Monthly Archives: April 2015
In my mind there is a poster of a cat hanging on a rope or something. Underneath there is a caption which reads “hang in there.” I have seen it somewhere before like on an inspirational poster. There is an industry that makes these things and there are customers who are there to buy them. There is the sense that the people who made this poster have all the answers. They know that life constantly changes and the bad times will end and there will be good times after that. But there is also the sense that the person who made this poster saw a picture of a cat hanging from a rope and put the caption underneath it because it was cute or funny or he thought someone might find it inspirational. Who knows what the poster’s creator’s personal life is like?
If the creator of the poster does not have all the answers would that make its message any less powerful? Part of me wants to think so. I suspect that part of me is my ego. On the other hand, perhaps the creator of the poster was merely a pawn being used by God to convey to me a message in my darkest hour. In that case the poster’s creator’s personal life should not have an impact on my assessment of the poster itself. On the third hand, perhaps there is nothing behind the poster. Perhaps statistically people like cats and inspirational statements. Put the two together and the creator of the poster will make money.
Can the poster still be meaningful even if there is no God and the poster was created by someone with cynical intentions? Can I still draw meaning from it if I just randomly happened upon it and I just randomly happen to be going through a bad period at that particular time? There is the sense that I am a sucker if I see the poster and it was made cynically and there is no God and I still feel my heart warm when I see it. This assumes that both my outward actions and my inward thoughts are both being observed. In a sense they are. I am observing myself and I can see both my outward actions and thoughts. My ego can see me and criticize me. God can see me
Perhaps I am the creator of the poster. I do not remember making it but I did and I placed it in my life at just the right point to give me courage to wait out the bad times. After I die, when the veil of life is lifted and I have a chance to read the script of this production and take a look back stage I will know the real reason why I made that poster. I will remember my thought process at the time of its making. I will smile knowingly at the private joke I had with myself and the punchline I would never get while living my life.
A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The eighth item on the list reads:
Each morning, I am born again. What I do today is what matters most.
The past brought me here, but it is over. The future is totally uncertain. I aspire to concentrate as much of my attention and effort on the present moment, the current situation and the living relationships I cultivate with myself and others.
Shout out, also, to Eckhart Tolle and The Flaming Lips. Living in the moment, cliché as it has become to say, is truly liberating. The more I practice, the better I get.
I can relate to this because I do spend too much time feeling angry and embarrassed about the past (regret) and worrying about the future. Regret and worry are both fear. Regret looks to the past and worry looks to the future. Fear is a function of my ego. I could also say that my ego is fear-based. That is why it seeks to control. It seeks to control me so that it can use me to control my environment. Of course it never achieves complete control and therefore never feels secure.
My ego does not exist in the now. It only exists in the past or the future. When I worry or regret I am ceding control of myself to my ego. Therefore, If I do worry it is always about a future event. It might be a future event a few seconds from now but it is always in the future.
I cannot worry about what is happening right now. As such, the now is a refuge I can escape to. There is no fear in the now because I have all the information on the now in the now. There is freedom in the now and seemingly infinite possibility. My true self exists in the now. When I worry or regret I abandon my true self to fear and my ego.
I cannot change the future or the past but I can change (that is, take action in) the present. And really now is the only thing that exists or ever exists. As Eckhart Tolle says even if I had a time machine and used it to travel back in time, when I arrived at my destination it would still be now.
Therefore, now is all I have or will ever have. When I worry or regret I fall asleep to this essential fact. When I worry or regret I am not actively living my life. I am passively watching a depiction or version of my life. It is possible to have positive depictions of the past or future (e.g., nostalgia or anticipation) and it seems impossible or impractical to always exist in a state fully appreciating the now. But most of the time I find myself not in the now. So, to cultivate an active experience of the now is a useful exercise.
A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The seventh item on the list reads:
Learning the metta meditation technique at a spiritual conference in Palo Alto in 2004 was transformative. Metta is loving kindness. The basic technique is to send good wishes to ourselves, our loved ones, strangers, enemies and ultimately every sentient being without exception. I have introduced it to countless yoga students over the years. Metta is powerful and can be used in formal meditation as well as on-the-spot.
At first glance this exercise seems easy and innocuous enough. What could be wrong with extending loving kindness? But then my mind (my ego more specifically) dwells on the following two problems. First, must I really extend loving kindness to the people who have hurt me? Second, what possible benefit would I receive by doing this?
To address the first problem, I must admit that it is really difficult for me to send loving kindness to those kids who bullied me when I was young or to other people I hold resentments towards. I can sort of force myself to do it but then I sense a layer of protective sarcasm develop. This feels inauthentic to me and not what this exercise is about.
To address the second problem, I begin with the proposition that those lingering resentments are an energy drain that would be to my benefit to plug up. This of course is a selfish reason for wanting to perform this exercise. I suspect the real purpose or value of this exercise has nothing to do with selfishness. After all, loving kindness by definition is not selfish I would think. It seems reasonable to say that in order to truly extend loving kindness it must be done selflessly. It must be a gift with no strings attached. Otherwise it is merely an investment. It is akin to lending money at interest. Not that investing or lending money at interest are intrinsically evil activities. They are just not authentic extensions of loving kindness.
But maybe I am getting too caught up in labels and definitions and categories. Perhaps I am looking at this from an egocentric perspective. Maybe it is better not to look at this in terms of who benefits from it or my motivations behind it. Maybe it is good enough just to extend loving kindness and that is it. Let the benefits and motivations be there or not be there, in other words.
The mere experience of extending loving kindness without concern about who benefits or what motivates me is the exercise in and of itself. It is its own reward in other words. I should treat any thoughts about benefits and motivations as any other examples of my mind wandering while meditating. When this happens I merely bring my mind back to center without judgment or recrimination. In this case, bringing my mind back to center would be to return to extending my loving kindness out there. Anything else is a distraction.
A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The sixth item on the list reads:
All meditation is good meditation.
And another thing: it is perfectly fine to meditate for 30 seconds. If I meditate for half a minute, then take a little break (because, damn, that was tough!), then start again—that is A-OK. Some days it may be 30 minutes, others 30 seconds. The key, I’ve found, is to pause regularly throughout the day. In this way, I integrate meditation into my life and not just as a part of my formal practice on the cushion.
I sometimes I wonder if meditation is doing me any good. I cannot quantify any benefits I have received from meditation. I really just have a hunch that it is doing me good. At the very least when I meditate it is time I am spending alone and not in communion with electronics or hearing ideas from other people. I do have to contend with my wandering mind which is similar to hearing ideas from other people but while meditating I can pay special attention to that and rise above it (so to speak). So it is a little different.
Meditation does make me feel more peaceful and sort of resets my mood. It also does sometimes give rise to inspiration and creativity although that is not its purpose. It really does not have a purpose because having a purpose implies some future reward or goal which is in contradiction to the idea of rooting myself in the present moment.
The centering prayer technique suggests that meditation is a window when God or the Holy Spirit can come into me. In other words meditating clears out the rubbish that may be blocking my communion with the divine. I suppose the divine, if it exists, exists in a timeless realm so whether I meditate for 30 seconds or 30 minutes doesn’t matter on that level.
Meditation is a break from doing and a conscious act of being. I like the idea that there is no bad meditation. Sometimes if I am not vigilant my ego will tell me that I am meditating wrong. Meditation is a state in which I can observe my ego and say, “I know what you’re up to.” When I hear my ego telling me that I am doing it wrong and at the same time am aware that my ego is telling me this then I know I am doing it right.
Like all this spiritual stuff when I begin to try to quantify the benefit or measure it in someway it is probably my ego that is doing the thinking. My ego labels, it judges, it defines. These are all useful functions in their own place but should not be used exclusively at the expense of every now and then experiencing the whole of reality and the present moment in all its vast complexity. This is what I do when I meditate.
A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The fifth item on the list reads:
Faith is letting go.
Faith is not holding on to a dogma, a promise, a future in heaven. Faith is letting go and letting in the ever-unfolding experience of life as it flows presently.
I am not entirely sure about this one. The author seems to be talking about a faith in the present moment in opposition to a faith in the future. I was always taught to think of faith as a placeholder where there is no evidence to support a belief. Faith was always faith in something I cannot see (like God) or faith in some future outcome (like heaven). But the author of this article seems to be advocating for a faith that is centered in the present. It is a faith that what is happening right now is just as it should be and that I am completely whole and sufficient in the present moment. She seems to be arguing that in order to have faith in the present I must first let go of faith in a future outcome.
Perhaps I am misunderstanding her point. But if I am accurately stating her point I guess the question I would ask is are these two types of faith incompatible? Is it possible to have faith in the moment and faith in the future outcome at the same time? I suppose in one respect the two types of faith are incompatible in that when I fixate on the future I am not rooted in the present. On the other hand I think I can still hold both faiths at the same time. In other words, not being rooted in the present does not preclude me from having faith in the present moment. It just means that I am not presently in the flow of the present moment. Faith in the present moment and experiencing the present moment are two separate things. Unless she is arguing that in order to fully experience the present moment I must first have faith in the present moment.
Perhaps I am over thinking this. Perhaps having faith in the present moment is simpler than what I am trying to articulate. It feels like that should be the case anyway. That said, I will continue with my train of thought.
I suppose faith in a future outcome can get in the way of having faith in the present moment and letting go if they conflict in someway. Perhaps the author advocates for the faith that letting go of dogmas will allow the present to unfold in a beneficial way. But she seems to also be saying that faith is the act of letting go itself which seems a little different than my conceptualization of faith. Then again, perhaps she means in order to let go I must first have faith that letting go is a good thing.
Again, I am probably over thinking this one. Certainly cultivating the faith that the present moment is unfolding just as it should be is a grounded state of mind and a powerful spiritual practice. Perhaps I should just leave it at that.
Since absorbing this fundamental teaching via J. Krishnamurti, I have strived to let go of beliefs and labels. I am not a Catholic Buddhist liberal American yogini. I am a human. You are a human. Now we can relate.
Are beliefs and labels the same thing? They both tend to place limits on the concepts. A belief is something I hold to be true. A label is a name I give to something. Once I fix a label to something it does tend to define it for me so in that respect the label becomes a belief. And a belief tends to become a fixed point of reference. I put it in a box and no longer question it. I can then use these boxes to construct my theories about the nature of reality. In this sense beliefs and labels help me to navigate this unfathomably vast and complex reality that I inhabit. In that way they are useful despite their limitations.
In the religious tradition in which I grew up (Roman Catholicism) beliefs played a central role. As I understand it belief is required for salvation. I always questioned why this was so. In other words, why would God care whether I believed in him or not? It is not as if his existence depends upon my belief. Or does it? I still label myself a Roman Catholic and I recite the Nicean Creed every time I attend mass. I do think about whether I truly believe all the points in the creed. Honestly I do employ a level of doublethink to say the creed and not feel hypocritical. Ultimately I guess I do not believe that beliefs are what is really important when it comes to religion. I am sure Michael Voris and Admiralbill would disagree with that statement but that is their belief and our different beliefs are what separate us.
There is also some crossover here with the idea of creative visualization. If I believe something is true then I can visualize it and perhaps that brings it into being.
To the point of this idea that beliefs separate, if I believe something and someone else believes something else then there is a point tension. I have not read anything by J. Krishnamurti but I am guessing this is the point that he is trying to make. If you and I cast aside the importance of belief then we eliminate a great deal of potential conflict. In the same respect if we both believe the same thing and there also is no conflict. But there is a conflict with others who believe something different. So with beliefs there is always the potential for conflict and separation.
I still come back to the idea that beliefs and labels are probably necessary for me to navigate reality. It is simply too vast and complex to take in as a whole on any meaningful level. However on a one-to-one basis conflicting beliefs can become problematic.
All things must pass.
My first bout of depression in my early 20s was the worst, because I seriously believed it would never end. I thought, Okay, this terrible, listless, sad, anxious state is adulthood… Of course, I turned out to be wrong. The depression lifted (and came back and lifted again, over and over).
My dear friend Liz has a tattoo that reminds her, “This too shall pass.” Depression will pass, but so will joyous times. Our beloved pets and friends and family will pass, and so will we. Rather than hiding from this morbid truth, I now embrace it and live my life more fully because of it.
I am mortal and I will die someday but I still want to achieve things in this life. How do I square these two seemingly opposing notions? I don’t really. I recognize that they are in opposition but I don’t really take the next step (whatever that may be). I ask myself what meaning or value these achievements could possibly have if they are fleeting? The achievements will pass as surely as I will. I want to achieve and be successful partly out of the fear that if I fail to achieve or succeed I will have wasted my life or perhaps I will have lost this game called life. This outcome will be humiliating in a permanent sense and will not pass (that is the fear anyway).
Because there is the hope for things that do not pass such as God and the soul. The notions of a failed life and an un-passing humiliation seems like the concept of hell. The notions of a successful life and an un-passing triumph seems like the concept of heaven. There is something unsettling about looking at heaven and hell in this context however. It seems like the realm of heaven and hell (if they exist at all) are the more important sphere and should not be dependent on the less important earthly sphere.
So maybe it is better if all things truly do pass including myself, my achievements and my humiliations. Perhaps the concept of forgiveness exists in this space. Perhaps without the passing of things there can be no forgiveness.
And ultimately I cannot know if there are things which do not pass until I experience them first hand. In the same respect I cannot be certain that all things truly do pass because I have not experienced everything. All things appear to pass in this material world but do all things truly pass in an ultimate sense? Does it really matter? Is the problem not so much that all things must pass but rather that I cling to things that do pass? If I stand in opposition to the true nature of reality I will always be disappointed. But does it automatically follow that if I embrace reality’s true nature and accept that all things must pass that I will then live my life more fully? Perhaps. At this point I cannot be sure.
A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The second item on the list reads:
I can (and do) create my life through creative visualization
(to a certain extent).
Using the common sense techniques Shakti Gawain outlines in her books, I was able to realize my dream of living in California and becoming a full-time yoga instructor 11 years ago. I do not, however, subscribe to the “Secret.” Reality is reality, and people and objects are not mere pawns in our manifestations.
I have heard this sort of thing quite a bit. I read “The Secret.” I understand the attraction of the “Law of Attraction.” I must say, however, that I’ve never experienced anything that fully convinced me that visualization actually leads to manifesting the visualized.
Part of me would like to believe that this is true. It sort of makes me feel empowered to pretend to believe in the Law of Attraction. On the other hand it sort of makes me feel lonely if it is true because this leads to solipsism and solipsism ultimately means that I am alone in the universe or if I am not alone I have no means of communicating with the other people who inhabit the universe along with me. The other part of me does not want to believe this is true because to accomplish something in a world where it takes effort to achieve seems more valid than getting everything I want through visualization. It almost seems like cheating in this respect.
The author of this article seems to take a middle of the road approach saying that visualization can lead to achievement but not in the magical way that The Secret seems to imply. But what does it mean to take a middle of the road approach on the issue of creative visualization? I have not read anything by Shakti Gawain but if I had to guess I would say what Shakti Gawain espouses has something to do with creative visualization creating new neural pathways which give rise to new behaviors and beliefs which in turn allow for overcoming previously insurmountable obstacles on the road to achievement or manifestation.
In a way believing in visualization can be a trap in that one can expend a lot of effort on visualizing something and believing that it will happen and then when it does not happen feel cheated or defeated and that the world is an unsatisfying or hostile place. Perhaps the middle-of-the-road approach works better because expectations are not so high and visualization is seen more as a tool
rather than as the only tool
the way The Secret seems to imply.
Obviously if I visualize myself living forever this will not come to pass. So there are limits to the technique. The Secret seemed to be marketed towards gullible, Oprah watching housewives looking for magic in their humdrum lives which sort of impeaches its credibility. This does not mean that there is no truth to creative visualization. Perhaps the greater or most authentic use for creative visualization lies in the creation and following goals and self-improvement.
I currently live in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. I have been living here for about two years. Like most people who live in this area, I am not originally from here. I grew up in a town called Avon, Connecticut. I went to college in Boston. I lived in Washington, D.C. for a stretch and then went to law school in New Orleans. While in New Orleans I met and married my wife who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After law school we moved to Scranton and lived there for a year. Then we moved to Philadelphia and lived there for ten years.
In Philadelphia I worked for a big, corporate law firm performing a job I hated. It paid me well but I hated it. I felt unappreciated, made to perform mindless work and trapped because I had upgraded my life style to match my income and could not move to another job that would pay me as well.
In 2009 the recession put an end to that misery because my wife and I both got laid off. We then moved to Connecticut thinking we could live with my parents for a short period of time until we both found work. That short period of time lasted longer than we expected. But eventually we both landed work from home jobs. Suddenly we were in a position to move where ever we wanted to. After some research we picked a place with good schools and a low-cost of living and here we are.
I look back on all this moving with some regret. Everywhere I lived I always felt like I was trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I had to do it all over again I would definitely have made different decisions.
Now that we live in North Carolina I find myself constantly amazed by how nice people are in comparison to all the other places I have lived. When I first moved down here I found myself in situations where I expected people to f#!@ with me and surprised they didn’t.
I suppose there is some Wizard of Oz message in all this. That I can travel the world looking for happiness but I really only had to go no further than my own back yard. I did move back to my own back yard after I got laid off and it was miserable. But the message is not literal. Dorothy is referring to the back yard of my soul I am sure. I think that is true to a point. Certainly, if you are miserable you are most likely going to take that misery with you where ever you go. On the other hand, if you are miserable there is something about your current situation that is making you miserable so shaking things up can be a good thing. Certainly staying put will probably not change things as I learned from staying at that law firm in Philadelphia for ten years.
I think change can be made, but it has to happen from within and sometimes outside help is needed to make that happen. Growth is possible. I am not the person I was twenty years ago. There’s nothing to do but look forward and keep moving.