or as your thoughts.  Look at this room, and let yourself see not the furniture but the space around it.”

          It took us an hour to move the furniture into place, and the fish out of the kitchen sink and back in their tank.

 


SO JUST MEDITATE

 

          Even in the soft rain that slid down the blue light of morning, my neighbor was out mediating under the tree and I was out jogging.

          “I’m not getting anywhere!” I protested, warm rain sliding down my neighbor’s face. 

          “Where do you jog to?”

          “Well, nowhere.  I just jog.”

          “So just meditate.  Why do you run?”

          “I feel better, fitter, less stressed the rest of my day.”

          “That is why I meditate.  We can be so goal oriented, but meditation is a path without goal.  Give up all expectations my friend, and simply meditate.  Then watch the rest of your day.  Are you less afraid of your neighbors?  Are you less likely to react from fear with anger, frustration, or indifference? Don’t mediate for a few moments of bliss, but for the better person you are the rest of your day.”

 


WHY AM I AFRAID?

 

          The ebb and flow of crimson lights and the banshee wail of sirens woke me.  I rushed outside and stood beside of my neighbor watching the ambulance surrounded by black exhaust at the house across the street.  I began to shiver in thought and silence.

          My neighbor let a hand rest on my shoulder.

          “If you are ignorant of your true nature, you become afraid.  If you are afraid you grasp onto things, ideas, yourself.  If you grasp you will never be happy because all things are impermanent.”

          “Some things make me happy.  My family, that I have a job, the stars.”

          “See those lilacs in bloom over there?  When I wake in the morning the smell reminds me of the perfume I would smell at my mother’s breasts a young child.  I love the delicacy of the clusters of flowers, the variations in blue and purple.  It makes me happy to meditate in the shade of this bush.”

          “But it only blooms for such a short time.  Kind of rotten.”

          “Not at all, in fact I am very happy.  Knowing that the flowers will wilt and fall, I stop to appreciate their beauty now, take in their scent with it’s memories now.  When you remember that all things change, you stop to appreciate their beauty in the moment.”

          “What of this moment?”

          “Let’s see if we can help our neighbors.”

 

II.

 

          After the body had been removed and the neighborhood had gone home with mumbling on their lips and fear in their minds, we stood together as the stars pushed through the darkness.

          I became quiet, thinking.

          “But is there anything permanent, anything I can rely on?  What about me?”

          “Are you the same person you were in high school?  The same person who walked over to my house five minutes ago before this conversation?  We change always.  Only impermanence is permanent, and that only in this relative reality.  But there is an Ultimate Reality that is beyond the opposites.”

          “Well, tell me about it!”

          “What is that in the night sky?”

          My neighbor extended a finger past my head to where the moon was aglow in the deep waters of the night sky.

          “It is the moon.”

          “And what is this?”

          “Your finger.”

          “I could tell you of the ground from which our being emanates, but that would be asking you to look at my finger and not the moon.  Go and meditate in the moonlight.”



THE MANY ROOMS

 

          Meditation had, like a mother’s hand across a child’s fevered forehead, soothed my heart.  Streets we had, many a dew-laden morning jogged down, now echoed in the dark with our footsteps. 

          Quietly, like the gentle summer night whispered around us I whispered, “What is death like?”

          My neighbor burst into laughter that rolled down the street and startled birds asleep in the bushes.

          “Why do you laugh at death?”

          “Why not!  Death is not just a part of life, it is what gives life meaning.  If I didn’t know I would die to this world would I stop to enjoy the sound of the cricket on a summer’s night in the here and now?  If I didn’t know my friends would be gone someday would I take the time to appreciate them and love them now?  Would life be this precious jewel if it was eternal?”

          “I never look towards a graveyard, flip the channel if they are showing a dead body on the news, steer the conversation away from cancer and disease.”

          “We are afraid of death because we don’t understand life.”

          “What is death like?’

          My neighbor laughed again.  “I can only tell you what I think death will be like.  Some have had near-death experiences, but have they come back from the dead?

          “I expect death is like this:  To suddenly find yourself standing naked in a green field beneath a blue sky on a summer day when the sun fills you.  But some little gnawing within you makes you look to the horizon.  Perhaps it’s that feeling that you should be doing something, or that you don’t deserve to just enjoy the beauty of nature, the guilt that you are goofing off.  Or what if someone saw you just standing in their field letting the white light of the sun embrace you shamelessly.  For what ever gnawing you have that takes you away, you see buildings, huge museums on the horizon.  You pick on that suits your taste.  Perhaps you avoid the red-brick Victorian and go to the one with columns and marble.  Perhaps you head into one that is sleek and clean and has walls of glass.  Perhaps you go to a rustic building.  But in each there are rooms filled with art. 

          “You pass from room to room.  In one you may see a painting that you like, and you may pause to appreciate it.  In another you may find one that terrifies you for personal reasons.  You may flee or you may be fascinated with your own terror.  But this is all very individual.  The same painting my be interpreted in different ways by different people.  Some my find the images frightening, while others my find a beauty in them.  We all see with our own eyes.  But from each one, we are learning something about ourselves, who we really are.  Finally we reach a still plain room.  Her we contemplate what we have learned from these pictures for now we have realized that they are projects of our life.  We understand that our fear of love of the same image depends on how open our heart is at the end of our life.  And with most of us, our mind begins to long for life again.  Perhaps to learn more about things we have been afraid of.  Perhaps to learn to open our hearts more.  Or simply because we begin to lust for life.  Then we would rise and go out of the gallery.  And because we are what we have created ourselves to be, we find ourselves in a new life.”



ALL OF LIFE IS A GREAT BLESSING

 

          Between the rows of canned goods, next to a display of cereals shaped like cartoon warriors, I saw my neighbor coming around the corner with a shopping cart.

          “How are you?”

          I answered that I was fine and threw a three boxes of gooey chocolate cookies in the cart.

          “You are not at work today.”

          “I lost my job,” I answered a bit too loud and looked around to see if anyone had heard me.

          “I’m so happy for you!”

          “What!”

          “Didn’t you tell me you hated your job?”

          “Yes.”

          “Hated the kind of person that you were at your job?”

          “Yes.”

          “Oh what a great opportunity you are blessed with.”

          “What opportunity?”

          “The chance to find a job that you love, that helps you become a more loving person.”

          “But what if I end up with another job that I hate!”

          “What a great opportunity that will be.”

          “Now wait a minute, how can that be great?”

          “When we face an adversity we can change it into an opportunity to change our minds, to change ourselves.  What a blessing it is.”

          “Is everything a blessing to you?”

          “All life is a great blessing, a wonderfully opportunity to change our minds, to clear away the obstacles to realizing our true nature.”



EVERYONE SUFFERS AT A BLOCK PARTY

 

          It was the usual August festivities on our block:  tables of pasta salads and baked beans, grills lined up under billows of smoke as neglected burgers, hot dogs and chicken began to burn, silly games usually to do with things like water balloons and eggs, and lawn chairs filled with laughing people while the kids ran wild in he streets.  Another block party.

          “Why did you start this thing?” I asked my neighbor as we met at the trash can filled with ice and cans. 

          “Suspicion.  If we all stay in our houses our imaginations run wild and our fears build up suspicions about each other.  let people get to know each other and they will realize how much they have in common.” 

          My neighbor reached down in the ice and pulled up the last beer.

          “I’m in a lousy mood and don’t feel like associating with these people.  I lost my job, I’ve got bills to pay, and I’m just too embarrassed about all of it to let them know what I’m going through.  Then you get the last beer!”

          “I’ll make a deal with you,” my neighbor said leaving the can unopened, “If you can find one person here who has not suffered, who has not gone through some kind of challenge in their lives as you are, I will give you this beer.”

          I found that the only way could ask people if they had gone through difficult times was to real my own.  Fences, walls, borders and hedges between us began to disappear as we talked.  The relationship build at the block party based on common traffic concerns and school budgets was suddenly deepened as I saw their pain.  a pain I shared.

          “I’ve been standing here defending your beer.  Is it your?” my neighbor asked when I returned.

          “There is not one person here who has not suffered.”

          “There are three types of suffering.  The first is the suffering of pain, the hurt in our bodies and in our hearts.  The next is the suffering of change, that nagging feeling when we are happy that even this will pass.”

          “And what is the third type of suffering?”

          “The third is the suffering of our existence, that feeling that things are not quite right, not as the could or should be.”

          “So I don’t get my beer?”

          “You got much more than your beer, but here, you can have it anyway.  You know, I don’t drink.”

          And we laughed.



IS THERE NOBILITY IN SUFFERING?

 

          After the eggs smashed in the egg toss had been wiped off the street, after the empty carcasses of balloons once filled with water had been picked up, after the plastic chairs and red-wood tables, the smoking barbecue grills and bright red ice chests stuffed with shiny wet cans of sodas and beers had disappeared, my neighbor and I sat on my couch surfing through the channels.  There one the screen we caught the waves of nervous laughter from sit-coms, the explosions, the violence of cartoons, and found ourselves sliding into a news channel.  There refuges sobbed with eyes long gone dry, a family scurried by cameras to court, a woman blushed, a car lay crumpled under a truck.

          “What is the meaning of this life?” I asked and dove a chip into the onion dip.

          “The purpose of life is to find happiness.”

          “But we suffer so, how can we be happy?”

          “Life is painful, but suffering is up to us.”

          I thought on this, on how I turned the pain in my life into suffering that seemed eternal.  “But what causes suffering,” I asked realizing from the frame of the previous answer that to be alive was to experience pain.

          “The cause of our suffering is our ignorance of our true nature.”

          “So there is a way to end suffering?”

          “Yes, there is a way to end suffering, and that possibility is a great blessing to our lives.”

          I felt relieved to have someone admit once and for all that life was suffering. 

          “Do you realize that we all suffer?” my neighbor asked.

          “Yes I do!  All of us.”

          “Realizing in our hearts that we all suffer, that all we want is happiness brings great love and compassion for our fellow beans. a happiness that is not tainted, a happiness that many would call God because it is from realizing the Ultimate Truth.”

“how do I free myself from my ignorance to realize the true nature of things?”

“Turn off the TV and let’s go outside.”
MOON TEARS

 

          With my back against one side of the tree, and my neighbors back against the other side of the rough trunk, we stared out into the night sky.  Look, I said as the moon emerged like a dream above the rim of dark horizon and the dew on the grass began to shine like tears.

          “Where does all this suffering come from?”

          “We have separated our self from the loving womb of our true nature.  We find ourselves alone and this leads to fear of our world and each other.  Then we grasp onto things and people and ideas and emotions trying to give ourselves something permanent in this world.  But all things we grasp onto are not permanent and so we cannot feel safe.  All things pass away.  Unless we carry in our gut the knowledge of impermanence we become afraid. Because we are afraid we do not know our true nature which is free and safe in the loving womb of our true nature.”

          I looked over and saw my neighbors hand extended palm down, in a tight grasp.  I watched as the minutes passed and inevitably the muscles had to relax and the fingers drifted open.  The hand then turned upward, relaxed and opened.  A lunar moth, luminous in the moonlight, settled silently on the open hand.

 


THE PATH

 

          While the morning was the time to run, night under a full moon was the time to walk through the neighborhood.  Soaked in moonlight, serenaded by nightnoise and insect song, the path passed slowly beneath our feet.

          “Is there a way out of suffering?”

          “The way out of suffering is to realize our true nature.  Once we are released from ignorance, from our fear, from our desire, our suffering ends.  The path is very simple, but very difficult to traverse.  But all of us have been given the strength to travel this path.  You must begin by living morally in your speech, your actions, and your livelihood.  We are here to help others, not to hurt them.  It has been said many ways time and time again:

          “Judaism teaches:  ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men.  That is the entire Law:  all the rest is commentary.’

          “In Islam:  ‘No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.’

          “Hinduism:  ‘This is the sum of duty:  Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.’

          “Christianity:  ‘All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them for this is the word of the Law and the Prophets.’

          “Confucianism:  ‘Is there one maxim which ought to be acted upon throughout one’s life?  Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness:  do unto others what you would have them do unto you.’

          “And Buddhism:  ‘Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find harmful.’”

          “And that is the first step on the path?”

          “Yes, practice this morality of loving-kindness guide your actions, your speech and your livelihood each day.  The second step on the path is to develop is to develop our mind by making the effort to be aware of not only all are actions but all our thoughts and emotions.  Then we must maintains this awareness.  Now you will be reaching into the depths of your mind and can root out that which separateness you from acting and thinking with loving-kindness.  As your thoughts become free of these obstacles to loving-kindness wisdom arises.  With the wisdom of your true nature you are free to love and to act compassionately, and liberation from suffering is found.  When we no are no longer ignorant,  have no fear, and no desire to grasp we have become truly human.”



EVEN SHOPPING

 

          In the large warehouse store the voices, cries, and clamer ricocheted off the walls and the floors, the metal racks and carts and filled my ears.  My neighbor and I stood in line, each with our assortment of soaps and tools, foods and video tapes waiting.  And waiting and waiting.

          “I hate this!” I said.  “They take forever.  Oh no, that person is going to charge it.  I bet the next one want to get a check approved!”
          Then I noticed that my neighbor was smiling, calmly.

          “What,” I said, “You look like you are enjoying this!”

          “Oh waiting is very difficult, especially for us Americans.  But this is a great chance for my spiritual practice of learning patience.”

          When we finally came up to the check out, the woman behind the counter scowled and grunted at us angrily as she pulled our items in her direction.

          “Your nails are done so cleverly!” my neighbor remarked pleasantly to the woman.  I had not noticed the stars and moons painted on her finger nails.  “Who did them?”

          “Oh, I did this hand, and my son did this one for me.  Doesn’t he have such patience?”  The cashier smiled to us and after we had paid her she said, “Have a good day!”

          “You got her to smile!” I said to my neighbor astonished as we got into the car.

          “Part of my spiritual practice is to help others by bringing a bit of joy into their lives.  People in that line, caught up in their own sense of urgency and frustration, were treating her like a machine and so she was reacting like one.  Now she can spread that little joy I helped her find by recognizing she was a real person with feelings just like the rest of us to the others waiting in line.”

 


I HAVE A TALENT

 

          “I have been a terrible person all my life,” I said to my neighbor as we jogged through the thick blue powder of dusk.

          “You were never good at anything?”

          “I was good at making money, swindling people, and deceiving them.  I was a very good thief without breaking the law.”

          “Then you are good at something.  Use those same kills to deceive your own misconceptions, to steal the rug out from under your obstructions, and devote the amount of energy you used in making money to acquiring compassion and filling your heart with it.”



KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING

 

          We sat in green plastic chairs on the patio.  The sound of leaf blowers accosted the afternoon.  A cascade of yellow leaves pursued by bight orange ones hovered in the air around us.

          “How can I be like you?”

          “I eat chips and salsa, I go to work, I water the lawn.”

          “But I do all those things.”

          “But the difference is that I am aware that I eat chips and salsa, I am aware when I work, I am aware when I water the lawn.”

 


ANGER SPREADS LIKE A VIRUS

 

          The leaves rattled like bones in the wake of my rake.  My neighbor had been planting daffodil bulbs on the edge of the yard and now looked up at me and said, “Raking is good exercise.”

          “What a rat!  I sure showed him!”  I threw down the rake and picked up a plastic bag.

          “Showed him what?”

          “That he couldn’t take advantage of me.  His fancy Jaguar tried to cut me off to pull into the bank, but I cut him off first and leaned on the horn.”

          “Then I should be mad at you.”

          “Me?  Why me?”

          “When I just went into the bank, the teller was very rude to me.  Why are you so unhappy, I asked.  ‘Because a customer came in yelling at me.  It put me in a rotten mood.  Seems he just got yelled at for not being quick enough turning into the bank.  So then I was rude to you, and I am sorry.”  So you see neighbor, I should now be angry and upset and be rude to you.”

          “But you aren’t.”

          “No, we are rude to each other because we are unhappy.  So I broke the chain of events.”

          “Wow, I wonder who else that guy pissed off.”

          “All things are interdependent neighbor, and one unkind action affects the whole world.”

 


YOU CAN TURN MATTER INTO SPIRIT

 

          “How is the job search going?” my neighbor called across the yard to me.

          “Not well,” I answered as I moved the sprinkler.  “I’m not willing to work the hours, compromise my morals the way that I used to.  I’ll never find a job.”

          “Stop looking for the perfect job.”

          “What!  Shouldn’t I be looking for...”

          “Instead of looking for perfection in your external world, look for how you can create perfection in your internal world.  Look at any job as an opportunity to serve others by developing yourself so that you may know how to serve others better.”

          “So a job is what you make it?”

          “In my wanderings across the country I took a job at a convenience store on a big highway.  The people who came in were in a hurry to buy their cigarettes, their soda, or their magazine, and leave.  I didn’t try to slow their journey, only make it more pleasant by smiling at them.  The job was hard.  I was on my feet all day.  Kids came in and tried to steal things.  People were rude.  But my spiritual task was to see each person an my mother.”

          “Your mother?”

          “Yes, I would think to myself that this person is only unhappy, this person is just another person like me.  Then I would pretend that the truck driver, the homemaker, the kid with the knife was my mother.  I would think of them as going through so much for me, of loving me and caring for me, and I would give them the love I would my mother.  And a smile would come on my face.  And believe me when someone would slam their money and a six pack down on the counter and yell for my attention, it was more a job to find love in my heart for my fellow human being than to spend a ten hour shift on my feet ringing up the resister, moving stock, and loading up shelves.”

          “So our real job is our spiritual practice.  Any profession should be remade into a spiritual practice.”

          “All life is a spiritual practice, do it consciously.”



ALL LIFE IS A CHOICE

 

          As my neighbor drove into the driveway, I was out putting a FOR SALE sign on my boat, the Weekend Scamp, parked infront of my house.

          “I’m selling my boat,” I said leaning in the window of my neighbor’s car.  “Money is short.”

          “You loved that boat.”

          “Yes, but I have no choice.”

          “You choose to sell it because other things are more important to you.”

          “I suppose so.”

          “If you came home and fire engines were at the curb, your house was no more than embers, how would you feel?”

          “Probably like killing myself with all I have worked on this house.”

          “But if you came home and fire engines were at your curb, your house was no more than embers, but your child stood safe and smiling waiting for you, how would you feel?”

          “Blessed.  I wouldn’t even think about what I had lost, but what I had”

          “You made a choice to sell your boat because your family is more important to you than being a weekend scamp.”



IT’S ONLY A LESSON

 

          In the school yard on the corner, beneath an old oak tree, the kids played hopscotch.  The ringing of the bell took them indoor.

          My neighbor and I waited for my kids to get their lunch boxes and come running out so we could walk them home.

          An older couple stood nearby waiting for their grandchild.

          “I’ve been thinking about this reincarnation thing.  What does it mean?” I asked my neighbor.

          “Not much.  Only if I hit that ball it will move.  If I act with love and caring it will follow me.  If I act with hate and desire, it will have consequences in my future.”

          “But why more than one life?”

          My neighbor stood on one leg on the hop-scotch board drawn in pink and yellow chalk on the black top.  With a slow series of jumps the coarse of boxes was traversed to the end and back.

          “So?” I asked.

          Once again my neighbor jumped the boxes and then again each time a bit faster, a bit steadier.

          “There is a trick to it.  Now that I have learned to do it, I will teach you to make it easier your first time.”



ANGELS

 

          Into the void of night came the urgency of cold, the creaking of ice, and the ecstasy of snow.  As the morning rose in blue and white, flurries still wandering through the air, I flexed and stretched muscles cold but not as cold as the air that slapped my cheeks and filled my nostrils.  Then, like a sudden burst of wind, I began to run down the street.  Looking over I saw my neighbor, wearing a bright purple stocking cap, jogging beside me. 

          As the rising sun bled it’s rainbow of colors, as the crystalline snow refracted light rainbows around us in the intensely white world, we might have been birds traveling a smooth and reliable wind above the fresh fallen snow.  The crunch of our feet, the cracking of branches laden with ice, the ring of cold in our ears, was all permeated with a profound silence.  Out of the corner of my eye, my neighbor vanished.

          Sliding to a stop, turning around, I saw my neighbor lying in the snow, arms extended and plowing through the white dust of snow.

          “What are you doing!”

          “Making a snow angel.”

          “But there might have been a curb under the snow, you could have been hurt.  There might have been dog poop under there, and I wouldn’t want to run beside you!”

          “But there wasn’t.”  I stopped to consider my neighbor, playing like a child in the snow. 

          “You’re taking a risk,” I said.

          “Without risks there are no angels.  Risks are the wings of angels.”



LIFE CAN EAT YOU UP

 

          On a sunny winter afternoon I was out shoveling the silence of snow.  My neighbor came out holding a shovel.  I trudged through the knee deep drifts and grabbed my neighbor’s hand in mine.

          “I found a new job!”

          “Congratulations!”

          “It’s one where I can help people, interact with other people, work on developing myself.”

          “And the money?”

          “Enough, but we will have to move to a smaller house.  The loan for the family room addition is eating us up.”

          “You sound happy and you sound sad.”

          “You will not be next door and that makes me sad.  But I will come visit you.  I am happy I know you.”

          “On our death beds what is it that passes before our eyes?  Big cars, super sound systems, prestigious awards?  In our last moments of this life we will remember the love that we have given to others and the love that we received from them.  Love is the only thing that is permanent, it is the nature of all things.  So what we have between us neighbor is permanent.”

 


LIFE IS MOMENT TO MOMENT

 

          For three days the rain stormed down from the heavens in large drops.  The earth was soaked, my mind was weary from the constant patter against the roof.  And my basement was flooded.  As my neighbor and I stood knee-deep in the water trying to mop and scoop it up into the basement sink, I found an old box of photos that I had stored there.  When I opened it the photos were warped and stuck together.  If I had been alone I might have cried.

          Later when we went upstairs and sat with our bare feet near the fireplace where a fake log tried to crackle, I began to plan future vacations.

          “I will go to India and visit the Taj Mahal and take a new Nikon with a very wide lens.  And some unusual filters.”

          As I went on around the world in my imagination, the imaginary photos got more ambitious.  When I paused to sip at my beer, I noticed my neighbor staring out the window.

          “What are you doing?”

          “Watching the rain create patterns on the window.  Tasting the grapes we are eating on my tongue.  Smelling the scent of rain.  Listening to the fire, feeling the warmth on my feet.  And enjoying the company of my neighbor.”

          “I suppose I am rambling on because the past has been water-logged and sticks together in the trash now.  But the future...”

          “Stop and enjoy this moment.  No one can deprive you of your past, it is gone even from your grasp, but imprinted on your present.  No one can steal your future, it has no substance yet to thieve away.  So why worry about past and future?  But why do you constantly deprive yourself of your present?”

          Chatting from time to time, stopping when we lost ourselves in thoughts of past and future, we laid claim to the present on a rainy afternoon.

 


DON’T SPEAK OF SILENCE

 

          We slid through the damp morning air, our breathing falling into a rhythm as we rounded the last corner and onto our street.  After stretching out our muscles, we would sit on opposite sides of the apple tree to meditate.

          ‘’I’ve been thinking a lot about God.  Is God like the composer and creation the symphony?  We were created to listen and appreciate?

          “Or is God the composer of a jazz melody and we are the musicians creating along the guidelines of the melody?

          “Perhaps there is no song, and I create it all in my head and heart?”

          My neighbor slowed his paced to speak.  “I hesitate to use the word God, not because it means so little to me, but because it means so much.  I am cautious that the idea of God may become my greatest obstacle.  Surely God is in the definitions.  So in a sense we have created God by our definitions.”

          “When I was a kid I refused to think of God as the father.  What kind of father let’s his son be tortured to death?  My father was a great guy so it just didn’t fit in with what I knew.  And then there was the armpit thing.”

          “The armpit thing?”

          “In all those pictures and statues of the crucifixions Christ had shaved armpits.  Or were they simply hairless?  I suppose all along my head has been cluttered with ideas about God, or this Ultimate Reality that get in my way.”

          “There is a Jewish saying that your God is the true God.  It means that we create a God who is a projection of us and is thus true to us.  But it also tells us that we must experience God for ourselves.”

          “In a way it’s not a topic for conversation.  God is a topic for silence.”

          “Let’s go meditate.”

 


THE PHOTO OF THE PAINTING

 

          The kids were stunned by the paintings in the gallery, stunned into silence, into thought, but then were off again down the corridors, their sneakers squishing on the marble floors.  They left my neighbor and I standing before a picture by Rembrant of Christ being taken down from the cross.  And we were stunned into silence by the…  Well I couldn’t describe by what in particular about the painting.  It was filled with awe and wonder, it was holy in it’s wholeness.  But the particular elements, form line, shape, color, that impressed me?  I would have to leave to critics and scholars.  And honestly I didn’t care to have an explanation.

          “This painting is like God,” my neighbor said.  “We stand before a great painting and it moves my heart in a mysterious way.  If I took a color photo of it and showed it to a friend, they might understand some of my awe.  If I then took a black and white photo and showed it to a friend, they might understand some of my awe.  And if I told them about the painting, either in metaphors or an accurate description, they might understand some of my awe.  But what a joy is the direct experience of this painting of God.  But what a greater joy is the expedience that the artist had of that which is beyond words and images!  That is why I seldom refer to God, how can you refer to the Ultimate Truth when it is meant to be experienced.”

          There in the building filled with art, in the eyes of the viewers, in glimpse, a flash, in instant, in all things I experienced something that was beyond words and images.



CHECKING OUT RELIGIONS

 

          We had just pulled out of the Quick Check, two cherry slushies in our hands,  confusion in my heart. 

          “How about we drive out towards the reservoir, the road along the ridge?” I asked knowing my neighbor would gladly consent. 

          Office buildings lurking behind well kept bushes, large houses with circular driveways, and churches and synagogues lined the road we traveled.

          “You’re looking for something?” my neighbor asked.

          “Well yes.  A religion.  I thought I might get some sense of all the different ones from the outside of their buildings.  Some look like corporate headquarters, some comfortable and old fashioned.  Others are cold and hollow looking.  A few are so cleverly designed I don’t think I could figure out where the door was.  Why are there so many?”

          “Why are there so many temperaments, personalities, cares and needs?”



BE AS LITTLE CHILDREN?

 

          As the boys pushed and shoved each other, as the girls acted out their fantasy princesses, my neighbor and I sat on the bench watching the children play. 

          “Be as little children?” I said, not asked.  “Who would want us to be as little children when we do enough fighting as adults.  It’s only our weapons that are more destructive.”

          “The quote is not to be a child but to be as a child.  What is a child but a fresh series of encounters with wonder, when we are open and alive to all the mysteries of the world.”

          “So ask a lot of questions?”

          “No, seek a lot of answers.  As children we spend out time discovering ways to effectively interact with our environment.  As adults we should spend our time discovering ways of effectively interacting with our spiritual environment.”

          “And how do you do that?”

          “Do what little children do best, instead of getting lost in our memories of the past or our fears of the future, get lost in the moment and you will find yourself.”

 


ONE LIFE INDIVISIBLE

 

          The thunder trembled the glass window and shadows of rain splattered across the family room.  I was sifting through the toys of my son and those of my daughter, trying to sort them into their respective toy boxes.  I looked up to see my neighbor, dripping wet, holding up a flashlight.

          “They say the storm is getting worse.  If they don’t have the lights on by tonight, you may need this.”

          “And you did borrow it from me,” I said laughing and collapsed into the chair.  “I went to church the other day.  I felt great while I was there, but then life goes on.

          “Your church or temple is not a place to feel spiritual, but a place to be inspired to find the spiritual in your daily life.”

          “But daily life is filled with cleaning up after the kids, running errands, earning a living.  Spirit and matter, religion and daily life are separate unless you are a rabbi or a nun or something.”

          Picking up two rubber magnets that went to one of the kids toys, my neighbor placed them in my hand. 

          “Hold them end to end.”

          As I did, the magnets sprang to life and flipped around in my hand to stick to opposite ends.

          “Now, break one of them in half.  What happens?”

          “There are now three magnets, each with a positive and a negative end,” I said.

          “Like the magnetic poles, spirit and matter, good and evil, all opposites cannot exist one without the other.  We accept that magnets have two inseparable poles in a magnet, the challenge is to accept this in our life.”

 


HIDDEN WAYS

 

          As I rounded the corner, I slowed the car and drove cautiously.  “Hidden driveway sign back there,” I said, “I hate those.  I never know if the driveway I actually saw is the hidden one or if there is a car crouched and ready to slam-dunk me from one up ahead.  There!  I bet that was it.  But maybe it wasn’t.”

          “Ultimate Reality is like the hidden driveway.  We are always looking for it when it is right in front of our eyes.  By warning us that we may not see it more often we are deceived into not seeing what is before us.  Proceed with caution my friend.  Religion is much like the hidden driveway sign, others with good intentions have put it there hoping we will not miss their Ultimate Reality, but instead it can lead us to believe we have missed what is there for us all the time.”



JUST WHAT AM I DOING?

 

          “The search to be loved and to love is called religion.  The search to develop our compassion is called spirituality.

          “So neighbor, do whatever develops your love and compassion with equanimity.  Sensing the love and compassion at the core of our being, in awe of that which is at the center of our existence, we search to give this birth in our internal and external worlds.  With the tools of love and compassion we unify the depths of our inner world with the material world around us.

          “But what,” I asked, “Is the difference between love and compassion?”

          “Love is that which unifies, compassion is that unity in motion.  Compassion is the active expression of love.  Without the two we are incomplete.  But there is a third to this trinity to guide us.

          “Love is the vessel on the waves, compassion is the journey to the other shore, and wisdom is the north star to guide us.  Liberation from our suffering is the shore, the land that you left, but now with the eyes of your eyes open, with the ears of your ears hearing, the heart of your heart open, a new land.”

          “What I really want is to reach that shore.”

          “Let your mind be still and love, the greatest wisdom, will enter.  Let your mind be still and compassion, the expression of love, will carry you into the world.  Let your mind be still and wisdom, which knows the unifying nature of love, will enter and you will be awake.  You will still eat and work and rest, but with love and compassion and wisdom.”



BEFORE THE FLOWERS BLOOM

 

          I had not jogged down this street in many months.  I drove to my neighbor’s house in the early morning and sat in the car waiting for the meditating figure beneath the tree to lean back. 

          “I have missed you neighbor,” I said as I sat down on the old root.

          “I have not missed you, you are with me always.  You have taught me so much.”

          “I have taught you!”

          “We are each other’s teachers.”

          “Can we meditate together?”

          “Yes.”

          “But first I have one question.  When will I wake up from all my delusions?”

          As the dawn spilled rose light around us, my neighbor simply smiled.  Then we settled into the silence of our moment, silence filled with bird song, dog yips, and muted cries.  A car engine started up around the corner.  The scent of apple blossoms filled the air, but I knew none were in bloom yet.  When I opened my eyes and looked up, the tree above me was in full bloom.

          “The great secret of nature is patience,” my neighbor said.



AFTER THE FLOWERS BLOOM

 

          I went home and sat beneath an ancient elm in my yard.  When my eyes opened wide once again I saw a figure jogging to a stop in front of my house.  The jogger began to stretch, but then, perhaps curious, came walking towards the elm tree.

          “What are you doing?” the jogger asked me.

          “Meditating,” I said.

 

  

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