Peace on Earth

UnknownI usually like to end each year (and begin each new one) with some thoughts other than “I’m definitely going on that diet tomorrow,” which okay, still happens I’ll admit.  Every year, when I send out my Christmas cards, I stamp the word “peace” on the envelope. I keep hoping.

I could quote Gandhi, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” I could quote Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, “Without inner peace, outer peace is impossible,” but we’ve all heard these words before. They are wonderful and they are true, but they are still just words.  They are meant to help us navigate past our egos and change our thoughts. From the looks of things we haven’t gotten the message. We’re not yet living our lives from a place of peace.

As this much anticipated year comes to a close, many will say that all the hype surrounding 2012 was nonsense – and much of it was. But I believe there was a great deal going on this year – in the realm of human consciousness – and more that will continue in the years to come.  People have been waking up; there has been and continues to be an evolution of our human awareness.

Blind acceptance of authority has fallen to the wayside, as people are less willing to give away their power to those who would manipulate, lie, and control them to further their own agendas.

People are realizing that war has become an archaic notion. They are refusing to wave flags in a patriotic frenzy, glorifying the act of sending their children to kill other peoples’ children in battles that have been manufactured for the gain of a few.

People are waking up to the suffering being inflicted upon the animals, whether killing them for sport, for the dinner table, or using them for corporate profit.

We are in the process of changing centuries of behavior and thought patterns as we evolve into beings that are beginning to recognize ourselves in each other.  The desire to cooperate will surpass the desire to compete.  The desire to be kind will surpass the desire to do harm, not only with our actions, but also with our thoughts and speech.

The barrier to peace is rooted in fear, which perpetuates the illusion of separation. Gandhi knew that the time for words was over when he said, “Become the change you want to see in the world.”  He wanted us to go past the rhetoric. Remember, what you think you become.  Imagine the possibilities if fear was replaced with understanding and compassion. Do you have the desire and the courage to change the way you think? Wouldn’t that make a more meaningful resolution for the New Year? It does start with us. Peace is the ultimate grassroots movement.

Wishing everyone peace and happiness in the 2013.

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Mirror, Mirror

mirrorAs a teenager, obsessed with her appearance, I spent many hours in front of the mirror. It was during those years when I first heard the expression, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” I remember leaning forward toward the mirror to look more closely into my eyes thinking I might be able to catch a glimpse of my soul.  I began to wonder, “Who am I?” Was I my body, my soul or something else?

Spiritual searching often takes many forms, but defining the goal of a spiritual search can be tricky. I never really knew what I was looking for all those years of doing yoga, meditation, reading numerous books, attending many lectures. All I knew was that I wanted ‘Truth’ beyond what society puts out there for mass consumption. Actually, I’m a little amazed at how clueless I was in my searching. I wanted answers, but what exactly were the questions? If I had to be specific it would’ve been, “What is the meaning of life?”  I didn’t expect to realize that spiritual searching is essentially a search for Self.  I didn’t realize that all those years ago as a teenager I actually asked the right question, “Who am I?”

As it is now, society is structured to perpetuate the identity crisis in which we are all stuck. Everywhere there are distractions keeping us from indulging in any meaningful introspection.  The world is noisy, shallow, and divisive.  Any type of reflection is relegated to prayer on Sundays; however, even that is directed externally since we pray to something outside of ourselves. No wonder we don’t know the right questions to ask. When it’s all said and done, the struggle in life usually culminates with the question, “what was it all for?” since death appears to be the end. Impermanence abounds.  We are never taught that the continuity of the Self is the only constant.

Surprisingly, there are hints of truth from the mainstream media that you can catch. In the 1946 movie, “The Razor’s Edge,” Tyrone Power’s character is asked what he did during his time in India. He remarks, “I learned something about myself.”  As her time in India comes to a close in “Eat Pray Love,” Julia Roberts, portraying Elizabeth Gilbert, sums up her experience with the insight, “God dwells in me – as me.”

You probably think that once you discover who you really are you will find the answers to the rest of the questions. And you do, but really what you realize is that the rest of the questions don’t matter anymore. The struggle of finding your place in the world disappears when you discover your true identity. In fact, all struggles disappear once you become aware that there is no need to ‘strive’ for anything. You are already everything. It is the ego (personality) that is never satisfied, always doubts, and continuously struggles. It is the ego that believes society when it is told that it needs to do this or that to be considered successful or even acceptable.

It is the ego you see in the mirror.  It has nothing to do with who you really are.  In fact, the ego is the biggest obstacle to discovering the truth about yourself.  Next time you look into a mirror, try looking past the image. If you find yourself wondering, “Who am I?” congratulations, the quest has begun.

All the World’s a Stage

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” is a line from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and what students of non-duality strive to understand.  The idea here is that we (our ego/body) are merely actors performing a script: a script that has already been written by the Absolute and is being produced by the Shakti, the creative power of the universe.  The implication is that we cannot be the doer of anything.

Nisargadatta discusses non-doership in “I Am That,” devoting an entire section on this point.  While there is no easy way to understand this, if we recognize that we are not these bodies that move, talk, eat, or sleep, but are something beyond the physical manifestation, then we’ve taken the first step.

Advaita Master Mooji examines the world with all its activity in this video talk, “You know it’s a movie,” and asks if we can avoid the temptation to identify with or get drawn into the drama.  He discusses that the “human being is itself an effect in consciousness. It is not the operator or controller of consciousness.”  He goes on to explain that there is the mortal (our bodies) and the immortal (the being of consciousness). Only one of them is real.

Identity with the ego causes life to be claustrophobic. We are held prisoner by our own minds thinking that we are these bodies.  “Who are you?” you are asked.  “I’m a woman, a man, a mother, a father, an American, a cab driver…..” When we break the chains of the false identities that bind us to a material (un)reality, we catch a glimpse of our true state – Pure Awareness – Pure Beingness.

Remember, the ego is nothing more than a bundle of karmas and since “your karma defines your dharma” as Ram Dass says, the character in the play will experience what it needs to experience – let it be. The script has already been written. The ego will dutifully execute its lines and actions never missing a cue or its mark.

A Spiritual Conundrum

Understanding the difference between the perceived and the perceiver is the essence of non-duality. The perceived is duality; the perceiver is non-duality. Duality allows the Absolute to experience its own creation, which it does through us, as we are an extension of the Absolute. But here’s the thing, because of duality we don’t realize this. See the problem?

You can’t ‘think’ your way through this. The mind won’t let you. The mind keeps you caught in a spiritual quagmire from which it’s impossible to extricate yourself. The truth lies in direct experience. Knowing doesn’t come from the mind. You must suspend thought to experience Truth.

In this video, Advaita Master Mooji explains the spiritual conundrum in which all seekers find themselves.

Haven’t Got Time For The Pain

Many may associate this 1974 Carly Simon hit with a popular advertising campaign for aspirin from a couple of decades ago. But actually, this song has a strong spiritual message. In fact,  lyricist Jake Brackman wrote this song about his own spiritual process.

But you really don’t have to be on any spiritual path (though it does help) to take a lesson from the message communicated in these lyrics. As we become more self-aware and self-reflective, we begin to recognize the behavior patterns that keep sabotaging us.

“…suffering was the only thing that made me feel I was alive…”

You could say that the emotional rollercoaster rides that keep our mini-dramas alive and well reflect the karmic load in which our egos are trapped. Eckhart Tolle calls it the ‘pain body.’ We remain attached to our pain because this state of being is familiar and the only way we know, which is why even though the names and places may change, we consistently find ourselves in the same limiting circumstances or surrounded by the same types of people. Spiritual practices show us how to “leave (ourselves) behind….how to turn down the noise in (your) mind……how to fill (your) heart with love.” Once that happens, you no longer have the time or the room or the need for the pain.

Take a listen and enjoy this great oldie through a new perspective. I’ve posted the lyrics below…

All those crazy nights when I cried myself to sleep
Now melodrama never makes me weep anymore
‘Cause I haven’t got time for the pain
I haven’t got room for the pain
I haven’t the need for the pain
Not since I’ve known you

You showed me how, how to leave myself behind
How to turn down the noise in my mind
Now I haven’t got time for the pain
I haven’t got room for the pain
I haven’t the need for the pain
Not since I’ve known you

Suffering was the only thing that made me feel I was alive
Thought that’s just how much it cost to survive in this world
‘Til you showed me how, how to fill my heart with love
How to open up and drink in all that white love
Pouring down from the heaven
I haven’t got time for the pain
I haven’t got room for the pain
I haven’t the need for the pain
Not since I’ve known you

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Devotion is a tricky thing, especially for a Westerner.  Displays of spiritual/religious fervor are supposed to be confined to church on Sunday or inside the privacy of our homes. In other words, kept behind closed doors. Those of you who are of Italian heritage, like myself, will remember the crucifixes that hung in every room of the house, including the basement. I could never figure out if they were there as displays of reverence or to ward off evil spirits.

Unfortunately, where there is still that element in society where might makes right, devotion is neither admired nor taken seriously at any level of consideration. I remember back in the 60’s, when the peace sign first became popular.  It was considered, by some, to be the sign of the chicken since the symbol resembled a chicken’s foot. People who wanted peace instead of war were branded as cowards. Devotion has gotten an equally bad rap.

The West’s discomfort with displays of devotion could just be a cultural thing, as it doesn’t seem to be an issue in other parts of the world. Or, it could go deeper than that. Devotion is love. That could be where the problem is. Maybe we don’t know how to love. Be it loving others or ourselves, maybe we just don’t know how. As it is generally understood, love revolves around the ego, so that love is completely conditional. The real thing is unconditional. Love with no strings, no expectations  – love that is totally free of the demands of the ego – is not a familiar concept to most people.

As a result, spirituality/religion tend to be more a mental exercise rather than an emotional one, like having to memorize the catechism in school, the emphasis being on dogma rather than devotion. Early in my sadhana, as now, my teacher would read us works by and about Indian masters such as Ramakrishna (probably the greatest saint India has ever produced), Swami Ramdas, Shivom Tirth, among others.  Their words were filled with love for the Sacred.  They stressed the importance of keeping our awareness on the Divine so that we may experience that love. Remember, what we think we become, so by keeping our thoughts on the Absolute we become the embodiment of love, which projects outward into world, which, let’s face it, could use a lot more of it.

Devotion is love. When you open yourself to the possibility of letting love into your life everything changes. You become filled with the love that you are expressing. Japa, kirtan, and contemplation are all tools to help the sadhan along the bhakti (devotional) path. The bliss that is felt during and after kirtan or contemplation is unsurpassed by anything the material world has to offer.  It is not to be found in any book. You do not have to be in a church or temple – love is within. It needs to be felt, but, just like direct spiritual experience, you can’t make it happen. It has to evolve. And as you progress in your sadhana, it will.

Don’t Worry….Be Happy

Being stuck in the ego is not easy or fun.  It’s only struggle. Too many thoughts. Too much thinking I should be doing anything instead of what I’m actually doing. Too much thinking I should be different than how I am.

Last night, as I went to bed consumed with too many thoughts, I used some of the tricks of the “trade” (aka sadhana), to help still my mind. I realized that whatever the current obsession of my ego was, it wasn’t worth my attention or the energy I was pouring into sustaining it. I reminded myself that we are all doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing and the only thing I can change is my thoughts.

As 2011 comes to a close and we hover on the brink of the much anticipated 2012, I am reminded of the Dan Millman quote from his book, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior.” I used to have this quote on my refrigerator. Can’t remember why I took it down. I think I need to put it back up there again…

“There is no need to search; achievement leads to nowhere. It makes no difference at all, so just be happy now! 

Love is the only reality of the world, because it is all One, you see. And the only laws are paradox, humor and change.

There is no problem, never was, and never will be. Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. 

No need to resist life, just do your best.

Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine. You are the world, you are the universe; you are yourself and everyone else, too!

It’s all the marvelous Play of God.

Wake up, regain your humor. Don’t worry, just be happy. You are already free!”

Happy New Year everyone!

Peace.

Space and Holograms and Black Holes …Oh My!

I’ve always held firmly to the idea that just because something you believe cannot be proven by science doesn’t mean you should change your mind about it.  But, I have to say that, occasionally, it’s nice to get some confirmation from the scientists. This is one of those times.

I recently showed my chemistry class a Nova program, “Fabric of the Cosmos,” featuring Brian Greene (the physicist who gave us string theory). It was entitled “Space” and the upshot was that space was not the vacuum we thought it was. (By the way, this and what follows is not news to any student of non-dualitybut I digress.)  Turns out that space is teeming with energy or ‘activity’ as is the so-called “empty space” that comprises the atom.  My students were fine with all that, except when it came to the end of the show where it was suggested that physicists are now thinking that the universe is a hologram. Seems it has something to do with newly discovered properties of black holes. There was an audible silence after the show as they digested what they had just heard.  The idea is difficult to wrap your brain around. The implications are even more difficult to verbalize.

For me – I was thrilled. I’ve written about this idea, on this blog, based on Michael Talbot’s work, The Holographic Universe, which was published back in 1991. This blog entry was taken from a larger piece I wrote, published in November 2007 in the Aquarius (a newspaper published in Atlanta). You can check that out in their archives here.

These times we are living in reminds me of the early years of the 20th century when science was exploding with all the new ideas put forth by Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr etc. Quantum mechanics was born during that exciting time and changed how we view the world. I feel that we are on the precipice of a similar radical revision of our view of reality. I felt it back in the early ‘90’s when I read about the work of physicist David Bohm, who is mentioned in Talbot’s work. That was also around the time I read Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics.”

Ideas that have been discussed and bandied about outside of the mainstream over the past few decades are now suddenly being hailed as “new” discoveries. I applaud those men and women who risked and endured being ridiculed and laughed at in order to present the world with other possibilities. In the words of Epictetus, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

Random Fragments To Help Along The Way

Lately, I’ve been unable to hold a cohesive thought and bring it to any kind of conclusion, logical or otherwise. Instead, I’ve had a string of thoughts – prompted by a number of isolated quotes – come to my attention. These quotes are fragments I had saved with the thought that I would use them one day to punctuate a longer piece of writing. I hope you find them inspiring or thought-provoking in some small way. Perhaps you will feel urged to seek out more writings by their authors, who have been fortunate enough to reach the end of their searching and attain true wisdom through Enlightenment.

These first are by the Sufi poet Hafiz (given name Shams-ud-din Muhammad, c.1320-1389) – (taken from “the Gift” Poems by Hafiz The Great Sufi Master – translations by Daniel Ladinsky- published by Penguin, 1999) I love the dedication page. It reads, “ To God’s magnificent masquerade ~~as us!”

The Sun Never Says

Even

After

All this time

The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe

Me.”

Look

What happens

With a love like that,

It lights the

Whole

Sky.

And there is this fragment from another of his poems:

“…..I saw two birds this morning

Laughing with the sun.

They reminded me of how

We will one day exist….”

And now a couple of quotes by another great Sufi poet, Rumi (Jalaluddin Rumi – 1207-1273):

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

~

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”

And finally, a quote I came across when I was in the 5th grade while reading a book, Step to the Music, by Phyllis A. Whitney. It is a quote by Henry David Thoreau – (Transcendentalist, 1817-1862 from his book, “Walden”)  –  Even then I knew it would sum up my life:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Namaste.

Ego – The Love/Hate Relationship

By Perfilbtl (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

During any sadhana, the seeker will be faced with unflattering aspects of oneself.  In my personal sadhana, which is shaktipat sadhana, these aspects are merely karmas that the Shakti is removing. My teacher tells us that all we can do is watch, but that doesn’t always help the character (ego) when it is experiencing the emotionality of anger, jealousy, judgment, and the like.  Even with the tools and techniques my teacher has given us to detach from the “emotional roller coaster,” as he likes to put it, getting caught up in negative emotions seems to be a normal part of the process.

The good news is that as karmas are removed, we find fewer buttons get pushed and life goes along in a smoother fashion. That is not to say that the external parts of life get easier; that is to say that we remain calm in the face of whatever happens, because the karmic trigger is gone. Acceptance of ‘what is’ is easier allowing one to go with the flow of life.

It wasn’t until shaktipat that I came to realize the ego is nothing more than a bundle of karmas. These karmas prevent us from knowing who we really are, which is pure Divine Consciousness, and perpetuates the duality, the notion that we are separate from everyone and everything, with which we experience our reality.

So therein lies the problem. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet, every single one of them, by nature of their individual karmas, have their own perception of how the world should be and many attempt to force this perception on the rest of us. Until we understand the non-dual nature of reality – that all is One – conflict and suffering will continue to plague us.  You don’t need to have shaktipat in order to understand non-duality.  Any spiritual path will lead you to this conclusion; shaktipat just happened to be the path I landed on.

My teacher likes to use the example of scarves covering the light of a lamp as a metaphor for the layers of ego or karmas that hide the light of our true selves. But in this analogy, the removal of the layers appears to be a gentle process. For me, as well as some of my fellow students on this path, the removal of karmas can sometimes feel more like ripping off a band-aid covering a still open wound. You feel exposed and vulnerable. Sometimes an ‘ego-loathing’ (in lieu of self-loathing) sets in. We are urged not to indulge in ‘mea culpas,’ but instead to be gentle with ourselves through this process. This will help us recognize the divinity within not only ourselves, but in everyone else out there struggling with the illusion of duality.