Archive for November 12, 2012
Scientists understandably don’t have much patience for the notion of extrasensory perception. Yet evidence persists in the psychological literature that people’s bodies sometimes unconsciously “predict” unpredictable future events. These visceral responses don’t appear to be the result of sheer chance. That’s the result of a meta-analysis of earlier papers on this subject conducted by a trio of researchers led by Julia Mossbridge of Northwestern University.
They started with 49 articles but, in bending over backwards to take the most conservative possible approach, tossed out 23 that, for various reasons, didn’t meet their standards. The effect remained. By “effect,” I’m not talking about people having the ability to read palms or tea leaves. What the studies measured was physiological activity—e.g., heart rate or skin conductance—in participants who, for instance, might have been shown a series of images, some harmless and others frightening. Using computer programs and statistical techniques, experimenters have found that, even before being shown a troubling image, participants sometimes display physiological changes —a faster heart rate, for example—of the kind that would be expected only after seeing the image, and not just because the subjects know a scary snake picture is coming sooner or later.
Nobody has been able to explain this phenomenon, although some scientists believe it’s the result of researchers somehow tipping off their subjects. In quality studies, however, images have been randomized and even the experimenters don’t know what’s coming—unless the same physiological prediction mechanism is at work in them. The remarkably significant and homogenous results of this meta-analysis suggest that the unexplained anticipatory effect is relatively consistent, even if small in size. The cause of this anticipatory activity, which undoubtedly lies within the realm of natural physical processes as opposed to supernatural or paranormal ones, remains to be determined.
Unfortunately, people aren’t very good at hearing what their bodies may be telling them, even when getting the message could mean averting disaster—which has led Mossbridge to wonder if there might be value in a feedback device of some kind, perhaps in the form of a Smartphone app attuned to your body’s alerts.
There is one word that is not well known – but needs to be. The word is "seva," which in Sanskrit means "service." I’ve learned that service is not just any kind of service, but rather selfless service performed with a sense of gratitude. It is service infused with kindness and respect for the ones served, and it arises from a place of peace and love. If we do our work and carry out relationships in accordance with service, the world would change profoundly. Service is not about taking a few hours out of our busy week to help others. It’s not something to be turned on and off, as if kindness, compassion, and gratitude are qualities to be doled out in limited amounts.
Service is about designing our lives in such a way that we consistently serve others selflessly. Every action, every interaction should be service. This includes our work lives. Professionals of every stripe – lawyers, doctors, dentists, and others – often assume a distant or even superior attitude toward their clients or patients. They fail to connect with the other person’s humanity. For caregivers to take such an attitude is especially sad because for such professions, the rewards of service are great.
If a doctor, for example, greets a patient with an attitude of compassionate service, with actions and words that essentially say, "I am thankful to you for finding me worthy of service to you, and for providing the means of my livelihood," then the doctor will likely find that the patient already feels better before anything else is done or said. Service is not selective. It does not evaluate our fellow beings and select some for care and respect while ignoring others. It treats all humans with compassion and tenderness. Taking up an attitude of service with gratitude provides us with many rewards in all four dimensions of our lives: physiological, mental, social, and spiritual.
In regard to our physical health, service is a form of positivity, which has been linked to a number of physiological benefits. These include a decrease in stress hormones, lowered blood pressure, and improved immune system functioning. Practicing selfless service with gratitude also increases our levels of the feel-good hormones prolactin and dehydroepiandrosterone.
Socially, when we let service guide our interactions with others, we create open spaces where people feel acknowledged, respected, and cared for, as their barriers come down. To practice service is to recognize the natural bond between ourselves and others. Kindness and compassion take us out of our selfish egos and expand us, making us larger. We strengthen our relationships and friendships, while creating new ones. Socially, everyone benefits from service.
Mentally and spiritually, service promotes powerful happiness-creating emotions – kindness, caring, and gratitude. This not only brings profound karmic benefits, it infuses our lives with meaning and value, lifting us up spiritually along with those we serve. By profoundly affecting all four of our dimensions, service builds health, peace, harmony, and joy in our lives.
My friends, I urge you to undertake all of your activities, personal and professional, in the spirit of service. To do so is to live by your heart. Without striving, without effort, you will be the recipient of many priceless rewards.
Act, React, but Never Try. This really makes no sense to us. We have always been taught to try hard, to keep trying and never give up. In order to succeed, we have to give it our all. Otherwise, we won’t make it in life. We always worked hard in order to be successful and it has paid off. In order to get it, in order for your goal to arrive in your life by itself, you must first let go. In nature, nothing is forced. All things occur and manifest themselves from their own ‘seed potentials’. There is a natural potential in everything, in each of us, which grows of itself. Sometimes we only need to cultivate it for our seed potential to realize itself. There must be no Self behind action; there must be no ‘me,’ no ‘I’ which forces the action for its own sake. This is what we call unconditioned effort, which is very different from a conditioned effort that may have its roots in our past experience, as when our parents instructed us—thinking they were doing the right thing—to push us to get results for the sake of succeeding and what is succeeding? Is it not personal happiness and contentment that we have each come here to find? You do not want to know that you have fulfilled your own potential, like a tiger catching its prey? There is no Self directing the effort of the tiger. It is an action based upon unconditioned effort or non-action, which is the natural seed potential of the tiger. It is No Mind.
We all have natural abilities and talents. We need only to not try for these inner potentialities to manifest themselves, just as a seed needs no effort or force to grow into a tree, since the tree, potentially, is in the seed. Therefore, each of us has our own tree in our birth-seed. And with natural, unconditioned effort, we allow it to spring forth and grow. Sometimes it is difficult to see the tree in the seed.
This reminds of to just be in the moment and not think about the goal or the result. Don’t block the effort by trying too hard and overcompensating. When we try too hard, even to find God, all we find is Scripture and not the experience and that’s like looking into the cloudy water, isn’t it? I once heard a priest give a sermon that emphasized letting go in order to experience God directly. It really resonated with me.
We find the cloudy water and lose sight of the bottom of the pond. These ancient paradoxes come from truths that have been with humanity for thousands of years, since we first discovered what the ancient masters called the self-nature, or what you might call spiritual awareness. We all share the same seed potential of enlightenment, it is in our genes. We all seek the something more. These paradoxes guide us in developing our full potential. You learning application of this basic idea of not trying will allow your full seed potential to sprout and grow. Know your potential, and let it manifest of its own accord without thinking what you should do or how you should have performed, or thinking what everyone else says you should do. So what we really needed to do is eliminate all the shoulds and expectations that we and others forced upon us. Maybe all those times we wasted being sick or stressed out could have been avoided.
Pressure itself is not bad, for even as water flows between rocks in a stream, it flows with more force due to the natural pressure created by the rocks. The water reacts naturally to the obstacles in its path. The stream does not need a pump to push the water downstream, and all the water will eventually end up in the same place. Recognize that your actions and reactions to the world around you create a natural flow and force. When encountering the rocks in your stream of life, the pressure will increase as it does in the stream, but know that this is natural. Don’t fight it by trying to stop it. Simply move with it until there is calm water, and then you will act with greater efficiency. All you need to do is remove your conditioned artificial idea of having to try to pump the water. The ‘I’ produces the artificial pump to force the water to where it would have gone naturally if left alone, just as a seed will become a tree even when you pay no attention to it. When we perform by just letting go and losing self in the moment, we actually perform better. That’s what the zone and peak performance is all about.
Our minds are trained from birth to be overly analytical. We over-think and over-analyze; we feel we must identify and name everything, categorize, and associate to understand how each thing fits into our world. We never objectively perceive reality as it is. We perceive, act, and react as we have been conditioned through a lifetime of environmental and genetic cues. We block our intuitions, inspirations, creativity. Where’s My Zen (higher perceptions and spiritual awareness). We simply lose our Zen and inevitably suffer the consequences. Convinced that we’ve been taught properly, we assume that any perceived shortcomings are our own personal failures. We think we’re just not trying hard enough, so we try harder. Many of us try so hard we become stressed out. We shut down our creative flow and inhibit our natural abilities. Our vision becomes jaded. Our emotions, dulled. Our bodies, tired. We literally worry ourselves sick. We no longer move through life with the fluency and vibrancy of youth. We lose the play. We lose the “flow” by over-trying, over-thinking, and over- analyzing everything and everyone. We begin to look for a way to once again find our inner contentment and ponder the question, “Where’s my Zen?”
Experiencing your Zen breaks the illusion and limitations of the overly analytical mind, so through No Mind you can experience the mind’s full, limitless potential. It liberates your natural, inherent abilities and talents, without effort. It allows you to become aware of a lifetime of conditioning so you can begin to live and experience unconditional life made possible by knowing where your Zen is. Only then can you see who you really are, fully express yourself, and attain peak performance. You then live in a new spiritual awareness and discover the full potential of your own mind-body dynamic—the breadth of your natural abilities and talents.
Awareness liberated from the constraints of your conditioned self, your ego or I-illusion, is then free to flow into all areas of your life—sports, health, business, relationships, spirituality, and academics—leading to reduced stress, peak performance and deep inner contentment. A liberated awareness is the key to realizing enlightenment. We realize that there can be no literal answer to the question, “Where’s my Zen?” We can only experience it. We are born enlightened, then we lose it. Now, following the path of No Mind, we can experience it again. Master Nomi opens the “gateless gate.”
Zen Attitude is inspired by the cosmos. It is inspired by the natural world developed for the human world. Perfection of humanness is the whole as a part. Potentiality that is inherent in all those of strong will. All those who pursue the Way seeking liberation, seeking release from bondage, seeking one’s own destiny; followers in the Way where all masters have passed. Nothing is hidden in the sacred teachings. There are no special orders, no esoteric doctrine, no mystical powers and no eternal supremacy. There is nothing to cling to, only one’s determination in the realization of truth. Realization of enlightenment is a quite laughable state, nonsense riddles all grasped with all humility of the accomplishment.
There are no sins. Evil is strictly the act of mind. There are no prayers. Ultimate desire and hope are within. There are no graces. One must sanctify oneself. There is no faith other than one’s own determination. There are no prophet’s words. Attachments to ideas hinder the path. There is freedom of faith, yet there remains only doubt. Now there is no doubt and world religions exist simultaneously. The world created a hundred ways. History has many stories. Where in lies the absolute truth? Condemning one condemns another. This is truth and that is false exists only as an independent belief. Absolute truth needs no source. Absolute truth needs no label. Labels manifest prejudices and as such are hindrances. Recognizing truth as truth appears as a mystical inner journey.
A question of faith, a question of belief and when ones “Sees” faith and belief disappear; yet truth is simple found everywhere yet nowhere; like dying of thirst while in a sea of fresh water. Attitude is thought. Attitude is feelings. Attitude is a state of mind. Zen dispels all attitudes. So…Zen attitude is its very absence.
As serendipity would have it, on beach sand seekers often find beguiling treasures. Small, mineral rich rocks in variegated colors and designs wash up on the beach alongside giant conch shells and smooth driftwood. I stuff my pockets with what I can carry, pebbles and small rocks–red, orange, green, even pure crystal–until I am so weighed down I can hardly walk home. But I revel in each find like a child on an Easter egg hunt, plucking up the colorful little gems before the sea reclaims them. It’s as if a Primordial Artist is sculpting away deep under the sea, tossing up imaginative, wholly original creations for the lucky treasure-seekers on shore.
Why are we so drawn to rocks? Perhaps we are wired that way. Carl Jung viewed rocks as one of the primordial symbols of eternity. He said that each of us has inherited this ancient human tendency toward seeing or rather, feeling the sacredness in rocks. Primitive human beings believed that rocks were filled with gods and spirits. This is the where we get the idea of piling rocks on graves or creating tombstones, which were once believed to contain the spirit of the loved one. In the same way, the earliest sculptors sought to "free the spirit" within the stone.
Whitehead, Buddhism, and quantum physics all agree using their own language that rocks are, in their essence, aggregates of vibrant energy rather than inert lumps of matter. As science pushes us forward, far beyond Newtonian physics and Cartesian dualism, it also circles back to something ancient and mysterious and primal. We can now appreciate with fresh eyes the superstitions of the ancients who felt a sense of mystical participation with nature. In this vein, process theologian David Griffin sees post-modernity as a time for the "re-enchantment" of nature.
We can begin the re-enchantment process with something as simple as a rock. The energy of rocks is particularly mysterious and primordial. I love to pick up a small rock from the wet sand and feel its warmth in my hand, even on chilly, sweatshirt days when the clouds hang low and the volcanic sand cools my feet. A rock holds the energy of the sun long after everything around it succumbs to darkness and chill. The warm energy of the rock feels as if it were a living thing. Its life radiates a personality of something strong and trustworthy—and forever present in the world, remaining long after we are gone. The rock is very sure of itself, of its past and its future. And it has reason to be. When we pick up a rock, we are not just holding a lump of minerals: we are holding a piece of eternity in our hands.
This deep symbolism of rocks sustains us, especially during grief. I recently lost a good friend, a bright and shining soul still in his prime. After hearing this news, I walked along the shore, feeling the intrepid tide pulling the sand out from under my feet, feeling as if the world were nothing but shifting sand. But then I turned my attention to the scattered rocks left behind on shore and they seemed to have another message. In the midst of perpetual perishing, there are solid things too, such as eternity and God’s eternal care. A single rock can comfort. I found that day a special rock that seemed somehow to speak, to connect, to symbolize something of the spirit of the friend who passed away. Even now, just looking at that rock reminds me not only of the sturdy, steadying character of my friend–a "rock" in my life, but of his eternal spirit that lives on, both in this world, and in the great mystery beyond. Eternity holds him.
Divinity speaks to us through the humble rock, as it takes on "numinosity," a term popularized by Rudolf Otto as meaning "awe-inspiring" or "holy." The word "numinous" was later adopted by Jung to refer to the unusual, heightened modes of awareness brought about by symbols such as stones. These symbols return us to our most ancient psychic roots. So then, the rock speaks of something more than itself, a symbol of something deep and ancient and eternal.
Rocks are healing in that they connect us to something beyond our struggles and mortality. To remind us of this, we might get into the habit of carrying a favorite pebble in our pocket so that, during the vicissitudes of the day, we can reach for it, feel its solid, cool smoothness between our fingers and remember the Deep Eternal.
We can also find ways to create art with rocks or arrange rocks in our gardens, especially so that we can water them along with our plants. Water seems to "re-spirit" the rock. After one of my rock hunts, when I unload my pockets on the porch to examine my treasures, I realize that the very rocks that looked so dazzling and lively when wet with sea water, now look dull when dry. That’s why beach rocks are so much more beautiful in situ. When we remove them, which of course we do–who can pass up a gleaming blue pebble?–the rocks lose something of their "spirit." So I put the smaller stones in a glass vase filled with water. The rocks smile back at me with their true colors and dramatic deep veins, and I feel their numinosity once again. The "living" rocks connect me to some deep eternal mystery, to the very divinity within all things.
When I ponder the numinosity of rocks, I cannot help but think of God’s eternal constancy in the midst of the ever flowing movement of life. Yes, Heraclitus, all is flux; yet within that flux, we touch solid ground with the presence of divine love and suffering and creativity inside everything and everyone and every flowing moment. This is the solid side of God: the unwavering eternal love–our "Rock of Ages."
In order to not only know, but to feel the Deep Eternal, we need to allow ourselves a little re-enchantment now and then. To become like children, to be awed by the Primordial Artist beneath the sea, who is always there, forever tossing up pieces of eternity for those who seek after deep things.
I was giving a round of Table Topic questions the other day at my weekly Essentials of Critical Care conference and just for a change on the subject of Zen and I could feel how uncomfortable some people were with their spirituality. Admittedly, this round of questions was more like Zen paradoxical questions or nonsensical statements. I tried these questions once in the past, and they met with some resistance from the audience, but I thought I would give it another try. To give you an idea of the type of questions I was posing, here’s an example: “A mystic one day tells you that you are Better Without Yourself. First you think ‘how could this be, better without myself?’ and then you think about this for a moment and say…” This question was answered quite well by one insightful woman, but it generally produced an uncomfortable feeling in most people when they tried to intellectualize and rationalize an explanation…which brings me to the point of this blog.
The key to any spiritual practice is to make you feel comfortable in your own skin; tranquil, unified, and filled with compassion and love. So what’s the problem, then? Why are so many people uncomfortable with their spirituality? We are composed of mind, body, and spirit. We all need to develop our spirit just like we develop our minds and bodies. It doesn’t matter what name you are comfortable with to define spirit—it could be God, consciousness, universe, awareness, the Force. The point is it really doesn’t matter. Most importantly, we realize spirit by experiencing it. The experience makes us healthier, happier, more compassionate, and we perform better. Besides this fact, your spirituality should be something you feel everyday in work and play, not just sitting in meditation or in church. I find especially with novice meditators is that they are very neurotic about their meditation and experiencing their spirituality.
In order to feel comfortable in your own skin, you really just simply need to be present in the moment. I mean really present in the moment, as this is the essential teaching of Zen. Zen eventually makes you feel comfortable in your own skin, and also with our ultimate human fear—death. Remember, Zen is in everything you do, therefore, you can find those Zen moments everywhere. When you apply Zen to sports—as many people do successfully—it would be best described as being completely comfortable with your ability to perform in that moment. The last shot is gone. The next shot has not happened. Where is your mind right now? Focus on the shot that is before you and be comfortable that you will do the best your mind and body can do in that moment. Trust yourself, don’t torture yourself! Have fun with it! Don’t let your ego in and just allow it to happen, your mind and body will take care of the rest, and that is the essence of Zen! Stop second guessing and trust your awareness of that moment.
That is where neurotic mindfulness comes into play. The old dead masters constantly warned of this problem….people looking everywhere else for an answer, when it’s right in front of them—or even better—within them. We allow our minds to over-think and over-analyze everything. Even when we are mindful in meditation we become neurotic, trying to second guess ourselves and asking, “Am I really being mindful?” We asked ourselves, “Is this really the moment?” or “Is this what I should feel?” or “This can’t just be it, there must be more!” If you have ever tried to be mindful or had a spiritual moment, I think you understand what I am saying. What of old dead Zen masters and their warnings and teachings? I wish to introduce you to the Zen master Rinzai who lived in the 9th century and was certainly a Crazy Cloud Zen master; a radical and reformer to the traditional Zen teaching methods. He is responsible for creating one of the main schools of Zen—Rinzai Zen. He condemned people for running between teachers and looking everywhere for their Zen, including books and the words of others.
He once said, “I speak this way only because you seekers keep running around everywhere looking for the worthless contrivances of people who are long dead and gone. From my point of view, the Bodhisattvas are nothing but waste in the toilet, hitching posts for asses, prisoners in shackles. Buddha is merely a name!” What is the meaning of this? He did not mean it to belittle meditation or Buddhist thought, but to force the practitioner not to rely on it, or books or words. Reliance is a trap! His point was to rely only on performance and experience. Rinzai taught his students to be passionately engaged in the very activity of living, yet to maintain unconditional detachment. Mindfulness in action is a key to balance in life.
Mindfulness is actually key to alleviating the neurotic practices of looking everywhere and not knowing if you are truly in the moment. Of course this is difficult for a novice, as they have no reference point to know what it means to be in the moment and take action. You must trust yourself to let go…feel it….more importantly know that this is your spirit. In that moment, when you feel elevated to a different plane. You realize that you are right here and that you are not mind and body, but that you are only spirit. It could be the perfect golf swing, run, a perfect sunset, or your partner’s eyes. You feel it and you trust the experience.
Rinzai would say, “The Buddha is you, listening to my discourse right now before my eyes.” What did he mean? Your human spirit—in Zen—is interconnected with all human spirit, and in turn with the essence of life itself. Therefore, in performing, do not try as you normally do from your mind and body. Instead, allow your human spirit to perform the action through your mind and body. It’s as if the whole of humanity performed that action simultaneously in spirit, and this, as Rinzai says, would overcome the “hell karma” from too much neurotic sitting meditation and not enough mindful action. If anything, meditation should be used to train the mind to trust mindful action. If you don’t like to meditate, then be mindful in your actions.
One day, Governor Wang visited the temple and met Rinzai in front of the monks’ hall. “Do the monks here read sutra?” he asked. “No, they don’t,” replied Rinzai. “Do they learn meditation, then?” “No, they don’t learn meditation.” “If they don’t read sutras or learn meditation, what on earth are they doing here?” asked the governor. “All I do is making them become Buddhas and Bodhisattvas,” Rinzai replied with a smile, and most of all remember what a Jewish Buddha says: “The Torah says, Love your neighbor as yourself. The Buddha says, “There is no self. So … maybe we’re off the hook?”