Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Blog it Forward

Some authors who have written a book, or are writing a book, and who are currently blogging have been participating in a chain letter to help promote some of their favorite bloggers.  It’s called, The Next Big Thing Blog Tour.  I have included information describing it in more detail below, but it involves creating a blog post about your book (see specific questions below) and tagging five more authors/bloggers at the end of your post.  The authors I tag will (in theory) post a similar note to their blog and tag five more people in their post by next Wednesday.  Feel free to start your own Blog Tour if you haven’t been tagged. Georganne Spruce is the one who tagged me, and her blog post (http://awakeningtothedance.com) serves as a good example of what this project is about.

Questions for Author:

1) What is the working title of your next book?

A Seeker’s Guide to Inner Peace: Notes to Self, by Trey Carland

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was inspired by a life altering diagnosis with Epilepsy in 2004 that led me to a search for what’s really real.  A series of revelations and insights followed over the course of several years, which were recorded as blog posts and eventually turned into a book.  A deep desire to spread the word took over, and I shared the depths of my personal journey in the hopes of igniting a similar desire for truth in others.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Spiritual, Autobiography, Self-Help

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There is really only one character (me) who narrates the events in my life, and all of the roles could be played by any number of actors.  How about Johnny Depp or Dustin Hoffman?

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Knowing what you truly are, beyond your thoughts of who you are, is the key to unconditional peace, and this book sets out to illustrate that in a very personal way.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self Published

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Though the book was written one chapter (blog post) at a time over the course of 6 years or so, when I finally decided to compile them into a book it took a couple of months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Power of Now and A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle; Loving What Is and A Thousand Names for Joy, by Byron Katie.  There are countless other teachers and books that have influenced me, but these two teachers have been the most influential.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Once I learned about enlightenment, I had no choice but to write about it.  “It” wrote through me.  You could say that the Universe inspired me to write this book because every single thing that I have experienced has brought me to this point in my life where sharing through writing is not an option but a necessity.  Also, everything that I have ever experienced could not have been without everything that came before I was ever born, traced back to the beginning of time (assuming there is such a thing).

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

If you are at all curious about the teachings surrounding enlightenment, or would consider yourself an active seeker, then this book will most likely resonate with you on some level.  Most people have told me that they can really identify with the search and find the pointers I share in the book very helpful.


Here are just a few authors that come to mind.  For a complete list of teachers that have been influential in my life, please see the Teacher Resources blog post, which is also a chapter at the end of my book.

Katie Davis

John Sherman

Karen Richards

Ramesam Vemuri

Scott Kiloby

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Holiday Book Sale

I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving and are gearing up for a great holiday season.  In light of the upcoming holidays, I've decided to offer a special discount on my book, ASeeker's Guide to Inner Peace: Notes to Self.  It retails for $12.95, but you can order it now for only $9.95 at the link below.  Just enter discount code 26RXMM9B on the order page once you have added it to your shopping cart and you will save $3.00.


I've received a great deal of positive feedback from readers (here are a few reviewson Amazon.com and here are a few reviews in local magazines), so I've decided to offer a money back guarantee if you read it and don't like it :)  If you already have a copy, buy one for a friend (or enemy).  Tis the season for giving after all.

By the way, at the suggestion of a friend of mine, I sent my recent blog post called, "Mental Dis-Order" which is about the positive effects being diagnosed with epilepsy has had on my life, to Dr.Oliver Sacks, who I mentioned in the blog.  Dr. Sacks is a world renowned neurologist who has written several books (i.e. Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, The Mind’s Eye, and Hallucinations), in which he explores what it is like to live with various neurological conditions.  He sent me a hand written letter (I'm guessing he's not a fan of email) saying that he found my blog "both fascinating and deeply moving," and asked if he could reprint portions of it in the next edition of his newest book, Hallucinations.  I am quite honored to say the least.

Stay safe this holiday season and enjoy it to the fullest.

Much love,


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Advice on Surrender

Smile. Relax your body.  Close your eyes if you can.  Surrender completely.  Give in knowing that everything will be okay, no matter what happens.  Realize that you have no control over what’s happening.  The only control you have is to let go of the idea that you have any control.  Let Life take you where ever it wants, knowing that it has your best interest at heart.  You are perfect, and this experience is perfect.  It’s exactly what you need.  There is no need to try to figure out why you need it.  Let go of all thoughts that may arise.  They are meaningless.  Feel the aliveness in your body and give in more fully.  You can’t resist.  Smile, laugh, cry, let anything that wants to come out of you come.  This is a gift being given to you by Life, and you don’t need to know anything to be grateful for it.  Trust fully the unknown.  Enjoy the ride :)

Weightless Planet

Look up at the night sky. See all of those points of light? They are beckoning you to recognize the vastness of the Universe. Feel the Earth under your feet. It's so firm and stable, but it's weightless, floating through space like every other object you see. Suspended by nothing. Can you feel the weightlessness of the Earth?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Mental Dis-Order

Eight years ago today, November 7, 2004, I had my first grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy.  Interestingly enough, it was on the day that John Kerry conceded the presidential election to George Bush.  Though I was not a fan of Kerry, at that time I was strongly opposed to Bush.  When I learned the news I was very upset and went into the kitchen to tell my wife, Shelby, the bad news.  The next thing I remember I was sitting on our stairs with paramedics looking up at me and asking questions.  Shelby was telling them this strange tale of what happened that involved me throwing my head back and making some loud groaning noise before falling to the ground convulsing.  Apparently, I got up at some point and yelled before she sat me down on the stairs.

I was in a fog for the whole ride to the hospital, and really didn't know what was happening.  In the ER a doctor came in, asked some more questions of Shelby, then told me I had had a seizure.  I was taken back by the news, but instantly remembered the feeling I was feeling right before I blacked out.  It was the same sort of feeling that I had been experiencing periodically earlier in the year.  I referred to those experiences as Revelation Spells.

A typical Revelation Spell only lasted a minute or two and felt like I was having a divine revelation.  Everything made perfect sense, finally.  I was filled with a sense of joy and relief, and I felt warm and tingly all over.  During these spells I would lose control of my thoughts and they would just drift along as I stood by and watched them on the periphery of my awareness.  After the feelings subsided, I was never able to remember what thoughts had gone through my head.  My assumption was that the key to all of life’s questions was contained in those thoughts that floated by.  Determined to capture the truth, I attempted on a few occasions to remember the thoughts that passed through during a Revelation Spell.  Though I could not remember the thoughts, I could tell that they were insignificant, mundane and just random.  I was able to conclude that the sense of revelation was not linked to the thoughts themselves.

After the initial big seizure, more followed.  If you have two or more seizures you are considered to be epileptic, which became the label for my condition.  The doctor told me that my revelation spells were actually partial complex seizures affecting the left temporal lobe of my brain, which was a bit of a let down.  However, the mystery still lingered.  Only 30% of all epilepsy cases have a known cause, and I was part of the 70% where no cause for the seizures could be found.

I was a bit reluctant at first to take drugs, but grand mal seizures are very unpleasant and the need to stop them outweighed my desire to avoid being on medication.  It was a physically and emotionally challenging time for both Shelby and I, but it marked the beginning of a change in my course in life.  I suddenly had an uncontrollable desire to read books on various subjects that had never interested me, and I was particularly drawn toward books on spirituality.  Once I ran across the idea of enlightenment, I knew that epilepsy had come into my life so that I could find the truth of my own identity.  In fact, I came to view those partial seizures as early awakenings resulting from the disassociation from thought.  I also believed that enlightenment was the cure for epilepsy, which is entirely possible.

It took a while to get my medication to a point where the grand mal seizures stopped, but I continued to have the partials (as I called them), which just rendered me unable to speak for a few moments and sometimes had some uncontrolled jaw clenching.  I was also having what they call auras, which were more like feelings of nervous energy about something that was about to happen (no longer any feelings of euphoria).

Anyway, something very interesting happened yesterday, on the eve of my seizure-versary.  I was out running an errand and called home to ask Shelby a question.  She told me to turn on the radio and listen to Fresh Air where Terry Gross was interviewing Dr. Oliver Sacks.  Dr. Sacks is a neurologist whose research interests include disorders of perception, memory, consciousness, hallucination, migraine, epilepsy and other neurological conditions. He has written several bestselling books, such as Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, The Mind’s Eye, and Hallucinations, in which he explores what it is like to live with various neurological conditions.

It was a fascinating interview, but I was especially touched when Dr. Sacks mentioned epilepsy.  He said that it was often referred to as the "sacred disease" in olden times, and that many people with temporal lobe epilepsy had what he called ecstatic seizures that brought about feelings of divinity and euphoria.  This sometimes led people with no prior religious orientation toward spirituality. It was very moving for me to hear him talk about the profound nature of this sacred thing we call epilepsy. It felt validating to have an expert in the field convey fascination with this mysterious dis-order, and really reaffirmed my own love of this beautiful mystery happening.

Labeling dis-orders is a necessary way to communicate and study such phenomenon, but it also reduces and diminishes their profound nature to just a word.  Dr. Sacks knows from first hand experience the inexplicable nature of sensory hallucinations, which makes him a much more interested, as opposed to most doctors who just write prescriptions with little or no interest in the experiential nature of it all.

To make a long story short, I spent three and a half years unable to drive because you have to be seizure free for six months before you can drive again, and it took that long for me to totally rid myself of them (being forced into the passenger seat was just what I needed though).  I’ve been seizure free now for around four years, but I am still taking medicine.  All in all it has been a wonderfully transformative experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.  I feel truly blessed in so many ways (loving wife, precious daughter, wonderful and supportive family, etc.) but I’m blessed to have been touched by the “sacred disease,” which gave me a foretaste of awakening. Life is good, and always has been even when it didn't seem like it.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Addicted to Thought

Where do thoughts come from?  They seem to just appear out of the silence of our mind.  They come in the form of words predominantly, but also images.  No one else can hear them or see them, which makes them very private and personal.  For the most part they are purely unintentional and random, but we take this voice in the head to be the only authority on what’s true and what’s not.  Therefore, thoughts make up who we think we are and who we think the rest of the world is.

Are thoughts really real though?  Can you hear them?  Are they at all tangible?  Think a phrase, like, “I am thinking these words,” and listen to see if they are audible.  Turn up the volume by thinking, “I AM YELLING IN MY HEAD!!!”  Do you hear anything?  Just listen to the silence that remains after the thoughts subside.  As you mentally yell, talk, daydream, etc., there is still only silence, before, during and after all thoughts.  Thoughts are like ghosts from the past, only we think they’re real and true.  No one else knows what we’re thinking, so we’re all living in our own little dream world covered up by invisible, inaudible words that govern how we live our lives.

It’s probably safe to say that thoughts are the number one cause of pain, suffering and death in the world.  Stressful thoughts lead to all forms of dis-ease.  Beliefs, which are simply organized bundles of thoughts, are what fuel wars between nations, and create great strife among people.  People don’t kill people.  Thoughts kill people.  This quote from Eckhart Tolle’s book, “The Power of Now,” sums it up nicely. “The human mind is a complex tool that can be used to solve all manner of problems, but it is also the source of all problems.”

Earlier today I heard my wife say, “Just thinking about it stresses me out.”  That pretty much sums up the source of stress in this world.  “It” doesn’t cause the stress, but “thinking about it” does.  The goings on are not necessarily stressful without negative thinking to accompany them.  Everyday events are just happenings before judgments (thoughts) enter the picture.

Let’s see what happens when we impose thoughts on the play of life.  Think of something stressful, whether it be something that has actually happened or just a hypothetical situation.  It could be anything from an argument or an embarrassing situation you once encountered, or to what you would like to say to someone who frustrates you, or even how you would feel if you lost someone near to you.  Take a moment to feel what happens in your body when you think about that situation...  Does your body tighten up?  Dig into that sensation that the thoughts trigger and feel that feeling in your body...  Do you feel emotional?  Don’t tell a story about how you feel, just see what it feels like to think that thought.

Now, ask yourself, “What’s really real, the thoughts in my head, or what’s here, now?”  Look around at your immediate surroundings.  Don’t label anything, just take it all in.  Is there anything to stress about when you don’t go mentally looking for a problem?  Fictitious scenarios in your head can seem real enough to cause bodily harm, whether it’s in the form of stress, tension, or emotional upset. These symptoms can not exist without the help of thoughts, which we’ve already determined to be less true than your direct experience of the present moment.

Unfortunately, thinking is largely incessant, repetitive, involuntary and counter productive to living a fulfilling life.  However, the challenge here is not to stop thinking.  That would be as maddening as being stuck in compulsive thinking.  For example, when I get a song stuck in my head that won’t go away, it gets frustrating when I try to make it go away simply because I’ve made having it stuck there into a problem.  The mind’s job is to generate thoughts, so they will keep on coming.

However, we spend a great deal of time each day not thinking, and touching base with those countless gaps between thoughts is very beneficial.  Those are the short-lived moments of peace that get overlooked.  “What peace? I haven’t experienced any peace lately,” you might say if you have been stuck in compulsive thinking a lot lately.  But the peaceful gaps are there, and you can find them once you know what to look for.  Then, it’s just a matter of looking as often as you can remember.

How to Step out of Compulsive Thinking

There are a myriad of teachings that can be used to “get into the gap” between thoughts, many of them involve a formal meditation practice, which turns some people off.  I don’t have a formal meditation practice myself, though there are definitely benefits to having one.  Instead, my methods of becoming mentally quiet involve simply directing of attention away from thoughts (the self imposed labels I have ascribed to the world around me) to what lies underneath, and becoming fully present. 

It seems that asking questions of oneself works quite well at directing attention, which is why asking questions like, “Who am I really?” or, “What is looking through these eyes?” are popular methods of seeing what lies below/behind/before thoughts.  In addition to self inquiry, there are a few other questions I’ve found helpful lately.  One is, “Am I thinking now?” Ask the question of yourself, then look at where your thoughts would ordinarily be.  Are there thoughts present now?  Look around in the mind with the mind’s eye (so to speak) to see if you can find a thought....

Most likely you will find only silence when you go looking for thoughts, but if you find thoughts are present bring you’re full attention to them and recognize them as just thoughts.  When you become aware of your thoughts, you assume the position of the witnessing presence that you truly are and thoughts tend to dissipate when that happens, leaving behind that gap of “no mind” as it is sometimes called.  Once thoughts can be witnessed impartially, they lose their addictive quality and can be more easily let go.  Remember not to make getting sucked back into compulsive thinking into a problem, because it’s not until you make it into one.

Eckhart Tolle suggests a very similar approach to silencing the mind, wherein you ask yourself, “I wonder what I am going to think next?”  Then, “Watch the mind like a cat watches a mouse hole,” as he says.  When thought occurs, simply ignore it and return to watching.  This puts you in a state of alert attentiveness that is very conducive for meditation, or simply getting out of your head.

In addition to looking for thoughts, which ironically tends to quiet the mind, there is another little pointer that has worked for me.  Ask yourself, “What is the sound of sunshine?”  Listen closely for it.  Surely it makes a sound, even if it’s so quiet no one hears it.  Direct all of your attention toward hearing the sound of sunshine....

That question points toward the underlying silence that is always here.  That silence is the only real constant in our lives, and it is the peace we’ve been searching for.  It’s always here, right under our noses, before thoughts and ideas start to muddy the waters.  As Byron Katie likes to ask, “Who would you be without your story?”  The simple answer is alert, aware, ever present stillness (a.k.a Peace-Love-Bliss).

In Peace,

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Related News

I wanted to share a few exciting tid bits of news for me.  One of my past blog posts (titled Fear of Life) was recently published in a book called, "The Journey Home: Discover Heaven on Earth."  I've added a link to it on the Media page of my website, but it is basically a compilation of stories from different people about their search for inner peace, and what peace really is.  It's an honor to be included in a book with many well known and respected spiritual teachers from around the world.  Here is an excerpt from the back cover:

 "The Journey Home, at its core, is a collection of love letters from around the globe as we travel down the path of discovery. And what an amazing journey! Won’t you join us? Come home to yourself and discover Heaven on Earth."

"This is the story of the road to nowhere, a journey of the heart. Like many facets of the same diamond, we are the collective ONE; each with a sacred story to share of our journey on this road called Life. Life is not who you are, but rather an experience pointing you back toward who you are."

If you are interested in purchasing a copy, I've set up a Pay Pal link on my Media page as well.  It's hot off the presses so I haven't finished reading it yet, but it looks like a great book.

Another Book Review:

Another exciting piece of information is that my book (A Seeker's Guide to Inner Peace: Notes to Self) has been reviewed in the September issue of Rapid River Magazine.  This is a local magazine to the Asheville area you can find at news stands at places like Earth Fare.  If you can't find a paper copy, you can check out the book review online at - http://issuu.com/rapidrivermagazine/docs/rriver_sept2012/13

Book Signing:

One last piece of exciting news for me is that Malaprop's Bookstore in downtown Asheville has booked me for a book reading and signing on January 13th.  That's a ways a way I know, but I just had to share.  I'll keep you posted on that as it gets closer. 

If you haven't had a chance to read my book yet, I've gotten a great deal of positive feedback from it.  It appears to be helping a lot of people, which is all that really matters to me.  You can pick up a copy at Malaprop's downtown, or I have links to purchase it from various online bookstores on my website.  I'll also bring a few copies to the Awakening Practices Group meeting tomorrow.  I hope to see you there.

In peace,

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Flash Forward

Our little girl (now nicknamed Precious by me) is 3 months old already, and just keeps getting cuter by the day.  One of the most joyful things in the world is watching her smile and try to talk.  I’m teaching her to say “Hi,” and she has done it a few times now.  Most of the time it’s just cooing.  I could just spend all day gazing into her curious eyes, but there is work to be done.

Bella is sleeping more and fusses less than she did in the beginning.  We’re all getting to know one another better, and parenting is becoming more instinctive.  Sometimes I look into her big eyes and the realization hits me again – Holy ____ , this is our baby!  It’s so bizarre and magical to think that we in effect co-created this little Being.  A new life has been born into the world, and I’m staring right at her.  Pure wonder and innocence wrapped up in a miniature human body. How amazing is that?

Anyway, the other night she was having a tough time falling asleep, so I was slowly dancing and rocking with her hugged into my chest while humming some ad lib tunes.  I’ve done this more times than I can count since she was born, but this time something strange happened.  My mind flashed forward to me dancing with her at her wedding reception.  In my vision it was like flashing forward to a time when I was having a flash back.  In my vision I was dancing with my grown daughter and flooded with the memory of dancing with her as a little baby, which is what I was actually doing at the time.  I felt a surge of emotion and started to cry as I continued to hold her and rock her. 

I suddenly realized why many parents cry at their children’s wedding.  There is an emotional roller coaster akin to sadness upon the recognition that your baby is all grown up now, accompanied by a joy in seeing how they have blossomed.  One might also fear that the shared past between parent and child may be forgotten on this new journey and that their bond may be weakened as a result.

I laughed at the fact that I was crying about some future event that may never even happen, but enjoyed the feeling of the insight experienced in that momentary trip to the future, which was made emotional by the past as seen from that future perspective.  To be honest, I really haven’t spent much time thinking about what her life will be like when she’s older, I’m just enjoying being present with her now, as she is.  To be fully present with her is to be in joy.

Thoughts come and go, bringing any type of emotional response.  We really have no control over what we’re going to think next.  We do have the ability to let thoughts take us over or ignore them, though it takes presence and alertness to recognize when we are being taken over by our thoughts.  In this case, I recognized what my thoughts were doing and allowed them to have their way with me (so to speak), knowing that it was all just a play.  I woke up in the dream and allowed myself to keep dreaming because it was a pleasant dream.  Tears of joy are very profound, so I chose to let them come.



Oddly enough, when I went to tell my wife what had happened, I got choked up all over again and had to hold back tears and laughter in order to tell her.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Rude Awakening

We are all born into this world naked and screaming.  That’s just one of many experiences we all share as human beings, even if we don’t remember it.  My wife and I were fortunate enough to witness this miracle first hand when our daughter, Izabella Luna, was born on April 18th.  What a wondrous experience it was.  But what a rude awakening it must be for a baby to be thrust from a warm, dark, safe environment, where all of her needs are met, to a bright, cold, unknown world full of lights, strange objects and unfamiliar sounds.  All of the sudden, she is at the mercy of all these people who want to poke and prod her, dress her, bathe her, swaddle her.  She experiences hunger, which must be a foreign feeling given that her needs have been taken care of in a warm cocoon up until now, and the only language she has to express herself is crying and screaming.

Well, this has been a rude awakening for me too.  I naively thought that only unhappy babies cried and that our baby would be different.  Boy was I wrong.  The first several days and nights were a real wake up call for me.  Not only do babies cry a lot, they cry at the top of their lungs, sometimes while kicking and screaming.  I haven’t spent much time around babies in my life.  In fact, you could probably count the number of babies I’ve held on one hand and have fingers to spare.  Now, I’m living with one 24/7 and learning the art of baby whispering.  Survival mechanisms, instincts and helpful advice have come into play, and we are all beginning to learn how to live with each other.

When she cries, and we’ve made sure her basics have been covered (i.e. fed, clean diaper, etc.), then I try to soothe her.  It’s so amazing that this little being can scream like she’s being murdered for no apparent reason.  It’s even more amazing when I can get her to calm down.  Using the 5 S’s (Swaddling, Side/Stomach, Shhhh, Swinging, Sucking), and a few other tricks, I can usually calm little Bella down dramatically (even if that’s only for a few minutes).

Something amazing happens when a baby becomes calm after a crying fit.  Once that relaxation switch is triggered, through what ever method, her eyes become wide and clear.  She has awakened from a fit of confusion and frustration (or so it would seem from the observer’s point of view) to that of a wide-eyed and curious child who’s just taking in her surroundings.  That’s a beautiful sight to see.

Another beautiful sight to see is the amount of joy that shines on the faces of those who look upon little Bella Luna.  It’s so heartwarming to see my wife look into her baby’s eyes and smile as she tells her how much she loves her.  It’s also beautiful to see my parents melt with joy when they hold her in their arms. Of course she’s also got me wrapped around her little finger.  I wear her on my chest a lot, which calms her and allows us to do things around the house. 

She has taught me (and continues to teach me) a new level of patience and humility.  I’ve learned not to take her crying personally, and I’ve developed a sense of humor around behavior which could otherwise be very disturbing.  I notice when I experience frustration and I let it go, over and over, knowing that babies cry and it is completely natural (as is feeling frustrated and helpless). 

Acceptance is the key to survival, and Izabella is my newest and most powerful teacher (and loudest).  She is four weeks old as I write this, so our journey has just begun.  I have a lot to learn from her yet, but I am ready, willing and able.  The shock of the rude awakening is passing for both of us, as she and I continue to adapt to her life outside the womb.  As this dance of life continues, I fall deeper in love with her every day.

Much love to you and yours,

PS - It’s almost 2:30 am and I’ve spent the last hour or so trying to get her to fall asleep and stay that way.  It’s like a game we play, and I eventually win ;)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Radio Interview on Conversations with Avant-garde Sages

I was recently interviewed on Conversations with Avant-garde Sages.  We discussed my new book, "A Seeker's Guide to Inner Peace: Notes to Self."  Trip Overholt was the host, and we had a good conversation.  Please visit their website to listen to the interview.  If you are interested in ordering a copy of the book, it's available on Amazon.com in softback and Kindle.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Never Ending To Do List

Do you ever experience periods of overwhelm regarding the amount of things that need to be done? If so, you’re not alone. Lately I have had a lot of projects calling me in different directions. With a new baby on the way, a great deal needs to be done to prepare the house for her arrival (which is coming in a few days!).  In addition to preparing for a new miniature resident, I have to keep up with my work.  It’s the busiest time of the year for our business, and I have been struggling to keep up for months now. I work from home and set my own hours, which gives me the flexibility to do other things when called into action, but that also opens the door for my work to get neglected (hence the 200 plus email backlog I have). I’m also trying to find time to write and promote my new book (A Seeker’s Guide to Inner Peace: Notes to Self), as well as raise money for the upcoming March for Babies fund raiser.  In addition to all of that, there are the typical chores of being a human (i.e. cleaning the house, mowing the yard, doing laundry, cooking, etc.).

I’m not telling you all of my woes hoping you will throw me a surprise pity party (though that would be kinda fun). I’m simply laying out an example of how work, chores and life can become a burden that obstructs our view of what’s right here, right now. For example, sometimes, when I walk the dogs outside, I will see a whole host of “to dos” around me.  Instead of seeing the trees and flowers, I see all of the things I need to do, or would like to do.  I see my long term plans for the landscape. I see all of the trees I need to cut and brambles that need to be slashed and burned, and I visualize how I would go about taking care of this type of deferred maintenance. That’s often accompanied by a sense of urgency to do something before it gets more out of hand, followed by a sense of futility because it can’t be done anytime soon.  Then, I’m reassured by a sense of, “It will get done when it’s supposed to,” which is occasionally followed by a sense of doubt in that laissez faire attitude. 

The mind can become a spinning top, grappling with its feelings of inadequacy until all I see is a never ending to do list around me.  Instead of the beauty of nature, I only see things to do. When I catch myself entering that pit of despair, I become present to it. I acknowledge those feelings and allow them to be there.  I then check in with my own sense of beingness.  I remind myself that I have become lost in my head again and focus on what’s right here, right now, instead of what I think “should” be done.  I remember that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing, at any given moment.  In fact, I have no choice to be doing (or not doing) what I’m doing right now.  This moment is what the Universe has intended for me, and no amount of self doubt will change that. 

Once I’m present, and not lost in the past or future, I can then allow myself to follow a particular impulse to do something (or do nothing).  Feelings of guilt may arise when I am doing one thing and feel like I am neglecting another, which I am experiencing right now as I write this when there are a million other things that need to be done before our baby is born (in a few days).  What do I say to help alleviate that guilt? “I have no choice. This is what I have to be doing.” I suggest that when you’re answering a call to do something you enjoy doing, enjoy it rather than feel guilty about not doing something else.

Now, I feel pulled to do something else and will stop here. My wish for you is that you learn to identify when you are looking at a to do list instead of what’s really real. Pay attention to those feelings of guilt and overwhelm when they occur, and recognize them as your body’s reaction to your thoughts about what “should” be. Remember that your thoughts are only a reflection of your past programming, and are really not yours to control.  You can’t control how or what you think, but you can decide how to respond to them when you realize they are causing you stress.

If you feel like you “should” be doing something you can’t do right now, surrender the idea that it needs doing (for now). Surrender to the reality of this moment. You can’t do anything other than what you are doing right now, so give what you do now your fullest possible attention. Marvel at the body/mind’s ability to function in the way it does. Marvel at its innate intelligence to perform the necessary tasks when called upon. Imagine that your “doing” is actually like breathing. You’re not doing it, it’s just happening organically as a continuation of the wave set in motion when you were born (or even before).

Enjoy all that you do because you have no choice but to be doing it.


PS - I wrote this in four sittings over the course of about a week. Each time I sat to write, I was called to do something else. This is not a bad thing, it is simply what was. I do my best to follow my intuition and go with the flow, without sweating the little stuff. I can then witness how cool it is that necessary things get done.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pure Potential

As I’m sure you are aware, Spring has sprung forth and is giving life back to the plants and trees that have been dormant for the past few months.  Insects and birds are fluttering about on warm breezes that just beckon me outdoors.  Life’s potential to give birth to more life is in action, and I feel compelled to write about it.

If you believe in the Big Bang theory, then billions and billions of years ago there was nothing.  Just empty space.  In that space nothing existed except the potential for everything to exist.  From that perspective, you could say that everything that could ever be, already existed in its potential, but had not started to manifest yet.  Then, theoretically, something happened and manifestation began with a massive explosion.

The potential for everything we are today existed before manifestation began, and has continued to exist throughout time.  Even before we are born, the potential for our existence is present.  In fact, each individual’s potential to exist was present at the beginning of time.  Potential is the one thing that hasn’t changed since before the Universe was born, and it is still that same unchanged potential today.  Life is the substratum of pure potentiality.  Anything can happen.  Anything will happen.  Anything is constantly happening.  The possibilities are as infinite as the Universe and its billions of galaxies.

It’s amazing to think about just how possible everything is in our everyday lives.  Did you ever dream you would be here, where you are, doing what you are doing now?  Rather than get bogged down thinking about a less than satisfying life situation, just recognize that you could not have predicted this moment and all that it contains.  Who you know, where you work, where you live, what you like, etc., could not have been predicted with any level of certainty when you were younger.  All the unexpected twists and turns in your life have led you to this moment, and it’s impossible to know what future twists and turns there will be and where they will steer you.  You can’t know with absolute certainty where you will be 10 minutes from now, much less 10 years from now.  Imagine that!  But the potential for you to be anywhere, doing anything, is here now.

There are many enjoyable stories about how one little twist of fate caused a domino effect of events that led to some totally unpredictable outcome.  A movie called, “Sliding Doors” comes to mind, where we follow a woman as she runs to catch a train.  The story splits and we follow the story of the woman who caught the train, and the story of the same woman who missed the train.  The one little twist, which I believe was caused by bumping into someone and dropping something, caused that woman’s life to turn out totally differently than had she caught the train.  Not to give away too much, but the woman who caught the train discovered that her husband was having an affair and left him to start a new life.  The woman who missed the train did not catch her husband and ended up staying in the relationship.

The point of the matter is not to get caught up in the “what ifs” of how my life has turned out thus far and what it will be like in the future.  After all, what has already happened was unavoidable and completely necessary.  It can be fun to speculate on the endless number of scenarios that might lay in store for us in the future (or worrisome if you tend to have a more negative outlook on life).  But the point of the story is to serve as an example of how each moment of Life shapes the next, and how totally at the mercy of Life we truly are.

Right now, in this moment, the only thing that’s real is the pure potential for anything to happen.  Right now, Life is manifesting before your eyes, out of a sea of endless possibilities.  Each moment is created anew, ever changing, with the exception of potential.  Potential is permanent, but what it creates is always moving, always unpredictable, and always uncontrollable. 

This can be a bit frightening to consider because most people would prefer to maintain some level of control of their lives.  In a lot of cases we have some sense of security because we are able to make plans that seem to happen, which lulls us into a false sense of being in control.  Inevitably, something happens to remind us that we are not in control, and that the future is unknowable.  How could we foresee the future when the possibilities are limitless?

When we’re born, we are born as pure potential.  We are clean slates with no known future, with the potential to become anything.  Nothing can be known and everything is possible.  I’ve been contemplating this a bit lately now that we’re getting ready to have a baby.  I’m pushing 40, which could mean I’m about halfway through my journey on this Earth.  It’s been an interesting journey that I never could have predicted, and there’s no telling what the rest of my life has in store, much less the life of our daughter.  Though it can seem like I’m not really “going” anywhere, as in the life situation seems to be in a holding pattern and upward mobility is limited, all I have to do is look at how much changed in the first half of my life to realize how much potential for change there is in the last half of my life.

They say having a child naturally starts you thinking about your own mortality because you have basically created your replacement (I read that in a magazine somewhere).  It makes sense though, especially having waited until my mid-life to create a new life (so to speak).  My wife is getting ready to give birth to a bundle of Joy with endless potential.  Theoretically, I’ll get to witness how the first half of her life plays out.  It’s only natural to wonder what she’ll be like.  I don’t have any expectations, just wonder and curiosity.  She could end up President, or married to an ex-con.  She could end up never leaving her hometown, or travel the world and live in some far away land.  She could be a great musician, or a teacher.  It really doesn’t matter, and I don’t spend time thinking about all of the possibilities.  Instead, I get joy out of just recognizing and accepting that unknowable potential exists for her (and for everyone else).

I invite you to sit with the idea of infinite possibility, without getting sucked into the specific hopes, dreams, aspirations, regrets, etc.  Once you get that brief glimpse of that excitement over the “anything possibleness” nature of Life, let go of any desired outcomes and just know that from right now anything is possible.  Feel what it feels like to know that endless possibilities exist, and feel what it feels like to trust Life’s ability to take care of you and guide you where you need to be.  That may not be where you want to be right now, but where you want to be is constantly changing, while Life’s plan is unwavering.

Regardless of your age, you can end up anywhere, doing anything, at anytime, without you getting a say in the matter.  If you can’t control it, why not marvel at it as it unfolds.  Potential is constantly being realized and all you need to do to enjoy it is acknowledge it for the miracle that it truly is.  Be present to it and let it do its thing.

Anything is possible.
Anything is probable.
Anything is inevitable.

Potentially yours,

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Grandmother’s Eulogy

Death is a mysterious gift.  It brings loved ones together, by separating them from the ones they love.  We’ve all been brought together today because of our love for my Grandmother, and all those whose lives she’s touched.  Her passing is a gift.  Just as her life was a gift.  No one wants to think about their own mortality, but we all know we’re not getting out of this thing alive.  A death in the family is just another wake up call, reminding us that we only have a short while on this Earth.  The amount of time we have here can never be known, and death is nature’s way of reminding us not to squander the time that we have.

My Grandmother was fortunate.  She spent 94 years here, most of which were spent in good health.  My wife and I had a daughter, Stella Grace, who was not so fortunate.  She was born on my Grandmother’s 92nd birthday, and only lived for an hour and 47 minutes.  It’s amazing how many lives were touched by our little girl, despite her short life.  One can only wonder how many lives my Grandmother touched in her 94 years.  And I can assure you that both will continue to touch lives long after they’re gone.  I know that every December 23rd our family will be celebrating the lives of two very special women.

So, if you’re sad, be sad.  But don’t forget to be grateful.  Be grateful for this gift of Life we’ve all been given.  It’s so precious.  I owe my life, at least in part, to my Grandmother.  Had it not been for the birth of my Grandmother, my Mother would not be here today.  Had it not been for my Mother, I would not be here today.  And if I were not here today, my wife would not be carrying, what promises to be the most precious child to ever walk this Earth.  Though I may be a bit biased.

Had it not been for the birth of my Grandmother’s parents, Ben and Susan Cunningham, many of you would not be here today either.  And had it not been for my Grandmother’s death, none of us would be gathered here today.  We have been presented with an opportunity to celebrate not only her Life, but Life itself.  It’s a miracle to be here at all, and death is the most powerful reminder we have of how precious Life is.

So let us rejoice in this gift of Life we’ve been given, for it truly is a miracle.  Let’s not live each day as if it’s our last.  Let’s live each day as if it’s our first.  Let life begin anew every moment of everyday, with a sense of gratitude for your mere existence.

I want you all to close your eyes for a moment.  Take a deep breath, and slowly let it out.  Now see what it feels like to be alive.  Do you feel your heart beating?  Do you feel your lungs breathing in and out?  Do you feel your arms, legs, abdomen, head, face?  What does it feel like to inhabit your body?  Now take another deep breath and smile in gratitude as you exhale.  That’s the feeling of Life that is ever present in all of us.  The secret to opening the gift of Life is simply to see what it feels like to be alive.  Feel Life as often as you can.  It’s always feeling you.

In peace,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Smile for Awhile

Did you know the muscles in the face are the strongest muscles in the entire body?  I just made that up.  But it sounds good doesn’t it?  You may not be able to pick up a heavy object with your cheeks, but you sure can pick up a heavy spirit that way (which is often times much heavier).  It’s pretty amazing really.  The muscles in your face responsible for lifting the corners of your mouth to form a smile :-) actually have a psychological affect on you and the people around you.

There is a direct correlation between our body and our minds, and it works both ways.  For example, look what happens when you think about an embarrassing event in your past, or something coming up that you are really dreading.  If you sit with that scenario in mind for a moment, then check in with your body, you will probably find tension in certain muscles.  You may have to pay close attention in order to pick up on that, but our bodies can’t tell the difference between what’s real and our thoughts about what’s real.  It’s much more noticeable when you check in with your body while watching a suspenseful movie, but I digress.

I invite you to see what it’s like to manipulate the mind-body connection going in reverse (so to speak).  Close your eyes and check in with your body.  Just notice if there is any tension anywhere, and just allow it to be there.  Tension is okay. Now, with your eyes still closed, smile gently to yourself :-) Notice your breathing as you smile. See how your body feels when you smile.  Does it feel lighter? More relaxed? Take another deep breath while you smile and just feel what it’s like to have a smile on your face. It may make you smile more when you realize you are smiling for no reason.  The sense of silliness of this exercise may feed on itself and make your smile even broader.

When ever it occurs to me, which is often times when I’m driving or feeling a bit tense, I smile to myself.  I also find it helpful to smile at the little voice in the head when I notice it going round and round like a top that won’t stop spinning.  We take our thoughts so seriously, which is the root of all tension.  As Byron Katie likes to say, “Reality is always kinder than our story about it.” For example, can you be stressed out about something without thinking about it?  Is there ever a problem before we think one into existence? Our life situation is only as serious as we think it is, and it’s always less serious than we think. The simple act of smiling takes the seriousness out of our story and replaces it with a sense of ease. 

Eckhart Tolle suggests in his book, The Power of Now, that we not take our thoughts too seriously as part of learning to disidentify with the voice in the head. When we smile at the voice in the head, we take away its power over how we feel, which leaves room for us to relax.  Relaxation makes us smile, and smiling helps us to relax.  In the words of the famous Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Say cheese :-)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fear of Life

As you may already know, my wife Shelby is pregnant again.  Needless to say, there is a new air of excitement going around as this new addition grows in her mother’s warm and loving belly Yes, that’s right, it’s a girl :-).  So far, the baby seems to be doing well with no noticeable health issues.  She’s very active in there, too.  Every time Shelby feels kicks and flips I can’t help but think about how crazy that must be.  There’s a little human being in there flailing about, learning how to operate their tiny little limbs.  It’s just miraculous.  I’m getting to feel and see the movements too :-)

It’s been a little over a year since we lost our first little girl, Stella Grace, and we’ve found ourselves on almost the exact same schedule.  Sprout (our nickname for new baby-to-be) is estimated to arrive on April 20, 2012, while Stella was estimated to arrive on April 17, 2011.  Pregnancies after a loss tend to be experienced a bit differently anyway, but having the same schedule makes it seem even more special.  After a loss, the innocence of what can go wrong is gone, and is replaced with the burden of knowing the myriad of things that do go wrong.

The loss of innocence can be painful, and may leave behind a permanent scar.  It also leaves behind a changed perspective on life.  In complete innocence there is no fear, and in a state of no fear there is peace.  After innocence is damaged, fear is born.  Fear wants to protect us from harm so that we may enjoy peace once again, but fear and peace can not coexist.  A return to innocense will bring about peace, but past experience has told us that it is dangerous to allow ourselves to be that vulnerable again.  We remember being hurt when we were innocent, and the mind can point to the painful experiences we’ve had when we lost innocence, thereby justifying the need for fear.

The mistake here is that fear would not have protected us from the pain incurred by a loss of innocense.  Fear can’t really protect us from anything, except maybe peace.  Though that makes perfect sense, believing it doesn’t make fear go away.  Experience tells us that there is no end to the things that could potentially go “wrong” in any given life, before or after birth, which is why many of us live in fear of life, or, put another way, we fear living a life without fear.  We “know” too much to be fully at ease all the time.  So let’s look at what we “know” at the root of this fear.

Life is Scary.

You never know what’s going to happen from one minute to the next.  Something bad always happens when I let my guard down.  If I don’t worry I won’t be ready when the worst case scenario happens.  If I allow myself to fully relax I’m putting too much trust in a life that can’t be trusted.  Life has let me down so many times I can’t even count.  I’m scared of not knowing what’s going to happen next.  I’m angry that I can’t ensure things turn out the way I want.  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to have to worry, or keep my guard up, but trusting life might jinx the outcome.

Is That True?

Pain is unavoidable in this life, but what if it’s completely necessary?  What if our suffering is part of a master plan?  What if this master plan has our best interest at heart?  Is it possible to put trust in life’s plan?  How does it feel to let down your guard and trust life?  Sit with that last question and really experience letting your guard down about a particularly stressful situation.  What does it feel like to surrender?  Do you experience fear?  Loss?  Relief?  Joy?  Resistance?  Do you want to cry?  Laugh?  Both?  Just sit with that experience of allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable, without judging yourself or the situation. [I highly recommend Gina Lake’s book, “Trusting Life.”]

Looking Inside

An interesting thing about fear is that it typically has a bodily sensation that goes with it.  When you are experiencing some sort of stress or fear, check in with your body to see if there is any tension.  Once you locate it, direct your attention to that area of the body.  Feel that tension and allow it to be there, fully.  Give yourself permission to be tense.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with any physical or emotional response that you have.  Welcome it all and see how that feels.

At a recent satsang with Benjamin Smythe (http://www.benjamintsmythe.com), we were talking about the fear of life.  Benjamin is known for traveling around with a large sign that says, “You’re Perfect!”  He finds a public place to sit or stand and just holds the sign up to people walking by.  He gets a wide range of responses, ranging from gratitude to indifference to anger.  The thing is, he no longer cares what kind of response he gets.  As he will tell you, his fear is gone (enlightenment has a tendency to do that to a person ;-).

During the satsang I told him that I had some fear of life in me, and asked if I should go stand somewhere holding a sign like him.  We all had a good chuckle, but then he asked if I had any fear at that moment.  I admitted that I did have a little (sort of like a mild stage fright you might get if you were admitting a perceived weakness in front of a large group of people).  He told me to check in with my body to see if I could feel any tension.  I located some tightness in my thighs and my upper arms, and relayed that information.  He congratulated me and invited me to completely allow that tension to be there.  As soon as I did I started laughing.  I was able to see through the fear.  It was just an illusion.  Benjamin explained that dealing with fear may be more easily dealt with on the physical level because the mind is what created it in the first place, and it’s hard to get the creator of fear to alleviate it.

So What?

How does all of this serve me in my current life situation, dealing with a potentially stressful pregnancy?  One key is to take things one day at a time (remain present).  During a recent event that caused us some concern about the baby, my mind became a fear monger of “What if,” scenarios.  I could not shake the thoughts, but I could feel the tension being created in my body.  The tension was not localized, and could be felt all over.  This time noticing it and allowing it did not give me the same relief.  What I did instead is recognized the thoughts as just thoughts, not reality.  This enabled me to relax for brief periods, but I was unable to be fully at ease until we had our visit with the Nurse and learned everything was fine.

There will always be life situations like this that have the ability to engender fear.  Accepting fear when it occurs (instead of resisting it) is very important.  However, realizing that the root of the fear is believing our thoughts is even more important.  Once that’s realized, the thoughts can be looked at impartially as part of the human condition, not as if they were true.

As I was writing this up I felt moved to write a poem.

The End of Fear

In the end, there was the beginning
A circle brought to life, only not to end
Where am I to go?
Trapped in eternity
Scared to stop
Scared to move forward
Unable to do either
Unable to do both
Where am I to go?
No where but here
What about fear?
There is only fear if you allow there to be
Turn your attention toward it
See if that fear is real
Electrical impulses given a four letter word is all that’s really there
Being trapped, unable to move or stop, are just concepts
The domino effect of belief ends in fear
Fear ends in the recognition of its origin