Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Who Is This "I"?

Scientists estimate that, on average, people think about 60,000 thoughts per day. Many of those thoughts begin with the word “I.”

I am a teacher, a poet, a bank president, a slut. I am going to the store, to the doctor, to school, to rob a bank. I need money, I’m hungry, I must have these shoes. I feel good, I feel bad. I hate him, I love her, but I lust after her. I want to quit my job. I am afraid.

Quite a busy beaver, this “I.”

If we can stop, calm our minds, and Have a Moment, we might begin to wonder who the “I” really is. Who is the “I” that wants this dress? Who is the “I” that worries? Who is the “I” that helps these sick people, and gives all this money to charity? Who is the “I” that sleeps around, and takes drugs, and continually does these self-destructive things?

Most of us realize that we are not our bodies. A growing number of us also know that we are not our feelings, and we are not our thoughts. We aren’t the knowledge we’ve accumulated, or the roles we play. If we are none of these things, then who are we? Or more to the point, who is the “I”?

In Hindu tradition, there is an idea called Maya. Maya is illusion, and specifically, the illusion that there is any difference between “I” and god, or GOD, or Unity, or the Universe. In fact, there is no “I.” There is no separation between us and the creative force of the Universe. We are GOD, experiencing Itself, watching, tasting, loving, wondering in awe at Itself. That’s all we are. Everything.

When we forget this, that’s where the suffering comes from. But that’s also where the fun begins. The curse of being human is the pain of separation. It is also the gift we are given – the gift of feeling this world fully.

GOD wants us to wade into this world without any trepidation or self-consciousness. GOD is infinitely replicating Itself into infinite form because GOD wants to feel it all – the pain of cancer, the joy of sex, love, motherhood, fatherhood, taking a shit, fear, awe, ennui, falling, dying, being born – GOD wants to feel it all and not miss a beat, to suck it all up.

The great suck GOD is not merely watching over or simply listening. GOD is experiencing this world directly though us. We are beings of light and feeling machines for GOD.

And that’s who the “I” is. No more or less than GOD.

That’s who you are.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Giving in a Time of Lack

These are difficult times for many people. Millions have lost their homes, or are in danger of doing so. Millions have lost their jobs. Many businesses have gone under. Uncertainty and fear about the future have become pervasive. Everywhere in human affairs, we see apparent lack.

The Universe will have none of this. Everywhere in the Universe is abundance. Everywhere there is Love. Everywhere there is Unity.

Our illusions and our fears are what create the lack in the first place. There is lack largely because people agree there is lack. This is true all the time, not just during a recession. People are starving, people are living in the streets, and wars are being fought, because of the widespread perception of lack. If we could agree on abundance instead, we would make this world a paradise.

Let’s start with ourselves. Realize that you have everything you need. Realize that the Universe, which is totally aware of you, which loves you, and which you are part of, will provide you with everything you seek. Then decide to give and give regularly.

Giving will send a powerful Message of Love to yourself and to the Universe. You will be saying, in a sense, “I believe in and expect abundance. I have so much that I am free to give to others.” Give to other people, people you know, people you don’t know. Give to causes that help others, and the planet. Also give because you want to, and not with the expectation of return. When you give with an open heart like this, the Universe will respond in kind.

2,500 years ago, the ancient Hebrews were already well aware of the power of this principle. The Lord they spoke of was simply the way they understood Love, the Universe, the creative force that is and makes all things. The word “tithe” meant “tenth.” In other words, they were encouraged to give ten percent of their harvest back to the source from which it came.

From the Book of Malachi, 3:10:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

If you want to access abundance, live abundance. You don’t have to give ten percent of what you make, but do give something. And remember that not all gifts are material gifts, and not all material gifts cost money. Time, attention, understanding, a flower from your garden, a meal cooked with love, these are all powerful gifts.

Now is the perfect time to start giving.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Enjoy Every Sandwich

We are living on borrowed time.

A month ago, a friend of a friend died abruptly. He was 39 years old, fit, energetic and healthy, with much to look forward to and many family and friends around him. He was engaged to be married. One hot day, he and his fiancĂ©e stopped to swim in a river, a place they’d gone to swim many times before, and he was swept away by the current.

We do not know when our existence on this physical plane will come to an end. It may happen suddenly, or we may live to a ripe old age, bouncing tiny grandchildren or even great grandchildren on our knee. No matter. Time is fleeting, and all things considered, even the most long-lived among us are not granted much of it.

Why not make the most of it?

Why not relish every moment? Why not revel in a sunny day, or a cold, rainy day? Why not tell the people closest to us that we love them? Why not take the day off and spend it making love? Why not reach out and make the first move to heal a bruised relationship? Why not be big-hearted and generous with our kind words, our money, and yes, even our time? Why not be bold in both our thoughts and our actions?

We have responsibilities, of course we do. But tomorrow we could be gone, or a loved one could be gone, and then what of those responsibilities? Were we too busy to do or even see what was really important?

There is no time to be rushed, or stressed out, or to feel put-upon. There is no time to be rude, or cranky, or annoyed. There is no time to be small-minded, or selfish, or to take advantage of others. We have only these few, fleeting moments. Let’s not waste them.

In the fall of 2002, the pop singer and songwriter Warren Zevon appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman. Zevon had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was expected to die within a few months. Indeed, he did die less than a year later. During the interview, Letterman asked him if facing death had taught him anything.

“How much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich,” Zevon said.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Cathedral

A few years ago, I spent an afternoon in the south grove of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California. The south grove is home to over a thousand Giant Redwood trees. With no tourist amenities other than a dirt parking lot, the south grove is also harder to reach than the more popular north grove. The day we visited, no one else was around.

Some of the trees there are 3,000 years old. The forest itself is alert and aware. It has tremendous dignity. When we go there, we go as children. And hopefully, we go with reverence, with awe, and with humility. Most of recorded human history has taken place within the lifespan of trees that are alive right now. The rise and fall of great empires, the life and death of great heroes, famous people long-forgotten, all of it came and went while members of this forest quietly stood watch.

Moreover, in the stillness of a late afternoon, as the sun begins to set, it’s not hard to imagine what grew there when the most immense trees were just tiny saplings so many centuries ago: their ancestors, towering Giant Redwoods, some of them thousands of years old at that time.

We get caught up and swept along by everyday matters. We’re busy, sometimes very busy. We have pressing obligations – bills to pay and appointments to keep. We chase goals. If only we could earn some more money, get out from under, make it to the end of the school year. We’re prey to powerful emotions. Anger. Frustration. Envy. Things seem important and on some level, perhaps they are.

But life passes quickly in this way, and not much that we do will last in any event. We will pass away and eventually, so will any memory of us. Our job in the meantime is to lose some of the importance we feel and replace it with awareness.

Have a Moment. Stop chasing, stop being chased, and instead become aware of the life within ourselves and within everything. Notice the glow all around us. If we’re aware, we don’t have to visit the primeval forest to enter the Cathedral. We’re already there.

This morning, the sun is rising and the seagulls are calling to each other. That’s the Cathedral.

The early risers are starting their cars and heading off to work. That’s the Cathedral.

A man is picking through trash, looking for redeemable aluminum cans. That is the Cathedral.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Boomerang and the Ripple Effect

People talk a lot about karma. And when they talk about karma, often they use the concept in a way that could be more complete.

Most times, when you hear the word karma, the person is talking about results that flow back to you from an action you’re taking, something you’re saying or even a thought you’re having. Certainly, there’s plenty of truth to this. If you consistently put out negative actions or messages to the universe, there is a very good chance that negative results will flow to you. If you consistently put out positive messages or actions, there’s an excellent chance positive results will return. Often they return to you instantly.

You can compare this observable fact to the idea that there’s a perfect accounting system at work in the universe, rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior. It’s as if you throw a giant boomerang, then it circles around, comes back and hits you with the exact type of energy you sent out, often multiplied in force.

It would be wonderful if this were always true. But the boomerang doesn’t always find its mark. The accounting system is somewhat flawed. I’m sure we can all think of people who have hurt others, either in our own lives or in history, who somehow escaped the payback they seem to have richly deserved.

So what’s another way to think about karma that might be more complete and more useful?

Karma is like the ripples on a lake, after you throw in a stone. The results of your actions ripple out in every direction, through time and space. Some of those ripples come back to you on the shore. But many of them radiate away from you, affecting people and events for a long time afterwards.

As a result, we have immense power, in our daily lives, to create positive ripples that radiate outwards, sparking even more positive ripples. We can be good karma machines.

A kind word, a moment of deep listening and empathy, some little generosity, all of these things are good karma. Indeed, they are Messages of Love. If we’re mindful, if we stop, get clear and Have a Moment, we see that opportunities to send these Messages arise all the time. It costs us nothing (or almost nothing), but it can make another person’s day. And the person who gets a Message of Love from us, might well turn around and send one to someone else.

Perhaps more powerfully, our good karma sets an example for others to follow. People (especially our children) witness our actions. Our generosity sends them a message that it is good to give, that we live in abundance, that there is plenty for everybody. Our willingness to listen tells them that people are important. Our good deeds show them that there is a wider world we must care for.

At first blush, these might seem like small things, but small things can and do become big things. Do these types of actions create good results for us? You bet they do. But they do even more – they help create the kind of world we want to live in.

The ripples of karma, good or bad, have a way of becoming gigantic waves.

Monday, July 20, 2009

When Cats Dream

If we aren’t careful, we can spend much of our lives on automatic pilot, mechanically flitting from this problem to that one, from bills to pay to distractions on television, from problems at work to problems at home, from bad memories of the past to chronic worry about the future. In this way, we can easily sleepwalk through our time here, day after day, overlooking the 800-pound gorilla in the room with us.

What are we overlooking? The simple, astonishing fact is that we are here, alive, together, at this moment. Our very existence is amazing.

Who are we? How did we come to be here, on a tiny planet, in the midst of an unimaginably vast universe? If we stop, and Have a Moment, we see that we are surrounded on all sides, and at all times, by mystery and enchantment. Look into the eyes of your lover, your child, the person who rings up your purchases, the person you hate, the person whose feelings you hurt, and notice how incredible this being is. They, and we, are miracles.

And it doesn’t stop there. The lavish display of stars across the night sky, the millions of blades of grass in a wide-open field, the endless ocean waves pounding the shoreline, and the countless living things in that ocean – all miracles.

Yesterday I watched a cat I know while he was sleeping. He is nine years old, a full-grown adult, and somewhat surly as cats go. He will scratch you. While sleeping, he began to dream. While dreaming, he started making a rhythmic movement with his paws, and he began to suck and then lick with his tongue. For several moments, he looked like nothing more or less than a kitten, suckling at his mother’s nipple.

A cat dreaming of his mother – the magic is everywhere.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Everyday Gifts

I walked down to the road today to pick up the mail.

The mail is the most mundane thing in the world. And the mail can pull the wool over your eyes. There are bills in the mail. Bank statements. Colorful advertisements. All sorts of things that seem to demand your attention now. All sorts of things that can spark anxiety, that can create envy or longing, that can pull you in ten different directions at once.

The mail is seductive. It can make you forget what's really happening here. It can make a Fool out of you.

But on the return trip from getting the mail, I spotted two wild turkeys almost hidden back in the woods, shepherding a brood of six or eight baby turkeys. They were gently picking their way through the brush near a small pond formed by the recent rains. I stopped, captivated by the beauty of what I was witnessing. Then the two adults became aware of my presence, and quickly moved to shield the babies from my view.

These are not deep woods by my home. This is old farmland and civilization is close by. But the music still plays and Nature does her dance, even when we're in the shadow of big city skyscrapers.

The turkeys brought the Message. They were a small, momentary gift to me from a loving universe. Of course, the turkeys had their own agenda - to eat, to protect their young, to procreate, to survive. These things are beautiful and necessary. But make no mistake: the universe, Love, Unity, was shaking me and saying, "Look, man! Look here. This is it. This is what it's all about."

We've talked before about Having Moments? This is an example of what I mean when I say to Have Moments.