Monday, February 4, 2019

Continuous Informal Mindfulness Practice

     How often are we in the middle of a project when an unrelated interruption derails our momentum? How do we handle such interruptions? Most likely, we experience some, or even a lot of irritation. Kind attention is unlikely! We do not appreciate disruptions.

     In mindfulness (MBSR) training, we start by learning concentration meditation. As we're zooming our attention in on the felt details of our 'anchor' eg the feel of the breath in our belly, how often is the momentum of our concentration disturbed by a wide range of completely irrelevant thoughts? Are we instructed to become irritated? No! Instead, we practice accepting irrelevant thoughts with self-compassion, then gently, kindly, patiently, with endless perseverance we seamlessly bring attention back to our object of awareness (the anchor).
     Later in mindfulness training, we learn open-awareness meditation ('just sitting'). We allow our thoughts to settle down with a few minutes of concentration meditation, then we practice just sitting by opening our awareness to the most prominent phenomenon in our perceptual field. We rest in awareness itself. When the sound of the clock dominates our perceptual field, we attend to this sound; when an ache in our lower back arises in our perception, we attend to that sensation; and so on. We pay complete attention to whatever arises.

     How can we apply what we learn in formal mindfulness meditation practice to the many interruptions, often by other people, in daily life? 
     First of all, it's useful to recall that we typically feel at least irritable if not outright anger after being interrupted. So we can feel compassion towards ourselves for feeling upset, because we are often busy, and do need to meet deadlines. But we can also feel compassion towards the person interrupting us, because they too are busy, and have their own deadlines to meet. We all work collaboratively. NOTE this is meant to decrease our own & others' suffering and elevate our own & others' quality of life, NOT in any way to encourage repeated inconsiderate behavior from others, nor to turn us into "doormats." We need to wisely use of all our intelligences.
     So what happens if, instead of becoming irritated & angry, we intentionally practice compassionate self-acceptance & acceptance of the person interrupting us, and paying complete attention to them? By complete attention, I don't only mean letting go of resentment, and attending to their request. Complete attention or presence means bringing our entire being - mind, emotions & body - to whatever we're doing. So we gently, kindly, patiently, with endless perseverance seamlessly attend to our colleague's request.
     AND AFTER we've completed this task to our mutual satisfaction, we seamlessly return complete attention to our original task. This is how we can markedly improve our own as well as our colleagues' quality of life, as well as our work efficiency. This is CONTINUOUS INFORMAL mindfulness practice. 

     Doesn't this apply equally to the many times we find ourselves doing tasks that must to be done, yet we judge meaningless or somehow beneath us eg washing & putting away dishes, taking out the garbage, doing the laundry, driving to work, etc, etc, etc?  
     We ALWAYS have the choice between carrying out with complete attention that which is most appropriate in the present moment - OR - doing it with an attitude that essentially sabotages not only our own & others' quality of life, but also the quality of the actual task. Compare how these two radically different attitudes of mind affect your moment-by-moment quality of life!



Saturday, February 2, 2019

Embracing Paradox

     "Intimacy with all things" includes apparent paradoxes. Here's a striking example of this from a learned, seasoned explorer of consciousness, Ralph Metzner PhD:

     “I came to a new understanding of the two key mottos that run through much of the alchemical literature of the European Middle Ages. 
     One of these is natura naturans – ‘nature doing everything naturally.’ This is also the fundamental concept in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, as well as in western Hippocratic and indigenous medicinal practice: that the body basically heals itself, and we just need to support that process. We can rely on our primal, unconditioned, instinctual mind to sustain our health and well-being as we go through the life cycle from conception to birth, youth, maturity, old age, and death.
     The other motto, equally pervasive in the alchemical literature, is opus contra naturam – ‘the work against nature.’ This image and motto seemingly contradicts the first one. It avers that in order to really wake up and become conscious we have to practice working with mindful intention against the inertial pull of the unconscious sleeplike habits of everyday life. Gurdjieff and other masters of the so-called Fourth Way, as well as some teachers in the Sufi, Zen, and Taoist lineages, are often identified with this way.
     D.T. Suzuki (1980) wrote: ‘What is awakened in the Zen experience is not a “new” experience but an “old” one, which has been dormant since our loss of innocence … The awakening is really the rediscovery or the excavation of a long-lost treasure … the finding ourselves back in our original abode where we lived even before our birth.’ ”

      Ralph Metzner. “Searching for the Philosophers’ Stone. Encounters with Mystics, Scientists, and Healers.” Park Street Press, 2018.



Friday, February 1, 2019

Mood?

     Our mood* - the overall tone of our emotions - is something we typically assume to be like the weather, entirely dependent on external circumstances ie completely out of our hands. So we tend to do nothing about the one constant, major influence over how we perceive and respond to everything.
* "an emotional state. In contrast to emotions, feelings, or affects, moods are less specific, less intense and less likely to be provoked or instantiated by a particular stimulus or event. Moods are typically described as having either a positive or negative valence. In other words, people usually talk about being in a good mood or a bad mood." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mood_(psychology)

     "Einstein was asked what he thought the most important question was that a human being needed to answer. His reply was, ‘Is the universe a friendly place or not?’ 
     And indeed, our answer to that question is the cornerstone on which many of our values and beliefs inevitably rest. If we believe that the universe is unfriendly and that our very souls are in danger, peace will be elusive at best." 
     Joan Borysenko. “Fire in the Soul. A New Psychology of Spiritual Optimism.” Warner Books, 1993.

      If our mood is generally "bad" - and for many it is - it's likely due to a deep underlying conviction, conscious or unconscious, that the universe is unfriendly
. Such an assumption can ruin any sense of hope & optimism, so that only cynicism, depression or at best, a grim determination to survive remains. But does such misery make any sense? Is the universe really unfriendly??
     Scientists, as well as deeply self-reflective people would say that life operates according to impersonal natural laws. If you sit under an apple tree, and an apple falls & lands on your head, the universe is not out to get you. Similarly, all manner of interconnected causes & effects have continuously been in motion since the beginning of time, so everything is changing constantly in a very complex, yet "lawful" manner. Aging, sickness & death (existential facts) are part of this. If we decide that gravity, the weather, aging, death or any other natural phenomenon is personally offensive, then we're not only mistaken, but causing ourselves needless suffering, and would benefit from professional help. Like Dylan Thomas, "Do not go gentle into that good night, but rage, rage against the dying of the light" we may reflexively protest & rigidly cling to unrealistic preferences. BUT maturing wisely, becoming intimate with all of life, is a far, far better choice - AND WE DO HAVE A CHOICE.
     Given that the universe is at worse neutral, if not evolving in a positive direction, we might pay closer attention to our mood, and adjust it to mesh with reality. Cheers!


Friday, January 25, 2019

Body-Based Meditation

     By bringing felt awareness into the vertical core of our physical body - breathing awareness into specific spots within & inhabiting our vertical core - can help restore our balance, vitality, health & wholeness.

     “Each part of the internal space of our body has a palpable, distinctive quality. We can feel the quality of intelligence when we inhabit our head. We can experience the quality of our love in our chest, even when we are not actively loving someone or something. We can feel the quality of sexuality and gender within our pelvis. Our personal strength or power has a quality that naturally arises as we inhabit our midsection. And we can even experience the quality of our voice, our potential speak, when we inhabit our throat.
      The emergence of these qualities as we inhabit our body is a potent element of our experience of aliveness. It is also a major aspect of our recovery from trauma


      By inhabiting your body, you CAN :
• recover the internal sources of strength & enjoyment that the traumas in your life have injured. 
gain the expression and feel of your own presence so that you are not intimidated by the presence of others.
feel safe to be open to life, to be receptive.
take back the power of agency that may have been lost when you were overpowered by other people or by devastating events.
become resilient to abrasive sensory stimuli & painful interactions with other people.
feel grounded, rooted to the earth, so you are not easily unsettled. even feel appreciation & compassion for yourself so the responses of your heart and the insights of your own mind are pleasurable.”
         Judith Blackstone. “Trauma and the Unbound Body. The Healing Power of Fundamental Consciousness.” Sounds True, 2018.






Saturday, January 12, 2019

Chakras & Core Strength

     “We are heading into a new era, one in which humanity is being initiated into a higher state of being. That higher state is not a fairy-tale transformation that happens with the wave of a wand but a slow metamorphosis in how we understand the life force: how it is organized, how it flows through us, what it means, and how best to utilize it.
     One aspect of this initiation is to fully occupy our bodies and live in the center of our core – our sacred center – the vertical column of energy that rises from base to crown. This axis mundi, which Leadbeater calls the ‘axis of creation’ or ‘rod of Meru,’ is our personal connection between heaven and earth. In ancient myths, it is said that doomsday will approach as heaven and earth become disconnected. In a world where doomsday is precariously close, we are called to this core connection as a way of healing, not only ourselves, but also our fractured world in which spirituality and everyday life have become dangerously dissociated.
     The core is common to all living things – every blade of grass, every tree, every person’s vertical channel, including the core of our legs, arms, fingers, and toes. To come from our core is to occupy the most direct access to Source that we have: the Source within, aligned between heaven and earth.
     The chakras exist as sacred centers strung like jewels along the axis of our vertical core. When the chakras are aligned, we become that connection between heaven and earth. From this place we are capable of co-creating heaven on earth, from a place of consciousness, wisdom, sensitivity and compassion. Perhaps with this connection intact, we have a means to avert doomsday and continue the evolutionary experiment into its potential glory.
     Few people actually live in their core. Because it is the source of vital, divine energy, we learn at any cost to protect it as we grow up through the twists and turns of childhood. We create necessary defenses, but they come with a cost. Later, our vital life energy becomes more engaged with those defenses than with the precious core we were trying to protect! We no longer feel our aliveness, our vitality, our raison d’etre. The chakra system brings us back to our core.
     Leadbeater explains … the important link between vitality and health, how we are nourished by the light of the sun from above and the rising serpent power from the earth. It is the confluence of these two forces above and below that energizes and awakens the chakras. In a world where we remove ourselves from the earth and shield ourselves from the sun’s rays with walls and rooftops, spending the bulk of our time indoors, it is no wonder we are ailing. 
     The chakras come from the Tantric period of yoga philosophy, circa 500-1000CE. Tantric spirituality is a weaving of dualities: heaven and earth, masculine and feminine, inner and outer, mind and body. The emphasis is on incorporating everything rather than rejecting any one aspect of reality in favour of another. In this way, the chakras represent seven essential elements of our existence – not that the lower chakras are bad and the upper chakras are good, but that each level represents both light and shadow and must be balanced in order for us to be healthy, thriving individuals.
     The chakras represent a map for our healing, a profound formula for wholeness and a template for transformation. They describe the soul’s architecture, just as we study the bones, muscles, and organs of the body’s physical architecture, the chakras enable us to study the subtler energies of the soul. Like the human face, this architecture varies from person to person, yet it has elements common to all.
     The elements of the chakras – from bottom to top, earth, water, fire, air, sound, light, and thought – describe a spectrum of creation from the physical world to pure consciousness. The energies of the soul run both ways, in the rising current of liberation that comes about as matter transforms into subtler energies of consciousness, and in the descending current of manifestation that begins in thoughts or ideas and gains density as they progress downward into the manifested plane. The chakras are stepping stones along this pathway.
     As human beings we need to have both the upward and downward channels available. We need to be able to liberate from limiting or destructive patterns, which is a function of consciousness we call realization. To realize is to see with ‘real eyes,’ to see what is real, the energy behind the material representation.
     We also need to be able to manifest our visions into reality, to actualize our life purpose and take higher consciousness into its full outward expression to evolve the world around us. The chakra system is a map for that process. It is at best an integrative system, one that can bring us back into wholeness once again.” Anodea Judith PhD
       C.W. Leadbeater. “The Chakras. An Authoritative Edition of the Groundbreaking Classic.” Quest Books, 1997.




Friday, January 11, 2019

Standing on our Own Two Feet?

     “It seems that we are all, to some extent, still struggling to achieve an individual identity, and to love others without loss of ourselves. By individual identity I mean the ability to perceive the world directly with our own senses, to understand our experience with our mind, to feel that we inhabit our own body, to be able to surrender to the spontaneity of our own creativity and sexual passion, and to know that to a great extent, we can create the life circumstances of our own choice. In the therapeutic setting, we have come to recognize that the path toward this separate identity is fraught with taboos and obstacles of many kinds. It is a state of advanced psychological health and maturity. I can safely say that by age three, almost all of us have experienced some wound that will impede our progress toward this goal even as adults.
     From birth, we are trying to become fully ourselves in the context of our love for our parents. If childhood development were solely a matter of separation, there would not be nearly the degree of conflict and pain, and binding of pain in our body, as there is in this delicate balancing act between our deepening self-awareness, and our intensifying love for our parents. It is almost always for love that we give up (bind) those parts of our self that do not meet our parents’ acceptance. And it is almost always for the sake of autonomy that we close ourselves off from our parents’ love, by closing our own heart, when that love does not include the recognition and sanction of our separate identity.
     For the adult, individuation is a progression from a state of being merged with other people to a state of increasing independence and capacity to love. The merged state is a dependence upon the responses of others in order to feel good, safe, strong, and complete. There is an inability to use one’s own senses and understanding, or to perceive and think for oneself. There is a sense of never being truly alone with oneself, and not being able to experience one’s own sensations, feelings and thoughts clearly. … in situations of uncertainty, infants will look toward the mother to read her face for its affective content, essentially to see what they should feel, to get a second appraisal to help resolve their uncertainty. This looking toward others to see what one should feel or think remains in the adult who has not yet discovered his or her separate identity.
     Some people defend against this incomplete, dependent feeling by withdrawing from contact with other people. They are afraid of being overwhelmed, or feeling consumed by others, because they have so little felt sense of their own existence. Others become ‘addicted’ to love, searching desperately for anyone who will merge with them and help them feel alive.” 

       Judith Blackstone. “The Enlightenment Process. A Guide to Embodied Spiritual Awakening.” Paragon House, 2008.

     See "Nurturing Nonpartisan Human Maturation":
  http://www.johnlovas.com/2018/10/nurturing-nonpartisan-human-maturation.html



Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Towards our True Self

     “The false self is an amalgam of images, concepts, defensive attitudes, and bound childhood pain that we may mistake for our identity. Rather than having a felt sense of our (true, essential self), we have an imagined idea of who we are. All of us, to some extent, are caught up in this ‘dream’ of ourselves; to be entirely without self-images or defenses is an ideal, which we can approach.
      The false self is a constriction of our whole being, including our mental and emotional functioning, and our physical body. This constriction creates gaps in our ability to experience life, which are ‘filled in’ with false images, compensatory attitudes, and inaccurate beliefs about ourselves and our environment. 
These false images, attitudes, and beliefs, although unconscious or barely conscious, influence all of our life choices. The bound emotional pain in our body also colors or ‘haunts’ all of our experience. To some extent, we all suffer from a narcissistic wound, from a deficit in our self-love and self-knowledge. Most people compensate for this deficit with artificial postures meant to create a stronger, more functional, and more lovable self. It is this ‘false self’ that gradually dissolves as we become enlightened. 

     Our true, or essential, sense of self matures with the realization of fundamental consciousness (‘enlightenment’). We come to know ourselves as boundless, pervasive, pure consciousness. At the same time, we develop an experience of our individual being within this vast space. This is a felt sense of the internal depth of our own form, along with the movement of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.
     Our individual form is experienced as entirely permeable and transparent, unified with the world around us. But the unity of enlightenment is not a state of fusion. It does not mean that we lose our internal contact and become merged with the life around us. Although we can see and feel, to some extent, the internal life of the beings around us, we do not confuse our own self with them. Although we may have great empathy for other life, we cannot perceive the environment from someone else’s perspective, or think their thoughts, or decide to move across the room in someone else’s body. This is the mysterious paradox of enlightened experience: we become unified with our environment, and more fully our own unique self, at the same time.”
       Judith Blackstone. “The Enlightenment Process. A Guide to Embodied Spiritual Awakening.” Paragon House, 2008.

“You have to leave the city of your comfort
and go into the wilderness of your intuition.
What you’ll discover will be wonderful.
What you’ll discover is yourself.”                                              Alan Alda


“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. ... If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”                              Clarissa Pinkola Estés

"If one completes the journey to one's own heart,
one will find oneself
in the heart of everyone else."                                             Father Thomas Keating