Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Nothing that is Something

Having devoted some time now to active breathwork meditation,energy and bodywork, I can sometimes generate the experience of being “manic” without the mania.

I was reminded of this while reading Bodhi Sarango’s daily musings on the lessons of dharma, and his interpretations of the Buddha and his teachings. Today he addressed an aspect of the "self/no self.” Or what the Buddha meant by “Nothing.”

There is a wonderful metaphor in Nature of the experience of Consciousness embodied as human being which I have written of before, and is worth repeating. I had read that scientists had discovered what they initially thought were mushrooms peculiar to a large area in the western U.S. It turned out they were a single underground fungus of which the heads were the only visible part. “We” are the single heads who, once born as individuals, forget our Cosmic Oneness (I=We), and our work here on the planet is to remember it-- to "wake up" to the piece of the Universal/Divine/Eternal/ Nothingness/Brahman/God/Allah (whatever term you want to put to it) that is the essence/source of Everything, including ourselves. Or not. There is free will.

Interestingly, in a completely different field (or language of expression) and a seemingly non-spiritual discipline, physics has been finding proof of this (see Laszlo's, Science and the Akashic Field) Certainly, basic physics reveal we are mostly a vast space held together by a fast moving atomic/molecular energy system. No different from the very same energy system that makes up galaxies, a chair or a grain of sand. As Wallace Stevens wrote, "The nothing that is something...." And on another level, conscious physical beings are the vehicles for the Eternal to experience that physical reality--each of us the All contained in a broom closet.... though most of us travel through life completely unconscious of this.

Life certainly gives us plenty of opportunities to "wake up" and, in the western canon, I love the biblical story of Job. Some have interpreted this as the quintessential tale of "life is unfair." I see it as a western version of the journey to Enlightenment. Through Jehovah’s trials, Job finally "gets" that Joy is not dependent on material circumstances or attachments.

I have had the great privilege of experiencing Cosmic Oneness in a manic state, which is very difficult to describe and can only be approximated in language, since it does not occur in language or sequentially. Simply, there is no "I" and yet there is something that is aware of the simultaneity of no-time, Consciousness, profound Joy and Compassion. Sensation registered "my" body as solid, yet both light and energy at the same time. The words that came crudely to "me" were something like "This is what God feels like as me" even as "I" understood there is "no-I.” Jill Bolte Taylor speaks of Satori she experienced during her stroke, and the sudden fear that her “self” registered when it wondered how Self-as-Consciousness could be compressed back into her tiny, fragile body. But “It” did, and she is alive to tell her extraordinary tale.

I sense that this experience of the Eternal is the one to which the Buddha referred when speaking of Nothing. It is annihilation of the Ego only, and the capacity of an individual to live as/from Consciousness contained by the vessel of mortality. There is a glorious moment of getting that "we" are not our thoughts, though language is certainly a useful tool for navigating and exploring the grand adventure of physical reality….

Ah, La Comedie Humaine!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Action is Eloquence"

Every July, I spend each morning watching the Tour de France in the comfort of my living room. The years where Lance Armstrong and his teams of road warriors dominated the Tour were as exciting as sports competition can get. The sweeping views from the various mountain points, the brutal ascents, the sometimes ruinous descents, the sheer beauty of man and machine in motion on the flats and in the time trials never grow dull. But it is the way the character of each man was and is stripped away that is most fascinating.

This year is extraordinary. Armstrong races on the strongest team with Alberto Contador leading the pack after the 17th stage. I have been amused by the commentary during each day’s events as the attention turns away from the greatest bicyclist ever to the pursuing front runners—the amazing Schleck brothers, David Wiggins, etc. Counting Armstrong out, the commentators tend to dismiss him until he pulls off one seemingly effortless feat after another, then the previous asides comes off as inane. He reveals a man who knows how to put his considerable power and experience in service to his team while riding for something larger than himself. As a result, he proves himself to be the team leader, indeed the Tour leader, no matter where he ends up in the standings (2nd until today’s 4rth place overall, and 5th place finish.)

What dark parts of himself did he come up against to become the extraordinary human being he is his today? Maybe when he was chasing the-most-ever Tour de France wins, he was chasing his own mortality, defeating the cancer that could have consumed him? He maxed out each day as if it were his last—and like all great physical warriors, if his last proved to be on the field of battle, what greater honor. Those were the victories of a man among men who make themselves Kings, which he most surely did. But to compete as he does now for something greater than himself does him greater honor still. He continues to be the most interesting competitor to watch. He isn’t running from or to anything, but generating his life from a deep place of inner stillness even as he continues to put himself through one of the most excruciating tests of physical endurance.

He has become a spiritual warrior. He has crossed over into the realm of the High King, who knows that to be the leader of leaders means you choose to put yourself in service to others. In all he says and does, he reveals his Self—his support of his team and competitors, his dedication to the cancer survivors and those desperately ill with the disease. His great capacity for love and compassion is expressed in how he is being in “the doing” of the Tour. Viva la difference.

Whoever wins this year’s Tour de France, what Lance has made of himself and what he has created will sustain and light the way for those who come after him—in Sport, in Contribution and in Humanity. Onward to Paris….

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Healing Depression: My thoughts are not Me

Three weeks ago I began a 40 day meditation ritual lead by Sai Maa, a spiritual leader who now lives in Crestone, CO. Each morning I log onto the internet site and listen to her questions and instructions for the day. I sometimes listen to it again or at the end of the day. Each day I am invited to examine more deeply and compassionately all the ways my mind/ego enthrall me in pain and suffering. The Buddha said that life is suffering. And, a wise friend has said, God did not put us here to suffer. Though in the grip of pain and anxiety, it is difficult for me to be with that I am choosing to suffer, so strong is my ego’s fight for survival.

Sai Maa asks me to have an honest confrontation with the dark side, embrace all that it is so that the ego is freed up to serve my Life rather than kill it off. This reminds me of one of M. Scott Peck’s observations that “even the Darkness only wants to be loved.” And if I can realize this, soften and embrace this rejected part of my humanity, I will be awake and at peace.

What thoughts, situations and/or actions have me identify with suffering and separateness rather than wholeness and unity?
Mostly, very young conversations of thinking I am bad and wrong because I DID something bad and wrong. Or the abandoned child, who surely would die without the care of others, and hijacks my adult self who has had the capacities for many years now to care and nurture herself. These thoughtforms, as Eckhart Tolle and others have called them, seem overwhelming at times. And when I fail to recognize that such thoughts are just that, and not all of me or who I really am, the heaviness of depression suppresses my vitality and life occurs through a grey veil. The ego allows me to survive at the expense of aliveness. It tricks me into believing that I have no power and that I am a victim.

The mind, the most miraculous tool of human consciousness, has fooled itself into believing it is the master—the sorcerer’s apprentice believing he is the sorcerer (the Source). So, how to uncover the lie (the beLIEf) and live from awareness and compassion?
Just by asking the questions, because the answers are already present in the questions. Practice asking and answering, listening for what’s true. Sit with “I don’t know,” “I’m scared” or whatever else the ego throws in the way—acknowledge them then set them aside. Invite a real relationship with Self. The automaticity of negative thinking will not be interrupted easily, but it can be done. I have spent many hours training my ego—it will take many more hours of practicing consciousness to train it differently.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Theodore Roethke's Birthday: Manic Mysticism

From the site: The Poetry Foundation National broadcasts of The Writer's Almanac are supported by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine for over 90 years.

It's the birthday of poet and professor Theodore Roethke, (books by this author) born in Saginaw, Michigan (1908). He grew up in the Saginaw Valley, a descendent of German immigrants on both sides of his family. He was "thin, undersized, and sickly as a boy, obviously intelligent but shy and diffident as well," according to biographer Allan Seager.

His father owned a wholesale flower company. Roethke grew up surrounded by 25 acres of cultivated flowers — about a quarter million feet of which were covered by glass. Roethke later said, "[Greenhouses] were to me, I realize now, both heaven and hell, a kind of tropics created in the savage climate of Michigan, where austere German-Americans turned their love of order and their terrifying efficiency into something truly beautiful. It was a universe, several worlds, which, even as a child, one worried about, and struggled to keep alive."

Roethke was passionate about teaching. He called teaching "one of the few sacred relationships left in a crass secular world." And he once wrote in his journal: "The teaching of poetry requires fanaticism." Roethke had bipolar disorder, and he tended to be manic rather than depressed. He was hospitalized for mania on several occasions. His mental breakdowns were accompanied, he recounted, by intense mystical experiences.

When he had his first manic episode, in 1935, he was a professor at Michigan State College in East Lansing. In the days before he was hospitalized, he went out into the woods and danced in circles, trying to cultivate the "Dionysian frenzy" that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about. Roethke wrote in his journals, "I can project myself easier into a flower than a person." And, "I change into vegetables. First, a squash, then a turnip. … I become a cabbage, ready for the cleaver, the close knives." And he wrote,"I knew how it felt to be a tree, a blade of grass, even a rabbit." Also in his journal, he wrote, "I wish I could photosynthesize."

His manic episodes, in which he'd go days without sleeping, usually appeared to be connected to his childhood memories, and were often sparked by experiences in the forest. "Root Cellar" is believed to be written when Roethke was manic. He wrote:

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,

He felt that his mental health condition was a boon for him as a poet, that his manic thinking and manic energy helped him to be inspired and productive, and he likened himself to other poets who were considered "mad" — such as William Blake, John Clare, and Christopher Smart.

Theodore Roethke had a heart attack while he was swimming in his friends' pool on Bainbridge Island, Washington, at the edge of Puget Sound. Shortly after he died, the owners of the house, who were friends of his, filled in the pool and made it into a Zen rock garden to memorialize him.

Roethke wrote:
I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

The Writer's Almanac is produced by Prairie Home Productions and presented by American Public Media.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Toys for the manic mind: Facebook and Twitter

Now that I’ve joined Twitter, I’m wondering what twittering is all about. My dad’s generation would view it as self-serving sound bites (watch me! Dr. Phil….) or inane commentary from people they don’t know, or care to. Though I’m enjoying following the opposition (Karl Rove’s a scream) and getting a taste of people’s lives who are really up to something (Lance Armstrong, Maria Shriver and even Karl Rove albeit, in my book, in the wrong direction….)

So, if I flip this into opportunity and a possibility for something, what would it be? How could the technology drive my commitment to altering the conversation for mental health, and in a self-serving way further the aims of my book, Struck by Lightning: Mental Health Conditions and Spiritual Awakening?

Playing the connectivity game, even a trivial or superficial connection is better than none. I go back to the metaphor of the fungus that grows in a 50-mile radius, of which the heads are the only visible part. If we are the heads, who constrained by our bodies, have forgotten our essential oneness, then twitter is an active representation of us waking up to that spiritual reality. What will be possible for the planet when 6 billion people are following and followed by 6 billion people? What would be possible if every person were following and being followed by 1 million people?

As I’ve found on Facebook, six degrees of separation are two or three. For three weeks in the Fall, I was one step away from the President as Rahm Emmanuel’s Facebook friend. I sent him everything I could think of for his minions to read about Mental Health. Even if it wasn’t read, the energy shifts in the sending.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Connections: In Flow

This capacity to make leaps between apparently unrelated ideas is the penultimate ability of our brains. The “aha” moments occur when we have brought our attention and mastery to something for a sustained period, and then in a flash, something unrelated sparks an insight. Sir Isaac Newton and the apple. In the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, breakthrough moments occur in “flow”—those periods when the mind is so engaged that time ceases. Usually, a day passes with fits and starts, and there is a sense of time passing. A day in flow stops time, or it seems mere minutes. And the moment of epiphany is like holding “infinity in the palm of your hand,/And eternity in an hour.” It could be argued that the breakthrough mind is the controlled version of the bipolar mind.

The bipolar mind is the breakthrough mind on speed. It is struck by insight overload, and experiences connections so quickly that they cannot be spoken, expressed, or explained quickly enough. The bipolar brain is trying to translate an experience of the infinite and Eternal into finite space and time—like wrestling fog into a box. Flow without control.

What are the neurological containers that focus flow but breakdown in overflow? Research there could lead to the most useful breakthrough treatments. My take on the persistence of bipolar and depression in the gene pool is simply that it is useful on a species scale, even as it can be devastating on a personal one. After all, nature is not interested in the lemmings who go over the cliff, only the ones who remain. And the ones who can totter at the very edge, and bring themselves back to tell the tale? Well, that’s what we’re here for….