Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spiritual Idealism

A funny thing can happen as someone walks along their spiritual path. Initially--and especially after awakening--everything is very fluid and indefinite. And while spirituality isn't necessarily a vague, amorphous thing, this space of openness allows a lot of the fullness of spirituality to live within you. But as people go, a new ego gets born (or rather the old one tries to make a comeback wearing new clothes), and spirituality starts to get codified and structured. This is spiritual, and this is not spiritual. Certainly, some structure is good--it helps to hone and focus things in our lives. And that allows us to fully embody whomever we want to be in this life. But too much re-creation of a comprehensive belief structure shuts things out, and along with that, a new kind of idealism can get born--spiritual idealism.

A blog post to read after this one about beliefs is this one:

A Spiritual Belief System Vacuum and Filling the Void 

Spiritual Idealism: Trying to Live Back in Unreality
Idealism at it's core is a mental construct. It's the mind saying this is the perfect, ideal, or preferred way of thinking, having something happen, or being. Spiritual idealism is saying that this is the perfect way to live a spiritual life or to think about spirituality and so on. It most certainly doesn't exist in our perfectly imperfect world, and pretty soon, it can become a real problem in regards to how we're living. We may think that the world is out of alignment with spiritual truth (and in oh so many ways, this is true), but when we get lost to this new kind of idealism, really it's us who's fallen out of alignment.

One example is someone who dumps a relationship to follow the spiritual path. Somewhere in this, I think there's this idealism to get away from any messy and imperfect relationships as well as the idea that perfection can somewhere be found out on the spiritual path by walking alone. For some people, it's fine to walk a solitary path, but that has nothing to do with being spiritual. That's choice. For many others, the greatest lessons you'll ever learn about yourself will come within close relationships because that's where a lot of your best and worst traits will get mirrored back to you. It's actually a profoundly spiritual place to work and grow and be if you put the intention there.

Spirituality: Beyond Concepts and Words
Ultimately, spirituality is beyond any words or concepts that anyone can ever put on the page. That's why some spiritual traditions will say things like "If someone can describe enlightenment to you, that is not enlightenment." Of course not. Enlightenment is more than mental constructions. It is the totality of being, and how can any number of words fully describe the visceral feeling of it, the expansiveness of the mind, the openness of the heart? Spirituality is all the words and beliefs that describe it and more. It is the box that it gets put into, and it's everything else. Many times, spiritual idealism walks back in as we try to set up new controls in our life to dictate the experiences that we want. We're trying to insulate ourselves from life and feel good. Who doesn't want to feel good all the time?

But that's not life or spirituality. That's a remaining desire to feel a certain way, and the more of it that any of us have, the more resistance we build up against life and what is occurring in the present moment. The more resistance we build back up, the more miserable we get, and we drift back into the unreality of the ego-mind.

Letting Go of the Spiritual Path to Re-Find the Path
As many of you have read over the last several months, I've got a lot of words. I have a lot of ways to express spirituality, but they're not "spiritual" words. They point to something. They're just pointing towards a deeper, more pervasive reality. And yet, they are spiritual as well. These words are just as spiritual as everything else in our lives, but we can't get caught up in the structures that take us from point A to point B. Some of you may have already found that some meditation practices, tantric arts, or whatever helped you to move and open in a certain way. And then they stopped working. That path is no longer necessary. It got you where you needed to go. So too with words. A few words here and a few words there go a long way. But while an idea or thought perhaps helped you at one juncture on your path, it may have only worked then and may now be completed for you.

Many spiritual seekers get stuck in a particular practice trying to achieve a former feeling. This is similar to yesterday's post about addictive qualities of spirituality. They keep doing something over and over thinking that it should do something and elicit the former experience. Anywhere you see the word "should," you can be sure that there's an idea or ideal hiding behind it that very rarely has much to do with reality.

Spirituality Isn't Brainless, Just Fluid
Please don't think that you're supposed to dump out all ideas from your head. Ideas are helpful when they're held lightly. Spiritual ideals can help you to aspire to something, but they aren't real. Ideals never are. If you can use them as tool to help you connect with you, then that's okay for a temporary solution. But they won't apply to all of life. How could they? Just because you've felt that deep connection to all of life once, doesn't mean that you'll feel it in the same way and in the same situations again. You might. I can't put a definitive statement around that. That's the point. Spirituality is fluid. It's not fluid in the everything-is-subjective way, but then, you're going to have walk down this path to fully understand what that means. Because this isn't a mental game. I'm not trying to help you understand an idea or set of ideas so much as to encourage you to let go of all the ideas and ideals about what spirituality is. Because only when you let go of those constructs can what spirituality really is come into your life.

I am always amazed in talking to people by all the different ideas about what spirituality is that are out there. It's pretty diverse, but oftentimes, what strikes me more is how those concepts are standing right in the way of the person connecting with it. It's ideas like:

"I have to meditate for a lot of years to be enlightened."
"I don't know how to listen to God or my spirit guides."
"No one else sees the world the way I do, so I must be crazy."

All these things are standing in the way of your spiritual awareness, connecting to God, and accepting your connection. As I say to most people who are awakening and are filled with love that no one else seems able to comprehend, you're not crazy. You're awake in a sleeping world. Being filled with love is the most sane thing that can ever happen to anyone. It's not an ideal. It's a statement of being. And that's where spirituality always can be found.

Special thanks to Arran Edmonstone for today's picture. You can see more of his photography on this Flickr link.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Addictive Qualities of the Spiritual Path: Feeling Good Never Felt SO Good

For anyone starting out or for anyone in awakening, you most likely have had an experience on the spiritual path that felt really good. Most likely. Some people at the very beginning are either seeking deep healing that nothing else can provide or simply haven't happened upon a big opening experience. Don't worry. You will. For the rest, you probably can still remember this seminal experience. Maybe it was a meditation when you suddenly felt very still and quiet. Maybe it was in a yoga practice in downward dog for the 5th minute when you felt this massive energy shift in your body. Maybe it was something else. But whatever it was, you probably--almost definitely--want to have it back.

Spirituality and Awakening: There's No Drug Quite Like It
I remember a friend saying that awakening was better than any drug that she'd ever had and she's completely sober during it. It's true. No drug can compare to spirituality. And perhaps that's why it becomes the most addictive. When you've spent so much of your life in pain, to suddenly realize that you've been in pain and then release it is hugely uplifting. You feel amazing. I've had parts of fear leave my body, and it feels so visceral that I feel physically lighter. It's amazing to feel so open and at ease with my body in a way that I couldn't have possibly imagined. And of course I want more.

Those of you who are seeking healing can be blown away by just how good you feel in one of these moments. It's like mending a broken bone. Suddenly, you can stand. Suddenly you can start to walk again. So you seek out more spiritual experiences to mend other bones and to find out what it might be like to one day run. Truly, the ranges and the amazing powers of spirituality are unlike anything else. But there's a catch.

The Self Improvement Trap
I love to take shots at "self improvement" for this reason: it's never ending. You can always be "improving" yourself in some way. You can get smarter. You can get more flexible. You can learn more. You can go more places and learn how to be with more and more people. These are wonderful things to do, but that's not spirituality. The depth of spirituality is learning how to connect with ourselves and fully accept ourselves in this moment. So where you had an amazing moment in yoga once, you cannot continue to strive to achieve that moment again. It's passed. And you can't denigrate all other moments in yoga as "not as good." Placing that value structure around it will only make you miserable. You'll become a perpetual spiritual seeker trying to get back to that moment and that feeling. That's the addictive quality of the spiritual path, and this is one of the key ways that people get lost.

Learning to Accept Every Moment as Spiritual
I know that people who haven't been doing anything with spirituality love to use the above subhead as an escape to get out of their obligation to themselves. They'll say, "Well if every moment is spiritual, then I don't have to do anything." I think the masters would say, "That's fine. Ultimately, all paths lead to the same place." So if you want to fool yourself into complacency and hide from the big issues that you've got, ultimately, this too is spiritual. And ultimately, it's your life, and you can live it anyway that you want. You can hurt others and hurt yourselves, and eventually, you'll come to the truth through that path of pain.

For those of you who don't want to walk the path of pain, I encourage you to accept every moment as it is. This isn't complacency. When you fully accept that you're in a car wreck, you can clearly see what to do next. If you're lost trying to not believe what's happened or deny it, then you'll sit in you car for the next several minutes saying, "This can't be happening to me" when you could be helping yourself, getting help for another, or whatever else needs to be done in that moment. In many ways, people live in denial of their whole lives. They say, "This can't be happening. This isn't the moment I really want. This isn't the experience I really want." Yet they go and do jobs they hate and stay in relationships they hate that just make them more and more miserable. And then a big festival or vacation comes around they go crazy for awhile, have a big "spiritual" experience, and wish that they could always have that all the time.

Everyday Spirituality: Living in the Moment
The truth is that you can have immense stillness and love within you every day. It is, in many ways, your choice to do so. But you can't compare moments. You can't seek a certain type of experience and call that one "spiritual" and not the rest. That's just a new ego game--it's the game of the ego that thinks it is spiritual. But in actuality, it's just another materialistic ego. Instead of seeking a fun girls night out, you're now seeking enlightenment. You've re-wrapped the same box with different gift wrap. What's inside is still the same. But do you even know what's inside?

And yet, in spaces of healing when we release old pain and old wounds, the rush of energy that comes from those moments is powerful. You may not feel moments quite like that again because, quite frankly, you're healthy. You don't need to heal like that again, and for those of you in awakening, as your vibration settles down, you don't have the sense of higher and lower experiences as much. I refer to this as integrating your awakening. If your vibration is now settled at a higher place, then to have the same experience won't create the differential that made you feel so amazing before.

A Spiritual Explanation Using High Numerical Values
Here, let's try this explanation with numbers. Please remember that this is totally made up, and unfortunately, it is more hierarchical than I'd like to make it. But let's give it a go.

Your energy level is at 1 (out of 10).

You have a spiritual experience that lifts you to a vibration of 4 out of 10.

Yay! That's amazing. I want to feel that way. But your spirit remembers this way of being, and you learn to shift into that space.

You have the same experience, but now it's at the same vibration as you. So you still feel like a 4 out of 10. You're like, "What happened? I don't really feel anything or not like before."

You do more experimenting. You find something else that lifts you to an 8 out of 10. Wow! This totally knocked your socks off.

Then you do the other experience, and suddenly, it doesn't actually feel good at all. It feels either neutral or maybe even draining.

You can see where I'm going. And then there's a certain point of stillness (that has nothing to do with numerical value, mind you :). When you settle into it, all experiences are the same, but you still have your preferences and ways of being that resonate more deeply than others. You can do them or not do them, and it's the same to you. The desire that has been playing out underneath all of this as a means of self-fulfillment has been revealed to you, and you are no longer operating by it. You are free of it. And now you are free of your spiritual addiction.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Discovering Your Body Intelligence

This is the point where I'd probably stop talking (at least talking much less), and I'd lead the regular blog readers in some kind of conscious movement activity. It's not just because we spend so much time in our heads (I'm certainly a prime culprit), it's because we've forgotten the wisdom in our bodies. Our bodies know so much, but we are constantly forcing them into shapes, sizes, and towards performance goals that we never really hear our body. Whether you're swallowing the contents of another carton of ice cream to bury your woes or are training hardcore for a CrossFit competition, it's likely that you've no idea what your body thinks and really wants.

The Intelligence of the Body
Too many spiritual traditions spurn or denigrate the body. It's as if they think that they can get away from it. It often has become a dumping ground for some of our worst issues. The bottom chakra with its scarcity and family issues, and the second chakra's sexual traumas are too much to handle for a lot of traditions. It's like, "Well if we can't figure out how to deal with it, we'll just transcend it and be done with it." By transcend, they mean ignore, avoid, and escape. It's unfortunate. And ultimately, it's futile. You can't escape your body (not until you die, and I'm not interested in any high-state out of body experiences in this blog post. Stay in your body! This is the gift of your life time).

For those of you cultivating your paths, you're unwrapping a lot of mental constructs around how you think about your body. You may be learning how to love your body, and you may even be making some big changes in how you take care of your body. These are preliminary processes that are very important. You can't hear the intelligence in your body until you start taking care of it and stop polluting it (drugs, alcohol, etc.). For those of you who have awakened, you're probably a little stunned by what your body has to say. Depending on how you've treated it, your body may be very upset. Now, you've got to listen.

Physical Changes and Learning to Listen to Your Body
Your body is very intelligent. It knows what it wants to eat. It knows what feels good for exercise. It's not actually that hard to hear what it has to say. As I was accelerating towards awakening in 2007, my body's intelligence started kicking in. I decided I didn't want to drink alcohol anymore. It just felt like it was getting in the way of my clarity. Over time, going back to drinking any amount of alcohol has gotten harder and harder the more in-tune I've become with my body. At last check (and this was awhile ago), I can get through about half a beer before I start to feel hot and sick. My body is also getting ready to rush it out of my bowels (I know, graphic huh? Some of you in awakening totally get what I'm saying though). By this time, the taste of the beer is terrible to me too.

Furthermore, I had to give up the idea of having lots of muscles. I've never been a huge body-builder type, but I did spend more than a few hours in the gym. Ah that Arnold Schwarzenegger body-type ideal that men have latched onto since the 80's....My body, however, does NOT care about achieving an image. It likes to be slender and not carry a lot of additional weight. Somewhere around May of 2007, my workout regimen was changing, but in all honesty, it took me several years before I really let go of weight-lifting. Nowadays, my body only likes to lift and move itself. So push-ups = okay. Benchpress = yuck.

Clearing the Way to Your Body Intelligence
I've already blogged a lot about stuff that you can do to get to know your body and to own your physical power. I have it better conglomerated in my ebook if you want to find it all in one place, but I think my blog post about "Creating a New Relationship with Your Body" is a good place to start. Oh, and I don't think I've said enough about sleep. Sleep is super important. You should get more. Most people in the U.S. aren't sleeping enough, and caffeine isn't a good substitute. This is another key part that is essential to hear your body's intelligence, and really for lots of people, the intelligence is simply saying, "I'm TIRED!"

Deeper Clarity Comes with Deeper Physical Commitment
This is where things can get really cool. Your body doesn't just tell you what to eat and how much to sleep. For those really in awakening, you'll probably feel a lot of things in your body. You'll be able to sense how other people are feeling and what's going on for them. There may be an issue around boundaries, and I've discussed that as well in earlier blog posts. But done with intention and care, you start to understand people in a whole new way. You can connect with people in a whole new way. You'll know which people and places are or aren't right for you. The body's intelligence starts to blend in with your heart and mind intelligences. The soul's intelligence brings them all together. I suppose this is a type of clairvoyance or clair-somethingness. I don't care to put a name on it, but I do know that it offers you a lot more ways to understand and interact with the world than many of you have realized was possible.

Staying Grounded Through Your Spiritual Path and Awakening
Your body's intelligence will also keep you very grounded in this world. And that's crucial especially for those of you in big awakenings. A lot of that high vibration can have you floating up in the rafters, and we need you down here on planet earth. The body keeps us here. It tells us a lot of important stories about how to care for ourselves and how to physically connect with others in integrity. It has a whole level of intelligence around sexuality and sexual energy that I don't even have the space for to discuss in this post (it'll have to wait for another time ;). But it can't be controlled. Not like the mind has done before. And any mantras to just "tough it out" through sickness and other difficulties that cause pain to the body will become increasingly impossible to do as your body's intelligence takes over. You're not losing control; actually, you're finding out that you've been physically out of control and out of integrity with yourself for most of your life.

The body's intelligence brings you back to center and back to a more grounded focus. It's kinda like a big reality check. Whoops that burger makes me feel awful--wow, I've been dumping terrible processed food into my body all these years and my body actually hasn't liked it. I just thought I did. Start to notice what really makes you feel vibrant, alive, and healthy, and you'll begin to bring forth the intelligence of your body.

For more on this topic, you can check out this YouTube video:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Next Generation of Conscious Children

As I connect with more parents on the spiritual path, I feel like it's important to spend a little time talking about how important parenting is with the consciousness and paradigm shift that's going on. First of all, I think children are great because they'll do just about anything. So to me, you've already got your own little spiritual community going in your living room; you just need to get over yourself and your own hang ups (Will it be weird to have a conscious dance party with my kids in the kitchen?) and go for it. It really beats a lot of other things you might do with your kids (watching more mind-numbing television, filling them with sugar, etc.).

This isn't meant to be pedantic--just setting up a frame of reference because like everything else going on with spirituality, I seem to be shifting how people look at the bigger picture.

Spirituality and Parenting: No Need for Separation
Because so many people seem to think they have to meditate in absolute silence or go on yoga retreats far away, spirituality appears to not be something for children. What nonsense. Spirituality is in everything, and if you love your children (and I sure hope you appreciate what gifts they are), then spirituality is almost certainly already going on with you and your kids. How could it not? You have been part of the life creating process, and I can't think of anything more intrinsically spiritual than that. Life is amazing. It's more than a few chromosomes coming together in a party in a woman's uterus. I hope you know that too.

So, when you look at your children, I want you to start to see your own little spiritual community. You can do all kinds of things with them. Chanting is easy enough. It's not like they really care about the words (at least for the little ones--the bigger ones might, but then you tell them that's it's about the sound more than the words). The little ones will really enjoy the sounds. They most certainly will come to find something you had not. They're not blocked up with stupid ideas of what they can or can't do. And in many respects, that's the biggest spiritual lesson that you can offer to your kids; don't limit them. This isn't meant as in don't limit their access to sugar--you know what's better in that regard than they do. But there are so many other forms of creative expression that you can make space for as they discover themselves and their unique gifts in the world.

The Torch From the Indigoes Gets Passed On
I really hate generalizations and labels about groups of people. So for those of you who aren't familiar with the term "Indigo Children," this is a term that's meant to more or less describe the conscious awareness of a whole bunch of children born in the late 70s and early 80s I think. I dunno. The time frame may be slightly different. I honestly don't care. Indigo children is one of those terms that obfuscates more than clarifies (just like the word obfuscate--how many people know what that means?). It also feeds into the ego thing of "these children are special." As if others are not? But still, there is some truth to saying that there were a whole load of kids with a lot of active awareness that have been growing up since that time. I am sure that I'd get classified as one of them.

And it's not to say that there haven't been other children like this in other generations and time periods. As I connect with people in their mid-twenties, I can feel how strong so much awareness is in them. I'm sure it's bursting out of the teenagers, and down into the younger children, it's going to be a whole other shift into consciousness in this world. Because a lot of them--to use an expression by my mother--are coming in with "the lights on." I would say the lights aren't just on, but a few of them feel like gi-normous spotlights to me. I met one little girl once, and I suddenly felt extremely young compared to her.

Parents like you are helping to not just keep those lights on, but to shepherd them into a much more profound and everyday embodiment of that awareness that has rarely happened in any large numbers on this planet (at least as far as I'm aware).

Spiritual Parenting and the Spiritual Work of Raising a Highly Aware Child
It's amazing to me that I rarely hear people talk about the spirituality of raising a child. Maybe I just haven't been attracting that stuff, but so often, spirituality is placed in the singular quest of the individual. The individual is idealized as having to tramp off into the wilderness to find his/her self and leave the world behind. Well, that's nonsense. You'll take whatever experience with you that you already have inside, and eventually, you've got to come home anyway. In some ways, the return home is almost more important than the departure. And in truth, some of the greatest shifts in consciousness will come out of the challenges that you face in your home.

But I'm not intending to turn the family home into any more of a battleground than it has unfortunately been turned into by parental egos teaching their children's egos how to be petty, greedy, jealous, and otherwise small-minded. I think that's why some of the conscious children get depression so easily--it's horribly sad to be around such mean-spiritedness. I've heard from at least one person how that heavy depression has been with her all her life, and I can't help but frame it in my own mind as the severe dejection of the soul. It's as if the soul suddenly looks around and feels so trapped and dismayed that it'd rather run right back out of this life. And of course as Eckhart Tolle's story shows us, interest in suicide isn't an uncommon thing for a depressed soul, but let's not go down that dark path, please.

Making Space for Growth: Yours and Your Children's
This post is getting depressing, and that's not where I mean it to go. Instead, I encourage you to see your spiritual path and that of your children as parallel paths. You won't necessarily get into indepth conversations about the Baghavad Gita initially, but there's so many other things that you can do together. Furthermore, it's beautiful spiritual work to raise your children with love so that they can flourish and evolve into highly-conscious beings on the planet. Your work with your children is the very essence of the paradigm shift. Certainly all the rest of us waking up is a big deal, but many of the young children won't need to go to sleep at all. You're going to make space so that they don't. You can't control what happens for your children or the paths they'll choose, but in doing your own work and inviting your children into spirituality in playful and explorative ways, your children will have the opportunity to grow more from their natural soul intelligence than from social conditioning being imposed on them.

Natural Shifts in Consciousness: The Next Generation Takes Us Further
Each generation is going to be its own powerful wave. Those bright little lights in the eyes of your children are going to flourish and ignite into bigger flames in their hearts as they grow into their life paths. It's impossible to say what they'll do. I think a lot of us who've awakened now aren't exactly sure what we'll do yet. But we're opening the door further for them just as the generation of baby boomers (ack, another generalizing term!) began exploring a lot of the spiritual and mystical knowledge before us. It is a lot of work, and it may be forgotten in some ways as these conscious children come into their own. Many things will just be so much easier because of this path that we've blazed for them. Such is the way of these things, and that's okay. But for now, if you're a parent with a child who may have a few special abilities--finding things no one else can find, healing little wounds with a touch of the finger, and other astonishing talents--let them grow. Encourage them, and you may get to see some truly amazing people grow up within your loving arms.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Importance of Symbolic Images in Spiritual Practice

Susan talks about spiritual signs and symbols that are coming to her on her spiritual path. Enjoy!

Symbolic images appearing have seemed to be a trend for me lately. Whether it’s finding a toad in the woods or seeing waterfalls during meditation, it has all come to a point that I cannot ignore any longer. These symbols mean something and are crying out for me to pay attention to them. They have a message. I need to listen.

The most recent block of time consisted of many images moving in and out of my head. Speculating how they were created was insignificant at the moment as the melodic tones flowed into my ears.

I found myself amidst the clouds. Images of painted angelic figures came to me as if I was watching Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. The clouds billowed up and over forming blankets of waterfalls. I had this sensation as if I was falling with the water while it was descending from the snow-like capped clouds. Yet another detailed pencil sketch of a woman appears with light bursting from her throat to the clouds. Dark Blue was the precedent color throughout. A dark blue flower showed on the canvas that was my imagination. I stood next to the stem of the flower with the blue pedals hanging over the top of my head like a weeping willow tree. The pedals were emitting rays of blue streaming from the ends of them. The rays fell upon every inch of my body. The dream-like state ended with an image of the side of a man’s head with the focal point being an ear.

I didn’t know what to make of the experience. I knew there was symbolic meaning behind the images, but was not sure where to start in researching such things.

A plethora of information is available to us to help us grow on this journey. Perhaps it is through a teacher, book, or even the internet. I did a small internet search to get an idea to what some of the symbols meant. First, I found that the color blue is associated with the 5th chakra (or throat chakra). Immediately, I saw the correlation between all the blue I was seeing and the sketch of the woman with light coming from her throat. Blue is also associated with good fortune, which brought me to think of my experience with finding the toad last week. Dark blue, specifically, is associated with wisdom, warmth, and decisiveness. I finally started to see the interconnectedness of all the symbols when I found that a dark blue flower represents infinity.

I feel that symbols will mean something different to everyone. I know it can be difficult to determine the validity of each resource when seeking outside help. This is why it is necessary to follow one’s own intuition about what meaning resonates with you most. Keep in mind that you already have the answers. It’s just a matter of finding the key buried in conditioning and being willing to open the door to see them.

I am still processing what the above images mean to me. I have realized the importance of allowing time for such experiences to integrate. Sometimes I know what the symbol means to me right away, but many times I need to let it settle into my being for a few days before I can begin to conceptualize them. I may not be able to define what a symbol means to me at the time, so it flows past me effortlessly. Nevertheless, allowing time for this process to occur is important as well as not creating an attachment to a particular outcome.

Although it is a nice feeling to have visualizations of symbolic images during meditation or dreaming, I feel it is important to be open to seeing these images while we are "awake." If we are aware enough, it does not take an overwhelming experience during meditation to appreciate the symbols that are put before us every day. Perhaps it is a lovely animal you notice on your next walk, a unique plant, or even a person walking down the street. These signs and symbols are everywhere. The only thing that is keeping us from seeing them is the unconscious state we allow ourselves to be in. You never know which dream will be flashing before your eyes, unless you bring awareness to the moment.

Susan started to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Creator four years ago when she was introduced to the works of Eckhart Tolle's, "The Power of Now" by Jim Tolles. Her life has been transformed in countless ways since then.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spiritual Self-Work Turns to Spiritual Self-Care

This blog is going out to the people in or post-awakening. One of the interesting things about the spiritual path is that after the awakening, you know your truth. You just do. No one can tell it to you, and the deeper part of you that has been pulled to the forefront knows this. Yet it gets sooooo easy to become forgetful. That's why self-care becomes so important. Self-care is the process of using your spiritual tools to stay clear and connected because no matter who you are, most of us get disconnected from time-to-time.

Spiritual Tools All the Same: The Purpose Shifts
Initially, we start using spiritual tools like meditation, conscious dance, chanting, prayer, and others to figure out who the heck we are. So many people have no idea. So many more people have no idea that they have no idea who they are. It's a real mess. Talking to a friend on the phone just before writing this, she mentioned just how "upside-down" this whole country is, and it's absolutely true. So few people know what's really important, and they're caught up chasing experiences, mortgages, cars, fame, and money to their own detriment and the detriment of others. If you don't believe me, just figure out how many places, people, and natural resources have been exploited just to put a diamond ring on a woman's finger--this can play on many levels from the relationship between a man and a woman to the actual materials of the ring.

Subsequently, the spiritual tools are initially about getting right-side up again, and in many ways, spiritual awakening is the sudden righting of the ship that pulls our head out of the ocean and into the clear air and broad daylight of our life.

But we're so used to having our heads under the ocean with our ships upside down drifting without clear direction, that we can fall back into that pattern. So where meditation was used to help us figure out what is true and who we are, spiritual self-care becomes the process of staying clear as well as expanding into the reality that we can now be in.

Expansions and Contractions: Spiritual Self-Care Helps to Mind the Bumps
For those of you who are awakened, you know that life is not perfect--not in the way the mind thinks of a beautiful Utopia with chocolate fountains and endless sex (hmmm, well, you know what ever your Utopia is). It has it's ups and downs. Life expands out, and you get to do all sorts of amazing things. Then it contracts, and you have to deal with some difficult parts of your life and yourself. It ebbs and flows, and that's perfectly normal. The spiritual self-care helps you to continue to be in that still-point that you now are connected to. Meditation is no longer about any kind of quest for enlightenment; it never should have been anyway. Meditation simply feels good. If it doesn't feel good, then try something else that does feel good and meets your needs (BTW, this isn't the do-it-if-it-feels-good spiritual path blog, please read my blog about the importance of facing discomfort if you haven't already).

Because when you wake up, you're pretty clear about what should feel good and what feelings aren't helpful. You don't have to make your knees and hips suffer through 10 hours of meditation. You just need enough to remember that still point so that you can take that with you into your everyday life and out into the world.

Spiritual Tools Fall Away, Others Come Back
You'll also find that some tools start to have no use at all. Maybe you found this before awakening, or you've discovered that meditation only takes you so far. I really like to pick on meditation because it's just one tool, and some people try to use it for everything. The same thing happens for prayer. Praying to the divine is an immensely important practice in developing faith, but it's not the only practice. The divine expects you to do your part in your healing and in walking your life path. God doesn't intend to always be carrying you around, but from time to time when we really need it, God will be there for us. So there may be a time when prayer or meditation are really helpful, and then there may come a time, when that no longer helps you find that centering that you need.

Journaling comes and goes for me. There are times when I'm cleaning out all kinds of issues and energies through my journal and am writing each day, and then there are other times when I won't pick up a pen for a week or more. To me, this is the ebb and flow of my needs, and I've tuned in to myself to trust what I need and to use it when I need it.

Clearing Blockages and Opening Further on Your Spiritual Path
For clearing out old issues that are still clinging to you, self-care can be seen as a more gentle approach to your healing after awakening. In awakening, you know that you're absolutely perfect as you are. Ironically, that space also makes it absolutely clear what isn't you and what isn't true to you. It may make you impatient to heal faster. That's okay, but there's no rush. There never is with spirit. I think that's one of the stereotypes of gurus that's at least partially true--they're almost never in a rush. I think that there are times when urgency is needed, but for the most part, it's not. That's just another ego thing trying to do stuff fast and trying to achieve a goal. Most goals that you try to achieve fast don't last very long, I've noticed, and typically in the striving and desire to get there, it's a not a lot of fun to do. The more I teach and grow into this space, the slower I seem to go with my students and with myself. Because truly, where is there to go?

So please be gentle with yourself. In the post awakening world, you're very open and delicate, yet also incredibly strong and powerful. You don't need much to heal or shift away pain, but it is important to continue to have time dedicated to self-care to keep yourself healthy and in love with yourself and the world.

Thanks to Arran Edmonstone for today's picture. You can see more of his photography on this Flickr link.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Following the Path Less Travelled

My student, Susan's thoughts as she explores the woods and walks her spiritual path.

I took a walk in park not far from home. I had the expectation that this delightful walk would consist of sunshine, meditation, perhaps a good hike, along with many people and their dogs doing the same.

My walk was anything but what I had expected. In fact, the stroll through the woods was more enchanting and quite different than the sun-kissed afternoon I had imagined. My fairy energy took precedence although the skies drew darker. A misty rain came upon me, an unusual type of rain for Pittsburgh. My thoughts, doubts, and worries began to run past me like the stream flowing beside me. The leaves of the trees towered over me like a canopy, catching any raindrops that I did not need. I played my flute. The rain began to pour. At this point, I questioned whether or not the rain gods appreciated my musical talents, or lack thereof.

The rain ceased after some time. I came across a toad. Both the toad and I became squeamish of each other when I picked it up. Within a few seconds I was aware that the only thing to calm the both of us was to be aware of the moment and the gifts that it offered. We both settled into each other’s energy. The appearance of my new friend was of no coincidence. I later found that this creature directed the need for me to utilize my inner strength. The slippery creature also signified to me that my luck was changing for the better (http://www.linsdomain.com/totems/pages/toad.htm). I found this reassuring even though I don’t believe in luck. Nevertheless, I was thankful for the encouraging visit from the toad since this is a time of great transition.

I thought my walk couldn’t get any better after my encounter with the toad. To my surprise I came across a beautiful tree only a few more feet away from the toad. The tree had vines winding around its trunk. Often times, if certain vines are not managed, they can cut off important nutrients inhibiting the tree’s growth causing suffocation and sometimes death. The analogy reminded me of how our minds can do the same thing. Nevertheless, this tree stood tall and let the vines enhance it’s beauty. I could feel the soft and calming energy of the tree immediately after placing my hands on it. Within moments, I felt at peace.

I needed to connect with the tree to remind me about the futility of doubt. A tree does not question where it will be tomorrow, where it will get it’s nourishment, or what creatures will cross it’s path. The remnants of the tree will be present long after it’s current life, just as we will. The tree trusts Mother Earth to help nourish it through the leaves that extend from the tree’s branches just as we can learn to trust those around us to do the same. Creatures like the bark beetle will try to destroy the tree while others will find a comforting home in it. We often act the same way towards others. This tree was the essence of Being. The only thing that it lacked was doubt. Doubt can be comparable to worry, neither one can add one more second to my life. I am reminded that I can be like this tree.

Throughout my adventure I was noticing my dog having the time of his life, as always. He leaped into the puddles of water while the few people who remained in the forest scurried to find shelter. He was enjoying life. I have heard so many times, even from the chatter in my head, "I wish I could be a dog." Well we can! Why not? Why is it so difficult to enjoy life just as a dog does? My answer is that I can choose to make life difficult, or not.

Sometimes a walk in nature can bring clarity one does not anticipate. Perhaps this is why many people love to be in nature. We are given a space to get away from the chaos of life and just be. We are able to connect with something that is physically outside of us yet connected to us. The question is, when will the time come when we are open to do this, when we are immersed in anything but a calm and peaceful environment? I feel that being truly present can only occur when one transforms the chaos of life into his/her sanctuary, just as we do in nature.

Susan started to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Creator four years ago when she was introduced to the works of Eckhart Tolle's, "The Power of Now" by Jim Tolles. Her life has been transformed in countless ways since then.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Facing Discomfort on the Spiritual Path

It's only appropriate after blogging about The Path of Pain and Suffering and where feeling bad is unnecessary that I'll talk about where the spiritual path is uncomfortable. The earlier blog is meant to encourage you to let go of ideas about how difficult spirituality is and about earning something through trials and ordeals. That's not what spirituality is about. That said, you can find yourself feeling really uncomfortable at times as you move outside your ego's comfort zone. I'm sure that I've blogged about this stuff before, but it bears repeating that you're going to have to learn to delineate between necessary discomfort and unnecessary pain.

Stretching Yourself Past Your Limits
Yoga is such a great example to use about moving past old barriers and stretching yourself into new forms and shapes that you never thought you could do. In yoga, there's definitely a difference between a sharp stabbing pain in your knee from a badly shaped pose and the intense muscle burning sensation of a pose pushing you past your conceived of boundaries. The former needs you to stop. You're going to injure yourself. The latter challenges you to stick with it and to breathe into it. Like most things in life, breathing into the moment is key to transmuting the fire and difficulty in life and integrating it into yourself as strength. That's part of why yoga is such a powerful practice to build a foundation and a better physical house for your spirit. It truly does help you to align heart, body, mind, and soul, and it's why I typically suggest it as one form of conscious movement for many people who want to deepen their spiritual awareness and for those people working through the integration part of awakening.

Your Comfort Zone Is Your Prison
There's nothing about the spiritual path that is "safe" to the conventionally-minded ego. The ego knows what it knows, and it doesn't want to step outside that safe space. That's the main function of the ego--to keep us safe. But it truly is the safety of the prison. Sure, you know where the walls are and the bars are, but you have no idea just how far you can go outside of that cell. Many people are comfortable there, but I'm not writing for you. I'm writing for those of you wanting to break out. I'm writing to those of you who have broken out and are wondering if you should go back. I'm writing for those of you who have tossed aside this cell and are trying to find out just how far you can go. And you can go far, but you never know how far until you stop thinking in such limited terms.

The Limited Ego Gives Way to the Immense Expansiveness of the Soul
The amount of expansiveness that we all can tap into is amazing and intense. It will show you every place you still have a wall, every place where you're still in your old cell. Pushing through these walls can be uncomfortable. Let's say you've never been to a basketball game and are afraid to be around lots of people at a sporting event (Don't laugh; seriously, lots of people have these types of feelings, and in many respects, I'm drawing on an earlier version of myself). Going through that wall can bring up all kinds of fear. Just the drive to the parking lot or buying a ticket can be intense for someone, but the reward and the sense of empowerment that washes in after having done something like that is incredible. It's part of what hooks a lot of us into the self improvement racket.

I'm a huge fan of self improvement, but I call it a racket because it can get you into the mind-set that you always have to improve yourself or be better. That's not spirituality. In writing what I've said above, there's not necessarily a need to break through those walls if you are happy there and completely content. Although few people I've run across are so completely of themselves in such small spaces; it's extremely rarely a fully conscious choice to be that way (I'd almost say never, but never is an absolute term--and few things are absolutes). And if they were in that space of deep acceptance, well, then, they're not really in a cell at all, are they?

Opening Up Deeper Levels of Yourself
As I blogged about before, the ultimate spiritual tool to awakening is to let go. Let go of everything. Resist nothing. But most of us don't seem to do that on our spiritual path--or at least not for very long. So some of what I write is intended to bridge that gap. It's a deeper compassion that while some great teachers like Eckhart Tolle just drop it all at once, most everyone else seems to be caught in between. We have a huge awakening, and then we have absolutely no idea what to do with it. We're out. We're out of the cell, but the world is now huge. We literally can go anywhere, but we have no idea what to do with so much freedom and expansiveness.

So many of these spiritual tools help us face the discomfort and ego fear in meaningful ways to help us let go--to let go of the prison cell where everything with dictated to us. These tools like journaling, spiritual sexual techniques, conscious dance, yoga, chanting, and many more help us to understand ourselves and what's going on so that we can let go. "Oh, I do that all the time because I learned it from my mother." Aha, now you know what it is, now you can let go. Now, you can make a conscious decision about how to act in the same decision, and it will be yours and not based on conditioning or karma. This is how we come to own our lives.

The Embodied Spiritual Awakening: Letting Go of Pain
The path to understanding those things that are blocking you from fully embodying yourself can be uncomfortable. They'll push your limits because you ultimately don't have any limits. What being limitless means for you is up to you to discover. I won't say what you can or can't do. It's like going back to your childhood when you were told that you could be anything. Such is the way with spiritual awakening: you are going back to the times of your childhood when you could be anything or do anything. Only now, you are bringing the wisdom of adulthood and conscious-awareness to that space, and that's an incredible mixture to make.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Path of Pain and Suffering

Most everyone on this planet seems to be walking the path of pain and suffering, so I am imagine this blog will strike a cord with a lot of you. This may be an over-generalization. There are still people who are not lost in the trappings of the mind, playing out old wounds and stories over and over again. I have the potential illusion that freedom from suffering is more likely to be found in indigenous tribes that have been "left behind" by the 21st century. Certainly there are good things with all this technology, but it really is a mixed bag.

Pain: Our Greatest Teacher
When I write about pain, I'm usually being very specific towards the mind. Typically, pain and suffering are what the mind does to entrap itself and to play out bad scenarios over and over again. This can be playing out a difficult moment in life--like when you lost a loved one, a job, or a relationship. This can also be incessant worry about the future. It becomes an on-going recording that tells us constantly that we're not safe and either will never be safe or only if we do such and such. Subsequently, we become reactive to our lives. We always look for what feels safe or what is a way out of pain. It becomes a big avoidance tendency in a lot of people, which manifests in lots of ways from closed hearts to drug use to working all the time. Although, some people use suffering as an inspiration and go right at it, but then, these people end up feeling like they're constantly fighting for their lives all the time.

Pain, as our greatest teacher, tells us when something is wrong. If you're getting sick a lot, your body is telling you that something is wrong. If you're emotionally upset a lot, your heart is telling you something is wrong. It's interesting what happens to you when you begin to look at your pain in life as an ally. Some people go so far as to take a traumatic event and turn it into a catalyst for their life's purpose or work. I'm thinking of Ishmael Beah's book A Long Way Gone as I write this. He was a child soldier in Africa--impressed into war, wired up on all kinds of drugs, and sent out to commit murder and atrocity. His story is about how he has healed from it, and it is a message of hope that other child-soldiers can be healed. Truly, what he's become through using the pain in his life is incredible.

When Pain Is No Longer Necessary
But the greater part of pain for most people in Western Society lives between the ears. It's in the constant chatter of the mind trying to control our lives with dictates of do this or do that, this is right or this is wrong. We suffer endlessly from these recorded messages that by and large have nothing to do with the present moment. But the philosophy of "No pain, no gain" is widespread in our culture. So we've also been deeply trained to accept that suffering is not only okay, but it's the way to get our fulfillment.

Those of you who read my blog regularly can already see the problems here. One is seeking fulfillment outside of yourself, and of course, the other is that you have to hurt to get what you want. Both of those are false. Yet even as people come to the spiritual path because of deep pain or lack of fulfillment in the material world, they take with them this idea that they have to suffer or earn their way on the spiritual path. Some people think they need to meditate for countless hours, journal endlessly, or practice a spiritual practice for years to achieve something. What in the world do you think you're going to achieve? The truth of your life is that you have everything you could ever need right here in this moment. Breathe. Breathe in this moment. You won't need anything else.

Spiritual Awakening and Your Next Step in Life
One of the things that I didn't fully realize and that I offer to you is that when you wake up, you're ready for the next step. You don't have to suffer or burn out old karma to do the purpose that you're here to do. When you awaken, you're already ready. Just let go of that need to earn anything or be awarded anything. No one can give you your purpose or tell you who you are. You already know all that. Now, I do think a lot of different tools like meditation are very helpful, but not in the space of self-work. They're important in the space of self-care, helping you to stay connected. Because, despite all of our best efforts, we can all get a little disconnected from time to time even after we wake up. So, we learn to stop and breathe again. Come back to this moment. Even as you're reading this, stop and breathe. Come back to this moment.

Suffering Never Cured Suffering
Just as the Martin Luther King, JR quote states that "hate cannot drive out hate," suffering cannot lead you to awakening. Long arduous vision quests or endless meditation retreats that make your knees ache aren't taking you anyway. If anything, they may be taking you away from the truth. But I'm not telling you to not do those things. To me they serve a sacred purpose of making you suffer until such time as you let go. And then you won't need them anymore.

I quoted on my Facebook page Zen master Daikaku who said that a meditation practice is unnecessary “if you know the fundamental reality." After that, meditate if you like to. It's more about preference, and as I said, we all get disconnected once and awhile; we get caught up again by the dream and illusion constantly spinning around us. That's okay, but meditation won't get you anything. In all honesty, it wasn't getting you anything before.

People and Their Pain
As Eckhart Tolle says, no one will take away your pain. You can have it as long as you want. I've seen plenty of people in my life holding on to pain and not reaching out for help even when they know it's right in front of them. That's okay. Their pain will continue to teach them about suffering. Their suffering won't cure their pain or stop it. If you have to go down the wrong road just to be sure that it's still the wrong road (dating the same type of jerk hoping for a different outcome to the relationship), then that road is more than open to you. This is the point when someone's ego runs in with a higher truth and says, but "there are no wrong roads, right?" Absolutely. But you have to be careful with what you're saying because that makes the Holocaust okay. I am always dramatic with these statements because higher truth encompasses everything.

I also believe that everyone knows their own truth, so you know when you're dating the wrong type of guy or gal again. You do. And no one else can know this for you. I certainly don't. I don't personally know even a fraction of the people who read this blog. How could I? But you know when you're doing something that isn't in your truth. You know when you're making yourself suffer, and as I said the greatest tool anyone has on this path is to just let go. When you do that, the suffering can go away. There will still be hard moments, difficult times, and days when your teeth ache from grief. But they will pass. You can let those difficulties pass, and when you do, you will be free of suffering and a whole new world will unfold before your eyes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Totem Animals, Signs, and Portents

I had a request from a student to write about totem animals and shamanic practices. Quite frankly, I'm not sure what "shamanic practices" means with people right now because I'm hearing the term used by more and more people. A variety of different individuals are calling themselves shamanic healers these days, and I think it's part of this deeper desire to reclaim our tribal connection to each other and to the earth that has been lost in Western Society. That said, you are welcome to offer your own interpretation of what "shamanism" is down in the comments section, and I'll return to that topic when I've had a chance to do more of my own research.

Totem Animals and Finding Meaning in Nature
I do have plenty to say about animals. I love animals. I've been drawn to animals all my life. I've always had a way of connecting with animals or finding them when I wanted to. My mom learned early on that if I decided to find a turtle at the pond that she'd just have to accept that I would. I have no idea how I did this then, but I'm sure it has to do with a deeper connection to everything that pretty much all children are born with. In waking up, we re-ignite those connections and combine the wisdom of adulthood with the play and joy of childhood. It's a powerful alchemy to become a spiritual adult.

When I was fourteen years old, my mom gave me the medicine cards, which were created by David Carson. You probably won't get too many shameless plugs on this blog, but I have nothing but good things to say about the medicine cards, which is also why I've linked to their Web site. I describe them as a lighter version of Tarot with fuzzy animals. Loosely based on some form or synthesis of Native American mythology around animals, each animal embodies a different trait or characteristic. Drawn and placed into different spreads, you can see how you're moving in the world and what areas internally that you need to grow. I've always liked the medicine cards because they move people to look at themselves and do not necessarily act as auguries for the future.

Superstition and the Desire to Find Signs
The tricky thing in all of this is the desire to see something. The more that you desire to see a certain result or get a certain message, the more you're going to make the message you're receiving unclear. You may distort it or turn it into an absolute lie. In the medicine cards, squirrel represents a gathering of energy in many regards. I live in an area over-run by squirrels. If I interpreted that as a message, I'd be hoarding stuff on a daily basis. So to me, this is where my own inner knowing is, once again, essential. With inner knowing or intuition, there's a resonance to something that has a deeper message for me. If I don't feel that, then a squirrel is just a squirrel. I think this can go beyond finding guidance in nature and with animals to numerology and the alignment of planets. If a reading doesn't have a resonance for you--a deeper sense of connection and truth--then it's just someone's interpretation of the moment. Let it go. Don't hold on to it.

Usually where we all get in trouble is when fears steps in. That's what takes these subtle messages and signs in nature, numbers, planets, and your Aunt Rosie's cookie dough and turns them into superstition. Superstition is always about fear and almost never about what's happening in the moment. You hear things like if such and such happens, that's a sign of the devil. Well, is that what it feels like to you in the moment? Spend a lot of time whenever you feel fear come into the situation before turning an outside phenomenon into an absolute fact.

Finding Your Totem Animal
In the medicine card spreads, you get nine totem animals for different aspects of your life. I think other traditions may only do one. This is something that I suggest you go to because you're drawn to it. A lot of people who connect very deeply to nature will really enjoy this path of discovery, but I always caution you to use it as a reflection back to you. In some respects, the places that draw us most are meant to be mirrors to who we already are. Do you like the reflection? Spend time with it either way. This is what you're sending out into the world.

Signs and Portents on the Spiritual Path
This is an amazing time. So much is shifting that there is a lot of uncertainty. I think astrologists and numerologists will have their work cut out for them. Usually the question that most people have is the same: Will I be all right? It's one of the major ones that you get to when you boil down all the other questions like:

  • Will I find true love?
  • Will this job work out?
  • Will I recover from cancer?

The last one is rather dramatic, but on the ultimate level, we all will be all right. I had a student share some inspiration from a dream. In the dream, he was told that there have been over 345 trillion species on this planet and that they have all been taken care of. So if you find your totem animal or not, just know that you are being taken care of. Trust in that, and you'll find your life a little bit more restful and beautiful each day.

Special thanks to Arran Edmonstone for today's picture. You can see more of his photography on this Flickr link.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Redemption, Salvation, and the Road to Healing on the Spiritual Path

I was visiting my parents' home this last weekend for Mother's Day among other reasons, and I happened to pick up Yoga Journal magazine. I think it's one of the few times in the last 6 months that I've picked up a magazine. With so much information online, I have less and less interest in periodicals, but I digress. The article that I read had to do with a yoga program in California at a penitentiary. It's a pretty powerful article, and it talks about the effects of yoga for prison inmates in a penitentiary that's more than two times over-populated. The inmates who go to yoga discover more peace of mind and begin to have a coping mechanism to deal with the insanity of the place.

The Corrections System Needs Correcting
As a spiritual teacher, none of this is particularly surprising to me. Yoga is one of many great tools to develop ourselves on the spiritual path. It has physical, emotional, social, and spiritual benefits, and I think that adding in programs like this can actually make the corrections system a system that does really "correct" and rehabilitate people instead of punishing them.

Because that's what this system should be about. Right now, it's really not much more than Hammurabi's Code. For those of you looking for a history lesson, Hammurabi's Code was a code of ethics and laws set down in 1700 B.C. or so that said things like:

  • "If a man puts out the eye of an equal, his eye shall be put out."

This is the basis for the eye-for-an-eye mentality. So, jails and prisons cloister together tons of people who have committed crimes in suffocatingly close quarters, and they don't offer many ways to re-train these people so that they can change their lives. It creates a self-perpetuating cycle, and whether you pity or condemn them, you have to remember one thing above all else: they're just like you.

Grossly Distorted Egos and the Spiritual Path
It doesn't matter how twisted the ego is, if a person truly desires to change, it's possible. There is nothing that the divine cannot heal. This is a lesson that we all need to remember wherever we are on the spiritual path. In a spiritual awakening, many of us come to face a whole load of issues that we thought we'd repressed or forgotten. It may seem insurmountable, but that's the ego's belief system. The ego is always about limits and boundaries; it can't think beyond what it knows. And most of that is based on fear, anger, hate, and sadness.

So it's no wonder that "criminals" primarily continue to perpetuate their crimes. They almost all grow up in bad situations where stealing, lying, and fist-fights rule the day. Throw them in with a bunch of other people who know the same, and what kind of new lessons or behaviors do you actually think they're going to learn? Yoga classes are a great step one. I remember there was a movie out not too long ago called the Dhamma Brothers--it was about two brothers in jail in Georgia, I believe. They get into Buddhism, and it changes their lives. It is amazing what can happen when "hardened criminals" get a chance to learn new ways of being, re-programming their egos with new behaviors.

Force-Feeding Spirituality Not the Way
But you don't force-feed people spirituality. There's been enough of that with religions. You don't scare people into following Jesus or the Buddha. You put the tools there. I'm not involved in the corrections system, but there are plenty of people who are and who are passionate about rehabilitating people into healthier individuals. To them I'd say, that there are plenty of tools now available to offer in the prison system. As the Yoga Journal article noted, this is a great way to help inmates reduce stress and therefore reduce fights and other altercations. It can become a basis for helping someone find new communities to connect to when they get out (for those where that is still possible). Keep in mind, that most people end up going right back to their old world after getting out of a prison. Those social circles were where they learned a lot of behaviors in the first place and got them into trouble with the law. Many of them would never have even thought to look for a yoga class, and now, they might.

Yoga, meditation, qi gong, chanting, classes on mindfulness, and so many more tools really can make a huge difference because no one is beyond redemption, salvation, or healing. No one is beyond help.

Awakening to Your Own Darkness
I'm writing about this because in so many ways, jails are the forgotten places of our social consciousness. It's where we cram away the darkness of our collective consciousness and try to forget that we've got some serious issues. Overcrowding in jails is pandemic, and if throwing people in prison stopped crime, we'd be nearing a Utopia, I should think. Obviously, we're not. It's like cutting off a hand that doesn't work right; it just leaves our society handless.

Now, I'm not a dreamy idealist. Just letting out all the people who've committed crimes into the world is not an answer. I'm all about accountable compassion. A murderer has to pay for his or her crimes against society. But a murderer is still not beyond help or hope. The spiritual path offers much to that person, and if s/he is finally ready to make a change, then the opportunity to do so should be there. We can't assume that they know what opportunities are available. Think of most criminals as scared little children that are dangerous, and they have no idea what they really need or want or how to get it appropriately. If they'd been taught otherwise, they probably wouldn't be where they are now.

While there are always edge cases, I always move from a space of compassion around such things. Hate and ostracism have never resolved anything except to make it easier for some of us to ignore how we're linked to the problems that others have. So the more we provide spiritual, emotional, and social tools to people who really have none, the more we all will benefit in a more peaceful society.

Clouds Descend: The Path Gets Murkier
Stirring up the waters will make things muddy, and we all have to remember that we're all in this together. The more that you face your own darkness, the easier it is to be with others who are in their darkness. For most people, you avoid uncomfortable situations because it activates those old issues and pains in you. The more you face and release those fears and insecurities, the more calm you will have around others in pain. It's not necessarily easy, and the true spiritual path takes us through all the pain and barriers we've created for ourselves. It can seem insurmountable to get to all this healing, but that's an illusion. Just let it go. Let the light of you come in. Let the light in you come forth. Let inside and outside dissolve so that there is no other, no enemy, no criminal, and you will know peace.

How to Start Your Spiritual Journey

Special thanks to Arran Edmonstone for today's picture. You can see more of his photography on this Flickr link.

The Battle of Egos: For the Benefit of All

Some poetry from my student, Susan.

Finding unity under the mask of war,

In the killing of an enemy,

For the supposed "benefit of all,"

In the death of a friend,

In the celebration of a marriage,

In the end of a marriage,

In the celebration of a birth,

In the unity of family and friends.

What is unity?

We debate on what is honest, fair, and true.

We say we have unity with all, but actions speak

Louder than words.

The battle of the egos continue.

For the benefit of all or just the benefit of ourselves?

Imposing beliefs on another

The benefit of change can only occur from within.

Awareness brings unity

Unity of one's self and therefore of all beings.

We take responsibility for other nations in the name of God.

Handing off the responsibility to another, because the burden is too

Much to carry on our own.

Many do not understand the burden can only be dealt with at the source.

When will we take responsibility for our actions, our thoughts?

If there was no ego, there would be no war, no suffering.

Yet the ego is a part of the collective whole. It is necessary for survival.

Suffering will never end until the ego is stripped until the

Emptiness of it is understood.

Letting go of control.

Call it passive, submissive, or yielding.

But what has the cycle of war profited for us thus far?

More money, power, respect? All of which are temporary.

For the benefit of all.

They say one death can save a thousand.

When will one life,

one moment of awareness,

Do the same?

Susan started to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Creator four years ago when she was introduced to the works of Eckhart Tolle's, "The Power of Now" by Jim Tolles. Her life has been transformed in countless ways since then.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Stroke of Insight

A post by my student Susan. Enjoy!

We reflect inward on the beauty of this rare sunny day as we look out the window. It was a long walk, but we made it there. I look into her eyes. One can see the youthfulness masked in the form of wrinkles around her eyelids. A barrier noticeably drops, and she softens into this moment. No words need to be said as I am with her and watch a few tears build up and suddenly fall down her cheeks. We embrace. I let her be, and she audibly sighs deeply. Despite the droop of her face on one side, she states, "I am going home." She is to be discharged the next day. I am reminded of being brought home in a different way.

Another patient and I are looking out the same window at a different time. I am now affectionately calling this the window of vulnerability. Once again we share a similar moment. Except this time, he softly states, "I forgot." He’s referring to forgetting how to walk since his stroke. I am reminded of how we often "forget" ourselves.

I am thankful to witness these incredible moments of vulnerability, honesty, and Truth. This person has allowed me a moment to be vulnerable just as I have allowed her. I often forget which person is the healer.

My chest instantly lightens while the density drifts away in these moments I share with the patients. I have been trying to define what is causing the dense feeling in my chest. I know it is a blockage. After weeks of delineating what the cause could be, I am finally giving up. Perhaps I don’t need to know if this blockage is due to a past life, past experience, social conditioning, or anything else of the imagination. Trying to define the cause only brings me further from me finding my way home. The only prescription needed is to sigh and let go.

Susan started to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Creator four years ago when she was introduced to the works of Eckhart Tolle's, "The Power of Now" by Jim Tolles. Her life has been transformed in countless ways since then.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Always Being Positive and the Rose-Colored Glasses

I like tackling topics around the illusions people have about what spirituality is. One illusion is that you'll always be positive and happy. There's this kind of expectation that has been built out of many smiling gurus on postcards and Internet pages, and so people try to always be positive and happy about everything.

Now certainly, there's an important practice in learning to choose happiness and to see the good in things, but learning to see the good in things doesn't mean that you're putting up blinders towards the bad things in life. The higher good embraces both, and on the spiritual path, that's where this road leads towards. So you can't simply put on the rose-colored glasses and see the world in only one light. All lights and darknesses are equal and need to be seen for what they are.

The Pain of Always Doing the Right Thing
Before someone gets the impression that it's okay to intentionally hurt others or make mistakes, I'd like to offer 1 of the 4 agreements from Toltec wisdom that Don Miguel Ruiz speaks of: "Always do your best." It's a wonderful little statement. It holds you accountable, and in my own life, I've found that it leaves me with few to no regrets. I do what I can as best as I can do it. The results tend to themselves. The more deeply in the spiritual teaching space I am, the less I even have an evaluation process around results. I am simply doing and saying what feels true to me. It's not about doing the right thing. The right thing--if it's any thing--is simply trusting and saying what feels true to me. Trying to say the right thing or whatever I think that is gets me into a world of trouble.

And so too, many people get frustrated as they try to do the right thing and it isn't necessarily well-received. Somewhere in there, there's an issue for outside approval. That in doing the right thing and being always positive for everyone, you somehow think that you're going to be better accepted. You may be the type of person who is always trying to be positive when you're miserable inside. This serves you in no way. Most people can sense how you're really feeling (even if they don't know that they can). And in essence, you come across as fake. So you come into a whole lot of pain because people aren't accepting you well and you already feel awful inside.

Taking the Glasses Off: The Spiritual Perspective Sees All
Well, we see as much as we can. We all, after all, have limitations. We're human. It's part of the walk of life that we take. But in taking off the glasses--the need to color the environment the way we want to see it--we begin to see the truth of our realities. We'll see where friendships aren't serving us. We'll see where we aren't serving ourselves. You'll probably have to make changes, and this will likely ruffle a lot of feathers. Change tends to do that. So many people are trying to control their worlds that any little ripple can be upsetting. You'll have to learn how to do this as best you can, but in so doing, you will begin to take ownership of your life and live in the real world.

Because the more we project onto life a certain expectation, the more miserable we end up being when it doesn't turn out the way we want. It doesn't have to just be always trying to be positive. This most certainly includes all the cynics who are constantly looking for life to disappoint them. Maybe these should be called black-colored glasses because to the cynic everything is morose and disappointing. And that's no more true about the world than the eternal optimist who doesn't want to talk about upsetting subjects like murder, rape, war, and other atrocities.

Spiritual Awakening and Opening Your Eyes
If anything, spiritual awakening is one of the biggest eye-opening events any of us can have. It becomes exceedingly clear what is right and what is wrong. This is much less subjective than it sounds. You feel this truth in the marrow of your soul, and you move from this space to make changes in your life to better align to the deeper truths that you now feel and truly know. This isn't a new ego game; this is so fundamental it aches in your teeth to not live in alignment with spirit.

The pessimist loses the pessimism. The optimist loses the optimism. You know that things happen--enjoyable things and painful things. You can see much more clearly, although in my initial experiences you really just see a lot of beauty for a time. It's hard to see much else. The initial blast is kind of an energetic bomb that goes off inside, but as it subsides, your eyes are quite clear. It's part of the reason that many people will have trouble being around you. You won't play the old ego games. Where there's suffering, you'll see it and respond to it. Where there's beauty, you'll know it and embrace it. None of this is about making the world appear to you as you want it to. It's simply about seeing with clarity.

And ultimately, that's one of the greatest gifts that the spiritual path can bring us. We begin to truly see the world as it is, and from that place of clarity, we move into a whole new way of being with our reality.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Heart Openings and Spiritual Love

I think a number of you probably are noticing a theme with some of my blogs of late: love. I suppose that's where I'm focused these days, and so that's what's coming up for me and in the emails and questions being sent to me. This topic is a little more esoteric for most, but for those of you who have felt it, it'll make a lot of sense. The title speaks to a heart opening, but not in the general sense of emotionally loving someone. This blog post is about the energetic sensation of having your chest or heart feel like it is actually opening to connect with another person, group, or place. It is an extremely powerful feeling, and perhaps only some of the psychics reading this blog will have experienced this yet. For those of you in spiritual awakening, you may not have had this yet, but it may create a foundation of understanding if such a thing happens for you.

Movements of the Heart: Embodying the Energy of Love
The only way I can access this topic appropriately is to share a little of what I've experienced. I've experienced a lot of different types of connection and intimacy, and I can't emphasize enough just how many types there are in the world. Awakening opens you up to all kinds of intimacy, and as I've written about in "Spirituality and Intimacy," it's far, far more than just sexual connection. So it was with this particular story for me.

I happened to be lying in bed, and I was holding my lover at the time. We were both fully clothed and not doing anything. We weren't preparing to do anything. We were really just relaxed into each other's energies. I suppose that's the essential piece. For whatever reason, I suddenly felt my chest being opened up to her, and I felt all this amazing light and energy come through her heart and into mine. We were both kinda stunned. We stopped and held each other for awhile. I can't even tell you how long it lasted. I was in a lot of awakening energy at the time when I was with her, so the concept of time had really broken down a lot. All I did know was just how much love I was feeling and how connected I felt to her. It's a treasured memory from that relationship for me, and it showed me just how deeply you connect on one level.

Soulmates and Spiritual Lovers
But as I also wrote in my blog about intimacy, just because you can connect incredibly deeply with a person in one moment doesn't mean that you will ever again or that that's the only person with whom you can have that level of connection. The illusion of the ego immediately grabs on to these circumstances and tries to do several things such as:
  • Re-create the experience
  • Hold on to the partner
  • Judge and evaluate any other future experiences by that first one
This, of course, squelches the energy of love. Trying to box it up is like caging some birds; it soon dies. And of course, you're like "But this feels great! I want more." Absolutely. Just let go. Let go, and more with come to you. Let go of the idea of how it will come and from whom it will come. Someone doesn't necessarily have to be your soulmate (which I have written all kinds of things about) or spiritual lover for you to touch deep intimacy. I think it's so important that you know that you can have very deep heart openings on the energetic level with many people. You probably will find that some people resonate better for you and that certain bonds are more accessible than others. The higher truth is that we can connect deeply and completely with everyone because we are all one. But in our day-to-day life, you will find some better suited to partnering than others.

Heart Opening and the Power of Energetics
This is where I'm theorizing. I'm theorizing on stuff that probably doesn't need theorizing, but I feel like putting it out there given some of the questions that I've received.

What does this mean to have this energy come into me? I have no idea. As always, I encourage you to journal about it if that question comes to you. Talk with whomever you had this connection about what you felt. What did s/he feel? What images did you both get? (FYI: This kind of visceral connection could also happen in nature or with a group of people; it's not necessarily a one-on-one experience). Sometimes, it's just a strong karmic connection or a past-life time reconnecting. Perhaps it's kind of an energetic download. One person becomes a conduit for energetic information and the other receives it.

How do I get it back? I've had different kinds and types of heart openings, but nothing like the initial one that I described in this blog. I would say that, for me, it was a seminal opening of my heart to a whole new way of connection. After that big opening, I'm not sure that I've needed to be re-opened and connected to in that way again. I can't speak for my lover at the time and what it meant to her. I may have another heart opening like it or more powerful later on, but it still wouldn't be the same. So I'd encourage you to not get caught up in the idea of trying to "get" something back. As always, the spiritual path will become incredibly difficult when you try to "get" stuff from it.

What does this mean about this partner with whom I had this connection? Ah, here's the 50 million dollar question. It's one that only you can answer. I have noticed that in the initial parts of awakening or spiritual shifts, we'll attract to us guides and doorways (I know it sounds funny to call someone a doorway, right?). These people help us open up to a new level and transition through the doorway into another space. It's a beautiful and sacred purpose. Once that completes, that relationship may dissolve, however. Other times, you will attract a life partner or spiritual lover because you're now in that same space or energy vibration. But like all relationships, I encourage you to think more expansively about the partnership because most relationships don't fit into the one-and-only-true-love-til-death-do-us-part mold that we try to cram them into.

Powerful Energy Shifts
I would also encourage you to draw your attention back away from the "other." As I've talked about before, focusing on other people to "give us love" will lead to suffering. No one can bring you fulfillment. You already have that inside. If anything, a heart opening is a sacred activation and blending of your energies. Perhaps, the other person has awoken a dormant feminine to blend with your already active masculine energy or vice versa. It is a beautiful and amazing thing to share with someone. But it's always important to come back to yourself and what's happening inside for you.

Because if you've really awakened in your heart, you may suddenly find that you're actually attracting a lot of loving and connected people. You may find that your tunnel vision focusing on the person who helped awaken your heart may hinder your further growth and development. It's not that focusing love on another is bad; it's the mentality of "I can only get this from him/her." It blocks out all the love that's going on in the world and doesn't allow other people to mirror and reflect your love.

Truly, this is a beautiful connection to have with someone. It has it's own intelligence. I could probably set up circumstances to encourage another big heart opening for myself with another, but that doesn't mean it would happen. It happens when it happens. But it is amazing. It is real. It is perfectly normal, and more and more, there are lots of amazing souls with whom you'll be able to share and connect in this way.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Philosophy on Teaching Meditation

I've often written about meditation, and it is, like many other practices, a beautiful, healthful and helpful tool on the spiritual path. In one of my blogs last year, I wrote about the purpose of meditation, and for this post, I wanted to spend more time talking about my philosophy around teaching meditation.

Keep It Simple
There are many styles and types of meditation, and I won't bother to list them all here. I think there's probably a different style and flavor of meditation for everyone, and if you go seeking them out, you will certainly be amazed at the wide variety of experiences and feelings you can have. I think that's beautiful, but for how I instruct and use meditation, I like to keep it very simple.

The reason that I do this is also simple: I think people need something that is easy and can fit into their everyday living. That's why I've titled my ebook, Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening. I'm not interested in creating an overly complicated system that requires people to leave their regular lives or involves a great deal of dedicated time. The busy moms and dads taking care of their families are happy to get 5 minutes alone, and so much of my philosophy honors and respects that people need tools like meditation that can work within limited timeframes.

Breathing and Sitting
The two most important tools really are to be able to breathe and to sit. Heck, you don't even have to sit. You can stand up or lie down too. There are other styles of meditation that involve movement, but I won't go into those here. The importance of the breathwork is huge. Focusing on the inhalation and exhalation pulls the mind out of its constantly spinning stories. It also helps to pull you out of states of fear and desperation.

A lot of people live in those states for most of their lives although many don't realize this. Those states can often be noted by a lack of depth in the breath. Try it for yourself. When you're really upset, stop and pay attention to how you're breathing. Are you breathing deeply or really shallowly.

On a subconscious level, I believe the mind and body associate a shallowness of breath with being in tense situations that are also associated with survival issues. It seems like a fight or flight mechanism is kicking in. Simply slowing and deepening the breath are two of the quickest ways to help someone relax, and in that relaxation, a lot of clarity can come in. It's as if all the muscles in the brain relax too, and ideas start to flow.

This is part of the reason why I think a lot of companies in the near future will want to have meditation programs. It's not out of any new-agey propensity; it'll be out of the realization that relaxed employees think better, work smarter, make fewer costly mistakes, and are subsequently way more productive.

Posture in Meditation
I also believe that posture is really important. It helps the whole body. While I often talk about how energy needs to flow, on a purely physical basis, sitting up or standing up straight helps to open the circulatory system and the respiratory system. I think this also adds tells the body that it is safe and secure. I've seen pretty amazing shifts in my students just by having them sit-up straight and breathe, and like everything else, this is an incredibly simple step to building a regular meditation practice.

Regularity in Your Meditation Practice
Regularity is often the kicker for most people, but it's important to carve out some time before the kids get up in the morning, during lunch break in the afternoon, or some time right after you get home from work. The regularity gives you a way to step back and come back to your center. It also helps you to know what that center feels like. Meditation is revelatory for a lot of people because they finally meet themselves and all the internal noise they're carrying around. This can be shocking for some people, and they may want it to all go away. Breathwork helps with letting go of the focus on the noise, but you shouldn't get caught up in the idea that you'll immediately go internally silent. Any expectation other than that you'll sit and breath will lead you to disappointment.

Mainly the whole process around meditation is about letting go of your attachment to what's going on in your life...at least for 5, 10, 30 minutes. This doesn't mean that you're not responsible, and how many of us really help situations out by thinking about them all the time? Very rarely does the incessant thought do anything but wind us up tighter and tighter until we lose it. Breakdowns don't help anyone much less solve problems. The constant chatter in our minds causes a lot more problems than it solves, and a regular meditation practice helps to let some of the steam off before you go critical mass.

Moving From a Space of Kindness
Above all else, be kind to yourself. I encourage people to be gentle and compassionate to themselves along with letting go of expectations. Don't try to "win" at meditation. Sitting for long hours with your brow furrowed up in concentration won't get you anything. This is a space to just be in. This is your opportunity to do something for you and to have no demands placed on it. Just sit up straight, close your eyes, and breath. Do this regularly for whatever amount of time you have available in your life. I guarantee that you will feel different, and building this type of practice can become a fundamental way to cope with life's difficulties and take care of yourself for your entire life through good times, bad times, and times of transition.
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