Experiencing: Awaken to Your Aliveness

Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly. ~Sam Harris

People often comment that they can’t meditate because as soon as they start meditating, the mind starts chattering away, and then, before you know it, the time is up. Does this sound familiar? 

Experiencing is a very satisfying way to approach your meditation time. It is simple to dofullsizeoutput_421 when you focus on the sensations in the body as energy and vibration, and thereby merge into the field of awareness.

Experiencing is different from having an experience, however wonderful that experience might be. It is different from being entertained like watching a movie. It is even different from being mindful. I can be mindful in the way I eat my food, or slow down my pace and walk mindfully. Your awareness is surely heightened, but these are still more like having an experience, memorable though it may be. It is different also from being in the present moment. I like to make a habit of being in the present moment in the grocery check out line. It’s more enjoyable that way, but I am still very aware of my surroundings. With experiencing you lose the awareness of your surroundings and merge into a field of energy. It is not easy to describe without sounding cuckoo. It feels like every single cell in your body just wakes up all at the same time.

Daydreaming can be a form of experiencing if you are conscious that you are indeed daydreaming. To experience you do enter a trance-like state of being. There is ordinary reality when you are thinking and doing and planning and taking care of things. Then there is non-ordinary reality where you are tuned in to the awareness of you at this moment in time and space. 

I find it difficult to experience with my eyes open. Open eyes directs the awareness outside. Although it can be done and concentration on body sensations can be maintained, the eyes are quick to pick up things to focus on. Then the mind immediately enters and follows up with a story about that thing.

Staying present with what is is a subtle pursuit and the mind becomes easily bored. “Really? Is this all we are doing right now? Is this really doing anything anyway?” Actually, no. It’s the opposite of doing – simply being and feeling.

fullsizeoutput_9f4When you bring your attention inside, it can feel very intense. At times it’s difficult to stay with the intensity, and so, in a split second, the mind is back telling stories and hashing things out. Ego jumps in and wants to make sure s/he is not to blame for any problems or concerns that arise, and, before you know it, you are back to the races with the busy mind chitter chattering away.

Then the task becomes to refocus on the sensations in the body as energy and vibration, slow the breath and settle in to stillness and silence. To heighten the sense of aliveness, tune in to the heartbeat and the flow of blood in the body.

Feel it, be it, experience it. You are alive! Awaken to your aliveness!

Getting Connected

As a modern day mystic, I tend to see things differently. Take laws and the legal system for instance. There are laws that govern our cities, states and country, which are supposedly  there to protect us, but they operate on so many assumptions that are contrary to the mystical, sacred way.

I tend to resonate more with natural laws that indigenous people all over the world ascribe to.  Like plants and animals, we are inextricably a part of nature. Laws of balance, harmony, growth, birth and death govern us no matter what country we happen to be a citizen of. There are spiritual laws like reciprocity, intention, karma, animism, magic, miracles, alignment, and receptivity. There are subatomic, micro-level  quantum laws like resonance, vibration and frequency.

For native people, for instance, you can’t own property. The land is an entity in and of itself which cannot be possessed or owned. This makes sense to me especially since my house is situated in a flood zone which could be under water with sea level rise in the next 50-100 years. Who would own a piece of property that is under water? That brings me to the law of impermanence. When I started meditating and opening to feeling and sensation that was constantly changing in my body, I had to become more comfortable with detaching. Since everything is constantly changing, attachment to people, places and things is not only unwise, it also can cause a great deal of suffering as Buddha says.

Remember the story of Julia Butterfly Hill, environmental activist and tree sitter, who sat in a giant redwood tree for 738 days to save it from being cut down? She was standing up for the rights of the tree. Does a tree have rights? Not according to the logging industry.

Have you seen the Herzog movie “Where the Green Ants Dream?” It’s about a clash between the aborigines and the Australian government that wanted to put a road through aboriginal land. It was slated to be cut through an area where the aborigines believed that the green ants dream. If you plough through there, it would disturb the green ants’ dreaming and that would be the end of life. They resisted by squatting in that area and nearly got bulldozed over.

These are examples of people who are sensitive to the life beyond the veil – between the worlds. As you start getting deeper into your spiritual work, you start to grasp the idea that all is not as it appears. You start to become sensitive to deep feeling and sensation that is alive in everything – even a rock is alive. There is an invisible energy in everything even inanimate objects.

I can’t tell you exactly what this invisible realm is like, but I can feel it in my body when I drop into stillness and silence and get connected.

Experience – Getting Connected

This experience will give you a glimpse into what it’s like to go beyond the veil and awaken to both worlds.

Take a moment to drop in to your body right now. Notice any tension perhaps in your stomach, shoulders, jaw or eyes. Notice how that tension is a way of resisting the full experience of you in this present moment beyond time and space.

Ask yourself – what is that about? Why might I be resisting. Is there fear, anger, sadness? What might that be about? What’s keeping me from surrendering to the ever changing flux of the present?

Tune into your breath. What is the quality of your breath? Are you restricting your breath?

Invite in more and more sensation and feeling with the intention of tolerating greater levels of intensity. Allow yourself to experience greater degree of aliveness as you push the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Enjoy surfing between the two worlds, physical and non-physical, enticing yourself to experience more and more sensation for a little longer.

What did you learn from that? Get out your journal and write down your impressions right away.

 

Feelin’ Goooooood

What does it say about modern society that so many people need medication(s) just to function on a daily basis? What has changed in the last 100 years that makes it so we can’t cope?

As therapists, we are taught that we are to defer to the medical profession when treating mental-emotional disorders. Doctor knows best. What do doctors really have to offer us besides medications?

I love that scene in Sisters, a movie with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, in which they are trying to get their party started with a bunch of 40 somethings who have forgotten how to party. To loosen everyone up, Tina’s character calls in a drug dealer, Pazuzu, played skillfully by John Cena. She asks him what he’s got in his medical bag, and it takes him 5 minutes to run down all the drugs he has to offer, 90% of which are NOT illegal. Here’s a clip.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XAKjc2gIfo&t=10s

This medicated mindset comes from well meaning, smart, educated people all working really hard to try to make us feel good! There is a thick, all-inclusive, self help manual by well renowned doctor and teacher, David Burns, MD with that exact title – Feeling Good. In case you are interested, there’s even one for couples called Feeling Good Together!

The Buddha also wanted to end suffering, and that is the goal of Buddhist practice, but the approach is basically the opposite. The cause of suffering is attachment to wanting to feel good. The more you cling to the need to feel good, the more distraught and disappointed you become.

While meditating you learn that your suffering or dissatisfaction is directly related to attitudes that arise within your own heart and mind. You become aware of the fleeting nature of your thoughts and emotions, and you basically give up your restless seeking for something better and thus bring dissatisfaction to an end. No thing is ever going to make you happy. And on top of that, happiness is actually right under your nose. According to a certain parable, underneath the floor of the poor man’s house lies a great treasure.

This wisdom develops over a lifetime, and in the details of the difficulties of everyday life and social interactions, which become increasingly more interesting as we become conscious of our limiting and downright crazy thoughts.

Think about it ~jealousy, greed, hatred, fear, desire ~ What are these things anyway?

 

So What is the Energy Body Anyway?

We’ve all heard the term “energy body,” and maybe we’ve had experiences of the energy body, but how would you go about trying to explain what it actually means to you? You’ve probably seen the diagram of the outline of the physical body with the circumscribing lines encircling the physical body. These are called Koshas, and thereIMG_0825 are many names for those layers – etheric body, auric body, causal body, prana body, bliss body. For simplicity sake, I’m going to lump them all together today.

I come from years of training and experience in Yoga Nidra. In Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, you are guided into Turiya, which is the 4th state of mind beyond waking, dreaming and sleeping where you experience the transcendental states of the ancient mystics. This is my most direct experience of the energy body.

Yoga Nidra practice combines conscious action (stretching, breathing, and chanting) with conscious receptivity (sensing, feeling, and detached attention) producing a paradoxical state of integration which effectively activates the energy body. If you simply let your mind merge into the flood of energy pulsating in the body, you can connect your individual consciousness with the unified field and experience the blissful illuminated essence of your being.

Being able to access the energy body is very important to your health and vitality. You can think of the energy body as a non-physical dynamic field that distributes prana or life force to and also releases excess energy from the physical body. This fullsizeoutput_2cinvisible body is a living energy made up of invisible subtle matter which functions as a medium to energize, clear and revitalize body, mind and spirit. “The energy is like water which should be moving to keep it fresh. Otherwise you create a stagnant swamp,” says yoga teacher, Marlene Smits.

If you close your eyes for a moment and become still, you can get a sense of this alive energy moving through you. The energy can take certain pathways like the meridians or chakras, but it is up to you to develop your own sense of how the energy moves in your body. Use your detached attention to sense and feel into the alive space that is your energy body. With practice you can build on pleasurable sensations in the body and pulsations of breath and blood flow. Pleasure is key. The more you can allow the intense sensations to build, the healthier and more vital your energy body can become and the closer you come to awakening the bliss body.

For more direct experience, please join me for Yoga Nidra for Relaxation Sunday, March 11 at 10:30 – 11:30 am at April’s Yoga and Pilates in Pacifica, CA.

I Am Already There

My intention these days is to carry a sense of presence with me throughout my daily activities. I have gotten to the stage where the time I spend meditating is very enjoyable and rewarding. I enjoy turning my attention inward and can feel a deep sense of restful awareness when I do. However, as soon as I start to “do” something, the busy mind takes over, and, instantly, I am in a race against time and in resistance to reality.

Here is a funny story I read on the toilet this morning from The Teachings of Sri IMG_0380Ramana Maharshi, edited by David Godman that might elucidate the conundrum.

The seeker questions the guru about the difficulty of maintaining one’s peace of mind when you have to work and tend to the needs of one’s family. “Everyday life is not compatible with such efforts,” he laments.

The guru replies: “Why do you think you are active? Take the gross example of your arrival here. You left home in a cart, took a train, alighted at the railway station here, got into a cart there and found yourself in this ashram. When asked, you say that you traveled here all the way from your town. Is it true? Is it not a fact that you remained as you were, and there were movements of conveyances all along the way? Just as those movements are confounded with your own, so also are the other activities. They are not your own, they are God’s activities.”

In other words, if we are inwardly quiet, not forgetting the Self connected to the All, we can be present during all of our movements and activities. There is no doing. There is nothing to accomplish. There is no getting anywhere.

I tried this today as I was getting ready to teach my class. I kept reminding myself. “I am not doing anything.” Then when I was driving there, I told myself, “I am not going anywhere. I am already here.” That was very different from my usual modus operandi. Usually I am filled with anticipation, hustling and bustling to go sit with presence once I get there.

What a shock! I am already there.

Grant Me Serenity

It is common knowledge that a major key to moving forward is acceptance of what is. Wishin’, and hopin’ and prayin’ make a really good song, but don’t always help move the energy.

Acceptance, however, can be a difficult place to access. Others can see and might even tell us that’s what we need to do. Often resentment and resistance persist.

Let’s back up a bit. Remember the Serenity Prayer? It doesn’t ask for acceptance. It fullsizeoutput_40asks for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. In other words, serenity is a precursor to acceptance.

Perhaps, if you so desire, take a moment right now to invite serenity into your
awareness. Take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. Another deep breath in, and let go.

Quiet the mind.

Quiet the heart.

Be present.

Blessed be. ❤

A Certain Sense of We-ness

Funny that now that I am in my 60s, I finally realize that I have been asking the wrong question. Maybe it is the gift of maturity that I finally get it, but the standard beliefs and tenets of modern psychology and Buddhist inquiry conspire against us.

Having studied psychology for 30+ years now, I have been on the path of self-discovery and personal growth. I have been intently interested in the Self with a capital S, and what makes it tick, what makes it suffer, what makes it happy, etc. Coupled with that I have also been interested in exploring all the various aspects of IMG_5176Buddhism. One of the basic practices of Buddhism is self-inquiry, and the big question is “Who am I?” The difference between the two is that modern psychology has the arrogance to think that it can actually answer that question with all the various and sundry theories, research projects and clinical practices. At least with Buddhist inquiry, the more you ask the more you understand that you will never fully grasp the Self, and there is great relief in letting go of the seeking. Once you let go, there is a wonderful surprise waiting for us called awareness. Resting in awareness, identification with a specific self dissolves and witness consciousness emerges. There is still a certain sense of you-ness (perhaps called Oneness), but it is inextricably connected to the All.

I was content with that realization until I read the last paragraph of Buddha’s Nature: A Practical Guide to Discovering Your Place in the Cosmos by Wes Nisker.

Instead of asking “Who am I?” The question could become “Who are we?” Our inquiry then becomes a community koan, a joint millennial project, and we all immediately become great saints – called Bodhisattvas in Buddhism – helping each other evolve.

We all suffer. It doesn’t really matter that my suffering may take a form different than your suffering. I may have money problems while you have family problems and someone else has career problems. The basic fact is that we all know suffering as we can learn here from the telling parable about the mustard seed.

Kisa Gotami had an only son, and he died. In her grief she carried the dead child to all her neighbors, asking them for medicine, and the people said: “She has lost her senses. The boy is dead.” At length Kisa Gotami met a man who sent her to meet Buddha.

“Buddha, give me the medicine that will cure my boy.” The Buddha answered: “I want a handful of mustard-seed.” And when the girl in her joy promised to procure it, the Buddha added: “The mustard-seed must be taken from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent, or friend.” Poor Kisa Gotami now went from house to house, and found that there was no house where some beloved had not died.

Kisa Gotami sat down at the wayside, and thought to herself: “How selfish am I in my grief! Death is common to all; yet in this valley of desolation there is a path that leads one to immortality who has surrendered all selfishness.”

Putting away the selfishness of her affection for her child, Kisa Gotami had the dead body buried in the forest. Returning to the Buddha, she took refuge in him and found comfort in the Dharma, which is a balm that will soothe all the pains of our troubled hearts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/btg/btg85.htm

So I say to myself “How selfish I have been in thinking that my suffering is special.” Now I’d like to turn toward the collective by asking “Who are we?”

YOGA NIDRA for Relaxation

Yoga Nidra explores and lengthens the alpha state, a thin space between sleep and wakefulness, a brain wave length often sought after for higher quality rest.  Yoga Nidra rebalances the nervous system, so you arise with a clean slate, starting from a refreshed, rebalanced state.                                               ~Gina Sager, MD

If you are looking for a practice that can access deep peace and connect you with your eternal nature as pure consciousness, consider Yoga Nidra.

In the current political and global climate, many of us are feeling anxious and uncertain.  It is no wonder since we are constantly being bombarded with stimuli that pull us outside of ourselves. The tendency is to want to turn away from what we are experiencing inside, and we end up feeling separate and powerless.

FullSizeRender-11The beauty of a practice like Yoga Nidra is that it gently and efficiently invites you to turn toward your own experience. It dissolves the boundaries, tension and defensiveness between inside and outside, so that you can realign with your feelings, and body sensations. In doing so, you can surrender to an identification with the eternal, infinite nature of pure consciousness that we are.

When I was first introduced to Yoga Nidra, I had already studied many relaxation techniques that were perfectly good, but I would soon find the tensions and contractions creeping back into the body. With Yoga Nidra and its deep exploration of the body as it is really experienced, I went to a place between waking and sleep where my body-mind could really hit the reset button.

Yoga Nidra activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It is a systematic multi-staged series of ancient relaxation techniques that invites the body to drop into the most profound level of stillness and silence. You enter a dimension of trust and faith where it is possible to completely release all tensions from the body and anxieties from the mind.

This simple, easeful practice is a doorway to a state of effortless ease where we can awaken to our essential nature of pure awareness. Our bodies respond to the progressive guidance with the deep knowing that it is okay to relax and simply be.

YOGA NIDRA for Relaxation is coming to April’s Yoga and Pilates click here in Pacifica every Sunday 10:30 – 11:30 am starting July 16th.  Please join me with my XL heart chakra crystal singing bowl to experience this deeply relaxing and rejuvenating ancient practice.

An Experiment with Being Present

Of course I want to be more conscious and more present. Who doesn’t? Being able to sustain longer periods of presence is an on-going goal of mine. Yet I spend most of my time lost in my thoughts. For simplicity sake, let’s say there are 3 major energy centers where your attention can land – your head, your heart space and your pelvis. In general, your head includes thoughts and also spiritual connection to source. Your heart space can be about connection, expansion and sense of self. The pelvis includes the whole pelvic bowl and is about creativity and power. It is interesting to consider what percentage of time you spend in each of these energy centers during an average day.

img_2810I decided to do an experiment. I set an intention to spend the whole day being present with what is in this moment. I not only wanted to be present with “this,” but attempt to take it one step further to be One with it.

I started the day sitting at the computer and became aware of a nagging pain in my sacroiliac joint. This is not new. Usually I try to ignore it and hope it will go away. Today I gently nudged right into it and heard something make a slight popping sound. I didn’t think much of it until I stood up and realized it had adjusted itself.

Okay. Good start.

Then I was in line at the gas station and saw a young man drive by in a truck. I thought about my adult son who is having some troubles and, long story short, lost his truck. I was immediately triggered and started to feel really sad as my mind sunk into that whole story. There is a bottomless pit of heartache around that, and, for a moment, I was concerned that going there and being One with that would swallow me up for the whole day. I stayed with it though and road the wave of emotion and sensation. I included my pelvis for grounding, and it was truly intense. I won’t sugarcoat it.

Okay. Not good.

I was beginning to understand why it is tempting to simply ignore this present moment. It’s intense! I had a momentary distraction doing some shopping and was starving by the time I got home. I gobbled down my salad so fast I got food stuck in my throat.

Okay. Not mindful.

I slowed down, but what was that about? I became present and got in touch with the little kid inside that was starving and wanted food now. That greedy, hungry, little animal that wants what she wants and wants it now! Do I really

fullsizeoutput_5dwant to be One with that part of myself now? Do I have a choice? Not today. So I sat down to meditate and let that part express herself fully. She goes something like this, “I want, I want, I
want. I need, I need, I need, etc…” After a while I remembered a compassion exercise in which you enlist your witness consciousness self to say “I’m sorry that you have unfulfilled wants, needs and desires.” And you keep going with specifics about your feelings at the time until you have exhausted all possible avenues. That felt deeply satisfying, and then, when I opened my eyes, this beautiful, compassionate lady (Kuan Yin) was looking straight at me from the mantel.

Okay. Not perfect, but it’s a start.

Yoga Teacher Goes Crazy

I started teaching a yoga class called Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a deeply relaxing guided meditation. It’s similar to Corpse Pose or Shavasana that you may be familiar with at the end of many yoga classes. Yoga Nidra means “yogic sleep” and takes you to the place between waking and sleep where you can experience such profound stillness and silence that you can awaken to your essential nature as pure awareness.

I consider it a privilege to have the honor to be a guide for people in this way. The only problem is that I find myself having reactions to people’s reactions. People love to IMG_1004give you feedback which is their prerogative, but what they might not realize is that just because they like it a certain way that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is going to like it that way. One person likes this; the other likes that. I was starting to go crazy managing all the needs and responses of my students when I decided I needed to take my own advice and use my reactions to dive deeper into my own defensiveness and resistance.

Yoga by its very nature is a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, you are there to reach that blissful state of union with the All, and, on the other, there are forces conspiring against your ability to get there. It could be an external distraction like traffic noise that just gets stuck in your craw. Or (more likely) it could be an internal disturbance like “I can’t do this yoga pose perfectly, so the teacher shouldn’t ask me to do it. I’m going to talk with her after class about the scientific research that shows IMG_0688that pose is bad for your body.” It is these internal conflicts that disguise themselves so well that we don’t recognize that they coming from our own conflicts between our ego minds and reality.

Yoga teachers, myself included, make sure to provide the precaution to “Listen to your body,” and give you adaptive poses for the more difficult ones. But still our comparing minds persist and insist.

So why was I getting so upset by the feedback?

Then I remembered a phrase that my yoga teacher, Yogi Amrit Desai, often uses. “Let go of the need to do it perfectly.” Ah ha! I was putting pressure on myself to do it perfectly not only so that everyone had a great experience, but also so I wouldn’t get in trouble for not doing it perfectly. This deep belief goes back to childhood when we would get punished or lose love and attention if we spilled our milk or pooped our pants. Many of us learned that it is essential to try to control our impulses to avoid the shame and embarrassment, and, when that failed, try to control the environment. A lot of us also learned that adults often blame outside circumstances for their mistakes, and we adopted that approach by default.

So where do I go from here? What if I could let go of the shame and blame just long enough to be with the impossible imperfection of the All?