If Only

Welcome to Week Seven ofBeyond Self 2012in SunnyRoomStudio, a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.  Our informal spiritual retreat is an excellent opportunity to “practice” your spirituality each week, challenging yourself in meaningful directions.  And if you are keeping a weekly journal, it will be great to hear from all of you at the close of our retreat in late December.  Until then, comments are closed, so you are free to focus on your internal work during this time.

  • All conditioned things are impermanent. Work out your own salvation with diligence … Buddha’s last words.

Clearly, it’s one thing to talk about spirituality or enlightenment, but quite another to commit to an actual spiritual practice.  Where are you on this continuum?  Still leaning on the past, or what you learned while growing up?  Ideas that are possibly stale.  Beliefs you have probably outgrown.  Remember: the conditioned mind is just that.

How have you been “conditioned” by family, friends, society?  Especially during your most formative years.

In this retreat, we are tapping into the “unconditioned,” as Eckhart Tolle calls it.

  • What do I mean by unconditioned?  If you don’t know, I hope you’ll look it up this week.  A vast, boundless realm is my only hint.


Week One: Extend Your Gaze
Week Two: Always Evaluating
Week Three: Being Brevity
Week Four: Entanglement
Week Five: Beyond Attachment
Week Six: Eternal Nature

“Finally, in looking for the thing outside of ourselves that we hope is going to complete us, we turn to a spiritual discipline.”  ~ Charlotte Joko Beck, NOW ZEN

Have you spent a lifetime looking for something besides yourself to provide what you think you need or want?  Many people have and do.  And, unfortunately, our culture promotes this fruitless search.  When did it begin for you?  Can you even remember?  


This is our Noah, about 10.5 years old.  He’s been a wonderful member of our family.  Our days intertwined like grapes and sunshine.  Joko Beck writes: “My dog doesn’t worry about the meaning of life.  She may worry if she doesn’t get her breakfast, but she doesn’t sit around worrying whether she will get fulfilled or liberated or enlightened.  As long as she gets some food and a little affection, her life is fine.  But we human beings are not like dogs.  We have self-centered minds which get us into plenty of trouble.  If we do not come to understand the error in the way we think, our self-awareness, which is our greatest blessing, is also our downfall.”

  • And she’s right.  Noah doesn’t look all that worried in this picture.  In fact, he looks rather peaceful and content.

While we worry about his health and how long he will be with us, trying not to dread our eventual parting, he is simply happy when I pick up his leash for our next walk.  Content with a long nap, a treat, catching pieces of popcorn (that is fun to watch!), or sitting peacefully, doing nothing.


Conversely, Orion, our 11 month old puppy, prefers a blur of activity.  He finds it challenging to simply “be” … always looking for something to chew on, to bark at, or to seek attention from.  Noah, quietly strolling around our backyard, gets annoyed with Orion when he runs toward him, wanting him to play.  They are polar opposites in many ways, and it has been quite challenging at times to meet their different needs.  Toss Lola, our 11 year old cat into this high-maintenance mix, and things can get interesting :)  But life is our practice, 24-hours a day.  And even on the especially exhausting days when I feel lucky to write two coherent sentences, I try to remind myself of this.

  • So what am I pointing to here?

There are several spiritual lessons in this quick look at animal behavior.  I encourage you to find your own “lessons” in this way, pulling from your environment each day the dynamics that speak to you on a deeper level.

  • Are you more like Noah, or more like Orion?  Are you easily satisfied or are you malcontent, always restless, blaming, and looking beyond yourself for mental stimulation or ego-satisfaction?  Do you drum up stories in your mind about others just to entertain yourself, to shore up your false sense of self, or are you beginning to calm your mind through your spiritual practice?  Through sitting (zazen) and meditation.
  • Do you realize that your stories about self and others are truly only “stories?”  What are you BEYOND your story — accurate, false, or make-believe?
  • When you talk with someone do you relate to him or her as if for the first time, staying open to “what is,” or do you impose your fabricated story about them on the moment — making all genuine contact unlikely, if not, impossible?

Beck writes further: “To some degree we all find life difficult, perplexing, and oppressive.  Even when it goes well, as it may for a time, we worry that it probably won’t keep on that way.  Depending on our personal history, we arrive at adulthood with very mixed feelings about this life.  If I were to tell you that your life is already perfect, whole, and complete just as it is, you would think I was crazy.  Nobody believes his or her life is perfect.  And yet there is something within each of us that basically knows we are boundless, limitless.  We are caught in the contradiction of finding life a rather perplexing puzzle which causes us a lot of misery, and at the same time being dimly aware of the boundless, limitless nature of life.  So we begin looking for an answer to the puzzle.”

  • To date, how have you tried to cope with this life puzzle?  Where have you looked for answers, for peace, for completion?  How much of this “seeking” has worked?  How much of it has only brought you suffering?  What happened to alter the cycle of “if only,” for you?  Or are you still lost in the senseless land of “if only” — still sleepwalking through life, avoiding mindfulness and spiritual awareness?
  • Do you live with a great deal of unease, or existential anxiety?  Are you like our puppy, Orion, just never quite getting beyond your immaturity and self-centered ways?  Beck believes that some people live like this until death.  But she points out that as the years go by it gets worse and worse.  “We all know people who might as well be dead; they have so contracted into their limited viewpoints that it is as painful for those around them as it is for themselves.”

I’ve experienced this, haven’t you?  And she’s right.  It is painful.  It’s like the wonderful 1993 movie Groundhog’s Day with Bill Murray.  The conversations are predictable; they never move beyond the superficial.  And there is no joy in the connection.  It feels like “work” …  it feels senseless and pointless.

Beck advises that this grim reality will continue until we wake up to the need to “work with our life.”

  • What does she mean by this?  Are you “working” with your life, are you practicing your spirituality, or are you “resisting” life … lost in a dream world of “if only” … ?

She reminds us that enlightenment isn’t something to achieve.  Rather, it is the absence of something.  What are your thoughts on this?  Do you seek enlightenment?  How so, and what does this concept mean to you — how would you define it?

“We enter a discipline like Zen practice so that we can learn to live in a sane way.”  Do you live in a “sane way,” as Beck puts it, or are you trapped in dysfunctional patterns that keep you looking for ever-fleeting answers on the external level?  Why?  Or are you settling down with yourself in a good way, finally?  Are you looking at others with a sense of knowing, with the ability to perceive their eternal nature?  Even if they can’t see it, I hope you can.

  • Do you grace others by your presence; or do you go on and on about your ideas of old … never daring to explore new ideas or figure out who you really are on a spiritual level?  Do you force the people around you to relive their experience of you, time and time again?  Are you locked in Groundhog’s Day?
  • I have always felt drawn to a spiritual path, but when my 27 year old son died, I knew with great finality there were no more answers for me on the external level.  After all when the “external” we love vanishes from earth, it’s definitely an invitation to look within for something beyond our limited mortal vision.  Of course, this awareness did not spring to life without conscious effort (and there are many who avoid and deny the critical lessons of loss), but, for me, my son’s death was a lasting catalyst for my spiritual growth, and for that I am most grateful to him.  Paradoxically, once my connection to universal awareness deepened, indeed, once my spiritual essence became truly known to me, I felt connected to the external world at a deeper level — not “needing” it, per se, but appreciating life and the simple, yet, profound, joy of being.  Each moment is enough.  Each moment is as it should be.  Each moment is only about “this,” nothing more.  And “this” is “limitless.”  ~dh

Clarity brings about bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

See you next week for Week 8 of our spiritual retreat: BEYOND SELF 2012.

There is no end to the opening up that is possible for a human being. Eventually, we see that are the limitless, boundless ground of the universe. Our job for the rest of our life is to open up into that immensity and to express it. Having more and more contact with this reality always brings compassion for others and changes your daily life.  ~Charlotte Joko Beck, NOW ZEN

Blog posts by DazyDayWriter @ work in SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.

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