This Month's Contents: Native Prayers by Howdie Mickoski | Book Excerpt | Friendship by Richard Rose | Who Says Words with my Mouth poetry by Rumi | Two Conceptions by Shawn Nevins| Peace Isn't Luck by Ikkyu | Quotes |
As a palliative nurse, I have had the pleasure and honour to work with an amazing palliative physician who has taught me much about how to be open and present to patients. She teaches us to pause before entering a patient's room, take a breath, leave any agenda outside the door, and be open to what the patient needs. Sage advice which has served me well over the years. I invite you to do the same now - take a breath, set any agenda down, open wide and enter.
Welcome to the Forum.
"If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice." Meister Eckhart
While reading an excellent article called Ultimate Between-ness by Bart Marshall, I got inspired to share something that some Native Indian medicine men and women have shown me. It is their method of prayer. While the current Native Indian medicine tradition (usually incorrectly called shamanism) may be missing some of the elements of complete seeking (ala Zen, Hermetic alchemy), what they may have become experts in is a knowledge of working with manifested reality to help their communities. They may have become masters of what Richard Rose called between-ness.
Natives pray differently than anything I had come across prior to going to my first sweat lodges in 2001. Instead of what we normally think of as prayer (pleading to some spirit taking on a daddy role to come and save us if we have been good enough boys and girls) is instead a ceremony of thanks that tends to spawn miracles. Their key phrase in any prayer is "thank you," as in "thank you Great Spirit (or whatever is being spoken to) for the help that you will bring to help with my friends' illness."
In a sense this way of praying is opening up many areas. Firstly, by saying thank you they are indicating that the help they are asking for has already arrived, or is on the way. This cannot just be the mere use of these words, but must instead originate in a place where there is complete lack of doubt, only total trust that that which they have prayed to has heard and will respond. Secondly, by praying in a specific yet not specific way, "thank you for the help" means they are not trying to force what will come to be in a specific way or form. The spirit might have a better idea of how to help than the ways our small mind can contemplate. Thus they pray for a direction, but leave the results open for alteration.
Following any prayer (often made with the sacred herb tobacco, which was used by Rose when he was writing and can be the formation of another article) they will then offer something as a gift to nature. Again the gift is not a plea or a bribe - but instead a thank you. A way of thanking the universal force that has heard and responded - long before they notice the response in the physical. The gift is symbolizing a sacrifice or a giving up of something, to say that you can not just take from reality - you must also be constantly ready to give.
An important part of the practice of prayer for the natives concerns the thoughts within the mind during the prayer. One time while I was at my 5th or 6th sweat, Bruce the medicine man came in rather late and sat down. He was obviously frustrated. As I was so new I was not really sure if there was some sort of problem, but I had somehow managed to be seated next to him in the lodge. Bruce picked up his pipe and began to pray, then shook his head and handed me the pipe saying, "Here, you pray."
"Me? I don't know what to do."
"Doesn't matter. I have bad thoughts right now, you don't."
That was a real lesson. He knew it was better for the ignorant rookie to make the prayer than even him while his mind was unclear and angry. That somehow those thoughts would get into the prayer and they too might manifest, or in some way block the clarity needed for the prayer to come through.
Another interesting aspect of native prayers - especially when the prayer involves helping someone who is sick - is that medicine people do not pray for themselves, and many do not even pray for their own family. Instead they will ask a friend to do the prayer for them (as they would for the friend), in order to be sure nothing selfish gets into it.
The final part of the prayer process was revealed to me by Dennis McKay. We had made a prayer together in the forest, and once it was completed he told me to "now forget about it." He said that we had left the offering, given thanks, so to even allow it back into our minds means that we doubt the Spirit and the power of our prayers. In a sense this is similar to Rose's call to "want without wanting," in that we wanted it and asked for it, but then let it go and are fine if it does not come.
I feel there are many things in common between what was shown to me on various native reserves in Canada and the principles of Between-ness that Rose spoke of and demonstrated often at his farm. Perhaps something in this article will help you in working with or understanding this extremely vast topic.
A note from Shawn Nevins:
Since the TAT Foundation Press launched its first book (Beyond Mind, Beyond Death) in 2008, it has been my pleasure to shepherd in a slowly growing number of titles. Our latest is A Handyman's Common Sense Guide to Spiritual Seeking by David Weimer. I've known Dave for many years and was more than happy to help get his hard-won wisdom distilled into this attractive 108-page volume. Unwavering, to-the-point, committed, and emphatic, Dave's words are an antidote to the current crop of "there is nothing to do" teachings. Perhaps this excerpt will strike a chord:
I recall anticipating my first fateful (and damning, and dooming, it felt) step into the unknown realm of seeking enlightenment. It’s one of those indelible moments.
It’s easy to tell someone to jump when you’re an active swimmer. My enthusiasm for encouragement eclipses my empathy for your anticipatory fear. The payoff of self-dependence far outweighs the discomfort of confronting a temporary fear barrier—although it feels like you’re standing on the edge of a leap of baseless faith.
After a few steps—days and weeks—down my path, my fear faded. It was no longer a front row presence in my present-tense mind. Like asking a girl on a date or after the first day on the job or at school, actual experience took the place of panic. I’ve told my boys many times, “You only have to be brave this once; all the rest of the time you can be as scared as you want.” The truth is, you won’t be.
Last summer, my oldest son stood on the end of a diving board. He was trying to make himself dive head first into a public swimming pool for the first time. I related to where he was and what he felt because I’d been there—paralyzed by hesitation. The difference between Guillaume and me is that I’d already transcended my own fearful hesitation in this activity. I offered my encouragement and advice from the non-fear place beyond that first dive.
Some develop an ingrained habit of hesitating and avoiding fearful things, and I don’t think they ever grow up. I mean they never become their complete potential human selves. They rationalize endlessly about why they shouldn’t do anything. I don’t blame them in a way; who wants to face fear?
Others have faced their fear (any will do). They have walked forward at just that important moment—of facing a bully; performing on stage or playing in a soccer game; kissing a girl or diving from the diving board.
I regularly encounter things that challenge my willingness to step forward. I have walked forward at pivotal moments; this doesn’t mean I’m immune to fearing new situations. I have become something other than a coward, though, and it is far better to move into, through, and past your fear.
If I seem to be spending a lot of time on fear, it’s because that is the number one barrier to a person’s actually deciding to do something. If you can’t jump into a pool, how can you expect to be handed Enlightenment?
Jump. It won’t kill you. And if it does, you won’t regret it. There are always perfectly good reasons to hesitate. If you are serious about wanting to find something, I emphatically say, “Jump.”
I passed through a deep crevice at twilight,
~ Richard Rose
If you know me, you know I'm a believer in the concept of the path of spiritual progress. Not that there was a bright uphill line I followed, but that good old hard work, effort, perseverance, and honesty paid off - just like your mom might say. Yet, in spirituality I find an increasing polarity between dogmatic step-by-step/stay-within-the-line practices and practices that, well, advise practicing nothing at all.
The path of spiritual progress is littered with those doggedly chanting mantras for twenty-five years; it is likewise littered with those muttering, "I am that which I seek". The later muttering is the first of two conceptions I will address. Waylaid by good intentions, the "I am already that" crowd has fallen under the spell of some sage trying a shortcut to wisdom or trying to assuage impatient Westerners. The cat is out of the bag that there is nothing to do, nothing to become, and you are that which you already seek. The spiritual search is over and, in fact, was the main impediment to realizing what was right in front of you the whole time. So there you have it: mission accomplished. How does that make you feel? Are you satisfied? Content? Are you better off now than you were while the cat was bagged? Can you stand with ease in the face of your oblivion? Do you see what you really are? Has that seeing penetrated your bones such that you have become a part of it rather than it becoming a part of you? Instead of you getting the truth, has the truth gotten you?
A second conception out of the proverbial bag is that you are awareness. Once again, some smiling, well-intentioned guru has led the thirsty horse of your ego to the trough and you're lapping up assurance. If you are lucky, you've seen that thought is a thing apart from you. Likely as not, most people simply believe they are that which they seek. They either accept or reject such a bold statement. Awareness, however, is a beast of practical experience and seeing is far better than simply believing. There is observation of thought and therefore you must be that which sees. You are superior to the words and images that flash through the mind. Are you satisfied with that conclusion? Content? Are you better off now than you were? Is it the thought of being the observer that brings you peace or the experience of being the observer?
Let's look at thought versus experience. The phone rings. A voice tells you a loved one is dead. The words cascade through your body. Yes, you finally say, he is dead - parroting the words you heard from another. You imagine not seeing your loved one again. You review your memories and tell yourself they are gone. Words beget tears that eventually stabilize under the weight of grief. Then, later, you stand in front of a body, or a closed coffin or a gravestone and this undeniable fact pounds through your imagination; becomes reality. You are forever changed.
That's what a spiritual realization, an awakening, is: an undeniable fact that pounds through your imagination.
Back to our first concept: you are that which you already seek. It's true, but you can't just smile and nod your head. Let's strip the phrase down to its implications. Can you stand in front of the coffin of those words? You are that which you already seek. Can you stand in front of their glory? You are God. Indefinable. Unmanifested. Unimaginable. Unparticularized. You are all; you are nothing. Now remove the word "you". Without a "you" where does that leave you?
Now for our second concept: you are awareness. This statement is a little less prone to blind belief, because you can experience it for yourself. Studying the mind eventually leads to the observation and recognition of patterns - of the automatic nature of thoughts. When you see parts of your "self" as clearly as seeing a street lamp, you won't mistake those street lamp thoughts for your "self" anymore. This is not an easy discovery. There are a lot of thoughts, feelings, memories (or whatever words you partition the mind with) that we hold dearly. Yet honest observation reveals that the observed is not the observer. You are the observer; you are awareness. This is a revelation.
Yet you are not done. The watcher is also being watched. Honest and diligent meditation will reveal awareness is an object of awareness - a ballet of awareness watching awareness. Which are you? The answer to that must be your own discovery. For the ego will claim all words and all experience, and the answer will be a surprise. Only undeniable standing in front of Truth will lead to reality.
So how do you move from conception to reality? How do you stand in front of Truth? For one, accept conceptions as best guesses until further proof comes along. Realize that everything is a conception. Everything. If it appears in your mind, then it's subject to doubt. No need, though, to be paralyzed by indecision. The attitude is to work with your "highest light" until something better comes a along. This is truly keeping an open mind. How do you recognize "something better?" Sometimes it is obvious, like walking around a mud puddle rather than through it. Sometimes it requires intuition, which you hone through use and through conserving and directing your energy. And how do you do that? You let fall by the wayside anything not in alignment with your highest goal. And how do you know your highest goal? Well, my friend, you stand on a hill at night and watch the stars, and let your mind drift, then see the obvious.
There are moments in your life where you know what is important and what is not. Remembering these moments is the fundamental spiritual practice. All hard work, effort, perseverance, and honesty flow from the automatic "yes" of seeing our deepest desire.
~ Shawn Nevins
Peace isn't luck
A ray of sunlight shining upon a smudgy window is unable to illumine that window completely and transform it into its own light. It could do this if the window were cleaned and polished. The extent of illumination is not dependent upon the ray of sunlight but upon the window.
~ St. John of the Cross
Did you enjoy the Forum? Then buy the book! Beyond Mind, Beyond Death is available at Amazon.com.