Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Real Me

This time last week I sat on the cold steps of an imposing New York building, shivering in the brisk March sunshine, talking on the phone to kill time while waiting for a friend. It feels like it happened to someone else. Right now all the things I've done feel unreal, which is likely due to the fact I'm on day 13 of the flu, and last night I dreamed of disturbing things.

In my sickened state, I'm asking questions like, “How do I know I exist?” Some people would say I know I exist because my sense organs tell me so: I can hear, feel, touch, see, and taste, and thus that proves I exist. But is that really the case? What about people who are in a coma and not doing any of those things? Or aware they are doing those things? They still exist, so that to me points toward the knowledge of existence coming not from the body, but from the mind.

Who am I? Who are you? Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash.

I think it also makes sense then why I'm asking these questions right now because my mind is affected by the flu – I'm not thinking clearly and thus my grip on reality, and therefore existence, feels tenuous. I'm a balloon floating higher in the sky, untethered to the Earth. Am I even here right now? I'm not sure. One thing I do know for sure: There is an “I” here.

My spiritual teacher says, “The statement 'I know I exist' proves the existence of a knowing 'I.'” In Sanskrit, that knowing “I” is called átman or unit consciousness. I want to break that down a little more. “Unit” meaning a single thing and “consciousness,” well, that's more complicated, but let's say for simplicity's sake consciousness means awareness. In other words, átman is my personal awareness in its purest form. It's not the part of me that says, “I visited New York last week;” it's the pure, undifferentiated “I” with nothing attached. It's the me without all the trappings.

My spiritual teacher also says through introspection and concentrated thinking, one observes that átman and the mind, that is, unit consciousness and the mind, are two separate entities. That makes sense to me because when I concentrate, when I meditate deeply, I'm aware of an unaffected part of myself. An observer who sees all but remains calm regardless of circumstances. I'm aware of the observer as much as I'm aware of simultaneously feeling angry or sad or happy.

The point of my meditation practice is to continue communing with that pure “I.” The me that is beyond time and space. The point of my meditation practice is to continue to know the real me that belongs to both me and to you. Also within the spiritual philosophy of my tradition is the idea there exists not only the unit consciousness, but also a collective consciousness, called Paramátman. I am a singular entity, but I am also a plural entity. There is me, but there is also more than me.

Who am I really? I am everything and I am nothing, all at the same time. The real me is an “I” that I can't describe, only feel, and that's true for everyone.

I dream of a world where we recognize who we really are is beyond words. A world where we realize an “I” exists in a pure, unqualified form and that's true for all of us, not only some of us. A world where we remember the real us is greater than the sum of our parts.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Is Your Bliss the Right One?

I'm super sick right now and overtired so I didn't record any audio this week.

The other day a friend told me he asks people, "How do you know your bliss is the right one?" in response to the slogan "follow your bliss." When he said that to me, I exhaled deeply. I've heard variations of "follow your bliss" such as "follow your bliss and the money will follow" for years and it filled me with rancor. I published a book and started a publishing company and the money did not follow. Life didn't become all sunshine and roses. In fact, the years since my book came out have been some of the hardest of my life. To recap, I moved a jillion times, my health deteriorated, my finances took a nose dive, and more. I did not receive either the internal or external promised riches.

Normally I get pissed off like a child who did exactly as she was asked and didn't receive her reward. Where is my gold star? Why don't I have what I'm "supposed" to? I also usually start to look at other people's lives and say, "They followed their bliss and got what they wanted. Why didn't it happen for me?" It's a resentment filled adventure for sure.

Mmmmm. Looks lovely. Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash.

When I ponder that "my" bliss isn't the right one, I feel better. Perhaps "my" bliss is ego driven and self-centered. Perhaps the bliss I'm following will lead me to a place I ultimately don't want to go. Maybe I don't know what's best for me and maybe I don't know what "my" bliss is.

I am strong believer in a power greater than myself. I've seen over and over again that I'm guided. And if that's true, that means there's something doing the guiding, and more often than not, that "something" knows better and knows more than I do, which also relates to how I pray. My prayer is a variation of, "I don't know what's best for me universe. Only you know what's best for me. I want what you want for me. Please align my will with yours." I think bliss is like that. If I had it my way, I'd live a super cushy life without any drama, with money flowing in due to little effort on my part, seeing beautiful things every day, and eating decadent food. That sounds lovely, but it also means I wouldn't confront any of my issues; I wouldn't deal with any of my demons.

In the same conversation with my friend, I told him I can't suppress anything and because that's true, I'd rather confront my issues head on. Confronting my issues has made me a better person and a happier person. I don't feel nearly as anxious as I used to and that's a direct result of bringing my demons out of the shadows and into the light. That leads me to believe that perhaps my higher power is thinking of my long-term happiness and bliss rather than a short-term gain. Perhaps real bliss then is not mine, but what my higher power wants and I'd feel happier if I aligned my will accordingly. It's difficult for me to maintain that perspective, but it seems worth a shot. After all, I'd much rather feel happier for a longer period of time than a shorter one.

I dream of a world where we realize sometimes our bliss takes us places that don’t serve us. A world where we understand there's a difference between the bliss we aim for and the bliss our higher power wants for us. A world where we understand sometimes our bliss is not the right one.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Don't Peer Too Far

Right now there's some uncertainty about certain elements of the future and all that comes to mind is this post I wrote in July 2016 so I'm sharing it again.

Do not set your eyes on things far off.” - Pythian Odes

I've had at least four people mention to me some iteration of, “What are the gifts where you are?” so it seemed like a good post to write today.

I am deeply unhappy about a few things in my life. There are a few things I want to change and they aren't changing fast enough, darnit. It's easy for me to peer ahead, to fantasize about the future, and then get frustrated when the future is not my present reality. I've had so much resentment this week about that and accordingly, people keep asking me to practice gratitude for where I am.

Don't peer too far ahead.
Don't peer too far ahead.

It didn't go well because I don't want to practice gratitude for where I am. I don't want to see the gifts from my current situation. I'd much rather live in the imagined future where my dreams have come true, thank you very much. But here's the icky thing: I'm not there. As much as I want to be, do, or have something else, that's not this present moment. And because I don't enjoy this present moment, it means my compulsions have kicked up. I keep checking facebook, email, and instagram to pull me from the here and now because I'm not enjoying the here and now.

As you can imagine, my compulsions haven't solved anything either.

I experienced a shift when I asked myself, “What if I viewed this situation as temporary? What if I knew it would end?” Somehow that made all the difference. For me, whatever I'm experiencing now, I think I'll experience forever. It's hard for me to keep in mind this too shall pass, and it's the notion there isn't an endpoint that causes me so much distress. When I know there's an endpoint though, everything becomes more bearable. And when I know there's an endpoint, I can start to see the gifts of my current situation. I view things differently and understand this is a period where I'm being given the opportunity to cultivate whatever, fill in the blank, and I get myself back to a place of gratitude.

I know this is a vague post but that's because I'm not ready to discuss the specifics in a public forum, but I think the lesson is a good one. How often do we view our present situation as interminable? How often do we think the way things are will be the way things continue? It's helpful for me not to say to myself, “This too shall pass,” because, great, glad to know maybe when I'm 95 this will pass, but instead to affirm this has an endpoint because it does. When I know there's an endpoint, I can quit asking, “When will this be over?” Staying present can be difficult sometimes, but maybe if we knew there will be an end, staying present would be easier.

I dream of a world where we're able to focus on the here and now, even if we don't like it. A world where we understand all things are temporary. A world where we do our best to stay present because we understand each experience or period has something for us to mine.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Anger Also Leads to God

I am pissed at God right now. In fact, “pissed” is too moderate a word. More like livid. I am livid at God right now. If God were embodied as a single person, they would not want to meet me in a dark alley. I'm angry for a multitude of reasons that are not necessary to enumerate here because they're not so important to anyone other than me.

This is not a post about how everything works out in the end, how everything happens for a reason, etc., although on most days with most things I believe that. This is a post about how not only is anger allowed, but anger also leads to God. I'm dropping the “G” word a lot here, but that's because in my anger I'm funneling it in one direction and for better or for worse, “God” often has a connotation of personification. It's hard to feel angry at something vast and infinite. That's like feeling angry at outer space and I can't muster up the energy to feel angry at something so impersonal. But I can feel angry at something more contained, and that's what the “G” word does for me. Maybe that's not necessary to mention, but I want to explain why I'm using the word I am as opposed to others like “divinity” or “cosmic consciousness” or “Brahma.”

Anger also leads to God. Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash.

How does anger lead to God and why do I care? I'll answer the second question first. We so often hear that anger isn't spiritual, that God is love and if I'm operating from a place of fear, anger, or hatred, I'm disconnecting myself from God. If that belief system works for you, go for it. For me, it doesn't work. If God is supposed to be everything and everywhere, that means fear, anger, and hatred are also God. It means my anger is allowed and acceptable. It means that anger also creates connection.

That sounds funny, doesn't it? That anger creates connection. When I think about it though, it's true. When I'm fighting with someone it may not feel like connection, but to an outside observer, we're engaging with each other, we're connecting. The same is true with the big G.

My spiritual teacher says, “Even when you think of God as an enemy, you are involved in Him. Really, our mind is more activated [to think about somebody] by anger and hatred [than by positive propensities]. When we have a quarrel with somebody, we keep on thinking that the next time we meet that person, we will say this or that. Therefore, God will be attained whether you love Him or hate Him.”

That means I don't have to worry about how I feel. That any of my feelings are “bad” or “wrong” because it's not like feeling angry at God will curse me forever. And in fact, feeling angry also leads me to where I want to go. These days I'm interested in the full expression of my emotions without judgment or shame. And that means feeling my feelings that are directed toward God as well because even anger leads me to oneness.

I dream of a world where we feel our feelings without reservation. A world where we understand even feeling angry at a power greater than ourselves is allowed. A world where we recognize anger can also lead us to God.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Inevitability of Change

Let's talk about slavery and guns. I know! The light and easy topics! The other day, an infographic swirled around facebook showing American slavery lasted for 246 years and segregation lasted for 89. In the scheme of things, the years since the end of segregation are minuscule. It's hardly any time at all. Generation after generation after generation was born into slavery. I'm sure at the time it seemed like slavery would last forever, and for many it did. They spent their entire lives as slaves. And now for the modern-day person, we look back and shake our heads, saying, “I can't believe it took that long.” I think the same will be true with gun violence.

Christopher Reeve said, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” I won't say I'm confident in the inevitability of gun control, but I'd like to be. I think about the generations of slaves who thought for sure slavery would last forever and still took steps to fight against it. The tireless men and women who said, “No, we won't stand for this,” and then did something. It took a loooong time and obviously we still have problems with racism in this country, but things changed. That gives me hope.

The wheel of change keeps turning. Photo by Alex Read on Unsplash.

What also gives me hope are the teenagers from Parkland, Fla., who are saying, “We will not stand for this.” On the 17th, they held a rally in protest. Emma Gonzalez, a student from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the most recent school shooting, gave a speech. She called for new gun restrictions, blasting President Trump, the National Rifle Association, and lawmakers for what she called their self-serving and ultimately hollow responses to the shooting. Many students held signs demanding new action on gun control. "My friend died for what?" read one sign. "Stop gun violence now," read another.

Also, the organizers behind the Women's March have called for a national school walkout next month to protest what they say is congress's tacit response to mass shootings. The walkout on March 14 is set to last 17 minutes, and will seek to pressure lawmakers "to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods," the group said on its website.

I don't know if these actions will accomplish anything. I don't know if congress will immediately pass stricter gun regulations, or if they'll heed the siren's song of gun lobby money. We could have another 50 years of mass shootings before us, or not. What I do know is change is inevitable. And I also know change doesn't just happen, we have to push for it.

Frederick Douglass said, “I prayed for freedom for 20 years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” I'm with you Frederick. Let's pray with our legs. Eventually, inevitably, things will be different, and our descendants will look back at this time, shake their heads, and say, “I can't believe it took that long.”

I dream of a world where we remember things can change, do change, and will change. A world where we remember the veracity of Christopher Reeve's quote, that after we summon the will, certain changes are inevitable. I dream of a world where they happen sooner rather than later.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Gratitude and Mourning

This Valentine's Day marks 10 years since I moved to California. I can't believe it's been that long – five years I could believe, but 10? That's almost a third of my life. I'm grateful I made the decision to move here, I'm grateful for my life here, my friends here, my community here, but also I'm sad.

I'm not sad about the decision, because like I said, I love California. California is home. I'm sad I'm not 23 anymore. I don't want to go back in time and relive 23 because I was scared, anxious, and insecure much of the time, but in other ways I miss who I was. I miss how excited I felt, how enthusiastic I was. I miss the newness of the world around me. I know I'm still young and I'll still experience new things, but now I have a point of reference. When I travel to new countries, they remind me of other countries. When I try a new restaurant, it reminds me of another restaurant. As I get older, even new things are slightly familiar.

I feel grateful and I feel sad. Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash. 

Really what's happening here is I'm grieving the old me. Celebrating my anniversary reminds me of who I used to be and who I am now. The gap is large, in a good way, but it's still a gap. Through my work in therapy, I’m learning it’s important to grieve for my old selves. To feel a sense of loss for the person I once was and can no longer be. The sadness exists and doesn’t go away through any rationalization on my part, nor any amount of looking on the bright side. Mourning the old me reminds me of a quote from my spiritual teacher.

He said, “Death is nothing but change. A 5-year-old child is transformed in due course into a 15-year-old boy. In 10 years, the child becomes the boy. Thereafter, you will never be able to find the body of the 5-year-old child. So the child’s body has certainly died.” He then goes on to mention the boy growing into a man, and then hitting middle age, then old age, until he finally dies and says, “The rest of the changes we do not call death; but in fact, all the changes qualify as death.”

That means my 23-year-old died and it’s important for me to honor and say goodbye to her, just as it’s important for me to honor and say goodbye to other people when they die. And that's what it feels like today, that I'm saying goodbye to the 23-year-old me. I'm remembering what I liked about her and what I disliked, and I feel sad. A little voice in my head is saying, “It's almost Valentine's Day! You should be writing about love and happy things! No one wants to read a depressing post!” That may be true, but also in multiple conversations with people they told me they felt like they had to be happy and upbeat in order to talk with me and I said, “No you don't. You get to be whoever you are. I don't mind if you're happy or sad. Either way is fine by me,” and I meant it. And I mean it for me, too.

As we approach Valentine's Day, I hope you will also let yourself feel sad if sadness arises. I hope that you will grieve old selves and old loves if that bubbles up. I also hope you know that doesn't diminish the good things in your life, or take away how grateful you are for changes. All changes are deaths and all deaths need mourning.

I dream of a world where we mourn our losses. A world where we let ourselves feel how we feel with love and acceptance. A world where we recognize we can feel sad about the past and grateful for the present at the same time.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Fair Share

I had a dream the other night my sister, Rosie, and I slept in the same bed. She started hogging all the covers and I yanked them back from her and said, “No. You can't take all the covers.” It's not a dream based on reality because Rosie cares a lot about sharing, but nonetheless, it got me thinking about greed, especially as it relates to the world's resources. A group of people are hogging almost all the resources leaving the rest of us shivering in the cold.

Peter Joseph said, “The value system disorder of rewarding, in effect, generally the most ruthless and selfish in our society, both by financial means and then by public adoration and respect, is one of the most pervasive and insidious consequences of the incentive system inherent to the capitalist model.”

 I'm interested in fairness and sharing. Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash.

I'm with you Peter. By and large, we as a society seem to be OK with greed as long as it comes from a place of power. No one bats an eye when we hear about corrupt politicians or businessmen engaging in shady backroom deals. In fact, I think we expect it. We've become so used to greed and selfishness it seems normal. In a way, it is normal. We all have the same tendencies within us. In yogic philosophy, these tendencies are called vrttis.

My spiritual teacher says, “The correct way to get rid of depraving tendencies is not to repeat to oneself that I shall avoid this tendency or that. Suppression is not the proper way to weaken these tendencies. Do not suppress, but channelize. Humans are psychic beings. Reconvert the psychic into the spiritual. Let elevating tendencies be converted into a spiritual wave.”

My point in using that quote is to say yes, we all have the capacity for cruelness, for greed, for selfishness, but that doesn't mean we say, “Oh well. It's natural. Gotta let it do it's thing.” No. As human beings we are constantly evolving and that means using rationality, it means channelizing our natural propensities toward something else. If I want to strangle a cat, instead of acting on that impulse, it's better for me to rip up a phone book, or scream into a pillow. The same is true, and can be true, for greed.

I realize not everyone is interested in converting their natural impulses, that's fine, but it means we as a society have to impose laws and sanctions. We already have consequences for things like murder and theft, why don't we have consequences for hoarding wealth? Why do we instead encourage it? I already know the answer to that question, but I'd like to go back to my dream.

If Rosie and I were still children living at home, what would happen if we started bickering about the bed covers? Our parents would come in and either make us share or give us separate bed covers. They would come up with a solution – they wouldn't say, “Oh well. It's human nature to be greedy Rebekah, get over it. You'll just have to shiver.”

What I'm proposing here is that we all start acting like parents, coming up with solutions that work for all of us. I'm proposing that we act like adults and say, “No” to people who want to hoard all the covers, so to speak, and instead encourage a more fair share.

I dream of a world where we work together to curb the natural impulse toward greed. A world where we say “No” to hoarding wealth. A world where we understand we can channelize our natural tendencies into something else. A world where we give people their fair share.

Another world is not only possible, it's probable.