Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight—how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly.

This kind of thinking, he found, is not the way to make one’s self popular with other birds. Even his parents were dismayed as Jonathan spent whole days alone, making hundreds of low-level glides, experimenting.

He didn’t know why, for instance, but when he flew at altitudes less than half his wingspan above the water, he could stay in the air longer, with less effort. His glides ended not with the usual feet-down splash into the sea, but with a long flat wake as he touched the surface with his feet tightly streamlined against his body. When he began sliding in to feet-up landings on the beach, then pacing the length of his slide in the sand, his parents were very much dismayed indeed.

“Why Jon, why?” his mother asked. “Why is it so hard to be like the rest of the flock, Jon? Why can’t you leave low flying to the pelicans, the albatross? Why don’t you eat? Son, you’re bone and feathers!”

“I don’t mind being bone and feathers, mom. I just want to know what I can do in the air and what I can’t, that’s all. I just want to know.”

~ Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach ~

seagull learning to fly

Ship Bottom, NJ, winter 2015

one thing about Colorado that continually inspires awe is the vast, open sky. it seems so close, like i could reach out and grab a cotton candy cloud and savor its flavor. or maybe i could jump and find myself in mid-flight like that recurring dream from my childhood where if i ran fast enough and flapped my arms hard enough, i could escape the bad guys chasing me, unable to catch me as i soared away.

cloud rows Colorado

Crestone, Colorado, Summer 2015

i could hug the sky in Colorado. i could be in the sky here. perhaps i even am the sky.

Sophi sky cosmos

connecting with the cosmos in Crestone.

when i flew from NYC to Denver, i listened to Taylor Mac’s ukulele cover of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” on repeat for over an hour. Taylor had recorded this rendition specifically for Darth&Lobster who were making a short film about queer love. i gave myself Reiki on the jet plane and contemplated what exactly love is. what is this longing to be connected and how do we know when to let go? tears streamed down my face as i thought about many loves and a life i was leaving behind. gratitude simultaneously surged through me as my light body flew through the sky onto new adventures.

: created with Davina Cohen and Andre Morton. full video:

for more on Freeing Lobsters: Where the Heart Is (Part 2)

then i entered the fantastical realm of Colorado! i spent the first two weeks in Loveland learning how to better cook vegetarian while sharing stories with super Sarah, creating a new artscience multimedia project with incredible Aussie collaborator Leah Shelton, writing poetry, and gearing up for NSS (Nyingma Summer Seminar).

sky Loveland Colorado

lovely in Loveland, Summer 2015

then i was transported to a mountaintop daily for nine days to receive great wisdom and share laughs and insights with kindred spirits.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche NSS Buddhism

photo from NSS: Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s Facebook page

how i discovered what an NSS is: Where the Heart Is (Part 3)

i’m not going to lie—NSS was intense! it was extremely jam-packed with activity. no 24 hours of silent retreat situation here. when we weren’t sitting in meditation or attending teachings, there were all kinds of meetings and responsibilities. there were daily service jobs, in addition to different service projects i was unwittingly signed up for. these would even extend beyond NSS. i was also booked everyday for Reiki sessions during the lunch break. the swirl of activity surprised me compared to other Buddhist teaching environments that i had experienced. that said, i was more than happy to serve as i surprised myself with reserves of energy i didn’t know i had. i wondered if at other times in my life i may have felt overwhelmed by all this. however, i felt incredibly grounded by the commitments; they helped me delve even deeper into the teachings, especially because they were largely centered on and around the topic of bodhicitta.

the course text for the Mahayana section of the teachings was “Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea” by Khunu Rinpoche. the story behind the book (as told to us by Kongtrül Rinpoche during NSS) was that someone gave Khunu Rinpoche a calendar so for every day he wrote on it a verse praising bodhicitta. there are 356 in total, so he missed very few!

As a river to the sea,
as the sea to clouds,
as clouds to land,
so does bodhicitta beautify this world.

~ Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea, Khunu Rinpoche ~

everyday as we drove from Loveland to Phuntsok Choling, we would enter the highway, taking in the vast sky and Rocky Mountains surrounding us in all directions. we would drive through canyons with rock formations shaped as Native American chiefs, dogs, and various other spirits and creatures. we would ascend the mountain and the sky would open up again; every time i would feel my heart opening up with it.

When negative thoughts and feelings arise,
take a moment to look outside.
You will find your bodhicitta
resting in the world around you.

~ i started to write my own daily verses on bodhcitta, as inspired by Khunu Rinpoche. they may not be as poetic, but they do help me stay connected. ~

i find it hard not to feel expansive when soaring amongst the clouds. in Colorado, this feeling is coupled with a grounding sense that comes from being in touch with mountain earth that is so wild and raw, largely unspoiled by human ego and interference.

moody mountain sky Colorado

Crestone, Colorado, Summer 2015

so much information was transmitted during NSS and there were many take-aways. one thing that really stuck with me in mind and practice is this notion of bodhicitta. the word bodhicitta has no real direct translation, but this is a simplified definition from Rigpa Wiki:

Bodhichitta (Skt. bodhicitta; Tib. བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་སེམས་, chang chub kyi sem; Wyl. byang chub kyi sems) is the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.

in Kongtrül Rinpoche’s book “Light Comes Through,” he gives a compelling example of “The Practice of Gentle Disengagement,” and thus defines bodhicitta:

All the great practitioners know the consequences and pitfalls of lenchak [a karmic pull toward someone, usually in an unhealthy way, when we are bound by the emotional needs of others, or simply afraid of our own] and so fiercely guard their independence. They are savvy when it comes to working with others because they know that, whether it concerns their students, parents, family, or whoever, if they fall prey to the lenchak dynamic, it would eat up their time and their peace of mind too. Moreover, because it is a dynamic based on neurosis, lenchak leaves no supportive ground on which to serve others. In the end, they would find themselves leading an entirely different life from the spiritual life of practice they envisioned for themselves.

Knowing this, many yogis have steered clear of societal demands and led simple lives, traveling alone without the complications that come with having many sponsors and attendants. Patrul Rinpoche had a strong, uncompromising presence and was completely immune to any kind of deception or partiality. There are stories that when important dignitaries would come for an audience—some of them so proud it would have taken a bulldozer to get their heads down—they would shake like prayer flags in his presence. But don’t think for a moment that Patrul Rinpoche, even though he was free of entanglements, had even a trace of indifference! He was known as a loyal and kind friend, a compassionate friend, who dedicated his life solely for the benefit of others. Because he was able to see the greater potential of the human mind’s ability to awaken, he spent his entire life expounding the teachings with great care and tenderness. Through his wisdom and compassion, he was able to preserve his independence and serve others, perfecting his own mind through the jewel of bodhicitta.*

*Bodhicitta means “enlightened heart.” On the relative level, bodhicitta has two aspects: aspiration bodhicitta, which is the wish to attain enlightenment in order to bring all living beings to liberation; and engagement bodhicitta, which includes such practices as generosity and patience. On the absolute level, bodhicitta is insight into the nature of all phenomena.

~ Light Comes Through, Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche ~

Rinpoche talked a lot about bodhicitta. he said that once you discover it, you can’t get rid of it (even if you want to). at the end of NSS, he said, “it doesn’t matter how much time you spend on the cushion, but rather how your heart is just the way it is.” that means getting rid of all the things our thoughts create as habits and obstacles. for some people, that means they need to spend a lot of time sitting in meditation to work with their thoughts. for others, maybe they are better served by getting up and practicing in post-meditation more than saying, “I sat for ten hours today.” it’s personal. we all create stories about the world that don’t necessarily depict the truth of reality. when we do so, we are trapped by our own minds; we are unable to allow our heart to fly freely. Rinpoche painted the metaphor of a bird with one leg chained. if this bird has the yearning to soar, it will continue to do so until it makes its way. bodhicitta is our yearning to soar.

seagull soaring LBI

Ship Bottom, NJ, winter 2015

Siddhartha understood that in the relative world you can make a cup of oolong tea and drink it; he would not say, “There is no tea” or “Tea is emptiness.” If he were to say anything at all, it would be to suggest that the tea is not as it seems; for example, tea is shriveled leaves in hot water. But some tea fanatics get carried away with the leaves and composing special mixes, creating names like Iron Dragon and selling small amounts for hundreds of dollars. To them it is not just a leaf in water. It was for this reason that some fifteen hundred years after Siddhartha taught, one of his dharma heirs, named Tilopa, said to his student Naropa, “It is not the appearance that binds you, it’s the attachment to the appearance that binds you.”

~ What Makes You Not a Buddhist? by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse ~

Colorado sky clouds

Crestone, CO, Summer 2015

the open sky of Colorado reminds me that the current moment is the only one that matters. being so close to something so vast helps me to touch in with my own boundless nature, one that we all share.

The benefit of bodhicitta is supreme,
lasting as it does for as long as cyclic existence remains,
going forth without discrimination to every living being
equal to the limits of space.

~ Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea, Khunu Rinpoche ~

there is a deep sadness in learning to let go, but it isn’t only about people, places, or things; it extends to concepts of everything we think we know. i had been on a search for “home” for some time now. after being in Japan, i thought my home might be there. then i came back to the U.S. i looked at what it might be like to live in California, to return to New York City, or even to return to the woods and beach where i grew up. i held the idea that home might be a static place. even if home was mobile (like a tiny house on wheels!), there was a definite idea of a thing that home might be.

then the dharma and i found each other, and i found a new home. this particular home embraces the fact that everything in the material, relative world is always changing. now i live somewhere beyond all that, even if i don’t always understand it yet.

it is heartbreaking work to deal with impermanence, to wake up from an ignorance about a world i thought i knew. when i began to understand that the nature of all form is emptiness from The Heart Sutra, nothing felt safe. it can seem very nihilistic. if you keep breaking things down into smaller and smaller parts, eventually you would have this void of emptiness. however, that is not actually the case. reality is beyond concepts like “void.” even “empty” is a concept. the truth of reality transcends words and images.

now, i look over at the sky and take a breath. i can rest in the spaciousness of not needing to hold on to anything too tightly. the second part of that truth is that emptiness also is form. when i exhale, i breathe a sigh of relief. it’s not that nothing exists. it is just that things are different than they seemed. i no longer have to be bound by false appearances. the dirt on my glasses can be wiped away.

Phuntsok Choling NSS MSB Colorado

the view from Phuntsok Choling, taken during NSS 2015

The sky of reality is obscured
by clouds of adventitious stains.
Gusts of bodhicitta wind clear them away,
like a lamp [clears away] the darkness.

~ Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea, Khunu Rinpoche ~

the possibility for clear seeing is available for all beings. it takes work, but we have help all around us. we can breathe in the wind, exhale our neuroses, delve into our shadows and look to the light. so with each breath and through an open sky, with bodhicitta flourishing inside, my wings are uplifted as i continue to soar on this incredible journey of life.

seagull soaring LBI

Ship Bottom, NJ, winter 2015

shall we learn to fly together?

it is so unbelievably wonderful that way.

Judith Brown Meyers auspicious Bird

photo: Judith Brown Meyers, taken during NSS 2015

When Jonathan Seagull joined the Flock on the beach, it was full night. He was dizzy and terribly tired. Yet in delight he flew a loop to landing, with a snap roll just before touchdown. When they hear of it, he thought, of the Breakthrough, they’ll be wild with joy. How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly! 

~ Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach ~

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