Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Be Here Now

First of all, reader, I appreciate you. Whether I know you or not, thank you for reading my words and wanting to look into my thoughts and feelings. I do realize that most blogs aren’t this personal and seem to be more focused on being an enjoyable read and/or a way of catching up with the stories of someone’s life. This blog is all in my head, a bit like me I guess. It’s good for me to put these thoughts down. I hope they are of some use to others or I wouldn’t put them out here. It’s the kind of blog I would love to read if I knew the person.

Anyways, you may or may not know that I attended a Vipassana meditation retreat recently. I’ve been telling everyone how excited I am to meditate and learn how to do it better and to experience the dynamite feelings of tranquility. Well, it was good but I ended up staying only 2 days instead of 10. Why? Well I had a different reaction to it this time. Both times before I felt it was absolutely the best thing I could do and no way should I leave. This time I just felt like I got some benefit from it and was ready to go after two days. They frown on that there, which I understand, and it is a bad idea for a new student to leave before the end.

I truly did learn some important things in those two days, two days of silence—outer silence. I had trouble quieting my mind but got better at it over time. It did feel quite clear, though, at times, and in those times I had some useful realizations. (Before I go I should say that the retreat was at a genuine temple out in the woods. Beautiful everything! Barebones facilities though. It was actually abandoned for three years because the man who built it went bankrupt in the process, so that’s the first time it’s been used in three years. They had to clear it of ghosts first!)

At these retreats (this being my third) the first 2.5 days are Anapana, the remaining are Vipassana. Anapana is simply awareness of breath, focusing on the in and out and sensation of breath and nothing else for prolonged periods of time. It develops the faculty of awareness or mindfulness. It helps you to “be here now.” Vipassana is also simple but not as much. Once you get into it, it consists of sweeping the body with your awareness, being aware of sensations as they arise and pass away. It’s deep and profound and intense.

Vipassana was the part I was excited about. I confess I wanted the altered state. However, the practice of Anapana really clicked for me. Of course I have to keep doing it to get it right. It was rare for me to be able to concentrate on my respiration for a full minute without following a train of thought. It was so simple and pure. The whole concept and feeling of BE HERE NOW was just so right for me! Long story short I realized that I got what I came for and wasn’t going to be able to commit mentally or physically (because it is definitely both!) to the extreme rigors of the course. I didn’t want rigor. I wanted to simply be present in the moment and start really living my life.

So I exited as gracefully as I could, but not before a real-deal old Buddhist monk asked me if I could please stop with the knuckle cracking. “It’s disturbing the other meditators,” he said very kindly. In hindsight I can’t believe I didn’t consider that in the stark silence of the meditation chamber, but I’m sure it had to do with distracting myself from the agony in my back and legs. (I knew that would be there and it didn’t drive me away. It just made it not a vacation.) So….sorry Mom and Dad! I guess I needed to hear it from a monk to really start thinking it may be time to wean myself of that fixation.

So where was I? Ah yes, Be Here Now. Lemme just copy/paste that. I’m probably going to write it a lot…..but pasting it wouldn’t be very Be Here Now would it? Oops! Just did it! I feel like I woke up juuuust a little bit more to how I can be more alive in the present moment. How I can actually experience life more and be happier and more peaceful simply from being aware of what’s happening. There’s a lot of beauty, a lot of grace. Life is rich. The moment is full. You could use anything as an example: looking into someone’s face, hearing children in the background, eating a peach, washing the dishes, taking a walk. It’s not that the content of those experiences is gonna dazzle me like the new Batman movie. My experience during those two days was that if I let go of expectation and….all the rest and just be there in that moment, taking in what He is providing at that moment, that, for me at least, it will be enough. It was enough in that environment. The environment, inner and outer, in my everyday life is not so hospitable to that state of mind, but I can change both, especially inside.

Actually, when I think of it, my life now is just fine for that, for being mindful. I’ve got a great chance to focus on that in my activities, and to do things that lend themselves to mindfulness, such as perhaps exercise and, well, lots of things: teaching, walking, studying the Faith, breathing meditation, chores. It threw me for a loop to feel this way, though, because when I start feeling in the moment I realize I’ve been going about living my life and making plans in a really skewed way. I’ve got to start over aaaagain. That’s how it goes though, for me at least. This time feels big though, like a synthesis of a lot of things. I won’t say that it’s anything. ACTION is something. These are just more words.

I’ll tell you what really throws me for a loop. It’s a loop inside a loop inside an Irish knot. When I calm down and clear my mind and settle into the present moment and just feel OK for long enough to get a little used to it, there’s something that happens to me. I didn’t see it clearly before but now I do. When I am at peace I am drained of all goals, dreams, aspirations, intentions, plans, machinations, etcetera! After a little peace I find myself back where I began. For example, this time, after this period of relaxation and letting go, releasing that grip, I found that I wasn’t excited about graduate school particularly. I didn’t feel the energy or drive—if that’s what it was—to go back to school and become a professional. I didn’t feel like I was on a path leading me to these goals I have a vision of. It was all blown away and I was just standing there, alive, breathing.

My first reaction to this was, “NOT AGAIN! OH I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN! I’ve dropped the ball again. Why can’t I maintain any motivation or goal long enough to make any progress? Same old Daniel! Wishy-washy waffling Charlie Brown. The cycle continues….now I’ll agonize over it more, weigh the pros and cons of this and that all over again. I disgust myself!” That was my first reaction. I’ve come to see this losing-hold-on-plans-and-goals-and-continuing-to-drift thing in me as a weakness, a sickness. I describe it, visualize it in negative terms, in terms of what it has cost me, of what I’ve lost, of how I’ve disappointed people, not realized my potential. “Coulda, shoulda, woulda” was my mantra for a long time. It’s still imprinted on my mind. Another mantra could be phrased, “There’s still time to make it right!”

Something clicked in my mind this time though! This time when it happened I saw it differently! During my meditation an amazing image came to me. I visualized myself like Sisyphus, pushing a great ball up an incline. The ball was as big as me and as round and smooth as a billiard ball. The ball was my thoughts, my dreams, my hopes and fears, the things I think about, focus on. It was my mind. I saw myself very clearly. I was pushing that ball dutifully up the incline toward somewhere. I said to myself, “Step aside…..and let the ball roll down and down, and let it roll around and wobble and finally find its place.” So I did. I stepped aside and let the ball go. It rolled down and, after a while, found its natural resting place. It was still. My mind was clear, clean, wide open, free. It was still, at rest in the present moment. The future and past were of no concern. I was at peace. The way forward was clear.

Then before I knew it I was rolling that great ball up the hill again! Again I stepped aside and let it roll down to find rest. And again and again. I believe I’ve found what meditation is to me, at this time in my life at least. It’s not a way to transcend mundane existence and find another level of experience, another way to perceive or live—an altered state. It’s about helping me to be content with normal life! When the ball is at rest I am not bored, not anxious, not lonely, not obsessive, not confused, not regretful, not caught in bad habits! I’m simply there…breathing, existing…alive in a body. The moment stands before me, each moment fresh and new.

In such a state my inclination is not to react or to follow some habit, neither is it to strive toward what I should be doing, what will “fix the problem.” In that moment there is no problem. There is only the feeling in me of being here now. Being me, Daniel. My heart responding to the wisdom that God has treasured in me. Simple, pure, joyful steps on the skipping, singing walk of life. In that moment I also have a feeling of being part of something greater than myself, something wonderful and incomprehensible, something I trust and I know that I must surrender myself to, like a simple plant choosing not revolt against nature but to be a harmonious, growing part of it. In that moment it is not an idea! It IS. Like the sun and moon and grass and mountains. It is.

In that state my inclination is to take that next step simply, joyfully, slowly, wisely. And then to take another. And another. And a lifetime of steps. Be Here Now. Live. Truly live your life Daniel! This is what my heart says to me in the silence and stillness. The future will take care of itself! The past is gone! The Kingdom of God is all around you and within you! It is closer than your life vein! Let the ball roll down…and roll around…and wobble…and rest. Be mindful. Be entirely present. Let all the impurities drain out of you. Drink in His presence. Practice virtue. Pass by all wrong doing as you would a shifting mirage. Allow yourself to love. Cease holding it back! Trust in Him! Rest in His palm.

For the first time in memory—literally!—I believe I’m starting to understand how to live my life in actual practice, not just theory. Beginning, only beginning to understand. It’s a beginning I must cherish like a newborn child. I must protect it and nourish and be mindful of it every day. I must cause it to flourish and not neglect it!

So what does that translate to in action? It means now is not the time to dwell on the past. I let it be past. Now is not the time to make plans for the future. Plans must stand on the solid ground of a mindful present. My ground is shaky—quaky! I must firm it up so much! I must make my present so much more solid and balanced before I build plans on it. So no plans. No graduate school. No counseling. No China. No career. Nothing of the sort. Only my life now—my life, which is like a wonderful garden pregnant with fruits and vegetables and flowers and herbs of all kinds, needing only to be tended, needing only a mindful gardener! Now is the time for me to be the mindful gardener of my life.

Before I became a Baha’i at age 17 I had searching for truth for a little while. It really started when I was 15 or 16. I had been exposed to spiritual writings and deep conversation for a while by that point but I started having nature experiences that really helped me to come out of the trance or whatever I had been in. I had a real moment of awakening on a hillside in the Olympic Mountains in the summer of ’92. At that time I started reading a book about Edgar Cayce. I don't remember anything about it but it was the first “spiritual” book I picked up and took with me and read through. Not long after, in this time of communing with nature, I read the Tao Te Ching. It opened something in me. It spoke to me in ways that touched me and it gave me the sense of perceiving truth in glimmers. It was the first book, I think, to do that for me. I responded to it. I felt like I was a Taoist. I resonated with the message. I wanted to practice that way of life. The Tao Te Ching helped me to open my heart and mind to walking a spiritual path in life, to living by principles, following a Way, seeking understanding and wisdom and wholeness.

In the years since, I really haven’t picked it up much. The few times I have I didn’t feel as open to it. Me and Lao Tzu weren’t seeing the same thing. I have a copy with me here. Thinking about all this I glanced at and thought, “Maybe there’s something in there for me.” I opened it up to a page on which was written the following:

Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care.
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.

Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

I was just amazed. I felt, at that moment, I was seeing what Lao Tzu saw. I felt that it was not just the old sage speaking, but my heart of hearts. I felt His presence in those words, He who knows my heart completely! He know that, like every soul, I am unique, I am special, and there is a unique path for me in this life that flows in accordance with His divine will as well as with my own individual nature. Like a stream winding its way from the spring, running naturally over the landscape, letting itself be directed, I have a way through this life, a way for me alone. A way that only He comprehends. I accept this. I am content to be this one stream. More than content! It is my bliss to be this stream. I will follow my bliss!

I don’t know what the future holds for me or for any of us. Living life now will prepare the way for living life then. I am alive in this world. I am the soul they call Daniel, and I am a stream of water. The way for me is clear. Now but one thing remains! To flow. And to flow. And to flow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Go Time

Can't sleep. A reliable source of anxiety has me up and thinking: graduate school, preparation for it, shall I do it or not?, would I be accepted?, will I have to take more undergraduate courses?, for how long?

I had an amazing conversation with a friend tonight. She's pursuing her dream of becoming an art therapist. First she needs to get a significant number of psychology credits before she can apply for the graduate program at the school she want to study at. It all adds up to a four-year process. 2 years of undergraduate study and 2 years of Masters study. She just decided, "I'm going to do this. This is my dream. It's what I want to do, my calling, my bliss. This is what I have to do to get to the point where I have the degree and can set forth as a professional art therapist. It will take me four years, four years of learning and growing, accomplishing and working."

I'm not sure how much she agonized about this decision beforehand. I do know that this is a person who is a traveler, an artist, and abstract thinker, an "intuitive" as my mom would say. She's lived outside the bounds of the normal for a while. Now she's getting back into school, beginning a long-term process. She doesn't know what will happen after she gets the degree. She's not worried about it. She knows that, no matter what, this is the right use of her time and money. The knowledge and experience is worthwhile in and of itself. It's valuable because she loves what she's learning and doing. Of course when people love what they do it usually leads to success in that field. When people follow their calling good things happen.

It was so big for me hear her story. I can relate so much to her experience and I guess that's important to me. It's a bigger deal to me to see this commitment in someone who's lived abroad for many years teaching ESL, who's been attracted to that lifestyle and gotten a lot out of it,who isn't usually a big planner doing big things like this, and who has a passion for helping and connecting with others. I just saw a lot of myself and my own experience in her.

It was actually amazing. I can't remember ever hearing someone's story like that and it just mirroring my own in so many ways and just kind of laying out what I should do. This is the time I need to make a decision about going to China from here or going back to school, for however long that takes, and studying counseling, psychology, social work, whatever exactly will get to the point where I'm paid to talk to people about spiritual things.

My friends commitment really encourages me! Actually what affects me more is her reasons, her motivation. The traveling life just isn't giving her what she needs anymore. It's time shoot straight into the things back home that she's been avoiding. It's time to break through all the resistance and fear. It's time to learn how to do something she loves and become a professional. It's time to pursue her calling! She's not just thinking and saying these things. She's really doing it!

As I write this I feel like what I'm saying may seem obvious, like "Yeah, so she did the old thing and now she's doing the new thing. She's going to school so she can get the job she wants. No big revelations coming to me." It IS obvious. It's simple. It's just something I've had SO MUCH resistance to.

My friend told me something an author she likes wrote, that whatever we have the strongest resistance to is where we should head for. We should make it our compass. Go straight for the fearsome challenge! It makes sense! It's the most direct route to transformation and growth! My mom was telling me the same thing the other day.

Thinking about things that way gives me some fresh perspective. Going back home, probably taking more undergraduate psychology courses, then going to graduate school, and dealing with all the stresses of American life on top of it: this is the difficult path, no doubt. Going to China, probably Yunnan province, teaching ESL there, pioneering, just living: this is definitely the easy path.

It's not just about hard vs. easy though. It's about challenge and meaning. The path to becoming a counselor for me is like an epic quest compared to what I've been doing. It's years full of learning and growing, facing challenges and overcoming them, accomplishing things that I've been avoiding for years. It's gaining knowledge and synthesizing it all into something I can really use. It's gaining experience and understanding. It's expanding and breaking through barriers. It's going through everything I've feared and coming out on the other end a real professional! Able to pursue my calling. Paid to do what I love!

Counseling and psychology is something that I would not only love to do for work but that I would love to keep learning about, year after year. It can be a true passion for me, I know it, if only I pursue it! On the other hand, teaching is probably never going to a passion for me. I've pretty much already accepted that being a teacher in the States or at an international school is not for me. I can't bear it. I can handle and enjoy teaching ESL however. It's never going to be a passion though. It's not my calling. It what I do to live abroad, and I do my best to enjoy it and do a good job. It has its moments. It can be awesome, but decades more of it?! Not a happy prospect. I'm sure I would get burned out.

Work is not the only thing in life. I want a lot more out of life than just loving my work, but hey! Why not try it on for size eh? Why not see what loving my work and feeling passionate about it and actually genuinely interested in it FEELS like? Why not try it and see what happens? Certainly the whole process will not be wasted time and effort. If I decide counseling isn't my calling or whatever then do the next thing. Right now it's the best chance I have, the only vision I have, for following my bliss.

Yes, there's lots of bliss in living in China. It's cool learning Chinese. It's good being a pioneer. Teaching ESL can be kinda fun and easy and not stressful. Chinese people are great. It's a very simple life and there's lots of time for teaching the Faith and meditation and other good stuff. If I was totally egoless I might see it as the way to give the most service possible.

It feels a little too easy though. Not the right kind of challenge. Not enough learning. It feels kinda like more of the same. Another way of doing what I've already been doing. Graduate school feels like something completely new, totally challenging, stimulating. I feel like I need something new, something to breath life into me, to stimulate me and push me. I just don't know how much I would really benefit from the peaceful, simple life in China. I need to do something totally new! I have absolutely worn out this path! And I really want to know what it's like to be a counselor. I don't want to wait forever to find out.

It's just time. I need to face up to it. It seems impossible for me to feel 100% about this. There's always an alternative, always benefits of other paths. I just need to accept 90% or 80% and move on. It's time to take my life in a new direction, time to learn new things, face new challenges. It's time to face my fears and break through to the other side. Time to become an expert at something, to be really good at one thing, a professional. Time to go back to school and learn something that interests me! Time to work towards getting payed to talk with people about life and stuff.

Life is long. I can't just live like the whole thing's gonna fly by. It's wise to seek a profession that i can envision myself enjoying more over the years as opposed to one I become increasingly disenchanted with.

Gotta pray about this. Gotta take it deeper. And before too long--as in over the next few weeks--need to start taking action on it. Online courses, whatever I can do. It may be a four year process for me as well to get a masters degree. It's all good. Mustn't worry about the debt and the blah, blah, blah. Fact is that that kind of worry is what's been holding me back for so long. It's always something. Just do it! It's gonna cost money! I'll go into debt. Then I'll not be making a lot of money and have to figure out how to pay off the debt. Just accept it! I won't starve. I'll be alright. I actually believe that now after talking with my friend, my friend who's already begun the process that I must begin. She's doing and it's clearly right and good. I need to stop fretting and just do the next thing.

So now it's time to pray and sleep on it...and then, if it still feels right, it's GO TIME BABY!!!

Monday, July 14, 2008

What is Wrong?

Here's something worthy of writing about on this blog, something to work out, something that needs a solution:


Something is wrong. There can be no doubt. What is going ON? Why can't I sleep like a normal person EVER? Why can't I pull it together and take care of the basic elements of self-maintenance, namely feeding myself, without it being such a complicated chore? Why do I continue to wander through this life without any clear material, intellectual, or professional goals? Why is it so hard for me to get up and actually DO things? Why do I feel so overwhelmed by life? Why do I always feel this craving to escape? Why is my mind so overactive, so overstimulated? Why, after 32 years of earthy existence, do I still feel like I haven't gotten the hang of it? Why am I stuck in this place, imprisoned in my own mind?

How much longer is this going to go on? It will simply continue if I don't change it. I'll be this way for the rest of my life I don't do something about it. What is the way out of this?

A friend of mine is taking 3 different medications. One is an anti-depressant, another for ADD, and another for stress. I tell you what, if I could start that up right now I'd say OK, let's give it a shot. Part of me doesn't want to rely on medication and there have been times when I really didn't want to go that route. I've taken anti-depressants at different times but never worked closely with a professional to get it right. I don't think I ever took enough to affect me much.

I think before I might have thought 3 meds at once was overkill but now, heck let science take a shot. If I've got three different problems going on lets see what science can do about them. One thing I know for sure: something's not right in this brain of mine. I think too much and my thoughts are too intense. I think in circles way too much. I weave a web of thought that can be beautiful doesn't seem to take me anywhere! My mental habit patterns make it hard for me to consistently apply myself in the world. My mind weaves its web around everything and drags it down. Sometimes I'm so far out in my own world that I make foolish decisions or careless oversights. I'm so engaged in this inner world, wrestling with this neurosis, that I have too little energy left to make my way in the real world of action, relationships, career, and service.

I think all the massive alone time I'm getting here in Korea is not helping things. I don't know. Thank God I'll be doing Vipassana meditation for 10 days, 10 hours a day, in a little over a week. Couldn't come at a better time.

A friend of mine has been feeling lots of stress. She's overstimulated because of things coming from external situations. She says all she wants to do is sit and watch the trees grow. That's how I feel. I want to sit by a river like Siddhartha and relax and be with no stress, no anxiety, no struggle. I want to learn from that river so much that God can teach me about what is true and real and pure and beautiful! About what is real and shared between us all, not wrapped up in the craziness in my head.

I've got to do something. Medication and therapy would be ideal next step but that's not happening here in Seoul. That also wouldn't happen if I chose to live in China, along with not being able to practice my ideal profession, counseling. Actually one of the reasons I've recently been so set on going back to settle in China is that I envision finding a place not super in the middle of the hubbub, with lots of natural beauty in the area, and good simple people. I have a vision of making a simple life for myself there as an English teacher, free from the hydra-headed troubles and stresses and complications that have dogged me in America.

The fact that I'm still debating this counseling and America life vs. teaching ESL and China life and still feel torn just makes me want to EXPLOOOOOODE! When am I going to pick something and ride it all the way and get my life going in some consistent direction? I hope this bouncing around and trying stuff out for years and years has been worth something. I hope I can see more value in it later than I can now.

I'm worried that a Masters in Social Work would end up getting me a counseling job that isn't what I expected and I'll be poor and jaded by a crappy system and feel like I'm not getting through to people and just banging my head against a wall. I'm also afraid I'll be rejected by graduate schools. It's been so long since I was in school, longer still since I was proud of myself as a student. I'm worried that the ways things went down with my last job at Goodwill will make things harder for me in the future, and I just feel rotten about it and don't want to deal with any potential consequences. I'm also just afraid of living in America! All the crap you gotta deal with!

I actually preferred living in China in many ways, and of course felt more useful there on a spiritual level. I would love to settle into life in China, the China vibe, outside of the big city. I'm just not sure I can teach for the rest of my life, be it ESL teaching or at an international school or whatever. If I choose to settle in China, teaching, as far as I can see, is IT for me. I've done a lot of teaching and related stuff over the years. Every job I've had that wasn't just grunt work was educational. I'm starting to feel tired of it. Teaching is stressful man! When I'm with the kids I'm on stage in the spotlight the whole time. I've got keep everything moving the whole time. It's like I'm the heart of the class. Pump pump pump pump pump pump pump! I'm ON full blast from start to finish. I'm orchestrating the talking and participation like a conductor. I'm keeping things moving forward at a good pace while not rushing on before they understand well enough. I'm listening and observing at the same time that I'm entertaining and keeping them involved. I'm trying to reel in kids that are tired or unmotivated. I'm trying not be too sensitive and hurt when students don't like what I do or are bored. I'm planning and getting everything ready so that I'll be able to direct the show nonstop for 50 minutes for another day.

I'm just not sure if I can go through decades of this. The thing is --amazingly!-- some people don't find all that so stressful! They actually thrive on all that stuff! They work well under pressure. They like being in control of the classroom and designing the lessons and explaining things and multitasking. Those people are called to be teachers. It just comes naturally to them. Now teaching ESL can be much less stressful than teaching middle school back home, but you still have to do all that teacher stuff if you're going to do a good job. And if you're not going to do a good job and just slide by, well that's another, worse, kind of misery.

Good Lord, what is it going to take for me to just apply to graduate school and get a frickin MSW and actually give myself a chance to have a 9-5 that I genuinely enjoy? I want to go back to China so bad but I just feel really worried that I'll get burned out on teaching but have no other option there! No better option.

I know counseling can be stressful too. Long hours sometimes, low pay most of the time. Not necessarily a lot of results you see in people's lives. Paperwork. Bureaucracy. Maybe not being able to spend enough time with people. Who knows what else? The fact remains, however, that this is a job in which what you do is you talk to individuals and small groups about important things, often spiritual matters (whether they see them that way or not) and help them to see things in a different light. You listen, deeply listen, listen to different levels, different aspects of what the person is communicating. You love, you care, you be trustworthy and kind and compassionate. You gently guide and suggest. You open doors and windows. You support. You focus on what's important. You find the truth with that person. You shed the light of insight on their thoughts. You connect with that person. And then they give you a paycheck!

To me that just sounds so different from teaching! Not that I haven't made connections with kids teaching and haven't felt good vibes and all that good stuff. All the stuff that stresses me out in teaching seems to not be there in counseling though, and all the things that I like about teaching seem to be extracted and amplified. Can I really just go on with my life, go live in China and deal with the ups and downs of teaching for years and years without seeing what it's like to be a counselor? It's funny, I've tried so much in life, done so much, but I keep avoiding even getting a taste of what it's like to do the one, single thing that is most likely my calling in this life. WHAT is that ABOUT? What is my damage?

If I pull it together and really become a counselor, perhaps I'll look back on all this time of wandering and wildness and see that in some important ways it prepared me to be a better counselor. maybe I'll even be able to look back and see that it made me a deeper, more spiritual person. Whatever happens, I want to be looking back on this period from another level and a new stage in my life. I want to be looking back from that new level very soon. Help me do it Lord! Please help me!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


I went to Kyobo bookstore on Sunday. It’s kind of a mega-Barnes & Nobles. It has quite a nice selection of English books. I spent a long time there just looking through lots of different books. I recently started reading Siddhartha again and in 2 weeks I’ll be taking part in a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat. Vipassana is a kind of Buddhist meditation technique. So meditation and spiritual readings were on my mind.

I really love just hanging out in the spiritual, philosophy, and religion sections and just chillin and reading bits from different books. I realized at Kyobo that that is a kind of meditation for me, a solace. It’s my happy place! I know this now because I realize it comes out of spending so much time sitting by Mom and Michael’s bookshelves growing up, sampling and drifting through their many spiritual books. I was so blessed to have those books around every day when I was growing up in middle school and high school. Just the fact that so many interesting books were there and available and I could relax and forget about all my troubles and sit on the carpet and leaf through them—that was so comforting! All was right with the world while I was doing that, no matter how troubled I was. There was every kind of awesome book there: different kinds of I Ching, extra-biblical Christian documents, Mayan prophecies, astrology, tarot, American Indian traditions, psychology, history, meditation, philosophy, science, and so much more!

I’m not sure if I ever read even half of any of those books, but nevertheless I feel now that they had a huge role in my life! Resting into words of meaning and depth, of power and beauty, feeling happy and comfortable in that place, opened up that side of life for me and taught me to appreciate beauty and wisdom and eloquence. They prepared me for my own spiritual journey. They opened my heart and mind to receive the Word of God. Those books are still there on those same bookshelves. It gives me a unique feeling of joy and peace to know that they are waiting for me there. Until then I can always go to Kyobo bookstore and drift through the sea of words.

I was very pleased to purchase The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, which I guess I forgot to bring. I also bought Aesop’s Fables, treasury of some of the greatest lessons (and some more mundane, but fun, stuff) taught through simple allegory. I got two books by Krishnamurti. One is something he wrote on meditation. Another is a transcription of many talks he gave in the Q & A format.

Krishnamurti wasn’t a big fan of organized religion but I realize I have to get past that kind of stuff because if I want everything I read to be in accord with the teachings of the Faith then Baha’i writings are all I’ll read. That just doesn’t cut it. I need to read more spiritual texts coming from other angles because the writings of the Faith don’t seem to be explicit about everything. Of course a lot is clearly covered but perhaps there’s just a lot that doesn’t need to be. God is allowing us to discover so much on our own, guided by His principles, knowing that He is the goal and the essence of the truth we seek. The whole realm of science is open to us and we can explore it infinitely. We can do this in peace and joy if we have the love of God in our hearts and strive to be obedient as we progress. So it is in all our endeavors in the material realm.

I think this also applies to the immaterial realm as well, the realm of mind. Experienced philosophers and meditators will testify that there is a whole world to explore that is not physical, yet is accessible to us before we pass out of our bodies. I think there are different levels. One is a level of structure and analysis. Pure mathematics and philosophy are valuable pursuits but there is nothing physical about them. They are composed purely of thought and comprehension. They employ symbols and formulas to make the concepts communicable (which is what language is in the first place!) and they strive for ever more perfect synthesis, but it’s all really abstraction, ideas, something going on in the brain and perhaps beyond! I think greater understanding of this part of life may make the harmony of science and religion much clearer because this is where logic and the mind begin to journey out in to the reaches—that is, all beyond the concrete--that not long ago most thought could only be alluded to through mystic symbology.

There’s another level beyond that, however, which is the level of pure awareness. From my understanding, experience on this level is free of thought and all that comes with it, which is just about everything! On this level, the mind is simply aware of what is. That may seem anticlimactic but the thing is: we don’t know what the truly open, clear, balanced, and aware mind is capable of! WHAT IS is surely more than we now comprehend right? So when one arrives at that state of awareness he or she sees what he knows, but not only does he see it from a very different perspective, now his capacity for awareness is freed from previous limitations so he will naturally be opened up to new understandings, new awareness, new….I don’t know what it is because I’ve only had the briefest taste of it. I got that taste through meditation and I know others have experienced this level of mind much more deeply and consistently than I have.

Meditation opened me up to that higher level, to the realization that it exists, and it also filled me with peace and joy once I had worked through all my resistance and agitation. The peace and joy were, I think, the result of my mind working in a way that it is capable of but seldom does. Meditation kinda changed my brain or something, or maybe how I used my brain.

So if joy and peace come from it and it has rules that you follow in practice and it takes you to this higher level, how come it’s not included in Divine Revelation? How come Baha’u’llah didn’t give us a meditation technique and all that? I think it’s because meditation, stripped of all dogma and tradition, is like science, like philosophy, just on another level. Or it’s like exercise and martial arts. It’s a totally rational, explainable thing that one can do to discipline his or her mind. It’s good for some people but maybe not for everyone. It’s not religion, so like science and everything, it must be guided by love of God and obedience to God and pursued by those attracted to it.

We live for a short while and then what we experience makes any kind of pure awareness we had here look like a daydream. What matters most is what we do and how we live. The world is in big trouble and there is no time to lose! I want to be of service. I long to be useful to Baha’u’llah and to His Cause! I’ve struggled with some things up to this present moment that I think meditation can help me with in a big way. I think I’m one of those people that needs to be a meditator, that needs to experience that higher level. There’s something in my mind that’s not content with less, that is constantly striving for that state of mind! I know I must exercise moderation and stay focused on action. I hope meditation can be for me a means of taking control of my life on a whole new level, of unlocking my potential! Firstly as a servant of Baha’u’llah and also as person in relation to others and as a worker. I hope it can be a means of existing in a state of being that will enable me to be wholly content with the long voyage of earthly life and all its ups and downs. I hope it can be a means of awakening.