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

Solstice. Time to get dark.

Sunset, Fryman, Los Angeles

Sunset, Fryman, Los Angeles

The underlying message of the season

We are speeding toward the year's end. As the available sunlight wanes, we are evolutionarily programmed to seek the light of each other's company, to nest, to huddle with family and loved ones. Unfortunately we live in a consumerist culture where this natural cyclical instinct is diverted to a sense of lack. Perhaps we don't have access to the loved ones society says we should have. Maybe our families are less of an ideal "safe haven" and more of a showcase for frustration and dysfunction.

Advertising images feed on this sense of lack and promise an answer in exchange for money. With the right BMW as a gift, surely she will love me. If I just drink Canard-Duchêne with my friends, we can't fail to have fun. If I have a simple, frugal, and modest holiday season, it points to my failure as a human being.

We can ignore such self-defeating messages, and get down to the fundamental actions that increase happiness: giving. To give of the fulfillment that nature has already given me, but I have ignored. This does not mean a BMW, it means a smile. Rather than the spirits in a champagne bottle, I can share encouragement, comfort, and ease with my friends. Rather than spending five dollars on a peppermint latte, I can give a five dollar bill to the shivering homeless woman in the bank alcove next to Peet's Coffee.

I can ask the beleaguered checker at the market how his day is going. When he answers, I can listen. Then I can extend this generosity to my family, forgiving them their shortcomings, taking less, giving more. I can be more forgiving of myself, resolving to not beat myself up. We are all trying the best we can to evolve and be better humans, but some don't have resources to do so easily.

From this new vantage point, it becomes possible to enjoy the solstice, to revel in the temporary darkness, to become an ally of the returning light.

"The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us."
— Black Elk (1863-1950)

Learning, then choosing action

Laurelhurst Park, Portland, Oregon

Laurelhurst Park, Portland, Oregon

How to evolve by shifting priorities

A close friend once had to establish communication with a family member whose relationship had become difficult. He went to his mentor and asked for advice. The advice was simple: "Have the conversation you will be proud of when you are eighty."

Suddenly my friend was no longer so concerned about establishing his point of view, convincing anyone of a behavioral change, or "having his way." He was no longer after short term goals. He was now playing the long game.

When we realize the precious nature of our tenuous and temporary relationships with others, the tone we take when conversing with them will necessarily change. It becomes easier for us to see from a more loving vantage point. While it can seem very important to have a desired outcome in any given interaction (winning the other person over), it can cause long term damage to that relationship.

When we realize that everyone is evolving at their own pace, and that others are doing the best they can, given the tools and knowledge at their disposal, it becomes possible to have more compassion. By projecting myself forward in time to the age of eighty, I can see that short term concerns need not drive my present actions. I may do more listening and less talking. I may be more loving and less judgmental.

My friend's family encounter went much more smoothly than he had anticipated, and the relationship was strengthened. The poetic truth of his teacher's words has stayed with me also. 

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Corinthians 13:4-8New International Version (NIV)

"Correcting the intellect" means that I can open myself to input from sources other than my own thinking. Vedic readings, biblical teachings, inspiring words from teachers and mentors are all available to me, and are preferable to whatever fear-driven short term concerns I may have in this moment.

Vedic knowledge meetings and group meditations are also recommended and very useful.

Portland view from Hotel

Portland view from Hotel

Judgement or discernment

Backyard panorama, Ashland, Oregon.

Backyard panorama, Ashland, Oregon.

Becoming tools of evolution

Being judgmental towards others and ourselves is a terrible burden that leads only to suffering for one who judges and the one who is judged. Yet the ego persists in this folly again and again. This time, it tells us, the crime is so heinous that we must be judge, jury, and executioner. We must protect ourselves from the evildoings of others and consequently deny sharing humanity with those we justly despise.

Yet every criminal shares in our humanity, and the experience of being human in this world means, by definition, that we learn from our environment by making mistakes and then correcting them. If I define Adolf Hitler as being the ultimate example of evil, and I judge him as being non-human, I may be missing the most valuable lesson I could learn from such a person.

What lesson could be learned?

A human that becomes capable of carrying out such cruel systematic acts against his fellows displays a capacity that we all carry inside us, that of separating others from ourselves by dehumanizing them. So we recoil from Hitler’s humanity, unwittingly falling into the same trap of misperception that he himself fell prey to. We punish the criminal by engaging in the criminal act ourselves. We have great teachers in this life, who both show us by positive attributes to be emulated and negative qualities to be avoided. Why not be open to learning valuable lessons from every example, from every interaction?

Judgement is not discernment. The fine level of feeling available to us as a result of meditation gives us the power to discern that which leads us to a more evolutionary path, a more enlightened direction in life. The hubris that is required to be sitting in judgement of others is impossible to indulge in once we become habituated to the subtleties of charm that the path of spirituality and humility affords us.

Yet we are still human and will slip from this path occasionally. Hopefully we will eschew self-punishment, and try again, correcting as we go. It is our dharma as evolutionary beings.

Resigning our position as judge of the universe frees up a lot of energy and time for more worthy pursuits. It is amazing how much better we feel when we lay down this monumental burden and become once more simply human.

Wildflower, North Mountain park.

Wildflower, North Mountain park.