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Friday, December 10, 2010

Sharing Thoughts

I will be sharing a few thoughts with you in this blog.  As you read, you will agree with some of these thoughts, but not all.  There will be an impulse for you to share your thoughts, and if we were together, we would compare thoughts.  You would say what you think, and I would say what I think about what you think, and so on.  If we agree in our thinking, we would create a pleasant ego boost for each other.  If we disagree, our egos would clash in unpleasant conflict.

Whether we agree or disagree, I do not to go with you into the place of 'I think.' Rather, I invite you to go with me to a place of 'I am.'  'I am' is an opening to awareness beyond the limits of thought.  In this new, expanded awareness, we can each be aware of the thoughts that enter into our minds, and recognize that the gift of thought is a useful tool, and, at the same time, a limited one.

From this place of expanded awareness, we can each observe in two directions - let's call these directions inward and outward.  Our observations engender two key understandings.  It is difficult to describe our observations and understandings, because words are tools of thought, and we are observing from an awareness beyond the limits of thought.  Any description we use will be self-limiting.  Nevertheless, I will try.

Looking inward, we see the manifest world as we know it. We observe the thoughts that pass through the mind-space, the experiences we have in our lives, and all that we sense and do with our physical bodies.  Looking inward, we realize that the manifest world is all that we see most of the time, and our awareness is dominated by 'I think'.  Most significantly, we realize that what 'I think' isn't all that important.

Looking outward offers a more profound understanding.  When we turn the camera around from what we focus on most of the time, we catch a glimpse of the divine source.  This is the source of 'I am.'  It is the infinite, unmanifest source of all that is manifest.  Beyond words, beyond thought, beyond our capacity to comprehend, the divine is the source of all the gifts we receive.  When we open to the source, we come to know that every individual is a unique and beautiful manifestation of the divine source, and each of us shares the same divine light.

This knowing is called awakening.  

We are all invited to awaken.  In the past, only a small number of individuals were capable of expanded awareness.  We called them sages, saints, avatars.  Today, this awareness is available to everyone.  All of humanity is awakening to oneness.  Of course, some will choose to remain asleep.  Some will resist the shift in awareness. That's sad.  But, it is not so important, for, when the water level rises, all the boats float higher.

The water level is rising.  The awakening of humanity is underway.  You and I are invited.  

The ideas in this blog are designed to help you along your path of awakening.  My intent is to help you know the truth: that all we have is a gift from the divine, that each of us is an expression of divine grace, and that we are one in the divine light.  Please enjoy these gifts.

Namaste
Joe

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Spiritual Confusion

We live in a time of great spiritual confusion.  

The current milenium opened with a massive terrorist attack committed in the name of one of the world's great religious traditions.  This was followed by an even more massive and terrifying retaliation, led by a president who is deeply committed to another of the world's great religions, spawning two wars which continue almost ten years later.  Of course, we could define human history as the history of conflict where one concept of the divine is pitted against another, leading to atrocities on an unimaginable scale.  The confusion comes because, while many of us believe that such wars should be part of history only, they persist all over the world today.

Nothing is more spiritually confusing than the current talk about the year 2012.  On one side, we hear predictions of global-scale calamity.  These apocalyptic predictions seem to be supported by reference to ancient spiritual traditions, most notably the Mayan astrological calendar, which ends in the year 2012.  The ancient Vedic tradition of India also supports this idea (so it appears to many) with the current 10,000 year epoch, or durga, expected to end around the same time.  Of course, nearly every spiritual tradition predicts an end time, though most are not so specific about the date.

The other side of the 2012 spiritual prediction is gathering momentum as more and more people become enamored with it.  The argument, here, is that 2012 is to be a time of spiritual transformation for humanity.  As an growing number of individuals become spiritually awakened, we - meaning all of humanity - will pass through a tipping point, and human awareness will expand on a global scale.  All of our problems will be dissolved as we evolve from homo sapiens to homo spiritus.  This utopic vision is certainly more attractive than the opposing apocalyptic ideas, but is it more realistic?

Not really.  Both of these sets of ideas are highly speculative, and proponents of both forget one key truth: human beings have an almost unbroken track record of failure when it comes to predicting the future!

Having said that, I will share my future vision with you in the following points.
  • I do believe we are in the midst of an evolutionary shift in human awareness.  Does this relate in any way to 2012?  I neither know nor care.  What seems significant to me is that a expanding number of people are experiencing spiritual growth, and that the flowering of human awareness is under way on a global scale.  There are hundreds of organizations - some reputable, some not - that are working on the awakening of humanity as their primary mission.  (One of these is Oneness University in India which offers the oneness blessing.  You can learn more about the oneness blessing here.) The "awakening movement" is a positive development that is gaining momentum.
  • I also believe that the evolution of human awareness is not optional, it is imperative.  We, humanity, have reached a point where our current state of awareness, which is thought-centered, is no longer serving us very well.  Our thinking is creating as many problems as it is solving.  Many of the intractable problems we face are unsolvable at our current, thought-centered level of awareness.  We are perfectly capable of thinking our way into self-destruction.  We can only evolve our way beyond it.
  • The divine, conscious universe is a driving force for evolution.  The universe is growing towards ever greater awareness, and the evolution of human awareness is one manifestation of this growth.  We come from, and are one with the divine source, which is pure consciousness, and which seeks to know itself through our awareness.  It is inevitable that we continue to evolve, and that human awareness continues to flower.
Confusion is often the dominant experience at a time of break-through.  The spiritual confusion we are experiencing now, while uncomfortable, is a good sign.  Clarity comes with expanded awareness, with spiritual growth.  My intent, through my writings and teaching, is to be a catalyst for awakening.  My hope is that the ideas I share with you are useful to you, and that we can help each other bear the discomfort of confusion, and experience the joy of evolving in spirit.

Namaste
Joe

Monday, October 4, 2010

We are ready to evolve

We are ready to evolve.

We have reached a point where thinking, which has served humanity so well for thousands of years, is now creating as many problems as it solves. Where we can create a stack of books, as high as the mountains, filled with logical thoughts supporting one side of an issue, and an equally high, equally logical stack supporting the other side, and the debate gets us no closer to resolving the issue. Where great institutions, based entirely on scientific research (a set of ideas), like western medicine, now cause as much harm as good. (Did you know that the number three cause of death in the USA is western medicine?) Where governments and organizations based on the rule of law (another set of ideas) have become mostly disfunctional, unable to meet the needs of their people or resolve the issues they face. (in the US, congress changes from one party to the other every two years, and is gridlocked during the time in between, unable to function in any meaningful way.)

We are ready to evolve.

We have reached a point where our thinking can destroy us, as easily as it can save us. We are fully capable of thinking our way into self destruction. Are we capable of thinking our way out of it?

We are ready to evolve.

We have reached a point where every major religion based on a set of beliefs (thoughts) has internal factions that use their beliefs to justify killing and destroying. Where the spiritual messages of the great teachers on whom these religions are founded have been lost in a jumble of dogmas (thoughts) and rules that serve the religious hierarchy, but little else. Where religion is used to justify harm as often as for healing.

We are ready to evolve.

We, humanity, are ready to grow beyond the limits of our thinking. Thought, which has empowered human evolution for ten millennia, no longer serves us in this way. We have reached a glass ceiling, were our thinking limits our evolution.

We are ready to evolve beyond these limits. This does not mean that we will abandon thought. Rather, we are ready to grow in awareness, to be aware of both the way that thinking serves us, and how it limits us.

We are ready to experience an expanded, spiritual awareness. Through this awareness, we will guide our thoughts, our experiences, and our actions, to create a better world for humanity, and for all life.

In the past, such expanded awareness was accessable to just a few individuals. We called these people enlightened, Buddha, Christ, saints or sages. Now, the gift of awareness is offered to us all. We are all ready to evolve.

As Dr. David Hawkins says, homo erectus evolved into homo sapiens, and now we are ready to grow, to become homo spiritus. This step in evolution requires us each to evolve personally - and for us to evolve together in community, in humanity.

We are ready! Will you join us?

Namaste
Joe

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Limits of Thought

The Limits of Thought

Thought is a infinitely powerful gift, and I am deeply grateful to receive this gift. At the same time, I have come to understand that thought is limited in power. There are many things that cannot be explained or understood with thought alone.

How can thought be both infinite and limited at the same time? Let me explain using some simple math concepts. Let's imagine a line between two points. For simplicity, we'll label these two points 0 and 500. How many points exist between these two? The answer is - an infinite number of points. We have all of the whole numbers - 1, 2, 3, and so on up to 499. And we have all of the fractional and decimal numbers, square roots, and so on, that make up an infinite number of possibilities.

The set of numbers between 0 and 500 is infinite. And yet, 600 lies outside this infinite set of numbers. So, the set is limited. There are many numbers that lie outside the limits of this infinite set.

Thought is like this set of numbers. Using the gift of thought, we can discern and dissect to an infinite degree those ideas and concepts that lie within range of consciousness that thought encompasses. At the same time, there is a vast understanding that lies beyond the limits of thought. Thought cannot reach into this vast domain, nor can we use thoughts to describe or explain it.

Language is a tool of the gift of thought, and subject to the same limitations as thought.  We can describe most things in the physical world using language, without difficulty or problems.  For example, when I say "car keys", it is easy for you to understand what I mean, and the consequences of misunderstanding are small.  All we need is to speak the same language with some shared cultural understanding, and the meaning of "car keys" is clear enough.

However, when we use words like "faith", "grace", "love", or "God", we get into difficulty.  These words have many varied meanings both within and outside culture and language.  More importantly, these words, and others with spiritual context, point to a consciousness beyond the limits of thought.  Such words, as Eckhart Tolle says, are like signposts, each pointing to a meaning beyond the limits of the word itself.

I find it helpful to remember that the gift of thought, powerful though it is, can not be used to explain spirituality or consciousness.  It is only through the gift of awareness, which includes and expands beyond thought, that we can come to know the true nature of reality, which is divine.  Thoughts and words are useful tools.  But, all thoughts and words - even the ones I use to write this - are limited, and can not express or encompass the boundless divine source.

This is not to say that we should abandon thinking.  We are given the gift of thought for its usefulness.  Yet, in much the same way that we should not try to use a hammer to wash the windows, so we ought not to use thought beyond its usefulness.  Through daily practice, we can center ourselves within the gift of awareness, and be aware of both the power and the limits of thought.  And, through awareness beyond the limits of thought, we can come to know the limitless joy of the presence of the divine.

Here is an affirmation I use each day.

Thought is a gift of divine love and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
I commit this day,
to strengthen and nurture this gift I've been given, and
to guide my thinking with awareness.
I allow all thought to come from a divine source.  And,
I offer all thought to divine service.


Namaste
Joe

Friday, July 9, 2010

How do I get rid of the ego?

"How do I get Rid of My Ego?"  I saw an internet video the other day with this as the title.  I did not watch the whole video, but what I saw talked about the need to rid ourselves of the ego.  The ego, the video said, causes many problems in the world, and we would all be best served by getting rid of it.  This is a common theme in many contemporary spiritual teachings. The ego has become the pariah of  new age spirituality.  Its as if, if we could just all get rid of our egos, everything would be fine.

So, how do you get rid of your ego?  You don't.  Don't even try.  Here's why.

To me, the question "How do I get rid of my ego," is analogous to "how do I get rid of my mouth?"  Many people have challenges in using their mouths.  They either don't control what they take in through their mouths, or what comes out of their mouths, or both.  But the problem isn't the mouth.  We don't say "how do we get rid of our mouths?"  Such a question would be absurd.

Each of us has an ego.  And we are intended to have an ego.  The ego is not inherently bad.  The challenges created by the ego are not because we each have one, but because of what we do with it.

To transcend these challenges, we must first understand what the ego is, what is useful for, and where we go wrong in our use of the ego.  Simply put, the ego is nothing more than a set of thoughts that we use to describe ourself in this world.  For example, I can discern a difference between the fingers of my hands, and the keyboard I am using to type this message.  The fingers are part of me; the keyboard is not.  This discernment is useful, and the thoughts (words) I use to describe how I am in this world are also useful.  I also use thoughts to describe what is mine.  The concept of mine (ownership) is an egoic concept.  Ownership is a useful idea in our society. (Though, my belief is that we overuse this concept to the point where ownership becomes harmful to society - but that's a commentary for another post.)  It is helpful to say "these are my car keys," because if I try to use "your car keys" to start "my car", it won't work.  "Me" and "mine" are useful concepts for getting along in the world.

In The Five Gifts, I talk about the usefulness and limitations of thought.  It is useful, for example, to describe things.  However, there is a fine line between "describing" and "defining".  We can not use our thoughts to define anything, and when we do so, we cause difficulties.  These same limitations apply to the ego.  Remember, the ego is nothing more than a set of thoughts that describe our presence in this world.  The difficulty arises when we allow ourselves to be defined by the ego, or when we define others. Doing so creates problems in our lives.

You are not what you think you are.  You can not be defined by the ego, or by any other set of thoughts. You are a piece of the infinite, a wave of awareness rising from the infinite ocean of divine consciousness, a manifest expression of the divine source.  Even these descriptions are limiting, for no words can define your true self, or that of anyone or anything else.  All thoughts are limited.  You are infinite.  How can any set of thoughts define you?

There is no need to "get rid" of the ego, only to use it as it is designed to be used.  "Me" and "mine" are useful ideas.  Let go of the impulse to use these idea to define your self.  This sounds simple, but it is not easy, especially for those of us who live in a thought-centered, strong-ego culture (like the USA).  For me, managing the ego is a daily task - one that never seems to go away, though it does get easier with practice.

One more comment.  The concept of the ego is just that - a concept.  A concept is nothing more than a set of thoughts.  Since the concept of the ego was introduced by Sigmund Freud, psychologists and spiritual teachers have used this concept to help many people.  While this is a useful concept, it is still only a set of thoughts.  When we say things like "the ego is a cause of too many problems in the world," or, "how do we get rid of the ego," we give this concept more solidity and power than it merits.  In other words, if we believe (think) that the ego is a real, negative force in our world, it will be.  To reduce the power of the ego, we simply need to let go of the concept.

Letting go of the ego begins with awareness.  Become aware of the ego as a set of thoughts.  Recognize the ego's usefulness.  And, know that, as a set of thoughts, the ego is limited.  When you have ego thoughts that are useful (e.g. it is useful to discern the separation between my fingers and this keyboard), then use them.  When you have ego thoughts that don't serve you, let go of them.  Don't let the ego define you.

This is the practice.  When you let go of the limiting thoughts of the ego, you become free to experience your selves as a divine manifestations.

Namaste
Joe

Friday, July 2, 2010

Move Toward what Strengthens You and Away from what Weakens You

Move Toward what Strengthens You, and Away from what Weakens You

I'm not sure where this idea originated, but has been on my mind lately.  What a simple, yet profoundly powerful idea.  I've been reflecting on this principle in my meditations, and in my writing.  And, I've experienced its power in my life.

Here's an example.  As some of you know, I have a sweet tooth.  I am careful not to over-indulge in sweets, because I know that, for me, sugar is addictive.  Nevertheless, I've been in the habit of having something sweet at the end of the evening - a treat at the end of the day.  Recently I've noticed that when I eat something with refined sugar - cookies or cake or ice cream - at the end of the day, I feel weaker in my yoga practice the next morning.  I'm less able to focus in meditation, my breath is compromised, and I feel lethargic in asana practice. So, while I get a burst of energy right as it happens, my habit of eating something sugary at the end of the day weakens me. This makes sense, in hindsight.  We know that refined sugars give a quick high, followed by a precipitous drop in energy.  And, we know that the body struggles to deal with the rapidly rising and dropping blood sugar levels that a diet high in refined sweeteners causes.  Yet, this was the first I've noticed a direct connection between my evening habit and my morning practice.

Following the principle: move toward what strengthens me and away from what weakens me, I've decided to replace the evening cookies with a piece of fruit or some fruit juice.  (This is a good idea at any time of the day, not just in the evening.)  I still get my sweet tooth satisfied.  Without the high and low that comes with refined sugar treats.  In fact, I'm finding that I sleep better, and I feel stronger in my practice.  Now, I know that part of the fun of eating a sugary treat is the high that comes with it.  I simply need to let that go, because, for me, it is simply not healthy.

Now, this is not to say that I never eat anything with refined sugars.  When I go to a party, I'll eat the birthday cake.  And, I still enjoy ice cream.  I'm only saying that, with greater awareness, and a simple application of this principle - move toward what strengthens you, and away from what weakens you - I can improve my overall wellness.

To me, this principle is about wellness.  What strengthens us improves our well-being; what weakens us opens us to dis-ease and illness.  If we combine this principle with our understanding of the five gifts, we get a table that looks like so:



Move Toward
Move Away From
The Gift of the Physical Body
¨      Structural alignment
¨      Healthy “building blocks” for molecular structures of body
¨      Physical pain
¨      Toxins & poisons
The Gift of Life
¨      Healthy breath (prana)
¨      Natural, nurturing energy fields
¨      Positive emotions
¨      Toxic energy environments
¨      Negative emotions
The Gift of Thought
¨      Calmness
¨      Mental clarity and focus
¨      Stress
¨      Agitated thinking
The Gift of Awareness
¨      Holistic awareness
¨      Loving relationships
¨      Community
¨      Reductionist paradigm
¨      Toxic relationships
The Gift of Divine Consciousness
¨      Oneness
¨      Separation

Using this table, we can grow in awareness and well-being with a holistic understanding.  I'll be writing more about the ideas in this table in the future.  For now, I'd love to hear your comments on its contents.

Move toward what strengthens you and away from what weakens you.  And, be Well.  Thanks for reading.

Namaste
Joe

Friday, June 4, 2010

Heaven and Hell

Two quotes for today:

If you are going through hell, keep going.
- Winston Churchill

Let's bring heaven down here.
- Tuck & Patti

I want to share a personal story.  A couple of nights ago, I wakened from a dream. I don't remember the details, except that in my dream I was trapped in an air conditioned straight-jacket, and there was no god in the universe.  I woke with a feeling of deep despair.  For the next few hours, through most of the night, I felt myself trapped in a mind-field of unhappy thoughts.  My breath was shallow and strained, and I felt tortured to be in this body.  I moved from the bed into our meditation room, and sat for a long time on a cushion.  A part of me realized this was an irrational experience, and I thought that, using my pranayama and mediation practice, I could break the pattern.  Not so.  I was trapped in a thought-maze of despair and self-loathing that was more intense than anything I can ever remember.

During this experience I remember two clear thoughts.  The first: this is hell.  And then, I remembered the above quote by Winston Churchill.  While travelling through hell, there is no good place for a rest stop.  So, keep going.  I let go of all my resistance to the experience, and let it unfold.  I surrendered and allowed myself to be in hell.  After some long time - I'm not clear how long - the experience slowly let go of me, and I was able to come back to myself.

Throughout this experience, I remember having a space of awareness around the thoughts and feelings that were so painful.  It is this spacious, calm awareness that I returned to as myself.  Centered in awareness, I have a serene, clear and joyful connection to the divine source.  This is heaven.  Oh, the potential to experience hell is still there.  I can still think thoughts of despair and self-loathing, and the egoic part of me that believes these thoughts - what Eckardt Tolle would call the pain body - that part remains.  Yet, I know myself to be a wave rising up on the ocean of divine consciousness, and this awareness fills me with joy.

Not long ago, I taught a yoga class with a theme inspired by the Tuck & Patti song, Let's Bring Heaven Down Here.  I asked my students to open themselves to the source, the universal divine consciousness, and to let love flow to them from this source.  Then, about half-way through the class, we paused.  Each person, in this room full of strangers, silently walked around the room.  To each other person they encountered, they offered this love.  No strings, no expectations, no words - just love.  We were bringing heaven down here.  The result was beautiful.

I find my thoughts drawn to the memory of this class, juxtaposed with the experience I had a couple of nights ago.  Heaven and hell.  I don't know about an afterlife, or past lives, or future lives, or anything that happens before or after we come into this world.  I do know this, though.  While we are here, in this human form, on this planet, we have choices.  We can experience hell.  And heaven is something we create, together.

Try this today.  As you walk or drive down the street, to every person you meet, make a silent offering of love.  If we all do this, we'll all be in heaven.

Namaste
Joe

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why are we given these gifts?

A couple of notes about this post.  First, this insight came to me in my meditation a few days ago.  I've taken some time to get this posted, as the ideas were easier for me to understand in my own awareness than to get into words. Much of this is still a bit rough around the edges.  Yet, I think it is worth sharing.  In fact, I plan to add these ideas to The Five Gifts as I work to get it published.

Additionally, I've decided to make a change to The Five Gifts prior to publishing.  I now talk about pure awareness as simply The Gift of Awareness.  Since awareness surrounds and permeates the other koshas (layers), this gift of awareness contains, holds and empowers the physical body, the life energy field, and the mind-space.  This change in language is intended to convey that awareness both contains and includes thought, and expands beyond it. Beginning with this post, I'm using this new language in my writing.

Remember that you can still download an unpublished draft at www.lifeflowyoga.com/the5gifts.htm.  I'd love to here your feedback.  Thanks for joining me on this journey of exploration.

* * * * * * *

Here's an insight that came to me in my meditation one morning.  I have long believed that each of us, and everything around us, is here for a purpose.  The divine universe is field of intention; not just a series of fortunate accidents.   I can't, of course, prove this.  But, my spiritual experience can't be explained any other way.

So, if everything is for a purpose, why are we given these gifts?  I don't pretend to know or understand the intent of the universe. I don't think it is possible to know, as long as we are in this form.  However, we can explore the five gifts, and understand in a broad sense, what each is given us for.

Why are we given the Gift of the Physical Body?

The physical body is a gift, a collection of atoms and molecules, structures and physical "stuff" that is ours to use.  This body is how we interact with the world - how we do.  The intent of the physical body is for doing, for action.

We are each given a body so we can act in the world.  The atoms and molecules that makeup this body come and go, and we don't have control over this.  Yet, we are each free to act with this body.  The physical world responds to the actions of our bodies.  Our actions have impact on the world.

It seems to me that the universe is not dictating how we act in the world.  We can choose actions that bring joy and happiness to ourselves and others.  Or, we can make war with the world, as many people do.  We can even choose to do nothing.
The universe is not telling us what to do.  Our actions, however, have consequences (in Sanskrit, this is called kharma).  The world around us responds to our doing and we must live with these outcomes.

Why are we given the Gift of Life?

Life is an energy that flows through and animates all living things, including our bodies.  Life organizes the processes that keep the atoms and molecules and structures of the body alive.  And it is through this gift of life that we experience the world.

The intention of the gift of life is experience.  The life energy surrounds and permeates the physical body.  Within this energy system is the processing of all sensory input in our experience, as well as the emotional responses that govern our experience.  Our experience, in other words, is the experience of life itself.

This may sound simplistic, yet it is quite profound.  We are intended to experience the world.  And we are given this wonderful gift of life so we can have this experience.

Why are we given the Gift of Thought?

Sometimes thought doesn't feel much like a gift.  The mind can chatter on and on, and my thinking can be muddled and negative.  This happens when I'm allow thoughts to happen without awareness, instead of taking an active role in the process of thinking.

We are intended to think, and we are given the gift of thought for this reason. We do not always have control of what thoughts enter into our minds, but we have the ability to choose what thoughts we dwell on, and which ones we let go.

In The Five Gifts, I describe the gift of thought as a tool with four uses: discerning, describing, designing and deciding.  These four Ds, as I call them, represent the intention of the gift of thought.  We are given this gift so we can use it to discern and describe the world we experience, design our life and decide on our actions and words.

Why are we given the Gift of Awareness?

In my modeling, we are given the gift of awareness for two reasons.  The first intention is existence, or being.  Awareness is the field within which all of the other gifts we receive come into being. Each of us is like a wave of awareness rising up on the ocean of consciousness.  Awareness is what allows the "wave" to exist.

The second intention is that we use this gift of awareness to guide our use of the other gifts.  When we are centered in the gift of awareness, our awareness guides our thinking.  Awareness-guided thinking, in turn, guides our experience, which, in turn, guides our action.

Another key intention of this gift is that, through awareness, we connect with the divine source.  Awareness is the gateway to God.  We are meant to know our source, for this is at the core of knowing ourselves.  And, though awareness, we experience the intention of the divine itself.

Why are we given the Gift of Divine Consciousness?

Einstein once said, "I want to know the thoughts of God."  This impulse to understand the intention of the divine source is, I think, universal. Unfortunately, as finite beings, we cannot fully understand the infinite.  We can only make our best guess of what the divine intention is.

Two things I know about the divine source. One is that, when we connect to divine conscousness, through awareness, love and joy come to us and through us into the world.  We are intended to experience joy, and to share divine love with each other.

What's more, when we are aligned with source, our process of manifesting in the world flows with ease and grace.  So, we know the divine intent, indirectly, through the joy and flow of grace in our lives.

Ultimately, we could say that we are intended to experience joy and love.

Namaste
Joe

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Little Princess, Little Prince

In the ancient tradition of India, where yoga comes from, there is a Sanskrit term: rajanika.  The literal translation of this word is "little princess" or "little prince."  In the Sanskrit language, however, there is often a deeper meaning attached to words, a spiritual meaning.  Like the English word lord, the word raj in Sanskrit refers to both royalty, and to divinity.

In a spiritual context, rajanika could be translated as "a little piece of the divine source," or "a little bit of god."  Each of us is rajanika.  Each one of us is a manifestation of the divine.  What's more, each of us has dominion over our little piece of life.

Dominion is a tricky word.  We tend to think of dominion as synonymous with control, but it is not.  Here's how I explain it.  If I were to give you a cell phone, you wouldn't be able to control how the programming of the phone works, or how the electrons move through the silicon within the phone.  Yet, you can control how you use the phone, what numbers you dial, who you text or talk to, and so on.  You would also be responsible for keeping the phone charged, and for taking care of it so it continues working.  You don't have complete control, but you do have dominion.

Similarly, we have dominion in our lives.  Each of us is rajanika, and each of us is given gifts over which we have dominion.  We have the ability - and the responsibility - to use the gifts we've been given.

The Gift of the Physical Body

Each of us is given the gift of the physical body, and we have dominion over the body we've been given.  I can't control the atoms and molecules of my body, nor can I change many of the characteristics and structures of the body.  Nevertheless, with this gift, I am rajanika.  I can choose what I do with this body.  I can choose how I use this gift in my actions in the world I live in.

Dominion over the gift of the physical body allows each of us to make the following choices:
  • choosing what we do with our bodies - our actions in the physical world
  • choosing what we put into our bodies - food, water, and so on.  Ideally we make choices that sustain and nurture the well-being of the body
  • being in the physical body - bring our awareness into the body, and 
  • using awareness to align the structures of the body.
Each day in my devotional practice, I say the following, to guide my actions for the day:
    This physical body is a gift of divine love, and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
    I commit this day
         to strengthen and nurture the physical body
         to align these structures with awareness
    And I offer all of my actions to divine service.

The Gift of Life

Each of us is given dominion over the life we lead.  Life is the energy that animates all living things, including us.  Life comes to us as a gift; it is the source of all motion and emotion.  Through this gift of life, we experience the world around us.

We don't get to choose everything that happens in our life.  As with the physical body, life deals us a set of cards, and we don't have control over what we're dealt.  We do, however, have dominion over our life experience.  Wa have choices:
  • choosing how we respond to the events in life, choosing the perceptual filters on our experiences;
  • choosing to be fully open to life's experiences
  • choosing to live an energized life
  • choosing to move and breath with joy and vitality
  • and surrounding ourselves with life enhancing energy fields that nurture and support our experience, while at the same time removing ourselves from low energy, draining energy sources
Each day in my devotional practice, I say the following, to guide my life experiences for the day:
    This life is a gift of divine love, and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
    I commit this day
         to strengthen and nurture the life I've been given
         to energize this life experience with awareness
    And I offer this life to divine service.


The Gift of Thought

One of the myths of western culture is that we can choose the thoughts that come into our minds.  We can't; thought comes to us as a gift from beyond ourselves.  Nevertheless, we have dominion over our thoughts.

The mind is a space within which thoughts occur, and each of us has dominion over this space.  We have choices we can make to strengthen and nurture the thoughts we're given:
  • when a thought enters the mind, choosing to dwell on the thought, or to let it pass
  • choosing to bring full awareness to our thinking
  • choosing to dwell on thoughts that strengthen and nurture, and to let go of thoughts that weaken
  • not allowing ourselves to be defined by thought
  • accepting the thoughts we're given as gifts to teach us and help us grow in awareness
  • surrounding ourselves with a "thought environment" - sayings, books, readings - that support and nurture ourselves.
Each day in my devotional practice, I say the following, to guide my thinking for the day:
    Thought is a gift of divine love, and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
    I commit this day
         to strengthen and nurture this thought-gift
         to empower this mind-space with awareness
    and I offer all thought to divine service.

The Gift of Pure Awareness

Awareness is the essence of our being; this is the gift of rajanika.  The more we grow in awareness, the more expansive is our dominion.  For, whatever is within the field of your awareness is within your dominion.

Let me repeat something said earlier, to make sure there is no confusion.  Dominion is not the same as control.  I am aware of the weather outside.  It is within my dominion.  Yet, I cannot control it.  I can choose how I respond to the weather, how it affects my experience, and my perception of it.  I have volition and influence.

Our spiritual practice, then, is about growing in awareness, expanding dominion, Rajanika.  And, our practice is about knowing the difference between dominion and control, and choosing to use our volition within the limits of our dominion.  




Each day in my devotional practice, I say the following:
    Awareness is a gift of divine love, and I am grateful and honored to receive it.
    I commit this day
         to grow in awareness
         
to empower all that I think, all that I experience and all that I do with awareness
    and I offer my entire being to divine service.

The Gift of Divine Consciousness

Rajanika is the recognition of the divine source in each of us.  We are each a wave rising up from the ocean of divine consciousness, and each of us is given a little piece of the infinite within which we have dominion.  Each of us is individual and one with the infinite at the same time.


When we understand our source as unlimited and divine, we know our selves as both limited and unlimited.  Our dominion is limited as an individual, but when we allow divine grace to flow through us, our capacity to create goodness in the world is infinite.



Each day in my devotional practice, I say the following:
    Divine spirit of life
    Make of me an open channel of love and grace

    and use me this day to create a sacred experience for all I encounter.

    Let divine grace flow through me into this world.



Namaste

Joe

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Perseverance

I read the following taoist saying recently:
     People are constantly spoiling projects that are only one step away from completion.


Whatever we wish to accomplish in life, there will be obstacles along the way that must be overcome.  It is how we face these obstacles that will determine whether we succeed in our endeavors, or not.  In my experience, it seems that the largest, most challenging obstacles come right before we reach the end point.  It is as if we are expected to demonstrate - one last time - that we really intend to complete the project we've taken on.

Perseverance is the most important quality in accomplishing any goal or intention in life.  Very few projects we take on are actually impossible, unless we give up before we finish. Our ability to "hang in there" until we've completed something will determine what we accomplish.

In our spiritual practice, too, perseverance is essential.  There is no end point in our spiritual practice - no specific goals.  Our practice is only about a continuous expansion, a growth  in awareness.  Yet, the challenges we face in our practice require as much "stick-to-it-iveness" as any in our life.

There are days when the day's events overwhelm all that I experience in my practice; times when I feel trapped in unhelpful thoughts.  Even after years of practice, I sometimes experience frustration in my meditation, unable to calm the mind or the relax body.  This is when I most need to persevere in my practice.  I've learned that the most powerful insights and breakthroughs on my spiritual path often come as a result of moving through a difficult time period.

The most challenging times are, of course, when we most want to give up.  Don't.  Instead, use these times as a chance to show yourself that you can persevere.  When you are struggling, spend more time on the yoga mat, not less.  When you are having difficulty concentrating or relaxing, return to your meditation practice, and give it another chance.  Stay with it, and something wonderful will happen.

Namaste
Joe

Monday, March 29, 2010

The I of Identity

"I think therefore I am" - Descartes

True or false?  Many contemporary spiritual teachers will tell us that this classic statement by Descartes is the root of our spiritual difficulty.  When we equate the self with thought, we limit the self.  In my meditations on The Five Gifts, however, I've come to a new understanding.  While I believe it is not helpful to be trapped in a mind-based identity (the ego), it is also unhealthy to deny the existence of such an identity.  Each of us exists as "I" on many levels.  To deny any of it is to deny our existence, at least in part, and to deny the divine source from which we all come.

As we explore the five gifts, we find the self in each of the gifts.  The amorphous physical world, for example, coalesces into a unique physical identity as the gift of the physical body.  The body is an expression of consciousness.  The body has awareness, a sense of self, an I.  The body's I is unique to the identity of the person who has received the body, distinct from all other physical forms.  What's more, for each of us, our awareness is anchored in this physical body, as long as we exist in this form.  We could say, "I have a body, therefore I am."  Such a statement would be as true as Descartes'.

Similarly, the gift of life has identity.  For each of us, life is a node in the vast living energy field that permeates and animates all living things.  This living I is with us, part of us, as long as we are in this form.  And each of us identifies with, and experiences life in a unique, personal way.  "I live, therefore I am," is also true.

Identity with the gift of thought is our most familiar I, and is the source of Descartes' famous quotation.  When we identify only with thought, we get trapped in this identity.  This is unhealthy ego.  Yet, each of us experiences thought in a unique way, and the mind's I has its place within our awareness.  To deny this identity is to deny the gift of thought we've been given.

It is within the gift of pure awareness that a unique sense of I emerges.  We each experience our unique self, as a wave rising up on the vast ocean of consciousness.  "I am" becomes our statement of truth, without qualification or need for proof.  In awareness, we each experience our whole, unique self.  And in pure awareness, we know our non-separation from each other or from the wholeness of infinity.

When we open our awareness to the gift of divine consciousness, we experience self as the the divine source.  All separations fall away; even the "I am" of pure awareness is known as limited.  The I of identity and the I of infinity become one, and we know the self to be one with all that is.

Our spiritual practice is about awakening, an ever-expanding growth in awareness of the self.  As we grow, we don't dis-identify with the physical body, or with life, or with thought.  Rather, we understand each of these gifts, each of these identities, as essential to the whole.  Ultimately, we experience oneness with the infinite.  Identity becomes sat-chit-ananda (sanskrit) which translates as "I am (sat) consciousness (chit) eternal bliss (ananda).

Namaste
Joe

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Breakthrough

"A breakthrough is always a break-with" - Eleanor Roosevelt

As we grow in spiritual awareness, there are times when we struggle to continue our growth.  Our path seems blocked by conditions we are experiencing or ideas we are holding on to.  Sometimes we feel stuck - we just can't find a way to move beyond our limits.

I've found the quote by Eleanor Roosevelt (above) to be helpful at such times.  When I feel blocked, I ask myself, "what do I need to break with?"  Or, "what do I need to let go of?"  Most often, the answer to these questions lies in the realm of thought.  I find that I'm holding on to a set of ideas, and to grow in awareness, I must break with these ideas.

In western culture, which now influences most of the planet, we live in thought-centered awareness.  Science, medicine, education, economics and governance are all guided by ideas, paradigms, and thought structures.  Even our religious institutions tend to be based on sets of ideas that are strongly held beliefs.  We've come to believe that thought can solve all of our problems.  This belief itself is a paradigm that we cling to tenaciously.

Of course, on reflection, we realize that our thinking creates as many problems as it solves.  The economic challenges we face today are the result of rigid adherence to a set of economic ideas that are no longer serving  us well.  The crisis we face in health care - especially in the U.S. - is the result of our thinking, our clinging to a paradigm of health and economics that doesn't work any more.  Congressional gridlock, climate crisis, the decline of education - all of these are the result of our thinking, and our clinging to thought patterns.  And of course, we know we can "think" our way into war or even a nuclear conflagration.

It is time for a breakthrough.  Culturally and globally, as a species, we need to become aware of the limits of our thinking and move beyond them.  It is time that we break with the idea that thought can solve our problems by itself, and bring a new awareness to our experience.  An awareness beyond the limits of thought.

Let me be clear: I'm not suggesting that we stop thinking.  The gift of thought is given to us as a powerful tool, one that we can and should use.  My point is that we need to remember - and most of us have forgotten this - that our awareness goes beyond thought.  Thought is powerful, and, at the same time, limiting.  The breakthrough we need is a recognition of the limits of thought, so we can grow into awareness that transcends these limits.

This can only happen, of course, if you and I are willing to expand beyond the limits of our thinking.  We are part of an increasing number of individuals who are growing, experiencing the gift of awareness beyond the limits of thought.  By working through our own limits, breaking with thought-centered awareness, we will bring about the shift in consciousness that humanity so badly needs.

As Gandhi once said: "we must be the change we wish to see in the world."

Namaste
Joe

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Fountain

Often when I teach, I imagine myself as a fountain.  The image I have is like a fountain in a city circle, with a magnificent stream of water rising high into the air, then showering down in graceful droplets.  This image reminds me that yoga teaching is not something I do, but something that comes through me into this world.

You and I are fountains.  Divine love and grace flows through each of us into this world, touching everything and everyone around us, and filling the world with beauty and love.

Of course a fountain needs bricks and concrete and plumbing and so on - all of the materials necessary for the structure.  In our metaphor, the materials and structures of our fountain are the gift of the physical body, which must be sound and strong in us to allow for the flow of grace.

Our fountain also needs mortar, grout, sealants - that which holds all of the materials in place and allows the fountain to sustain the energy necessary for the flow of water.  In us, this energy is the gift of life, which organizes and sustains the physical materials of the body, and holds it all together.

Clearly, there is thought behind the design and building of a fountain - architecture, engineering, craftsmanship.  Continuing our metaphor, we have the gift of thought, which we can use to design and describe our experience.

The water, of course, comes through the fountain, not from it.  For us, divine grace flows through us, creating beauty and love in the world.  Our connection to the divine is the gift of awareness.  The more open we are, the more goodness we create and experience in our lives.

Our task, then, is to be an open channel, like the fountain, and to allow divine grace to flow through us, into the world.

Namaste
Joe

Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's All True

Each of us is on an evolutionary path, growing in awareness and spiritual understanding.  Along the way, we sometimes get stuck.  We need a spiritual "kick in the pants" to get moving again.  When this happens, we call it adversity, or a problem, or bad luck.  In truth, adversity is the divine source prodding us along, making us face what we don't want to, or guiding us away from a path we should not be on.


This happened to me recently.  As some of you know, I recently was laid-off from my daytime job.  The way this happened included some malicious and (in my opinion) unfounded attacks on me personally as well as my work.  I was surprised by the vitriolic comments directed at me, and by my own reaction to the unfolding of events.


I find myself reacting to these events in a variety of ways.  First, I've had a spiritual insight.  I remember how this job came to me by a set of circumstances that I found difficult to explain. The job ended with an equally confusing set of circumstances.  I also recall having a sense several months ago that I had done what I had come to do in this job, and that I should prepare to leave.  (Of course, this type of insight is easy to ignore, especially when one is comfortable in one's current position!)  When I'm spirit-centered, I realize a simple truth: the job was given to me at the right time - when I needed to be there - and then taken away at the right time - when I need to move on to whatever comes next.


At the same time I realize this spiritual truth, I also find my mind getting mixed up in thoughts, trying to sort through and make sense of what has happened, and trying to defend my point of view of the events.  My emotions range from anger to fear to resentment to sadness.  I even have experienced physical injury, with a twisted ankle and a sore elbow.


Why all of these seemingly incongruous reactions?  My understanding of the five gifts gives me insight to a possible answer.  I know that my awareness, my existence, is at all levels at the same time.  Within the gift of the physical body, I experience injury and pain when there is a mis-alignment. My emotions come from the gift of life.  When I feel attacked - whether the threat is real or imagined - the life-emotion response is real.  The gift of thought is a "sorting-out" tool, and when many thoughts clamor for mind-space, I experience mental agitation and confusion.


From the gift of pure awareness, I understand that all of these responses are real and true at the same time.  What's more, I know that all I experience comes from a divine source, including all of the experiences I've described above.  Since the five gifts come from the divine, then all of my reactions to my experience are also from this divine source.  It is all true.  Everything, including my reactions, is as it should be in this moment.  There is nothing wrong with how I feel or think about what's happened, nor is the event itself inherently bad.  This awareness of wholeness and the rightness of this moment helps me to remain grounded and centered in spirit.  


This does not mean that I allow my emotional or thought-reactions to dictate my actions - I still have a choice in how I respond to what happens.  Nor does this awareness mean that the unpleasant feelings or thoughts instantly disappear.  I simply remain aware, allowing the reactions I'm experiencing to happen, observing without being overwhelmed by them.  I know that once I have learned what I need to learn, and grown in awareness as a result of the experiences I've had, the feelings and thoughts will clear away, making room for more experiences, more feelings, more thoughts.  


The gift of awareness allows me to be open to the experiences I'm having, and to observe my own reactions on all levels.  There is a peace an serenity that comes to me with awareness.  A calmness within the storm of events and reactions.  I know - not intellectually, but spiritually - that the universe has provided all that I've needed up to this moment, and that the next steps will come to me at the right time and in the right form, to provide all that is needed going forward.  I know, too, that all that I experience is true, and that I am served by this experience if I can remain in a state of awareness as I pass experience each moment.  I can fully embrace the joy of what is. 


Here's a meditation I find useful.


Sit well, and begin with eyes open.  Observe objects in the farthest distance within your field of view.  Notice the objects you see, and any sounds you hear.  Without judgment or labeling, be aware of physical world at a distance.  Allow yourself to simply be aware for a few moments.


Now gradually move your awareness closer to your body, noticing items in the environment around you, continuing to observe without comment or judgment.  As you move your awareness closer to your body, more of your senses come into play - sound, sight, smell.  Notice those objects touching your body - the floor, your clothing, the air around you - bringing the sense of touch into your field of awareness.  Be with this awareness for a few moments.


Close your eyes and bring your awareness within the body.  Notice the structures of the body - the bones, muscles, connective tissue.  Be aware of the shape of the outer body and the inner body.  If there is discomfort in your body, you can gently adjust your position to relieve it, but otherwise make no judgments.  Simply observe.  Be aware of the gift of physical body for a few moments.


Notice that, even though your body is still, there is movement within it - the heartbeat, the breath, the movement of the blood through your arteries and veins.  Become aware of the movements within.  As you focus your attention on the inner space, you can become aware of the living energy system of the body, which flows actively all the time, even in stillness.  Notice, too, any emotions or sensations of feeling within.  This is the gift of life, surrounding and permeating the physical body.  Be aware of the life within you for a few moments.


Continuing with awareness of the physical body and the life within you, become aware of the content of your mind.  Thought enters the mind-space from a source beyond, dwells in the mind for a while, then moves on.  Notice which thoughts linger, and which leave quickly.  Without judgment, simply be aware of the gift of thought for a few moments.  


Within your field of awareness, you experience the gift of the physical body, the gift of life and the gift of thought.  Notice the wholeness of the experience.  As each moment comes and goes, your field of awareness remains constant.  You are this field of awareness.  You are the awareness that is observing the gifts you've received, the passing moments, and the emergence and disappearance of objects in the field of awareness.  This is the gift of pure awareness, the self, the spirit, the essence of being.  Let yourself be.


Namaste
Joe