DAWN OF THE NEW YEAR

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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

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Emotional Stability

“If our emotional stability is based on what other people do or do not do, then we have no stability. If our emotional stability is based on love that is changeless and unalterable, then we attain the stability of God.” 
― Marianne Williamson

Is it within our reach?

Where do our emotions come from? They are mysterious to us, arriving out of nowhere, like a tsunami. They overwhelm us and capsize our normal behavioral functions. We become unable to predict our actions, and we feel lost.

Then we open ourselves to a new meditative practice. Almost instantly we become aware that the mysterious emotions we possess are not so mysterious after all. They are the result ofSamscara, sanskrit for "the ruts of the mind." We have an associative experience with some aspect of an emotional scar from long ago. The entire trauma replays in our mind and body uncontrollably. If we are able to observe this experience dispassionately and not become overwhelmed, we can see that nothing in the present is really happening. We are treating ourselves to an emotional bummer over something long past, nothing appropriate for the present moment.

After we have been meditating awhile, the samscara softens gradually, and we are able to heal old scars. Not only that, but new experiences tend not to wound us in the same way. Our ego has lost some of its control over our inner narrative, and we see things in a different light.

We have demonstrated to ourselves and to our ego that we don't have to succumb to overreaction and drama. We can step around the puddles in our path because we see them clearly. Although we will occasionally slip, and have old habitual negative reactions to life's ups and downs, these incidents are less intense and frequent than before.

We can have emotional stability and even happiness. We will discover that these are our birthright.

Unity Points

Our connections to each other

Winning at all costs. It permeates our social culture, embodies a philosophy that is at odds with all things spiritual, even our own happiness. How can we justify feelings of empathy, love, and togetherness, when all that is coming at us through the media and through our leaders embodies the opposite?

We can search for unity points. We don't have to look far. We already have an internal compass with a foolproof mechanism that enables us to discern the way of conflict from the way of peace. Do I feel myself tightening and preparing for a fight? That is a red flag to look for a unity point with the other person. When a conflict is unavoidable, how can I influence the outcome to be more "frictionless"? Can I avoid ratcheting up the drama, foregoing whatever dubious satisfaction I might receive by doing so?

The answer is yes. Always.

We can start by asking ourselves what we are in conflict with. If it is, in fact, an aspect of ourselves we dislike, are we not engaging in hypocrisy? We are condemning a person for behaving as we do. We are forgiving ourselves and damning them. This is patently unfair.

We can extend the hand of understanding, acknowledge that we share similar unifying traits, and go from there. When another person is not an "other," but a brother or sister, it becomes a pleasure to learn more about them. If they are belligerent, we can withdraw, refusing to feed their conflict energy. If a conflict is inevitable, we can enter it with compassion, making the encounter short and decisive.

Unity is not about connecting two separate things. It is about uncovering that which is temporarily hidden, the underlying oneness.

I don't like that man. I must get to know him better.
Abraham Lincoln

The Gentle art of Consistency

Try again, and again, and again

When we learned meditation, our teacher said something like: "There is only one thing about this practice that is non-negotiable. Twenty minutes, twice a day, get to the chair. Whatever happens, happens for good." 

In that moment, our teachers were stressing that we are not encouraged to judge the quality of our meditations. The emphasis was to be taken off of achievement. We were to simply sit with the intention to effortlessly repeat the mantra.

Inevitably though, a student will forget these simple instructions and try to complicate things. This is when repeated interaction with one's teacher is of most use. This can be in a group setting, at a Vedic knowledge meeting, or one-on-one meeting with the teacher, even by telephone or skype. It is recommended to check in with others that meditate and compare notes.

As a teacher of Vedic meditation, I have made a commitment to each of my students to be available for life. They can call at any time, and I will address their questions or concerns. It is my pleasure and my dharma to do so.

If you have learned to meditate and feel that you need a restart, don't feel ashamed. Just call, and your teacher will give you some gentle but insistent instruction on how to get going again. We all fall short at times; we would hardly be human if we didn't. When this happens we simply try again.

We refer to meditation as a practice, not a perfect.

“It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It's what we do consistently.” 
― Anthony Robbins

Self Forgiveness

Southwest view of the Siskiyou Mountains, Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon.

Southwest view of the Siskiyou Mountains, Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon.

Why I took four months off

I recently made the non-decision to abandon my duties as a blogger and newsletter writer. This can happen to us humans. I wanted to offer my readers real and tangible help and inspiration in the wake of a divisive and polarizing political election. I chose to let my ego hijack a worthy endeavor instead of reaching out to my friends and students. The reasons are these: perfectionism and procrastination.

Perfectionism
The illusion of perfection is seductive and pervasive. This is the slippery slope upon which the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. This is the reason some of us abandon our creative goals and duties and engage in unhealthy wallowing and self-recrimination.

Procrastination
If I don't acknowledge fully that a situation exists, I get the dubious benefit of stasis. I enter into the ever-repeating known, putting off even the slightest progress toward a desired outcome. If I try, I might fail. What does this say about me? Why do I waste time justifying my own behavior?

The Apology
Here it is. I really do appreciate anyone who takes the time to read these newsletters. It is my commitment going forward to knock them out on a regular basis. I fell off the horse. Now I am riding again. I extend my most sincere apologies and pledge to make amends by taking corrective action.

When we fall short, as humans do, we try again. The only sins we are guilty of are lack of forgiveness and the punishment of inertia.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.” 
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

The Mosaic House, Venice, California

The Mosaic House, Venice, California

The Journey of Leymah Gbowee

Trauma healing, peace-building

We have abundant potential within us, and all of nature to guide us as we navigate through the world.

Leymah Gbowee was seventeen when the First Liberian Civil War broke out in 1989. As a native of Liberia, she suffered major privations and hardships at the hand of brutal soldiers from Samuel Doe's ruling government, only to face worse conditions at the hand of former government minister Charles Taylor, who ousted him. She survived as a refugee, fleeing to Ghana when rebel forces took the city of Monrovia. Her family scattered, and her home looted and destroyed, she was witness to countless atrocities at a very young age. She married a serial abuser and bore four children. The abuse she suffered at his hand informed her later activism and led directly to honing her skills as a social worker and Women's Rights advocate.

Trauma healing
Leymah volunteered at a program at St. Peter's Lutheran Church called the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program (THRP). They were tasked with repairing the country's considerable collective psyche of damage caused by the war. One of Gbowee's first assignments was working with children who had been employed as soldiers in Charles Taylor's army. These boys, some as young as five, had been forced to carry and use weapons. They were taught to murder, to take alcohol and drugs, and to recruit others. It was in the process of helping these seemingly hopeless boys learn to heal that Gbowee formulated what she later used as the basis for political change. She realized if change were to come to Liberia, it would be at the hands of its women.

Peace-building
Gbowee later joined WIPNET, an acronym for Women in Peacebuilding Network. She led a contingent of Liberians from all classes to fragile peace talks in Ghana, which had bogged down in the egotistical torpor of the exclusively male leaders. She staged a sit in blocking the glass doors of the exclusive hotel's meeting room. The protestors held signs declaring "Butchers and murderers of the Liberian people - STOP!" Leymah passed a note in to the head mediator General Akubar, former president of Nigeria. She stated her intention to link arms with her compatriots, holding the delegates hostage until an agreement had been reached. Gbowee and her partners stayed on site for days. Weeks later, the war ended.

Leymah Gbowee pioneered the modern-day version of the ancient custom of openly sharing with a group the traumas one has suffered in war. She discovered that the deep sense of shame these women all carried kept them isolated, impotent, and demoralized. When she was first tasked with building a coalition of women across religious, tribal, and class differences, she had to appeal to their commonality, to their unity. She succeeded, and it was the women of Liberia that turned the tide and won the peace. I recommend her excellent memoir Mighty Be Our Powers.

Be like Gbowee.

Don't feed the trolls

Sunset rendering

Sunset rendering

Living and dying by social media

I like Facebook. I check in with friends from all the periods of my life, sending mazletov to my old bandmate who just got married in Brooklyn, sending happy Diwali messages to my friends in India. Birthdays are great now, both giving and receiving. I can learn facts about dear friends that I may not otherwise know, like their losing a parent or recovering from cancer.

What I don't find so charming about Facebook are political posts. They can be divisive and insular. I may gravitate to those whose views I already agree with. This is counterproductive to a loving, inclusive Vedic worldview.

And then there are the trolls.

I let my guard down and posted a response to a news story. The tone of my post was less than friendly. It generated an almost instant response of astonishing vitriol and anger from those who apparently disagreed. The tone of these responses was so toxic and insulting that I laughed. It seemed like an atom bomb explosion in retaliation to a peashooter. I posted a single response: "Whee!"

I did a little research and discovered that trolls lie in wait, using key words in search engines. This includes publicly shared content on social media. The key words or phrases they are searching for identify the user as being from a target demographic. That demographic identifies the target as liberal, feminist, animal rights defender, or environmentalist, or any combination thereof. When the troll gets a hit, they go to work, unleashing a torrent of abuse on comments pages. This serves to discourage free expression by people they disagree with, and gives them a chance to vent anger and get attention (albeit negative) from an audience.

Sometimes these trolls are paid by partisan idealogues and corporations with a "culture war" axe to grind. In my instance, I was lucky. Facebook has excellent blocking options. Also my one word response dampened the enthusiasm of the trolls. The torrent stopped immediately. I didn't engage them the way they wanted, which was to offer a counter-argument. I went about my day, suffering very little from the negative energies on display, and I learned a valuable lesson.

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.
Proverbs, New American Standard Bible

“Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker's game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.” 
― Neal Stephenson, 
Cryptonomicon

Balance is elusive

Sunset, Rogue Valley, Oregon

Sunset, Rogue Valley, Oregon

Until it's not

Do you remember the first time you successfully rode a bicycle? One moment it seemed impossible, and you thought you could do nothing but fail. Suddenly there was a shift, and you were up and riding. Everything clicked, and it seemed as though you would never return to that state of "failure" again. What actually happened at that moment? Was the "you" that was failing really you, or was it only a part of the whole you, mistakenly trying to run the whole show? 

Our ego tries to convince us that it is all that we are. It claims ownership. It assigns blame. It sees any expansion of our resources as a threat to its own dominance. It parsed the bike riding experience as too hard, as impossible to achieve. Better give up and retreat, licking our wounds. Then our instinct kicks in, and we find an effortless, frictionless balance. We fearlessly move forward with confidence.

The ego is a busy little bee. There is seemingly no end to the machinations it will use to distract us from any task that threatens change or growth. Yet it will fold in any fight if we stand firm in our resolve.

When we learned to meditate, the ego had a little bit to say about it. Luckily we did not listen.

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” 
― Rumi, The Essential Rumi

Moonrise, Guru Purnima, Studio City, California

Moonrise, Guru Purnima, Studio City, California