Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Nice Way to Do the Holidays: Having Fun and Changing Your World

Summer, Winter.....................................................................................Happy Holidays!

"None of the means employed to acquire religious merit...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, Itivuttaka Sutta

That's quite a precise break-down of the power of being nice, don't you think? I wonder how he knew? I tried it out myself at one time and I never looked back, so I'll pass it along to you as something of a challenge: The challenge to be as nice as you possibly can to everybody you meet. It's kind of a tall order, but not impossible, and can help quite a lot at this time of year – what with all the demands on your holiday cheer.

Of course The Buddha knew the difference between being religious and being spiritual – that it's a little like comparing apples to water. Going to church defines you as being a type of believer, while showing loving-kindness to everyone you meet gets right to the heart of the distinction, namely:

You're not what you believe, you're what you do.

Take this little challenge and try it yourself, from now through the holidays, and watch what happens! You'll suddenly find yourself a part of a slightly invisible conspiracy of kindness; of identification and compassion. Friends you never knew you had will show up ev-erywhere, and then disappear just as beautifully and mysteriously; leaving you with only the one requirement – to continue the chain of kindness.

First you'll be amazed, then you'll wonder, then you'll experiment more intentionally, then you might never go back. It's that powerfully amazing. It will change your world that much. You can't help but be grateful for the wonderful way people treat you when you show them unconditional loving-kindness, and you'll find you're happy all the time, because you have to have gratitude before you can be happy about anything.

How does it work so well (sixteen times better...)? Simply because being kind to others takes the focus off of who Your Ego ("Mr. Big Shot") thinks you are, and places it on someone else's well-being – which as it turns out is really yours too. And it's easy to show unconditional Love all the time, because Love is all unconditional already – it only becomes conditional when Ego begins demanding it. What a kvetch.

We all want Love and companionship. Compañero. We're all the same person, really. "No we're not!" your Ego says, "I'm not at all like Dick Cheney!" (–God Bless 'im). Well, I hope that's true, and you may have a bit of a point after all... should everyone get the same lovingly kind treatment, no matter what? Well, dammit, ideally yes they should (now that's "tough love"). But if that level of unconditionality is im-possible, then let's look for a rule of thumb to go by:

"Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked."

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, 1.33

So three out of four ain't bad. Just don't pay no mind to Mr. Cheney. Better yet, see if you can find some Love in your heart for him, because that's how we're all evolving. We're all becoming more and more able to share in the medium of Love that actually lives under, around, and through us. It's the solution that staring us in the face all the time. Gratitude and compassion are the doors to realizing it in every moment; and when we're kind to everyone we meet, all the time, we're open to the force of evolution that's flooding our plane of existence. We're opening the gates to it ourselves – each one of us.

"Heaven arms with Compassion those whom it would not see destroyed"

The Tao te Ch'ing, 67

Kindness is a winning strategy. There's lots of people out there who've already known it all along, you know, those smarties who are always smiling. Compassion doesn't save them from physical destruction – it enables them to find spiritual realization. To remove the obstacles to Love, and so to really expand and grow and flow with Life. Ho ho ho!

Take my holiday challenge, won't you? Turn your frown upside down and look into the nicest mirror you've ever seen...You might never look back.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 25: Finding Grace at Art Center– Departure

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."
Soren Kierkegaard

Could it be his Uncle Jimmy was right, and we're all born with everything already intact, like "acorns" waiting to open and unfold into whatever kind of tree we'll be? Maybe so, because from the first day at the new school, things began to happen like they do, like the whole progression had been charted out, and he was simply showing up to play his part.

There he sat in the student cafeteria with the rest of the new students at Art Center's Orientation Day, listening to the school's dour-faced administrator, Midge Quinelle, describe how difficult their course of art education would be. It seems the administration expected, in fact encouraged as high a rate of attrition as possible. Many students would find they didn't fit in at Art Center – that they "simply couldn't cut it," and so be it – it was a necessarily efficient means of dispensing with the undeserving. The flashing would have to be trimmed off the prime casting before they could buff it to a high luster, and stamp it's bottom as an Art Center product.
It didn't bother him much, he didn't intend to be drummed out or lost overboard, but it did seem an inauspicious way to launch their fresh-faced careers. He doubted that whether a student "deserved" to be at Art Center or not would have much bearing on whether their tuition check got cashed. At that time it seemed a strangely antagonistic, and somewhat chaotic place.
At the break, the new students and some faculty congregated out back, on the big patio terrace with a perpetually hazy view of Pasadena, munching on crudités, and sipping seltzer – that new kind that came in blue glass bottles. He stood above by the railing, watching the crowd of his mostly doomed schoolmates schmoozing, forming early friendships and allegiances; cozying up to the teachers and department heads. The upscale kids mixed easily as though their success had been guaranteed, because strangely enough it had been, due to the politics and pay-offs common to their class. Many of them already had jobs awaiting with top agencies and the like, which was as it should be – their's was the art of the pre-existing, not of the as-yet-to-be-discovered. Kids who'd got there by the seat of their pants milled about hungrily on the edges, as did the uneasy Asians, struggling with English as a Second Language.

He walked down and grabbed a blue bottle and a cocktail paper plate of cut carrots and cucumber, and something caught his eye. The crowd opened up as though they were moved out of the way stage left and right on rolling risers, and there, alone on a concrete bench, sat a beautiful girl, her face a little bit twisted by tears. Heroic codependence swelled up in his chest. He suddenly had a purpose greater than simply engaging in the self-serving chit-chat.

He went and sat with her and asked why she was crying, but she didn't know really, it was just nerves perhaps. He put a carrot up his nose and she laughed. It was dumb, but it worked. He told her about the funny house he lived in, and the bar-b-que joint down the street, Gus's, that had neon chickens and pigs running down the side of their sign – and a Chef Pig on the menu, serving himself on a platter. With what he imagined to be the proper measure of jaunty suggestiveness, he asked her if she "would like to join his pork club?" To which she replied, "That depends on how many members there are in it" – and that about did it. That's how they met and fell in love.

The school was difficult, not because of the course load, but because of the unusually unnecessary rigidity of the the people who ran it – mostly Mormons as it turned out – insecure people whose moral foundation is knowingly built on a premise so bereft of credibility that their justification of faith and purpose must be willfully shifted to something more substantial, like commercial acknowledgment, financial success, or the canonical Jesus. They seemed to be confused about what an art school should be. No human expression was permitted on the polished concrete walls. No risky or possibly "avant garde" projects ever needed to be encouraged. Illustration and Fine Art majors required no up-to-date equipment – that was for the product designers and ad people only.
He had some good teachers who helped him see new horizons; and others who taught him more of what he had already learned in his life up to that point; but little of the good or bad of it mattered much at all when viewed through love-struck eyes. Like always, school was what you brought to it.

The two became one of the first fast and happy couples at school, which was fine, because everyone could see how well-suited they were; and it didn't seem to effect their work badly at all. She saved him from his crazy hot dusty attic, and brought him to live with her in the cozy little apartment with a pool that her father had arranged for her. And so, as in those golden-tinged dreams of youthful love anew, they ventured down the pre-ordained path that led to ten years of adventure and marriage and travel and struggle and eventually, as is so often the case with stories of the sort, emotional disaster, heartbreak, and loss.

The lessons of the hard school were stored and utilized – the endurance and the hurt. Their lives pulled them apart by the very seams that were so obviously visible when they first met that day on the concrete bench. But this isn't the story of how Grace was lost. It is – like it might always turn out to be – the story of how Grace was found at Art Center.

Read about concepts like these 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 at your local bookstore!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I've Been Dying to Find Out What I Am

...............................................................a little bit like a prisoner, you could say

When I was in my twenties I was in a single-car accident and suddenly found myself at the top of a telephone pole next to a street light, looking down at my lifeless body hanging out of a wrecked car. I spent almost an entire day in good company, transported somewhere other than here. 

In my thirties, as a result of an altogether inappropriate lifestyle, I again ended up on the ground with the life draining out of me. I was enveloped in a bright white cloud, and caringly shown pivotal scenes from my life to that point.

During both of these experiences I felt completely free, at ease, weightless, and utterly comfortable and serene...and I was me, only I don't remember having a body.

Then, when I was forty, a skinhead mistakenly unleashed his homophobic rage at me on a city street. I fought back, but was knocked unconscious from behind and stomped and kicked "to death" by his gang of fellow neo-nazis. Ouch. That time I went to a dark place, but struggled to stay there, wanting to find that peace and light again, only to be forced back into this life against my will – the sense was that I hadn't gotten it right yet. I think it was in order to tell you what I learned from these three "NDEs" so maybe you won't have to find out in the (painful) way I did...because you don't want to try this at home.

My will didn't account for much beyond this life. Will is a function of being human the sense that we need something to happen a certain way; that we can make it happen for us; that we can control the outcome of things. Sometimes we can. We can set our goals and work towards them, and manifest our wishes for ourselves; but regardless of the intentions and outcome, I learned that everything we experience in this life is part of an unfathomable, largely imperceivable system that we may never quite know from this angle. I learned that I am a spiritual being having this physical experience in order to learn to transcend the limitations of this sensory world in order to evolve. I learned that this body really is an "avatara." We precipitate as these forms, into this field of energy, shaped by genes, thoughts, feelings, and actions...and unknowable karma.

Simply put, this life of physical materiality is our medium of spiritual evolution. We step in and out of these bodies as seamlessly and purposefully as walking through the rooms of a great mansion we've been invited to explore. It's "the nature of the beast" that we don't always know that purpose, and more literally that nature that pre-vents us from experiencing the true medium of our greater being, which is Love – except for in the little bits that blow us away.

Being human is our only way to discover it – to discover anything – but it's also our greatest obstacle because of all the contrariness and misinterpretation this human form insists on imposing on our spirits, and on this beautiful, living planet. It's the obstacle the Hindu call maya.

You probably couldn't help but notice by now that it isn't easy being human. The attractions of our sensory state can be so fun (thrills) and compelling (sex), and seductive (intellect); and our afflictions can seem so painful and unfair, and relentless in the course of what feels like such a long life – but then tomorrow little of any of it may scarcely register in our recollections. (We've likely just forgotten being born and dying before – that may be how really limited our body/mind vehicles are.) Then even those attractions that can lead us to such fantastic fulfillment and accomplishments can also lead straight to utter despair and willful, idiotic destruction. Just imagine having to drive a car that likes to crash, and often insists on it. Pretty crazy, right? This life can be like that.

Being sensory beings leads easily to a philosophy of life chiefly defined by the form we're in – a kind of spiritual "Catch-22" that is, pleasure as a philosophy to live by. Gratification of the will, of the body, of the ego. The chief drawbacks, aside from the previously mentioned destruction and despair created by unconsciously pursuing these gratifications, is that they just don't last very long; and that our means of recognizing what's actually happening (and what does last) is once again limited to another function of our form – our intellect, our thinking mind.

Unless a person has a spiritual experience brought about by the practice and exercise of wisdom, or, as in my case, they've had their sense of "reality" sufficiently smashed to pieces well enough to reveal the eternal intelligence that underlies and energizes everything around us, the tendency is to slip back into what our limited powers of observation and calculation will permit. And we'll be right about it.

You'll see lots of really smart people who simply can't realize the essential nature of this life, because they haven't had such an experience. Unless it's convincingly adapted to the true nature of it's purpose, the vessel will never really be able to carry any real, spiritual water (but it can come close). A big example is that scientific observation keeps insisting on "what it knows is fact," until spiritual evolution empowers a new level of observation. Then it will start insisting on that as "fact," through force of will. However, the truth is always a function of the spiritual – not the intellectual, so the intellect can never really know the truth. It's that human thing again.

"Blessed are those who have undergone ordeals. They have entered into Life."

The Gospel of Thomas, 58

Somethings are obviously very "wrong" with this form we're in (or I should say with this form I'm in). It's the way we're hemmed-in by our interpretations of sensory experience as being the only "real" thing, our intellects acceptance of ignorance, and our inability to perceive the mind-blowing evidence all around us. But then our senses are also our doors to The Divine, and allow us our opportunities to grow, to change for the better, and to realize the obvious intent for life on Earth, and of the magic around and within us.

I was plainly (and painfully) given these unusual peeks "behind the curtain," so to speak, and here's how they've informed my point of view: You can rarely change anyone – each of us is on a unique (and naturally similar) path of spiritual evolution, towards the same place. The only way to actually change things is to change yourself; to choose to (occasionally) detach from the limitations of the form and embrace the spiritual moment, and to go where it takes you as much as you can. That is what's is changing the world right now.

Thinking is just a focusable tool. It wasn't the same thing, in "the great beyond" – not as incessantly demanding. Not as linear. Much more comfortable, like good meditation, or the full and empty space at the end of a good laugh. The moment is plenty alive without it.

Death is just a part of life that comes quickly or slowly. It's quite nice and comfortable itself, but often a bummer to get to. Love is the true underlying medium of life, and our job is to remove the obstacles that separate us (and our planet) from that amazingly powerful constant. I know my job now is to try to overwhelm ignorance with Love (which is also tolerance, compassion, and service to others).

Just be careful of skinheads, crocodiles (yeesh), or thinking that you're right.

Read about concepts like these 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 at your local bookstore!