In life, attitude is everything. The circumstances that have shaped our lives are as unique and individual as our personalities — no two are the same. Yet our ability to grow as individuals, to evolve into more compassionate, loving and conscious people, depends not on what has happened to us, but on our attitude toward these situations. When faced with hardship, do I lie down or step up? Do I resist, or embrace the situation for growth?
Ultimately there are two attitudes we can take in life: the attitude of a victim, or of a creator.
The victim cannot see beauty, abundance or the inherent perfection of each moment because he has an idea of how things should be, an idea that has inevitably been violated, an idea that is at odds with what is (continue reading…)
I want to share an open secret with everyone: Spirit is definitely Higher.
That might seem obvious at first. Everybody seems to already know that the nature of God or Spirit or Consciousness or Being is higher in meaning, value, and inherent glory than the separate ego or the unique objects that make up the world around us. But I think we tend, more often than not, to overlook or just not see the profound implications of that simple truth.
Spirit is generally seen and understood to be the grand unifying principle behind all apparent difference (continue reading…)
Anyone who’s been in the spiritual world long enough knows that just about everything can be packaged as the latest, greatest way to get enlightened. Surrender everything, “manifest” everything, celebrate the body, abandon the body — you name it, and both it and its opposite are the one sure-fire way to spiritual success.
That’s why I love a pair of enlightenment stories in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition, which illustrate how what is needed for liberation is unique to each individual. The stories are of the Buddha himself, and his longtime aide and disciple, Ananda.
In the classic story of the Buddha’s enlightenment, he sits under the Bodhi tree and resolves not to get up until he is fully liberated from suffering. Over the watches of a single night, he recalls all his past lives, goes through a series of trials and finally is besieged by Mara, the embodiment of all obstacles seekers face along the spiritual path (continue reading…)
In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a popular notion called lungta (Tbn) or windhorse (English). The central image of windhorse is a powerful horse that can fly through the air, representing strength, vitality and energy that can meet and transform obstacles.
The image of a flying horse is a cross-cultural and ubiquitous archetype found in various places and times. It represents the “force” that we can harness to face all kinds of life challenges — personal, communal and even societal.
A very wonderful second generation Tibetan lama, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, once mentioned that he felt that there was an almost all-pervasive, low level depression that many westerners suffered from — a difficulty in finding the energy to counter the draining and stressful quality of our modern lives (continue reading…)
When shyness overshadows our talents, we miss out on opportunities to grow and advance. We become trapped in a vicious circle of insecurity and frustration.
Shyness is often masked as disinterest or indifference, yet its root is much deeper.
If we go deep into the feeling of shyness, we will discover pure fear — fear of what others might think of us, the fear of disapproval.
If you have been to one of my events, or if you practice the techniques explained in my books, you already have the practical tools you need to overcome this shyness. But if not, what can you do?
The only thing you need do is find security within yourself — to reach the point where what you think of yourself becomes more important than any external opinion. Shyness is fed by thoughts of self-criticism, often instilled by a judgmental or authoritarian figure in our past who made us feel like less than we were (continue reading…)
I recently returned from a week-long tour in Europe. In the following video from a seminar in London, I speak about my own interpretation of the traditional Bodhisattva vow and how this important spiritual commitment is recontextualized within an evolutionary worldview.
Engage with Andrew Cohen on his new Facebook page.
read full news from www.huffingtonpost.com
Three men stood by the ocean, looking at the same sunset.
One man saw the immense physical beauty and enjoyed the event in itself. This man was the “sensate” type who, like 80 percent of the world, deals with what he can see, feel, touch, move, and fix. This was enough reality for him, for he had little interest in larger ideas, intuitions, or the grand scheme of things (continue reading…)
We are never completely satisfied with what is happening in this moment. In fact, the idea that we need something that is not present right now is the root of our discontent. Even when we achieve everything we always wanted, we feel there is something missing. Why? Because we are so accustomed to waiting for something more that nothing is ever enough (continue reading…)
Working out more, getting organized, losing those last ten pounds … these are amongst the top ten promises that millions around the world, including me, have made this weekend and likely break before the end of the month. Hoping to arrive on something less short-lived, something not so self-centered, something greater than me, I’m hoping this year to better illumine my path with age-old Hindu wisdom. They were inculcated in me long ago, but those echoes of the past suddenly seem more relevant. May the spiritual guidance of sages, swamis and gurus inspire my interactions with all those whose paths cross mine, not only to the end of this year, but through lifetimes. For all you yogis out there — my list of resolutions may just be the same as yours — they are, of course, the five eternal niyamas:
Ahimsa — Non-harming. I’m a peace-loving vegetarian. I eat local, at least in the summers, and I recycle. It’s a start, though I could probably lighten my footprint on Mother Earth even more. But what about being non-harming in my thoughts and words? Can I recognize and respect the Divine in the road-raged driver who cuts me off to get to his destination a whopping fifteen seconds early? Or how about the rude cashier who’s taking out her angst against her boss on my carefully selected, perfectly ripe tomatoes? And, most challenging, how about the irate community member who thrives on the path of hostility rather than humility, and then insults me and my husband, in one fell swoop, over a difference of opinion? On these occasions a knuckle-sandwich or a certain privileged finger seem almost instinctual, but the concept of ahimsa wants us to tolerate not only that which we dislike, but even those who are mean or hateful. Ahimsa asks us to be non-harmful in all that floats through our minds and that comes out of our mouths (or out of our keyboards). To this end, I welcome the path of all-around non-hurting — it’s going to be hard, but my internal GPS has officially been reset.
Satya — Truthfulness. As a stand-alone value, the truth can hurt — really hurt. Case in point: “Do these pants make me look fat?” While “yes” may be the honest answer, Hindu gurus have advised that truth must always be served on a platter of kindness. So how can one communicate truthfully but also with courtesy and compassion? Perhaps being present and open in all of our conversations is one way. As one of my favorite swamis from Chinmaya Mission Trinidad shared during a talk, “God gave you two ears and one mouth, so listen more and speak less.” I confess that I’ve suffered from foot-in-mouth syndrome and have given inappropriate advice as a result of simply talking too much. So following Swamiji’s advice will hopefully enable me to foster more genuine and loving relationships, be it as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend or advocate.
Asteya — Asteya literally is non-stealing, but that’s rather simplistic and perhaps too easy for most of us who are law-abiding members of civil society. So in my quest to dig deeper, I need to apply more expansively, what it means to not take that which is not given. To this end, the first thing that comes to my mind is letting go of expectations. As much as I remind myself that, all that I do for family, for the community, or for others, should be embarked upon as a selfless offering to the Divine. But the reality is that I still innately find myself having expectations for praise, acceptance or appreciation. These expectations unknowingly, and quickly, transform to a sense of my right to that compliment. And when the acknowledgment doesn’t come, I’m upset, angry and hurt over not getting something that wasn’t mine to begin with? Here on, my motto has to be, “Do more. Expect less.”
Brahmacharya — Brahmacharya as one of the traditional Hindu stages of life is a phase in which a youth (~ages 14-20) dedicates his or her full efforts to gaining both secular and spiritual knowledge. While traditionally this age is a prescription for study, discipline and strict celibacy, brahmacharya in a broader context, and well beyond youth, means self-control or self-restraint in our dealings with the many distractions of our daily lives, be they physical, emotional or mental. My biggest area for improvement in this regard is control in thoughts, especially when trying to navigate the swinging pendulum of life’s highs and lows. In these times of stress, my thoughts, as if laced up with a pair of running shoes, sprint back and forth between woulda-coulda-shoulda and what-if. Learning the art of not letting thoughts control my ability to be present through mindfulness and meditation has to be a top priority.
Aparigraha — In an age where Jimmy Choo’s are just a mouse-click away and even available to those who don’t live in New York City, abstention from greed, or in more modern terms, letting go of the need for “stuff” is so relevant. I have to admit that I actually have my credit card number memorized because of online shopping. I also have to sadly admit that I have not been able to memorize, thanks to caller ID and a cell phone, my own sister’s phone number — and that too, despite talking to her almost every day. How many can relate? I feel a sea of hands joining mine out there in cyberspace. I choose to follow the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, a fellow Hindu and Gujarati who said, “I live simply so that others may simply live.”
Wishing you an inspired New Year.
Saturday morning I was walking from my apartment in downtown NY up to OM yoga to lead a weekend workshop. As I often do, walking through New York streets, I popped in my ear buds and my iPhone and listened to some ripping solid bluegrass music, in this case a newer band that I love called the Infamous Stringdusters.
I could not help but notice that the “jolt” to my energy and mood was instantaneous and positive. I literally started bouncing down the street, singing a high harmony out loud. Then I thought, what is this, what am I experiencing here? And the word joy came directly into my mind — it was joy.
Have you ever wondered where our joy has gone? Don’t you find that a very big part of the time you are just getting things done, anxious, stressed out, tense, in a hurry, worried, concerned, uptight? Where has our joy gone?
I have come to feel lately that joy is an expression of our own truest nature. We are meant to experience joy, we are wired for it. But it also seems to be the case that our natural joyfulness, exuberance, enjoyment, whatever you want to call it, can get covered over by all kinds of other “heavier” programs. So I thought it might be fun to share some thoughts about recovering / uncovering our joy and also to invite you all to do the same on this blog!
Here are a few thoughts:
Impermanence: Joy is not graspable. It is literally the expression of freedom and release in the moment. We cannot bottle it, store it, hold onto it or recreate it. It requires letting go and the recognition that it is easiest to experience joy fully when we are most in touch with impermanence.
Sadness and Poignancy: Ironically, joy is somehow completely linked with a tender hearted, sad/poignant feeling that is so close to our essence as human beings. It is our ability to be touched, moved, empathetic, etc. that allows us to experience joy and aliveness at all.
Freedom: When we feel imprisoned, overwhelmed, bounded, constricted etc., it is impossible to experience joy. It literally cuts it off for us. We need to taste freedom to taste joy.
Energy: If our energy is low, if we are tired, worn down, under it, etc. it is hard to experience joy. Joy is energy, and joy itself is an expression of energy and vitality.
Absence of Fixation, Stress, Anxiety and Doubt: Fixation, rigidity, stress, anxiety and doubt are not a good environment in which to cultivate the experience of joy. Without denial or repression, we need to free ourselves up from these “negative” habits of mind in order to experience joy, even for a moment.
Maybe this post seems goofy and non-Buddhist, but I don’t think so. Buddhism lobbies for the recognition of the truth of suffering but also lobbies for the transcendence (not repression) of the causes of suffering and the experience of our own true nature as the confluence of bliss (joy) and emptiness (non-attachment).
What is your experience here? Care to lob one in on this little piece of the blogosphere? Where has your joy gone? Your thoughts?
Follow David on his website (www.davidnichtern.com), Facebook (facebook.com/davidnichtern), Twitter (twitter.com/davidnichtern), or Youtube (youtube.com/davidnichtern).
This Blogger’s Books from
Om Yoga and Meditation Workshop
Cyndi Lee, David Nichtern
Follow David Nichtern on Twitter:
It’s important to have self-confidence. It’s even more important to have spiritual self-confidence. Spiritual confidence is that unique and palpable sense of absolute conviction that cannot be affected by external or internal fluctuations. It’s being absolutely sure. It’s knowing, before you know, that you know. It’s the highest gift and blessing that comes only from the deepest insight into the true nature of things. It can also be the most precious jewel that is freely transmitted from the awakened heart and mind of a true spiritual master to any and all who would receive it. Absolute conviction destroys existential doubt and frees the human soul.
The Eastern traditions say that doubt is one of the biggest obstacles to the profound discovery of enlightened awareness. The sparkle of ecstatic conviction in the eyes of a saint expresses the liberating joy and fearlessness that are testimony to powerful spiritual self-confidence. Unfortunately, madmen, monsters, and megalomaniacs from the East and the West also gain their power from absolute self-confidence. But that’s not a confidence that comes from knowing that mystery which is ungraspable. More often than not, it’s a confidence that comes from fear, from overwhelming arrogance, from the puny ego, or from ethnocentric pride. It’s a confidence that comes from a desire for power and an aspiration to dominate. The kind of spiritual confidence I’m speaking about comes from a very different source and from a very different part of the self.
Some people claim that absolute conviction of any kind is dangerous and should never be trusted. But the kinds of people who make those assertions are hypocrites. They are hypocrites because they stubbornly express an absolute conviction in their own perspective while simultaneously proclaiming to others the futility of such a position!
Spiritual confidence is the heaviest anchor in the midst of the unending storm that is life and death. It is an unshakable confidence in the inherent rightness of being here–confidence in the rightness of finding oneself in the very middle of the life process, even in all its chaos and complexity. Having this kind of confidence is of the utmost importance for anyone who is convinced that they deeply care about the way things are–and even more so for the bold and courageous warrior who wants to create something truly new, who would dare to be the one to step forward, to stand for and bear witness to that which is higher.
It’s especially important to have this kind of confidence in times like these when there is so much turbulence and individual and collective insecurity about survival. Without this kind of confidence as a constant reference point, we may find ourselves at times without the emotional, psychological, or spiritual resources to fight the good fight. And those who care more than anything else about the perennial quest to transform the world into a powerful reflection of that which is sacred cannot afford to allow even a moment of doubt or fear to overshadow their soul. Why? Because that may be the one moment that counted the most! In other words, we can’t afford not to have spiritual self-confidence if we want to change the world.
The kind of powerful conviction that I am referring to fills one’s heart with a love that is not dependent on external circumstances for its fullness. It’s a love that is unshakable, unmoving, and indestructible. Such love–a love that transcends yet simultaneously embraces the world–is what compels human beings to evolve, from their own deepest depths, and to become better citizens of our world and our cosmos. Knowing the mysterious source of that love is knowing before thought that life is good. That inherent goodness is who we really are. And that’s what we discover in deepest revelation.
Have confidence in that and change the world.
We send ourselves to school to get titles and degrees, to acquire knowledge and develop the intellect. We comb the far corners of the world to explore, see or experience more. We strive in our jobs and careers in order to become richer, promoted faster or accredited and known in the process. We save and scheme and plan for a bigger house or more luxurious car, to live in a better neighborhood or to send our kids to superior schools. Elite athletes train to break records, celebrities vie for more time in the spotlight and press than their peers, and politicians must outdo their opponents in fund-raising and face time to even get in the game.
Such is the metaphor for success in the modern world: climb, rise, move up, escalate, soar, transcend. Most days it feels like if you’re not advancing, you might as well not even get out of bed.
This is a serious pitfall for any seeker, because the reality is that all apparent “spiritual paths” are nothing more than a journey to the Self. Strengthening the outer identity (ego) isn’t the point. When it comes to ego, less is most definitely “more”.
All journeys reveal to you who you really are. All apparent paths lead one to know oneself. As my good friend and author of Be Still and Know I AM God writes, “There is no time and there are no paths ultimately. You are already what you are looking for.”
Most people find that incredibly difficult to swallow. It’s wildly inconsistent with our conditioned beliefs. It flies in the face of the outer world and the society we’ve built. We’re not taught that we’re fine “just as we are” past about the age of say, two (if ever).
But what if you realized that you — yes YOU — are the living expression of the Divine made manifest as human? What if you could see yourself as God made flesh? As infinite consciousness experiencing itself within the limitations of a human being simply so it could do just that — experience itself? (Feeling a little lost? Check out Enlightenment for Beginners)
How would that change what you choose to do with your life? Your time? How would it mold what’s important to you? How would it make you see your personal journey differently? See life — period?
With Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” not only a book blockbuster but now a major motion picture release, I suspect many accidental seekers like Gilbert herself will feel far from perfect. Like Gilbert they may feel compelled to embark on a serious seeker jaunt, envy the author’s journey or both(!). I have nothing against Gilbert or her journey. In fact, I’m a huge fan of that book and adore her story, but it’s her story. Not yours, not mine, and not a recipe for anyone in particular.
There’s no “higher”, “better”, “superior”, “transcendent” place to strive for. You don’t need to forsake your home and family, sell it all and go live with monks in caves (but hey, if that’s your deepest desire, go for it). You don’t need to meditate until your legs are numb nor read spirituality books until your mind is. If you have such an experience you would describe as transcendent, consider it not that you’ve reached new heights, but dropped baggage instead.
Your journey, such as it is, is not taking you anywhere but inward. You are simply peeling an onion, layer by layer discovering what’s at its core. And the goal, if there is one, is to lighten rather than increase your load along the way. You are already everything you need to become, and your journey, such as you perceive it, is simply the process by which you’re discovering that.
Considering our conditioned associations with journeys and destinations, with achievement and accumulation, I think a better metaphor than “being on a path” when it comes to spiritual awakening and discovery is “coming home”. You’re not being taken to a new and climactic place where you can feel superior over your fellow beings for having arrived first while looking down upon all the humble, ignorant souls who have yet to awaken or begin the ascent. You are, quite to the contrary, being taken on a journey of remembrance to where you came from in the first place, and there are plenty more who have “arrived” before you. When you remember your essence, your true essence, you’ll realize there’s no where to go, nothing to achieve and no pinnacles to transcend.
Best of all, you’ll be able to live in the outer world from that inner space (now that’s liberation). Verse 11 of the Tao Te Ching says it — as the Tao says all — exquisitely.
Let that seep into your pores this week. And in case no one else is telling you, (believe me, I can empathize more than I care to admit) I’m telling you this: I love you and, whether you feel it or believe it or not, you are absolutely perfect just the way you are.
Follow Karen Talavera on Twitter:
Are you a seeker or a finder? This is a very important question. If you are on a spiritual path, have you found what you are looking for? Or are you still searching? If you are doing a spiritual practice, are you doing it to reach a goal or are you doing it just because you think it’s a good thing to be doing? Or are you doing spiritual practice from another position altogether–the position of being a finder? Being a finder means you are one of those rare individuals who has unequivocally found what they are looking for, and are now doing spiritual practice only because they want to continue to develop.
People who do spiritual practice but who are not yet enlightened tend to divide their lives between the “spiritual” part and the unspiritual part. When they are engaged with spiritual practice and spend time in the company of others who share their faith or conviction in the reality of Spirit, that’s the spiritual part. All the rest is the unspiritual part. People who are enlightened, on the other hand, see all of life as an unending spiritual adventure with no holes or gaps where Spirit is not present. What you see is what you get. It is really only the capacity to see and directly experience the life we are living with greater and greater depth and more and more perspective that liberates our awareness and awakens our consciousness of Spirit’s all-pervasive presence.
If you are a sincere seeker, then it’s important that your spiritual practice be imbued with a life-and-death commitment to your own liberation here and now. The short-term goal must be to get to the other side of existential doubt. You want to free your soul from both the ego’s suffocating self-concern and the outdated and spiritually unenlightened values of our modern and postmodern culture. First and foremost, you need to do whatever it takes to free yourself. Why? So you will finally be available to participate, consciously and wholeheartedly, in the greatest gift you’ve been given…which is the life you’re already living right now.
If you are no longer a seeker but one who boldly claims to be a finder, then that means you no longer have any doubt about who you really are and why you are here on this Earth. In your own direct discovery of and awakening to Spirit’s true face, existential doubt has died a sudden and irrevocable death, liberating an infectious confidence rooted deep in your soul. A true finder may or may not continue to do spiritual practice. If he or she does, it is motivated, as I said, by the desire to continue to develop and evolve. Indeed in the new evolutionary spirituality, making the noble effort to catalyze our own individual and collective higher development is recognized to be the very raison d’tre of the human experience at the leading edge. But as finders we’re no longer doing practice in order to experience a spiritual epiphany that will convince us of something we don’t already know. Now we’re making the effort to evolve because we’re in love with life and are committed to unlocking its higher potentials through our own development.
When we realize that the process of life is Spirit in action, then ideally we would aspire for our entire lives to become an unceasing manifestation of its multidimensional nature. Even more importantly, we would expect our actions to embody its most significant qualities. That means we would be expressing freedom and creativity in and through the way that we live the gift of life. And this would occur both as the spontaneous expression of a liberated heart and mind and as the practice of evolutionarily enlightened living.
I became a spiritual teacher twenty-four years ago, after I found what I was looking for. Up until that point I had been an ardent meditator. The practice of meditation, for me, was the means to an end: I wanted to become an enlightened person, whatever that was going to mean. I took my practice very seriously. I also exercised vigorously every day. I was careful about what I ate. I sought out and cultivated friendships with others who shared my passion for Spirit. And, typical of my generation, I looked to the East to find illumination rather than to the West. Like so many others, I traveled to India. When I arrived, almost immediately I felt like I was home. This was because I entered into a shared cultural context where the inner quest was accepted as being a lofty and valid endeavor. I no longer felt like such an outsider. After two and half years, I met my last teacher and he liberated my soul when he uttered ten simple words: “You don’t have to make any effort to be free.” Upon hearing this, I made the transition from seeker to finder.
I have spent almost the last quarter century struggling with the question of how to take people with me on the greatest journey that there is: from seeker to finder to co-creator of Heaven on Earth. The first step is straightforward–to become a finder all any one of us ever has to do is let go of the fears and desires of the ego, absolutely and unconditionally. It obviously goes without saying that this is easier said than done. Freedom is letting go and letting go is freedom. In truth, it doesn’t take effort. It only requires you to love God or Spirit more than you love yourself.
Creating Heaven on Earth is another matter altogether. It requires enormous effort and a long-term commitment that means forever. It also requires practice, because all truly great creative accomplishments require endless practice. So how much practice are we actually doing to ensure our own development? How deeply have we realized the importance our own higher evolution has, if we desperately want the world to change for the better? These are important and relevant questions for serious people who are committed to change.
After so many years, what have I come up with as the magic remedy for both letting go and creating Heaven on Earth? Well, that’s simple …we have to do it all! What does that really mean? We have to endeavor to take on and embrace every aspect of the human condition, individually and together, and insist that evolution happens. This approach has been called “integral practice.” Integral, in this case, means taking on our whole being, in all its many dimensions.
We can either approach the whole endeavor of practice from the “outside-in” or from the “inside-out.” Outside-in means we intellectually understand and appreciate the multi-dimensional complexity of our selves, and we aspire to engage with and develop as many parts of ourselves as possible because we have recognized that it makes good sense to do so. The inside-out approach is one in which we have already spiritually awakened, at least to some degree, to the perennial mystical truth that all is One. And from the direct cognizance of that Oneness, we endeavor to align and develop the many different dimensions of our own being. My approach is from the inside-out.
So what does a life of spiritual practice, a life in which Spirit is being truly lived, look like? If we are committed to creating Heaven on Earth, we need to pray or meditate every single day so deeply and earnestly that each and every time the result is freedom from fear and existential doubt. The goal is ultimately to get to that point in our own spiritual development where we no longer need prayer or meditation to know what the Truth is.
The highest form of spiritual practice, for those of us who aspire to create Heaven on Earth, is our relationships with one another. That means being willing to sacrifice anything and everything so that the intersubjective world of our shared culture becomes the stage on which the spiritual reality of who we really are, beyond our separate egos, comes to the fore. Think about it: If Spirit always comes before self, then the self that we are will always manifest as Spirit first. What could be more important than this if we want to change our world?
Another very important dimension of spiritual practice is the cultivation of what I call spiritual self-respect. That is because spiritual self-respect is ego-transcendence. We must do whatever we need to do to respect ourselves so that we can respect each other. It’s more important to respect yourself than to “love yourself.” In a spiritually awakened context, respect for self always means respect for God or Spirit. Respect for that which is higher is transformative because it instantly ennobles and dignifies our separate personalities. That’s very different from having to love your ego in order to feel comfortable being who you are.
If you respect yourself, you’re going to make the extra effort to take care of yourself. How you look from the outside is always an expression of what you believe in. Evolved and enlightened saints and sages from all traditions have already told us that the path to God is one defined by self-discipline, self-control, humility, and unshakeable commitment. Because of your rare degree of spiritual inspiration, physically you will radiate beauty, and emotionally you will vibrate with open-hearted self-confidence. This will be as a result of your own ceaseless efforts and submission to your own true heart’s longing.
Finally, and most importantly, because of our commitment to going all the way and putting all of this into practice, we will simultaneously create and reap the heavenly rewards. The life we have chosen to live and our relationships will become an ecstatic cauldron of creative ferment. Because Spirit is both freedom and creativity, our own empowering realization of spiritual freedom will give rise to an unusual capacity for creative engagement. The truth of God will emerge again and again and again through our own ongoing love affair with the possible.
To see more by Andrew Cohen, visit www.andrewcohen.org.
Standing, thinking, operating or doing in any way with the sense of existing entirely as a separate entity is suicide to the presence of rhythm, is illusory attachment to the separate self — is all fine and is part of the path of evolutionary life. Yet it is an arduous path towards play. The nature of existence is to BE fully present without thinking: Zen. We’ve already died, and so we only risk not being here, now.
From the inside-out it’s separateness in aloneness; from the outside-in it’s separateness in amusement; from throughout it’s apprehension and the emergence of duality. BUT before it all, or rather, beyond it all, it’s inevitably and undeniably ALL ONENESS, forever.
And the only way to live forever, or give birth to forever, is to be part of a method that lasts forever: growth. And that thing is not made with timidness or apathy or conventionalism — it must be courageous. It must be a reach, and so seem to be beyond pragmatic sense. It is made with conviction, with vision, with passion, with faith, with love, and it is guided by something both within you and beyond you, and so therefore incalculable by you. It is intuited and it is your innermost being. And it is calling you to seize it now, beckoning you to heed to it, screaming your name — the name of your eternal self — to give rebirth to being by honoring it, by giving into it, by exploding out of your fingerprint, your propensity — take hold, scare yourself, drive it, risk it, love it, be it, believe it.
You never get to the star you focus on anyway; its light doesn’t even actually exist as you see it, but it’s enough to guide you. It’s your path, your groove — and then when the complete focus of your entire being is harnessed with love, in thought, action and creativity; MAGNIFICENCE. And then you are that light, radiant, driving, guiding, shining … into eternity.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” — John Lennon
Sebastian Siegel bio
Follow Sebastian Siegel on Twitter:
When Thoreau was on his deathbed, his aunt asked him if he had made his peace with God, and he responded, “I was not aware that we had quarreled.” Someone else once (I don’t recall the source) said, “The most salient characteristic of an enlightened being is not what one might think–having great wisdom, emanating love and so forth–but rather, that they are completely relaxed.”
I have certainly had my share of restful times in hot tubs over the years, and have received countless wonderful and deeply soothing massages, but truthfully, I don’t think I have been completely relaxed since I was, oh, say, two hours old.
Actually, come to think of it, those first two hours weren’t so great either. On the contrary, I was the youngest person ever to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome; it came over me just moments after a rather terrifying and sudden expulsion from the safety and comfort of my cozy room, the only home I’d ever known, to be sent God-knows-where. Talk about a rude awakening. And now that I’m older and finally beginning to grasp where in fact I was sent, I believe that my response to being born was quite appropriate to the situation. Apart from the trauma of getting evicted, given the nature of what goes on here on this planet, birth is a bitch.
That’s why, back in the New Age days of yore, Leonard Orr created “Rebirthing,” a technique that uses deep and continuous breathing in order to regress and relive one’s birth trauma and heal that primal wound, that original separation from what we knew to be the very source and home of our Being before we were summarily dumped off in a completely bizarre situation. As another figure from that era, Stewart Emery, once said, “Nobody told us when we were born that we were coming to the lunatic asylum of the galaxy.”
Many spiritual systems would assert, however, that the actual birth process is only a physical mirror of a more primordial sense of separation that lives in our consciousness itself, a misconception of an illusory ego believing itself to stand alone and apart from the “All and the Everything,” the “Unified Cosmic Field” that underlies and is the very stuff and substance of Being and existence. The birth process just makes the situation worse, because we retain a cellular memory of that original state we knew in the womb of absolute safety, the bliss of unity, and complete relaxation (barring cruel and unusual neonatal incidents); from that moment on, anything short of those feelings is never quite enough, and a perpetual sense of suffering and dissatisfaction–subtle or not-so-subtle–fuels the forward motion of our lives.
Those of us traveling a spiritual path have become more consciously aware of this basic, fundamental disturbance in our core, goading us onward toward an elusive goal that seems forever out of reach. And since the womb is obviously no longer available, we’ve spiritually upgraded the object of our yearning to God or Awakening, striving for union with the Divine, dissolving into the Light, merging with the Beloved, to open our hearts, get enlightened or one of a myriad variations along those lines.
A traditional description of this journey compares it to a fish in search of water; if the fish would just stop swimming around for a second and completely relax and be still, it might have a better chance of recognizing that it is always-already residing in the very place for which it is relentlessly searching. Every step towards the goal is actually a step away from it. Perhaps that explains those annoying Zen masters who are always saying, “There is nowhere to go and nothing to do.” (Meanwhile, they sit on cushions staring at the wall for 40 years to prove the point!)
But actually, Zen, as well as many other spiritual paths, advise us to meditate, not to get anywhere, but to “be still and know,” to recognize that our essential nature is already present and exists prior to our egoic identity and the concomitant underlying intimation that something’s not quite right, that we’re not quite okay, and that we need to do something to remedy the situation, ASAP. Again and again we are told by those in the enlightenment business that we need only “Rest in the Present Wholeness of your True Nature,” that which lives outside of time and precedes even the womb; for who we really are, we are advised, is completely independent of this merely temporal residence in a body/mind.
And if being Eternal and not constrained by a body/mind isn’t relaxing, I don’t know what is! But what would being “completely relaxed” actually feel like, while we are here? This is how I imagine it:
1) Someone who is completely relaxed would probably never need Valium to take the edge off. The edge is off. (I refilled my Rx today.)
2) There would either be a complete absence of fear and worry, particularly the fear of death, or, when fear or worry did arise, one’s Relaxed Self would somehow remain unruffled, not worried about being worried, not fully identified as the one who is scared. And to take it one step further, even if this person did identify as the fearful one, and did get ruffled, he or she would be relaxed about that state of affairs as well. In other words, this dude is really mellow about “what is,” no matter what’s going on, inside or out.
3) The Completely Relaxed Ones would be free of the core, egoic disturbance of imagined separation from Source, and so would be likewise released from the driving force to “become”–anything–so there would be no anxiety-stricken movement toward a future that held out any promise for some anticipated state or situation that might arrive “someday” and improve the quality of their lives in any way. As Werner Erhard once bluntly put it to me, staring right into my eyes, “There isn’t ANYTHING that is EVER going to come along that is going to make you happy. NOTHING. Getting that is the entre into the system in which the truth lies, for the truth is always and only found now, in the circumstances you’ve got.” That was quite sobering news for a truth-seeker.
It is also why “now” has become so popular; just “this,” whatever is present right now, is considered to be the opportune moment–indeed, the only moment–and when we completely relax into that understanding, we will experience the present as sufficient, complete and satisfying. Or beyond merely “sufficient,” the present moment, were we to gaze upon it with eyes unclouded by longing, would be seen to be permeated by unfathomable mystery and unspeakable beauty. We are tripping over God with every step we take.
4) This possible human I’m constructing would have a deep and innate trust in the unfolding process of life, filled with a seemingly nave and childlike certainty that we live in a benevolent universe and therefore, as Julian of Norwich asserted, All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
If we experienced that to be an absolutely true statement, we’d be a lot more laid back about all the evidence that appears daily to dispute that claim. We’d be relaxed and fundamentally okay with the moment-by-moment, unfolding life stories of everyone everywhere, both the good and the horrible, including those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune aimed directly at us. Recognizing the providential perfection of the moment, however, does not at all preclude experiencing a natural, effortless compassion for those in pain and suffering, as well as a deep desire to help. Or at the very least, we’d be committed to not making things worse for anyone while we’re here. That seems like a reasonable goal for the likes of most of us.
But who among us will ever fulfill all these criteria? After 58 years of being more or less a nervous wreck about this whole living thing, it would be somewhat of a shock and a gift of Grace if I was suddenly free of fear and the race against time to “become” something or somebody, and just completely relaxed into a felt sense of satisfaction and joy with things “just how they are,” in harmony with the “Way of Things,” as Taoism describes it. I don’t think I would recognize myself. Or perhaps that way of being would be more familiar to me than my own face.
I have learned this much: the meaning of the word “practice” in the phrase “spiritual practice” is exactly that: it’s not something we do to get somewhere, change ourselves or become anything. It’s to practice just being here, however things are. When we meditate, we’re not trying to attain a better state of mind, although that is obviously pleasant and welcome when it happens. Rather, we are practicing the act of simply sitting and being relaxed with any and all mind states or life situations, all of which are forever changing and temporary, coming and going, including our bodies. As Dharma teacher Christopher Titmuss put it, “We are looking for that in us which does not arise or pass away.” We sit inside a boundless, impartial, endlessly empty container–we are a Vast Viewing Station–inside of which all of life continues to strut about with great fanfare and drama … signifying nothing.
It just might be that the ultimate spiritual teaching, were we one day to come face to face with a Great Awakened One, would simply be, “Hey, take it easy. Chill.”
And on the seventh day, God said, “Relax.”
On Aug 16, 2010, around 4:30pm, Dr. Frank Ryan died when his 1995 Jeep Wrangler went off the side of Pacific Coast Highway near Malibu and landed on its roof. As I periodically checked the internet for any accident investigation results, I gathered my thoughts and memories of this great man. I was saddened to read most of the website listings of his death concluding that he was texting and/or tweeting at his final moments. For whatever reason, this simply did not seem to make sense to me.
It was Dr. Ryan’s ex-girlfriend who declared this “texting while driving” statement. She did not state that she was engaged in a text conversation with him at 4:30pm (which would give solid proof of this speculation), so I am not sure how this was concluded, especially since his last tweet was twenty minutes prior, at 4:10pm. Regardless, I feel that he should be remembered for his greatness and supreme level of being, instead of an unknown theory given to the hands of the media. From my personal experience with Dr. Ryan, I highly doubt that he would text and drive. He was cautious, patient, present and highly aware. He did not exhibit traits of a frantic multi-tasker who was always grasping for more time.
Unfortunately, we may never know what really happened – whether a small animal ran in front of the road, his unrestrained dog was startled unexpectedly, a gust of wind seized his Jeep, or that he may have sneezed. According to the latest government statistics, the cellular phone has been surpassed by a new “#1 Cause of Traffic Accidents”: sneezing. Like everyone who knew him, I have been deeply saddened by his loss. He was truly the most impressive and masterfully skilled human being that I have ever met.
I spoke with Dr. Ryan about many topics, ranging from psychology, relationship dynamics, ethics to yoga. I have never met anyone who was able to bridge the gap of raw realism and pure presence. I have had the honor of sitting in rooms with pronounced saints and spiritual gurus, and I have never felt the level of pure love and conscious resonance that I felt from Dr. Ryan. He gave his fullest attention to whomever he was with, and he was always patient, kind and generous, regardless of one’s status, circumstance or personality.
How ironic that he was a plastic surgeon, I thought when I first met him. In many ways, his example illustrates that the quest of such existential perfection is available to all of us – whether one is a car salesman, postal carrier or non-profit employee. The ultimate goal of enlightenment is to live this self-realized perfection and genuine service amidst the world. As many spiritual seekers have shared with us, it is hard enough to live true and pure while alone in a cave, removed from any outside distractions or influences. Dr. Ryan was a living example of unconditional service, even amidst an industry touted with egotistical materialism. At his 26-acre Bony Pony Ranch in Malibu, underprivileged and underserved youth and teens were given the opportunity to partake in leadership and life training courses. In addition, Dr. Ryan provided free removal of gang-related tattoos, birthmarks and scarring.
Recently, before a cross-country flight, I expressed a nervous travel reservation to a friend of mine as she dropped me at the airport. She put her car into park and pulled out a dollar bill from her pocket. She shared with me a Jewish tradition as she folded the dollar bill into a perfect rectangle, with only the word “ONE” showing on top. She gave me the bill, with the instructions that I was to find someone upon my arrival who needed the dollar, and to give it to that person. I pondered why she was doing this when she explained, “No one dies when they have a mission.”
It gives me peace to think that Dr. Ryan was not distracted in his life mission. He succeeded in his personal perfection and mission attainment. He did not exhibit a drawn out struggle between his body and soul at his death. He hurt no one else in the process (even his beautiful dog survived). His soul was realized and his process was clean. He is one of the greatest examples of enlightenment that I have come to know. He lived the spirit of his high school; in the words of St. Francis de Sales, “Be who we are and be that well.”
Thank you Dr. Ryan for touching my soul, and showing me a true and humble example of pure being.
Follow Alanna Zabel on Twitter: