Sometimes, ethics doesn’t look like what you would expect. Ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos, which gives a connotation of specificity. I believe everyone’s ethic is personal, and it is probably the closest thing to selfhood I can think of in these postmodern times.

I do not know where my ethical nature has come from. As much as I may try to work with it and analyze it, it remains very much, at its root, an instinctual thing.

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Some people grow up in an environment that nurtures their ethic. Others, having been raised in an ethical void, must forge this out of sheer will and determination. It matters not. An ethic, if strong, is undeniably, beautifully, unique to an individual and that individual’s life experience, regardless of how it is revealed. And an ethic, if strong, will shine through a person.

You have probably met such a person in your life. You will recognize this quality immediately. It need not be loud to have an irrepressible force. You will know them by their liberation for they are truly themselves and cannot be otherwise.

In this way, a human is without limit. To become ethical is to be plunged into the infinite. One is never finished.

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zoe

Today, I’m taking time out to remember an artist from Halifax, Zoe Nudell. She died last week after being struck by a drunk driver at 33 years old.

We were not close, but I have many happy memories of staying with her and her partner when I visited them Halifax with mutual friends. Whenever I met with them, I was always struck by their openness, their kindness. I always looked up to them and say without equivocation that she was one of the most genuine people I have had the opportunity to meet.

They say grief comes in waves. In this way, it reminds me of love. It splits you open and takes you beyond yourself. And the only way I know how to be in love is to submit to it. And so, one submits.

peggy's cove

Peggy’s Cove, 2006

 

I thought I’d take a quick time out to write a meta post about my blog given all the hits that have been coming in. Also, because the focus of this blog has changed for the past year or so.

To date, I am not interested in promoting any particular practice and I never have been. But I have set a goal for myself: to become an ethical person. And I’m not very picky about what gets me there. I don’t give a shit about becoming enlightened or whatever – it’s just that spiritual practices are very handy tools when it comes to developing ethical ground so that’s why I happen to be spending more and more time with them.

Anyways, I don’t think that life is just about submitting to ethical ground but in my eyes, if I don’t improve in that one regard, everything else loses a measure of its meaning for me. What is the point of being loved, if I cannot be ethical with those who love me? What is the point of attaining success in my career if I cannot navigate my work ethically? So on and so forth. This is more or less the direction I’ve been headed since I was a kid. Maybe this will change one day. Who knows.

I know that the tone I take on this blog is not the most palatable. The reality of the situation is that most of these posts of mine are extensions of little pep talks I have in my head that help me keep my eyes on the prize and that force me to make sense of things as they arise. I post them in the hopes that at least some of you readers will find them beneficial in some way. If not, well, it’s a big world wide web out there. Cheers.

The other day in my sangha, we had a new student who asked, “How do I know if I’m doing it right?” I didn’t answer right away as I wanted to think about this. How does one evaluate changes and progress in one’s meditation practice?

Now, I’m no authority on zen as I’ve only been meditating on and off for two years. But for what it’s worth, this is more or less how I would answer.

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You’re doing it right if you are generally becoming less of an asshole.

I stress this first because in my observation, people tend to focus on meditative experiences rather than outcomes. I’m not saying that it’s not immensely beneficial to be able to situate yourself on this well worn path of zen practice and to map your experiences onto those that have been experienced by so many others before you. However, as much as spiritual experiences, especially “peak” experiences, can help facilitate and catalyze one’s spiritual growth, they will not intrinsically make you wise and ethical.

You know you are on the right track if you find yourself becoming more receptive to the world and to others. It’s not a straight path, and the ego may throw up resistance, but generally you should find that your insight and compassion will come more and more effortlessly and organically.

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Existing in a chronic state of crisis is not an easy place to be. The mind grasps for easy solutions to flee the discomfort and uncertainty. It wants to oversimplify things in an attempt to gain (a false sense of) control.

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I love this yoga mudra because I think it so neatly encapsulates our human tendency to narrow cognitive functioning in the face of a crisis. As this was taught to me, the three fingers represent attraction, repulsion and indifference. These map on nicely to the three primal physiological reactions to an immediate threat: fight, flight or freeze. Extremely useful for emergency situations, life saving actually, but not all that useful for… everything else.

Knowing this has saved me from making pretty dumb decisions in the past. Instead of attacking without thinking, avoiding/running away from shit or becoming numb with apathy, I trash all three approaches and instead, work on being receptive enough to reframe a threatening situation differently and reorient myself along the lines of understanding, honesty, genuine suffering, etc. rather something reactionary. I won’t lie, this process can be fairly unpleasant, but in time, the binds of one’s narrowed perception will loosen. Let it relax wider and wider, and wider still, until the heart speaks. Then you will know the ethical way forward.

Anyways, give the wisdom of this mudra a whirl sometime when you find yourself framing something in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of way. Life is rarely lose-lose.

I recently read on a discussion board that my tPluto in 12th/conj sun post was pretty freaky so I thought I’d post a wee follow up in case this is what other people are getting from my writing.

dont-panic
First, don’t panic and get all anxiety ridden. That is the worst reaction to have – to flake out on yourself like a wuss. Panic/chronic fear leads to narrowed/oversimplified cognitive framing which, unless you are actually in an acutely life threatening emergency situation, will generally lead to not so great decision making.

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As transiting Pluto inches inexorably closer to my 12th house sun, I thought I’d send another dispatch that might be helpful to others experiencing the transit.

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Pluto is a cthonic god, so I think it fitting to conceptualize the power that comes with this transit as a massive geyser of crude oil. And if you have a 12th house sun like me, this oil is seriously crude. It’s raw, unprocessed energy. While this is a tremendous opportunity, the oil will be full of things that are way beyond you and this means it is going to take what will feel like an insurmountable effort to refine the energy into a state that is usable and safe for yourself and for others.

What do I mean by refining this energy?

Transiting Pluto has always been very good to me. Never easy, mind you, but always enjoyable in a ruthless, teeth baring, I can’t tell whether this is pain or pleasure but I don’t care kind of way. Still, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when Pluto entered my 12th and inexorably began making its way toward my natal sun. I had read about the transit over the years and the themes of becoming reclusive, feeling repulsive to others and attracting negativity from others remained in my mind.

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The way people write about Venus-Neptune natives, you’d think we were all born with rose coloured retinas. These writers would have you believe that us idealistic, artistic types are doomed to pursue relationships with wife beaters and serial cheaters, all the while viewing everything through a romantic haze… until the veil of illusion is torn away. Venus-Neptune, they say, is too sensitive for the grime and grit of reality. They prefer to have their relationships floating above it all in a heady ether of sweet nothings and grand romantic gestures… until the veil drops, the mundane is revealed and the attraction dies.

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I have the conjunction in a tight orb. And I believe the “dread the dropping veil” way of seeing things is deadly for the maturation of a Venus-Neptune native so I’d like people to stop promoting it. Any veil, when unrecognized and used without discernment, has the potential to skew one’s reality and lead to bad decisions. Instead, I see people suggesting that reality is the cause of suffering for Venus-Neptune when it is usually the illusions of the veil that brought them to suffer unnecessarily.

To be quite frank, while your imagination is probably quite a wonderful one, you do yourself a disservice in discounting reality, which can be far more wonderful, exciting and challenging than anything your unconscious projections could cook up. For it is when you rid yourself of your prejudices and see reality more clearly, that the real strength of Venus-Neptune can unfold. Venus-Neptune will give you the capacity to love what is real – even if it is sharp and crude – in a profound, beautiful and truly redemptive way. Without a deep connection to reality, a veiled relationship is but an onanistic, intoxicating mockery of what that relationship could have been.

I think most people writing about Venus-Neptune have it completely backward. Venus-Neptune is not for the weak because it is infinitely patient, infinitely forgiving. It is not martyrdom/saviour/victim love – that is when Venus-Neptune love is torqued into a perversion of itself, twisted to serve the ego. No, Venus-Neptune, when free of illusion, indicates a natural ability to demonstrate limitless compassion, understanding and empathy for all the harshness, ugliness and darkness out there in the world. And such an endeavour is only for the strong.

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Driving today, alone on the road in the dark, navigating the roads of a foreign land, I opened my CD jewel case (yes, I still own some of those things) and found it empty. Annoyed, I turned on the radio which happened to be set on a classical music channel. And to my surprize, the strains of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque rose from the speakers. I was stricken with a surfeit of something indescribable and tears welled in my eyes. How can it be that my life, so insignificant and random and meaningless to most others, so very small and unrecognized, can still contain so much? When I think of all the people I pass by with their own lives, I ask myself – what have I not seen? What kind of wonder, terror and beauty do they know and hold that I do not know of? How many little surprizes fill their lives to bursting?

From one foreign land to another; in time I will be traveling to two very different nations, but both with a recent history of genocide. How many lives lost that so many know not of? How many tiny hidden everythings were buried in those mass graves?

Sometimes I love and hate my life in equal measure. The older I become, the keener the edge of my finitude. There are days when I feel that I cannot bring myself to do what my heart demands of me and that I was simply not built to have such a brutal, fearless organ.

But it is nice to be surprized.