The Eve of Destruction…of Fear!

Barry McGuire sang the iconic song, The Eve of Destruction, in 1965, two years after the Kennedy assassination, when we were immersed in Vietnam and civil rights, and three years before the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.  The 60’s were a decade of change, turmoil and fear – sound familiar?

I think back about how we were all manipulated by fear back then, especially during the Cuban missile crisis: fear of the Russians, fear of the bomb. I remember, as school children, the completely ridiculous ‘duck and cover’ exercises we were forced to practice. I remember being out in the schoolyard and being fearful of every plane that flew overhead; afraid that it was the Russians coming to drop the bomb on us.  And we didn’t even have 24-hour news networks with nonstop talking heads telling us who to fear, how afraid we should be, and who was to blame for not keeping us ‘safe.’ To their credit, TV news anchors and journalists back in the ‘60’s behaved with much more dignity and impartiality than what we see today, and yes, the Cuban missile crisis was a difficult time, but fear still sells ratings and so we’ve seen the atmosphere of fear escalate, especially since 9/11. More wars, more money spent on death and destruction. Has the fear abated with all these efforts – even with the elimination of Bin Laden? Of course not. Even if we didn’t have a financial crisis going on right now, there would still be media attention focused on something to provoke fear in our hearts; look at immigration reform. If you really think about it and look beyond the rhetoric, you will see that we are being manipulated to regard anyone who is not ‘American’ as a threat. And it’s not just the politicians or the media, organized religions rank pretty high on the list of fear mongering.

Unfortunately, we cling to the material world as if it were our lifeboat. It’s not. When the stock market crashed in 1929, people threw themselves out of windows. Their identity was so wrapped up in what they had that they couldn’t live with the fear that loss provoked.

What does this have to do with non-duality? Quite frankly – everything. Fear keeps the illusion of separation alive.  You cannot experience ‘Oneness’ (non-duality) while you are in the state of fear. It’s impossible.  And, some will say, that’s the way ‘they’ want to keep it. Who are ‘they?’ – I’ll let you figure that out for yourselves.  If you keep the masses in fear you can continue your control of them. It’s that simple.

There are two types of fear: fear that we internalize and fear that we externalize. The internalized fear results in panic, anxiety, obsession, compulsion, and worry. The externalized fear creates the hate and violence we see on so many levels of society.  This type of dysfunction, whether it’s internal or external, all stems from the incorrect notion that the ego is in charge and the material world is all there is.

When we get out of our egos, through meditation or other exercises that promote a state of non-duality, we are no longer afraid because we are tapping into that part of ourselves that is real and indestructible.  We no longer see others or situations as threatening.

Remember, it’s a matter of perception. It’s not what happens to us that we should worry about, but our reaction to what happens. So cultivate tolerance, compassion, and your inner life. We are on the eve of the destruction of fear.

The Sound of Silence

“Hello darkness my old friend ……..” is the opening line of Simon and Garfunkel’s famous song The Sound(s) of Silence.” I enjoyed listening to the duo’s music in the second half of the ‘60’s, as it appealed to my poetic sensitivities.

Of course, the song title’s meaning for me has changed over the decades. The more I delve the depths of reality, the more I crave those sounds of silence, because that’s where it’s happening. That’s where the action is. Action in inaction? Sounds in silence?  Yes, reality is full of paradoxes, but one thing is for sure: the volumes of information conveyed or found in the silence when you contemplate/meditate is astonishing and the ways in which truth (information) is communicated is unique to each person.

There is a saying that meditation can’t be taught, but it can be learned. Though there are many different kinds of meditation, the method is only the tool, the map, to help the seeker reach those states of quiet. The silence and what is learned in the silence is the journey. It’s like walking a labyrinth. The path is set (in stone) but the journey is unique to each who walk it. The first time I walked a labyrinth, which, by the way, is done in complete silence, I was astounded by the ‘impressions’ that were brought into my awareness.  And each time I’ve walked a labyrinth, the journey has been different.

Labyrinth at the National Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America

When you chant the Omkara, which is simply chanting “OM” in repetition, you focus on two things. You can put your attention on the sound of the OM vibration, but things get much more interesting when you put your attention on the space between the OMs. In yoga, pranayama or breathing exercises also emphasize the interval between breaths as the more important place to be.

The importance of silence in sadhana cannot be stressed enough. This is the place where the seeker touches the face of the Absolute, because it is in the silence where you find yourself.  It’s not even the noise of the external world that’s the problem; it’s the noise of your internal world that needs to be turned down in order for your ego to be pushed aside so you can be with yourself for a while.  And that’s when real learning or experiencing begins. You will never find the answers to the eternal questions you search for in books. Never. It is only by turning within, by spending time in the silence, that you will discover who you really are. The first line in Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks says, “When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world.”

There’s a lot of resistance to living in silence even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.  Silence can be scary for us. We don’t know what to do with it because silence has no form. Having lost the anchor of the material world, we feel adrift with nothing in the void to cling to. The realization sinks in that our beliefs and thoughts about who we are don’t matter in this place. Those false identities are negated in the formless essence of stillness. The illusion of separation dissolves and in the silence we realize that we are the “…I Am that is deeper than name and form…” as Eckhart Tolle writes.  It’s the difference between ‘doing’ and ‘being.’

Spiritual literature about this abounds. If interested, a couple of titles you should check out include:  The Voice of the Silence by H.P. Blavatsky and the aforementioned Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle. Both are excellent, though if you’re a beginner in these matters, I would start with Tolle’s book as Blavatsky’s is more esoteric.

No Strings Attached

It’s been about 2 years since I cancelled my landline. I remember that, while I was so completely fed up with the phone company (it doesn’t matter which one they’re all the same), I was actually fearful of cutting that cord. Even though I had my cell, I felt insecure, as if I were 2 years old and my blankie was being taken away.  This may sound foolish to those of you out there who are younger and don’t have the memory of dialing a princess phone while yelling at your sibling to get off the extension. This attachment went really deep. But then, the younger generations have their own attachments to their iphones, ipods, etc.  An attachment is an attachment.

Look around your environment and try to gauge your level of attachment to what you consider yours, what you ‘own.’ Ask yourself, “How would I feel if I lost this?”  Would you be okay without that possession (or person, or job) or would you feel diminished without it? This implies that our attachments, whether they are to things, people or jobs, fill a deep, dark hole we perceive in ourselves. Krishnamurti said, “The object of attachment offers me the means of escape from my own emptiness.” This is not to say that you can’t enjoy what you have; true detachment means you can savor those pleasures as long as you don’t rely on them to make you happy or define who you are.

I had this experience nine years ago when my apartment was broken into. I lost my laptop, camera, and lots of jewelry, including a gold charm bracelet I had since I was kid and a pink diamond that belonged to my mother. I was heartbroken. When I told my teacher what had happened, he told me how sorry he was but then he said, “I guess you had a chance to see your attachments.”  From time to time, my ego still feels the emotional pinch of what it lost, even though “I” know they don’t define who “I” am.  My ego needs its props, I don’t. What I lost wasn’t the basis for my happiness.

As I get older, I find that I really don’t need very much to live my life comfortably. My identity relies less on externals these days.  I wonder what it would be like to give up my possessions and rent a furnished apartment. I imagine taking a pair scissors and cutting the cords that tie me to my material life. There is a sense of complete freedom that descends upon my being, as the simplicity of that reality attracts me.  Imagine not being encumbered by the trappings society deems essential? You would have so much less to worry about, since the struggle of keeping what you have disappears. Sounds like a good place to be. I’m not there yet, but someday I hope to be.

Why You Should Never Make New Year’s Resolutions

As soon as the pressure, push, fuss (feel free to add one of your very own adjectives here) of Christmas is over with, everyone starts in with yet another really stressful tradition – the New Year’s resolution.

There are many statistics out there about New Year’s resolutions and many of them show that less than half of these make it to June. So why do we even bother? Why do we feel the need to remake a part of ourselves every year? All that ends up happening is more self-loathing after the inevitable failure results. So, if you’re really into having a great experience of failed expectations then go ahead, make those New Year’s resolutions.

From a non-dualist perspective, the typical New Year’s resolution is like finding a job instead of a career, which is a really bad idea. The focus of awareness is narrow, limited and never satisfying. When we do this, we are telling ourselves that we should be something other than what we are: that we’re not good enough as we are. The social media, flagrant with consumerism, fuels and manipulates these feelings of inadequacy.

What we need to remember is that New Year’s resolutions are based in duality. They put our attention on the ego (personality) and take it away from what is real. The result is that we pour all of our energy into the ‘window dressing’ while losing sight of the truth.

There is a Chinese proverb, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

So relax, toast 2011 with no expectations. If you must make a resolution, make it one of switching your focus off the ego and onto bringing more love into your awareness.

Ego in the Mirror

I’ve been getting slightly addicted to computer chess lately.  When I get stumped, I ask the computer to give me a hint. A voice, distinctly female, chimes in with the suggested move. Sometimes I find myself questioning the move, thinking, ‘What is she getting at?” Notice I said “she.”  Then I wonder if “she” will get offended if I don’t follow “her” advice. Maybe “she’ll” even think that I’m stupid if I don’t.  I am anthropomorphizing this disembodied voice, which for all I know is probably computer generated and therefore not even human.

So what is a human? Just having a voice doesn’t qualify – there has to be body out of which this voice arises.  Then we have to label it – male, female, son, daughter, tall, short, blonde, brunette, stockbroker, lawyer …you get the idea.  I’ve called these labels our ‘false identities.’  And by the way, thinking of yourself as ‘human’ is a label or false identity as well.  So when you look in the mirror and you think you are seeing yourself, what you’re really seeing are all the labels, which constitute your ego.

If what you see in the mirror is merely a reflection of the ego, which is not the real you, then where are you?  A better question would be, “Who are you?”  Let’s first look at what you’re not – the ego. Psychology defines the ego as the personality.  Eastern philosophy describes it as a bundle of karmas packaged in a body we call human.  But the simplest way to spot the ego is to realize that the ego is only concerned with itself. It needs to feel important.  It experiences self-doubt.  It gets offended.  All of its time is spent fulfilling its every whim.  Back in the 1980’s, with the advent of new age thinking, we were urged to extricate ourselves from our egos. There was so much written back then giving us advice on how to tap into our “higher self,” which was described as the better part of ourselves that is not narcissistic or ‘ego-centered.’  Sounds pretty simplistic, which it is, but it was a good start.

Whenever I finish teaching a yoga class I press the palms of my hands together in a prayer position and say “Namaste” to those who shared that time with me. “Namaste” is a Sanskrit greeting, which loosely means, “The best part of me honors the best part of you.”  So is the ‘best’ part of you and me that ‘higher self’?  Yes, but it’s more than that.  It is referencing, trying to connect with, the real you. The real you that is the essence of awareness buried underneath all the layers of false identities called the ego.  You may not be able to see it but it exists all the same.

Here’s a little exercise that might help you see what I mean. Look at yourself in the mirror. Now look into your eyes, all the while thinking about who you really are.  Hold your gaze steady. As you continue to stare into your eyes, you will notice that everything, including your body, and eventually your facial features disappears. But you, the real you, is still there as pure awareness or consciousness. All that is present is the disembodied essence of reality.

The real you has no form.  Which can be quite convenient when you think about it. No more time spent on hair and makeup or worrying about what to wear. No more teeth to brush, and the best….no more weight to lose.  But we will continue to worry about these things because we can only go by what our senses show us. And our senses show us the ego in the mirror. But if we look closely enough we just might catch a glimpse of the formless essence of the Reality that is our true nature.