Richard Rohr on Non-Duality

For those who are looking for writers in the Eckhart Tolle vein, just a quick post to mention that Franciscan priest and mystic Richard Rohr’s daily email meditations (which are well-worth subscribing to) are starting a series today on Non-Duality. Here is today’s meditation, as a teaser. If you wish to sign up, you can do so here. This meditation is from one of his wonderful books, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.

Growing into Contemplative Seeing           
Monday, June 29, 2015
Dualistic thinking is the well-practiced pattern of knowing most things by comparison. And for some reason, once you compare or label things (that is, “judge” them), you almost always conclude that one is good and the other is less good or even bad. In the first half of life, this provides ego boundaries and clear goals, which creates a nice clean “provisional personality.” But it is not close to the full picture that we call truth.

Dualistic thinking works only for a while to get us started, but if we are honest, it stops being helpful in most real-life situations. It is fine for teenagers to think that there is some moral or “supernatural” superiority to their chosen baseball team, their army, their ethnic group, or even their religion or gender; but one hopes that later in life they learn that such polarity is just an agreed-upon game. Your frame should grow larger as you move toward the Big Picture in which one God creates all and loves all, both Dodgers and Yankees, blacks and whites, Palestinians and Jews, gays and straights, Americans and Afghanis.

Non-dualistic thinking or both-and thinking is the benchmark of our growth into the second half of life. This more calm and contemplative seeing does not appear suddenly, but grows almost unconsciously over many years of conflict, confusion, healing, broadening, loving, and forgiving reality. It emerges gradually as we learn to “incorporate the negative,” learn from what we used to exclude, or, as Jesus put it, “forgive our enemies” both within and without.

You no longer need to divide the field of every moment between up and down, totally right or totally wrong, for or against. It justis what it is. This inner calm allows you to confront what must be confronted with even greater clarity and incisiveness. This stance is not at all passivity. It is, in fact, the essential link between true contemplation and skillful action. The big difference is that your small and petty self is now out of the way, and if God wants to use you or love you, which God always does, God’s chances are far better now!

June 2015 in America: It’s a New World. Love.

In the early sixties there was a satirical TV news show called “That Was the Week That Was.” Well, this week is The Week that Is and Will Be. It feels like a turning point week.

  • The ruling of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the federal tax credits for all Americans under the Affordable Care Act–effectively saving “Obamacare” from being gutted. Obamacare is not perfect, it’s been criticized, and even vilified, but its flawed effort for equal access to healthcare for all citizens has been at least a big step in the right direction. This is really big because we can’t now go back to business as usual, healthcare-wise. Now we can move forward to fixing up the flaws, reducing healthcare costs, and ensuring that as many people as possible can be eligible for, and get, healthcare in this country.
  • The Supreme Court ruling that guarantees the right of same-sex couples to marry, no matter what state they live in. Wow.  As many have said on Facebook and in the media and on Twitter, this is huge because it means that #LoveWins.  It also redefines marriage. Marriage is an institution that is foundational in society and has been for a long time. In some countries and cultures, men can marry more than one wife. In some countries and cultures, marriages have been arranged by the families. Some marriages are business propositions; some are political pairings. But essentially, most believe that marriage is about love and devotion. In the play “Fiddler On the Roof,” Tevye’s daughter opts to defy custom and marry the man she loves–and Tevye, confused and wistful, says to Golde, “It’s a new world. Love.”
  • Then–Then!–there were the black families of the 9 victims of the Charleston shooting standing before the white racist assassin and publicly forgiving him for taking the lives of their loved ones.  And then, President Obama ending his eulogy for the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, with a heartfelt, soulful Amazing Grace.  Wow.

Just wow.

It’s just one week among many. News ebbs and flows and life goes on. But this week felt like a shift: it affirmed the efforts of millions of brave activists who have stood up for equality and love over the years. It affirmed that we are able to live with one version of accepted belief for centuries and then realize when it’s time to change. It raised a looking glass to the future in which we can be hopeful that we just might be able to overcome walls of hate, fear, and self-interest with love for each other–family, friends, strangers, fellow citizens.

America done good this week.

81 days for Peace, Justice, and the Environment

Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House is conducting a wonderful novena starting today: 81 days of intercessory prayer, reflection, and action for justice, peace, and creation.

I am a long-lapsed Catholic, and haven’t prayed a novena for decades, but this is a novena I am compelled to do, and I will be working it in with my daily prayer and meditation.

I really like how each novena is dedicated to inspirational social activist leaders and saints: the first being Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. I also love how there is an ecological “Caring for Creation Action Step” for each 9 day set: the first one is to pick up trash in a public place:

..often we think only of our selfishness and do not take the time or the care to do the right thing by Creation and reduce our impact on the planet by recycling. Examine your conscience! Do you sin against God’s Creation by your casual attitude towards waste?

OSHO: What moving into silence is like and why we avoid it

OSHOToday’s meditation: Today I practice stillness, moving within and listening to the sounds of life.

I am following a wonderful 21-day audio meditation by OSHO called Meditation for Busy People. I recommend it highly–it is provided by Mentors Channel. This is Day 15, but you can still listen to the last six days for free, and of course, continue to hear the next six.  Sign up here.

In today’s meditation, OSHO explores many themes related to outward silence and inward silence. Today’s meditation was particularly enlightening: it talks about

  • How fear keeps us engaged in busy-ness,
  • The one thing you need to do to learn how to meditate
  • What you will find if you are patient enough to work through the meditative process
  • How listening can be a bridge between the outer world and the inner world

The description of moving inward, and why we avoid it, is very similar to what all mystics and practiced meditators report–it starts out difficult, almost impossible. You resist, you become impatient, and if you accept the challenge you are accepting a confrontation with yourself. And so busy-ness becomes a diversion–an escape–from meeting yourself. If you’ve ever read  St. Teresa describes in the first and second mansions in Interior Castle, you would find that the 16th century Spanish saint and this 20th century Indian guru say exactly the same thing!

There are souls so infirm and so accustomed to busying themselves with outside affairs that nothing can be done for them, and it seems as though they are incapable of entering within themselves at all. St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, translated and edited by E. Allison Peers

People are busy without business. People say they would like to rest but nobody wants to rest because if you rest really it automatically becomes a meditation, you start falling inwards. You start moving toward your inner center and fear grips. You become afraid.  OSHO

The set-up for the daily meditations are such that OSHO’s meditations are bookended by an introduction and a meditation exercise which is available as a pdf, and which in itself is very helpful. Today’s exercise was in “Listening Cheerfully”:

Even if you are listening to something that you have never thought of as worth listening to, listen to it very cheerfully – as if you are listening to a favorite melody –and suddenly you will see you have transformed the quality of it. It becomes beautiful.
And in that listening your ego will disappear. Whenever the body and the soul are really together, in any act, the ego disappears…and with this “listening, cheerfully” there is no distance left between the body and the soul.
So today, just stop and listen for a couple of minutes. Stand on that bridge between the outside world and the inner one. Listen to the symphony of life.

This morning I wished I had a camera

I wished I had my camera this morning. Spring was aborted in the Northeast by a winter encore performance. This event was very annoying, frankly.

I dragged out my boots and hats and mittens out from the landing spot for the “off-season” bins and left the house with Nessie for our 6:30am walk.

Standing on the bridge crossing the creek I wished I had my camera. It was that time after a snow storm when the sun first reveals the skyfall of snow, but hasn’t had time to dismantle it yet. The tree branches are outlined with white. Sounds are muffled. The grey creek lies still waiting for the ducks. My footprints and Nessie’s are the only disturbances in the snow.

And then I go and wish I had my camera. Yup, I still haven’t learned.

Silence is when you don’t need a camera. You let go of the disappointment that you can’t take the gussied up trees home. You let go of the desire to make what is impermanent permanent. There is no digital copy for this moment in time, and there can’t be. I’m slowly learning that.

I'm not cheating here--I took this picture last week! I needed SOME picture for the blog post, didn't I?

I’m not cheating here–I took this picture last week! I needed SOME picture for the blog post, didn’t I?

Silence is simply deep seeing the simple beauty of the snow; deep listening to it crackling on the branches, deep being, with no desire to shove the moment in my pocket with my camera.

It’s the wanting things to last that breaks the silence.




Silence in the Vertical World

Here is where 99% of us live 99% of the time.


This is the horizontal world, according to Rodney Smith in Stepping Out of Self-Deception: The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self. This is a great book, by the way–one of my favorites.

Anyway, signs you are living in this horizontal world are:

  • You think about the past
  • You carry emotions from the past, like regret, pain, or nostalgia
  • You think about the future
  • You carry emotions about the future, like expectations, hopes, and fears
  • You frame your beliefs according to your experiences in the horizontal world
  • These beliefs, or concepts, are the “right” ones, because you’ve rationalized and compartmentalized them
  • To you, the present is simply the chronological spot between the past and future

Here, Rodney Smith says “you go on excursions through time.” Getting to work, checking to-do lists, checking bucket lists, reliving past accomplishments and embarrassments, conversing, spectating, jumping from distraction to distraction.

What else is there?

The vertical universe.


The vertical universe is more than a spot on a timeline… it’s like a doorway to timelessness, and that timelessness is huge. It’s the place where we don’t leave the horizontal world–we bring those suitcases with us, but we live fully in that “4th dimension” of space. I can’t really interpret it, but I have found that others do a pretty good job:

Rodney Smith:

The vertical perspective of the here and now is very different. Since the moment is not being squeezed between the rock of the past and the hard place of the future, it is open and expansive. In fact it is infinite and total, encompassing all rings including thoughts about past and future, because all thoughts are occurring here and now. So the vertical universe actually encompasses the horizontal universe. Nothing could possibly escape the moment or ever be outside it, so the vertical universe is always abiding and hover moves. Things move within it, but it never moves. Moment after moment we are taking birth in the vertical universe; the problem is we think we are in the horizontal. Occasionally we pause sufficiently to see the intersection of these dimensions and not merely think our way past them. It may be in a moment of wonder, mystery, beauty, or a moment too precious to deny. –From Stepping Out of Self-Deception, Shambala, 2010: pg. 27

Thich Nhat Hanh  speaks of it:

I have arrived. I am home. My destination is in each step.

The environmentalist Derrick Jensen enters that vertical space, I believe, when he talks to the trees:

 I’ve been stuck in my writing for several days. Each paragraph I write goes nowhere, and then nowhere again. I ask the trees for help and they give me words. Did they enter my mind, or did I enter theirs? I ask my muse for help, and these words come. Who is writing? Am I possessed? Are my fingers writing on their own? Is my mind  writing on its own? –From Dreams, Derrick Jensen, Seven Stories Press, 2011

Perhaps the vertical universe is inhabited by the Third Eye, that mystical place that goes beyond ordinary perception.

Perhaps it is experienced through what psychologist Abraham Maslow calls “Peak Experience.”

William James has spoken of the vertical universe

The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in.From The Philosophy of William James, New York: The Modern Library, pg. 232.

Perhaps St. Teresa of Avila introduces the way in to the vertical universe when she teaches her sisters:

For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when he was in it already! But you must understand that there are many ways of ‘being’ in a place. Many souls remain in the outer court of the castle, which is the place occupied by the guards; they are not interested in entering it, and hove no idea what there is in that wonderful place, or who dwells in it, or even how many rooms it has. You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself; and that is exactly what this  means. –From Interior Castle, translated and edit by E. Allison Peers, A Doubleday Image book, pg. 31.

The point is: many have spoken of this vertical universe, but because it is a still place, how can it be defined? It is bound to be, in a sense, an individual experience and in another sense, a completely universal one.







Pico Iyer Speaks on Stillness with Oprah today

Today at 11am EST, essayist and novelist Pico Iyer is on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. If you miss it,  you should be able to watch the full episode for a short period of time on her website.

This is a tie-in with his book and TED talk, The Art of Stillness.  I have not yet read the book, but if anyone else has, I’d love to hear comments.

A little poem by Mary Oliver


I really love this poem, and it definitely inspires stillness.


by Mary Oliver


Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word.

I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.


The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a little,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.


But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.


Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.


Oliver, Mary. “Today.” A Thousand Mornings. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012. p.23. Print.

The art of silence: A virtual museum to inspire stillness

Silence exercise for the week: Go to a museum

When was the last time you went to a museum? There is so much inspiration for silence there!

I just went to a museum today: Not the Guggenheim–the Google museum.  In an effort to find non-verbal inspiration for stillness, I went to Google Images and here is what I found.

Which of these paintings inspires the stillness in you?

Are you inspired by nature?




Joseph Mallord William Turner:  Norham Castle: Sunrise

Joseph Mallord William Turner: Norham Castle: Sunrise

Are you inspired by order?

Laszio Thorsen Nagel: Plaid Strokes

Laszio Thorsen Nagel: Plaid Strokes

Or randomness?

Joan Miro: Woman and Bird in the Night

Joan Miro: Woman and Bird in the Night

Or minimalism?

Justin Page Wood: Taupe

Justin Page Wood: Taupe

How about the face of stillness?

Detail of an angel in Madonna of the Rocks, Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci: Detail of an angel in Madonna of the Rocks

Personally, I am inspired by images of empty rooms, light, and windows.

Lee Ufan: Silence Room

Lee Ufan: Silence Room

Looking Back: Ida Lorentzen

Ida Lorentzen: Looking Back

Figure at a Window: Salvadore Dali

Salvador Dali: Figure at a Window

Have I inspired you to visit a museum this week? If you roll up all the time you usually spend on Facebook in a typical week, you will likely have enough time to stop by a museum or gallery in your town or city. If you’re looking for some more quiet in your life, this is a good way to do it.

Don’t “think” while you’re there. Don’t seek out specific artists. Don’t look at the titles of the paintings. Seek out the ones that speak to your soul and sit with them for a few minutes. Soak them up. Art is a great cure for the noisies.

Noises off: The two channels of chatter

IMG_0926“In a sense, silence is God.” –Anthony de Mello

No one can dispute the lack of silence these days. Gone are the days when your boss could only contact you between 9 and 5. Gone are the days when you had to actually be home to get a phone call. Gone are the days when TV was a family event that took place after the dinner hour. No Hulu or Netflix or on demand programming to access on a variety of devices in a variety of places. It has all crept up on us so… silently. And now here we are–if our lives were a forest and noisy distractions were weeds–we would be an overgrown mess.

But there is another form of chatter that gets in the way of silence. My husband and I once went to a 3-day silent retreat. Initially I thought it would be great to get away from it all with my book and chill out from my busy life. But this silence? This was deafening silence. It was like quitting  heroin and dealing with withdrawal. I couldn’t focus on my book, because this silence kept ringing in my ears. When I saw my husband at dinner, his face confirmed he had the same experience–but his withdrawal had been even more crippling. “Whoa–that freaked me out!” he told me. “I had to sit with my thoughts!  That was scary!” IMG_1422To go back to the forest analogy, many say that silence is like the sun to us.  Silence is not just a microsecond of space between two sounds. It’s active. It’s real. We need it in order to be a fully realized human being. If we allow the weeds of busyness, human interaction, and constant distractions to proliferate unattended, the sun can’t reach our souls.

When I went on that retreat, I thought that all that was going to happen would be the absence of external noise. But as my husband testified, after the external noise is gone, what is left is an internal noise that remained to be dealt with. Now that’s the hard part. You can shut off your computer, but it’s harder to shut off your thoughts. Thich Nhat Hanh calls this RNST: Radio Non-Stop Thinking.

When we listen to music, read a book, or pick up a newspaper, it’s usually not because we truly need that activity or information. We often do it mechanically–perhaps because we’re used to doing it or because we want to ‘kill time’ and fill up the discomfiting sense of empty space. –Thich Nhat Hanh in Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World full of Noise

So my discovery at that Benedictine retreat is that there are two kinds of noise: exterior and interior. The exterior noise is the bombardment of Facebook news feeds, text messages, advertising messages, ringtones, superficial human interactions, TV shows, CNN headlines.  Interior noise is the mental chatter that keeps our mind from setting down–the replaying of the past and the fears and hopes of the future–in other words, stuff that doesn’t even exist. The antidote to exterior noise is unplugging from the outside chatter. The antidote to interior noise is plugging in–to the present moment.

Thankfully we don’t need a three-day retreat to face silence head-on. All we need is mindfulness and awareness. As anyone who has practiced meditation can attest, growing in awareness is like practicing any discipline–you start and take few steps and expect it to be difficult until it isn’t. But on the other hand, those who are more practiced agree that you can’t “achieve” meditation results, because unlike our bucket lists and our financial goals, success in meditation is success at just being. Often silence and beingness just come in a flash. The Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello, author of Seek God Everywhere, Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, relays one of his singular experiences in awareness:

The day before yesterday I went to say Mass for some people in the seminary. I rose early in the morning and went outside to wait for a group of scholastics (Jesuits in training who have not taken final vows). It was quite cold. I was looking up at the sky and this thing hit me, this silence. It lasted for about a minute, but I am still experiencing the effects of it. It is the world we know but there is no knowing. We suddenly sense it. Each of us experiences it in different ways.

What has your experience been in mindfulness? How do you cultivate it in your life? When has it caught you by surprise? Please feel free to comment.


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