I love it when people say things like this to me: “I’ve been afraid my whole life, and I didn’t know it … I’m tired of being afraid … I don’t think God wants me to be afraid … and I’m not going to let fear rule my life.” Having been a priest for nearly 20 years, I’ve learned to appreciate the profoundly religious significance of their
Tag: Spiritual Practice
Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell used to tell a story about a mission he flew in his F2H Banshee off the coast of Japan in 1950. He had missed the rendezvous point when his instruments mistakenly picked up a signal leading him away from his aircraft carrier. Lovell felt hopelessly lost as he flew circles in the dark over the stormy Sea of Japan. As he tried to use his map light, suddenly all of the electronics in the cockpit shorted out and everything went
Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer. Leopards, cobras, monkeys, rivers and trees; they all served as my teachers when I lived as a wanderer in the Himalayan foothills. They shared the kind of lessons that elevate the spirit.
One particularly illuminating lesson from the forest comes in the form of the Himalayan musk
Good morning! It is my pleasure to introduce you to meditation practice, or — if you already have a practice — to revisit the foundations with you.
The Practice of Tranquility is more than 2,500 years old and has been practiced by countless people over the millennia. I say this so you can know that what I’m going to teach you is ancient and time-tested. It may or may not be for you, but, in any case, you can trust
By the time of the first thaw preceding spring, when hunter and hunted alike emerge from their dens, holes, nests, burrows, caves, cabins, huts, tents, tipis and yurts, a huge and hollow hunger hangs heavy upon the earth. Awakened from their long winter’s stupor by the warmth and light of the returning sun, all creatures, great and small, breathe deep of the newly fresh air and realize that they are ravenous.
Provisions, carefully collected, prepared and stored for the duration, have by now been completely depleted. Prey is pitifully skinny with no satisfying fat to spare. New greens and grasses have not yet begun to
On the surface, it seemed like every professional event I’ve ever attended: dozens of my colleagues in marketing and advertising, all chatting at once, discussing the latest ad campaigns and agency gossip and the ever-present “how’s business?”
The big difference was the timing. I had never before attended a professional event after four days in a monastery.
Those four days — of silence, chanting psalms with the monks, getting a glimpse of their life and wanting more — left me feeling like a stranger among marketers I knew so well. I kept looking around and thinking, “Why are we doing this? Why is advertising important? Why even have marketing at all?”
That’s when it hit me: If you decide to pursue a deeper connection with God, hang on tight. It may be quite a ride.
Frank Bianco’s Voices of Silence: Lives of the Trappists Today profiles a monk who, while living at his monastery, often retreated to a cabin on the grounds to “make more room for [God] in my life.” That phrase could describe a chief aim of the spiritual path as a whole: to allow God more room to move in, and transform, our inner selves.
Monastic practices (among others) promote that
Members of the Baha’i Faith around the world begin a season of fasting March 2. “I love that each day of the Baha’i Fast begins in the darkness before dawn when all is silent and I am a bit weary of winter. I say dawn prayers. Each morning of my prayers, the sun rises earlier and earlier and I can perceive this, the bright moon and the sun’s rays both visible at early dawn,” said Cheryl Cudmore, 56, who lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on the east coast of
Ever notice how so many of the bumper sticker messages out there are simple yet profound? I saw a great one recently that said “Life Is the Classroom. Love Is the Lesson.” That pretty much says it all. How is it that all the great spiritual sayings can fit on a bumper sticker? The reason is that Universal truth is simple and straightforward. To mention a few: “Be Here Now,” “You Are What You Love, and You Love Whatever You Give Your Attention To,” and “You Do Not Have Love, You Are Love.” My all-time favorite is “The Truth Shall Set You Free.” Any time I’m looking at a spiritual point of view that is pedantically overcomplicated, I know the essence of the truth has gotten lost in the
Can we change the world by dropping the idea that we need to improve ourselves?
That’s the radical but rational notion put forth by author and licensed therapist Derek Rydall, whose book “The Law of Emergence: A Revolutionary Principle for Achieving Your Full Potential” is due out this year.
Lee: The New Year is a time when a lot of people think about self-improvement, but you talk about the “end of self-improvement.” Why is that?
Derek: Well, the main premise of most success strategies is that we are incomplete or broken or wounded. This is a pretty common theme, whether the advice is spiritual, metaphysical, or business-inspirational and motivational. People are told that it’s because of past experiences, upbringing or social conditioning — and that we need to do all these different things to heal the past, fix the broken places and improve upon the less desirable aspects of our character.
That sounds like common
Atheist organizations are now unleashing a barrage of ads in various media, escalating their struggle against their faith-based enemies. According to Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times, the campaign is both an attempt to neutralize the perceived stigma attached to atheism and an effort to recruit allies to the side of reason.
I’m all for denouncing religious fanaticism and debunking biblical literalism, but I have two problems with the plan. First, the more acerbic ads will only be taken as proof that atheists can be just as irrational, unreasonable and obnoxious as the true believers they mock. Second, and more important, it perpetuates the false proposition that there are only two sides in the religious debate: conservative Bible-thumpers and radical anti-religionists. What about the rest of us?
The predominance of religious zealots in the media says more about their volume than their actual numbers. And, given the profiles of Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris et al, it’s not as if radical atheism is being left out of the conversation. The real voiceless ones belong to neither of those two camps. I’m referring to the enormous number of people who actively engage in some form of what my colleagues in the Forge Institute call “sane spirituality.” These are people who recognize that we’re part of a transcendent something — a no-thing, really — and that connect to, or unite with, that infinite ineffable wholeness is natural and beneficial.
This diverse, unorganized mish-mash of open-minded seekers tends to approach spirituality in a reasonable, rational and pragmatic manner. A large percentage of them are in the fastest-growing religious category in America: spiritual but not religious (SBNR). Many practice methodologies derived from ancient traditions born in India, which we’ve come to call Hinduism and Buddhism, although very few Western practitioners call themselves Hindus or Buddhists. Also in the group are people whose world views are secular and who view practices such as meditation as the applied components of a science of consciousness, or simply as ways to enhance well-being. Finally, the voiceless include many people who appear to be conventionally religious, in that they attend worship services, celebrate religious holidays and teach their children about their religious heritage. But they participate on their own terms: They don’t believe everything that staunch atheists assume they believe; they don’t accept all religious dogma as revealed truth; and if they value scripture at all they do so selectively and read it metaphorically, not as history or as an infallible guide to morality.
The sanely spiritual do not suppress their doubts; they think logically and accept the testimony of science. Their likely answer to the query “Do you believe in God?” is, “It depends on what you mean by that term.” They’re wary of the G-word because it’s come to be associated with belief in an anthropomorphic father figure in the sky, whereas they’re more inclined to postulate a formless, creative power that would not seem out of place in a physics seminar. In short, they are rational, reasonable individuals who regard the spiritual dimension of life as a central feature of human development and pursue it in the spirit of good old American pragmatism. They do what works, placing direct experience and observation over ideology or doctrine. To the degree that they have faith in something, it is the kind of faith that proceeds from evidence and reason, like a scientist’s faith in the outcome of an experiment.
This practical, autonomous, experience-driven spirituality recognizes that there are many ways to define the sacred and many pathways to it (as sages have told us for millennia, ever since the Rig Veda was first formulated). It is a down-to-earth antidote to the screaming ideologues and fanatics who falsely polarize religious discussions. And, judging from the survey data I came across when researching my book, American Veda, it clearly represents the future.
And guess who can be counted among the sanely spiritual: Sam Harris. The lead singer in the American atheist choir ever since his bestseller The End of Faith, Harris was outed, if that’s the right word, in a recent Newsweek article by Lisa Miller. It turns out that he acknowledges the distinction between unthinking religious belief and sensible spirituality. In fact, he’s a long-time meditation practitioner himself, having spent time in India and Nepal as a youthful seeker. “I see nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions,” he says.
Precisely. Those states of mind have been shown, scientifically, to be beneficial to health, happiness and the cultivation of qualities we hold to desirable, like compassion. Why didn’t you tell us sooner, Sam? Actually, if you read him carefully, he said it all along. But the media evidently can’t handle nuance. Maybe Harris can now help us move beyond the clamorous tag-team matches that place faith and religion in one corner and reason and atheism in the other, relegating the sanely spiritual to the bleachers.
The fanatics who believe that their way — their God, their prophet, their book — is the one true way are on the wrong end of history. They’re bound to wreak a lot of havoc on their way out, but mockery is not the antidote and logic alone won’t change many minds. The urge to transcend, to connect deeply, to penetrate the great cosmic mysteries and elevate mundane life to the level of the sacred has always been with us and it always will be. That impulse, sensibly pursued, is the heartbeat of healthy religion, and it’s the best remedy for the madness of extremism.
It’s not that I even like snakes. In fact, I can’t even post a photo because they creep me out. But for whatever reason, I’m curious about the practice of snake handling. (Like any good Jewish girl, right?)
Okay I’ll admit that’s getting really mutty, snake handling and Judaism. (Also, don’t forget that I’m always interested in reading about Buddhism. Then there’s the college course I took in Baptist preaching. Who says we can’t have a wide range of contradictory interests?)
Could it be because I was born in the Appalachia Mountain region, where snake handling still exists? I doubt that’s why, but I get to imagine anything I want about what happened behind those prison walls where I was born.
For as long as I can recall — from the time I learned to drive in high school — I’d scout different places of worship. All that people do to seek salvation, to alleviate suffering, fascinates me.
Some weekends in high school, I’d walk alone into a church, temple, hole-in-the-wall house of worship. As a total stranger, I’d sit anywhere, read and sing with others, participate in whatever I chose, and feel and observe the rest. I’m sure, like everything else back then, I did this on the sly and never told my parents, especially my Orthodox-raised mother.
One time in high school I rounded up a girlfriend, and we ended up in the basement of a building somewhere. I sat in the front row, and when people started to speak in tongues, they almost startled me out of my metal folding chair. At first it terrified me, the body gyrations and the shout-like chant of words, which I first thought I was supposed to understand. I still don’t know what I witnessed for sure. It wasn’t until I left that my friend told me that this was a language all its own. I can’t forget the passion in those that spoke. That stayed with me. At the time I figured it was all a secret code to their salvation.
I didn’t need any, I figured.
Snake handling is the outcast of religious practices, from what I can tell. Judgments tossed about their class, lack of education, more which I can’t seem to pin down. Outcast, though — that’s something most mutts understand, that outsider feeling. Really, who hasn’t felt this at one time or another?
What intrigues me about snake handling is the power of belief. In the practice of snake handling, if you aren’t bitten, it’s said to be the sign of a miracle. And if you are bitten, and survive, wow, that really is a miracle. Since snakes make me a little squirmy, especially three-foot yellow timber rattlesnakes, I’d say the miracle is best left in its two-foot wooden box, behind its sliding wire-screen top.
They say rattlers have a dry feel. Sandpapery. They say a rattler can find a snake handler in the dark, that they seek the body heat. (Don’t we all?)
If the spirit’s in you, believers say, you aren’t bitten. And if you’re empty, spiritless, well, I guess the snake knows. It’ll bite you. Simple as that.
If I were a snake handler, I’d tell you, “Watch out. Fill yourself up.” You decide what to pour into yourself to “fill.” If I were you, though, I’d stay away from filling up with excesses of alcohol, meth, and fatty foods. There are better things, more fun things, like curiosity, creativity, play, humor, exercise, work where you find a passion, a private spiritual path.
Speaking of miracles, take Punkin Brown, the top snake handler in modern times. He believed in his miracle, snakebite after snakebite after snakebite. Then one day, he didn’t even flinch when a rattler sunk its fang into the base of his left middle finger. He died from that bite, so I guess we can’t ask him what happened to his miracles.
We can, however, believe in the power of miracles for ourselves. Snakeless ones. Think of all the coincidences in your life. Or synchronicity, which pretty much plagues me these days. What about when the unforeseen happens? Destiny. Fate. Karma. Miracle. Call it what you will, it’s better than snakebites.
I bet the odds are better, too, for miracles versus snakebites, and from my experience beating the odds, it’s often possible. Outside the practice of snake handling for religious purposes, the chances of receiving a venomous snakebite are very low. Worldwide, there are between one and two million snakebite incidents per year, and those numbers result in less than 100,000 snakebite fatalities — and remember, that’s on the entire planet. See? I’m sure that there are more miracles, or acts of destiny, fate, karma or synchronicity in the world, than snakebites.
Thought for the day: Be kind to animals, even snakes, and yes, mutts, too. Okay, be kind to everybody. In doing so, remain curious, and explore what intrigues you. Believe that good things can happen, unexpected and with no apparent reason.
What do you think? Post your comment below, or e-mail me.
This is another post for Mutts Like Me.
About mutts: Although I use this as a positive descriptive and reference to my multi-racial status, in truth, everyone is multi-ingrediented. In my view, we’re all mutts, meaning a fusion of contrasts and contradictions. If you don’t think you are, then dig deeper.
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We are at a time where we must hold ourselves accountable, as well as the people around us, if we are ever going to survive the future. We cannot just sit back and avoid taking action in life. We have a duty to love our planet and the people living on it back into the light.
What does it mean to be in the light? It means we must face our darkness and love the things we do not like. We must be willing to confront our truth and to look in the mirror, no matter how painful or uncomfortable it is. It’s time to evolve from an old state of consciousness and progress into a future awareness of love and compassion for each other. Easier said than done, I know.
If we are going to survive all that will take place on earth, we better open our awareness and connect to the divine in an honest, authentic way, free from all dogma. Religious judgment only keeps us in fear and separation from Source, the divine intellect that is without judgment and loves us unconditionally. It’s easy to believe that we are alone or unloved. It’s tempting to buy into anger or fear, hold a grudge or be upset at someone who hurt us in the past. Cutting someone off or telling them to drop dead is easy. If you think you’re evolved because you take those actions, you’re wrong. The truth is that the more challenging path is love.
People think they hear Source, but in truth they’re listening to their ego. How do I know? When Source speaks to you, it’s never easy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When you drive your car, it’s you who’s driving. You know how to navigate the roads and signs and which way to go. However, when Source drives and you are in the passenger seat, it makes you feel uneasy. You become afraid that you won’t know the roads or the signs, that it will look completely different or unknown.
Life is about taking risks. It’s about jumping off the cliff into the unknown, yet believing that you will be okay and that the journey will be an exciting adventure. All you must do is sit in the passenger seat and let Source take you where you want to go. You just have to let go and believe. There is no worrying about anything when you believe. The next time you start to worry, realize that you must have stopped believing.
In order to change our lives, we must be willing to surrender. Source, angels and spirit guides will not fight your ego, pride or belief system. They wait for you to become humble and able to receive their help. Once your walls fall down, they will assist in anything you ask. The time is now, change is all around us. All you have to do is take the first step–believe that if you get out of the driver seat and into the passenger seat of life, Source will take you on the greatest journey you ever imagined. This is possible for everyone. Be accountable, love yourself and be triumphant in all that is you.
A recent article by preeminent Jewish historian Dr. Jonathan Sarna demonstrates how, contrary to predictions, rifts between American Jewish denominations have failed to tear our community asunder — even between Orthodox and the more liberal streams — and in fact, there’s considerably more unity than anyone might have imagined a decade or two ago.
Though Dr. Sarna doesn’t mention it, perhaps part of the explanation for this lack of denominational strife is because all the movements are experiencing a trend toward greater Jewish ritual practice. Non-Orthodox Jews are rediscovering the mikvah (ritual bath), and Reform Judaism’s growing interest in ritual practice is particularly striking considering the movement’s founding rejection of such “ideas entirely foreign to our present [1880s] mental and spiritual state.”
This shift toward more ritual practice, as well as the intensified search for spirituality demonstrated by the rise in independent minyanim (prayer groups), might suggest that the greatest rift in the Jewish community is between religious Jews (of all denominations) and the non-religious, or believers versus non-believers, or perhaps between the synagogue-affiliated and the unaffiliated.
But that’s not it. There are countless ways to get deeply involved in Jewish life without having to engage in religious Judaism. Some of the community’s finest leaders are not religious at all but express their Judaism through political, social, and/or cultural activities. You don’t need to be involved religiously to be involved Jewishly.
Likewise, the biggest divide is not intermarriage, though some continue to blame the trend for creating two completely different “Jewries.” Intermarriage in and of itself doesn’t determine anything other than a diversification of our gene pool. Intermarried Jews and children of intermarriage have become Jewish philanthropists, presidents of their synagogues (when allowed to be), and dedicated Jewish communal professionals. A terrible disservice is done to the half-million to one million non-Jewish parents helping to raise Jewish children whenever our community commissions yet another study to demonstrate how different the intermarried are from the in-married. It’s a red herring.
The biggest divide in the Jewish community is between “insider” and “outsider.” And that divide is growing wider, to the point where we may see an irreparable, Arctic-ice-shelf-like drop-off in the Jewish population over the next 20 years, if we can’t find a way to better bridge the gap between the inside and out.
“Insiders” can be of any denomination, post-denominational or anti-denominational; they can be in-married, intermarried or single; heterosexual or LGBT; religious, agnostic or atheist. But what they all have in common is a deep engagement with their Jewish identity, which often (though not always) manifests itself through participation in the organized Jewish community.
“Outsiders” don’t. They aren’t involved in synagogues, JCCs, Jewish Federations, or the new organizations of Jewish expression sprouting up, and being Jewish is tangential to their overall identity. Whether it’s apathy or anger; their rejection of Judaism, or their feelings of being rejected by the Jewish community; or that they simply don’t know or don’t believe there’s any good reason for them to dig deeper, “outsiders” have weak links to their own Jewish identities.
And in general, “insiders” are moving toward more Judaism and increased expressions of Jewish identity, while “outsiders” are growing further away from the community. The middle is dropping out. Decades ago you could do nothing Jewish but still have a very strong ethnic Jewish identity, or live in an all-Jewish neighborhood and be Jewish by default; those days are gone, and to be Jewish requires many more conscious decisions than in the past.
Of course, these labels of “insider” and “outsider” are oversimplifications, as are all labels. Many Jews move in and out of engagement with their Jewish identity over time, so that most of us know what it feels like to have been both an “insider” and an “outsider” to the Jewish community at different points in our lives, sometimes even both at the same time.
Nevertheless, considering that the Jewish community has grouped individuals into categories for generations — for ease of comparison so that we might diagnose what is inevitably wrong with us — I believe “insider”/”outsider” is both the most important and least examined dichotomy in the Jewish community today. And I’m alarmed, as I work with the inside of the community, how little-recognized the phenomenon is, and how few in the community realize its magnitude. Literally millions of American Jews are headed toward the exits, and we aren’t putting nearly enough resources toward trying to convince them that it’s worth it for them to engage or re-engage.
The challenge is that so much of the inside of our community can feel so…”insidery.” To be an “insider” means, by definition, to exclude others. And yes, there are far more children of intermarriage, GLBT Jews, and multiracial Jewish families on the outside of the organized Jewish community, so any growth strategy must include providing access for specific populations. But the first step is to see our community through the eyes of our “outsiders,” which is difficult and uncomfortable for our “insiders” to do. Many “insiders” I’ve worked with believe their community is amazingly warm and welcoming, and it is — to them. They need to recognize why it’s not to those on the outside.
The Jewish community is blessed with so-called “mega-donors” who are trying to make sweeping changes to demographic trends through programs of culture and education, like free Israel trips for Jewish youth. And I am encouraged by the growing recognition that any appeal to those on the outside should not be based on the traditional Jewish tactics of fear or guilt. This is about sharing the hope and meaning that those of us on the inside have experienced, and that we know our community can provide.
However, new programs should be honest about their goals. Are they genuinely trying to engage “outsiders” in Jewish life, or are they creating new forms of Jewish expression for those already on the inside? Both goals are meritorious, but only one will address the future growth of the Jewish community. If we genuinely want to reach the “outsiders,” our programs of welcoming and engagement need to be greatly amplified and directed at all Americans, because that’s where the Jews are now. This is not an either-or proposition; we can continue to delight in the new forms of Jewish expression our young insiders are creating for themselves, but let’s also bring Judaism into the marketplace of ideas so that we can engage many more of those currently on the outside of our community.
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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.
All the authentic mystical traditions tell us that the cosmos is a Sacred Marriage of seeming opposites, such as: spirit and body, light and matter, good and evil, masculine and feminine, the transcendent aspect of the divine and its immanent embodiment. They also tell us that the purpose of being born a human being is to become conscious in the illumined mind, awakened heart and soul, and increasingly peaceful and vibrant body of this Sacred Marriage, so as to be flooded with its peace, bliss and power. With this energy, we are able to access and act with unconditional compassion and wisdom.
One of the reasons why we wrote “Heart Yoga” is to express our conviction that it is this vision of the Sacred Marriage that can rescue humanity from its tragic paralysis in the face of world devastation. Experiencing this union of apparent dualities can heal us from the split that is aiding and abetting this devastation–our dissociation from the body, from the Creation and from the experience of divine love as our true essence.
Yoga can be a powerful healer of this dissociation because of its popularity, fundamental simplicity and availability to people of all ages and body types. When remarried to its ancient mystical roots and to the vision of divine consciousness which is enshrined in all mystical traditions, yoga provides a wonderfully direct and potent crucible for the experience of the Sacred Marriage of spirit and body, and for the subtle transformation of the whole being that it unfolds.
To that end, we have constructed our book, “Heart Yoga,” as an initiatory journey into the vision of the Sacred Marriage that anyone with devotion, faith and the willingness to explore their inner experience can pursue. They will feel the heartfelt embrace of all aspects of this earthly life that the Sacred Marriage inspires.
This vision that we present is not at all esoteric or complicated, but is in fact, extremely clear and practical. Since the universe is a Sacred Marriage in its essential reality, there is within every human being a latent consciousness aware of this liberating truth which is waiting to be awakened joyfully to its ecstatic and empowering reality.
“Heart Yoga” is designed to help us all remember what somewhere we all already know: that we are a Sacred Marriage of spirit and matter, masculine and feminine, light and dark, mind and heart, body and soul. The more we experience, remember and practice this, the more our ordinary life, in even its most mundane circumstance, reveals itself as a constant unfolding of grace and fountain of subtle miracle. This realization brings a cessation of stress, increasing release from anxiety, a profound desire to celebrate life, and a deepening gratitude for all that is and all that lives.
Invigorated, refreshed and restored by this great joy that slowly awakens in us, we can meet difficulties with our full powers intact, and endure disappointments, defeats and ordeals with growing grace. Since it now appears that the human race is going into the storm of a crisis that will determine either its extinction or survival, a simple daily discipline that connects us with the basic truth of the universe, and the energy it releases in the core of our being, is crucial.
It is in dedication to helping the human race live, thrive and work for peace and justice from the core of this joy, that we offer “Heart Yoga.” It is one of the universally available, essential ways of bringing order out of chaos, light out of darkness, grace out of turmoil, peace out of torment, and focused clarity out of the maelstrom of bewildering change in our world today.
I had a major epiphany a few weeks ago while playing with our family’s chocolate toy poodle, Leroy Brown. I realized that he’s just trying to be happy. Sometimes when he’s trying to be happy, he makes me happy — like when I go to the grocery store and come back and he acts like he hasn’t seen me for weeks. He’s so excited to see me that he jumps up on me and we just really have a love-off and have fun together. Other times, when he’s just trying to be happy he is annoying to me — like when he’s already eaten his meal and my wife and I are trying to eat ours. He comes to the edge of the table and whines and barks as if to say, “what about me … I want your food too!” It may seem obvious, but it is now clear to me that he is actually not trying to annoy us at all — that is not his intention.
When we see and feel life from somebody else’s point of view, I think we can realize that for the most part other people are just trying to be happy in their own life in their own way. Sometimes their pursuit aligns with our own happiness, sometimes it is kind of neutral to us and sometimes it appears to be diametrically opposed to our own experience of well-being.
But it seems that it is actually very rare indeed that other’s motivation is to make us miserable and that, conversely, it is rarely our intention to make somebody else miserable. We are usually just trying to make ourselves happy (whether we are good at that or not is another story), and other beings are trying to make themselves happy. It is so simple when you look at it that way.
Sometimes it can be very productive, especially in a difficult situation, to actually switch perspectives and see from the other person’s (being’s) point of view. What does the situation look like to them? This switch in perspective is the basis for developing empathy. Some people are naturally good at it (like a diplomat or a social worker), and for some of us it can be quite a leap.
There is a Buddhist practice called “exchanging oneself for others” that is intended to cultivate compassion and empathy — in Tibetan it’s called “tonglen.” As we breathe in, we bring into ourselves that which is difficult, problematic and upsetting from the other person — everything we wish we could get rid of. As we breathe out, we send them every good quality — openness, clarity, affection, peace — everything we would like to hold onto.
Tonglen is an outrageous practice in that it reverses our normal tendency to include only that which is comfortable and easy and to exclude anything that is challenging or difficult. The result is that we open ourselves further, our heart and mind, and allow for a wider range of what we are willing to include and work with in our lives. Ultimately, this particular meditation is liberating for the person actually practicing tonglen, but due to a possible shift in our attitude it can also benefit others.
Beyond practicing tonglen, we can try to allow our mind to open further and take the shape of the other person’s mind. This is full-blown empathy, extreme tonglen in a sense. You can feel their walk, their body language, their energy, their breath, what their hair must feel like, their glasses, their anxiety, their wisdom, their suffering, their confusion, their brilliance, their hopes and fears. Of course, parents do this for their children sometimes without even knowing it. I remember watching my son Ethan in Little League getting a hit and rounding first — the full rush of excitement, nervous about making it to second base — no, better stay with a single and be victorious!
Of course that brings up the issue of adding our own projections onto the feeling of actually “becoming” the other person — imposing our own hopes, fears, anxieties etc. Parents are also famous for that as well. So the idea is to become the other person, filter out your projections to the best of your ability and then just come back into being yourself. You might see the situation somewhat differently at that point!
Your thoughts, comments?
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By Deepak Chopra and Annie Bond.
Law of Least Effort
The fourth spiritual law of success is the Law of Least Effort. This law is based on the fact that nature’s intelligence functions with effortless ease and abandoned carefreeness. This is the principle of least action, of no resistance. This is, therefore, the principle of harmony and love. When we learn this lesson from nature, we easily fulfill our desires.
In Vedic Science, the age-old philosophy of India, this principle is known as the principle of economy of effort, or “do less and accomplish more.” Ultimately you come to the state where you do nothing and accomplish everything.
–Adapted from The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, by Deepak Chopra (Amber-Allen Publishing and New World Library, 2004).
Easy, Smart Cleaning
There is myth that cleaning with natural materials takes more elbow grease. Baking soda is an incredible cleaner if you dampen it and let it set on, say, the dirty bottom of the oven overnight. It does its work on grease and grime while you are sleeping, thereby taking no elbow grease at all! If it didn’t work it is because you didn’t leave it on long enough. “Smart” cleaning further means to choose the least toxic approach and also to see if you can reduce the need to clean. For example, you will wash the floor less often if you have a doormat to collect mud from shoes.
–Adapted from Better Basics for the Home, by Annie B. Bond (Three Rivers Press, 1999).
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By Deepak Chopra and Annie B. Bond.
When mind, body, and spirit are in harmony, happiness is the natural result. Signs of the absence of harmony, on the other hand, are discomfort, pain, depression, anxiety, and illness in general. Unhappiness is a form of feedback. It signals that disharmony has entered the field somewhere–either in mind, body, or spirit. Awareness has become disconnected. Only when we look at the situation in this holistic way can we link health, wholeness, and holiness, for all three share the same root word, and all three share the same state of harmony or disharmony.
Adapted from The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2009).
The deepest gratification in living a less toxic way of life is that our health is protected from unnecessary chemical overload. Our bodies are under less stress and home is a haven, a natural sanctuary, a place to fully rest and recuperate. The quality of our lives is improved. In addition to causing cancer, many synthetic chemicals affect our central nervous systems, and that can leave us cranky, irritable, or with a headache. By contrast, fresh, clean air renews and rejuvenates, improving our well-being.
Adapted from Better Basics for the Home, by Annie B. Bond (Three Rivers Press, 1999).
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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.”