Monday, March 30, 2009

MPOW #10 - Mantras 101: "Om mani padme hum"

It is a commonly held belief in some scientific, philosphical, religious, and spiritual domains that the universe began with a single word, a hum, vibrations throughout all of existence. From Sanskrit, the word "Om" elongated is the sound of the creation of the universe that has expanded throughout all of time and place. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1). Many powerful mantras begin with the word Om. Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama gave a lecture on "Om mani padme hum" one of the most common mantras of Buddhism. Due to its power and rich history, this makes for a great introduction to mantras.

It is very soothing and beneficial to recite this mantra. In reciting it, you add your voice to the millions and millions of chanters who have come before you chanting this many trillions of times, and the millions and milliions who will come after.

The Practice - Reciting "Om mani padme hum"
From your meditative position, relax, clear your mind. When you are ready, recite the mantra "Om many padme hum." You can say it or sing it; you can do it within your head or aloud. Play with all of these and see what works best for you. Recite it over and over again in a relaxed timing. You may think of it as waves crashing on the shore, a planet revolving, a marquee scrolling. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

"It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum, but while you are doing it, you should be thinking on its meaning, for the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast." (Dalai Lama)

This is just an intro to mantras, and I won't be too prescriptive with this one. Just get in there and feel it out. Play with it. Have fun. Over future MPOWs, I will explore different ways to use this mantra, different mantras to use, and explore different mindsets that you can be in with mantras. For now, I recommend starting on the basics, just reciting the mantra over and over again, feel the repetition soothe over you, feel the meaning sink within.

My Experience with this Mantra
I first saw mantras on the TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm. I felt as awkward about the idea as Larry David does in just about every situation on the show. I wanted to try it, and I had wanted to try it for a while, but did not know where to start. A few years later, I finally put it into practice.

When I began, I thought that the mantra might be a crutch for not being able to free my mind directly. I wanted to learn the real way, the hard way. I found the sanskrit words goofily foreign. When I began with the mantra, I also felt this was the case, but that it was worth a shot. I sat in half-lotus (kind of painful in the hips) on my couch (which made it less painful). From that position, I started to practice saying the words internally. Ugh, it felt awkward. I was not sure that I was internally pronouncing them right. I was not sure if I should sing them or say them. I am not confident in my singing voice. I noticed all of these things. Overcoming them was an early and important step for me.

I then shifted to trying to say them aloud, even sing them aloud. I did it tentatively at first. What if someone in the adjacent units could hear me? How embarrassing that would be. I explored that for a while as I continued. As I heard my own voice, evenutally my timidity subsided. My voice became strong and rhythmic. I liked the sound of it. It was quite pleasing. I was pleased with myself for trying it and for doing it. This, I realized, was my ego. "I just witnessed my ego! That's how this is supposed to work!," my ego said to me. At that moment, my voice cracked. I realized the trap. The ego had me again. I was proud of my observing skillz, then I was embarrassed all over again. Ego, ego. I watched it fade out. Eventually, I began reciting in a soothing pattern, I continued and continued. I lost track of time. The thinking part of me thought about stopping, but the conscious presence in me just witnessed the thinker and didn't pay him any mind. I was just rolling with it, so comfortably, so naturally, I didn't want to stop. Sure, the words are profound, but they did not mean anything to me at the time. Just saying the words, the rhythm, the power of those 6 syllables, extended from somewhere free of their meaning. Both sound and meaning in the same words, both so important. How efficient! I just kept going and going... give me shades, pink floppy ears, and a big drum. Throughout the day, I would continue the chant while driving, while parking. It saturated me and soothed me.

I dedicate this post to Jo Ann Ong, who has introduced me to many important things in my life, including meditation, Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama.

Request for Comments, please share your experiences

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Buddhist Personality Type

Take the what Buddhist personality type are you quiz from Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine. It is a fun way of looking at yourself that also provides a valuable perspective for mindfulness. The types/temperaments system is from the 1600+ years old Visuddhimagga, a work based on teachings from the Pali Canon. The article, Which Buddhist Personality Type Are You? summarizes:
The Visuddhimagga offers descriptions of six personality temperaments: three unwholesome types and three wholesome types. The text suggests that the unwholesome and wholesome types “parallel” each other. The modern-day application of the personality-type system focuses primarily on the three unwholesome types and pairs them with their positive attributes. The three types of Buddhist personalities, paired with their positive tendencies, are Greed/Faith, Aversive/Discerning Wisdom, and Deluded/Speculative. The Greed/Faith personality type is characterized by craving and optimism, the Aversive/Discerning type by criticism and clarity, and the Deluded/Speculative type by doubt and equanimity. Each type has its neurotic tendencies and its awakened tendencies, and the spiritual task is to learn how to strengthen the awakened aspects.
Rather than be a judgmental notion to defeat, each temperament pair is neutral, with equal parts obstacle and virtue. By thinking of each type as a likely temperament to exhibit, it helps us understand both our most likely challenge to overcome and the corresponding virtue. The upshot is that when we better understand our obstacles in this world, we have a clearer understanding of the path that we are on so that we can navigate it wisely. "Each type has a spiritual task to accomplish."

Take the quiz

I took it, and my types are:
  • Primary: Greed/Faith
  • Secondary: Aversive/Discerning Wisdom

This seems right on for me, and the article goes on to provide some mindfulness tips:
The spiritual task of the greedy type is to transform the desire for sense objects into a desire to know the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Greedy types need to balance their optimism with an awareness of suffering. Practices that can help the greedy type include: contemplation of old age, sickness, death, and impermanence, meditation on the 32 parts of the body; generosity; renunciation; noticing the ending of experiences; putting oneself in uncomfortable, unpleasant situations (in order to become disenchanted with sense pleasures); slowing down; and taking the Three Refuges.
Curiously, if you know me well personally or follow along on my blog, you will see that these are the exact steps that I am taking. For instance, I having written about the meditation on the 32 aprts of the body in Libido Is In, Lust Is Out. I intentionally Lean Into Discomfort, which was shown in my exploration of Zen Master K. I discuss the benefits of a forced renunciation in Another Lens for the Flying Dutchman and Silver Lining on the Dark Cloud of the Recession (these make sense given the Faith part).

It is encouraging to see that I'm exploring the right path, though of course this is a difficult path for me which requires a lot of concentration to keep from straying. I believe that the current step for me is to explore Sangha (good deeds in and for the community) a lot more. Soon it may be time to take the vow of the Three Refuges. To me, the fact that I have been benefitting from these activities validates the benefits of this article. I encourage you to take the quiz and explore your spiritual task in fellowship with me and other readers.

There has been a terrific side benefit in my sharing. Taking this quiz has brought me a lot closer to an important person in my life. An ex-girlfriend and I are now able to understand each others' challenges quite a lot better. She has Deluded/Speculative primary and Aversive/Discerning Wisdom secondary, making it difficult for her to understand by Greed/Faith, and vice versa for me. We often had misunderstandings due to both having quite different challenges in our lives. This article and quiz gives us perspective to understand each others' challenges. Our renewed and strengthened friendship is a blessing.

I highly recommend this quiz to understand yourself better, to help others understand you better, and to provide guidance on how to handle suffering in your life.

I dedicate this to my sister Laura, who like me, loves such personality tests. I suspect she also has the same primary and secondary temperaments as me. It would be beneficial for me to have her help on these.

Request for comments
What results did you get on the quiz?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Place Where Spirituality and Religion Meet

In response to my recent Start Whole post, Roy made the following comment that I'm excited to address.
I'm really struck by how these are polar opposite to mainstream Christian beliefs--the statements that: a.) sin is not necessarily an act of evil; and b.) we are fundamentally whole.

Christian belief of course, starts with the assumption that all people are broken and thus require a savior.

On the seven deadly sins, I think when the early Christian scholars enumerated them, they already considered these sins as sins in their modern meaning, i.e., acts of evil. Thomas Aquinas, I believe, called them the capital vices; he considered them not very gravely sinful, except that they lead to many other sins.

I find this really fun to discuss. I have been raised Christian by a Syrian Orthodox father and a Roman Catholic mother, both wonderful and loving morality teachers. I was baptized Syrian Orthodox, then I went to Sunday school (CCD) in a Roman Catholic church where I received my First Holy Communion, attended mass regularly, memorized my prayers - and even tried to say them with feeling instead of rote recitations droning on and on, enjoyed confession (will write about confession later), and undertook Confirmation in the church. I have been blessed that family members considered me a decent enough spiritual role model to be a Godfather thrice over. As a child, I held strong, self-motivated beliefs in the church and when my parents could not make it, I rode my bike there by myself on Sundays. When I could drive, I even explored other churches in the area. A friend and I were founders of a Catholic youth group, where we spoke about the practical role of religion in teenagers' lives.

I see almost all religions as having the same moral ideals, just different details and rituals. As a teenager my take was that "Most religions [yes, there's a caveat to exclude things like devil worship and cults] have the same moral principles. They are likely by the same God who is intelligent enough to present himself to different peoples at different times and in the ways that are most effective to them. The people inevitably added some politics to the message, but the same core message of loving thy neighbor holds true across Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Jainism, Sikhism, Native American traditions, and so on." I read the dictionary (
I read the dictionary often) for terms to describe different belief systems and found some resonance with the terms pantheism and deism. In grade school, I proposed a school project exploring the similarities amongst the world's religions and ethical systems. I planned a 'round-the-world tour of major religious sites (I've still never taken it). When I write in my blog about my spiritual journey, I write it with love and respect for all religions and the lessons that they teach. I also view these with what I find to be a healthy degree of pragmatism, as I realize the humanity that has shaped them throughout the ages.

Lately I write a lot about Buddhism and other spiritual practices, because they are new to me and I keep finding a lot of wisdom in their lessons. Here, I aim to write an open account of my spirituality and how it is compatible with Christianity, despite the apparent contradiction between my beliefs and Christian beliefs.
Discussions on religion are always so sensitive... I hope to not offend anyone, please read with an open mind and understanding of my love for all morality-based religions and philosophies. Here goes...

I totally agree that some mainstream interpretations of Christian beliefs are antithesis to the comments that I make in the post. Though, I find that my perspective still aligns with the core teachings of Jesus. It is necessary to look at the teachings of our religions and see what is truly helpful & essential and what is centuries worth of accumulated detritus.

Nowhere in the Gospels have I found Jesus perpetuating the conflict of Good vs. Evil. Jesus talks about what will get us into Heaven and bring us closer to God. Jesus also talks about a Heaven on Earth and how we can get there when we are away from sin.

I interpret this as Heaven being the mark, and our sins as keeping us away from the mark. In this sense, sins are just misguided living. This feels true to me. Heaven is available to us on Earth all the time. If one follows the Beatitudes taught by Jesus, one will find Heaven on Earth. "The Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, relates a series of 'Thou shalt nots,' evils one must avoid in daily life on earth. / In contrast, the message of Jesus was one of humility, charity, and brotherly love. He taught transformation of the inner person. Jesus presents the Beatitudes in a positive sense, virtues in life which will ultimately lead to reward." [] This view is also consistent with what I have read of St. Thomas Aquinas.

When I read the bible, I cannot help but see Jesus as an awakened individual, an individual filled with God and an understanding of a clear path to Heaven. I believe that the original Christian teachings have been distorted throughout the years by a combination of incorrect translations and people who did not fully "get it". I see Heaven as a state of Being, not a place. And the Heavenly state of Being comes through Salvation.

I see parallels between spiritual philosophies. As example, here are some mappings that I see between Buddhism and Christianity: Nirvana as equivalent to Heaven and Enlightenment and Awakening as equivalent to Salvation. Look closely at Buddha's teachings on the cessation of suffering and compare them to the Beatitudes of Jesus. Uncanny. All wise spiritual paths teach us the same lessons, but they are often shrouded in clumsy rituals and misguided dogma. We need to learn how to chip the debris off of the jewels. If you're interested in exploring a little further,
Eckhart Tolle writes about specific passages and how they are consistent with this interpretation. I am still Puzzling Over Tolle, though find his writings to be quite meaingful and heartfelt. I really recommend A New Earth to learn even more.

I'll give another comparison based on Original Sin, which Roy alluded to in his comment. The Christian Church teaches that with Original Sin, we start unwhole, and this can only be washed away by Baptism. The gift of Baptism is a way of removing feelings of guilt, showing that something as simple and clean as water can absolve us of sins. If we look a little bit at what actually happens, there's a room for a luss judgemental interpretation that I find more wholesome and wise. Jesus allows John the Baptist to baptize him in order to show us that anyone can absolve us of guilt. That sin is not such a deep mark that it cannot be absolved. Just plain ol' water can do it in anyone's hands. We can even do it for ourselves once we recognize that water is a placebo. It is the intention that is important, and a ritual such as Baptism is a means to seal that intention. With this, we also reconigze that we were whole all along, we just believed that we were unwhole. The ritual also helps us shed those beliefs for ourselves (rather than doing it for us). One just has to set aside sin, and by doing so, can enter Heaven.

One theory that I have is that Christian Church in Europe became a power play for the intelligent peasants to make their way out of the serf class and for the younger sons of nobles, who would not inherit title and property, to stay elite. In order words, it was more about power and politics than piety and compassion. This thirst for power is not compatible with the awakened teachings. So the heart of the religion was eventually plastered over sloppily with interpretations from less awakened people. This pattern can be seen across the world's religions.

At the root Jesus is still the Son of God and Man, and his teachings are wise and pure. There's a part of my being that knows this to be true. That same part of my beings knows the cores of other religions to also be true. There are definitely more similarities than differences, and they are the same cores, only interpretations differ--understandably so.

I dedicate this post to my co-worker Roy who engages me with deep thoughts, a curious mind, and a generous heart.

Request for respectful

Monday, March 23, 2009

MPOW #9 - Fhqwhgads

Last week, in the middle of the day, I felt very busy and scattered. I needed to be present again, just release my mind. I took a moment to chat to a friend, who was also feeling stressed. The conversation wasn't longer than a few minutes, but it was just what I needed. I meditated, then just punched out some jibberish on the keyboard. jdbadkjbvd;knv;ajs kfjhsgk;ahsvkjbd;kabdjsv; Wow, it felt so freeing to let go, to just air things out. Completely shut off the inhibitions on the keyboard for just a moment. What a recharge. My friend did it right back. We felt so much better.

You can use it, too. This week, in the middle of your workday, take a moment to talk some jibberish. Bang on some keys. If you keep yourself very well-defined and rigid at work, let a little meaningless play in. You may find it has some meaning for you after all. Have your very own, take-your-inner-child-to-work-day.

The Practice - Release Some Jibberish

Get to a place in your life where you are often very stressed or always neat and structured. Sit there, close your eyes and see if you can release your worries. If you can shut your door and not be heard (or if you don't care about being overheard), just speak some jibberish for a while. Then type out some nonsense on your keyboard. When you are done, you've now added some play to your busy space, charging it with a little playfulness.

Need some inspiration? Check out the sbemail "i love you".

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Puzzling over Tolle

Sometimes I feel like there are 2 Eckhart Tolles. The one who wrote the deeply helpful and meaningful books, and the one who profiteers and grandstands.

Reading A New Earth helped me find peace and joy in life. It awakened many glimmers of truth that I have noticed throughout my life and then put down again, lying dormant until I read through those pages. Tolle's work helped me exit a very, very painful time and find a true and deep-rooted peace within myself. If you read my blog, you notice that I refer to and quote him a lot. His books helped take me from a place of pain to a path of confidence and compassion. I am thankful to it, him, and the person who recommended it to me everyday.

Still, a few things about Tolle seem a little inconsistent. As part of my mindfulness practice, I try to stay on my toes and not follow anything blindly. Here are a few things that I question, they're pretty minor all-in-all considering how valuable his teachings are:

#1 - Profiteering
First, the Website is a blatant piece of profiteering. There's nothing to learn from the site other than where to spend money. See the cost of events and the store. Sure, everyone needs to make a living and his teachings are valuable, but I don't think he's hard up for profit. If he truly has no need for material wealth, then why the crude commercialism? And even more baffling, why do so few people call him out on it? Where is his money going?

#2 - Trend Mongering
The next thing is the relationship with Oprah -- and Oprah is another personality that is self-contradictory. On one hand, her appearance is very genuinely caring and sincere. On the other hand, huge profits and fad-peddling. Curious. Edit: As a commenter recently pointed out, who would turn down a call from Oprah for a larger platform? That would be silly. Still just a little thing.

#3 - A New Dogma

I find Tolle's message and writing superb. And I find the reach and mass appeal very heartening. It is spectacular that mindfulness, compassion, and dissolution of the ego are now household concepts -- well, for many households. However, it feels like a lot of dogma and intellectualism (forms of the ego) arise around his teachings. People are calling him a guru and spiritual teacher, too. He pays lip service to not wanting these things, but he's not succeeding at it. Not necessarily his fault, but... (in Japanese it's ok to end a sentence with a preposition).

#4 - Bossiness
His message, while laden with truth and compassion, is highly confrontational. How do people accept the forcefulness of his writings and words? I understand that he is trying to be non-equivocal, I'm just surprised that this doesn't irritate more people.

#5 - Obnoxious Affectation
The final mystery to me is why of all people did he become mainstream? His voice, mannerisms, and dress seem highly affected to me. Way too soft and too soothing. I cannot sit through a video of his, I find it spoils his writings for me. Edit: Yes, this is a petty nit. It's just me being honest about where I am.

I looked for others with similar thoughts, and found a couple others who also have gripes: has an objective review and Guruphiliac slings mud as usual, though Guruphiliac has not read Tolle's books. In general though, there are people who ignore him and write him off or revere him unquestioningly.

Despite these points of confusion, I still find the writings of Tolle incredibly poignant, relevant, and heartfelt. I hope that there's an answer to some of these things. Has anyone else wrestled with these things? Do you have a perspective that could help?

Monday, March 16, 2009

MPOW #8 - Word: "Faith"

Throughout our lives, many words have become laden with meaning and emotion. Our past experiences prime us in how we see and interpret words. Words Are Powerful in many ways, and it is valuable for us to use their powers and explore the latent meanings that we have ascribed to them for self-discovery. How are these words loaded with meaning? What does this tell us about our pasts and how can we learn about who we are now?

Jean Smith has written an excellent book called Now!: The Art of Being Truly Present (Amazon) that has collected a number of particularly laden words and provided some context to work through them. I love this book. I find it very powerful. The first word in the book is Faith. I had no idea how I felt about this -- carrying so many emotions and prejudices -- until I meditated on it.

In the section on how to use the book, Smith recommends that "... you take time to really answer for yourself two questions: What does this have to do with me? and How can I make use of this? Use this to shape the practice.

The practice - Meditate on the word: "Faith"
Take some time for yourself. Sit in your meditative posture, and bring yourself to a calm and reflective place. When you are there and peaceful, invite the word "faith" in. Give this plenty of space for exploration. Explore yourself. See what thoughts you associate with the word and the notion. See what images come to mind. Do you ascribe a color to it? A sound? Does a person or quotation come to mind?

See what emotions you feel. Does your body change at all? Perhaps a faster or slower heart rate, a sense of peace, happiness, sweaty palms. Any of these or other physical signs may be noticeable.

Are there any mantras that you tell yourself about the word? Do you view it positively? Negatively? Distastefully? Neutrally? How do you use the word?

When you are ready, answer the following question: "What does this have to do with me?" Explore the answer to your satisfaction.

When satisfied, then answer "How can I make use of this?" Maybe you can fit the word into your life, giving it a new context and a new meaning for yourself.

In closing, offer yourself a prayer. Here's an example from Now! that I use, though you may choose another that you prefer..
May I be graced
with the power of a faith
that dispels doubt,
so that I can open to life's
mysteries and joys
with confidence.
... I recommend not reading on until you have tried this at least once for yourself, otherwise my learnings may be another prime ...

Some of the things that I learned
In my initial meditation on "faith", I discovered much about myself. First, I have a lot of disdain for the word "faith". I see faith as a crutch. I think of faith healers, and I view them as snake oil peddlers, evangelical con men. I think of "blind faith". I think of religion laced with that modern bad word "dogma", something passed down without one's own choosing. This was powerful for me, and knowledge of it allowed me to address it. After spending this time in contemplation, I began to see other ways to look at faith. I can have faith in others, a trust of their good intentions. I can have faith in positive outcomes, seeing it as a kind of optimism. I can be and have faithful friends, true companions on life's journey. There are several ways to redefine and reclaim the word in a positive light. Closing with the prayer really heartens me.

This post is dedicated to my Goddaughter Sara Gilbert, whose birthday was this past week. May she experience the powers of well-placed faith, avoid the cynicism of misplaced faith, and feel out situations curiously with her heart and soul so as to avoid the pitfalls of blind faith and make her own choice's from a deep source of wisdom.

Request for Comments - please share your learnings from your contemplations on "faith".

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Start Whole

We are completely whole. Deep down, we all know this to be true, but much of this wisdom has been buried during a lifetime of negative mantras, unfortunate set-backs, and unconsciousness training -- such as from the advertising industry which thrives on us not feeling whole. Consequently, there's a part driving us that doubts our wholeness. This is the ego. For many of us, it is our delusion to believe that we are not whole and that we need material wealth, a title, fame, career success, a perfect partner or spouse, recognized intelligence, an attractive face and body, trophies, and a host of other things to feel whole. Most of us have somehow learned helplessness in one realm or another. Fortunately, we already have everything that we need for happiness and peace.

I take this lesson to heart and counsel myself with this advice (in second person). In everything that you do, whether in a relationship or alone, start by asking yourself if you already know that you're whole. That is the Self that Serves. If you are not convinced that you are whole, you may be acting out of desire or fear. And this can get ugly or embarrassing -- "Spilling your guts is exactly as charming as it sounds." (Fran Lebowitz). When you know that you are whole, you can act from a position of strength, as your authentic self. This holds true with work, relationships, hobbies, etc. If you have a regular practice, look inside your practice and see if this is true.

Next, see if the fear of being incomplete holds you back. A simple introspection: check if you seek validation through any of the so-called seven deadly sins. Give me a chance to explain that. I'm nervous to use sin, because it is a loaded word, and Words Are Powerful. Sin was not always synonymous to "act of evil". This came about by a certain church's fear-mongering oversimplification/distortion/mistranslation. Sin originated as an archery term meaning to "miss the mark." The word was used philosophically as a metaphor for missing the point, for doing something that was off a wise course, or what we might call "off track" or "off the path". Reclaim this less judgmental definition of sin as an effective tool for self-awareness. The seven deadly sins is a short list of symptoms that is helpful in diagnosing an unhealthy ego. The syndrome manifests through the ego as ravenous cravings for wholeness. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride are all afflictions of the incomplete ego hijacking you. When you witness this taking place, your authentic self snatches the reins back from your insecure ego.

Only recently have I noticed this pattern in myself. Every time that I have acted in order to make myself whole -- to fill some need in me -- something fails terribly. When I already know my whole and authentic self, my actions work out wonderfully, either as I intended or I learn something interesting along the way.

The panacea: Start whole.

This post is dedicated to Gaelen Billingsley who guided me to the understanding that I am already whole.

Request for input - please use the stars and comments to engage back with me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Optimism in the Great Disruption

"I feel strongly that optimism is among our greatest resources. We must certainly not turn away from reality but everything changes. Just look to nature. Nature teaches us ebb & flow, up and down. For me optimism is a key generative force that can must certainly fuel us to create a better, more sustainable future." - Embrace the Moon

This quote was a comment left on my recent post about the Silver Lining on the Dark Cloud of the Recession that I see.

It is exciting to see a lot of optimistic articles writing about the current recession as a possibility for reshaping our economy and world view into something stronger than it was before. It brings to mind the Nietzsche quotation, oft translated as: "That which does not kill us, only serves to make us stronger." Goodness, I know that the current downturn is devastating to many, and wish soulfully that I can do something about it. My approach is to continue spreading optimism and compassion as much as possible.

Yesterday, my friend Dean DeCrease shared a Thomas Friedman opinion piece entitled The Inflection is Near? In it, he shares:

“We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder,” [Paul Gilding] wrote me. “No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.” We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.

Gilding says he’s actually an optimist. So am I. People are already using this economic slowdown to retool and reorient economies. Germany, Britain, China and the U.S. have all used stimulus bills to make huge new investments in clean power. South Korea’s new national paradigm for development is called: “Low carbon, green growth.” Who knew? People are realizing we need more than incremental changes — and we’re seeing the first stirrings of growth in smarter, more efficient, more responsible ways.

And he also shared his own A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste blog post:
We are now facing a future with sharply limited resources. Can we turn this situation into an advantage? Looking forward, I believe we can re-vision – and then re-shape – our world in two critical ways: by restoring our connection to each other and to nature.

In doing so, we can build stronger, healthier communities while reducing our footprint on nature. In this way, we can have a lifestyle that is both more frugal with our resources and more fulfilling for us.

The Conscious Choice article The Intention Economy takes a different angle on it, seeing this as a time to envision a whole new reality:
Opportunities such as this one don’t come along very often and should be seized once they appear. When the edifice of mainstream society suddenly collapses, as is happening now, it is a fantastic time for artists, visionaries, mad scientists and seers to step forward and present a well-defined alternative. What is required, in my opinion, is not some moderate proposal or incremental change, but a complete shift in values and goals, making a polar reversal of our society’s basic paradigm. If our consumer-based, materialism-driven model of society is dissolving, what can we offer in its place? Why not begin with the most elevated intentions? Why not offer the most imaginatively fabulous systemic redesign?
the breakdown of our financial system has not altered the amount of tangible resources available on our planet. Rather than trying to re-jigger an unjust debt-based system that artificially maintains inequity and scarcity, we could make a new start. We could develop a different intention for what we are supposed to be doing together on this swiftly tilting planet, and institute new social and economic infrastructure to support that intent.

I love how there are so many different ways to see this in a positive light. Please share others that you have have noticed.

This post is dedicated to Dean DeCrease for sharing his optimistic views and for putting so much good out into the world. I wish him the best of luck with his latest project, Re-Vision Labs.

Please send me comments on your optimism in these times and related articles.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Words Are Powerful

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.” -Mark Twain
Words are powerful. Like anything powerful they are double-edged: they can be extremely useful, yet they also hold the potential for danger. Words aid in communicating, expressing ideas, recording thoughts, serving as a medium for art, and sharing the true nature of the world. Clearly, I find much value in words as I write this blog. Words have a powerful virtue, they make complex and otherwise daunting topics more manageable. However, there are many pitfalls to language. Words are so easy to misuse or mistake in meaning. Throughout the ages, countless arguments and disagreements have no doubt originated from simple misunderstandings, when words had a different meaning to the listener than to the speaker.

In Humanism and Democratic Criticism, Edward Said points to the power and the paradox inherent in language:
... language is where we start from as humanists. One of the best ways of putting this in the ... context that is my concern here, is to use a passage by Richard Poirier in his book The Renewal of Literature. In a chapter about Emerson entitled "The Question of Genius," Poirier states that for Emerson, "the most potent and unavoidable instrument of inherited culture was language itself," and language ... supplies humanism with its basic material as well as, in literature, its richest occasion. But while supple and flexible, language provides us with "our social and cultural fate," which is why, Poirier points out, "we must first see it for what it is, and its form, ultimately, is the language we learn in learning," and, I would add, in humanism, to know ourselves. But, Poirier sagely continues, "language is also the place wherein we can most effectively register our dissent from our fate by means of our troping, punning, parodistic echoings, and by letting vernacular energies play against revered terminologies....Language is the only way to get around the obstruction of language."
This points out that words are both the problem and the solution to that problem. Oh, how I love a paradox, there must be a valuable lesson here.

Powers beyond the obvious
Words obviously bring value in their creative, expressive, and clarifying powers. They also possess much more subtle aspects. Any tool has the potential to be used for help or harm, but words, in their nature for shaping reality, go way beyond that, even at the mystical level. I'll build up to that through a few points, beginning with how words affect our thoughts.

Years ago, linguist and anthropologist Franz Boas inspired many with his finding that Eskimos have several terms for snow. Scholars continue to explore this postulate and the implications that language has on the human brain. Wikipedia's article on the subject cite that "Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf's hypothesis of linguistic relativism holds that the language we speak both affects and reflects our view of the world." George Boole declares this as common knowledge in Laws of Thought: “That language is an instrument of human reason, and not merely a medium for the expression of thought, is a truth generally admitted.” The words composing a language affect how speakers of that language think, directly affecting their perception of the world. Language defines reality by entering and shaping our minds.

Entering through our minds, words affect our beings. Words carry a transformative power when they are written by an author in flow, they are inspired by the sublime power of the universe, the state that put the person into flow in that moment. Reading a work by an awakened person is often enough to trigger the beginning of awakening in others who are ready for it. Many religions texts are known for their power of awakening, including the Kabbalah, the Koran, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching. I also find a more recent and popular book, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, to possess this awakening power. Additionally, beautiful poetry and texts have the power to bring us sharply into the present moment. I'm particularly fond of a lot of work by E. E. Cummings (e.g. who are you, little i) whose words evoke so much emotion. His words provide me with a true, sacred view of the universe.

Words with truth and honesty can be a vehicle for communing with the sacred, for awakening. Each language, comprised of words connecting us to the sacred, provide a different window to the sacred. "... the language is everything. It has the spirit in it. Each word is kept by a spirit, which means that when people begin to learn the language, they are beginning to pray, to become part of a community. When people learn the language, they are on a path." (From Nov. 2008 Shambhala Sun's Q&A "Dream Catcher" with Louise Erdrich p.#29 when asked about the Ojibwe language and spirituality). This theme of language as a direct connection to the spirit, as a manifestation of universal truth repeats in many belief systems including Kabbalism. In Kabbalism, immennse power is attributed to just knowing the true name of God Those scholars believe that knowing God's true name is a source of power, like magic. Invoking God's true name literally has power over creation.

The Bible presents an extreme look at the creative (in a very literal sense) power of words: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1). Susan G. Shumsky Exploring Chakras: Awaken Your Untapped Energy interprets this as: "That Word, the everlasting hum of creation, spoken by Spirit, is the progenitor of the cosmos." She goes on to say: "In [superstring] theory, the essential component of the universe is vibration." Summarizing Shumsky: Vibrations are waves, and if you follow the long-reigning theories of sub-atomic physics, waves and particles share a dual nature, waves are literally matter, so thusly the Word was able to literally manifest the entire universe by creating a series of deep vibrations that spread across it, starting with the hum. Just as the nuance of the Word can create the whole universe, so can words be very potent in the life of a person. "In your own life, your multidimensional body, mind, and spirit are connected to each other by virtue of that hum. And the humming of thoughts in your mind and in humanity's mass mind profoundly affect your body." [Shumsky] Here Shumsky talks about the divinity of expressed language, how the sound can take shape and manifest throughout the universe in an almost magical way.
These are several of the benefits of words. They have the divinity to control and create, birthing the universe through a hum. They are a vehicle for communing with the sacred, calling the true name of something gives it power and you power to connect. The words that we choose have the power to shape our world, through changing our perception of it. We must be careful and mindful because just as another other tool, words can backfire on us.

Dangers of Words
"The yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experiences and those words jerk us around like dogs on a leash. We get seduced by our own mantras (I'm a failure . . . I'm lonely . . . I'm a failure . . . I'm lonely . . . ) and we become monuments to them."
This is a quote from chapter 107 of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which is a memoir that deals a lot with getting through the dark times of relationship crisis and finding oneself through the pursuit of first pleasure, next spirituality, and lastly balance. I think that we all catch ourselves from time to time rolling snowballs, they get bigger and bigger the more we pack onto them. Dane Cook's "I Did My Best" (warning: lots of F bombs in there) is a hilarious example of this, and since everyone can laugh over it, that's because we can all relate.

Another inherent danger in words is that as labels they often over-simplify the situation, thus hiding information. Labels convince us that we understand things when we do not, when they're unfathomly deep. In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle points this out. For instance, imagine being mistreated by someone. It is so easy to just label that person as a "bully". This gives you an advantageous position of virtue relative to that person, absolves you of having had any part in the situation, allows you to identify as a victim which dehumanizes you, and does not account for any of the factors going on in the other person, hence dehumanizing her or him. The label deceives you into thinking that you truly know the situation and all that it entails, when on the contrary, it came laden with so much baggage any other meaning that there was no room for the full depth of the situation. It made parodies of everyone and everything involved.

Ezra Pound points out another way of looking at this oversimplification. "The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language, and no single language is capable of expressing all forms and degrees of human comprehension." The language that we are born with, or the ones that we learn, limit our reality.

Another danger lies in our attachment to the use of words. Since words are powerful, it can be deadly to have them stripped from us after we rely upon them. In this way, the mind's attachment to language as a tool can be used as a weapon or controlling force. George Orwell's 1984 presents such a scenario through a fiendish, controlling government entity known as Big Brother. Big Brother took away words in order to have more power over the masses. Similarly, Mao Zedong, took away education in order to keep countrymen down. It's a form of control through forced ignorance. Words put ideas in people's minds that may cause them to act.

As much as there are powerful benefits to words, but we also see their dangers. Some of these dangers, are that words can become a mantra of self-defeat, trick us into false understanding, or become a source of manipulation. We must learn to harness their powers and avoid these pitfalls in order to reap the rewards without suffering.

So, given that there are these benefits and dangers of words, how do we harness their benefits and avoid the dangers? The Buddhist short answer to these dilemmas is always mindfulness. Know the dangers and look out for them, know the facets and use them. The thing to keep in mind, words have many more powers than we often credit to them.

From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1594:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

This post is dedicated to William Shakespeare, who has always amazed me in his powerful use of words.

Request for comments - Please let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mindfulness Quotations

The following list of quotations lives on my cork board at work. Whenever the day becomes hectic, I look over the quotations and reflect on the ones that bring me peace.  This helps me reset and turn back to my tasks with a smile.

“The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” –Lily Tomlin

“There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” –William Shakespeare

“Every little blossom has its place.” -Ed Essey (an original that someone caught me saying once)

“I gave myself to the dance, and all the while I could hear distinctly the transit of the stars, the shifting of the tides, the racing of the wind.” –Haruki Murakami

"If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing."

“We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand ­ and melting like a snowflake.” –Marie Beyon Ray

“No snowflake falls in an inappropriate place.”

“First thought, best thought.”

"In your heart, you already know."

"Please do not get caught in that place where you think you know."

"The feet can walk; let them walk. The hands can hold; let them hold. Hear what is heard by your ears; see what is seen by your eyes."

"If you chase two hares at the same time, you will catch neither of them."

"One inch ahead is all darkness."

Please share your favorite quotations

Monday, March 09, 2009

MPOW #7 - Draw a Focus Object

Artistic endeavors exercise the creative part of your brain. Utilizing it through drawing often calms the thinking-thinking-always-thinking part of your brain, which just lets you guide the creation of your art.

This week, see if you can harness this aspect of the brain to practice mindfulness, find peace, learn more about yourself, and improve you artistic skills.

The Practice - Drawing a Focus Object
Start by picking a target to draw. Choose an object, a photo, or concept. Anything that inspires you and makes you feel comfortable to draw it. If you don't feel comfortable in your artistic abilities, it could be as simple as a group of stick figures. I encourage there to be at least some complexity or nuance, something that can open up the mind for a period of time as you try to capture its essence.

Each day this week, draw your chosen target. As you draw, see what you notice. Are you judging yourself? Perhaps you think your work is good or bad. Do you notice the feel of the pen, pencil, crayon, stick, etc.? Perhaps you are gripping it too tight. Do you think that you're improving? Does your mind wander as you do this or are you able to concentrate completely on the drawing? Just notice what you notice. I encourage you to have a notebook on hand to jot these insights down.

This post is dedicated to Mrs. Berna, my middle school art teacher. Thank you for encouraging us to all believe in our artistic abilities and for rewarding creativity and effort.

Request for comments - Please share!
  • Do you have any art or doodle to share?
  • What did you notice during this practice?
  • Did this practice work for you?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Four Agreements of don Miguel Ruiz

Several years ago, Toltec shaman don Miguel Ruiz was virtually unknown until Ellen Degeneres lauded his work The Four Agreements to Oprah on her show. His slim tome distills the collective wisdom of his elders into four alluring concepts. These are agreements that he encourages all of us to make with ourselves for a content and meaningful life. Each of these are simple, straight-forward concepts whose practice can dramatically change our lives.

The Four Agreements are:

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don't Take Anything Personally

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don't Make Assumptions

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best

Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret
I love how direct and immediately applicable these are. We can begin putting these to practice today as they are foundational to any authentic life or spiritual practice. Individually these are helpful; collectively they are transformative. They four items can be used as simple mantras for authentic living.

This post is dedicated to Nikki Holmes, family friend and fellow traveler on the path, who introduced this to me over Christmas.

Request for Comments
  • How have these or similar agreements fit into your life?
  • What are your own agreements?
  • Do you see the resonance of these with your existing practices?

Monday, March 02, 2009

MPOW #6 - Counting

One of the most basic meditation techniques in Zen philosophy (as related in Katsuki Sekida's Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy) is to slowly count your natural breaths. Sometimes I do this as subvocalization, sometimes I imagine seeing floating versions of the numerals. Either way, this is an important skill that teaches us both how to concentrate and how to listen patiently.

Professional career coach Marshall Goldsmith describes listening as The Skill That Separates the great from the nearly great. He poses a counting practice like the following in his writing.

Mindfulness Practice of the Week

Enter your meditation position, clear your mind, and when you're ready being this simple exercise. Count slowly to 50 without letting another thought enter your mind. If another thought enters your mind, or if you lose track of the count, begin again from 1. Repeat this through your allotted meditation time. Zen practice recommends timing this with the natural pace of your breath. Increment on each inhale and each exhale like so:

inhale... 1, exhale... 2, inhale... 3, exhale... 4, ... , inhale... 49, exhale... 50.

Notes on the MPOW

2 more advanced counting patterns are 2) count only your exhalations, letting the inhalations pass without counting them, and 3) count only your inhalations. There are other, more advanced counting techniques that I may explore in later MPOW installments.

Goldsmith sees this as an incredible practice for developing the ability to listen: "... if you can't listen to yourself (someone you presumably
like) as you count to 50, how will you ever be able to listen to
another person?

This post is dedicated to Damian Isla, my good friend and patient listener.

Comments Requested - share with me and others!
  • If you're new to meditation, please let me know how it goes.
  • If you're experienced at meditation, what works and what doesn't work?
  • For everyone, please share your experiences with this meditation. If a group of people are doing it and sharing, that will help others ride the wave.