Even though my true self lives in Nirvana—a state of awe in which I have no suffering but instead pure joy—my true self does not always show up in my life.
Instead, some of the time, my suffering ego—the always hungry ego that cannot be satisfied for more than a moment—shows up to reduce whatever potential the pregnant NOW offers.
So, I’ve been watching myself lately to see who shows up throughout the day. Of course I want to bring my true self to every moment of the day—creating, as Emerson said, good hour after good hour and good day after good day.
I want to be fully awake all the time. Yeah, then I’ll be a Master of Awareness. Let’s all become Masters of Awareness! Why not go as far as possible?
My true self showed up fully recently for one solid hour
Mary and I had walked in the chilly Manhattan rain over to St. Peter’s jazz ministry held at noon every Tuesday. For a $10 donation, a couple hundred music lovers get to hear a New York City jazz artist play for an hour in the nave. This day featured Beegie Adair, a famous jazz pianist who has sold out Carnegie Hall.
I had a horrible cold and started coughing uncontrollably as soon as we sat down in a pew. Beegie was introduced and began playing a sublime rendition of Hoagie Carmichael’s “Stardust.”
I hurried out, not wanting to become one of those hacking pariahs who ruin a performance, chagrined now that I will probably miss this wonderful piano playing.
In an adjoining room of the church, I blew my nose and popped some cough drops before I peeked through a partially open door to hear the music. I stopped coughing, so I re-entered the nave and found an elevated seat close to an exit in case I started coughing again. My new seat let me look down on on the pianist, most of the audience, and Mary, who was still in our original pew.
Miraculously, I didn’t cough during the rest of the hour. I relaxed into a sublime piano reverie as Beegie played Gershwin, Kern and Berlin. Then Mercer’s great meditation, “Skylark.”
Now it’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Mary glances my way.
The nave is below street level in this dramatic three story room. Windows high on two walls look out at the trees on the street level, and I watched the rustling leaves, still orange and yellow here in mid-November. Light pours into my left eye as I tilt my head to catch it, a warrior trick to gain energy. I’m accepting every gift life has to offer me in this exquisite Now.
My perception is wide open, relaxed. I’m in Nirvana.
I saw my mother playing this very same music on our piano at home when I was a child. I realized that my growing up was accompanied by these heavenly melodies. I remembered that she sat at the piano with a straight posture and a serene face.
“Mom, play ‘Whispering,’ “ I would holler from the next room.
“I don’t like ‘Whispering,” she always answered but then she would play it anyway.
Beegie talks now about a piece she will play next, but I can’t hear her soft voice. Mary is looking up at me from her seat, smiling, knowing I’m in heaven. I smile back. We’re having the same experience.
I have been coughing for a week nonstop and I can’t believe that I’m not coughing now. I wonder if my body has moved into a realm of blessed quietude, a place within that is never sick.
Beegie is playing “Heart and Soul.” I open to every note. It’s lovely here for my true self, which is resonating with every note of these gorgeous melodies. Mary turns her face to me again and we both nod, no doubt recognizing our exquisite good fortune to be here listening to this music thousands of miles from home. Actually, we have found home—our true selves—here.
Massive organ pipes scale the three story wall opposite my seat. Mom played the organ at the Cedar Falls Congregational Church and I would sometimes accompany her when she practiced in the empty church on Wednesday nights. Her small body perched on the stool seemed an unlikely source of the thunderous blast of hymns. Even as a kid I was entranced, hearing those potent roars as some kind of call to wake up and see the big picture.
Beegie closes with “Take the A Train.” Mary and I look at each other: just yesterday we had taken the A train up to the Cloisters at the northern tip of Manhattan. Everything is connecting here in the Now.
I tear up!
Love has take over my body, I guess, and it has spilled into this large space of awareness I’ve been enjoying for the past hour.
Every last one of us in the nave stands up, applauding; we’re all grateful to this beautiful artist for her gifts to us this day.
The mushotuko mind
Buddhists recognize that we rarely show up for our life. Instead, they observe that we show up with our ego most of the time, creating a false life and lots of suffering for ourselves and others.
Through meditation—zazen—some practitioners seek mushotuko mind, the mind without profit. The mind that never seeks any profit or gain is free to perceive everything that we are capable of seeing and understanding. This mind, as expansive as the universe, they believe, is our true self. As our true selves, our perceptions have no boundaries and we fly free of the tethers of the ego’s endless obsessions.
In mushotuko mind, masters of awareness find Nirvana, perfect harmony with life, loving connections in every direction. The mushotuko mind, not imprisoned with thoughts of gain and profit, is quiet, still. But we are able to be dynamic and creative in this stillness, at the top of our powers. As Lao Tsu describes the consciousness of the masters of awareness:
They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream,
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory,
Courteous as a guest,
Fluid as melting ice,
Shapable as a block of wood,
Receptive as a valley,
Clear as a glass of water.
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment,
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.
Ah, the right action arises by itself inside the mushotuko mind.
Is any Now better than any other Now?
No. No moment is better, worth more, than any other moment, even though our egos will never agree.
Our egos are constantly seeking satisfaction but never achieving it for more than a moment. I (my ego) can’t get no satisfaction, as the Stones know. But our egos don’t give up easily, insisting that of course some moments are better than some other moments. This moment is boring! All of yesterday was non-eventful—a wasted day. But, boy, I enjoyed making love three days ago: that was a great time!
The ego is unable to put together good hours and good days.
Suffering is the specialty of the ego.
Crazy! the ego shouts: are you claiming that getting tortured is as good as eating a great dinner? Well, a master of awareness is not likely to be trapped by a torturer, but if he did get trapped, he would move into mushotuko mind. The ordinary ego-driven man will not have this capability, so he, of course, can’t imagine what it’s like to live in Nirvana.
Every Now is as pregnant with potential as any other Now, presenting the only life we have in this moment.
The ordinary man or woman sleep walks through millions of precious moments, waiting for something good to happen. When the ordinary person is not sleep-walking, he or she is busy rejecting what is happening. I don’t want this! I don’t like this! This is wrong! Somebody is doing something to me! When will my dreams come true?
The dreams of the ordinary person are actually coming true all of the time—the dreams of the ego, nightmares of the ego— constantly being manifested.
You are the Now
It’s hellishly difficult to see how our consciousness creates the Now.
We think that the world presents the Now to us. We think that all of our challenges come to us uninvited, pushing their unpleasant realities into our fragile space. Or we think that we’re lucky when good fortune comes our way. We don’t think we’re in complete control of good fortune.
The ego lives in a self-created Now, regretting much of it, restlessly waiting for a new Now. Ah, a good name for everyman— Mr. or Ms. Anewnow Please, a hapless shmuck for whom the present moment is never quite enough.
We, confused gods that we are, create the Now whether or not we know it.
But when we’re poised, we live in awe, and our cups are brimming. Poised, nothing can be added and we are in Nirvana.
To be poised is to have the mushotuko mind.
All of us seekers are learning to quiet down—to get home as Buddhists might say. We’re meditating. We’re learning how to shrink our egos. Our lives are expanding.
We’re more and more creating the Now consciously. We’re headed home—to our true selves.