CENTER COMMUNITY NEWS
Newsletter of the Center for Sacred Sciences
Vol. 36, No. 3 • Summer 2023
Retreat with Andrea: Nondual Compassionate Presence
Andrea with some of the practitioners who attended the retreat in person
Center teacher Andrea Pucci traveled from her home in California to Eugene to lead us in three days of intensive teachings and practice August 18-20, 2023. Andrea shared teachings centered on the main theme of nondual compassionate presence, here and now.
Participants joined in person at our Saratoga meeting hall as well as via Zoom. The community was blessed by this opportunity for practice in person with Andrea, who was last in Eugene to give teachings in person eleven years ago.
Special thanks to David, Laura, and Tom who tirelessly orchestrated and fine tuned the event.
Remembering the Space, the Source of Nondual Compassion Display
Retreat Reflections by Andrea
What a delight to gather together at Saratoga CSS for this three-day retreat. For me, it was the first time there. It had been about a decade since I had been in Eugene with practitioners.
We settled in and were reminded of the Mother Space Element — the womb or source or space of creation, where the entire ceaseless internal and external display of the four elements — air, fire, water, earth takes place.
We used guided meditation on the space element as it can be revealed in direct experience in the body and in the mind.
In the presence of attention to our direct sensations, along with the movement of breath in our body, we offered our thoughts, our labels, our judgements, our imaginary narratives, the echoes of a just passed temporary appearance. If we followed the thought about what already happened, we were once again lost in the past, giving up the nowness, the undistracted presence of open spacious awareness.
The more our thoughts calmed and settled in the openness / transparent stillness, the more we were able to feel and rest in this background of stillness that is always already here as source of any phenomena, hosting and pervading the infinite display of appearances.
Noticing rather than ignoring space, resting in openness and the groundless space of knowing, the four elements of ever-changing sensations displayed in the unchanging spacious stillness, in the spaciousness, in the openness of a presence where there is neither grasping at anything, nor rejecting anything.
Simply aware, resting in great spaciousness presence, there naturally emerged a clarity which became brighter the less we followed after thoughts and the more we rested in the space of presence watching and feeling the changing show. Not giving up the source, the space of appearances, that openness allowed phenomena to be known in attention that rested openly.
This relaxation of body and mind allowed our attention to notice the arising of pleasant and unpleasant experiences of body and mind, and the automatic conditioned reactions of “ a me, the meditator ” wanting to be in control in the service of hope and fear, of grasping or aversion, of conditioned mechanical reactions.
The grasping mind that craves any moment to be other than it simply is became clearly exposed as unnecessarily contrived resistance — a tedious cause of endless dissatisfaction.
It became easier to cease doing anything, to refrain from needing to change anything, and simply be kindly tender with our momentary discomfort and saturate our dis-ease with kindness, and then exhale into the space within and around our experience.
These moments of discomfort became our offering of non clinging. In this way of non clinging and using exhaling into the space of presence within and around us, we became increasingly relaxed and clearly aware of passing phenomena as impermanent and temporary display.
The more relaxed we became, the more we could directly feel the suffering of dissatisfaction and craving, and with compassion and tender loving attention to our immediate discomforts, we were able to rest in the space, in the source of its appearance, rather than letting appearances as conditioned reactions habitually mechanically repeat themselves pull us out and away from the space and source of knowing presence.
Noticing the suffering of not being satisfied with things as they are, and letting these resistant reactions simply pass through, instead of trying to control or change them, relaxation and openness pervaded our moment-to-moment clarity and loving kindness with whatever was going on.
With our less distracted awareness of the ceaseless flux of changing thoughts, impulses, states of grasping and aversion, instead of following after these conditioned reactions to phenomenal appearances in our mind, we practiced resting in this always present gentle and kind host of spaciousness, openness, stillness — the source where all the flux and movement temporarily appears and changes.
Recognizing the truth of impermanence, seeing the truth of no self in this process of conditioned reactions, realizing directly the truth of the suffering of momentary grasping and discontent — this all became more obvious in the kindness of loving attention, saturating these misunderstandings with patient loving kindness, and continuing to breathe out into the space around us, practicing non-clinging moment by moment. Learning from everything that informs our practice, every appearance takes us home to its source, mother space, the great sacred space of all creation.
In this boot camp for the time off the cushion, we integrated our insights into the practice of creative compassionate response within and without.
Joel on Light of Truth Day
Light of Truth Talk and Celebration
August 13, 2023, marked the 40th anniversary of that auspicious day when, as Joel described it in his spiritual biography, Naked Through the Gate, "The Image had burst, and the Light was out, and the Light was everything. The Metaphorical World had come to an end, and I was AWAKE in the REAL WORLD, the world without end."
Every year CSS celebrates this possibility of Gnosis for everyone on our Light of Truth Day. This year, Joel gave a talk in which he related some of his favorite accounts of Awakening from mystics of various traditions. Nearly 30 people gathered in our Saratoga meeting hall for the talk, and 20 more joined via Zoom. The talk was followed by a potluck lunch.
Falling Into Bliss, a true story by Merry Song
If only I had seen that the exact spot I was about to place my right foot was scattered with sand and tiny pebbles, I would have steadied myself. I would have halted and stepped around that patch. I would have avoided what actually happened.
Niraja and I had been off-trail hiking on rough sandstone in Canyonlands National Park. At that moment we were looking for a bit of shade to sit and have lunch. I was following behind Niraja. I carried a small backpack loaded with water and food for the day hike and was using two poles to take the pressure off my knees and quicken my pace.
The foot slipping happened in a split second. Suddenly I was sloppily running downhill trying to catch my balance—and it looked as though I would succeed. I distinctly remember Niraja calling out, “Nice save!”
But just then the momentum and the steep slope grabbed my control and slammed me into the red rock below.
Smack. That’s the word that best describes how it felt. I landed left side down with my elbow tucked under. The breath was knocked out of me. The pole grips were still in my hands. I couldn’t move.
Niraja came running down calling out to me, and because I didn’t want to scare her, I wheezed out, “Okay—breath—knocked out—okay.”
As I struggled to turn over, Niraja was silent (scared she told me later since she had seen the fall).
I held up my left arm which had abrasions and moved it. “I’m okay,” I said, but truthfully I thought maybe I wasn’t okay. Something could be broken. The whole left side of my ribcage hurt. Muscles in my back began spasming.
Niraja said, “How can I help?” and offered her hands to bring me up to my feet. It was not an easy maneuver.
Once up, I burst into sobs like a child. “I’m okay,” I kept saying but what I was thinking was I could have died. Niraja told me later she was thinking it too. Fallen too far, too hard, cracked open my head or broken my neck.
“Let’s get you in the shade,” Niraja said. I found that I could walk fine but I could not sit down. I moaned and gasped trying to plant myself on a boulder in the shade.
That’s when I knew we’d better get out of there as quickly as possible. The sun was hot, there was no cell phone reception, we were two hours out with no people around, and my left elbow was swelling.
I decided not to say out loud that my left arm was swelling. I decided not to say anything was wrong. I decided I was going to walk out of this.
While Niraja ran up the red rock slope to scout our way out, I turned toward the deep blue sky and said, “Please, help me.” Then I drew in a deep breath, gasped, and felt a divine infusion of energy.
Early in life I thought there was a god in heaven that could answer requests. I haven’t believed that in decades, yet when I was afraid and injured as I was in that red rock wonderland, I turned toward the wide open sky and asked for help from a divine mother.
At that moment I thought, This is a turning point. My new life starts here. I didn’t know what that meant (I still don’t). As Niraja hurried back to me, my focus became single pointed, clear, present, determined. I would walk out of this. Niraja was my guide. I trusted her and I trusted this overwhelming conviction that had come over me.
It would be one thing if it were a matter of just finding a trail and flat-walking out. No, this was a marvelous, potentially deadly tangle of sandstone formations, alcoves, slick rock, and drop offs. I disregarded my knee issues and threw myself into what I knew I must do—follow Niraja up and over that sandstone ridge in high, hot wind.
“I’m okay,” I’d reassure her periodically. “I can do this.”
When we reached the sheer drop that had rough, blocky steps carved in and a slack cable drilled into the stone, I cautioned myself not to think. Just last winter a lone woman slid off something like this in the park and died of head injuries. I would not think about that. I would sacrifice the seat of my nylon hiking pants and slowly skid, skid, skid, skid, skid, skid.
If only climbing down that cliff were the end of it—but no, there were lots more problematic obstacles to come, obstacles in times past that would have been fun to figure out. Now it was serious calculations. “I will do this,” I said out loud. Would I go into shock? My left arm couldn’t move at all now and I tucked my left hand into the opening between snaps on my canyon-orange shirt, Napoleon-style.
Niraja went before me choosing steps and handholds and watching me closely as I maneuvered up and around, using her shoulder to steady me. She had long since taken on both our packs which were still heavy with water. We drank and drank as much as we could.
And then there was a final step down off a ledge, a sandy walk through blooming pink prickly pears and sage, and there was the parking lot, our ruby-red Prius. Other cars, other people starting or ending their own challenging hikes—it was a peaceful, comforting scenario.
How odd to open the car doors. I struggled to sit in the cushioned seat. The climbing out ordeal was over. It had taken two hours.
Both of us quiet in the car, I said to Niraja, “Honey, I may have broken my arm. Maybe ribs.”
“I know,” she said. “Where do you want to go?” Her hands were on the steering wheel.
“I want to go to our tent,” I said. “I want to lie down.”
You may think that going back to the tent to lie down was unwise. Niraja thought so too. But I was very lucid and wanted the rest. We had been camping in Canyonlands for a full week and had an extraordinary campsite. Our tent was large with screens in the walls and ceiling. The breeze through the shaded tent and the elevated air mattress provided comfort. I loved it there. I didn’t want to leave even if my arm was broken.
Niraja granted my wish and got me into the bed (which took some effort because of the gripping back spasms). I asked her to go get ice from a nearby outpost and she said, “I don’t think I should leave you alone.”
“Really, I’m okay,” I said. “I’ll just lie here and take it easy.”
Reluctantly she got in the Prius and drove away.
Here’s what I remember when I think back to those moments in the tent: Pure bliss. How could it be that I would feel bliss at a time like that? It was as though the slamming of my body had shaken up my mind, and as the thoughts settled, most of them fell away.
All that mattered was the sweet breeze, the glorious blue sky, the miracle of a body that feels so many things, a mind that can observe it all. I deeply rested in total acceptance of whatever had happened and I still felt that something had changed in me.
Niraja came back with the ice and loaded it into baggies. These she packed around me: arm, back, hip, neck. She had also spoken to a park ranger who informed her that the nearest urgent care was 90 minutes away.
“I’m okay,” I said. “Maybe it’s not broken.”
“What else can I do?” Niraja said, still worried.
“I’d love it if you’d read to me,” I said.
Niraja carefully climbed onto her side of the air mattress and read to me about constellations and the night sky. I was deeply moved by love for her and for life’s mysteries which included me.
The next morning I woke with a throbbing elbow and a painful ribcage. My first thought was we’d better go. We were scheduled to leave that morning anyway and drive 90 minutes north to Moab where we had a lovely, comfortable overlook apartment reserved for five days. A good place to recover if the injury turned out to be serious.
And indeed X-rays in Moab showed a compression fracture to the radial head in my elbow but no broken ribs. The doctor, who wore blue jeans and an old shirt, splinted my arm in a plaster cast.
Back at the apartment, I called my 88-year-old mother and realized immediately how wonderful it is to still have a mother I could call. Back when I was 7 years old I fell off a playground slide and broke the same elbow. That time I had to be in traction in the hospital for a whole week. My mother sat beside my bed. She read me stories and brought me little surprises.
How wonderful to still have the same mother 50 years later. “Mommy, I hurt myself,” I said childishly into the phone and then laughed.
“Ohhh, no,” she said. The music in her voice made her sound like my young mother. She laughed along with me.
There was that pure bliss again.
Merry Song began creative writing at the age of 6 and started in on photography at 14. Now, as she heads toward the age of 70, she has found new exhilarating energy for both fields. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a BA in Broadcasting and Filmmaking. Merry Song is a spiritual teacher for the Center for Sacred Sciences, regularly offering spiritual writing workshops.
Merry Song's recently released Go As Nothing Writing Workshop video series features Merry Song guiding eight workshop participants through a creative writing method that helps to illuminate the imaginary nature of the Story of I. For more information, including a 2-minute video introduction by Merry Song and instructions on how to view these videos free of charge CLICK HERE.
New Videos on CSS YouTube Channel
Are you subscribed to the CSS channel on YouTube? Several video recordings of Sunday talks have been added recently and more are on the way. In addition to recent videos, the YouTube channel has video recordings of many older talks, some dating back almost 40 years!
Favorite Accounts of Awakening
13 August 2023
The Four Seals of Reality
28 May 2023
and Guided Meditation
30 April 2023
Guided Awareness Meditation
2 July 2023
Another Crucifixion, fiction by Wesley Lachman
In the middle of the night, Lance sat up, awakened again by the gentle fire burning in his chest. It was the desire to leave everything behind, find God’s Holy Temple, and give himself completely to him. Now, at last, he felt ready to do just that.
At dawn, he took his favorite staff, packed a rucksack with food, and set out toward the east where the Temple was reputed to be. A cool breeze met him as he stepped onto the road.
He was born here in Wordland, so he was accustomed to seeing words printed everywhere and hearing them from the mouths of his contemporaries. But as he walked eastward for several days, the words gradually became less numerous. Finally, he stood at the edge of Wordland and looked down into a deep valley that the Worders called Silentland.
A crude stairway had been cut into the sheer face of the cliff. It took him an hour to reach the bottom. He smelled rich, dark soil. Bright yellow-green plants arced into the blue above. A narrow path led away from the cliff and hopefully toward the Temple.
In some places, the path was paved with sharp rocks. They shredded his sandals; he could barely continue. It felt as if someone had driven nails into his feet. He stopped in pain, everything was growing dim. My Lord, he shouted to himself, Am I going blind? He reached up and found fish-like scales growing over his eyes. Then, someone unseen was wrapping his bleeding feet in large, soothing cloths.
Now blind, he was frozen in place, afraid to move. Little steps sounded nearby. Something touched him in his darkness. He jerked away. But a little hand was reaching up to him, and he grasped it. A child began gently pulling him, leading him on. They walked on for hours in silence without encountering anyone.
Then the child paused, placed Lance’s hand upon a smooth, cool floor three feet above the path, and indicated that he should climb up on it. Could this be the Temple of God? He heard a flutter of wings, and the child was gone.
He walked on for days on that floor, swinging his staff side to side as he had seen blind people do, but without food, companion, or rest. At night, no matter how he spread himself on the polished surface, he found nowhere to rest his head.
After no food and little water for three days he fell, exhausted and unable to go one step more. He cried out into the silence, “Oh God, why have you left me here alone? Can’t you see I am broken and unable to go further? I have given up every possession and comfort for you. So go ahead and take the rest.” Then, his remaining energy faded away, and he fell into a deep sleep.
It seemed that time had disappeared. Lance awoke to the sensation of the scales sliding off his eyes. He looked at the shiny floor. No, what? It had become wooden. He was in his bedroom at home. “No!” he moaned. "Have I never gone anywhere? Is all this just a dream?”
Then, he looked up at his room and was struck dumb. It had become beautiful. The objects were holding hands and dancing in unison, and he could see that he himself was dancing with them. Everything was inside him. It was all one. Everything around him had become unaccountably part of himself. At his window, he saw his neighbors in their garden, but they were within him. The separation between people had been overcome. There were no “other” people, for they were just as much in him as he himself was. When he looked down at his feet, they were still bleeding.
Mission and Programs of the Center for Sacred Sciences
The Center for Sacred Sciences is dedicated to the study, practice, and dissemination of the spiritual teachings of the mystics, saints, and sages of the major religious traditions. The Center endeavors to present these teachings in forms appropriate to our contemporary scientific culture. The Center also works to create and disseminate a sacred worldview which expresses the compatibility between universal mystical truths and the evidence of modern science.
Among the Center’s ongoing events are Sunday public services with meditations and talks given by the Center’s spiritual teachers; and — for committed spiritual seekers — weekly practitioners' groups and periodic meditation retreats. The Center is accessible. We are a welcoming and inclusive community.
The Center maintains an extensive lending library of books, audios, videos, and periodicals covering spiritual, psychological, philosophical, and scientific subjects. In addition, the Center provides a website containing information and resources related to the teachings of the world’s mystics, the universality of mystical truth, and the relationship between science and mysticism. The Center also publishes this newsletter four times a year.
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