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Death and Dying: Losing a Partner

Sitting next to someone who is dying, is for some people, the greatest challenge of their lives.  You are not only watching your primary partner die but, you are reckoning with the death of your relationship with them, your identity as a husband or wife (which will be gone), and your identity as living in a particular household.  Your whole way of life is coming to an end.  Every habit, every personal and family way of doing things, your use of many possessions on a regular basis: all of this is coming to an end or has come to an end.  It’s a time of great mourning and loss for the dying partner, yes but, also for you.

All of this is a major stress, and made worse by the length of time that process of dying has continued for, if it’s beyond what was predicted and expected.  It’s sad for the person dying, that the joy has gone out of his/her life now, and sad for you to watch the one you love the most go through this.

Also, the impending death of someone close to us, or their actual death, is continually reminding us to look at ourselves, to evaluate our lives, and to decide what we value going forward.  I have thought a lot about whether I am living a life consistent with my values, in light of the fact that I too will die sometime sooner, rather than later.  (My life is obviously more than half over, at nearly 65.)  So, it’s an intensely self-reflective and introspective time.  From my perspective, it is or could be very humbling. 

Typically, when I’m working with clients who are evaluating their lives, people are looking at their regrets, remorse, guilt, shame and all of the difficult feelings that have arisen throughout their lives, and haven’t been dealt with in the best way.  What I say to them is some variety of the following: “while the emotions are difficult, their purpose is always to move us in a different direction.”  The emotions are supposed to move us to a change of heart, of words, and of deeds.  If the emotions don’t move us to that, they are just something we are flooded with, and in which we are drowning.

The best suggestion I can make is to take all of this emotion and see what changes you want to make within yourself, as a result of all of this grief and the end of your life together with your partner.  The emotion is “fuel in the engine of change.”  It will help you turn what seems like an entirely negative experience, into the motivation for change, and for choosing what kind of life you’d like to live going forward.

You have both relied on each other to be your primary ‘company’ as is natural for partners.   So, without him/her as the primary listener, it must feel like you are very much alone.  Perhaps after he or she passes and you have time to mourn, it will be time to come back into the world, and begin to take an interest in the lives of family, friends, and neighbors in a new and different way.

During this time, it’s wise to rely on the company of others who know your partner and you, and the love and support that they can offer. It’s also wise to understand that your life is going to change forever: you’ll never be the person you were with your partner, with anyone else. Your partner will have brought out your uniqueness in a very particular way. Nonetheless, your fundamental uniqueness will remain within you, as does the Awareness that is the deepest part of who you are. Rely, ultimately, on your identity as Awareness as the Rock that will get you through all of the changes you will experience.

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Creating a Spiritual Culture

Creating a Spiritual Culture in Your Time and Place: a New Indigenousness  1/31/2019

I’ve personally been in a difficult crossroads of life, trying to integrate spiritual life into the local time and place.  My experience, for my whole life after the age of 16, has been to have no felt sense of belonging here in this world.  There has been no felt sense of ‘home.’ 

Recently, I’ve come upon the work of two authors, Stephen Jenkinson and Martin Prechtel, who write about this particular problem from an indigenous perspective: Jenkinson exposure to First Nations tribal teachings in Canada; Prechtel having grown up with a Pueblo Indian mother and a Swiss-German father, and then having lived in a 10,000 year-old intact, indigenous, Mayan culture in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan before foreign-funded civil war, and missionaries, destroyed that culture in the 1980s.

Human spirituality was generally practiced as part of every day life, had a history of stories to go along with the spiritual practices, and was integrated and woven into every part of daily living: the food, the clothing, the vocabulary (often three different words for each object, and differing according to whether they were used by men or women, so six words actually) feasting and fasting, etc.  The language has no word “to be” and no isolation of past, present and future.  In place of the verb “to be” were the verbs “to carry” and “to belong.” 

People had a living knowledge of the history of every object in their homes: who made it, where the materials came from, how the maker learned to do the process of making the object, etc.  Similarly, in Mayan Guatemala, they knew the stories of the origins of their villages and cultures, and of their interactions with Holy in Nature or the Divine in Nature, and the stories of the lives of the people in their families and villages.  This helped them to feel as if they were at home, and belonged.

The Mayan view, according to Prechtel, is that we can offer two special things to the Divine that plants and most other animals can’t: the gift of beautiful language, and the gift of the beauty created with our heads, hands and hearts.  I’m beginning to figure out how to start doing this as part of my own spiritual and life-affirming practice, and as a way of expressing gratitude towards the Divine.  It’s not an easy process and there’s no readily available, real instruction in how to do it.

I find today’s spirituality to be, unfortunately, as atomistic, separate, individualistic and isolated as our general culture is.  Somehow, people like me (and perhaps you) who have fled from their traditional ancestral nations, and then once in the U.S., have fled from their traditional religions and spiritualities, have felt orphaned, isolated and alone.

Past spiritual communities that I tried to participate in were often ‘top heavy’ with some religious leader or spiritual figure trying to make themselves the focus: trying to be worshipped as a ‘guru’ or to run everyone’s lives.  The results were less than stellar and often horrifying.  As a result, the spiritual practices I adopted were those I could do on my own.

One reason that I offer small groups and teach meditation at Unity Barn is to begin to create a more dynamic, and democratic sense of spiritual community.  After all, here we are practicing meditation among a group of people, in a particular time and place.  I’ve requested that people introduce themselves, and I do my best to remember names and talk to people after meditation, because spirituality has not ordinarily been practiced solely in isolation.  It’s practiced in isolation at times but, also needs the richness brought by individual personalities and vibrational fields coming together, communicating and mixing.

I continue to be hopeful, and hold out the intention, that we can create our own indigenous spirituality in this time and place: 2019, and at the Unity Barn in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  I hope you will consider breaking the isolation of the general culture by getting to know your neighbors, and the spiritual isolation of the culture, by getting to know those in this time and place who’ve gathered to practice meditation together.

Now, any questions?

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Some Thoughts on the Nature of the Soul

12/26/2018

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to summarize what I’ve learned about what the human soul is.  One of my sources is the Mandukya Upanishad and the individual sentence “Ayam Atman Brahman” which is translated as “This individual consciousness is (the same as) the Divine Consciousness.”

Those who are familiar with their nature as Awareness Itself, know that in looking for the boundaries of Awareness, they find no sense of spatial boundaries and no sense of age or aging in Awareness.  In other words, the Awareness is experienced as eternal and infinite, which are two attributes that those in Western religions attribute to God.  So, the Awareness which is the deepest part of each of us has the same attributes as God and is God.

What, then, makes this an individual consciousness or a particular soul?  My experience tells me that it is the reality that this Awareness has taken on the very particular limits of one body and one mind.  It is only able to register the three-dimensional physical reality through one set of sensory organs: one set of eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and nerve endings.  It is only listening to one set of thoughts, those within my own specific bodymind.  It is only aware of one set of emotional responses on a continuing basis: my own.  It is only aware of producing the speech of this mouth, and the actions of this body.

In some mysterious way, we can experience an unlimited Awareness and paradoxically experience Awareness limited to this individual bodymind.  This individual soul learns its own lessons from its own mistakes and successes and has to learn to live in a very particular time and place.

This location in a specific: bodymind, time and place, is what seems to make Awareness into individual souls.  It’s also the least developed aspect of any modern spirituality: there seems to be no relationship between most people on a spiritual path and the particular time and place that they live in.  It’s as if spiritually oriented lives can be lived without reference to culture but, if we notice, we long for spiritually based culture in our time and place, and feel bereft without it.  I will write more about this lack of relatedness between modern spiritual practice and culture bound in time and place in the next blogpost.

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Before Enlightenment I Attended to Fussy Little Details….After Enlightenment I Attended to Fussy Little Details

9/14/2018

Before Enlightenment I Attended to Fussy Little Details….After Enlightenment I Attended to Fussy Little Details

Another of the many myths of Enlightenment, is that somehow the body-mind lives in a state of constant flow after Awareness Awakens to Itself, and life is without: challenges, effort, and obstruction.  While this may be true on some days, like weekends without any scheduled events, in general it is not true.  It may have been true of some earlier teachers who lived in ashrams, and sat on cushions all day in meditation, or before a crowd of followers, basking in their adulation.  It’s not true for this guy over here: he still has to earn his daily bread, read his email, and run his financial life.

Awakening doesn’t give us a “get out of jail free” card, if anyone still remembers the old game called Monopoly.  We don’t somehow ‘wake up’ and then magically disappear out of these bodies into some new dimension of reality where the principles of gravity, entropy, disease, aging, and death no longer apply.  We also don’t get out of a world full of people endlessly pestering us to get “located on Google maps” or “get a great network of referrals from the Better Business Bureau” or whomever is crowding our phones, emails and airways with things we “can’t afford not to buy.”  The awake are still subject to all the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and all the immoral, unethical, untruthful, sociopathic scoundrels who ply the world or both sides of the political aisles of government looking for “suckers.”

When this body-mind, sometimes called “I” or “me” gets overwhelmed with the sheer level of detail required to live a 21st century “modern life,” the mind sometimes wonders what good ‘waking up’ did?  Oh, THAT!

What I don’t have to do is identify as this screaming, gibbering, chattering, little voice in my head that calls itself “I, me, my, mine, etc.”  I don’t have to listen to my mind spit out the lies it has been taught about Reality.  I don’t have to believe the news reports that are mere opinion, speculation or interpretation.  I don’t have to fear the future, as much as all the advertisers in the world want me too, because fear sells products and services.  Attention can fall back into Pure Awareness Itself, the peace that passes understanding.

When the agitation of life is overwhelming, I merely sit my attention down into that Pure Awareness and experience that peace.  That was worth the practice, learning, effort and attention of awakening.

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Alone or All One

Alone or All One

It occurred to me today that when we human beings speak about feeling or being alone, what we mean is that our ego-minds are isolated within ourselves and they end up chattering to themselves.  No one else hears the contents of our minds, except us, or the rare person who is willing to listen to us for a little while.  Even in this latter case, the person only listens to our minds communicating via external language (talking) for a brief time.  The rest of our waking hours, our minds are alone with their own content.  If we think of ourselves as only an ego or language-generating mind, we are bound to feel alone, walled up within ourselves with this content.

What happens if we allow silence into this picture?  Then the mind feels really, terrifyingly alone, since our individual consciousness is now deaf to the mind’s chatter.

For the spiritually awake, however, the experience of Awareness is that it has no end, either spatially or temporally.  For those who don’t live in the ego-mind as the integration point of human life, there is no felt boundary in space or time.  Awareness goes on forever and is everywhere and, in some way, is also everything.  In this case All is Awareness or All is One, and so there is no “one” to be alone, there is just unending Awareness experiencing Itself in its many forms.

Sitting within the confines of the human ego-mind I am alone.  Sitting within unbounded Awareness, I am part of the One.  Yet, paradoxically, I am both ego-mind and Awareness together; a Mystery.

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Integration after Awakening: Deconstructing So-Called ‘Truths’

Integration After Awakening: Deconstructing so-called ‘Truths.’

Whathammer-sledgehammer-mallet-tool happens to you when it dawns on you that what you are is more than your mind and its ideas of itself?  When you discover the Awareness or Consciousness that you are, how does it change the way you live?

Since thoughts aren’t the interpreters of reality, they will become less important to you.  It could also become more obvious to you that they’re false.  Either they’re false because they’re only verbal representations of Reality, or they’re false because the thought itself is a lie, if examined closely.  Until the moment when you experience that Awareness is what you are, thoughts have been primary in their importance.  They define you, others, the world, and Reality.  Now they become open to testing and challenging.

“The stock market is going to crash today.”  There’s one thought that some might have been thinking just yesterday, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost over 400 points.  With that thought, there will likely have been a jolt of adrenaline and a very unpleasant bodily response.  However, was this thought really true?  No, the market’s going up right now, one day later.

“This coffee is too bitter” is a thought I just had drinking the decaf by my side while writing this post.  Okay but, what does ‘too bitter’ mean?  Isn’t it just a subjective opinion, rather than a truth that I need to defend?  Is the thought something that needs defending? No.

“I’m a nice guy” is another thought, and this time it’s a thought about my supposed fixed ‘self.’  However, it’s not always true, so why would I want to defend the thought when someone challenges it or thinks I’ve treated them badly?  Wouldn’t it be better to consider it just a description of a temporary set of behaviors, rather than the ‘truth’ about ‘me’?

Even the thought ‘human civilizations are only 10,000 years old and before that time, we were all hunter-gatherers’ which has been the basic premise of modern archeology and anthropology has already been proven false by the discovery of relics that date back hundreds of thousands of years.  So, is this academic thought absolutely true? No!

Once you understand that Awareness is the underlying truth of what you are, all other thought-based truths can be deconstructed.  In the end, we give up certainty about nearly everything…and it’s part of the deconstruction and dissolution of our false sense of self and everything else, that is the trajectory of the Enlightenment journey.

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Integration of Awareness and the Individual Life

41PrIv5n6YL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Once we discover that Awareness is our True Nature (not some identity composed of thoughts that we call the ‘ego’), it can be quite an upset to our way of life.  While the discovery that Awareness is who we are may take considerable time and energy, it is not the end of the process that we call Enlightenment.

The discovery of Awareness creates a seismic shift in the sense of identity.  Okay, we’re Infinite, Eternal Awareness (or Emptiness or any of the 100 other names) which has become these body-minds.  Our actual identity is simultaneously the Infinite/Eternal and the here-and-now person (in this particular writer’s case, called “Jonathan Labman”).  Both are true, paradoxically and at the same moment.

The implications of this discovery will take us a long time to embody, or ‘live out’ truthfully in the real world.  All of our ideas of who we ‘are’ or in this case ‘were’ will actually be only partially true.  The ‘ego’ doesn’t really exist?  What does that mean?  That’s what we begin to discover as we continue the journey of Enlightenment after discovering that we are Awareness.

This discovery that we are Awareness and so is everyone else, will also have a profound effect on how we interact with the so-called ‘others’ (all of whom could be seen to be aspects of the same Awareness).  How can we know we are Awareness, and exploit, harm, abuse, ‘use,’ or steal from others?

However, some people stop too soon in their Enlightenment trajectory.  This is why some people appear to be so injurious to others.  (More to follow.)

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Awareness Is

Awareness Is

The great joke about waking up is that there isn’t actually anyone to wake up and nothing for the mind or ego; and awakening or enlightenment is undefinable in verbal terms.  Awareness awakens to Itself.  Awareness is that which looks AND that which is seen.

Awareness looks out of these eyes at a sofa and pillows, registers mantras on the stereo and a clock ticking and traffic in the background.  The traffic can be heard because the window is open as It registers unseasonably warm temperatures in the northern hemisphere in February: 70F or 21.1C.  Objects are given names by the mind not by Awareness.  Awareness knows itself.

Each person, dog, squirrel, animal, tree, rock is, in Itself, the same Awareness.  Awareness exists in many forms and as the Formless.  Awareness is registering Itself ‘out there’ by every sense that aids in perception.  Awareness is in all form and beyond form: immanent and Transcendent.  It’s everything and You are IT.  Wake up beyond your mind if you can…and as simply as you’re able…it’s indescribably delicious.

Simply Awakesimply awake leopard

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Radiant, Clear, Still

snowtreesRadiant, Clear, Still:

These are three words that could be used to describe the Transcendent.  Out walking the dog this morning, our normal ‘green tunnel’ of trees that meet overhead (now bare and brown in winter) had been transformed by an overnight snow storm.  The sky was a radiant, clear, blue.  The trees were swathed in the pristine white of snow.  The Silence was deafening…snow deadens sound so well, and in 20 minutes only one car passed.

Drinking in that scene, and being dissolved in it, it’s then obvious that what is ‘inside’ of this body-mind and what is ‘outside’ is the Same.  I am the body-mind called Jonathan Labman AND everything Jonathan Labman is looking at.  This is the Heart of realization as experienced this morning.  This is what being Simply Awake is like.

In all moments, even when the world is a cacophony of vehicles and people in a big city, the essence that you and I are is ‘radiant, clear, and still.’  It is simultaneously a cacophony of sounds and relentless movement.  The Hindu texts refer to these two polarities of Consciousness as Shiva (the still) and Shakti (the continually moving).  Both are true, and this morning both elicited reverence and then silence as the melding of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ was particularly clear, clean and crisp.  Ah….Life.

Simply Awake

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The Spontaneous Act

The Spontaneous Act

Some time ago, I discovered that my actions are nearly always spontaneous.  There is a vibration (skanda, in Sanskrit, I believe) in the body that comes from Awareness Itself and moves outwards towards an action.  Creating my recent book was such an action.  Though I had been working on bits and pieces of it for a while, two weeks ago I had an urge to finish the book.  Five minutes ago (two weeks later), the printed copies are sitting on the desk in the office where I’m writing this blog.

If you look carefully, you’ll become aware of, and be able to follow these arising vibrations or impulses: to move, to rest, to eat, to drink, to feed the chickens, to collect the eggs, to play with the dog, to create a new work of art, to exercise…to give to others, to love, to wake up.  If the impulse doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, why not go with it and see what happens?

Usually the mind and its false thoughts and FEARS get in the way.  Whenever I write, it’s tempting to listen to the thoughts that say things like the following statements:

  • ‘You are Awareness and so is everything else, why bother writing?’
  • ‘No one will read your book or your blog, so why bother?’
  • ‘People who read your book and your blog will be nasty and critical so why bother?’
  • ‘You’re going to make mistakes and it won’t be perfect, so why bother?

I’m certain some people have been nasty and critical because I’ve already experienced that.  I have no idea what will come in the future, however, or how people will respond to this individual expression of Awareness going forward (be it verbal, written, written in blog form or in book form).  The courage to allow the expression of Awareness, is itself an expression of Awareness.  The ability to counteract false thoughts and fears with the truth, typically expressed as ‘I don’t know’ is also a gift of Awareness.  All this comes from being Simply Awake.  How wonderful when I (and you) can listen to this Awareness and not let false thoughts and the fear they cause, get in the way of spontaneous action.water as spontaneous act