Evolution isn’t just possible, it’s mandatory

When we make a New Year’s resolution, we are asking ourselves to evolve. Sometimes the agents driving this desire for change are shame, guilt, and remorse. Although understandable, these change drivers are seldom effective, and are usually counter-productive.

Sometimes we wish to be more desirable as a sexual partner, so we seek to improve ourselves physically. Sometimes we wish to shed “bad” habits, to lessen self-suffering, to become better people. These wishes are not in and of themselves wrong, they are usually motivated by the ego, childishly wishing for some instant change of identity, often emulating a media figure with a manufactured image. When we inevitably fall short, we feel worse, and believe ourselves (erroneously) incapable of evolution. We give up.

Suppose our goal is to have a meditation practice. We have heard others praise the virtues of consistent meditation. We may get the idea in our heads that we already know how meditation is done, so we sit down on a hard mat, or on the floor itself, back unsupported, and try to imitate a lotus posture. We close our eyes and try to think deep “spiritual” thoughts. We can’t keep it up long, before irreverent and worldly concerns interrupt our reverie with loud and relentless chatter. We have failed. We have once again proven ourselves beyond redemption. This meditation idea is definitely not for us. Shame, guilt, and remorse have won again.

If we keep seeking, we may eventually be fortunate enough to discover that meditation techniques are not magic, they are natural and easy, when entered into with a sincere and humble spirit. All we need to admit is that we don’t know. We become teachable. Then a sufficient teacher will appear.

Repetition of the mantra helps you disconnect from the thoughts filling your mind so that perhaps you may slip into the gap between thoughts. The mantra is a tool to support your meditation practice. Mantras can be viewed as ancient power words with subtle intentions that help us connect to spirit, the source of everything in the universe.

Deepak Chopra


Into the Unknown

This is where all growth occurs

Evolution happens. We are going to grow. Our level of willingness to embrace this fact can create an atmosphere of resistance and fear, or of ease. The choice is always ours.

A life changing event, such as a move, can generate stress and anxiety in some individuals. It can create an overwhelming reaction of panic when one sees the coming logistics and required number of tasks as a monolithic block, impossible to tackle. This is obviously not the most effective approach to take.

An easier and more accurate view of the event is to a series of smaller, more manageable tasks that are performed in the now, without struggling with the overview. One can use knowledge of the "bigger picture" to keep oneself on track, but each sub-task is much more enjoyable when full attention and presence is devoted to it. The work gets done more completely, more easily, without fretting over speculation and self-recrimination.

How is this presence possible? We meditate regularly. We spend our time in positive action rather than getting mired in speculative fantasy. It is possible to enjoy even the most seemingly mundane task when we perform it with full commitment and deliberation.

The joy of work well done is nature's gift to us, and our gift to the world and ourselves.

When you are present without the conditioning of your past you become the presence of God.
-Eckhart Tolle

Thanks to our teachers

Waiting for moonlight, Ashland, Oregon

Waiting for moonlight, Ashland, Oregon

Happy Guru Purnima!

It is the peak of the lunar cycle in the Hindu month of Ashada (June-July). It is Guru Purnima, a day set aside to give thanks to our teachers. Today we drink strong chai, eat sweets, and walk in the full moonlight, all the while thinking of those who have inspired us along our spiritual journey.

In the worldview of the Veda, we realize that our teachers are all revered spiritual leaders as well as those circumstances, both good and seemingly bad, that lead us down the path to enlightenment. A teacher can also be a fellow traveller on life's highway, one from whom we learn a useful lesson.

Meditation, practiced daily and diligently, leads us to an awareness that our entire existence in these bodies on this planet is for learning and evolving. Therefore, our celebration of Guru Purnima becomes an acknowledgement of ourselves as eternal students, and hopefully brings a sense of gratitude for this awareness.

Have a walk in the full moon this evening and enjoy the beauty and bounty of consciousness!

Veda Vyāsa, divider of the Vedas, was believed to be an embodiment of Vishnu. He wrote the Indian classic Mahābhārata, which contains The Bhagavad Gita. This day is said to commemorate his birthday, sometime close to 5000 years ago.

Ved Vyasa

Ved Vyasa

Accidental openness

Bare locus branches, winter, Los Angeles

Bare locus branches, winter, Los Angeles

Call it a boon. Call it grace.

It only seems evident in retrospect. Before I found meditation, I only had the tools of self-will to power my life. Since I was only able to identify with my thoughts and feelings, I was acting only out of ego gratification. If my ego was displeased with any aspect of my life, I judged that situation to be untenable, unendurable. I was doomed to live a sad life, lonely, and angry with the universe and my fellow travelers in it.

But in spite of my warped world view, I made one or two decisions that turned out to be prescient and wise. Where was this guidance coming from? Certainly not from my ego. In spite of the negative bent of my view of the world and the culture I was born into, despite the prevalence of unhealthy examples around me, I made the choice to become vegetarian at around twenty years of age.

At age twenty five, I started practicing yoga. Los Angeles was not the overt marketplace of all things eastern that it later became, and I had to tape Richard Hittleman's yoga instruction programs off of KCET, a local PBS affiliate. I practiced alone, told no one, and managed to become more and more proficient. I later let the practice go, but I never forgot the asanas. When I resumed decades later, it all came back.

Then about ten years ago, I met the man who taught me to meditate. I knew that I did not know how to do it, and that he did. I paid him to teach me. Although it seemed like a large amount of money at that stage of my life, I know now that it was the bargain of a lifetime.

I don't feel like I made these choices. I feel these choices made me. No amount of money could dissuade me from continuing these habitual actions.

Where did I get the willingness to set aside my ego and take on these seemingly risky practices? The only answer that makes sense to me now is that I became open to a higher power's direction and ignored the pressures of the prevailing culture to conform.

In retrospect I can clearly see the guiding hand of a loving God.

This season, let's strive to not take our own emotional temperature too much. Let us look outward toward our fellows, put their happiness before our own. Let us be open to the joys of anonymous giving.

"Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."

Francis Bernadone, (St. Francis) 1204, Italy.

The (seemingly) Mundane

Morning light, living room.

Morning light, living room.

What lens are you looking through?

Imagine yourself walking a city street. You have a simple errand to perform. Go here, get this thing, and return. Depending on your world view, it can be an enjoyable and adventurous task or a nightmare.

In scenario one, the adventurous task, you start off with simple gratitude that you can walk. You may even encounter a fellow human that is elderly, stooped over, barely crossing the light in time, having a relatively rough go of it. Or you may notice someone who has given up on the idea of walking, circling for an empty parking space in their car, frustrated and agitated.

You, on the other hand, have the energy and strength of limb to point yourself in a direction and get there. You may not always be so abled. Old age, disease, injury or other circumstances could to hamper your ability to be a city pedestrian. Do you feel smug in your blessings and move on? No, you start to notice that the old woman walking in the crosswalk is doing so in good humor, trying her best. You smile at her and assist her up on that difficult last curb step. She thanks you, and you have a short, pleasant exchange.

Both you and she have an excellent shot at having a good day because of the lens you have chosen to view the world through.

In scenario two, the nightmare, you are resentful, distracted, worrying about some aspect of your existence you find vexing. You expect others you encounter to understand your impatience, you sigh with resignation, grit your teeth and persevere. This light takes forever! You find yourself punching the walk button with more force than necessary. That woman turning out of the driveway doesn't see you, she almost runs you over. You notice with a certain perverse satisfaction that she is illegally talking on her cell phone. See? The world is going to hell in a hand basket. This city is annoying, and it is only going to get worse. When you are expected to wait your turn in a line, you roll your eyes and tap your foot. Don't they know you have better things to do than this?

You return exhausted, depleted. Your mission to wrest personal satisfaction from this world is a disaster. Perhaps you'll have better luck tomorrow.

Scenario one highlights a sense of oneness with humanity, with the flow of nature. Scenario two focuses on separation, on lack, on competition.

The choice of which lens to use is always yours to make.

I am a light junkie. I am always cognizant of the quality of light nature provides and the wonderful way it plays with my mood. For all of its apparent faults, the city displays never ending subtly shifting light. When I notice this and honor this, even the most snarled up traffic situation or blighted urban surroundings have qualities that I can appreciate.

Boat on the Ganges, Vrindavan, India.

Boat on the Ganges, Vrindavan, India.