Is living a long life all that is cracked up to be? Is reaching old age enough?
What is enough?
When you were an infant, you never gave a thought to time or to your mortality. You lived in the moment, and that moment was not only a splendid sufficiency, it was, in its essence, the equivalent of eternity. Being alive, NOW, in the moment was enough.
The Present Moment & the Joy of Being
Let’s face it, if we count the time before we are born and the time after we die, we are somewhere else for way longer than we are here. You’re here; and POOF!, you’re gone. Not much more significant to the cosmic unfolding, to geological time, than a mayfly.
Would you rather have 100 days of drudgery, or one glorious beautiful day? Don’t answer too quickly. Contemplate this, as you would savor a tasty morsel, because as you sit with the question, you might find that so many conflicting thoughts and feelings arise.
Would you rather have a great sum of money, but only meaningless trinkets to buy, or a bit of money to buy one precious thing that you love?
Would you rather spend 80 years as a slave to tedium, yearning for freedom, or 8 days of freedom in which you felt fully alive?
By the time I was 16 I had lost my three closest friends to truly horrible illnesses.
Chris was born with his terminal illness. His disease kept him from many physical activities. We drank beer and smoked cigarettes together when he was 12 and I was 10. We played chess and battleship. We collected comics, read and discussed them. A child prodigy, he serenaded me with classical music, sometimes original. Chris (whose given name was actually Cristos) died at age 18. I can’t think of anyone who knew him that didn’t love Chris.
Robin was hit with an insidious, incurable form of cancer when we were in 6th grade. Heads turned when Robin entered a room—moths to the light. She was brilliant in both the intelligence and luminosity sense of the word, bright, funny, and fun. We wrote stories and plays together. We cast the neighborhood children in roles and enacted the plays for the whole neighborhood. We organized a caroling group for the Christmas holiday, learning both Christian and Jewish songs, knocking on all the neighborhood doors. We hosted inventive parties. When she was reading a book, you could ignite a bomb under her seat and she wouldn’t be distracted. She was 13 when she died, a month shy of 14. I can’t think of anyone who knew her that didn’t love Robin.
Carmen and I were to meet in Paris, to master the French language we couldn’t in high school. I’d met her in honors English. She was born in Barcelona. Castillian Spanish was her native tongue, and she spoke a beautiful English and a smattering of Italian. Clearly the French problem was the teaching and not the students. We sat on her veranda after school, drinking manhattans and listening to the music Charles Aznavour. With roses between their teeth, her parents danced on tables with us. She returned from Paris before I could join her and was gone within six months.
Three very short lives. Three people who lived more in the brief time they had than most live in 80, 90, or 100. While many think that my early bereavement was a burden—though it certainly was for a while—they rarely consider the gift. At a very early age, I learned that the quality of life was vastly more important than the quantity.
The field, the akasha, the realm of all possibilities, the info-energy system, zero point energy, David Bohm’s “implicate order,” the mental universe… whatever you call it, each concept speaks of the same reality. Yes. Reality. An Alice in Wonderland reality—in which nothing real is really as permanently real as we believe.
In the ancient East, this awareness was a spiritual, mystical reality. In the modern West, it is the “not stuff” of a growing number or rogue philosopher quantum physicists, biologists, and other out-of-the-box-thinking scientists. It is the realm where particles and waves themselves become the stuff of thoughts (consciousness).
It may very well be that we are each part of a quantum neural network and that our thoughts and feelings seemingly so very individual and separate, existing inside of each of us, are not actually within us but originate from an otherwordly realm where the greater mind is located and to which we all have access.
And, what if we can tap into this pure, potential consciousness, this reservoir of thought that is the perpetual energy of creation, from which all form emanates? Then we are not the subjects of life. We are not victims of our fate. We are the co-creators; and as such, all the tools and the mediums of creation and resilience that we need are available to us—endless resources, endless reservoirs. When we seek renewal we need look no further than these universal stores of energetic plenty. We can bounce back from the abyss. We can reclaim and re-order our wholeness.
“If man thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken, and without a border then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.”
David Bohm,1980, Wholeness and the Implicate Order
We have not only the ability but the right to dive into the pools of cosmic consciousness. There is where we find all that is and all that was before there was an “is-ness” and we can reach in and capture some of that stuff of magic and put it in our own personal container.
Will you join me to step outside habitual boundaries, to dive in outside and beyond our perceived three-dimensional separate existence? Will you co-create “within the whole” what we can still be? You need only the imagination, inspiration, and willingness to do so.
“I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe… In general the universe seems to me to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine. It may well be, it seems to me, that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a universal mind.”
“To recognize one’s own insanity, is, of course, the rising of sanity…”
By the time I was old enough to deliberately choose to interact with my maternal grandmother, she already suffered from dementia. And if you had asked me why I adored spending my time with her above all my other “more interesting” conversant relatives, I could not have told you.
When I was older, at some family gathering, I heard someone tell a story about my grandmother. Apparently, during the depression, she was taking apart her own clothing and sewing it into garments for children. She was also secretly giving her food away to the street children; and her secret generosity might not have been discovered except she passed out one day. Upon discovery, the family made her eat her food.
Last year, I was visiting with family of dear friends. The male elder—father of my friend—was in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, seemingly oblivious to the content of the conversation, not remembering how anyone was related to him. His wife, my friend (his daughter), and I were making pleasant conversation, while he just sat there picking at scabs. Then my friend took a phone call from her husband that his mother, the matriarch of his family, had just died.
His mother was my original connection to all these people, the mother of a best friend I’d had 50 years before. We had bonded over the prolonged illness and death of her daughter. I admired and loved this woman—a woman who became a 2nd mother to me.
My friend, still with the phone in her hand, was crying. I was crying. My friend’s mother teared up. And though he had no cognitive awareness of the people involved or what any of the details were, the field of love and empathy that emanated from this man’s heart was palpable not only to me, but when I asked my friend, it was just as clear to her.
It was not until I grew old enough that I understood it was this quality of presence that was so appealing about my grandmother; and that this kind of presence has nothing to do with what a person knows or does. It is like the cherubic state of the newborn. In the case of my friend’s father, his presence was not actually gone, it was just transferred or transmuted into something different.
I witnessed another, stranger experience of divergent consciousness—not a delightful presence—during my college years, which was when I was in my 30s. One of the students had a schizophrenic break. (All were more mature than most college students in this small, alternative program than in a typical college setting). Because I worked part-time as secretary for the director of the school on a work scholarship, I participated in a very uncomfortable phone call to her family and learned that this was not her first schizophrenic episode and they wanted no part of her. They coldly said to put her in the local mental institution. Unfortunately, that institution had a reputation as something of a “snake pit.”
I suggested to my boss, who was also my professor, that a small group that included me, two other students, and the two instructors in the curative studies field, could form a round-the-clock care group. Incredibly, he agreed given certain conditions. A psychiatrist was called in for medication and supervision of the troubled student; and the students in the care group had to accept free psychological counseling sessions twice a week.
It was during these sessions that I learned the great value of bringing up the sewage of the subconscious mind. A lot of treasures lived in that sludge. I also learned that while living in her schizophrenic world the woman was keenly, seemingly supernaturally, aware of every way to push very specific and very different buttons of everyone in her environment. It was as if she could see their weaknesses as clearly as you and I can see physical forms.
Many years later one of my former elementary school students who was a wonderful artist and the most dyslexic person I had ever met, suffered a schizophrenic break as a young adult. His untimely death was tragic and some community members chose to commemorate him with an exhibit of his art and pottery. In exhibit were some of the childhood paintings he had done in my classroom. Also on display were black and white sketches he had recently done, while in prison, of notable figures in the news. They looked like ink portraits that could easily have illustrated Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The external aspects made the portraits recognizable as who they were, but he also managed to convey the inner soul, distorted energy field and certain unholy images. I knew then that he too was seeing somehow into the deepest crevices of their subterranean consciousness.
Not long after my profound near-death-experience (NDE), I consulted a psychiatrist because I was convinced I was crazy. At the time I could hear what people were thinking (telepathy) and feel what people were feeling (empathy) and even share their experiences. He told me that crazy people generally don’t voluntarily go to psychiatrists, that “all my buffers were blown” and it would take about seven years to develop those buffers again; and, that he hoped I would eventually go into a helping profession.
In Chapter 10 of Carl Jung’s memoir, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, he describes what it was like for him to return from his NDE:
The view of city and mountains from my sickbed seemed to me like a painted curtain with black holes in it, or a tattered sheet of newspaper full of photographs that meant nothing. Disappointed, I thought, “Now I must return to the ‘box system’ again.” For it seemed to me as if behind the horizon of the cosmos a three-dimensional world had been artificially built up, in which each person sat by himself in a little box. And now I should have to convince myself all over again that this was important! Life and the whole world struck me as a prison, and it bothered me beyond measure that I should again be finding all that quite in order. I had been so glad to shed it all, and now it had come about that I along with everyone else would again be hung up in a box by a thread. While I floated in space, I had been weightless, and there had been nothing tugging at me. And now all that was to be a thing of the past!
If we can look at and recognize the insanity of the current world around us, perhaps as Eckhart Tolle suggests, we might begin to become sane, to begin to heal, to become whole, to realize our potential.
Ann Frank famously said,
It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
I don’t know that all people are truly good at heart, or why we are born into a “box system,” but I believe that the source that built that human heart and this “box system” is good and that there is deep and valuable meaning to the human experience. I can’t say that I know this or that I know anything in the mental sense of knowledge. I speak of a knowing, a conviction, that is not of the brain but lives in some divergent reality. It is a reality, a consciousness, that generally is glimpsed only when what is commonly known as “reality”— the reality of the five senses—has somehow had its edges removed and the veil it creates is rendered torn and tattered.
I have come to comprehend that somehow our instruments—our bodies, personalities, perhaps even our souls—can be, and usually are, to a greater or lesser degree, damaged. That essence of who we are—LOVE—that grand cosmic symphony of beauty and truth—coming through these damaged, dinged, twisted, broken instruments, comes out distorted and we lose our potential for what life could truly be. If we could but go in and repair the damage what joy and happiness we could experience, what peace there could be on this pretty little planet, in this limited, but adorable field of consciousness in which we could, if we would, simply laugh, sing and play.
have found meditation difficult to define, as practices vary both
between traditions and within them.”
The list and
variations could go on and on, but this only complicates the issue.
We shall return to this in the HOW section.
WHERE? is also easy. Wherever you are. You could be sitting, standing, lying down. All you need is your presence. How to get to “presence” is where the “what” and “how” both come in. What meditation practice will you choose? How does one best meditate? Again, hold on… we’ll get to that.
Find someplace soothing, even if it’s only in your imagination.
WHEN? has a cute answer, which is, of course, NOW. The real answer is whenever you can. But practically speaking, it’s a good idea to build it into your schedule at a regular time—a time of day or even time of week —) if once a week is all you can manage) when you aren’t crazy busy, or when you aren’t most stressed. We each have natural rhythms. Find yours.
WHY? The health benefits of meditation and meditative techniques are evidence based and well documented. They include:
The list could go on and on to include productivity, creativity, prevention of disease, etc. etc. So, assuming you are already convinced that meditation is worthwhile, let’s get on with the HOW.
HOW? Here are some suggestions until you figure out what’s easiest and best for you. Lots of people, as discussed in last month’s blog, have a hard time turning off their thoughts. So what’s a person to do?
Make it up if you have to. That’s what I do. Don’t think there’s a “right way” to do it. Be easy on yourself. Practice self-kindness. Take it slowly—a few minutes a day; and if you can’t manage every day, that’s OK too. Just start. Take tiny baby steps. You can time yourself of not. This is your meditation. I usually do my “meditating” sitting down. I tell myself that the everyday, temporal me has done all the thinking necessary for one day.
Then I wait for the “bigger” me, the one that lives in my sub-conscious or super-conscious or perhaps permeates the cosmos, that connected-to-all-that-is-Self to take over. In other words, I “let go and let God.”
get really, really quiet and show up to whatever state that follows.
I push a mental button to switch off my everyday, taking-care-of-business thoughts
Sometimes I start by consciously breathing deeply, with long inhale, a short holding of the in-breath, long exhale, and then short holding of the out-breath. Sometimes I hum or tone. There is some evidence that toning is even more effective than meditating.
You can try a scanning technique. Close your eyes and look into your body. Find the tense places and imagine that you are soothing, massaging them. Imagine your body as filled with warm sand, or bright light, or beautiful waves of water. You may prefer to breathe naturally. An infant knows how to breathe without effort. Follow your breathing. Breathe in your favorite incense or diffuse essential oil. Listen to meditative music. Doodle if you are restless and must keep busy. The possibilities for relaxing are endless. You need to relax first so you can enter the meditative state.
Choose your favorite incense. Or gaze at a candle.
Use biofeedback equipment if you must.
Read books, watch videos, or listen to podcasts about different kinds of meditation and try out one that attracts you. This is not unlike trying on new shoes. If it’s comfortable continue. If not, try something else.
Use basic “mindfulness”. Take one step back from your thoughts and just watch them as if they are clouds floating by. If you get “caught” into a thought, as soon as you realize this, go back to a distance from it. IF you catch yourself completely drifting away, call yourself back to the present moment.
Walking meditation. With each step, breathe. You might want to think, “Here I am now.” Every now and then stand still for a moment. Open your senses to the colors, sounds, movement of the air, the clouds, aromas. Take another step. “Here I am now.”
Some people need a mantra. You don’t need someone to create one for you. Create your own. Make is simple. For years I have repeated to myself, “Thank you.” – or “Thank you God.” To keep myself awake, I sometimes count my mantra, “Thank you 1, thank you 2, thank you 3…..”
You could sit with palms open. Imagine that one hand is giving up to the cosmos all that you have experienced, much as a fragrant flower gives its aroma to its surroundings, without effort. With the other hand, receive all that the cosmos has to offer, just as the flower receives the air, the wind, the rain and the sun.
Be present – a present – to yourself. Enjoy the silence of being just you. If you find something new that works really well, please share that with my readers.
“Stop thinking, and end your problems….I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.”
[excerpt Lao Tzu, Tao Te Chin, verse 20]
A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
How often have you experienced a revelation, had an “aha” moment or had a new or startling thought? It is absolutely necessary to empty the mind (take out the trash?) regularly in order to create space, most importantly, to just be a being. A being doesn’t need thought to be. It simply is. An infant doesn’t need to learn how to be or to think about being.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about
“Being is always there; it is what we are in the most fundamental way”. –
A. H. Almaas, The Pearl Beyond Price
I see no reason why spiritual awareness or self-realization must be incompatible with a personal human life or that being an ordinary human, flaws and all, must be a hindrance to self-realization as an illumined human. Embracing humanness may very well be essential to spiritual awakening.
There was three year old child who kept insisting that she had to be alone with her newborn sibling. The parents, concerned that the older child through sibling rivalry or just lacking awareness might harm the infant, refused the request. But the child kept asking, insisting over and over again on time alone with the infant. Finally, relenting, the parents stationed themselves outside the closed door, having set up video and sound monitors in the room. Not being a religious family, imagine their surprise when they saw their daughter lean over the crib, put her head close to the infant’s head, and say:
“Please tell me about God. I’m starting to forget.”
Most people cannot remember anything prior to age three. Sense of self, or self-concept, is something that develops with time and experience. Children become self-conscious (showing signs of embarrassment or shyness) around age two to three. Also until around the age of three the child often doesn’t understand the concept of “I” and speaks in the third person (e.g. “Sharon want toy”).
The splendid innocence of the infant is that physical birth marks only its bodily separateness but not its differentiated psychological self. Over time the personality evolves through enculturation, experience and increasing levels of choice into a separate sense of itself—a self-concept. Self is constructed. As that self continues to grow and become stronger, it creates a kind of amnesia of the Essential Being, its spiritual home. Veils descend that allow the ego to assert and sustain itself.
Time & Space: Relative Existence
Many who have experienced a near-death experience report that time does not seem to apply to reality. As one experiencer, Jeanie Dicus, put it, “Before we’re born, we have to take an oath that we will pretend time and space are real so we can come here and advance our spirit. If you don’t promise, you can’t be born.”
The tale of Er in Plato’s Republic gives us the image of souls returning to Earth drinking from the River Lethe (Lee-thee), the “River of Forgetfulness” that ran through the caves of Hypnos, so that they would forget from whence they came. The implication of the Greek myth is that we are hypnotized out of remembering our true nature so that we can adopt a new human identity. This would suggest that developing that identity is actually important.
Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity explains that time is subjective. An amusing anecdote, wrongly attributed to him, is supposed to explain this theory:
“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
While this is relatable and generally subjectively true, in this case time has not changed at all, only the perception of it is different, as can be measured by a clock.
The actual theory is that in the space-time continuum time does not move or flow. All of time is now. Time just IS; and passage of time is a result of limited human awareness.
“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”.
Albert Einstein, 1955
If the spiritual world is timeless, the physical world is not. Not only is time called into question but so is space or locality. We have an awareness of solidity, and yet we are both wave and particle. We occupy a location, but exist in a quantum state of non-local entanglement. Another way to say this is that we merely appear to be here. There are fundamental contradictions between what are scientifically understood as proven realities. The cognitive dissonance that this creates—that existence itself is a paradox—can only be resolved by accepting that two (or more) contradictory realities can and do exist simultaneously.
The material/spatial/temporal world is real. Deal with it. Study it. Understand its laws. Be in it, grow and learn with it. Embrace the experience of being fully human. Later, you will be mature enough to learn that it does not define you.
The spiritual/non-local/timeless world is real. Deal with it. Be with it. Understand that this is a larger, truer you. Your earthly biography, like a story, has a beginning and an end. Don’t believe that the story of you is you. But don’t allow that awareness to prevent you from having a human life.