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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.


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.


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.