Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Stewards of Consciousness"

This weekend me and a few friends took some time to go camping in southern Utah, in the vast rocky expanses of desert surrounding Goblin Valley. The following are some of the thoughts that came to me while we camped at the foot of a truly majestic rock formation, in a place that, in all likelihood, offered the same protection from the sun for ancient peoples like the Anasazi or Pueblo Indians.

We were exploring the San Rafael Swell, and drinking in the sun. I just recently rigged myself out with all kinds of new (to me) camping gear. This was my first actual camping trip of the year (not counting the overnighter just a few miles from my house; it was just to to get my pack organized). As we wandered and pondered the ages of all the rocks and trees, it was hard not to let my thoughts drift back, once again, to the 'cave' people who once occupied these stomping grounds. The Anasazi creation narrative, as I have heard it, is that they emerged from the Earth, they climbed to the surface from within the womb of mother Earth. In their temples, called 'Kivas', which resemble longhouses sunken in the earth, they practiced rituals which symbolically represent their creation, and when they were done, they would emerge through a hole in the roof, with a ladder leading out onto the surface of the earth, as a symbol of their 'birth' into what they called the Fourth World (the belly of the earth being the Third World). Then, suddenly they disappeared. They left their dwellings high in the cliff walls riddled with the tools of everyday life, and vanished without a trace. Even today, we don't really know what happened to them. Some hold that they re-entered the Earth because of the threat of invading European cultures. Some even say that they will emerge again someday, and reclaim their land that was lost to them over 600 years ago.... I wonder what ancient traditions they will bring back with them, or will they have to re-learn how to survive in the sun?

Also scattered throughout the swell, are remnants of petrified forests, which were ancient even in the time of the Anasazi, who used the hardy material for making tools and weapons much like the flint, chert and obsidian blades of other ancient natives. I had read a little tutorial on how to find geodes, and as we wandered through the winding canyon, I kept an eye out for cauliflower-texture, clam-shaped rocks to test my luck. Finally, I spotted one, and sure enough it had a small pocket of crystals! A dark, caked mud inside the cavity tumbled around as the smell of petroleum wafted out of the little pocket. I guess you could say I 'struck oil' as well.

I began to notice the remnants of an even more ancient population of this area: Dinosaurs. I tried to imagine what life on earth must have been like at that time, but the task was largely beyond my imagination. However, I was humbled by the vast body of time in which life on Earth has been in flux. Sediment, filled with little pebbles which had perhaps once been boulders, long since eroded down to their 'pits', and eventually washed into this natural mortar, forming new layers of earth, only to be broken into more boulders which even now are in the process of being washed down those ancient slot canyons, chipping away at the floors and walls, and continuing a process which has been ongoing since time out of mind. I imagined the scale on which grazing and defecating took place when behemoth herbivores roamed the area, before it became desolate desert, before the Earth began a new phase of life on her surface.

That night, as the mice scurried in the shadows of the campfire, hoping to snag a scrap or crumb from our outdoor, covered kitchen, I mused at the idea that these little mammals have been around for a long, long time. In fact, evolutionists say that it was the scurrying, digging mammals which survived the catastrophic weather which wiped the dinosaurs out of existence. The new landscape left by the asteroids required adaptation. New diets, new survival tactics. Some say that these little rodents gave rise to humanity itself. So perhaps the Anasazi really did emerge from the Earth afterall? Whether you believe in evolution, or divine creation, the fact remains; there would be no human consciousness if not for the nurturing aid of Mother Earth. Humanity would like to take credit for their ability to cultivate the Earth, and thereby sustain itself. But the fact of the matter is, that Earth is actually cultivating humanity.

Whether you believe in God or the Big Bang, here we are. Humanity is the pinnacle of creation on this planet. We are what I have come to call "Stewards of Consciousness". We have been blessed with intelligence, and it is our duty to protect and to cultivate it. We are responsible, both collectively and individually, for building a body of knowledge, exploring the realm of experience, engaging in dialogue about the issues that press humanity, and above all, to pass this process on to a new generation.

This process of "cultivating consciousness"—this shared responsibility between humans and our planet—has been ongoing for millennia, even millions of years. But the modern man shares nearly nothing in common with his ancestors. Our language is restricted for the most part to speaking in terms of generations; we are lucky if our grandparents are a part of our lives, and luckier still if we happen to garner some insight into what life was like for them as children or youngsters. But we have hardly any concept of what life was like for our parents, let alone before the industrial revolution—at least for the individual. Have we ignored the planet, the seasons, the processes that once had to be studied closely and mindfully to ensure the continuation of our species? Is it still a necessity, or have we grown independent of our parents; Mother Earth and Father Sky?

I think not. I think we have been duped. Somewhere along the lines, we stopped listening to the Earth. We began to spend our time checking our egos against those around us, We began to steer our societies in new directions, and we forgot that the Earth is the mother of our species. We forgot that our neighbors are our brothers. We began to fight over the gifts our parents gave us. Now we live our lives by the clock, not by the sun and moon. Somewhere, someone is racing a man-made clock to work, so they "clock in", and spend their entire day building clocks so that the rest of us can do more or less exactly the same thing. We are so hurried and flustered that we cannot take time to be conscious of ourselves, let alone to be conscious of the world around us. We are in a state of sensory overload, perhaps even by design.... And we are failing our roles as Stewards of Consciousness.

To be conscious is to know that we are sovereign souls. We are more than capable of finding harmony with every single person we come in contact with, given enough time. It is possible, but we are told that we have a duty to go and kill and take from our neighbors in order to survive. Natural resources are being harvested in unnatural ways. Fighting over oil like so much agar, and preying on our own like a cancer...

It seems we have lost touch with our own nature. After all the preparation that the cosmos, Earth and humankind has undergone to bring us to this present moment, here we are squandering our greatest asset—our intelligence—in a mindless pursuit of convenience over consciousness. It seems we wont be content until there is a McDonald's under every Bodhi tree.... So how do we get it right? How do we get back on track? I don't claim to have a master plan, but I know it starts with the individual learning to recognize their own nature. Before thorough self-exploration can take place, fear must be overcome. Fear is what drives us to fight, or flee. Love is what perpetuates evolution and harmony.

There is a Frequency of Fear humming just over our heads. It comes in to form of mass media, pop culture, politicking... Even the habitual self-doubt that reverberates in our heads. It is a low-frequency signal that repeats the same thing over and over: "Us vs. Them...". This low frequency level of consciousness is all we ever know if we never allow ourselves to be drawn inward, and to learn about our completely unique "crystal set"—we are our own, mobile/bi-pedal transceiver tower. We can send out love, and we can tune into love. But only after we have taken some time to learn how to attenuate to a higher conscious.

Above the baseline bandwidth of Fear, there is another frequency, much higher over our heads. it is the bandwidth of Love. Do you know anyone with a HAM radio? Surely you've seen or heard of people talking with someone on the other side of the world with their High Amplitude Modulation radios? But, if you're like me, you haven't taken the time to learn the language and function of such a system. Perhaps you've messed around with a CB "Citizens Band" radio, and talked and listened to a few crude and rude truckers, a few happy campers, probably a good amount of just plain static. But the beauty of these systems are that they are a two-way communication device. A transceiver. The exchange of information and experience is possible with these tools. The same cannot be said of your car stereo, and guess what? For the most part, those only attenuate to the low frequency, fear-based signals that tend to put the soul in the fetal position.

As responsible stewards of consciousness, we rise to the challenge of finding what we can do to help the process of spreading a message of peace, love and learning. Once we have turned on our higher conscious, and tuned in to the love frequency, we will find that the frequency of fear becomes... less frequent. Eventually, we don't even get the static or interference. Part of becoming a beacon of consciousness, is taking inventory of our repository of messages received, and messages to be transmitted. The best way to not send out a low-frequency signal is to rid ourselves of those messages all together. We may not be able to control every single message or bit of static we receive, but we can certainly decide what we will allow to 'repeat' from or proverbial tower. In terms of radio transmission, there is a term called 'Emphasis', and I think that word fits beautifully for the analogy of what we prioritize in our communications. Low-frequency signals tend to travel further than high-frequency signals. So a sort of 'signal booster' is required to send out messages of love over messages of fear.

These thoughts of mine, my own experiences, are observed through a glass darkly, and therefore I can only say that though it may be there, deep within, I don't see perfection in myself, but the promise of transcendence is there in my being, though perhaps I do not now have all the necessary tools or knowledge at this time. I don't wish to hold humankind up to standard of perfection which is ultimately disheartening (after all, that measure of perfection is a low-frequency message that I spent far too long attenuated to, and I don't believe that perfection is a necessity for one to experience and share transcendent love), but I do wish that we all could see ourselves more clearly, and appreciate that our struggles do not mean we are not divine creatures. Each human being holds within them a gift from the universe. A seed of consciousness which will grow exponentially if cultivated mindfully.

This post is a lateral expansion on my previous post, and I feel that I am rephrasing some of those concepts without necessarily drawing out the parallels, but my post is running long. I wish to leave you with a blessing that you will find time to explore your consciousness, and that the practice will take over and replace any habit of letting some other signal—stray or focused— repeat on your transceiver without your mindful consent. Once we are able to dwell in mindfulness, we will find that we get to do all of our own thinking for ourselves. At that point, what we share with our peers, and what we pass on to the next generation becomes wholly our responsibility. It's a tall order, but we are capable. Be mindful of what frequency you get your information from, be mindful of the messages you emphasize.

"I bow to the divine that is in you, and also in me."

Thanks for reading.
Evan

Friday, May 16, 2014

Between Heaven and Hell: "Thou Art That"

Over the past year or so, I have been pondering certain aspects of my own life, and trying to match my own patterns to that of humanity at large, often with limited success. I guess I have been doing this all my life. I sort of adopted the moniker of "caveman" for myself about a decade or so ago, because I have this inkling of being a Neanderthal trapped in a Homo Sapiens body. It may have something to do with my lack of socialization early in life, which resulted in feeling like such an outsider when I finally became autonomous in this wild and crazy world.

It seems I have come more or less full circle. I have found that I actually seem to attenuate to certain types of primitive communication, body language mostly, in order to understand people when their words elude me. I have always been a proponent of the adage that actions speak louder than words. As it turns out, humans are just as impulsive, or instinctive in their body language as birds, dogs or the primordial man. We have, ingrained in our genes, certain programming which trumps whatever we happen to be communicating with words: Grunts, huffs, sniffs. 'Micro-expressions'. If you have ever seen the TV show 'Lie to Me'... well, that's a little more advanced, but you get the idea, right? We are constantly saying something, even when we can manage to shut up for just a moment.

I have found that it's in "reading between the lines"—literally between the words—that I can really pick up on people's emotions. People make little "micro-grunts" to express displeasure. They sniffle when they enter a room, or clear their throat to announce their presence when they fear that they might spook someone, or feel that they owe the courtesy so that other occupants don't feel a false sense of privacy, etc. I see it constantly, I even catch myself doing it. And sometimes, I find myself trying to resist an impulse, and it happens anyway!

 Have you ever been in a room with someone who just seems way too into what they are doing to notice you enter, and you're pretty sure that when they notice you, they are going to either be spooked or embarrassed that they didn't know you were there? Maybe you don't know this person, maybe you just can't think of anything to say... And then your throat legitimately starts itching, or maybe your nose... at any rate, your Sympathetic Nervous System gives you an easy out! You clear your throat, without even looking up. Or you sniffle just enough to ease that little tickle-y tingle that was building up. Sympathetic indeed. ;-)

So far, this has had very little to do with the title of this particular post. No matter, I needed to put those thoughts out there first. But I suppose I can segue into the real topic with an invitation to you, dear reader, to pay attention to that sort of thing, and see if it doesn't change the way you experience personal interaction. I am going to go out on a limb and say that if you keep an eye or an ear out for these or other sorts of behaviors that perhaps you hadn't looked for before, that it will indeed change your paradigm. Not (necessarily) because you'll start feeling like a caveman (you might). But because you will be practicing "Mindfulness".

Mindfulness is simply being present, aware, in the moment. I say "simply" but it can actually be a difficult thing to do sometimes. In fact, it is a very sad thing but I believe that in our culture, in the entire life of an average adult, they will spend less than a day—cumulatively— in a state of actual, upper-case, Mindfulness. Even artists, dancers, musicians and other types that would be considered "in tune" find it difficult to reach the state of mindfulness that really, truly allows for pure, uninhibited personal expression... In time, their bodies get used to the motions and gestures that produce their art: muscle memory. brush strokes, pirouettes, face-melting guitar solos... whatever it may be, once it is committed to habit, the mind becomes free to wander again. and it does. And when it does, it is usually thinking ahead, or recalling the past, or fixating on some aspect of the present while ignoring a whole wealth of others. Muscle memory is what allows chefs to mince herbs without looking, while simultaneously screaming some obscenity at a slow-poke waiter, and kicking a mop bucket all without cutting himself. Now, is he being "mindful"? Sure, he is minding his and everyone else's business, because that's job, and he's darn good at it. But he's not Upper Case Mindful. Okay, okay... I'm ready to introduce the title.

Perhaps you have heard me, or read me, talking about my thoughts on the nature of Hell. If not, this is the place to do so. Right here, right now.

Embarrassingly recently, I had a couple of very different experiences of being in complete hell by my own doing. We can even capitalize that: it was Hell. I didn't have a name for it at the time of the first experience, but the second experience shed quite a lot of light on it all. I first understood it as the duality of Fear Vs. Love, but in the past several months, that understanding has broadened to encompass the (false?) duality of Heaven Vs. Hell.

First off, let me say that I don't mean to disrespect anyone who believes that either or both of these places actually exist on a physical plane. I don't really know if I believe that myself, though I certainly believe that Heaven and Hell are real in the mind of the beholder. But let's talk a little about each of their qualities.

Heaven:
  • Mansions in the sky
  • forgiveness for all shortcomings 
  • Eternal happiness, love
  • Immortality
  • Reunited with God
  • No more of the "cares of this world".

Hell
  • "Burning pit" of eternal suffering
  • 'Weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth...'
  • Cannot progress, or improve one's condition.
  • tormented by one's regrets, shortcomings.
  • Banished from God's presence
  • Chains, enslavement...
Now, I know quite a lot of people who maintain that Heaven is 'where God is' and that hell is just "a state of mind". But, that doesn't make much sense to me. Hell would have to be a place just as much as heaven, right? If only some people get to go "where God is", then it only makes sense that there would be a place for the rest of those who don't get to be where God is (though it doesn't make sense to me that an all-loving God would design a plan by which he banishes his imperfect children, but that's not really relevant here). The point is, either they are both places, or they are both "states of mind".

I believe they are states of mind. And while I don't claim to know for any certainty whether or not the soul continues after death, it seems possible to me. Perhaps the "place" in which all spirits experience heaven or hell is all around us right now; another dimension, which we have yet to discover and prove. "The spiritual realm", perhaps (and perhaps the laws of the universe declare that humanity will never be able to exist in those dimensions, but that's a musing for another post as well).

So, how does this have anything to do with mindfulness?

Well, this is where I just kinda blurt it out and then hope you stick around while I explain it: Heaven and Hell are simply allegories for the two states of mind that we can choose to be in, or that we cannot help but be in, in this life. We experience either heaven or hell when we fail to be Mindful of the here-and-now.

Hell is the state of mind wherein we fixate on some aspect of the past, and wish and plead and cry and beg in vain that we might change it. Hell is knowing exactly where we messed up in such a way to cause ourselves to be in misery. For instance, how about a kid who didn't take high school seriously, and consequently gets stuck working his whole life in a po'dunk town grocery store as a result. For him, hell is knowing that he could have been a straight A student, and gotten a full ride scholarship to NYU if he hadn't decided that the pursuit of underage drinking and partying took priority over homework. Not a day goes by, not a pallet goes unloaded, that he doesn't feel the weight of his pride, his short-sightedness, in squandering his opportunity.
Or how about the military veteran who struggles with depression, or PTSD, or suicidal thoughts after witnessing the horror of war and killing. His hell is remembering his former self, how he could make his girlfriend laugh, back when he could think of funny things at all. Hell is real enough for him, because he knows it will never be the same, and there's nothing he can do about it. Just like those cruel words you can never take back, or that stock purchase you didn't make... Hell is a state of mind, of dwelling in the past.

If Hell is a preoccupation with the past, then Heaven represents the future, a goal to be attained. A place of peace and relief after a whole life time of blood sweat and tears, where finally we get to experience pure joy and happiness without the cares of this world. Or maybe our "heaven" is just tomorrow, or next week, or upcoming summer vacation... Heaven is ALWAYS in the future, isn't it? Heaven is our "happy place" that gets us through the hard times, because it will be SO worth it. But, to quote a song, "How 'bout them transparent, dangling carrots? How about that ever elusive 'Kudo'?"

Sometimes we need something to keep us going even when we aren't really sure what exactly the nature of our reward even is. Perhaps it's the promise that it is real and attainable that drives us to pursue it. But then again, maybe we are just future-tripping; idealizing the future as a means of escaping the present and all it's cares and woes and myseries that must simply be "endured" to the end.

Heaven is only there the save us from an misunderstood perspective on life. If "men are that they might have joy", then why do we take a raincheck on being with the people we love, doing what we love, experiencing the beauty of the miracle of life? It might be just pure and simple human nature: "yeah, it'll be incredible! I'll get around to it, but not today, I have other stuff to do..." I dunno, it seems like we prefer life on earth.  Perhaps it's something that our brains have contrived to appease that drive and desire for certainty. Our brains don't get a break from the moment we're born to the day we die. It doesn't seem outlandish to me that our brains would be predisposed to come up with some BIG reason to keep it waking up day after day, making that commute, punching that timecard, eat, sleep, repeat, ad nauseam. I think it's the culture and society we live in... was there a such thing as "eternity" when there were no clocks? Heaven might be a place, but it might be humanities first group-think modality. A carrot on a stick to keep humanity motivated to put up with all the little busy work that comes with civilization. It just seems to indicate that we are not happy with the reality that humanity has carved out of this world. We haven't taken the time to really be mindful of all the beauty that life has in the here and now. We were never given such an opportunity, so we don't know any different. We spend our whole lives just trying to manage to stay afloat by working our fingers to the bone, and trying to provide for our children... We have bought into an ideology that says that the work is more important that the individual, and that happiness must be sacrificed in order to keep food on the table, and a roof over head. In other words, heaven is for those who don't have time for love, joy, happiness, unity, peace, contentment etc in this life. Sure, we can have those things from time to time, but not during working hours, or the school year, or when the game is on... See what I mean?

Thank you for reading thus far. We're only half-way through with the title. What about the rest?

"Tat Tvam Asi" -- "Thou Art That". It comes from The Upanishads, which comprise some of the Hindu scriptures. The Upanishads are teachings given from either Gods or mentors to mortals about the nature of the universe and of the human experience. Thou Art That, is essentially another way of saying "all is one", or that the "supreme reality" is everything, and everything is the Supreme Reality. It is only through delusion, cultivation of ego, that we come to perceive ourselves as separate from the Supreme Reality, and it is only through accepting the divinity in ourselves that we are able to meld with the supreme reality. When we give up our delusions, we attain nirvana.

What are our delusions? Yesterday and tomorrow. These two are also a part of the one supreme reality, therefore it is delusional to regard over the other, or either over the present moment. Because the present moment is also the supreme reality. Perhaps the present moment is the ONLY reality. How do we experience the present? Mindfulness.

I could tie this in with my understanding of what Christ was trying to teach, and how it is not so different from what the Buddha was trying to teach, or Krishna, or any other transcendent being who tried to teach the art of mindfulness... Christ wanted us to be mindful of each other, and to "consider the lilies", or the birds, or any other of God's creation which doesn't need to fret or stress about the future. The Buddha taught to be mindful that all is impermanent, that nothing lasts. That it is only in accepting this that we are freed of the anguish of hell or the anxiety of heaven...these are illusions as well. It is only through Mindfulness that we learn to exist in that space between Heaven and Hell. There, in balance.... Thou art THAT.

I hope that you got something out of all this. If I can express one more hope for my reader, I hope you catch yourself doing some amusing caveman behavior, and that you remember that cavemen didn't have to worry about 2 o'clock appointments, or mortgages, or fantasy football brackets, and that is exactly what allowed them to be completely present, in the moment, and constantly aware. Drink your food, and chew your water, and never let anyone take another moment of your time, that you don't give willingly. Because time is an illusion anyway. There is an eternity in every single moment. Share eye contact with someone you love, and don't spoil it with spoken language. "how about remembering your divinity? How about  you enjoying a moment for once?"