Discernment in Action

I have recently finished a two week Vapassana meditation retreat here in Myanmar. Almost every night there was amazing noise from the village close to the Monastery. The Burmese have a different way with noise and personal space that most in the western world would not tolerate. They use loud speakers throughout the morning, evening and night often mounted on vehicles driving up and down the streets promoting various celebrations, fundraising’s and other things and in this very Buddhist community of the Sagai hills, chanting emanating from the fifty or so monasteries is ongoing. The local monastic volunteers , as well worked daily outside my Kuto playing and talking with each other constantly. It was like nothing I have experienced. All of the thirty retreats I have attended have been in absolute silence. I was sleeping two to three hours a night with nowhere to escape. No books, internet, no one to talk to.
My response was that I was feeling violated, that “they” were not honouring my valued need for silence and there was no place to escape to. Thoughts were arising in attempts to assign the blame to someone. I talked with the teacher “Jessie” who is from Hawaii Vipassana about that part of me that coped by being evasive and to seek control but the fact was that there was no where to escape or nothing I could do. I was reminded that this is the culture that has existed here for hundreds of years before I arrived. Here I was wanting things to be different; my way so that I could take comfort in being my known self. In that irritation that I held with all that was outside my comfort zone, there was in my meditation a “discernment” arising out of that sense of threatened stability, and a further questioning of the nature of reality and what I thought myself to be and ultimately a passing through of what I thought, to an embracing of something more encompassing. The focus on the noise began to fall away and I began to sleep when I was tired and awaken when I wasn’t. Even my orientation to eating and food seemed to change. There was no food available after 11AM and often I would eat lightly depending on how hungry I was.
Jessie talked to me about one of the ways that humans cope through being evasive and needing to control situations and I saw it quite clearly in myself. I’ve been seeing it ever since and I am amazed that I haven,t been aware of it up until this moment of realization. My typical response has been a habitual, defensive and unconscious one.
Now a week later, I am sitting on the roof of the hospital that my wife is volunteering at in Wachet, Myanmar, with a very uncomfortable cold and some stomach distress, holding a visa that is two days short of my departure date; now having had the experience and direct realization that discernment does not come from a mental calculation but from awareness without thought I am quite atypically at ease, able to distinguish more clearly when my more disturbing conditioning clicks in.


Having been educated as a social worker and having worked in the mental health field for twenty five years I came to struggle with what I saw to be the limitations of psychological methodology in dealing with suffering. So often it seemed to reinforce the victimized “I” and a narrative of suffering and a conceptual understanding that was distant from the actual experience of suffering. Individuals often so easily become trapped in a somewhat arbitrary and deceptive unrelated thought process.

No doubt, we have to be able to see and experience what has been lost and trapped under the layers of our thinking and conditioning but perhaps it is more relevent done in a more experiential way. Our ability to problem solve and conceptualize can lead us astray and actually create more insulating layers. It seems that something more authentic of what we are can emerge even from beneath some fairly rigid, unconscious and even biological conditioning. 

Thinking about life holds us back from the unity of existence, but discernment is intuitive wisdom born from awareness and free of any alternative interpretation. Discerning is pure and simple seeing, and therefore the perfect application to use for understanding what is true and what is false.

Friends and Awareness

A growing awareness of personal incompleteness, insufficiency of soul, the limitations of self-love and the deficiency of my personal awareness has left me standing naked of pretenses and vulnerable to the rest of the world. I can’t say that it feels nice to feel vulnerable and that I no longer wander away from that realization, but it seems that it is a more real place than I have known and it’s easier to be present in that reality. It’s been a long journey of letting go and coming to acceptance of that place of awareness.

I have few friends now but those I do have seem to be more intimate than I have known in the past. It seems that relating in general involves more intimate exchanges but I look to friends more to enable me in being sustained in that awareness and in the acceptance of my own deep, sometimes unseen needs. From that comprehension I seem to be better able to understand and support the needs of others. I look to friends to help in that journey of coming home to myself and to the rest of the world at the same time. Ultimately I am discovering that to be in friendship and relationship with someone is to open myself to becoming more than I can possibly be alone.

Inspired by Joan Chittister

A Vulnerable Essence

Yes. My life isn’t one of pristine, spirituality or rationalism, unleavened by emotion or superstition. It’s been quite a journey and slow process of self forgiveness and acceptance. Through that fog I am only really now realizing at this late time in life that a sense of vulnerability has always been at the heart of my consciousness, accompanied for most part with an intense desire and effort to anethisize myself from it. I can’t help but wonder how prevalent this is in the rearing and conditioning of others and of our children, even today. I was instructed from an early age as others were, that this experience of feeling vulnerable was an indication of weakness and that something of my self must be fortified in response to it. In hind sight I now see that my conventional responses to this sense of vulnerability and aversion to it continued to be a major influence in my behaviour, habits and in my life in general, however unaware I was.

From that, I created something of my self , that could never cope honestly and directly with those feelings of being vulnerable. Whenever it would appear a sense of helplessness accompanied it along with other emotions such as shame and anxiety and in turn a response fuelled by an intense need to dispel it. I adopted many conventional ways to do this; covering it over with a self that I aspired to be and numbing myself to it in various ways. I engaged in diversions and distractions and at times succumbed to the pain of feeling the self doubt and inadequacy that at times accompanied it; however, it is clearer now that whatever I did to remove, ignore or however I hid from it, that sense of vulnerability remained a powerful unconscious influence in my life.

I am now realizing that the sense of feeling vulnerable that I was so much averse to has nothing to do with weakness as I was taught to believe, nor was it helpful to attempt to remove or ignore it. Rather suddenly one day I realized that it was not something that I should be separated from and I began, in response, to open and befriend it and in time to intimately move into it. And despite my dull faculties and primitive comprehension of the impenetrable mysteries of existence I realized that in my effort to stay present to what is directly arising in my experience of life, prior to extreme intellectual intervention a more honest comprehension can arise.

In that stripping away of old and fixed ideals of a self and in further examination of what is innate and more true of myself I am discovering that, there, underneath mistaken beliefs and ideals, is presence and in that lay the secret of who I truly am. In awareness of the vulnerability and temporality, something else of life and my self, that I have not known, is revealed. As John O”donohue writes, “one of the deepest longings of the human heart is for real presence. Real presence is the goal of truth, the ideal of love.”

Sent from my iPad

The Embattled Ego

The pursuit of security as we have come to conventionally understand it can serve to create a barrier that interferes with rediscovering deeper meaning in our life. We seem to dance from one thing to another in our modern world, looking for a brekthrough, often relying on a magical thinking to helps us create opportunity where there might not be any. That search sometimes encourages extremes in efforts to make ourselves more interesting, striving to live more successfully and extraordinarily and sometimes in embracing fantasy filled lives.

Kurt Anderson in his book “Fantasyland” about America gone haywire writes ” we are becoming so financially delirious that we are heedless of our delirium. Politics has become extremely focused on economics. Often with our focus on financial security we don’t take the time to investigate, in any depth, who we really are and how it is that we are connected to others and to the universe. We settled for a reliance on handed down understanding and fantastical wishfulness.

It seems that most of us are quite confused about what brings security in western life, not realizing that what we strive for often serves to take us away from what is innately good and natural of us. We embrace unproven ideals, reliance on reductionistic notions and the dogma of others. In his book, A Public Service Announcement to the Dark Side & Other Essays, Joe Blow suggests that this all contributes to an “embattled ego” which serves as a barrier to love and truth. He further suggests that there is the possibility that our conscious thinking self can in fact become secure enough to go wide-eyed and naked in the world. I question wether or not we can know ourselves without inner reflection. Joan Chittisters reminds us that something unique and more creative is worth consideration if we are to ” find our fit ” the standards that are supported in this way are ancient and unproven, hostile and exclusive, unfriendly but determinative. What has “always been” takes on the aura of truth and requires us to commit ourselves to maintaining the system that spawned them”

.Becoming more aware of the distractions and diversions that arise in our search for security can be an initiation into further reflection and insight into our nature and to our being and of the relevance of learning to live with insecurity. An intensified sensitivity and increased awareness and acceptance of the mystery of ourself and our life, our limitations as humans living that mystery and the possibilities that emerge from that is part of the wisdom of insecurity. However ineffable that experience is, it allows for a life more fully lived.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious…. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed…. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men.

Albert Einstein

The Sorry Truth

It’s becoming clearer to me that any growth that I experience in terms of my unfolding human spirit, very much depends upon letting go of many of the signature behaviours that I had been taught to think of as essential to being seen as a “manly man”. I think that they did more to take me away from what was authentic about myself than anything else. As a person, small in stature, I spent much of my time trying to become essentially “male”, taking on learned behaviors, and not paying attention to innate characteristics of my being.

Joan Chittister writes “The sorry truth is that the world bequeaths standards to us that are ancient and unproven, hostile and exclusive, unfriendly but determinative. What has “always been” takes on the aura of truth and requires us to commit ourselves to maintaining the system that spawned them”

To step outside that system and to explore a deeper truth requires courage and willingness to experience vulnerability. So taking a step back I ask, Who am I? Attempting to look beyond reductionist notions of tribe and clan and nationality and any other conditioning that might block me from seeing the truth of that I contemplate what it is to be human.

Continual Conceptual Rebellion

From Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings” by Tom Cheetham

I think that it is time to realize that the “destruction of the world” is a result of our unlimited and continual attempts to control a world that exceeds our understanding and our abilities to predict.Cheetham writes that”It is the subversive and difficult work of the Creative Imagination to continually outrun the destruction of the world”

He further writes about the poet Leslie Scalapino Her friend and fellow poet Lyn Hejinian wrote that “her work was a manifestation of what she termed “continual conceptual rebellion.” “Continual conceptual rebellion” is a means of outrunning the forces that would re-form (conventionalize) one. If you stay in one place too long, you’ll be taken over—either by your own fixating ideas or by those of others. To survive one must always be outrunning what she called “the destruction of the world.”