Sunday, June 27, 2010

You Take My Breath Away

Last night I witnessed the most magical thing; the summer night sky twinkling with the light of what felt like thousands of fireflies. It filled me with such wonder and awe. A short, but booming thunderstorm had passed through the area earlier in the evening and now it was dark. I went out to get something from the car, happened to look up and found the sky glimmering in and out of existence. I stood silently observing for a little while, drinking in the beauty, until the list of “things to do” came crashing through my brain again. But I went inside retaining a little bit of that expansiveness that I had just a moment ago touched.

How many miracles do we miss each day simply because we are not present to receive them?

It felt to me like I chanced upon another dimension of existence. I was transported beyond myself. Yet how many other nights had I missed those very same fireflies? The fireflies sparkled many nights before, but I never saw them.

Because we are caught in our heads much of the time, we forget to relax back into ourselves. We forget who we are. Our connection with divine becomes obscured. There is so much beauty to behold. There is so much for which to be grateful. The beauty in the world is almost overwhelming. It is literally everywhere. One just needs to open up to it. You can take anything and if you "try" to give it love, try to see its beauty you will open to "each other" in profound ways. In reality, you are just reclaiming a piece of yourself that you had perhaps overlooked or forgotten. The world exists as a mirror to show you your own beauty. If something is ugly to you do you find yourself opening or contracting? What does it say to about you? Could there be "ugliness" within you? Are you seeing clearly? Are you able to be the space for whatever shows up? Take anything, a rock, a shovel, a chair, a piece of art, a red light, a spider, your toilet. It literally can be anything because everything is worth loving and you are love. Love includes all. It excludes nothing. We think that some things are worth loving and other things are not. But is that true? Examine it for yourself? When you give something love, you expand. Try it for yourself? People think that when they love someone or something, that it is the other thing that they love. And that is true to some extent. What they often do not realize is that the love is within themselves the whole time. We resonate with the outward flow of love through us. It is the contraction of love that often hurts. It is the closing down which is painful. When we surrender to the flow of love, when "we" disappear and only love is present, the divine is experienced. It is but the flow of the essence of ourselves towards another part of ourselves. Lila. The enlightened "know" that to reject anything, to resist anything, is to create suffering. It is to essentially to cut off the flow.

Experiment: Sit quietly for a few minutes. Pay attention to your breath or a candle or the sounds of where you are. After you have settled in for a few minutes, take any object in your surroundings and give it love. It can be something you love dearly like your favorite pair of blue jeans or something neutral like a stool, or something you don't like, like smoke. "Try" to give it love for a few minutes. What does that mean? Well, let your heart decide exactly what that means. As you give it love, observe your thoughts about that object as you bring love to it? Observe your own emotions. Try to bring your attention to your own awareness. Do you find yourself judging the exercise? Did it feel mechanical at first? Did it feel the same at the end of the exercise as it did in the beginning? Do YOU feel the same at the end of the exercise as at the beginning? Did nothing happen?

Again, as always, there are no right or wrong answers, only inquiry and observation.

Another way to open to the beauty of the world is through our bodies, through our senses. We have been given these extraordinary bodies which are capable of so much. So often our senses are employed passively. So often we do not bring our awareness to the richness of truly experiencing the world through these modalities. Instead, we remain lost in our heads. We touch things but do we really feel them? We eat things but do we really savor them? We see things but do we really even look at them? What is the experience of truly being with something? What happens to you? Appreciation, love and gratitude appear when you start using your senses. You can quickly short circuit your thinking mind by attending to any sense with your whole being. In fact, bring your whole self to anything you are doing and see what happens.

Currently I find myself thinking of the lyrics of the soundtrack to a favorite movie when I was a child, Born Free. It always made me cry. It always touched my soul. In particular, the second verse "Born Free and beauty surrounds you, the world still astounds" you is resonating as I again watch the fireflies majestically take their place in the sky tonight.

What was the last thing that took your breath away?

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Negativity comes in many forms. The varieties and permutations of negativity are as numerous as there are people. Sometimes it is a miniscule irritation at something that happened or should not have happened. Sometimes it’s a burning hot flame of rage. Sometimes it’s a more like a pervasive grime that coats one’s life. It is not necessarily deeply troubling, but life feels like a daily grind. One’s perspective is tinted by a sheen of muck. Sometimes fear is the negativity that manifests. It could be a fear of failure, a fear of being misperceived, a fear of not getting what we want. The various shades of negativity are as endless as the stories that create them.

Every form of negativity is a form of resistance. Every form of negativity is based in a story that has a central character struggling. But what happens when you remove the person in the story? What happens when there is no more narrative? Lets look at fear for a moment. What is it? From a biological standpoint, it is probably the secretion of certain chemicals in the body in response to some external stimuli. Our adrenaline starts pumping, our hearts start racing. The fight or flight response has been triggered. This is very useful when a disgruntled sabre tooth tiger is staring you down, but is perhaps less so when that trigger never subsides and you respond to every psychological challenge by running or fleeing. There is room for a more liberated approach. Without the story about the fear it is just a set of facts and sensations that are happening; a heart racing, blood pumping, adrenaline rushing. It is the negative story which gives those facts and sensations a "negative" connotation. We could use those same facts and tell a story about a running race and it would have a completely different meaning.

So are we to blame stories? Not quite so. That would just be another story. Stories are simply our ways of parcing out reality. They are quite helpful as long as we do not mistake them as the full truth. Stories are never completely true so it is delusive to search for our ultimate meaning in them. It is more useful to look to stories as a guide to how the outer world is being reflected by our inner world at that moment. We are held hostage by our stories when we cannot see that there are many perspectives and that the ultimate truth, in fact, stands even outside of all of those perpsectives.

Our negative emotions can teach us valuable lessons if we let them. Anytime there is negativity it is an opportunity to look into how we have been hooked into believing something false about ourselves and the world. What are we defending? What are we trying to hold up? What is beneath the fear? What are we afraid of? What are we believing that enables this negativity?

Experiment: Identify something that you are a little bit afraid to do. It should not be something that terrifies you or that you know you "cannot" do. And it should of course be safe. It should, on the other hand, be something that produces a certain degree of anxiety or fear. One beautiful example I am going to borrow from someone who writes on the ET TV Forums. As he was about to leap off a cliff into deep waters below, he kept approaching the cliff and then backing away. Each time he would get close to the cliff edge, he would try to be aware of the feelings, and sensations in his body at that moment. He became keenly attuned to what that experience of fear/anxiety felt like in his body and experience. You can do the same thing, even if it does not involve literally jumping off a cliff. Find something that causes you anxiety and just before you are about to undertake the activity become deeply present and witness the sensations in your body. What are you feeling? Where are you feeling it? What is happening to your body? Are there any thoughts that are accompanying your fears? What are they saying? Feel the difference between almost undertaking the fearful activity and moving back to what is comfortable.

In actuality, for this, it matters not whether you carry out the activity. The purpose of this experiment was to witness and truly understand what your own fear feels like rather than just react as your fear. I would be interested in hearing from you about how the experiment went. Please do write a comment.

Its nice to talk abstractly about negativity and all but don't terrible things happen? Isn't there pain and suffering and misery? These things are negative. How can you say that when there is negativity we have been hooked into a falsehood about the world?

It is a paradox that is difficult to articulate. Let me give you an example from my own life that begins to illuminate what I mean. In my last blog, I wrote about my struggle with mental illness. It has been difficult and painful at times. Yet despite this pain, or more aptly perhaps because of this pain, I sought an end to my suffering which led me to eventually "awaken" Sometimes its as if suffering enables us to see beyond the one who seems to be suffering. In my life, my mental illness has at one level been "negative", at another level it is simply a part of my experience and I am grateful, for what it has taught me and brought me in contact with. If something bad helps you to understand your true purpose and essence - can it be called negative so easily? If it expands your ability to be compassionate is it "bad". Now of course I am "lucky", and the pain in my story is not as deep as many other people experience, but the mechanics are the same. Once you feel your essence, you understand that no matter what someone else does to you or what you experience that may be "negative" there is an untouchable sacredness that has always been with you, will not ever leave you, and cannot be taken away, and you are never the same. This sacredness is unaffected by anything that could ever happen to you. This essence is the real you and it is connected to and part of everything else for lack of better words. When that essence is fully grasped through and through it becomes clearer that the "negative" does not really touch the essence of us. And if it does not touch "us" then isn't it a falsehood? This does not mean that something will never feel "negative" at the time, its just to say that the panoramic perspective is available to us if we can access it. Similarly, please don't take this to mean not to alleviate suffering. I am now going to blatantly and knowingly contradict myself and say suffering is real. Language can be so limiting. At a relative level, suffering does happen and we should do our utmost to relieve it when we see it in the world but at an absolute level, things are simply as they are. True compassion enables us to see that on the one hand there is real pain and misery. In fact, if we look closely enough and do not turn from it -- it is heartbreaking. At the same time, the quivering heart is able to see the essence of all things; that which is beyond the misery it is also able to hold the suffering.

So what should you do when you encounter negativity? What should you do when the flames of anger begin to rise and writhe? What should you do when you are afraid?

If you are able, watch the negativity. Become curious about it. Give it compassionate space and treat it with tenderness. Look deeply into it. Let it be as big as it needs to be. Many people have learned to count to ten when they get angry. It gives them a chance to cool off before they do or say something they regret. It can be a good practice. But often times people continue to tell themselves the story of why this person or that situation made them angry, so instead of cooling off they are feeding the fire of anger. See if you can feel the anger without the story. Concentrate on how the actual feeling of anger lives in the body. See how angry you can get for a moment. Not with some righteous indignation over what happened to you, but to experience the raw and simple energy of anger. What does it feel like? What color is it? What shape is it? What is it doing to your muscles? What is happening in your throat? What is going on in your belly or your heart? Give the anger some compassionate space to exist.

Usually another feeling lurks beneath the anger. Usually we are protecting or defending something. Often we are masking fear or hurt - other "negative" emotions. For me, I know I have reached the bottom of any "difficult" emotions when I begin a particular kind of cry. It is a cathartic cry. It is a cry of reaching and understanding truth. It is accompanied by a sweet tenderness towards the whole situation.

Hastily, we are so apt to write off our "negative" emotions and reach for something "better" but true reality, true love recognizes that these so called negative experiences are just other colors in the rainbow of life. They make the picture vivid and vibrant. True reality embraces them simply because they are. We do not need to fear them. We do not need to run from them. We do not even need to change them. Nothing that is real can ever be harmed so we do not need to worry. That which we perceive as "negative" is just another tool to awaken us from slumber and show us our divinity. So rest in peace the next time something "negative" appears. It is another chance to see yourself and escape the dream.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


This entry is a meditation on patience. As defines patience it seems to me that from these definitions patience is about a generous quality of mind and spirit and it that can be cultivated. At its heart, patience is an application of love. Lets take apart the first definition. It seems to me that with patience there is a transparency of spirit. The little “me” that gets wrapped up in thinking that it’s been jilted by the circumstances is minimized or non existent. Patience comes from the vastness of being. The “power” of misfortune does not apply and even though something could be construed by others as provoking or painful or annoying, the patient soul meets these situations with equanimity. In this first definition the person who is experiencing misfortunes and pain could easily get annoyed or frustrated by the externals that are causing the pain and misfortune but does not. In fact, with pure patience the circumstances simply are. They are not unfortunate and not psychologically painful. With real patience is a tacit if not explicit acknowledgment that the situation and the observer are merged. It is an act of love. It is timeless and does not, as the saying goes, run out.

A common phrase when it comes to patience is “ I am running out of patience” as if it came in some limited supply, but really patience is endless. What keeps it from being endless for us is our running away from the current moment. What keeps it from being endless is a story we frighten ourselves with about the future. We either want the moment to be different than it is or we are worried about something in the future. Wanting things to be different than they are, as I have said before in this blog, and as others have said before me, is the root of suffering. Why are we worried about in the future? Can we know for sure that our nightmare of how things will turn out actually will? Why are we hurtling towards the future? What is wrong with this moment we are in? We can choose patience again and again and again in any situation. It’s like we are patience; we are timeless and eternal and capable of letting life unfold in each moment. But when we are impatient we are once again attempting to exert control over life. We are trying to steer things in a direction it is not yet or maybe never going. Impatience is a form of suffering because it is a denial of our true timeless nature.

When do you become impatient? What circumstances draw you out of presence and into your small self ? For me, impatience is the first trigger for larger, deeper emotions like frustration, or anger. Most of the time I can watch myself have an impatient reaction without being the reaction. What do I mean by that? I mean that I am able to see the impatience in me without necessarily responding to my circumstance from the place of impatience. I am able to pause and respond when the impatience has, like any other emotion, passed through me. Sometimes however, I become impatient and a story about my lack of time or my irritation grows, rather than quickly passing through me. At times like these, I suffer.

I became very impatient with my child the other day when I was trying to leave for work. I had asked him to draw a card for his grandfather’s birthday and he kept getting frustrated that he could not do it “perfectly”. After a lot of failed attempts and the clock ticking away, I became more and more curt with him. My tone of voice became more pointed and harsh. Finally, I hurried him into the car. I was irritated that I was going to be late. Underneath my frustration, I did not realize until later, was a false story with a future that frightened me. Only now am I able to realize that I had been feeling inadequate at work and I was worried about my son’s perfectionism. At the time, my worry about work became more important than my son’s feelings. When I realized that I was still getting nowhere by carting him off to the car and that his hurt had only increased, I regained my composure. In some ways I surrendered to the situation. I was going to be late but I could be late with a card for Grandpa or I could be late without one. I apologized to my little one and we went back into the house to give him a chance to finish the card. This time he finished it. He also reminded me of what forgiveness is all about. When we went back to the car, I was again apologizing for getting so frustrated with him, he told me not to worry, that I was a great Dad, that he still loved me, and that it was ok -- I had not done anything wrong. He is a wise, loving and precious little soul.

In this story I let my worry take over my mind. I spiraled into a space where I was not able to see how I was hurting my son’s feelings. The initial patience with which I was handling the situation “ran out” but the moment one’s patience runs out is the very moment when we have abandoned reality for an imagined future or past. Could I really know if I was going to be in trouble if I was a few minutes late? Is it possible that as I got more frustrated with the situation I affected his ability to complete the card? If I took a birds’ eye view of the situation what was truly important to me? This story demonstrates how impatience obscures our vision, clarity and compassion.

But we operate in the real world where time is important. There are deadlines to be met, places we need to be, things that must get done.

It is true that to operate in the world, things need to get accomplished. Sometimes at one level one really does need to be at work at a certain time and there is little flexibility. Sometimes we have deadlines. We need to accomplish. We could not survive otherwise. Ultimately though, we can choose to meet that deadline without an accompanying worrisome story about how the future will turn out. It is important to remember that how we accomplish something is at least as important as what we accomplish or ultimately even if, we accomplish. If we do something with pent up frustration, irritation or anger, the product itself is “poisoned” to some degree. We can aim to approach anything we do with clarity and acceptance. Does it really “help us” to be frustrated, irritated or angry about the situation? The situation simply is. It is our story that makes a problem out of it. When my son was taking a long time to draw the card for Grandpa – it was simply that – a child taking a while to do a card for his Grandfather. My mind added a frightening story about what that would mean. My mind created the frustration. But my frustration did not contribute to making the situation better. It only added a layer of suffering for both of us. It in fact, surely made things worse.

So how do you get rid of the impatience or frustration?

You don’t. Why would you? They are a part of your experience. Why would you want to rid yourself of experience? Love does not exclude. It is all inclusive and moves toward that which feels left out. What you can do is simply notice the impatience. What you can do is be with the impatience? What is the impatience trying to tell you? Develop a curiosity about the story that is underneath the impatience. What need is not being met? Why does the situation feel so important? Can you approach that place that needs something to happen quickly or that is getting frustrated with tenderness? Know that you are bigger than the emotion that is passing. Nothing that can be identified is you. You are vast and cannot be contained.

Patience is a quality of love. It stands outside time even though it seems like it is exclusively about time. It can be chosen again and again and again by being in the moment. Impatience tells you to run after the next moment because it will be better than this one but that is a falsehood that will lead to a life unfulfilled. This is it. This is all you will ever have. Catch impatience in yourself and trace it back to the place where you are settling for a limited self. Know that you are endless. You are love and love is not bound by time or anything. Each time you are impatient let it show you where you are still attached and feeling small. Let it show you where you are still opaque; clinging to an idea of how things should be. Then let go, surrender to what is and see what happens.