Thursday, January 30, 2014

Groundhog Day Over and Over, Until We Get it Right (Redux)

everyday will always be now

In the great Harold Ramis film, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a self-centered, materialistic egomaniac who must relive a single day over and over until he finally learns how to do it right. Unfortunately, that sounds a little too familiar to me. He has to pass through one difficult doorway after another on his path of spiritual evolution, kicking and screaming all the way. Battling with himself. Along the way, he learns some important lessons–the hard way–that we can all stand to learn.

The two biggest challenges he repeatedly meets during his everlasting day consist of knowing when to surrender his will, and learning how to take right actions. The realization of his powerlessness in the face of things he can't control, like a snowstorm (piercing the veil of denial); and then detaching from the demands of sensory gratification–the destruction of his egoic self (his "dark night of the soul"). He must learn to be of service, without expectation for rewards, and realize true humility (absolute acceptance and tolerance). Ultimately, he's rewarded with the recognition of the eternal in everyone and everything (enlightenment); and eventually, after passing through these spiritual stages, he is  able to really know Love.

In the film, our anti-hero Phil, like all of us, is forced to confront the inconvenient truth that the world doesn't revolve solely around him. Becoming aware that I'm personally not all that important or powerful is a tough nut to crack, especially when I matter so very much to myself.  Doesn't that person on the subway know that I'm trying to get somewhere? Why can't that fellow employee see that my plan is superior? And why is it that I don't I get what I logically deserve (when less deserving people do)? Of course I am getting just that, all the time. I am creating my own heavens and hells, everyday. And so, at first, Phil goes about everyday the same way, creating his own hell in a slightly different way.

Again and again, he wakes up and repeats the same aggravating mistakes, failing to recognize the patterns imposed on him by his unconscious self-centeredness. Exercising his rudeness, his arrogance, his impulsiveness, and his entitlement only leads to more and greater suffering. (Unfortunately, that sounds familiar too.)

"The mind deludes him, binding him with the bonds of the body, the sensory self, and the ego. It creates in him the sense of "I" and "mine." It makes him wander endlessly among the fruits of the actions it has caused."
Shankara's Crest Jewel of Discrimination

Phil has to come to terms with the harsh truth that he's subject to the same world that all of us must endure, and hopefully transcend. (Don't they know who I think I am?) The failure to find any relief in sensory gratification, and the shattering of his egoic self-importance finally leads him to despair, helplessness, and a profound depression that results in a spree of suicidal self-destruction. Suicide is the urge to kill the self that causes pain, and so he wakes up to this life again, and again–always failing to kill the proper Phil. The Phil that needs to die.

"The ego's intelligence is only a pale reflection of pure consciousness that robs us of our true nature of joy. By identifying ourselves with our ego, we fall into this world's repetitive struggle of birth, discomfort, and death."

Once Phil realizes that the solutions to our problems with the outside world never come from outside, he begins to gain access to his intuitive intelligence. Slowly, he recognizes that the answers must lie within himself, and in his own actions. With his surrender, he realizes that whatever he wants to accomplish, he can accomplish – if he's willing to lead a simply principled life, accept the position of being a humble beginner, to focus, and to simply do his best.  He learns how to play the piano, only for the joy of the effort, the joy of living musically, and the joy it brings to others.

"When you make the two into One, you will be a Son of Man; and when you say: Mountain, move!  It will move."
The Gospel of Thomas, 106

Then, intuitively, instinctively, he begins to help others. Every [eternal] day, the same people will need his help, and from his acceptance of humility comes the willingness to be of service, with no regard for reward. This is the transcendence of human potential – the movement away from self gratification, towards the welfare of others. This is the real impulse for spiritual evolution, for by taking these actions his transformation begins. He comes into alignment with the real nature of consciousness, which is the joy of being. He comes ever closer to everyone's goal – the realization of Love in our lives (as our lives).

"He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward, rises."
Mahatma Gandhi, from Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita

As he loses himself in humility and service, he comes to recognize the eternal nature of his true self, everyone, and everything. He learns to live by the simple principles that always put the wind at our backs on the path to spiritual evolution, namely: Honesty, Humility, Compassion, Selfless Action, Generosity of Spirit, and Patience. Only then does he become truly effective. Only then can he begin to find the freedom to become his authentic self. Finally, when his life is devoted to the welfare of everyone he meets, he finds serenity, family, and Love. He becomes a real human being.

Oh it's funny–it's a very funny movie–but even though the film only lasts a couple hours, we never really know exactly how many days Phil lives over and over. Dozens, hundreds...millions? As is the case with all our fractal futures, we may never know how many times each single human life will have to be lived. How many times we'll have to ride this cycle of creation and destruction, out, and back, on our way to finding our true potential. Like Phil, we can all wake up everyday, trapped in the dark prison of our selves; or, we can wake up and see the light in everyone and everything.    

Everyday when we wake up, we either choose to see our shadow, or we don't.

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, January 22, 2014

Our Heart is Your Home

"The heart is a sanctuary at the center of which there is a little space, wherein the Great Spirit dwells, and this is the which He sees all things, and through which we see Him."
Black Elk

Our hearts pump blood. They have to, or there's no show, right? That's what hearts do, but that's not all they do.

Our heart is, in so many ways, at the very center of our lives. It is the seat of our emotions – we actually perceive feelings in, or through, our hearts. Our hearts sustain us, direct us, comfort us. Our heart is an accessible storehouse for our feelings. It's an inspiration through it's action. We don't beat our heart – it can beat without us. In short, our heart creates, forms, and maintains what constitutes the very core of our lives.

I switch to a collective possessive form referring to "our heart," because it's part of the consciousness we share, our collective consciousness. It's part of our shared intelligence, our Eternal, Universal, or Divine intelligence. People who don't share this concept, we perceive as being "heartless" – tragically disassociated from Love, from those aspects of human life that are the most fulfilling and rewarding. They are also most capable of violence. Of selfish and pointless destruction – or of simple pettiness, shortsightedness, and lack of empathy. It's not because they aren't thinking, more often it's because they're thinking too much. With their heads.

"The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think that they are mad."
I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad.
"They say that they think with their heads," he replied.
"Why of course. What do you think with?" I asked him in surprise.
"We think here," he said, indicating his heart.

Pueblo Indian, Ochwiay Biano (Mountain Lake) to Carl Jung,
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections
As with everything, to find a better way to think about it, we do need to think about it with our minds. It's a bit of a leap, because our minds often don't understand what our hearts are doing. In fact our hearts have (or should have) a kind of unassailable authority over our minds. We think we should do what our minds tell us to do, but we know we need to follow our heart. By this I don't mean our passions or cravings – not lust, or ambition – but the simple, intuitive intelligence that mysteriously arises from our heart.

As is the case with most mythical, mystical, intuitive, and indigenous knowledge, Science is slowly catching up –providing us with "real proof" of what's long been known to some to be the cognitive and controlling facilities of the heart. Unlike any other part of our bodies, the heart contains a similar intricate cellular structure as the brain; the same neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins, and support cells. The heart is directly linked to the brain, and can control it's electrical activity. Along with being able to independently learn, remember, feel, and sense, the heart can directly enable the brain to acquire certain perceptive abilities, to inspire types of thought, as well as determine our emotional experience.

Medical Science now agrees with "a thinking heart," a heart with a brain, or that is itself a different kind of brain that unites body, mind, and emotions. Exactly how it does this is a mystery to medical science, but for centuries it's been known in Hindu Bhakti Yoga, and Tantric tradition that the fourth heart chakra is the center in humans of the higher self's true intelligence; connection to the field of higher intelligence; the seat of Divine Consciousness; of healing, of compassion; of wish-fulfillment. The spirit brain. The true source of your life's authentic direction, free from all that messy karma our minds can make for us. Our head thinks about our self too much, our heart thinks of others first.

Listen to your heart, to our heartand let it have the last word – after the barrage of words your mind thinks up. (Some of the worst things I've ever done I thought about a lot first - but I should have listened to my heart). Regard your head as just another (albeit im-portant) extremity, packed with senses perfectly suited for the physical world. Consider your intellect as a ladder, used to transcend itself. But know your heart as the brain that connects you to The Eternal Intelligence that constitutes your true center. Let your heart do all the important thinking for you. It's where your home really is.
"Though the inner chamber of the heart is small, The Lord of both worlds gladly makes His home there."
 Mahmud Shabestari

Check out this site for more information about Heart/Mind science!

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!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

On "Proof of Heaven," and the Skeptics' Hell

There's been quite a hub-bub of late around the release and promotion of Dr. Eben Alexander's excellent new book Proof of Heaven, in which he recounts his own Near Death Experience, and ventures to defend the existence of life after death – even scientifically – supported by his own impressive credentials as a Harvard-educated neurosurgeon. It's much less surprising that a man of science may personally discover our underlying spiritual reality in a transpersonal experience, than that he'd immediately attract a swarm of agnostic skeptics when he speaks out about his discovery.

Notable among the skeptics is Sam Harris; philosopher, neuroscientist and renowned man of reason. His arguments disputing the authenticity of Dr. Alexander's afterlife experience are intellectually cogent and compelling, but undermined somewhat by a mildly pejorative tone – a tone that may suggest his own personal conflicts.

There simply seems to be two distinct kinds of people when it comes to issues of transcendent or "extra-dimensional" awareness – those who have had profoundly transformative spiritual experiences, and those who haven't.
For those who have, like Dr. Alexander, there's no longer any need for argument; it's made redundant by the expanded awareness of an intuitive, universal intelligence beyond the limitations of their own thought, beyond their own personal powers of "reason." Those who have not had such a transformative experience simply lack the essential evidence necessary to credibly comment on the authenticity of such realizations by others. They are subject to the limitations of linear, serial (left brain) thinking, and it's tangential, unidimensional conclusions. The "God Part" of their brain hasn't been fully activated, you might say, and so (scientifically) all spiritual experience remains anecdotal.

Denial is the acceptance of ignorance as truth, through force of will, and that force usually issues from two rather self-centered mis-apprehensions in the case of NDE skeptics, one being the old Descartes before des horse, that "I think, therefore I am" assertion that the rational thought process is the medium of all profound truth, and that in it's absence there is only delusional imagination and self-serving ignorance of a sort determined by the mechanical nature of the brain.

That very aspect of human thought betrays it's own presumption, though. It's in the nature of the egoic intellect to reject what  it has had no experience of – as well as to often reject even what it has experienced, if it fails to conveniently fit it's egocentric story of self. The reasoning in such cases is not really based on what's empirical or not, but on underlying issues, and obstacles, of a psychic nature. Like all of us, I'm sure some of the worst decisions Mr. Harris has ever made were very well thought out, while some of the most elegantly effective issued from a source completely outside (even opposite to) the limitations of his dogma and intellect. Keep this in mind: Thought requires consciousness, but consciousness does not require thought. I am, therefore I think is really closer to the underlying truth.

The idea that we can only rely on what investigative science can prove is as archaic as a flat earth, as all major scientific conclusions have only been reliable in that they reliably change, being solely determinable by our capabilities for observation as of today. That's (arguably) where the greatest weakness is in Dr. Alexander's rationale – in his effort to substantiate his experiences in a smaller context that's not equipped to support them. Stringent scientific observations and theoretical analysis of quantum physics indicates relationships between consciousness, matter, and dimensionality that are at odds with concepts of non-faith-based empiricism. Nevertheless, your smartphone and microwave still work pretty well.  Which leads to the second misapprehension:

The presumption that the brain is [not-so] simply an electro-chemical cellular conglomeration whose various states of activity indicate it's capacity for intelligence on different levels – the generator, not the receiver, of consciousness. The observation and benchmarking of where those points of activation are, and what therefore becomes possible within those boundaries of "life" and "death" have to be questioned at least as much as the mass testimony of thousands of NDE survivors through the ages, perhaps justifiably moreso. 

For example, Mr. Harris questions whether or not NDE survivors brains (specifically Dr. Alexander's) are actually dead – entirely devoid of any activity whatsoever – which is a good question all right, but can he demonstrate when that NDE "magical imagination" might begin in subjects who do not survive; and how long it continues in the absence of brain activity? Where exactly is the tipping point of death – especially when it's not entirely known exactly what the brain (or mind) does, and can do? Where is the range of the control group? Can he reliably postulate the moment that an authentic experience of death occurs or doesn't, without resorting to traditional standards of "when they're really dead"? And most importantly here, can the objective observation of a possibly biased observer completely invalidate another individuals personal experience of a different state of being? As has become the establishment norm, 'scientific reason' refutes spiritual experience without any actual evidence whatsoever to support its claims.  

This establishment 'scientific' presumption also describes con-sciousness as being the product of billions of individual cerebral generators, rather than the (scientifically) more likely definition of it as a shared transpersonal field of energetic, evolutionary intelligence; related to the observable quantum or "zero-point" fields. 

There are children who begin writing music at age two, and go on to compose symphonies by five or six. Do their little brains just "snap-to" extra quick, and process all that information at a phenomenal speed, or do they tap into a profound, existing intelligence that informs, enlivens, and animates the consciousness we are unavoidably all a part of? 
Documented beyond apocyrphy are cases of people who have such remarkably specialized intelligence that they undergo study to determine the neurological nature or source of it, only to discover that their brain physiology indicates that they should be absolutely incapable of such intelligence; or of much intelligence at all, for that matter (literally). Then there are people who have perfectly fine brains, but their egoic self-definitions insist that they are intellectually superior in a way that entitles them to judge all varieties of mysterious, "non-intellectual" experiences. These are often the same people that overlook evidence of transpersonal communication, but are still willing to accept quantum uncertainty and entanglement...And then there are questions of animal consciousness – don't get me started.

All of it is clearly a mystery, and so why shouldn't it require experience of a mysterious, mystical nature to better understand the underlying truth of it? After all, I might remind the skeptics that everything we think and know is the result of this little layer of consciousness wrapped around a little planet, floating though limitless outer space.  The original ground of that unimaginably "magical" context needs to inform all of our subsequent intellectual tolerance for what and what is not possible. In fact, it seems far more reliable to assume that Love and Magic are the mediums for this adventure of life than coincidence, reason and intellectual rigor.

In the blog refuting Dr. Alexander's experience, Mr. Harris seems to concede to the necessity for such a mystical experience in order to support his dogmatic criticisms.  He tells a story about a psychically revealing dream he had, before he went to Nepal. I am interested by his approach to conscious realization here. My personal transformational experience came about as a result of years of meditation and study, following my having survived three NDEs. I have no doubt that, given the spiritual depth of the land and its people, a trip to Nepal may inspire significant transpersonal realization. In fact, I think I would have much rather gone to Nepal myself than where I had to go, believe me.  

Equating one particular type of alternate consciousness to another to support an argument seems a bit non-scientific for a man of reason, but using some reason may help describe the difference that I, Dr. Alexander, and millions of other human have realized in our "extra-life" experiences from what Mr. Harris (or any of us) get from dreams. In dreams, I'd suggest our psyches create an entire imaginary world featuring our selves at the center, and so I believe them to be the product of a constrained personal subconsciousness. The suggestion that Mr. Harris was not the center of his dream was his near-transformational moment – a moment of brief realization of the larger consciousness enjoined in NDEs.

My near death experience realizations were of that also, times ten – that I am a part of a larger unified consciousness and intelligence that exists outside (or within... or without...or throughout) my fragile, expendable human body. I had no body, per se. I did not sense the passage of time, or even think sequentially, but instead simply coexisted with knowledge and being. I experienced profound and continuing Love as the medium of continuing Life. Mr. Harris would insist, I'm sure, that I was not dead, and I'd agree completely.  

Mr. Harris, for one reason or another, is compelled to define the transformative experiences of others. Dr. Alexander is spontaneously, intuitively, compelled to share an essential truth that he was surprised to discover for himself, precipitated by one major, transformative spiritual experience in his life – his "death," and subsequent travel into the "afterlife" potential of consciousness. By the expression of their needs you can recognize the degree to which they experience these different levels of consciousness.  Either contained by the harsh demands of their own intellect, or alive in a kind of heaven, guided and inspired by the intelligence of that larger mind, and liberated by the grace of their spiritual source.

How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying) is due out early 2018, from Llewellyn Worldwide, is available now! with How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond, both are based on lessons (learned the hard way) by a three time near death survivor, and are available everywhere – but ask for them at your local bookstore! 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Happy New Year Right Now, and Happy New Forever

It's kind of funny to say "Have a Happy New Year," as if you can cover the whole thing in that one little felicitation. A lot can happen in a year, and not all of it's going to be happy. But we sincerely wish it anyways, because we really do wish that one another may find happiness in every moment, if possible. And, as impossible as it  sounds, it may not be entirely impossible at all. What if we could collapse time, or extend each moment to the length of a year, so that if that instant could be happy, our wishes for one another would come true? Sound like science fiction? Well, remember we're all on a planet in outer space...

From the most modern physics to the most ancient scripture, the concept that all of time is a seamless, complete field folded in with space is old hat – although it's still kind of a difficult hat to wear when we're sitting here in this one spot, on this planet as we do. It's ironic that about the best way to realize this reality comes from just sitting still in one spot, as we can do almost any time we want to. Because any one of us, in any moment, can find a quiet place – a quiet opening within ourselves – where we can witness that effervescent stillness that bubbles through every instant of life. That's one of the joys of meditation, in case you've wondered about it.

Sit quietly, close your eyes and what do you see? It's not nothing, is it? There's a dance going on in there. An energy that comes at us, and through us, from every direction. From every person, place, thing, event – even from nothing at all. It just is. It even powers our memory and possibilities, too. No matter how skeptical you may be, no one can deny this vibrating energy, dancing through our entire world of inner and outer experience.

When we sit in that moment, and experience just that sense of vibrant being, the clock does kind of stop. That moment can seem to stretch out to an invisible horizon, when we are there – where past and future are only thoughts, and nothing else matters. And it really doesn't, much. Everything material is obviously always in flux, always coming and going, never staying exactly the same for very long. Rustled around on those invisible waves of energy, I suppose. I won't be the same in January, in June, or in November. Nothing here will be...but what about there?

"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 

Of course here is Happy New Year! Happy January 1st, your rent is due. It sounds as if my upstairs neighbor is dropping something heavy every couple of minutes. I swear the guy ahead of me is trying to get in my way. My girlfriend is calling us quits. Someone needs a new job, and it's me. Someone is dying, and that may be me too – or someone I love. Those are the things we may think about, and may have to go through that will keep our year from being completely happy. Those are the difficult parts. Here is not always such a great place.

But just beneath those real events that we have to think about and live through is a greater reality that doesn't come and go anywhere. There is always there – that effervescent stillness, and it's always reliably easy and kind to us. In that place where everything is unshakeably serene, the difficult things in life are just passing thoughts and events that can either be dwelt upon, or gracefully let go of, like everything else on this planet. Time doesn't exist the same way – it's all one. The moment does last "forever."

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense."
                                                                    Jalal al-Din Rumi 

All the good things we know and feel come from there, it's just time on this planet, and our silly hijinks that mess them up. Which is okay – they were going to change anyways. But this moment, and what's right underneath it, is always there for us. And there, you can have a happy now, and a happy forever, and an entire Happy New Year. It sounds so easy, doesn't it?

Read about this and much more in the new book: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivorwhich can be purchased on this page or online, along with the first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and Beyond – or ask for them at your local bookstore!