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Rumi, the great Sufi poet, once remarked that God created everything in the outer world to serve as a metaphor for the inner. This is quite in line with the perrenial religious idea that God created two “books”: scripture and nature. You might not want to chalk up the “outer world” to divine creation, but that’s ok. We can “bracket” the question of how and why this all got here (as the Buddha did), and focus on the fact that the world is (for whatever reason) and has a lot to teach us.

The outside world offers objects that serve to awaken and remind us of truths that, when applied, can be of genuine benefit. Click on a topic to see one perspective on the wisdom in front of your eyes!

Ant (part 4)

Most people go about their lives as though life is something they owned. We speak of life as something that we ‘have,’ a possession that must be held onto at all costs. We are like carpenters building a fantastic house without ever stopping to ask where the wood came from.


Ant (part 3)

Even if it’s not literally true that we were gods or ants in former lifetimes, the results of thinking this way are interesting…Like Indra understanding the need to live up to the duties his position entails, we would do well to actualize the unique opportunities that this human birth offers us.


Ant (part 2)

Like an ant drawn to sugar, the mind can’t resist articulating a sense and order to things. It does not like to find itself unemployed, so it would rather concoct shitty explanations rather than admit there is no explanation.


Ant (part 1)

We all face the choice between accepting the terrible implications of our fragility, or comforting ourselves with the idea that there’s somehow order in the chaos.


Forest Fire

Just as some seeds only germinate after being exposed to fire, pain and hardship are often required to crack the shell of ego.


Householder

When there is no longer any time left for ‘sacred’ practices, the distinction between ‘sacred’ and ‘mundane’ collapses.


Gambling

Like a gambler who can’t bring himself to accept that the house always wins, we keep placing our faith in the very aspect of the mind that’s creating the problems we’re trying to solve.


Crutches

Our ideas of the divine (or enlightenment) are there to help us correct our vision, to restore our perception to seeing reality as it really is- throughly interdependent, creative, generous, and above all, mysterious…


Freight Train

It takes a long time for a freight train to stop, and even longer for it to start again in a new direction.


Self vs. Soul

As long as we are tied to self in any way (including under the guise of spirituality) we generate suffering. Trying to satisfy the self is like trying to fill a bucket with holes in the bottom.


Dusty Lamp

When you sit for meditation and have those crazy thoughts, don’t despair: this is the process of clearing the dust off the lamp to let the light shine through, something that takes place spontaneously and automatically if you get out of the way and let it.


Sea Foam

Believing that rationality is all there is to consciousness is like thinking the foam on the waves is all there is to the sea.


Sandcastle

You can have a lot of fun playing with sandcastles, provided you understand that they will eventually crumble despite your grandest efforts.


Breaking Bread

Some people think they will find Godliness/holiness/Christ only in some realm beyond this world. But this story shows that it’s right here in the most mundane objects. To awaken to that power, however, we’ll probably have to stop texting during our meals and sensitize ourselves to what’s going on when we share food with each other.


Walking

Through the act of goalless walking, I arrive at a question: is it possible to ever walk the same path?


Bucket

In just the same way we need a container to transport water, we use words to point to the Truth….Sometimes you have to make noise in order draw attention to the silence. Words are vehicles and containers that, when properly used, point to a direct, lived reality beyond themselves.


Light Spectrum

If the light spectrum were represented as a musical keyboard, all we can see would be just one octave. * (correction: see below) There are all types of light energy all around us that we haven’t evolved the ability to perceive. If we saw the world through the eyes of...

Beachhead (part 2)

When my heart opened, I saw that no battle is necessary in the first place. The idea of a battle only occurs from the standpoint of the ego, which is keeps itself in business by repeating its claim that God/Buddha Nature is something separate, distant, and to be attained only by hard and diligent work…


Sunshine (part 1)

The teacher cannot actually cause his students to learn anything. Rather, he can only set the conditions for the students to discover their own innate wisdom. By posing questions in the right way (and by encouraging students to forumate their own), the clouds of ignorance part and the sun shines through.


In Transit

The bus has become my temple; our daily commute is a pilgrimage where I reconnect with the beauty, wonder, and mystery of life. No less than in a religious temple or in retreat, the sacred finds ways to reveal itself in the most unexpected times in the most innocuous places.


Progress

In the case of “making progress” I have to remember that I can only apply the stamp of “progress” if I know what the “better” state toward which I am marching is. If I haven’t the slightest clue about what enlightenment is, how can I tell if I’m moving toward it?


Wave

When you finally get off your high horse and turn to Me, when you finally take refuge in your own Buddha-nature, you’ll have all the peace you could ever want….The little wave finally sees itself for what it is: an expression of the whole ocean.


Horizon

Perhaps you’ll be out on a boat one day looking out at the horizon and you’ll remember that, just as your field of vision is defined by something that’s ungraspable, that you could never reach, this existence is ringed by nothingness.


Money

Only when you realize how small you are does it become clear how big You really are.


Quicksand

The problem is not that we haven’t found a suitable solution to handle the unruly mind. The problem is continuing to think in terms of problems and solutions in the first place.


Hitchhiking

You are a hitchhiker who’s come along for the ride, to understand and enjoy yourself through the fabric of space and time.


Books and Lovers

Through true communication, books and lovers inspire us to live better, through making us more aware not only of who we are but also who we could become. They often embody, in their pages or their cells, an understanding to which we aspire, which sometimes pops out in ways we cannot neither ignore nor explain.


Feedback

Artists like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Who all manipulated feedback to enhance their music. As farmers transform manure and weeds into fertilizer, musicians sometimes use undesirable obstacles as raw material.


Baby Proofing

My attempt at baby-proofing led me to understand that even if I can’t have perfect integrity in all my actions, it’s really important to keep trying.


Fake ID (part 2)

“Attention commuters: you are the product of billions of years of evolution. You are the current link in the inconceivably fortunate chain of events on this planet that stretches all the way back to the origins of life. Every one of your ancestors was one of the lucky ones to slip through the five periods of mass extinction where at least 50% of animal species were wiped out. Thank you, and have a nice day.”


Fake ID

“The individual and the universe are inseparable, but the curious thing is, very few people are aware of it…We confuse ourselves as living organisms who are one with this whole universe with something we call our personality.” Alan Watts   At the age of 17,...

Short Circuit

  Where is this One? How can we find that One? The saints say that the One is hidden in the Name. The Divine Name. The name of Love. And that by constant repetition, gradually but INEVITABLY, the Presence that is hidden in the Name reveals itself. Where? In our...

Mountain Climbing (part 2)

“The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself… Man is not the center of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful, the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the...

Mountain Climbing (part 1)

On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain. Either you will reach a point higher up today or you train your powers so you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.   Nietzsche   I had the tremendous fortune of spending a large part of my youth...

Prison (part 3)

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for...

Prison (part 2)

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard. Katha Upanishad Muhammad said, If I describe the enemy that lives inside men, even the most courageous would be paralyzed. Rumi   What was I looking for when I...

Prison (part 1)

Are you searching for the river of your soul? Then come out of your prison Leave the stream and join the river that flows into the ocean Rumi   There are times when I’m playing with my son when I’m having so much fun that the distinction between “me” and “him”...

Sculpture

Some people pick up their tools; others become the making itself. Rumi   The Rodin museum in Paris is perhaps my favorite museum in the world. I love Rodin because of the way he captured facial expressions, or the angle at which he placed heads and hands. His...

Waiting for the Metro

Being married to a Frenchwoman, I’ve had many occasions over the years to visit Paris. While there, I spend a lot of time in cafes and museums, but if I had to quantify it, I’ve probably spent more time in the metro than anywhere else.   Over the years, I’ve noticed a...

Photography

“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment” Cardinal de Retz     This week, I had the chance to see an exposition of one of France’s most celebrated photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson. His photos are so well known and...

Refrigerator Light

Last week, I described how the Balinese New Year (Nyepi) is a silent time of introspection, on which it is prohibited to leave your house. The only ones who have permission to be out in public are the village patrol (pecalung), who are there to ensure that everyone...

Coin

Last week, we had the incredible fortune to witness the Balinese way of welcoming the new year.   While the western world celebrates the emergence of a new year with raucous parties, Bali gets really quiet. The Balinese new year (Nyepi) is a silent day of...

Mother’s Love

Take a moment to look at this image and observe any reaction that may arise: Now look at this one and do the same: And this one: Is there anyone who doesn’t feel aversion toward the images of destruction? Would anyone look at these and say yes, let’s have more death,...

Surfing

Mentioning the term ‘spiritual path’ is enough to make many people recoil. I can relate, since in my pre-meditation days, I associated any talk of spirituality with metaphysical, new-agey, flakey fools. I scoffed at anyone who was gullible enough to buy whatever it...

Fruit

“Even if love is something other than a clockwork of sex that the Creator uses for His own amusement, it is still attached to it… Thomas thought: Attaching love to sex is one of the most bizarre ideas the Creator ever had.” Milan Kundera   One...

Fishing

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time near the ocean lately, in a small Balinese village which, like many seaside settlements around the world, relies on fishing to survive. At 4AM every day, we were woken up by the sounds of boats scraping against rocks...

Play (part 2)

Last week here in Bali, our guest house owner mentioned there would be a ‘money ceremony’ that coming Wednesday. At first, I was excited by the prospect, and nearly suggested we change our plans in order to witness it. I didn’t realize, however, that even if we missed...

Play

“A wise man once said that all human activity is a form of play. And the highest form of play is the search for Truth, Beauty and Love. What more is needed? Should there be a ‘meaning’ as well, that will be a bonus?”                                  Arthur C. Clarke...

Fish in Water

“One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.” (Marshall McLuhan) I felt as though a tsunami had washed through me. Everyone else quickly cleared out after...

Immune System

On the outside, it might not seem like the rise in allergies and asthma is in any way related to the dissatisfaction that many young people, with more opportunities and wealth than any past generation, feel today. Both are actually consequences of the war our society...

Health

Along with getting lost and ripped off, falling sick is a rite of passage for any traveller in foreign lands. A few weeks ago, I fell ill after eating a tasty, fattening dessert of pumpkin in coconut milk. It was soooooo good at the time, but it caused a complete...

Home

“Home…is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”   Pico Iyer   I really wonder how all this travelling will affect our baby. In the span of three months, we’ve taken Gabriel on 12 airplanes across...

Sleep

“With insomnia, nothing’s real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy, of a copy, of a copy…When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep and you’re never really awake.”   Fight Club   Given that I’ve spent most of the...

Gabriel Goodwill World Tour

“The ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions. Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not: Have you found joy in your life? Has your life brought joy to...

Museum

“Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know.” Tao te Ching     As I gazed upon Modigliani’s masterful tableau, I was suddenly confronted with the vastness of what I do not know. Here I was, a lifelong admirer of art, strolling...

Rome

I’ve been fortunate to spend the past week strolling around the open-air museum that is Rome. In between visits with my wife’s raucous and Dionysian family, we wandered through the Forum, Colosseum, and endless kilometers of Rome’s tiny alleyways...

Merry Christmas! (but what do we mean by that?)

***this writing first appeared on highexistence.com*** Today, millions of people around the world mark the birth of someone they believe to be divine. As important as it is to celebrate Jesus’ life, I feel it’s even more important to question what it really means to...

Lucky to be Alive

“If you would have known it would be like this, would you have done the same thing?” No! Winter driving in rural Iceland: I had gone too far. I knew it even before we hit a patch of snow and slid off the side of the road. I said to Giulia how I felt like I...

Path (part 3)

A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.   Then ask yourself alone, one question . . ....

Path (part 2)

“And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home.”  Wendell Berry   To...

Path (part 1)

“The spiritual path is simply the journey of living our lives. Everyone is on a spiritual path- most people just don’t know it.” Marianne Williamson   The term “spiritual path” is employed so frequently that many of us forget it’s actually a...

Desert

“What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…” Antoine de St- Exupery   The desert has long played an important role in religions traditions and individual awakenings. Much of the formative...

Electricity

“What am I? Am I the bulb that carries the light, or am I the light of which the bulb is a vehicle?” Joseph Campbell Comedy can be one of the quickest ways to open people up to truth. The spiritual teachers I’ve connected with most have all had a great sense of humor...

Soil

“If you don’t plow the earth, it’s going to get so hard nothing grows in it. You just plow the earth of yourself. You just get moving. And even don’t ask exactly what’s going to happen. You allow yourself to move around, and then you will see...

Labyrinth

Unexpectant receptiveness Unknowing openness Untainted by conjecture Curious inquisition Journeying without goal Steps that seek no ground to rest Breath following breath life moving through life Surprise! Make love with unknowing and birth the child of true knowledge...

Re-Branding

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”   In Russell Brand’s recent interview with BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman (which is currently going viral- 7.5 million hits...

Weeding

“Meditative thinking does not just happen by itself any more than does calculative thinking. At times it requires a greater effort. It demands more practice. It is in need of ever more delicate care than any other genuine craft. But it must also be able to bide...

Carbon

These past few weeks, I’ve spoken frequently of my experience as a new father. I’ve been happy to share all the overflowing joy that has come along with this transition. Yet it’s clear to me that my public presentation is only part of the story. Just as we usually...

Seed part 2

While writing and thinking about seeds last week, I mentioned Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed and the Kingdom of Heaven, and how the seed shows that “the Kingdom of Heaven cannot happen all at once or through force, but only as a result of cultivating patience and...

Seed (part 1)

“I have great faith in a seed.  Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” –  Henry David Thoreau The seed, so tiny and humble, is a powerful metaphor for countless interior processes. It’s no surprise that...

Tree

  How can a tree be seen as a metaphor for an internal process? What lessons and truths can it offer us? The Thai Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah says, “we can learn dhamma [law of nature, truth, Buddha’s teachings] from a tree.” The tree can awaken us to aspects of our...