Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Finding Your Comfortable Middle – and Not Losing It

Doing a lot of juggling?

    In just about every spiritual practice ever known, there comes a time when one needs to develop a kind of ideal focus or contact with a guiding Higher Power; whether it's Love, or Nature, The Universe, or The Divine Feminine – our personal understanding of God, simply put. It's generally a quiet time, a meditative time...but wouldn't it be nice if it were available to us anytime, as an easy tool for day-to-day life on-the-go? Here are some ways we might make it work without any sage-burning "spiritual" hub-bub—not that there's anything wrong with that, just that there isn't always the time...or the sage.

Focus implies a center – a place of concentration right in the middle of our daily agitations; a safe place for our thoughts to return to in those moments of temporary turmoil, especially when life is messing with our sense of well-being. Having that place, that grounding center available can free us from those stressful conditions of judgement, comparison, and pressure that make us feel trapped sometimes. That discomfort can get us stuck in ourselves, having a device that easily centers us in our higher self can instantly free us up.

In Buddhism it's called "The Middle Path," and re-tooled for the demands of our culture it's an approach to life that lives inbetween a self-judgmental path to "perfection"– whose harshness makes real humility impossible, and an over-justified "self-worship" of sorts – whose entitled materialism is too elevated for our own good. In other words, either we are too hard on ourselves and everyone else; or we're self-centeredly "always right," know more than the other guy, and deserve better. Both ends of that scale: "I never get it right" and "I'm the only one who got it right," are outposts of the Ego, and each home to their own kinds of self-centeredness. Neither are actually where most of us live, most of the time.

There's a good way to play those ends against each other, and find a livable center to focus on where we're not constantly seeking redemption, or searching for some unobtainable ideal. A focus that's in a more comfortable, convenient location for most of us because it just requires us to look at one of our favorite central topics, ourselves:

We've all got our flaws, our little defects, and as we move along through life, like it or not, they become more and more obvious. They're not all that harmful, unless they harm others or prevent us from being all that we can really be. I can be stingy. I like to be right all the time. Those are a couple of mine, I'm afraid – but at least I'm aware of them, and that's where this trick has to start, there's the point where you can pick up this handy "centering tool:"

When we find ourselves in a situation where we want to react – which means we're likely to act out on one of our personality flaws like "I'm not going to pay that much" or "This guy doesn't know what he's talking about" – listen to the bell ring! See the red flag! Here's your chance to practice restraint, and find your center ground. You have a choice right at that moment to "act out" or not – but don't do it. Instead, do the old "count to three," and say: Thanks very much, I'm not going there right now. 
 That takes care of the low end, now for the high side – create an ideal goal, like what would the ideal Dad do right now? Or how would Mahatma Gandhi treat this guy? Set the bar high enough so that just reaching for it will pull you out of your funky tendencies (The Funky Tendencies - I loved their first album).

If you're anything like me, you'll find yourself focused in the moment, where you inevitably have a chance to stumble across a little Compassion...and bingo! – there's your center. Then if you set your goal high up around unconditional Love, forgiveness, and service to others – you know, really high – then even when you don't quite reach it, you and everyone around you will be much better off anyways. Right in there you can find an easy grounded center that you can make your new default.

Good Karma isn't the result of a single moment, it's the accumulation of a lot of balanced, easy moments, like you get each time you default yourself to restraint and Compassion. Just like that, you'll see that "ideal place" is found gracefully and gratefully right in the middle of your self – right around the area of your heart. 
 You may never have thought that Good Karma was really a centering song by The Funky Tendencies...

"As long as I am this or that, or have this or that, I am not all things and I have not all things...[when you] neither are nor have either this or that; then you are omnipresent and, being neither this nor that, are all things."
Meister Eckhart

Read about this and much more in: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor  from Llewellyn Worldwide available direct on this page, or online. The first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is available the same ways – but ask for it it at your local bookstore!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Trinity Withinity – Connecting Our Three Main Parts

Have you ever noticed how lots of things have three parts? Like a top, a bottom, and a middle. Or The Three Musketeers. Or Goldilocks? I mean The Three Bears...Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.

Spiritually we see "Trinities" all over the place, like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or The Buddha (Unified Consciousness), The Dharma (the way, or path), and The Sangha (the community). In Hinduism, there are a few versions of it – as deities: Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer); or in categories ranging from the greater Self to the personal self, as Brahman (the All), Atman (the soul), and Asmita (the ego, or "I am this"). Sri Aurobindo called them The Transcendent, The Universal, and The Individual; all of which correlates as Sat (the greater Being), Chit (the vehicle of Awareness), and Ananda (the way to personal Bliss). That last, littlest part is always you, or me, and this experience we have through our human senses—our bodies, our minds, and all too often, our Egos.

In a more scientific sense these three aspects of our relationship to everything can be related to Consciousness (the sensory universe), the Right Brain (parallel processing, or quantum reality), and the Left Brain (serial processing, empirical or egoic reality).
I also think it works pretty well in terms of The Marx Brothers: Groucho (the mind of The Divine), Chico (the link to The Divine), and Harpo (the unconscious expression of the Divine).

"The common name for God used by the sages is HaMakom, "the place." God is the place of the world, the field in which all things arise and return."
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, on The Pirke Avot

When we talk about that top billing as "The Father," of course we're talking about God – The Creator, Omniscience, the Source of Every-thing, all being. Personified, this can be The Big Bearded Guy; Divine Mother; Brahma, etc., and conceptually, it's The Source, Transcendent Unified Consciousness, The Universe, or Brahman – the benevolent power that we know is the responsible for all being. It's a power that we'd like to get to know better (but often have a hard time doing it), under whose protection and care it would always be nice to live. It's the power of the Universe, like it or not. Einstein has a great quote about it:

"The most important decision we have to make is whether we believe in a friendly universe, or in a hostile universe."

Is God friendly? Well, since Life is quite plastic, then it's really up to you and the attitude you bring to Life – so why not? If you have a friendly attitude, you tend to have a friendly God, and vice-versa. It's especially easy if we see The Father/The Transcendent/The Universe, as the overarching power and expression of Love. As Dr. Wayne Dyer used to say: "The way you look at the universe is the way the universe looks at you."

Our biggest problem often comes in finding a comfortable, practical connection to that Source – a two-way street that helps us experience a loving, supportive Universe. That's where the second of our three parts comes in.

With the Christian trinity, while the path to God (the dharma for Buddhists and Hindus) is often proclaimed to be through Jesus, our true intermediary might be better described by "The Holy Ghost" – you know, that Angel on our shoulder; our Spirit Guide or soul connection whose guidance we receive through prayer, and in meditation or contemplation. It's the buffering shepherd through which we find our connection to what Native Americans call "The Great Spirit."
The Quakers refer to it as: "The still,small voice," also known as our "voice of reason." It comes to us as intuition – intelligent thinking without intellect. Thinking from the heart. It arises from a place that's accessible to everyone, the place Yeshua (the Gnostic Jesus) talked about when he said:

"The Kingdom is inside you, and it is outside you."
Logion 3, The Gospel of Thomas

That universal awareness comes when we forget about "who we're supposed to be" in this world of matter (that doesn't really matter); when we quietly and humbly pray for the answer to a hard question (we ask), and then meditate to clear our minds (we get the answer). In short, it's still and always Love.

As a Near-Death survivor, I can tell you that this information could actually be coming to us directly by way of our Angels or Spirit Guides, whispering in our ear from another dimension; but if you don't believe in that and you can still hear them, well, what difference does it make? It's almost always through the process of prayer, meditation, and reflection that we can find this guiding voice, "The Holy Spirit," that affirms the Love and the natural benevolence that Life and the Universe really holds for us.

If we consider it agnostically, with a layman's sense of neuroscience, we could correlate the activity of our Right Brain to the actions of our angels. It occurs in the right hemisphere of our brains (where what might be called parallel processing takes placewhen we realize holistic thought, and experience an understanding of "one-ness" and Being. That's our connection to Source, our link to God Consciousness, Buddha Mind, The Transcendent. This short talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, author of A Stroke of Insight describes it brilliantly. Our Left Brain is where we can get stuck in the material world – the day-to-day serial processing that dictates our rigid Ego-based consciousness. All that exhausting demanding, organizing, judging and comparing is definitely the hardest part of "being me."

But what if I'm not just me, but also the "Son of Man" too! Then right here in this body is where I can try to experience bliss, where I can learn, intuitively, to be authentically my self – our Self. To know what it's like to be the unique expression of Source that I Am – an antenna for sensory collection...a blossoming flower. You've got to really be a human being to experience Christ-ing, moksha, nirvana, samadhi, Heaven, or Unified Consciousness.

All it takes is a little work to make a better connection...

That's us, up from the Earth; The Holy Ghost, down from Heaven; and all alive in Divine Consciousness 

Read about this and much more in: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor  from Llewellyn Worldwide available direct or online. The first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond is available the same ways – but ask for it it at your local bookstore!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 22: Sculpture Time, and An Early Departure

Like Billy Pilgrim, Koko had become unstuck in time.

The skills he'd picked up in the chilly little factory in South San Francisco, welding and flame-cutting, had led him into a rather unusual set of circumstances. Everyday, he drove up Van Ness from the warehouse studio of Albert Nelligan, south of market (before it was "Soma"), to go back to work on the huge skeletal steel sculpture housed in Pier 2 at Fort Mason. He and Sven would open all the western rolling doors, and let the wind flying past the Golden Gate blow the clouds of tight, acrid steel smoke out through the other side. It was cold, but close to the furry sputter of the MIG welder, in a shower of sparks, with his coveralls, leather sleeves, smoldering gloves, and the incessant whining, grinding wheels GREEEEEEEning through his ear protectors, bits of slag popping off his face shield, chunks of molten-edged quarter-inch stock bouncing off his steel-toes, he didn't really notice.

He remembered when he picked up the phone, when Kathleen called him, and he was back in Del Mar again, walking up the hill with her from the little adobe house, past the train station. She was elfin, you could say, slender, slight, languid but pointed, with her straight red hair and the greenest eyes. He felt she'd never been on the level with him. Why had she held back so long? Why was she still holding back? He chalked it up to the age difference–her hesitance for the future. Then she'd coyly sent him north, like she was sending him away to camp.
Now she called to tell him about her ex-boyfriend, the sculptor from Milwaukee, to ask if he wanted out of the factory, so he could try on the glamorous world of Fine Art and high living. She could fix it. Then, suddenly, he was back on the pier, with that ocean wind blowing up his pant leg.

Nelligan was a long, ruddy-faced fellow, with high, tight jeans, and an incongruous cowboy hat. They understandably hadn't hit it off too well, he and the kid being sent to him by his ex-girlfriend, but he gave Koko a job anyway. It was a favor to Kate, as he called her.

 Months passed, there in the cold old pier building the Army had just opened up. There were still old boxes of Army stuff tucked in corners, probably all Top Secret in its day. The fabrication went slowly, just Sven and Koko and a boozy helper or two. Sometimes crazy Roger, the ex-navy engineer, would come in and fix things, but Albert was always out, chasing tail and trying to talk the upper crust out of it's money. Between whatever curious antics he was mixed up in, and Roger's model building, he somehow kept enough money coming in to keep the whole iffy undertaking afloat. It was supposed to culminate in an unveiling out on the bay, spectacularly employing a weather balloon flotilla to gently lift panels from Christo's Running Fence up and off the thirty foot tall sculpture. You had to hand it to Nelligan, he always succeeded in thinking on a grand scale.

About three nights a week it was party time at the warehouse; the hot tub, the fire-man's pole, target practice with a brushed steel Smith & Wesson, a giant neon index finger, twitching up and down, pointing at Nelligan's big brass bed, tearing down the stacked-up wall of champagne cases, a classic cast of ingenues and hangers-on ingenueing and hanging on.
After work (he could have showered with a magnet in place of a bar of soap) Koko spent most of his free time baby-sitting Jean Goldberg, an heiress with a nose jones and a crush on Nelligan, who needed her connections, but no part of her otherwise, so the job fell to Koko to escort her evenings at L'Etoile, secure her patronage, and pilot her fat little MGB GT around Pacific Heights, chasing the next "place to be," wherever that was. He was a twenty year old kid, and he already felt tired.

Then he was out on the water, on the barge that day of the unveiling, the same stiff wind from the west blowing the giant balloons sideways. They all wore the same thing, silly chrome work helmets, and custom-screened tee shirts. Sven climbed up to the top of the massive piece, caught the folding knife Koko tossed him, and cut down the giant fabric panels, revealing the huge, wonky sculpture they'd all given a couple years of their lives to.
The TV news teams lost interest and moved on when the sloppy spectacle hadn't come off as planned, leaving only the little crew and their followers to celebrate the fact that the whole thing hadn't ended up on the bottom of the bay. It was an ignominious unveiling for the happy twelve-ton toy, which sadly, it seemed, no one really wanted.

Suddenly he was much older, in a room alone, and it rose up to him on the internet, weeds growing underneath it, it's cartoon colors covered with whitewash.

Koko'd had enough, took his under-the-table cash, loaded the VW with everything he had in his life, and headed off to art school in Pasadena. Then he watched years zip by, like looking out the window of a time machine. Like watching years tumble by in a dryer. Grace went by, and Pamela, and he was at the tennis match in Forest Hills, being introduced to an "important" woman in front of them, and it was Jean – the crazy heiress who turned around and nearly spit when she saw him. She'd changed her name by marrying a Brazilian polo player, and had done a little something to her face, too. She pretended to barely know him, looking at him like...don't you dare...

It seemed like he'd barely settled into school in Pasadena, but then it must've been longer than he thought. Almost like everything in an entire life had just gone by. He called Kathleen, to tell her about the sculpture ending, that he was coming back to the beach to see her, but her phone had been disconnected. When Koko returned, and right away asked after her, a friend looked startled and said, "How long have you been gone?" 

Suddenly he could see Kathleen's sad, pretty face drifting south, smiling a bit, the dull sparkle...that wistful resignation. It wasn't hesitance. It had never been her hesitance. In an instant he was with her again, just for that last second it took to realize. She'd never told him about the brain cancer that had been in remission, that was her story before they met. She hadn't wanted to upset him when it came burrowing back. "...didn't anyone call you?" His friend asked.

She was only thirty years old, and she always would be, and suddenly Koko was back here again, much, much older than that.

"We are close to waking up when we dream that we are dreaming."

The book, "How To Survive Life (and Death)," is available from Conari Press, or at all major booksellers––but ask for it from your local bookshop.