Saturday, December 26, 2009

It All Starts With Mindfulness

I took a bit of a break from writing between March and November. I felt a need to wind down a bit. That’s due in part to a feeling of, “What more is there to say?” Anything I said would just be a repeat of something that’s already been said. But I have benefitted greatly from re-reading the same thing at a later date, as well as reading the same thing stated a different way. Plus, technically there is nothing “new” about anything I’ve said so far. So, I decided to start putting ideas on digital paper again and ended up at the beginning again – mindfulness.

If you want to live a better life, filled with less stress and anxiety, it’s really quite simple. It all begins with mindfulness. The ability to notice what’s going on in the mind and body is crucial, and also takes practice. We can’t really control our thoughts because they have a mind of their own (no pun intended). What we can do is take a step back from our thoughts and witness their redundant, incessant, and often trivial activities.

Anyone can notice what thoughts they are thinking at any moment in time just by “looking.” One way to start out might be to deliberately think thoughts, or mentally recite something while you watch the thoughts happen. There are your thoughts, and here you are, witnessing them. I recommend you do this as often as possible with your everyday thoughts since mindfulness creates a solid foundation for a better life.

If you want to take mindfulness to the next level, you can “look” at who or what is witnessing these thoughts. “Who am I,” is the basic question to ask over and over again, while continuing to direct your attention toward the witness behind your thoughts. However, that is a topic for another discussion, and I think most people start out just practicing mindfulness on a more personal level, focusing attention on their life situation.

On that more personal level of mindfulness, you can really learn a lot about yourself when you watch how you think in different situations. I have found it immensely helpful to have read books by Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie because they have helped point out specific repetitive thought structures that most of us have going all the time, as well as their adverse affect on our state of being. In fact, I wouldn’t even know that these thoughts were going on, much less that they were at the root of my problems, had it not been for these great teachers. Simply knowing that thoughts prevent us from seeing the beauty all around is an idea that encourages us to get out of our heads and to wake up.

There are a few basic kernels of wisdom that I have found helpful to keep in mind while being mindful. I am not my thoughts. I can’t control my thoughts, but I can observe them. My thoughts only represent my past conditioning. When I feel worried, I realize that I am mentally living in an imagined future. Life is my mirror, and when I think negatively of another, it is actually me I am thinking negatively of. I forgive easily and forget quickly.

If someone lashes out at me, rather than react, I try to notice what thoughts or emotions are triggered. In most cases, no reaction is better than any action at all. I recognize that I am not the cause of their upset, nor they of mine. Past conditioning and mental stories are the actual culprits. When I do notice resentment, I bring myself back to the present moment, realizing that, in reality, the past never really happened. I am the only one keeping it alive with my thoughts. Plus, since no two people see anything the same way, the past I’m feeding is completely different from that of another.

Feelings of conflict or stress can serve as a reminder to notice what thoughts are doing to me. Since negativity always stems from some sort of judgment, it helps to mentally do The Work (by Byron Katie) throughout the day. When I find myself lost in compulsive and repetitive thought, I notice the frustration that can cause, then try to bring attention back to what I am doing at this moment and give it my full attention.

The thing I’ve noticed about being mindful, and the knowledge I’ve gained from looking at my reactive nature, is that the movement of mind is very subtle. My ability to notice when I feel defensive has improved dramatically, and there is much less stress and conflict in my life. But, this can make it more disturbing when conflict does occur. A feeling of frustration or disappointment is often present after a stressful moment has occurred. A feeling is like a hidden thought that is not in words but felt in the body, and is sometimes more difficult to notice. If investigated, I find that this negative feeling might stem from thoughts like: “I should know better,” or “ When will I realize that my thoughts just a result of past conditioning?” or “ Why can’t I recognize that I am the only cause of conflict in my life?” or “ When will I be free of compulsive thinking?”

All of these questions are simply forms of self-judgment that can carry us away into a story of lack and insufficiency if left unchecked. It helps me when I notice these thoughts or feelings of self-judgment to remember the necessity of all things. For example, it is necessary for me to feel or experience such thoughts in order to point out hidden pockets of resistance. It is my challenge to be made aware of my resistance to what is, then accept what is (even if I am accepting my own lack of acceptance). What I experience is what I need to experience, even if it doesn’t feel all that pleasant. Accepting one’s own failure to live up to some mind created standard is a practice that grows easier with continuous self-observation. As a result, failure is seen as success in spotting the falseness of the mind created standard.

This is all part of a gradual Awakening. Life just gets better as we release old habits and ways of thinking. The past we drag around with us seems to get heavier as we go, but it has always been heavy. We are just starting to realize just how heavy it really is. Mindfulness is at the root of lightening the load.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all are enjoying the change of the seasons. As the leaves fall, the sky gets larger, the nights grow longer. The stars seem brighter and more prevalent, and the outside world becomes more still as the birds and insects disappear. An exciting change is in the air.

Thanksgiving is also upon us. This is one of my favorite holidays because it serves as a reminder to look at all there is to be grateful for. I am grateful for my family and friends, for their love and support. I am grateful that I have come to see how much love there is in the simplest act. I am grateful for this beautiful planet we inhabit. I am grateful for technology that has enabled me to connect with so many people from my past and present.

At the most basic level, I am grateful that I exist. What a miraculous gift! How is it even possible to express enough gratitude for my pure existence? I am also grateful for all of the great teachings that have come into my life, which have led me to appreciate all there is. Everywhere I look I can see things to be grateful for – if I look close enough. I would like to encourage all of you to look at all of the little things there are to be grateful for as well.

Many of us have mixed feelings about coming together with friends and family over the holidays. Some are eager to reunite, and some are a bit reluctant (or a combination of both). It can be a time of stress when it comes to preparations that need to be made. We want everything to be just right. We love it when things go our way. But things don’t always go the way we want, which causes stress. I encourage you to recognize when this happens and be grateful that things are always going exactly the way they are supposed to, whether it coincides with our plans or not. Gratitude is the greatest stress reliever.

If the casserole gets burned, or the turkey gets overcooked, or someone forgets to bring dessert, be grateful. Things have gone exactly as they are supposed to and you’ve been given a great opportunity to realize and appreciate that. If disagreements happen among family members over politics or other family matters, another opportunity for growth has arisen. Once you realize that life could be no other way than it is right now, true forgiveness can occur. When we forgive, gratitude is a natural byproduct. This gratitude stems from not having to bear the heavy burden of resentment and anger. If we recognize that we are acting out of anger or frustration, we can then forgive ourselves and experience the gratitude of being forgiven.

As I was writing this, an Eckhart Tolle quote crossed my path. “Forgiveness happens naturally once you realize that your grievance serves no purpose except to strengthen a false sense of self (ego). Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life – to allow life to live through you. The alternatives are pain and suffering, a greatly restricted flow of life energy, and in many cases physical disease.”

To truly forgive is to rid yourself of the burdensome weight of the past. Holding on to the past – whether that be 5 minutes ago or 5 years ago – will only lead to more suffering. To forgive and forget is to bring attention back to the only moment we will ever have: Now. Be thankful for Now by recognizing it as the one thing that matters.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Powerful Pointers

Ever since I discovered the idea of enlightenment a couple of years ago, I have felt compelled to find out as much as I could about it. I have been a researcher of sorts, taking in all of these things compiling them, sharing them with others, etc. My intellectual comprehension has continued to deepen, as has my experiential understanding. What I have found quite useful is reading certain things that resonate with me multiple times. I have found that I am not always present enough to hear what is being said the first time. In effect, I may not be ready to hear this now, but may be later. The other benefit to continuing to read about such things is that it serves as a constant reminder to look deeper. Otherwise, you read a book about enlightenment and say, “Well, that’s interesting,” and then leave it at that.

However, it seems to be that we all want the same thing: a sense of peace that is not determined or affected by what the world throws at us. We all want to be happy. So, it seems in order for us to do that, we have to be able to be completely at peace with who we are. How can we be happy when we are playing a role, trying to please others? Why can’t we just be ourselves and not care about pleasing others? What if being ourselves is all it takes to please others? Then we must first recognize who we truly are beyond the roles we have played all of our lives.

Along my personal journey, I have picked up various pointers that have resonated with me. Pointers are wonderful tools that help guide the mind toward what we truly are. We, in effect, use this mind to search for ourselves, but can’t rely on it to understand what we are looking for. Intellectual understanding is great, and I think is a necessary part of finding yourself, but eventually those mental concepts become a hindrance and have to be put aside to make room for the actual experience of what is true.

The pointers I have provided below have helped me bring about the experience of understanding rather than the mental movement of understanding (though both seem to happen). I invite you to experiment with them on your own to see what happens. Try sitting with one pointer, or one sentence of a pointer for a while rather than just give it all a once over and forget about it. You may find that some of them work some of the time and not at others, but I recommend try them all over and over. It might be helpful for you to copy and paste them into a document you can print out for future use, or write some on post it notes to place around as reminders.

Lately I’ve found that the most simple, yet profound, pointers are those that just tell you to look at yourself. In fact, according to John Sherman, if you simply look at yourself as often as you think of it, you are guaranteed to find what you are looking for, which is what you have always been and didn’t realize it ;)


When needless thoughts arise and you notice them, turn them into gibberish or replace them with blah blah blah. Witness the thoughts as they turn into meaninglessness and disappear into silence.

What’s more real, the thoughts in my head, or the fact that I am here? Check in and see.

Simply look at yourself. Not in the mirror. Just look at yourself. Ask yourself, “Who am I?” and follow your attention inward, as if your point of focus has rotated 180 degrees.

Look at who you think you are. Look at your mind made image of yourself, how you see yourself, how you think others see you. What is really there?

Point your finger around at different objects, looking at what it points at along the way. Then point the finger at your own face. Look at what it is pointing at.

Who or what is looking through my eyes? Close your eyes and “look” (or focus your attention) at what’s right behind your eyes.

Focus your attention on your inner body. Feel the life underneath your skin. Feel your breath.

Be still and notice the stillness around you. Listen to the silence underneath the noises you hear.

Focus on the empty space around you. Look around and become aware of the space that encompasses everything.

Think about this: Nothing ever happened. Everything in the past is just your imagination.

There is just this. Just what is in front of you at this moment. The only thing that really exists is just this, only this. Right here, right now.

Look at things for the first time, as if you had never seen them before. Drop your stories and labels and just look through the eyes that don’t know anything. What was it before you knew what it was?

Let it (everything) be, just as it is. Look at the simple isness of it. See it only for what it is. It is simply here, just here, in your presence, and you are aware of it being present.

Look at your hands as they manipulate things. Watch them as they move around with their own innate intelligence. You don’t need to control them, they know what they’re doing. What will they do next? Just witness.

You are not the doer. See what it’s like when you stop pretending to be in control. Just let the body lead the way and see where it takes you.

I am ALWAYS right here. I am, and always have been, aware of my own existence, my here-ness. I am never not aware that I exist. In every circumstance, I am always aware of the space that I am in. The one constant, never changing fact is that I am aware of myself. I am totally conscious (aware) of being here (present) where ever I am. I see that I exist even when I am unaware that I am aware. “I am” even when I don’t know “I am.”

Look at a past memory. What was it that was there witnessing it? What hasn’t changed since then? What has always been there, where every you have been, what ever you have done? You. Your simple “you-ness” has always been present at any given point in your life. Quietly watching your life unfold.

What if this same witnessing presence that looks through your eyes is the same witnessing presence that is looking through everyone else’s eyes? Look around at others as if your witnessing presence is actually the same presence looking through their eyes. In effect, take your awareness and wrap it around behind the eyes of others. The only difference is your outward appearance and your past experiences. You may have different thoughts, but that which is always here for us (our witnessing presence) is the same for all of us.

If I’m asked, “Are you enlightened yet?” I would say, “Yes. I always have been. I just haven’t fully realized it yet.”

Driving (or walking) Meditation:
As you drive down the road (highways and byways where there is not stop and go traffic is best), focus your eyes a slight bit higher, or lower, or to the left or right of where you would typically look. As you do so, open up your field of vision so that you are focusing not just on what is in front of you, but also what is in your peripheral vision. Expand your view so that you are taking in more of the scenery all around rather than just what is right in front of you. Experiment by looking around at different points in front of you (i.e. a little to the left of center, a little above center, etc.). As you do so, remain aware of your peripheral vision. You can simultaneously be aware of what is in front of you and what is all around you. You can enjoy looking at the sky as you drive down the road just with a slight shift in your perspective. Even the lines painted on the road are more alive when they are noticed. Take it all in. Be aware of it.

As you do this, notice if you feel any tension in your body. Relax into it by taking a smiling breath. This is life. It’s always all around you even when you don’t notice. Don’t be afraid to look around when you drive. You don’t even have to turn your head to do it. Surrender to the fact that you don’t have any control over your fate when you get in a car (or in any other circumstance for that matter). There’s nothing to fear if life is giving you everything you need to experience to bring about your own fulfillment. In short, you’re not driving, you’re being driven. Since we’re all on a hunk of rock that’s spinning a thousand miles per hour and hurtling through space at half a million miles per hour, why not sit back and enjoy the ride?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

25 Things

An interesting little Facebook note came my way asking me to write 25 things about myself and pass it on. I felt that it was an opportunity to share some teachings with people who might never have been exposed to such ideas. It’s mostly a summary of things I have picked up from Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie. So, here is what I originally wrote (I later went back and made it more of an autobiographical note as the instructions suggested). I will take these ideas to a deeper level in my next post.

1. I like collecting seeds of wisdom and sowing them around the world in an attempt to make it a happier, greener place to live. Take only that which resonates with you and forget the rest.
2. You are not the thinker. Your thoughts are not who you are
3. You are totally at the mercy of life. You don’t live life, it lives you.
4. Believing your thoughts eventually leads to suffering (i.e. boredom, discontentment, complaining, frustration, anger, etc.)
5. Let everything be just as it is, without mental labels
6. Now is all there ever is. Everything happens, and has happened, in the present moment. You are, and always will be, present.
7. Your thoughts create a veil of stories and labels that prevent you from seeing what life truly is
8. Give your fullest attention to what you are doing right now as often as you can
9. Pay attention to the feeling of your inner body, or your breathing, as often as you can
10. Listen to the voice in your head as it talks about everything around you. Know that those thoughts are simply part of your past conditioning and are not who you are. Do not judge yourself for having them. Just notice.
11. Who are you really? If you set aside your mind made identity, what’s left?
12. Everything you have ever experienced was necessary to bring you to where you are now, which is exactly where you are meant to be.
13. Who would you be without your story, without your name, without your history?
14. Look at where your hands are right now. Look at how you are sitting. Did you plan that or was it just a happening?
15. There is my business, their business, and God’s (reality’s) business. If you are in someone else’s business you are not living your life.
16. All of your judgements toward others are actually about you. When you judge someone, look to see if you can find an element of that judgement living within yourself.
17. Everyone, including you, is doing the best they can given their present state of consciousness. If you had lived their life, you would be acting in the same way they are.
18. All war, on a personal and collective level, stems from believing your thoughts to be true
19. What is, is. You can argue with it or accept it.
20. If you can witness your thoughts, then you are obviously not your thoughts. You are actually the witnessing presence behind those thoughts.
21. Pay attention to the empty space that contains all things.
22. Pay attention to the silence underneath the sounds, the silence between words or thoughts.
23. Look at the things in this world as if it was the first time you had ever seen them, as if you had no previous knowledge of what they were. What was it before you knew what it was?
24. Ask yourself “Who am I?” and direct your attention inward. Don’t look for and answer with the mind, just focus your attention at the source of the question. Who is it that asks the question?
25. The story of who you think you are is what prevents you from seeing your true nature as consciousness itself. Awareness is who you are. You have never not been aware.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Day

I would like to wish you all a happy and joyous Martin Luther King day. WNCW played his "I have a dream" speech on the radio earlier, and I was moved to tears. The presence and passion that this man exuded shaped this country in ways one could only imagine. His fearless fight for unity and justice through peaceful means served as an example of what life is truly about: Love.

Our nation has come so far in the last 40 years, due in great part to Dr. King and his connection with God. Now, his dream for this nation is taking a giant leap that could not have been imagined possible just a few decades earlier. Tomorrow, for the first time in history, a black man will be appointed President of the United States of America. These are truly historic times.

This, too, is why we are all here. We are that change. We are that unity. We are that love. We are that fearlessness. We are that God. We are here to awaken to the truth of who we are, and bring about the same unimaginable change that will save the world, even if we have to die to do it.

In the meantime, feel that gratitude that has allowed us to be alive at this moment, to be present as witnesses to what love can do to change the world.

In peace,

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Let it Be

Hello all,
I hope your new year is off to a great start and feel certain that this will be your year to shine. I wanted to pass this note on to those of you you might find it helpful in some way. Be well.

This could be considered a follow up to my previous post (And the Story Goes On), but I am beginning to fully realize, on an experiential level, the profound simplicity of the words, “Let everything be as it is.” This is something repeated by Eckhart Tolle and is also referred to as “accepting what is,” or accepting the “isness” of the present moment. I knew what it meant intellectually, and have been heeding this advice for a while now, but just recently experienced the meaning of the words more deeply. Despite the seeming redundant nature of this realization (based on previous experiences), I am slowly internalizing these pointers for what they are, due in part to continuous and repeated exposure.

In this particular case I was peeing in the toilet and as I looked down I dropped the story of what a toilet was and looked at it from the present moment perspective, as if I had no past reference to tell me what a toilet was. I just let it be as it was. As I did so the pure simplicity of its isness shined through. It had no name, no story, it just was present. I became simultaneously aware of the one looking at the toilet and thoughts subsided. The toilet was still a toilet, but I just let it be completely as it was, in its natural state of nothingness, as in no name or description. It was simply a never seen before object. It was just a presence, or something here, now. (BTW - I was still able to close the lid, flush, wash my hands, etc., but those actions took place without my needing to do anything, and I was able to just enjoy witnessing each step happen.)

It seems so simple to just let something be as it is, dropping the story and just accepting what is present as an indescribably mystery, as nothingness. That is, in essence, what it is. The word essence is one of those terms I had a mental image of, which meant I was missing the literal meaning of it. Essence for me conjured up the idea of some luminous core. But in simple terms, essence is just the simple or basic substance of something (you might want to look it up in a dictionary).

A toilet is, in essence, a molded ceramic object. But it becomes even more simple than that when viewed from a present moment perspective. It is, in essence, just some nameless thing with a certain shape and texture. But at the deepest level, when you are so present you have no past reference at all, it just is.

This slight shift in perspective is what it all seems to be about. Take any object and look at it. Remove the idea you have in your head about what it is. Look at it as if you have never seen it before. What is it? If it has no name, no known purpose, no labels, what is it you are looking at? What is it, in essence (or on the most basic level), that you have in front of you? Let it be there, just as it is, nothing more, without trying to figure it out or describe it.

For me, what “it” is becomes much more clear. It takes on a richer texture, a new vividness, and an aliveness all its own. Then, it can’t even be said to be an object, because what is an object? It just is. It is just as it is. Nothing more, nothing less. The innate beauty is available for viewing and experiencing when thoughts are removed from the equation. Thoughts about “it” cloud the simple isness of what it is. Its presence (or here-ness) is all there really is to it, but it is a wonderful thing to see.

Taking all of these terms and pointers in a more literal sense cleared things up for me. However, I have to say that becoming fully present is still not easy for me to do very often (sometimes it’s easier than others). It takes a willingness, or one could say a determination, to see what is for what it is. The mind likes to step in and describe or instruct, but thoughts too can be viewed in this same simple way. They are present and can be viewed as what is in this moment, especially when you view them from the perspective of not being “your” thoughts, or not taking them personally. This creates some space between You (the witness of the thoughts) and your thoughts, which makes them less likely to suck you in.

In short, you can change your perspective and change the world.
In peace,