Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rewinding 2011

Tonight the sun will set for the last time in the year 2011 and when we all wake up tomorrow to make coffee and get ready for our day we will be beginning a whole new year. Like so many others I've been reflective over the last couple of days about the changes that have occurred in what seems like a year that flew by at record speed. My children are considerably taller and my son started his first year of preschool which was simply surreal. Oh yeah, and this year I reached the big 3-0. That was a big non-experience! I think reaching middle age is a little more hyped up than it should be because I hardly feel any different than when I was in my 20's, but I suppose age is relative..or is it?...

Perhaps the biggest change I've experienced this year has been in terms of my faith and personal beliefs. Many of you who read this blog have been witness to this gradual evolution of thought and belief that has occurred progressively throughout the year. In the beginning of 2011 I had God wrapped in a nicely bound package that was very attractive to behold yet very small and delicate.  It bore a label which I would display with pride to all who would listen and see. 

As my search for God continued throughout the year the contents of that package kept pressing outwards and the light emanating from within shone through the spaces that were forming between the sides nearly opening. Finally, I decided to take a pair of scissors myself and snip the last ribbons that bound it, watching its contents spill open and wash everything with its light. At that moment I fell off the radar of organized religion and more fully into the arms of God.

My interpretation of God's nature and reality has found itself transformed.  Jesus is still a shining light on my path, leading me with his teachings of compassion, of shedding ego and discovering the Divine, of peace and love. I feel God has gotten infinitely bigger, though, since I began my thirsty pursuit of Him. I've opened up to the reality that He transcends any category man could possibly put Him into and that His Divine spark is within each and every person, not just those who might choose a particular path or doctrine. I have begun to see Him in everything and everything in Him.  I continue to read the Scriptures and find them encouraging  and consider them inspired but have also increased my scope of spiritual material into incorporating texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and Tao te Ching. I've found it both fascinating and edifying learning many of the different ways in which others have come to view God/reality and His eternal truths.

Above all, I have discovered this year that we are to be true to ourselves in our spiritual journeys towards truth and understanding. As the Buddha once said, "Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others." People may have the best intentions in giving us advice or trying to persuade us in certain directions but when it comes down to it we are all responsible for what we believe and knowing why. It might be wise to heed some advice, but I think it's important to remember that what others have to tell us is their interpretation of the truth based on other people's interpretations of the truth. All we need is already inside of us, God Himself, to guide us in interpreting the truth for ourselves.

New Year's resolutions are running viral  on blogs across the blogosphere  and social networking sites as the year nears its end. I suppose I'll jump in and leave my thoughts on my resolutions in closing. I do have some particular goals I'd love to acheive this year: I plan on studying more closely the integrative philosophy of Ken Wilber as well as the Bible,  Upanishads and other inspired texts. I also want to concentrate on reading as many books by Alan Watts as is humanly possible! If you haven't gotten to check him out yet, I'd highly encourage becoming familiar with a philosopher that will have you truly engaged and provoked in thought. You can check out some of his quotes here: http://www.ascendingthehills.blogspot.com/p/alan-watts-quotes.html

I've been volunteering at a local soup kitchen this past year, but sparodically and one of my other goals is to increase my involvement there. Another is to continue to share my passion of nature with my children. It brings me great joy to see their senses awaken in wonder to the treasures the natural world has to offer them. Lastly, meditation is probably my most primary of goals for the coming year. This practice increases my awareness of the present moment during my day, helping me experience reality to its fullest and cultivate an increasing awareness of God within. It is my view that meditation can aid me in actualizing all of the  goals I listed. It gives me the focus, awareness, discernment, sense of peace and patience to aid me in my pursuits. I will be focusing on Vipassana meditation as well as Eknath Easwaran's technique of passage meditation and mantra repetition. And of course, I will be blogging about all of my experiences and the interesting ideas and things I learn. I look forward to sharing them with you and hearing your thoughts on them!

Have you made any New Year's resolutions? I'd love to hear them. Please share in the comments section!

Happy New Year! May yours be one full of peace, joy, light and love!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Love That Transforms

On Christmas we celebrate the birth of a baby that would grow up to be an extraordinary man. A man that would come to show us the ways of love and reconciliation. Through his life Jesus would reveal to us the transforming nature of Divine love. A love we can all experience and extend outwards to others-the very spark of God filtering its light in our darkened world allowing peace to blossom. A love that transforms.

Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Christmas message he preached at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1967 where he served as co-pastor put it this way. :

Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "Love your enemies." And I'm happy that he didn't say, "Like your enemies," because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can't like anybody who would bomb my home. I can't like anybody who would exploit me. I can't like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can't like them. I can't like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men.

Despite the violence, suffering, injustices and cruelty in this world Jesus gave us the hope that love will always prevail. By digging deep through prayer and meditation we can discover that love buried within us, that "original goodness", as Eknath Easwaran  puts it, that is of God and has the power to bring peace to the moments in our lives.

I'd like to wish all of you a very merry Christmas! Below is a song from one of my favorite Christmas albums by the artist Jewel. It is a great reminder that no matter how seemingly small we feel in this world we can all have an impact towards making it a brighter place by being actively involved, as Jesus was, in spreading God's peace and love.

If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we're all OK
And not to worry 'cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I won't be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear
My hands are small, I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
Poverty stole your golden shoes
It didn't steal your laughter
And heartache came to visit me
But I knew it wasn't ever after
We'll fight, not out of spite
For someone must stand up for what's right
'Cause where there's a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
I am never broken
In the end only kindness matters
In the end only kindness matters
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's mind
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's heart
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's eyes
We are God's hands
We are God's hands

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Breaking Free of Belief

                                                                        Courtesy of Google Images

For awhile I lived a very comfortable religious life. I believed I had some sense of experiencing God.  Experiencing God was that warm fuzzy feeling one felt during worship, or maybe praying with others or during a good sermon. That was the extent of what I felt experiencing God amounted to. I was perfectly comfortable living out taught beliefs.

There came a time after I had incorporated meditation into my spiritual disciplines and began to really encounter the presence of God within that I no longer found these taught beliefs and doctrines fitting in with my sense of what I was beginning to feel was true. I struggled to find ways to incorporate them in the new paradigm I found myself merging into. I tried rationalizing and twisting them almost beyond recognition in order to conform. But it was to no avail. The pursuit amounted to being as futile as trying to jam the wrong puzzle piece into the wrong space. They just wouldn't fit.

The struggle to believe in my presupposed ideas based on the doctrines I was ascribing to and their conflict with the truths I was receiving was becoming the source of my Undoing.  This  process was suffocating me spiritually to the point where I was ceasing to find life, light and meaning in my beliefs at all. I could just see walls, like those of a prison, hindering the full view of which I had only caught glimpses of through moments of meditation. Walls, that had to come down.

I realized I wasn't after hollow doctrine. I was after truth and thirsted to experience that truth firsthand. I wanted God, not man's words about God, to reign in my heart. Contemplative prayer and other forms of meditation allowed me to realize that that was truly possible. I would, however,  have to let go of all that I once held dear in order to find the greatest treasure of all buried within my soul: God Himself. I would have to sell all of my land just for that one field where I knew the treasure to be buried and then spend the rest of my efforts in separating dirty ego from divine Self in discovering it.

Imagine God being like a powerful river swiftly flowing. It was as if I was relying on people's interpretations of the river and merely viewing it from a portrait that they had painted of it. And then, still more, reviewing charts regarding the facts that defined it. Memorizing the rules that determined its nature and the outlines of its topography and where one could swim, where one couldn't and who was allowed to swim. The problem was, there was no swimming going on at all.

It's as if I stood by the bank one day realizing the beauty and reality of the river and decided that rather than studying it from afar it'd be tons more fun to just jump in and let it carry me away, becoming one with it's flow and rhythm.  My experiences of meditation up to that point had gotten my feet wet. Now I wanted to saturate my soul as well.  I wanted no more barriers between myself and God and at last decided it was time to strip myself of the dogma that clothed my sense of what was real spiritually and take the plunge into the swift waters. Doing so has released in me the sense of merging into the great I Am and given me glimpses of what it's like to live in the great We Are. Not fully, but enough to know it's possible. There are still rocks I reach out and cling to in desperation, as I feel truth sweeping me in its current and my own inner insecurities resisting it, trying to slow it down because it's all so much to process in one experience.

There are a lot of analogies that use the illustration of the river to symbolize truth, reality and God. Just the other day I was having a conversation with a friend regarding the truth and how it cannot be contained only experienced. The book I am currently reading, "The Wisdom of Insecurity" by Alan Watts, illustrates this idea perfectly.

"You cannot understand life and its mysteries as long as you try to grasp it. Indeed, you cannot grasp it, just as you cannot walk off with a river in a bucket. If you try to capture running water in a bucket, it is clear that you do not understand it and that you will always be disappointed, for in the bucket the water does not run. To "have" running water you must let go of it and let it run. The same is true of life and of God."  
                 ~ Alan Watts, "The Wisdom of Insecurity", p. 24

For so long I hadn't just tried to "capture truth in a bucket" but I allowed it to be served to me on a platter. Served to me in the form of other men's words and visions about God without experiencing my own.  I had to  learn to surrender myself to God and the process of understanding unhindered by labels and superficial rules. I had to trust my own inner voice and not the voices of others. I felt my subconscious beckoning me to cease my struggling and to flow with the current and not resist it. For God is the current itself, the ever changing flow of what Is.  

Alan Watts talks about the law of reversed effort and how when we struggle against the water we sink but when we stop struggling we float. Finally, when I stopped struggling to cling to my preconceived notions of belief, trying to fit them in to interpret my experience, I rose to the surface of the water I had been submerged in and my spiritual lungs began to fill up with the air they so desperately needed.

Watts explains the difference between faith and belief in this passage:

Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would "lief" or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth  on condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith us the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.

                                  ~ "The Wisdom of Insecurity", p. 24

Sometimes an awareness of reality's purely unknown and bottomless depths breaks upon my consciousness and I literally laugh. I laugh because I don't know. There's so much I don't know!  There's a sense of freedom and joy in this seemingly hopeless condition because it's not hopeless at all when one really looks at it. In this condition is the reality of the freedom to admit ignorance and not be bound by the illusions of knowing.  It's the only way to experience hope in its truest form. How can you have hope without freedom? Belief binds. Faith in the experience frees one to plunge into the infinite void of God. To experience and explore all possibilities and not be bound to just one. There's a deep sense of  freedom in knowing that I am not bound by things that hinder me from exploring that unknown chartered territory that is God.

 The Tao te Ching puts the condition of not-knowing in this way :

 Not-knowing is true knowledge. 
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick, 
then you can move towards health.

To me, that means that we have to realize the full magnitude of what we don't know in order to really begin our journey into discovering what there is to know. One has to recognize the need to make new discoveries when on the spiritual journey or he isn't on a journey at all but has pitched a tent along the wayside. Of course, in this pursuit for God and truth one shouldn't have such an open mind as to let other false truths akin to those that have already been dismissed to filter in. We need to use spiritual discernment and critical thinking to separate the wheat from the chaff. We need to allow the light of God within us to shine through and dispel the darkness of that which hinders our view of the Divine. George Fox, the leading founder of the Quakers, used verses from scripture to teach that that eternal light is within us all. It is our teacher along the way. Fox said that, "people had no need of any teacher but the Light that was in all men and women".

 Zen master Shunryu Suzuki once said, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's there are few."  I began my pursuit to discover God's truths with my ideas and philosophies bound in a neatly wrapped package. I figured I would go about learning and discovering God but within the confines of certain parameters. My search for encountering and exploring the Divine has burst open that package and dispelled my once held myth that God could ever be categorized. I feel more a beginner now to the process than I did from the very beginning. And I'm okay with that. To me it confirms that my compass is pointed in the right direction.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them. Please leave them in the comments section!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Easwaran Revisited: The Power of the Mantram

It's the Sunday before Christmas and I'm up at dawn trying to steal a few minutes of solitude before the first of my two kids saunter sleepily down the staircase, rubbing weary eyes and asking for something warm to eat for breakfast on this chill winter's morning. The next twelve hours or so are going to be busy ones as my husband and I intend to start and finish all of our Christmas shopping.

I breathe deep, letting the air expand my lungs, a glorious feeling, and then exhale feeling my muscles relax. I woke up to my mantram this morning. "Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.", resonating from the depths of my subconscious and rising upward, ushering me into a new day with peace.  This short prayer has been used by the Eastern Orthodox church for ages to center oneself in the presence of God and is one of the mantrams that Eknath Eswaran suggests to practice for those who follow his teachings.

It's been a couple of weeks since I've published my review of Eknath Easwaran's book, Original Goodness, and I've been meaning to write more about how his teachings have had a profound impact on my daily living.  There is much I'd like to write, but I'll first start with sharing Easwaran's idea of repeating a mantram, since I woke up to mine this morning and will be thrusting it foreward in a line of defense against the stresses and distractions of the day that often have a way of stealing peace. This simple practice is easy to incorporate into anyone's spiritual disciplines regardless of their particular religion or belief system.  In fact, it is found in all of them.

I will let Easwaran describe his definition of what a mantram is as an introduction. You can read his book, Passage Meditation, on his website for free. (www.easwaran.org) In one part of it, he writes:
A mantram is a spiritual formula of enormous power that has been transmitted from age to age in a religious tradition. The users, wishing to draw upon this power that calms and heals, silently repeat the words  as often as possible during the day, each repetition adding to their physical and spiritual well-being....The mantram, repeated regularly for a long time, enables us to cross the sea of the mind.

In that same section, Easwaran quotes Gandhi's thoughts on mantrams:

The mantram becomes one’s staff of life and carries one through every ordeal. It is not repeated for the sake of repetition, but for the sake of purification, as an aid to effort. It is no empty repetition. For each repetition has a new meaning, carrying you nearer and nearer to God.

 A mantram is not just empty words repeated without reflection, but while repeating the sacred words one allows them, as Easwaran  has often described, to "drop like pearls into the depths of one's subconscious". It anchors us to the present moment while allowing the spiritual beauty of our mantram's sentiment to blossom within the depths of our consciousness sewing seeds that bear fruit for moments yet to come.

In his book, Original Goodness, Easwaran has described this ancient practice as a spiritual investement that helps us store our energy. Most often our energy is wasted in the futility of wandering thoughts that take the form of brooding about perceived wrongs and injustices inflicted on us as well as anxiety and other negative emotions that steal our sense of peace and empathy towards others, clouding our clarity towards situations. 

When we are immersed in our mantram in the present moment, our energy is not spent playing our ego's senseless  games of merry-go-round that flip flop our emotions and toss our thoughts to and fro. Instead, our energy is focused and more apt to respond in love towards others and not with the hurtful words that so often are elicited in moments of unbridled frustration and anger.  Opportunities for reconcilation flourish as the reptition of the mantram creates space for edifying moments of loving kindness to arise. Instead of burning bridges between ourselves and others, we begin to build them, gracefully gilding them with the gleam of understanding framed with  the strong foundation of love.

I have seen the tangible fruits of this practice take form right before me as I've applied it in my daily living. My children have chosen a mantram of their own and I have seen, as I've helped them learn to apply it, moments of frustration and anger, like raging waves of emotion threatening to rise up in a perfect storm,  be transformed to moments that calmly ripple with a gentle peace and quiet joy. My children's chosen mantram is "Om mani padme hum", and is one of the Buddhist mantrams that Easwaran recommends. It truly amazes me how this mantram has worked wonders in wedging itself into the the fulcrum of moments, between stimulus and response, and has birthed spontaneous peace.

Right now I am recalling just a couple of days ago when  my children were angrily lashing out at each other in a dispute where the concept of sharing was being questioned. I was ready to just lose my temper entirely when I remembered the mantram and the opportunity that I was being presented with in that moment. I drew both my children close to me and took a deep breath, telling them to calm down and just breathe. It took a few moments, but we all ended up just being close to one another, just breathing.  I then reminded them of their mantram and they began to repeat it with one another. Tears dried as anger turned to empathy and unprompted apologies were exchanged. Smiles formed on their faces and it was as if the entire dispute dissipated as they cheerfully broke free and returned to their desired activity, this time sharing without any further discussion or conflict, the toy that caused the chaos in the first place.

The repetition of the mantram does not come very naturally to most at first and does require a sense of dedication in pursuing.  It's an effort to even remember to practice it at times when you first begin the practice! I often start the morning practicing it when I take my dogs out for their first walk of the day, trying to lay a foundation for continuing on with it during the rest of the day.

Easwaran reflects his experience of initially practicing the repetition of the mantram and his eventual success in assimilating it as a permanent fixture in his present moments.

" This does require determination, I admit. I used to hunt through my days for opportunities to repeat the Holy Name (mantram), scavengig leisure moments like those curious characters who dowse for buried treasures at the beach, scanning every inch of sand with a metal detector at the end of a long wand. It calls for a great deal of patience, but the effort pays off. Today, because of all that effort, I no longer have to make myself repeat the Holy Name. It repeats itself, warding off every negative state of mind."

  ~ Original Goodness, 53-54

I would highly recommend  anybody that wants to enter into a deeper awareness of God and experience more peace and clarity to consider adding the repetition of the mantram to his/her spiritual disciplines. To view all of the suggested mantrams that Easwaran recommends check out his page of suggested mantrams: http://www.easwaran.org/mantrams-recommended-by-easwaran.html

Easwaran does instruct the practitioner to end up choosing one mantram and not to use more than one in his practices, so be sure to find which one suits you best.  His site also includes all the free information anyone could possibly want in becoming familiar with and beginning to practice his teachings. I hope you have fun exploring it!

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you!

Since writing this article my mantram has changed to Om Namah Shivaya. I was pretty early on in the practice and I don't think it's uncommon to play with mantrams a bit to see what fits best. Anyways, do you have a mantram? If so, please share what it is!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Freedom of Letting Go

                                                          Courtesy of Google Images

My three year old son often likes to wake up in the morning and tease my daughter. He runs up to her, eyes shining with mirth, telling her he had a dream. Now, I somehow doubt he has this recurring dream. Instead,  sense that he only longs to tease his older sibling and bring up a memory that was actually a very traumatic one when it had unfolded itself in real time.

"Guess what Tana? I had a dream!" He announced  this morning,  yet again, jumping on her bed.

"I know, I know Noah. You were were on a water slide and I lost my favorite hat!"  Montana no longer gets upset as she once had. Her initial reaction, tears immediately surfacing, is what I believe prompted my son to continue in his teasing for so long. I know, not very nice, but he is three. I'm working on the compassion part of things!

This summer we were at a local amusement park. We had waited an  hour and a half to get on a ride in which our family would set sale on a large raft and meander up a long incline only to swoop down a sharp decline that simulated white water rapids. I had told my daughter repeatedly as we waited to put her hat she was wearing, her very favorite one, in the safe confines of our backpack. She refused stubbornly. Ever since the moment the hat had become hers, on hot summer days she and it were inseparable. 

It was of no surprise when our raft descended down the sharp decline that her hat fell off. I was so close to catching it, but alas, my fingers were just too far away and I watched, my heart sinking, as the hat did, beneath the current's untidy water.

My daughter mourned the loss of her hat,  tears continuing on the rest of the day and intermittently in days to come.  Her hat had served as a tangible reminder  to a meaningful experience of a day that just her and I shared together at Provincetown, MA.  We had spent rare time together, going on a whale watch where we saw two whales breach, sea beasts of mammoth proportions defying logic with their graceful bodies pirouetting as they heaved their large masses out of the water in a display that challenged our senses. Sun's light blazing off wet slick skin. Eyes wide my daughter let it all sink in. She had been delighted at her new hat, sharing a fried dough on the pier in the lazy afternoon sun in the moments that followed.

Well, this morning when my son brought up his "dream", my daughter replied with her own counterattack.

"Well I had a dream too Noah. That we went down a water slide and lost YOUR favorite hat!"

My son coolly replied, "I don't have a favorite hat Tana, so ha!"

This reminded me of the principle of non-attachment.  That in order to find joy, clarity, God Himself, we must rid ourselves of the attachments that steal our sense of peace and muddy our experiences of the Divine in the present moment.  A current theme in many of the world's religions, coming from their many inspired voices,  from Jesus, to Krishna, to the  writers of the Upanishads, comes the message that we are not to invest our hearts into the temporary superficiality of the material. That within harbors eternity's real treasure. Eternity itself. And all of these things in the world that distract us are mere illusions promising a gratification that will only turn bitter in our mouths in the end, leaving us unfulfilled and craving for something more to satisfy us.

Sometimes it's as if my little son is a zen master. It's not that he doesn't take joy in the things of life. He does. With passion he dives into things, fully immerses himself in the moments that captivate him. But he doesn't become invested, attached to things in the sense that when they move beyond his reach, he feels that part of him does as well. He lets things rise up , enjoys them while they remain, and with what seems an uncanny wisdom, bids them adieu with grace as they vanish.

A few verses I memorized for passage meditation from the Bhagavad Gita flashed through my mind this morning as the discourse between my son and daughter ensued:

He lives in wisdom
Who sees himself in all and all in him,
Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed
Every selfish desire and sense-craving
Tormenting the heart. Not agitated
By grief nor hankering after pleasure,
He lives free from lust and fear and anger
Fettered no more by selfish attachments,
He is not elated by good fortune
Nor depressed by bad. Such is the seer.
                 ~Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2 (emphasis mine)

When our love for the eternal and awakening to the awareness of His Being begins to take prominence in how we prioritize earthly things and pursuits, then our "Love for the Lord consumes us", and we are no longer tormented by the fleeting illusions of life.  We empty ourselves of our attachments to sense cravings and ego and in our emptiness God fills the void. And then we find the real treasure in which our soul can truly rejoice!

It's easy to let material things determine our sense of joy. But everything, except the eternal within us, is governed by the law of impermanence. Things that we become so easily and habitually attached to are constantly evolving. It's a given that the things of life will erode, fade and tarnish. Jesus told his followers, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." (Matthew 6:19) Jesus was encouraging us to pursue spiritual treasures and not earthly ones, for it is the spiritual that is eternal and all other things merely fade away.

In order to unfold our layers of ego and encounter the Divine within, we have to let go of these attachments. Meditation and the practice of mindfulness can be powerful aids in helping us accomplish this.  To become mindful in our ordinary waking moments plunges us into the reality of God that stands poised between every breath we take. We begin to enter into a state of awe at seeing the divine everywhere, in and through life, and begin to sense a oneness with God.  The superficial starts to lose its charm as we realize there is no beginning or ending to God, all is God and God is all,  therefore there is no real reason to cling to anything.

 To become non-attached to the non-spiritual  definitely doesn't mean that we shouldn't enjoy the things that life has to offer, we just shouldn't allow them to define ourselves and become spiritually or emotionally invested in them to the point that they hinder us from maintaining an awareness of the present moment and contact with God. We shouldn't allow things to have the ability to steal the peace and joy God offers us for this wastes precious energy that we can be used to manifest His love to those around us. To lose our attachments towards earthly things is to enter into deeper stages of spiritual freedom loosening us from the chains of suffering and moving us to deeper states of peace and well being.

Thoughts? Comments? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Contemplation: A Catalyst for Compassion

Courtesy of Google Images

Reaching deep within, observing the slow unfolding of  ego's heavy and awkward garbs that cling fast to Self's inner light, I burrow deeper beneath layers of my consciousness, towards the center. Flooding my sense of awareness is the realization that there is truly no beginning or ending to God. There is no place where He is not. No heart where the spark of His light does not dwell.  He is All. God is in everything and everything is in God. Acts 17:28  "For in him we move and have our being."

Meditation creates within me an increasing empathy for both humans and non humans.  Integrating it into my spiritual disciplines has brought out the light within me that allows the deepest recesses of my consciousness to unfold like a flower, opening up in a capacity of love, compassion and awe for all that is around me that I had never experienced before. I am starting to see God in everyone and feel I am beginning to relate to these words from spiritual leader and writer Eknath Easwaran:
"Whenever you look into another person's eyes, remember that you are looking into a city where the Lord dwells- and remember always that our arms and hands were given to us for others' rescue, not for their ruin."

In some of the dialogue I've had with others there have been individuals from the Christian perspective that bring up the criticism that meditation is a selfish pursuit. That it is focused too much on dwelling on one's self, on one's own personal encounter with God while leaving the rest of the world out of the equation. The argument is that meditation keeps us from actively manifesting the will of God out to others in the world.  I can't help but view this argument as a substantial misconception towards the practice of meditation and one in which history points very clearly to the contrary.  For some of the world's greatest contributors towards peace and the service of others have also been some of the world's greatest mystics. A mystic is one who seeks to encounter God experientially through means of contemplation and meditation.

 Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assissi...and the list goes on and on...all emphasized charity and acts of service to compliment contemplation. In fact, as I mentioned from my personal experience,  moments in meditation often spur on the sense of interconnectedness and a deep feeling of empathy and compassion for others. This is a common experience for one who meditates. From a Christian perspective,  we are "filled with God" to overflowing so that His love, His compassion, His Kingdom, might overflow through us into the world, through acts of service and love.

St. Teresa of Avila, one of the world's greatest Christian mystics, was also an active advocate of service towards others. She sought to inspire people to spread Christ's love and compassion throughout the world. She didn't see it as an option but a calling for all of those in the body of Christ.

You Are Christ's Hands

"Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out
Christ's compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now."

St. Augustine of Hippo viewed both the spiritual discipline of meditation and service towards others as essential in the life of a Christian.  "No man has a right to lead such a life of contemplation as to forget in his own ease the service due his neighbor; nor has any man a right to be so immersed in active life as to neglect the contemplation of God."

If ever, in these modern times, one was to give proof of contemplation's role in being a catalyst for the involvement of  charitable pursuits and social justice, it would be through the Quakers, one of the most contemplative sects branching off from Christianity.  Quaker meetings, or services, are held in complete contemplative meditative silence. This relatively small religious organization has allowed the impressions of universal empathy and compassion that they have received deep within them through meditation to become catalysts for helping make this world a better place.
Quakers formed the backbone of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War,  risking life and limb to bring thousands of slaves to freedom. Quakers, like Susan B. Anthony, rose their voices against the oppression of women in the women's suffrage movement which lead to the confirmation of women's rights in this country. They have worked hard for prison reform and have time and time again stood as  conscientious objectors towards war, advocating peace,  realizing that violence only breeds more violence.  Far from hiding themselves from the world and being driven by a sense of narcissistic ego to dwell upon their individual selves and merely pursue states of spiritual ecstasy, Quakers have plunged boldly into some of the darkest corners of society unabashedly allowing light to blossom.

Eknath Easwaran, in his book Original Goodness, brings up the truth that we cannot bring effective change towards peace, social justice and the cessation of the suffering of others without bringing change within ourselves first. When we do begin, through the means of meditation, to lose our selfish desires and attachments towards superficial and earthly things we begin to put others first more and more, not because we feel we have to, but because we truly feel led to. And love begets love. When we experience more love within ourselves and express it outwards, others catch quite readily onto it, becoming inspired themselves. Love and positivity are contagious.

" As our desire to draw closer to the Lord within us deepens, it draws self-centered desires into it like tributaries into a great river. The power of that love swells until it becomes cataclysmic; we begin to inspire other people through the transformation we have wrought in ourselves." ~Eknath Easwaran

It is my belief that contrary to some of the criticisms towards contemplative prayer and meditation, in that they keep the believer from manifesting God's Kingdom out to the world, that these practices actually lead the believer into experiential contact with the Kingdom within, creating a reaction in which the impulses to love and perform acts of love are irresistible. Mystics from all traditions, like Gandhi and Mother Theresa have all mentioned that love and service begin at home. Easwaran furthers that in the quote above by pointing to the truth that it ultimately begins within ourselves and spreads outwards.  Meditation is a beautiful and transforming tool to help prepare and aid us in acts of charity and service.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the Comments section. Thank you!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Original Goodness: Book Review


Drawing from the deep spiritual well of the world's Christian mystics, author and spiritual leader Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), carves out a pathway to inner peace for his readers in his transforming book "Original Goodness".  Easwaran uses the Beautitudes of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount to provide a framework in which he introduces the themes of  purity, humility, simplicity, patience, love, mercy, peacemaking, and desire.  Inspiring passages from mystics like Meister Eckhart, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Teresa of Avila, and John Ruysbroeck fill each page with insight and wisdom adding beautifully to Easwaran's rich reflections.

"We do not have to figure out how to make ourselves good; all we need do is remove what covers the goodness that is already there...The spark that burns in you, in me, is lit by the fires of heaven."  p. 12/229

Easwaran's idea of original goodness comes from the truth that within each one of us there lies a core of goodness, buried and hidden, waiting to be discovered. "...before original sin was original innocence...that is our real nature." This core of goodness is the very essence of God and has been experienced the world over by mystics throughout all religions. Once discovered, the fruit of pure love is born, having encountered the Divine.  "...all the treasures and pleasures of this world are worth nothing if one has not found the uncreated light at the center of the soul.", Easwaran reflects.

This transforming reality can only be accessed and spurred onwards to flourish and grow by developing an awareness of what lies within.  An awareness that can be achieved through the training of our minds; namely the repetition of a mantram (or mantra) ,the practice of meditation and acts of love and kindness. As our practices deepen and we begin to unravel the layers of consciousness that cover up and dim the light emanating from the eternal spark buried beneath layers and layers of conditioned ego, our encounters with others then become transformed, now centered in love. Easwaran urges that to change the world, we must first change ourselves.

" As our desire to draw closer to the Lord within us deepens, it draws self-centered desires into it like tributaries into a great river. The power of that love swells until it becomes cataclysmic; we begin to inspire other people through the transformation we have wrought in ourselves." p. 166

Within "Original Goodness" are reminders of the hurried lifestyle that permeates much of our largely ego-centered modern life today. Called to the reader's attention  is the fact that we are being  consumed and destroyed by the very tools of technology and industry whose purposes were originally intended to create an increased quality of existence.  Easwaran emphasizes  our need to realize the interconnectedness that we share with all living things, human and non-human and to consider and be mindful of how our choices as consumers effects the lives and welfare of others.  Such an awareness of the unity that we share with all that is around us is realized through our spiritual disciplines. This sense of unity fills us with a deep empathy and compassion, allowing us to be troubled when others are troubled around us, and spurring us to put others before ourselves in acts of love to relieve the pain we sense in them.

"For those who love God, when anyone dies, a part of them dies too. In the highest sense, this is the meaning of the Passion, the reason why the Messiah was called "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Living in all, you suffer whatever they suffer. But this awareness of unity is also the source of the greatest joy, because it brings the love, compassion, and creativity to relieve suffering wherever you go." p. 153

Easwaran has a very positive view of humanity. The rare kind of hope that is fueled only be experiencing the tangible results of the principles of which he speaks.  There is no doubt the profound impact Mahatma Gandhi had in the shaping of his spiritual path. Easwaran first met him while in college and had the privilege of listening to him teach as well as see him in action. Through his interactions with Gandhi, Easwaran shares how he witnessed firsthand how the humble power of one man could transform violence into peace, hatred into reconciliation, all by the power of love. Easwaran's inspiring message is that  in discovering our original goodness we too, can have a transforming impact on the world around us.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found writing a review for it increasingly difficult as there were large volumes of passages that lifted themselves up from the pages that I would have liked to have shared with all of you! It was difficult to choose just a few.  I will undoubtedly use some of the themes and passages I was unable to include in this review in future posts, including describing more in depth the technique of passage meditation that Easwaran introduces to his readers and I, myself, have implemented into my own practices.

I couldn't recommend this book enough. It has personally catapulted itself on the top of my list of favorites. The words of Easwaran and the mystics flow into a seamless symphony of truths and insights that absorb into the mind and heart of the reader as edifying drops of living water, springing up a new sense of awareness of the Divine that awaits to be encountered within, and stirring the heart to set sail on a spiritual journey of personal transformation. 

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you!