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nuts and bolts

I simply present what works for me. I don’t have time for extended practice.  I barely have time for any practice at all. I address my comments to those who work, take care of family, and are fully steeped in a life which is not privileged with leisure.

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Right off the bat I need to state that we do not follow any established tradition.  I feel Anthony de Mello hit it on the head when he wrote:

“As soon as you look at the world through an ideology you are finished. No reality fits an ideology. Life is beyond that. That is why people are always searching for a meaning to life… Meaning is only found when you go beyond meaning. Life only makes sense when you perceive it as mystery and it makes no sense to the conceptualizing mind.”

While I have found immense value in what could be called contemporary nonduality, especially in the very lively streams developing from Nisagadatta to “Sailor” Bob Adamson and John Wheeler, and from Atmananda Krishna Menon through Francis Lucille to Greg Goode, I am very aware that this message is not for everyone. I recognize the necessity to balance nondual insight practices with those which develop the heart. As is made very clear in Mahayana Buddhist teachings, developing one at the expense of the other leads to a lopsided life.

I don’t think we need to venture outside of our own culture and rich Western religious inheritance to cultivate the heart. This is why I emphasize the even headed exploration of mysticism, and have over the years come to deeply appreciate our very own Christianand Jewish contemplative traditions.

Over the years I have also come to value the simple fact that in many significant ways we are all incredibly different. We bring vastly different personal histories to our practice and have greatly different needs. There simply does not seem to be any one way to practice in light of this diversity.

I  find it valuable to think about optimal spiritual practice (yes, practice) as a balance also ofthe dynamic between developmental (aka long path) and direct (aka short path) instructions.

I find a very cogent and brilliant summary of this dynamic in the posthumously published notebooks of Paul Brunton (in particular, chapter 32 of the very valuable summary of his notebooks entitled Perspectives which is available at Amazon for around 3 bucks, used).

For some people breath awareness meditation will be just what the doctor ordered; maybe just for starters, and maybe for one’s whole life. For others a mellow devotional practice works best.  Yet for others a direct recognition of presence-awareness will end all their angst. Life is fluid; our practice needs to reflect this. But we do need to stay on track.

If you are completely new to this sort of thing, I always encourage you to start with mindfulness meditation–it is simply the single most essential first skill to develop. You can practice mindfulness of the breath alone, or within the context of some tradition.

I have  found the teachings in many of the world’s mystical religious traditions to be mirror this need for balance in  spiritual practice.

In this vein, I cautiously offer what could be considered suggested guidelines for practice. Please take these suggestions assimply ideas from what has worked for me. Although these are presented as phases, they are certainly not linear in the least, and most will, optimally, overlap.  


Phase One

If you are new to the practice of meditation,  I would suggest that you purchase the following book:

Mindfulnes in Plain English, by H. Gunaratana. You can also read it online, or even download it, for free here:

This is a very user-friendly book which covers all the basic points that you need to get started with mindfulness meditation.

You may also view the anapanasaticategory on this blog. I present a four week self-guided set of introductory instructions in the basic practice of breath awareness, the quintessential Buddhist mindfulness meditation practice.

Please also have a look at the meditation basics and the mindfulness in daily life categories on this blog for suggestions on how to feed and water the creeper of mindfulness (an allusion to the description of the development of bhakti yoga in the Hindu tradition–as a creeping plant which grows seemingly under the radar of conscious awareness).

If you only buy one additional book, I would highly recommend:

Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness,by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

You may also consider watching an excellent series of online video presentations on the fundamentals of mindfulness as taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn on You Tube.

I would be very happy to provide you with a number of excellent guided mindfulness meditation CDS. When you come to a meeting, just ask.

I also highly recommend some type of movement practice. All our get togethers begin with 30 minutes of either slow yoga or Qigong, or some combination of these.  I practice  Flying Phoenix Qigong as taught by Terry Dunn and cannot put into words how amazing and effective these exercise are.


Phase Two

After you have become familiar with the process of meditation, I would highly recommend that you take up an exploration of the writings or biographies of authors aligned with mystical aspects of traditional religion. I offer occasional series of evenings dedicated to a particular text. This fall and winter 2009 we examined the 14th century anonymous text The Cloud of Unknowing.

Please read Joel Morwood’s excellent summary of the mystical core” of the world’s religions atthis helpful page.

In this article Joel proposes six underlying characteristics of the nature of realty described by mystics that are surprisingly consistent despite the differences of time, geography and culture, and which challenge us to re-think our tendency towards purely material or scientific responses to the great questions of life. I have found that a close study of these characteristics can refine our understanding of our own life, its infinite potential and offer us a steady stream of encouragement and, yes, blessings.

I would also highly recommend Frithjof Schuon’s  The Transcendent Unity of Religions. 


Phase Three

After some initial stability in mindfulness practice has been established, I suggest you explore :

  • John Wheeler’s  pointers here, which are a series of 8 MP3 files summarizing his subtle technique. It would be ideal to practice these in conjunction with his book You Were Never Born (in particular, the beginning section of the book).
  • practice some ofDouglas Harding’s experiments, and sign up for the free, excellent email course taught by Richard Lang available through his site. Richard has recently put together an extraordinary DVD which I would encourage you to view here on You Tube (you can also purchase it, I did!)

I would be very cautious not to jump around, but to give each approach time to settle. If you do this, these three approaches can be complimentary. It is imperative that one keep up some type of daily practice in addition to these insight practices.

My suggestions are to work on integrating the fruits of these exercises with ongoing study of a chosen mystical tradition, along with increasing stability, joy, and ease gained from maturing mindfulness practice.

Phase Four

This is deeply integrative spirituality. Representative mystics at this level include Sri Ramakrishna, Bernadette Roberts, the Baal Shem Tov, and Thich Nhat Hahn. There is great value in reading their biographies, talks and texts.

May your journey be short and fruitful.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Wayne Bow permalink
    March 10, 2008 5:32 pm

    Aloha Tom,

    Blessings on you for the time and energy commitment that you have made with this project! You make my heart happy and I look forward to participating in this year’s journey.

    Palm to Palm,
    Wayne Bow

  2. Marv Mathews permalink
    March 10, 2008 11:05 pm

    A perpetual mahalo for all you do. Sounds like I have missed out on a change in format. Expect to be back the second week of April. Same day and time?

  3. Anne Contreras permalink
    March 11, 2008 10:43 pm

    ALoha Tom!

    Thank you always for your emails and for this new site. This is wonderful and SO helpful! I will be departing soon, April… so, I look forward to continue studying with you and the rest of the sangha from a distance. Pls keep me on your email list.

    See you all soon…Mahalos and namaste, Anne

  4. May 19, 2010 11:06 am

    Thank you always for your emails and for this new site. This is wonderful and SO helpful! I will be departing soon, April… so, I look forward to continue studying with you and the rest of the sangha from a distance. Pls keep me on your email list.

  5. Terry O'Brien permalink
    February 14, 2011 8:39 am

    I will be coming to HNL on the 17th for a week of vacation. I sit in Portland with Lama Eric Marcoux, in the Kagyu/Tibetan tradition. I would love to know your sit/teaching schedule
    and hope I might be able to attend one of your sits/teachings. Thanks.

    Terry O’Brien

    • February 22, 2011 4:15 am

      Hi Terry. Sorry I got this late. Of course. You are most welcome. I will email you at your gmail account. Aloha, Tom

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