Monday, February 10, 2020


     We're conditioned to "see things, not as they are, but as we are" - ie from our personal, conditioned perspective. And to the extent that we're similarly conditioned (traumatized) by life, we share a similar, egocentric, contracted perspective - consensus reality.
     But we can be pleasantly surprised:

      A long time ago, in first year university, after spending a long day studying in the library, I stepped outside into a cold, clear, star-filled night and was instantly awestruck by the crisp, majestic, silent beauty. This was so startlingly wondrous that its vivid memory continues to reverberate over 50 years later. 
     This was not a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of nature (in suburban Toronto). My mind happened to be too tired to put up the usual filters of conditioning, so I accidentally perceived ordinary reality as it actually is, in its raw splendor. I was able to see 'innocently,' like a child. Maybe this is what Einstein meant by living life "as though everything is a miracle." Indeed, research shows that happiness is determined by our quality of awareness, not of the external environment. Killingsworth MA, Gilbert DT. “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.” Science 2010; 330(6006): 932.

     To avoid sitting in traffic, I arrive very early for morning MBSR sessions, and park near a favorite coffee shop. On leaving the coffee shop the other morning, I passed by my car and noticed that I could now move it forward to free up an additional parking spot. Right after I did this, while walking the usual route to the MBSR session, I became aware that everything suddenly appeared vividly alive, friendly, happy.
     That small act of kindness was enough to shift my perspective & state of being from habitually slightly contracted, to open-hearted spacious awareness - and thus shifting my quality of life from neutral to wonderful. 

     At my first longish (10-day) silent meditation retreat, the intensity of my perfectionistic GI-Joe striving, my physical, mental & emotional tense contraction, and resultant overall suffering - progressively climbed to the absolute peak of tolerability for 9 days. Most of the time I was in a painful muscle spasm, as rigid as if I had been in a full-body cast. Mercifully, by day 10, a deeper wisdom*** took over from my ego, my body completely relaxed, after which I sat in blissful ease, time flying by as if the last day of sitting were a minute long.
     *** “… the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning – the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes – the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior. … the rider and the elephant work together, sometimes poorly, as we stumble through life in search of meaning and connection.” 
       Jonathan Haidt. “The Righteous Mind. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Vintage Books, 2012.

     “When a living system reaches maximum stress, it can respond in one of two ways: it can either descend into chaos or it can jump into a higher order.
     In biological systems, this is the point at which a species either becomes extinct or re-creates itself as a more complex and intelligent organism.” Amoda Maa

     "The last two decades have seen a growing body of research focused on post-traumatic growth (PTG) in the aftermath of highly stressful life events. Such positive growth may include better appreciation of life, better relationships with others, deeper spirituality, increased personal strength, recognition of new possibilities, and a positive change in health behaviour. Theoretical explanations for these positive changes propose that growth emanates from disruptions in worldviews necessitating a revision of beliefs to reflect a new reality. These disruptions cause distress but also act as a potential catalyst for PTG." 
       AnnMarie Groarke et al. “Post‐traumatic Growth in Breast Cancer: How and When do Distress and Stress Contribute?” Psycho‐Oncology 2017; 26: 967–974.

     “When worldviews change, new possibilities can emerge, even within the same set of circumstances. Worldview transformation … is a fundamental shift in perspective that results in long-lasting changes in people’s sense of self, perception of relationship to the world around them, and way of being.” 
       Schlitz MM, Vieten C, Miller EM. "Worldview transformation and the development of social consciousness." Journal of Consciousness Studies 2010; 17(7-8): 18-36.

      We have the choice to intentionally, methodically, gently, progressively "lean into," carefully investigate ("listen deeply"), and unconditionally embrace & nurture all of life. This is a movement from fearful, egocentric, reactive, rigid contraction towards loving, allocentric / ecocentric, responsive, flexible, openness; from being on autopilot as a fearful child, towards consciously embodying a nurturing wise grandparent.

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

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