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 a chrysalis 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. Read about this and much more in the new book: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor, from Llewellyn Worldwide, and the first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and BeyondBoth are available everywhere – but ask for them at your local bookstore!

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 concentrate on my common sense, listen to my inner voice. Then our common sense – that small voice – 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 that compulsion originates from – 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. Getting "real" with someone who's been there, and benefitting from their experience will help too.

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 – more 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.

Read about this and much more in the new book: How to Get to Heaven (Without Really Dying), Wisdom From a Near-Death Survivor, from Llewellyn Worldwide, and the first book: How to Survive Life (and Death), A Guide To Happiness In This World and BeyondBoth are available everywhere – but ask for them at your local bookstore!

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.

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!

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!)