Tag Archives: Buddhism

How to Live with Questions Instead of Hunting for Answers

questionsI am a child of the West. More specifically, I am a child of the United States and the mentality of answering a question is deeply-ingrained in me. I often think back to when I was in school, third or fourth grade and the teacher asked a question. I can still see the class, all boys, in sport coats, dress shirts and ties as we collectively raised our hands, we knew the answer. We wanted our teacher to know that we knew.

Someone was picked and the answer was given and then, it was on to the next question. When I worked on presidential campaigns, John Kerry in 2004 and Bill Richardson in 2008, I would sit at the edges of the rooms as the press asked questions. Q&A sessions are the core of journalism. You couldn’t possibly just have a “question” session where a question was left to float and linger; nor have there been many great ‘answer’ sessions where everyone gathers around and shares an answer to a question that was never asked.

We grow up and we want the answers. Why does she love? Why did she stop? Why did this happen or that? We hire therapists and read the books. We seek answers in the stars, our friends, and our family members. Today, in the world of electronic connection, there has to be an answer to every text; there has to be a response to every post and every email.

Not only that, we often read the simplest of pieces of communication over and over for an answer. We want to know why the person sent it; what’s the logic for the use of wink and not a smile. We pull layers off of layers and try and see what lies underneath. We need to find the answer.

Almost two years ago, I set out on my own journey to find out what happened to my father who had died in Southeast Asia in 1984. This was also less than a year after my mother had died in my arms in a hospice in Arizona. I set out with a mission. The impetus for my leaving was  a dinner I had with two close friends in Cape Town, South Africa while on a business trip there. “Go” they each told me, “go find out. It’s what you need to do.” I remember sitting at restaurant, as the waiters bustled about. I remember the feeling of the crowd and the room. I remember thinking, ‘yes I will go.’ So I went.

I learned an enormous amount on my journey. The journey concluded with me being back in that same restaurant last week while back in Cape Town on another business trip. I sat there and thought about what I had learned and what I hadn’t.

I left on my journey with my Western sense of “I need to find the answers” fully intact and front and center. I thought if I worked a bit harder, if I went to one more place that my father had gone to back then, if I stood on one more street corner where I knew that he had stood, I could find the answer. Any answer. An answer to how he felt when he was there. An answer to how he felt when he died. Something.

What I learned is that you should always go on your journey. We each have something that we have either always wanted to do. A place that we went to when we were young that we have wanted to go back to. Or perhaps we want to see where our parents were from, or where they met. We could want to see where someone near and dear to us lived, or died. It can be as far reaching as traveling Southeast Asia as I did, or as simple as wandering an old neighborhood where you grew up at night.

Go on the journey.

But go, not as I did as Westerner looking for the answer, though I suspect that you will leave that way. Go as the Burmese and African friends that I met along the way would go. Go knowing that the answers are elusive and not only are they elusive, the questions travel with you.

When you learn to live with the questions all day and all night, you realize that the answers don’t matter nearly as much as you once thought. When I was in Burma, I would get emails from my friends from the States, ‘did you find out what happened to your father?’ But no one there ever asked me that. They knew that it wasn’t the answers that mattered so much, but the journey itself. And living with the questions.

I wish I could go back to the classroom of my youth and when the teacher asked a question, instead of shooting my arm up and seeking to be the one with the answer, I would be the boy who sat there and just thought about the question.

 

photo by: paul bica

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Greatest Teaching on Love and Mindfulness

p_davis-5562.jpg

The first time I was exposed to well-known Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author Thich Nhat Hanh, who visited Boston over the weekend, was when I read his book, Miracle of Mindfulness in a college course on Buddhism. I still recall one of our homework assignments for the class. We had to wash the dishes…which was awesome for my roommates. I’d pulled dish duty. A monk said so.

But, the assignment wasn’t to wash the dishes the way any of us typically wash the dishes, dashing off a chore so that we can move on to something better. Instead, the assignment required us to wash the dishes while being fully present and mindful. Never mind what happens next. We were learning through real-life practice that the powerful moment–the only one over which we have any guarantee or influence–is the one happening now. Don’t wait until later to be compassionate or kind, attentive and aware. A mind does not get stronger that way. It stays distracted and anxious about what comes next… And after that?… And then what?

On Sunday, in Copley Square, I was again reminded how miraculous mindfulness can be. I went with the expectation that I’d sit quietly, among hundreds of other people, in the presence of a revered Zen master, but didn’t anticipate much more. I knew it would feel meaningful and maybe solemn. I imagined we’d hear car horns or passing Duck Tours as we meditated. Quack, quack! I hoped he’d speak a little bit. Hopefully, we could hear and understand him. I momentarily wondered if it was unsafe to congregate in an open and vulnerable public space doing something spiritual, possibly viewed as religious. After all, we were in front of a church, among hundreds of Buddhists, yards from the Boston Marathon finish line, where two bombs went off five months ago to the date.

Trinity Church’s Reverend Dr. William Rich acknowledged this fact as he introduced Thich Nhat Hanh, who was now sitting under the hot sun clad in a knit hat and multiple layers of robes and meditations shawls. Wasn’t he melting? It struck me that it couldn’t be a coincidence, this event to sit in peace and healing near an area subjected to so much suffering a short time ago. The week before had also marked the anniversary of 9/11, the reverend noted. We were still at war and now considering military action in Syria. The day before marked the Jewish holiday of atoning for sins, Yom Kippur. In any number of ways, no matter who you were, the message of the day was clear. We are here to be together in peace. We’re here to practice greater awareness and compassion because the world needs both right now.

Small and centered, the 85-year-old Vietnamese monk in a knitted hat.

Following his introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh did something surprising to some. He said nothing. He didn’t even open his eyes. Instead, he sat silently and meditated, signaling for a typically pulsing cross-section of the city to join him. I don’t recall car horns. Definitely no quacking. A few small children giggled or cried briefly in the crowd, but mostly, it was very quiet.

When he eventually spoke, about 25-minutes later, the famous monk said only this: Breathing in, I am aware of my breath. Breathing out, I am aware of my breath, a simple mantra to set the stage for a talk that would succinctly and poetically teach a diverse group what it means to be mindful and how it creates peace. Next, he said: Breathing in, I enjoy breathing in. Breathing out, I enjoy breathing out.

The mantras and teachings gained momentum from there. We breathed in and out qualities of a mountain’s solidity and stability, water’s stillness and reflection, a flower’s freshness and beauty, and space. Breathing in, I have the element of space within me. Breathing out, I feel free… Space: free. Nothing was too heady. No one was left out. It was the most simple yet moving talk I’ve ever witnessed on meditation or Buddhism. If I was exposed to this teacher first in college, I was now getting schooled in a whole new way.

Then, the talk dovetailed into territory I would not have predicted for an 85-year-old celibate monk: love. It could have easily represented love for a family member or friend, but to hear a monk use the word darling in three different types of mantras suggested romantic love, and it made everyone smile. Darling, I am here. Darling, I know you are here. Darling, I know that you suffer, and I am here for you.  

“The most precious thing you can offer your loved one is your presence,” he said. “To be present means to be there. How can you love, if you are not there?” His voice was gentle, but the message reverberated. Love (romantic or otherwise) doesn’t work if we’re distracted or hiding– behind suffering, the TV, iPhone, alcohol, who knows. We all have our means of avoiding reality, some healthier than others. To love means to understand suffering, our own and our darling’s.

He linked the two segments of the talk seamlessly– the meditation, breathing, and mantras– with his thoughts on love. We practice meditation so that we can restore our presence and feel more stable, free, fresh, and beautiful. “You cannot buy it in a market,” the adorable monk cautioned in his sing-song accent, of the level of presence needed for true love. “You have to produce it yourself.”

Somewhere along the way, my tear ducts started producing an abundance of water. I was overwhelmed. It was too beautiful maybe, the day, his words, the fact that my present moment looked, felt, and sounded the way it did, and I was sharing it with hundreds of other people, some of whom must have been having a similar experience. Their suffering was all around, their love, too. I felt a hand on my arm, which startled me. It was a kind woman offering a tissue. I could hear others nearby also weeping. Monks and nuns were chanting now, singing the name of Avalokiteshvara, the saint of compassion, and a cello played. Damn cello, gets me every time. Vast blue sky space stretched overhead, and the ground on which we sat felt solid and stable. We were being restored.

The Buddhist monks and nuns chanting… also the cello. Sniff.

Life will always contain suffering, and it will offer opportunities to cultivate compassion, grow love, and strengthen our minds through presence and practice. Copley Square will always be the place where we went after the marathon to leave flowers, candles, sneakers, and letters. It’s where people cried and prayed  Often, they felt hopeless. Today, a proper memorial resides in the same spot, on the periphery of where Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation event occurred. The earth, there, hugging the edge of the space where so many people sat in peace and thought about love.

I still hurry through the dishes most of the time, and while writing this post, I wolfed down an apple and peanut butter so fast, I barely tasted either of them. My spoon scrapped the bottom of the bowl, and I thought, heyyy, who ate my snack? But, then, a teacher or moment reminds me of the miracle of mindfulness and skill of being present. How I can always practice, beginning simply with breathing in and breathing out. And, sometimes, the expectations in my mind are blown away by the real-life experience.

 

Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

How Gentle Quarrelling Can Save Your Relationship

stock-footage-young-couple-hugging-and-being-affectionate-by-oceanShortly after we were married we went to India and spent our honeymoon in a yoga ashram and a Buddhist monastery. We also had a private meeting with the Dalai Lama at his residence in McLeod Ganj, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

As Ed recalls:

After some thirty minutes of talking with him I was feeling so moved by this gentle and loving man that I didn’t want to leave! I was completely in love with this delightful being. He was so ordinary, sitting between us and holding our hands. Finally, I said to him, ‘I don’t want to leave! I just want to stay here with you!’ I knew he would understand my sincerity and would say yes, how wonderful, I can see you are ready for the teachings. But, instead, he just smiled and said, ‘If we were together all the time we would quarrel!’

So relax, if the Dalai Lama can quarrel, so can we! Inevitably there are going to be times when relationships are not easy, when differences collide, when egos clash, when my needs seem more important than yours, or when your needs are not being met. For relationships create untold problems. Sitting in solitary bliss with our hearts wide open and love pouring out of us towards all beings is relatively easy, but as soon as we come in direct contact with another person everything changes. Our ability to stay open and loving, our selflessness and generosity, all this and more is immediately confronted by someone else’s own wants and needs, by their capacity to accept and love or not.

Relationships are not just an integral part of being alive, they are also the most vital and challenging teacher we can ever have. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, “If you can make friends with one person, you can make friends with the world.”

Difficulties in relationships show us the many ways our ego-selves try to be right, which can be a cause for either conflict or laughter. Once we were sharing some of our marriage issues with our meditation teacher, and he looked at us quite puzzled. “Why not just laugh?” he suggested. And he was right. Laughter really is the best medicine. When we see the absurdity of two ego’s knocking heads and trying to outwit each other it is very amusing. So often a disagreement is about seeing the same thing in two different ways: one sees a white ceiling, the other sees a flat ceiling, but it’s the same ceiling!

Sometimes, it can be healthy to have a good quarrel, if we can then just let it go and come back to loving. There are bound to be times of flow and times of discord but we don’t need to hold on to either. Difficulties arise because we cling to our own opinion as being the right one, and it’s this holding on, with the ensuing shame, blame and hostile silences, that causes so many problems.

In fact, those people we have a difficult time with are really our teachers. For without an adversary—or those who trigger strong reactions such as annoyance and anger—we would not have the stimulus to develop loving kindness and compassion. So we can actually thank our exasperating relationships for the chance to practice patience. What a gift!

We are not alone here, each one of us—both directly and indirectly—affect each other; everyone and everything is dependent on everything else. As Mother Theresa reminds us: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

* * *

See our award-winning book: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Edgar Mitchell, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Byrone Katie, Jane Fonda, Marianne Williamson, and many others.

Our 3 meditation CD’s: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: www.EdandDebShapiro.com

Originally published January 2012

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 8)

What's black and white and red all over??Click here to read Part 7!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., and Neil Theise, MD

Despite the fact that cultures have institutionalized the universal Mind with terms long accepted as true (e.g., God, Brahman, the Absolute), words aren’t very helpful to someone who hasn’t yet had the experience. If the unreliability of subjective reports puts off many scientists, the claim that some people have special experiences that go beyond words bolsters their skepticism. As a result, formulating a science of consciousness has been slow to start and even slower to gain credibility.

A personal disclosure: the authors include some contemplative practitioners with a varying depth of experience in the traditions of Buddhism, Vedanta, and Kashmir Shaivism. This doesn’t mean that our personal experiences are “true,” only that these topics are not hypothetical for us. Aligning with centuries of contemplative practitioners, we find the reports of expanded awareness compelling, but being physicians and scientists, we also think of such experiences as material for hypothesis-making and testing through experimentation.

Alas, other scientists hotly disagree, saying, “No, this is not a fit topic for scientific exploration – your evidence is born of hearsay and superstition.” To those who draw a boundary around what is worth exploring scientifically and what is not, we ask, “Isn’t this just another form of unthinking fundamentalism, akin to that of religious fundamentalists whom many rational scientists claim to abhor?” The Roman poet Terence wrote, Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto (I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me). Consider all the forbidden topics, from female sexuality to epidemics, from madness to gross anatomy, that were once placed under a ban. These meditation experiences are human experiences, like every other human experience that scientists deem worthy of investigation by techniques such as putting people inside an MRI machine: experiences like depression, memory, love, fear, excitement, orgasm.

The trend is now moving away from the naysayers. Research is starting to account for the swing between the inner and outer world, a swing we all experience every day, using as subjects adept meditation practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism. These meditators report experiences in which the sense of inside/outside and self/other dissolves. Instead of dismissing this as mysticism, one hypothesis now suggests specific neural activity within two complementary signaling networks in the brain – one is active when you are dealing with the world outside the body (called task positive network), the other, the “default network” (or task negative network) revs up when your focus is inward as commonly happens in wakeful rest, introspection, or from lack of significant sensory inputs).

Our brains are thought to alternate rapidly between these two networks, but when deep, “non-dual” meditation is performed, they both activate together, because inside and outside are no longer opposite and contrary, but are experienced as a seamless mind contemplating a seamless whole. We don’t mean to suggest the default mode network is the basis for the mind (since default mode activity is also seen in primates and rats), but the data illustrates how mental states like meditation affect the brain.

Short of proving with scientific rigor that the mind is not located just in the brain, we have pointed to the fact that the experience of your mind in your head is not the only experience you can have. Exploring the implications for yourself only takes a few moments a day – you can feel for yourself how your thinking does not have to remain locked up in the box of your skull.

Finally, the aura of religion is so strong that skeptics dismiss all spiritual experience – being alien to materialism – as matters of faith. Faith, in a great many varieties, is something we all turn to for interpreting our experiences. From the perspective of quantum mechanics, which has shown beyond a doubt that solid objects are not solid, it takes faith to believe that the physical world exists – certainly a rationalist must admit that the five senses are lying or at best are unreliable.

In everyday life, faith is part of the equation. But it is not only great faith that drives spiritual investigations but also, as is said in Zen, “great doubt” – doubt as to the meaning of existence and the reason for suffering in the world. The great faith in this equation is what makes the great doubt bearable. This balance between what we know and what we hope to discover drives science as well as spirituality. The difference lies in which tool of investigation is used.

The mind studying the mind reveals aspects of reality that can’t be reached by investigating the physical world. The reach of consciousness becomes even greater once we realize that the mind isn’t locked in the skull or even bounded by the skin. Step by step, the findings of mainstream science have opened the domain of Mind, that transcends our individual minds and is fundamental to the universe.

In the next posts we’ll return to what contemporary science understands about the most fundamental structures in nature – our aim is to find a meeting place between the inner and outer method of investigation. Have we made you curious? We hope so, because curiosity is the theme to be taken up next.

(To be continued…)

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 7)

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 10.50.25 AMClick here to read Part 6!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., and Neil Theise, MD

In the previous posts we began with the common-sense notion that the brain produces the mind and proceeded to explode it. Using medical facts we showed that every part of the body shares in the process we call “thinking,” although the liver, intestines, and heart do their thinking non-verbally. They still make decisions, show preferences, exhibit self-reliance, and contribute in major ways to the information sent to the brain.

We have offered our proof that mind exists outside the skull without departing from common sense. In the same vein we explored the possibility that mind exists outside the brain. Many scientists would dismiss the possibility out of hand, but we showed that the inner experience of Eastern contemplative practices (meditation, yoga, Zen Buddhism, et al.) are not inferior to the data collected on subjective states like pain, feeling happy, or falling in love. Brain scans offer correlates to these experiences, but it is self-report from a person who says “I’m in pain” or “I feel happy” that must be relied upon. Similarly, subjective reports of a spiritual kind cannot be invalidated unless at the same time you are willing to throw out pain, happiness, love, and all other subjective states.

But our goal isn’t spiritual or religious. We aren’t after God but after mind (even if, on the cosmic scale, they might turn out to be the same). The deepest experiences of yogis, swamis, ancient rishis, and Buddhist masters tell the story of mind everywhere in Nature; mind indeed is the source of existence itself. It can’t be denied that reality only comes to us through subjective experience. Sir Alexander Fleming examining penicillium mold through his microscope was having a subjective experience. If there were phenomena occurring all around him that the human mind can’t experience, think about, or sense, they don’t belong to reality as we know it.

As someone having a “real” experience, Fleming and a Buddhist master exist on the same plane. The only difference is that science focuses on experience “out there” while contemplative practices focus on events “in here.” A caution before we describe these deeper inner experiences. Whether they are described as an encounter with God (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the higher self (e.g. in the monistic systems of Vedanta and Hinduism, Shaivism), or with no divine essence at all (e.g. the Absolute in Buddhism) depends on descriptive language and the past conditioning of the practitioner. The descriptive, often poetic words are culturally determined; they serve as verbal devices for grasping a nonverbal experience so that it can be reported to others, usually within the same spiritual, cultural context.

But no description can be the experience itself. There is no attempt here, as many skeptics accuse, to mystify or cloud something suspiciously immaterial and vague, perhaps outright false. If either religion or its absence makes you nervous, don’t get hung up on terminology. Pay attention to the reports of the experiences themselves as a universal phenomenon, born of the mind’s very nature, which is self-awareness.

When “thinking outside the box” calls forth such profound, often life-changing responses in the practitioner, the sensed boundaries of the body disappear. No longer does the skin form a barrier, however permeable, between inside and outside, between self and other. Now, when you feel your breath move in and out, it is the universe that you feel is breathing – indeed, the universe is breathing you. When a bell rings in the meditation hall or a car horn honks on the city streets outside or a bird sings in a nearby tree, the ring, the honk, and the song are your own, palpably arising from within yourself.

While such experiences are uncommon in everyday life, they are not rare in this special setting. Even if they are most actively cultivated in spiritual contexts, you can ask athletes about being “in the zone”, artists about feeling inspired, scientists about the moment of discovery, craftsmen about their intimacy with what is brought forth in their craft – they will all describe similar states of merging where there’s no distinction between what’s going on “in here” and “out there,” because those boundaries have dissolved.

For some people such experiences are not trained and nurtured but happen spontaneously. They may occur during a so-called peak experience or in the extremity of being near death. For others the experience arrives for no detectable reason, and yet without such an experience, could Walt Whitman have written a line like this from Song of Myself: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” His Leaves of Grass is almost entirely a report of moving in the world with an enlarged, even unbounded sense of self, where the division between self and other is experienced as illusion. Here is evidence of mind permeating the world, irrespective of the boundary of the skull or the skin.

And then there’s the experience of “dropping away of body and mind” described by the Japanese Zen patriarch Dogen; the “mind of clear light” described by Tantric teachers; the experience of lower self realizing that it is essentially the higher self, reported by ancient and contemporary Indian sages (rishis); and the Ein Sof – the infinite God beyond our capacity to describe, from which arises all creation – of Jewish mystics. Every tradition speaks about the experience of a Mind that is greater than our own minds, out of which our own minds arise like waves on the ocean. This Mind is beyond all boundaries, something in which we share with all beings and from which all beings arise. This Mind is the place in which there is no suffering. It is pure awareness with no object of awareness except itself. Reaching for words, the world’s spiritual guides teach that pure awareness is infinite, blissful, illuminated from within.

Stay tuned for Part 8!

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra ofSuper Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Do you want to become a Buddhist – or the Buddha?

path

 Do not become the Buddhist – become the Buddha.

There. It is right there. I searched for it, chased it, tried to catch it and pin-point it since last night. Since the conversation about following a path.

I couldn’t see why. I couldn’t see why I would need to follow a path to myself. I am here after all, already here. Everything that I am — me, God, Buddha, everything. What path? What path is needed to take me to what I am?

But then, I thought, to realize it, to feel oneself, to find oneself among the noise, among the constant, overwhelming, imposing and dizzying hubbub of the mind — maybe there is a path there. Maybe there is something that has to be done, worked on, achieved, to see clearly. So what would I do? What did I do? What was the first step on my path? It was looking for someone who could help. It was to look outside. To look to others.

That was my first step on the path, on the journey to becoming a Buddhist, a student, a spiritual seeker.

Ceasing to look to others for help was the first step on the path to becoming myself.

Because it was myself I wanted to find. Not the Buddha. Not the enlightenment experienced, envisioned and described by others — but myself. I did not want to become a Buddhist. I did not want to become the follower of Buddha, or Christ or anyone else at all. I wanted to become myself and, to become myself, I had to follow myself.

And it was in that moment, in that very first moment of making the choice to follow myself, my own path, my own way, that my journey was finished for I reached my destination.

It did not require esoteric practices, twenty years of meditation, chanting, praying. All it took was the choice to be me. All it took for me to be me, was for me to listen to myself, to look into myself, to follow myself. Because I was already there.

All I needed to do

was to trust myself.

Yoga Books and More: A Reading List Fit for a Yogi

Stacking Up and Defying Time (+1)Yoga is great for stretching. If you do it enough, you can touch your toes and improve your parallel parking skills by twisting to see behind you.

But, it’s also great for stretching and expanding things beyond your muscles—namely your mind. Through concentration and meditation, in particular, the mind becomes stronger and more agile, in the same way our muscles are strengthened by a Vinyasa class or trip to the gym.

Another way to stretch our minds is through svadhyaya or self-study, which encourages yogis to be students of their practice and the world. One easy way to do this is to read.  Since you’re reading this now, you’re off to a smashing start. BRAVO!

I recently had a request to share my favorite yoga and meditation books, so here’s a quick sampling of the ones I turn to most.

Modern yoga resources:

  • Living Your Yoga (Judith Lasater)
  • Eastern Body, Western Mind (Anodea Judith)
  • Yoga for Emotional Balance by my friend Bo Forbes
  • Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga by the late Georg Feuerstein
  • Mudras: Yoga in your Hands (Gertrud Hirschi)
  • Anything by B.K.S. Iyengar…

Classical yoga texts (each with multiple translations):

  • Bhagavad Gita
  • The Upanishads
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Meditation books:

  • Wherever You Go There You Are by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn (and dad to one my dearest friends).
  • When Things Fall Apart by no nonsense Buddhist nun Pema Chodron

As an English major, former English teacher, writer, and proud nerd founder of the Om Gal Book Club, it’s no secret that I’m a major bookworm. I even have the knots in my shoulder and neck to prove it from lugging 2-3 books in my handbag at all times. I think it’s time for an e-reader…

And since they’re not all yoga books (not even close), I’ll share what else I’ve been reading lately and what I plan to read next.

Lately…

  • Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by the inimitable Anne Lamott
  • Lean In by Facebook COO and feminist superhero Sheryl Sandberg
  • Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, also known as the book that changed my life most this year.  (If you don’t have time to read the book, watch her TED Talk).
  • Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield
  • Buddy: How a Rooster Made me a Family Man by my friend and editor of the Boston Globe, Brian McGrory.
  • Undiet by Candian gal pal and nutritionista superstar Meghan Telpner
  • New & Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (which I could read every day and still have my breathe taken away at least once on each page).

Up next…

  • Learning to Breathe by my friend Priscilla Warner
  • Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham
  • A literature heavy hitter… like Infinite Jest or Anna Karenina. If I start now, I can finish by Christmas, right?
  • The September issue of Vogue—seriously, have you seen this thing? Magazine doesn’t cut it. Definitely a book.

What about you? What are you reading? Which yoga and meditation books expand your mind, and which works of prose or poetry stretch your soul and fill your handbag?

Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 6)

In the DistanceClick here to read Part 5!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

In Eastern traditions the purpose of subjective states is to be useful, to aid inner work. What kind of work? The ancient texts give various answers. There is control of the involuntary nervous system, as demonstrated by the extraordinary feats of yogis and swamis who can consciously slow down their breathing and heart rate. There is balance, achieving conscious control over homeostatic mechanism and thus promoting health. There is the pursuit of enlightenment – a vast area beyond the scope of this post – and also the same curiosity to explore nature (in this case, inner nature) that drives mainstream science in the realm of materialism.

The fact is that Zen students and practitioners in other traditions routinely move their minds out of their heads. The experience has been replicated for centuries; it isn’t accidental, haphazard or hallucinatory. Having learned how to do it, you discover by playing around with the practice that you can move your mind into your little toe, your shoulder, your elbow, perhaps even across the room. The immediate reflex of most neuroscientists is that such a subjective sense of “moving mind” is the result of neuronal activity, and even if we cannot quantify such subtle and intricate activity today, we will one day be able to as our tools evolve.

The best rejoinder to this claim is that a whole host of subjective experiences in the domain of medicine are self-reported and cannot be measured without asking the patient what’s going on. Statements like “I feel a bad pain here,” “I’m depressed,” “I’m confused,” and “I’ve lost my balance” can sometimes be traced to distorted brain activity on an fMRI scan, but only the patient can relate what is actually happening. The brain scan can’t tell someone he’s in pain when he says he isn’t. To say “I see my fourth chakra” isn’t less valid; it just has far less brain research devoted to it. (When a bacterium avoids a toxin in a petri dish or is attracted to food, can we claim to know that it is not feeling some primitive form of repulsion or desire?)

The Zen practice of placing the mind in the hara is only a minor example, a step along the way to deeper, more profound experiences. There comes a time in nearly all contemplative traditions when one’s sense of mind and even the ordinary self changes fundamentally, for a moment or a lifetime. In Vedic and Buddhist traditions these experiences are called forms of Samadhi, where a connection is made with pure awareness at the deepest level. In Hebrew mystical practice this might be understood as D’vekut, in Christian practice, Cleaving to God. The thinking mind is left behind, and one arrives at consciousness without content.

Here we’ve reached the shadow zone where “my mind” dissolves into mind itself. In this zone reality shifts dramatically. Instead of sitting inside the space of a room, the person sits inside mental space (Chit Akash in Sanskrit). Events that take place are not strictly mental, however. The inner voyager witnesses time, space, matter, and energy being born here. If such an experience is valid, the implications for physics – and for everyday life – are immense. Consciousness is no longer the elephant in the room, the thing science prefers not to talk about. It becomes the only thing to talk about if you want to know where reality comes from. Starting with the undeniable fact that the brain shares mind with the rest of the body, we are on the verge of showing that mind must be shared with everything in existence – going outside the box extends to infinity, a possibility we will unfold as this series continues.

(To be cont.)

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Deepak Chopra: Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 5)

Crepuscular SunbeamsClick here to read Part 4!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

In the prior posts of this series we have described ways in which the brain does not, in fact cannot, produce the mind on its own. The possibility of a 1950s science fiction scenario where a working brain can produce an intact mind while sitting in a jar is impossible. The brain is intimately connected to the body through nerves, traveling cells, circulating biomolecules, and electrical activity.

A brain severed from the body, even if it would produce some form of mind, would produce one that is very different from what we have in the brain-body complex. (Even in traditional scientific views brain and body form a single system as they evolved together over time.)

In this post we will momentarily turn away from these physical considerations to look at some reports of mind outside the brain. We will return to physical structures later to show that mind not only exists outside the box of the skull but the box of the body itself. Though seemingly limited by its covering of skin, your body is incomplete as an enclosed location for mind.

Mainstream science is reluctant, if not dismissive, when faced with the notion of mind outside the brain. Many of the examples we will be offering derive from first-hand reports from contemplative practitioners (of meditation, yoga, Zen Buddhism, etc.) – in other words, people who have spent as much time training their minds as world-class athletes have spent training their bodies (though, to be precise, in both cases it is body and mind that’s being trained, just for different tasks).

Actually, getting your mind to move outside your head is relatively easy. If you burn your hand on the stove, your attention immediately rushes there. The heartache of unrequited love takes one’s attention to the center of the chest. In various spiritual traditions this kind of “moving mind” becomes a conscious skill. Here’s a common introductory example of “mind outside the box” from Zen practice. Students who have taken on a disciplined daily Zen meditation practice – usually counting or following the breath – are then advised to move their minds into the hara. The hara is the second chakra, located below the navel, just in front of the sacrum. One way to describe this to students is to imagine that their mind is located in a drop of honey in the center of the skull (where we usually experience our mind anyway), and then to let the drop of honey slowly descend down along the front of the spine until it finally reaches the hara.

This exercise takes time and a great deal of practice. Initially it can feel as if there’s only a little movement, because your focus of attention snaps back into the skull like a rubber band. And so you begin again, letting the drop of honey slowly descend, bringing your mind with it. Why? One reason is that when your mind moves from inside your skull into a position in front of the sacrum, it can bring a jolt of energy, not unlike the way coffee suddenly energizes your mind a few minutes after downing your morning cup. What might otherwise have been sleepy Zen suddenly becomes awake Zen.

More importantly, there is an exquisite sense of stability in your mind when brought to that location: thoughts still come and go, but they take on a sense of waves coming and going, or clouds passing overhead, rather than being like a monkey bouncing all over the room. A mind running around in the space of uncontrolled thoughts makes us tired, but it also disguises the potential for having a silent, strong, still mind.

Neuroscience would do well to consider these subjective states in physiological terms. If, as we now know, the “bodily brain” is divided among the major organs, with neurons acting inside the heart, liver, and intestinal tract, it’s plausible to suppose that each center of intelligence has its own mode of “thinking,” with the brain predominating because we are so used to thoughts being verbal. We don’t hear a voice in our liver, only in our heads (and for some people, in their hearts).

But this doesn’t make nonverbal thinking inferior – far from it. The conscious mind can’t run the liver, heart, or intestinal tract but depends on their self-reliance to an enormous extent. For instance, one could consider the chakras described in Yoga – subtle centers of energy and awareness located up and down the spinal column and on top of the skull – as theoretical models of nonverbal mind. This sensing of energy centers cannot be proven scientifically, perhaps, but neither can pain, pleasure, love, ecstasy, and other subjective experiences that exist in the first place because people feel them (see below). In the same vein, various Eastern spiritual practices accomplish what we cannot, taking consciousness out of the brain to do work elsewhere.

(To be continued)

 

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com

Sadhana: Your Key to a Life Less Ordinary

i_love_octoberAtma Vidya means knowledge of the Soul.

The Vedas say there are technologies to achieve whatever you want to. Nothing is impossible to experience. The life you want is not beyond you.

They say that time and matter are limitations that can be transcended.

You are not someone who can not get better from your unwellness or someone destined to be alone, or someone without the money you need to make ends meet, or someone who will never be a successful artist, or someone who can not conceive (more?) children.

You are not a secretary, you are god!

You are the infinite potential of consciousness made manifest, and if you master the wisdom, that experience and that reality, you can experience and realize everything that you have ever wanted.

But you don’t do it on your own.

You need a guru – a teacher. Guru literally means dispeller of darkness. One who extinguishes dark simply because they are light. Darkness simply dissolves in a room if you turn on a light. Poof! It’s gone.

In this way, the guru dissolves our ignorant perception of our limited self by bringing us the Awareness we need to realize our true Self. The thing is, gurus ask for us to listen. Like any trainer they want our discipline. Like any trainer they set exercises and a routine and they expect for us to follow it. There are practices we must perform and repeat every day, and sometimes with additional intensity.

And like all trainers, they ask us to push ourselves outside our comfort zones. They teach things that kind of seem a bit out there to me and you in the modern world. Just like all trainers they want our commitment and surrender. Because, they will tell you, and as you can see, they have a method that most evidently works.

Sometimes on the spiritual path you find yourself awake at 3am BST chanting mantras and setting intentions, and you may realize that you’re living with a different set of practices and priorities from most of the rest of the world.

The guru brought you here. What are you doing?

Sadhana. That’s what you’re doing. Sadhana is a discipline set with the intent of realizing a spiritual goal. Remember what you’re here for: this quest for a thing called ‘Atma -Vidya’ – the knowledge of the Soul.

And it tells you that what you are doing is both necessary and perfect for what you intend to experience. There’s an intelligence at a cosmic level that bypasses your intellectual understanding and it makes you believe there’s an overriding magic in the universe that you can hitch your dreams to.

But the magic doesn’t happen out there. It happens inside You. It happens essentially in you coming to experience your self as a Soul and then living and taking action as a conscious Soul. There is an art, they say, to creating the life that you want to live: a life that is more colorful and vivid and satisfying and rich; a life less ordinary – and just like you don’t doubt that working out is one way of realizing a physical goal, accept that the way toward revealing your Soul – is through Sadhana.

So carry on with your Sadhana. Practice. Absorb everything you can learn from the guru.

Meditate from 3am in the morning till 6. Say your mantra 1008 times a morning. Do 108 or 54 or 27 sun salutations a day for 108 days if that’s what your teacher says might help. Ask for your name to be placed in the fire lab/homa when the moon is full in Uttarashada. Spend 10 days in vipassana. Become celibate for a while. Or for a lifetime. Offer sweets to a cow in a field, or feed rice to fish in the ocean.

And when you find yourself laughing at how crazy it all seems, remember that no matter how you look at it, the every day world is a pretty upside down place too.

Remember that you want to make quantum leaps into a different space. And remember that logic and rationale are definitely not going to take you there. And remember that for 5000 years or more, there are teachers who have been telling us that we are able to create a different quality of experience by living with a conscious Soul.

Remember that what you are doing is being open to being taught something you did not know before.

And then when you’ve done your Sadhana, keep calm, keep quiet and carry on with life in the modern world. It’s not something you have to announce to anyone. It’s between you and your guru – and your quest for Atma Vidya.

And, if sometimes, in the middle of all of this you think really, why am I doing all this stuff – then let this be a mantra too: if you want to have something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.

 

Originally published on my website, The Modern Girl’s Guide to Spirituality

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...