A Lesson from Loneliness

I live alone, and I’ve generally been comforatable with that. I had roommates in my college and grad school years, and for a couple of years after I dropped out, as well. But for more than a decade, I’ve lived alone.

Suddenly, this year, I’m lonely. And it was this year that I got a glimpse behind the curtain, and saw that there’s no one else here. Before, I had largely thought of God as my invisible Companion, with me whereever I go. How could I be lonely? Since that experience, I’ve known that there is nothing to seek, nothing and no one is “with” me… I am part of This and This is noThing. That peek at non-duality changed my comfort with being alone.

But I’m here, and there is a world. The Bible and the Upanishads both teach that God created mankind for fellowship. (Heaven must be boring, eh?) So after one wish for a universe, voilá! There’s a universe. (In Sunday School, I never thought to ask what God made it of when there’s nothing but God.) So now, one part of it is feeling alone. The cure is obvious. Relate more to the world where God is hidden in every form.

The catch is to do it as a giver, not as a taker. To be God’s light shining love. To see myself in everyone. My teacher called this the zazen of being in public.

9-11 Five years later

This will be a day of reflectionand remembrance for many. Five years ago, I was in Shelbourne, MA, in a meditation center during a 10-day long intensive. I remember when our silence was temporarily broken so we could gather in the dining hall and were informed that planes had crashed into the both towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.

After a few questions and answers (and no, no one really knew anything more than that), silence resumed, with the injunction: This is why we practice.

I was deeply affected by the tragedy, as everyone else was. Yet, I found when I came back, that I was not “caught up” in the whirlpools of fear, rage, war fever, and apocalyptic concern that seemed to be engulfing so many around me in Hampton Roads. Somehow, even though I was in the storm, I wasn’t being blown about by it.

I soon also gained an insight into karma and the cycle of violence. I believe the fuel of violence is resentment. As long as resentment isn’t dealt with, conflict remains, and the conclusion of one war lays the conditions for the next one. If I needed any further confirmation that peacemaking first depends on making peace within, that was it.

I need to keep on with my practice.

Fingernails and Fast Food

I bit my fingernails from as early as I can remember, until early September 2001. I usually wasn’t conscious of it… only when I looked at my ragged nails, or spat out a “trimming,” was I aware of it at all. I tried many, many times to stop, and never could.

In 2001, just after the Labor Day weekend, I went to a Vipassana Meditation Center for a ten-day-long “intensive” (Intensive is the word for it. It was ten hours of meditation a day, for ten days, and all but part of the last day in silence.) I didn’t really enjoy the experience that much, but midway through, perhaps it was five years ago this very day, I looked at my hands, and realized that I hadn’t bit my nails since the intensive began. I also realized that I was now free forever from my nail-biting habit.

Two nights ago, while I was sitting at my computer, reading some blogs, I suddenly felt a strong rush of energy to my head, and it came with a distinct message, that I should sit zazen immediately. I obeyed, and after a period of sitting, felt I had been given a gift: specifically, that I was now free from my addiction to bad foods.

Some of you know me well enough to know what my diet is like. I’ve struggled with eating decent, healthy food (versus fried food and sweets) for more than two decades. Occasionally, I had some success that soon proved to be all too fleeting. But when I woke up yesterday, the certainty of the gift held: I was free. And my meals showed it. So did my meals today. I find I simply don’t want things that are bad for me anymore.

My teacher told me there actually is a Sanskrit word for this phenomenon (I don’t remember what it is) but it refers to the liberation of a person from negative attachments. It comes not from self-effort, though; it’s an effect of the spirit becoming more aligned with the One.

You can soon expect a leaner Frimster!

Steve Pavlina on Nonduality

Although its over an hour, this is worth listening to. Steve Pavlina uses the freedom of the podcast format to explain his idea of the “Law of Attraction” at length, and in the course of doing so, nonduality as well, which he calls “subjective reality.”

It’s fascinating (for me, at least) to hear nonduality being discussed in a completely non-religious, even non-spiritual format. For instance, enlightenment teachers and religions have developed a vocabulary to distinguish between the higher, universal Self that’s in all beings e.g. (Atman, Christ, Universal Mind, etc.) with the illusory “self” that thinks one particular body-mind sensor unit is its self (the soul, flesh, ego, etc.). The lack of such a vocabulary makes it a particular challenge to elucidate such concepts to an audience completely unfamiliar with the subject.

Yet Pavlina does a masterful job, and has some great answers for why the most apparently obvious things in the Universe (e.g. separate beings, separate consciousnesses) are not as they seem. His idea of the Law of Attraction (particularly in the engaged, active mode) also parallels what my teacher has taught me about how to change aspects of my life.

Non-duality breaks out of the “spiritual” closet. Who’d’ve thunk it?

The Magic of Permission

I am who I am, and have the life I have, because I was given permission to.

This fact has been high in my awareness for the last couple of weeks. We are bundles of permissions and restraints, mostly received from others. I’ve written that I sometimes burst into song. I’m able to do that unself-consciously, because I was given permission to. But most people have had that freedom taken away from them. Where there could be a song, there’s silence, instead. Not too long ago, having music at all depended on families, friends, or individuals singing or playing instruments. (Now 99% of our musical intake is recorded and commerical… and with iPods, increasingly isolated.)

I was given permission in my youth to think for myself and research information. Many people have been given restraints in those areas instead, and were given permission only to think the same thoughts, about the same things, that their parents did.

Of course, my youth wasn’t entirely rosy (far from it). Instead of normal permission, I was given tight restraints in the area of doing, such that the doing side of my life is still under-developed. I need to consciously give myself permission to do and experience more.

Sometimes I had to fight for permission. I can see much of how I became a spiritual questor came from fighting in my youth for the right to worship outside of the permitted channel of my parents’ denomination. (It was a long and grueling fight, BTW.)

Gaining permission is not something that ends with childhood, and neither is the grace that it blesses the soul with. And just as restraints and inhibitions are often unconscious, the giving and receiving of permission is often unconscious, too. Also, understand that I’m not writing about permission in its negative view as something bestowed by a “superior” to an “inferior.” I’m talking about blessing, encouragement, affirmation, or just letting another be as they are. The psychological effect is the same: OK-ness. Permission. The lowering of a psychological barrier.

I recently thanked a close friend of mine for the gentle permission he gave me a few years ago to proceed with the next step on my spiritual journey. He was very surprised. He had no idea that much of my spiritual growth over the last several years had its root in a single kind sentence he said to me.

He’s not alone. There are many others. And those are only the ones I’m aware of. When I posted my concerns about blogging a few weeks back, several of you gave me permission to take it farther. Thank you.

To some degree, all of our words are all either contributing to this extending of blessing, or its opposite. C.S. Lewis said that in everything we say or do is helping other become like demons or angels. Another Anglican, John Donne, simply said, no man is an island.

Alan Watts wrote a book on The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. For what it’s worth, you’ve got my permission to break it.