Musings

Cloister of My Heart – 2

I have been enjoying some wonderful dialogues with readers about my Cloister of My Heart. Today I want to explore some of the important issues that our dialogue has presented.

Is a Cloister simply a way to deny the pain and suffering of the world?

A person may go on a retreat for a few days or weeks to shut out the pain and suffering as it is presented by the culture, but actually living within an intentional cloistered community is the opposite of denial. There is a natural pain that arises from the transient nature of life. The constant change of comings and goings, gains and losses, births and deaths is a given and cannot be avoided in a cloister. In fact, the cloister brings us into direct contact with this natural pain and supports us in authentically dealing with it and finding peace. Contrary to this natural process, culture denies suffering by sweeping it up into a myriad of ways of coping, all with ulterior (usually economic) motives. Instead of being helped to clearly look at and come to terms with the transient nature of existence, we are inundated with scare stories and dramas that are presented in slanted video clips, sound bites, and narratives, Instead of seeing clearly, we are confused and frightened. Then we are offered ways of coping with our confusion and fear. We are taught to blame others, made to blame ourselves, urged to take some sort of action which is impossible to take, and then to assuage our chaotic minds we are offered trinkets, bread and circuses, and every kind of legal and illegal soporific. This is true denial. The peace we find in a cloister is an authentic peace, not the avoidance culture offers.

The Cloister removes the sources of melodrama and fear, of blame and anger, and of avoidance, distraction, and diversion. Then, and only then, can we see and deal with real life in all of its transient wonder and all of its authentic pain. Then, and only then, can we be find encouragement, community, and practices that help us find our Divine Heart, our Oneness with all that is. Then, and only then, do we have clear minds and spirits that can authentically feel pain and loss and act in compassion and hope.

A cloistered life is real life. The cloister, because of its emphasis on clarity and because it blocks off most of my escape routes, forces me to deal with what is really real. It offers a depth and clarity of Heart and Soul. This is why the first weeks, months, even sometimes years of cloistered living are seen as a “Dark Night of the Ego.” As a gracious Abbot once told me, “Bill, this monastic life is not about petting bunnies in green meadows.”

Is a cloister of any real value to the world?

If for nothing more than offering a minimal carbon footprint, minimal consumption, and perhaps simply nurturing a group of less anxiety-ridden people, I would say a cloister is of great value. Of course there is more. When the illusory fears and dramas fade, the intrinsic nature of the person is available. From a Taoist point of view, this intrinsic nature will, by its very essence, be of joyful use whenever need arises. It might be in the service of teaching, health care, counseling, tutoring, gardening, poverty work, retreat work, or simply being available to whatever arises. When a person discovers their Divine Essence, they naturally express that discovery in their lives. This has the benefit of being, to a degree, un-selfconscious, expressing the Taoist ideal of, “virtue that is not self-aware of being of virtue.”

I appreciate the dialogue that people have opened with me on this subject. I’m going to keep looking at it and working with my “inner Abbot” to make a truly gracious and compassionate Cloister of My Heart. I am continuing to refine the expression of my “precepts” for my cloister and I’ll share them at a later date. Thank you for your interest and support. These are important ideas for a time of deep transformation such as we are facing.

Cloister of My Heart

A cloister is traditionally an enclosed space, set aside for contemplation, study, safety, and renewal. It can be a solitary space or a space shared with a community such as a monastery or convent. Over the past four decades I have spent many weeks of retreat time in cloistered communities and I continue to be drawn to the refuge, nurture, and encouragement they provide.

I feel a need for this refuge because the culture that presents itself as my “reality” is extremely toxic, filled with anger and fear, manipulated by economics, and medicated by excess consumption, diversion, and distraction. I won’t survive, let alone thrive, if I continue to breathe this miasma. I must have a sanctuary.

I cannot live in a literal monastery, however I can build a refuge within my own heart, a “Cloister of My Heart,” that provides me a protected place of safety and sanctuary. This is not easily accomplished. My mind has been conditioned all of my life to believe the illusion that whatever is presented to me by culture and media is the truth, the “real” world. It is not. The truly Real world is a place of mindfulness, awareness, and compassion. A Cloister of the Heart provides a space where we can discover the Divine Nature of our being. From such a place, and only from such a place, are we able to effectively function in our world.

So, within my mind and heart I build a place of sanctuary and support that is protected, to the degree possible, from that which would sicken and destroy me. For me, this Cloister does not allow 99% of existing media to enter. Only carefully curated information is allowed and then only in very limited ways. This Cloister provides me with a collection of practices and activities that cultivate deeper Divine energies of peace, compassion, joy, and love within me. It excludes a multitude of practices and activities that cultivate fear, judgment, anger, envy, attachment, and addiction. It enables me to cultivate authentic and honest relationships and does not support toxic and abusive relationships. It encourages me to do work that is truly helpful and kind.

Certain guidelines and vows are part of literal monasteries and convents. I find that they are essential for my own Cloister of My Heart as well. Without them I easily fall into my old conditioned habits. These vows and guidelines are still in the formative stage, but I share them here in their current form as examples of my “Cloister of My Heart” precepts:

  • I will refrain from all media that does not nurture grace, compassion, understanding, and universal love.
  • I will refrain from all thought forms that spin into spirals of judgment, blame, fear, and anger.
  • I will refrain from all conversations that do not convey grace, compassion, understanding and universal love.
  • I will refrain from all toxic foods – physical, mental, and spiritual.
  • I will refrain from all toxic environments – physical, mental, and spiritual.
  • I will refrain from excess accumulation.
  • I will refrain from any activity that brings harm.
  • I will refrain from all untruths, subtle or overt.
  • I will practice compassionate speech that brings clarity to relationships.
  • I will practice compassionate use of literature, media, and other tools that bring hope, encouragement, and peace.
  • I will practice compassionate self-discipline that encourages and does not punish.
  • I will practice compassionate livelihood that leads to satisfaction, peace, and joy.
  • I will practice compassionate actions in the world that bring healing and peace.

Following these guidelines leads me to specific disciplines, activities, and schedules. I won’t share them here because they are unique to my own situation. Suffice it to say that I try to make them flexible but structured enough to support me in forming new habits in accordance with my guidelines.

I am in the early days of establishing this Cloister of My Heart. I welcome your thoughts. Do you long for an entirely different way of living but assume it is, “unrealistic?” What if it is the only realistic way to live? What would it be like to commit ourselves to a virtual Cloister in which we find a community that offers sanctuary, safety, support, encouragement, and guidance? Ancient monasteries and convents kept alive the spark of learning and the light of faith through the Dark Ages. We are in a new Dark Age. What shall we do?

Let’s chat if you feel called to something completely outrageous that may just be the way to Life Itself.

How Many Roads…?

Last night Nancy and I watched an old recording of the Peter, Paul, and Mary Holiday Special. It was recorded back in 1988, and listening to it was an intensely emotional experience for me. The songs stirred feelings and images that were formed in me during the 60’s and 70’s, a time when the intensity of my hope for a new world was strongest. I played banjo and sang with a folk group during those years and our dreams were fueled by these familiar songs. They became expressions of our inner landscape.

As Peter, Paul, and Mary sang, “Don’t Let the Light Go Out,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Blowing in the Wind,” and many others, tears came to my eyes. As I look at these emotions from this morning’s perspective, I feel a wistfulness in my soul. The reality is that hatred and bigotry – the weapons of unbridled capitalism and corporate power – have triumphed. A wedge has been driven in the population of the United States, fragmenting us into irreconcilable shards. I see no possibility of unity and peace based on the current paradigm. The light has indeed gone out. This land does not belong to you and me. We did not overcome. There are many seas yet for the white dove to sail before she can sleep in the sand, and many more ears to listen before we can hear people cry.

But I hasten to add that I do not despair at this state of affairs. It is the inevitable result of the incredible leverage that economic power brings to those who seek it. Public opinion, for a sizable portion of the population, can be purchased, manipulated and controlled through fear and falsehoods masquerading as fact and truth. Yet the light that seems to have been extinguished in the torch we once carried can be rekindled by the fire that still burns in the souls of a dispersed people.

Hope and light have gone underground for the time being. The power of authentic spirit and true human kindness remains and flourishes in the tendrils that unite hundreds of millions of people from around the world, unbeknownst to them. It has thousands of expressions through various spiritualities, practices, and communities that seem diverse but in reality are part of a new Organism that will, like mycelia, grow underground until the world is ready for Something New to emerge. Kindness still flourishes at small firesides around the world. Compassion breaks out in unexpected places in countless ways because of this inner fire.

Take hope in this. You and I are part of this interconnected Life that, for the moment, seems conquered and dispersed, but is simply within a Yin cycle of history. Compassion, joy, and freedom actually grow stronger in the hidden places. They gain spiritual strength when they are undisturbed by futile power struggles over toys and trinkets.

This is my new song of hope. We will go to the quiet places where the earth, sky, wind, and water remain to tell us of the truly important things in life. We will hear the whispers that the chaos seeks to silence, but cannot. We will experience the authentic simple joys and delights of taste, texture, aroma, sound, and sight that commerce would seek to displace, but cannot. Our strength will grow in unseen worlds rather than be dissipated in frenetic fuss and fury. We will not despair.

When Dylan asks, “How many roads?” we will reply, “A few more yet, Bob, but someday … someday.”

Workshop – A Taoist Approach to Social Change.

Dear Friends

I am honored to be the initial presenter at a February 21, 2023, seminar hosted by Sage-ing International. This is part of their World Wisdom Perspectives on Aging program. The program is described in the link below. Note that you can register just for my seminar, or for the whole package of seminars throughout 2023. I invite you to join me with people from around the world who are finding new ways of honoring both the quiet and the active parts of their spirits.

Click on the image for information on the general program and for registration information for my seminar.

https://www.sage-ing.org/events/a-taoist-approach-to-social-change/

Walking the Tao – Chapter 81

I’ve reached the final chapter in this “Walk through the Tao.” I have received immense benefit from this way of communicating. I’ve seen the Tao sink into my life in new and profound ways. I hope you have enjoyed walking with me. These videos will remain on YouTube and the links here on my website will remain. Explore them at your leisure.

I don’t charge for any of my work, but rely on donations. If you would like to contribute to my work, such as these videos, there is a donation link on this page. Thank you for walking with me, and I’ll see you down the road.

Walking the Tao – Chapter 80

Chapter 80 says: A society should be arranged as a small village, content with the simple life. Technology may offer wonders without number, but they are seldom used. Vehicles may move with amazing speed, but they remain idle. Weapons may be sophisticated and deadly, but they remain locked away gathering dust. The moment to moment enjoyment of food and family, gardens and community, work and leisure, bring contentment and joy to life. One who lives this way will come to old age and death with the complete satisfaction of a fully lived life.

Walking the Tao – Chapter 79

In order to learn from our mistakes, we must feel that life is fundamentally safe; that we will not face eternal divine punishment. Only in a sense of safety will I be able to refrain from denying, excusing, and covering up my mistakes. I am strong enough to carry regrets that enable me to remember and say, “I won’t do that again.” But I do not have to carry the shame that will only cause me to repress and fail to learn.

Walking the Tao – Chapter 78

True relationships are founded, not the sharing of mutual strengths, but on the honest sharing of vulnerabilities, doubts, and fears. In a life that is fundamentally transient and therefore contains sorrow and loss, the facade and pretense of being strong and impervious just serves to keep us from the only true strengths and solaces we have – compassion, empathy, and love.

Walking the Tao – Chapter 77

Charity is a natural quality of the human spirit. That is, charity in the best sense of the word that avoids condescension and patronizing. It is the ability to gently and creatively let any excess of money, things, and/or time find a flow into a dynamic balance. It is the same process of dynamic balance that sustains and maintains the very structure of the universe.

Walking the Tao – Chapter 76

Tenderness and gentleness are natural qualities in everyone; but as we grow older we learn to be self-protective and afraid. This stiffens our spirits and hardens our bodies. Dead things are rigid, stiff and brittle things will break, but live things are soft and supple. Those who remain tender and gentle throughout their life are the truly blessed.