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Saturday, August 13, 2011

I want to Live until I die


I find myself looking squarely at the possibility of my own death.  Last month, the cancer in my body almost killed me.  Twice.  Most people who have cancer as advanced as is in my body don't live very long.  I am fully aware of the danger of this disease.

I also know that I came into this world to be an agent for good.  I am here to make the world a better place.  In the context of this mission, my death right now would be meaningless.

If I die now, people will be sad.  Among those closest to me there might be some long lasting hurts.  But everyone would, I hope, in time, reconcile the pain and move on.  Any positive impact I could have in this world would cease.

My death would be of no benefit to anyone.  I can't do good in the world by dying.  Only by living in this world can I make things better, can I have a positive impact, can I express and fulfill the mission that brought me here.  So, I choose to live.

People talk of dying very casually.  "Anyone of us could die at any time," is a common aphorism.  True.  But this is a theoretical understanding, and it is different and somehow less tangible than the very real possibility of death faced by one who has a serious illness.  When one has a life-threatening illness, the reality of death becomes, by necessity, more serious.  Thoughts of death become more common and more real.  In my case, I find myself thinking about death too much.  I've fallen into a trap of dwelling on death rather than focussing on living.  The more I think about death, the less I think about life.  I call this trap "dying before I die."  By dwelling too much on death, it is easy to forget about living.

I want to live until I die.  I may have 30 days or 30 years.  I want to fill the time I have with living.  Death will come when it comes, there is no need to dwell upon it until then.  My  focus is on living, and on fully engaging in the life and time I have remaining.

I'm delighted to be alive.  And I intend to live.

Namaste
Joe

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thank-you for the Love

It is now 8 days since I had surgery, and I'm becoming cognitively capable of sharing with you again. I want to share with you what happened just as I went into surgery.

As I was drifting away under the anesthesia, there was a brief terrifying moment when I realized that I would soon experience a period of time, measures in days, where I would lose all capacity to act or think on my own behalf. Soon, I would lose every skill and strength I had in this world. Then, as physical sensation departed, and thought began to drift away, the self that remained, the true self that remains when all else is stripped away, this self felt something. It was like a cushion of air, only it was more palpable and powerful than the brick and steel of the hospital building I knew my body was in.

This "cushion" was love, the love generated by all of the blessings and prayers and thoughts that were being sent to me by all of the people who cared. And, I knew then, with a knowing beyond thought, that love was the most powerful energy in the universe, and that this love I was receiving would nurture and sustain me through the surgery and difficult time that followed.

And now I know, in a knowing beyond words, that love, your love, the love you sent to me, is what sustained me. Without your love, I would not have made it through.

My heart is bursting with gratitude. I'm happy to still be here. And I know what got me through - your love.

Thank-you for the love.

Namaste
Joe

Monday, July 4, 2011

Surrender to Grace

4 July 2011

Independence day? Hardly.  Today is about surrender.  I'm in surgery prep, including a bowel cleanse - very unpleasant. I'm also spending the time writing, meditating, and communicating with family.  It's a good day.

I realize that I must, for the next few days, completely surrender.  Once the surgery starts, I will be asleep.  Even when I awake, I will be physically weakened, and cognitively impaired by the medications.  For some time, I will be unable to help myself in any way.  

In the past, this would have scared me deeply, and I would be lying if I said I had no anxiety today.  I do.  At the same time, I feel myself uplifted by grace, and I see divine grace everywhere.

I see grace in the skillful surgeon's hands.

I see grace in the knowledge and commitment of the professionals who will be caring for me while I'm in the hospital.

I see grace in the loving support I've received from Cathy and my family, and in the blessings and prayers I've received from many, many people.

And I see grace in the innate healing capacity and impulse that is within me, that I know will begin to take me along a path to healing, even before I'm able to assert myself.

I feel showered in grace, and I'm grateful to be able to surrender, and to know that grace will sustain me, and that all will unfold as it should.

Namaste
Joe

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Illness as a Gift

Seeing Illness as a Gift

It has been a couple of weeks since I received a tumor diagnosis, and much has happened in that time.  Most importantly, I've come to be at peace with what's happening.  My spiritual practice has become stronger, and I've gained some powerful insights.  I want to share one with you today.

I've come to see this illness as a gift.

Now, let me be clear.  I would not choose to have cancer, and I certainly wouldn't wish it on anyone else.  It is one of the leading causes of death in our culture.  I recognize that I need to respond actively and energetically to this illness, and I'm doing just that.  My intention is to heal, and I'm acting on this intention.

At the same time, I'm living in this moment, and in each moment, with this tumor. I see it as a gift from the divine source.  Everything comes from this same source, and everything we receive is a gift of love and grace.  I know this, with a knowing that is beyond thinking.  And I know that when I say "everything," it doesn't mean "everything except the things I don't like."  Everything, even this, is a gift from the divine source.

Beyond this understanding, I've come to see this illness as a blessing in many ways.  Here are a few examples:
  • I have received an outpouring of support from family, friends, students, and even some people I don't know very well.  I feel immersed in love and grace, and for this I am grateful.
  • This condition has drawn my wife and I closer to each other, and for this I'm grateful.
  • I have become more present in each moment, and for this I am grateful.
  • I know that many people with cancer suffer horrible pain.  I'm fortunate: the pain I've experienced has been easily managed with simple breathwork, magnetics and modest amounts of over-the-counter medication.  For this I'm grateful.
  • This situation has been a catalyst for my spiritual growth - growth in awareness, and for this I'm grateful.
  • I have experienced wonderful care from healthcare professionals and those in the healing arts, and I'm grateful for this.
  • I have learned so much more about wellness, nutrition and healing, and for this I am grateful.
These are just a few of the many blessings I've received as a result of this illness.  With so many blessings, my heart is filled with gratitude.  Each moment is filled with grace.

This illness is a gift.

Namaste
Joe

Monday, June 20, 2011

Healing

Healing and the Five Gifts

I am writing this at the beginning of my healing path.  Let me explain.  Over the past month, I've experienced a lot of discomfort and pain.  I sought and received the benefits of some healing arts, and I worked on the discomfort in my yoga practice.  Yet, the incidents of pain grew more frequent and more acute.  A few days ago, I went to a doctor, and, after a series of tests, I was given a diagnosis of a 9 cm renal mass, which is a large tumor on a kidney.  This diagnosis makes one thing very clear: I need to find a path to healing.

Healing is needed whenever something is out of alignment or amiss within ourselves.  We tend to think of healing as a process that occurs in the body, which is true.  It is also true that we can be out of alignment energetically, in our thoughts, or in spirit.  Any and all of these misalignments require healing.

For me, the first step to finding a path to healing is acceptance of what is.  Would I prefer that circumstances were different?  Sure.  Yet, here I am, in this moment, and this is what's showing up for me.  I could pretend this isn't happening, or become angry, upset or frightened.  All of these are choices in how I respond to this situation.  But, none of these reactions is very useful.  The best response is to realize that what is, is.  Accepting this, I can calmly seek understanding and map out the best path forward.

I'm finding it helpful, also, to use an understanding of the five gifts as a model for viewing my current situation.  For example, western medicine focussed almost entirely on the structures of the gift of the physical body.  The diagnosis I received from my family doctor and the medical testing is essentially an abnormality in the structure of one of the organs in my body - the kidney.  The medical approach is to remove or eliminate the abnormality.  In my case, the doctors are saying surgery is the answer to this problem.  This is one solution, from one point of view.

The five gifts reminds me that there are other perspectives as well.  The physical body is one gift we've received, and examining the structures of the body is one lens through which we gain understanding.  The gift of life is another lens, another perspective.  Looking through this lens, we see ourselves as an energy system.  There is movement and energy flow, a dynamic and ever-changing picture.  Life animates our bodies and communicates through our emotions.  When the energy flow is constricted, trapped or blocked, we experience dis-ease.  The solution from an energy practitioner - an acupuncturist, reiki master, reflexologist, ayervedic physician, or one of many other healing modalities - is to un-block the energy flow to allow healing to occur.  Emotional intelligence is also a tool for healing that focusses on the gift of life.  Louise Hay's wonderful book, You can Heal Your Life, gives us powerful insights into how our emotions - especially ones we harbor for long times - cause illness that manifest in the body.

Looking through the lens of the gift of thought, we gain another insight into dis-ease and healing.  Our thoughts lead to emotions, which have powerful impact on our energy wellness.  What's more, our thoughts guide our use of the physical body, and our thought habits directly affect the micro, cellular and macro-structures of the body.  Mindfulness is a powerful healing approach.  Many people, most notably Jon Kabat-Zinn, have been working to integrate mindfulness practice with western medicine, with positive results.

The gift of awareness is a high-powered lens, the most powerful one within our dominion.  Present moment awareness is inclusive, integrative, holistic.  By being present, in the here and now, and by accepting what is in this moment, we are able to guide our thoughts, emotions, energy, and actions along a holistic healing path.  Two examples from my own case are illustrative.  First, all of the medical scans and tests I've had over the past few days have been physically and energetically challenging, and seem to have produced a torrent of bad news.  Through awareness, I've been able to remain grounded and calm, and not get swept away by the negativity.  Secondly, my awareness practice - meditation and yoga - has helped me to reduce the pain, calm and expand the breath, and clear the mind.

The gift of divine grace is the most powerful source of healing.  Indeed, it is the only source.  All healing comes from this gift.  The surgeon's skill, the reiki master's hands, the healing ideas we receive, even our own being - all are manifestations of divine grace.  We cannot harness this power.  This gift is not ours to control.  What we can do is ask for grace, and open to it, receiving whatever the divine universe sends our way.  When I open to grace, I see this tumor as a gift of grace, sent into this world to help me, and others around me.  I'm grateful for it.  And when I ask the divine source, "guide me," I begin to see the path I must follow to healing.

So, what do I do with these views, the five lenses that help me to see what is?  I create a multi-dimensional path to healing.  Within the gift of the physical body, I see that surgery is likely to be necessary.  The physical body has enormous self-healing capacity, but this capacity is over-stressed by such a large tumor within the body.  It will be helpful to remove the tumor, and allow the healing powers of the body to flourish.

Through the lens of the gift of life, I see that the tumor is alive, consuming Prana and other energy in an unnatural, unhealthy way.  I need to reinvigorate and nourish my life energy system, through reiki, acupuncture, or other energy-centered healing modalities.  And, I need to clear away the emotional energy - anger, shame, frustration and hatred - that are blocking the flow of healing energy.

The gift of thought gives me the ability to discern and decide what information is helpful, and what is not.  Through the lens of thought, I put the puzzle pieces together, choosing what healing approaches I will do, and which ones I will abandon.  And as I discern the success of the steps I'm taking, I can adjust my approach in each moment.

The gift of awareness allows me to see and guide my use of thought.  Through awareness I can let go of thoughts that resist my progress or disempower me, while allowing thoughts that support and nurture me to dwell in my mind.  Also, through awareness, I see the whole picture.  I see myself as a whole, healthy person, in the present moment.  I guide all of my resources toward an outcome of wholeness and wellness.

When I awaken to the gift of grace, the right path is revealed to me, and I am able to walk the path in gratitude and peace.  With each step I take, I trust that the next one will be revealed.  I experience many gifts of grace along the way.

My intent is to do all of these things, simultaneously, in each moment, and as time progresses.  I accept all of the gifts I receive with gratitude.  The result is simple and profound: healing.

I am deeply honored to meet you along this life path.  I'm grateful to each of you for the support and love you've offered me.  Be well. I'll see you along the way.

Namaste
Joe

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Conditions of Thought

Conditions of Thought

Much of what we do in meditation practice is about breaking our patterns of thought.  In my view, spiritual growth comes through recognizing the limits of our thinking, and transcending these limits.  When we do, we experience the gift of awareness, unencumbered by thought.

In meditation classes, I'm often asked, "why is it so hard to clear the mind?  Why is it such a challenge to stop the incessant stream of thinking, or, at least, to stop being taken over by thought?" The answer to these questions comes from understanding the mechanisms of thought, and how our thoughts are conditioned.  When we understand how our thoughts work, we are better able to make choices in our use of thought.

The first key to understanding is to be clear about where thought comes from.  In the west, the popular idea is that thought originates in the brain.  This is untrue.  Thought originates in the same source of all the gifts we receive - divine consciousness.  The gift of thought is a subtle energy that is offered to us to help us comprehend our existence in this world.  The brain is the physical anchor for thought, the receiving mechanism.  I think of the brain as a complex sensing organ, like the eyes.  Our eyes sense electromagnetic energy - light - and the visual cortex processes the eye inputs into images of what we see.  But we know that there is a vast spectrum of EM energy that we don't see.  In fact, the visible light that we can see is a tiny slice of the entire spectrum.  What's more, the processing of the images by the visual cortex adds another filtering layer, further limiting what we perceive.  This process is necessary, to avoid sensory overload.  What we need to remember is this: we don't see most of what is there.  Much of the spectrum is invisible to our eyes, and most of what is visible is filtered out as unimportant, so we don't see it.

Our thoughts work by a similar mechanism.  Thought is another energy spectrum, analogous to, but not the same as the light spectrum.  Thought energy is all around us, and thought energy comes into the space in our awareness we call the mind.  But, not all thought energy can be received and processed by the mind.  Some thought energy lies outside the range of our minds, just like some electromagnetic energy is outside the visible range of our eyes.  Many more thoughts simply don't pass through the mind's filtering mechanism.  These thoughts are accessible to us, but we remain unaware of them.  Many thoughts that pass us by unawares would not be useful to us anyway, so no harm done.  Yet, some thoughts that are filtered out may be creative and useful - we simply never know.  What's more, when our mind is crowded with conditioned thinking, new ideas are blocked, limiting our access to creative thought.

The challenge, put simply, is that the filtering process happens automatically, unconsciously, and as a result of our conditioning.  Where does this conditioning come from?  Many sources: thousands of years of human evolution have conditioned us to think as we do.  Early humans lacked the physical strength and speed to survive in the natural world.  Only by outsmarting predators and creative use of resources did humanity manage to thrive.  So, naturally, much of our conditioned thinking patterns are survival-oriented.  For each of us, our cultural and family influences have conditioned our thinking, in ways we barely know.  And the individual circumstances and experiences in our lives, especially in childhood, have a powerful impact on our thought-filtering processes.  All of these conditioning affects - human evolution, cultural norms, and childhood experience - combine to create a set of filters that determine what thoughts enter our awareness, and which do not.

We should note that this conditioning has a physical basis, too.  Neural scientists tell us that, over time, our thought patterns become 'wired' into the neural network.  The network of connections between neurons determines what thought signals our brain is most likely to receive, and conditioning over time causes some connections to be very stable.  The brain, as a sensing organ, is more able to capture and process thoughts and ideas that match these more stable neural connections.  Thoughts that don't match are less likely to get through.

So, is our thinking just a product of our conditioning?  No.  While it is true that much of our thinking happens automatically as the result of unconscious conditioning, it is also true that the brain is highly plastic, and we can break the patterns of thinking.  Through the gift of awareness, we can observe the stream of thoughts that enter the mind space, notice the patterns, and change them.

The gift of awareness expands beyond the limits of thought.  In meditation, we become centered in this gift.  It then becomes possible to notice the thoughts that pass through the mind-space.  Centered in awareness, we aren't controlled or defined by thought.  We simply observe them.  Is this always possible?  No, of course not.  Meditation is a practice, and with practice we become more awareness-centered, and more able to observe the stream of thought.  Meditation is not the only path to awareness, but it is very powerful.

Take time each day to be silent and observe the thoughts as they enter and pass through the mind.  Notice the patterns, the conditioned thinking.  With practice, you begin to see the spaces between thoughts.  And, you begin to be able to choose what thoughts you dwell on, and what thoughts you let go of.  Choose to dwell on thoughts that empower and evolve you, and let go of the ones that are not useful.  In this way, you re-condition you thinking to support and nurture your self.

Namaste
Joe

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

11 Wellness Habits

A special note to readers of this blog. I am very excited to announce that my new book: The Five Gifts: Experiencing the Divine in Everyday Life has been published by Balboa Press, and is now available in paperback. Electronic versions are still in the works, and will be available, soon. Learn more at www.the5gifts.com. Namaste, Joe.

11 Wellness Habits

In a recent wellness course I led, we talked about how we can improve our wellness by moving away from habits that weaken us, and creating new habits that strengthen and support wellness. Lately I have been thinking about the habits I want to cultivate. I've decided to share these ideas with you, to help you enhance your well-being. Using the Five Gifts as a guide, here are 11 wellness habits that will empower your life.

The Gift of Divine Grace

Habit #1: Intention

Divine consciousness is the source of all that is manifest, including all of the gifts we receive. When we wish to manifest something new, the most powerful approach is to return to the source. We do this through intention. Intention is more than just setting goals. With intention, we place our wishes in the field of consciousness that creates each moment, and we allow the outcome to unfold in this field of intention. Cultivate this habit by creating a short list (not more than 5) of what you wish to see manifested, and review this list each morning, offering your intentions to the divine source. Here's an example of an intention I express each day: Divine Spirit, make of me an open channel of love and grace, and let divine grace flow through me into this world.

Habit #2: Gratitude

We could define intention as asking for the gift of divine grace, and gratitude is receiving this gift. Gratitude opens the channel, allowing the fountain of grace to flow freely to us. With gratitude, we simply acknowledge the gifts we have received as coming from the divine source. Since all that we are and all that we have comes from this source, we can express gratitude for anything and everything. Cultivate this habit by ending each day with an expression of gratitude for the gifts in your life. And, when you receive something new - perhaps in response to your intention - be thankful. Here's an example. This past week I was pondering what to write next in this blog, and I asked for guidance. This morning, the ideas you are reading now came to me in a flash of insight, along with the impulse to share them. I recognize this insight as a gift of grace, and am thankful, as I write, for the capacity to express them.

The Gift of Awareness

Habit #3: Be Present in this Moment

Much of what we do in meditation and spiritual practice is about cultivating the habit of present moment awareness. Practice is necessary because we have many influences that take us out of this moment. While it is useful to think about the past and the future, dwelling on such thoughts only serves to cloud our awareness in the present. Many of our daily activities - driving, watching TV, surfing the internet (yes, that includes this blog!), working with numbers, and much more - draw us into a mind-space that is disconnected from the present moment. What's more, we live in a culture that is thought-centered, and not grounded in the now. Cultivate the habit of presence by practicing silence every day. This does not need to take a lot of time - a ten-minute meditation is a very powerful practice if done each day. Also, find moments during the busy day to pause and return to the present. I find that I can do this while stopped at a red light. I pause, breathe, become aware of my body, quiet the mind, and allow myself to simply be.

Habit #4: See the Divine Light in Other People

Twenty-plus years of exploring spiritual traditions from around the world has helped me recognize a common thread in the messages of the great spiritual teachers. Now, my personal theology can be stated in the following simple phrase: Each of us is a unique and beautiful expression of the divine source, and we all share the same divine light.. When we are centered in the gift of awareness, we feel the glow of grace within ourselves, and we can see this same glow in others. Even persons who commit horrible acts have this light within them, though they may not be able to see it. Our task is to see it in everyone. This is the key to all relationships. And, this is the habit that allows for non-violent conflict resolution. When we recognize the light in others as the same light within ourselves, we no longer have any harmful intent. Not everyone will acknowledge this shared light, so those of us who see our lives as a journey of the spirit must lead the way. Cultivate the habit of seeing with the heart more than the eyes. And at times when you can't - maybe somebody just cut you off in traffic - remind yourself that, even when you can't see the light in another person, it is still there.

The Gift of Thought

Habit #5: Understand the Usefulness and the Limits of Thought

In the book The Five Gifts I describe the uses of thought as the four D's - discern, describe, design and decide. These thought uses help us to comprehend the world we live in, and our own experience. From the gift of thought, we get language, which allows us to communicate our ideas to others. Everything written in this blog is created and understood in thought. Through the gift of thought, we can set intention, make plans, and choose actions that will move us in the direction of our goals. Thought is a very powerful gift. Yet, thought has limits, and it is a good idea to be aware of the limits of thought. When we use thought to judge others, we are mis-using this gift. Furthermore, when we allow our thoughts to define us, we are creating limits for ourselves. Thought can become a straight jacket which binds and limits the spirit. So, cultivate the habit of recognizing when your thinking is useful, and when it is not. Meditation practice is helpful, here; in meditation, we learn to observe the stream of thought that enters into the mind space, and to choose to let go of the thoughts that don't serve us, while dwelling on thoughts that empower us. Take a few moments throughout the day to be present and observe the thoughts that you are experiencing. Notice when thought serves you and when it doesn't. And, practice replacing non-useful thoughts with ones that nurture and empower you.

The Gift of Life

Habit #6: Breath Awareness

We all know that we need to breath to survive. Without oxygen, the body will fail to support life in a few minutes. Yet, the breath is more than just a source of oxygen for the body. In the ancient tradition of India, where yoga originates, the breath is called prana, or life energy. The breath is our connection to life itself, the gift of life that animates all living things, including us. When we are aware of the breath, we can choose to move the breath with intention, and thereby expand our access to this empowering energy field. Cultivating this habit is fairly easy. Take a few moments throughout the day to simply be aware of the breath. When you do, if you find that the breath is shallow or ragged, consciously expand the breath, making the flow long and gentle. Breath for five cycles of the breath, making each breath longer and deeper than the one before it; use this simple approach several times a day. You can also learn many techniques of breath expansion - called pranayama in yoga. Use these techniques in your daily practice, and remember to be aware of the breath all day long.

Habit #7: Movement

We live in a sedentary society. Much has been written about the negative impact of this lifestyle on our physical health, and I won't repeat it here. My point is this: we are given the gift of life, which is a moving, flowing energy. To fully experience the delight of this gift, we must move. What's more, the life energy must move, to keep us alive. When energy stops moving, it ceases to be energy. Our bodies are designed to move, and when we move well, we expand the gift of life and empower our wellness. The best way to cultivate this habit of healthy movement is to practice yoga. I say this, not only because I am a yoga teacher, but because I have seen the powerful wellness benefits of yoga in my own life, and in the students who come to my classes. Cultivate this habit of moving well by learning yoga. (There are, of course, other practices like Qi Gong, T'ai Chi, etc., that you can learn that are healthy movement practices. Yoga is the one I know best.). Take a yoga class. Learn to move with healthy alignment, and with the movement of the breath. And, practice each day. Fifteen minutes of yoga each morning will energize you for the day. You may choose to pursue a more rigorous practice, too. My yoga practice is 60 minutes, 3 to 4 times per week, plus 15 to 30 minutes on other days. And, you can move with the breath all day long. For example, in the time I have been writing this, I have stopped twice to stand an move a bit. It has helped me stay focussed, and kept the energy flowing.

Habit #8: Water for Wellness

In the Holistic Wellness workshops that I teach, I often say, "water is the most important substance you put into your body." So, why do I talk about water here, instead of as part of the physical body? Actually, I had a difficult time deciding where to best fit this habit into the model of the five gifts. Since 60 to 70% of our physical bodies are water, this habit has a profound physical impact. Beyond the physical, water is essential for life. Water is key to movement, and the dynamic life processes within the body cannot take place without water. What's more the work of Masaru Emoto shows us that water is the medium for awareness within us. The water we drink affects our life energy field, our thoughts, even our awareness. Again, I say that water is the most important substance you take in. Cultivate the habit of water for wellness by making sure your water is fresh and clean. Don't drink unfiltered tap water, or water that is stored in plastic bottles. (In my opinion, bottled water is worse than tap water, and there is lots of research to support this. So, don't drink bottled water.) And, remember that most other drinks are not good substitutes for water. So, drink water. Pure and simple. Here's a link that can help you understand water better.

The Gift of the Physical Body

Habit #9: Create Body Balance

I don't like to talk about diet or weight loss, because much of the diet discussion in our culture leads to unhealthy habits. We have an excessively thin ideal of what is healthy, and, at the same time, we have an obesity epidemic. Both of these extremes are caused by the way we eat and the ideas we have about food. Both are out of balance. Each of us has an optimum body weight, which we achieve by creating a balance between what we eat and what our body needs. Creating body balance is a dynamic process; our ideal weight can and should change over time. Our physical bodies are in constant, dynamic exchange with the environment. Molecules and atoms come and go with each breath and in each moment. Over a couple of years, every atom in our bodies is replaced. We can't control this process - in fact, we are usually completely unaware of it. What we can do is take in what is needed to keep the body in balance. Nutrition is the source for the building blocks of the molecular structures of the physical body.  Contrary to popular ideas, food is not only about calorie needs.  Cultivate this habit be eating only what you body needs to be in dynamic balance. Organic, natural whole foods and supplements are the best sources for your body's nutrition. Avoid putting toxins in the body.  This includes alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, refined sugars, and the artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors found in processed foods.  All of these are all toxic, creating imbalance in the body. What's more, over-eating creates imbalance, too. Eat to create balance.

Habit #10: Alignment of the Structures

The gift of the physical body is consciousness expressed as structures: macro structures, cellular structures, and molecular structures. Much of what we discussed for habit #9 is about molecular structures, so I won't repeat it here. But what about the macro structures of the body? Clearly, are bodies are designed to be a certain way, and when we align the structures of the body with their intended design, we experience greater wellness. How do we do this? Through our yoga practice.  I know, I talked about yoga as a movement habit, and it is. Yoga is also an alignment practice. When we learn the alignment principles of yoga, we can apply them in all movement, on and off the yoga mat. Make sure the yoga you study includes an understanding of alignment. Anusara and Iyengar styles are both steeped in alignment, as are other yoga styles. Make this part of your daily practice.

And, finally...

Habit #11: Take a Holistic Approach

One of the challenges we face in using the five gifts as a model for wellness, is our propensity to see the elements of the model as separate from each other. In our culture, we are steeped in the scientific method, which breaks everything down to its component parts to facilitate understanding.  Looking at the different parts is useful. But, we must not carry this view too far. Remember that there are no separations. It is only our thoughts that perceive divisions. All of the five gifts are inseparable from the whole, and the whole is who you are. What happens in your body affects your life, thoughts and awareness. Your wellness is a whole-person affair. Keep this perspective as you move along your path to greater wellness.

Be well. Thanks for reading. Please share any comments you may wish.

Namaste
Joe
http://the5gifts.com

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Never Judge the Day by the Weather

"Never judge the day by the weather" - Earl Nightengale

I first heard this years ago, listening to one of Earl Nightengale's many recordings, and then, as now, it struck me as very powerful advice.  The weather is a metaphor for that which is not ours to control.  This includes most everything that happens to us.  Mr. Nightengale's message is that, since we can't control what happens to us, we ought not let what happens control us.  If we allow the weather to determine how we feel, then we will feel bad about half the time.  What's more, since there is almost always something to complain about, if we allow what happens to determine our mood, we'll spend most of our time in a bad mood.

Recently I have come to appreciate this metaphor with a deeper meaning than when I first heard it years ago.  It is easy for us to see the uncontrollable effects of external phenomena like the weather.  But, what about our inner world?  What about the "inner weather," as Tara Brach puts it.  Are we any more in control of what happens inside us than we are of what happens outside?  We like to think so, but I am not so sure.  

We cannot, for example, control what happens within our bodies.  Most processes within the body - digestion, circulation, immune function, temperature regulation, waste removal, cell replication, and so on - happen automatically.  We can't control these, even if we want to.  What's more, the molecules and atoms of your body are in constant exchange with the environment around you.  You are completely unaware of this exchange, and it is totally beyond your control.  Your physical body is a gift for you to use, but what happens within your body is like the weather - mostly beyond your control.

We experience more inner weather with the gift of life.  Our emotions are an important element of life's survival mechanism.  We are designed to react to what happens as if our life depends upon it.  In humanity's past, survival depended on the speed and energy (emotion) of a person's reaction.  Now, for most of us, the most life-threatening activity we have is driving.  Yet, we still have the same survival reactions of our ancestors.  Can we control our emotions?  No.  We can surpress them, ignore them, or allow them to control us.  Or, we can simply acknowledge that our feelings simply happen.  Emotions are there to tell us something, and to enhance our life experience.  

All in all, we have very little control of our lives.  We don't get to decide when life begins, when it ends, or most of what happens in between these two times.  Life energy flows through and animates our bodies in ways we barely understand, and this life is certainly not under our control.  Life is a gift we receive, for our joyful experience.  It is very much like the weather.

Well, at least we can control our thoughts, right?  Can we?  Not in my experience.  Thoughts come into the mind-field from a place beyond our control.  Our brains are tuned to receive certain thoughts, and we tend to dwell on some thoughts while allowing others to pass, but we don't control the stream of thought.  In fact, more often than not, the thoughts control us.  Thinking is inner weather.  It happens.

To be clear, I am not saying that we have no choices in what we think, say or do.  Nor am I saying that we are not responsible for our actions.  We have choices, and we are responsible for the choices we make.  We are given these gifts - the physical body, life, and thought - and what we do with these gifts is up to each of us.  What I am saying is this: most of what happens within us is beyond our control.

Here's a story from the Buddhist tradition that can help us better understand.  
The Buddha was talking with students one day, and he asked this question, "if a man gets shot by an arrow, will he experience pain?"
A student answered, "yes, he will."
The Buddha then asked, "if he gets shot by a second arrow, will he experience more pain?"
The student said, "yes, he will."
To this the Buddha replied, "the first arrow is unavoidable; the second arrow is optional."

The first arrow is the weather, outside or inside.  The second arrow is our response.  We don't get to choose the first arrow, but the second is under our control.  Or, as Victor Frankl said, "in between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in that space lies our freedom and our power".

How do we exercise this freedom and power?  Through the gift of awareness.  

If I stub a toe, or injure the body, I don't get to choose the body's painful experience.  However, through awareness I can choose how my respond to it.  

When you get cut-off while driving, and must swerve to avoid an accident, you will have an emotional reaction - fear or anger.  The emotion is automatic, part of life's survival mechanism.  You can't choose the emotion. Your response, though, is up to you.

Thoughts come into the mind space as a result of many complex conditioning factors from our early life, the culture we live in, and thousands of years of human evolution, all of which is beyond our control.  When we are centered in awareness beyond the limits of thought, we don't choose what thoughts come to us, but we can choose what thoughts we dwell on, and what we let go of.  We can choose thoughts that empower us, and let go of thoughts that limit us.  We can also decide what ideas we expose ourselves to, and surround ourselves with a thought-environment that is nurturing and supportive.  The best news is that, with practice, the gift of awareness allows us to change the conditioning, which, in turn, changes the thoughts that come to us.  Through our practice we can change the inner weather.

Embrace the gift of awareness, the limitless expression of being yourself.  Centered in awareness beyond thought, you come to know that the inner and outer worlds are not separate, but one.  The distinction exists only in thought.  Being whole, you realize that what happens is just the weather, and you can choose how you respond.  And you know that, through awareness, you can change the weather, too.

Namaste
Joe

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dealing with Disaster

This weekend, we were all shocked and saddened by the enormity of the disaster in Japan, and the losses suffered by people there and elsewhere along the Pacific Rim.  All of humanity is affected by an event of this magnitude.  We cannot have so much loss experienced by so many on the planet, without all of us feeling it in our  hearts.

As I've struggled to understand what has happened, I've been pondering this question: what can I do?  How can I best respond to this event?  How can I help?

If you are in a location or position to be able to go to Japan (or one of the other places affected by the earthquake and tsunami), then you can directly assist the people who are suffering right now.  Most of us, especially here in the US where I live, are not able to do this.  So, what do we do?  Send money?  Japan is one of the richest nations on the planet.  Do they need financial help to deal with this catastrophe?  I'm not sure, but it seems unlikely.  So, what do we do?

In my meditations, I've come to think that there are three key things we can all do in response to this disaster.  First, we can choose not to increase the suffering.  There is so much suffering in the world right now, experienced by those who are directly affected by this event (or other tragedies of many kinds) that it is important NOT to add our suffering to it.  This is hard, because we live in a culture that encourages us to suffer in response to other people's pain.  Let me explain this by an example.  On Friday evening, I was waiting in a restaurant for take-out food.  They had a large-screen TV, with one of the 24-hour news channels showing the video footage of the tsunami in Japan.  The first time I saw the video was informative, helping me to better understand the magnitude of the event.  However, over the next 20 minutes, this video was shown on the TV at least eight times.  (The event itself happened once in 20 minutes.) Rehashing and replaying the event over an over does not increase awareness; it only causes viewers to suffer.  Now, I don't want to be too harsh on the news networks reporting this event.  They are in an unenviable position of trying to raise awareness without raising suffering.  I have no idea how best to do this.  What I do know is this: it is important that you and I do not add our suffering to the suffering that is already there.  Adding to the suffering is unhelpful.  And, it reduces our ability to respond to what has happened.  Be informed, certainly.  Just be careful not to drag yourself into a place of suffering.

The second way we can help with this disaster is to re-center ourselves, get ourselves grounded, and get ourselves into a state of empowerment that allows us to respond to this disaster.  Each of us must do this for ourselves.  Come back into the core of your being, the awareness that is centered in your heart.  Use your yoga, meditation or spiritual practice to ground yourself in awareness.  Reconnect to the gift of divine grace. Allow yourself to experience the power of this gift, and allow it to flow through you into this world.  When we are centered, grounded, and empowered by grace, we are much more effective in helping others, than when we are suffering.

Finally, for those of us who can not respond directly to the disaster, we can gather in groups and offer our gifts of grace to others in need.  Over the past few days, millions of people have joined together in prayer groups, meditation groups, blessing groups, yoga classes, and many other spiritual gatherings, to offer support to the suffering people in Japan.  When we gather, with grace in our intentions, we generate a powerful response that makes a difference.  In much the same way that we all feel the suffering of those in need, others feel the power of grace when we offer it to them.  That's why this past Saturday, our yoga class offered our practice to all those who are suffering.  And, this Tuesday evening I'll be hosting a Deeksha Gathering dedicated to providing support and love to the people of Japan.  Join with others to make a difference.

It is not easy to explain why disasters occur.  Nor is it easy to respond.  We can choose, however, to limit the suffering by not adding ours to what's already there.  We can center ourselves to be empowered in our response.  And, we can gather with others to offer blessings of love and grace to those who are suffering.  We can make a difference.  Please, join me, in your own way, in love.

Namaste
Joe

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Joy in Us

When we allow ourselves to be open to the gift of divine grace, goodness comes into our lives.  Actually, I would define grace as the goodness in life that flows to us unbidden.  We don't need to ask for grace; nor can we reach out for it and draw it to us. When we receive the gift of grace, we owe nothing in return.  Grace is everything in our lives that supports, sustains and nurtures us.  To receive this gift, all we need do is align with the flow, and open up to it.

When we open to grace, we experience joy.  And, since all of the five gifts come to us from the same divine source, we can experience the joy of divine grace in each gift.  Within the gift of the physical body, joy is experienced as comfort and ease.  This gift is essentially matter (ana in Sanskrit) arranged in complex structures.  Consciousness is expressed as structure.  Opening to grace in the gift of the physical body means aligning the structures with the way they are designed.  When we are in alignment, the body functions at its peak.  There is comfort and a sense of ease within the body.  Misalignment is a block to experiencing joy in the physical body leading to discomfort, even pain.

Joy is experienced within the gift of life as flow, pleasure and happiness.  The gift of life animates the body.  This gift compels us to remain alive, to survive.  Consciousness is expressed in this gift as motion and emotion.  When we open to grace, our movements flow with grace, we feel the pleasure of being alive, and we experience positive, happy emotions.  All of this is joy.

Many of us have difficulty finding joy in the gift of thought.  With this gift, like the others, we experience joy by opening to grace and using the gift as it is designed.  Joy in the gift of thought comes to us in two ways.  The first is when we use thought effectively as a tool for awareness.  The "4 Ds", as I describe them in The Five Gifts, are effective uses of thought: discern, describe, design, decide.  The second way we experience joy in thought is by putting the tool down when we don't need it.  Peace of mind and contentment are expressions of joy, and these joys only come when we clear the mind and quiet the gift of thought.  When our thoughts separate us from grace, we experience stress.  We experience stress when we judge and define things and other people (judgment and definition are ineffective uses of the gift of thought), or when we dwell in our minds on thoughts that don't serve us in the present moment.  A noisy mind is stressful; a quiet, focussed mind is joyful.

The gift of awareness allows us to experience joy in all that we think, experience and do.  Within this gift we experience the simple joy of being, in the moment, uncluttered by thought, emotion or doing.  And through this gift, we are able to guide the gift of thought so our thinking brings us joy; we are axle to guide the gift of life so our experience brings us joy; and we are able to guide our use of the gift of the physical body so our doing brings us joy.

The gift of awareness is also the gateway to an even greater source of joy - divine grace.  The gift of divine grace comes to us lovingly from the divine source.  This is the source of joy.  When we open to this gift, we are flooded with grace, flooded with joy.  We know ourselves to be one with the divine and inseparable from each other.  We delight in being here.  And we use all of the gifts we've received with joy.

Here's wishing you an abundance of grace and joy.

Namaste
Joe

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

War of the Words

I must admit that I rarely watch TV or listen to the radio.  I scan the headlines most days, but I rarely go deeply into the news.  Still, on occasion I find myself listening to a newscast, reading an article or watching a television news program.  What I find most striking, on these occasions, is the acrimony and belligerence that is so much a part of our public discourse.  Much of what is said is downright mean-spirited.  It is as if we are making war with words.



I am convinced that we won't solve the problems we face by continuing to debate them, by using words.  Why?  Because we've reached the limits of what we can do with words.  Let's look at the issues we face today to see what I mean.  One of the issues getting a lot of attention is the right of workers to unionize.  In Wisconsin, newly elected officials are trying to take these rights away, sparking angry protests from the same people who elected them.  Tempers are flaring, but are there any new arguments being made?  No.  This issue of labor unions has been discussed, debated and fought over for more than 50 years.  All the points on both sides of the debate have been made many times before, and the issue remains intransigent, unsolved.  Yet we continue to make war with words.



What about other issues?  Let's look at the issue of abortion.  We could fill a stack of books as high as the mountains in Colorado with all of the ideas that have been used to argue against abortion rights, and an equally high stack of ideas in favor of these rights.  We've been arguing this issue for sixty years.  Have we resolved anything with our arguments?  No.



We can see the same dynamic in all of the never-ending issues our culture is faced with.  The environment, economics,  property rights, gun control, animal rights, foreign policy - all of these issues are like pendulums, with our approach swinging from one side of the argument to the other, and no real resolution in sight.

The difficulty is with words themselves.  Words, ideas, language, all of these are tools of thought.


The gift of thought is a very powerful one - and a limited one.  Let me illustrate.  When I use the word "chair", for example, most of us can conceive a thought-image of a chair.  If we were in the same room together, and I pointed to an object and said "chair", you would easily understand my meaning.  This is the power of thought, of language.  When I use the word "chair," I am actually describing two things: what is included in the word, and what is excluded.  The table and the floor, for example, are not included in the thought-word "chair." With my word, I describe an object and a set of limits.  Ancient wisdom and modern physics both tell us that there are no real separations between objects.  It is the word-thought that puts the limits in place.  This is a useful process. If I wish to sit down, it is useful to perceive the limits of the chair.  It is also helpful to remain aware that the limits are created by my thoughts.



Thought creates limits.  The gift of thought is useful, powerful, and limiting.  Words, ideas, paradigms, arguments - all of these are tools of thought, and therefore subject to the same limits as the gift of thought.



To understand the limits of thought better, I often refer to the work of Dr. David Hawkins, a spiritual teacher and author of the book Power vs. Force In his studies and teachings, Dr. Hawkins has created what he calls the Map of Consciousness.  The map is a continuum, from 0 to 1,000, representing the scope and range of human awareness.  (Note that the numbers themselves are not very important.  The scale was chosen for it's ease of use.)   Dr. Hawkins asserts that the human intellect, which I call the gift of thought, calibrates on the scale to a maximum of 499.  This, he says, is the limit of thought.


I have done my own studies using the tools and techniques Dr. Hawkins describes, and I've come to agree with him on this key point.  Thought is limited.  So, if the only tool we have is words (which are thoughts), and the power of our thinking maxes at 499 (using Dr. Hawkins' scale), and the issue we are dealing with requires an solution of higher awareness, say 600, are we going to find a solution through argument and debate?  No.


So, maybe the war of words hasn't helped us resolve the issues we face, because it can't.  Words are too limited.


We face another challenge in the use of our thoughts.  Our survival instincts, which come to us with the gift of life, cause us to think about things as threatening or non-threatening.  Even ideas can be threatening.  When we hear an idea we disagree with, we have a natural reaction to see it as threatening.  This reaction is automatic, and normal.  Observing nature, however, we see what happens when an individual organism perceives a threat.  Often, the individual will lash out violently and destroy that which it perceives as threatening.  In our society, where weapons of violence are easily available, is it any surprise that the war of words often degenerates into horrible actions?


So, what do we do when the war of the words is failing us (as it so often does)?  What do we do if the answer to our questions lies in a consciousness beyond the limits of thought?  We need to transcend the limits of thought.  We need to grow in awareness beyond the limits of thought.  We need to evolve to a point where the gift of thought becomes a tool for awareness, and we know a truth that cannot be understood with thought alone.  


Dr. Hawkins is not the only one to tell us this.  Every competent spiritual teacher throughout history has told us that our human awareness expands beyond the limits of thought, and all of the great religions teach us that the answers lie in transcending these limits.  This is the perennial teaching: we need to transcend the limits of thought.


Every spiritual tradition has it's own language to describe the process of transcending. My favorite word is awakening.  Awakening implies that we've been asleep; we've been in a thought-induced trance, a stupor wherein we believe our own thoughts above all else.  When we awaken, we experience the gift of awareness, beyond the limits of thought.  We awaken to the awareness that all limits, all boundaries, all borders exist in our thoughts only.  We awaken to the knowing of wholeness and oneness: wholeness within ourselves, oneness with each other, oneness with all of life, oneness with the divine.  We awaken to the gift of divine grace, and our hearts fill with love and joy.


When we awaken, we still use the gift of thought.  We continue to think, to use language, share ideas, words.  The gift of thought becomes a tool for awareness, and like any tool, we recognize its usefulness and limitations.  We find new ways to solve problems, and many issues simply disappear, or become unimportant.  This is not passive, or complacency.  When awakened, we are actively engaged in life, and life in us.  We are simply more aware.


There is a global evolutionary shift in awareness happening, right now, and the number of awakened individuals is growing at an accelerating rate.  Humanity must move forward.  To grow, we need to transcend the limits of thought.  We need to end the war of the words.  And why not? It isn't really serving us anymore, any way.
So let's stop the war of the words, and move forward together in grace.


Namaste
Joe

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Snow Shoveling & Divine Manifestation

This morning, we woke to about five inches.  Snow, that is -- not a huge snowfall, but enough to require shoveling.  As I was out this morning, working in the driveway, I noticed something wonderful. When I shoveled, there would be some frozen residue on the concrete that the shovel did not clear away easily.  I thought I might need to do some tough scraping to remove the ice.  However, as I worked for a while on a patch of the driveway, then paused to look behind me, I noticed that the part I had already done was being further cleared and dried by the sunlight.  My efforts were combined with the radiation from the sun - and the driveway was being cleared.  As I observed this, I began to see it as a metaphor for how intention works in our lives.

As a Yoga teacher, I often talk about intention.  A yoga practice is a reflection of life, and when we wish to create something, we begin with intention.  Of course, setting intention is only the first step to manifesting.  In my modelling, there are three steps to create something new:

1) Set an intention;
2) Use your energy to make effort in the direction of the intention, and;
3) Let the divine universe work on your behalf; allow the outcome to happen.

In my experience, there are two myths floating around our western culture about the creative process.  The first is the traditional idea of do-it-yourself.  This myth says that, if you want to create something, you set a goal and then work hard to blast through all of the obstacles that might be in your way to meeting your goal.  This is the myth of the self-made man, the lone ranger.  My problem with this myth is that it ignores the power of the universe as a partner in creation.  It is possible to do many things on our own.  However, we are much more empowered when we open up to the infinite creativity of the universe itself.

The second myth is one promulgated by recent popular movies like The Secret.  This myth says that all we need do is set an goal, and hold this goal firmly in our thoughts until the outcome we want appears in our reality.  While I believe in the power of intention, I have two difficulties with this idea.  The first is that thought alone is not always enough to activate the universe towards our intention.  Thought is a powerful gift, but not that powerful.  We may get lucky and get what we want, or we may not.  The intention is the beginning of the process, not the end.

Additionally, I believe we are designed to be actively engaged in manifesting  our intentions.  Look at your physical body: what a wonderful gift.  This gift is given you so that you can DO things.  The body is designed to move, to manipulate objects in the world around us, and to engage.  We feel better when we are active, moving and working, than when we sit idle and wish for things to happen.  Our thoughts are given to us to empower us to do more than just set goals.  With our thoughts, we can plan, design and choose actions that will take us closer to our goals.

We are meant to be partners in the creative process.  The universe acts with us - and through us - to make things happen in this world.  Our actions, when inspired by intention for good, are works of the divine, since each of us is a manifestation of the divine source.

What's more, when we act in the direction of our intention, our actions act as a catalyst for divine action.  It is as if our actions demonstrate our commitment to the intention, and the universe responds.  The sun shines on the driveway, helping me in my work.

Of course, the outcome is not always exactly as we had planned.  The universe has its own plans.  Our intentions will manifest in a way that is in alignment with the divine evolution of the universe.  We need to allow the process to unfold in it's own way.  Our goals and intentions will be realized, and something more, something wonderful will blossom.

Want to create something new in this world?  Intention.  Action.  Allow the unfolding.

And, enjoy the sunshine.

Namaste
Joe

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

To my blog readers

Hi Everyone


This is a special note to those of you who have been reading this blog.  As you have probably noticed, I have not posted for a couple of months.  During that time, my writing time has been spent preparing The Five Gifts for publication.  I'm happy to say that I have a publisher - Balboa Press - and that the book will be published soon.  I'm finished with writing, and the effort I need to put into getting the book published is reduced.  Of course, promoting the book - that's a whole new chapter.  


My intention now is to begin writing in this blog regularly, once again.  I thank you for your patience, and I look forward to your comments going forward.


One other note:  this past December, I included in this blog a post called "The Paradox of Our Time", which was sent to me as a writing by the Dalai Lama.  I posted it without researching it, and I regret that.  I have done some research, and have been unable to find any evidence that this was written by the Dalai Lama.  Indeed, I have read some troubling comments about the source of this work - though I have been unable to verify that, either.  So, I've removed this post from the blog.  My apologies for posting something without researching the source.  I will be more careful in the future.


Be well.  More to some, soon.


Namaste
Joe