buddha Tag - PaganSquare - Join the conversation! http://witchesandpagans.com/latest.html Tue, 23 May 2017 13:46:31 -0700 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Amber Necklace http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/the-amber-necklace.html http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/the-amber-necklace.html

I won a set of brown beads in a raffle. They were simple and pleasing, warm to the touch. To my surprise, they turned out to be amber, understood by the ancients as both a kind of solidified sunlight and as the tears of a goddess.


For me, amber’s combination of sun and tears recalls a paradox I’ve experienced many times: finding joy in the heart of sorrow. Those times have been moments of grace, linked through my life like beads on a string. Here are three of them:


The Common Wound


I was at the Kripalu Center taking a yoga training. We were learning about “trauma sensitive yoga”. “There is simple trauma,” began the facilitator, “caused by one traumatic event. But actually complex trauma is more common.”


A hand went up. “Can you give an example?” 


“Well, especially in childhood, there is the repeated trauma of feeling unheard, unseen, or having one’s voice repressed…”


Our listening silence deepened. There were quiet murmurs of recognition, a few moist eyes. Somehow we were all being brought back to the same kind of painful memory, literally seeing it rise to the surface in each other’s faces. Seeing its pervasiveness. For who doesn't remember those moments when we seemed invisible to those who mattered most?


The Love Guru


A few days later we had a guest speaker. The topic was “opening the heart.” I was tired after a long day of lectures, with little patience for yet another session. The speaker adopted a solemn stare that I found particularly annoying. Surveying the room with a soft intensity, he came out with a few sparse words about compassion, every now and then pausing for dramatic effect. In my mind I cynically dubbed him the “love guru”.


He began to send questions out into the darkness. At first there was silence, then a few desultory answers. Finally a young woman with a mass of jet curls and an effusive manner talked of having her expressions of love and affection rejected as “too much”, as “coming on too strong.” 


This caught my attention. I felt I had an explanation that would help her feel better. Raising my hand to speak, I told her that she was not necessarily the problem, but that some people found it hard to receive affection. I started to talk jokingly about my own experience at Kripalu, how I came in search of the loving atmosphere, but once I arrived all the intensity and positive affirmation got my back up. There were knowing chuckles, as I’d already been recognized as the group’s “bad yogi”.


And then I realized I’d talked myself into a bit of a corner. Just why was I uncomfortable with something I knew I needed, that we all needed? Shouldn’t I explain myself to this woman, help her accept the prickliness of others like me? I started to slow and stumble in my words.


“I think I find it hard….I’m willing to say…it’s because…” The next words were stuck in my throat, blocked and backing up against each other. 


“It’s because…I think I don’t deserve it.”


It’s not like this was a big revelation to me, but saying it aloud in a room full of people, none of whom felt the need to tell me how silly I was being, had a larger effect. I felt terrified and released. I had to sit in silence with what I’d just said. It felt like self-indulgence…but also like truth. 


Over the next few days, people approached me on the stairs or in the hallway.  What I’d said had rung true for them too. They shared with me stories of difficult or distant upbringings. Turns out there was a quiet fraternity of fellow sufferers out there. And now we knew we were not alone. 


There it is: the seed of joy hidden in the heart of suffering, what Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron calls the “genuine heart of sadness”.  When I was able to be surprised into recognizing my own and others’ suffering, I found a sweetness that was almost exquisite. I looked on the world with new eyes, a softer gaze. I found a willingness to be there for others and, perhaps more importantly, for myself.


The Wise Child


This redemptive gift has often come as an unexpected grace. Once I was having a deep conversation with my youngest about an aspect of their childhood in which I had really dropped the ball. I was just beginning to fathom how deeply my obliviousness had affected them. I was full of regret, but my child seemed complacent. I found myself saying, “You seem to be surprisingly okay with all this.”


Their reply? “I don’t identify who you were then with who you are now.”


This was not a distinction I had ever made for myself (or for my own mother for that matter). While practice has softened my edges, I am still capable of holding my grudges close as lovers. 


My child’s words represented a level of wisdom I could barely aspire to. And here I was, their beneficiary. Once again I felt that sense of release that accompanies the acknowledgment of suffering. I had been given the means of forgiving myself.


Buddha said, “Ignorance of suffering is also suffering.” It follows then that the recognition of suffering is the key to its relief. 


The recognition of suffering is the key to its relief: that’s why I wear the Goddess’s tears around my neck.








swiggum@sympatico.ca (Archer) Paths Blogs Tue, 06 Dec 2016 05:57:06 -0800
Can I Get a Witness? http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/can-i-get-a-witness.html http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/can-i-get-a-witness.html



One of my yoga students approached me after class. She wanted to discuss a scene from a book I’d leant her.


“You know how the author is teaching a yoga class, and one of his students breaks down crying and he cradles her head in his hands and acts as her witness? And then he shows her how to be her own witness?”


I nodded.


“Well I was wondering if you could that for me?”


Sure. No problem.

swiggum@sympatico.ca (Archer) Paths Blogs Wed, 06 May 2015 14:38:40 -0700
Sympathy for the Devil http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/sympathy-for-the-devil-1.html http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/sympathy-for-the-devil-1.html

Sure, I love bad boys. They’re sexy, rebellious, often funny, deliciously scary.  But why I really love them? Because they’re honest. Because they know how to suffer. On those days when Facebook is filled with “humble brags” and Pollyanna affirmations, I find myself on the side of those who aren’t afraid to complain. 


“Life is suffering.” Buddhism’s first noble truth used to make my eyes glaze over. However, it’s not only manifestly true, it’s liberating. Death and illness and emotional pain--from the petty to the tragic--are all inevitable, no matter how we deny it. If you’re in pain, you’re not doing life wrong. Rather, that’s just how life is, inherently imperfect. And the bad boys of myth know it.


Take Loki, the Norse trickster. He has his appealing points—a gift for making mischief and puncturing pomposity. Every scrape he gets into, he is able, through more mischief, to get out of as well. He even defuses a war by agreeing to be dragged around with his balls tied to a goat. 


But he also has a big chip on his shoulder (though travelling with the gods, he himself is a Jotun, their traditional enemy). Some of his darker tricks reflect his sense of resentment, his feeling of being on the outside, excluded and underestimated. I grew up in a teasing family where the line between mockery and outright humiliation was a fine one. I know how Loki feels—the injured pride, the holding of a grudge in the face of not being able to act openly. In fact he pretty much incarnates my own resentful little shadow—right down to his tendency to act out at family dinners.


However, when his anger builds to the point where he kills the perfect Balder, favourite of the gods, his fate is sealed. Bound by the entrails of his own children to three rocks, with a serpent dripping poison onto his face, he writhes in pain…and the earth shakes. Strangely, it’s an image reminiscent of Prometheus, a good guy to humans, but a disobedient Titan to the Greek gods' authority. Against orders, he gives humans the gift of fire—and ends up chained to a rock for his trouble, an eagle eternally pecking at his liver. There, he too struggles and shakes the earth.


The earth shakes for Christ as well, the ultimate good boy. For even he knows a moment of dark and unredeemed bitterness. In his last moments he cries: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The stories of redemption and recovery we favour tell us this is all for a purpose, but there is a dark truth at the heart of every suffering: while we’re in it, we are completely alone.


You can say bad boys bring it on themselves, or should have known better. But the gift they give us is that they suffer loud and clear. As the philosopher Unamuno wrote: “Whenever I have felt a pain I have shouted and I have done it publicly” in order to “start the grieving chords of others’ hearts playing.” Despite our culture’s relentless emphasis on staying positive, negativity is necessary for compassion and understanding. We should be wary of prematurely transcending it in the vain hope of avoiding it entirely. If we “live in hope,” in an imagined better future, then we are missing the lessons, and the healing, offered by the present.

Buddha (who had his own ordeals) would counsel acceptance to Loki, to Prometheus, to Christ. But no acceptance is worth it’s salt unless the suffering is lived with awareness. And that in itself can be a lifetime’s work. The bad boys remind us that our happy endings are hollow if we don’t first admit how much and how long and how hard we—all of us—suffer.

swiggum@sympatico.ca (Archer) Paths Blogs Thu, 11 Dec 2014 14:52:45 -0800
Fear http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/fear.html http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/fear.html

Fear. We’re in it all the time. The cancer patients I teach, friends on the financial edge, my husband who has nightmares. A disturbing childhood vision--an intruder climbing a ladder to his room but somehow never reaching the sill--means he hates to be alone in the house. 

I don’t fear death or burglars, just failure and ferris wheels. But that’s been enough to affect many life choices. I don’t drive or have a career (or enjoy amusement parks). I lead classes and ritual, but both make me sweat. I imagine my friends rolling their eyes as I seek reassurance for something I’ve done a hundred times before.

In myth, our fears take the shape of underworld spirits appeased with silent, bloody libations, whose names must never be uttered, whose forms are never seen. Or they take the shape of monsters with multiple regenerating heads or snake-haired Medusas. If you dare to meet the Gorgon's gaze you will be turned to stone. There are certain things, the stories seem to imply, that we're better off not facing.

But shouldn’t we face and vanquish our fears? Kill the monster, slay the dragon, and thereby win the princess or the treasure? Shouldn’t I grasp the nettle and get a driver’s license, train for something that pays more than yoga? Take up my sword and hack my way through?

No. Because that would be answering to my greatest fear: what other people think of me. What I think of myself. Better than trying to conquer fear is learning to live with it—because for every monster’s head you cut off, there’ll be another one. 

Buddhism tells us not to run from fear, but not to try to get rid of it either. Rather, become familiar with it, agree to it. Pema Chodron suggests we “let ourselves be nailed to the present moment” by our fear. In that place all bets are off and all that matters is the ability to steep in the fear without acting from it. And that’s enough for one day.

Doctor Who (in the recent episode “Listen”) goes further. The Doctor postulates that there are entities that need to hide but also to haunt: sensed but never seen, felt but never heard—uncanny presences, lurking behind our backs or underneath the bed. I think these creatures (and who hasn’t felt them?) mirror the part of us that needs to hide even as it haunts, longing to connect. The part that is so vulnerable and secretive that we sense it only as our shadow. The part that is afraid. We fear our fear, but what we really need to do is have compassion for it. For ourselves.

It will always be with us, its deepest roots obscure. We can’t explain it away, and so we must be brave enough to tolerate its presence. It’s our legacy. And it's what makes us human.

For not only does fear give us the power of survival—the adrenaline rush that has all our senses burning—but it is “the crack where the light gets in,” the constant companion that reminds us both of our own vulnerability and that of others. “Fear makes companions of us all,” says Clara, the Doctor’s current comrade. “Fear doesn’t have to make you cowardly or cruel. Fear can make you kind.”

Fear can make you kind. For that alone, we need it.

swiggum@sympatico.ca (Archer) Paths Blogs Mon, 22 Sep 2014 12:44:43 -0700
Homeless http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/homeless.html http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/homeless.html

Folklore is filled with the homeless. There are pilgrims and fugitives, persecuted teachers and those unfortunates fated to wander eternally as punishment or curse. Jesus said “Foxes have dens and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Dionysus fled persecution from Greece to India to the ocean to the underworld. Sara-Kali was a wanderer and patron saint of wanderers, the Rom. Buddha left home in spectacular manner, abandoning wife, child and duty, never to return.


We may feel more settled than these figures, but at some level we know the truth: everything we have will be lost, everything we love will change. We are spinning on a planet whirling around a sun swirling in a galaxy that is itself speeding into the unknown. Like it or not, we are all wanderers.


I’ve always had a roof over my head, but often felt unsheltered. And so I’ve sought belonging in religion and relationships. Yet every group I joined held someone who triggered me, mythologies that called my name then lost their power, and my idea of who I really was suffered constant (and sometimes forceful) revision. I left home to look for home, but the destination eluded me. It began to dawn on me that I couldn’t replace my imperfect parents, my imperfect past, my imperfect self, with something better. That the sense of being homeless was perhaps, permanent. 


In just this way, if we choose to walk a spiritual path it will eventually lead us away from the certainty we sought and into the desert. And there we start the real work—not finding shelter, but learning to deal with the feeling of being unsheltered. It’s ourselves—our uncomfortable emotions—that we can’t handle, not the absence of some support or affirmation. Buddhism’s great insight is that these feelings of being lost and anxious are not a problem, not something to be solved. We can learn to weather them, explore them, and watch them shift and change. Indeed clinging to belief—in a god, in a true home, in the next and better thing—is the real source of stress and angst. It’s a gift to release the effort of trying to feel the right thing, be the right thing, believe the thing we wish were true.


Our job is to accept things as they are in such a way that we are both humbled and exhilarated by the complexity, intensity and brevity of life, by the extremes of cruelty and compassion, by our complete immersion in a sea of vicissitude. Embracing our connection to life means accepting this fluidity. Rejecting it cuts us off, sets us back to square one, looking for a home we never really had.


Instead of trying to prove the Divine is real, we can choose to regard the Real as divine, that is, worthy of our attention and acceptance.“Nature’s imagination is so much greater than ours,” (Richard Feynman) giving us so many chances to stretch the heart and mind. Pagans see this clearly, honouring a Goddess who is reality, light and dark. She is big enough to be whatever we need…but not always that and not only that.


In Her Charge, She tells us, “I have been with you from the beginning, and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.” She surrounds us in the form of everything that is. And it is only when we stop desiring something other than what is that we can truly know Her.


Yes, She’s thrown us out of the plane without a parachute. But as we watch life elude explanation and certainty slither out of our grasp, we may begin to glimpse another truth: while there’s no parachute, neither is there any ground. She’s cast us into deep water, but when we know we are the ocean, we need not fear the waves.

swiggum@sympatico.ca (Archer) Paths Blogs Thu, 19 Jun 2014 13:05:27 -0700
Hide and Seek http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/hide-and-seek.html http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/hide-and-seek.html

“It’s a joy to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found.” —D.W. Winnicott

As children, we are vulnerable and know it. We hide from bullies, from punishment, from mockery and scorn. No matter how loving our parents, our lives are not in our control, and so we hide to stay safe. But we also hide in order to have our hiddenness acknowledged and respected. I remember running up to my room after some perceived slight, hoping that my mother would notice and worry over my disappearance, but not necessarily that she would find me and force me to talk about my feelings.


We hide our treasures, objects whose significance no one else would understand, stand-ins for our sense of ourselves as precious and special. And then there is the diary where we rail against all we can’t control. Of course we label it boldly “Private! Keep Out!” We want others to know that we have something worth cherishing. We may even hope that the right pair of eyes—someday— will want to open the cover and read. 


These fears and desires follow us into adulthood, and find their way into our myths. In the tale of Cupid and Psyche, Cupid, god of love, is ordered by his mother Venus to punish Psyche by making her fall in love with a monster. When he himselffalls in love with her, he spirits her away to a secret castle and comes to her under cover of darkness, forbidding her to look on him. This way he can both hide and be found, enjoying an acceptance that bypasses the implications of his divine status and his mother’s commands. 


But his secrecy is so provoking (like the label on the diary) that it drives its own discovery. When Psyche dares to steal a glimpse of him by lamplight, he flees, abandoning her. Yet, after many complications, he returns and forces the gods to accept their union. Hiding, but hoping to be found, he finally gained the strength to stand in the light.


Buddha, confined by his father within the walls of a palace, escaped to a hiding place of his own choice—the forest and spiritual practice. And who found him as he sat in contemplation, close to the insight he sought? The demon and challenger Mara, who not only saw Buddha, but claimed to see through him, judging him an impostor to wisdom.


Buddha’s memory of childhood joy had convinced him that happiness and compassion were innate to human nature, hidden in the heart. Now, in the face of Mara’s attack, he reached out from that secret place and touched the earth, in a gesture of child-like trust that in itself won him the support of the Earth Goddess. He was completing the process of finding himself in relation to a world wider than palace or forest. He was ready to go forth.


The game of hide and seek we all play moves us through the fears of childhood to its wisdom: the knowledge that we carry something precious inside us. The game ends when our hiding has given us the courage to share ourselves with the world. It ends when we are ready to be found.

swiggum@sympatico.ca (Archer) Paths Blogs Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:40:04 -0700
Touching the Earth http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/touching-the-earth-1.html http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/yoga-wicca-buddha/touching-the-earth-1.html

Pre-dawn yoga. As we flowed from pose to pose, the teacher’s words emerged from the rhythm of her own movement:  “Since we were in the womb…the universe has never stopped… supporting us. That’s why…we are still…alive.”

I knew in my bones it was true. Looking at the moon, wandering the woods, touching the earth, I find that truth again. When I disappoint myself, I know the trees and the sky do not judge. Good or bad, I am held in the web of life and known by an awareness that goes beyond my own. 

The other truth I know is that “surrender rules the gods.” Not in the literal sense of compelling the deities, but in the sense of finding power within through ceding outward control. I think of Shiva lying down on the battlefield where his lover Kali raged, trusting that when she came to attack, she would recognize him and drop her weapons. I think of Odin, pierced by his own spear, hanging on the World Tree to gain the runes.

Support and surrender come together in the Buddha’s story. A tree gave him shelter during his childhood experience of bliss. He was sitting under another when the memory of that bliss convinced him to give up austerity and seek enlightenment in an new way: with all the stillness and patience of a tree.

He vowed to remain beneath the Bodhi tree, unmoving, until he had solved the mystery of human suffering. There he met all the dark energies he’d tried to leave behind, embodied by the demon Mara and his minions. Like Odin on the World Tree, Buddha was already wounded—by the lies he grew up with and his own self-loathing. Now Mara shot back at him the fear, anger and craving that rose from that past. When Buddha refused to resist, close down or flee, Mara’s arrows turned into flowers that fell at his feet. Remaining open, Buddha saw through the pain to its root: the soul’s longing, and therefore its potential, for wholeness and connection. 

But Mara had saved the best for last. He simply asked: “Who are you to sit in the seat of freedom?” 

We all know this voice. Surely it’s sheer presumption to think we might, in ourselves, know a great secret, or have the ability to love unconditionally, or attempt anything at all. As a child who had to work hard for attention, I’ve always hated the part of me that needs it so badly. I hear Mara all the time. Who am I to write this blog, teach this class, act the part of “wise Archer” ? If I speak with confidence at one time, I may cringe at the memory of it later. There’s always that question, “Who do you think you are?”

It’s answered in one way. In the depths of his suffering, Odin gave a great cry, fell back…and snatched up the runes of wisdom. His surrender marked his victory. At his crisis point, Buddha also gave in, moving for the first time. He reached down to touch the earth. Like a child, he sought support. Like a great tree, he rooted himself in the real. And the Earth Goddess rose up and gave witness, thunderously affirming his worth.

Buddha knew that the universe supports us and its strength is ours. He also knew, with Shiva and Odin, that surrender is the key to accessing that support— giving up the idea of ourselves as separate from the world and opening to it without judgement. In doing so we come back to ourselves as children of the earth, innocent and worthy as the trees. 

The things that intimidate me, the people who trigger me—can I see them the same way I see crashing surf or impressive storms, without blame? Can I see life’s weaving there,  threading us through one another and making one whole? Can I read even my own fears and aversions as signposts to the part of me that’s ready to be free? 

I hope so. When I touch the earth, I know so. There is no test to pass, no bar to meet, to gain the right to see the world in all its confounding beauty. If I so choose, I too can sit in the seat of freedom.

swiggum@sympatico.ca (Archer) Paths Blogs Fri, 07 Mar 2014 14:14:29 -0800