Thursday, April 12, 2018

Setting the angel free.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Michelangelo, perhaps the greatest sculptor of all time, saw the result at the very beginning. The final form may not have been readily apparent and certainly was not fully evident, but there was no doubt that the angel was present in the marble. Michelangelo's practice was simple to remove layer after layer of obscuration, to remove the rough edges and distortion until the angel was set free. 
We might think that this quote is simply referring to a hard chunk of marble, but it is quite profound as it applies to our own practice and awakening. The angel represents our own inner genius, our inherent buddha heart. Maitreya uses a similar analogy from the Uttaratantra:

Suppose an image filled with molten gold inside
but consisting of clay on the outside,
were seen by someone who knows about this gold,
who would then remove the outer covering to purify the inner gold?

After we are introduced to our own buddha heart, introduced to its presence and nature, what choice do we have to remain idle? Who would waste such a precious opportunity and resource?

Having recognized our naturally abiding buddha heart (Skt. tathagatagarbha), the practice is simply to remove layer after layer of negative emotions, perceptual bias and confusion. We refine the rough edges of our intentions and actions. We chisel and carve out habitual tendencies and neurosis. 

The result of our work is that our naturally present buddha heart is made fully evident. Just as when the clouds dissipate in the sky to reveal the qualities of the sun, so too, once we eliminate the obscuring factors of our own inner genius then we can enjoy the qualities and activity of the naturally present result. 

The artist's practice is the set the angel free, to reveal our naturally abiding buddha heart to the world.

But then what? 

That is not the end of the road. The story doesn't simply end there. 

The artist must share her art. 

Art interacts with the world. It is experienced, impacts others, shapes the time and place. Art shifts postures, influences what people value and affects what they choose to engage in. 

Art shapes culture. 

The artist who does their work and brings it out into the world shapes the community of values. It is possible to step out into the world and share generosity, kindness and compassion. Equanimity, insight and selflessness can gain a foothold in our communities. There can be recognized value in chipping away the rough edges. Our communities can recognize the potential of everyone, identifying their inner genius and capacity to refine and reveal their own inner angel. Most of all we can start respecting and appreciating the work and the process. 

We can value the practice of the artist. 

The artist is committed to the practice of revealing the naturally abiding inner genius within. Art not shared is not art at all, so the artist moves into the world where their art interacts with people and the environment. As that art interacts with the world, it shapes values and what we believe to be possible and true. 

Art shapes culture, and it is possible to shape a culture of awakening. A culture that is eager to do the work, eager to show up, ready to be present, and that knows this is what we do here.

The artist always knows, this is what we are here to do.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Pure perception.

Tibetan: dak-nang
English: pure perception

Pure perception is the awakened principle that everything is regarded as the path. All circumstances arise as opportunities for practice. The dharma isn't just something we hear or read, it is our lived experience.

Ordinary perception is our habitual subject-object interpretation of the world. I have control over certain things in my life and other things happen that are simply out of my control. I struggle to reconcile my inner experience with the world at large, and purpose and meaning are driven by ambitions of conquest and control over the outer world. Ordinary perception is characterized by continual struggle and the ever urgent desire to gain a sense of security over our 'place' in the world.

With pure perception, everything is connected as a single mandala. Problems and obstacles are opportunities to practice. Challenging people present as teachers showing you the way to enact the practice.

Fundamentally, the principle of pure perception is gaining control over your experience. The world doesn't happen to you and you are not a victim. You get to choose how to respond. You get to choose whether you apply the teachings into practice, or whether you fall into habitual modes of being.

You get to choose. Awake, or asleep.

How are you going to follow through on your decision?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Culture of awakening.

I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The culture of Green Bay revolves around the Packers. The front page of the Green Bay Press Gazette (which I diligently delivered as a teenager) always talks about the Packers. The community wears Packers gear, talks about the Packers, and responds to how the Packers are doing.

If you don't value the Packer culture, you also don't quite fit in. That doesn't make you bad. The community doesn't reject you, but at some point or another you just move along.

Culture has values. It shapes beliefs and actions. Culture can shift our posture, the way we sit and the way we greet each other. Without having to be spoken, culture says, "This is what we do around here."

Stephen Batchelor coined the phrase culture of awakening. I haven't read any of Stephen's work, but this notion that we do impacts and shapes others is powerful.

The Buddha taught that our intentions and actions shape the world. Our individual thoughts and actions impact our life. When we form communities with others who share our values, we create a culture. Others interact with that culture. They see what people value, how they interact, and what they do.

The culture becomes a contact point for change.

The change that a culture brings isn't always about making a quick impact. It is often more like a resonance or a vibration, something that can be felt minutely at first, but later can shape entire landscapes and tear down walls. 

A culture of awakening isn't about forcing you awake. It is like whispering in your ear, "It's time to get up."

Monday, March 5, 2018


Fear of missing out.

You might have heard this acronym being passed around lately. Fear of missing out can take many forms. It can relate to connections, recognition, accomplishments or any other form of worth and belonging. There is a very special form of FOMO that our culture tends to breed:

The fear of not doing something important or creating something meaningful. 

We are told to live our best life, to contribute something meaningful to the world. We all aspire to live a life of purpose and for our work to have an impact. However, most of us feel that what we are doing isn't good enough. We should be doing something more, we should be doing something better. We should be making more of an impact, changing the world in more meaningful ways.

This fear of missing out is based on a projected sense of self. A better version of you, Greg 2.0. The ideal you that lives a life of great meaning and purpose.

This fear really points to a deep conviction of unworthiness and a lack of perceived value or meaning. We are looking for confirmation or validation from others about our worth. Fundamentally, if we cannot recognize our own value and worth then no matter how much praise or acknowledgement others give us, it doesn't penetrate to our heart.

The fear of missing out confirms this sense of shame and inauthenticity. I have to do this thing in order to prove that I am worth it, that I belong and that I am important.

Follow the fear. The fear is in you, it is not out there in the world. It is in your own heart and in your own mind.

Learn to sit with that fear. Learn to extend your kindness and patience to it. As you learn to sit with fear, it will reveal its hidden layers- your self-contempt, insecurity and shame.

Learn to sit with these too. Extend your love and kindness to all of your shadows.

Your shadow follows you. But you are not your shadow.

As we continue to move through various layers of self-awareness, we eventually end up in completely open, transparent awareness- a state of equanimity and complete self-acceptance. When we discover this deep sense of self-acceptance, we simultaneously recognize our value and our worth. Appreciating our own value, we can recognize the value and worth of others. We no longer harbor any fear of missing out, because we are not incomplete. We are fulfilled, just as we are.

Friday, March 2, 2018

You don't need to perform well to be loved.

You don't need to be the best at what you do.
You don't need to be the smartest, or have the best questions or most insightful answers.
You don't need to be a generous donor or diligently contribute in meaningful ways.
You don't need to show progress. You don't need to prove your worth or your value.

Come as you are.

In circles where you are doing the deep work of waking yourself up, of wrestling with your inner demons and trying to free yourself from the prison of your own confused perceptions and emotional trauma, you don't need to perform well to be loved.

We accept you as you are. And we are going to support you in your practice until you can figure out how to do that as well.

Monday, February 26, 2018

A second is a long time.

All the real work in our practice takes place within a second.

Within a moment, we have the opportunity to be patient. To not get caught up in our own feelings or anxiety. To maintain our composure.

We have the opportunity available to us to respond, rather than react. To make a choice, rather than be propelled. To listen and understand, rather than retort.

A second lasts a long time, and it is within those brief moments that we get to decide who we are and who we want to be in the world.

Of course we are going to fail. Fail a lot. That is why it is called a practice. We have to keep practicing. What other choice do we have?

Friday, February 23, 2018


We all have negative self talk. We all beat up on ourselves more than we should. We are our greatest critic, and we don't mince words with ourselves.

This is a really deep seated aversion and guilt about who we are and who we should be. The root of the problem lies in our conception of who we are, but it is not enough to simply see that ego is the problem. If anything, seeing that ego is the problem can further inflame our self hatred, because we should know better and even do know better.

But what can we do about it?

Recognize for a moment that there is a part of you that knows what you did, what you said, or how you screwed up isn't you. That moment in time isn't you. It was just a sentence, or conversation, or an action.

Let's call that moment of confusion, ignorance or stupidity your smaller self. Then, the knowing aspect that recognizes the actions of the smaller self, but also recognizes that is not who you are, let's call that your wisdom self. 

Your smaller self screwed up. You acted inappropriately, or lost your cool, or said something stupid. It happens.

Your wisdom self sees how you embody many different facets and roles in this life. Your wisdom self sees the bigger picture, knows that you care, that you try to do the right thing and strive to meaningfully contribute. Most importantly, your wisdom self knows that your past affects who you are today, but it doesn't define who you are. You get to decide that. Let your wisdom self decide that.

When your stuck in your head, beating yourself up about what you said or did, take a moment to notice that smaller self and then step back and notice the wisdom self. Smile and even laugh at the actions of the smaller self. Don't take yourself to seriously. With love and kindness, look at that smaller self and reflect on how far you have come, and how much further you have yet to go.

Then, taking a moment to acknowledge the pain and frustration of the smaller self, thank them for the lesson. Finally, set your intention with wisdom, and get back to work.