Posts Tagged awakening

Hugging the Buddha


awakeningThe title of this blog is misleading. I wrote it to get your attention. If you feel manipulated, PLEASE DO NOT STOP reading. I promise to make this interesting.

The man who became the Buddha lived and died 2500 years ago. Since there was only one Buddha, it is entirely impossible for me to have ever hugged him. I also admit that I’ve never hugged the Buddha in a dream, so that pretty much takes care of Buddha-hugging in my case. I’m also under the impression that the Buddha did not make a practice of hugging his disciples, but who knows?*

I did have a chance recently to hug Saniel Bonder, the founder of Waking Down in Mutuality. Saniel makes absolutely no claim to being the next incarnation of the Buddha. He is not a Buddhist, nor is Waking Down a Buddhist teaching. Saniel does not refer to himself as a Guru. He calls himself an “adept,” someone who has achieved proficiency in a particular field or endeavor. I don’t want to say anything more about what Saniel is or isn’t. He speaks for himself eloquently, powerfully, and courageously in his books and in person.

I attended my first seminar with Saniel this past weekend. The first thing that struck me was the intimate setting. About twenty people sat in the cozy living room of a two-story house in the suburbs of Atlanta. I sat only a few feet away from Saniel and his wife, Linda Groves Bonder, a Senior Teacher in the Waking Down in Mutuality organization.

I mention the setting and my proximity to Saniel and Linda, the seminar leaders, because it all contrasted sharply to the decades I spent sitting in large auditoriums filled with hundreds or thousands of people, listening to a Guru on the stage. For many years, I felt these experiences were impersonal, but I could not find a suitable alternative.

It appears I have found that alternative. My Waking Down experience has been warm and highly personal, from the first moment I walked into a WDM meet up group in Miami, to the Human Sun seminar I attended in Atlanta.

In his book, Healing the Spirit/Matter Split, Saniel refers to the Waking Down work as “aspirant-centered.”  I came to the Atlanta seminar to put Saniel’s words to the test. I have to say that Saniel, Linda, and the three attending WDM mentors passed. They answered questions and commented on everyone’s sharing with compassion, love, deep insight, and a profound commitment.

I came to the seminar thirsty. My head buzzed with questions about the teaching. I left filled with precious feelings of relief, love, peace and joy. I made some new friends. The only question that remained in my head for the moment was, “Why did it take me so long to find this?”

*I do not intend, in any way, to disrespect or denigrate the Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhists, or Buddhist teachings. I’m just having a little fun here.

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A New Way of Going


Stone PathwayI have always liked the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

In my life, this phenomenon is occurring for the second time, and not a moment too soon. For the past few months, I’ve been investigating, in my own words, a new way of going. I won’t divulge the name of this “new way” because I’m still in the investigative stage. I can report, however, this new way has filled me with hope and a renewed sense of adventure.

This feeling is not merely the initial burst of inspiration that comes at the beginning of a new project or program of study. It seems to come from a much deeper place, as confirmed by my research.

For a while there, the only objects I could see on the horizon were old age and sickness. This bleak view originated from nagging feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose. I had lost what the robots in the movie “The Transformers” refer to as their “Prime Directive.”

For many years, I have been on a path that I assumed would eventually lead to “Self-Realization.” It became increasingly clear to me that the path I was on was never going to get me where I wanted to go. I had lost touch with my Prime Directive. I felt alone, abandoned, and a failure. During this time, I experimented with a number of groups and teachers. There are hundreds of  new age spiritual groups here in South Florida. Most of them seemed ridiculous to me. A few resonated with me. I made the effort to try the ones that spoke to my heart.

Self-Realization is a somewhat bulky term that many people might think of as an impossible goal set by foolish, pompous, self-deluded people who refuse to face life. Without doubt, the path to this goal is fraught with danger and pitfalls. The good news is that, according to what I’ve been reading, there is a distinct shift underway in the “achievability” of this goal. The goal is no longer reserved for saints, mystics, and yogis who go to extreme lengths to “awaken.” Today, the goal is available to ordinary people, like me, who lead ordinary, worldly lives.

What is truly remarkable is that dozens of people walking this “new way of going” have already awakened. I have met one such person. I recently read a book written by another person who is now a senior teacher of this way. I found her book both interesting and convincing.

“Self-Realization” or “Awakening,” if you are not familiar with the process, involves the discovery of the divine within, or infinite consciousness. Words cannot adequately describe the awakening experience. One way to approximate it is the uncovering of the essential YOU, not temporarily, but permanently, or at least as long as YOU are in the body.  This new teaching I am investigating does not require the practitioner to deny his or her human nature or personality traits. It is a path of self-acceptance. Ultimately, this method facilitates a harmonious coexistence and integration with the individual ego identity.

Certainly, no worthwhile goal is easy to achieve. This way requires work, sincerity and persistence, like anything else. The payoff, however, is a deep sense of happiness, peace, love, and well-being. I’m feeling the first faint rays of this inner sun already.

I’ll be going to Atlanta at the beginning of February for a two-day intensive. I guess you could call it the acid test. Hopefully, I’ll have positive news to bring back.

My father once said to me, “Son, don’t kid yourself. You’re going the way of all flesh.” Well Dad, my body may be going that way, but not me. I will not go quietly into that dark night.

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Iceberg Lettuce and the Door to the Infinite


Photo by Gabi Helfert

The moment arrived unannounced during a set of solitary yoga postures on my plush, living room rug.  A long stretch to relieve the tension of the day popped something open inside me.  It was not a ligament or a tendon.  It was my hardened heart.

In the Hollywood version of the story, the hero manages to crawl to the phone, call 911, and then wakes up in a hospital bed after a miraculous, life-saving operation by a brilliant, open-heart surgeon.  The experience impresses upon our hero a number of crucial life lessons.  After the crisis, the hero’s character and actions towards others change profoundly for the better.

Unfortunately, life does not resemble a Hollywood B movie.  My physical heart had not split open while in shoulder stand on the rug.  A more subtle heart had opened, and with it, a door to a new world and another destiny.

It all started with Jorge, the new employee I would never have gone to lunch with if my usual lunch-buddies had not run off somewhere without me.  Jorge was Mexican, the only Latin guy on the second floor executive suite of Wallco, a wallpaper distribution company that hired mostly white Anglos in 1981, when Miami’s transformation into a multi-cultural city began in earnest.

Jorge, like me, was in his early thirties, average looking, average height, dark hair, brown eyes, thin mustache — an easy to get lost in the crowd kind of guy.  I had no idea his unheralded arrival would trigger a seminal occurrence in my life.

Wallco hired Jorge for its fledgling export division.  Jorge’s mission was to open up markets in South America and the Caribbean–approximately one quarter of the world–all by himself.  He had the ability to speak Spanish and, I presumed, super-human sales skills coupled with a pioneering spirit.  I didn’t envy Jorge one bit.

I considered myself above Jorge.  I was the high and mighty Marketing Director—Jorge the lowly new sales recruit.  I had served my time in sales.  I was grateful beyond words not to have to spend my days selling wallpaper sample books to dealers who had no more room in their stores for them.  I figured, if nothing else, I could learn something about the export market by going to lunch with the new recruit.  Besides, Jorge was the only soul left on the second floor other than myself.

Jorge suggested we eat at a quiet, natural food restaurant in Miami Springs.  My lunch prospects had just been elevated from a singular, fatty, McDonald’s affair to a tasty, low cholesterol engagement.  I happily agreed.

Over salads and grain burgers, I discovered Jorge was a vegetarian and engaged in practicing meditation on a daily basis.  Here was a subject I had some interest in, having experimented with various forms and teachers of meditation over the years.  You might say I was a semi-serious spiritual seeker.  I had reached a curious crossroads, a sort of impasse in my life.

I had everything a thirty something American male could wish for: the perfect job in a field I enjoyed; a great boss; a townhouse bachelor pad; girlfriends, a few pals to hang out with; a sports car and club memberships.  I had scrupulously followed the prescribed formulas for success.  I had cobbled together many of the accoutrements of an ideal life.

Yet I felt restless and unfulfilled.

I was terrified there was something terribly wrong with me.  I felt the cold winds of middle age blowing in my direction.  I saw myself dating one girl after another well into my eighties, until I finally abandoned the search for true love when my body and spirit caved in from old age.

There I was, sitting across from this lowly new recruit munching on his iceberg lettuce.  He casually mentioned losing 80 pounds after becoming a vegetarian.  I commented that it must have taken a great deal of willpower.  He answered, “Not really.”

I began to pepper Jorge with questions.  The guy was unlike many of the salespeople in our company I regularly rubbed elbows with.  He had a depth and an intensity that I found intriguing.

I asked Jorge what kind of meditation he practiced.  He said it was not a “kind of meditation.”  He launched into a passionate discourse about a profound experience of peace the meditation opened up for him.  He invited me to a presentation scheduled at a hotel on Miami Beach that evening.  I told myself there was no way I was going to drive all the way from South Miami to the Beach to attend some dubious spiritual seminar.

That night, I found myself sitting in a lime green, orange accented meeting room at the Carlyle Hotel.

Curiosity—and some undefinable vibe emanating from between Jorge’s words at lunch had picked me up from the chocolate brown pit sofa in my living room and deposited me in an uncomfortable chair surrounded by a room full of strangers.

Indian music played from six-foot speakers flanking a makeshift stage.  The only thing that kept me in my seat was the absence of Hare-Krishna-like chanting.

I glanced to my left and caught a glimpse of Jorge, who smiled kindly at me.  Someone took the stage and began speaking into a microphone.

The Indian Music and the microphone are the only details I recall after the program began.  My perspective slowly shifted from an external focus to a pleasant inner experience.

A succession of three speakers addressed the gathering that evening.  I do not recall a single word any one of them said.  I just remember feeling relaxed.  I had an experience that can only be described as feeling at home with myself.

For the first time in a very long while, I had actually enjoyed myself without a great deal of effort or alcohol to help me along.  I felt like an invisible hand had knocked off a layer of caked mud from my body.

It is difficult for me to describe what happened after that evening.  I can only say that it marked the beginning of a long journey that lasts to this day, to this very moment.

In the days and weeks after the event at the Carlyle Hotel, I met Jorge’s teacher, who essentially introduced me to myself.  I thought I knew myself pretty well.  I began to see that the image I held of myself was only a faint glimmer of a deeper, broader Self, filled with possibilities. 

Many years later, my life remains full of challenges, but I face them with real joy and optimism.  I have discovered that life can be every bit as beautiful as you want it to be.  It takes some courage and effort, but the possibility is real for anyone willing to step up to the plate.

I look inward now for satisfaction, rather than chasing it on the outside.  I shake hands with myself on a daily basis through meditation.  I feel more grounded.  I feel more love from within, which reflects positively into my outer life.

It occurs to me that I should have picked up the tab for Jorge’s lunch.  Jorge, buddy, if you’re out there somewhere and can read this, please know that I owe you one.

Top photo from the Dutchville Exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute

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