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

Ball and Chain

What if there were no clocks? Not in your car, on the walls, computer or phone. There are no watches or timepieces either. Only skyward approximations illuminating from the universe’s originating source; the faithful rising and setting of the sun.

While we’re at it, let’s also remove calendars. Birthdays, holiday celebrations and election years are no longer. We’ve merely the rotation of the planet and seasonal metamorphosis of climate and foliage reminding us of the fragile impermanence of all that is.

Work still exists and life still goes on, albeit at a more leisurely pace and gracious, forgiving speed. There are still 24 hours in a day and 52 weeks in a year. However, without the conventional tools to tell us so, this tasty morsel of conversational minutiae is reduced to party faire.

What exactly is time?

Ultimately speaking, it is a concept. Much like a country’s borders, it was contrived by man to provide mutually held beliefs by which we may organize our lives. Certainly, there's usefulness in this design. However, as a planetary population, it seems we’ve taken this tool of convenience and premeditated our world around it, losing sight of the fact that at its core, time is an intangible illusion.

Janis Joplin, at the end of this live performance of Ball & Chain, imparts to us, a gift of insightful commentary. It’s an impassioned plea to begin living a life of love and compassion today because, “…it’s all the same fucking day, man.

She plucks an intriguing cord.

By removing the rigidity of calculation, the x number of years we’ve each spent roaming the planet, have been nothing but a single continuum, broken up by fitful nights of sleep. Without fretting over age related accomplishments, milestones, aspirations or projections, we awaken to each new day and what has changed? Everything? Nothing?

The imagery of the past does not truly exist. Neither do our fantasies of the future. These two insoluble states of our existence are poised in constant culmination at the present moment (see fig. 1a). These guideposts have however, instead of providing direction, been mistaken for our destination.

Missing the signs due to our focus on the past and future, something has been lost. Don’t you feel it? In the pursuit of chasing of our dreams, what many of us have traded, in addition to our present, is our ability to give freely. Pragmatic generosity and compassion, on a global scale, are missing on levels that rise above quotes passed through social media.

The late mystic, Osho, is of the belief that compassion cannot be forced; that it may be derived only through the process of mental purification. Because of this, we’ve only a superficial grasp of what it means to love.

This is far too bleak for those of us taking baby steps toward our altruistic ideals. As prosaic as the social trend of quoting sagely wisdom may appear, at least it demonstrates hope. And even the largest of blazing infernos begins with a single spark.

But hope is not a strategy.

If we are the hero in this epic novel of Life, what's the plot? To pay off the mortgage? Take a nice holiday? If the predictability of security replaces our need for raw spontaneity we risk losing interest in our own story. And if absorption within our own pursuits misplaces our ability to freely care about others, we’ve lost something even more valuable.

Hope may not be a strategy but if it sparks desire and this desire ignites action, this is a formula for change. Humanity as a whole is in dire need. We’re losing our ability to see past our own desires and into the lives of the millions that suffer, truly suffer, on a daily basis.

I happen to be of the belief that Osho is misguided in his assertion. It isn’t purity that begets generosity and compassion; it is repeated acts of compassion and generosity that contribute to mental purity. Ultimately though, it is Janis that truly has it figured out:

…if you gotta care for one day…that one day man, better be your life…because that’s all you got. If you got a today you don’t wear it tomorrow, man. Cause you don’t need it… Tomorrow never happens.

The only mastery we will ever truly gain over the passage of time is in continually re-discovering the present moment. This seemingly long stretch of days, nights and seasonal transformation, simply provides a vivid stage upon which our temporal existence is acted out. It is not the dawning of each new day, but along every point of life’s continuum that presents an opportunity to choose. An infinite string of tomorrows, only ever arriving in concept, will always remain one day too late to make a difference.

How will the next chapter of your story read?

Live. Learn. Most importantly: Lend your voice.

~ by Christine Fowle, Pokhara 2014

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

Questions

As I trudge through the rising mire of conjecture regarding what should and shouldn’t be done regarding the escalating crisis in Syria, I continue getting stuck. Something repeatedly, is tapping the inside of my psyche begging to be heard, but every time I stop to listen. Silence.

"What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional. It will degrade Assad's capabilities. At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition.”[1]

I don’t understand. Something limited? Something proportional? What does limited mean? What is proportional? These words are changing the composition of my interior landscape.

Degrading the enemy and upgrading the opposition. By killing and supplying weapons?

This is what’s being said, isn’t it?

“Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.  This would not be an open-ended intervention.  We would not put boots on the ground.  Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.”[2]

We would not put boots on the ground. Limited in duration and scope.

The words echo in my ears.

“I'm confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors.  I'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable.”[2]

Confident in the case our government has made?

Comfortable going forward without approval? Paralyzed and unwilling.

The gripping in my chest tightens with every spoken word.

“A country faces few decisions as grave as using military force, even when that force is limited. I respect the views of those who call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in part to end. But if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we must acknowledge the costs of doing nothing.” [2]

The war in Iraq is over? Did we win?

Caution isn’t appropriate? Doing nothing is the only other option?

There’s that word again: limited.

“Here's my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community:  What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”[2]

I also have a question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community.

What message will we send to our own children if instead of dropping bombs we find another way?

“If we won't enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?”[2]

As individuals and as nations we are being confronted over and over again with the same gruesome tests. What does it say about our resolve if we continue to choose guns over dialogue?

Words cannot communicate the injustice, maliciousness and insanity responsible for the murdering of innocent men, women and children. Nor can images place us into the center of a battlefield.

The footage we’ve been exposed to is horrific. So are the options we are being presented with. Regardless of what is now so vividly flashing before us, never, will we experience the scope of unforgivable carnage if our country goes to war. We will never see the men and women we murder. We will never know the full extent of the sickening devastation we engender.

Trust is an illusion and control, even more derisive. Dead human beings however are not conceptual imagery. Dropping bombs and supplying weapons does not guarantee one single thing except more bloodshed. It is counter-intuitive to believe otherwise.

Just one more war and then finally we’ll have peace?

Really?

Syria is but one battle. What about the next? And the next?

We have the power to do something revolutionary. Life is presenting us with the ultimate moral challenge, propelling us into playing the hero in our own story. We can be the generation that chooses peace over war and dialogue over violence.

How does the story end?

“We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.”[2]

 

~ by Christine Fowle

[1] Jeff Mason and Yara Bayoumy,  “Obama wins backing for Syria strike from key figures in Congress”, Reuters - September 4, 2013

[2] President Barack Obama, “Statement by the President on Syria” August 31, 2013