Peace, Love & Om

 If the mind is pure in nature, does it not follow that, as is the mind, as are we? After all, what are we, if not the mind?

Indeed. Yogis, philosophers, scientists and scholars have, for centuries, been investigating the implications of this epic question — Who am I?

There are countless ideas surrounding this enigma. In almost all Eastern philosophical circles however, the answers point back to the mind, and therefore back at us. Ah, but this wasn’t established — what are we, if not the mind? This is the question.

The keys unlocking these answers reside inside us and we alone are capable of unhinging these unmarked doors. However, the societal relevance placed on such endeavors often takes a back seat to more lucrative pursuits, with our sense of self-worth often a direct correlation. But once this gateway is opened, even just a crack, something magical happens...

Invitations to discover inner harmony are not messages designed for an elite few. The increasingly fast pace at which the world is moving is impacting all of us, converting our mental and physical balance into little more than pleasant buzzwords for many. Learning to direct our attention, whether in pursuit of philosophical insight, business rationale or personal wellness, is likely the only thing that will save us — from ourselves.

Committing to be mindful prompts us to look at both the physical and non-physical aspects of our behaviors (i.e. thoughts and feelings). Using these observations to develop an alert sense of reality, with this silent eye, we become both observer and the observed, grounding our focus and centering our balance.

Patanjali, in his brilliantly expounded Yoga Sutra’s, explains enlightenment as the ceasing of the mental modifications. This includes understanding the colored lens, or veil, which is obscuring our perception of what is real. Immersed in this giant cosmic soup, our societal, educational, cultural and familial past provides each of us with a uniquely singular view of the world. It’s this view that often spurns the judgment that results in emotional fluctuations. As peace, acceptance and freedom are developed, these reelings of a wily mind are gradually released.

This is important. These modifications are often mistaken as the barriers to mindfulness and therefore considered objects of elimination. If instead, thoughts, feelings and emotions are engaged as the objects of mindfulness, this deepening awareness of self provides the method of expanding our personal introspection.

Cultivating this objective awareness is the art and science of Yoga.

Not only do we have the ability to connect with ourselves beyond what we currently comprehend, we also have the ability to live the life of our dreams. But in order to do this we’ve got to agree to do the heavy lifting.

Signing over a check for the goodies is not an option and Patanjali, Jesus and the Buddha cannot accomplish the work for us. Symbols and guides for what is possible, these individuals are pointing at the moon and although I may get in trouble in the afore mentioned circles for this, these men are also dead. If you want to taste the moon you have to reach out and take a bite.

These spiritual icons have said their peace and are not going to bestow a single, additional thread of brilliance. We can read their wisdom in sutras, scriptures, psalms and quotations; their words will never change. Our perception is the only thing that we are capable of changing. This means learning to understand your veil.

Getting to know our veil is something like adjusting the eyes to see an image within a 3D picture. We’re not attempting to remove our colorful background, but relax our vision to more readily observe what’s right in front of us — thus gradually perceiving through a lens of increasing clarity.

Self-mastery begins with intention and life provides a beeeeaauuutiful opportunity to experience the fullest expression of our emotions. Carefully watching feelings, actions and thoughts, our role is simply to notice without judging.

No one can claim responsibility for understanding who you are and no one individual’s word for reality is sacred. Saints, prophets, seekers and finders — each of us must walk the path for ourselves. The questions and illusions of who we are and who we are not were never designed to be answered for us.

Highly realized Yogis of the past, carried with them, a message. Richly hued strings of clues, instructions and wisdom, spread before us, woven into the vibrant tapestry upon which we now sit. The answers are discovered, not by looking down, but within — for it is you who possesses the whole of the moon.

May this blessed life be filled with peace, love & Om.

~ Christine ~ Varanasi, December 2014

The Un-Acquisitional Quest

How many of us feel fulfilled?

Of your own accord, with no external attachments to muddle the equation: Do you feel complete? If your job were gone tomorrow, would you feel the same? What about your house and car? Now remove your family and friends. If the answer was yes to the first question and any of the subsequent queries triggered inklings of uncertainty or angst, the first question may warrant revisiting.

As we move from childhood through adulthood many of the habits we pick up over the years travel with us. This includes relying on external sources as the foundation for our happiness. Throughout the earliest developmental stages, our parents shower our world with love and affection, both creating and nurturing a desire for attention. As we mature, the nature of this game doesn’t change; the objects shaping our self-worth merely shift. The attention we crave in our youth transposes from “Mommy look at me…” to accolades, promotions, material acquisitions and Likes.

True fulfillment is possible. However, there isn’t anyone or any thing on this planet that can provide what it is we need to sustain it. Innately this is a collectively understood concept, but even so, our cravings for immediate satiation continue to overwhelm us, with contemporary commodities often serving as our go-to fix. Instant gratification and cycles of goal setting and achievement recreate momentary highs, only to discover we still want more.

We’re not alone.

As the mainstream profit machine for obvious reasons, doesn’t promote authentic methods of self-fulfillment, we’ve ample encouragement to take the acquisitional plunge over and over again. Washing over us in waves of temporary rapture, the enticing colors, tastes and textures we’re so frequently seduced by, only perpetuate these alluring cyclical diversions. Instead of reducing the complications in our lives, these tempting whispers mouthed from irresistible new bling, assure that happiness’ just-out-of-reach status will be secured indefinitely.

We all have a future and what that future brings is uncertain except we will all age and we all will die. Money, fame, power and prestige do not change this. Each of us wants happiness. We all wish to feel whole. But it isn’t until we tire of looking in all the wrong places, that we’re ready to begin an earnest search in the one place we haven’t tried.

Within each of us resides the keys to connect with our higher wisdom; satisfaction and contentment are merely byproducts of this quest. If we desire physical fitness we take up a workout regimen. Uncovering a deeper connection within ourselves requires a routine of a different sort.

The purpose of a routine is not to develop knowledge. This only amalgamates information within our existing belief systems. Establishing a practice is the spinning of the wheel removing these layers of conditioning that separate us from our natural insight. In other words, moving closer to the core of our being is not about learning who we are, it instead involves slowly stripping away who we are not.

We’ve spent our lifetimes accumulating layers of labels, judgment and habits, spreading a colored film over everything we view, separating us from our environment, each other and humanity as a whole. Personal perspective, based on a past that is no longer, leaves impressions in our minds, which we presume are valid due to the seemingly vivid nature of their appearance.

It isn’t real.

The ultimately intangible nature of our beliefs is also true of the perceptions we maintain of ourselves. Throughout the course of our lives we’ve adopted certain ideas of who we are, the things we like and what we stand for. But in any given circumstance these can, and do, change. What we’ve crafted as an image of ourselves is in reality, just that, a picture — no more real than a dream.

In order to reach a place where we may begin realizing this, it must be realized, in the truest sense of the word. This does not come from reading about it; it is derived from experience. Just as a new haircut doesn’t mean we’ve altered our way of thinking, neither does reading (or sharing) the acute understanding of others mean we’ve integrated these words into the center of our consciousness.

Recognition of the thought patterns comprising the view-world we’ve cultivated does not take place on the surface. Taking on the role of both observer and the observed, it is through increased momentary awareness that our habituated tendencies slowly become apparent. Personal practice is the bridge escorting us into this realm of lucidity.

Development of a practice is a very personal endeavor. It entails a desire for true fulfillment and the strength to open our eyes. It involves the courage to look upon aspects of ourselves we may not love with compassion and acceptance. It requires understanding that self-transformation is a life-long quest without a tangible beginning or end. It means giving up the safety and security of the habits that bind us, for the balance and peace that will set us free.

~ by Christine Fowle

Box of Secrets

This unpredictable journey began with a seed that was planted almost three years ago. It was an e-mail received, a newsletter designed to develop motivations for the upcoming New Year. The simple yet powerful questions prompted responses that within moments, pointed to the truth — my life choices were not congruent with who it was I wanted to be. The decision became clear and so I took a deep breath and a running leap, in hopes that the Universe would throw out a net to catch me.

The difficulty in discerning whether or not this gilded net has been tossed, is due to the innate holes in the question. As I continue following breadcrumb trails through India and Nepal, instead of transpiring as a graceful skip down a golden path, the experience has often unrolled with clumsy trips through potholes of garish sludge. On the flip side, shining through the clouds, beam brilliant rays of clarity, placing self-doubt where it belongs, leaving nowhere on the planet I should rather be. However, it is the stillness that balances where these two dichotomies meet, that the true lessons are discovered.

Traveling no further than the human experience, evidence of these psychological extremes is found within every new frame [of mind] we enter. Through observation of our moods, we can witness this morphing between the roles we play, the people we interact with and locations we occupy, each with a defining structure and corresponding behavior. From devoted spouse, to loyal employee, sympathetic friend and engaged parent, the thousands of characters we portray in the theater of our lives become the medium through which we experience the world.

Enter suffering.

Referred to throughout Buddhist texts, the term suffering is often misunderstood. From the rich languages of Pali and Sanskrit, we’ve inherited a translation that in English suggests hardship, misery or physical anguish. Because of this misinterpretation, suffering is often dismissed as a condition applicable to someone not me.

Within the Western culture, the foundations for suffering begin forming before we even have the ability to speak. Our early training includes learning to evaluate situations and ascertaining whether we like or dislike what is happening. Our first words include good and bad and soon after, to the degree to which they may be applied. As we get older this pattern is reinforced and the physical responses associated with our preferences strengthens. Our emotions become intertwined within this process. By the time we’ve reached adulthood the majority of events entering our periphery are tied to this YoYo string of likes and dislikes, which in turn pulls in tandem, their corresponding sensation.

This is however not what suffering refers to.

The essence of suffering lies within the conditioned desire to experience only the pleasant sensations. Clarity on the Temple Steps, examines the difficult aspects of sitting with these painful emotions. Pushing away uncomfortable feelings is a culturally accepted norm and avoiding or masking our discomfort is endorsed, encouraged and supported by the billion dollar industries selling the cure.

Simply being with ourselves when we feel less than perky, is not what we are conditioned to do, and have even been led to believe that not only is our primary goal to feel good but we are entitled to it. This unrealistic expectation places us into a chair of self-diagnosis in attempts to either reason ourselves into feeling better or write personal prescriptions for external remedies (food, alcohol, retail therapy etc.).

We are not our thoughts.

There is, in reality a separation between mind and senses. The senses merely transmit data, which the brain receives and the mind evaluates.  Because our waking moments involve a consistent stream of sensory input and our tendencies link our thoughts to these bodily sensations, we identify with them. Our emotions in turn trigger our responses.

Like slowing down the frames in a movie, identifying the precise moments of perception, or thought, allows us to distinguish it from the subsequent sensations. It takes a little practice and over time the break between the two becomes clear. Not only this, but the emotional reaction to the sensation becomes evident. We begin to understand the relationship between thoughts and emotions — the link being our physical reaction. If we can identify the reaction we can better manage the response.

The chain looks something like this:

Stimuli —> Perception —> Physical Reaction —> Emotive Response

Enter meditation.

Have you ever sat down with the objective of listening to your mind? Neither did I. Until I did. Prior to this, there was never any reason to consider what suffering wasor whether or not I was afflicted. However, that first experience of eavesdropping on my thoughts changed the course of my life. It was seven years ago and for the fist time, I simply sat quietly and listened.

Our mind is with us throughout the extent of our entire lives. Yet, the majority of us will live an entire lifetime without developing an understanding of it. And unless you are both subject and author, the true nature of yourmind cannot be discovered in between the lines of a book. It involves learning to practice.

The most fascinating aspects of self-discovery involve developing a relationship with ourselves at the deepest levels of our being. The moment we begin to quiet the space around us and examine what cannot be seen with our own eyes it becomes clear; we have the power to change. Peace is attainable.

The benefits of meditation are as far reaching as the energy we put forth — and the potential, infinite. The time commitment can be as minimal as ten minutes a day; the most important piece being the commitment. It’s like learning a new language, the language of self-exploration, and in order for progress to be made, regular practice is vital.

At the onset of this trip the methods for achieving my own objectives were not yet clear — because my objectives weren’t clear. I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to live my values. I wanted to make a difference.

I wanted to be a better me.

Each and every day I am faced with a choice and it is only because each and every day I (mostly) choose wisely that I have discovered the truth. The perseverance however, of developing a regular mediation practice has not shown me who this better version of me is. It has stripped away the illusion of who she is not.

The process of liberating the purest expression of myself began the very first day I sat down on a meditation pillow. But this journey is no longer about me. You are the hero of this story. Behind a door of silence awaits a box of secrets only you can open. I may be pointing at the lock. But it is you who holds the key.

~ by Christine Fowle
~ Photo Credit:  Rebecca Ioannou