I know talking about Jordan Peterson these days puts you in one of two camps: those who love him and those who abhor him. I have often found that when somebody is really polarizing, I want to try and understand the person even more. One cannot really pick a side in any debate without fully understanding both sides of the argument. If you were to search online for "Jordan Peterson" you will find countless pages and posts directed at him positively and negatively. Around our house, Peterson is often the subject of great debate and discussion. In order to participate in the "Peterson debates", I wanted to be more educated. I was becoming concerned that people seemed too quick to quote sound bytes either for or against his views but there seemed to be an unwillingness to examine both sides.
A few months ago we downloaded his book, "12 Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos." We decided to listen to this book on a road trip into the Robson Valley. Some of his rules are straightforward and very sensible. Unfortunately, some parts of his book sound like he was pontificating and proselytizing and there were far too many references to the Old Testament for my liking. As a psychologist, Peterson does have some credibility in actually working with clients and advising them on how to make improvements in their lives; in other words, he is not just another academic whose philosophy and theories have not been tested.
Rule #4 is a rule I actually find myself applying each day. I have always been interested in self-improvement but sometimes I can get caught-up in comparing myself to others. Rule # 4 states, "COMPARE YOURSELF TO WHO YOU WERE YESTERDAY, NOT TO WHO SOMEONE ELSE IS TODAY." Not only does this simple rule keep the comparison just to yourself but inferred in the rule is that you are just trying to be a better version of yourself today compared with yesterday. I have also been guilty of trying to compare myself to a version of myself from years ago - even decades ago. While in some aspects I am a better version of my former self, in other ways, the realities of aging have taken their natural course. I am physically not the man I was in my twenties! The fact is that we cannot compare ourselves to a version of ourselves from years ago because life changes and the context is different. New careers, new relationships, personal crises, having children, etc. all make comparisons to the past unrealistic and pointless.
In comparing myself to yesterday, I can get a pretty quick assessment of how I am doing. I have some habits I am trying to change and now when I get up in the morning, I say to myself, "Brett, just try to be better than yesterday." Unfortunately for my wife, she has to hear this every morning because I say it out loud; yes, this is one of the habits I am trying to change too! I am a bit too much like an annoying alarm clock that my wife didn't set and most certainly would not have chosen this ringtone! In reminding myself to, "just try and be better than yesterday" I am also setting the bar pretty low. While one might say, "Aim a little higher buddy!" but by setting the bar low, I am actually trying to increase my chances for success. If I were to say each morning, "Brett, today judge nothing and nobody and try to exercise for two hours and meditate for at least an hour" there is almost a zero percent chance of success. Do you know what happens when I feel like everyday I wake up knowing that I have a zero percent chance of attaining my goal? I stop trying.
So while I can't say I am a fan of Peterson - his views are regressive and often sexist, I can say that some of his rules provide some good reminders that we can all help ourselves by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and accepting the fact that life is hard and having some goals and a plan to achieve them is a reasonable "antidote to chaos."
“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” ― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
I love this quote. Mozart is said to have been a genius. As the story goes, he began composing music at age five and wrote his first opera at the age of fourteen. His entire life was about music. His father was a musician and a music teacher. Mozart was immersed in music before he was born and likely never had a day off from either composing, playing, or thinking about music.
I don't know when Mozart was credited with that quote but one can assume he was likely an adult. As a curious person, I am always amazed at how some people can have their whole life consumed by one thing. He died at a relatively young age - thirty-five. The cause of his death is uncertain but medical experts have agreed that his busts of creativity and then periods of depression suggest he suffered from bipolar disease.
When I read the quote over again I think that he might have found solace in the silence between the notes. Perhaps a brief moment where his mind could be calm and appreciate the pause in action before the next note. As a meditation teacher I am constantly reminding myself and my students to take time in as many moments as possible and pay attention to the present moment. I wonder with a mind and a mental state like Mozart, if these moments of silence between notes were moments of mindfulness. The gift of silence is it is a period, however fleeting, where one of the five senses is not bombarded and allows our conscious mind to take notice of the absence.
Our subconscious mind which processes unfathomable bits of information twenty-four hours a day, takes care of running the machinery of our body so that our conscious mind can be freed-up for more interesting tasks like thinking and communicating and empathizing. Perhaps the brief moments of silence is where the creative genius of Mozart came from. The silence was the well he could dip into for not only moments of reprieve from his active mind, but also moments of inspiration.
While we will never likely be a genius like Mozart, we can learn something from people like him. Perhaps the most important lesson from the genius is how to better utilize our minds. Our minds, like a powerful computer, heat up and need time to cool down and recharge. By most accounts, strokes of inspiration or great ideas come from well of silence. As the summer winds down and many people return to a busier time with more routine, hopefully we can remember to take time and listen for the beautiful music that is made in silence.
It has been a few months since my last blog. Siri and I have been busy re-structuring our business lives after selling the Ekahi Center. This has been our first summer without managing the business in nearly five years. We were able to spend some time with our kids hiking and playing in the pool and we just spent eight days in Vancouver. Siri was competing her 500 hour Yoga Teacher Training and I did some yoga, writing, and running. The self-care felt foreign and at times...physically painful.
One of our favourite things to do in Vancouver is to take a baguette, some wine and cheese and sit on the beach. We did this the other night and it happened to be a new moon. During a full moon and a new moon, the tides are slightly more extreme. The alignment of the moon and the sun, as happens in the phase of a new moon, creates a stronger gravitational pull on the oceans. As we sat on the rocks, we were treated to a delightful ocean spray every time the waves crashed in front of us. It was like being on the front of the Log Ride at Disneyland. Speaking of logs!
At some point I noticed a large log making its way along the shore towards us. The high tide had just been reached and I assumed this log must have washed off the beach where it had been placed to protect the beach from erosion. After chatting and enjoying our libations, it was becoming clear that the log as coming closer towards us, albeit slowly. After about an hour, the log had ground its way down the shore and was hung up on the rocks right in front of us. It appeared to be in the middle of a tug of war between the pushing waves and the pull of the tide - now heading out.
It may have been the wine, but at some point, I began to sense that the log was struggling to be set free. I started to anthropomorphize the log. I could see the bark had numerous scars on it and I imagined the bark was like skin. I imagined the scars were sustained when the tree was cut from its life supply. I imagined some of the scars happened when the tree, now called a log, was unceremoniously tossed onto the back of a logging truck to be transported to the beach. Each scar seemed to tell a story.
As I watched the log "struggle" on the rocks, I could barely stop myself from pushing the log far into the ocean. I wanted to set it free from the waves and let the tide take it away. Then it hit me: I was treating the log, not only like a human but also as if I knew what it needed. It reminded me that we can never know what another person's experience actually is. What we may perceive as a struggle, may in fact not be for the other person. Even if a person allows us in and shares their personal experience, it is not our place to "push them off the rocks and free them from struggle." Even if we could do this, our hubris is robbing the other person of the learning opportunity. The struggle is the teacher.
At some point in our lives, we will all get hung up on the rocks. As we get battered around by the tug between the tides and the waves and ground on the rocks; we will all receive some scars. The beautiful part of scars, physical or emotional, is that we can look at them and see how much we have learned and how much we have grown. Like on the log, the scars tell a story. The next time you find yourself hung up on the rocks, try to breathe through the experience and see it as a learning experiencing. Similarly, if you should see a friend or a loved one in the middle of what appears to be a struggle, you can hold space for them but we must resist the temptation to truncate the learning experience and think we know best.
It wasn’t until I came to yoga that I heard the phrase, “Finding my tribe.” When I first heard it used by a yoga teacher, it did not resonate with me, but then again, many “yogaisms” don’t. For example, I also don’t resonate with the oft-used yogaism, “Finding your juicy spot.”
Recently, in one of my meditations, I was presented with a thought that made me reconsider the idea of “Finding my tribe.” Often, when a thought arises in meditation, we chalk it up to a disturbance from the subconscious mind and dutifully let it go and return to a present-moment anchor such as breath-awareness. Having practiced mediation for over twenty-five years, I have become aware that there are different kinds of chatter. There is the subconscious chatter which makes up about ninety-five percent of the noise and, then, as I have learned, there seems to be about five percent of the chatter that is different. This is a voice that is distinctly different. These are thoughts or ideas that pop into mind and seem to come out of nowhere, but under close examination appear to come from a source of wisdom or insight.
In this recent meditation, the message of needing to “Find my tribe” came to me. I wanted to brush it off as subconscious chatter, but after my meditation I dedicated some conscious time to the message. I realized that very early on in my life, I had a tribe – a spiritual tribe that I talked to and connected with regularly. Every day I would connect with my tribe and feel a sense of happiness and peace. As I suspect happens with many kids who know that their tribe is a spiritual tribe, they abandon it for fear of not fitting with the other kids who clearly seem to have a more terrestrial tribe. I spent the better part of my adolescence, teen years, and young adulthood struggling to find a tribe to fit into on this earth but it never really happened. In university I struggled with feelings of profound loneliness. To combat this feeling, I overloaded my sensory systems. I exercised like mad and I drank alcohol to excess. The physical discomfort I felt the next morning was a salve for my much more intense feelings of being lost and alone.
I discovered meditation while in university, and I don’t think I am over-stating it to say that it saved my life. Slowly, I began to have small moments where I did not feel as alone, in spite of the fact that I was sitting on the floor of my dorm room all by myself. I really had no idea what I was doing but I knew somehow I need to be quiet and still. Over the years my dedication to the practice would ebb and flow but in retrospect there was a change happening. About ten years ago in my meditations, I realized that I was not alone. I realized that I was spending time with another entity that would sometimes provide me with important information. It took me awhile to separate the wheat from the chaff but eventually I could see that some of the information was provided by spirit. I realized that the more I got to know this spirit, that this was the guide that introduced me to my tribe when I was a child.
When I was presented with the information that I needed to “Find my tribe”, I realized that I had become separated from my tribe. An, there was importance in getting reacquainted with them. My meditations now are often about the journey back to the tribe. The loneliness has largely abated and there is renewed purpose in my inward and outward journey. I have come to realize that as I relocate my spiritual tribe that many of them also exist in physical form. The journey of going inwards to discover spirit, to re-discover my spiritual tribe, is presenting me with my tribal members incarnate. I notice when we look in each other’s eyes and deep into the spirit, we have become reacquainted. I know I am slowly finding my tribe and I know they come from all walks of life.
We all need a tribe. We are social beings who cannot survive well alone. Increasingly, we are become more and more distant from our tribes. It used to be that people lived more communally and felt a sense of belonging. Now more people describe feeling lonely and isolated and it is affecting our health. This excerpt from Psychology Today, September 11, 2012 exemplifies the importance of the tribe, or the clan, as they call it.
The Power of the Clan
The people of Roseto, Pennsylvania, knew this well.
Back in the 1960s, if you had stumbled upon the small town of Italian immigrants, you would have seen people returning from work at the end of the day, strolling along the village’s main street, stopping to gossip with the neighbors, and maybe sharing a glass of wine before heading home to change into dinner clothes.
You’d see women gathering together in communal kitchens, preparing classic Italian feasts, while men pushed tables together in anticipation of the nightly ritual that gathered the community together over heaping piles of pasta, Italian sausage, meatballs fried in lard, and free-flowing vino.
As a community of new immigrants, surrounded by English and Welsh neighbors who turned up their noses at the Italians, the people of Roseto had to look out for each other. Multi-generational homes were the norm. During the week, everyone went to the same workplace, and on Sundays, everyone went to church together. Neighbors wandered in and out of each other’s kitchens regularly, and holidays were joyously celebrated communally.
The people of Roseto took care of each other. Nobody in Roseto was left to struggle through life alone. Roseto was living proof of the power of the clan. And while they smoked, drank booze every night, and ate junk food, the people of Roseto had half the risk of death by heart attack as the rest of the country, not because of genetics, better doctors, or something in their water supply. Researchers ultimately concluded that love, intimacy, and being part of a tribe protected their health.
John Bruhn, a sociologist, recalls, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were dying of old age. That’s it.”
Then Everything Changed…
As time went on, the younger generation wasn’t so thrilled about life in Roseto, which to them seemed immune to modernization. When the young people went off to study at college, they brought back to Roseto new ideas, new dreams, and new people. Italian-Americans started marrying non-Italians. The children strayed from the church, joined country clubs, and moved into single-family suburban houses with fences and pools.
With these changes, the multi-generational homes disbanded and the community lifestyle shifted gears from nightly celebrations to more of the typical “every man for himself” philosophy that fueled the neighboring communities. The neighbors who would regularly drop in for casual visits started phoning each other to schedule appointments. The evening rituals of adults singing songs while children played with marbles and jacks turned into nights in front of the television.
In 1971, when heart attack rates in other parts of the country were dropping because of widespread adoption of healthier diets and regular exercise programs, Roseto had its first heart attack death in someone younger than 45. Over the next decade, heart disease rates in Roseto doubled. The incidence of high blood pressure tripled. And the number of strokes increased. Sadly, by the end of the 1970s, the number of fatal heart attacks in Roseto had increased to the national average.
As it turns out, human beings nourish each other, even more than spaghetti, and the health of the body reflects this.
Intimacy Is Preventative Medicine
While we are not likely to go back to living in small, intimate communities with multi-generational family homes, the need to find tribe is more important than ever. Lissa Rankin, M.D., lists seven ways to discover your tribe: http://lissarankin.com/7-tips-for-finding-your-tribe.
I would add to this list and put it at the top: Discover your spirit. Our ego can confuse us with who we think our tribe should be. You may want to think your tribe are yogis and yoginis. You may think your tribe is in your church congregation. You may think your tribe is your softball team. Maybe you have found your tribe and maybe you haven’t – only your soul knows for sure. Check in with your spirit and find out. When was the last time you sat and visited? Like the Italian immigrants of Roseto, maybe after work you should sit down with the “person” who shares the “house” with you – your spirit. Maybe your loneliness can be relieved by being guided back to your authentic tribe. Don’t be surprised if your tribe isn’t the group you thought they would be.
Vipassana is a Pali word and the meaning loosely translates into “the right path”. It is also often described as “attaining the insight into the true nature of reality.” Vipassana then, by definition, is a state of attaining insight.
My intent with this article is to provide some clarity around “Vipassana” and the related “Vipassana meditation.” It is also my intent to elucidate how this Buddhist meditation can be synthesized into the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Whether you are a Buddhist or a yoga practitioner or both, meditation is a key path, or limb, on the journey towards Nirvana or Samadhi.
Before delving into the somewhat complicated history of Vipassana it is worth remembering that Vipassana is a Buddhist term – hence the word being Pali. The other important thing to remember is that Siddhartha Gautama, before attaining enlightenment, was a Hindu. When the Buddha attained enlightenment he described a process by which everyone could break-free from the cycle of samsara. He called these the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. After the death of the Buddha, in approximately 483 BC, Buddhism began to spread throughout Asia and eventually split into three main schools: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (Tibetan).
Each of these schools has some differences in the way in which they interpret and actualize the teachings from the Pali Canon. Theravada Buddhists (38% of all Buddhists) believe that the Pali Canon are the only true Buddhist texts whereas Mahayana Buddhists (62% of all Buddhists) weave in additional texts into their teachings. There are several other differences between these two main schools but it is beyond the aim of this article. The other thing that all Buddhists have in common is the practice of meditation as a part of the Noble Eightfold Pathway to attaining nirvana. The two main types of Buddhist meditations are Samatha and Vipassana. It should be noted that a “Vipassana meditation” is not mentioned in the Pali Canon.
The Vipassana meditation has become known as a meditation for gaining insight into the nature of reality or the mind by noticing the breath on the upper lip. Theravada Buddhists focus exclusively on this type of meditation which, over time, gradually spreads awareness to the entire body. Mahayana Buddhists typically practice both Samatha and Vipassana. Samatha, loosely translates as “calming the mind.” To practice Samatha, the student may focus on an object or it may be a process such as the four-level, rupajhana meditation to set the mind at ease. Once the mind has settled, the student then begins the focus on breathing or Vipassana meditation. The goal with both meditations is to gain insight into the nature of reality which could be said to gain insight into consciousness – one of the pathways towards nirvana.
Patanjali who is often credited with developing the eight limbs of yoga, was clearly influenced by the teachings of the Pali Canon. The Buddha developed the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Pathway. Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, known as Ashtanga yoga, gave rise to Raja Yoga (Royal Yoga). Hatha yoga and Vinyasa both have their underpinnings in Ashtanga or Raja Yoga. Both Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga and the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Pathway are very similar. See the comparison below in Table 1.
Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga for attaining Samadhi
Approximately 200 AD
Buddha’s Eightfold Pathway to Nirvana Approximately 400 BC
1. Yama : Universal morality Right understanding (Samma ditthi)
2. Niyama : Personal observances Right thought (Samma sankappa)
3.Asanas : Body postures or poses Right speech (Samma vaca)
4.Pranayama : Breathing exercises Right action (Samma kammanta)
5.Pratyahara : Control of the senses Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)
6.Dharana : Concentration Right effort (Samma vayama)
7.Dhyana : Meditation Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
8.Samadhi : Union with the Divine Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
Table 1. Comparison of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs and the Buddha’s Eightfold Pathway.
One of the main differences between Patanjali’s Eight Limbs and the Buddha’s Eightfold Pathway is Patanjali’s focus on Pranayamas and Asanas. If you were to delve deeper into each of these limbs or pathways, you would note some other subtle differences. Patanjali was less specific when it came to how to meditate whereas Buddhists have generally more emphasis on style and specifics of how to perform the meditation.
It is very popular now for yogis and yoginis to take part in Vipassana retreats. It makes sense that many yoga students are looking for more specific ways to practice meditation. Since it is an important part of both the Buddhist and Yoga student’s journey towards Nirvana or Samadhi, meditation cannot be ignored. Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga and the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Pathways are not à la carte menus. As a yoga student, a yoga teacher, and a yoga studio owner, I am continually surprised when a yoga student says to me, “I am not really into the meditation thing.” It is kind of like a Christian saying, “I am not really into the whole Resurrection part of the Bible.” To fully immerse yourself as a student of yoga or as a Buddhist, dedication to all parts are required.
I teach several meditation classes each week. I do not call myself a Buddhist, but my guided meditations almost always begin with Rupajhana. This four-level meditation is extremely powerful as a tool of Samatha (calming the mind). Once we have reached the fourth jhana, I often transition into a Vipassana meditation to work on gaining insight. These two meditations together are a Mahayana-style of Buddhist meditation and have encouraged the most significant spiritual evolution in myself along my journey towards Samadhi along Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga.
If you are looking for a specific meditation practice for your Dhyana, do consider Vipassana or Samatha or Rupajhana. You can learn these meditations by attending a retreat or a local Buddhist temple. I came to yoga from a long history in meditation, which I now see is not as common as people who come to meditation from exploring Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Most people I have met in my yoga journey, come to yoga for the asana but those who stay in yoga, stay to follow the path along all Eight Limbs. If your journey through yoga does encourage you to learn more about Dhyana and all the limbs of yoga, it is my hope that this article provides some background into the weaving of Buddhism and the Raja School of Yoga.
In peace and love,
The word “affluence” comes from the Latin word “affluere” which means to “flow abundantly.” When most people hear the word affluence they usually think of it meaning an abundance of money, wealth, or property and sometimes it is but affluence is not less about acquisitions and more about the flowing of energy. Energy is a rather nebulous term but we can think about as the ability to do work or cause a change. The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only transformed. Energy interacts with matter and can transform matter. When anything comes to you, say for example, money, food, clothing, or a vehicle, something transformative usually happens. All these things are matter (made up of atoms) and they flowed towards you and you transformed them. If someone electronically transfers you money and then you take that money and spend it on rent or food, you transformed it. This is a very important act; it is an act of affluence.
To lead an affluent life has nothing to do with the amount of wealth or property but has to do with your ability to keep flowing and transforming matter. If we choose not to be affluent, we stop the flow of energy and the transformation of matter. We see this all the time. How often have you felt insecure about not having enough of something or fear losing something and you hang on tightly – you squeeze it and stop the flow. As soon as we stop the flow by hanging on, we create stagnation and clotting. This further prevents flow and you squeeze more tightly and eventually block the flow all together. A 2015 study by the American Psychological Association found that the biggest source of worry for most Americans is money. Even people who have money worry so much about it that they hold on to it so tightly that they cease to be affluent. Eventually the energy moves past you if you don’t behave with flow.
Everything in nature operates on the same laws. The way in which molecules of water behave when heated is the same everywhere on the planet. If we start thinking about material items and money as molecules then we have to expect that will behave the same way as any atoms or molecules anywhere. It is sensible that if you want experience more of something, you cannot restrict its flow. Worry is the first step towards slowing the flow. When we worry and squeeze the flow, energy instead of having the opportunity to be transformed by you begins to flow around you and eventually will pass you by. It is like a flowing river which follows the path of least resistance until a beaver blocks the flow. Eventually the river changes its course. Everything must keep flowing. There must always be affluence.
Love is perhaps the most clear example of affluence. Love is nothing more and nothing less than the affluence of energy. If we fear losing someone we love, we may squeeze more tightly and eventually the flow stops. People who fear sharing love for reasons based on past experiences may choose to keep their energy inside and not let it flow. These acts become a negative feedback loop and the flow of love (energy) ceases and moves on. Whether it is love or money or material objects, they don’t care about your feelings or past experiences. Money and love don’t care what you think about it. They, and all forms of matter, only respond to your actions – your energy. Let it flow, let it go, and you see that there is a limitless supply of it. Yes, at times the flow will fluctuate. Sometimes you will let your love flow or your money flow and sometimes you will hold it back for fear of scarcity of supply but when you remember to be affluent, things start flowing again.
Have an affluent day,
I have always had trouble with the word “discipline”. As a younger man, people often described me as being quite disciplined. I never felt the word accurately applied to me even though by external appearances, I appeared to lead a disciplined life. By comparison, my life now, as a middle-aged man is much, much busier and I suppose, requires a sort of discipline to maintain it. But, what is discipline?
By definition, discipline means, “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.”
The word in old French means “punishment or chastisement.” The Latin origin refers to “knowledge or science or instruction.” It seems that neither of these etymologies match our current meaning of the word. When we describe somebody who is disciplined, we often think of them as doggedly focused on achieving their goals. Self-help gurus often speak of the need for discipline to achieve goals. Perhaps part of the reason people shy away from leading a disciplined life or even a goal-setting life is that the word “discipline” scares people.
As we enter 2018, maybe an attainable and less pejorative word is required to help us attain our goals. The essence of what most people describe as a “disciplined” person may be better described using words such as “consistent effort.” There is no getting around it, attainment of any worthwhile goal will take some effort. For some, the goal might be to exercise every day for twenty minutes. If this person has never done daily, consistent exercise, this will require some effort.
Maybe for 2018 we just need to think about trying to be consistent. For our family, we decided to implement the “Marken/Wade 4M Plan.” This plan is an effort to make sure we all work on these four things every day: 1) Meditation; 2) Mind work (math, reading, chess, Sudoku, etc.); 3) Music (practice playing an instrument); and 4) Move your muscles (yoga, walking, playing outside, weights, etc.) We actually started this about a month ago. We made a little sign and placed it in the kitchen for everyone to see. Every day check in with each other and ask, “Have you done your 4M’s today?”
That might be the other word that can be used to replace discipline, “support.” Consistent effort with the support of friends and family in the pursuit of your own goals may be a better replacement for trying lead a disciplined life.
Wishing you a Supported, Consistent, an Effortful 2018.
Meditation seems so much easier when you are sitting in your regular spot with your usual accouterments. It is relatively easy to be mindful when you are doing something mundane like brushing your teeth or walking or eating. Have you ever had a very stressful event when you really needed to be mindful? The other day I had two major events that required my ability to consciously shift my awareness out of my subconscious fight or flight drive and into conscious mind. I needed to immediately activate my prefrontal cortex and my anterior cingulate cortex.
The first event was catching a plane to go to Vancouver. I was asked to present at a conference on Mindfulness in Healthcare to over one hundred conference attendees. Flying as been a tricky thing for me. Many of you know that I have run off of two planes just before push back due to panic attacks. Thanks to meditation and mindfulness, I have largely got it under control (thanks also Ativan and beer). I have experienced several successful flight since my two rude ejections a few years ago.
Yesterday we were catching a plane to go to Vancouver for the conference. While waiting in the lounge area for boarding, I started to get that old familiar feeling: prickling skin, sweating, racing heart, and I stopped talking. Siri notices these signs quickly and deftly slides an Ativan across the table. I put it under my tongue and begin to focus on breathing. To add to the mindful experience, I listen to a meditation audio track on breathing. I start to relax. We wait until the last possible moment before boarding. Being herded like cattle down the Jetway contributes to my anxiety as I feel like I am being led to slaughter. Once the plane pushes back, and the air flows, I am all good. The flight was bumpy but that never has been my concern or trigger – it is always the lack of airflow. As you know when they shut the door and they wait for the engines to fire-up, there is no air flowing and this is what kicks off (or used to) my panic attacks. It is essentially a hypoxic reaction.
We make it to Vancouver without a hitch. Thankfully the years of mindful practices pays off. We quickly settle into sleep at the hotel as the presentation on Mindfulness in Healthcare is the next morning. We wake-up early and a bit groggy – Ativan still lingering. We caught a cab to the conference. We arrived to meet the conference organizers who seemed to know who we were but they couldn’t find our name tags – no big deal. We met some lovely people and enjoyed the keynote speaker. After lunch it was my turn. I never experience tech problems because I always have back-ups. I also have no anxiety with public speaking. Thirty minutes before the presentation I check my presentation by handing my flash drive to the tech support guy. I am most concerned to see whether my embedded videos will work as they are the most important part of my ninety minute show. The videos did not work. Now five minutes to start. Time for mindful practice Brett. I smile and focus on deep belly breathing. Eureka! I remember I brought my laptop. We quickly switch cables and with a minute to spare, it seems the videos work!
I am introduced and I begin…showtime! I start the group with a meditation – not guided…just a two minute experience of silence. I ask them to open their eyes and they seem receptive. After my bio, I jump into some theory on the brain and how meditation works (if you want to see the video, it is here: https://youtu.be/j0q3ejahq_8) The group seems to be hanging in there with the more dry part of the presentation. I know the good stuff is coming. My awesome videos that explain the concepts perfectly and then…it…happens! My computer starts to randomly shut down. At first it was every few minutes and then every few seconds. The tech guy wanted to switch computers but I knew my videos would only work on my computer. Every time it crashes, there is a collective and audible sigh of disappointment. I could lose my mind! But I do not. I practice what I preach and breath through the challenges. We get through the videos and then switch computers. The last few slides work flawlessly. The presentation is over. A sympathetic applause ensues. I thank them for their patience. A mindful group of attendees comes up and offers support and seemingly genuine compliments. I survived an ordeal that could have been a disaster. I have seen presenters lose their mind over technical failures. It is stressful presenting in front of a group of people who are hanging on your word – judging and evaluating. Even without technical challenges, it gets your cortisol flowing. It is during these times when mindfully focusing on your breathing can help avert disaster.
The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, try to apply the acronym S.T.O.P. Stop what you are doing. Take a breath. Observe what is happening in your body. Plan to try a different approach.
The sense of your spirit, or consciousness, only becomes apparent when you develop the gap between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is the here and now- it is present moment thinking. The subconscious mind is habits, emotions, memories, and reactions. It is the “gap” between these two minds where the spirit exists.
By developing an awareness of the separation between the two minds, you develop the space for consciousness to exist and to grow. In other words, you grow to know and develop your spirit. The more you expand the space between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind, the more apparent your spirit becomes. You gradually become aware that spirt does not exist in the mind, or in any one place, but is everywhere and in every cell of your body. It is only through the separation of two minds that you can begin to experience it.
Spirit or consciousness is not matter. It is energy; it is light. It is the energetic wave produced by matter but it is not matter. This energy is subtle. It is not easily measured by the equipment we have today, but it can be sensed. We can learn to sense other spirits, too. By expanding the gap between the two minds, we become more and more aware of the field of consciousness giving rise to spirit. We realize that this space created is consciousness, and that consciousness is spirt.
We then become aware that our emanating field of consciousness is connected to all other spirits – differing only in vibration. We see that our spirit is vibrating out, and is transmitting and receiving the waves of all other spirits. We realize that we are not alone. We are all connected to each other, and all other spirits, in this universe and other multiverses.
As we continue to expand our consciousness, we realize that we are not who we think we are, or we are not who we thought we were. We are spirit, which is energy, which is information. We are a vibrating field of information contained over many lifetimes. We begin to realize that our only purpose is the sharing of the information contained in the vibration of our spirit. We do this not by words but by extending our spirit outwards. This, by definition, is love, “Extending your spirit out to help another spirit.”
As a physical form, we do not matter. As a spirit, we are not matter.
We exist to love one another. We will eventually realize this in this lifetime or another. Nothing else matters. Every ascended master, prophet, or sage realized this before physical emancipation. Love is all there is. Energy is love and spirit is energy.
It has always been with you; waiting for you to open the gap for consciousness to allow the spirit to flourish and gain power. Before any of this can happen…we must create the gap. Witness the difference between your chattering mind and your conscious mind. When you perceive the difference, the gap begins to open and spirit begins to shine.
Patience is required in the process. Keep practicing expanding the gap by witnessing the two minds. With practice, the gap opens wider and awareness of true self begins. You realize that you are not your ego, or your hairstyle, or your waist size, or your bank account – you are a spirit. You are energy. You are not alone. You are here to share your information. You are here to love.
As I near the completion of my second book, I have been wrestling with the definition of consciousness. Most of my professional life has been spent in healthcare. In healthcare, the definition of consciousness has to do with brain injuries and resultant brain activity. The survivor is rated in their ability to move their eyes, to speak, and to move their body. Usually, consciousness is assessed after a brain injury by using the Glasgow Coma Scale. Neuropsychologists define consciousness as the ability to know that you are alive, that you are you and you are different from everyone else. When you look in a mirror, you recognize yourself. You also are aware that at sometime you were born and at sometime you will die. In the last decade or so, the New Age community has come to describe consciousness as being synonymous with the word spirit or soul.
I have always believed in a spirit residing in the “meat suit” of humanity but I have wrestled with trying to understand how spirit is the same is consciousness. This conundrum most likely reflected my professional life intersecting with my spiritual evolution. This morning, it became clear to me that the neuropsychologists definition can be a suitable description for spirit. Spirit, as I see it, is the essential part of you. When you were born, or likely by about five months in utero, a spirit began to emanate from the cells of your body. From the moment you were born, you appeared as pure spirit. You had no control over your flesh – you were reflexes, but beneath the reflexes and the flesh, your spirit was singing out to the world. I do not see the newborn as a tabula rasa as John Locke would describe it but rather the complete representation of you and your past lives. Everything else we add on top of this spirit merely begins to cover it up like layers of paint on a house. We were spiritually complete at birth and we just made ourselves into something unrecognizable to our own spirit.
You were never more close to your spirit or your actual self than the moment you were born. Each moment from birth forward was programming from parents and society and all your experiences – good and bad, began to add layers upon layers which started to cover the spirit. As you moved through adolescence and into teenage years, ego began to quickly add more and more layers for fear that if you listened to your spirit or let it shine, you would be ridiculed and not fit in – you had to conform. As you entered your early twenties, your ego which is produced by the programming from your subconscious mind, is well versed in portraying you as the version people thought you should be and who you started to believe you are. As often happens for people in their twenties, they start to move away from home and become more confused about their identity. A feeling of loneliness begins to creep in and the young adult begins to question who he or she actually is. Now comes along a job and maybe a family and responsibility and “poof” the memory of self is buried so deep, the person can barely remember anything about themselves. As middle-age approaches and kids leave home and jobs become routine, thoughts of retirement begin to arise.
Once a person starts thinking about the reality that they are not, in fact, their jobs and they are not their car and they are not their home or possessions or savings and they are not their hairstyle and not their clothes. They are struck with something even more frightening and that is once again, the question of , “Who am I?” The same fearful question that they asked themselves in early twenties was completely stifled in middle-age by deepening the groove of who people thought you should be and who you thought you should be. Now a person thinking about retirement or into retirement is confronted again with this, most important question. Into late adulthood, if a person has not done the work to scrape off all those layers, the older adult accepts the reality that they will either only figure out again on their last breath or they choose to make their final opus the work of discovering self again.
This journey back to self can happen at any stage of life. The sooner one starts to regularly commune with spirit, the less likely they are to start adding egotistical layers of a disingenuous self. At any age a person needs to decide that if they want to do the work, they can re-discover themselves. This process sounds simple enough – consciously descend beneath all the layers. You must descend deeper than the chattering subconscious which created your ego – you must go deeper down. This is indeed going to be work. In the depths of conscious awareness you become aware of consciousness – you meet spirit. In this meditative space you may have an emotional experience as you remember that you were and in fact are bliss – happiness and joy. See a newborn when their physical needs are met – look at this spirit, this is bliss. In addition if you choose to spend more and more time with your blissful spirit, you can get some glimpses into past lives as well. These past lives explain why you are passionate or skilled about inexplicable things – these are the gifts of your past that you have brought forward.
I hope you get sometime this Thanksgiving weekend to go home. Take the journey back to self. Honour your spirit and try not to stay away so long next time.