“The Balance of Life”

gold and silver round frame magnifying glass

Life is an exquisite balance

Of holding and letting go

Of taking and giving

There is nothing ever to grasp onto

When everything but the soul

Is impermanent

Coming and going

Just like the passing of the seasons….

So prepare to meet both birth and death

As well as success and failure

With the same calm detachment

And loving acceptance

Of all that is.

Mindful Musings: Apr 20

“The Final Test”

By: Forrest Rivers

gray and brown pagoda temple beside calm body of water at daytime

A celebrated master of a spiritual community deep in the Southern Appalachian Mountains was nearing his death and had a vision that he would drop his body in one month’s time. In the weeks leading up to his passing, Master Changing Winds, as he was affectionally known by all in the community, chose three of his wisest and most beloved disciples (out of a pool of ninety-four) to put through a battery of tests to determine who would succeed him. Following the tradition of his ancestors, he would then select one among the three based on the qualities of courage, devotion, discipline, and humility.  Over the course of three and a half weeks, the three disciples were put through a series of tests that included some of the following: martial arts, a six-day fast, ten days of solitude meditating in the high mountains, three days of intensive volunteer work in the community and the recitation of one-hundred and two sacred mantras. All three seekers performed at the very highest level of a bodhisattva, or an enlightened and compassionate soul. After so many tests and still no clear successor, Master Changing Winds was not the least bit concerned.

On the day before Master Changing Winds was to die, the venerated sage lined up his three devotees, looked them each in the eyes and prepared to put them through their final test. He then called each one forward and asked them one question to which they had to offer an immediate reply. He addressed his first devotee, Timeless Seasons, and asked:

“Death has arrived, now what shall we do?”

Timeless Seasons summoned all the courage within him and then replied:

“Death has arrived so now let us dance, play and sing!”

Master Changing Winds smiled warmly at Timeless Seasons and then called upon his second devotee, Flowing River, and asked her the same question:

“Death has arrived, now what shall we do?”

Flowing River quickly collected her thoughts and replied:

“Death has arrived, now lets us pray together for favorable births in our next lives so that we may serve all sentient beings!”

Once more, Master Changing Winds smiled warmly at his devotee and motioned for his third and final disciple to come forward. He asked the same question again:

Death has arrived, now what shall we do?”

Like Timeless Seasons and Flowing River had done before him, Silent Mountain bowed to his master and began to speak:

“Master, has Death arrived? If so, where did it ever go? Has death not always been present among us like the changing winds, the timeless seasons, the flowing rivers and the silent mountains?”

The old master beamed with delight and exchanged bows with Silent Mountain. Then, very suddenly, his body began convulsing and he fell to the floor and died. Timeless Seasons and Flowing River ran immediately over to Master Changing Winds and began sobbing:

“Master, please don’t leave us! How can we go on without you!”

As Timeless Seasons and Flowing River struggled to process the passing of their beloved teacher and sage, Silent Mountain stood in stoic silence. He then knelt to the ground, wiped a few tears from his eyes and quietly recited a prayer that his now late master had once taught him:

“As we all grow old, the ocean tides they come and go. Life is an eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. May the heavens always guide our souls through the darkness of night only to awake again in light.”

To the complete astonishment of all three disciples, Master Changing Winds opened his eyes at the exact moment Silent Mountain stopped speaking. Standing in disbelief, Flowing River stammered:

“But how can this be? Your breathing ceased before us! Let us all behold this miracle!”

Master Changing Winds got to his feet and spoke in a calm and gentle tone:

“What you just witnessed was an ancient practice to curtail one’s own breath. The monks of old practiced this technique for the purpose of mastering their own minds. The faking of my death and your reactions to it was your final test. I wanted to see which one of you would display the greatest degree of acceptance and equanimity in the face of our greatest existential fear. “

The old sage paused again and then turned and bowed to each of the devoted seekers. He then continued to speak:

“You have each made me proud and honored to be your teacher. I regard each of you as a holy being. Tomorrow, I will depart this world and go beyond the Void once more to commune with the spirits of our ancestors. And according to tradition, I must choose a successor to carry on the sacred teachings. I have made my decision who that person will be. Silent Mountain, please come kneel before me. In the face of my dying, you perfectly demonstrated both the acceptance and equanimity of a fully realized being. Tomorrow, I will hold a farewell gathering with the entire community present as is also custom for the passing of a spiritual leader. Tomorrow, I will also introduce you, Silent Mountain, as the next leader of our community. May peace and goodwill be your candle and flame as you humbly guide your devotees to enlightenment. “

Silent Mountain bowed to Changing Winds, Timeless Seasons and Flowing River and all four wept out of joy, hope, sorrow and relief to know the ancient teachings would continue on.

The following morning, the whole community gathered in a beautiful lush green valley cradled by majestic blue mountains. They were there to celebrate the life and imminent passing of their beloved teacher through song, dance, and storytelling. As Master Changing Wind’s final moments drew near, the entire community formed a large circle around him and then began chanting and tossing flower petals upon him. The old holy man sat cross legged in the middle of the circle smiling radiantly at all of his disciples. Keeping with tradition, he then motioned for his successor, Silent Mountain, to sit down beside him as he removed his white robe and swapped it for his successor’s red one. The two then put on their new robes and bowed to one another as Master Changing Winds returned to Lotus position, closed his eyes, took three deep breaths and passed away. Within moments after his death, Silent Mountain then turned to his community and back again to his beloved teacher and solemnly read aloud the same prayer he had recited to himself only the day before when he thought his master had died:

            “As we all grow old, the ocean tides they come and go. Life is an eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. May the heavens always guide our souls through the darkness of night only to awake again in light.”

Just as the bridge of life connects the mysterious cycle of birth and death, so too, did master and disciple come to share the thread of cosmic awareness.

Mindful Musings: Mar 17

“Hidden Truths”

By: Forrest Rivers

Boston fern on dried leaves

Speak

But don’t talk too much

Listen

Not with your ears

But through your heart

Move

But only as quickly

As your feet will allow

Seek

But only to fulfill your soul

Nothing else…..

And always remember:

Everything that came before

Made you who you are now.

Forrest Rivers is a writer and teacher who lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His new book, COVID-19 and Humanity’s Spiritual Awakening is now available on Amazon HERE

Mindful Musings: Mar 11

“Find your Center”

By: Forrest Rivers

stack of stones on brown sand

Question everything you hear

But cultivate your own inner faith

Ring the alarm bells when the situation demands

But always return back to your center

Speak truth to the abuses of leaders in power

But never forget that you are also them

And when no one will defend your righteous causes

Turn within to find that your peace of mind

Is better than any external validation.

Forrest Rivers is a writer and teacher who lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His new book, COVID-19 and Humanity’s Spiritual Awakening is now available on Amazon HERE.

Mindful Musings: Jan 21

“The Buddha’s Middle Way: A Lesson for our Times”

By: Forrest Rivers

people walking near buddha statue near trees at daytime

In Buddhism there is a philosophical doctrine called “The Middle Way.” This idea centers on the Buddha’s suggested method for spiritual enlightenment. The revered sage’s story is well known. Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha, was an esteemed prince raised in the luxury of his father’s palace replete with all the material wealth and privileges bestowed upon men of royalty during his time. Though, his father had been told by an oracle that his son was destined for a life of sainthood outside the comforts of the palace, the young prince knew not of his destiny. That is, until one day while touring outside the kingdom, he saw for the first-time lepers wandering the streets, elderly people on the verge of death, and children begging for food . In response to witnessing human suffering, the Buddha grew disillusioned and resolved to discover the cause and remedy to suffering. As his karma would compel him, the Buddha then made the fateful decision to leave his life of luxury and become a wandering aesthetic or holy man.

After years of deep and intense searching that included enduring brutal physical austerities like prolonged periods of extreme fasting that nearly killed him, the former prince at last found his enlightenment while meditating under a bodhi tree for 49 days. Among one of the many profound truths that he found in his transcended state was the idea of the middle way or path to enlightenment. In stark contrast to his own path, the Buddha concluded that spiritual seekers should try and avoid either extreme of living in luxury or abusing their bodies in their quest for liberation. Instead the Buddha advocated for the virtues of balance and moderation in one’s path to enlightenment.

 Buddha’s middle way could easily be adopted as our guiding vision for the new year that is upon us. If the events of 2020 and the first few weeks of 2021 have taught us anything at all, it is that extreme thinking and action only increase our collective suffering. Recent and turbulent events like the January 6th storming of the US capitol by an angry mob of violent Donald Trump supporters, scenes of chaotic left wing riots that erupted during some of last summer’s BLM protests, the dangerous propagation of QAnon conspiracy theories by unscrupulous right-wing media outlets, the ongoing threats of violence posed by rabid militia groups in the US, as well as Big Tech companies’(like Facebook and Twitter) recent purge of certain conservative leaders on social media are at their core the result of extreme ways of thinking and reacting to the world around us. Each of these events are also representative of a people dangerously out of balance with the greater reality of living spirit. We should aspire to adopt moderation and balance in our discourse and actions when confronting divisive topics in the same manner that the Buddha advocated for the middle way in his suggested path to enlightenment. How might applying the middle way to our divisive environment positively reshape our reality?

First, through finding balance within we would truly learn to listen to the perspectives of those people who we disagree with. This doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everyone’s opinion from the “other side.” Rather, through walking the path of the middle way we would avoid judging, condemning, and ridiculing those with different beliefs from our own.

Second, applying the Buddha’s middle way to our collective predicament would help heal the fractured realities that exists to appalling degrees in nations like America. If we can learn to bring greater awareness, balance, and moderation to our discourse on divisive themes, we will succeed in rebuilding bridges between disparate groups and focus on our common humanity.

Third, following the path of the middle way will help each of us spot extremist thinking at its inception before it has the opportunity to fester in our communities and threaten our common decency, democracy, and goodwill. Regardless of our political, ethnic, or religious affiliations we will become skilled at calling out extremism in any of its forms or disguises if we embrace the principles of balance and moderation.

Finally, adopting the vision of the middle way will help the human race effectively respond to the very dire existential problems like climate change, deforestation, ecological destruction, and nuclear proliferation that transcends the contours of all the “isms” that currently separates us. How can we expect to rise to the occasion as one human family to address our greatest existential and planetary threats if we can’t even agree on the basic facts of a novel virus or the outcome of a contentious election?

The promise of brighter days ahead will be a matter of not if, but when humanity learns to avoid extremes in both thought and action. Let us all look deep within ourselves and embrace our own living Buddhas.