Friday, 29 March 2013

There is Urgency Among Us

Greetings friends and readers,

Unlike my other posts that have a sort of seriousness to them this one will have even more seriousness to it and may cover more than I hope.

For those of you who do not live in the United States there is a Supreme Court hearing currently taking place regarding same-sex marriage. Being openly gay I certainly have hopes that those trusted with the roles as judges realize that my dignity and that of my fellow lesbian-gay-bi-transgender-queer and even heterosexual allies will not be dismissed.
Yet this is not the only issue at hand that is taking place in this nation at the very least. There are food products that have been approved and are quite harmful, there are movements against the children of the nation in reducing funding for schools and other forms of education, there are pop icons who are being severely (and rightly so) criticized  for their lyrics regarding women, rape and drugs. There are LGBTQ youth who are every single moment of the day crying themselves in effort to comfort themselves because they have been beaten, bruised, neglected, punished for something they cannot change.

Each moment that we are on the meditation cushion or spend in silence, all of this is taking place. This sort of silence cannot be appropriate can it? How can we just sit comfortably while our fellow human beings and the planet itself is beginning to shake in agony as the loss of precious lives begins to rise in an age where we once believed this would no longer take place?

I strongly believe that meditation does not have to take place quietly while sitting, standing or even being alone. Meditation can take place in action, global action, that pushes forward equality, justice, peace, dignity and all those other things we value and have fought for in our own lives so hard. 

We have absolutely no right to sit while children next door may be calling out for help in some way. Our meditations can only be validated in our solitary practices or communal practices if we do something about all of this. 

Yes--this is yet another call to action that is incredibly explicit. I stated today in a philosophy class  that being a member of an institution of any sort that is responsible for the death of even one  with others walking along their own paths in that institution doing nothing is cowardice. 





I am fully aware that each and every single one of us have our own struggles that we must resolve including myself but is there a way that to resolve the plagues in our own lives is to first resolve the plagues in someone else’s life? 

Is a thank you or even an absent thank you from a good deed a fulfillment of all that we do not just strive to be....

but we already are.

This is the Buddhism that I fell for, a non-silent Buddhism that believes that each and every single human even the murderer, even the psychotic have a light shining from them. A black light, a light of Emptiness. I so strongly believe this that I had it tattooed on my chest in Latin: Lucemus non Incendemus which translates to:
My tattoo

We shine not burn. 

The irony, of course, is that we must burn to shine. 

“Everything is burning. What is burning? The eyes are burning, everything that we see with the eyes is burning.” This little phrase comes from many many different Buddhist traditions and can certainly be interpreted in a variety of ways. We burn with Desire and so everything around us is engulfed in flames. Yet how negative can this be? I am a fan of warmth and a fan of the Eight Fold Path which teaches that Desire, all together, need not be something negative. It can change the world in drastic ways.

We can begin to protest and maybe everything we know about Buddhism will change. 


Is not one of the most important teachings of Buddhism is that everything is constantly changing, shifting, molding, responding, bouncing back and forth and in all directions. So if Buddhism is to change because we do not sit for twenty minutes but for ten and spend the other ten in aid to somebody else. Even if that somebody else is an ant on our table that has lost his way home. 

We are capable of so much, I need not prove that since I am posting this on something called the internet. Wow. What a thing the internet is....really....just for a few moments...think about it. Isn’t is a spectacular phenomena? In sorts, even a miracle?

As this world becomes smaller and smaller we have less and less room for foolish error. It will take place and mercy has already been granted by me and hopefully by those around me as well on those foolish mistakes. Even the Earth is merciful but, too, has its limits. It cries for help. 

I am certainly among the guilty as is everybody else, even the child. 

But I do not believe this guilt is negative one. It is a lotus blooming and blossoming into the beauty and fragrant flower that it is and so then inspiring everything around it to come and taste its nectar. The shame that I feel from time to time is soothed by the bee which comes to me not caring about the shame and the guilt that I hold onto but joins with me in a celebration of life. 

It is because we are guilty that we must act.

It is because we feel shame that we must act.

It is because we feel humiliated that we must act.

It is because we are amazing that we must act.

It is because we are capable of such beauty and love that we must act.

It is because we can act that we must act.

I never leave the meditation cushion and perform Zen miracles every step that I take. The only wish that I have is that the breath that I take each step reaches the child who is contemplating suicide because she has been told that her being a lesbian is “wrong” “sinful” “disgusting.” There is no room for tolerating these situations in Buddhism. The most simple logic will show that:

We are all interconnected.

Buddhism teaches on the cessation of suffering.

Suffering and its cessation are both incredibly complicated.

To end our own personal suffering is to also end the suffering of another person.

To end the suffering of another person we must be in the world doing stuff.

It’s really that simple. I am not the first to have said this and I hope that I am not the last. 

There is an urgency among us that cannot be ignored. 

I invite all of you with your friends, with your Sanghas, by yourselves or with whomever to remember the children, adults, plants, animals that are beginning to shake in agony because of us. We are responsible and we must do something about this. 

What did the Buddha do after his Enlightenment? He went and he taught, inviting all of those around him to join in his teachings on theorizing on how to end suffering. Many forms of Buddhism teach that we are already Enlightened, so lets do as our Teacher did....go into the world and end its suffering because frankly, I’ve had enough of it.

With Love, Sincerity and Plea

Denis Kurmanov

Reluctant Zen Masters: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and The Guard At The Gate

One day I was pushed from an elevated subway platform in Chicago’s Loop down to street level. There were pain medications, surgical options, cat scans, and many visits to many different doctors and specialists.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a research based clinical practice. It is a one on one experience, face to face. There are workbooks, revelations, and my personal outcome helped me rescue my practice during a very dark time.

If I were to have designed a perfect life for myself before training the guard at the gate, it would be completely inferior to the life I have today.

A year after falling down flights of metal stairs in a reflexive fetal position and hammering my spine at every revolution, I was a complete basket case. One of my pain medications tackled pain by ratcheting down the entire nervous system, including the brain. In spite of being functionally brain dead, I was also full of anxiety and prone to being depressed and feeling hopeless about the entire situation.

As a result of CBT and as it applies to my practice, I not only meditate on my breath as I was taught in my beginning years by my kind teacher, but I now also check in on how the Palace Guard At The Gate is doing because I ask certain things of him as a result of my CBT.

When pain enters the palace of my perception, I might be working at my desk or looking at the sky asking myself which is a star and which is a satellite. The guard at the gate does not draw his sword or close the gate when pain enters the palace.

He greets pain and hands him a nametag that says “Hello, my name is Sean”. When the perception of pain leaves my palace he opens the gate for Sean and tells him to have a good day and that a lot of people love him and are rooting for him.  He no longer beheads the perception if it is negative because he now understands that it means he is beheading himself.

I still have the pain today. It has not gone away. I am on zero pain medication and I am alive and grateful to be in touch with reality on reality’s terms, connected to other people, and constantly evaluating how I treat people and the ripple effects of what happens when I do not respond compassionately. Less than compassionate responses still happen more often than I prefer.

My palace guard {1} will never be out of work because I have invested a lot in him and he has been given more responsibility, constantly meeting and greeting all sorts of perceptions and impulses. I am pleased with his performance, even though is he is a mere human being and freaks out when I lose my car keys and can be remarkably insensitive at times. When he is at his best, he focuses on the task he is given in the present moment with no expectations of the future and any delusions of changing the past.   

It was rather convenient that both the CBT office and the sangha of my root teacher’s tradition were both only blocks away from my apartment. It is also with a warm fuzzy feeling that I regard my former therapist as a reluctant Zen master.

I would point out to the CBT professional that many of the chapters in the workbooks began with  “This is section is about the research based concept of X in CBT, which is similar to the Buddhist concept of Y…”.

The CBT practitioner would respond, “We are not here today to talk about your religion, we are here to change the way you perceive things. How are you feeling by the way?”

At the start of my therapy, I would respond that when I entered the sangha I was but a shell of a human being that could not perceive anything other than physical pain. I considered myself as a ghost haunting a zafu cushion and could not connect with anyone on any level and that when I meditated my perceptions of my body were overwhelming.  

My therapy has ended.

Reluctant Zen masters can only carry you for so long if they are truly teaching you how to walk.

Dharma teachers don’t tire of carrying you because they point the way. When you are going the wrong way, they still point the way. When you are going the right way, they still point the way.   

Therapists tend to have too much baggage anyway.

With Love,

I turn 41 on April 1st and I requested the day off of work to avoid the April fool’s jokes and to go the farmers market when parking is easy. After that I am going to reread the parts of The Miracle of Mindfulness I have yet to underline or put in brackets. Perhaps some of those sentences will resonate with me on my birthday once I have experienced them for myself that day. When every sentence is underlined, I will be ready to give the book away. I may pass away first, so I recommend buying your own copy before the chronic pains arrive. Buddhism has long tradition of liberation from suffering; chronic pain has its place in my practice. In an ironic twist, the graphic comes from a trial attorney’s web site and it contains no solutions, only problems. I spit in the general direction of attorneys due to my employment as a trial consultant after a publication I was on in graduate school. I have two teachers that practice the dark art of law, so I do not spit on them but I remain cautious.

Reluctant Zen Masters: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and The Guard At The Gate

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Very Buddha Easter Egg Hunt

We all have Dharma teachers that leave an impression on us. The one that has deeply touched me the most leads the Chicago based Order Of Interbeing Sangha.

It wasn't really any deep thoughts or flashes of enlightenment I gained from being in his humble presence, which is probably what some of you expected me to say. It was his insistence on one principle. After some of the most beautiful Dharma talks and discussions he would always end with "Don't take my word for it, why not experience it for yourself?"

So I did. Sometimes it was quite painful.

My perspective has changed since then towards all of those brave souls who offer spiritual and practiced based guidance.

After treading through the wilderness on my own, I would emerge with little gems I had found that liberated me from suffering, but those gems are empty if unskillfully shared.

To others, they are mere Easter eggs. They are just shells, concepts and representations of life experiences, but they have no substance until they are filled with the yolk of experiences.

Sometimes the Buddhist with the smallest book collection can be the one who recognizes that Dharma teachings are like egg shells. They are fragile and empty.  The direct experience can seem abstract and intellectual when shared, which is why many of the most revered teachers keep it simple. Very very simple. The simplicity can help others from suffering so deeply that a few simple egg shells, no matter how empty and fragile, are of great value when in skillful hands.

Sean Flanigan
Charlotte, NC

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

An Inappropriate but worthwhile Shout-out!

Greetings Readers!

I am going to post two links to a blog that a close of mine just started. She and I chat very often regarding our "religious and spiritual journeys" and I am now happy to be able to be reading her posts!

She has experience in a variety of religious traditions and quite a story herself that I will let her share with you through her wonderful blogs!

So here they are! These are "Skeptical Witch" and "Solitary Witch"

Enjoy! (Skeptical Witch) (Solitary Witch)

Thank you for reading! 

Enjoy her blogs if you are interested and pardon me for this commercial interruption! 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A Very Buddha Festival Film

This is a cool indie film that parallels a the journey of a child with a strong Buddha nature. She has one conception about the nature of the universe and, through a tragic unfolding , she emerges as perceiving herself as part of the cosmic web and embraces impermanence. She also becomes fearless in the process. It is a coming of age story of consciousness and it is truly remarkable.

Being able to see films like this makes me glad that I don't own a television set. 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Fearless Practicioner

transitory - passing - fleeting - temporary - momentary

Selfishness and anxiety can arguably be rooted in fear. Fear is rooted in attachments. For example, one can be bound to attachments rooted to objects and mental formations that have existed in the past, exist in present, and are expected to exist in the future. This is driven from the ego and its attempt at self preservation.

One can have a present awareness without being attached to what is going on in the present. For example, one can value one’s livelihood, prepare for it for many years, and nurture it for many years, without becoming attached to it. In this way, we do not introduce fear into how earn our rice for the day.

You can treat the wonderful people you  have encountered along your journey through the wilderness with loving kindness without being necessarily attached to them. The journey, the people, and the wilderness are all transient. When we remove the fear we make room for compassionate expression.

This may be a reasonable explanation as to why many Buddhist activists have been applauded through the ages for being fearless when fighting oppression, even if it means sacrificing their lives.

It is also a reasonable explanation as to why people are often confounded when the impulses of the practitioner do not align with the impulses of those that surround the practitioner. Sometimes a non impulsive behavior is interpreted as a lack of awareness, a lack of interest etc. However, practitioners have many "gut instincts" that they bring up for vetting because they are aware that many of these instincts are a by product of the ego.

Human beings project their fears and impulses on others. In a way, the projectors witness traces of their own ego in others because they are projecting their fears and impulses and confirming their own delusion.

“Turn the other cheek” is a confounding methodology because it goes against our impulses for the self preservation of the ego. The ego is often in denial about the transient nature of objects, beliefs and other mental formations because of the ego's own transient nature and its attachment to itself.

When we are truly present and aware, we are not bound by such attachments that the ego uses to deny its transient nature and we leave room for compassionate expression.  

With Trust,

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Karma Conspiracy: Doing My Part

You may have seen my earlier post on Lisa Nigro, a former Chicago police officer who founded an organization, The Inspiration Corporation, that now brings in about $6,000,000 a year to serve the homeless. She is definitely Chicago’s most inspiring story. At least that's what the word on the street is. I had the privilege of making her acquaintance while renting some space at a start-up incubator in Evanston and she gave a talk on writing a mission statement for social entrepreneurs.

The streets of Charlotte have mission statements in the making with social entrepreneur start-ups in this series of posts ‘Karma Conspiracy’.

It is now my privilege to  introduce you to Mike Spencer, business owner and social entrepreneur.
I just had to give a shout out to Mike in the first installment. I had the privilege of meeting Mike after he pinged me on and asked me to volunteer, out of the blue, for his participation at a social entrepreneur expo at the Democratic National Convention. Of course, I was going to be there anyway trolling the exhibits so I couldn’t turn him down.

Mike is one of Charlotte's new breed of business and social entrepreneurs and he is making a big impact with a great organization he founded:
Mike Spencer

The site uses the concept of micro donations, as little as $3 a month, and pools them together to help fund projects for both doing my part and other charitable organizations.

Mike is a very impressive and outgoing character. Just this morning, we were out on the streets of Charlotte with other people he managed to corral together by just being who he is and we hit the streets after Charlotte's most recent, snowy Saturday.

What a great day to get off the zafu to participate in a flash mob for the street team with!

Here is an impromptu video interview with Mike at the DNC. Turn up the volume, it was crowded and I had to filter out the background noise....

With A Bow,
Sean Flanigan
Charlotte, NC

Friday, 1 March 2013

Energy Percieves Energy, A War And A Head

If you look at the image long enough you will perceive a slight movement. Our eyes betray us. They are not the only senses that betray us and not the only things that betray us. This includes our introspection, our precious Dharma, and our beloved objective observations.

The suffering is inescapable, at least for a while, either way, because they both involve a war and a head because energy perceives energy.

Here’s how.

Our physical mechanisms of perception are made of matter. Our eyes and brain are made of solid stuff, which has mass. These mechanisms perceive other things made of matter, including other things that also perceive us as well. We see, feel, touch, taste, hear, and smell each other, our cats and our dogs are living together and sometimes when we are tired of perceiving each other we kill each other and our death anxiety may go up or down depending on what kind of war we consent to.

One big web of ‘things‘ perceiving other intersections of the web as ‘things’ sounds a little mundane. An elegant universe existed long before string theory. 

Mass is a property of all energy and energy is a property of all mass {1}. Even if we cant handle the idea that the 'stuff' that truly perceives is made of matter, then we trade it for the idea that the stuff that perceives is made of energy.

Does our death anxiety best explain invoking concepts such as the soul or an energy pattern being reborn, all in the name of retaining the precious ego that is somehow in the body and somehow Cartesian materialism-ish either way you roll the dice, cut your hair, shave your head, or release your mind, rot in the ground or float up to the stars when you die? Who knows? Who cares? Energy can perceive energy either way.  No problemo.

We didn’t have to even touch quantum physics or QED to get to energy perceiving energy part. We didn’t have to go gather ‘round Timothy Leary’s tombstone or pass the peace pipe to visit the Great Spirit. Nope, just good ole‘ Relativity and some ‘rules of play‘ for being objective, but all is not cool even if it seems like a really cool idea. How uncool, bad idea. It only reinforces the notion that objective observation  and introspection have no limits to their benefits.

Oh my.

If energy perceives energy and...

“All the evidence available from both science and introspection suggest that there is no continuous self which survives intact or unchanged even from one moment to the next. Instead we have continuously changing psychological processes, including the processes which produce that very sense of continuity. Yet this sense of self reappears again and again.” {2}


“Buddhism is not made up of eternal truths. Buddhism is a collection of methods and associated ideas which aim to produce a particular experience. The experience of seeing through (vipaśyana) and understanding (prajñā) the nature of experience itself. And in the meantime the exploration of experience is itself a fascinating area of inquiry. And the way we talk about the ideas that inform our practice must reflect the times and places we are in.” {3}


The transient self perceives the transient self, but there is no self if one truly finds one’s self using tools that are also transient properties of the self. The carpenter is not a carpenter without a hammer and wood, and the hammer is not a hammer without a carpenter and stuff to hammer together. If all that is left is wood, what is the point in naming it wood? Who cares? Except for the suffering. All three are not only objects, but they are a system. Without the system, these objects are undifferentiated on any substantial level.

This is close to Mereological Nihilism. If you don’t know anything about this topic, ask a philosophy major who might be one of the many baristas you see on your weekend visits to the “All things Buddha” outlet.  

The Buddhist uses the tools of introspection, like meditation, and also directly observes. The scientist uses various apparatuses and 'rules of play' for objectivity. These rules of play and their material trappings arose through culture from introspection and observation. Hooray! Now all the Buddhists were really quantum physicists and all the quantum physicists were really Buddhists all along! But not really, but maybe so.

Some of us use Buddhism as a methodology and science as a methodology in tandem.  Both research methodologies are often conducted by a false sense of self to find ourselves or go beyond ourselves.

Through the introspection of meditation and the seemingly objective methods of science, we may find that we are just ripples in the pond but not the pond. 

We may find that our beloved objective rules of play are also just a projection.

Perhaps objective observations are like a stone cast into the pond that is reborn as a small wave pattern just to understand the nature of the pond by casting the pond into the pond.

Our beloved introspection is the study of a temporary phenomenon, the self. When we use tools of the same nature for projection that we use during introspection we are throwing the same stones at the same pond and producing ripples of the same nature even if they look unique enough to be considered dualities: one that produces peace vs. the one that produces nuclear warheads and one that studies the war in our heads vs. one that produces a cure for AIDS.

The suffering is inescapable either way because they both involve a war and a head.  
Get it?

When we are still, we are the pond. When we are still long enough, there is no pond. Why even bother calling it a pond if that is all there is?  It is still useful as a metaphor.

When creating ripples, don't oppress, don't harass, don't be violent. When being still, be compassionate, walk for justice, and heal the victims, including the Earth and our future generations. Don't forget to offer a sip of compassion to the haters, the oppressors, and the murderers.  If you can't do that then offer them two sips of compassion.

Don't take my word for it.


{1} Mass-Energy Equivalence

{2} Rebirth, Reborn

{3}Emptiness for beginnners:

Image credit:
Just a cool image that looks like it is moving, even though it is not. It reminds us of how our perceptions betray us. I got this from Hippie Peace Freak on Facebook.

Buddhism and Psychedelic Experience

Greetings all!

This post is more so a question than anything else. I have heard various arguments regarding the use of psychedelic drugs in aid of meditation and emptying experience. I have heard the opposite that the use is “cheating” and it is “inauthentic” and not “truly Buddhist practice.” Buddhism as a whole, I believe, tends to lean towards mystical experiences whether with the use of these drugs or not. I will make a case for the general mysticism of all Buddhism in another post but my question is:

Are psychedelics harmful to one’s Buddhist experience of reality or are they a potential aid for a person who wants to “see emptiness” via the form of ‘tripping?’

That’s it! Comment away my friends.