Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Essay on Science and Spirituality

I hope you are doing well and enjoying the Summer. The moon is looking beautifully full (almost) and the katydids are loving life by the sounds of it. I love this time of year and especially the warm Summer nights. 

Anyway, it's been a while since I sent out an email update. I've been very busy and going through a very challenging and transitional period in my life lately. I have been working two jobs, and ended up in a situation that puts me well outside of my comfort zone. As a result, I have a lot of insights to share. I just haven't had a chance to write them up yet.

However, I did have the opportunity to write the following essay. Since there was a cash prize involved it gave me some added incentive to let some ideas fly. It was nice to get some gratitude expressed in writing after a bit of a dry spell. It was challenging to keep it short enough to meet their guidelines. I could have written much more on the subject, and may well elaborate some day. But I felt like it was something worth sharing in its current form. 

I did not get selected for the prize, which is fine with me. I enjoyed the exercise. I think they were actually aiming more for the link with "religion" instead of "spirituality" so my essay didn't quite fit what they were looking for. Anyway, here is the submission, complete with biographical stuff.

In-Joy,

Trey

- Please submit a brief letter explaining your interests in using narrative nonfiction to explore harmonies between science and religion (1750 character maximum - approximately 350 words).

LETTER OF INTEREST

After I was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2004, at age 30, I was catapulted head first into a search for truth and meaning. It was as if I had no choice but to find the answers to all of life’s big questions. I started reading books about different religions, mysticism, metaphysics, shamanism, as well as various types of energetic healing modalities. I didn’t stop there, however. I was simultaneously reading books on various fields of science, such as neuroscience, biology, cosmology, kinesiology, physics, psychology and anthropology - just to name a few. I was reading at least 10 books at any given time, and read more books during a two year period than I had read in my entire life. I was looking to see where spirituality and science intersected. My analytical mind had been challenged by a deeply spiritual experience brought about by seizures. My search eventually led me to the idea of enlightenment and I felt like I had finally found what I was looking for. The experiences I had encountered, which were later labeled partial complex seizures, were very much like spiritual awakenings that I was reading about. I narrowed my focus at that point and began reading books and studying with many of the well known teachers in non-duality. Around this time I began writing about my realizations and started sharing my discoveries with the world through my blog and an email list I had of my friends, family and acquaintances. My blogs eventually became a book in late 2012, entitled “A Seeker’s Guide to Inner Peace: Notes to Self.” It was actually like the book wrote itself through me and for me, though everyone who has read it has enjoyed it as much as me. I have continued to write and feel as though it is my calling. These discoveries have to be shared with the world and I am happy to be a conduit for that to happen.


STORY SYNOPSIS

- Please submit a synopsis of the story you would like to develop and tell why you think it is an important story to write, especially for general audiences (2500 character maximum - approximately 500 words).

Wherever you look you see nature and science. For example, if you are driving down the road and you look around, what do you see? Cars, signs, power poles, electrical lines, lights, buildings, bridges, glass, asphalt, guard rails, etc. What do all of these things have in common? All of them come from the Earth and all of them took science to create. We are mining metals of all types to make car parts, steel beams, wires and more. We are converting rocks and sand into structures that could not have existed a few hundred years ago. We are able to turn fossil fuels into a wide variety of plastics, as well as create energy. All of this required scientific exploration to achieve. Wise men and women spent their lives figuring out new ways to manifest things using the natural resources we have been given. The main goal has primarily been to make life better for people.

I’m always amazed at what hard work and modern engineering can accomplish. All you have to do is look around with a sense of curiosity to discover things that took years to become possible. Look at a piece of fabric. Creating that used to take countless hours by hand and is now mass produced from a plant grown by farmers. Imagine how much cotton it takes to make all of the blankets sold at your local retailer, then consider how many retailers there are just like that in your town, your state, this country, the world.

Look at a new bridge being built. Imagine how much concrete and steel it takes to create that structure. Imagine how many tons of metal has to be extracted from the ground and melted in order to form those beams. Let’s not forget how much science goes into forming just the right size, shape and consistency to determine the right amount of support needed for any given application. Consider the ingenuity involved to precisely position an enormous structure and the hundreds of manhours needed to create just one bridge abutment. I could go on and on about the various ways in which science has improved our daily lives and how we overlook it, but I must leave some space for where spirituality fits in.

Science is represented in the world of manifestation, while spirituality is found in the unmanifested realm. Before thought is born, there is only the sense of “I am.” Without thought there is only presence. Consciousness itself. That space of conscious awareness is what we truly are. We are not our names, we are not our stories, we are not what we have been told all of our lives. We are the awareness that allows us to enjoy this world of form. Our purpose is to recognize our true nature, and that recognition makes it possible to truly appreciate what we have been given.


BIOGRAPHY

- Please submit a short biographical sketch (1500 character maximum - approximately 300 words).

I was born in Asheville, NC, the son of two academic-minded business professors. Creativity was encouraged, but I was taught that higher education and analytical thinking is what would lead to success in life. I followed suit and earned three master’s degrees in the field of business. Eventually my interest in business was replaced by an interest in spirituality, thanks to my diagnosis with epilepsy in 2004. It was a life shaking event (no pun intended), but one that had a profoundly positive effect on my life. It made me realize that what’s truly important transcends what the analytical mind has to offer. I came to understand that Self-realization is what leads to the sense of peace that makes all thing possible.

I continued to have occasional seizures, both partial and grand mal, for about four years, but they deepened my curiosity in the unknown. My exploration of the unknown led to me become a writer. After a few years of blogging about spirituality, I wrote a book on the subject I had become so passionate about - A Seeker’s Guide to Inner Peace. Since the publication of that book I have continued to write and deepen my experiential understanding of Life. I now host regular satsangs (truth gatherings) and have created an online community devoted to non-duality - Asheville Sangha. I am now focused on the integration of these teachings into the often times stressful life most of us lead.

My wife and I currently live on the outskirts of Asheville in Candler, NC, with our four year old daughter.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Where is This Thing Going?

Like most people, I find myself caught in repetitive thinking from time to time. It’s usually about something that I need to do in the future, and can be rather bothersome. For example, when I’m laying in bed thinking about something I think I need to do in the future. Obviously there are times when you may need to think ahead or plan, but we tend to get stuck in overthinking things that are really of no importance in the grand scheme of things. It may be helpful to ask yourself, “Can anything be done about this situation now?” If not, why waste time thinking about it?

In my experience very little thinking is actually necessary to make things happen. We do things all day long without thinking about them. But we have a tendency to dwell on certain things instead of just doing them or letting them go. So, let’s explore what happens when we stop thinking about doing things and let things happen.

The next time you have time where you don’t need to be anywhere in particular, just stand in the middle of the room and wait to see what happens. Whatever the body decides to do, go with it. Let the mind follow instead of lead. It may be that you just stand there waiting for something to happen for a few minutes, but eventually there will be movement. It may begin by just turning your head to look at something. As you observe, ask yourself, “I wonder what it’s* going to look at next?” Then wait and watch. Movement will happen eventually. When it does, allow that sense of curiosity to return. “Now what’s it* going to do?” Notice how your mind doesn't need to be in control for action to occur.

Spend some time with this and you can build more trust in just allowing. Use it the next time you go to the store. “I wonder which aisle it’s going to go down?” “I wonder what it will pick up next?” Wonder is the optimum word here. Just wonder at how Life does what it needs to do without you needing to think about it. “I wonder what it* will think of next?” is another interesting thing to ask. You never know, nor can you control, what thought is going to pop in your head next. But there is value in watching the mind just like you watch the body in this way of wonder.

In this exercise you are engaged in active and attentive waiting. This creates stillness even when there is movement and directs your attention to the present moment.The deeper you go into the present moment, the deeper the sense of wonder gets. You can then connect with the mystical impulse of Life that makes things happen. That impulse is ever present but can only be appreciated when thought isn’t covering it up. You can uncover it by letting Life move you instead of you trying to move it. Where is this thing going? We can’t know until we’re here.

* By the way, referring to the body/mind as an IT is a good way to create some space around who you think you are so you can pay more attention to what you really are -- Life itself.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Frame By Frame

I was rereading Byron Katie's book, A Thousand Names for Joy, recently (I've read it a number of times and Katie is one of all time favorite teachers) and I ran across a great pointer. She said that her experience is like viewing what's happening one frame at a time. I decided to explore this view of life from a frame by frame perspective, and I understood why the awakened mind experiences life this way. It is what it is to be fully present, no thought of past or future (until the need arises to think). It's like taking a snapshot in time of each moment when your gaze pauses on an object.

This is one of several present moment pointers that I recommend. If you want to do it yourself, consider this approach:

Look around at your surroundings. Pause for just a second on any object to take a mental picture. You don't need to know anything about what you're looking at it, you're just pausing to take it in. If you stop too long on any one thing the mind may decide to analyze it or describe it, so just a second or two is plenty. 

Continue to glance around with a sense of curiosity. You actually don't know where you are going to look next, and you're too present to care about where your attention will land next, much less what you just saw. What you have just looked at is irrelevant. There is just this magical unfolding moment that is constantly changing shapes. Moment.. by.. moment... Now... Now... Now... Though each moment may seem to stand alone, there is really only one moment. This is what the present moment looks like -- a never ending, seamless experience of what is. There is no room for judgment in a constant state of present moment awareness, which is why it is so peaceful.

As you practice this you will likely experience an increased level of excitement about what you will experience next. There is no time to speculate about it, only experience it as it comes.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

InJoy Your Downtime

Do you ever get the feeling that you could/should be doing better at what you're doing or not doing? Like you could/should be doing more than what you're doing? Then, feel guilty when the opportunity to do nothing arises? Give it up! It's all ego. It's all conditioning handed down from our parents, our peers, and it's complete bullshit. Our projection on what we think other people think shapes our insecurities, our feelings of not being good enough. All of that is built on a foundation of lies that you have been feeding yourself all of your life.

You have permission to enjoy downtime and just do nothing. You also have the opportunity to use your downtime to do some inner exploration. Just the act of directing attention inward has a very calming effect. Couple that with an unconditional acceptance to what comes to you and you have a winning combination for inner peace.

InJoy your quiet time when the opportunity arises, and create some inner silence periodically throughout the day. Every second counts, and all there ever is is this second. It's always this second, so what is a second? What evidence is there that seconds exist? A number on a clock changing. There was a land before time not that long ago, where the only evidence of passing time was the movement of the earth. But I digress.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

This Is It

There is one singular, inarguable truth, with which we all must agree. Like it or not, this moment has already happened. What is, is as it is. There is no escaping that one simple fact. In my experience, realizing and accepting this basic truth is the only sane way to live.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I'll Be Here For You

Dear friends and family,

It has taken a while for me to fully realize the impact of reassurance when a friend or loved one is struggling, stressed or pained in some way. In my world, I see the goodness in the world, and know that personal suffering is avoidable with the proper "tools" (for lack of a better word). But this is viewed as a phony belief by many, and not readily accepted by most. So, it's not very reassuring to approach someone who is upset with things like, "It's going to be okay," much less to say things like, "This is actually a good thing. If you look at it this way, you can see that it's not as bad as you think. Everything happens for you, not to you (as Katie likes to say). Here are some reasons not to get stressed out about this..."

Despite the fact that my wife has told me on a number of occasions that she doesn't want to be told things like that, my instincts continue to override logic (or whatever you want to call it) and rush in to "helper mode." It's interesting to see how unhelpful that can be most of the time.  But there are a few key things that I've come to realize. First, a person complaining about something isn't necessarily requesting help, just voicing what's inside them. Secondly, when rushing into reassurance mode, there is a tendency to either negate the other person's feelings, or make them feel bad for having them, thereby making them frustrated at the messenger for not understanding them. Call me a slow learner, but after years of my unsuccessful attempts to help others, I'm finally getting it. "They don't need my help, they need a hug," is a saying that came to me recently.

This new undefstanding is thanks in part to having a toddler in the "terrible threes" stage of life, and a friend of mine who is somewhat of a parenting guru (thanks BJ). She and I had a "chance" meeting at just the right time (as all meetings do), and she told me about how to best deal with crying/complaining toddlers who want something that they can't have. Here is a summary of the tips she gave me:

Listen to what they have to say and repeat back to them their wishes in an understanding way. They just want what all of us want -- to be heard and understood. Shifting the focus of their desire to an agreeable solution makes the desired object/event less important. An example she gave was a situation where the child wants a cookie that you don't want her to have. You might say, "You really like cookies don't you? I do, too. Let's have one later on after we eat dinner (or something to that effect)." Follow up that with a slight change of subject, and the upset tends to dissipate. Basically, when you "join them" or acknowledge their desire in a positive light, rather than just telling them "No," the outcome is much more peaceful, and they tend to forget about what upset them in the first place. We have had a lot of success with this approach, but each situation calls for a different level of "joining" and finding an agreeable solution or new subject to focus on (it's a never-ending learning process for everyone involved).

Anyway, after a few recent failed attempts to reassure my wife about something she viewed as negative backfired, I realized that I had been going about things all wrong.  As in the case with a toddler (and I'm not saying my wife acts like a three year old), she wants her feelings to be heard and understood (what most people want). Silly me, I thought that people who were stressed out wanted reassurance (must be the way I was raised). Now that I know that my attempts to help have been interpreted as me not caring, not listening, negating her feelings, etc., I am attempting to step back and take a look at the way I approach my relationships.

I've heard the term, "giving space" for someone who needs to express their frustration, and I've been trying to figure out what that looks like. As with everything, it's very situational and an "unlearning" process. Being with someone in some form of emotional/psychological pain, without trying to fix them and allowing them the space to experience what they are experiencing, runs counter to my intuition and seems to be a bit of a tightrope.

On the one side of the tightrope is the listening and not-say-anything approach, which may be interpreted as uncaring. Another way might be agreeing with the other person, which could look like being condescending if you're not sincere. Then there's the crusher, "Everything happens for the best," which, as true as it is, may be seen as disrespectful of the other person's feelings (and may get you slapped if you're not careful).

There is also the old saying, "Actions speak louder than words," which points to things like simply holding a person's hand, or giving them a hug when they are in pain and you don't know what to do. That may convey the entire message of "I'm here for you," without the needs for words of reassurance.

So, what am I learning from all of this?  Here are a few things that have come up for me.

First, what the other person is experiencing is to be respected, even if it's not understood.  Everyone is living in their own separate reality that is not like any one else's, and we're all doing our best to interact with people who don't see life the way we do.

"This too shall pass," is another good thing to keep in mind. It's not just some belief, it's the simple truth. Everything passes as soon as it happens, and in five minutes the entire episode may be done and over.

Don't expect too much of yourself. Regardless of your approach, don't feel like a failure if things don't magically get "better." Don't be surprised if you are blamed for the hurt of another, and don't take it personally.

Remember that this, whatever form this moment takes, is a necessary part of the path for others. They are walking it the only way they know how, as are you.

"They" are really "you" in disguise, and their job is to point out where we still have unresolved issues (or stuck energy), which takes the form of them "pushing our buttons."

A quote I read recently from Byron Katie was, "Defense is the first act of war." That may not sit well with some, but the way she explained it made it so beautifully clear that war can not exist when there is no retaliation. It's difficult to practice when our buttons get pushed, but that level of acceptance is the secret to peace.

Don't forget to be true to yourself when you are engaged with another human being who is in a negative state.  If you can maintain a calm demeanor in the face of someone taking their pain out on you, that's great. But you don't have to take it. Removing yourself from a situation might be the kindest thing you can do.

It's been a learning process for me, and I'm sure I'll have more to share about it later.

Random Notes to Self:

Misguided attempts to make them feel better
See the bright side
Addicted to suffering
Guilt for being happy and seeing things as good
Addicted to past, unable to be present
Unable to "Join" them where they are
Reassurance heard as "Get over it," and a lack of respect.
Say nothing? Allow the wallowing? Love the wallowing
It's all about me. They are teaching us how to feel and experience emotions.
What should I be learning from this?
Respect
Allow
Ask how their holding up.
It is as it should be.
It is for the best.
No guilt for an apparent failure.

Change Your Outlook and Change the World

I wrote this letter to a loved one who recently came to me in a lot of pain. He was very frustrated at me and coming at me with a great deal of negativity. I just held space and listened, though some of the words struck me as a bit harsh. I let those feelings come and let them go. There was a time a few years ago that this discussion I had would have left me very devastated, but I could only feel compassion for the pain he was in. One of the gifts that came from this confrontation was me writing a response that I could share with the world. I'm hoping it benefits everyone who reads it in some way, or at least serves as a reminder.

Dear ___ ,

I felt your pain when we last spoke, and I really wanted to reach out to you with some things that I would like someone to tell me if I were in your position. So take what you want from this and forget the rest.

- Everyone is doing the best they can given the way they were brought up. You would be just like any other person if you had walked in their shoes. Compassion comes from this recognition.

- What happened in the past was necessary, because that's what happened. Thinking things "should" have gone differently is a painful way to live because you're arguing with reality. Simply realizing and accepting the current state as the necessary outcome of everything leading up to it frees you from the past and let's you focus on what's needed now. Self forgiveness and the forgiveness of others is born out of the recognition that the past was unavoidable and unchangeable. Eliminating "should" from your worldview is very freeing (see the Underlying Should for more).

- You can't do it wrong. You can only do it the way your life has set you up to do it, which is the best that you know how. When you recognize that whatever you do is the right/best thing to do, moving forward becomes lighter and less stressful. Clear thinking comes from the confidence that you can't do it wrong, even if the outcome isn't what you had hoped for. There is no fear of failure governing the decision making process when you know this to be true.

- We all have our issues, many of which are the same (i.e. money, relationships, work, etc.) and those issues can become part of our identity. For example, many people become addicted to being a victim and see the world as an unkind place. Those people are closed off to the possibility that the belief in being a victim is the only thing making them a victim. If someone suggests that their thinking is responsible, they get very defensive because their whole identity is built on that belief. Plus, they see the world as too threatening to let down their guard.

I want you to know that I love you, and that I would do anything to help you. The only thing I know to do is share the wisdom I've gained over the years with all of my personal struggles (and I've had more than my fair share). There are no problems, only challenges, and we are always up to the task of whatever Life throws our way, especially if our minds are clear and not bogged down with the past, nor fearful of the future. Believe it or not, Life can be peaceful even in the midst of chaos. The key is to examine your worldview when ever you experience stress. Thoughts create problems where there are really just situations that need to be dealt with. 

Thank you for coming to me with all of your concerns. I know that wasn't easy for you, and it would have been much more painful for me without the clarity I have gained over the last few years.

I love you,

Trey

Saturday, January 03, 2015

I Assume You

Dear friends and family,

I hope you have all enjoyed the holiday season, whether you spent it alone or with family and friends. I always learn more about myself when there are others around and when I become open to the idea that they are a reflection of me.

For example, I had this realization that nothing has any drama to it unless I give it drama. I'm referring to the drama that is often prevalent in human relationships and interactions. Someone can be acting upset about something, but them being upset is just my inference based on their voice, body language, accumulated judgments, etc..  Our story about what's going on makes that the only reality we can see, but our story is built upon a pile of incorrect assumptions. Assuming basically means that I presume to be you, or momentarily assume your identity, in order to understand you better. I think I know what you think, which is why to assume is to make an Ass out of U and Me.

I realized that one way you can test this theory for yourself is to remove all of the vocal inflections from a person's speech to see what is actually being said, which may be easier to see in an interaction between other people at first.  Take a statement like, "You never listen!" spoken very loudly with an accusatory tone. Typically something like that would trigger a bunch of stored up "stuff" (or Pain Body as Eckhart Tolle would say) in us that could make us defensive and possibly retaliatory.  Then take that same statement and remove the tone and mannerisms that make you believe this is an attack.  What you would be left with is a flat out statement, 'You never listen."  That is simply a statement about how the other person feels, and not something that needs to be refuted or taken personally.  An exasperated sigh, becomes just a sigh unless I say it means something other than an exhalation of air. An exclamation point (!) becomes a period.

I give all things their meaning.  This is why it's been said that when you wake up (become enlightened, etc.) you take everyone else with you.  When you wake up you stop believing all of your assumptions about yourself and others, and become open to how things really are before you assign a meaning or add the overlay of a story. I create drama in a situation by adding a story about what's happening, and I become at ease when I interpret things simply as they are, without a story.

As I had this realization, while spending time with some family, I realized that the peace didn't stop with me. That is to say, interactions between other people lost any emotional charge that I would have believed existed before.  For example, person A and person B have a history of conflict, and there is typically a heightened sense of anticipation when they are together, in effect there is an expectation of a snide comment to be made.

However, once this realization settled over me, their interactions lost the story I had crafted based on their history. This is why the present moment is where the peace that surpasses all peace can be found. Stories disappear when you drop your attachment to the past because the past is what makes up our beliefs  Beliefs are layers of thoughts that filter what we see into a complete fiction that only we can see, which is why no two people hear or see the same thing during a given situation.  Each person's story of what's happening is like a snowflake -- totally unique.

Part of what fueled this evolution in my consciousness was the recognition of a false assumption I made.  Based on hearing just a snippet of a conversation, I found myself going to the story of, "He must be feeling upset about what's going on right now."  How arrogant of me to assume I know how someone else feels based solely on vocal tone and their past.  I realized that I had no way of knowing, so I revisited the situation with no interpretation by viewing it from a "monotone" perspective.  Then, the self-imagined charge was gone and there was just a conversation between two people who were simply stating things.  In short, there is no conflict between other people unless I decide there is.

The ongoing challenge now is to remember this realization during interactions with everyone in every situation. The idea of stripping the vocal tone out of potentially charged conversations seems like a good pointer for me.  At least for now.  I encourage you to give it a try.  It means setting aside your beliefs for a moment, but the result is well worth it.

I always like to remind people that the inventors of the English language inserted hints here and there if we are open enough to notice.  For example, the word "believe" has the word lie built in -- be-LIE-ve. There is no such thing as a true belief, but don't take my word for it. It can be messy to determine where our beliefs begin and end, so I recommend The Work of Byron Katie (http://www.thework.com) as one method you can use to help undo the fictitious stories you have separating you from what's really real.

But you don't need The Work to try this out for yourself. Just drop your interpretation of what's happening when it feels like there is tension in the air between yourself or others.  Then remember that you are the one creating that tension and that it's all in your mind.  There really is no "other" unless and until you create them in your mind's eye, and your mind's eye is always uniquely flawed.  This is why spiritual teachers refer to all of this as a dream, and that waking from the dream is what brings peace to a world of chaos. That's not a belief but something that you can see for yourself if you are open enough.

I wish you all a happy and wonderful new present moment, regardless of what the numbers on a calendar say :)

Trey