Friday, July 3, 2020

Religions, Languages & Wonder

     “Religions are like languages
• all languages are of human origin; 
each language reflects and shapes the civilization that speaks it; 
all languages make meaning out of the raw facts of our existence;
no language is true or false; 
there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say (or say as well) in another; 
the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life becomes; and 
as important as languages are, the final ‘language’ of wisdom is silence.” 
       Rami Shapiro. “Holy Rascals. Advice for Spiritual Revolutionaries.” Sounds True, 2017.

     About those conversations in my head:

          “When there is silence,
           one finds the anchor of the Universe
           within oneself.”                                         Lao Tzu

     “Perhaps as a child you sensed a world that touched a deep and mysterious wonder. You may have had an experience you felt certain no one would understand and so you never shared it, but it has stayed in your heart – some kind of knowing that seemed at once completely true and yet confusing to your mind. Perhaps there was a moment in a temple of trees when a shaft of light from the rising or setting sun struck the jewel of your heart. You may have been hiking on a mountain when you suddenly were stopped by joy, wonder, or a sense of awe. It was not just the view, the misty colors of the many ridges you could see in the distance. Your senses touched the Infinite, and you experienced beauty; something vast touched the vastness within you. Its radiance may have come as moonlight playing on the ocean’s waves. It may have shone through a piece of art, a poem, or a dream that touched what connects us.
     You may have had a glimpse while sitting in a church or a temple, when the silence and reverence of place seemed to invite you to the silence within your Self. Perhaps you felt it when a baby gazed into your eyes from the eyes of such innocence that all of your defenses melted in such sweetness. The jewel may have shone through the stories you have read, heard, or experienced from great spiritual masters in various traditions. What sparkles is not the stories or words; it is something deeper that touches your heart.
     The jewel seems to shine most brightly when we experience love – love for a person, a pet, a moment. … 
     It is the jewel that gives rise to our impulse to know it more deeply and to want it to be revealed more consciously. Bubbling from the hidden depths of our Being arises an impulse to know what seems to lie beyond our limited ideas of who we are. There arises a sense of mystery, an impulse to know God, Truth, Self, enlightenment, love, or peace. This is spiritual impulse. Infinite Truth or Spirit has placed a longing in our heart, in the heart of our awareness, to know itself, to awaken itself beyond egoic consciousness. This impulse transcends both ego and self. We could call this impulse ‘the seed of enlightenment,’ a seed that has been planted deep within and perhaps has lain fallow in the rich soil and silent ground of our Being.

     Spiritual practices are methods that can begin to soften our stance toward our self, toward life in general, and to open us to what transcends the habitual. They are invitations to become intimate with the wisdom of silence and stillness.” 
       Dorothy Hunt. “Ending the Search. From Spiritual Ambition to the Heart of Awareness.” Sounds True, 2018.

      Awareness born of love is the only force that can bring healing and renewal. Out of our love for another person, we become more willing to let our old identities wither and fall away, and enter a dark night of the soul, so that we may stand naked once more in the presence of the great mystery that lies at the core of our being. This is how love ripens us -- by warming us from within, inspiring us to break out of our shell, and lighting our way through the dark passage to new birth.” John Welwood

Don Pentz - West River, Keji - acrylic on canvas -

Sunday, June 28, 2020

What Matters

     “Inside the chaos, build a temple of love.” Rune Lazuli

     My Dad, near the end of his life, told me that the only thing that really matters is love. The Dalai Lama frequently says, "my religion is kindness." The main characteristic of people with post-traumatic growth (those filled with joy, though they have a very short time to live) is that they strongly prioritize intimacy with loved ones. 
     Hardship CAN teach us to stop wasting our short, precious life "looking for love in all the wrong places" and instead, focus on the deeply meaningful - what really matters.

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the
window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple
breath that kept
him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you
must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

 "Ticket Without a Seat"
3-minute Academy Award winning animation

Saturday, June 27, 2020

How Could Anyone Behave Like THAT?!

     Increasingly we find ourselves outraged, even disgusted, at other peoples' behavior. The ethics, morality, even "common decency" of people in leadership positions appear to be racing toward new lows. 

     “Healing is bringing awareness & mercy into that which we have held in judgment & in fear.Stephen Levine

     But only being upset about others' perceived imperfections, helps neither ourselves nor them. In fact, it simply fuels smouldering resentment within us.
     If we imagine having an only child or grandchild, whom we lovingly raised, grow up to be a really nasty criminal, locked away in prison after hurting many people, how would we deal with him?
     The easiest (primitive reptilian) reaction would be to scorn & abandon him. This would hurt him and us. 
     The most mature or evolved response, with greatest long-term benefit for ALL, would be our heart-mind perceiving some tiny spark of the innocent goodness he was born with. We'd then do our best to re-ignite that spark, to nourish & rehabilitate him so he could evolve, mature, flourish and lead a full meaningful decent life, and make amends to the people he hurt. Our nurturing response would be from unconditional love - love that is unearned yet equally deserved & tremendously needed by every one of us.
      Feeling lack of unconditional love is, I suspect, the underlying basis of all traumas. Trying to fill the resultant empty feeling inside through aggressive acquisition of things, people, experiences, achievements - "looking for love in all the wrong places" - is the cause of all "bad behavior" particularly addictions.

     "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 

     “Not knowing we are loved and lovable makes the heart grow cold. And all the tragedy of human life follows from there."
       John Welwood. "Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships. Healing the Wound of the Heart." Trumpeter, 2006.

     I've heard a number of people, including those most affected by Hitler's atrocities, say that had they been born with the same genetics and exposed to the same environment as Hitler, they would have behaved exactly as he had. The logic of this striking statement is imho very strong, whether one is a devout secular materialist or strongly spiritually inclined. Perhaps most importantly, it gives credence to the idea that 'everyone does the best they can, under the circumstances.' This does NOT condone harmful behavior, which has to be quickly stopped & healed as well as possible. But it's best accomplished from a position of connection with a fellow imperfect human being, instead of disconnection, as if the offender were some alien life form.
     Whether you think you're an inherent part of cosmic primordial intelligence temporarily manifesting as a unique physical form; or the child of a deity in whose image & likeness you manifest; or a piece of meat that can accidentally think for a while; how else, other than genetics (nurturing of your ancestors) and your personal nurturing, can the huge variations in behavior come about, especially wrt morality, ethics, decency in fellow human beings who otherwise arose just like you? This should allow us to be far less judgemental of others AND ourselves!! If we can give ourselves some serious self-compassion, it's FAR easier to be compassionate towards others.

     The massive influence of "Nature & Nurture" (genetics & nurturing) does NOT imho negate free will. We are ALSO capable of nurturing ourselves eg through meditation (& other spiritual) practices. See:

     So it appears that we start life by being helpless, are nurtured to highly varying degrees, and mature in proportion to the nurturing we've received, modified by our genetics - eg our various inherited intelligences.

      “Psychologists reckon that 94% of us, most of the time, are driven by the negative motivations of fear, greed/craving, anger, and self-assertion; such negative motivations lead to negative and destructive behavior. It is the role of spiritual intelligence to raise our motivations to the higher ones of exploration, cooperation, self- and situational-mastery, creativity, and service.” Danah Zohar

One Breath

My tender heart trembles, Reacting,
the mind spins
this way and that... Looking for escape.
I cannot accept this. Feeling powerless Separate
I can't breathe....
This is the legacy of suffering
The wisdom, as always,
is about turning towards this pain. A deep, deep wound.
Admit it's there
Feel the feelings in this heart Listen
Don't look away
This is compassion for oneself.
And then,
with the steadiness
that comes from unflinching, Loving awareness,
Speak and act from the heart. Let it be known
Protect and Serve
Don't look away
This is compassion for the world.
True solidarity.
A radical acceptance.
That sacred space between the out breath and the in breath...
Death and Rebirth
No separation
This is a prayer for all beings        Mark Arthur, Black Buddhist author & meditator

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Being Fully Alive

     Many Buddhists recite the Five Recollections every morning:
     1. I am of the nature to grow old; there is no way to escape growing old.
     2. I am of the nature to have ill health; there is no way to escape having ill health.
     3. I am of the nature to die; there is no way to escape death.
     4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
     5. My deeds are my closest companions. I am the beneficiary of my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.

     Many today would find, at least 1-4 disturbing or depressing. After all, we work so hard from early childhood on, to gain agency - as much control as possible over our external environment. We work constantly striving to make our immediate environment - our body, family, friends, home, car, office - as safe, healthy, pleasant & comfortable as possible. We want to hang onto the good stuff forever; we want to keep the bad stuff away forever. 

     “Everyone who is being overtaken by death
 asks for more time,
     while everyone who still has time
makes excuses for procrastination.”
       Cleary T (trans): "Living and Dying with Grace. Counsels of Hadrat Ali." Shambhala, 1996.

     At the same time, deep down we know that our ability to control most things is very limited & temporary. Everyone & everything is constantly changing, aging, getting sick & dying. It takes a higher-than-average level of maturity to let go of our "illusion of control," face reality squarely, and live our life with existential reality front & center. Psychologists have long recognized that a subconscious fear of death has a corrosive effect. 

     “Psychologists have conducted a great deal of research on our ability to consciously suppress unwanted thoughts & emotions. Their findings are clear: we have no such ability. Paradoxically, any attempt to consciously suppress unwanted thoughts & emotions appears to only make them stronger.
     Research shows that people with higher levels of self-compassion are significantly less likely to suppress unwanted thoughts & emotions than those who lack self-compassion. They’re more willing to experience their difficult feelings and to acknowledge that their emotions are valid and important. This is because of the safety provided by self-compassion. It’s not as scary to confront emotional pain when you know that you will be supported throughout the process. Just as it feels easier to open up to a close friend whom you can rely on to be caring and understanding, it’s easier to open up to yourself when you can trust that your pain will be held in compassionate awareness.
     The beauty of self-compassion is that instead of replacing negative feelings with positive ones, new positive emotions are generated by embracing the negative ones. The positive emotions of care and connectedness are felt alongside our painful feelings. When we have compassion for ourselves, sunshine and shadow are both experienced simultaneously. This is important – ensuring that the fuel of resistance isn’t added to the fire of negativity. It also allows us to celebrate the entire range of human experience, so that we can become whole. As Marcel Proust said, ‘We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.’ ” 
        Kristin Neff. “Self-Compassion. The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.” HarperCollins, 2011.

     “Age is opportunity no less
than youth itself, though in another dress,
     And as the evening twilight fades away
the sky is filled with stars invisible by day.” Longfellow

     Meditation practice has been described as practicing dying. 
     “You can develop centered awareness through daily practice. Going inside daily – in meditation, in contemplative prayer, in solitude, in communion with nature – brings clarity to your purpose, your gifts, and your passion. It also brings you face-to-face with your fears and vulnerabilities as, in quiet awareness, you incrementally engage the light side and the shadow side, subtly preparing not just for vital living, but also for your eventual death.
     When your final breaths come, you can accept the Mystery graciously, knowing the impermanence of the body and the eternal nature of consciousness. When the great darkness blocks out the sun, centered awareness will provide the calm courage to embrace the Mystery. And if you are blessed with another sunrise, your choosing to connect daily with the mystery will enlighten everything – a cup of tea, a stand of trees, a simple hello.”
        Crum TF. “Journey to Center. Lessons in Unifying Body, Mind, and Spirit.” Fireside, 1997. 

     ANY of us might be surprised to find that we only have a very short time to live. This has the potential to vastly accelerate our process of maturation. Like the more common, protracted aging process (see:, the accelerated process also offers two main choices: remaining traumatized, bitter, angry etc by impending death - OR - impending death acting as a catalyst, resulting in flourishing & thriving (post-traumatic growth)!!!

     "some have asserted that cancer may be one of the most challenging diseases to treat because of the various levels of human experience that it penetrates, from the physical, to the psychological, and spiritual. However, psychological reactions to a cancer diagnosis are not exclusively negative. For example, a diagnosis may actually provoke patients to begin an internal search for greater awareness and a sense of meaning and purpose in life. ... A psychosocial transition is a major life event that causes a process whereby individuals gradually change their worldview, expectations, and plans. ... people may make sense of their diagnosis by finding positive benefit(s) in their situation.
     Related processes have been studied under various names, including post-traumatic growth (PTG), stress-related growth, benefit finding, adversarial growth, positive change, thriving, personal growth, positive adjustment, and transformation.
     ... PTG is comprised of three broad categories: perceived changes in self, a changed sense of relationship with others, and a changed philosophy of life. The mechanisms by which an intervention may facilitate the development of PTG may be through taking advantage of the trauma-induced disruption in the person’s life to introduce a transition towards new beneficial organization compared to one’s beliefs before the trauma."
       Garland SN et al. A non-randomized comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and healing arts programs for facilitating post-traumatic growth and spirituality in cancer outpatients. Support Care Cancer 2007; 15(8): 949-61.

     “We suffer to the exact degree that we resist having our eyes and hearts opened.” Adyashanti

     “In our society, we put a lot of emphasis on doing. So it can be frustrating to be in a situation in which there is often not all that much to do, as in relating with the sick or dying. But fundamentally it is our being that matters, who we really are and how that manifests in whatever we do.”
       Lief JL. “Making Friends with Death. A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality.” Shambhala, 2001.

     "Dying people usually ask two questions: 'Am I loved?' and 'Did I love well?' This is where people find the meaning and value in their life as they come to the end."
       Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice project in San Francisco, California

Tuesday, June 9, 2020


     "Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone." Margaret J. Wheatley

      “As human beings, we all … search for a sense of connection, pattern, order, and significance … the fitting, truthful relationships among things.” 

       Parks SD. “Big questions, worthy dreams. Mentoring young adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith.” John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

      “many people are scared to death of their deeper nature. … these people – more than the others … are longing to connect with their warrior’s heart and with the hearts of their fellow humans.” 

       Lesser E. “Broken open. How difficult times can help us grow.” Villard, 2005.

      “When we come to perceive our interconnectedness, we come to know that fundamentally we each want and need the same things – we each want happiness and we don’t want suffering. Then we begin to see through the veil of illusion that obscures our views to the point where we wind up justifying or even passively accepting the denial of civil rights. A true awakening would have us step back and expand our awareness that all living beings are impacted by our thoughts, speech, and actions. If we can develop this awareness, we naturally come to universal love and compassion for the welfare of all ‘others.’ We might even notice someone amidst our daily routine standing a little taller and straighter, and breathing more freely.

     We are constantly ‘voting’ with our words, thoughts, and deeds for how the world is and shall be."
       Das LS. "The Big Questions. A Buddhist Response to Life’s Most Challenging Mysteries.” Rodale, 2007.

      “all life is interrelated” … we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King Jr

     “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . . 
     This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . .  And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
     Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other." 
       Thomas Merton, OCSO was an American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion. 

Angels among us

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Healing & Nurturing

     Practicing “compassion-infused attention” makes sense and feels good, feels right. Our entire intelligence knows & resonates with the quality of loving awareness with which a wise grandparent "holds" her beloved grandchild. This holding is one of safety, unconditional love & nurturing. This wondrous ability, this ultimate superpower we all can not only access, but is our natural state, our basic fundamental nature - who/what we are without the added traumas & reactive defenses.
     Our authenticity is intimacy - the awakened state. Self-compassionate awareness of our traumas & defenses allows us to "re-parent" ourselves (by holding ourselves in safety, unconditional love & nurturing), & then, we are able to have the same compassion for the traumas & defenses of others. With very patient, skillful, wise meditation practice, and trauma therapy as needed, our personal drama becomes less & less of an emotionally-charged, quick-sand-filled swamp, freeing up a tremendous amount of energy & attention for us to thrive in a much, much healthier, more interesting, more productive & joyous life. 
     To the degree we are unable to awaken, we perpetuate suffering - our own & others' (the plague of inter-generational trauma, bullying, racism, ... genocide). To the degree we are able to awaken, we embody a "beneficial presence" perpetuating true happiness - our own & others' (the blessings of inter-generational nurturing, kindness, generosity, ... justice).
     "Cracked Up - The Darrell Hammond Story" is a powerful documentary about the devastating effects of early childhood trauma:
      “Any time you feel an intimate connection, there is always a
quality of compassion, caring, and love that comes with it.” Adyashanti

      “Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves.” Pema Chodron

      "Social transformation is about touching the heart of our own suffering, out of which arises an organic understanding that we would not want anyone else to experience such suffering and, therefore, we wish for their well-being." Rev. angel Kyodo williams

“Love & justice are not two.
Without inner change,
there can be no outer change;
without collective change,
no change matters." Rev. angel Kyodo williams

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Simple Intimacy

heavy snow

on the landscape



each breath
as if an act of caring


based on Bill Morgan's June 4, 2020 guided meditation:

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Intimacy with Reality

     Artists, perhaps especially poets, are thought to be more sensitive to & thus more critically aware of present-moment reality. The average person may have 'thicker skin' than artists, is less affected by, less keenly interested in, less able or willing to deeply feel what's going on, and therefore floats along with the momentum of the times 'comfortably numb.' 
     Though most of us are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with how the world is becoming, we're so addicted to comfort and so averse to unpleasantness, that we allow life's harsh realities to fester & grow increasingly out of control.
     Artists, like prophets of old, are supposed to wake us up out of our sleep, mass hypnosis, autopilot, ... Artists, by way of poems, paintings, movies, etc bypass our superficial self-centered mind's filters, and communicate directly with our hearts & bodies

"With That Moon Language"

Admit something: 
Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me." 

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise 
someone would call the cops. 

Still, though, think about this, this great pull 
in us to connect. 

Why not become the one who lives with a 
full moon in each eye that is 
 always saying, 

with that sweet moon language, 
what every other eye in 
this world is 
dying to 

"Love Poems from God."
Daniel Ladinsky ed., Penguin Compass. 2002

“Before loss there was love.
After loss, love.

Before grief there was love.
After grief, love.

Our essence is never in danger.

When all else falls away,
Our essence can shine.

So, what does love invite of us now?

Jem Bendell
from his video “Grieve Play Love”

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Felt Sense of Authenticity

     For many of us, it's obvious that addicts to heroin, alcohol, gambling etc are "looking for love in all the wrong places." These people bet everything that the next hit will make them happy, while we who are not addicted (to these substances) are clearly aware that each hit for an addict is just another step closer to 'rock bottom.'
      After meditating for a while, we may notice something truly surprising. During meditation, after the mind has settled down, and our center of gravity has descended from the storm-clouds of our mind, to our heart and or abdomen (hara), we might experience a subtle sense of kind presence, ease, stillness, warmth, silence & peace. Gradually we might learn that we're able to just rest in this wholesome, natural state of being - feeling, experiencing, BEING rightness, authenticity, kindness & joy. We realize that we actually deserve to rest & directly experience: "Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be."
     Then suddenly, we're lost again thinking about our old 'story of me,' concerns, anxieties, etc. Now we experience a tone of 'something's off' - unpleasantly familiar yet not really who / what I really am, stress.
     So in daily life we can be 'clean & sober' OR 'addicted.' During meditation we can be kindly aware - as if we were a loving wise grandmother caring for her only beloved 4-year-old grandchild - OR - regretting the past, fretting about the future, & in the process, forgetting or unable to lovingly care for our own life & that of others.
     We can't 'fight, flight, freeze' at the same time as 'tend & befriend' - the two ways of being are mutually exclusive. The former often feels like a life-or-death emergency, shutting / shouting down our much quieter, gentler 'affiliative sensibility.' Sadly, many of us are predominantly in 'fight, flight, freeze.' This is not by choice; is not helpful; & is definitely not sustainable. This emotional pandemic has been around for decades before the current viral pandemic.
     Meditation has a great deal to teach us about how it feels to be authentic vs how it feels when we're being driven by ancient survival instincts & conditioning that no longer benefit us; and how we can learn to gradually live more & more realistically, authentically, freely & with greater joy
     Susan Morgan gave a wonderful talk & guided meditation on this subject on May 29, 2020. This one (& more) can be found here: OR here:

     Humanity as a whole is gradually waking up, evolving. “What we really want … is for humanity to hold nature sacred again. What we want is to move from a society of domination to one of participation, from conquest to co-creation, from extraction to regeneration, from harm to healing, and from separation to love. And we want to enact this transition in all our relations: ecological, economic, political, and personal. That is why we can say, ‘The revolution is love.’Charles Eisenstein “Extinction and the Revolution of Love.” January 2020

Friday, April 24, 2020

Nurturing or Not

     When the feeling of 'lack' reaches absolute vacuum, desperate diminishment implodes, violently sucking everything from the immediate environment, leaving behind chaos, destruction & pain. Perpetrators of such crimes most likely have been severely traumatized, often from early childhood. Examples of this, such as mass shootings, remain etched in our minds forever, but are relatively rare in Canada and most other countries.

     Every one of us is however the recipient & result of intergenerational nurturing. Each one of us is here only because an unbroken chain of ancestors, from the beginning of life on earth, lovingly nurtured, sacrificed for, protected & wished a better life for their offspring. Intergenerational trauma is sadly common & terrible. But intergenerational nurturing is the universal 'life force' that brought us all here.

     “Everything responsible for our ‘human existence’ is due to an anonymous multitude of others who lived before us, whose achievements have been bestowed upon us as gifts.” H. Hass

     According to some wisdom traditions, one of the fundamental movements in nature is expansion & contraction. Our one, short, precious life can be predominantly expansive: opening ourselves to, learning about, connecting with & nurturing all of life, radiating peace, love & joy. Our 'tend & befriend instinct' is powerful and has ensured our survival, generation after generation.

     Attachment injury, many other forms of severe trauma and mental illness propel some in the opposite direction - contraction: rigid self-centeredness, isolation, paranoia, anger, hatred & violence. Such people need to be recognized early, diagnosed & treated for everyone's sake.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Far Far Beyond Self-talk

     We tend to unquestioningly assume that the non-stop conversation in our head – our “self-talk” – is our consciousness, our very identity. But this is not even close to being true!

     Only about 10% of this self-talk is helpful: real planning (instead of anxious obsessing); doing math & other calculations “in our head”; guiding ourselves along an unfamiliar sequence of steps when doing something new; etc. These are relatively uncommon situations, when we consciously, intentionally use self-talk specifically to help us directly engage with present-moment reality! 
     If we step back, and really listen to our self-talk, we’ll notice that ~90% of it is spontaneously pouring into our ears (from the unconscious). We do not consciously, intentionally initiate self-talk. AND though we know how boring, repetitive & painfully destructive self-talk can be, we NEVERTHELESS obsessively entertain, encourage, intensify & prolong it! This may be ESPECIALLY so during these Covid weeks of physical isolation!! 

     Self-talk is mostly our harmful conditioning in words – negative comments we’ve unknowingly internalized from unwise / unkind / traumatized people from the past: “You’re lazy,” “You’ll never amount to anything,” “You’re ugly,” “You’re terrible at public speaking,” etc. Hearing such poison echoing in our heads feels like our life force is being drained-out, stolen. In response, we naturally contract & isolate, harden – the primitive, fear-based “fight, flight, freeze” response trying to protect ourselves from such trauma.
     Clearly, we should question if not ignore self-talk – as we do with irrelevant, intrusive, unhelpful ads (on the internet, radio or TV).

     Mercifully, most of us have had at least some helpful conditioning from wise, mature, nurturing people. Helpful conditioning does not tend to re-appear verbally as self-talk. Rather, it’s felt in our heart area as a deep warm silent peaceful abiding reassuring positive energy or life force – a precious gift from those who want us to thrive, to flourish. We naturally expand, soften, seek connection, “open our hearts & minds” to share the wealth we feel, and desire to pay forward the nurturing we’ve received – the evolved, love-based “tend & befriend” response.

      This is why meditation instructions tend to guide us to:
let go of words / thinking,  
allow our center of gravity to descend from the head to the heart area,
bring curiosity to the direct, felt sense of temperature & size, 
breath into & from the heart area to stabilize awareness here,  
accept whatever we experience non-judgmentally.
     It doesn’t matter what, if anything, we feel; cold, tightness, numbness; a tiny nugget of warmth in the heart area; or warmth all throughout our chest, extending well beyond the boundaries of our skin.
     Also, each time we notice attention has wandered from our object of meditation (felt sense in the heart area) to self-talk / thinking, we accept this with (literally) endless patience, & without judgment, we seamlessly, patiently, gently, effortlessly, bring awareness back to the feel of the heart area.

     We clearly cannot control or change our past conditioning; BUT how wisely & kindly we hold ourselves, in the present moment, is a mindfulness skill we can train, and are entirely capable of continuously developing. We are training to hold ourselves, & then others, in safety & unconditional love. From this arises EVERYTHING of value: our freedom, wisdom, maturity, stability, real authority, true leadership & ability to actually help instead of adding to the world's pain & confusion.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

What is Dependability?

     “The central fallacy of modern life is the belief that (materialistic / self-centered) accomplishments … can produce deep satisfaction.” 
                                                                                                                    David Brooks

     The vast majority of our precious time & energy is spent chasing after these accomplishments.
     Exponential year-over-year increases in corporate profits fail to deliver the deep happiness we hope for. Despite being (financially) richer than ever, we in 'developed' countries experience progressively rising rates of anxiety, depression, burnout, bullying, partisanship, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, hoarding, every imaginable addiction, mass shootings, suicides, destruction of the air / soil / water, and mass extinction of plant & animal species.
     Our exclusive focus on personal material gain appears to be a serious mistake.
     Can we take a close look at 'character'?

     “People with character ... tend to have a certain level of self-respect. Self-respect is not the same as self-confidence or self-esteem. Self-respect is not based on IQ or any of the mental or physical gifts that help get you into a competitive college. It is not comparative. It is not earned by being better than other people at something. 
     It is earned by being better than you used to be, by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation. It emerges in one who is morally dependable. Self-respect is produced by inner triumphs, not external ones. It can only be earned by a person who has endured some internal temptation, who has confronted their own weaknesses and who knows, ‘Well, if worse comes to worst, I can endure that. I can overcome that.’
     My general belief is that we’ve accidentally left this moral tradition behind. Over the last several decades, we’ve lost the language, this way of organizing our life. We’re not bad. But we are morally inarticulate. We’re not more selfish or venal than people in other times, but we’ve lost the understanding of how character is built. … Without it, there is a certain superficiality to modern culture, especially in the moral sphere.” 
       David Brooks "The Road to Character." Random House, 2015.

     May this Covid 19 pandemic help lift us out of "the shallows" and re-establish the centrality of depth of character
     Below, a poem from a time of great hardship, which forged the character of our grandparents & parents to not only survive, but thrive, despite two World Wars, the Great Depression, and countless profound personal existential challenges ...

And People Stayed Home
Kathleen O'Meara's poem, written in 1869, after the famine

And people stayed home
and read books and listened
and rested and exercised
and made art and played
and learned new ways of being
and stopped
and listened deeper
someone meditated
someone prayed
someone danced
someone met their shadow
and people began to think differently
and people healed
and in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways,
dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
even the earth began to heal
and when the danger ended
and people found each other
grieved for the dead people
and they made new choices
and dreamed of new visions
and created new ways of life
and healed the earth completely
just as they were healed themselves.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Holding Loved Ones in Our Hearts - a Meditation

     “Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right and a perfect contentment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

     "Some years ago we had the good fortune to participate in an intensive year-long silent contemplative retreat. As a couple, we lived in separate rooms and had very little contact with each other or with any of the other participants in the retreat. Other than an occasional deep bow, or rare hug on the path to the dining room, we had no physical contact, and we had only a few hours’ worth of actual conversation during the entire year. Yet, each day at five o’clock in the afternoon, we had a “date” and would shift our attention from the contemplations that were the focus of our retreat, to hold each other in heart and mind. Merging together like two spheres of light, we would rest in the light of each other’s love as if we were two beings sharing one heart and looking out through each other’s eyes. It was often a deeply moving and affirming connection that left each of us uplifted and amazed, and honestly, looking back at the depth of connection we felt with each other, it was strangely the most intimate year of our lives together.
In this disruptive time of physical distancing and isolation, when we are likely to be separated from loved ones and friends for long periods of time, this heart-to-heart meditation can be extremely meaningful and profoundly healing. You can either simply do this practice on your own, merging your heart and mind with a loved one or friend – or – you can set a date with a loved one to 'meet-up' and do this practice together at a specific time each day.
      As a couple now, when we are physically apart for any length of time, we have continued to set a time each day to sit together and hold each other in our hearts. During this time, we reach out to each other from our hearts and let ourselves merge to share a common heart and core. Resting in a state of deep, intimate, connectedness, we rest in the radiance of the love we share. We allow the light of our love for each other to radiate out to others as an offering and a prayer that will strengthen them in whatever they need at that time.
      Even though we may be away from each other for some time, when we come back together, we usually feel closer than ever before. When we are home or traveling together, we also often make some time to sit quietly together in this way and carry this sense of deep connectedness into our busy day and work in the world. Many people we work with have taken this example to heart and have developed a similar practice that they share with their partners, parents, children, grandchildren or beloved friends. The results are always inspiring."

     Joel & Michelle Levey, excerpted from a chapter on "Staying Sane in Crazy Times" in a Covid19 Anthology coming soon from Inner Traditions.