Tuesday, January 31, 2012

At the Beach with Lama

I am aware that an African American man talking about alternative spirituality and mystical experiences isn't normal. That kind of thing is reserved for hippies, sweat lodges, and people from other countries. We are not granted the right to act on and speak of angels without robes or a pulpit. In short it falls under the category of 'crazy white people hobbies' along with sky diving, vision questing, and Burning Man festivals.

To be a Black gay man delving into mysticism without partaking of activism or performance enhancing drugs is something I don't normally see.

Venerable Lobsang Chunzom has been in deep silent retreat for over a year. She is my Lama and a high and holy Buddhist nun embarking on a 3-year silent retreat.

When she went into deep retreat a lot of people were sad or worried about what they were going to do without their teacher. The departure left me feeling confused. I wanted to feel sad but at the same time I figured I would hear from her in deep retreat. There are ways to hear and feel people without them being there. I have personally experienced this countless times.

Over the course of the past year there have been little hints, notes, and messages left around. Most are sacred and personal, so I keep those private. Other times I have just been prompted to push or move in a particular direction at a moment in time. In one case when our not-for-profit donations were down I was pushed to pay visit to a friend's house. I didn't want to go but the pull was so strong that I ended up taking a train out to visit this person. In turn she ended up writing donations checks for $28,000 to the organization that day. Nothing prepared me for that except a strange push coming from something that was far beyond my comprehension in that moment.

The most mystical experiences have happened in dreams or around them.

In the whispers of my waking I was prompted to explore the beach. The beach was a constant refrain in Lama Chunzom's teaching. Personally I have never felt either affinity or malice for beaches. I grew up in Miami and took them for granted like a New Yorker takes the Statue of Liberty as just a green lady on an island. I happened to be down in Miami helping out my parents. I met up with a visiting friend in the sterile Aventura Mall. She lamented that she didn't like this area, as it was too mean and artificial in its community and people. I had never thought about Aventura in that light because I went to school in the area and excepted the luxury cars and scowling jowls as a plastic surgeon's playground. She mentioned that her husband and her went to Haulover Beach, a place I've heard of it but had never been. It was a nude beach.

"Oh, I would never do that-"

I caught myself and cursed under my breath. I have a little agreement with myself. Whenever I find myself blurting out the words 'I would never do (blank)' then that is what I must do. It has to be done, otherwise that 'unwilling action' will linger in my mind. This doesn't mean I'll rob a bank or kill a man. Those are things typically not aligned with spirit (although Lord Buddha's Jataka Tales has several interesting tales that counter this). Often my 'I would never' statements are just in relation to things that scare me or challenge me. And I don't want anything 'safe' on my unwilling list.

On the next Buddhist holiday I knew what I had to do. Haulover Beach here we come! When I arrived I stared around self-consciously. Yep, this is the nude beach. Leathery tans, brown bottoms, and jiggling bodies moved on the white sand. It was a blur of caramel flesh. I walked to a quiet section and wondered if maybe this wasn't the right thing, as if there was something wrong or shameful with being nude. At times of uncertainty I look around for auspicious signs. And then I saw her/him. Walking down the sand toward me was a hermaphrodite. Tall, slender, nude, and talking on her cell. She had female breast and male genitals. It was such a strange sight that it had to mean something. How many times do you see a hermaphrodite? For me the answer is never...until now.

She crossed my path and continued in her conversation. Well they say angels are neither male nor female but a combination of both energies. I was looking for an auspicious sign and it doesn't get more attention-getting than that. I set up my blanket and altar with offerings.

I took off my shirt, shorts, underwear and sat down.  In the buff, Au naturale, as I was born. Then I noticed something. No one cared. There wasn't gasps, laughter, screams of horror, whistles, catcalls. There wasn't anything except sound of the ocean and seagulls. Families strolled around holding hands, couples put suntan lotion on each others, old guys were sipping on beer. They were just doing it without clothes and no one cared.

I read my prayers, meditated, and went for a swim. I didn't feel dirty or shameful. My self-consciousness melted away after a few minutes. I was free. My mind was the beach. Sun, joy, freedom, nothing hidden.

Shortly after that day the dreams started flowing even more. More hints and suggestions. I asked aloud without pretense or ambition about what I should do. Then I waited. My phone rang and I was invited to partake in my own silent retreat for a month in Nicaragua.  Never been, all sorts of questions, many reasons to say no,  many reasons to wait until I felt more comfortable. So I had to say yes. Yes, to a month-long silent retreat, to Nicaragua, to unexplored territory.

When I finished my Nicaragua retreat with some time to spare I knew what I had to do. I went to the beach. No nude beaches. Clothing mandatory but it was still where I had to go. I brought my prayer book. I prayed, swam, meditated and waited. The beach was empty. Out of thin air, a man appeared. He walked up to me and started talking about miracles. Certainly an auspicious sign after a deep retreat and on the beach of prayer. He sat down next to me and let me listen to "A Course in Miracles" on his iPod while swam.

When I came back to the United States I picked up "A Course in Miracles" and dove further into my quantum physics studies. It all blends together. There is nothing different except the terms. The miracle is right here, right now. When I awake to it there is nothing to do. I just have to allow. It is like coming out of a dream. There is no effort made by the dreamer. They arise as naturally as the sun.  And there is a beautiful power in this unforced ease that can only be described as grace. Grace is the allowance of saints and angels. It is what fills my heart/ And the wages of my days are being paid with this grace.

And despite it all doubt still arises.  That voice pops up to offer self-consciousness, cynicism, and second-guessing. Maybe it was all a bunch of magical thinking? This couldn't have happened. Doubt flows through my day in what I am and what I am seeing. It couldn't be that special? Because it was then that would mean that I, too, was on that same level. How egotistical of me to think that the universe is actually speaking to me, that my Lama is talking just to me throughout my day. Doubt screams that the rainstorm, the sun, the beach, this planet has nothing to do with me. I am just a rounding off error in some grand equation. How could it be that the beach was made for me, that the wind blows just to cool my face, that the sun shines just to light my day, that Buddhism and my Lama came just for me? Perhaps that is why the miracles come to me again and again like waves that wash over the boulders and wear them down into sand and dust. In time the softness of grace wins over the hardest doubt.

 In my dreams, my Lama came to me. I, the dreamer, gave prostration and she taught the finer points of what that action mean. The dreamer prostrated again after the lesson. When I awoke I became aware that my prostrations were missing the key points taught in the dream. Maybe that is why I received that lesson. I prostrated that morning before meditation with the new information in my heart. That was a teaching transmitted purely through the yoga of my dreams.

I surrender to these lessons and ask for greater space in my heart. May there be enough room in my heart for the dharma to continue flowing in my dreams and waking life. May I take the beach with me where ever I go.

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