It started out as an exciting idea: Peter and I would take a bus into the interior and get off in a national park. From there we would follow an old fur traders trail back down to the coast. I had come across a hand-drawn map with the trail marked, and did some reading about the path, feeling confident that I would be able to find it in the park and traverse its length to the university grounds where the trail ended. The path we would follow was about 100 miles long, and we gave ourselves a week to complete the trek. Peter and I were in our twenties, both fit and healthy, and itching to get out of the city, to walk through a wilderness that few people got the chance to see. It was perfect – what could go wrong? Well, lack of adequate orienteering experience, for one thing. Also, carrying overpacked knapsacks, wearing bad socks, and relying on an unreliable map might create a few difficulties, and turn my original idea into something more like… … only with hiking gear on. Nevertheless, off we went. We jumped off the bus close to the spot indicated on the map, headed straight into the woods, and in little time had located the trail. By the end of the first day, we had set up camp atop Mount Frosty, and it was then that we realized we forgot to bring enough water. There were no creeks nearby, it was getting dark, and we had to get a fire going and the tent set up. I don’t remember what we ate that night, but it seemed that dry ramen or egg noodles figured prominently in the menu. We went to bed thirsty, certain that we would find water in the morning. Water found us the next day in the form of a wet snowfall, so we hurriedly collected our stuff and headed into the fog, which shows you the level of experience Peter and I shared. It would be a while before we realized two things: you should not travel in thick fog, and you should always take an inventory of your supplies before leaving the campsite. Consequently, we had left our binoculars, a few cooking pots, and various utensils buried in the snow back atop Mount Frosty. By the time the fog had thinned out and the snow tapered off to rain, we were looking at the old fur-traders path that was now under a foot or more of water. It was at that point that Peter opined, “We should have brought a compass.” Referring to the map, we figured we could just follow a nearby creek that paralleled the trail, and pick it up again further on. An hour later we were hanging onto roots and vines on the side of a cliff, looking down fifty feet at the rushing water below and fifty feet up at the edge of the cliff. The more we struggled on, the further we got from both the top and the bottom of the precipice, and the greater the danger we faced of losing our hold. Our only hope was to start climbing up, a very difficult feat with 60 pounds each on our backs. We made it, but now we were truly lost. The map said that the river led to Ross Lake, but the lake was miles from our trail, and there was no guarantee that we would find the trail again. It was getting dark and we were tired, but once we reached the top of the cliff we found another problem – we were on the side of a very steep mountain. It took us hours to find anything close to a level spot, so I ended up sleeping while sitting upright on a steep slope. Rain, mosquitoes and noseeums (which are basically winged teeth) plagued me, and whenever I dozed of, I was in danger of falling sideways and rolling down the hill. We arose the next morning to face a thick forest and thicker underbrush, and Peter again musing about the fact that neither of us thought to bring a compass. The thorny underbrush snagged at our clothing, making forward movement difficult and a little bloody, but we pushed on throughout the day, figuring that as long as we headed downhill we would eventually end up somewhere! The map had sketched out where the lake was, and indicated that it was southwest of where we had started out, but a) we didn’t know where we were now, and b) we were not sure where southwest was since the thick forest canopy virtually blocked out the sun. We had also lost track of where the river was. Peter spent the afternoon being royally pissed off at the underbrush… …while I entered a state of panic, as I felt the greenery closing in on me. We had been wandering through the forest for a couple of days. My feet were blistered from wearing socks not designed for hiking, the backpack straps were digging mercilessly into my shoulders, and I seriously considered the possibility that we would never get out of those goddamned woods, when I suddenly reached my hand into my back pocket, and discovered that I hadn’t forgotten to bring the compass after all! Before the sun had set on that third day of our journey, we arrived on a small dirt track that led us to Ross Lake. To this vey day, when I feel overwhelmed by a problem or lost in my life, and cannot see a way through, I remember that time and remind myself that I always have a compass inside that can guide me through.
If I see life, the world, myself, and others without judgment, there is no good or bad, and everything seems and feels more peaceful in and around me. Judgment not only reinforces the blindness of belief, but also reinforces my rejection of what is. Rejection is suffering. If I am rejecting something, I will suffer. If I judge what I am rejecting, I will strengthen my attachment to suffering. I have never known a way to ‘let go’ of judgment, but have noticed judgement spontaneously falling away, when I notice my rejection and turn toward acceptance. If you know of a direction in life that is not an expression of either acceptance or rejection, please let me know. At this point in my life there seems to be a pattern that I fall into compulsively. An example of this pattern goes like this: Something “undesirable” happens. Upon observing or experiencing what happens, I feel uncomfortable. I don’t like how I feel, so I reject what is happening, pushing away from the situation mentally and emotionally — and physically if possible. I decide that there is something wrong in the situation and intellectually seek to justify my judgment. As soon as I can identify what is wrong, I righteously defend my judgmental point of view through blame, criticism, and a desire to punish. I will hold onto my righteous position forever until the situation goes away I become aware of how much I am suffering under the righteousness and judgment. However, sometimes I will continue to suffer, well aware that my heart is urging me toward another direction. Regarding point “c”, I become aware that I’m rejecting what is, by the suffering I am experiencing, and when this occurs it seems that I can also become aware of the potential to relax and accept what is. Sometimes acceptance seems slow in coming, while at other times, it flows into me more naturally. I have raged against the suffering in my life because, in my ignorance I didn’t realize the rage perpetuated the suffering. I thought my anger was giving me a superior position from which I could better control the situation, as well as my feelings and emotions. The fact that my anger seemed to have no power over what was happening never stopped me from resorting to it time after time. If I try to understand life and the experiences it provides through the filter of good and bad, right and wrong, I imagine that I will continue to struggle in my suffering. Then I will get angry at some ‘creator’ or external force that made me this way, and find some refuge in my righteousness, which is really just another kind of anger and judgment. I know it is frustrating to recognize this, because when I am caught up in my suffering, my need to be right becomes even more obsessive and compulsive. At those times it is hard to let life present itself without any expectations. but when I do relax and see without judgment, the voice of my heart guides me through to a peace beyond all understanding.
Life becomes a much simpler journey when you realize that there are only two directions to take at any given moment, a fact that is often more apparent when you are confronted by a problem or crisis. One direction is rejection and the other is acceptance. People who appear to be involved in unconscious living tend to consistently opt for rejection, while those who seem to be waking up or growing up emotionally lean toward acceptance.
There is an interesting story in Buddhism about “The Dweller on the Threshold.” In spite of the various ways it was described, I was given the impression that this Dweller is one vicious and ugly critter whose job it is to test the sincerity of the spiritual seeker.
In my experience, waking up seems to begin with awareness of a “presence” in your life. Your physical world does not change, but the way you see it does. You might look at an object with your eyes, and register its solid appearance, but you are aware of the presence behind or beyond that appearance. Or perhaps you will be entertaining a belief in your mind and suddenly be aware of the presence beyond that belief, rendering the belief to be insubstantial, even meaningless. As the belief dissolves, awareness of the presence grows and you begin to realize that the presence is the awareness itself, and the awareness is You! Whereas before it would seem to you that you were looking out at the world from within your body, in the awakening stage, the body – and the very world itself – are now experienced as being inside the awareness; inside You. At this point a wonderful little awareness game takes place.
It must have been on a television program that I first witnessed someone being placed into a hypnotic trance. I don’t remember why the man was being hypnotized, whether it was simply an act or whether I was watching a documentary. What I do recall was the subject being guided to close his eyes and relax as deeply as possible. He was then asked a number of questions, to which he replied in a drowsy voice. Once the hypnotist was finished with his inquiries, he spoke the following words to the subject: “Now I am going to count to three and as I do so you will begin to awaken from your trance. When I reach the number three you will open your eyes feeling relaxed and refreshed.” At the number three, the subject opened his eyes, blinked a little, and then smiled.
A few years back I was leading a workshop in Malaysia, and sharing a story with the group about a farmer who had a bald spot on his head. Every day while he toiled in the chicken coop the perspiration made his scalp itch, so he would stop to scratch and rub his scalp. One day he looked in his mirror and noticed that his hair was growing back. He came to the conclusion that this was due to the fact that when he scratched his head he was inadvertently rubbing in chicken poop, which must have some miraculous hair-restoration properties.
When it comes to teaching lessons, life doesn’t seem interested in my schedule. I was twenty-one years old and coming home from my job as an office clerk. As soon as I walked through the doorway of the house I was sharing with two friends, I saw the wasp circling the ceiling light in the living room. And the wasp saw me.
For a long time in my life I had wrestled with the idea of “abundance.” Maybe it was because of the mixed messages that I gave myself about the meaning of the word. I was a member of what at the time was called “The New Age Community,” which seemed to be a large number of people involved in an attempt at integrating psychology, spirituality, mythology, natural healing, esoterica, the laws of manifestation and, for some reason, crystals.
As I get older, perhaps a little bit of wisdom trickles into me and I can perceive life from a different perspective. When I was younger, I would try to look into the future, searching for signs and messages to prepare me for what awaited me in the New Year. If I saw what I thought was a sign, I would assign specific meanings to the challenges that the omen predicted, in order to help me see a greater purpose unfolding in my life. I even decided that the first movie I saw in the New Year would represent the greatest experience that I would be given, and the second movie I saw would represent the greatest challenge I would face. Then I examined the astrological influences, and read the prophecies of other teachers and masters. All of these things I did simply to prepare myself and my workshop participants for what would come in the future.
Some people need something to believe in. Others need to know. Imagine that there are two women arguing about African bushmen. One says that she read about the bushmen and the fact that they don’t hunt when it’s raining, while the other woman argues that her husband visited a tribe who in fact went hunting, rain or shine. The first woman thinks that the husband did not visit the particular tribe to which she was referring, whereas the second woman insists that hunting practices are the same throughout all the tribes of bush people.