Entrance to Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Buddha told a parable in sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.
How sweet it tasted!

I've spent a lot of time lost in thought.  I remember asking Margaret, a girlfriend while I was in graduate school, to remind me to "BE NOW" whenever she noticed that I had trailed off to some other dimension -- then usually a science realm of some sort.  I was very proud of my mental ability.  The fact that I tended to be in some "mental" place at anytime of day or night indicated to me that I had become an intellectual.

It's interesting to me now that I identified "lost in thought" as a sign of intelligence.  Perhaps that was the example shown to me by so many of the professors and scientists that I admired so much -- particularly, the more eccentric ones.  It now seems that I was simply lost -- not being present -- not fully Being.

It turns out that it's not just those who self-identify as intellectual that spend most of their time lost in thoughts.  The mind is constantly talking, like an insane person one sees sometimes on the city street.  It's the egoic mind -- striving to be in control and justify its existence. It fears the collapse of the ego and creates the illusion that it is in control of the situation -- that it is, in fact, the Self.

On retreat, it typically takes 3 or 4 days of continuous, silent meditation for the mind to reach a level of relative stillness -- so close, yet so far away in our daily lives.  Within such stillness, the world seems very alive and easy to understand and appreciate.

I finally got around to reading Eckhart Tolle's book, "The Power of Now."  A lot of people like the book, so I was prepared to be unimpressed.  I thought that the Now is obvious -- a fundamental part of meditation, as I had experienced it. Tolle shows that the concept is both simple and profound.

"Resistance to the Now as a collective dysfunction is intrinsically connected to loss of awareness of Being and forms the basis of our dehumanized industrial civilization," writes Tolle.  "This collective dysfunction has created a very unhappy and extraordinarily violent civilization that has become a threat not only to itself but also to all life on the planet."

"The voice in the head has a life of its own. Most people are at the mercy of that voice; they are possessed by thought, by the mind. And since the mind is conditioned by the past, you are then forced to reenact the past again and again. The Eastern term for this is karma."

Most of us have our sense of self rooted in the past and place a high value on creating a future. But, the past is only a story and the future is, at best, uncertain.  The present is something we tend to endure as we attempt to reinforce our sense of self-identity from the past while grasping at a safe and secure future.  Life passes by in such illusions that mask our lives from Truth.  Living solidly in the present pierces the mind's control on us and allows us to see what is real.  It is the timeless reality beyond form.

The egoic mind is very clever and insecure.  It makes judgments against Truth in order to justify its own "self".  It tells you how important you are and how separate you must maintain yourself from the "other". It will tell you that it knows something to block you from investigating it carefully.  It will judge that which does not support it as unworthy.

Living in the present contradicts our conditioning.  Notice how difficult it is to be fully present, how difficult it is to wrestle control away from the mind, how difficult it is to not have a story -- see crystal clear reality.  Then, notice it without judgment -- upon yourself or others.  Don't merely imagine yourself doing this -- take the time to investigate and experience it.

Listen to the silence, the void of nothingness, the unmanifested.  Surrender to what is rather than allow the mind to judge, criticize, delay and resist reality.  Dissipate the ego and become free of its grip.  In the space between past and future lies the silence of the timeless present.   Everything that one needs exists in the present moment and the present is all there is.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future,
concentrate the mind on the present moment.
                                                                         - Buddha

Lions, Eagles, Men and Magicians

Once there was a very rich magician who had a great many sheep. But at the same time this magician was very mean. He did not want to hire shepherds, nor did he want to erect a fence about the pasture where his sheep were grazing. The sheep consequently often wandered into the forest, fell into ravines, and so on, and above all they ran away, for they knew that the magician wanted their flesh and skins and this they did not like.

At last the magician found a remedy. He hypnotized his sheep and suggested to them first of all that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned, that, on the contrary, it would be very good for them and even pleasant; secondly, he suggested that the magician was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place, he suggested to them that if anything at all were going to happen to them it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it. Further, the magician suggested to his sheep that they were not sheep at all; to some of them he suggested that they were lions, to others that they were eagles, to others that they were men, and to others that they were magicians.

And after this, all his cares and worries about the sheep came to an end. They never ran away again but quietly awaited the time when the magician would require their flesh and their skins.
-- A parable (author unknown)

In modern times, the sheep are known in various ways -- as employees, customers, constituents, and the faithful. The employees are given titles and the ability to incur a mortgage and car loan, customers are given bargains, constituents are given hope, and the faithful are promised a better life after death. The majority live with their inherited world view and graze on stories until life has ended. We know it's a delusion; we know we've been screwed. But, we feel helpless and we create more stories to account for the other stories we can't control. Meanwhile, we cherish our titles, our consumer goods, and seek to live and work at addresses acceptable for our station in life. We argue our politics and religions and feel a little better than the next person about them. We hope that life will soon return to normal. We put our heads down, go back to work, and continue grazing. We trust that someone will fix the problems so that our story can have a happy ending.

The magicians are known to us -- big business, government, special interest groups and religions. The power to create the illusion shifts from one to the other. Currently, it seems that the giant multi-national business --"Business without Borders" -- has the upper hand in writing the scripts. They have convinced us that a platinum-colored piece of plastic in our wallet bestows greater powers than a gold-colored piece of plastic and so we rack up points and pay the fees and ignore the phrase "* Some Restrictions May Apply". We believe that our tennis shoes will bestow special athletic prowess because others who possess such powers display the same corporate symbols to the camera. We believe our ideals and way of life are so much better than those of another culture that we are compelled to export our will for their benefit. Meanwhile, the banks pillage the national trust, the tennis shoes are manufactured in over-seas child labor camps and the defense industries lobby congress for new ideals worth having other people die for. We know these realities and more, yet we choose to feed the illusion.

We allow ourselves to become entangled by these larger-than-life non-human entities because we find their stories more compelling than our own -- perhaps it points to a lack of confidence in our own worth. We serve large banks by working all month to pay them the interest on our mortgages and our credit cards. Then we pay our taxes so that we can bail them out when they fail. The banks reply to critics saying that no one forces the customer to use their credit cards and absorb their fees. They are correct -- WE LIVE IN CHOICE. We need to remind ourselves of that. The Supreme Court recently granted impunity to "Business without Borders" by overturning limits on campaign contributions -- effectively giving business entities unlimited powers to influence the voting rights of the individual. "Business without Borders" is in the driver's seat. The Wall Street Banks and Defense contractors control congress through lobbyists and former employees in key government positions.   One can become very wealthy by creating stories that are better than the ones we write for ourselves.

We have created a society and the system works in many ways -- and it is evolving to address others. In almost every case, the non-human entities begin with good intention. Most businesses start out intending to make a profit by supplying a market need, special interest groups usually represent identified worthwhile causes, and religions seek to bring us closer to the divine. But, the dark forces - the magician - can arise during the evolution of any organization. The organizations become too big, too efficient, too centered on its leaders. In the single-minded focus on profits, business grows in efficiency until it ultimately serves only the leaders and shareholders of the company.

The magicians function in the shadows of the collective unconscious.  They trade in confusion, exploitation, and insecurity.  What would you be without the magicians?