Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Ins and Outs of Waking Up

"You should not be surprised at my saying you must be born again" John 3:7

     This phrase has a lot of emotional trigger for me. Early in my spiritual exploration there were a lot of people who would ask this question "Are you born again?"like your answer granted you access to an exclusive club. This deep mystical question became a judgment used to divide us from "them" And sadly (but honestly) I now kind of associate this with a fundamentalism that doesn't smell of spiritual maturity. I am not sure if this is judgment or discernment, but just because I have wrestled with this phrase and come out bruised doesn't make it go away. So, "living in the flesh" is not born again and "living in the spirit" is born again? What does this even mean? Is it the Christian equivalent to the Buddhist idea of Enlightenment? Just because a group I don't identify with has appropriated this "born again" phrase for themselves doesn't mean that being "born again" isn't something spiritual seekers should explore. But where to start? So, I am no theologian but I really don't believe being born again has anything to do with saying any magic words about accepting Jesus. Yikes! I know that's a big statement. So, what might it mean? Is it tied in with the term "spiritual awakening"? Enough with all the questions: here's what I think I know about this scriptural command to be born again.  And even though "think I know" is a dangerous phrase I will proceed!

     There is a point in our lives when we don't know that we are also something separate from our thoughts and emotions. At this stage we have a thought or emotion and automatically act on it, because we don't know better. This is what Buddhist call being "trapped in a trance of thought". Maybe this is "living in the flesh" This stage will last forever if we don't begin to question the dictatorship of our minds. This questioning is often prompted by the suffering our thoughts casue. So,  we begin to watch our thoughts and every once in awhile not act on one. And every time that happens our flesh or small self is disempowered. Then with a simple accumulation of practice hours our mind begins to still enough to make space for another voice. Once the thoughts stop being so loud a small soft voice emerges. Some might call this Holy Spirit, Higher Self, Intuition ... doesn't matter what you call it, this voice is not your mind. It is a seemingly new part of you emerging, something being born. But ironically this voice that seems newly born is something ancient that has always been there. Our personal Wisdom voice begins to override our automatic thoughts and we are born again as someone sitting in their power because they're sitting in something bigger. Instead of being tossed to and fro by the waves of our mind we are sitting on the throne of our wisdom. More watchful and less busy this new self of ours is as sweet and precious as a new born baby and as old and wise as the ages .

     I think there are two factors that allow us to be born to a new way of living: faith and practice. To have faith that it is possible to escape the clutches of thinking is the facet of our faith diamond that prods practice. The possibilities for practice are vast: yoga, meditation, contemplative prayer, creative expression all of these activities and more can be used in a manner to still our minds. We can simply watch our breath but doing just that still gives the mind a lot of wiggle room so I like to use mantra or what I call breath words. Breathing in and thinking the word "in" breathing out and thinking the word "out: is a practice tool that can be taken anywhere and is super effective. Thich Nhat Hahn says "If you want to become enlightened you know two things: "When you are breathing in you know you are breathing in and when you are breathing out you know you are breathing out".

     All these big terms I am trying to untangle "born again, enlightened, awakened". these were not my motivation to practice, but rather the pain of being trapped by my thoughts instigated a spiritual journey decades ago. It is universal that some portion of our thoughts are self bullying and when we identify with our thoughts they become emotions that frankly beat the crud out of our tender hearts. But when we begin to let this unchecked mind be transformed a tender new part emerges and we find space to breath. Thoughts don't cease, emotions don't go away but a part of us has been seemingly born that allows us to witness thoughts and emotions knowing there are only the waves but we are the ocean. You are so much bigger than you mind lets on. So keep the faith and keep practicing because you are wise and wonderful.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Rich Life

     There was nothing exceptional about the bike ride I took that sunny afternoon in 1994, but it is a moment planted in my heart forever. The absolute burst of overwhelming joy that compelled me to throw my hands in the air was inexplicable for such a cautious rider!  It was the most ordinary day, but this mysteriously sublime moment is forever burned into my consciousness. There was no external stimulus to explain the depth of my joy. And, for a long time this moment puzzled me. Given two decades to mull this over, I finally recognize that what made that moment so special is that it was the first time in my adult life when I was fully present. Instead of thinking of the past I was feeling the sun on my face, instead of pondering the future I drank in the embrace of the breeze on my skin. I was merely paying attention, but for someone who had been trapped in her mind and led around by her thoughts for as long, this moment was so huge there was no logical response except to throw my hands up in joy. We were young, poor newly weds but in that moment of presence I was rich, lacking for nothing, wanting for nothing, just giddy with the luxury of being alive. We have all been around sad people with plenty of money and happy people who are just scraping by. Deep down we know money doesn't buy happiness. Yes, a purchase can trigger a rush of hormones comparable to getting high. But, just like getting high the rush is short lived and to experience it again you have to buy something bigger, spend more money. Then we just end up with a pile of discarded dreams and unfulfilled desires. We feel poor not because we lack material goods but because we are so busy chasing the dream of joy we have discarded the richness of the moment.

       Stop now and take a quick tour through your senses. Do you feel the richness of this present moment through the lens of your senses?  If you want to be rich, look for beauty, listen for truth, feel this moment, it's good to be alive, hey? Each moment we are alive is a treasure that more often than not we just throw away because we are paying our attention elsewhere. This morning the question was  asked "when you walk into your garden do you look for flowers or weeds?". A fine question, but I think it can be refined: when you walk into your garden do you look at all?  It is in the looking that we grow rich and in mindlessness we grow poor. No matter the size of your bank account, your most valuable asset is the ability to direct your attention. The things that you pay attention to begin to grow and thrive. But there is a subtleness here many of us miss. We think that when we are lost in thought we are not paying attention, but in reality you are still paying attention but the object of your attention is the stream of thoughts careening around in your mind. We are always meditating on something. When you let your mind have all your attention. you are spending your attention on the spiritual equivalent of junk food. The problem with allocating all of our attention to our thoughts is that thoughts carry chemical imprints that manifest emotions and before we know it we are being ruled by our very unpredictable minds. We end up feeling very poor after being tossed to and fro by our thoughts all day. We end up feeling so poor indeed that we become imprisoned by our minds. As long as you are awake you are spending your attention somewhere, so let's train it towards nourishing and freeing ourselves.

     Stop now and take a deep breath. Do you feel how when you take your inhale you actually have everything you need in this moment to be fully alive? Your life doesn't begin when you acquire a certain something, in waiting to live fully, you are cultivating  poverty. Rather you become rich when you stop and appreciate what you have. Eyes to see, ears to hear, lungs to breath and hearts to love. There is an unmined richness inside you, a depth of well being that exists right now. Not when you lose 10 pounds or handstand off the wall but right now. Are you throwing your moments away or are you spending them in a manner that enriches you? If you don't know the answer to that then begin paying attention to what's happening around you.  If you can't stop your mind from taking over and stealing your attention, give it a job labeling what you are doing.  Such as: Right now I am typing, right now I feel my behind on the chair, right now I hear my dog softly breathing. Right now I am rich because I have paid attention and spent my time being aware. Make your mind your secretary.

     The real currency of your life is time and attention and as long as you are confused that it is anything else you will remain poor. We are like princes walking around in paupers rags not recognizing that we are already rich. When you compare yourself to others you impoverish yourself. When you allow desire for an object to consume you, you are already poor. but when you realize that you are unique and wonderful and alive then you are rich. When you realize that the breath in your lungs is a gift and the sun on your face is a privilege then you have acquired a richness that cannot be taken from you. It is a privilege to be alive, to be given all of these valuable moments to spend. The richness you are looking for is here now you just have to pay attention.