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.