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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.