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meaning | ˈmēni ng |
what is meant by a word, text, concept, or action
intended to communicate something that is not directly expressed

| ˈmēni ng fəl |
having meaning
• having a serious, important, or useful quality or purpose

Friday, June 25, 2010

Blessings of this Work

As many of you know, I maintain a Fan Page on Facebook. Each day I post quotes from different authors, sages or leaders throughout history that provide context to my spiritual teachings. I find that my words only go so far and, in relation to the perspective of another teacher, the message has a way of getting through. But this describes one way communications and thus you can imagine my surprise when the interactions with my "fans" (not sure I'll ever get used to that label) became interactive.

With over 4,600+ subscribers, you might think I would attract a fair amount of disgruntled souls that post harmful, offensive or deviant comments. After all, Facebook is merely a website on the Internet and we've all seen the behavior that occurs on the anonymous World Wide Web. Maybe because Facebook isn't anonymous or that I'm focused on love, but for some reason this community is kind, compassionate and engaged.

Every so often I meet someone via this interaction that is particularly engaged in the conversation. The click the 'like' button often, comment on every one of my postings and even post their own quotes on my page. I really appreciate when people contribute to this ongoing conversation and shape its direction. People go hot and then cold in their participation so I've become accustomed to not expect ongoing interactions with my fans. But every so often someone surprises me.

Over the last few weeks I've been seeing this gentleman from South Africa participating more than the others. He is one of those insightful souls that recognizes the difference between how mankind should be acting and how we are operating. And he gets angry when he witnesses this unfairness in the world. In particular, he is troubled by the social injustice that we see in comparing the excess of the West with starving people elsewhere in the world. Even better, he "gets it" that the solution will come through love rather than anger fueled actions.

But he asked me via a post on my page, "What can he do?"

My answer isn't relevant to this blog post and you can easily pick his thread out from the rest on my Fan Page. What is interesting is the email he sent me thanking me for providing him an answer that resonated with "his" life. You see, it turns out that five years ago he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and only given a short time to live.

In a sense, the doctors told him to give up on living. Did he do that? No, instead he dedicated his life to his goal of raising consciousness in the world. And he did this with a tumor growing in his brain that has caused debilitating changes in his life that would make most of us curl up in a ball and cry, "Why me?"

But he didn't do that. Instead he refused that choice and instead began living his life in purpose. And he lived! He's homebound, in a wheelchair and struggles with daily activities that we take for granted. But he's choosing love and living his life in purpose. And go figure, the result is life!

I'm inspired!

Friday, February 19, 2010

How is it possible to stay grounded on a path of self inquiry and spiritual transformation?

Matthew Higdon asks "How is it possible to stay grounded on a path of self inquiry and spiritual transformation when loved ones or colleagues do not share or support that path?"

He later followed up with more details:

"If even the least among us is a potential Christ, Buddha, or otherwise radiant luminary, how does one stimulate themselves consistently and maybe others to awaken subtler focused awareness during some sort of internal practice on a daily basis? Is it possible without an external teacher? Is it possible for a disciplined spiritual aspirant to remain grounded in the practice and consistent when cohabitating, collaborating or colluding regularly with (Self) destructive persons outside a professional healing or guidance capacity?"

Hi Matthew:

You ask a question that anyone on this path to enlightenment will ultimately face. And in asking it, you well understand why we hear stories of great teachers reaching their enlightenment alone in a cave. The path to enlightenment is seemingly easier without distraction or associating with those that seek to undermine it.

Or is it?

As I encounter more and more experiences of a Spiritual nature in my life I find that there are numerous methods that enable us to connect to the Divine. Some are for brief moments of time, others last a few hours, some a few days, a few linger for weeks at a time and some introduce us to a life lived in harmony. And within this myriad of methods, there is disparity amongst everyone's experiences. Some methods work for some people, but not for others.

Unfortunately this leads to judgment. When one person invokes a method to attain enlightenment but it fails for another, the latter's Mind is faced with a paradox:

Either the method is valid and they are unable to connect or the method is invalid and the enlightened person is delusional. I'll leave it to you to conclude which of these two options the egoic Mind chooses.

And thus we have a sea of Humanity seeking a connection with God but with various results. And in the context of judgment, we have most people concluding that their way is "right" and the other ways are "wrong." Even if they haven't found peace, harmony or a connection with God, many people conclude that their method for "finding God" is correct.

And then there is you with your individual experience. You've tried different methods and some of them are working. Maybe you aren't able to sustain this enlightened state but you've tasted it. It's become present for brief moments in your life and you find that a bit more of your path has been illuminated.

In this, we're all the same. We've found something partially enlightening and we want to share it with others. Some are further along on this path and thus find themselves both seeking and guiding. Others are just beginning and find themselves seeking answers, methods, teachers, etc.

And then there is the rest of Humanity. More specifically, our family, friends and colleagues. They come in and out of our daily lives like bouncing balls landing in your matzah ball soup. They are on various paths of their own and when those paths don't align with our path there is conflict.

So we've set the stage for your question. You're seeking, finding answers, exploring and opening up to the beauty of God. On the path, you're finding that you're growing and connecting in beautiful and harmonious ways. You surely have much further to go and you're not immune to the egoic ways of the Mind, but you find the path calling you to go further.

And in your life, you find many of your loved ones falling into categories such as:

Doubting Thoms - those that have no clear direction of where to go, but they're fairly sure you're not on the right path.

Silent Objectors - politically correct and convinced that their path is "the" path for all, these people talk with you about everything but God and politics.

Zealous Zealots - convicted in their path and not shy about pushing it on others, these people are quick to point out that your path is wrong and why it is wrong.

Sponge Spiritualists - believing nearly everything that exists is true, these people seem to believe in nothing because they believe in everything. From crystals to UFOs, "It's all good." As an aside, these people might be the ones who manage the Spirituality section in bookstores.

There are surely more and the point of this exercise is not to categorize people in order to judge them. In fact, it is healthy to review such a list and ask yourself, "Which of these roles do I tend to play?"

The first part of your question was, "How Is it possible to stay grounded on a path of self inquiry and spiritual transformation?"

In the context of the environment we've just described, we're called to ask the question, "Why?"

Actually, this is my favorite question. And it is my favorite question because it illumines the truth. Thus we are called to ask, "Why are we on a path of self inquiry and spiritual transformation?"

Seriously, what's the point? Why does God want us to inquire and transform? And if we are intended to do this, why don't we just start out self aware and transformed? And furthermore, "Why are we all so different and why are there so many paths?"

The crowd illustrated above surely has answers to these questions:

Doubting Thoms: There is no point. It's all meaningless.

Silent Objectors: You're on the wrong path and missing the point but I'm not going to discuss this with you.

Zealous Zealots: Not only are you missing the point, but your path is doing harm by not doing it the right way.

Sponge Spiritualists: We don't really know what the point is. There are numerous points and they're all beautiful.

But you've tried the ways of the objectors and the zealots. And you've been to a few sponge spiritualist gatherings in your day. But something calls you to a more fulfilling connection and thus you not only find that your path is emerging, but you find it unacceptable to not further your journey on the path.

And somehow...in all of this...you believe there is a truth. Somehow, throughout all of Humanity, there is a thread that binds us all together and draws us towards the truth. So as the zealots scoff and the objectors ignore, you embrace them with a smile for you love their passion despite their tactics. And you find empathy for both the doubters and the purveyors of everything mystical. In this, you aspire to stand strong for all of humanity as we seek a collective connection to the Divine.

You see, the key is in the mix. While we can appreciate the solitude of the consciousness evoking cave, we see that this too is only a partial truth. For it is our connection to one another that binds us and raises us higher. Like all of mankind, we seek community in this aspiration and thus our detractors bring conflict into our lives. But this is precisely where we grow.

In mankind's harmony, we find wisdom in the teachings of Jesus Christ. We find peace in the insight of Buddha. Krishna too awakens us to the truths that are all around us. And so too the beauty of a yoga class brings us into union with the Divine. With all this beauty we find happiness, growth and, dare I say, enlightenment.

So to answer your question I'm afraid I must turn it around:

On the path of self inquiry and spiritual transformation, it is advantageous to ground ourselves with loved ones and colleagues who do not share or support our path.

The reason is because there is no single path and the path does not lead to a destination. You see, the path is the destination. The harmony you feel walking the path is the enlightenment. The desire that wells up within you is not to reach the end of the path, but to engage others on "their path."

Thus it is precisely the loved ones in your life that bring you into a more full experience. The conflict they bring into your life is meaningful because it illumines where you can go deeper. With this exploration we find love for the doubters, objectors, zealots and sponge spiritualists.

This is not to say that this is an enjoyable experience. These people in our lives engage our egoic, Mind driven self. They often unknowingly draw us away from God in their aspirations to reveal their perspective of the truth. The path becomes more slippery with the mental ways of the Mind and, when we're drawn into conflict, we find that our experience is less loving, less uniting and less expansive.

And in this mental existence, we too are drawn to fix the world. We see everything, other than our view, as broken and we believe that we can make the world a better place. In this perversion, we too live within the judgmental ways of the very Mind we are seeking to coax into harmonizing with God.

But the life we seek is not mental. The harmony we seek is in union with the Body, Spirit and Mind. And so we enter into a relationship with others that isn't governed by the thoughts of the Mind. Judgment goes out the window despite others labeling us as being right, wrong or somewhere in between. Instead, the grounding we seek is through the emotive dimensions of the Spirit where we engage everyone in our lives with Love.

So we find new meaning in the teachings of Jesus Christ:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. - Luke 6:27-28

In answering the second part of your question "how does one stimulate themselves consistently and maybe others to awaken," we ourselves awaken to a new method for conveying wisdom: Love

Again we can ask ourselves in these encounters, "Is there a way I can approach this in a more loving way?"

I'll close in sharing that it is not only possible to stay grounded in non-supportive environments, but it is within these environments where the greatest lessons are learned. It is there that we find balance standing in chaos. By focusing our efforts into love, uniting Humanity and expanding God we find that our purpose reveals that we are precisely where we need to be. And that the lessons that we seek to learn are written in the words of those in our lives.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Akram asks, "How do I lose my mind?"

Akram asks, "How do I lose my mind?"

Hi Akram:

By "How do I lose my mind?" I assume you mean how does one step outside of living a mental existence whereby our every action is controlled and governed by the egoic Mind? Most often we identify with our Mind's thoughts via the perpetual voice in our heads, but beyond that internal dialogue, there is this mental part of us that auto-pilots us through life.

And by asking how we can lose this part of us, we're actually stepping into distinguishing "what" we are. In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, he describes people watching shadows projected on a wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them. Like windows unto reality, these viewers believe that the cave shadows are reality. He then explains how someone who is freed from the cave comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all, as they can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows.

The Allegory of the Cave is an important part of this understanding. Can you imagine if some shadows appeared on the cave wall and explained to the viewers that they weren't viewing true reality? The very reality to which they were subscribed would seem incredible in its claim that it was not true. After all, if the shadows weren't real then how could one believe what they have to say?

Such is the problem in asking this question and understanding the answer. The question itself is asked by the logical Mind and the answer will ultimately be considered by the Mind itself. This is akin to asking the warden if a prisoner should be freed. The Mind is not likely to accept any answer which results in it losing control of you.

Understanding this paradox is critical to accepting the answer to your question. And this raises a larger trend in humanity to seek logical answers to life's problems. It is as if we can climb to the top of the mountain to ask the guru the secrets of life and conclude, "Wow, why didn't I think of that?"

The truth of the matter is that the answers you've already come up with on your own represent the extent to which the human Mind can answer this question. The answer exists beyond the logical ways of the Mind. And the egoic, control oriented Mind is not likely to agree with any answer that results in its loss. Thus to accept the answer to your question, you must step outside of the Mind and into the self to which you aspire.

But how does one do that? How does one step into an identify of self that we don't yet understand?

The answer is faith. Despite being commonplace in our society, faith is not logical and not the favored approach of the Mind. I'm not conveying that faith is the answer to your question, but rather that your path to the answer will require faith beyond the logical ways of your Mind.

So as we prepare to address this topic we expect that the Mind will object. You can be assured that your Mind will protest by saying, "That isn't true." Or, "I don't believe that." And like pleading our release to the Warden, we shouldn't be surprised to hear our Mind object.

But wait a second, "Isn't the Warden doing his job?"

Did we not hire the Warden for a reason? Do we really think that firing the Warden will result in a more peaceful society? Will the inmates live in harmony if we fire the Warden? Or is it possible that the Warden serves a purpose but he has assumed too much responsibility?

So as we explore this new identification of self and method for managing our lives, we can have empathy for the Warden. We can assure him that he won't be terminated. He won't have full autonomy to run our lives anymore, but he won't be fired either. Thus we aren't really seeking to lose the Mind but rather to let the Mind play a valuable, but balanced, role in our lives.

But to move the Mind to a healthy co-manager position in our life, we must introduce what we are. If we're not the shadows on the wall, then presumably "we" are what is watching the shadows. And if that isn't the Mind, then what are we?

As you're well aware, you're not just a Mind but you're also a physical Body as well. If you were in a coma, your Body would still function but your Mind would be offline. Thus you are both a Body and a Mind.

But you're more than a Mind and a Body. You also have a Spiritual aspect to your "self." Thus you're not just one of these "parts" but you're actually the combination of the Body, Spirit and Mind.

And this is where consciousness enters the equation. Your consciousness comes from more than just the logical thoughts of your Mind. Your sensations and feelings contribute to your overall consciousness too. Thus what "you" are is the collective consciousness of your Body, Spirit and Mind in this lifetime.

The time aspect of this understanding is important because your physical Body and your Mind will not survive your physical death. Your Spirit will remain and so, in one sense, you are pure Spirit. But in this lifetime, you are the collective consciousness of all three. And since it is in this lifetime that you're managing your life, it is in this collective consciousness that you must emerge.

As you can see, our goal is not to be "not-Mind" or to be "pure Spirit" but rather to achieve harmony and balance amongst our Body, Spirit and Mind. We want the three to work together as a team. Just like on the playground, we're asking the three parts of us to play nice.

Hold on a second, you're not evaluating this with the logical ways of your Mind are you? If so, you're already starting to mount the objections as to why this isn't true. That's OK, but recognize that your Mind is doing this because it is on the defensive. As much as we can find balance in this collective consciousness, this is new territory for the Mind and it is skeptical.

So how do we move into this harmonious existence without letting our Mind taint our experience? The answer is to enliven the Body and Spirit in order to bring them into the conversation.

If you've read my book or followed me online, you're well aware of the check-in I advise for the end of each day:

What have I done today to nurture my Body?
What have I done today to nurture my Spirit?
What have I done today to nurture my Mind?

By energizing our Body, Spirit and Mind (yes, the Mind too) we bring the three parts of us into one. And by engaging each part of us on a daily basis, we bring our lives into balance.

It is true that this practice won't silence the voice in our heads. But that is not our goal. Our hope is to bring the Spirit and Body into the conversation. By learning their languages and appreciating their input, we find that the way we navigate through life becomes less egoic, less hateful, less divisive and more expansive. And thus the opposite is true too that our lives become more "we" than "I," more loving, more uniting and in harmony with God.

Start small by growing and calming the Body, Spirit and Mind. In this the connective bonds between them will become stronger and your Mind will release its dominant control of your life. It is possible but you must have faith.


Darwin Stephenson

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mindfulness Meditation

Zoe Baker asks, "Darwin, what do you know about Mindfulness Meditation?"

Hi Zoe:

So there are areas that I "know" and other areas that I'm "exploring." Meditation is certainly one of those areas that I'm actively exploring and it is a big part of my practice. And like most things, I have a different perspective on meditation than mainstream teachers.

To begin, I firmly believe that our society has meditation all backwards. We think that one does meditation to bring the rest of their life into a peaceful state. Instead, I think of a peaceful life as something we do to enhance our meditation practice. Which begs the question, "If my life was already peaceful, why would I meditate?"

Many people struggle with meditation because of the false expectation that in meditation they're supposed to instantly sit down, stop their thoughts and check out. I think that the reason we believe in this false expectation is that we seek a peaceful state in the present moment. Even if we've never visited this state, we inherently know how peaceful it would be. And we all desire a state of peace in our lives.

But our experience is often quite different than this ideal state. Our thoughts ramble, our body fidgets and we find ourselves focusing on everything but the state of 'nothing' that we seek. But here is where we unravel the crux of the problem: fear of nothing

Have you ever experienced nothing? No stimulus what-so-ever? The absence of thoughts, emotions, and sensations (no light, no sound, no taste, no smells and no sensory touch). Unless you've participated in a psychology test where you've been placed in a sensory deprivation environment, chances are you've never experienced nothing.

Nothing is actually really hard to experience. When I was in college, one of my college professors invited me to participate in one of these sensory deprivation experiments. Whittier College isn't a power house of science, so our deprivation environment was actually a storeroom adjacent to one of the lecture halls. And as I recall, there were two other students in the room with me so the noise of them stirring and breathing entered sound into the equation. But, even so, it was an interesting dreamlike experience.

Fast forward ten years and in support of my book, Inspiration Divine, I'm giving inspiration workshops where we guide the students through four states of being:

  1. Joy/Happiness
  2. Nothing
  3. Sadness/Despair
  4. Union (bringing everything and everyone together)

The students don't know that they're being taken through these experiences in a particular order for a reason. And to be honest, we stumbled into this amazing discovery.

In the joy/happiness experience, we have the students focus their attention on a photograph of theirs that connects them to happiness, joy or any positive memory. We then put on happy music, rub a vibrant essential oil into their hands, give them a bite of an organic orange wedge and move them into a joy evoking physical activity (e.g. specific yoga poses or NIA dance moves).

After joy/happiness, we go through the same experience but absent of the stimulation described above. There is no music, no added smells, no added tastes, no movement as the students lie on their back to experience a Pranayama inspired breathing technique. It's not completely nothing, but after turning up the volume in the first experience, it feels like nothing.

Unlike that thoughtless meditative state we seek, this state of nothing doesn't quiet the voice in your head. In fact, the voice in your head is hyperactive during this experience. If you think you're critical in every day life, your voice in your head becomes hyper-critical during this phase of the workshop. And the reason it is so activated during this phase is that this accentuated state of nothing feels like death.

This deathlike state I'm referring to is not a morbid feeling. It isn't that you feel lifeless during "nothing," but rather that you experience what it is like to not experience emotions, arousal, sound, sight, flavor, smells and sensory touch. By first turning up the volume in the joy/happiness experience, the lack of emotional feelings and sensations in the nothing experience brings the student into a simulated experience of nothingness.

But that's not what's interesting. What's interesting is the transformational breakthroughs students report having in the next experience of sadness/despair. One would think that engaging the most tragic moments in one's life would be very difficult for students. After all, many people spend years in therapy to delicately deal with the tragedies of their life. But something about going through "nothing" opens up a new way to experience sadness and despair for the student.

Our workshop students have reported being able to face the sadness in their lives for the first time ever. Lisa Gray, Marriage and Family Therapist, describes the Inspiration Workshop in this way:

With the right tools in a safe environment, experiencing sensations, feelings and thoughts can help us see our shadow self. Seeing can then become accepting and accepting can then become understanding with compassion. The Inspiration Workshop enables each student to experience an entire range of sensations, feelings and thoughts in a safe and supportive environment. In this experiential context, the student finds a healthy container for the self to unfold and be embraced with compassion.

So why do sensations, feelings and thoughts have the power to transform us? As we go through life on a regular basis, our lives are filled sensations, feelings and thoughts. And yet we don't have breakthroughs and transformational experiences all the time. How is it that these everyday aspects of life become powerful tools for change in an experiential context? And what does this have to do with meditation?

The reason sensations, feelings and thoughts are powerful is because they are the languages spoken by Body, Spirit and Mind. The Body communicates via sensations, the Spirit via feelings and the Mind via thoughts. When we conceptualize our "self" as the collective consciousness of our Body, Spirit and Mind (rather than a physical manifestation of that voice in our head), we experience a more connected sense of being. Instead of ignoring our Body and finding it difficult to connect to our Spirit, we find that these languages become pathways to an enlightened life.

OK, let's visualize the meditative experience. We sit down in a meditative posture, attempt to still the Body and quiet the Mind. We focus on our breath and this initially helps us distract the voice in our head as we connect to the air entering and leaving our lungs. One can almost feel the heart slow down as a sense of peace enters the room.

And then something in our Body feels uncomfortable; we adjust. We notice our posture is beginning to slouch forward; we straighten. And then that first thought floats into our consciousness like a breeze blowing through a tree; we ignore the thought and return to our breathing. But another thought floats in and we try to ignore it too.

So when we conceptualize our self as a physical manifestation of that voice in our head, we tend to find fault in this experience. We feel frustrated that we were not able to sit still and quiet our mind. And thus we seek out techniques that will aid us in this quest. And there are lots of techniques that can help with this experience.

But when we conceptualize our self as the collective consciousness of our Body, Spirit and Mind, we find a different experience. And we also have a completely different reason for meditating.

Have you ever heard the expression "a hammer looking for a nail?" It is a phrase that describes the downside of a "one size fits all" mentality or the risk of applying a favored approach to every problem. Hammers work great for nails, but not so good for screws. And so too, many spiritual teachers seem to recommend meditation as a tool for any life problem. It is the big hammer in their toolbox.

When we conceptualize our self as a collective Body, Spirit and Mind we can move into a nurturing approach to life. Instead of simply experiencing life as it comes at us and faulting ourselves for our reactions, we can instead nurture these three separate, but collective, parts of us as a means to live in harmony. At the close of every day, we can ask ourselves these three questions:

  1. What have I done today to nurture my Body?
  2. What have I done today to nurture my Spirit?
  3. What have I done today to nurture my Mind?

And when the answer to any one of these questions is "nothing," it becomes clear what we need to do in order to return to a state of balance. We know what part of us needs nurturing. But when is meditating the right nurturing activity? What part of us is nurtured when we meditate?

Can you imagine working out while your baby was crying next to you? Even if you don't have children, imagine yourself running on a treadmill while your baby lies crying in a cradle next to you. As much as your Body might need exercise, you couldn't do it. You couldn't nurture your Body while your child cries out to you.

When we meditate, we bring the Body and Mind to a state of peace. The Body is still and the Mind is calm. Or at least, that's what we're striving to do. And in this view, we can see that meditation is something we do to nurture the Spirit.

A lot of people don't like to think of the Spirit as something that could ever need nurturing. In this cosmic view of God and our Spirit, the Spirit is a stable, unwavering, permanently blissful part of us. It cannot be damaged, hurt or destroyed. And while I agree, please try to conceptualize a person that lived their entire life devoid of engaging their Spiritual side. Born into a non-spiritual family and raised in a non-spiritual community, this person goes through every stage of life with no concept or connection to God or their Spiritual side. They experience great tragedy in their life and find life to be a struggle.

Now imagine this same person born into a faith filled family and raised in a healthy religious community. As they go through each phase of life, they have a strong connection to both God and their Spiritual side. They regularly spend time with their religious community and devote a part of their life to making a difference in other people. They too have struggles in their life, but find God by their side each step along the way.

In comparing and contrasting the Spiritual experience of these two paths of life, we can visualize that in both scenarios the Spirit survives and is not damaged. But in one life the Spirit is nourished and thrives through playing an active role in the person's life. So we don't look at nurturing the Spirit as providing it life support, but rather taking care of the Spirit like we take care of the Body.

So just like you might carve out a half hour of your day to run on the treadmill, we look for opportunities to take care of our Spirit. We do this in one of two ways:

  1. Expressing our Spirit.
  2. Nurturing our Spirit.

How to express one's Spirit is a whole other discussion (covered in Inspiration Divine). However, nurturing our Spirit is something that can be done through meditation because in this experience we bring the Body and Mind into a calm state. The babies next to the treadmill are peacefully sleeping so the Spirit can be nourished.

"OK, that's great, but how do I still the Body and quiet the Mind during meditation so the Spirit can be nourished?"

As I mentioned above, there are a variety of techniques that one can employ during meditation. But more importantly, it is what we do when we're not meditating that has the greatest influence on this experience. How we live our lives is the means by which we bring our Body and Mind into a peaceful state during meditation.

When we're meditating and we experience our Body fidgeting or our Mind rambling, we can view them as crying infants. Instead of finding fault in their communications, we can have empathy for them like we would a crying baby. "I need nurturing too," they cry out to us.

"Don't worry, I will nurture you too," should be our response. But right now your sibling needs our care and compassion. "Shhh, it will be OK."

Recognizing that sensations, feeling and thoughts are the languages of the Body, Spirit and Mind helps us focus the meditative experience. For example, in the weekly meditation class I teach at my local yoga studio we are experimenting with walking meditations and incorporating music, tastes, smells and sensory experiences. And rather than these things distracting the meditative experience, my students report that they've experienced an even deeper sense of peace.

I know this hasn't been a simple explanation of how I approach meditation. But I hope it provides you some clues as to how you can embrace your own practice.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Dave Berman asks "How do you reconcile acceptance of what is with a drive to make the world a better place?"

You've asked a question which is big enough to support a thesis length explanation. But let's not put off the tough questions and jump into this one with both feet!

Like most really tough questions, the answer is surprisingly simple but understanding the foundation of the answer can be complex. Thus in order to accept the answer we must first explore the full breadth of your question.

The first part of your question deals with acceptance. You phrased it in an eloquent way in saying, "accepting what is."

As simple as this sounds, this is incredibly difficult for us to do. In order to fully grasp the power of acceptance, we must come face to face with the grim reality of the potential horrors of humanity. When we can look into the eyes of someone who has suffered the worse crimes against humanity and offer them a path to acceptance, then we have fully embraced acceptance. For those that has suffered torture, rape and murder, there is an incredible shift that must occur before they can find acceptance.

The first step to acceptance comes through forgiveness. We often think of forgiveness as something that we do for the other person, but it is actually something that we do for ourselves. We can best understand this in situations where we have not forgiven someone. Upon closely looking at the reality of the situation, we find that the other person has moved on and is no longer troubled by the incident. In fact, many times they have convinced themselves to forget the incident all together and truly walk the earth with a clear conscious.

And as much as this troubles us, it pails in comparison to the pain, anger and hatred that we carry around in our hearts when we refuse to, or have convinced ourselves that we cannot, forgive. The victim wakes every morning with anguish in their heart and relives the horror of their past each night when their head rests on the pillow. No amount of mental or logical discourse can dislodge the pain they carry around in their hearts every second of the day.

And so it is the victim that suffers without forgiveness. It is their heart that releases pain when they forgive.

It is important to distinguish between forgiveness and forgetting. One does not have to forget in order to forgive. In fact, as a species we adapt because we can remember painful situations so that we can avoid them in the future. This ability to avoid pain, the second time, extends to our friends and family as we protect them from experiencing our personal tragedies. And so by forgiving, we retain the memory of our past, but release the emotional pain that we carry around.

The second step to acceptance comes through peace. By grasping the reality of our situation without distorting the truth to fit our view of the world, we approach the world "as it is" instead of "how we pretend it is." Please note that this is not "how it was" or "how it will be." By accepting reality in the present moment, we understand the truth of now. And by approaching the reality of the situation through our own eyes and devoid of judgment, we can see the situation with fresh eyes. In the reality of the present moment, we can see clearly without fooling ourselves. As my favorite yoga teacher say's, "We can learn to be comfortable in discomfort."

For example, when I first joined Facebook I extended friend requests to everyone I went to high school and college with. Twenty years after those college years, here is the response I got back from someone I knew in college:

Have to admit I wasn't quite sure whether to accept your invitation; had good memories of you when we worked together, but was split by less pleasant ones of your big steroid-inflated buddy head-butting me at a party, catapulting water-balloons through dorm windows, etc...

Clearly my buddies in college owe this guy an apology. But what he doesn't know is that my big steroid-inflated buddy is now a Christian Minister that has dedicated his life to building a religious community and helping impoverished families in Mexico. In the past, my friend clearly wasn't nice to this guy, but "now" he's a wonderful human being.

We seek an understanding of our personal reality. Not the reality of the media, not the reality of our society, not the reality of our colleagues, not the reality of our friends and not the reality of our family. Accepting "what is" in the now requires that you only interpret the situation based on 'your' personal experience in the present moment.

The third step to acceptance is love. Not only a love for others but a love for God, a love for life, a love for our planet and a love for ourselves. But most importantly, this is a filter by which we choose to approach our path to acceptance. In our every action, we think to ourselves, "Is there a more loving way I could approach this situation?"

By approaching our lives through the filter of love, we are choosing our future. You might think of this as the opposite of acceptance because we think of acceptance in terms of accepting what cannot be changed. In that view of acceptance, we believe that we cannot change the world, we cannot change the hearts of men, we cannot change people's actions half-way around the world and we cannot change the past. But I would argue that this view of acceptance is giving up. When we accept that we have no power, we are acting in weakness instead of strength. We are simply getting out of the way.

Instead, we want to approach acceptance with forgiveness, peace and love. We do this in an active sense to play a big role in the world. We do not accept hatred, anger and violence. Instead we accept that by forgiving our trespassers, by finding peace in the reality of our situations and approaching a solution through love that we will make a difference in the world.

So too when we approach acceptance in this manner we bridge the temporal limitations of our universe. When we carry around pain in our hearts, we end up with repeating cycles in our lives. The same situations keep happening in our lives over and over again. You've heard these cycles in the stories of your friends:

I can't find a boyfriend, because I can't trust men.
I can't get a good job, because I don't have the right education.
I can't spend time with my parents, because we always fight about .

But so too these stories cause us to approach new relationships in an untrusting manner, to not apply for jobs that have educational requirements and to go into our parent's home expecting a fight. And then we're not surprised when the same thing happens again. In this approach to life, we make our past our future.

But when we approach acceptance through forgiveness, peace and love we actually change time. By forgiving people in our past, we let go of the pain that we bring into the present moment. By accepting people for who they're being right now, we experience them without the baggage of our past. And when we approach every situation with love, we choose a future that won't be constrained by our past. We can actually break through the boundaries of time and chart a new future.

Thus the answer to your question is, "We make the world a better place through acceptance. And when we approach acceptance with forgiveness, peace and love... we make the the world a better place."


Darwin Stephenson

This question was asked by Dave Berman who operates the blog and Facebook Fan Page called "Manifest Positivity." His advocacy journalism is a public service for peaceful revolution, coming from a place of love, practicing presence and pronoia.

How can I improve the world and unite humanity?

André Larsson asks "What we (human kind) can do to improve the world in a more effective way and unite us?"

André, this is a tough question that we all struggle with throughout our lives. At the time of this posting, countless people are suffering in Haiti and the death toll is estimated to exceed 100,000. As we go through our daily lives, this tragic event is a stark reminder of the pain and suffering that take place on a daily basis around the world.

We wonder what we can do to make the world a better place when we seem so small, so far away and unable to see how we can influence lasting change. Our lives are filled with struggles of our own and there hardly seems enough time in the day to keep our own head above water, let alone enough to bring about world peace.

This question we face is not difficult because there is a lack of answers. There are thousands of strategies that have been employed throughout history and stories of our greatest leaders provide glimpses into the influence one soul can have on the world. Political leaders, religious voices and even prisoners have made a marked change on humanity.

But despite these accomplishments, we look at the world and find ourselves disappointed that more has not been accomplished. Anger, fear and hate pervade our society in ways that we hoped would've been extinguished by now. Jealousy, rage and discrimination have survived like an unbeatable virus. Persecution, abuse and judgment seem to be alive and well in both the world's community and our local neighborhoods.

And so your question is a good one. What are we to do? How do we make the world a better place and unite humanity?

Nations and groups have tried to show people a better way.
Religious leaders have preached of the divine life.
Individuals have given their time and their lives to fight for peace.

And yet, despite great gains, the struggle survives. But so too does our desire and hope to persevere. We know that a better way is available to the human race and we can almost taste how attainable this harmonious life is for us all. The beauty of a world infused with peace, love and joy is on the tip of our tongue. But just like a memory that just can't be recalled, we feel it but struggle to make it a reality. We just don't understand how we can make a difference.

The world we live in reinforces an approach to change that can only come about through momentous force, incredible shifts and miraculous accomplishments. Great men and women are heralded for their incredible achievements and the changes they introduced to us all. But while these stories inspire us, so too they reinforce the concept that change comes through herculean efforts.

But we're late for work and the kids have to be at soccer practice at 3:15. And so we conclude that the change that the world needs will have to come from someone else because we're too busy, not capable and not even sure where to begin.

Herein lies the key to the answer. The power of nuclear energy came about from understanding the fundamental properties of the electron. When we see the devastating damage caused by dropping a nuclear bomb or the size and complexity of a nuclear power plant, we forget that the properties of a single electron are what enable this unimaginable power. And while the effort to discover the secrets of the electron were nothing short of herculean, it was in the mind of a single physicist that the final answer emerged.

OK, so we're not physicists and we're not trying to scientifically solve the world's problems. But what this analogy brings up for us is that change happens on very small levels. It spreads like a virus through our networks and reaches into the lives of people that we don't even know.

For example, my last post on Staying Present in Crisis was forwarded to a writer in Iran who is translating it into Persian to be published in an Iranian Yoga Journal. From there someone will read that article and apply the principles in their life. Unknown to that person, they will handle a personal crisis with love and inspire someone who witnesses how they handled the situation. And that person... One thought continues to circle the world.

But this is only one known example of this chain of events. Starting with Mr. Clark posting his question, this one packet of information is circulating in ways that I not only cannot imagine but also I will probably never be made aware.

And so that is the problem that is keeping change from happening on a global scale. Without an awareness of the impact of our actions, we incorrectly conclude that they didn't make a difference in the world. So we stop trying.

But we're perpetuating a lie when we judge our actions in this way. Instead we should be steadfast in our efforts to make the world a better place. But not in herculean efforts to make marked change, but rather in small, meaningful ways in our own lives.

We can do this on a daily basis by asking ourselves these three questions when we ponder what choice to make in life. Whenever you're wondering what you should do or are about to do something, ask yourself:

Of the choices before me, which one:

A. Chooses love
B. Unites humanity
C. Expands God's presence

The opposite of this would be a choice that isn't loving, divides humanity and constrains God's presence.

We begin this change in our own homes. We should first bring peace and healing into our family. The global change we seek can only come from within. Just like the tiny electron, great power can come about through these little, tiny changes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to Avoid the Ego in Crisis

R. Clark asks: "How does one not allow their life circumstance when in crisis to overtake being present, thus reverting back to ego."

I believe this is a question that we all struggle with regardless of background, religious beliefs or state of enlightenment. You can imagine a Christian acting out in anger and later reflecting that their behavior wasn't "very Christian." Or Wayne Dyer screaming when he discovered he had cancer after a lifetime in dedication to others. In these moments of crisis, we often find ourselves reverting to our egoic ways.

Society has taught us that we are "wrong" in these outbursts when we react in ways that are not in line with our desired state of being. As such, we're shielded from those moments when a Rabbi learns his brother has been murdered or when someone runs over Eckhart Tolle's toe in the grocery store. Because they don't share that side of their lives with the public, we incorrectly assume that they're different from us. Because they always seem to be in a state of peace, we want to believe that they live this way 24/7. As a result, we hold up our Spiritual leaders as being perfect in this regard and masters of avoiding such detours with the ego.

I recently commented on the Awakenings radio program that I want to meet the enlightened Mom in the grocery store when her kids are pulling her hair out. We mistakenly hold enlightenment to be a state that is obtained when we disconnect from life and live in the proverbial cave. Locked away from the troubles of everyday life, staying in the present moment is easy. But we don't live in a cave and we're no strangers to conflict. As a result, we find that the Spiritual tools we've been given don't work so well in times of crisis.

Meditation is the tool most often given by many Spiritual teachers for life management and I too have struggled to apply this technique in times of crisis. When you meditate in a cave for ten years I would expect you to be at peace. But when your heart is broken, you're suffering with illness or you're staring down the wrong end of a gun, the ability to drop into a meditative state is elusive for most of Humanity.

The answer we seek is "in life" rather than in "the tools." In our pursuit of life management tools, we've gotten the tools mixed up with the way we should live our lives. Thus meditation is prescribed as a tool, when it is actually the result of living our lives in harmony.

Let me explain:

Many people struggle with meditation because they mistakenly believe that the voice in their head should be silent during meditation. In an attempt to silence their voice, they work really hard at meditation, try different styles of meditation and eventually become frustrated with their inability to meditate. At the same time, hundreds of millions of Christians and Jews find themselves in a state of peace when they pray. Clearly the voice in their head is active when they pray and yet when we approach meditation we expect the voice to be silent. Both are seeking the same state of peace through two entirely different approaches to that voice in our head.

And just like one scoffs at the criminal who takes up prayer on their deathbed, we too should reconsider our approach to meditation as a tool. Thus instead of meditation being a tool for cultivating peace in the present moment, the way we live our life prepares us to find peace in meditation.

In our Western society, we desire instant fixes and solutions to our problems. We envision ourselves climbing up the mountain to ask the guru to tell us the meaning of life. Armed with this newfound knowledge, we will climb back down the mountain and live our lives in peace.

But wait! If the guru has the answer we seek, then why does he spend his life meditating on the mountain? If we can obtain this meaning of life answer within our Minds, why is it that the guru chooses not to engage in life? Could it be that the guru has found one path to enlightenment and that path requires disconnecting from life?

As such, we can imagine ourselves sitting in front of the guru but being unwilling to accept his answer. "Mr. Guru, I'm looking for tools that I can use out there in the real world."

Ignoring our plea, we find the answers commonly cited but rarely applied in the real world of people we know:

  • live in the present moment
  • don't feed the pain body
  • meditate
  • think happy thoughts
  • don't think negative thoughts
  • pray
  • don't sin
  • believe
  • attract that which you seek

I'm sure you could add a few more philosophies to this list. And in listing these concepts, I don't mean to say that they don't work or that they're not true. My point in listing them is to illuminate the elephant in the room that they're not working in our daily lives. It isn't that we're not good at applying them, the simple truth is that they only reveal part of the truth. And while they do reflect the truth in part, we seek a much more universal answer to our question.

But the guru shakes his head and thinks, "You don't get it." And we, lost in our ways of living our lives, don't want to get it. We want to take the red pill and make everything different. We believe that there is inherently something wrong with us and if we could just figure out what that is...all would be good. We want to believe the illusion that is our life because we see the illusion in others. We want what they have, but we want it in our life.

And thus we have a dichotomy for Spiritual teachers. Do you tell them what they want to hear or do you tell them the truth? One thing is for sure, if you want to sell self-help products then it is financially beneficial to tell people what they want to hear. Because the peace they seek will require change and no one is going to pay $12.95 for a book that tells them that they need to change. Don't believe me? Take a look at the universal message of self-help gurus. They're no dummies.

But I'm not selling this message for $12.95 (actually this is free). And so I'm going to go out on a limb to answer the question. I can't promise you that you'll like the answer, but I will promise you that it will work in your real life. And the reason I can do this is that I'm liberated from a relationship with you based on money. Priests and Ministers have to pass the plate every Sunday service. Self Help gurus have to sell books, DVDs and access to their websites. Thus because this is free, I'm actually empowered to share with you the truth that will set you free (sorry, I couldn't resist).

To begin, you have to reach beyond the partial truths that you've been given. The first of these universal concepts is that there is not anything wrong with you. The entire concept that you're broken, flawed or incapable of being good is not true. It very much appeals to our logical Minds and that voice in our head. Our Minds love to divide everything into right vs. wrong, good vs. bad and divine vs. evil. We've taken this concept so far that we've extended it not only to ourselves, but to practically every aspect of our self. In the game of "I'm not good enough," the Mind reigns supreme in judgment.

I'm not disconnected from reality in saying this. I understand that you sometimes make poor judgments, choose incorrectly and often do things that you later regret. But instead of applying these actions as being part of "you" instead think of them as what they really are: actions

Yes, in the game of life we make mistakes and our actions are not always aligned with who we want to be. But, in judging ourselves, we find that things don't get any better. We have been judging ourselves and others since we were little kids and this way of living hasn't served us very well. But we live in a society that lives and breathes judgement so we mistakenly believe that it is the only way. Thus the second of these universal concepts is that we can live our lives without judgment. This isn't to say that you cannot make decisions, but rather that judgment does you no good.

The third universal concept is the definition of what you are. You've spent your entire life believing that you're that voice in your head and the actions it calls your Body to do. A lot of teachers have helped people displace this egoic frame of Mind, but not replaced it with a definition that we can relate to in our daily lives. Thus we find it really cathartic to discover we're not that voice in our head, but on Monday morning we're right back being that voice in our head.

And that is the crux of the problem and the answer to Mr. Clark's question. We are not that voice in our head, but instead we are the collective consciousness of our Body, Spirit and Mind. In this temporal world, this is the existence in which we live. Outside of the boundaries of time, we are our immortal Spirit but in this lifetime we experience life in the collective consciousness of our Body, Spirit and Mind.

This is key because our present mindset has us believing that we're all Mind. So we're actually introducing two additional, intelligent components of us into the mix. As you can imagine, the voice in our head doesn't like this. In fact, it has become quite accustomed to running the show. Giving over any balance of power to the Body and the Spirit seems risky to the Mind. Thus it likes to convince you that these other parts of you aren't really there at all.

And thus we go through life making decisions that are entirely logical. Even when we make illogical (e.g. emotional) decisions, there was a thinking process that occurred. In the vast array of choices, our Mind considered the available options and chose one. And therein lies the problem: available information

As we go through life, our Mind makes gazillions of decisions every day to keep us alive, make it through the day and make the best of our time on the planet. Given enough information and time, there is not a single decision that your Mind cannot make. The problem is that there is often not enough information or we don't have enough time to "think clearly."

You've seen it in your own life. "If I would've known then what I know now..."

But our Spirit is not limited by these same logical constructs. Our Spirit is connected to God, the Spirits of others and collective consciousness. Furthermore, our Spirit isn't confined to the temporal world in which we live. Thus our Spirit not only has access to a vast amount of information to draw upon, but it actually knows your past, present and future because it doesn't live in our temporal Universe. This isn't deterministic or implying that your life is already planned out. Rather your Spirit knows what is best for you and what/where/why/when you need to be in the future.

So while we may seek the guru's answer as to how we can be present in the moment of crisis rather than succumbing to our ego, the real path to the life we seek is to live our lives in harmony with our Body, Spirit and Mind. That isn't a mantra or a meditation but rather a way of living one's life. The beauty of this approach to living is that you can experience it without living on a mountain top or meditating in a cave.

To find this life, we must begin connecting to our Body, Spirit and Mind in our every day lives. We can be mindful of this practice by asking ourselves these three questions towards the end of our day:

  1. What have I done today to nurture my Body?
  2. What have I done today to nurture my Spirit?
  3. What have I done today to nurture my Mind?

If the answer to any of these is "nothing" then you know what you need to do that evening. And if you can live your life in this way, you'll find that in your moments of crisis that your entire being (Body, Spirit and Mind) will participate in guiding you rather than the egoic nature of your Mind.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dealing with Anxiety

Hi Darwin:

It would be great to hear your advice on managing anxiety.


Hi Mandy,

I'm not sure why, but I feel like I should start my reply off by saying thanks. My life is very much dedicated to helping others and thus when that connection is made I'm grateful.

So let me start off by explaining that I'm not a big believer in our medical establishment's approach to treating depression or anxiety. I'm not against medication, but I believe our society has been dealt a dis-service in these drugs being positioned for long term care. Many people don't see results from anti-anxiety medication and my belief is that this is because they don't treat the root cause of anxiety.

My position on medication is that it should be used to help you get the clarity of mind and presence to deal with the root cause. If you're having frequent panic attacks then it would be difficult to work on the root cause. Thus if taking anti-anxiety medication provides you with the peace of mind to focus then that's great. But thinking that there is something wrong with you and that you need a drug to make you "normal" for the rest of your life...that sounds crazy to me.

I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on T.V. So please do anything I recommend without talking with your therapist of physician first. ;)

The good news is that I'm not trying to sell you any herbs, miracle techniques or anything else that costs $19.95.

The difficult news is that I have a completely different view on why we experience anxiety and depression. My wife has struggled with anxiety for the last several years and my approach has helped her.

Before we get to "what to do" we must first establish "what we are." Most people walk around believing that they are that voice in their head. Lots of new age people like to talk about "that voice" but few explain what we're supposed to do with it. So too a lot of people talk about changing our thoughts, focusing on the positive and lots of other mind tricks to change that voice in our head into something different. I think that's a huge waste of time.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with this concept, but if you're asking yourself, "What voice?" then it's that voice that you're having a conversation with about not having a voice in your head. But since you're dealing with anxiety, I think I can safely assume you know what voice I'm talking about. ;)

That voice isn't "you" but it is part of you. That voice is the internal dialogue of your Mind. As your Mind considers thousands of choices throughout the day, it considers each and every option. And with each option it "thinks" about the probable outcome, benefits and detriments. The internal dialogue that you're hearing is your Mind considering all the potential options. And listening to that dialogue can be a bit disturbing sometimes because our Mind considers both the sane and insane options in its review of all possible options.

And that's actually a good thing. You wouldn't want it any other way because you want your Mind to consider all the possibilities and make the right choice. Clearly your Mind is doing a great job with a nearly perfect track record of making good decisions. Sure, it makes the wrong choice once in a while, but considering the billions that it got right...statistically your Mind is doing an awesome job.

The point is that your Mind has a job to do (mainly to keep you alive) and thus there isn't anything wrong, broken or disabled about it. It doesn't have faulty wiring, a bad hormone dispenser or a broken controller. The one problem it does have is that it is an egomaniac. It wants all the attention and it doesn't trust anyone else to be in charge of you.

But you're more than just a Mind. You also have a physical Body that makes thousands of decisions every day to keep you alive. For example, your heart has over 40,000 embedded neurons (brain cells) that enable it to operate as its own intrinsic nervous system. With every beat of our heart, an electro-magnetic field is generated that is 5,000 times stronger than the field produced by our brain. This field is so powerful that it can be detected by electro-magnetic sensors over eight feet away from the Body.

And what is the purpose of the electro-magnetic field generated by the heart? It is one of four ways our heart communicates with the brain (The four ways that the heart communicates with the brain is through neurological impulses, biochemically via hormones, biophysically via pressure waves and energetically via the electro-magnetic field it generates).

Thus you are both a Mind and a Body. They communicate back and forth to function in the world and to keep you alive. When they are in balance, they work fluidly together.

But you're more than a Mind and the actions it commands your Body to do. In some way, you also have a Spiritual side to you. Thus instead of thinking of ourselves as a physical manifestation of that voice in our head, we should be conceptualizing ourselves as a Body, Spirit and Mind.

You've probably heard these terms discussed by thousands of new age practitioners. And when they're freaked out about mentioning God, they'll drop the Spirit and refer to us as the Body-Mind. But these are more than cute descriptions about our human nature, they actually represent what we are.

And thus you can think of yourself as the combination of your Body, Spirit and Mind. This is the part of the message where you might think I'm going to tell you to find Jesus, read the Bible and find a local church. Those are all great things, but that's not my point. And I personally don't think any of those things will eliminate anxiety in your life. You can pray until the cows come home and you'll still be dealing with anxiety.

Instead I'd like you to think of yourself as both the connections and the three parts of you as one. Thus your Mind is one part of you, but so too you have a Body that is a major component of the overall Mandy. But Mandy's Spirit is also a major component of you. You're all three combined.

But most of society operates as if they're only the Mind. They live a mental existence where their entire lives are lived according to the logical ways of the Mind. And as that relates to making decisions to keep us alive or driving on the freeway, that's great. But there are many things in life that can't be reduced to turning left or right, choosing right from wrong or making the best of a situation.

So the first step to alleviating anxiety is to bring one's self into a place of balance. Now I don't know how much you want to eliminate anxiety from your life, but if you're anything like my wife you would do almost anything to never have another panic attack, racing heartbeat or restless night. In fact, you might even want it out of your life so much that you'll take medications that have potential side effects that are really, really, really dangerous.

And like I said before, in the Spirit of obtaining peace of Mind and presence, that's fine. But my prescription for alleviating anxiety is designed to rid it from your life forever, rather than masking it to shut down your brain. But it takes work and requires more effort than taking a pill. It requires balance.

To conceptualize balance, imagine energy flowing throughout this new concept of Mandy. You are the combination of your Body, Spirit and Mind and the communications that flow between each part of you run along a meridian of energy. This is the part of the discussion where you might think I'm going to recommend you see an acupuncturist. But that too is not my point.

Instead of yourself, imagine this energy flowing between the three parts of someone that is perfectly in balance. Their Body, Spirit and Mind are working in harmony and each part of them is regularly nourished and cared for. There is no blockage, restriction or containment of this energy. Each part of them takes the energy it needs, puts it to use and allows it to continue flowing.

Instead of yourself, now imagine someone that is horribly out of balance. They spend their entire existence "in their heads," deny their Body exercise and have no spiritual connection to their own Spirit. Despite the connective bonds being incapable of being severed, these connections have atrophied like a muscle that hasn't been used in years.

As energy flows into this person, it is funneled to the Mind where it spins out of control. Overwhelmed with too much energy, the thoughts of this person accelerate and the consideration of every possible thought becomes magnified. Simple considerations become blown out of proportion simply because this energy is overwhelming the system.

With too much energy being funneled into the Mind, the excess energy spills over into the Body where this person directs it to their area of greatest need. For most people this is the heart, which symbolizes their longing for love, connection and to unite humanity. But with too much energy being held in the heart, it starts to suffer and reacts by racing with palpitations and aches.

Does that sound like anxiety?

Thus when people talk about treating anxiety through exercise, healthy eating, loving relationships and a connection to faith... they're on the right track. But our goal isn't simply to burn off this energy by directing it into other parts of our self. Our goal is to harmonize and bring the system into balance.

Balance is really hard when we don't know "what" to balance. Work, home, career, kids, parents, friends, housework, investments, personal time, exercise, (this list can go on forever).

But all we really need to do is balance our Body, Spirit and Mind. Every person is different in this regard, so there is no single prescription to bring these three parts of Mandy into balance. But you can start by asking yourself these three questions at the end of each workday:
  1. What have I done today to nurture my Body?
  2. What have I done today to nurture my Spirit?
  3. What have I done today to nurture my Mind?
If the answer to any of these is "nothing" then you know what you need to do that evening. The nurturing doesn't need to be huge. You don't have to run 5-miles a day to nurture the Body. Start with a healthy dinner and a walk around the block.

So too nurturing the Spirit doesn't require that you meditate every night or spend every waking moment at your house of worship. Starting with a short meditation or attending a prayer group is great start.

The Mind is the hardest to nurture because we already live a mental existence. To nurture the Mind is to expose it to a new experience. This can be as simple as taking a random topic, entering it into Google and clicking the "I'm feeling lucky" button. You can then learn whatever comes up.

Unfortunately all of what I've just shared with you is simply a prescription for just about anyone. Not specifically for someone that is dealing with anxiety. For anxiety, we actually need to investigate why you're getting so much of this energy in your life.

Remember the depiction above where your Mind is getting all this energy channeled to it without an outlet? In this, we need to ask ourselves why are we receiving all of this energy?

The answer comes from an understanding how the Body, Spirit and Mind communicate with one another. In my book Inspiration Divine, I go into explaining this in much greater detail, but I'll cut it short here and just explain that the Body talks to the Spirit, the Spirit talks to the Mind, and the Mind talks to the Body. If you draw this as a triangle with arrows showing the flow of communication you'll see how this is a closed loop.

The point here is that your Spirit is communicating and transmitting energy to your Mind. Your connection to your Spirit may be weak, but the connection is there and energy flows along that connection none the less. While your Mind and Body are constrained to the physical limits of your Body, your Spirit is not constrained an exists outside of the confines of your Body. Thus your Spirit is directly connected to God and the Spirits of other beings.

And thus we can see that our Spirit is not constrained by the logical thoughts of our Mind nor does it care about the physical limitations of our Body. Whereas the Mind cares about the logical reasons of "why," our Spirit only focuses on choosing love, uniting Humanity and expanding God's presence. So too your Spirit is not constrained by a temporal Universe (time based) and knows where you need to be in the future.

So imagine your Spirit living outside of the confines of your Body and Mind with a complete understanding of what is best for Mandy. And to help you accomplish your hopes and dreams, your Spirit is transmitting to you all the energy you need.

Now imagine yourself in balance. Each part of you is nourished on a regular basis and you're living your life in complete harmony with your Body, Spirit and Mind. You're in tune with your Spirit's communications and you take the energy provided to you and put it to work in the world (as it was intended). The energy flowing through you spreads to others as you choose love, unite Humanity and expand God's presence in the Universe (by creating that which didn't exist before).

Or your one of millions of people on the planet with a malfunctioning nervous system that needs pharmaceutical drugs to be "normal." I just can't accept this philosophy.

There are no quick fixes as the prescription here is more of a practice than a pill. As we struggle to deal with anxiety in our lives, we can look to ways that we can use this energy to unite humanity. My wife has established a relationship with a local women's shelter and when she gets her anxiety attacks she stops by to give them a hand. The point is by helping others we provide this life force energy an outlet in the world rather than bottling it up inside of us.

I know I've shared a lot with you here and it's a lot to digest. I hope I've provided you with a different way to view anxiety and a method for alleviating it. I personally believe that people that experience anxiety are those that are called to do great things in this world. Your Spirit is trying to get your attention by turning up the volume. We may not know now to listen, but by bringing ourselves into balance we begin to speak this language and make a difference in the world.

I truly hope you find peace and inspiration. If you're interested in this approach, I post quotes and inspirations daily on my Facebook Author Page.



Monday, December 14, 2009

Dear Darwin, What about a person who takes, takes, takes?

Dear Darwin:

Please tell me, what would you say to someone who is constantly taking all you have, not returning it, asking for more, and it happens all over again all the time. I want to help this girl and i do! all the time! but she doesn't want to help HERSELF! what do i do?????? I'm getting so tired of getting taken advantage of. I need to go do some yoga. please help me!


Hi Stephanie:

I can empathize with your situation as this is a very common issue with interpersonal relationships. When we put ourselves in a position to regularly help others, often times we encounter people that are attracted to our willingness to give. This isn't to say that these people are purposely trying to take advantage of us, but rather that they've developed a repeating pattern of drawing energy from others.

The first thing we should always do in these situations is to have compassion for the other person. A person in balance wouldn't operate in this manner and thus we can immediately recognize that they're out of balance. Thus, without balance, they're unable to attain the strength and energy necessary to objectively see their behavior or chart a course of change. Nobody wants to be in a situation of continually needing help from others and by approaching resolution through compassion we can engage the person with love.

We've all met people like this in our lives and our Minds have fabricated lots of different stories about why these people are the way they are. But what we should recognize is that their behavior is the result of a number of factors rather than a single factor. Our logical Minds love to come up with patterns and no doubt we've discovered part of their reason for acting this way. But there is always much more to the story than meets the eye.

The bottom line is that they are not thriving and, through their relationship with you, they're able to derive a bit more energy into their life. When this is communal, this exchange of life force energy is both healthy and central to being human. However, when this energy is flowing primarily in one direction, it can be unhealthy for everyone. Unfortunately, these "energy suckers" are often unaware of their unbalanced ways and thus talking to them about the problem rarely resolves the situation.

Instead, we should take our lay-psychologist hats off and instead envision the relationship as a back and forth, flowing of energy. I know this sounds like fluffy, metaphysical jargon but hear me out. For starters, let's describe ourselves, not in the way that voice in our head describes, but rather as we truly are:

"You are the collective consciousness that radiates from the connections between your Body, Spirit, and Mind." - Inspiration Divine, p 22.

Thus, instead of simply being a physical manifestation of that voice in your head, you're actually the active combination of the Body, Spirit and Mind. If you look closely at this sentence, you'll see that you are the "connections" between the Body, Spirit and Mind:
  • You're not your Body, because you'll continue to exist after your dead and buried.
  • You're not your Mind, as you're more than just that voice in your head.
  • You're also not simply your Spirit, as your Body and Mind play an active, participatory role in your life.
In essence, you are both the connections and the individual entities at the same time.

As we imagine sensations, feelings and thoughts flowing between the Body, Spirit and Mind we can visualize these communications as pure energy. A thought originates in the Mind, which causes the Body to act and the Spirit to react. In a healthy and balanced individual, this natural flow of energy exists in effortless harmony. As you can see, keeping ourselves in balance is key to living an enlightened life.

Now visualize two people in a harmonious relationship. Rather than the sensations, feelings and thoughts flowing within the individual, they are shared and exchanged between the two. This ebb and flow of energy is central to being human and our social nature is by Divine intent. We are called to love one another and unite all of Humanity. Thus when we interact with one another we share much more than sensations, feelings and thoughts...we exchange energy with one another.

However, when we encounter someone who is out of balance they tend to take more energy than they give. Most people tend to avoid people like this because they find these people to be draining, exhausting and even depressing. In the cosmic exchange of energy, these people are living off of the energy of others.

There have been times in our lives when we too have operated like this. We all have unfortunate times in our lives when we need the helping hand of another. Each of us can recall a time in our lives when we needed help and our friends and/or family were there for us. Our nature is to help one another and during these times of imbalance in our lives we sincerely appreciate those that give without expectation of return.

But some people unknowingly become stuck in this way of living their lives. Through years and years of repeating this same pattern in their lives, they've developed a dependency on other people to help, guide and even rescue them. Often these people have trouble maintaining long term relationships with friends and family as they have become accustomed to seeing people through the eyes of what they can do for them. They live in a world of expectation and thus are missing the communal blessings of balanced relationships.

Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do” Luke 23:24

Unaware of their imbalanced ways, these people are not conscious to the damage they're causing in their relationships or of the balanced life they could be living. And because they've developed deep, repeating patterns (ruts) in their mental approach to life, talking to them about this situation is rarely effective. The reason is that they're living their lives entirely within the logical constructs of their Minds. Thus when you talk to them, they're only hearing you through the isolated consciousness of their Minds.

To effect change, they must move to a more balanced approach to life where the Body, Spirit and Mind are all participating in the conversation. Again, remember you can't convince them of this by talking to them about it. Without the lines of communication flowing between their Body, Spirit and Mind, your words will simply be logically referenced against their pre-existing construct of life. In this construct of life, you are a source of energy. And if you're not going to supply them with the energy they need to thrive, they're not going to continue the relationship. Hence, why talking to an unbalanced person about balance rarely works out.

Therefore, to help someone who has developed this approach to life, we must do two things:
  1. Set Healthy Boundaries - to protect oneself in this exchange, we should establish healthy boundaries when we are of sound Body, Spirit and Mind (e.g. when we're calm, rather than reacting to a situation). We seek boundaries that allow us to help the person, but also have defined limits. Although you'll likely be ignored, you should communicate these boundaries to the other person and stick to them.
  2. Engage their Body, Spirit and Mind - it is impossible for the connections between the Body, Spirit and Mind to be severed, but they can become atrophied like a muscle that hasn't been used for years. We can help the other person turn this around by inviting the other person to join us in activities that nourish the Body, Spirit and Mind. For example, going to the gym together, taking a meditation class together or joining a reading club.
As more energy begins to flow into their life via their own Spirit, they'll naturally move away from being dependent on others for this life force energy. When these connections begin to blossom, they'll be opening up to their true self. As a good friend, you'll be there to guide them along the way and help them over the small bumps in the road. Through modeling a balanced life, they'll slowly find ways to regain balance in their own life.

In every relationship, we play the role of Father, Mother or Child. People who drain energy from others have become stuck in a child phase rather than developing. Helpless to recognize that their gestation period has passed, they're insuring that they remain in this phase of life by refusing to stand on their own two feet. What they don't realize is that we regularly cycle through the phases of Father, Mother and Child in our lives and this means that someone needs them to play the role of Father or Mother in their life. By not progressing with their own development, someone else in their life is struggling. Someone else is unable to move onto their next phase in life, because this person isn't evolving. By helping them find balance and the flow of God's life force energy in their life, we not only help this person but also the people who need them.

We live in a cause and effect world where we want simple and definitive solutions to our problems. Instead of working towards a solution, our Western Minds crave absolutes and instant fixes (hence the predominance of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications on the market). We usually like to tackle a problem head on and confront it with brute force. However, this is an un-compassionate approach to someone who is struggling with imbalance in their life. Without communications and energy flowing through their Body, Spirit and Mind, their lives are hard, difficult and a struggle. We seek to truly help them by guiding them to a place of balance where energy flows through them, rather than to them.

Before I close, I must add that I love the fact that you answered your own question. In final line, you said you needed to take a yoga class. And as yoga is the balance of the Body, Spirit and Mind...you were already on the path to the answer of your own question.


Darwin Stephenson

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dear Darwin, What about Forgiveness?

Dear Darwin,

What advice would you give someone who has forgiveness, but has not been forgiven.


Hi Patty:

Ironically today I also was invited to join a group on Facebook dedicated to Forgiveness. So I guess you could say that forgiveness is the theme of the day.

I find a lot of beauty in the simple precepts that I've been given and write about in Inspiration Divine. I particularly find them beneficial in my life as they apply in so many situations. As you'll recall, they are:

1. Choose Love.
2. Unite Humanity.
3. Expand God's Presence in the Universe.

I believe that forgiveness ties into both choosing Love and uniting Humanity. When we forgive someone else (regardless of sharing that forgiveness or not) we actually change the Universe because we are letting go of the emotional binds that prevent us from growing. Without forgiveness, we are hopeless to avoid the same mental ruts that we follow over and over again in our lives. In this, our past becomes our future because we are using the same script over and over again in our lives.

In forgiving another, more life force energy is directed into our lives because we are nurturing our Spirit as opposed to following yet another logical repeat performance of our Mind. Our Spirit desires us to choose love and unite humanity so it is directly nurtured when we forgive others. And thus our forgiving directly channels more of God's energy into our lives.

But your question was about not being forgiven, rather than forgiving...

In this, I feel that we're also drawn to love and uniting humanity; but in this regard this a longing for which we have no control. We cannot bring someone else to choose forgiveness as this is an awakening that one can only come to through their own discovery. And this is particularly hard when we long to be forgiven or seek forgiveness for a loved one.

My advice would be to forgive the person for not being forgiving. I know this sounds like a circular reference, but try to look at it from a flowing of energy perspective. As you forgive someone, more life force energy flows into both of your lives. Much like your Spirit is nurtured in this exchange, their Spirit so too is nurtured. And like priming a pump, this can be the kick-start of awakening that opens them up to forgiveness.

We truly aspire to be forgiven so that the other person can experience the beauty and bliss of forgiveness. Although we feel blessed to be forgiven, it is actually our love for the other person that drives this desire. In essence, we want them to feel the love that comes through forgiveness.

There is no way to mentally force forgiveness to happen as this gift comes through a connection to Spirit rather than the Mind's logical ways. This is why you can't convince someone to forgive. Thus we can really only influence this Divine transformation of another by loving and forgiving them ourselves. And that take time.

Hope this helps and I hope you can find the forgiveness you seek.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

God Bless America

In these times of struggle, we Americans understand the true meaning of hope. Our lives are filled with conflict ranging from the challenge some face to put food on the table for their children to fighting for our country's security half way around the world. We know there is a better day in our future and we persevere because that is what we Americans do. We are no strangers to struggle and we inherently know that brighter days are ahead.

Our elected politicians face the daunting challenge of piloting our future, while representing the needs of today's community. And while they are talented and skilled, we are to be reminded that they are human. Like our personal struggle to prosper, they too are doing the best they can and we trust that they have our best interest at heart. In this, we Americans also know the true meaning of trust.

Our one nation under God faces struggle in the plurality of our religious diversity. The golden rule to treat thy neighbor as thy self emerges from God's role in our life and we are reminded at this time of year that all God loving beings aspire for peace. There is no enemy in peace and we aspire for a day when brotherly love is known to all.

Let today be the day that we find hope, trust, peace and love in our lives. Let us model for the world the American way of life in which we look past our differences and find commonality in the future of humanity. Let each of us find a way to make a difference the life of another. And, in this, let God bless America.

Darwin Stephenson

in reference to: The White House (view on Google Sidewiki)

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Beauty of Oprah

So let's pause for a moment and consider Oprah's contribution to the world outside of the topical discussion of the day. Throughout history and any given day in your life, there are voices that awaken you.

That awakening may be a new perspective or as simple as a new way to organize your living room. The point is that this change in awareness came about through another person. In this case, it came about through the world of communications that is Oprah. And regardless of what you think about the topic of the day, this introduction of new information into your life is a potential seed of change.

We all can't be Oprah, but we can learn from this simple model of sharing. Creating and sharing with others is elemental to the human condition. And while we may quibble over what is the right topic to share, we can reflect on the divine nature of this exchange. We are all creative, spiritual beings that are called to create that which did not exist before and share it with others in our lives.

It is said that, "to give is better than to receive." We often say this around holiday moments in our lives, but is this not also true in our everyday existence? In those moments when we have helped someone without expectation, we catch a glimmer of the true love of humanity.

With the pace of life increasing at a breathtaking pace, it is sometimes difficult to see the benefits of our sharing. And that is the crux of the problem. When we do not receive feedback from our sharing, we wrongly assume that there was no value given or received. But this is merely our egoic Mind trying to logically control our life. When we let go of the expectation associated with our giving, we shift our consciousness to a more spiritual state. And in this loving exchange without expectation, we find ourselves experiencing the same love that we found when we helped someone.

What Oprah has done is built a worldwide system for sharing. Her messages touch more people than could ever possibly provide her feedback. Yes, her production team surely monitors how this content is received, but beyond the qualitative measures that guide the show there is an expression of sharing that goes beyond the commercial enterprise. And I would argue that her success comes directly through the value of sharing.

As spiritual beings, we too can find ways to share with others in our life. Try it out today by simply sharing something you've learned with someone else. I think you'll be surprised how this small act of generosity can spark change. And we all could use a bit more spark in our lives.


Darwin Stephenson
Author of Inspiration Divine

in reference to: Oprah.com - Live Your Best Life - Oprah.com (view on Google Sidewiki)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Caregivers, Healing and Traumatic Brain Injury

My husband and I have been married for 35 years and have two sons. Almost 10 years ago my youngest son who was attending his 5th and final year of university for computer sciences was hit by a car. We lived in a motel room for a year to be by his side while he was in a coma and slowly was able to be brought home. Our son has severe brain damage but is aware of who he was and how close he was to reaching his dreams that he had worked so hard for. The lawyer we hired ended up leaving our son so short of money that we cannot afford for him to be placed in residential care where we know he would flourish with peers and activities.

We live in rural Canada and there are no services for our son. He requires 24/7 care and this has taken a huge toll on us... and all those who love him. My son is lonely and unable to even watch t.v. or amuse himself for a minute... he requires one on one care day-in and day-out. It is beyond heart breaking to look into the very eyes of your child and miss him as you do. Our greatest fear is what will happen to our son when we are no longer here to watch over him.

We have been banging our heads against walls trying to find help, and each time the bottom line is, you don't have enough money. And now our son's behaviours are so bizarre and socially unacceptable that we can no longer even go out in the community... I have maintained a positive attitude throughout and yet nothing seems to ever be enough. Our oldest son has drifted away, no one visits us because the injured son is all consuming, and we can't even have a conversation without him needing something.

I was wondering if you had any word of advice for us. We feel hope fading, we feel helpless, scared and heart broken. Our lives, all of our lives, have been twisted and there seems to be no end in sight. My dream is to see our son happy and content among peers and have activities; to feel he belongs and that he counts. I appreciate any input or advice that you might have for us. Thank you.

- Mother of a family in distress for too long

First of all, let me say how sorry I am to learn of your story. As a father, I understand the hopes, aspirations and unconditional love that we have for our children. To see them suffer and unable to enjoy life is a pain no parent should ever suffer. My heart goes out to you and your family.

I can only imagine how difficult it is for you to maintain hope in your lives with the constant care that your son requires, his apparent lack of progress and the impact it is having on your lives. Thus my counsel to you is twofold, one part for your son and another for yourselves. As caregivers, the healing energy that flows through you is directly correlated with your well being. What this means is that you need to nurture your Body, Spirit and Mind so that you can help your son. And as difficult as that might seem to be for you, it is imperative that you nurture yourself. We all need nurturing, but those that care for others need it the most.

I want to assure you that there is a path of healing for all of us including your son. As an individual, your son consists of a Body, Spirit and Mind that was on a path to becoming complete before this unfortunate accident. In this, try and imagine his growth from birth until the accident in terms of his Body, Spirit and Mind as separate entities. For example, your son was born with no knowledge whatsoever but his Mind began a rapid growth towards becoming more complete up until his accident. In his fifth year at University, your son was at the pinnacle of his mental growth. And then this unfortunate accident occurred and his mental growth plummeted.

As you can see in the chart above, your son's Mind was rapidly growing up until the moment of his accident. With a traumatic brain injury, your son's Mind is unable to grow on its own because his brain is not directly providing him with the usual inputs, information and experiences. It is as if the foundation of his house was suddenly built on sand rather than solid footing. Thus his efforts to continue operating as usual are thwarted because his brain isn't sending him the same signals as before. But that doesn't mean that his Mind is unable to function, he just isn't getting the information he needs to grow.

So too his Body was maintaining health or a slight decline due to aging. I can't tell anything about your son's physical condition from your letter but I surmise he was living a youthful existence:

Whereas we would expect your son's Body and Mind rapidly growing towards becoming complete at this stage in his life, the chart above depicts the opposite occurring as you described. Without the ability to function as before, your son's Body and Mind are not being nurtured as they should. And as much as you try to facilitate this for him, I'm sure you've experienced the difficulties present in doing this for someone who cannot function on their own.

But your son's Spirit is undamaged and unencumbered through the accident. In fact, your Son's Spirit is not only flourishing, but is capable of sending everything your Son needs to heal. The reason for this is because our Spirits are not constrained to our physical Bodies and are connected directly to God. As such, your Son's Spirit has direct access to the healing life force energy of God.

Whereas your Son's Mind and Body may be on the decline, your Son's Spirit is strong and needs the Body and Mind in order to thrive. We are all called to fulfill our purpose by choosing love, uniting Humanity and expanding God's presence in the Universe. Your son is no different in this regard and God wants nothing more than for your son to be a healthy, thriving member of Humanity.

I know it is difficult in these situations to not conceptualize God as a judgmental being that chooses who gets in car accidents and who does not. But God neither chose this for your son nor chose not to intervene. In the limitless lives we experience with God, this is but a moment in the immortal life of your Son's Spirit. Thus this temporary time is but an isolated experience in the total life of your Son. But that doesn't mean that he must spend this lifetime trapped by his injury. Healing is possible.

The key to healing is to communicate to the Spirit that your son is a thriving, contributing member of Humanity in the present moment. Your job is to express to his Spirit that your son requires more, not less, life force energy to achieve his purpose. As you'll see in Inspiration Divine, the Spirit lives in the domain of the future and therefor only aspires for what your son can be. While the Mind lives in the past and the Body in the present moment, the Spirit's focus on the future is what provides the means to channel God's healing life force energy to your son.

The Body communicates to the Spirit through the language of sensation so enlivening the five sensual dimensions is how you'll open up your son's line of communication to his Spirit:
  1. Hearing - speak in the Body's present tense and communicate how your son is a thriving member of the human race. Tell the Spirit what it wants to hear by describing how your son is choosing to love, uniting Humanity and expanding God's presence by creating that which didn't exist before. You know your son better than anyone so imagine what he would be accomplishing if the accident weren't to have happened. Let your prayers be vocal and convey what is going to be but in the present tense.
  2. Smell - awaken your son's sense of smell by incorporating a wide range of smells into this communication experience. From pungent to sweet, employ a dynamic range of aromas to bind your son's experience and trigger distant memories.
  3. Taste - bring your son's sense of taste to the surface by incorporating different flavors. Bring your son's favorite foods into the mix.
  4. Sight - regardless of your son's reaction, expose his eyes to stimulating visuals of the human condition. Before his accident, your son experienced a whole host of visual experiences and you should stimulate his visual senses like you would strengthen a muscle. Variety and intensity (within range, of course).
  5. Touch - You mentioned that your son was studying computer science prior to his accident and I can imagine his fingers touched a keyboard several times a day. Thus one of your son's primary input sensations was through his fingertips. Without expectation of function, provide him with the feel of a keyboard, the experience of typing or any other tactile sensation from his past.
Think of these techniques as therapy. You're slowly opening up the lines of communication between the Body and the Spirit. By flooding the Spirit with input of your son's experiences and communicating his active lifestyle necessitating energy for expansion, your convincing the Spirit to give your son everything that he needs to heal.

And as the Spirit communicates to the Mind, the healing life force energy of the Mind is directly channeled to where your son needs healing the most. By continually bathing your son with God's healing life force energy in this way you'll be awakening what has gone dormant.

I can't tell you that this will bring swift or dramatic results. But what I can tell you is that the healing life force energy of God knows no boundaries and healing is possible for your son. As his caregivers you are also his primary healers. During this time, I highly encourage you to practice your faith and include your son in your religion. As a member of your family, his Spirit needs nurturing and the nurturing of your Spirit will also nurture his Spirit.

I look forward to the complete recovery of your son. God wants your son to be at his best and I hope this provides you with hope for the future.


Darwin Stephenson