Cedar Breaks, Southern Utah

Cedar Breaks, Southern Utah

The ever-repeating known

We often opt for what we know. To our ego, it seems the most easy, safe way to proceed toward any given goal. Instead of choosing a new path, we take the one we are most familiar with.

The problem with this approach is that, if we look at the record, it does not work. If we stay where we are, we are embodying the consciousness of the static, the stable, that which does not evolve. The ego takes comfort in the familiar and comes up with a myriad of reasons why we must not risk forward movement.

We heat our houses, we dress warmly, we refrain from challenging ourselves physically. We tend to choose familiar foods, activities, pleasures. We re-read the same books. Why does this not bring us happiness?

Because we are not built to behave this way. Advances in knowledge in neuroplasticity indicate that stroke victims who have suffered brain damage are able to recover more quickly and completely when they are challenged to learn new activities, to go outside their "comfort zones," and to engage the world without a safety net. This new brain activity actually forms new neural pathways. Slight activity variations are more effective than rote repetition in achieving this result. Taking bold action towards unknown activity is even better.

When we make it a habit to avoid the habitual, we are rewarded with a refreshed and renewed experience of existence. Let's challenge ourselves, even by starting small. Take the long way home. Turn this corner instead of that. Pay attention to nature whenever we feel the urge to go on autopilot.

Nature will reward our bravery every time.

“Great people do things before they're ready. ”
-Amy Poehler

Bristlecone Pine, Southern Utah

Bristlecone Pine, Southern Utah

Using creative energy

Ridge on Fryman Trail

Ridge on Fryman Trail

The inexhaustible supply

We are meant to be creative. This does not mean we all have the same chances to be so. We don't all have access to the same resources. Some of us are lucky to have been encouraged by parents or teachers. Some of us were given the gift of a strong desire to create at an early age.

Are we Mozart or are we Salieri? Mozart showed an immense talent while quite young. His raw talent was undeniable. Salieri, on the other hand, was not as naturally gifted. He had to employ every other talent he had in business, in manipulation, and in political savvy to curry favor with his patrons and secure his job as a court composer. At the time of his death, Mozart was penniless, unsung and, for the most part, unrecognized. Salieri was very popular with the wealthy patrons of Vienna.

Yet today, Mozart is recognized as an artistic genius of the highest caliber. Salieri, while his compositional efforts are respectable, and by no means without quality, is not even thought of in the same class as Mozart.

Are these comparisons useful or fair? Not really. Each man had different skills, and employed them in service to the same end: the glory and elevation of the art form.

We can be effective in the application of our own creative energies as Mozart was, by enabling and encouraging ourselves to continue to learn, to strive for improvement, and to create for the sheer joy of doing so. Whether we create a sumptuous meal for our loved ones, write our deepest feelings down in a poem, or design a garden plot, we enjoy ourselves and leave the world a better place for having done so.

When we meditate, we plow the ground. We then can choose the seeds we plant. We discover inner space that can be filled with our creativity.

It is our birthright, and it is our dharma. 

When we go to the well regularly, do we risk depleting a finite supply? As it turns out, no. We fill ourselves with abundant adaptation energy, and then use it generously for the benefit of others, which in turn helps us. In this way we ensure our inner resources will continue to flow.

Well, Cal State Channel Islands Campus

Well, Cal State Channel Islands Campus

What did Jesus teach?

Is the kingdom of heaven within us?

Regardless of their differences, most religions have a great deal in common. The idea that God has three main properties: Omnipotence (all powerful). Omnipresence (everywhere at once). Omniscience (all knowing).

If God has these qualities, it follows that we as individuals are part of his creation, too. We have it within us to exemplify the best version of ourselves, to embody the Christ's vision of God's will on earth.

Are there any of Jesus' actual words that say God favors one group of people over another? Or that it is permissible or desirable to act violently in judgement against others in his name? He does not say this. He does say to love thy enemy as thyself. He does say to "judge not, lest you yourself be judged."

He does not demand empty actions or gestures of us. He does not promise special favors in the afterlife for a chosen few.

In this season when Jesus's birth is celebrated, even those among us who do not formally follow the teachings of an established Christian sect can learn so much from his words, from his very spiritual presence in our own hearts. We need be careful not to conflate his teachings with other questionable intentions his professed followers have added posthumously. If we stick to what Jesus said, his message is in no way antithetical to the ancient Vedic principles we in the meditation community study.

Regardless of your spiritual orientation or your professed faith (or lack of faith), I wish you peace, and hope that your heaven becomes uncovered to you as it will to all beings in time.

Go with God. Jai Guru Deva.

If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love,
I have become sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
Corinthians 13:1-13

Choose what is good for me wherever it is, and make me pleased with it.
Prophet Muhammad - 7th century

May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.
Ancient Tibetan buddhist meditation

When I despair,
I remember that all through history
the ways of truth and love have always won.
There have been tyrants, and murderers,
and for a time they can seem invincible,
but in the end they always fall.

Think of it - always.
Mahatma Gandhi - early 20th century

Creativity and Responsibility

Creation, Maintenance, and Destruction.

It appears that our purpose here is pretty simple, and can be expressed in a list of two:

1. Create.
2. Love ourselves and all others.

Actually, we can omit list entry one, because it is a subset of list entry two. Because of the way we are made, we seem happiest when we are creative. Maintenance does not make us happy; it just keeps the status quo going. It is based on fear: the fear of losing something we have, or of not getting something we want. 

Maintenance is the necessary act of carrying out the practical aspects of one’s life. It includes our jobs, our chores, our domestic duties. Neglect of these tasks can lead to great discomfort and eventually, suffering. But they are not our primary purpose and rarely reward us with joy.

Joy comes to us as a result of creativity. The act of planning and planting a garden, the preparation of opening a small business, writing the script for the movie we long to see, creating a song where there had been silence, preparing a sumptuous meal for family or friends, these are all creative pursuits. 

We can engage in destruction when it becomes necessary to clear space for new growth or to dismantle that which has lived on past its “use-by” date. This sort of occasionally appropriate action rarely results in happiness. If it becomes habitual, destruction can result in wreckage to ourselves and to others around us that will need to be dealt with later at great cost.

One of the keys to a happier existence is to engage the creative instinct in all aspects of daily life. 

If I have a maintenance task to do, say, balancing my checkbook, and I become fully present and aware while doing it, it is enjoyable. If I insist on “multitasking,” such as carrying on one task while planning another, I will perform both badly. 

If I engage in necessary destruction, I also need to give it my full attention and make sure the seductive aspects of it don’t hold my ego hostage. I need to maintain a compassionate and mindful stance in the presence of a destruction operator.

Our daily meditation practice makes all of this discernment possible.

Reliable discernment powers require that we not depend on the murky wishes of the ego. We want to see clearly and be prepared to act decisively and compassionately.


Chuck Close exhibit, Schneider Museum of Art, Ashland, Oregon.

Chuck Close exhibit, Schneider Museum of Art, Ashland, Oregon.

Letting go of resentments

We sometimes hold onto our resentments as though they are precious jewels or defining characteristics of our essence. Defining ourselves in opposition to our "enemies" is a simple shorthand, a convenient shortcut. But does it really work? Does it sometimes cause more harm than good?

Our old overreaching friend, the ego, has a vested interest in keeping us tethered to this habit of opposition and conflict. If you feel bad for any reason, the ego has an infinite number of explanations for this, and will gladly catalog them for you. 
"You feel bad? You should. You ARE bad. Let me tell you why."
"Maybe it's the company you keep. So and so is a bastard. I've always told you that."
"Yeah, well, you may be bad, but at least you're not as bad as he is. Here's a list of reasons you should be keeping your distance."
"Why should you forgive anyone? Aren't YOU the one who's been hurt?"
The little secret your ego knows but isn't telling is this: one cannot simultaneously hold onto resentment and feel love. Ego holds out to us the promise of someday love.
"You may someday be worthy of love if you just act right. I will help you."
"So and so may love you one day if you only became rich enough to buy that car. Better get to work."
"That famous reality TV star you admire got plastic surgery. Maybe a facelift and a butt implant will increase your lovability."
The truth is, we cannot feel the "love" that others give us. We are not built that way. We feel love when we bring it to the relationship. We can only experience love from a position of fulfillment. This is why people (sometimes) change their selfish ways when they become parents. For the first time in their lives, they hear the tug of nature to love, unconditionally, another being. As they give this love, they benefit from the experience. This is as it should be.
Now, forgiveness does not necessarily benefit the person we are forgiving. They may never have been made aware of our antipathy toward them. But we will definitely feel it. The untreated resentment we feel will poison its host body, creating stress and disease for us. Forgiveness frees us from this malady. Jesus knew it, and told us so. He told us to go to the most unthinkable lengths to avoid the ills borne of hatred toward our fellows. He said, "turn the other cheek."
The willingness we show towards others in this moment is the love we seek to feel and the only love we are designed to experience. This is not a state of thinking that comes easily. Is comes as the result of diligent practice with tools that we can acquire. One of these tools is meditation.
In meditation, we continuously practice the act of letting go, of surrendering to what is happening. This is remarkably similar to the act of forgiveness. If we can let go of the ego's need to control, we may be able to let go of the impulse of going to our grave being right and the dubious benefit of feeling self-righteous.

We learn to let go, and we evolve.

If we observe nature without the need to control its outcomes, we can see love at work. In admiring and emulating the creator's handiwork, we can more completely realize our own fulfillment.

Wildflower, North Mountain Park, Ashland, Oregon

Wildflower, North Mountain Park, Ashland, Oregon