Part Four 1. Meditation practice is simple, and it’s a dance. The simplicity is in the technique: sit straight, find the breath, work with your thoughts. This simple technique is also sophisticated. It’s not purely simple, it also works on various levels at the same time. The dancelike quality of practice happens in that simple technique. You dance with the rhythm of the breath, the feelings, thoughts, and posture. It doesn’t always feel like a dance, and it doesn’t have to be that graceful all the time. Certain kinks and awkward things do get worked out, though. I remember noticing during a short retreat that I was being pretty aggressive with my meditation. I was trying to push my thoughts away, and feeling generally angry and aggressive. I had the idea that my practice should be a lot more gentle (not because gentleness is inherently good, and that we always have to be gentle, but that it would be easier to practice for a long time if I was gentle with myself-there’d be less frustration and resistance). I think this pairing of simplicity and dance has some potential. If you look at a practice session, it could have both elements. The simplicity is hardheaded. You just sit down and do the practice. You bring yourself down to earth, over and over, with some gentleness and relaxation. At the same time, the ritual elements of burning incense, candles, bowing, can be incorporated, if you like. It took me years before those things felt natural, although now I always do them. They do feel natural, and the atmosphere they create supports my meditation. That’s the dance. There are the graceful elements of bowing, offering water, burning incense and placing it (hopefully without it falling onto the ground and making a mess) in the cup full of sand. These things sweeten and enhance the practice experience. This side of things balances out the rough simplicity. The simplicity balances out the sweetness. It’s not all about crystals and candles and pretty pictures. After the dance has begun, you still have to just sit, and breathe, and wait. 2. Form and space also dance. In this sense, dance has to do with interaction. Understanding this is relatively simple, and seeing it is not too big a task, either. You can see the dance of form and space in terms of impermanence. Things are always changing. Fruit on trees outside goes from small to large, and then begins to rot. Outside my building, there is a small shrine, and some trees around it. There is a pomegranate tree my wife tells me I shouldn’t pick from. It doesn’t belong to me, this is true. So, the pomegranates grow, and then shrivel and mold on the tree. That is space and form. There is the space around the tree, which changes as the pomegranates expand slowly. Then the fruit expands, ripens, and rots, which is, in a sense, space permeating the fruit. Then the fruit falls off, I guess, and is on the ground, rotting. The space around the tree is back. You could say the space encompassing the tree has just shifted shapes. There’s space and form in every perception or situation. People line up to wait for a bus. Then the bus comes, they’re gone, and space remains. The space inside the bus has changed, and the bus flies through space, taking people to their destinations. You could say the same for a meditation chair and a pratitioner. The chair waits, empty, and then the practitioner comes along and sits, for a while. Then she leaves. The space is back. This dance happens everywhere. Practice, in the Buddhist tradition, works with this dance, this dance of space. 3. Things are defined by their inside and their outside. The meditator sits and breathes, and the inside and outside interact. Breath goes from inside to outside, it dissolves, and then breath goes from out to in. There is the outer form of the practice, denoted by a physical technique, and ritual actions, like lighting candles, if you’re so inclined, and the inner experience of the practice. This is marked by thoughts, feelings, experiences of energy. When you cross a certain line, you from being outside a tradition, to inside that tradition. It could happen as part of an initiation ceremony, or taking vows, changing one’s name, or it could happen more gradually, over years of practice and study, as the teachings perfume one’s mind. You could, of course, go back to being outside. I’ve been avoiding writing today by reading about a particular famous cult, and what its ex-members have been saying about it. It’s scary stuff, and some of it a little funny (funny that people would believe it). If you find yourself in a tradition that is weakening you, separating you from family and friends, stealing your money, creating abuse, then you go can back to the outside. I’m definitely lucky that I didn’t end up in some cult. I don’t consider myself so smart that I would reject that kind of thing right away, and there have definitely been times in my life when I’ve been desperate enough that if someone charismatic came along, I’d probably join up. I’ve really lucked out. That’s, again, why it’s so important to be skeptical and critical at the beginning stages, and this means that if your skepticism isn’t satisfied, if the people seem to be charlatans, head for the door, please! The money thing is a quandary. I have spent a bit of cash on getting teachings and going to workshops. I have not been able to attend some teachings due to lack of money, and having to work (no time). At the same time, having been very satisfied with the money I’ve invested in getting proper meditation instruction, I can’t just say that it should all be free. They always say that generosity is important, and this is true for receiving teachings. Paying for a retreat also commits you in a way. Obviously, the cult thing again, if you pay for some program, go, and it seems very suspicious, there’s some abuse, creepy stuff, or attempts to get more money right away, commitment isn’t a good thing. Book it. Maybe even without getting a refund, if you have to. But if the program is good, the teachers seem decent, spending a chunk will commit you, and you’ll probably stay for the whole thing. You won’t run out. It’s tempting to run away, if you have to do a lot of practice. This kind of program, intensive practice, is not generally for new people. It’s grueling sometimes, and rewarding finally, but still a pain. A lot of places offer practice or prayer that is free. That is a good thing. That’s a way to go from outside to inside, without getting into debt. 4. I think most people have a pretty good idea of what suffering is, even if they don’t want to admit it, at first. Everyone experiences highs and lows. Life is frustrating, as well as enjoyable. However, people also ignore the inspiring side of things. The suffering side of things is obviously real. Even if your own life seems pretty steady and without chaos, you can turn on the news and see the misery that seems to permeate so much of the globe. When people talk about inspiration, about beauty, or goodness, it can often seem like a stale cliche. Suffering is so real, and obvious, but goodness and upliftedness can seem imaginary. Practice lets you touch both. You suffer as you practice. Your mind spins its wheels, like by doing sitting, you’ve put the car of your mind in a snowy spot, and it can’t get traction. It spins its wheels. There’s that grinding unpleasant sound. If you practice for long enough, your butt starts to hurt, then your back and neck. But practice gives you glimpses of goodness, too. Often shortly after. I remember one workshop I did, a weekend meditation program that was right before Thanksgiving. I spent much of it thinking about the food I would eat. Dreams of food filled my head. I don’t remember if the Thanksgiving food was great, it’s usually very good anyway, but after the program was over, being free to rush to Thanksgiving was really nice. You can also get a sense of something beyond the ordinary thinking mind. I am no master, and I can’t explain this very well, but you do experience energy, and something beyond the thinking mind. In a basic way, you have all of your thoughts, and feelings, and then the mind that perceives them. That’s a first step. So the thinker is not exactly “you.” It’s not as simple as that. Now, intellectually, this is fine, but only in practice does this really begin to expand. However, I think it’s important to let practice do its own thing. Let it dance. The inspiration and joy can happen, but generally we don’t force them, on the cushion. They arise naturally, because if you force them, they’re forced. 5. If you begin to practice, and do so for some time, you may get a feel for what is called “concentration.” This is similar to the idea of concentration in terms of memory or attention, but it is slightly different. For me, it has to do with not being too loose or too tight, being attentive, and also a certain set of feelings in my body and mind that I work with. That may sound really vague. As you practice, certain things happen in terms of experience. You start to develop a sense for how to do it beyond just doing the technique. The technique is not actually meditation. I was shocked the first time I heard that, I think. It’s a technique to help you do the practice, but it’s not the practice itself. Isn’t that funny? So you develop some sort of inner sense of how to do it, the same way you can get a sense for how to cook a certain dish, and after a point, you don’t need to follow the recipe exactly; you do it by feel. Now, it’s easy to get off track, I think that must happen all the time, in some small way, so that’s why being with a group or teacher, at least occasionally, can help. Your feel for the technique will grow, but checking with more experienced folks can help ensure that you don’t practice incorrectly. Of course, “correct” depends a lot on the school and tradition. Once this concentration begins to develop, it can become easier to practice in daily life, too, I think. There’s a sort of anchor in you that you can come back to. At the same time, this does happen slowly, at least it has for me, so that anchor may start off as a pincushion, not very heavy. My mind is getting stronger in some ways, but I still remember a Tai Chi teacher I met in California. At that time I was still practicing Tai Chi, and thinking about maybe finding a teacher to study with. My friend Peter and I would practice outside, “push hands,” the two person competitive exercise of Tai Chi. Peter had a teacher in San Francisco, and he took me to meet him and practice with him one day. It was very interesting. The man was Chinese, young, I’d say in his thirties, and his form looked good and strong, but not amazing. I’d seen better, I thought. Now, push hands is somewhat competitive, but the real point is to practice coordinating body and mind, in the context of trying to move someone else off balance. That’s the basic sketch of what “push hands” is. It can be a lot of fun, or very aggressive, with lots inbetween. You usually stand facing your partner, cross arms, and move the arms in a pattern, trying to give a more or less gentle push or pull to your partner in order to make them move their feet. When I tried pushing with this man, Peter’s teacher, a bit, it was remarkable. He was so attentive, as I remember. He was so aware of my movements. I only pushed for about five or ten minutes, but I was exhausted after, and went home to take a nap later. He seemed to have an ability to lead my mind, somehow, too. I remember him saying, to my anger, “You have a weak mind.” He was right. Intellectually bright or not, my mind was then, and still is flighty, chaotic, unstable. It’s gotten stronger since then. That is the idea of concentration. You can have a mind that is easily unbalanced, or a more anchored mind. This, like inspiration and positive experiences, generally happens indirectly, at least at first. You just do the technique over and over, and then concentration naturally develops. Later you can exercise it more on purpose. 6. Magic does not mean wishing. Magic is the nature of the world. Part of the idea of dancing is also that you can develop some skillful means. Meditation is the alchemical laboratory where this is cooked up, slowly, and then you can take it out into the world. It is extremely helpful to see others do this. Skillful means is not limited to Buddhism at all. However, I tend to imagine it one way, but when I see it, it is something slightly other. So seeing it in action, for real, is important. I do go to one website, Elephant Journal, and look at their articles sometimes. The creator seems like a nice guy, and is a Buddhist. There’s some good stuff about yoga sometimes. There’s also a lot of New Age type stuff. Sometimes you hear talk about “manifesting” things, as in making them happen. I think this is what the “Secret” is supposed to be about, using positive thinking to make good stuff happen. Positive thinking is fine, up to a point, but it’s not going to fix everything, and I don’t think it’s going to create miracles. In the same way that you don’t generally develop concentration on purpose, or invoke positive states of mind on purpose, you don’t try to “manifest” or create “magic.” The practice of meditation is nonaggressive. It is by its nature gentle. There is actually some strictness to this gentleness. You don’t try to create stuff. The world is naturally full of beauty and amazing things. I could give you a list from where I”m sitting now, but you can come up with your own, I’m pretty sure. You don’t need create magic in the world. You can become more aware of it, tune into it, but you don’t need to conjure it up, and except for maybe 1% of practitioners, the really incredible masters, you can’t anyway. It’s a fantasy to think that imagining a Porsche will get you that Porsche. Sitting meditation, as with many practices, is not about getting or building up. It’s simpler and gentler than that, which may be a little sad, a little hard to deal with. 7. You can practice with eyes open or closed. In the tradition I started studying in, eyes open was recommended. I heard two basic reasons for this. I heard that it is more brave. The idea is that eyes-closed is more a way of shutting out the world, getting a little escape, and the path is not essentially about escape. It’s about fearlessness. That’s the logic, anyway. The other reason is that you can transfer your practice more easily into real life situations by keeping the eyes open. Whatever feelings, and insights might arise in practice can be brought into life more easily because as you go through your day, your eyes are generally open. In this way, off the cushion living and on the cushion practice can be connected. My meditation teacher, a student in this tradition, however, suggested I try doing “body scan” meditation during the day. I told him that I had been trying to practice on the subway, and he suggested this. It can be hard to practice eyes open on the subway. Maybe you can get away with it most times, New Yorkers have seen stranger, and probably will leave you alone, but then you never know. You might get bothered, or some odd looks if you sit starting out into space for fifteen minutes. If you sit with eyes closed, you’ll look almost look any other commuter (although I always thought people could tell, intuitively; there is a difference in the way a practitioner sits, with eyes closed, and the way a commuter sits, to relax). I did this for a few years, off and on, sometimes for as long as forty-five minutes. I was very happy with the results. It’s a very relaxing and invigorating practice. So I think either eyes-open or closed can be good. Personally, I do it with the eyes open 99% of the time, when at home, or at a temple. You can experiment with both. 8. How much fun is meditation? Not much. Now I do read in books that some advanced practices seem to involve bliss of some kind, working with energy in ways that invoke or create feelings of bliss. I’m not advanced enough as a meditator to know anything about that firsthand. As far as that goes, I think I should say this. The practice itself is simple, and has lots of benefits. It is, in itself, pretty boring, even grueling, sometimes. Somehow we keep doing it. It is usually pretty annoying. Afterwards, you may notice sights and sounds seem sharper and more intense. That is pretty amazing, even a little bit of it. During the session itself, though, things are pretty simple and down to earth. It is possible that you could experience other feelings, such as warmth, but that is up to you. I don’t think it’s the goal of basic sitting, and it’s certainly not promised. Who knows? Maybe as I keep going, more of that kind of thing will happen. I do think that in some traditions, those experiences are emphasized, so if that’s your ticket, go for it. However, there is something to be said for the boring approach of plain old sitting meditation. It mixes into the rest of life very sneakily, and this is due in large part to its simplicity, I think. This also means that the meditative mind is not limited to positive or blissful experiences, and we don’t need to turn everything into bliss in order for it to be good. 9. Discipline is clearly involved in meditation practice. Enjoyment is more a part of post-meditation. You could enjoy sitting or not. You could enjoy prayer or not. But once you’re out in the world, why not enjoy things? This doesn’t even mean going to a restaurant, or a bar. It just means listening to the sounds of what is around you, seeing the play of light on various natural objects, becoming aware of that dance. Discipline allows for enjoyment. That’s the logic. That might be a little too obvious, though. Where does that go wrong? Well, discipline in practice doesn’t just mean that for a little while after you sit, you can tune in and experience more fully. Often that does seem to happen, and it can be very disappointing. What is better is that discipline actually allows you to transform your life. Life becomes more enjoyable. This inward going process seems to also involve a lot of pain and neurosis, in my experience. Its a kind of opening up process, so there’s more of A and B. I can’t say that it’s equal, or that it’s unequal. I don’t think I can explain it honestly in those terms. But you do get more of both. I have memories of walking around New York City, my practice getting deeper at that time, through instruction, and just feeling the energy of people on the street a lot more. I could hear and see things much more intensely, which was sometimes beautiful, but I also felt thrown around, unstable, literally. I felt physically unbalanced. It’s a cliche in this spiritual world, but physical and emotional balance do seem to be somehow connected. So discipline creeps into your life, via practice, and this allows for the infiltration of enjoyment. This is one reason why teachers tradtionally warn people away, using various methods. I read somewhere that traditionally, Kung Fu students had to formally ask to study at some schools in China, and if they would be told to wait out front, to camp out, for days. People get warned off because, yes, it’s a wonderful process, but since it cuts both ways, it’s also extremely painful. It’s both painful to become more disciplined, and in less conscious ways. I’ve always been sensitive to sound, in both positive and negative ways. I love music, and have a pretty decent ear for it. I’m no professional musician, but I like it a lot, and I can hear well, I guess. Loud and grating sounds also cut through me. This became more intense a few years ago, and I ascribe this to meditation practice. A neighbor upstairs just slammed a door or dropped something, and I winced unconsciously, a little. This has gotten better, through my own efforts and practice, recently, but it’s still a challenge. Enjoyment takes over life through practice, but it’s not an enjoyment you have complete control over, and it can shake you, too. 10. When you practice, there is an environment around you. During formal practice, there’s you, by yourself or with others, and the room, maybe the shrine. There’s the building you’re in, the area around this building. Actually the latter seems to become a big part of meditation, at least for me. I hear trucks and cars and motorcycles driving by, the occasional ambulance or police siren, people talking, sweeping the sidewalk. Those happen every time I practice. They’re somehow a big part of it. I feel like they mean something. I also feel a little interested and friendly towards them, except, of course, when I’m in a lousy mood and/or the outer environment seems chaotic, noisy, hostile. We could think of many other environments. There is the lineage you practice in. In the most general way, it’s all spiritual seekers, I guess, all people on some sort of quest. Alternately, you could say it’s all practitioners, of all traditions, who really devote some serious time and effort to doing their work. Another environment would be your past. That’s sort of a personal lineage. Then when you leave your house or temple or church, there’s another environment. As far as your senses reach, there is stuff going on. May it be good! I hope for you that the environment is pleasant and interesting, not violent or harmful. That kind of hope is traditionally known as an “aspiration,” something like a prayer, so I’m off the hook (as far as the hopelessness argument). That sense of environment is something developed in practice, and something that carries over into the rest of life in a clear way. When we talk about space, that is one aspect of it- the space expanded out, around something, in an environment. 11. You can try practicing in different venues. I mentioned practicing on the spot, and on public transportation. When I was in New York, I had a dream of organizing a subway retreat, people getting together at one end of a train, to organize, then getting and practice for the whole ride, and the way back. You could ride the F from the top of Queens through Manhattan, to Coney Island. That would be a nice retreat! Traditionally, some meditators practiced in frightening or challenging places, like graveyards, or in forests at night. I don’t necessarily recommend you go for the most dangerous place, but then, it’s up to you. You might learn something. That was one attraction of New York City- being able to practice in a variety of places, including scary ones. For me, just walking around in some neighborhoods there was scary. I grew up in suburbia, with big lawns, nice houses, very little crime. So walking around in poor neighborhoods was a little scary. That was my prejudice. I did not try this very late at night. But I don’t want to be too legalistic about this. You can practice in different places, and see what happens. Honestly, I may have pushed myself too far. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go for a challenging place in the future. After a few bad experiences, mainly due to my lack of city mentality, and a lot of stress, I don’t live there anymore. My wife thinks we should move there, for jobs, but I don’t think I want to. My point is that if you push yourself in practice, sometimes you can go too far. Not that I went too far, just that now I want to live somewhere peaceful and quiet, relatively, and practice there. 12. They say the best times to practice are in the early morning or at night. I’ve heard a few people recommend this kind of sandwich approach, starting and ending the day with practice. I do this now, and there is something nice about it. For a long time, I only practiced in the morning, but there is something really nice about the ritual of chanting and meditating a little before getting into bed and going to sleep. A lot depends on your schedule and who you live with. You can experiment and see what works. For a while, I was so tired from work that practicing in the morning was the only chance I had to meditate. I would try later, and just end up falling asleep. Another suggestion, not from me personally, but one that I’m trying, is working in many shorter sessions throughout the day. Being at home a lot and working part time makes this especially possible and pleasant. This sidesteps the issue of resistance, too. You just sit for a little, and schedule it in numerous times throughout the day. Practice expands, but it’s not too hard on you. 13. Meditation is a mysterious thing, at once simple, subtle, natural, and sophisticated. It is something a little hard to put your finger on, although I think people can tell when it is really happening. Sometimes in magazines or online, in ads for yoga products, you’ll see someone “meditating.” You can usually tell if they have ever actually done it. You can see it. I remember taking one workshop and seeing one friend there, who I could tell was not practicing. I could see it. His sitting still and doing nothing was different from everyone else’s. It’s an example of body language. I should say that, in a later workshop, or a few actually, I found myself exhausted (both from meditating, and from my job during the day) that I kept dozing off during the day. So I slept through some sessions. I visited an old friend recently, who is involved with yoga and music. We had a meal, me, my wife, and this friend, and talked. He also played music for me, later. We talked about various things, especially spiritual matters, and his perspective was somewhat different from mine, obviously, but more yoga-informed, so a new take. Sometimes, just being around your own community, you get insulated from other views and takes. Anyway, we were talking about his recent trip to India, and he mentioned a holy place, where a famous teacher had lived and practiced. He said that you could feel his presence, there, in the room, as if it had soaked into the walls. He said that this kind of magic “couldn’t be explained.” I think the answer is both yes and no. I hope that’s not too easy. There is a lot of stuff you experience, if you practice, that is not exactly bizarre and otherworldly, but like a slightly strange or expanded version of normal life. I could try to put it into words, but right now that’s hard. Having practiced for a little while, I experience life more vividly than I used to. I think that’s fair to say. I can put labels on those experiences, calling things energy, or talking about presence, and so on, but those are still just labels. The explaining is helpful, especially, I think, when I listen to great teachers do it, or if I can talk to to them. The words that explain the mysteries of perception are only tools, but at the same time, they are tools. Tools are useful. They’re no end in themselves, but they’re useful. They join things together. Maybe with a little practice, and a little cynicism, things can go well. Practice opens your mind so that you can have a taste of ordinary magic. Cynicism means that you don’t go off the deep end. 14. Days seem to have flavors to them. This is why astrology makes some sense to me. Personally, I try not to think about it too much, since I know I can go overboard with that kind of thing easily, and astrology seems to take some power out of people’s hands. But what it does seem to do is explain why days, or longer periods have flavors. Some days, I feel stressed out for no reason at all. I may not have much work to do, or many things to figure out, but I feel stressed and anxious from the moment I wake up. When I go outside, it seems like other people are too. During some periods of time, synchronicity seems to pop up everywhere, and there’s a touch of magic in the air. Like everybody, I try to understand things, do what I have to, get along, but a lot of the situation at any point seems to be involved with this kind of atmosphere. It was very gratifying when I realized that this meant interdependence. Having read this term for years, I finally felt like I got it a tiny bit, beyond the fact that trees come from seeds, and bear fruit, and depend on water and sun. It’s not such a huge insight, but it’s useful to me, I think (and it does feel good to have an insight). Times and places seem to carry some sort of charge, or atmosphere. You’ve probably guessed what I’ll say next, but meditation gives you a chance to touch in with this more. Beside that, though, it also gives a bit more leverage. I am not saying it’s easy, sometimes I get really mad, for the smallest reason, and that’s my responsibility. I am the one who hurts people’s feelings when I get mad, whether or not the planets’ alignment had anything to do with it. Still, being able to sit down, and work with my mind gives me a better awareness of and ability to be stable through stormy areas. Just now I went to meet my wife. She was at an internet cafe doing some work for her visa. These places are everywhere here in Thailand. They are often full of noisy kids playing online games and yelling back and forth. They drive me crazy. The noise cuts right through me, and they don’t respond to dirty looks or throat clearing. It’s really unpleasant and startling. So I went to one cafe, and my wife said I could sit down if I wanted. She was almost done. I heard the yelling, and after a minute or two, I decided to wait outside. I’m pretty proud of that. It was nothing that mind-blowing, but I saw that an environment was too much for me, had been there before, and stepped out. I’m glad I did. 15. I don’t think you have to fall in love with nature, although that’s basically what’s happened for me. I remember saying to an old roommate of mine, who was the manager of a health food store, slightly hippy-ish in a reserved way, and a meditator too, “I don’t really like nature. I could take it or leave it.” I think those were my words. He laughed, as if he’d never heard someone express that kind of idea. I understand why some months later. Everyone knows that trees and water and stuff are essential, and without them, people wouldn’t be around for long. But actually appreciating something of natural beauty took longer. I think some of it might’ve been seeing people pretend to appreciate nature. Getting excited about sunsets, or beaches might be confusing: a lot of people pretend to like nature, I think, but don’t experience much beyond an idea of it. They look at the sky and pretend to be amazed. I guess the alternative, to a nonmeditator, would be the spontaneous experience of beauty. Meditation somehow magically makes spontaneity more likely. This happens with perception, and with action. This means that when I practice enough, which is a lot for me, my senses clear up, like my nose clears up when I’m not suffering from allergies, and suddenly my breathing is better and I feel good. Also, what I say, the way I walk, how I open a door even, become less robotic, less clunky and the same as usual. This spontaneity is connected to the idea of dance. This kind of dance is spontaneous, at least a little bit. Appreciating nature means many things to me. One thing is that the world is interesting and lively beyond my personal ambitions, dramas, and work. There’s so much going on. It means that the life of my feelings can expand a bit, and is not entirely limited by memories, habits, and manipulation. I recently took a trip to an island with my wife. We had to take a few buses to get there. On the final van trip, before we got to the boat, we approached the pier. We turned, and I had been sleeping, but I could feel the water, the presence of the watery beachy environment (although I could not smell it, or hear the waves, or see the ocean then). I realized that I had always felt this presence, approaching an ocean environment. I’d just ignored it somehow. So feeling and tuning into the natural world means expanding perceptions, but also coming back in touch with what I’ve experienced for a long time. I want to wrap up by saying that not all cultures feel this way about nature. There’s an environmentalist or transcendentalist streak in America that loves nature in some ways, but that’s not the only way. Some cultures fear it a bit, and feel that spirits and ghosts inhabit the world untamed by humans. I think that’s worth thinking about. A sunrise can look pretty, but beauty is not the only thing to be perceived when nature demands your attention. 16. Practicing changes your life. It can do so very slowly, almost unnoticably, or it can happen in more dramatic ways, but it changes your life. If it does not at all change your life, after some time, then it is not working. One way this happens is that you have another option as far as lifestyle goes. This can take many forms. Basically what I mean is that people these days have a million options for entertainment, travel, food. Practice being stirred into that mix of lifestyle, you have more options. You’re not simply limited to trying to make it work in terms of having a good job and a family, or finding something to occupy yourself with. Normal activities can be very good, but once practice is involved, everything changes. You decide to take ten minutes out of your day, and the rest of the day might be significantly different. Those ten minutes connecting to the sacred, probably in the simplest way, allow it to show up in other places, too. In the Shambhala tradition, we talk about warriorship. There is the ideal of enlightened warriorship. In Aikido, there is a similar idea. It’s both an advocation of nonviolence, nonaggression, but simultaneously an advocation of genuine strength, and engagement with life. It’s like getting engaged to a person- you set and create a commitment, and this allows for something to happen, a kind of connection. It could be to one person, with marriage, or with the world itself, with becoming a warrior. However, you don’t need to become a warrior in order to practice, or in order to experience the magic of the real world. There are warrior traditions out there, which include practice, and can push you in the direction of awakening, I think. There are other traditions that don’t approach things from this angle. Oddly, peace is the commonly held truth between these traditions. Peace is something warriors work at, by sitting, by disciplining themselves, perhaps by learning how to engage with others in courageous ways. Peace is something other spiritual paths find, too. Is practice essential to peace, or peace essential to practice? I don’t think it’s as simple as that, but it’s a part of the picture. Personally, I find that the best kind of peace that I can find is dynamic, an ability to have some humor, and dance with things as they happen. It’s not static or uptight, but fluid. When I’m able to do this, I credit practice as a path that’s made this natural ability, or side of myself, start to become clearer. 17. Practice involves doing and nondoing. This sounds a little mystical and old fashioned, but it’s actually pretty simple and easy. The doing part of practice involves a few things. For sitting meditation, you sit on the floor, or a nice cushion, or in a chair, and do whatever technique you’ved learned. In this sense, there’s lots of doing. You keep training your mind, gently. You keep relating with the space around you as you sit. It can get pretty tiring, but it’s very powerful. Doing could also include instruction. Getting instruction in person from a priest or rabbi or monk could make a huge difference. This kind of magic is known in Buddhism as “transmission.” Real wisdom does not usually come from books alone, or personal choices. It has to be handed, somehow, from teacher to student. Nondoing just means that there is something basically good, or enlightened, in the way things are. The doing leads to this. I get this sometimes as a sense of peace, a feeling of fluidity. In spite of small hassles, confusion, mistakes, things are not a horror movie. There’s not generally a monster about to rush out of the closet or from under the bed. In spite of my short temper, my resistance to seeing my own shortcomings, I’m no monster, either. It’s easy to forget that, sometimes. Practice is not completely private. Americans have a sort of private religious thing established, partly out of respect for others, which is great. On the other hand, practice is never limited to the shrine room. First, you always hear and feel things going on around said shrine room. It’s totally isolated, even if you’re in a quiet or peaceful place. There tends to be the noise of cars, smells, people talking, the world going on. There’s actually something really beautiful about this (when practice is not so numbingly boring that I’m crawling out of my skin). All that stuff going on has something simple and exquisite about it. Maybe it’s just that it keeps going, whenever I sit. For years, forever, really, it has kept going. Then you step out your front door, and your practice comes with you. There could be noisy stray dogs, or a peaceful street, a homeless person walking by, a garbage truck, or there could be tons of memories and regrets cycling, but your practice follows you out into that world. It actually comes with you, like a pet, along to your interactions with people and places, too, and it can change those dramas, too. You can’t manipulate things, usually, with practice, but it does influence things in its own way. It’s sensible and decent to not tell everybody about meditation. When I started on the path, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. This is often my style when I get into something new. I can’t help myself. I get excited about something, whether it’s electronic music, or philosophy, or the behavior of animals, and I share it with everybody. But it’s decent to not tell everybody about your practice, or to try to convert people. Your practice speaks for itself, actually, in your actions, your reactions, and a generalized atmosphere that will manifest around you. 18. I wish I was well-seasoned enough to formulate this clearly and succintly. There is some relationship between practice and action in your life. In a sense, this is something interesting and exciting and challenging to be explored by you, the practitioner. If you’ve already started praying or meditating a bit, you’ll see that sometimes you feel connected to things, you feel more able to live in terms of your aspirations, and sometimes your emotions and prejudices run the show, in spite of your hopes to the contrary. As far as offering a formulation about how practice works with action, I will say this. Recently, I’ve been practicing more, since I have the time, and I’ve wanted to take a break from writing a lot. This didn’t guarantee splendid behavior on my part all the time, but have been some amazing moments. In particular, I experienced a bigger gap between my emotional reactions to what someone was saying, and myself. It’s hard to put this into words. Sometimes a strong emotional reaction seems to spark words, or a physical response very readily. Think about someone on a bus brushing by you. I tend to shrink back a little, or flinch, or maybe push back. I might, then, feel regret, or annoyance, or pleasure, if the person was attractive to me. So often, my reactions to events “out there” are like by bumped on the bus- quick, instinctive, without a lot of skillful consideration. I practiced a bit more, and experienced a lot more space between the spark of reaction, the feeling I got when someone was talking to me, and my reactions. Practice can enhance the space in your life. 19. Steadiness is something you work towards, slowly and gently, in practice. Emotions and thoughts are not steady. They move around, they are colorful and exciting, and they have kinds of gravity and force to them. Practice can benefit people because it makes the gravity of thoughts and feelings a bit less overpowering. This is because practice can make you steady. I remember reading in a book by Pema Chodron about an interaction she had with her teacher, Chogyam Trunpga. She was talking to him about her experiences, and how she was having a hard time. He replied that initially, it felt like you were being knocked by down by big waves, but then, eventually, the waves got smaller and smaller. I would not say I’m steady, in general, yet, but this has been my experience. There was a point at which I started to feel very unbalanced, very emotional, sensitive, raw. Maybe I just become aware of this quality of my mind, or maybe meditation actually brought this about. In either case, I’ve started to come out of this phase. The waves are getting smaller. 20. There is the famous story of the arrows of Mara. Mara is the god of illusion. As the Buddha was meditating, under a tree, and about to finally become enlightened, he was assailed by the armies of Mara. They shot arrows at him. This could be interpreted as the experience of a typical meditator- trying to sit and practice, and being bombarded by illusions, thoughts, desires, being bombarded by their own mind. Because of the Buddha’s attainment, the power of his heart, the arrows became flowers. The rain of arrows turned into a rain of flowers. On Facebook, meditation teacher, and fellow student of Trungpa Rinpoche David Nichtern recently posted something about “obstacles.” This kind of language is familiar to Buddhists, maybe not to others. This refers to things like the arrows of Mara. There can be regular obstacles like losing a job, having an enemy who makes you feel lousy, having a car accident, or a health problem. Then there are obstacles to practice, like not having enough time, not having access to teachers, or living in a place that’s so chaotic that practice becomes difficult. Nichtern, who’s the father of Ethan Nicthern, whom I’ve mentioned previously, wrote that historically, famous meditators experienced a lot of obstacles. When they tried to practice, to find enlightenment or realization, obstacles came up. One implication seems to be that this is the setup. You try to practice, and obstacles tend to come up-maybe not right away, but they can happen. This week, I’ve been practicing more, and my email and Facebook became inaccessible. I couldn’t get into them from my computer at home. Of course, this made my practice easier in a way. There were fewer distractions. As Pema has written about, famously, problems can be teachers. One way this manifests is that obstacles in regular life can be inspirations to practice. When life throws up a roadblock, practice is there. It’s not only a consolation, which is good, but a way to transform the experience of that problem. Of course, it often comes back to your own ability to work with emotions. I teach ESL classes, and I’m not generally a confident performer, not someone confident talking in front of a group. Often my students are respectful and very kind, but if they’re rude, or if I get fed up, I can experience this anger and humiliation that is like poison. I feel it building up, and it can poison days. It stays with me. Recently my strategy for this particular obstacles is not to lose my temper. As I’m up there, writing on the board, I remind myself not to get too angry, because I know that if I let that get out of hand, I’ll feel bad for a long time. Most people won’t become Buddhas in one lifetime. Becoming better able to calm down when you’re stressed out is pretty good, though. If you can get one or two arrows, that could be good enough. 21. I wrote before that practice enhances space. Practitioners also become more like space. Oddly, they should become less like space cadets, more focused, more attentive, I think. At the same time, you start to experience more space in your life, and in various and sundry ways. Part of this means seeing when there’s less space, crampedness, or a chaotic space. You can become more aware of space and form, space and clutter. When I talk to my wife on the phone, and she’s at work, it’s noisy. It’s a noisy office/factory environment. It feels hard to talk, hard to find the space to put my words into. Talking to other people is a matter of working with spaces, including the spaces in which words can go. Communication is a space thing. You have space between people, and words and gestures bridging that gap. Where those two people begin or end can be very unclear. Haven’t you had the experience of having the same idea as your friend, at the same time? When I was a kid, you would “jinx” when people said the same thing at the same time, some sort of kid’s superstition/game thing. It’s an interesting little magical experience. Somehow, people synch up sometimes. This can happen in negative ways too. This is like when you try to walk past somebody on the sidewalk, and you end up doing a dance- they go left, you go left, they go right, you go right. Somehow you’re connected, and this creates confusion. Connections are something that seem mysterious at the beginning, at least they seemed so for me. They’re not all the time, however. They happen all the time, and often in totally normal, average ways. Practice gives you the option of finding more space, and working with space expansively, pervasively. An acquaintance of mine has a very loud family. They are decent people in many ways, but they are loud, and not in a way I find joyful or fun or exciting. They’re just really loud. I went to their house once, and sitting in their kitchen, they were talking to each other, but they were basically screaming, at full volume. And the neighorhood and home were not noisy at all. They were screaming over their thoughts, it seemed, or each others’ thoughts. There was so little space. They felt they had to bulldoze each other’s thoughts or energies in order to communicate, in order to create some space. I have some idea what that feels like, and it’s not very pretty. Practicing means that you have a choice, to not create that kind of full situation. You could create an empty situation. Emptiness in the West has a negative connotation. It’s associated with depression and meaninglessness, I think. That’s not what I’m talking about. Emptiness is space. If you look at a tall beautiful building, that is space, that vastness. It’s emptiness. That’s the same as the sky. Practice means becoming better able to conjure that up, like a magician, to create a vast sky out of a building. 22. Practice can build more steadiness, and it can make it better to cope with when you’re not steady, when you’re a wreck. The last few years of my life have been very interesting and eventful. I’ve left jobs, gotten new ones, gotten married, lived in a foreign country, written, eaten strange foods, done various kinds of meditation and yoga, taken buses, subways, trucks, taxis. I think becoming a Buddhist, and becoming a meditator have made my life more interesting. I’m still something of a stick in the mud, stubborn, reserved often, set in my ways, but I think this would 100% more true if I had never started practicing. Practicing shakes your life up in surprising ways. I mentioned before a kind of sensitivity I developed or uncovered. I am sure some meditators don’t experience their path this way, but I did, and I think others do too. This is the other side of the coin of having your perceptions deepen and become more intense. That all sounds good- seeing colors more brightly, tasting more fully, but then becoming sensitive, or irritable, or easily pierced by arrows of things is unsettling. It can be frustrating, or even feel hellish. At this stage of the game, it’s my opinion that the two go together, sensitivity and awareness. One thing this means is not pushing yourself too far into unsettling situations, at that point. I know from personal experience that being in challenging or chaotic or unpleasant situations can be strengthening, but it can also stress you out. Stressing yourself out is not the point of being a bodhisattva, or a practitioner. I think that sensitivity and awareness are things that develop, and steadiness, too. I wish often that steadiness meant being impervious, covered in armor, but that doesn’t seem to be how it works. I think the idea is, in part, that in order to be able to interact more directly with people, and the world, in compassionate ways, kind ways, sensitivity is necessary. That can feel unpleasant or overwhelming. Having a steady synchronization of mind and body helps balance that sensitivity, so you’re blown over by a wind, or the sound of a car honking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped when I’ve heard a car honking. I also know that if I jump a lot at that honk, I know my mind is not steady. That steadiness is basically a kind of tenacity and ability to dance. You can touch the experience, its texture and movement and flavor, and go through it, experience it. This is a similar idea to what Trungpa Rinpoche called “leaning into the sharp points.” This strength comes from practice. It is different from the thick skin people develop by not practicing. The latter is a kind of deadened or dull quality. So practice can build that strength of mind and body, allowing you to not jump out of your skin when a car honks at you. Of course, sensitivity means that you probably will jump out of your skin sometimes. Personally, I know that jumpiness is a warning sign, and then facial tics are the next thing, a sign that I’m really feeling stressed. This is unavoidable sometimes. When it is unavoidable, that’s not something awful. That’s the idea, anyway. (I do feel bad when I let myself get that upset or stressed out, to be honest.) When steadiness vanishes and you’re jumping all over the place, you practice, on the spot, or at home or the temple, on the cushion, to regain some peace of mind. Recently, a few times, maybe two, I’ve come home and meditated a little right when I got in. I told my wife, “I think I need to meditate for a little bit,” and then I did, to try to start off, at home, on a good foot. 23. The definition of mind could be very interesting, or very boring, depending on who you are, your style, and your way of practicing. For Buddhists, it’s something that is talked about, contemplated, and discussed a lot (at least in some traditions). I mention mind, often in terms of “mind and body,” a lot. I haven’t bothered to define it, really. This could be problematic, or not. I am sure that I won’t be able to give a thorough, original, or very deep explanation here. It’s something very simple, and very hard to explain. First, let me bring this into a practice sort of perspective. Mind is something involved in, worked with, discovered, used, in practice. I think most people would agree about that. It’s very interesting for me to write about this, because as an American, my concept of mind is based on a few things: scientific theory, Buddhist theory, my own experience, some vague notions about alternative medicine. I do not believe the mind to be synonymous with the brain or brain activity, so that’s one thing. I do, based on readings and experience, have some ideas about “energy,” like the “chi” or Chinese medicine, and think that mind is related to and connected to this energy. When I write or think about mind, also, I’m not talking about intellectual activity, problem-solving, or logical thought (although those things are very useful). I’m talking more about the being or entity that those things arise from, or are born from. Already it’s getting a little spooky, or unconventional. Concepts of mind, definitions of it, were things I thought about a lot around college-age. I think a spent a lot of time thinking about it, trying to figure it out, writing about it a little. That may have been helpful. I would not want to just discount those kinds of experiences. They led to other good things, and who knows how they’ll bear fruit in the future. However, I think it’s best to say that mind seems to be something that works and exists. The mind has all of these thoughts and manifestations and projections. That becomes more vivid in some ways through practice. Meditation teachers often say that beginning students notice their thoughts much more when they start to practice. Novices sometimes think meditation is making them think more (when, in fact, they’d already been thinking, they just hadn’t noticed it as much, sort of like being in a noisy restaurant and being adjusted to the noise, stepping outside into a quiet night, and then noticing the qualities of sound). Anyway, mind is something involved in practice. I could write millions of words about the mind, and I’d probably get nowhere. It’s best to practice, and see what comes out. 24. Practice will not make you rich or beautiful or successful at work. It will not guarantee visions, or enlightenment experiences. It will allow you to see more clearly, and it will let you work with your habitual patterns. I always find it weird when I meet people who are really caught up in the credentials of work, or worldly success. It’s nice to make enough money. It’s stressful to feel like you’re not, and you’re limited by lack of money. But it’s just very strange to see people who have little perspective on the importance of work. I have a friend who’s a little bit this way. He’s very intelligent and a good teacher, but also a little caught up in success at work. He mentioned to me a little while ago that he got a medal for doing some work in a certain country, where medals are awarded to non-military persons for working. He didn’t save anyone’s life that I know of, or do something valiant there. Somehow he got a medal. That’s fine, but when he told me this, I could tell that he was oddly proud of it. He had a medal. A lot of work things can be like that. America today seems to be obsessed with testing and credentials and training. Someone decided that for people to work well, they need tons of training and certificates. I want my doctor to be well trained, and I think teachers should be too, but a lot of this stuff seems to be a giant game, and people can buy into it too much. All those pieces of paper and metal don’t necessarily mean anything. They certainly don’t mean someone is good at their job, or “successful.” Let me say again that my friend is a good guy, and a good teacher (significantly more experienced and skilled than me, certainly). My point is that the game of awards and certificates is a little silly, and endless. I’ve been rereading the Karma Kagyu Rain of Wisdom. This is a book of songs/poems written by meditation masters in the Tibetan Karma Kagyu tradition. One theme is the futility of worldly pursuits. Now, these are poems written by monks, meditation masters who spent most of their lives on retreat or in monasteries. Still, there’s something to this, I think. There’s one part where worldly pursuits are compared to children playing. Isn’t that true? All of this stuff with work and advancement and success, is gamelike, in a way, and people forget that, and take it too seriously, and suffer as a result. The meaning of work, and money for lay Buddhist practitioners in the West is still churning and percolating. There’s a lot to think about and figure out, and many perspectives available. Practice means, among other things, that work, material things, and success, are not the center of life. Maybe one milestone is being able to cope with work, by incorporating practice into your life, so you can make a living, and not be turned into hamburger by the whole process. 25. Pictures of fruitition, for spiritual folks, are interesting, and of course, problematic. To a lot of people, the image of a Buddhist is encapsulated in monks, or robed religious leaders. There’s some truth to that, but it also leaves out many traditions, millions of laypeople who practice, and realized masters who exist outside of the monastic tradition in their own way. I can say on the one hand, that practice is not a means to getting rich or having the perfect worldly life. On the other, practice does help people expand and grow. If you go to a temple or church, you may meet people who are deep practitioners, with years of time and energy spent diving into the waters of the sacred. There’s some quality in their eyes, their body language, their presence, that sets them apart from normal folks. There are different maps, I think, of what happens to you on the path, and different descriptions of what seasoned practitioners are like. It has been my experience that you can usually feel something about certain people, and tell that their hearts are powerful. You also have to watch out, because there are con men (and women) even in the spiritual world, and these people could even have a strong energy or presence. In the Shambhala tradition, warriors, which is to say courageous meditators, are synchronized, elegant, and humorous. These are three qualities of seasoned warriors. That’s like saying that they are not clumsy, careless, or uptight. That is one description of what experienced practitioners are like. Obviously, there are others. Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield has a good book about practice and community called After the Ecstacy, the Laundry. In it, I think there’s a chapter on growth and experiences of what it is like to change on the path. Personally, I think the changes I’ve gone through are complex and hard to pin down (and not complete; I’ve got a long long way to go). Overall, though, I notice that when I practice a lot, my mind and body get along better, things flow, and I can be myself with less trying. 26. I used to work with teenagers, for a while, at a special ed school, and when somehow I let it slip that I was a Buddhist, two of them were curious, and asked if I shaved my head, and wore robes. They thought being a Buddhist meant becoming a monk. You obviously don’t need to become a monk in order to practice prayer or meditation. At a certain point, though, practice could become the center of your life. This could mean practicing more every day, but that’s not the point exactly. The point is that, whatever is happening in your life, you could have this anchor of practice, as a center point. That goes even beyond sectarian considerations, philosophy, ritual, and so on. If you become a practitioner, there’s really no turning back at a certain point. Once you really connect with a body of teachings and a practice, that becomes the anchor. You don’t need to become a monk. You have the practice. Nothing against monks. Being monk as I understand it involves tremendous discipline and hard work, and also study. So I shouldn’t disparage that side of life. But that’s not the image people should have in mind when they think “meditation.” That makes it seem really foreign, exotic, and distant, I think. I think a lot of people spend years, or even their whole life, flirting with practice and with various spiritual traditions. A friend’s father, a nice guy and very intelligent, was “interested in Buddhism,” and read all sorts of books, especially about science and Buddhist teachings about the nature of the mind. He was very interested in Buddhism. I felt that, with him, there was some feeling that this tradition had something to offer to him, something powerful, but he wasn’t comfortable going to a temple, or sitting and chanting with a group. The intellectual thing became a way of very hesitantly approaching the teachings. I think that’s good, but it can become a trap. If the teachings are just about “being interested” in something, about collecting information, I don’t think people get the full benefits, all of the blessings available. Maybe that’s okay. I don’t think everyone should convert. At the same time, it’s very sad to have people just being interested, collecting tidbits of info, but never feeling the “warmth of the practice,” Obviously, practice is the magical secret ingredient that takes intellectual flirtation beyond mere mental occupation. There’s probably some intelligence to that process of hesitant fascination, I think based on an intuitive understanding of the power and commitments involved in joining a tradition. It’s not like buying a car. There’s something much more binding about it. You can leave a church or community if you don’t like it, or it seems unhealthy. At the same time, once you’ve gotten to a certain point, having taken a vow, perhaps, or just having practiced for a few years, there is no turning back. You will have set something in motion. This means that the hesitation is intelligent in its own way, and that being careful about committing (up to a point) is healthy. That anchor of prayer is powerful, and has those two sides to it. I think, in terms of the prayer itself, you can feel something in your heart about whether it feels good or not. From there, creating that anchor, and being in a particular tradition, becomes more common sense; they’re just elements of the practice. 27. The term “presence” is an interesting one, and one that had a kind of popularity in American New Age or spiritual circles for a while, recently. At least I think so. Terms such as these can open your eyes to slightly different angles of experience. If I say that a piece of furniture has a “kind of presence,” does that mean something? Is there something you can feel by looking at it, something that is not just imagination? In my experience, this sort of perception can be magical and very exciting, and is not just imagination. It seems this way to me, because it is somewhat consistent. One day I don’t see fairies floating around, and then the next, dragons climbing out of the ocean. I won’t go into detail here about how I experience these kinds of perceptions, you might think I was crazy anyway, but it’s something that grew slowly, and is consistent (and seems to relate to other elements as well, such as emotion and energy). Interest in this kind of experience is one motivation to sit yourself down and practice, although not the only one, and not the best one. The best one would probably be helping others. In the Buddhist tradition, the Shambhala tradition, and many others, deities play a role in practice. Maybe not all Buddhist traditions, but most. Does one have to “believe in gods” to meditate, or be a Buddhist? No, although a lot of Buddhists do. This is certainly related to the discussion of different forms of perception. This is also why people of all faiths and sects can practice mindfulness meditation, but generally don’t do most of the practices Buddhists do. There are other realities, other forces involved, and if you’re serious about being a Christian, or a Muslim, that’s worth considering. Maybe I’m letting the cat out of the bag. I do feel, though, that in order to be fair, I have to let people know about this a little. The deities are a part of many Buddhist practices, and are “in the air” of many Buddhist centers. It’s too easy to just say “Come try it out,” if we’re going to respect other traditions and their beliefs and practices. This is not to say that a Christian or a Jew couldn’t appreciate Buddhist wisdom, or even do some Buddhist practice, but Buddhism is not some sort of psychology, or yoga for the mind. It contains those things, but other things as well. As Buddhists, I think we should respect the boundaries other traditions set down for their followers, insofar as we want them to respect the Buddhist tradition. One other side of this is the idea of already being there. This comes up a lot. Before I started meditating, I experienced lots of strong emotions and thoughts, but I didn’t experience them as clearly. It wasn’t that meditation made me feel, but it revealed the feelings. The same goes for the reality of deities and energy and presence. Those are terms that can turn you on to experiences people in this materialistic age often overlook. How far you want to go in terms of investigating, practicing with, or experiencing those things depends partly on where you place yourself as far as the continuum of religions and schools of thought, and partly on your own courage and willingness to work at it. We live in a world that is assumed to be desacralized. I think people are coming out of this a little bit, though. This is not something I can back up with great evidence, but a few things come to mind. About five or ten years ago, in the US, TV shows with death or magical realist themes seemed to be everywhere. It’s my observation, too, that people are generally superstitious, and believe in luck, whether consciously religious, or not (so the materialistic outlook never did entirely dominate the scene). Also, the idea that “God is dead” was very powerful for a long time, and there was some crumbling of insitutional and cultural religion as a result. However, I don’t think this really took root. If you tell someone today that “God is dead,” they will probably look at you funny. It’s not just that spiritual life is so commonplace and real, but that it seems odd to think of God, deities, or religion as somehow unreal, totally unreal. Science and technology and comfort are all wonderful in their way, but they certainly didn’t solve the problems some people thought they would, and they didn’t patch up the places religion seemed to miss. Anyway, it’s all very alive, all of it. You could pretend the world is desacralized, desecrated, but it is not. A little investigation and practice will surely reveal that. My parents just visited my wife and I here in Thailand, and yesterday, we talked, my parents and I, about travel, and what it means to people. I think it’s a spiritual impulse, and they seemed to agree somewhat. This is not really my original idea, but one that I do have. My father said it seemed like people wanted some kind of “authentic experience” when they traveled, and today, over and over, it has been my thought that sacredness and authentic experience must not be entirely separate, or different. Sometimes, the spectre of insanity hangs over thoughts of sacred world. Do people who pray have to believe in ghosts and demons and gods, or some monumental God? Do they have to bow and give money, and only say the right things? That is personal, a matter of investigation as you go along. I don’t think practicing will make you crazy. On the contrary, I think people without a practice are basically going crazy, and once you begin to leave the cocoon of habitual patterns, and emerge into the sacred universe, the insanity finally begins to leave your system. It’s like having a cold, and waking up one day, feeling better.