Monday, December 26, 2011

The Final Chapter (not really)

I knew I wanted to compile a book out of my past writings a year or two ago, but felt like I really wasn’t quite qualified enough.  I’m not some enlightened spiritual teacher, so I had to wonder if my words were really worthy enough to be contained in a book to be read by people who might be looking for the secret to inner peace, etc.  Isn’t that like the blind leading the blind?

These limiting thoughts were delaying my decision to complete the book, in the hopes that one day I would be “enlightened” and be able to bring the book to a better climax, such as, “Then, it happened.  My perspective shifted ever so slightly, and all became known.  I realized that there are no individuals, and that we are all one.  Part of a cosmic consciousness pretending to be human beings, etc.”  What a great ending that would have made, right?

It finally dawned on me that I was holding back out of fear of what projected “others” might think about some guy writing a book about enlightenment without being enlightened.  Who would read that?  Not me.  My “time” is too valuable for that ;-) When I finally recognized and acknowledged that old program of insufficiency running interference, I decided to push forward.  There will be plenty of critics, but I think there will be a larger number of people who get something from reading it (at least I hope so).  I know I sure did when I went back to read all of my old posts again.

Anyway, once I decided to finalize the book, assembly and proofreading turned out to be fairly time consuming.  But the challenge I’m facing at this moment is how to end this thing.  I’m going to continue writing, and have already written a few other things to be posted later.  Since there is no end in sight, how can I just abruptly say, “Okay, that’s it for now.  Stay tuned for the next one.”  No, I have to come up with a concluding chapter that does this book some justice.  Or do I?  Maybe I could just say, “Well, this seems like as good a stopping point as any.  The End.”  That’s sounding pretty good about now.

Maybe I could find a way that leaves people hanging on the edge of their seat in some way, like those season finales on TV that leave you going, “Those bastards!  They can’t just leave it like that!”  That would be fun if it were that kind of book.  Maybe my next book will be fiction and I can do just that.  But where does fiction end and non-fiction begin?

Your life is like a work of fiction starring you, and it has all of the different plot twists, comedy, drama, and boringness that any movie that lasts for 80 plus years would have.  We’re all pretending to be stars in our own movie, which features all sorts of guest stars.  If you’re reading these words right now, then I’ve stopped in to be a guest star in your movie (Hi there!).  When I go to the store, all of the other shoppers and check out clerk have become guest stars in my movie.  But how much more fun would it be if you actually realized it was all just a movie?  Then you could step out of it and enjoy it more fully.  When you’re trapped in it, the suffering of the main character seems so personal and yucky.  I invite you to examine what if feels like to be the watcher of your life as it unfolds, instead of being identified with your character.  It’s just like any dream where you are actually all of the characters in the dream, instead of the lead actor.

Could it be true?  Look around.  Could this all be a dream?  Could I actually be all of the characters in the dream and not know it?  Has it all been scripted out since the day I was born, or is it being written and directed on the fly?  Do I have any control over what’s going to happen next, or is the only power I have to step out of the dream and wake up?  Most, if not all, movies have a happy ending.  What if this one does too?  Can I finally relax and not sweat the small stuff?  What if recognizing that there is a happy ending creates a happy ending that never ends?  Wouldn’t it be nice to live that happily ever after Now?  Now is all there is, and that happy ending that never ends is concealed in that Now that never ends.

The End ;-)


You are perfect!  You are loved!  You are here!  What a glorious gift it is to be alive.  Don’t squander it pretending to be something smaller than you are.  Wake Up!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Teacher Resources

I have included a list of some of the most helpful and influential spiritual teachers I’ve encountered below.  They aren’t really in any particular order, and it is by all means not inclusive.  There are many more teachers that I have encountered only briefly, but whose words have been helpful.

Byron Katie - What can you say about Katie?  All I can say is read one of her books and see for yourself.  Some may call her a self help guru, but she is just a beacon in the night inviting people to question their beliefs.  “A Thousand Names for Joy” is hands down one of my favorite books, but her other books are great too.

Eckhart Tolle - Eckhart is probably one of the most well known spiritual teachers in the Western world.  His teachings have touched tens of thousands of people, and that circle of influence continues to spread.  I think the reason for his popularity is that his pointers are simple and resonate with people on a very basic level.  Just a glimpse of what life in the present moment is like is enough for people to want more presence in their life.

Adyashanti - I’ve enjoyed several of Adya’s books (i.e. “Emptiness Dancing,” “The Impact of Awakening,” etc.), but his website has a great deal of free audio and essays as well.  I highly recommend checking him out.

Gangaji - For me, Gangaji rounds out the top four of the most well renowned Western spiritual teachers.  I enjoyed her books, “A Diamond in Your Pocket” and “You Are That,” as well as many of the writings and videos I found on her website and You Tube.

John Sherman - John was one of Gangaji’s students when he was serving time in prison (her prison outreach program has helped a number of people).  All of his teachings are free through his website in the form of eBooks and webcasts.  His message is as simple as the nose on your face – just look a yourself (figuratively).  He has several websites that I recommend you check out.  I also invite you to join the Just One Look email list to become a part of the inward looking movement.

Katie Davis - One of my other favorite books is, “Awake Joy: The Essence of Enlightenment,” by Katie Davis.  Her teaching approach is from the heart and points us back to who we are in our essence.  She makes herself very available to people interested in awakening.  I highly recommend you check out her website and blog, as well as the free videos she has to offer.  Her husband, Sundance Burke, is also a spiritual teacher you might enjoy.

Gina Lake - Gina has written numerous wonderful books, and has a great deal of audio, video, and excerpts on her website.  Her teaching is like a combination of Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie, which is probably why I resonate with it.  She is also very approachable for people with questions.

Nirmala - Gina Lake’s husband, Nirmala, is also a spiritual teacher.  His teachings point us back to the direct experience of Being in a direct, no nonsense way.  I recommend you check out his website as well.

Jeannie Zandi - I had my first real heart opening experience during my first satsang with Jeannie.  Her message is one of Love, Beauty and Surrender.  Truly a lovely human being.

Norio Xoximei Kushi - Norio is a truck driver by trade, who experienced an awakening while driving cross country.  He points out beautifully how language is the root of our confusion, and how tangled up in words we’ve become.

Scott Kiloby - Scott has a simple approach as well.  He writes about overcoming suffering and addiction, as well as stepping out of the story we have mistaken ourselves to be.

Karen Richards - Karen is a wonderful young woman with a very large heart.  Her invitation to investigate the nature of reality resonates with a vast number of people, and I recommend you check her out on her website and on Facebook.
Karen McPhee - I highly recommend you check out the free guided meditations on Karen’s website.  She was one of Eckhart’s students turned teacher, and has a very nice way of pointing people toward the present moment.

Pamela Wilson - In listening to some audio of Pamela, I realized that loving the ego was actually more important than trying to get rid of it.  She teaches us to embrace all of our so-called negative sides, and get curious about it all.

Catherine Ingram - The thing I remember most about reading Catherine’s book “Passionate Presence” is the quote, “Just this.”  It gave me a new felt understanding of what presences is all about.

Bentinho Massaro - Bentinho is a very young man with a great deal of joy that he exudes in the rapidly growing number of videos he’s putting out there.  Check out his website as well as You Tube.

Benjamin Smythe - His message is simple, “You’re Perfect.”  He has a great sense of humor about everything and is very reassuring about the fact that you can’t do this life thing wrong.  Check out his quotes and videos.

Rupert Spira - Rupert uses the direct approach of experiencing what’s here, now.  He has a lot of questions answered on his website, as well as video inteviews.

Though there are a whole host of teachers out of India, my studies have been with mostly Western teachers and I am only familiar with a few from the East.  I can safely say that the words of the following teachers have been of great use to me.  They are also some of the most well-known sages of the 20th century.  They have all passed away now, but all of them have left behind a legacy that will continue to influence many generations to come.  I’ve included some web sites to use as starting points, which have links to countless other sites out there for each.  I’m sure you will find some powerful quotes that will  resonate with you.

Sri Ramana Maharshi - The Father of Self Inquiry himself.  All paths lead here.  “Who am I?”

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj - The original stand as Awareness man.  “I Am That.”

HWL Poonja (Papaji) - Known for saying, “Call off the search.  Stop.  Be still.”

David Hawkins - I owe David a big thank you for the guidance I needed when I first started looking for answers to life’s big questions.  His book, “Power vs. Force” was the first book I read on enlightenment, and it really cracked open my mind.  I was hooked, and read all seven of his books (he has written more since then).  I also joined a Hawkins discussion group, met lots of great people, and eventually found all of these other great teachers.  I drifted away from his teachings after discovering Tolle, and never really looked back.  One of the faults I found in David’s teaching was that he made it seem as if obtaining enlightenment was damn near impossible (and very painful).  It also seemed to me like David’s writing was becoming more unnecessarily political, which is when I knew I had gotten all I could get out of his teachings.

There are several other websites that serve as reliable resources for people wanting to find out more about different teachers.  Though this isn’t an all inclusive list, I am familiar enough with these sites to recommend them.  Just like any other search, one page leads to another, and another, and you always find just what you need at just the right time.

Satsang Teachers - I have to recommend this website because it led me to discover several lesser known teachers that I probably never would have found otherwise.  There are a rapidly growing number of teachers out there, and this site is designed to be a calendar listing for all of the ones that are currently active.  I can’t vouch for all of the ones listed, but I know at least a dozen of them from personal experience and am reassured that they are doing some sort of screening before listing them.

Here are a few other sites of interest.  If you have more teachers to recommend or resources you would like to share with others, feel free to write a reply comment to this blog post.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tis the Season to Be Jolly (or Not)

In preparing for the holidays, we’ve been putting up decorations, lights a tree, etc.  We didn’t do much of this last year because of my wife’s health and the pregnancy related complications leading up to Christmas, so it was important for us to get some of this done early this year.  Shelby decided she wanted some outdoor ornaments (some lighted balls), which proved to be hard to find.  We went to half a dozen stores looking for just the right thing, but we never found what she wanted and ended up buying the materials at a craft store that would come close to replicating it.

During this shopping excursion, which seemed to last many hours stretched over two days, I found myself being negative and feeling a bit put out by having to drive around town and browse stores during a busy holiday weekend.  I was trying not to complain, but I felt like I had been taken over by this entity of unhappiness and couldn’t snap out of it (often referred to by Eckhart Tolle as the pain body).  I would periodically become aware of my unconsciousness, but it didn’t do any good.  In fact, noticing my unconscious behavior seemed to frustrate me even more.  I was negatively judging myself for being negative, and the vicious cycle of judgment had begun.

There I was, the guy who likes to write about how perfect things are, and how all suffering is self-induced, etc., and yet I seemed stuck in a stereotypical male role of following my wife around a store with my hands in my pockets, feigning interest in things she pointed out, hoping that it would be over soon.  The underlying dis-ease came from a desire to be somewhere else, and the desire not to spend too much money on this project (a good example of how desire is at the root of all evil ;-).  I could periodically see myself in that disgruntled role, implying that there was at least a glimmer of consciousness shining through, but not enough to break free of the spell.

When I checked in with my body, I noticed I was feeling fatigued and wondered if my physical state was contributing to my psychological state.  Which came first?  The physical dis-ease or the psychological manifestation of negativity?  While I was looking for something to blame for my bad mood, I remembered a quote from A Course in Miracles, “I could be seeing Peace instead of this.”  I knew from past experience that this was true, but I couldn’t see it in this particular circumstance.

I finally had a moment of clarity and remembered that acceptance of one’s own resistance is necessary when you find yourself in a situation that seems unacceptable.  I would usually associate this measure (of accepting one’s inability to accept something) with a much more serous life situation, such as great suffering, illness, etc., rather than a trip to a busy shopping center, but to each his or her own. 

Upon this re-realization, I reassured myself that it was completely okay for me to feel stressed, bitchy, etc.  In effect, I forgave myself for my own non-acceptance (and for being a bit of a jerk).  After that it felt like a weight had been lifted.  I was able to relax a bit simply by being okay with my own resistance, and, interestingly enough, when you’re okay with not being okay, everything feels okay :-)

This re-discovery of the power of acceptance didn’t occur until near the end of our shopping excursion, and a nice scenic drive home helped round out what was an enlightening day of doing things that I didn’t want to do, but had to be done.  I share this with you, knowing that it may damage your opinion of me, in hopes that it may help you get through the holiday season in One Peace.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Underlying Should

My wife and I started attending a perinatal loss support group not long after we lost our daughter, Stella. It has been quite helpful to share our story with others and to hear what others have been through. I was amazed at how common infant loss really is, whether it's in the form of miscarriage or still birth or some other form death before a child's first birthday. The statistics are quite humbling, and it's safe to say that you know someone, or know someone that knows someone, who has experienced a loss of this nature. People just don't talk about it, which is why support groups, both online and in person, are so helpful.

In one of our discussions at a recent support group meeting we were talking about interpersonal relationships, and one of the men said that he didn’t like to be “should on.” When he felt like someone was telling him how he should feel, or what he should do, he would tell them, “Don’t should on me!” I’ve known for some time that “should” was a word to watch out for, but I was glad to hear someone else acknowledge it.

“Should” is often used in a way that implies we know how things are supposed to be (“supposed to” is another way of saying “should”). This implies that we know how life should be unfolding in any given situation. We get upset or experience some form of frustration when we're wrong about things, which is why we never really allow ourselves to admit when we're wrong. Instead of accepting being wrong, we declare our rightness by saying things should be different in order for them to be right, or at least meet our vision of what's right. So, you could say that no one is ever wrong about anything and that it’s the world that’s wrong, which explains a great deal about human conflict -- both internal and external.

Though “should” usually comes from a place of “I know best,” it doesn’t always come across as negative. It can be as innocent as, “You should try some of this pie,” or some other type of invitation, or positive encouragement to join in something someone thinks you would enjoy. But it can be a slippery slope to more negative things if you decline an invitation but are continually pressured, or made to feel bad for declining. A slight shift can also turn an invitation into a suggestion with negative undertones, like, “You should really stop eating pie.”

As you can see there is a gray area, and the person being "should upon" could easily feel like a victim regardless of the intentions of the "shoulder." However, most people are well-intentioned since they think they're right about everything. They are just innocently trying to make everything else right that they see wrong, or make everything the way it should be. Makes sense doesn't it? After all, that's what we’ve been doing all along.

The bottom line is that the word "should" is usually at the root of all mental or emotional suffering. Look at any aspect of your life that makes you feel angry, sad, frustrated, etc., then look for the "should." When you feel a negative emotion, it typically means that something is wrong, as in something out there doesn't mesh with the way things are supposed to be.

The root “should” will take various forms. “He shouldn’t have said that.” “She should treat me better.” “He should be more understanding.” “I should have reacted differently.” “I should be able to afford nicer things.” In the context of our recent loss, the underlying should would be, "My baby should not have died." It all boils down to one central theme, “Things should be different than they are.” The effects of a “should” range from mild frustration to deep sorrow, but you can always find a “should” where suffering is apparent.

How can I stop shoulding on myself and others? I can notice it. I can look for it when I feel upset and question it. Is it true that this or that should have happened or not happened? How did I get to be all knowing enough to decide what should or should not be? I can’t possibly know the reason behind things that happen, and I can second guess them to death, but it just leads to more suffering. I’ve found that it’s much more helpful to recognize that “what is” could not be otherwise. Acceptance of “what is” is the only antidote for compulsive shoulding, and is also the key to peace. Acceptance is a way of saying, “Things are exactly as they should be, whether I can see any logic to it or not.”

Be careful not to should on yourself for shoulding. That just leads to circular frustration and is a form of not accepting your own habitual tendencies. In other words, don’t think that you should be more accepting than you are. Just notice when a “should” appears and look at it without judgment. Gradually the “shoulds” will become more apparent and cease to arise as much, or at least lose their power to cause suffering.

When it comes to relating to others, watch for “shoulding on another shoulder.” In other words, when someone else tells you what you should or should not be doing, and you say, “Don’t should on me,” it’s another way of telling them what they should not be doing. By all means, feel free to call someone out if you feel so compelled, just notice that you are matching their “should” with your own. Another option in that situation is to notice that they are doing to you what you have been doing to yourself and others all of your life: acting out of habitual tendency. When you notice their “should” without judgement or “counter-shoulding,” conflicts (internal and external) quickly subside along with the negative feelings that typically arise when you are being “should upon.”

You can’t do this life thing wrong, but you can live with more peace when you get tired of suffering. So, consider this to be a polite invitation to see what it’s like without “shoulds.”

Be well,

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Stella’s Life

My wife Shelby was admitted to the hospital on December 20th after she started feeling chest, back and arm pains. Since she was 23 weeks pregnant, we called the OB on call who confirmed that we needed to come to the hospital for some testing. She was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, where the blood platelet count drops and liver enzymes rise to dangerous levels. Two different OB/GYNs we had seen in the past confirmed that they needed to “take” the baby in order to save Mom. They also told us that our little girl was too small to survive outside of the womb. By now she was about 3 weeks behind where she should have been size wise and too small to be “viable.”

We found out earlier in the pregnancy that she had a congenital heart defect, which was determined to be very operable with good chances of survival. We had also been told that she would most likely have Down syndrome. Though all of that news was absolutely devastating at the time, we took things one day at a time, and gradually came to grips with the prognosis. Despite all of our worries about the future of our child, we were looking forward to welcoming her into this world with love and kisses.

On December 23rd at 5:43 p.m., Shelby give birth to our baby girl, Stella Grace. But this didn’t happen on its own. It took several days and different methods of induction to finally bring about contractions. Stella just didn’t want to come, which made things that much more painful. The pain of dragging out the inevitable took its toll emotionally and physically. Shelby was subject to constant blood draws, blood pressure checks, and temperature monitoring. Her arms were black and blue from all of the needle sticks and IV ports. Since Shelby’s health was stable, all we could do was wait.

When the time finally came, Stella came quick. The doctor had just finished an exam, indicating that Shelby had finally dilated to 3 centimeters (they thought she needed to be at 5). The doctor and the nurse were on their way out when Shelby cried out that something was wrong. They seemed to think she was just having another contraction until her water broke and a little pair of legs poked out. As I stood there watching in a state of shock, the nurse and I helped her lay back. I held one of Shelby’s legs and the nurse the other, while the doctor started assisting in the birth, and Shelby started pushing.

As I watched, I remained calm and kept reassuring Shelby that she was doing great and that everything was going just fine. In reality, I was scared of what was about to happen, but I knew deep down that it was going to be okay. I tried to convey that trust to Shelby by smiling as she kept pushing.

It was a breach birth in which the feet and body came out first, and the umbilical cord was wrapped around Stella’s neck making her head a bit harder to come free. After some delicate coaxing, the doctor finally got the baby out. The doctor cut the cord, wrapped up the baby and put her in Shelby’s arms. I knew our little girl was either already dead, or only had a short time to live, so we just started caressing her and talking to her.

The nurse listened with her stethoscope and told us that there was a heartbeat. We just stroked her, and cried, and smiled at each other as little Stella laid on Shelby’s heart. She was tiny, only 9.8 ounces, but fully formed. She gasped for air a couple of times, which just broke our hearts more. We knew her lungs were not formed enough to actually breath, which is why they told us there was no chance of survival. She moved her tiny little arms, once to grab Shelby’s finger, and another time to put her own thumb in her mouth. She was too precious.

Our parents were all in the room and got to touch and talk to Stella as she laid on Shelby to keep warm. Another check of the heart by the nurse indicated the heartbeat was very faint. We cried and smiled and stroked her little head some more as the minutes ticked by. We took several pictures to capture the moment as best we could. Finally, at around 7:30 pm, she was pronounced dead.

At that point we requested that they do the same thing they do with living infants, so they took her weight, measurements, and footprints. They dressed her in a dress we chose from their selection and took some more pictures. We finally decided enough was enough and they took her away. I have to say that the nursing staff was so wonderful. It made a very difficult situation much easier. These women put the “care” back in “Healthcare” and I admire their level of compassion.

It was an emotionally and physically exhausting experience for us all, but especially Shelby. She did so great. She was such a wonderful mother even though she had such a short time. She made sure Stella stayed warm as best she could, and made sure she felt loved as long as she could. I only wish it could have been longer.

Shelby was finally released from the hospital on Christmas morning. Leaving the maternity ward empty handed on Christmas was a tough thing to do to say the least. The walls were covered with pictures of beautiful little babies being held by adoring parents. It was as beautiful site as it was painful.

So now we’re learning to deal with the pain of a love lost. Shelby’s pain is understandably greater since she was the vessel for this life. She loved being pregnant, feeling the tiny movements and kicks that I could never really feel. I do my best to comfort her and love her, though I can only imagine how deeply her heart aches to have Stella Grace back in her arms.

Love was brought to life that day, if for no other reason, to show us that Love is eternal.

(See the full details of Stella’s memorial service)