Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for June, 2014

Keep It Simple

Keep It Simple: The gift of awareness.
by Andrew Olendzki
Tricycle Summer 2014

The human mind has a tendency to make everything it takes up more complicated and elaborate than it needs to be. You may have noticed this. The Buddhists even have a word for it, papanca, which means something like mental proliferation.

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Meditation moves us in the other direction. It is an attempt to remove, piece by piece, layer by layer, all of the baroque ornamentation with which we embellish our world of constructed experience. Underneath all the drama, the restlessness, the hopes and fears, behind the narratives we weave about ourselves, and even before we’ve thought of ourselves as ourselves, lies a simple, unadorned awareness. It’s not even a thing—just an event that happens, a little burst of knowing, deep in the center of it all.

Experiencing this awareness has more to do with subtraction than with addition or multiplication. René Descartes was on its trail in his Meditations when he imagined all the complexities of our world to be an illusion. Take away everything with which we populate the story, and what is left? Just me, thinking. The Buddha got two steps further than Descartes, beyond the “me,” and beyond the thinking: awareness occurs. Knowing as an event does not belong to anyone, nor need it be constrained by the thinking of thoughts.

This is an alien idea for many in the modern world. Because so much of our mental activity consists of thoughts, images, concepts, and words, it seems inconceivable that the mind might manifest in powerful ways devoid of thought. Yet you can feel this for yourself (so to speak), here and now. It might take some practice, and 20 minutes of letting go of one thing after another, but the simple event that is consciousness, that unadorned episode of awareness, is accessible to direct experience. Like the dimmest of stars in the night sky, it slips away if you try to pin it down. But if you learn to release hold of the clutter and pry the mind out of the grooves and channels in which it is accustomed to run, you can feel it spilling out and spreading formlessly in other directions.

One of the most basic structures of the mind taught by the Buddha is that consciousness manifests in six modes, flows through six channels, or passes through six doors (choose your preferred metaphor). Consciousness is always aware of something, and it accesses six kinds of objects by means of six different organs. The sensory organs (eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body) and the mental organ (mind/ brain) compose an apparatus that is capable of processing information, each being sensitive to a particular type of data. The objects of experience consist of the information processed by the organs, and since there are six of them, there are six kinds of things of which we can be aware (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and thoughts).

Notice that thoughts are only one of these six strands of experience. Do we spend one-sixth of our time thinking about things and the rest of the time immersed in sensory experience? Hardly. We tend to operate in thinking mode almost exclusively, cycling through the other senses just briefly enough to provide information for the weaving of our conceptual narratives. Don’t believe me? Try practicing mindfulness of the body.

The first step in establishing mindfulness is to switch over to channel five, the stream of tactile bodily sensations, which serves to disrupt the tyranny of the thinking organ. That the attention wanders so easily and continually off the breath and into the story line demonstrates its habitual dominance. With patient and diligent practice, however, one can train oneself to be intensively aware of bodily sensations for many mind moments in a row. One “knows” the breath directly and intuitively, unmediated by concept, narration, or word.

The mind is now operating just as intensively as when we are thinking, but we are not thinking. We are being aware: not of the cognitive content of our thoughts but of the universe of microsensations that are exploding within the body every moment. Or perhaps we are intently aware of the nuances in the sound of a bird’s call, the rush of a passing car, or the cough of a person behind us in the meditation hall. Once just a data point to embellish our story, these sounds, when attended to without commentary, expand to become a vast territory encountered directly with awareness. The information provided by the senses is no longer of great interest, and serves merely as a support for something far more captivating: the quality of knowing.

Awareness itself becomes the most compelling object of awareness. This simple knowing, so peaceful, so clear, so open, seems diminished by and even wasted upon the narrow confines of mere thoughts. As the thinking about things is gradually squeezed out of the mind by filling the senses with awareness, and as each experience is allowed to flow through the point of focus without obstruction, we begin to get a glimpse of a profound simplicity. Everything is changing, everything is interdependent—and there is no one to whom any of it belongs.

Read complete article and more at TRICYCLE.

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High Together

This is a compilation of stones, which I carved and put together, after finally finding a strong enough glue. The bottom large piece is sandstone. The pillar is black marble. The platform is black marble. The two figures on the platform are from blue Italian and orange alabaster.

The figures represent a man and woman who walk side by side and add strength and balance to one another’s lives. It’s called High Together.

Apologize that two of the photos are a little dark and one closeup is fuzzy, but it gives a glimpse of what came together.

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My Due Date is Approaching

LastConception-CoverJust over a month until my novel is released in the U.S. by Melange Books – July 17.

Here are some kind words from award-winning filmmaker and novelist, Joan Tewkesbury, who read an advance copy.

The Last Conception is a delightful read! It depicts a family muddling its way through a mire of personal, cultural, and generational differences, and reminds us all to slow down and remember – what else – love. Besides, what good are agendas when the dance of life is out of our control?”

Angelique Kidjo at Rio

Angélique Kidjo at Rio Theatre – June 19

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A true transnational artist, Angélique Kidjo’s African roots reflect brightly throughout her music. Heavily influenced by South African legend Miriam Makeba, Kidjo also absorbed the influences of the American popular artists from her youth, such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Jimi Hendrix.

In the ’80s, she was among a new wave of African performers blending Western pop music with traditional African forms. The creative result was a revitalized world music, both entertaining and socially conscious. Her latest recording, named for her mother, Eve, honors all the women of Africa and puts Angélique’s strong voice back in the spotlight where she belongs. Dance space available!

Thursday, June 19, 7:30 pm – Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz

About to Light It Up!

We are just about ready to launch LET IT BE & LIGHT IT UP!

Four months ago, I was sitting in meditation. I use an app with a zen bell on my phone to begin and end sitting in the morning. When the bell rang, a thought appeared (just before I opened my eyes). Wouldn’t it be supportive to have a visual body on the screen that filled with light, in corresponding parts of the body, as one practiced a mindful body scan? Many people are visual learner’s and with this body scan app, it assists one and all. After researching the idea, I realized that there are no similar apps available.

Since that time, we’ve refined the meditation content, had it recorded beautifully by voice-over artist and child advocate, Carla Sikand, and the video creatively rendered by Francis Batagglia at Green Rocket. Janet Brumbaugh, at Lynx Software, brought it home combining all the aspects and programming. I’ve often remembered to “Let it be”, as we met each change and challenge.

We’ve received some very kind quotes from people who tested the app and are submitting it to Apple tomorrow. We’ll let everyone know when it is available. It can take up to two weeks before it is approved and a release date is set.

In the meantime, LET IT BE & LIGHT IT UP!

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Every Child Deserves Care

Because every child deserves care, love and hope.
From The Rwandan Orphan’s Project

The ROP is an orphanage and a center for street children located just outside of Kigali, Rwanda. We provide housing, clothing, food, health care, education and many other needs to nearly 100 vulnerable children from around Rwanda. We are able to provide these needs solely through the donations of individuals like you. The ROP has no corporate or foundational support and relies on the charity of ordinary citizens to achieve our goal of providing a safe place for children, free from desperation and the dangers of life on the streets.

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At the ROP we believe that education is our children’s best hope of escaping the strong grip of poverty. Because of this all of our children are either enrolled in our in-house catch-up school or go to secondary or vocational schools around Rwanda. We feel all children, regardless of the hardships they may have endured in the past, deserve a chance to make something of themselves.

Being a small, privately funded charitable organization we struggle every month to raise the necessary funds to provide for our boys. There are many ways you can help, detailed in our How You Can Help section.

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