Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Separation, Connection, Intimacy

     After consuming alcohol, many feel (for a few minutes at least) that they love everyone in the world - and tend to say so! Tragically, expressing universal unconditional love - our healthiest, most noble, most authentic characteristic, is considered by many as an embarrassment. Keeping this repressed is "normal" in our society - the proper thing!

     Sometimes during meditation retreats, people (unaided by substances) experience a "heart opening" - a blissful sense of unconditional love for everyone. The associated feeling of warmth radiating from the chest is probably the result of physical & psychological "de-armoring" in the process of healing from trauma. This blissfully unburdened state can persist for weeks after the retreat, and can re-occur. 
     A hardened, armored heart is comparable to a petrified tree; an open, de-armored heart, to a healthy willow tree. Which has the required resilience to survive, much less thrive, in life's constantly shifting climate?

     “By giving ourselves unconditional kindness and comfort while embracing the human experience, difficult as it is, we avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. At the same time, self-compassion fosters positive mind states such as happiness and optimism. The nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times.
     ... you are only being asked to relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself. It’s easier than you might think, and it could change your life.” 
       Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins, 2011.

     “I would define love very simply: as a potent blend of openness and warmth, which allows us to make real contact, to take delight in and appreciate, and to be at one with – ourselves, others, and life itself.
     ... love is the central force that holds our whole life together and allows it to function."
       John Welwood. "Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. Healing the Wound of the Heart." Trumpeter, 2006.

     "Scientific objectivity" is considered to be an important stance in science as well as health care. In the latter, the term "boundaries" is substituted, because it includes privacy & other moral/legal implications. But boundaries do not only protect patients & clinicians. Like most other "positive" things, boundaries also have a shadow side (potentially negative aspects) eg "armoring." (See: Ken Wilber. "No Boundary. Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth." Shambhala, 1979.)

     "You learn about a thing ... by opening yourself wholeheartedly to it. You learn about a thing by loving it." Barbara McClintock - Nobel prize-winning geneticist

     "Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough." George Washington Carver 

     According to Zen, the ultimate level of psychosocialspiritual evolution is "awakening" or "enlightenment," defined as "intimacy with all things."  

     We've known how the power of love allows us to understand things for as long as shamanism has existed - at least twenty to thirty thousand years: 
     “The learned aspect of the SSC (Shamanic State of Consciousness) involves a deep respect for all forms of life, with a humble awareness of our dependence on the plants, animals, and even inorganic matter of our planet. The shaman knows that humans are related to all forms of life, that they are ‘all our relations,’ as the Lakota Sioux say. In both the SSC and the OSC (Ordinary State of Consciousness) the shaman approaches the other forms of life with familial respect and understanding. He recognizes their antiquity, relatedness, and special strengths. 
     The shaman accordingly enters the SSC with a reverence for Nature, for the inherent strengths of the wild animal and plant species, and for their tenacious abilities to survive and flourish through eons of planetary existence. Approached in an altered state of consciousness with respect and love, Nature, he believes, is prepared to reveal things not ascertainable in an ordinary state of consciousness.” 
     Michael Harner. “The Way of the Shaman.” HarperCollins, 1980.

     "The truth is, what one really needs is not Nobel prizes but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that's how. Wanting it so bad one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It's a consolation prize. 
     What matters is love." George Wald - Nobel prize-winning biologist from Harvard

Monday, February 18, 2019

Ground of Being

     From a strictly intellectual perspective ("head" only), it's probably not possible to understand any of the below quotes. Nevertheless, many much wiser people than myself, from very different traditions & times, continue to come up with a strikingly similar message: 
     The ground of being (True Nature, Essence, Being, the Universe, Nature, Brahma, Godhead, Holy Spirit, etc) delights in manifesting & thus knowing itself, in innumerable distinct ways. In manifesting physical form, apparent opposites & other apparent paradoxes (eg countless separate individual people, countries, races, religions, political parties, etc all with apparently different "self-centered" agendas) appear. At this time, a frightening number of people rigidly identify with partisan politics and live (& will probably die) exclusively in echo chambers. When, by somehow sensing our one common origin, we're able to see past ("transcend") apparent opposites & paradoxes, we will find ourselves right back in, & living from, our ground of being.

     “the task is to stabilize attention on the fluid, unpredictable, and contingent nature of experience as the ground that enables one to take ethical choices that are not conditioned by habitual reactive patterns of greed, hatred, and self-centeredness.
     … this (is a) shift in perspective from a life governed by attachments, to one founded on a vision of contingency & nonreactivity.”
        Stephen Batchelor. “Secular Buddhism. Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World.” Yale University Press, 2017.

     “The enlightenment instinct is the instinct for the ground of being to become fully conscious of itself.” Adyashanti

     “Nothing is finite which doesn't include the infinite. The finite is the byproduct of the infinite as such becomes the outer form, the mirror of the infinite, its external revealing image. Essence and form are inseparable. Essence is the eternal Being. But living form is its constantly ever new manifestation - everlasting revelation... I try to learn from the finite sciences the lessons of the infinite.” Arthur M. Young 

     “True Nature needs no object to know itself. When the mind disidentifies from all movement, we stand at the threshold of True Nature, as radiant Being that transcends, yet exists in all movements.” 
        Richard Miller. “Yoga Nidra. A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing.” Sounds True, 2005.

Frederic Benaglia

Constant Change, Awareness & Timeless Kindness

     “Whatever you are willing to be with, you go beyond. Sensory impressions and habit patterns that you neither resist nor get involved in expand & pop, dissolve, & disappear, like bubbles rising to the surface of a lake. All movements of sensation, thought, and emotion expand as they come to the surface of your awareness. As they expand, they may appear to be momentarily troublesome. But they are simply seeking the surface, and, when you don’t resist, they disintegrate into the spaciousness of awareness. Whatever is allowed to merely be, as it is, in awareness, resolves, dissolves, and disappears. This truth pertains to your every experience.” 
     Richard Miller. “Yoga Nidra. A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing.” Sounds True, 2005.

     So when we meditate, we don't engage with thoughts, words, images. We're aware of them, but we let them be, letting them take the natural course (constant change) of all phenomena: arising, persisting a while, & disintegrating.

     "When you sit,
     you leave the front door open,
     you leave the back door open,
     and you don't serve tea."                  Shunryu Suzuki

     Resting in awareness - as described above - feels surprisingly liberating. Experiencing this repeatedly is transformative.
     When instead of letting them be, we hook onto thoughts, emotions & moods, we prolong their otherwise naturally brief existence, bogging ourselves down in sickeningly-familiar swamps AND repeatedly failing to vibrantly live our one short, precious life. 

     We notice this, and with endless patience, kindness, gentleness & perseverance, we seamlessly let it be, and bring kind awareness back to just what the present moment holds, right here, right now.

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


     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."

     "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!