Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I think the state of nirvana we are striving for, and the pitfalls we experience along the way, are not unlike a mission to become a champion video game player. Dodging attacks from mutant alien warriors, you fight to survive and protect yourself and your home base. The first wave of aliens doesn’t seem that nasty. They move fairly slowly and you’re able to avoid their arsenal of bombs and bullets. You take your time, aim, and shoot. You’re proud that you’ve won your first challenge.
This is just the beginning. You find the second, third and fourth levels prove to be more challenging. Showing no mercy, the mutants are almost impossible to avoid now. They move more swiftly and have more accurate lasers. Your only defense is to scurry away from their attacks as you fire uninterrupted streams of ammunition at whatever comes in your way. Still, you survive. In fact you win.
You gain a certain confidence and start taking more and more uncalculated risks. You fall and get captured. You lose your status as a rising master warrior and get exiled to a deserted planet. There you meet a wise and benevolent wizard who instructs you in a greater strategy for the battlefield. He teaches you to move carefully, evading enemy fire. He urges you to trust your own intuition. You’re ready to take on the mutants once again.
Yet this time as you play, you realize that being relaxed and in the moment you become an entirely new class of warrior. You become faster, stronger and more resilient. Your skill improves and you instinctively know your enemy’s moves. You fight harder and smarter and quickly climb through higher levels of the video game ladder. Winning or making it to the finish line is not a goal for you anymore. You enjoy playing the game. It gives you the feeling of being an empowered and invincible superhero. And then, Eureka! The screen lights up like it’s the Fourth of July. You’ve reached the highest score possible and become “Super Video Game Master!” Still, it is not the end. Dodging attacks from mutant aliens and protecting your home base is still very exciting. There’s no choice. You continue to play.
As a novice or maven your activity remains the same. On the surface it seems like nothing has changed. Yet from the level of experience it is a completely different game. Perhaps there is some truth to the old Buddhist saying, “Before enlightenment you chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water.” It is not what we do but how we do it. The easiest way to be on the spiritual path is to no longer look to accomplish anything or strive for a goal. Instead the way we move on the path can become the goal.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Like a Robot
Yesterday, a podcast of a weekly radio show, made me think about how nature can structure balance and knowledge in our life. The show I was listening to was NPR’s This American Life. There’s usually a theme to each episode and a variety of stories on that theme. They are mostly true stories about everyday people.
This week’s show was about people who were held hostage in various ways. The last segment was about a man who held captive by love. Matt, a 39-year-old professor and neuroscientist, has strange attacks during which his muscles get heavy, he loses control and is eventually unable to move. These attacks can last up to two hours and can happen several times a day. He has fallen down stairs, cannot drive, and police and paramedics have had to come to his aid many times. Matt has narcolepsy with cataplexy. Over a million people suffer from this disease, which causes a sudden loss of muscle control while awake. The attacks are usually triggered by strong positive emotions. So for the last four years, whenever Matt experiences compassion, happiness, love or other positive feelings, he becomes completely paralyzed. He can’t even pet a puppy without collapsing.
This disease has affected his marriage, his family and social life. To adapt, Matt has trained himself to be like a robot. He doesn’t engage himself emotionally. He tries to enjoy things less and keeps a lid on his enthusiasm. On the radio show he explains that no matter how hard he tries to control his environment and emotions, he can’t avoid happiness. It finds him no matter what.
I have no idea what Matt’s karma is, but his reaction is extreme. Yet strong emotions do overwhelm most people. They just get paralyzed in less obvious ways. Experiences are often a portal, an opportunity to bring us back into balance and give us wisdom. We usually think that part of spiritual development is not getting un-centered when feelings or situations we consider negative arise. Rarely do we make this assumption when it comes to feelings we enjoy.
Sri Sri has often explained that the peak of all feeling takes you inward. Being centered is realizing the source of joy is not in the objects or people outside, it is within. It seems that if someone was in touch with their source of joy at all times, they wouldn’t be thrown off when a strong emotion is triggered from outside. It would be no more than the ripple of a wave across the ocean.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
It is gratifying to see people inspired by my stories and experiences, but what I have been through is no more or less valuable than your own spiritual journey. Everyone who embarks on a spiritual path has a unique story to tell. In my life, spending so much time in the presence of Sri Sri has been a true blessing and something I wanted to share with others. Still it is just a story. Stories can be a trap for the mind. Often our narratives cause us to feel “I am special because this happened to me” or “He is so special because that happened to him.” These are merely expressions of ego. They take us out of the present moment by glorifying the past. This is what separates us from others. The more we get caught up in our own story and the more we are entangled in notions of “I am special” or “I am inferior,” the more we perpetuate our own dramas and stray from the truth.
Yet there are plenty of purposes a narrative can serve. Stories can be a way of getting closer to others and bonding. Old friends and family members often reminisce about the past. This fosters a sense of connection, of history. Many times though, we tell stories of the past either to brag and feel important or to reinforce despair and self-doubt. It is far more valuable to simply become aware of the perpetual story that we are telling ourselves.
Observe how this constant chattering in the mind becomes your identity. Without this story, who would you be? We weave such intricate notions of who we are, what we like, what we can or cannot do in life. We label ourselves. I am a parent. I have this profession. I meditate. I cannot meditate. This story of “I am somebody” is the source of human suffering. It perpetuates the feeling of being separate from others and from our own unbounded consciousness. It provides a false sense of satisfaction and makes us complacent. It can also be a way to remain a victim. This strong identification with being “somebody” often brings us into a space of complaint. We wring our hands over situations that have already happened and can never be changed.
Life is filled with stories. The skill comes in when we stay away from labeling ourselves as either hero or villain, winner or loser. Spiritual knowledge can save you from getting lost in your role or identity. It provides an awareness for you to shift, to move away from the story of changing events and circumstances to that which is non-changing, constant and ever-present. It helps you to relinquish the story, your attachment to the narrative of your own life. If there is one key lesson to learn in life, this is it. And it is one I myself am still grappling with and learning to understand.
It is so rare to hear Sri Sri tell a personal story. My sense is that he does not identify himself as a protagonist. He is not the leading character who gets submerged in the drama. The consciousness, which is without beginning or end, is so expansive it is as though his past has dissolved in the present.
If you are still waiting to meet your true spiritual teacher, don’t worry. Have patience. Enjoy reading and listening to the stories of others knowing that your time will also come. There will be some moment when the satguru, the true spiritual teacher, physically appears in ones life. For many that moment has already occurred. For others, it is just around the corner. If you have met your true spiritual teacher, rejoice and inspire those around you. Tell your story with love, devotion and humor so that others may be inspired to walk this path too.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
In a Moment of Silence
As I stand behind a microphone, amid walls of books, and in a moment of silence during a book-tour talk, a seventyish grey-haired man rises to ask, “Where does this lead us?” With soft eyes, he speaks with sincerity, intent on getting an answer.
Some people are restless, fidgeting in their chair. Others wait in anticipation. A young Latino man who greeted me when I entered the bookstore leans forward in his chair, rests his elbows on his knees and cradles his head in his hands.
There are no thoughts in my mind only stillness.
“There is no place to go,” I say.
The audience laughs, the grey-haired man winces at me, confused.
“You already have what you’re seeking,” I explain. “The practices are only a way to be in the now, for accepting, for removing the craving for joy in the future. You are not going anywhere, you are only uncovering what’s there.” The grey-haired man nods his head with understanding eyes. The young Latino sits back in his chair, crosses his arms in front of his chest, and smiles.
Only an hour earlier I had been questioning why I would be traveling around the country on this book tour. I was wishing instead to be in the presence of my teacher and mentor, Sri Sri. It is the fourth night of Navaratri, the auspicious Hindu festival honoring Mother Divine. Sri Sri is in silence at the Bangalore ashram with 30,000 people who have come to participate in the yagnas, ancient Vedic rituals that reverberate vibrations of peace.
I observe myself standing before a small crowd, gathered to hear about the book I have written. Elated, I now marvel at the knowledge flowing from me.
At the end of the talk, I sign books and share Sri Sri’s blessings. A tall athletic man who is built like a linebacker approaches me. “I never heard about you or your book. But when I saw the flyer, I knew I had to come.”
How could he? Besides Art of Living members, a few friends, and family, no one knew about my book. I didn’t say a word; I just smiled and nodded.
During the few minutes that we chat, the linebacker holds my hand. He tells me how he appreciated my talk. For many years he felt inadequate with people and wanted more meaning and purpose in his life. As he waits for me to sign his book, he asks if I think the Art of Living Course will help.
Like the grey-haired man’s question, I’m not sure where this book tour will lead me, but it is clear that it is a great vehicle for sharing Sri Sri’s knowledge. Many who are coming to my book events are seekers who long for a way home. I’m honored that I can play a role in their journey.