The Unfamiliar Now

We are all so plagued by our constant thoughts about tomorrow and yesterday that we often meet the present moment as a stranger in the crowd.

All morning I have been watching my mind work on some pretty heavy family issues. We are seeing our elders grow old and ill and at this very moment making life and death decisions. My family is juxtaposed between our lifelong history and our uncertain future. I am tempted to be swept into the emotions of this, but my inner self is finding it easier to detach from those old patterns and observe the situation with new eyes.

There is a part of me (not the real me of course, but my ego) that keeps trying to recall the past emotions and cognitions of my childhood and make that my reality. As I see this happen I am practicing meditation that reminds me that I am not physically, mentally or emotionally the same person I was thirty years ago, and neither are those in my family. At times I feel like holding grudges, or giving in to an overwhelming sense of obligation. But my true self knows these feelings are just delusions of my ego that will only cause frustration and pain. I am remembering that I am whole and complete and infinitely loved by God, lacking nothing. From this strength I am able to love without restraint and rise above the drama.

There is a part of me that wants to fret about the next week, month and year - imagining potential threats, gearing up for unforeseen calamity. If I pay attention I can feel my stomach actually wrenching tighter as I contemplate the unknown disasters that await. My practice is to accept those disasters as the inevitible results of impermanence. How dare I think I am above calamity. Those fears have no power over me when I choose to embrace them with humility. They dissolve into gratitude for the beauty of the present moment.

We are always in this moment whether we recognize it or not. But our ego is convinced that emotional burdens are a necessary evil. They aren't! The first step - the only step - toward freedom is questioning this belief.

I have spoken so much about responding to pain with meditation, and this past few weeks have put that to the test. The contrast between my old perspective and new enlightenment is still fresh and raw. I suspect it would be easy to regress into my former anxious ways, but I also know I can never fully go back. I have become too acquainted with that stranger in the crowd - the unfamiliar now. Lately I find myself looking for him more than ever, hoping to one day be the closest of friends.


A New Toy

It occurred to me this evening as I was watching my boys play with their toys in such creative ways - ways I could never have guessed - that enlightenment must feel much like that. It is like a powerful new toy that has so many fascinating capabilities that we can barely comprehend its awesome potential. Alan Watts describes this way of zen consciousness as having a "beginner's mind" clear of judgement and full of wonder.

Within them is so much raw creatve energy that their entire being is focused on becoming the next something. Their bodies are constantly replacing cells to such an extent that they are literally transforming physically, cognitively and spiritually into entirely new people overnight.

For them the world is untainted by culture and tradition and of course ego. But that doesn't mean they are a clean slate. They come into this world endowed with the wisdom of the Universe preloaded into their spiritual hard drives. Only time will tell how their journey through the quagmire of life will shape the content of their mind. Before long the software/mind will come to believe it is the computer itself, but that only limits its capabilities.

Enlightenment is very much like the feeling you get when you discover a button on your boring old toy that you have never noticed before and it makes it do something wonderful. It may still be the same old toy, but your discovery has made it new again. Life is like that. Over and over again we reach a point where it seems there is nothing new to discover, and then a curious discovery changes everything and enlightenment makes everything new again.


A Dreadful Cure

Instead of interpreting this post in a political sense, I ask that it be viewed in a Universal sense as it applies not just to the situation at hand, but to life in general.

We have been talking so much about ego fantasy and the frustration and destruction caused by flawed strategies for achieving personal peace. So I was struck by how clear an example of this was displayed by President Bush's comments after touring the Israel Holocaust Memorial.

(read the article here.)

Having been moved to tears he is reported to have said to Condoleeza Rice that the U.S. should have bombed Auschwitz during World War II as an appropriate response to intelligence confirming the operation of the death camps. His response is astonishing because it verifies that he has learned nothing from his experience as a world leader. It seems any option outside of brute force escapes him as a possible solution. Even more telling is his flippancy about second guessing the decisions of leaders a few generations ago with only a molecule of hindsight to base it on.

If he were not the President of the U.S. his narcissism would be merely unfortunate. But in light of his position and power it is downright gut-wrenching. This incident really sums up the demeanor of his entire political career. He is a man who is sincere in his compassion but deeply flawed in his response to the point of absurdity. Sadly, he may never understand that violence can't end violence any more than alchohol can cure alcoholism.

Now before you cast the first stone, consider how many times you do the same thing in your own contradictory pursuits. Do you find yourself working longer hours so you can afford to take time off? Do you try to calm angry people with more anger? Do you rely on the opinions of others to determine your own self-worth? All of these ridiculous strategies for happiness are far too common.

In most cases it would be better to do nothing at all, which ironically you may discover can be the hardest thing to do.


The Shape Of Change

When I wrote Wanting Less a few years ago it represented a real epiphany for me. In the book I wrote that happiness comes from examining our core beliefs, reducing fear and learning to want only things that meet our needs effectively. At the time I thought I had truly expanded my understanding of human motivation - and I had - but I did not know how much deeper my understanding would grow.

Recently I had another jump in understanding after reading about Spiral Dynamics which outlines the shape of change in every area of existence, from spiritual growth to organizational structure to biological evolution to child development and pretty much everything that we can comprehend. There are a growing body of thinkers using this idea to reach practical applications and I am only just peeling this onion trying to keep up.

It seems to me nearly impossible to explain the entire concept in a few brief paragraphs, but I will try to explain in a few points:

Everything is made up of smaller pieces while also being a part of something greater than itself. Think atoms, molecules, elements, chemicals etc. in greater amounts until you reach the entire Universe - then apply that to anything you can imagine. These structures are called holons.

Everything changes in a similar pattern like ripples in a pond. This applies particularly to the evolution of morality as described by Clare Graves and further examined by Don Beck. To get this imagine the evolution of a caveman to Gandhi and for bonus points find yourself somewhere on that line.

Everything absolutely must change in order to thrive and survive. The development or evolution of things is mandatory and unavoidable. It's pretty much change or die.

In practical application, this concept can helps explain why some cultures have a belief system based on magic and superstition, while others have more legalistic culture and others embrace a more universal worldview.

It also explains why children believe in fairy tales, teens are obsessed with their identity, and seniors do so much volunteer work. Their worldview expands as they grow older, and new understanding leads to newer understanding. It's only natural, and accepting this can lead to a better life.

So my current perspective includes what I wrote in my book, but the words seem so naive as I read them now. I am tempted to write another book to clarify, but I probably won't. It can serve as a historical marker for me and perhaps be a guide for others as they follow the path I have already tread.