From the age of five all the way up until college, I went to LDS church every Sunday, and every Sunday I “partook in the sacrament” by eating a piece of Wonderbread and taking a shot of water in remembrance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
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I guess this is how I go...
Helpless in the backseat on the treacherous drive from Madurai to Fort Kochi through the steep, jagged mountains of Kerala, my death contemplation practice has been taken to a brand-new level. And not by choice. We're driving at top speed on a winding one-lane road with no rules and too many impatient drivers. And every time we overtake a bus on a sharp curve, blind -- which is every few minutes -- I'm convinced it's about to be the end of me. I look out the window and see nothing on the side of the mountain to stop us, with one wrong move, from flying down into the deep valley below.
I clutch my new skull necklace close to my heart. I bought it just before India to support my death contemplation practice by reminding me that everything and everyone will die, including me, and it could happen at any time (so I remember to treat each moment as the precious gift it is). And just yesterday I initiated a year-long Kali sadhana to deepen this practice by directly pursuing death of the ego and death of attachments, including to life itself. I feel like Kali's in the car with me now, saying, "This is what you wanted, right? The real stuff?" (She's the Dark One, so it's no surprise she has a dark sense of humor.)
Something odd arises in response. At the height of my conviction that this is the end, I'm surprised to find myself overcome not by a highly amplified version of the gratitude I feel and express on a daily basis, but rather by a deep sadness and disappointment. "So this is it, huh?" I think. "What a bunch of pain and suffering this life has been." Not exactly the thoughts I would have expected from myself.
Now I see that through this experience, Kali was simply reflecting just how much my ego is still in control. I was having what I assume from the viewpoint of the separate self is the inevitable experience of immanent death: Either fear born of attachment to the impermanent (invented meaning) or complete meaninglessness. For me it was a combination of the two: "I'm going to lose the things and people that make things matter" and "Nothing at all has ever mattered." These beliefs were fueling my fear fire. (And, man, did they burn!)
You're reading this blog post, so of course I didn't die. Somehow -- after eight hours of nonstop honking, innards clumping, head throbbing, and teeth threatening to slice off the tip of my tongue -- somehow, I made it out alive. I'm still integrating, but I know I was given the gift of seeing where I really am and the work that's left to do. And I know my skull necklace, after passing through this fire, holds greater meaning than before. There's a sense of greater urgency behind the need to live now. In every moment. And always. (More to come on what that'll look like.) And I have to wonder...though that wasn't the end of me, perhaps I'm one step closer to the end of "me."
“Awake in a dream! Awake in a dream! I’m awake in a dream!”
This is my favorite dream yoga practice mantra. What’s it for? Making it a habit to repeat (and believe) these words during waking hours makes one more likely to repeat them in a dream, and repeating these words in a dream is almost sure to make the dreamer realize she’s dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is both fun and incredibly powerful, but in order to deliberately navigate a dream, we first have to wake up within the dream state. Until then, we just stumble along, much like we do in this life, from one scene and situation to another, blind to the truth of our circumstance.
When we’re in our default state of dream consciousness -- that is, unaware we’re dreaming -- we tend not to question what we sense and perceive. (Why would we? Carried along by sights, sounds, smells, plots, and emotions, it's all we can do to slap on a role and keep up with what unfolds around us.) For example, in a recent dream I encountered a strange combination of a hippo and a mouse, the size of my palm. Someone in the dream told me the odd creature was a “baby seal,” and I took it in stride. “Sure,” I thought. “I guess that’s what a baby seal looks like.” But if I had simply paused to really consider what I was seeing, I could have snapped into lucidity, opening myself to the wonderland of conscious dream exploration.
It’s kind of funny, how blindly accepting we are in our dreams. But the fact that most of us live our “waking” lives in a similar way is not funny.
From the moment we rise in the morning, most of us are far from conscious. We wake up already steeping in the melodramas of our stories, our minds swirling with things we needs to buy, emails we needs to write, judgements about ourselves and others, conversations we had and conversations we imagine, fragments of songs, and fantasies for the weekend. We continue to bathe in the swirl of our ego's thoughts through getting dressed, eating breakfast, commuting, working, exercising, and interacting with loved ones, our inner commentary never on break. Finally, we go to bed at night with our minds still a circus until eventually we fall asleep.
As if our very existence were a dream, most of us spend our days without ever consciously pausing to witness, to establish real presence, to wake up to what is.
To awaken in our dreams we have to realize we’re dreaming. To Awaken in our lives we also have to realize we’ve been dreaming. For a spiritually fulfilling life, we must wake up in the dream of this conditioned existence. We must awaken to the truth of who we really are and what really matters.
I can tell you who you really are: love. I can also tell you what really matters: also, love. But for you to hear this is one thing -- you won’t really know it until you feel it in your beautiful bones. And only you can wake yourself up. So go ahead and whisper it in your own ear: "Wake up, sleepyhead! It's lucid time!"
Blog photograph by Sarah Gustafson
This morning I woke up with a throbbing temple and smarting, knotted shoulders. My brain felt raw against my skull. "That's it!" I said to myself for the trillionth time. "I'm done with drinking!" Except this time it only took one drink to get me to this state, an Anchor Steam Winter Ale I cracked open and enjoyed last night over Netflix's new show, The OA. The brew was tasty and refreshing, a welcome treat at the end of a day's work. But was it worth it?
My body has been sending me consistently clearer signs it doesn't like when I drink, and I'm finally ready to listen. In addition to my ongoing "golden rule" resolution, my resolution for 2017 is to give up alcohol.
My New Year's resolutions for the past few years have consistently included "drink less," but this year I'm taking it one step further, because "drink less" hasn't been enough. I've wasted too many hours that could've been productive and full of life on hangovers. On headaches and body aches and misery and confusion and regret. Moreover, I want to be fully present and lucid in each moment. Drinking prevents that, and therefore has to be let go.
I'll admit giving up alcohol is not going to be easy for me. First of all, alcohol is everywhere. It's a quick way to (temporarily) destress. And, most importantly, I actually love the taste of beer. I crave it with dinner, after yoga (I know!), and during times of leisure (like when kicking back on the beaches of Belize as I'll be doing in January). I think it's fair to say I've been pretty attached to alcohol.
But now I'm starting to understand this renunciation won't be as hard as I've previously thought it would be either. With the growing clarity I've been cultivating through meditation has come a true courage that liquid courage pales in comparison to. The courage to just be, even when that being is awkward, bored, or stressed. These days I feel simultaneously grounded and light and strong. It's time.
As you set your own New Year's resolutions for 2017, here are my three tips:
#1 Think About What Really Matters
Are you looking beyond the superficial? A quick way to tell is to ask yourself whether your goals are driven by ego or something else. For example, is losing 10 pounds really going to solve your problems, or is there something deeper at the root of your suffering, such as over-identification with your physical form? If so, why not attack that instead?
#2 Keep It Simple
If you're like me, most years you make too many resolutions, and end up keeping very few. In our culture we tend do go a bit overboard with the drive to achieve. Last year I set more than ten intentions, including learning Turkish and finishing my 500 hour Yoga Alliance teacher training certification. (I did neither.) It's not that there's anything wrong with leaving resolutions incomplete. The problem lies in spreading ourselves too thin by attempting so many big things at the same time. We risk getting tired, forgetting to enjoy each moment for what it is, and losing clarity. Try choosing quality over quantity this year.
#3 Look Back On Old Intentions and Surprise Yourself
This one's for your own amusement, and perhaps for some inspiration as well. What did you resolve to do last New Year's? How about ten years ago? In preparation for writing this, I looked back through my old resolutions. Just three years ago, I resolved to "practice yoga two times a week." Now I'm teaching it, and three+ times a week! After you write down your resolution(s)/intention(s) this year, try hiding them somewhere you never look. If/when, years later, you stumble upon what you wrote, you might be surprised by just how much you've grown. As Pattabhi Jois loved to say, "Practice and all is coming!"
One last thing: When you break out your eggnog (spiked or not) and get down to setting your intentions, don't forget you're already perfect, so avoid thinking in terms of changing yourself, but rather removing the ego clutter layered on top over the years. And when you're done planting your seeds, consider treating yourself to a sweet 20-minute savasana :)
Happy Holidays, and see you in the new year!
Blog photograph by Sarah Gustafson
Entrepreneur/salesman Steve the soul created the universe. And he wanted it to be utilized. Specifically, Steve wanted some of The Omnipotence to materialize itself and to test out his latest and most original creation (the universe) by assuming form and time to live in it.
Steve put together a pitch to this end, framing his offer as THE solution to the most considerable pain point of The Omnipotence: lack of experience. You see, The Omnipotence simply WAS. It didn’t DO and it didn’t FEEL. What it knew, it never learned. The Omnipotence had zero experience. And, quite frankly, The Omnipotence was a little bummed about this fact. Steve, as part of The Omnipotence, could easily empathize with the situation -- the Omnipotence Condition -- and, in turn, exploit it.
***Click post title to read more!***
This post is less about the universe and more about the existence of universal truths (defined here as scientific absolutes), but the cosmos will play a big role. AND I wanted to use that quote. If you think Carl Sagan - rest in peace - is kind of amazing, read on. If you don't know who Carl Sagan is, do yourself a favor and get acquainted before we continue:
Gravity. The Golden Ratio. Hubble's Law of Cosmic Expansion.
Universal truths exist, and I believe they exist as part of a collective consciousness. This is not to be confused with Carl #2, father of analytical psychology Carl Jung's "collective unconscious," which refers to the sum reservoir of experience inherited and identical in each being. Rather, I'm referring to the idea that we evolve mentally and spiritually as a collective (though not necessarily progressively in all aspects at all times.) (Some yogis even believe that the cosmos are the physical manifestation of this collective consciousness, ever growing, ever changing.)
If universal truths exist as part of our collective consciousness, they are accessible to all. Their revelation is not exclusive to savant scientists and mathematicians. These truths, instead, are at the tips of our collective fingers.
We all have the potential to access them through dreams, for example, as Giordano Bruno did in the late 1500's when he glimpsed truth at a time when it was held as law that the earth was the center of the universe. Not a scientist, Bruno was just a man searching for answers. With no regard to scientific "worthiness," answers came to Bruno in a lucid dream: the earth is not the center of the universe and our sun is but one of a multitude of stars. (He was burned at the stake for defending this radical-at-the-time claim, which we, of course, now know to be fact.)
Multiple discovery further supports the existence of universal truths. Multiple discovery is the phenomenon in which scientists (or mathematicians, artists, etc.) simultaneously converge on the same reality-shaking breakthroughs while working independently, often on opposite ends of the earth. The discovery (or maybe rather "uncovery") of calculus is one famous case. Why does multiple discovery happen? I believe it's simply a matter of the time becoming ripe for one universal truth or another to bubble to the top of our collective consciousness, sometimes manifested through more than one individual.
So universal truths exist as part of our collective consciousness. What does this mean for the aspiring yogis and mind-masters among us (and everyone else for that matter)? It means we have the power (through dreams, yoga and meditation) to tap into absolute knowledge without necessarily conducting first-hand research. If we can pay attention and keep our hearts and minds open, we will be ready for receiving the truths we need (and want) to know. The point is: they're already within.
A still more glorious dawn awaits!