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 great gift of losing something unexpectedly is realizing how much it is missed and how you assumed it would always be there. In the case of 2020, we lost everyday life.
Even those who chose to gather in large groups without masks had to feel and know that it was somehow different; and perhaps some if not all had a little gnawing doubt, that little niggling feeling, in the back of their mind or in their gut, that they were putting themselves or others at risk. Probably all knew that they were making a statement of belief, so it was no ordinary experience.
For most, what was not even a second thought in 2019 or the first couple of months of 2020—going to the grocery store, going to school or work, sports events, singing in a group, attending a movie or a concert, shopping in the malls, standing in line, travel, having a dinner party with friends, restaurants, weddings, funerals, visiting parents, and family gatherings—suddenly became unattainable “past life” memories.
The other day I watched a video of a flash mob at a grocery store. People were shopping, and they weren’t even wearing masks. When suddenly a rather large man standing in the produce section opened his mouth wide and began to sing “Finiculi, Finicula” and slowly individual shoppers throughout the store joined in chorus.
I watched nostalgically, thinking to myself, “That was so 2019.”
Knowing what is missing brings powerful feelings, a Niagara Falls of awareness, of what we have taken for granted. Gratitude for all those ordinary, wondrous, human interactions becomes hindsight, and an opportunity—an INVITATION—for foresight.
Shall we take this invitation for the New Year and hold this “future life” in our IMAGINATION, that not only will our ability to be with others safely, any time we want, any way we want, to travel, to embrace, but will be greatly enhanced—maybe even enchanted?
May we hold in our IMAGINATION and proclaim that because:
We now know how valuable are the things we ordinarily take for granted
How grateful we will be for their return
We accept our responsibilities for their existence
We will care for each other and the Earth
We will accept and celebrate our differences
We will lay down our animosities, our weapons, our territorial instincts, and…
Accept that we are one giant family.
And we will do this not only because we can, but because we must, if we ever intend to not only survive on this planet, but to
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.”
The best gift I’ve ever requested, over 30 years ago now, was the ability to learn my lessons without trauma or drama. And that gift has kept on giving until the past year or so.
So how do I now handle the moments of things gone terribly wrong, crazy prevails, and trouble sometimes comes with a capital T?
In retrospect, I welcome them.
I do not know that it is possible to live a life without any problems or discomfort. Perhaps some great spiritual masters transcend the ordinary vicissitudes of life. I do not count myself among them. And, maybe, those challenges, met with courage, forgiveness, and compassion are the very lessons that strengthen and brighten the soul and spirit until it shines. It is how we gradually learn to handle adversity that makes us masters. For that I am grateful.
In my 20s I bought a rock tumbler. I added different densities of grit at different stages over a month as the rocks rubbed against each other day after day. It was a long and noisy process–much like life sometimes can be–but at the end, I had a handful of beautifully polished rocks. I’ve long ago forgotten the rocks, but not the process.
Apparently, there are some stubborn traits I still need polished out. Or maybe there has just been so much to deal with in the past year or two that I am weary and do not have sufficient energy to learn my lessons quickly, and therefore, they get louder and way more annoying and gritty than they have in a very long time. In any case, though I truly don’t enjoy going through them at the time, those experiences are valuable. Compared to the adversities of many, they are slight.
I have a dear friend who welcomes everything and everyone. I have watched another take advantage of him, treat him badly, and I have pointedly asked him why he allows this. He is perfectly aware that this is happening. And he responds that all of it is a gift, and that each person, whether they treat him well or not, or are easy to be with or not, connects him to a world of other people and opportunities.
I like that.
And, although, I’m still going to request a renewal of learning my lessons without the trauma and drama, I’m going to add that I welcome all into my life that connect me to the greater whole that I am and that we are.
Wishing you beautiful gifts this holiday season and for the New Year.
Some neurologists say “fear” is actually a conscious state and it is not the same as the defensive survival circuits. In other words, we use the term “fear” interchangeably for the most fundamental survival reflex and also for a self-conscious state. It is the self-conscious state they argue that constitutes a “feeling” and that the survival reflex is so automatic that it doesn’t rise to the level of a feeling.
“Defensive survival circuits are evolutionarily wired to detect and respond to innate threats and to respond to novel threats that have been learned about in the past. As viewed here, defensive survival circuits indirectly contribute to the feeling of fear, but their activity does not constitute fear.”
Fear, they assert, is one of the “self-centered higher-order states” [that] “are essential for emotional experiences…”
When we feel safe, we do not experience fear. When spiritual teachers tells us to “stop fearing,” they don’t mean destroy the reflex survival circuit triggered by an immediate danger. They mean to affect a conscious choice (self-centered higher-order state) that we attribute to a given situation. This is what the expression, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” would have us understand.
Years ago, I met O. Fred Donaldson, the founder of “Original Play” on two occasions. Once at a conference and once in a workshop. I remember him saying that after he had learned to play with lions, bears, and wolves, that biofeedback equipment showed he had no subcortical fear response. He added an exception t0 that. He said upon facing a great white shark, he registered fear because he “saw only teeth and not God”. The likes of Fred, and realized spiritual masters, those few who have moved beyond identification with physical existence, do not fear for their survival in the same way as others.
For the rest of us, I suggest that fear is best applied on an “as needed only” basis.
Fred Donaldson made it his life’s work to learn to play and to do this from being with wild animals. He essentially annihilated the undercurrent of fear that lives in so many people and lurks behind a lot of dysfunctional and destructive habits. The thought habit of fear is why it is so hard for many people to meditate, to even sit still or stand in line—not doing anything in particular—without feeling uncomfortable. The mind races because it is seeking to control.
Stillness can come from radical acceptance—not arguing with what is. You certainly have the right and option to argue with reality. You need only be aware that regardless of your argument, you will lose. Fearlessness is letting go. It is accepting what is—not with a “couldn’t care less” attitude—not a “whatever” attitude–rather a mature understanding that this is true, this what’s happening now and I don’t control it.
I have devoted years to practicing this attitude (and I say practice deliberately for I have not yet perfected it) and call it “radical acceptance”.
It’s about embracing and and gracefully surrendering to life experiences that are not optional—experiences that, in a world of polarity, will range between those that you really want and those that you really don’t want. Nevertheless, it can become “thank you in all things” because experience is the gift of life. You develop a sense of play, a loving embrace of all that is. This becomes a powerful antidote to fear.
“This is expressed beautifully in one of the famous images of the Buddha depicting the night of his enlightenment. The Buddha is seated under the Bodhi tree, looking relaxed and contemplative, and apparently surrounded by a protective shield. Surrounding him are the maras, all of the afflictions that assail the mind. Some have spears aimed at the Buddha and some are disguised in erotic imagery, aiming to disrupt the Buddha’s concentration, trying to generate the fear that comes from being attacked. But the Buddha sits unmoved, with one hand on the ground, as if to say, “I have a right to be here.” The shield that surrounds him, that protects him from these afflictions, is his benevolence. His own loving-kindness shining out from him is the dissolver of all afflictions.” [Source]
Mastery over fear is possible and certainly a worthwhile goal. And, if one can’t master it completely, then at the very least it would be a wonderful goal to prevent anxiety, nervousness, and all forms of fear from dominating your life.
“Sri Yukteswar’s eyes twinkled ….“My mother once tried to frighten me with an appalling story of a ghost in a dark chamber. I went there immediately, and expressed my disappointment at having missed the ghost. Mother never told me another horror-tale. Moral: Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.”
Living beings NEED fear. One of nature’s great gifts, its purpose ensures the continuation of life. Fear, like pain, is not pleasant, but it let’s us know something is wrong. Spontaneous, natural fear is healthy, such as the cat’s instinctive reaction to the cucumber (mistaking it probably for a snake). It may seem funny to us—and many practical jokes are played like this on humans as well—but it’s actually a very important and serious gift that keeps the cat safe.
However, when you allow yourself to be stirred up into a state of fear by politicians, pundits, the media, social media, or your friends and family, so that you are reacting as if you are in actual, present, in-the-moment danger, you are being hoodwinked. You are terrorizing yourself for no good reason, because in that moment you are not in actual life or death danger. Nevertheless, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in and stress chemicals cascade through you, altering your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, muscle tone, and thinking ability, as if you were currently being threatened.
Somebody or something has put a cucumber in your path.
And you let that happen over and over again, to your own detriment.
We humans have, like the cat above, instinctive fear reactions, one being the startle reflex. When something suddenly appears in the field of vision, or unexpectedly touches from behind, or there is a nearby, sudden, loud sound, these sensory (informational) stimuli, if intense, may cause a heightened response in which we jump, shriek, run away. Or if it is a milder surprise, less dramatically, the reaction is to freeze, withdraw (contract) and often touch the center of the chest, and focus attention. If we are mature, we quickly assess the danger, decide if it is real and how to react: to stay put (freeze); to engage the danger (fight); or to get the heck out of there (flee). Or, in the case of the cucumber, or someone playing a practical joke on us, relax or even laugh as we realize there is no danger here. A less evolved animal (like the cat) or an infant will react without immediately assessing the danger. But even the cat will eventually figure it out and might even start eating the cucumber.
Don’t let a cat be smarter than you!
Stop jumping every time somebody tries to manipulate you.
In cases of real—rather than imagined danger—fear is your friend. Your reflexes are designed by nature to respond to immediate, in-the-moment threats (or a perceived threat until it can be evaluated). When the proprioceptive system (literally “perception of self” or body in space) and the vestibular (balance) system are functioning well, and reflexes are well integrated, there is generally a physiological sense of safety—enough comfort in the body to go about daily routines without giving them a second thought. In the present moment there is no need for fear. The unconscious or subconscious awareness effectively says, “I’m OK. I know how to take care of myself.”
When we feel safe, life is generally easier, healthier, and more pleasant.
Sometimes, when we are bored or want an adrenaline rush, we seek fear, perhaps in order to feel more alive. Halloween scary houses, practical jokes, or watching horror movies are examples of our desire to experience fear as a thrill. That’s OK if it is not routine. But putting ourselves into a steady fear state May be likened to addiction. Adrenaline and cortisol might be natural drugs, but they are not meant by nature to be used so much so often.
Ask yourself: Do you experience realfear—leading to positive, natural reaction responses—or unhealthy states that mimic fear (bad fear)? In the case of bad fear, the word “fear” is actually used inaccurately, and covers up or clouds the real, underlying condition. There are many better words to use to distinguish between fear (the unconditioned, innate, mechanism built into our neurophysiology) versus learned, and usually dysfunctional, conditioned states that come from memories or projections about the future.
Let’s call “bad fear” what it is: insecurity, worry, anxiety, preoccupation, trepidation, nervousness, dread, distress, dismay, unease, foreboding, angst, apprehension, unrest, perturbation, disquiet, discomposure, concern, malaise, or even, in the extreme, paranoia, etc. And, even though anxiety, as an example of one of these, like the others is usually considered an emotion, it is not. It is a repeating thought that becomes a state of sensation that masquerades as emotion.
The above conditions cause sensations such as shivering, twitching, trembling, shuddering, quavering, quivering, jerking, fluttering, “butterflies in the stomach”, etc. None of these sensations function to protect us. They are not healthy reflex reactions, but rather symptoms of an uncomfortable state and are not natural or healthy responses to actual situations.
These thought-derived past memories or future projections run along as subconscious programs that can feel like emotions and then cause unnecessary stress resulting in biological and physiological reactions. These undercurrents of imagined or remembered dangers become dysfunctional patterns and habits that often hold the body in unnecessarily tight, protective postures. Such apprehensive states do not allow for the kind of ease and stillness from which peace, joy, and ease arise.
Think of the animal kingdom or even human infants. They exhibit innate fear, but not “bad fear.” For example, perhaps your dog hates thunderstorms and reacts with shaking, hiding, whining or other symptoms of distress; but when the thunderstorm is over, the behavior stops. It is very unlikely that your dog then spends any time or energy “thinking” about future thunderstorms or “remembering” past ones. The dog’s fear is bodily/sensory stimulation; but that human’s “bad fear” is from mental activity. Animals and infants have no vocabulary for their experience, only the experience itself in its raw form.
Just as the word “fear” is used inexactly, many of the above sensation words are mislabeled as emotions in mainstream psychology. Regardless, it’s truly important to have a highly developed vocabulary for these experiences, sensations, patterns and habits of thought and behavior. Imagine going to your doctor and saying, “I have a pain.” The doctor says, “Where.” You reply, “In my body.” “What part of your body?” “In my leg.” “Which leg?” “My right leg.” “Which part of your right leg?” “The lower part.” “Which lower part?” … until finally the area of the ankle is identified as the problem area. Then the doctor asks, “What kind of pain?” “Bad,” you answer. And so on and on. Being precise in definition requires a vocabulary that correctly isolates and accurately identifies and details the issue.
Please realize, however, that with an adequate understanding and vocabulary, these states masquerading as fear can serve—IN THE SHORT TERM—to accurately identify a problem and to be used consciously as a valuable protective mechanism.
If you have been threatened by a hurricane or tornado, for example, worry about future hurricanes or tornadoes would make you more likely to take necessary and beneficial precautions. Perhaps you need to buy insurance, to have fire drills, draw up an escape plan, or to check that tools and machinery are working properly.
If you have been diagnosed with a serious illness, worry or concern can make you change your behaviors, have regular health check ups, get your affairs in order. These kinds of thoughts and sensations can focus you.
However, continued worry without taking appropriate action, serves no purpose, other than to wreck havoc on well-being, depleting the intrinsic pleasures of being alive, and impeding personal growth. If we allow a concern to serve as an impetus towards positive action, it too can serve as a positive, so long as it does not linger beyond its functional value. Once we have taken whatever precautions we deem necessary, it is time to let the worry go. Once we have taken appropriate action, we have essentially trained our conscious mind to tell our subconscious mind and our neurophysiological system, “It’s OK. I know how to take care of myself.”
“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.
Meditation is a way to stop the “monkey mind” (a Buddhist term for uncontrolled and confused thinking) and to learn how to “properly play” this great “spiritual instrument”: the brain. But, many people struggle with meditation (and its many forms) because if they try to stop thinking they crave thinking even more. Thinking then takes them over. Thinking controls them and not the other way around.
When we attempt to exert conscious control, a subconscious horde of arguments rise up fighting our resolve. This is why New Year’s resolutions are usually so short-lived and ineffective. Sometimes resolutions and affirmations backfire and make the habit or pattern worse. You intend to go on a diet and exercise and almost immediately become tired and hungry, thinking of all the “wrong” foods you want to eat. The fact is the 5% of the conscious identity is fighting the 95% subconscious, unconscious self that directs and thrives on repetitive thoughts. The conscious, full-of-itself-self (ego) thinks it’s the CEO but ideally would be the perfect Administrative Assistant to the wiser, healthier Higher Self. But the ego hates and fights that demotion.
My philosophy professor at university called the constant, non-stop chatter that generally passes for thinking, “grocery list thinking.” I understood that he meant by this the repetitive, rote nature of thoughts that deal with everyday “taking care of business” and the thoughts that are a bunch of already-been-thought thoughts. What we call thinking is often just repetition of thoughts already thought over and over again until they become thought habits, thought patterns, and thought belief systems. Ultimately they become thought addictions. To not think these thoughts or to have someone challenge them is painful and can cause strongly adverse reactions such as hurt, denial, anger, argument, aggression, or internal stress.
Repetitive, out-of-control thinking is stressful and impairs life because it fails to listen to anything but itself. It’s the thing that keeps people awake at night and causes knots in the stomach.
To remedy this common problem, spiritual teachers and healers have over thousands of years created techniques to calm and master thinking and gain awareness of other ways of being. Some techniques are designed to stop thoughts. Others, because it is so difficult to stop thinking, are designed instead to give distance from thoughts. Centering Prayer for example works by witnessing thoughts. An example would be, “I am worthless.” [implied statement of fact, but really a belief]. In Centering Prayer, one might witness the thought and think, “I am having a thought that I am worthless.” (This begs the question who is thinking and who is observing the thinking).
[Next blog: different kinds of mediation and the subconscious saboteur.]
Am I saying that thinking has no value? Of course, I’m not saying that. Of course, thinking has value. It is, along with the opposable thumb, one of the great gifts of humanity. But thinking has been elevated to an importance that exceeds its purpose; and now what often passes for thinking has fallen into a state that often renders it far less valuable than intended because it lacks insight, creativity and wisdom, and is merely a “laundry list.”
As I stated in the last blog, we do not need to think in order to BE. We do need to BE in order to think. The higher value goes to BEING. When I switch off my workaday thinking and enter into the silence then the thinking that follows is fresh, new and creative. The empty mind is open to inspiration—to creative thought. The brain becomes then the spiritual instrument it was always intended to be.
Nature is a constant process of creation and destruction only to create again and destroy again–an exquisite cycle of being. Empty becomes full only to empty – over and over.
This ability to be in Silence and Stillness was made easy for me by a profound near-death experience when I was 27. During that experience I lost my identity as a temporal being (and consequently returned with partial amnesia). Admittedly, it left me ill-prepared for daily life. It took me years to remember words, personal biography and to be able to read and write again. The challenge also contained a gift. The gift that has remained is being able to be at one with all that is. Despite the practical necessity of a persona (which took me years to re-establish), I did not and I do not possess a spiritual, emotional or intellectual desire for a separate ego identity. My persona (ego) is an instrument that serves me.
Close your mouth, block off your senses, blunt your sharpness, untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. This is the primal identity.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (56)
In my “meditation” (which is really just showing up to Being) the result goes way beyond watching the thoughts drift by like clouds. My experience informs me that we are meant to transcend the clouds—the appearance of forms—to emptiness where Silence and Stillness resides, to Rumi’s field (see last blog). To say it another way, at the point between light and dark, true and false, good and bad, there is nothing to judge or interpret and therefore no need to think.
He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.
“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