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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).


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."


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.


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.