MF 11 – Which Wolf is the One You Feed? With Eric Zimmer of the oneyoufeed Podcast

MF 11 – Which Wolf is the One You Feed? With Eric Zimmer of the oneyoufeed Podcast

Interview with “The One You Feed” Podcast host Eric Zimmer

Eric Zimmer is host and founder of the, “One You Feed” podcast, which he and Chris Forbes work on together. On the podcast, he talks about which wolf we chose to feed. Eric has also worked with start-ups, doing Management and Software Development, is CEO, Tipping Point Renewable Energy, and all around an Experienced entrepreneur. He’s also a Songwriter. You can tell tell he is a very curious person by listening to his podcast.

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview

Eric got introduced in high school by a teacher, he was probably the only reason that he got through high school. The teacher introduced him with Zen books. Eric then got involved with Trancendental Meditation.

He took a class in TM. Eric had to bring 3 handkerchiefs as a prerequisite to TM meditation. He then shoplifted these handkerchiefs, and got caught.  He practiced for a short period of time, and then stopped. Over the next 5-6 years, he’d think about it, but also struggled with an alcohol addiction, “a wasteland” as he calls it.

He’d have periods where he’d sit and start and stop his meditation practice, and occasionally read books by Jack Kornfield. What drew him to meditation was, how can he use meditation, so he can better manage his internal states.

Was there anything in particular irking him that gave him a “why”?

After he got sober, he no longer had the escape that he had always had. He was looking for some way to quiet his brain, at least turn the volume down to a manageable level. The promise of some degree of peace.

How did that motivation then evolve over the years?

He recommends chunks of why he’d come back to practice. Especially the difficult experience of things falling apart. When he and his wife split up, and his son was about 2.5 years old. A very painful experience.

Pema Chodron’s book, “When things fall apart” was life changing for Eric. It introduced him to the idea that he could sit there with these feelings, and examine them. That they weren’t going to kill him. Neither repress them, or indulge them.

He really got into meditation then, because he was in so much pain, and even did some retreats.

But then life got a little better, and then he would not practice as much. Then about 2 years ago, he started getting exposed to ideas of better building habits. He really wanted to do it every day, and start small. Instead of like he thought, do 45 minutes ever day, which was self-defeating. So he started with 2 minutes, and gradually built his meditation practice from there.

The “one you feed” podcast has been another helpful ally to Eric, in terms of support for maintaining a consistent meditation practice for as well.

Why start the “one you feed” podcast?

He got interest in building a business online, do something online that didn’t take any money, unlike his main solar business. One day he just had the idea for the show. It just came into his mind. His best friend Chris was into audio, and that would give him more time with his friend.

And secondly, it was important to keep ideas of living a spiritual or more awake life. Because if he doesn’t keep it at the front of his mind, it is very easy for Eric to go onto auto-pilot, because his life is so super busy, and he would forget his inward life, and just be outward focused.

What is the parable of the two wolves?

The one you feed logoThe podcast is called, “The One You Feed”, and it is based on the parable of the two wolves.

There is a grandfather who’s talking to his grandson. In life there are two wolves inside us, which are constantly in battle with each other.

One is a good wolf, representing kindness, bravery and love. The other wolf is the “bad” wolf, representing things like, greed hatred and fear.

And the grandson says, “Grandpa, which one of the two wolves wins?”

And the grandpa answers, “the one you feed”.

So Eric uses that parable to interview various authors, thought leaders, etc, and asks them what does it mean to you? And he then tries to explore their work, and how to create a life worth living. He’s known the parable, since this is a well known story in recovering alcoholic circles.

How have the audience responses you’ve gotten, changed your thinking about this parable?

It has evolved his thinking. He’s been exposed to a lot of ideas in his life. It is just becoming more about the importance of integrating those things into our lives. From knowing intellectually to living it out.

There’s a huge gap on what we belief, and how we practice that.

There are certainly themes in the show what he hears a lot of, and he’s trying to extract that. But he’s mainly interested in consistent focused effort, and keeping that into his awareness, seeing what that has done over time for his emotional and mental health.

You use apps to help you meditate, what Apps do you use for your meditation?

Eric uses several timer apps, so he can set little bells for a timer and guided meditations. And he uses a gratitude app so he can record what he’s grateful for. There’s another app (The app is called rewire) where it helps you notice when a sound goes away. A gamified interesting way to mix it up a bit. It buzzes you when you’re off in your thoughts somewhere.

What advice do you have for someone who struggles with meditation?

  1. Start really small and connect the dots, start with just a few minutes. Better 5 minutes a day, every day, than an hour once a month or once a week.
  2. It took a long time to understand his expectations, what was supposed to be happening. He’d hear people say they always felt peaceful etc. He thought he was supposed to feel good, he must not be the kind of person who can meditate. And so he finally got that he might not feel great while doing it, but it is the training of his mind, and ideally it will help, contribute to the other 23.5 hours of the day. So he started thinking about it as mental hygiene. Just do it everyday, because he knows it’s a good thing to do.
  3. Give up any expectation of a particular state or experience. In Eric’s case, he stopped fighting it, or getting disappointed. Trying to stay away from how it should be or how it was. Some days he has some measure of peace, and other times, it just runs completely crazy. He had heard people talk about meditation in such glowing terms before, and his experience just did not verify that, so that he then thought there must be something wrong. He got away from the idea that his mind was “supposed” to be clear.

Eric uses the analogy of the waterfall. Imagine the space between the rock and the waterfall, and you imagine standing in between that little space and watching that water fall by. That water is your mind, just noticing what’s happening there. Just noticing, just paying attention to what is happening right now. That really clicked for Eric.

Also the thing that finally worked for him. Breath meditation didn’t work as well, he is using what he hears, and what he feels in his body as his method for getting in the present. Similar to open awareness meditation.

Eric does not currently have a teacher, but he does go to groups in Ohio. He’s just ecstatic that he’s finally consistently meditating.

Have you notice anything off the meditation pillow that changes the way you look at things, or in your relationships?

Yes, quotes Victor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there’s a space. And in that space lies all our human freedoms.”

And the best way Eric can describe how meditation benefits him

  • It puts a little more space between stimulus and response. He finds himself more able to notice his reaction, there’s a stimulus and response. He tends to process inward, but there is still a reaction. More space to question what that habitual response is. That awareness to question his responses.
  • And the other thing he noticed, is an ability to appreciate for example, a pleasant experience a little longer. Ex, his attachment to watching the ocean at California, he’d get attached to it. I gotta live here, I need more time here, scheming how he can get more of it. He was not enjoying the moment any longer. Now he notices how now he’s able to more appreciate the moment and be more present and not clinging to it any longer.

The primary thing he’s noticed, is that he has a little more space within his thoughts. And he can examine them more regularly.

Some of your listeners struggle with depression, how has your show helped them?

He’s been taken by surprise how his audience felt helped by his episodes. He’s getting great responses.

Eric is doing meaningful things, like with solar and non-profit work, what is that like?

He’s now trying to sell his solar business, due to unfavorable circumstances. He’s always had a desire to do thing that are meaningful to him. He loved the work in software start-up companies, but didn’t get enough personal meaning out of it. With solar he just got interested in it, as a great business opportunity, and it is important to the world. So it was interesting to marry those two.

He really likes the idea of combining something that really matters with building things. Now doing the podcast and coaching work, that’s the next evolution for Eric. The podcast is more tightly integrating what he’s spending effort on from a work perspective, and a deep personal meaningfulness. He is seeing that the podcast is taking on a life of its own. He wants to do more of it.

He also does eCommerce consulting for a fortune 500 company. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean as much as something like the podcast. But he’s patient, he doesn’t want to rush it.

Resources

 

MF 10 – Dori Langevin – Vipassana Meditation Teacher Interview

MF 10 – Dori Langevin – Vipassana Meditation Teacher Interview

Interview with Dori Langevin, practitioner and teacher of Vipassana Buddhism. Dori works with groups and individuals using experiential mind-body-spirit approaches for healing and creating ceremonies for life passages including mindfulness, loving-kindness and compassion practices; guided imagery; artwork; ritual; psychodrama; emotional release work; and Holotropic Breathwork™. One special interest is the interface between mindfulness practice, addiction recovery and emotional healing. Dori has been in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction since August 1980. She serves as an Advisory Council Member for Buddhist Recovery Network.

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview

What brought you to a meditation practice?

Dori is a recovering alcoholic, so spiritual practice started with the 12 steps as her baseline for practice. It was a very “in vivo” (practice in the marketplace in daily life instead of “in vitro” (in the lab, in the formal practice, the inward focus). There are endless ways in which life creates opportunities for practice.

In 1985 she attended a month long retreat at Esalen called “The Mystical Path – Attachment and Addiction with Stan and Christina Grof and many other teachers including Jack Kornfield. Jack’s description of the Four Noble Truths (in Buddhism) completely resonated with her personal and professional experience with addiction and recovery from addiction. It made sense: addiction and recovery; suffering and freedom from suffering. It was an embodied frame of reference for her. Jack taught Vipassana and Loving-kindness or Metta meditations.

Although the 12 step recovery program included guidance in prayer there was little specific instruction for meditation. She started to practice without a teacher or community, so she was winging it and it took many years for her to find a formal community in which to study and practice Buddhadharma. In 1997, As “luck” would have it, she found that Tara Brach was teaching in near her in Maryland. She immediately resonated with Tara and her style of teaching the dharma and became very involved in the budding development of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington along with her husband, Ted. It is quite fortunate to have a partner that also practices.

What do folks do who don’t have a local meditation community?

Dori talks about how for some people there is no physical practice community available. The virtual reality of webinars and other on-line teaching and meditation are now viable options for support and to ask questions. But she still prefers the “embodied presence” of sitting together physically with a teacher and a sangha.

Was this a practice for life?

She can’t imagine this not being part of her life. Dori thinks of it as a tapestry. Those practices that weave in and feel alive for her stay—feeling enlivened by them and the sense of being at home. Practice is a guiding presence, a shepherding, so that when those moments of difficulty arise, she will be able to stay present and learn from life.

So in a way you’re priming yourself for those moments, so that when a difficult moment comes up, you have this practice that automatically kicks into gear.

Do you have an example of something like that?

Yes. Dori was riding with her husband on their Harley Davidson motorcycle on a long cross-country trip in the summer of 2013. Just west of Albuquerque the back end of the bike started fish-tailing and the only thought that arose in her mind was “We’re going down, because there is no other way out of this.” No panic, just a sense of “this is how it is right now.” They thought they were on their way to Canyon de Chelly to hike that morning, but the plan changed!

She was very grateful that in those few seconds she had the grace of clarity of mind and an absence of fear as she “went down” (thrown off the bike on to I-40). In the months of recovery, the practices helped her stay connected to her body, to notice pain (unpleasant physical sensation) and know that mental anguish was optional. First and second noble truths, pain is going to happen, but suffering is optional. Although she couldn’t do sitting practice because of broken bones, she practiced as she walked (very slowly!) and while laying down, and relied heavily on metta and gratitude practice. She was very aware of all the support and love they received from the people at the roadside scene, the EMT’s and medical staff, friends in Albuquerque, but also through social media. When back home friends brought food and goodwill everyday, and cleaned the house, drove them to medical appointments, etc.

So you still had the pain, but not all the mental baggage, the mental weather?

Yes, the whole ‘adding on,’ “Why did this happen? This shouldn’t have happened,” etc., all the ways you can fight with reality. That would just add extra mental anguish. Cultivating the attitude, “It’s like this now.” Her overarching questions are, What is happening? and What is needed now? Rather than this is not how is it supposed to be; that is Dukkha. By cultivating the mental capacity to see clearly one can choose freedom. As soon as I notice I’m on that dukkha train, I can get off.

So there is an element of accepting that everything is uncertain, and not being attached to outcomes, do you have an example?

The practice of setting intention. Dori can set her intention to contemplate what she may need, what the day will need from here, and then to realize there is a letting go into what is actually going to happen. And activate the inner qualities needed to be with reality. You don’t know what the next thing is that will break. Getting comfortable with uncertainty.

It’s coming back again and again to, “How do I recognize when I’m not in alignment with that truth?” Because then I just get frustrated.The attunement with the 3 characteristics, or three marks of existence.

1. Impermanence (anicca)

2. Dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoryness, dissatisfaction, because everything changes If I’m trying to hold on,bI can remember to let go in any moment. I may not like it, but that is just a preference

3. Non-self (anatta – not creating an “I” or “mine” story)

Have you noticed that your relationship with the world changed from when you were an addict to now?

In a broad way, everyone has the desire to be of service, to be happy, to be able to give, and yet so many things get in the way. She admits she still has the capacity to “otherize.” And other people have this too.

How can I serve, and also savor this world? She looks at other people to link herself, looking at how they enjoy the world, and how they suffer.

She’s trying to link herself to the whole human condition, knowing that we all have our measure of sorrow, our measure of suffering, and we all have gifts to bring to the world.

You are now a teacher right?

In 2001 she finished her doctoral degree in clinical psychology and Tara Brach asked if she had any interest in teaching? At the time she had no inclination to teach, but about a year later she did accept Tara’s invitation and began teaching with Tara and other IMCW teachers. In 2006 she was accepted into the Spirit Rock/ Insight Meditation Society4-year teacher training with Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and other teachers.

What struggles do you see with your students in their meditation practice?

She teaches locally in Spokane, as well as at IMS, Spirit Rock, Cloud Mountain, and iBme Teen Retreats. In Spokane she works with Experienced Practitioner Groups –these students she sees regularly, so there is deepening of practice, dharma and sangha. And some she sees remotely for shorter periods of time on retreat.

Many people are struggling to one degree or another is with “what is practice? or what is their relationship with practice. She encourages students to practice, and see for themselves if their efforts lead to well-being and harmlessness or to discontent and harm. And if it leads to harm, don’t do it! “Come see for yourself.”

Dori asks them, What you really want? What is your north star? What is your motivation?” She can then suggest various forms of practice to activate that

within themselves. And to discover the obstacles. She asks challenging questions of her students as well as offering support and encouragement.

Does it help the students to stick to their practice to be in touch with their why?

Reflecting on “What is true happiness for you?” Maybe the student is not resonating with the word “happiness,” maybe contentment is the word for them. So then she asks the student how these practices support the wholesome mind-states they want to cultivate.

So it’s about what’s happening today, and what is needed now? Start again now. Initially, keep it simple.

In time, you will be able to select the right skillful practice appropriate to the moment. It is letting the students articulate their own questions and what they are seeking through their own words.

If she’s worried about something that is going to happen that day, she may use a particular practice that works well for that particular mindstate. Like turning a “demon” into an ally. Lama Tsultrim’s Demon Feeding Practice frees up the unwholesome energy by understanding and meeting its needs.

Do you have tips for meditation practitioners to bring their mindfulness into their day?

Yes, this is what she calls “in-vivo” practice. Inviting people to select a particular activity of daily living as a focus for mindfulness practice. For example, driving their car. One could start the practice with mindfully walking to the car, entering, and starting, and then attention to the physicality of driving (without the radio or other distractions). Notice when you leave mentally, when you’re already at work, and then use the physical sensations of driving to call you back to the present experience of driving.

This is practice is about strengthening the muscle of presence.

Keep in mind that you’re driving as you are driving. Bring the ardency and alertness that is necessary, the wakefulness and stick-to-it-ness required for mindful presence.

Driving is great, because we habitually get so lost in thoughts. But It could be anything, just pick something—doing the dishes, brushing your teeth as a way of knowing what you’re doing “right now.” And then notice the transitions between activities, thoughts. How do I feel in my body now? As well as when something big erupts internally.

She also encourages On the Spot Tonglen practice (Pema Chodron). So that you can let the vicissitudes of the day be something that connects you to the web of life as opposed to shutting you down. Or needing to hoard what is pleasant, or to push away, or personalizing some arising of unpleasantness.

Embodied presence does not come easy for some folks. Coming into the body does not come easy for everyone. Do it in steps. Being aware of the body and the breath wherever you are. What is my body feeling now, checking back in. For others, notice your moods.

For example if you’re trying to work with the loss of someone. Notice what sorrow feels like. Notice when it arises, and then can you offer what is needed, perhaps hand on yourheart. Can you realize what is happening, pause and see if you can sit with that.

What is happening, and what is needed right now?

How can we be in this life, with open-heartedness, compassion, wisdom within our circumstances.? Even when someone has done something to hurt us.

Using the practices under all kinds of circumstances. Dori then talks about her various retreats and web sites and other ways she works with.

Dori talks about coming out of a patriarchal age, female equality in Buddhist monastic life is being addressed, but is an ongoing challenge. She talks about the Sacred Feminine that honors a variance of vision, inclusivity, and reverence fo rall life. The Sila (wholehearted commitment to non-harming) is paramount, and although we may not be as brilliant as we can be, we can cultivate a wholesome energy with which we bring ourselves to relationships. There is no barrier to who can be enlightened, which was radical then, 2500 years ago, and still is today!

She hopes we are all willing to be radically responsive to what is needed.

Dori Langevin Resources

 

MF 9 Carol Grever – When Your Spouse Comes Out – How Meditation Helped Heal

MF 9 Carol Grever – When Your Spouse Comes Out – How Meditation Helped Heal

Interview with Carol Grever, author of My Husband Is Gay: A Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Crisis, Glimpses: A Memoir in Poetry, When Your Spouse Comes Out: A Straight Mate’s Recovery Manual, Memory Quilt: A Family Narrative. Carol is a straight spouse recovery expert, as well as a practitioner and teacher of Buddhism.

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview

What brought you to a meditation practice?

It was chaos in her personal life that brought Carol to a meditation practice. She says that her former husband came out after 30 years of marriage, so the rug was pulled out. He was in a relationship with another man, unbeknownst to her for most of the marriage. He led a double life for almost all of those years. He said to her that he had, “homosexual tendencies”. But he had acted on them for a long, long time.

She was also looking for meaning in her life.

Meditation became her refuge. It was a way to let go, to be in the moment, not to go back to the “what ifs”, and “how stupid I am”. She could get into the present moment.

This transition didn’t just go from one day to the next right?

They put their personal life on the back-burner. They had a business, and it took about 4 years, before they lived apart. In the beginning of that, they tried to make their marriage work. They decided then to separate, being unable to make it work.

She was taking Shambala weekend retreat training in a retreat setting during those 4 years of struggle. It’s typically 8 hours of meditation training. That is how she kept her sanity through meditation practice.

What were some of the breakthroughs during these meditation intensives?

Staying in the present moment is very important. And not trying to go back and second-guess everything.

Learned to follow the breath, “If you can stay and follow your breath, whatever is happening, will pass.”

The concept of impermanence became real. Whatever it is, will pass.

She was learning about the depth of her own spirit. She was feeling mostly sadness. She was in deep grief, felt betrayed, angry at times.  As if someone dear had died. In a way that had happened, because the man she thought she knew was not the same man.

Was this one of the reasons you were drawn to Pema Chodron as a teacher, she often talks about these things, having the rug pulled under from you, impermanence, groundlessness, the certainty of uncertainty, everything falling apart, and so on.

Yes, she went through a similar experience before she became a nun. Her husband also ran away with another woman. That gave her a depth of understanding for situations like Carol’s.

Pema told Carol the first time they met, that, “having the rug pulled out could be very good news”. Carol was in the depth of her sorrow, so thought it was crazy at first. Pema also said, this is an opportunity to grow. So she started looking at the event that way from now on.

She also started studying meditation with meditation teacher, Dale Asrael of Naropa University. She is a wonderful teacher, that is how she began. She then went to the Rocky mountain dharma center, and got connected with Pema Chodron. She further did the Shambala training.

Carol also leads a Dharma reading discussion group, a small Sangha, or community. That is also very important to her, along with lojang practice, and meditation. She does work with straight spouses, and interviewed hundreds of straight spouses, which is how her books came about.

What insights did she get after she started seeing the events as an opportunity?

Carol learned how strong she can be, she felt devalued at first, unworthy, there must be something wrong with her. She was blaming herself at the beginning.

She learned through these quiet times, that this had nothing to do with her (that her husband is gay). It had to do with her husband needing to become more authentic in his own life. She came to appreciate that, that was one of the real benefits of a meditation practice. She could sit with it, and begin to understand it.

This doesn’t have to remain a crisis. She came to see that they could both come through it.

So you developed compassion then for this struggle for authenticity? We all struggle to with being authentic due to society’s, parents, etc expectations. 

Yes, you learn to forgive, forgive what came before. And understand that the other person was doing what they thought they had to do. Her husband is now free, authentic, and married to his male partner. They both now have a wonderful life.

“We had to free each other”.

And understand the motivations in order to pass through it and heal. And forgiveness is a big part of that.

How do you see your practice now?

She has learned that service is the real reward, and is the real path.  She took up the Mahayana Bodhisattva vow as a Buddhist. The gist of that is that to exchange self for other. To put yourself in the other person’s place. It’s about service.

Since then she has devoted her time to service working through the blog, and doing peer counseling, and working with straight spouses.  The books are also part of that. She writes and teaches in this dharma group. She feels she has a sort of perfect circle of activities to act out the Bodhisatva’s vow.

You’ve written a book of poetry as well, where you talk about how your sense of self changed, could you read a couple of poems?

She realized she had a kind of record of turning points through her lifetime. Some are through her experience as a straight spouse, and some as a Buddhist.

She reads from, “Glimpses: a memoir in poetry”.

This first poem is about looking back (a record of turning points):

Retrospection 

(some sentences from this poem)

..What was certain wasn’t..
..Tree ornaments lovingly hung.. radiate moving memories..
..Time passed, prior life with it.
..Lives transformed..
..What was certain..wasn’t..
..It happens this way…another year, another begins.
…We pack away the past..
…out of sight, but always present.
…Ornaments and delusions, keen reminders of all we were, when we thought we knew.

It kind of captures the movement of this life. Everything changes. It’s not bad.. it’s how we grow, it’s how we learn..cannot escape impermanence, it’s not all bad, and these reminders are really precious.

She just read Thich Nhat Hanh’s, “No death, no fear”. She talks about photographs of yourself, how they are the same, yet totally different. It demonstrates the movement of life.

She also reads the poem, “On Separation”. 

..Root bound no more..
..Total change required..
..circling inner walls..
..Confinement slashed..
..Wounded but vital..
..Timid new roots push tenderly past outgrown patterns..
..Boundaries fall, rawness feeds renewal…

Renewal is a daily recurrence. Clinging to non-movement. Friction and clinging cause so much pain, trying to stop the movement.

Granny Hiphop

My hair is graying..
My mind is straying..
It’s not too late to contemplate..
To heal all hate…and mend my faith
My days are free..to just be me..

It’s truthful, it’s authenticity. She sees that in her own life, how in business how she was trying to Be who she was not. She kept the front up, and it was exhausting. When she was done with the business, and she sold it. Her first thoughts were after this business, “Who am I”? She didn’t even really know.

Now she is beginning to get a feel for something greater than what she thought she was at that time. She now sees her as part of a bigger whole, the ultimate.

She really wants and is becoming more real now, authentic.

Resources

Books Authored by Carol Grever (Click on the images below to purchase)

What do people in a situation where they discover that their spouse is not straight. A combination of therapy, spouse recovery, and spiritual practice?

Yes.

When you’re sick of hearing the stories, which is a sign of growth. Then you can move into a longer term therapy, you can do a long-term recovery.

Is this still as much an issue?

Yes, social pressure, career pressure, religious pressure is still very much an issue keeping gays and lesbians from coming out. Still a lot of prejudice in the work force, difficulty in advancing.  Carol knows this, because her books and offerings still help many people.

Guest post by Father Tom Connolly who worked with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for 33 years

This is a guest post by Father Tom Connolly who worked with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for 33 years as a Catholic priest and who now practices Zen Buddhism as well.

In an interview for, “Indian Country Today Media Network“, he said, “I’ve tried to find and emphasize integration between the older Indian spiritual ways and the more modern Catholic ways they have taken and show that these two worlds fit together in a comfortable way,” he said. “Much of my life has been trying to explore relationships between two different worldviews and how they can integrate and how both people can enjoy or expand themselves and find fulfillment in something of the views of other people.”

Why I meditate

Tom Connolly -Feast Of AssumptionAs a catholic priest, the question of god’s reality, presence an activity has always been of great interest.

I feel that a source of great confusion has come from the stories of the Book of Genesis, that have been taken for granted and assumed to be historically true.

But the growing acceptance of “evolution” as a more accurate account of history today has opened up an entirely new field of questions about god’s presence an activity. This shift has called me to search for an entirely different set of images and modes of prayer.

Christian theology has always stated that God is both “transcendent” and “imminent”. But beginning with Hebrew old testament history, God has been described as a kind of heavenly “creator-king” and always “intervening” in their history to reward their fidelity and punish their infidelity.

Later Christian artistic descriptions have presented God as an elderly, bearded, white male, seated at high on a throne and surrounded by heavenly courtiers in a place called heaven high above the clouds. Traditionally, most Christians have imaginatively and prayerfully dealt with this God who is primarily “transcendent”.

This prayerful, transcendent imagery is not nearly as satisfying for me today. Psychologically, it seems necessary to have some kind of phantasm or verbal image for all our thoughts, and so it has been difficult to find and develop a meaningful relationship with a God who is also “imminent” and therefore less image-able.

We are familiar with scripture passages like Jesus’ prayer: “that you will know that I am in my father, and you in me, and I in you”, and Saint Paul’s: “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me”, and Saint Ignatius’ call to, “find God in all things”.

Yet it seems that these insights have not had the same impact in people’s devotional awareness as have references to a primarily “transcendent” God.

In the Zen and in Buddhism I have found two helpful means in my pursuit of an imminent God, who is at once present in himself, present in myself, present in others and present in all experienced beings.

Zen meditation has been helpful in following my breathing and being aware of breath and psychic energy present in mind lower abdomen. In time this awareness has translated into a kind of imminent “awareness of divinity” within.

It has also brought a great peacefulness of spirit. This type of meditation has gradually led me into an altered state of consciousness, slipping from Beta brain waves of normal alert thinking into calmer Alpha brain waves of an unthinking awareness and peacefulness. It has been difficult to calm the mind and remain in the state, but with practice, it seems to become more possible.

Another helpful means has been the Buddhist teaching of the “tathagata garba” – a “seed of the Buddha nature”, something somewhat comparable to Divinity, present in all sentient beings.

It seems possible to find, and not total identity who, but a lot of similarity between Christian teachings about the ” divine – nature” and Buddhist teachings about the “Buddha-nature” present in all beings.

They both indicate a kind of transcendent-yet-imminent reality drawing me towards a unity of myself with the One and the All of creation.

Meditating with some of these aspects of Zen and Buddhism has helped me enhance my catholic awareness of god has also “imminent”. This awareness is more spiritually meaningful to me today than previous images of a god who is primarily “transcendent” and “above”.

Tom Connolly

MF 008 John Hancock – Walking the Labyrinth as Spiritual Practice

MF 008 John Hancock – Walking the Labyrinth as Spiritual Practice

Interview with John Hancock, a practitioner of the Labyrinth, and advocate of building compassion into organizations, communities, and systems.

This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview 

How did you get into a spiritual practice?

His father was Methodist minister, which is what he grew up with. He taught tolerance is great, but not enough, but we must go beyond that and embrace the other. He gave up on Protestantism, because he felt too much emphasis on sin. He wanted a more positive message.

He was impressed with the Dalai Lama, and his new Ethics for a New Millenium, and the concept of human universal compassion.

He feels we were misled and misinterpreted by Darwin about survival of the fittest and competition. But he thinks Darwins teachings on cooperation have been under emphasized. John feels competition helps individuals more than groups. He is seeking the commonality that we have with each other. His spirit life, is coming to grips with, yes, i’m distinctive, but on the other hand he’s with other people, that’s coordinated, linked up we have a shared self. Feeling oneness with the animals, other people, the revelations are calming and affirming. That he feels is the antidote to the stress as a citizen. That’s where he goes with his meditation.

What brought him to the tool of meditation in the form of walking the labyrinth?

John describes the labyrinth, as a universal symbol found in various cultures. He took a personalized demonstration, and found out that the practice in part came from women in the catholic church, coming to the US from Europe. In San Francisco there was a labyrinth in the hall, as well as outside. And this woman that he learned from, had been trained there. He learned how to build a labyrinth on his property (north of Spokane, WA) based books, and from a couple of examples in his town of Spokane, Washington. So he found a place on his property, and then used a national geographic type publication to help figure out the exact dimensions to replicate the design on his property.

Why does he prefer that over sitting meditation?

It is easier for him to do walking meditation in the labyrinth design. Because the physicality of walking allows him to focus and let go of his thinking.

How does the practice work?

The path into the labyrinth, is a return or into the unknown. The center of the labyrinth is the spirit energy, or the focus, of the light, or the revelation, of the center. Or the oneness. So it’s a stay in the center, with the expectation of inspiration or energy. The return is then the ability to take that energy back into the external life, to keep it with you, as you return to the next chapter of your life. The integration if you will. Representing the reborn idea.

In Europe there are some examples of labyrinths in the floor, like in Chartres cathedral. It wasn’t just Muslims to make the pilgrimage, the medieval Christians also could follow the steps of a labyrinth. They could do it in a symbolic way by following the steps of Jesus in a labyrinth, to get a similar spiritual revelation. Sometimes the monks would do that on their knees and/or with prostrations to intensify that practice.

How often do you practice this?

He does it when he’s stuck. John can find an idea that way, and also a link to the energy of the land. He’s not distracted there. He feels the energy of the land is important. He fiddled with the entry of his labyrinth in accord with their intuition, where the energy felt right. He found that the best place for an entry was the same as Stonehenge.

Does it help you with creative inspiration?

Yes, he feels it helps with next steps in life, and problem solving. It can also be a group activity. As an opening activity for a group of people who don’t know each other. Group reflection. When a group does it, it is in silence. The revelation is more strong. People will come into, “confrontation”. There are no rules as to how this goes, so it has various ways it works. Sometimes people step off the path, sometimes a aversion of eyes, sometimes an embrace, happens differently with different people. It looks like a wonderful dance, he says. It’s an indiscernible pattern. From Greek times, the labyrinth was an outline, pattern of a traditional dance. He also explains the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Perseus story, breadcrumbs explanation. Design occurs in lots of myths.

How has it affected his day to day life and integration with daily life?

Its’ about centering, about how to give up worry on the surface, giving up worrying. Helps to reassure him that he’s OK, that inspiration is available to him if he slows down and asks. And that nature is supportive, if he takes the time to be receptive.

How has that changed his relationships with difficult people or perceived enemies?

John talks about how the Spokane Indians lived in that area. Walking on the bones of their ancestors. They picked that place in their neighborhood for different reasons, and they all have different practices. They have social gatherings for the neighbors, to get to know each other and their commonalities. Many of them are tolerant and curious.

What was his inspiration to bring diverse people and organizations together in a “friends of compassion” group?

He was inspired by the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist nun Tubten Chodron, as well as the Rotarians, be kind be generous, fair, and give of yourself. So they started a project to get the Dalai Lama to come to Spokane. They couldn’t do it, but people said we can talk about institutions and individuals becoming compassionate.

We can talk about compassion whether the Dalai Lama comes to Spokane or not. So it turned into a discussion group to talk about compassion as a way of changing the community behavior. What does compassion have to offer that some of the other -isms don’t have. We were seeking the commonalities, and not getting hung up on the distinctions. The admonition to be kind is talked about by all the prophets.

There has been a balancing of the differentiation and the oneness. All of these different religions have something good to offer. We all need to find our own understanding. The absolutism that there is a god, or no god, is right for that particular individual, but we can all be right when we find the universal. So you can identify a team by what clothing they wear, but you can’t trademark kindness, that is universal.

What direction do you see this going?

While he is sympathetic of Buddhism, he found the Buddhism that he found, not as political and engaged. He wants more of an activist life. What are the problems in his community, for which compassion had not yet been tried? So he is now doing more political actions. He is working on a “smart justice” system, from a system that is more retributive, to more help them solve their problems, not just punish. So more compassionate way to help people. He further wants to do the philosophical investigation through blogs.

What would you do to change the retributive system?

He feels that poverty is a big one in the justice system. He advocates breaking the cycle of debt, crime, through a smart specialized court. “How is society harmed if this person (without a licence) drives to work?”. He also works with veterans. It’s just a specialized system that does a far better job of discerning the problem and get them to overcome their own problems, and breaking them out of a cycle of poverty. This is also cheaper, because there is less re-offending by actually helping people.

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