Becoming Mindset vs Accepting Mindset

For this stress comes into play

in dependence on every acquisition.

With the ending of every clinging/sustenance,

there’s no stress coming into play.

Look at this world:

Beings, afflicted with thick ignorance,

are unreleased

from passion for what has come to be.

All levels of becoming,

anywhere,

in any way,

are inconstant, stressful, subject to change.

Seeing this–as it’s come to be–

with right discernment,

one abandons craving for becoming

and doesn’t delight in non-becoming.3

From the total ending of craving

comes fading & cessation without remainder:

unbinding.

For the monk unbound

through lack of clinging/sustenance,

there’s no further becoming.

He has conquered Māra,

won the battle,

having gone beyond becomings

Such.

Ud 3:10 (https://www.dhammatalks.org/suttas/KN/Ud/ud3_10.html)

There is a paradox in the spiritual path, in the adult development path, in the life path.

We move from dependence on our caretakers to a social identity based on peers to individualization of one’s values and beliefs.

It’s a pretty huge step going independent from one’s culture, one’s family, one’s expected path.

A lot of people who come to therapy, to meditation retreats, to circling immersions, to coaching, and self-help books are trying to become better. Trying to become my ideal self.

There’s always some wound that needs healing. Some skill I need to master. Some future becoming that promises fulfillment and wholeness.

And on one hand, it is kind of true. One can and does and ought to learn more skills. To receive the needed care and nourishment they missed out on. Development is a real thing.

But, then, a decade can go by. Two decades. And it seems that this pursuit of Becoming Better is its own form of delusion and suffering.

We replaced the masters of society or family or religion or work and instead made our cravings and passions into our master.

When we see the futility of this never-ending pursuit, we drop hope/fear (longing/dejection) for the world, for a future self, for anything and instead attend to what is here right now. Rather than pursuing some ideal Becoming, we utilize a skillful form of Becoming to pay attention to our Being. This is how we enter jhana. This is how you enter presence.

This is the path of say (good) therapy, circling, meditation. Martial arts. Yoga. Qigoing. It is the opposite of say Facebook, YouTube, advertising, and most prevalent forms of entertainment, comfort, and pleasure.

Because maybe this constant pursuit for Becoming is based on something we absolutely do not want to feel. Based on some addiction or passion we are not conscious of. And if that’s the case then the root of the problem is not on achieving the object of our passions but rather looking at the passion itself.

How to move towards a total acceptance of what is? Of who I am? Of the multitude of what I experience and what’s happening. This itself is a type of Becoming Work to become aware and accepting enough to notice experience without getting hooked.

In meditation, the question might be, “What if this breathe however it shows up is the perfect breathe? This very breathe right now.”

In circling, the question might be, “What if the way things are right now is actually perfect?”

And in life, the question might be, “What if this was exactly what is suppose to happen?”

Some may worry that this is justifying all types of terrible things. War. Violence. Abuse.

But the point is not to become a passive witness to life. Rather, it is to stop fighting existence and instead collaborate with Life towards truth, beauty, love. If we are actually rejecting some part of what already is existence then we are already in conflict with truth. And truth always win.

Then the Buddhist form of karma where on one hand, we take full acceptance for what is AND simultaneously we take full responsibility of our response towards what will be. We are both a product of our past actions and our current response.

I see this paradox and addiction showing up for me often. I constantly am trying to make sense of what am I to become now? What is my role in this life? Seeking an identity, a location, a network to Become and thereby feel whole again. But this is a fool’s errand if I cannot first stay at the level of Being. I am not a problem to be fixed or healed or solved. Rather, this life is an unfolding in partnership with Life itself.

More Readings:

  • https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/paradoxofbecoming.pdf

  • Search Adult Development for Teal vs Turquiose stages

I don’t express anger because I don’t want to feel disappointed.

I’ve been working on how to hold intensity in my experience, particularly in my body.

If I had to bet, I believe this is a key component across many fields:

Sexual orgasmic pleasure.
Holding anger at others.
Ability to access jhana states in meditation.
etc.

Whatever experience we cannot consciously experience gets repressed, diffused, or managed somehow. As Shinzen says, meditation is all about having a complete experience. A lot of trauma work, meditation challenges, and so on is around fully experiencing what we could not hold before and how to more fully live now. We could also say being mindful, conscious, aware, present.

Children don’t have the neurology or skills yet to process traumatic experiences which leads to all kinds of consequences. For example, my parents fighting was so intense for my child mind and also didn’t have resources or people to process with afterwards that as an adult, I’ve become a peace keeper. So much of my habits and perception and behavior is around dissipating, avoiding, de-escalating conflict. This has benefits and also obvious downsides.

Recently, I was doing a session with a friend. And I have this static image of my parents fighting. It’s behind a glass screen. I try to enter the scene. To make it live. To make it 3D and with color. I haven’t fully processed these experiences.

I do a side move. What is it about anger and fighting that’s so overwhelming? And it’s not really anger. It’s really about disagreeing with anyone on something that feels fraught or potentially a deep values or perception difference. I’m scared of being abandoned? Of the other person leaving me because we disagree on such a fundamental axiom?

But as I peer even deeper. Something bubbles up that really I’m scared of feeling disappointed. I’m scared the other person won’t see me, won’t feel me, won’t understand me and then will leave. Losing a person is terrible. But what I really don’t want to feel is the disappointment of losing faith in someone. In a relationship.

And I think back to my family and see that disagreements lead to fights which lead to unresolved scars. If there was no way to fight and heal then the best thing is to nip the root. The root of disagreeing in the first place.

Of course, disagreement is a fact of life. Relationships have to learn how to fight well. And perhaps most importantly, to not be able to share disagreements means not being fully in.

Paradoxically, the more willing and able to feel disappointment, the more deeper a relationship can be then.

CircleAnywhere LevelUP Local Immersion @ Monastic Academy February 2022 Reflections

Recently, I participated in a four day immersion of the CircleAnywhere LevelUP Local taught by Mike Blas & Jordan Myska Allen. The Monastic Academy hosted the event.
 
I loved it. I felt the ground shifting under me each day. I saw small insights about my personality and behavior. The tensions in leadership of caring for others versus owning my desire. My love of circling and its potentials as a journey towards truth and being. I can’t put a pin quite on it, but it felt rich.
 
The most important aspect was that I felt excitement about my future rather than confusion and self-doubt. I came to terms with my future changes and voiced to Blas and Jordan wanting support in it. That felt good.
 
This weekend was also rare in that everyone participating were already experienced and advanced circlers. On the very first day, we dropped in deep and didn’t have the usual anxiety/having to teach circling/working through projections and defenses of those projections about patriarchy and colonialism and parents and shit. I mean that stuff still happens. But, each of us had enough trust and experience with the practice that we could use that all as fodder to move forward rather than get bogged down. The depths and momentum that we could go through with our group was much deeper and faster than any other circling group I’ve been a part of.
 
As I am writing, I remember several moments.
 
I remember connecting with Jordan and felt more like old time friends. We freestyled sang a song. And I felt a kinship around each of us wanting to support each other. We share this aspiration to ethically bring truth and love to the world at a mass level. It’s rare I meet others who are so committed to the path of truth and also willing and able to get messy with the practical aspects. ie. leadership, projects, and community and shit.
 
I remember we did an informal circle after-hours and the rest of the MAPLE community were invited to join, a few did. I felt a mix of pride and defensiveness initially. I wanted to show that MAPLE knows how to circle. And I also felt protective of the existing momentum the LevelUP group had already accrued and didn’t want to slow down. So, I held a much higher razor’s edge standard of presence and truth. It got edgy. And one point, one of the MAPLE folks asked me, “how come we don’t always circle like this?” I took it as an attack on me rather than an exciting call to action. Because deep down, I’m not sure it’s always possible. Isn’t this the human constant struggle? How much can life energy express without getting stepped on and hurt? How much can we let our inner light shine with others before it’s not okay? That’s the edge. Likewise, I felt a tinge of rejection that night in circling and spent the night crying and grieving deeply over my shadows and wounds. Of my childhood neglect. Of feelings of unlovability. Of inadequacy. It was painful but revelatory. It feels like I cleaned out some shadow memory of not being enough, of not feeling cared for enough in my childhood.
 
 
I also remember one of the exercises we did was new. It was around how we’re always setting context. Or our actions matter. Or karma is real.
 
It had three steps.
 
1) Noticing what is happening. (ex. I am anxious)
2) Noticing how I’m holding it (ex. I don’t like it, this isn’t okay.)
3) From that place, coaching myself to the next step. But expressing the coaching as if I was coaching the group. (ex. Sometimes, things are hard, that’s okay. Let yourself feel it.)
 
After several shares, I noticed I was anxious and scared and my shares were coming out aggressive and sharp. I also noticed my holdings were reactive and negative.
 
Another prompt for the second step was, “how would God hold me or relate to me right now?”.
 
So, I shifted taking a moment to move between Noticing to Holding. I could differentiate “How I was Automatically Holding” to the next step towards “How Would God (or any benevolent loving, wise figure)” hold me. And then take that on instead.
 
So for example, before I was saying, “I’m noticing I’m anxious and tense. I’m holding that with I fucking hate this. Stop being a wimp and surrender already.”
 
Now, I could go to “I’m noticing I’m anxious and tense. I don’t like it. (How would God treat me in this?) It’s okay to be tense sometimes. Allow yourself to move at the speed you need.”
 
It’s funny because it’s such a basic mindfulness 101 exercise. But it was so helpful to do it with another partner and felt a trippy, loving state.
 
Another moment, I was in a feedback circle. The person receiving feedback was transforming. A metamorphosis from a caterpillar to butterfly. I could see it in front of me. And I could witness that liminal space where all the mental models and defenses have to drop and enter the complete unknown. Shed all the old bones and skin. Become that transformative goo. And it finally dawned on me witnessing this person be so scared and fearful and nervous moving through this. Of course! I’ve been in that stage so many times and I always had this subtle judgment that I shouldn’t feel scared. One day I won’t face change and growth with so much life threatening fear. But seeing this person going through this, I instead felt compassion such that it reoriented my own beliefs. It felt like I gave myself permission to have a messy transformation because I felt compassion for my friend going through it. Of course it’d be scary. It’s healthy and normal to feel scared. The only question is completing it.
 
There were so many moments.
 
It was so amazing that six years ago I meet Blas and Jordan. And now I got to invite them to MAPLE. The different worlds of my life are cross pollinating and each world is getting stronger for it.
 
I first did circling back in 2015 in NYC, a weekend immersion with John, Sean, and Jordan. It was life changing for me. I started leading informal circles with friends back home. It helped me get over my self-doubts and apply to join MAPLE. Later, I started teaching it at MAPLE; it has become the most popular aspect of MAPLE, second only to the meditation interviews. I’ve spent more money invested in circling training than anything else. It’s changed my relationships, my leadership, my life in general.
 
In about two weeks, I’ll be co-leading a circling week-long retreat at MAPLE. My 9th? or something at this point.
 
Hope to see you at a Circle in the future.

Xūramitra New Dharma Lay Ordained Name

Recently, I took lay ordination at the Monastic Academy (MAPLE) under the head teacher Soryu Forall and Shinzen Young. We took the vows in an evening ceremony lasting a little over an hour with six others taking ordination as well. Shinzen video conferenced in from his home out in Arizona.

Lay ordination means to take certain percepts as a life-guiding principle. Typically in a public ceremony within a tradition.

Beforehand, I had been asked if there was anything about the name I wanted. I said I would like a name starting with the letter “X” to fit my middle initial. However, it’s impossible to find “X” in Sanskrit or Japanese.

They gave me the name Xūramitra. Xura == hero and Mitra == friend. In Sanskrit, it’s really Sūramitra. But, they said in Chinese, the “X” is pronounced the same as the Sanskrit “S”.

One interpretation would mean “heroic friend”, I prefer “friend of heroes”.

In the past, Shinzen gives out names with the character “Shin” as the second character. In this way, it’s possible to trace lineages back countless generations as students take on the first character of their teacher’s name as their second character. So, here, many of the lay ordained have names like Tasshin, Joshin, Kaishin. But, we also have the option to get international dharma names which usually means Sanskrit names.

Everyone around here just calls me Mitra to make it simple.

My friend sent me this nice poem Mitta (Pali for Mitra):

Full of trust you left home,
and soon learned to walk the Path —
making yourself a friend to everyone
and making everyone a friend.

When the whole world is your friend,
fear will find no place to call home.

And when you make the mind your friend,
you’ll know what trust
really means.

Listen.

I have followed this Path of friend to
its end.
And I can say with absolute certainty —

it will lead you home.

Lay ordination essentially means taking on the Five Percepts and the 4 Great Vows. At the end of our ceremony, we chanted both with Shinzen leading the five percepts to not take life, not take what is not freely given, to have right relationships (no sexual misconduct), no lying, and free from intoxicants.

Personally, I felt I’ve already committed myself to these but this was a very public way to do it. Living up to my name, it was primarily one of my fellow monastic friends, Renshin, who recently said she wanted to take lay ordination with me and then told Soryu she was interested recently as well. So, if it wasn’t for her, I don’t know if I would have seriously gone through with this ceremony this year.

The new name felt auspicious as I’ve been studying a lot of leadership material especially military material like Navy Seals training and most recently Major Winters autobiography of the famed WWII Band of Brothers. The Stephen Ambrose book and film ends: “In one of his last newsletters, Mike Ranney wrote: “In thinking back on the days of Easy Company, I’m treasuring my remark to a grandson who asked, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ ” ‘No,’ I answered, ‘but I served in a company of heroes.’ “

That seems perfect. I don’t know if I would self-identify as a hero. But I’ve spent almost my entire adult life wondering about this question of how to be a good friend and how to do the right thing. More than anything, I’ve wanted to develop a company of heroes here and it feels like, with this last lay ordination, it just might be starting.

Why don’t we have more leaders?

So, we continue our series on Leadership. 

In the first post, we defined Leadership as the skill of power to bring individuals together towards a vision. We defined different forms of leadership and argued that the best leadership power involves earning the respect of your followers rather than only relying on delegated power derived from an organizational position.

In the second post, we differentiated leadership from management. Both involve power over a group of people. We used Kotter’s distinction that managers deal with complexity, on organization and optimization. Leaders, on the other hand, deal with change. 

In this third post, we will explore the question, why is leadership so hard? Why don’t we have more ethical leaders?

Talking about my experience at the Monastic Academy, a lot of people who would be attracted to hundreds of hours of silent meditation practice in rural Vermont, do not want to take full responsibility for power. To many of us, we have seen too many people of power who are unwise, uncaring. It almost seems like power equals harm. 

If we start with the premise that humans are innately selfish creatures then too much power must lead to harm and abuse of power. Therefore, there has been a movement towards decentralization, distributing power all the way back to communism and beyond. We say, “everyone is equal. We don’t need leaders.” We want to disempower traditional leaders and systems to more fairly and equally distribute power. Taken to the extreme, it is to remove the question of power altogether. We do not want to cause harm. So, it seems the best way to achieve this end would be for no one to have power over anyone else.

But, the truth is there is always power dynamic. Pretending otherwise is only to push power into the shadows. 

While this aim to distribute and empower everyone is a noble goal and aim, the way to get there requires leadership. Thereby requires power.

We need to acknowledge development is real, development exists. People are at different developmental maturations. I hold the Metamodern idea that those who are more trustworthy ought to take on power in order to help less trustworthy people to become more trustworthy and thereby more empowered. 

At MAPLE, we have a hierarchical system of power. New apprentices just starting out are in terms of explicit power at the bottom of the hierarchy. They hold little sway in organizational decision making such as who should we accept for residency? How will we change the schedule? What amount of time will we devote to a workshop, if any at all?

But as apprentices near the end of their terms, we give them increasingly more responsibilities and thereby more power in their roles. Furthermore, residents have increasing roles and responsibilities and thereby more power in shaping the community culture and structures.

To us, this is how it ought to be. As a person matures in their wisdom and virtue, in their understanding and capacity to deal with challenges, they are given increasing complex roles of  power. With that increased power, their edge in wisdom and virtue is pushed even more. And so the cycle continues. Eventually, a resident may become a Director, a Teacher and be ultimately responsible without anyone else to fallback on.

I would argue that this queasy feeling with power means that those who don’t have these fears and worries end up taking all the power. And those with love and wisdom end up powerless. Because leadership and power are skills, practicable skills one can get better at. To step away from power and always hope that simply believing or saying nice things is enough for others with the real power to change is a delusion, is to disempower one’s self.

Thus, we come to one answer of why we do not have more ethical leaders.

Partly, it is because the zeitgeist among many spiritual folks is against the idea of leadership and power in the first place. But, why is there this aversion to leadership and power?

Because, to be a leader means to not have anyone else to fall back on. It is to develop into an adult. Particularly if you are trying to be an ethical, good leader. A leader who does right by your followers and yourself and the world. 

To be a leader with power means to sit at the crossroads of the unknown where important decisions must be made. Even indecision is still a decision with consequences. Leadership is to bear that responsibility of consequences and impact on others, on potential harm, of possibly unfulfilled good. When no one knows what is correct, when every direction has benefits and costs. Yet, as the leader, a direction must be made even if it is choosing no direction. That terrible burden of command must be accepted, embraced. For every moment is another leader movement, is another opportunity.

We don’t have more ethical leaders because many of us training to be ethical are more afraid of being perceived as harmful than we care about doing good. Because communities are unwilling or unable to support developing leaders to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. All of us seek out this unicorn perfect leader who makes no mistakes and thereby causes no harm. Due to this standard, many of us would rather avoid the burden of leadership, burden of power. 

Consider, Major Winters again talking about his leadership role:

Combat had made me tense, particularly since my decisions now meant life or death to the members of my command.  Commanding soldiers in combat requires a personal detachment from the men themselves. In a sense, command is the loneliest job in the world.

Beyond Band of Brothers

What sane person wants to feel the burden of juggling the lives of others? Fellow brothers in arms that we are deep friends with? Knowing to make a decision is going to involve the potential death of the people you are responsible for? 

There are only three options then. Either you (A) stop trying to care, become numb (this is most of the unethical leadership in the world today) (B) disempower yourself and do not be a leader, or (C) as Winters did, embrace the burden of caring and fulfilling the mission.

Let’s look to Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the need for power and why we shy from it:

…Now another basic challenge is to discover how to organize our strength in to economic and political power. Now no one can deny that the Negro is in dire need of this kind of legitimate power. Indeed, one of the great problems that the Negro confronts is his lack of power. From the old plantations of the South to the newer ghettos of the North, the Negro has been confined to a life of voicelessness (That’s true) and powerlessness. (So true) Stripped of the right to make decisions concerning his life and destiny he has been subject to the authoritarian and sometimes whimsical decisions of the white power structure. The plantation and the ghetto were created by those who had power, both to confine those who had no power and to perpetuate their powerlessness. Now the problem of transforming the ghetto, therefore, is a problem of power, a confrontation between the forces of power demanding change and the forces of power dedicated to the preserving of the status quo. Now, power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change. Walter Reuther defined power one day. He said, “Power is the ability of a labor union like UAW to make the most powerful corporation in the world, General Motors, say, ‘Yes’ when it wants to say ‘No.’ That’s power.”

Now a lot of us are preachers, and all of us have our moral convictions and concerns, and so often we have problems with power. But there is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly.

You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. It was this misinterpretation that caused the philosopher Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject Nietzsche’s philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love.

Now, we got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. (Yes) Power at its best [applause], power at its best is love (Yes) implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. (Speak) And this is what we must see as we move on.

Now what has happened is that we’ve had it wrong and mixed up in our country, and this has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through love and moral suasion devoid of power, and white Americans to seek their goals through power devoid of love and conscience. It is leading a few extremists today to advocate for Negroes the same destructive and conscienceless power that they have justly abhorred in whites. It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times…

https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/where-do-we-go-here

There’s a lack of wise, virtuous leaders. Too often we find wise, loving activists in the world devoid of power. They may have good ideas and good intentions, but ultimately, they achieve very little. Meanwhile, we find those with the most power often uncaring about the concerns of the wider world and other people. If these powerful people have to choose their personal profit versus protecting a rain forest, they will go for profit. 

To bring about the changes needed to bring peace and life, we need to bridge this gap. This is one of the great jobs of MAPLE in bringing leadership training integrating these three pieces of wisdom, love, and power. As MLK Jr. said, power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.