Thursday, January 15, 2015

Waves: Expansion Contraction and all that Is

"Peter left the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. But when Peter saw the wind and the waves he became afraid and began to sink ..."
Matt 14:29

       This morning my seated meditation practice was simple, oh so simple. On the inhale as I witnessed the expansion of my body I simply applied the mantra "expand" and on the exhale as I sunk back into my flesh the mantra "contract" was my anchor. And so it went, I would inhale expand into my heart and feel my hearts energy begin to slip beyond the boundaries of flesh, I would contract feeling the power of my belly. So much power in the belly that it would burst upward into my mouth relaxing the jaw and perhaps increasing my potential for lovely words. The breath became a rhythmic wave both shooting me beyond my body and anchoring me firmly back in the body. my breath reminding me that there are only two places we can find God: inside of ourselves and outside of ourselves. And we must explore both. Indeed the "kingdom of God is within us". But to remain centered in our internal experience can be a breeding ground for narcissism and delusion. And indeed paradoxically we "find" God by developing a servants heart and that heart can only grow in relationship to serving others. But again if we remain others centered we can quickly become depleted and have nothing to give. We must take refuge inside ourselves.  And so we breath and we ride the wave of breath. And we go in and find that indeed the Spirit of God is in our hearts and our bellies and our toes and our fingers. And we go out and we find the eyes of God in every face we see. Sometimes the faces shine back brightly gladdening our hearts and sometimes the glances sting and hurt our hearts, but we mustn't stop looking. The human soul does not want to fixed it wants to be seen. Can you see the Divine in your neighbor? If you cant see Divinity in yourself it will be harder to see in others. And so we go back inside again and again.

     My seated practiced was sandwiched with the reading in Matthew about Peter walking on the waves. At first with eyes on Jesus he did the seemingly impossible, but quickly he turned his eyes to the waves and began to sink. A relational metaphor I adore is that God is an ocean and we are a wave. To be "closer" to God we must simply relax into the ocean. However there are waves that are smooth and rhythmic and lull us into this relaxation and choppy fast waves that crest into anxiety and separation and duality. These dangerous waves tend to take shape in our minds. We cannot help which thoughts arise but we very much can help which thoughts we surf. Allowing thoughts of the future to swell in our minds takes us away from the internal wave of respiration and spirit and into the dark waters. And so again and again we must return to the breath and perhaps a mantra. Each journey is unique but a unifying factor is that a mind running amuck makes for rough seas filled with dangerous hooks. Present moment mindfulness and compassion make for smoother seas and surfable waves.

     The longer I investigate spirituality the simpler it becomes. Religion is a great place to start, but beware lest you stop there. Religion is exclusive, Jesus is inclusive. We all ultimately share the same breath. The exhale of the Buddha will become your inhale. The sigh of Christ will become your gasp. And so we breath. And on the inhale perhaps you feel the expansion of your heart and mind. perhaps you take a moment to go beyond your self and remember that you are not the center of the Universe. And on the exhale you settle back into your self and realize you are indeed home. And we keep riding the wave of breath so the tsunami of life doesn't wash us away. Peace to you on the journey.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Human Equation

     It is perhaps simplistic to break the human experience down to a neat three part equation of body, mind and spirit. We are, in truth, infinitely layered and complex. I have always been drawn to trios however and looking at "the human animal" thru a three part lens has served me best. Any one of these parts could be a lifetimes study of their own. After over two decades of working with peoples physical bodies I have picked up a lot about how form and function move us through the dance of life
On one level the body is pretty simply composed of flesh and bone and seems like a pretty manageable topic. On another level we are more empty space than not, we have not one straight line to be found anywhere in any part of our structure. We are a magical swirling whirling river of life in which the only truth to be found is constant change. This I can live with.
     The second part of my human equation, the mind,  is similarly dual in being simple and simultaneously complex. Simple are the thoughts that pop into our head stealing most of our moments by projecting us into the past or future. I say simple because on this level our thoughts are automatic and just a function of out neural pathways and electricity. Even the new trendy field of neuroplasticity is pretty graspable if you understand the more you use a pathway the stronger it gets and that a combination of being watchful of your brain and interrupting old patterns and using repetition to sow new patters transforms the actual physical structure of our brain along with our thoughts. Pretty awesome, huh? Keep in mind simple and easy are not synonymous. Because up to this point I have really been discussing the brain. but what about the "mind" the thinker, the consciousness? Yes, that topic I can only stammer in awe and hope to one day begin to begin to begin to grasp.  The brain though, again with the river, our brain is like a system of interconnected waterways that get dredged and shifted by our thoughts both intentional and automatic. This I can work with.

     The third part of our equation is to me the richest and deepest river of all. Our spirit is that deepest part of us which is always reaching for the sunlight, for growth and connection. Regardless of beliefs about the Divine Mystery we all have spirits that need nurturing and tending. I have never addressed this part of myself as anything but a theist and from a very young age I had a strong sense of being surrounded by a loving energy and for this I am eternally and profoundly grateful. But for spiritual seekers who are atheist this does not change the need for spiritual nourishment. We can ignore no part of our self. I was raised  without religion to a Jewish Mother and a Father from an Episcopal background and while I know that raising a child with tradition and reverence can be an amazing gift my gift was that I had to forge my own way. I had to decide not only what to believe but who to believe and how to believe and it is an ongoing and joyful exploration in which I have felt myself residing in a river of love for sometime now. And while I am a strong theist paradoxically I also do not believe that you need to be a theist to swim in this Divine river of spirit. Here is what my explorations have uncovered. Our two root human emotions of love and fear seem to be the drivers of our spirit. The first, love, manifests in expansion, inclusion, softening and relaxing. The second, fear, manifests in tightening boundary, exclusion, clenching and hardening. These are of course hardly complete lists of the manifestations of fear and love, but you get the idea. So to feed my spirit I watch my body and mind for expansion or contraction. When I find my mind closing and my jaw clenching I know I have strayed from my optimum path. Now as a theist I do think the ultimate goal of spiritual growth is the merge my small spirit with the Bigger One. But, for an atheist perhaps nature or music or the present moment works for you. The point is to get beyond ourselves into loving service of Something Bigger.

     Almost thirty years ago as an idea of Divinity took root in my psyche the closest image I could conjure up of Divinity was God as a river. These decades of exploration have shaped and molded and shifted my ideas about God but to this day I can come up with no better analogy than a river. Our fluid flexible bodies and our shape shifting brains dancing in the currents of a Mighty River as we float or struggle side by side. our nature is both quite simple and again complexly ineffable, but this I believe.The more we gracefully float and the less we fight the currents the further along the river we go.  It has been said that the man who wishes to understand the universe must be in equal parts, scientist, philosopher and theologian. And perhaps this is true, or maybe what we really need to do to remove the veils of ignorance is just go sit by a river.