Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Newsletter XXIV - Suffering In A Modern World

Dearest Friends:

As I watched “The Buddha” PBS special last week, I was reminded of the fact that everyone suffers. We all fall prey to its merciless grasp—often without warning— similar to a sudden hailstorm crashing down on streams of sunlight. Whether we are rich or poor, educated or non-educated, male or female—regardless of our race, age, ethnicity or religion, suffering does not discriminate. Thus, a human bond connects all of us: we suffer, but we wish to be happy, because happiness and our natural capacity to empathize with others is our true nature—our primordial beginningless-endless, joyous, indestructible reality often referred to as mind by Buddhists and by others as consciousness or spirit.

Paradoxically, however, we develop a personal “I” ego and a personality, the illusory identity created by the brain and sense faculties. We become so strongly attached to this ego personality that we lose connection to our true self and are motivated and driven to seek things, extrinsic phenomena, outside of ourselves in the search for enduring happiness. We believe, in our illusion, that this investment will yield a positive return. We emerge in modern society as human clocks, ticking and running, requiring that we keep pace as we grasp and become attached like super-glue to material success through the accumulation of money, possessions, education, and employment. We become preoccupied with our individual selves as we cling to our ideas, hopes, and dreams and become very attached to things as we also develop feelings, thoughts, and perceptions about them. We grasp at relationships with attachment, believing that we could never be happy in our aloneness because we need things, reinforced by societal advertising themes of “things go better with coke.” However, we fail to realize that all of these things, our relationships, and the feelings, thoughts, and perceptions about them come and go as floating clouds in the sky or dancing ripples on a pond. They are impermanent and imperfect and do not last, even if the termination is death itself; thus, we become frustrated and dissatisfied. In our delusion, we suffer in the conditioned world of samsara--the uncontrolled cycle of birth and death in which sentient beings, driven by unskillful actions and destructive emotions, repeatedly perpetuate their own suffering.

Ironically, because we often prevail in an egocentric ME rather than a WE generation, we live in a culture where solutions to our suffering often seem to lie in biological, psychological, and social dimensions outside of the self-realization of our spiritual true nature. We neglect, forget, or ignore the spiritual dimension. We seek “quick fix” solutions for our physical and emotional suffering, which are also impermanent and imperfect. We are caught in a perpetual cycle of frustration, dissatisfaction, and suffering. We seek doctors, therapists and anyone who will assist us in pursuit of the “instant gratification” that we demand, which has become a well-established and prevalent norm in our society. Across-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs are abused, and the use of psychiatric drugs among our children and adolescents increases at alarming rates. In addition to medicalizing ourselves, substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs are consumed, often to self-medicate, to the extent that addiction is a national epidemic. Other addictions plague us, i.e. shopaholics, foodaholics, chocolateaholics, coffeeaholics, workaholics, gamblingaholics, sexaholics, and televisionaholics.

For some enigmatic reason we are in denial that things, our relationships, feelings, thoughts, and perceptions and “quick fix” solutions are impermanent, imperfect, frustrating, and dissatisfying. We continue to suffer. We also become attached and addicted to the compulsive chattering of our thinking mind—the drama we create that becomes our all-important “I” ego identity—the drama that consumes us and robs us of connection to our true nature, which causes us to suffer even more. We have forgotten that we only become free to experience our true nature when we no longer identify with the limitations of the physical body and our “I” ego self.

“Make the suffering go away,” we say. Why? Again, we want to be happy. It is our true nature. Yet, happiness eludes us, and we wonder if lasting happiness is a goal we will ever attain because all of our “quick fix” attempts prove to be futile. We continue to grasp for this-and-that, here-and-there things that cause suffering because we don’t seem to understand and accept that they are suffering. With the exception of suffering due to natural, insurmountable causes, our suffering is primarily self-imposed and a symptom of our need for spiritual development. As stated by Seng Ts’an in “Trust in the Heart” (Suzuki, 1972):
To set up what you like against what you dislike—
This is the disease of the mind;
When the deep meaning of the Way is not understood
Peace of mind is disturbed to no purpose.
The Way is perfect like unto vast space,
With nothing wanting, nothing superfluous;
It is indeed due to making choice
That its Suchness is lost sight of.

There is an alternative view of existence in the conditioned world of samsara in which the limitations and confusion of our lives are transcended by our potential for self-realization, spiritual liberation, and enlightenment. A spiritual path is the avenue wherein we experience the truth of our existence. We reclaim the happiness and joy of our true nature, which has, and will, infinitely exist. Everyone, all sentient beings, have the seed of this true nature, waiting to unfold, just as the seed of a flower blossoms and the seed of a tree grows in majesty.

The Buddha discovered this self-realization and enlightenment as he meditated under the Bodhi Tree but admonished us to accept his discovery only through our own understanding and our own experience: “Be a lamp unto yourself”; however, it is challenging for us to understand the far-reaching implications of this truth. In the quest for greater spiritual realization, we are at a loss in knowing how to renounce the illusion of the conditioned world while existing in a conditioned world—experiencing and loving each moment of life at its fullest, with passion and fearlessness, but without super-glue attachment to our endless array of things that are in a constant state of flux.

There is a silver lining in the dark cloud of suffering. Suffering can be a gift when it motivates us and defies us to discover the deeper meaning, purpose, and truth of our lives as found in our true nature. If we fall and break a bone, it is the physical suffering that motivates us to take action and seek the help we need in order to heal. The same is true with emotional suffering. If we don’t feel the pain, we don’t realize that something is wrong, and we don’t take the action that is necessary to alleviate the pain. We often hear of those with addictions who won’t seek help until they hit rock bottom and lose everything—their job, their friends, their family, and often, their sanity. Therefore, when suffering is so unbearable that it is the catalyst that motivates us to seek greater spiritual realization, then suffering is a gift in disguise. Physical and emotional suffering is also a gift if our suffering is the debt we finally pay off for past karma—all of the wrongful deeds and hurts that we inflicted on others, including ourselves. The law of cause and effect escapes none of us; our every action will have a consequence, either in this life or in another life.

“There are no mistakes in life—only lessons, and we repeat the lessons until we learn.” We’ve all been there—repeating the lessons of suffering until we learn—finally asking the questions, “What is the lesson here? Why is the Zen Master of the universe hitting me with a stick? What do I need to learn? How will this lesson help me discover my true nature?” The challenge then lies in transforming the suffering into gratitude for having been given the opportunity to endure and transcend the lessons of suffering for our ultimate good. We also recognize that the outcome of suffering is often the development of our character, as reflected in a poignant statement made by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, renowned for her work with dying patients: “Should we shield the canyons from the windstorms, we would not see the beauty of their carvings.” We agree that suffering the perils of Job assists us in the development of wonderful character traits. However, at the time that we suffer, the development of those wonderful character traits doesn’t offer us much consolation.

We come face to face with the same reality that the Buddha faced: there is suffering. However, the Buddha didn’t settle for mere acknowledgement. Through his own experience, he discovered—and then taught—the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cure for suffering, and the path one has to take in order to end suffering.

I bow.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Newsletter XXIII - The Moral of Groundhog Day

Dearest Friends:

Happy Groundhog Day! I always enjoy this annual celebration, which is the precise halfway point between the Winter and the Spring Equinox, designating that Winter is now officially half over. We can almost feel the breath of spring. However, today also reminds me of the movie where Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, an egocenetric and arrogant weather forecaster who, during a dreaded coverage of the annual Groundhog Day event, finds himself repeating the same day over and over again. Stuck in what science fiction would call a "time loop", the movie focuses on correcting past mistakes or getting a character to recognize some key truth in order to escape from the loop.

From a Buddhist perspective, Connors is extremely negative, especially to other people, which creates a lot of negative causes. The effect of these causes is that people relate back to him from his own level of negativity, which causes him to have a miserable day. Thus, the next day, and on subsequent days, he experiences the same miserable day all over again. Desperate to escape this demise, he decides to commit suicide many times but the next morning, when he awakens, the date has not changed. He is in the same bed, in the same room, and with the same song playing on the radio, "I Got You Babe", by Sony and Cher. His attitude undergoes many changes and transformations until he finally spends most of his time trying to help people. As his inner attitude transforms to greater positivity, the days gradually get better until he is able to experience a new day.

The moral of the story, and its teaching, focuses on how we respond to our daily situations and life events. We can transform anything if we respond in a skillful way. Again, this is karma in action. If we greet situations with a positive attitude, we will eventually create a positive return. If we respond with a negative attitude, negative things will eventually come our way. Unlike the scenario in Groundhog Day, these changes do not always occur immediately. We can be wonderful people but still have difficulties. On the other hand, we can be acting terribly and have a wonderful day; however, it is just a matter of time before we receive the results of our conduct (the effect of the cause).

It is clear from this example that an individual is responsible for his own liberation. Not until Connor abandoned ego and began to live harmoniously among those around him did he escape the time loop that he alone had created for himself. I sometimes think of this loop as being stuck on the fast-paced freeway around Washington D.C. going around and around and around, forgetting to take the next exit. We all know the feeling....but the exit is always there, waiting for us to plant positive karmic seeds in order to create a new day that is always now.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Newsletter XXII - Happy Holidays 2009

Dearest Friends and Family:

The big holidays news is that I signed a contract witih O-Books for the publication of my book HEALING POWER BEYOND MEDICINE, which is now in the hands of a copy editor; however, for the most part, 2009 was the “Year of the Family” with the birth of my first two grandchildren, Lindsey’s wedding, and three family moves. Chelsey and I are foregoing our annual Christmas Eve Nutcracker performance by Ballet West. Instead, I just returned from taking my parents to breakfast at Rembrandts Coffee House and CafĂ© in Eagle, Idaho. Rembrandts was once the old Boise Baptist church, which was moved to Eagle in the early 1900’s so you can imagine how charming it is as a restored coffee house. I believe that Eagle could boast of being home to the friendliest people in the U.S.; it is wonderful that my parents relocated here from Virginia.
Cicily Diane was born on February 3 and was in intensive care for a week due to complications from Sarah’s protracted labor and delivery. Sarah underwent gallbladder surgery a couple of months later. Colby was then asked to open the Rich Haines Art Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming so I drove one of the cars (with Lola) for the move and helped them unpack for a few days. I awakened every morning in the upstairs guestroom to a breathtaking view of the Grand Tetons, which Colby and Sarah continue to enjoy in their nature excursions with Cicily, Bella and Lola. Cicily is a happy, sunshine baby who loves climbing, and is on the verge of walking.

Lindsey traveled to Siena, Italy in May for a study abroad. She and Peter Colby then taught art for the summer at a private school in Switzerland, which included visiting some amazing European cities. They returned from Europe in August--in a time crunch--having to find an apartment and plan their wedding, which was held on October 8 in Salt Lake City at Rose Sachs Gardens in Parley’s Canyon. An outdoor setting with autumn leaves and waterfalls was perfect for the two of them. Lindsey will graduate in the spring from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Art History. She continues to work at Montgomery Lee Art Gallery in Park City, Utah. Peter Colby is teaching his third year of art at a private school but is looking forward to beginning his Master’s Degree in Art; therefore, the two of them might not be residing in Utah much longer.

In June we had a scare when Chelsey developed severe preeclampsia and was rushed to Utah Valley hospital in an ambulance from her OB/GYN’s office. Delivery was delayed for two days but Chelsey still had an emergency c-section and Braxton Paul was born at 1 pound 13 ounces. He remained in intensive care for nearly two and a half months and was named “Little Rock Star” because of how he thrived. Like Colby, Brian is a hands-on dad and refers to Braxton as “little man.” It was a day of celebration when Braxton was discharged from the hospital, just in time for Chelsey to be Matron of Honor at Lindsey’s wedding. Understandably, Chelsey is taking time off from her job as a Federal Investigator for Hill Air Force Base.

I am still teaching and enjoying my wonderful students and friends. I am anticipating a return to India and Nepal in the near future; thus, perhaps next year you’ll be receiving a holiday card from me with a picture of the Himalayas!
MUCH Love and Happy Holidays To All of You,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Newsletter XXI - A Tribute to Fran Brown

Dearest Friends:

Mrs. Hawayo Takata’s 7th Reiki Master, Fran Brown, transitioned on April 12, 2009. She had just celebrated her 85th birthday. I am sorry I didn’t realize this sooner and did so because I was going to make a follow-up phone call to her. She and I had talked about her coming to Salt Lake City to talk with my students about Mrs. Takata as she had known her. Fran wasn’t going to charge a fee, telling me that she was always willing to talk about Reiki when it was requested of her. She only asked that her husband travel with her because of age. Fortunately, because of conversations I had with Fran on the phone, I share some of her comments in my forthcoming book, HEALING POWER BEYOND MEDICINE, which will be published in 2010 by O-Books.

The autobiographical information that Fran shared with the world is as follows:
“The winter of 1973 Hawayo Takata was invited to the San Francisco Bay Area to teach a class in Reiki. I was in that class. She taught Reiki to many people here. In 1977 I took Second Degree Reiki and in the first week of January, 1979 I took my master's training with her as her seventh master and began teaching Reiki anywhere people want to learn Reiki as taught by Hayashi and Takata. These thirty years of teaching have taken me to many parts of the world. In 1997 I was asked to come to Japan and teach Hayashi's system and in 1999 it was my privilege to meet with members of the group founded by Usui as well as students and masters taught by Chujiro Hayashi. We compared teachings and initiations and were delighted to find them to be similar. Hayashi organized the hand placements taught by Usui so that it was easier to teach Reiki. Takata says that he never changed any of the teachings and asked her not to change them either, nor have I.” Fran attuned 22 of her students to Mastership and retrained 15 other students to be Masters, for a total of 37 Masters. Her book LIVING REIKI: TAKATA’S TEACHINGS is on my student recommended reading list.
Another great one has passed—one who was as devoted to Reiki as Mrs. Takata. Let us celebrate that devotion and her life with such gratitude.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Newsletter XX - Voices of Angels and Archangels

Dear Friends:
Last Sunday another group of wonderful people attended my archangel workshop, and once again, the experiences we shared were intense and healing. My strong wish is that you will be touched in some way by these celestial entities--angels and archangels--whose strong desire is to assist us in our many efforts in the journey we call life. Perhaps you will hear a whisper, sense a nudge, or feel a spark of awareness that removes all rigid frames around our existence--a frame that separates us from others.

I am probably motivated to write this blog entry because one of my students telephoned me recently and informed me that she hasn’t taken my workshop “because archangels and angels are for Christians.” “Archangels and angels are non-denominational”, I replied. “They are as non-denominational as Reiki. They are limitless nonphysical beings. They can help everyone who calls upon them simultaneously. They are here for everyone, and they honor all spiritual paths.” I also remember a blunt comment that a woman made once at a healing circle when another women mentioned her angels. "I don't believe in angels", she said.

The first conscious experience I had with an angel was nearly ten years ago when I was lying on a table at a Tibetan healing center, trading a Reiki session with a Reiki Master friend of mine. The room was filled with Buddha images and Thangka paintings of Buddhas on the walls but yet, about half way through my session, I saw an angel at the end of the table, raised above my feet. I said, “Beth, there’s an angel in here.” She nodded in the affirmative. Two more times I said, “There’s an angel in here.” I was in a state of disbelief that an angel would manifest in such a setting, particularly since, as a Buddhist practitioner, I focus much of my work in the Buddha realms. However, I later drove home, logged onto my email account, and there it was--an email---an email with a time stamp within ten minutes following my experience with this particular angel. Another friend of mine nearly 2,000 miles away had channeled a message from her guardian angel who expressed that he had just attempted to give me some information but I didn’t hear it…I had only visually seen him. (This is yet one more example of how I tend to shut down my clairaudience. I jokingly tell my students, "Because of my clinical training, I simply do not want to hear voices!") I found this email of his message to be even more unbelievable so I drove back to see Beth and asked her, “Did I see an angel?” She replied, “Yes, you saw an angel.” I knew that the manifestation, information and guidance from this guardian angel was a profound act of love because I had not solicited this guidance from him. I also came to realize that angels exist. Soon I was no longer “blown away” by such manifestations. I had crossed a threshold that is there for all of us—a threshold where one is no longer a tourist in the metaphysical world but rather, in the city--a city in which these occurrences are part of one's daily life. No more "WOW." No more "OH MY GOSH." No more disbelief.

In the meantime, I learned of Jonathon Goldman’s experience with Shamael, the angel of sacred sound. Jonathon told of how he was meditating in his crystal grid on his birthday because birthdays are a day of personal power. Shamael appeared to him and asked him to be a conduit for sacred sound. Soon afterwards, I was singing “Om mani peme hung”, the mantra of Avalokiteshvara (the Buddha of Compassion), for a student of mine who had tragically died. I was singing this mantra for her for 49 days while she was in the bardos but at one point in time I stopped singing after I went into the bathroom and closed the door. Suddenly, I heard a choir of angelic voices singing above me, the harmonics beyond anything I could express in words. At first I thought that they were taking over the singing of the mantra because I had stopped but then I realized that they had been singing with me all along. This experience touched me so deeply that it was months before I could talk about it.

I cannot identify the event or moment when I was guided to offer a workshop about angels and archangels but the workshop continues to evolve and develop, based on the experiences of my students and based on direction that I receive. For example, at the first workshop, I spent two hours talking about the angelic realm. One of my students asked if I would provide that information in writing, and he would take the workshop again! However, before I developed my hand-outs, I was drawn to Barnes and Noble as if I were a magnet. There I was in the corner of the bookstore with a book about Archangel Raphael staring me in the face, and without hesitating, I purchased the book while thinking, “So, Raphael feels I have missed something.”

Raphael was making a bold entrance into my life. At my next workshop, one of my students canceled at the last minute, and since we end the workshop by working in pairs giving and receiving a healing session, I filled in for my missing student and became the partner for another student. As a preface, I must say that over the years I have often heard people tell me that my hands are not the only hands felt when I channel Reiki during a healing session. Therefore, I have known for many years that another entity often works with me. However, I had never personally experienced the phenomenon of physically feeling another set of unseen hands on my physical body. Not until now. Janet had been at my heart, her hands off my body, calling forth Archangel Raphael in relation to his role in the Kabbalah Tree of Life. When she moved down to my feet, there were hands that remained on my heart. I opened my eyes and whispered, “Janet, where are you?” She said, “I’m down here by your feet.” Two more times I opened my eyes and rose up to see where she was, and sure enough she was nowhere near my heart. Everyone participating in the workshop saw and heard me. Raphael’s presence was undeniable, and Raphael, whose focus is healing, let me know of his eagerness to assist in the healing work of my students and I. It was as if he was saying, “I want to be included in all of this so please do not forget me.”

Last Sunday a couple of young women were communicating with the many archangels whom we called forth during our workshop. One of them couldn’t talk about it, initially, but the other young woman said she was joking with one of the archangels who reminded her, “This is serious.” Yes, they do take their work seriously. I am amazed at the organized manner in which they operate within Universal Law. No mistakes….no coincidences…..

I could write volumes about the experiences that my students have had during this workshop. For example, Archangel Metatron stroked the forehead of one young woman who was experiencing great trials in her life. The stroking was the manner in which her now deceased mother used to comfort her when she was a child. We actually saw the hair of her bangs moving as tears trickled down her face. Or, Archangel Michael sent a healing bolt of energy so forcefully through an elderly woman’s arthritic knee that she shifted three feet on the table she was laying on (nearly falling off the table). However, what is even more compelling are the stories I hear after the workshop. For those who knew nothing about angels and archangels, suddenly they have a strong connection to these Divine beings, and their presence is felt and appreciated. Dee shared with me how, in a car accident, her car swerved from one side of the road to the other, missing every car on the road. As her car was on the edge of its tires, ready to roll, the car would suddenly right itself, and the scenario repeated itself…nearly rolling on the right and then nearly rolling on the left until the car came to a halt. Witnesses saw this as impossible but Dee knew during the entire experience that her angels were in charge, and she was fully protected.

Angels and Archangels understand the Law of Free Will; thus, they will not interfere with our free will and will not intervene without our permission. We must ask for their assistance, and they respond to our requests, whether our requests are spoken, in writing, or in thought. Interestingly, however, I have noticed that they know when I am going to ask for their assistance before I actually make the request. They are also compassionately loving, and because they are egoless, they can be trusted. Many of you know this, and many of you have your own stories to share, which I would love to hear. My next workshop is Saturday, December 5 (1-5:30pm).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Newsletter XIX - The Power of Wishes

Dearest Friends:
Happy 4th of July. After reading this newsletter, please note that the July distant healing requests were posted on July 1, and please add requests by clicking on the comment link.

For years I have talked about the power of intention and how essential it is that we set our intention in order to manifest a desired outcome. Wayne Dyer has written extensively about the Power of Intention. Intention is merely the process of creating, or bringing into existence, that which we desire; thus, when I discuss the many healing modalities that I integrate, I acknowledge that all of those healing modalities were created by someone with the high intention to heal, and there is power when we add intention upon intention upon intention upon our own intention. It sounds simple; yet, for some reason, it is difficult for many to comprehend, much less attain. Unfortunately, I believe that some of this difficulty lies in the fact that the words “intent” and “intention” have been imbued with a negative connotation. How many times have we heard a suspicious person say, “What is your intention?” We have also heard that one cannot be convicted of murder unless motive is established. In this respect, one’s intention is used to determine underlying motivation for cause of action.

We have also heard much discussion about the The Secret although it is no secret that the ancient Universal Law of Attraction is based on the teachings of Abraham. This law basically states, “That which is like unto itself, is drawn.” We attract everything that shows up in our life experience because the Law of Attraction is responding to the thoughts we are offering. Every thought, feeling, word, and action carries a vibration and because it attracts other like vibrations, it is crucial that we are aware of the vibrations that we emit. For example, a woman was trying to decide on a location for the purchase of a home and an important criterion was how long it would take to get to the nearest hospital via an ambulance. I responded, “You don’t want to be sending that wish out to the universe!” I don’t think she realized that she was planting a negative seed thought for a quick ambulance ride to the hospital. This is what many of us do if we are not aware of our thoughts. We sometimes make a wish that we actually do not want to manifest, not realizing the second universal law, The Science of Deliberate Creation. This law states, “That which I give thought to, and that which I believe or expect—is.” Essentially, we get what we are thinking about whether we want it or not. In this respect, we create of own reality, which is more easily understood as the Law of Cause and Effect or the Law of Karma. We plant seeds or impressions (effect), and when conditions arise, they come to fruition (cause). As true as these concepts are and as simple as they sound, most of us are confused or challenged by them.

We grow up making wishes. We place our wish in a wishing jar and toss a coin with a wish into a water fountain full of coins where others have made their wish and tossed their coins. We wish upon a star:

“When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true.”
(Washington & Harline, 1940).

We make a wish before we blow out candles on a birthday cake, and we make routine New Year’s Resolutions, which are wishes that we will accomplish certain goals. These wishes may seem childish but there is prudence in returning to some of the childish ways that we seem to lose in adulthood. For example, it was been reported by Albert Klein that children laugh 400 times a day whereas adults laugh 15 times a day. Yet, healthy people laugh 100 to 400 times a day.

Some may consider making wishes as not only childish but superstitious; however, from a Buddhist perspective, “Wishes based on wisdom and made without selfish motives are by no means superstitious acts. Such wishes may be made before a Buddha image or any other object which represents noble ideals and virtues, such as a Bodhi tree (a symbol of enlightenment), a shrine, or a pagoda. Such wishes are not mere wishful thinking or idle prayers, but positive resolutions for wholesome actions. They are necessary for the accomplishment of certain desired goals; thus, a person may make a wish before a Buddha image saying, "May I have the strength to help others in need. May I have the opportunity to do more good every day." Or an aspirant to enlightenment may make determined wishes before a Buddha to attain Buddhahood in some future life in order to benefit all sentient beings. Certainly, there is a great difference between such wishes and someone wishing for a beautiful new car or wishing to become a millionaire. My teacher, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje, once stated that wishing for candy is not meaningful as compared to wishing that all sentient beings will accumulate merit and never be met by obstacles. He explained that wishes have no form and because they are an act of the mind, wishes can dissolve a bad mental state and shape the mind in a pure way. “The more we wish good things continually, the more free will be the state of our mind—more perfected, more free. When we wish deep from the bottom of our heart, it shapes the perspective of mind.”

I make strong wishes every day of my life. I wish for you, and for those I do not know. I wish that you will not be met with obstacles in these challenging and perilous times; however, when obstacles do present, I wish that they will be transformed into great wisdom. More importantly, I wish that our inherent happiness will not be obscured by the confusion and illusion of the conditioned world. Whether we recognize it or not—the sun is always, always shining.

Copyright © 2009, Carol A. Wilson

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Newsletter XVIII - The Meaning of Mindfulness

Dearest Friends:
We have heard the phrase a million times, “Be mindful. Be present. Be in the NOW.” However, what does it mean? More importantly, how is it possible to achieve mindfulness in a world in which clocks are ticking as we run, multi-task, and swing to past and future thinking as if we're an untamed monkey in the trees?

Frankly, I never understood the concept of mindfulness until I was forced to experience it about 20 years ago while on a snowy ski slope in Park City, Utah. I was in a group skiing class with three other men and two women. The wind was scattering powder-like snow, similar to my scattered thoughts that were being tossed around regarding the events of yesterday and what I needed to accomplish tomorrow; thus, I didn’t really comprehend the instructions that my ski instructor was directing at me. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on what he was saying when he corrected the way in which I was swinging my arms and body from side to side when I skied. Finally, in exasperation and with a raised voice, he blurted, “Just do this ONE THING. Imagine that your belly button is a flashlight shining the way straight down the hill. Think of NOTHING ELSE.” I was embarrassed but motivated to accomplish whatever it was he expected me to do---but focus on ONE THING? I wanted to ask, “Are you kidding?”

I seemed to instinctively inhale and exhale a few deep breaths that grounded me to the earth beneath my feet, and then I rehearsed the words aloud before I proceeded down the hill, “Belly button—flashlight—belly button—flashlight.“ My thoughts of yesterday’s events and tomorrow’s tasks and worries dissipated as if they were zapped away by a bolt of lightning. Determined, I pushed off down the hill, focused only on my belly button that was a flashlight while repeating “belly button—flashlight—belly button—flashlight.” I was able to visualize the flashlight shining its beam ahead of me—leading me straight down the hill and not from side to side. As a result, my arms and body were no longer turning and swinging. Soon, this exercise was not external to me but rather, one with me. There was no distinction between me as the subject, object and action. I was acutely aware, conscious and awake, and the experience was so fully lived, exhilarating and penetrating that I seemed to feel it vibrating in every cell of my body. I also realized, much to my chagrin, that I had compromised most of my life experiences by thoughts that distracted me from experiencing the moment.

We only have this wondrous moment that is here and NOW. The past is gone. The future may not come. To miss the moment of NOW is to miss out on the experience of living. For example, how often have we eaten a meal and not experienced it because we were distracted by our past and future thinking about other things? How often have we walked or traveled and not seen the beauty around us because we were past and future thinking? How many accidents or other tragic events occur because of this obsessive past and future thinking? How often are we simply not mindful about what is in front of our face?

Mindfulness takes practice; fortunately, we can immediately begin to practice mindfulness without formal training, which is of benefit to everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, age, and spiritual or religious affiliation. Our children, in particular, need to learn mindfulness before they develop a scattered and undisciplined mind. We should also honor their mindfulness, rather than constantly distract them. We all benefit by the practice of being conscious and awake in our daily lives, and thus, it is prudent to practice mindfulness. One of the first things we need to learn to do is to move calmly and slowly, never in a hurry to achieve an outcome. For many of us, this is an arduous task, and we need to re-learn our fast paced behavior as if having to get out our bike with the training wheels.

For example, I was considered to be, at one time, a speed walker. My son, Colby, who was an ODP (Olympic Development Player), grabbed me by the back of my shirt more times than I can count en route to a soccer game in an attempt to slow me down. He simply couldn’t keep up with me! Because I was outcome oriented, focused on “arrival” at the soccer field in as little time as possible, I missed the step by step process of the journey. I was nearly deaf, dumb and blind to each moment and to the world around me. What if my thought, instead, would have been, “I am on the path to the soccer field?” Think of all the beauty I would have experienced with my son along the way!

Mindfulness is present moment by moment awareness and noticing change in one’s inner self. It is nonconceptual, unbiased observation without judgment or criticism. It is mirror-thought and reflects exactly what is happening now. In order to be mindful, we need to forget about future outcome and focus on the moment. We choose to BE instead of DO. In other words, we do not hurry and wash a cup so we can drink a cup of tea. We wash the cup to wash the cup. We experience what it is like to wash a cup and become one with the experience. We see every detail of the cup and how we care for it by washing. If our mind starts to wander to past and future thinking, we simply bring ourselves back to washing the cup by saying, “I am washing the cup now.” We do not hurry and take a 5 minute shower so we can get dressed to dash out the door and go to work. We take a shower to take a shower. We experience what it is like to take a shower and become one with the experience. We experience the wonder of it, and if we have hot water, we savor it even more. If our mind wanders to past and future thinking, we bring ourselves back to taking a shower by saying, “I am taking a shower now.” (I once needed to take a shower and wash my hair in an outdoor shower in the Himalayas in 0 degree weather. Since that time, I have absolutely savored hot water.) We take a bath to take a bath. If our mind wanders to past and future thinking, we simply return to our bath by saying, “I am taking a bath now.” By practicing mindfulness in this way, the feeling that a task is a bother or a nuisance will disappear.

It is wonderful to believe that the moment is our friend, no matter what the circumstance. The here and NOW moment is all we will ever have, because it truly is all that we have. Every experience we had in the past was experienced in the NOW. Everything we experience in the future will be in the NOW; thus, it behooves us to make NOW the primary focus and joy of our life. After all, nothing could be more perfect than right now---this very moment.


Copyright © 2009, Carol A. Wilson.