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COVID-19 and the Loss of A Known Future

Working with students and clients during the Covid-19 Pandemic is a constant plunge into issues that seem to have no prior point of reference. However, I discovered that if we look at parallels to more ‘normal’ events in our lives, we can find out how to deal with the radical unknowns that come with an international viral pandemic.

This week, I had a conversation with a young client who has not been able to plan for any kind of a “known” future. He feels cut off from all of his former experience with planning for something that will make him happy, being able to carry out his plans, and then feel happy when they are carried out. In other words, during the global pandemic, he’s unable to spend time being happy about a planned future. He was afraid that if this continued, he would end up being miserable, and even spiraling into anxiety, depression and even possible hospitalization for suicidal thoughts (not that he was having any currently, thank goodness).

When we looked at his problem, it occurred to me that he’d probably had plenty of experience with planning something in the future, and then being disappointed when it didn’t occur. I reminded him that he often wouldn’t have known what the future held and he wouldn’t have known whether his plans would come to fruition. I asked him whether he’d been able to cope with that in the past, and he said he’d always managed to get over the disappointment. When I pointed out that he had learned the ability to get over disappointment, and could rely on that experience to help him with any future disappointments, he relaxed a lot.

What he and I discovered was that the Covid-19 Pandemic is a BIG unknown future, and has taken away all kinds of small certainties about ‘tomorrow’ that both us had been previously been able to assume would occur. However, this loss of a ‘known future’ and the disappointment of not being able to make plans that come to fruition, is no different than any other time we couldn’t plan for the future, or were disappointed in our plans.

In other words, thought the pandemic obscures a lot more of our plans, the disappointments can be coped with in the similar ways that we’ve already learned. For my client and me, that means that when we feel the sadness of the loss of our plans, or the sadness of the inability to make any plans, we can let go of the idea that “I will be happy in the future, if only I can make this plan and it can come true.” If we acknowledge our sadness at the loss of the idea that we can only be happy if this plan can be made and/or comes true, we can return to our condition in the present moment.

Without running to the future for happiness, or to the past for memories of past happiness, we return to the present moment. Without ideas that are making us unhappy or happy, what is our condition in the present moment? In my client’s case, he was living with his parents unexpectedly for the summer, his plans for the future were shredded but, he was at peace and content in his present moment.

In the perennial philosophy of most of the world’s wisdom traditions, it’s said that peace, contentment, love, freedom and truth are available to each of us if we will only learn to live in the present moment. When my client looked at the loss of his ability to make plans for a ‘happy future,’ and returned to his experience in the present moment, he found that he was already content and at peace with things the way they were in that moment.

In another session with a student, it was clear that she could deal with nearly any real experience that she faced. What she couldn’t deal with was imaginary circumstances that hadn’t occurred yet; they scared her to death. Covid-19 had created a world of possibilities that scared her to death but, they weren’t real, they hadn’t happened to her, and she was paradoxically confident that she could meet any real challenge that came her way.

With both clients, what became evident to all of us is that we can treat the Covid-19 Pandemic like any other challenge in our lives. In the present moment we can be content and at peace. Only in our insistence that we be happy ‘somewhere in the future, if only I can do this special thing,’ do we lose our contentment and peace. Or, if we start fantasizing about some catastrophic future, we lose our contentment and peace. Covid-19 is another big lesson in the importance of keeping our focus in the present moment: if you stay present, you stay serene. Move into the future to plan some ‘thing that makes me happy’ or start creating a future catastrophe, and you’re lost in fantasy and bad feeling. It’s always the choice that we can make in every moment.

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Working on your Ego Doesn’t Work, by Jonathan Labman

After 20 years as a psychologist, I’ve come back around to the conclusion that working on your ego doesn’t work. Why not? Because you can’t solve the problems generated by the ego, by working at the level of the ego. The ego is a series of thoughts and thought-based feelings. When thought goes ‘silent’ something in us goes ‘uh oh, something’s wrong.’ With the mind silent, there is no ‘me’ anymore, since ‘me’ is conceived of only as a set of thoughts and feelings, and not as a unique person rooted in Mystery. So somehow, just when we think ‘all my problems are over,’ the mind will generate another set of problems so that the ‘ego’ can seem to ‘exist’ again. The ego is all about creating ‘itself’ around a series of problems. It’s especially good at playing the role of ‘Victim.’

So, if you’ve spent countless hours looking at the ‘root’ of your problems in traditional psychotherapy, in the hope that you will finally ‘solve’ the problems and live your life unbounded by your past conditioning and the limited beliefs that come from negative/defensive thoughts, you’ll find that you’re still suffering. You may solve the latest ego issue but, you won’t solve the issue of the EGO.

The EGO Itself, if you continue to believe in its reality, will continue to generate thoughts, and those thoughts will create unnecessary suffering. To stop unnecessary suffering, you have to learn to live at a different center of gravity: Awareness. When you begin to identify with the part of you that is the silent, still, peaceful Awareness, then it’s easier to let go of ego-created problems. How you do this is simple enough. If you want to know how to proceed, contact me via j@simplyawake.com.

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Love and Truth Go Hand-in-Hand

I often see how certain religious and political groups in this country have divorced themselves from caring about the truth. To get what they want, they’re glad to support various politicians, pundits and newscasters as long as they gain the power to influence the policy or culture. You may think I’m talking about the ‘political or religious conservatives’ but, I see similar things going on with progressives and the liberal media.

Lies and fear go hand-in-hand in an attempt to control Reality . We can watch people in politics, the media, banking, finance, etc. lie and attempt to control people who listen to them. The people speaking the lies will feel fear (unless they’re sociopaths or psychopaths), as will the people listening to them and believing them without proof. False assumptions and statements always lead to an adrenal response: fight or flight. In the long run, though, Reality always wins. For instance, during this international coronavirus pandemic, we can wish that things were already better, that the virus has peaked, and that we can go back to our normal lives with no consequences but, Reality will win. If we attempt to pretend everything is ‘normal,’ many more people will die. Reality, the reality of the nature of SARS-Cov2 or Covid-19 will win out over our attempts to manipulate truth.

Love and truth also go hand-in-hand. If you really want to tell the truth, you’re going to have to love someone or something enough to do it. Often telling the truth or doing something based in the truth is hard, and you think it will get you in trouble: so your heart trembles, your body shakes, your adrenal glands suffuse your body with terror and you end up ‘shaking in your shoes.’ This is where it’s useful to check your assumptions: do you really know how people will respond or how the story will play out? No you don’t. Your fear is based on a lie.

However, once the fear is generated, even by a false thought, it’s good to invoke a little courage while the adrenaline is still strong. Take the lie apart and then grow some courage. The word ‘courage’ comes from the French, rage de coeur, or literally ‘rage of the heart.’ And what is ‘rage of the heart’ but, love: a love for the Truth and a love for others that’s strong enough to stand up to your own fear, and the intimidation of others who are coming from fear themselves. You may have to pay the consequences of what speaking the truth might do to your standing among your friends, your community or your country. However, you don’t really know, do you? So invoke a little courage and speak up.

In general, if you love someone, tell them the truth. If you love yourself, be honest with yourself. However, don’t present truth without love or love without truth: either is incomplete without the other. Truth without love can be too harsh and judgmental. Love without truth can be indulgent, spoiling and can create an overarching sense of entitlement. Put both together and see how things go….you’ll find much more balance within you, and in your relationships with others.

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What has Coronavirus changed?

Enough has been written about this virus and its contagiousness so that most of you reading this will be well-informed about the virus. However, if you’ve been dealing with an unusual amount of stress, let me suggest the reason for this: your ideas about the future have been totally overturned and you’re now having to practice living in each moment.

From one day to the next, we’re now having to stay present to: our routines, our tasks, and our ideas about the future, in a way that we may never have done before. In particular, people are uncertain about their jobs, where the money is going to come from to pay the bills, and other essential survival issues. In a moment-to-moment way, we now have to live life much more spontaneously: without automatic structures and systems in place to guide our daily movements, and routines. This requires a lot more attention to the present moment, and the newness of this exercise seems to create a great deal of stress. However, it’s not the present moment that’s creating the stress, it’s our resistance to it, or our ideas about the future.

Two weeks ago, I “knew” that I would move into my new psychology office (which did happen), and see clients from Noon to 8 or 8:30 PM every day, with a break somewhere in the afternoon to eat and rest, and a group meeting most evenings from 7 to 8:30 PM. Of course, it was never exactly like my expectations but, close enough to falsely ‘rely’ on that pattern. Today, my own routine has changed entirely. Yesterday I had two clients at 3 and 5. Today, I have clients from Noon to 3 PM, and all the groups that I’ve been running, except one, have been postponed until we can meet in person. At Noon, I’m doing a teleconference session from the dining room because my spouse has a meeting with a client in the study. At 1 PM, I’m moving to the study so that my spouse can have the dining room for another activity.

Our ideas about the future may have given us a false sense of security and stability in the past. Today, or this week, as many of us are staying at home and voluntarily ‘sheltering in place’ (or involuntarily, if you’re reading this in a country that has mandated a quarantine), we are awake to the truth that has always been the truth: we never know what will happen in the next moment. In these unusual circumstances, we can now see that all of our ideas about the future are lies. We have no idea what will happen next. All we have to do is meet the next moment, though, nothing else. This doesn’t have to produce stress; it could be an immense source of creativity and resilience.

We are getting the idea that we are going to have to take care of ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our communities, because the government hasn’t done a great job and their resources are overstretched. Their “great” plan is to go into more debt to bail out airlines and other big corporations who’ve spent their profits on share buybacks to enrich their executives and shareholders instead of saving their profits for a ‘rainy day’ (write to your elected representative and object loudly); and now they seem to be planning to ‘bail out’ the average citizen with a check in the mail. Will this work? Probably in the short term; in the long term it may produce hyperinflation and totally wipe out our confidence in our national currencies. If that’s true, that would be a high price to pay for a short-term solution.

We don’t know the answer to these questions, though. What we can know and do know is that we have to live our lives in the present moment. That may include planting a garden so that you’re growing your own food, talking to neighbors about sharing resources, and doing what we can to maintain order in our homes and communities, with limited resources. It also means taking serious precautions when we have to go outside of the home ‘safety zone’ to get groceries or medical supplies or gasoline.

If there is a silver lining in this virus catastrophe, it is that you have a chance to practice “Being Present” or “Being Spontaneous” or “Practicing Mindfulness” in a way that you’ve never done before. We are all pushed into an experience of the “Present Moment” because our ideas about the future are so obviously, and suddenly false.

If you are in a lot of distress right now, let me offer this suggestion: treat all of your catastrophic ideas about the future as if they’re lies. None of us has any idea if we’ll be infected with coronavirus, or how it will affect our physical health, unless we’re already infected. (That doesn’t mean, we shouldn’t stay home and protect others from the possibility that we might be infected and asymptomatic, however. ) Even those who are infected have no idea how the disease will progress until it does. We can only do what we can do in this very moment. The answer to what the future will bring is simply “I don’t know.” Any other idea about the future is a lie, and will produce unnecessary fear and unnecessary suffering. “I don’ know” is just “I don’t know.” It is NOT: “I don’t know and not knowing is a catastrophe.” It’s “I don’t know, and that is an emotionally neutral statement.”

Stay safe, yes! Also, stay present; let’s not let our minds run away with us. When we notice our minds generating a false and anxiety-provoking idea about the future, NOTICE this, notice that it’s a lie, and notice that the distress it’s causing is from a false source. The distress is unnecessary, let it go. The half-life of adrenalin is about 20 minutes, so we will calm down quickly if we stop believing our minds’ lies. What is necessary is staying present, being responsible, noticing what’s true right now, doing what’s needed right now, and breathing deeply in each moment. Meet the current challenge, then the next one, and the one after that. We don’t have to guess what the next challenge will be, it will be quite obvious when it arises.

Life will go on until it doesn’t. While we have life, let’s live it being as fully present as we can be.

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Radiant Awareness

The new office is all ready for you. I have openings for new Uncovering Enlightenment groups, and lots of opportunities for shedding your ego and uncovering the radiant, clear Awareness that is your true nature. Individual work is also always available.

We cling so tightly to the little ‘narrator voice’ in our heads that calls itself “I” or “Me” or “My” or “Mine” and paradoxically it’s the source of all suffering. Imagine a bunch of leaves floating on a vast ocean, making rustling noises rubbing against each other, and then assuming those rustling noises are a good definition of what the Ocean is that they float on. That’s the level of accuracy of your thoughts, as they attempt to describe what You are.

It’s actually a tremendous relief to go through the fear of losing yourself, and then to find there’s a great shimmering Awareness underneath that little ‘self’ that frees you from the ego-imposed thought limitations. The need to defend the ‘self’ when it proves that view of you is inaccurate also gradually fades away. What’s left is indescribably peaceful, the peace that passes understanding.

Simply Awake LLC was created to help you uncover that peace that passes understanding. Take a risk to see how it works. Initial consults can be arranged via email. Write to j@simplyawake.com.

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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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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.