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Posts Tagged ‘meditation and the mind’

Enlightenment - WOHASU

There is a Cooper’s Hawk nesting in our pine tree. His plaintive cries ring out at various times during the day, like an avian alarm clock. Yesterday, we found a new bird sitting on the railing of the front patio: I think he was some kind of tufted nuthatch, but honestly, I can’t remember his name. I can see his bird body, firm and round, and the spectacle of him catching an insect in his beak as he sat on the railing. My husband and I played in mud puddles a few days back, because there were fairy shrimp in them, an endangered species brought to life by the copious rains of the last several weeks. Those rains are long gone, though, replaced by a heat wave that will bring up the temperature to near 100 degrees today. The fairy shrimp won’t make it, but by now, they have deposited their eggs in the mud for next year’s generation. Right now, the tadpoles and fairy shrimp are drying up in the intense sun, as they do every year. They will come around again in several months’ time, when the conditions are right for their reappearance.

The bees are almost finished with the blooming rosemary and have moved on to heartier flowers. The cabbage rose in the side yard has sent out new shoots, suckers and stems, drinking in the heat and creating more roses out of nothing, it seems. My husband has found several deer mice in his garage, and he feeds them leftover burritos until we liberate them from an old, metal bucket into the State Park, where humans cannot yet go, but mice can. My walks around the hills have become more focused, and now I see tiny flowers and withering mushrooms that would have escaped me before. I see the circling of hawks on the updrafts; sometimes, they appear not to move at all, suspended in the air like living kites, and I wonder if they are searching for food or simply enjoying the sensation of floating over the world.

Right now, a train is passing through the valley, and the sound of the horn reverberates and warps as it tunnels through the hills. The rotating fan clicks as it hits one extreme of its trajectory and heads toward the other. I feel the breeze for a moment, and then I don’t, and then I do. A dog is barking down the street, and the birds in the oak tree are singing and calling to each other. I don’t know which birds they are: goldfinch, sparrows, titmice, wren, or something else, but I do know that they sound ecstatic to my ears, as if they had been waiting for this morning forever, and it’s finally here.

There is one reality, and you are experiencing it right now. How you experience will vary tremendously. Perhaps, if you were here with me in my room, your description of reality would be totally different from mine. It is very tempting to try to experience others’ realities, but in truth, we cannot do so. We can empathize, work to improve the lives of others, strive to create a better world for us all; but we cannot inhabit someone else’s perception or know what life feels like for them. There are habits that we have developed that make us believe a lie: that we can fully understand someone else’s reality; that we can predict or control the future; and that more information will confer a sense of peace and knowledge that will fix the fear and desperation we so often feel.

Social media feeds the idea that what people post is somehow connected to a reality that affects us; the vast majority of the time, there is no connection. We think that we can ‘stay connected’ via posts that we view on a screen, but there are multiple levels of distancing happening: the written word, the technology itself, the communication gaps that naturally exist between people, and the odd, snapshot-like glimpses we absorb that lack context. News, of course, fulfills the need for information, and the using of that information as a self-soothing mechanism. However, there will never be enough information to make us feel better. Contradictory claims about Covid-19, lack of testing, lack of information, the great medical unknowns, and many other examples of our ignorance and unpreparedness guarantee that more reading on the issue will only produce a kind of vertigo that leads to depression. The news cycle seems to promise that if we keep reading, we will find that nugget of truth that will eradicate our fear and insecurity; in reality, the news cycle utterly depends on our fear and insecurity, and it will stoke these emotions with shocking headlines designed to keep you clicking and reading.

The news cycle is created to keep the reader psychologically and spiritually off balance. You believe that more reading will restore that balance, but that is not the point. The point is to keep you endlessly worried about an uncertain future and questioning what you think you know now. Social media and the news are the enemy of living in the present moment, of quiet observation, of grounding yourself in the reality of now. Peaceful existence in the present moment is the enemy of capitalism and materialism. If you are not worried about the future or uncomfortable in the present moment, why would you rush out to buy stuff, or continue consuming the news? So much of what we purchase is an attempt to soothe ourselves, to distract ourselves, so that we don’t have to make deep dives into the nature of our selves and our immediate reality.

Right now, you are reading this from somewhere. Where are you? What do you hear? What is happening around you? How does the chair or the bed feel underneath you? Can you smell the dusky coat of your cat or dog, can you hear the sounds of your partner rustling around the house, do you have a bird that makes little noises while perched on her cage? Is the air conditioner whirring, or the overhead fan spinning, moving the air around your room? Come back to yourself, to what is actually happening around you; it is then, and only then, can you take meaningful action to help others. If you come from a place of chaos, you will radiate that chaos into your environment; if you come from a solid sense of peace and grounding, you can change far more than your world.

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The photo is not about proclaiming the author’s beauty. I picked the grittiest, most unflattering filter I could find. I wanted to show something about me. This is my state of mind these days. I am squinting at reality because I don’t like what I see. It hurts; it’s overwhelming. I am unable to control it, understand it, or manage it any way. It’s happening, and I’m watching it. I’m wondering how to escape it, but knowing all along that you can’t. There is no escape from reality–there is no escape from anything. All you can do is change your perception. Changing a perception requires seeing the world around you–with its tragedies, insanity, cruelty, power struggles, and deep sadness–with different eyes.

I now understand detachment as a survival mechanism. There is a practical reason that Eastern religions promote observing reality rather than reacting to it. If you were to react emotionally to everything that happens to you, to your loved ones, to your community, to the world, you would lose your sanity and any ability to change what is under your control. An example of this is happening right now. Southern California is burning. Houses, neighborhoods, entire cities are vanishing in smoke. A ranch up north lost 40 horses in the blaze. The coyotes are screaming as the flames engulf them. We are surrounded by black, billowing smoke and ash. The world, our world, seems to be dying. At any moment, an ember could drift into my area and start a raging inferno.

My level of anxiety has skyrocketed to the point of paralysis. I now understand why people stand in front of the tsunami or the wildfire and don’t run. There comes a point where you can’t react anymore. The body and mind shut down. You decide to give in and drown. Or burn. Anything but continuing to live like a prisoner of panic and horror. What else can one do besides slowly go insane with the bad news that floods us minute by minute, or abandon ourselves to the abyss? There is only the option that I mentioned above: observe. Take only targeted and specific action. What does it really mean to ‘be the observer’? You must step outside of your mind. You must detach yourself from the spinning thoughts, worries, hypothetical disaster ruminations, and other chaotic maneuvers of the mind.

This means, of course, that you must understand that you are not your mind. There is an identity separate from the crazy chatterbox that pushes you to misery, depression, and anxiety. The Self that is not a slave to the mind is always there, always available to take over, always silently connected to God, or the creative principle, the One, the Source, or whatever you wish to call it. You have to find that Self and bring her forth and grant her control of reality. How to do that? This is what I did last night that has helped me tremendously to conceptualize the pain my mind subjects me to. I sat on the sofa, closed my eyes, and observed my thoughts, my state of mind.

It wasn’t enjoyable to watch my mind. It conjured up pictures of me burning alive, of my loved ones going up in flames, and my lungs shutting down and filling with smoke. Then I watched as my mind ran through multiple disaster scenarios and played them out. My mind noticed that my Self had detached from it, so it decided to call in the Big Guns: Demons. The pictures of Hell played out across a screen in my consciousness: Satan ripping me to pieces, devils eating me alive, horrifying monsters committing atrocious acts to my body, and animal predators chewing at my skin and muscles. Needless to say, it wasn’t my favorite meditation. However, there seemed to be a purpose. No matter how many scenes of graphic torture my mind put me through, “I” still survived. Kirsten’s essential self was unaffected by any of it. I arrived at the point where I didn’t care what horrors I was subjected to, because none of them destroyed the Observer. I was watching it all, but it was just another bad movie.

The news depends on keeping our minds in a state of total panic and fear. I am not denying the emotional impact of what is actually happening here in Southern California and elsewhere in the world; but what we are subjected to on social media and all over the Internet is far beyond calling our attention to situations that require our intervention or assistance. It’s not about how we can help; it’s about keeping us in a permanent state of alarm. A populace in a constant state of tension will willingly give in to whatever ‘fixes’ the people in power decide to ram through. Fear allows us to look for false solutions, which often are based on finding a scapegoat to absorb our sense of terror and powerlessness.

Most situations are beyond your control. There is nothing you can do concerning the events playing out at the moment. There are small, compassionate actions that you can engage in: offer a room to a displaced person, provide financial assistance when you can to relief agencies, or bring food/clothing/toiletries to a shelter. There are multiple kindnesses we can present as an offering to assuage the suffering of the world. But we can’t change the course of events alone; the fires will burn no matter how much we pray. Reach out to people and see what they need, but the course of droughts, fires, destruction, and climate changes are out of our hands now. Our world is reacting violently to our collective lack of caring, our exploitation, our rampant selfishness. We are going to pay the price for that for a long time. It will hurt.

But you can save your soul in the process. Stand back. Connect to the part of you that isn’t spinning in outrage and fear. Hold on to that authentic self through meditation, through prayer, through whatever means necessary. For if there is any hope for the world, it is only through our collective connection to something higher and finer in ourselves that can reach out and uplift others; if this divine vibration reaches enough of us, perhaps we can douse the flames of our own destruction.

–Kirsten A. Thorne

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