Thursday, November 6, 2014

Reading and Discussion at Namaste Book Shop

From this three time 'Near Death Experiencer," an introduction and reading of his lively, well-received...

Monday, November 3, 2014

An International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) Interview

"Believe me, it was worth the wait. Reading it reminded me of nothing less that Ram Dass' famous book "Be Here Now," but without all the references to LSD." Lee Witting, International Association of Near Death Studies. 

Listen to Lee's excellent interview, on Talkzone: How To Survive Life And Death, A Guide to Happiness in This World and Beyond, #NDE Radio

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Flocks, Schools, and Spiritual Evolution (It's a Revolution)

Have you ever looked up in the sky and seen a flock of birds in flight, undulating as though they were a single living organism? Separate yet solid. Shifting fluidly, like  living expressions inside of a dynamically divine Lava Lamp.

There's something fascinating going on there that we all recognize from way down in our subliminal cellars clear up to our archetypal attics–a cooperative organization and movement, issuing from an invisible intelligence. Science has its explanations for these orders and arrangements of the natural world, but their explanations are always an effort to frame the miraculous and justify a sense of understanding and control over something that's far more beautiful to witness than it could ever be to explain.

Beneath it all though, lies that unifying intuitive understanding of our basic natural relationship to the Earth; an ever-evolving expression, being eternally expressed. We, like those birds, are doing it too. That's the reason why, even in the face of our impending catastrophe, we have so much hope–because we can always have faith in the fact that our forms are constantly rediscovering and rearranging the Self into a timeless, working whole. (Ours is the only design that isn't intelligent). But bringing the promise of that faith into reality, requires that we follow those natural, intuitive impulses of our own group.

Quantum coherence and emergent self-organization aren't confined to particles or waves, or to anthills either. Nor are they unrelated to 'magic,' or the miraculous–they're just more finely drawn evidence of it. We are all psychically connected at a profound level–at least the level of survival. That comes as no shock, does it? We're sharing enough consciousness to all know that truth. Our being 'entangled' in non-ordinary ways, sharing a 'non-local' source, and joined by an "acausal connecting principle" is obvious in our contracting reality – blossoming into global consciousness through our simultaneous personal realizations. A collective déjà vu of growing intensity. We have had to change this way before.

Those entrancing performances of flocking birds and schooling fish illustrate our own emergent human properties–not just as strategies for survival, but for our physical and spiritual evolution as well. The energy that animates those collective expressions of divine purpose–to move beautifully and harmoniously as one–insists that we now embrace our collective intelligence, and change course.

Occupation movements; the impulse to maintain internet neutrality; personal participation in the power grid; rapidly deepening ecological awareness across the generations are all examples of this movement, which, out of the mainstream, finds its  identity in a kind of modern shamanic mythology that seeks to reconnect us to Mother Earth. In our mainstream culture, it's expressed as the profoundly progressive consciousness that elected the first African-American president, or that embraces the full rights of all sexual orientations. It's a recognition of humanity – grounded in altruism, activism, spiritual evolution, and personal responsibility.

Who leads this flock of birds? Where does the order to form this expression come from? The order to behave sensibly, as birds should; to cohere to the greater energies at play in the Universe, and within each and every individual? Simply put, it's beyond us, and between us. Recognizing it within oneself, and allowing ourselves to belong to the horizontal hierarchy that this undeniable impulse organizes itself within, brings us into balance with our emergent global consciousness, and gives us our true direction. 

"There is a community of the spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of [flying in the noisy flock, and] being the noise...Close both eyes to see with the other eye...Open your hands, if you want to be held...Sit down in this circle."

These emergent qualities we share are finding a rising media voice too–from the comforting spirituality of Oprah, Louise Hay, and Wayne Dyer; to the (more 'serious') science-based ideas of Ray Kurzweil or Bruce Lipton; to the 'in-your-face' progressive moxie of Russell Brand and Daniel Pinchbeck. All of these voices represent our intuitively shifting dynamic, which is totally at odds with the destructive financial elite–stuck in it's cultural amber–that's leading us in a top-down line to global disaster.

What are our means to directly access and join this collective shift? Well, we each carry those means in our willingness to participate with humility and honesty; in the Love alive in our hearts.

Nowhere have I found a guide for following this calling, in a totally practical way, expressed as wonderfully as in the brilliant Ernst Laszlo's "Ten Commandments of a Timely Vision" (from Quantum Shift in the Global Brain, Inner Traditions, 2008). It's a beautifully usable template, which (with apologies to Mr. Laszlo) I'll try to synopsize for the sake of brevity:

1. Live in ways that enable others to live, without detracting from their chances.

2. Live in ways that respect the [absolute] right to life and economic and cultural development of all people.

3. Live in ways that safeguard the intrinsic right to life and a supportive environment.

4. Pursue happiness, freedom, and fulfillment in harmony with nature, and with consideration for others.

5. Require that your government relates to all peoples peacefully, and in a spirit of healthy cooperation.

6. Require your enterprises to accept responsibility for their effect on markets and environments, free from exploitative intentions.

7. Require (or create) the public media to provide reliable information crucial to informed decision-making.

8. Help those less privileged to live a life of dignity.

9. Encourage young and open-minded people to evolve spiritually.

10. Work with like-minded people to to preserve, restore, and maintain the balance of your neighborhood, country, and global biosphere.

Here then is the path–drawn-out–towards the great shift we all know we must take; the practically involuntary course we are already taking towards our survival and spiritual evolution. It's nothing short of the conscious suppression of the destructive values of materialism, and the recognition of all life of the planet as sacred. It isn't just an evolution I'm talking about, but will have to be a revolution of humanity, from the unnecessary waste and despair we experience now, towards its highest order. 

So, for what it's worth (humbly and honestly), I too am following the indescribable urge that's calling for revolution–a recognition of our spiritual nature; and the requirement that a just and humane respect be shown to the Earth and all it's occupants, enforced by whatever means our Intelligent Design determines us to follow...and it's not even my idea at all.

"To the knowing, all of life is a movement towards perfection; so what need have they for the excessive, the extravagant, or the extreme?"
Tao te Ching, 29

Monday, October 6, 2014

An Authenticity Interview!

This recent interview with Slade Suiter at Authenticity Radio, does a great job at giving you an idea of the ideas and possibilities that are in the book. Hope you enjoy:

Friday, September 19, 2014

A How to Survive Life (and Death) NYC Book Event

Join me as I'm hosted by the beautiful Namaste Bookshop, Friday, October 17th, 6:30pm, when I read selections from my unusually fun and philosophical self-help how-to book about living well (and dying well); inspired by a very varied life, my three "near death experiences," and the wisdom of the ages. Thought-provoking selections will be intermingled with a congenial Q&A and conversation, followed by a book signing opportunity. It's your chance to peek behind the curtain with me at some of life's deepest mysteries – in a (seriously) light-hearted way.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Stick With the Love Group – "The Secret" To How It Saves Worlds

If you know me, you know I'm a pretty regular guy. I like baseball, and westerns, and swordfight movies. A big thick seitan steak, hot off the grill. Why, I even spit, occasionally. So why is it that, like some romantic schoolgirl, I always want to talk about Love? Well, it's because of what happened in here (he says, pointing to his heart).

In all of my very varied experiences, even to Hell and back, you might say, I have never, in all of my life, known a force to be even a fraction as powerful as Love. It's absolute. It's all-encompassing. Not only is it:  a) the purposeful power that animates every experience, interest, and expression of value in our lives;  b) the eternal, trans-dimensional quantum field of creation and communication; but it's even  c) the clearest, simplest solution to every misdirected ill and injury ever perpetrated on our planet (and beyond). Not bad, eh?

Think of your life (think of anyones life), and you'll find there isn't an episode of deep significance that wasn't created in the search to express Love – or in the struggle caused by a lack of it. Its presence, or absence is what drives, and has driven, every great accomplishment, and every sad passage in the roller coaster history of humanity. It's the truth of our lives – our families and friendships, art and culture, successful careers, unimaginable feats – all inspired by the search, or scarcity, of Love.
So what does that mean to us, really? It means you can quit overlooking the simple fact that Love is the foundation of everything. You can honestly acknowledge that solid bond in your heart, that unshakeable understanding that everything you do is really a means to find it, express it, experience it. Every encounter is an opportunity to engage, and depend on that energy. You can just start living that way.

"The love that you share is the only thing you need to know. It is the green place from which all good things grow and spread into every part of your life. That is where God lives and constantly cares for you, so that all your worries may disappear."

Do you believe in guardian angels, the spirits of your ancestors, or the Sweet Hereafter? Do you believe that by holding the focus of a dream in your heart, you can bring it into reality in your life? It doesn't matter, really, whether you believe those things or not, they're still real. If you need proof, if you want science, then you could consider the first law of thermodynamics that energy is never lost, it only changes form. That's the energy of your ancestors' spirits, or the energy you put into making your dreams come true (hint: they're the same energy). Love is the source and channel of that creative focus; and the bridge between life and "death."

You can actually talk to your angels and ancestors – extra-dimensionally – but only if you've engaged them via the field of Love. Only if you believe in, and utilize the technology of the heart, that gives us access to that deep channel of communication, flowing through everything. Love provides the pathway to the light, like opening a gate, or like tuning it in, station-to-station. Carefully, too, Love can open the channel into the darkness, where curative mysteries lay suppressed – in which case, it is essential to be thoroughly grounded in Love, and use it as a kind of secure platform, or as a shield.

You can bring whatever you wish for, whatever you imagine, into being through Love – but not in the material way that usually leaps into mind. (There's a secret to "The Secret") You're not necessarily going to receive the obvious spoils of a material life (though they may come too), because you're not writing the story of your external life, you're forming the foundations of your inner life. You won't make a treasure appear by just thinking about it. Your most magical manifestations may not even be in a form you recognize, at first; you will have to get your material expectations out of the way. Listen to this lesson about how to use Love to get what you wish for from Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita, 7:21:

"When a person is devoted to something with complete faith, I unify [their] faith in that. Then, when [their] faith is completely unified, [they] gain the object of [their] devotion. In this way, every desire is fulfilled by me. Those whose understanding is small attain only transient satisfaction…"

Some people love the idea of something they want, then close their eyes, ball their fists, and try to will it into being then resign themselves to disappointment when nothing comes of it. But that's not being devoted with Love. The real secret often lies in what a person already has. Love doesn't give them what they try to will into being, it has already given them the object of their deepest devotion. "The box you've been sitting on for so long actually contains your greatest treasure." Love is always providing purpose, and a deeper sanity and clarity, that empowers us to choose our path to fulfillment, in every moment. 

"None of the means employed...has a sixteenth part of the value of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, which is freedom of the heart, absorbs them all; it glows, it shines, it blazes forth."
                                            The Buddha

And there is the solution to all the troubles of the world! The sanity and clarity that engaging the field of Love gives us, 'hidden' in plain sight, just beneath the layer of self-delusion that seems to be our deepest human [de]fault. In that clear light of Love's sanity, the insane elements of our destructive tendencies are revealed. With great wisdom and directness, Love segregates the 'evils' of willful ego, guiding each and every one of us to the proper actions we may take in our personal, and collective, lives.

For examples of the kind of boundaries Love can set, consider this: It is destructively insane to allow corporate interests to murder the most modestly powerful creatures of the world, pollinators like bees and butterflies; the base of the oceans food-chain, like krill and plankton. Love empowers you, personally, to refuse to allow it.
It is destructively insane to poison the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, when the solution is already viable and attainable. Love empowers you to support that solution, and reject the archaic (and criminal) motivations of a relatively small number of corporate profiteers.
It is insanity to continue to embrace the ignorance that limits our greatest potential – the recognition of our spiritual connection, and responsibility to our planet, and all of our fellow creatures. Love provides us the means to realize our sacred agreement – the dependence we share, and the real contributions we can make to the divine dynamic of this world, and any world we will ever inhabit.

So, when you want to make your dreams come true; or, when times get tough (and they will…), stick with the Love group – those with whom you may share the path of Love – for direction, protection, and your real life's purpose. 

"The deepest wisdom and power that Love can give you, lies in the energy you hold in your heart, and how you project it into your world." 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Look Beneath the Surface (and Watch the Spirit Arise)

"I am ever present to those who have realized me
in every creature. Seeing all life as my manifestation,
they are never separated from me. They worship me
in the hearts of all, and all their actions proceed from me.
Wherever they live, they abide in me."
                   The Bhagavad Gita, 6:30-31

With that somewhat invisible foundation in place, let's consider that it's really the surfaces we look at that create a great many of our world's problems. They insist that by being the "visible" parts of life, they are also the most important parts–the parts we're actually interacting with all the time. But that's not really true, is it? Aren't we seeing, and more importantly feeling, the invisible parts of life, perhaps more deeply, all the time?

You can neither tell a book by it's cover, nor the content of a person's heart from the clothes they wear. It's impossible for our limited vision to see into the whirring masses of sub-atomic particles all dancing inside of our supposedly "solid" world. There is an inwardly exponential relationship of the outsides of everything to their insides, where the real story is told in the many pages beneath the cover.

When we're confronted by surfaces–appearances, behaviors, "final outcomes"–it does us no good to compare our insides to those outward presentations, but only to first consider what we don't know about the insides of each. That's where we may find our real understanding. We've all experienced the illusion of something looking so good on the outside, only to find out that it's really full of pain. (I've picked a lot of chocolates like that...)

"I am the light that shines on everyone
I am the All.
The All came forth from me
and the All came into me.
Split the wood and I am there.
Turn over the stone,
and you will find me."
The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 77

So, it's our ability to witness this occupation by spirit, and it's outward expression (as mysterious as it is miraculous,) that is the most important, truly interactive, and compellingly honest perception we can have–whether we can actually see past the physical surface of something (or someone) or not. When we don't get too wrapped-up with surface appearances, we can see that remarkable relationship pretty plainly...but we have to relax and allow ourselves to. So try this sometimes – pay as little attention to the surface of things as possible. Practice looking into it (intuit)and try to witness the spirit arising from within things and people, as often as possible. Like everything that's worth getting good at, it takes practice.

"To God belongs the East and the West;
and wherever you turn,
there is the face of God."
The Qu'ran, Surah 2

These quotes from ancient wisdom sources really say the same thing, don't they? We display a kind of silly ignorance when we rely on visible affirmations–on outside appearances–when we know that every surface changes, and that it's the mystery within that remains Eternal. Everything we witness with our minds, and our eyes, and our hearts, is actually just more proof of our shared elemental composition; the substance of our Source, and our ineffable connection to each other and every living thing. It's all the real "face of God."
So, it's just a matter of our perception, and allowing ourselves to look beneath the surface of things by looking with a vision that's free of judgment and comparison– that's the only way to be more fully, more realistically, engaged by our compassion, identifying with the insides, instead of the outsides. Heres a quote, from a wonderful egghead, that tells us the same thing:

"A human being is part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
Albert Einstein

And this last natural note – did you know that bald eagles have naturally "polarized" vision? They can see right past the surface reflections, past the glare, into the river, at all the fish swimming by. Life looks like a parade of candy bars to them. They sit, fully and appropriately engaged, and, once they've learned the proper technique, they swoop down and snatch up the bounty of life, whenever they want.

                 "The disciples asked him:
'When will the Kingdom come?'
Yeshua answered:
It will not come by watching for it...
The spread out over the whole earth,
and people do not have eyes to see it."
The Gospel of Thomas, Logion 113

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fear Is Like A Giant Multi-Legged Caterpillar

This "Mechapillar" from Codename: Kids Next Door will have to do...

"Fear is a giant, ugly caterpillar that just wants to eat the grass you're hiding behind."

Why would anyone ever say such a thing, unless they were launching into hyperbolic metaphor?

It's out there, rooting around your wild perimeter, slowly tracking you down on a hundred disturbing little legs. Yep, it's fear again, though it may be dressed in some new form, like a giant multi-legged insect, an impossible deadline, or the potential discovery of one of your closely guarded secrets.
You hunker down in the grass, pressing dirt into your knees, and almost stop breathing. Perhaps it will move away, maybe pass right by you. But no, inevitably the huge waxy leaves part, and there it is! A screaming caterpillar the size of a brownstone (an apartment house east of The Rockies), waving it's creepy multitudinous arms, twitching it's bug jaws like a Cronenberg movie, and worst of all, it knows right where you're hiding!
Things look awful bad, as it raises up on it's haunches, haunches, haunches, etc., coiling itself like a cobra about to strike...and here it comes - right at you, it's pinchy jaws bearing down around you! THIS IS IT! IT'S, IT'S ...wait a stops just before it actually does any harm to you, and gently and fastidiously, begins munch munch munching all the grass around you, until you're just hunkered down, completely exposed, and completely safe. Then it happily whirrs away, leaving you standing up again, brushing the dirt off your kneecaps.

That grass will grow back you know. You'll want to hide in it again, like so many times before. But notice how good it feels to be out in the open. Honesty is a real, powerful action to take, that will deliver you to freedom you've never imagined possible before. You're fine. It wasn't real. It just had to reveal to you what you can be.
I always like to say that unless a bear is chasing you, fear isn't real. That works for tigers, and crocodiles too–God bless 'em.

And as for what you can be, the caterpillar thing works that way too. After it eats enough, it latches onto a suitable branch and forms achrysalis around itself. Inside that bag, it turns into a chaotic mush, a complete chemical deconstruction that doesn't seem to know what it's going to be, until order begins to return, and inside it's new form finally takes shape. I know what that feels like. Everyone probably does. That confusion before it realizes what it can become...and then... 

Schmetterling, in German. Choucho, in Japanese. Mariposa, in Spanish.
A Butterfly for you.

This blog is a revisitation of a favorite topic, seen in it's original form four years ago. The book, How to Survive Life (and Death) is available at all major (ask for it at your local bookstore) booksellers.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Mystical Way to Diet: How Swamis Stay so Slim

Do swamis like blueberry cheese croissants? I don't know, but I do. I suppose a swami will eat the occasional danish, but certainly never two in one sitting. That's probably how they stay so slim and trim. You rarely see an oversized swami. So what is it swamis know that apparently prevents overeating from becoming an issue? Is it "being one with everything" that keeps them so fit? Well, it couldn't hurt. We all know that our attitude–what we're thinking and feeling–has a great deal to do with what and how (or how often) we eat.

From The Bible to the Buddha, "what a person thinks, so they become," naturally makes real sense to everyone. Natural. Real. Sense. Let me take those three in reverse order, and backtrack on that slender swami's inner path to a slim, spiritually sexy exterior. 

If I become what I think, then if what I'm thinking about is eating both of those blueberry cheese danishes, I just may gain weight. It's a good thing my total powers of discernment don't rely entirely on what spontaneously pops up in my mind, as a result of what my senses want. Because my senses usually want a second danish.
Fortunately, we're all connected to a kind of reservoir of shared wisdom and intelligence, what we may commonly call "common sense."  My common sense tells me that I don't need the extra calories from a second danish, that one is enough for now. You see, I don't really have a weight problem, I have a wait problem. A swami, sitting in meditation, develops that healthy space in their thought process, where they can discern between their common sense and their sudden, sensory desires. When I take a minute, I realized that there are probably plenty more blueberry danishes in my future (I hope).

My spontaneous, reactive mind usually responds to my senses (and stresses), and what they demand at any given moment–predictably a demand for some kind of gratification. For something that's going to make me feel a little bit at-one-with-everything, even if it's just for one little moment of relief. Swamis talk about "withdrawing the mind from the sensory world," especially important when dealing with these potential spontaneous lapses in judgement. They compare our senses to a team of horses that can suddenly pull our thinking in a dangerous direction, if we're not minding the team–a discipline commonly called mindfulness.
We've all had hard lessons taught to us this way, lessons about overdoing it that we may have ignored and had to keep repeating. Like binges, hangovers, and regrets. Finishing the whole pie and not fitting into our jeans; or having one more margarita "to take the edge off," and waking up next to Godzilla (God bless 'im).

Swamis read the Bhagavad Gita, which is a great story where God is your chariot driver, and tells you how the world works (he also has a pretty good idea of how hard the horses have to work to pull you around).  Listen to this amazing breakdown of how we continue to do things against our own self-interests:

"When you keep thinking about sense-objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds your judgement, and you can no longer learn from past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between what is wise and what is unwise...when you move amidst the world of sense, free from live in the wisdom of the self."
Bhagavad Gita, 2:62–65

That describes the process pretty well for me. I know I want the second pastry. Then, for some reason, I suddenly decide that it's something I need, something I deserve to have. So I eat it, and immediately become angry with myself for eating it; which causes me to carry around that unresolved agitation, creating the perfect conditions for that sensory demand to repeat the whole process over the next time. 
What I really need to do is to healthily disengage from my senses–to lose my senses (in a good way), and just listen to my common sense. Then our common sense can tell us how to properly, consciously practice eating. Eating slowly. Chewing food well. Thinking about the food we're enjoying, not about other things that excite or agitate us. It gives us the space in our meal to appreciate what we're eating, and to notice when we've had enough.

The "real" part is about self-honesty. It's about recognizing what is really at work in our personal world. We have to become willing to admit that there's some reason we want to eat more than we need to, or to eat things that we don't need to be eating. Swamis know how to deal with that.
If there seems to be a deeper, underlying pathology at work within our desire to eat badly, or too much (or both), we need to allow ourselves to become aware of it. We need to strip ourselves right down to the place where the truth is staring us right in the face. Then, we can educate ourselves about it, and find the way that has worked for others who have suffered from that same agitation. Our slender swami would have us meditate on that, too, to slowly and surely smooth it over. To heal the hurt that keeps demanding to be fed.

Honesty, which is the fundamental starting point for any change for the better, leads us to confront another glaring dietary disaster that many of us skate right over, which is this: It is self-destructive to eat the flesh of dead animals. Modern medical science tells us that it's not good for us to eat too much (if any) meat–particularly meat that's a "product" of the modern science of corporate animal husbandry. In the mystic's sense, animals are our brothers and sisters in shared consciousness, so eating their cadavers is self destructive in the same way that cannibalism intuitively is. If you're okay with cannibalism, then usually, somebody calls the police. It's much healthier to do no harm.
Swamis have "sacred cows," that they would never dream of harming. They know that killing the cow will kill the children's milk–not to mention killing the cheese for the pizza (swamis do eat pizza, but only with whole grain crusts, and no more than two slices at a time). They know that the meat of the dead cow cobs up their energetic system; throws them out of whack. It leads to weight gain and physical and spiritual disease. 
If they must eat animal protein to survive, and they have a spiritual arrangement with the animal being sacrificed to their survival, then that is a different story–but it's not our story. So your slender swamis, for the most part, don't eat meat (...and really very little cheese). And if you think about it, you rarely see an overweight vegetarian.

The natural part of a slimming, swamis diet is pure common sense, which tells us that fresh plant protein, raw foods, whole grains, all-organic products, and homestyle preparation–with Love–are always the way to go. Swamis call these sattvic foods. Think of what the family of your heart would want for you, and your health and appearance. Calming, healthful, nutritious foods. The only family that profit-driven corporate industrial food producers bring to mind is what Orwell would call Big Brother.
Industrially prepared foods are tested on people like so many caged rats, to determine precisely what agitates and excites them to eat impulsively. Processed, packaged, sugary, white flour–a swami skips all that stuff. Sweet, gooey, deep-fried– those empty, addictive grab bites aren't even really food. They're something else–like a drug. And speaking of drugs, alcohol is nothing but lots of empty calories, organ damage, and potential regrets. Slim swamis don't drink alcohol, in fact they stay clear of anything that will possibly undermine their common sense; their voice of reason. 

Your diet swami would always ask you to take a moment to meditate on what you would put into your body, after all, "you are what you eat." In fact, your diet swami would have you meditate on everything, regularly, because meditation brings us the balance that makes our inner wisdom possible and prevalent. That balance is what it's all about – in our life, as well as in how we look and feel. Be sensible and honest about it to yourself, because it doesn't take a swami to tell you this simple truth: Your insides will always become your outsides.

Now, I'll try to look a little more like just one blueberry cheese croissant.

The book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness in This World and Beyond, is now available.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

You Are a Spiritual Donut (Who Wants to Be a "Whole")

Have you ever thought of yourself as a donut? Hmmm, not really...though there have been times when I wanted to eat enough of them to possibly become one myself. I'd like to become a pizza too, occasionally. Becoming a pizza won't do much for you, but becoming a donut, just for a little while, can be instructive – as crazy as it may sound.

Here's how it works: A donut is a mix of elements that generally takes one of a few different, but similar forms. It arrives at its structure through a difficult transformational process. Usually, it gets fried. Constituted of fairly predictable ingredients, surrounded by The Universe, it features a small space in it's middle that contains another little piece of The Universe. A hole. Nothing (or "emptiness," the Buddhists may say), surrounded by more donut.

If you look at the diagram above, you'll see how we're a bit like donuts ourselves. Our outsides, where the glazing is, is our physical interface to the world – our sensory selves. Sticky and delicious. Sticky and unpleasant (with uncomfortable stuff sticking to us). There's everything we feel and sense: hot, cold, pleasure, pain; arising unexpected waves of intense sensation, torporous states of inexplicable numbness; bitter and sweet; an erupting giggle, or a fit of uncontrollable sobbing; some coming from without, some coming from within.
Our sensory selves are our human covering. Our senses. The feelings that arise and dissolve; the physical joys of being human, and the source of our unwanted pains. It's very seductive, even addictive at times. It can also all be rather relentlessly brutal on occasion. But by themselves, these sensations and reactions are not completely, not actually, who we really are.

The inner ingredients of our personal donut consist, in part, of thoughts – like who we think we are, and how we see ourselves in relation to the surrounding Universe. What do I look like? What do I do? How much money I have. Whether I see myself as a success or a failure. Whether I'm happy or not. "T'is the stuff dreams are made of," because an awful lot of it just simply isn't real. It only looks that way to us, maybe not even to anyone else.
It's hard to get perspective on this part of ourselves, probably because our ego mind tends to make us feel so separate, self-contained, and unique – despite the fact that our donut is made from the exact same ingredients as everyone else, arranged in slightly different ways, and is always changing. If we identify ourselves with this "separate," ever-changing, often imaginary self-portrait, filled with inaccurate judgments and comparisons about ourselves and others, the result can be painfully over-indulgent, and lead to  discomfort and "dis-ease."

Did you know that the rich, handsome, successful actor Cary Grant was really a donut? He was heard talking to someone, confessing his profound insecurities, and when the man said, "you don't have anything to worry about, you're Cary Grant!" The actor replied, "I wish I were."

"To identify consciousness with that which merely reflects consciousness – this is egoism."
Patanjali, Yoga Sutras, II. 6.

Our ego keeps wanting us to somehow control The Universe, not to just be a part of it, and in doing so, demands the constant judgments, inventories, and evaluations that further separate and disconnect us from that truth that lies right in our very center, in that eternally grace-filled and easy space that also happens to be made of the same stuff that surrounds us. I'll just call it Love – our authentic Source.
So, in the diagram, I've made that hole in our middle heart-shaped because that's where The Universe, Grace, "God," lives in us, and how it is connected to us. That's who we really are.

Since that's where our Universal Consciousness, our "God Consciousness" lives, when we can unify that  space within with that unifying space that's all around us, we'll become both "hole," and whole. Our donut, and all the misperceptions of "who we really are supposed to be" begin to dissolve, and life becomes much easier and more comfortable as we become the Grace that we're truly meant to live within, and that lives already within us. There's not much there...but there's everything there too.

Besides, we don't really want to be a donut...maybe just the whole in the middle.

My book, How to Survive Life (and Death), is available now from Conari Press, at all the majors, and please ask for it at your neighborhood bookstore!

A slightly different version of this piece was originally published July, 2011

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reading Between the Lines!

As a longtime designer I've designed my first book with something very different in mind. It's about life, and death, and how to "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," and come out ahead – even through life's most difficult passages. Check out this kind and concise review by the principal reviewer for Bookshelf Awareness (Thank you, Kathleen!)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Riding The Big Blue Avatar

You don't see many blue people around. Or on the other hand, maybe you see a lot of them. The blue people, who actually are blue, mostly live in one of our imaginary worlds, like the cat people in the movie Avatar. Or the shapely, shape-shifting mu-tant in the X-Men movies. The Blue Man Group, or Smurfs!
 All the other blue people we see, the ones who just feel blue, usually feel that way because their minds have been cast into some sort of sadness. Such is Life.  

There is another well-known blue man, probably the original, and that's the Hindu deity Krishnaan incarnation of the spiritual preserver and sustainer of our Universe, Vishnu. He is God as an avatara (the origin of the movie's title), in human, albeit blue human, form. In the amazing Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna appears on Earth as the chariot driver of a confused warrior, and takes the opportunity to instruct the poor fellow about how to best occupy his human form in this life. He simply teaches him all about life. It's like having God as your cab driver in New York City.

Sporting a beautiful blue body is obviously unusual, which is no doubt why Krishna picked it. It's quite likely that you'll pay very close attention to everything that comes out of a beautiful blue persons mouth. The first, and most obvious point it makes is that our bodies are simply vehicles that can be colored differently, like cars. And Krishna is very clear when he talks about our relationship to our bodies:

"The body is mortal, but he who dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable."   Bhagavad Gita 2:18

"As a man abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.
The Self cannot be pierced by weapons or burned by fire...cannot be made wet or dry. It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundation of eternity."  
BG 2:23-25

So we are really just the rider, and as we occupy these different bodies, we begin to learn the things we can only learn by living in this particular human form. I like to think of it like this: when I see a middle-aged asian guy, for example, I try to think to myself, "There's one of us – in that form." When I see a freckled, red-headed teenage girl, I think, "There's one of us – in that form." And when I see myself in the mirror, I think, "There's one of us (that happens to be me) – in that form." Sometimes, that's what makes me a little blue. Sometimes it's an easy ride, sometimes not.

Listen up, because here's what's so important about all this. It means that we are a race of energy beings assigned to living in these human bodies, surrounded by a world of changing forms. We are truly one race, with or without the bodiesthat's why human racial distinctions are so antithetical to our truest natures, but are also so necessary for pointing out our shared underlying reality.

It sounds a lot like science fiction, doesn't it? Well, that's one of the big problems with our limited human perception. We tend to want to think of it in terms of science fiction, because that's the funny, "self-protective" twist our body/minds use to label the spiritual facts of our unusual existence. Within our truest self – our shared being – of course we know it's true. Even "skeptics" know it. If any one of us has realized this, there's a very good chance that everyone may realize it too.

I know because I'm a person who's had multiple near-death exper-iences that eliminated whatever choice I had. It usually takes something to help you get it, just listening to an imaginary blue guy may not be enough. You can gain some real understanding through deep meditations, or by taking the testimony of certain teachers to heart. You may also tell it's true by the simple fact that your inner spirit – your inner experience of life– never changes all that much, while if you're anything like me, your body keeps changing whether you want it to or not.

If our spirit is animating our changing body, then what, exactly, is our mind? Generally, I think it's what I think with, but body-wise it's really my brain that's doing that. My thinking organ. My mind seems to live in three different ways: The part where I learn and apply knowledge – my "rational intellect." Observing, comparing, labeling, analyzing, planning…all that. Then, there's a reactive, much less rational part which is unfortunately often fearful and opinionated. That's the part we usually call ego  our kind of fussy (sometimes neurotic) interface with Life. Hindu yogis call these aspects of mind "chitta." They function in the realm of the seen and known.

But then there's that third way my mind works – as all the things I know but have never had to learn. Everything I just know. That's a deeper kind of shared, instinctual mind an intelligence that doesn't change, and accepts life in what ever form it takes,  without labeling or judging. This part of my mind just is. I don't make it up or change it, I access it. Yogis call this "purusha." Where the mind functions in the psychic realm of the spirit. What's largely unseen, but very deeply known and felt. 

This more shared, less individual, form of intelligence can be difficult to recognize because it's so natural, so unconscious. How do I even know how to walk and talk? Or when I'm going to laugh? Or what is really to be feared (and what will probably be okay)? We all share all that rather critical information, that "common sense," without really having to think about. It doesn't matter whether we're yellow, or red, or blue.

 Now notice the similarity, even the simultaneity of our shared mind and all it's little parts, like say, the next time you're standing in a slow-moving line at a bank or in a store. If you could hear the thoughts of each person in line, it would sound like a chorus of complaints in unison. First the rational intellect: If they opened another window, they could take care of all of us in a much more efficient manner. Then, there's the ego: Doesn't anyone here know what the hell they're doing? I can't wait in this line all day!  Then there's our shared mind, our "common sense:" I'm either going to do this now, or some other time, and now is the only time things actually happen.

While the first two "personal" forms of mind lead us to believe we are in control, the third, shared form, is evidence of a much deeper reality where, as Joseph Campbell put it: "We don't live life, life lives us." 

Then there's this too – we are subject to the ways of the world, which, like each of us, is comprised of all its parts, demanding, contributing, reflecting. It's another even greater body/mind in which we all share – the mind and body of our planet and it's inherent cumulative intelligence. Its life. You may have heard it called "Gaia."

Astrologers recognize this form of the spiritual occupation of the planets, and the greater life of the cosmos. By spiritual fact – not by science fiction – we are a part of that greater shared intelligence, expressed by what we, as riders, demand from, and contribute to, the body and mind of the living Earth. Sometimes it's an easy ride. Sometimes not. We learn what we can only learn by riding on our planet – and it doesn't matter if our planet is yellow, like Venus; or red, like Mars. Or, like the body/mind of our Earth, if it's blue too.

"In this world there are two orders of being: the perishable, separate creature and the changeless spirit. But beyond these there is another, the supreme Self, the eternal Lord, who enters into the entire cosmos and supports it from within."
The Bhagavad Gita, 15:16,17

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Neuroscientists' Map of Heaven

Recently, I was being interviewed about my three Near Death Experiences and the spiritual realizations that grew from them. The interviewer asked me if there was any scientific support for my views, or if my assertions were "just a matter of opinion."  But all profound spiritual experience is a matter of opinion. There is no proof I could give her, other than to show her what's in my heart. What has happened for me. 

For that variety of spiritual skeptic devoted to "proof" – to results of the scientific method – profound spiritual experiences always present an intriguing problem: finding a provable explanation for mysterious, personal phenomena. When one has predetermined that any extra-dimensional cause, or “magical” explanation is impossible, the problem is how to simply reveal the source of the phenomenon by applying scientific methodology. Like flicking on the lights on at a fraudulent séance. 
These days, the favorite way to conduct that search comes through "mapping" the human brain, whose incredibly complex workings are currently being captured and cataloged by ever-expanding artificial intelligence. Since there's so much going on inside of our brains, naturally the paranormal – even "The Divine" – has simply got to be in there somewhere too.
The idea that there's a spiritual part of the brain, an area where cellular electro-chemical activities generate sensations of unity and transcendence (neurotheology) isn't really new, but thanks to advances in brain-mapping, it's been getting a lot more airplay lately. Locating and documenting the "God Part" of the brain could provide a tidy explanation for the persistent belief that an external, or even cumulative, intelligence is at work in the world. It could decisively debunk all the claims of transpersonal, extra-dimensional spiritual experiences, like those made by the growing ranks of near death survivors, and other such witnesses of the sublime. 
After all, even we mystics and navel-gazers ourselves suggest that it’s an inward path to spiritual realization, so doesn't it just make scientific sense that divine experience doesn’t originate from without, but from somewhere within – within the circuitry of our brains, that is?

The real problem is that every direction you look in turns magical pretty quickly. Looking outside of our brains, we’re immediately assailed by the totally incomprehensible domain of our very being. That darn infinite cosmos. First, there's the fabric of Time/Space, loaded with the galaxies and question marks that we see when we look into the night sky. Then, there's the limitless sub-atomic universe, described by the ridiculously magical – yet scientifically reliable – quantum mechanics. In both cases, Science's very best explanations are at best conditional, and otherwise reliably subject to change.

In our larger, avowedly "magical" context, mapping the mysterious processes within our brain may someday function to demonstrate how the neural pathways of the brain work, but not necessarily what the brain may actually be capable of doing. It's a bit like capturing lightning in a bottle.There's a whole lot more to it than just how it works.  

It seems to me that the real questions posed by the neuroscientific skeptics are: How are all of our sensory – and "extra-sensory" – expe-riences explained by the idea that each of our brains is independently conscious? Are our brains exclusively the generators of everything we perceive (including "God") – or aren't they quite possibly receivers, and projectors too? The answers to those questions almost seem obvious.  

Naturally, there's a part of my brain that experiences spiritual sensations. There's a part of it that experiences heat and cold and hunger and heartbreak, too. There's a degree to which all sensations are received, and generated, and projected out into my life (and yours sometimes) by me, and my little ol’ eight pound brain. And the same is true for you too. That’s how we process this life, whether our “reality” reaches us from the outside, or grows out of the many ways we create it ourselves, utilizing these clunky (but elegant) vehicles we run around in. (No wonder they're so expensive to maintain.) 

No scientist worth his salt would suggest that temperature only exists because my brain tells me it does, though how sensitive I am to it, or how much of it I generate myself can vary quite a bit. The same holds true for the experience of profound spiritual realizations. The reality of spiritual awareness, consciousness, and extra-dimensionality is, no doubt, realized in the part of our brain that takes care of all that for us. Why wouldn’t it be? We’re only human, after all.

For thousands of years, we have been describing spiritual experiences of an extra-dimensional nature with far more solidarity and consistency than the scientific community has managed to muster in its comparatively brief life. And  even the proposition that there's an individual, brain-centered experience of the spiritual, that manifests a kind of spiritual mass delusion throughout humanity, suggests the participation in a shared field of consciousness  the conceptual lightning that quantum mechanics let out of the bottle long ago.

And what of the human heart? Can we map that as well? Studies now demonstrate conclusively that the heart, with cellular similarities to the brain, serves a cognitive function, at times controlling intellectual judgment, as well as emotion. 

Feelings of sublime connectedness, the generation of Love, and our compassionate impulses are all processed by a mixture of mind and heart. So, too, those deep, transformative realizations of a spiritual reality, most convincingly testified to by meditators and trauma survivors (including near death experiencers). But as usual, the people who have the most trouble “scientifically” squaring these kinds of testimonials with their own expectations are those who may never have had such profoundly spiritual experiences themselves. Once they do, they usually change their tunes in pretty short order.

While we don’t seem to be evolving much physically these days, we unquestionably are spiritually. The internet, synchronicity (a connecting principle without cause, according to Jung), measurable instances of global consciousness, spiritual realization of all sorts on a mass scale (not just on Oprah), as well as the incredible potential revealed by mapping the human brain, all point to an increasing awareness that demonstrates this evolution. 

Like the evolution of those parts of our brains that have allowed us to process logical thought, vision, communication, creativity, and cooperative effort, our brains –and hearts– are evolving to process our growing spiritual potential. We’re not just simply generating spiritual sensation, we’re becoming more and more capable of observing, receiving, and projecting spiritual energy through our shared field of consciousness.

I hope the skeptics discover what we believers found “within” a long time ago – namely serenity, compassion, and the deep understanding of the nature of our absolute unity. And that maybe, Love is a kind of quantum field itself.

The book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is now available everywhere.