MARIAN LANSKY

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The Tiger in the Living Room

I read this quote in a Brené Brown newsletter last week. She was talking about her food addiction. (She doesn’t give any attribution for the quote and I couldn’t find any, either.)

“Abstinence-based recovery is like living with a caged, raging, tiger in your living room. If you open the door for any reason, you know it will kill you. The non-abstinence based addictions are the same, but you have to open the door to that cage three times a day.”

That really says it. When I was battling with deranged, disordered eating during my 20s and 30s, it felt exactly like that every day. Opening the door to the cage, I didn’t know if I was going to find myself, an hour later, weeping into an empty quart of ice cream, or triumphantly washing my dishes after consuming a tiny salad. It was almost always a crap shoot.

I fervently wished I could just abstain, the way I’d learned to abstain from cigarettes. So much simpler and easier. But apparently we have to eat.

Likewise, there have been many times when I’ve wished I could abstain from thinking. When I was younger I did not know how to control my thinking, or how to avoid following negative thoughts into a bad mental neighborhood. I couldn’t tell which thoughts were real and which were just stories I was telling myself. I couldn’t get my thoughts to fucking quit harassing me! And I seemed to take a kind of sick pleasure in certain types of negative thinking. I was fully identified with thinking-as-compulsion.

We are, most of us, addicted to thinking, as much as we are to anything else in our lives. Humans are addiction-prone animals.

Meditation is a kind of temporary, abstinence-based recovery plan for this addiction. It’s like fasting in relation to disordered eating. Fasting can stop the whole compulsive cycle temporarily. It gives you a breather from the addiction and helps you learn to tolerate whatever emotions cause you to run to the fridge.

Meditation reminds you how it feels to just let the mind come to a stop. You get off the amusement-park ride of the incessant mind-chatter, and just give it a break for a while. It helps you learn to let thoughts and feelings come and go, without engaging or identifying with them. 

The other day I was cleaning the bathroom. Not my favorite chore, and one I usually put off until I can’t stand it any more. But I was scrubbing out the sink and suddenly I noticed that my mind was absolutely quiet, and I was enjoying what I was doing as much as I enjoy anything else. 

What’s so great about this is that it happened on its own. There was no effort involved. It’s like the first time your dog walks nicely by your side and doesn’t pull on the leash. My mind and I were cooperating peacefully. It had stopped on its own. Of course I spent the rest of the day trying to make it happen again, but, baby steps.

And it reminded me a great deal, in terms of sheer relief, of when I began to realize that I no longer had any desire to eat when I wasn’t hungry, or to keep eating when I was full. It’s so great when there’s one less tiger in the living room.

What Truth?

A Course in Miracles says that sickness is a defense against the truth. That’s quite a heavy statement, isn’t it? It’s a tough nut to crack, as my husband likes to say. 

What truth is sickness defending against? And how is that defense occurring? Does this mean I have to feel even worse than I already feel, just because I’m sick? Or because I sprained my ankle, or have a headache? Is this some new form of guilt I’m supposed to add to my already burgeoning store?

Is the truth I’m defending against going to scare me? Why would I want to make myself feel sick in order to avoid feeling something else, unless that something was even worse than my flu, or my chronic illness, or my bad back?

Don’t we only defend ourselves against bad things? 

Well, the answer to that last question turns out to be no. Sometimes we defend ourselves against good things—things that are gifts. Things that spell freedom, and bring a fresh wind of hope into our lives. Things that are really GOOD, and not in a “this is good for you because it will teach you a lesson” way, but in a kind, reassuring, relief-filled, sort of way.

We defend ourselves in order to stay asleep, because we fear waking. Sickness does this by creating something that we often create in other ways, too: fear and preoccupation. The feeling that something we don’t want can happen to us for reasons we don’t understand—the victim mentality.

You may not have noticed this, but if you pay attention to your life over a period of months you’ll probably see it. When it applies to the body, I like the term “symptom imperative.” This means that once you are over your bronchitis, you notice that your arthritis is flaring up. When your headache goes away, you notice that your feet hurt… and so on. 

If you really pay attention, you’ll notice that we always seem to have one or more situations in our lives that create fear and preoccupation—that keep the mind obsessing with self-concern, worry over loved ones, fear about financial situations, anxiety about what others think, problems with machines and technology, difficulties with food or weather or clothing or the environment or politics or relationships. There’s always something!

I call this the “problem imperative.”

All of these things, not just sickness, it seems to me, are defenses against the truth. The phenomenon of fear-and-preoccupation is continual here in this game of human life. It may ebb and flow, but it doesn’t seem to go away. And the goal of fear-and-preoccupation is to keep the mind busily identified with itself as a body, so it won’t remember its true power and freedom, and wake up. Fear-and-preoccupation reinforces the feeling that I am this body, living in a finite, dangerous world, containing finite resources for which I must compete. As long as we feel this way and are preoccupied with it, we are defending against the truth.

What truth? The truth that we are creating this reality. That this life of ours is a very solid-seeming dream. 

It is not real in the way we think it is, in exactly the same way that our nighttime dreams, which seem real, prove themselves otherwise once we awaken.

Saying this doesn’t help, does it? Maybe a little. But it’s one of those possibilities that we can slowly learn to integrate. Here’s another good Course in Miracles quote:

“There is no point in trying to change the world. It is incapable of change because it is merely an effect. But there is indeed a point in changing your thoughts about the world. Here you are changing the cause. The effect will change automatically.”

We can change our thoughts about the world with a bit of effort. We can train our minds to step back continually from the habitual thought-stream, and look at what kinds of feelings it is propagating. Fear is a self-propagating, self-fulfilling delusion. 

As Seth says, “You get what you concentrate upon. There is no other rule.”

When our minds are undisciplined, we allow our thoughts to go on autopilot much of the time, creating a chaotic default-reality full of suffering.

We create our own realities whether or not we are being deliberate about it. This is our divine nature in action here. The world is a mirror of our own minds—a very solid-seeming mirror reality. We can’t rearrange things in the mirror reality and expect anything to change. What has to change is our own way of looking at the world. Mind-as-projector must begin to project a different movie by taking responsibility for its own thinking, feeling and believing.

It’s a slow process for most of us. Certainly for me it has been a slow process! 

Nor are we wise to totally swear off fear, or override it, unless our intuition is so finely honed that it offers us the discernment necessary to  accurately evaluate every seeming threat. Developing discernment is a life-long process of learning to get quiet, slow down our minds and impulses, and listen within.

However, it is fairly easy to recognize the feeling of fear-and-preoccupation with its obsessive mind states, and call bullshit. That’s really all you have to do, is say to yourself, “This feels really awful. It must be bullshit.” It’s always our thinking in relation to a situation that causes the problematic aspect itself to propagate and increase, creating haphazard manifestations.

I’ll end with a great Seth quote that lightens things up nicely and says it all succinctly (bolding is mine):

“Against all that conventional wisdom, what I have said sounds extremely simple, simplistic, Pollyannaish, until you try to do it. To solve a problem you begin to minimize its characteristics, diminish its importance, rob it of your attention, refuse it your energy. The method is the opposite, of course, of what you are taught. That is why it seems to be so impractical.”

Those pesky negative emotions – part two

The concept of prayer is not something I grew up with. My parents believed that religion was the opiate of the masses, so there was certainly no talk of spirituality in my house. Although it made my life harder and my childhood more desolate in some ways, I’ve been happy about this, because I found my own way without having to dismantle any huge and frightening religious belief systems in the way some of my friends have struggled to do.

When I was a little girl, having constant nightmares and night terrors, I’d “pray” to a being I called The King, to please not give me a nightmare tonight. Of course he was male and somewhat of a scary, controlling ogre, like my father. I promised him the things my parents asked of me. I would tell him I loved him over and over, something my parents seemed to need. I promised I would be good and do whatever he asked of me, and so on. It never worked. But I kept on trying for a number of years. I didn’t call it prayer. I didn’t even know about prayer! But this type of beseeching seems to be built into our psyches when we feel most powerless.

As I grew up I discovered the Tao Te Ching, and then Buddhism, and then the Seth material, and then A Course in Miracles and non-dualism and many other great teachers and teachings and I’ve taken what I needed from all of them to give myself a way of interpreting my experience of this world. But through it all, I never prayed. I meditate, I contemplate, I look inward and ask for help and inspiration, but it never occurred to me to call any of it “prayer.”

The idea of prayer always seemed a little silly to me, as though there was someone “out there” who could grant your wishes. The implications seemed ridiculous. This has been true even though if someone asked me if I believe in God, I probably wouldn’t explain about non-duality, I’d just say “yes.” I’d say yes because it feels better to say yes.

And lately I am entertaining the idea of prayer, rolling it around in my mind like a lovely stone I’ve found on the beach, for the same reason. It feels better to believe in prayer. I’m beginning to understand what it means, for me, to pray.

And what am I praying for? I am praying for forgiveness. Forgiveness for the parts of my mind that still feel anger and envy. For the parts of my mind that harbor fears and worry. For the times when I seem to be unable to not identify with my ego and I become lost in irritation or impatience. For all the contents of the cardboard boxes under the cellar stairs—the ones that are covered in dust and cobwebs and contain not a single fond memory. I ask forgiveness for the times I have hurt other people and hurt myself. For the times when my values have been fucked up.

My goal lately has been to expose all the repressed nonsense I’ve been steadfastly burying in my subconscious. I’ve avoided that because once I write it out, and it’s out there, although I’d feel some relief, I had no idea what to do with it afterward! Now all this basement crap is living with me on the first floor! And I’m not happy about it. I’m ashamed of most of it, which just makes it all multiply, like gremlins.

All That Is, Our Source, God, does not judge. Judgment doesn’t exist outside of this human mind. It’s a human folly to judge one thing as good and another as bad. Because of our human nature we are not really capable, most of us, of being non-judgmental. We are capable of suppressing our tendencies towards judgment. They’re still there, but we don’t let them get in the driver’s seat.

I’ve been doing this for years—keeping my ego out of the driver’s seat. It takes a lot of energy, like a parent driving a bunch of rowdy seven-year old boys, yelling “don’t make me stop this car and come back there!” Non-resistance, observation, witnessing, it all takes a lot of energy.

I’m tired. My friend, Dana, sent me something this morning from a book called The Only Prayer You’ll Ever Need, which is based on A Course in Miracles. This is the prayer: “please heal my fear-based thoughts.”

Maybe that’s the same thing as asking for forgiveness. It’s asking for the contents of all the dark boxes to be unpacked and laid out in the sunshine. Brought into the light and healed. I can’t do it myself.

This is a lot like Abraham-Hick’s process in which you divide a piece of paper in two and on one side write down the things you’re going to take care of today and on the other side you write the things you’d like the universe to take care of. It’s nothing new, of course. But for me, the word prayer has new, sacred meaning and right now, I need that sense of the sacredness of this process.

Those pesky negative emotions – part one

Dealing with negative emotions—anger, shame, guilt, fear—is something I don’t do very well. In most cases my way of dealing with them is to deny that they exist. I almost always know that they’re unreasonable, or that they’re rooted in some kind of past trauma that shouldn’t be coloring my present circumstances, ancient being that I am.

I’ll put them in the basement of my mind, shove them down the cold cellar stairs until I hear them hit the floor and then shut the door on them. Of course I don’t really do this consciously. I do it by trying to be “positive” in the face of negative emotion. I do it by trying to be a good person, who sincerely wants to create a positive reality. I do it by knowing, for sure, that I am not a victim, that nobody else is to blame for my circumstances. I do it by understanding fully that my anger, directed outward and expressed, might be destructive. I even do it by simply observing them as they arise, incredibly enough.

I once lived in a first floor apartment that had a big old dark, damp basement beneath it, where the landlord stored all sorts of old furniture and detritus, including rolls of used carpeting and area rugs that lay on the floor, continually moist and squishy.

Those rugs, to my surprise and horror, actually grew mushrooms. I have no idea what kind of mushrooms they were, but there they were, growing away in the basement.

When we don’t really know what to do with negative emotions and we side-step them or talk ourselves out of them in order to avoid experiencing and possibly expressing them—in order to avoid allowing them to create a negative reality—they can wind up in the basement of the subconscious mind, having eventual effects.

Negative emotion avoided doesn’t go away. It accumulates. And eventually, if, like me, you tend to be a perfectionist, people-pleaser, it can build up to the point where the door to the cellar is bulging out and the mushroom and mold situation demands attention.

In my case, it demands attention by creating physical symptoms. I experience TMS, or tension myositis syndrome, which is NOT an actual physical ailment. It’s a description of how the subconscious mind tries to distract us from the the dangerous negative emotions it has taken upon itself to keep in the basement where we threw them.

The subconscious mind takes very seriously our directive, which we learned as children, to not express anything unacceptable. It knows exactly what we consider to be a dangerous emotion. It creates pain in the body by disrupting circulation to nerves and tendons, using the autonomic nervous system to tense muscle fibers. The pain of lack of oxygen to nerves and muscles can be quite extreme and chronic.

In doing this, it fulfills its mission of shifting our focus away from the unacceptable feelings, and helping us to stay nice.

Crippled with back pain, headaches, neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, tendonitis of every variety, sciatica, and so on, but nice.

This syndrome is also called AOS—autonomic overload syndrome. Same thing.

It feels, when I experience an attack of pain, as though there is something seriously wrong with my body. And western medicine might agree! It would say that I have a ruptured disc, or fibromyalgia, or any number of incurable pain syndromes.

But there’s nothing wrong with my body. There’s no structural reason for the pain. We all have bulging, misplaced discs and all kinds of weird deformities in our spines. They do not cause pain in the vast majority of cases. The pain is usually TMS.

I’m still a beginner when it comes to learning to deal effectively with negative emotions. It doesn’t help to express them. I know perfectly well that expressing my anger is only going to compound the problem by adding shame and guilt into the mix. Complaining is certainly out… it creates a general air of victimhood that creates more of itself. Pivoting away from negative thoughts to positive thinking and positive thoughts can work, but with these kinds of dangerous emotions which we have unconsciously repressed, no amount of positive thinking will have an effect.

So what do we do when expression and suppression both cause problems? People like me who want to be seen as “good” and who are sincere about awakening—who know they create their own reality—often have a basement full of anger, shame, guilt and fear. I can go for months with no pain at all, and then a series of stressors might arise during which I’ve done a lot of repressing, which put my subconscious, autonomic system on overdrive.

Sometimes, when a pain symptom arises, I can actually say, “This is bullshit. I know this isn’t real.” I can ask myself what’s actually bothering me and the answer will pop into my mind and within minutes, the pain will be gone. I have even removed pain in seconds by firmly telling my subconscious mind, “Stop the pain, it’s unnecessary. I’m dealing with the emotions. Stop the pain!” This is a trick I learned here and by golly, it’s magic.

Other times I know that the sheer volume of emotions I’ve repressed will have to be dealt with more skillfully and I’m going to have to sit down and journal—write honestly and allow all the mess in the basement to come spilling out. What am I pissed off about? What am I ashamed of? What am I afraid of? What do I feel guilty about? The healing power of just admitting all this stuff… letting it be seen and heard in the light of day, is amazing. Nobody else has to read it and I can even burn it when I’m done if I want to.

There then might be conversations that it’s obvious will have to happen, or changes I need to make in the way I’m doing things, but those are extremely clear once the dark hoard is out of the basement.

It’s really hard to be human. We’re in animal body-minds that feel strongly. We want to lash out, but we know that for the sake of our civilization and our awakening, we must not. However, we have to give the animal nature its due. I find that writing it out helps relieve the pressure and dissolve the pain. Then I can meditate, or ask forgiveness or whatever else I need to do to soothe myself.

What I have learned is that until I can admit, fully, and really feel—even honor—a dangerous negative emotion, self-forgiveness and the freedom it offers, is not available.

If you’d like more information about TMS: Read any book by John Sarno, MD: Healing Back Pain, The Mind-Body Prescription, The Divided Mind. Take a look at the TMS Wiki — lots of help and resources here, and the success stories are especially encouraging. Pain Free For Life, by Scott Brady, MD, a six-week program for overcoming AOS, which pays tribute to Dr. Sarno—who treated him for pain and later became his teacher—and then somewhat expands the definitions to include a wider range of emotions and self-treatment ideas.  There are many, many other books now, but between Dr. Sarno and Dr. Brady, you’ll learn the basics of self-treatment, which are quite simple.

The Mechanics of Memory

A few months ago I got involved in reading about the early days of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and hypnosis. Pretty fascinating stuff. Gets you to look closely at the actual sensory experience of your own mind at work. Kind of like in-depth Vipassana meditation. The premise is that once you see how your mind works, you can change it.

I won’t go further into it here. It has some limitations, but I did learn to look more closely at how my mind works.

One area with which I’ve struggled for years has been self-forgiveness. The opposite of self-forgiveness is guilt and shame. And whenever I found myself feeling the slightest bit of guilt and shame, my mind would immediately roll out memories to match, catching the spark of guilt and trying to fan it into a conflagration.

I was talking to my son a few days ago about memory. He was telling me that he has some memories from his childhood— times when he was mean to another kid, or challenging in relation to me, that filled him with shame and guilt once he was awake enough to look back and see them objectively.

And then he said something really interesting. In essence, he said he realized that if you have a memory that isn’t positive and joyful, you are implying an idea of control that you actually did not have. You’re losing lucidity in that moment, forgetting that you have a choice, actively creating a time and space that doesn’t exist, and making the dream real. Something else has gotten into the driver’s seat.

The question is always, he said, “what serves you right now?”

I realized that although I’m pretty good at not identifying with thought, and coming out of thought into the present moment, I’m not so good at coming out of memory—especially memory in which I caused pain to someone else.

A friend of mine is going to India to do a retreat with Sadhguru. I don’t know much about him, so I googled around and came across some short talks. In one of the talks he was saying the usual things about letting go of past and future, about bringing the mind into the present moment, into awareness of the breath. But instead of saying “the past,” he said something like “let go of memory.”

That’s so much more helpful. How can we let go of something that doesn’t exist, like the past? But memory is a very present and indulgent sensory experience.

When I looked at my experience of memory (thanks NLP) it felt quite different from my experience of what I considered to be thought. Everyone’s mind works differently in terms of how it experiences the world. In my mind, thought ordinarily feels as though it is a stream occurring somewhat to my right. It is largely verbal. When I notice myself listening to or identifying with it, I come out of it by coming to the center of my awareness spatially, to the breath.

But memory is something that seems to occur right in front of me, playing like a movie, with color and sound. It’s much more immersive and evocative.

I have treated it in the same way as the thought stream, coming out of it or trying to—by leaning back into awareness of my breath in the present moment—but I’ve found that it often doesn’t lose its power. It can remain triggering and heavy, especially if it can evoke shame and guilt in me.

How do we maintain lack of self-forgiveness? What I do is I replay those same old guilt-and-shame producing movies. Internally this builds up a feeling of pain. What is it that wants that pain? I like Eckhart Tolle’s idea of the pain body—that aspect of the human being that actively craves suffering and feeds on pain.

As a human, the pain body can feel so familiar as to almost feel “right.” We’re comfortable with what we know. But when I see that it’s my choice to maintain a sense of unworthiness by playing shame-movies on my internal screen, it makes it easier to shift my attention away from that show. I don’t have to resist it or struggle with it. It’s just the pain body doing what it does.

I’m able to see the truth of the idea that if a thought hurts, it isn’t true. And now I am looking at the idea that if a memory hurts, it isn’t true either.

Anyway, here’s my new blog! I missed the old, simple days, of just having a place where I could write. So, welcome. Instead of comments I have a contact form, if you want to chat about anything. But I may add in comments later on.

Surrender

Inner silence is an active force for good. In the teeming cacaphony that is our collective human mind, it creates a tiny pocket park… an oasis of quiet that strengthens the same silence in others.

Years ago, I saw to my horror that my thoughts were not my friend, and that the mind I had identified as “me” was actually a destructive, fearful mass of conditioned thought forms, which, if they could, would entangle me in supposedly self-protective behaviors that turned out to be energy-wasting addictions, or which would involve me in endless rounds of fear and preoccupation, interspersed with endless rounds of searching for relief and thinking I’d found it.

I could see very clearly that the doctor within me that was prescribing the antidote to all my problems was the very one that was giving me the poison. It was obvious that within the conditioned, thinking mind I knew as “myself,” there was no way out.

I felt that the human mind, the one we all share, our fears, hopes and dreams, was like a virus. Viruses are incomplete strands of genetic material that can’t reproduce without a host. They commandere the DNA of the cells they inhabit. We beautiful, magical, human beings are the host to this viral mind. It takes us over and we do its bidding. It renders us incapable of reaching our actual potential. It creates, through its energetic reflection, a chaotic, meaningless world.

I have now seen this idea elucidated in other places, most succinctly and clearly in Carlos Castaneda’s “The Active Side of Infinity” in the chapter, The Mud Shadows.

When A Course in Miracles says that the thoughts in our minds are not our real thoughts, and that they are attacking our invulnerability, it’s speaking literally.

I also see a reflection of this idea, yet one that is created by the viral mind itself, in the myriad fear-based conspiracy theories that are currently rampant, saying that our minds are being controlled by Reptilian aliens or the Illuminati elite.

Self-protective fear and preoccupation are both the goal and the very character of this viral mind. As we identify with it and believe our thoughts, we actually feed the thought forms that cannot exist without us as hosts.

Now for the good news. There is a way out. The way out is the silent mind. This is the choice we have and it is to this that we surrender.

Our predatory mind never stops chattering—it never stops trying to fix the situation even while it creates and recreates the situation it is trying to fix. You remember the old TV gimmick where the character would have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other? Our ego, our predator, the viral mind, is both. It is all of our thinking.

I love this quote from Leonard Jacobson: “It is better to remain in a state of not knowing than to go into the mind in search of an answer.”

Every precious moment spent in a state of inner silence, in which the mind stops its doing and searching and fixing and defending, is a moment in which our true awareness, our true energetic potential, begins to grow back. The thinking mind is continually pruning it away, eating the leaves and sprouts of our energy and never giving it a chance to blossom.

The state of surrender is a state of faith and trust. Not trust in a concept, but trust, in the deepest felt sense, in the mystery that is our Source in this present moment, now. Surrender is not a doing, it’s a not-doing. A stopping.

When we become one with whatever is happening, rather than pushing against it or resisting, we rise above the battlefield into a place of power—a place of awareness.

In the peace of that silent awareness we understand that we see in the world exactly what we are focusing on in our minds.

The Thought Swarm

Imagine sitting in the center of a vast space, maybe the size of a football field. You’re sitting there alone in the center of the field. And all around you is an array of screens of various kinds, each one playing a separate program. News, sitcoms, sports, disasters, dramas, comedies, spiritual programs, talk shows analyzing current events, spiritual talk shows, youtube videos, ads, authors talking about their books, teachers teaching, music videos, and so on.

And then there is you, in the center, seated. The living being. Consciousness.

This is a bit what it is like being human. We are sitting, or existing in our minds, within a swirling array of energetic thought forms, even when we are totally alone and all of our devices are shut off. Each thought form is like a screen playing a story. All different kinds of stories, from porn to religion. And we can’t shut them off.

The normal human mind is nearly unaware of itself sitting in the center of all these thought forms. It believes that it IS the thought forms and that the thought forms are its own, its identity. My thoughts. It tunes into one after another of the stations, following along and having an emotional reaction to each of the stories. Its attention is caught by one thought after another according to its own unconscious reactions to the previous thought, or its unconscious reactions to something happening in physical life. It goes from what to have for lunch to the ways in which your birth family didn’t understand you.

As the mind becomes more settled and focused through the practice of meditation, the awareness of the hectic and disturbing and constantly shifting nature of the sense of self as it follows along with one story after another becomes more and more evident.

I don’t know if I’ve written this here or on another website, but as a child, one of the scariest things to me was that I couldn’t control my own thoughts, what I thought of at that time as my own thoughts. They seemed, at times, malevolent, and of course in many ways they were. They caused me distress, and I couldn’t seem to stop them. Thought causes great suffering when you can’t control it. And control here means the realization that you are NOT it. Not your thoughts.

There is even a pathological condition called “unwanted thoughts syndrome,” which is an identified mental illness. Yet the truth is that we are all suffering from this condition to a greater or lesser extent. How many times have you awakened at 2 a.m. to a racing mind full of anxiety and outlandish tales of impending disaster?

When I was a teenager smoking pot in the late 60s, it used to astound me that at one moment I’d be in the room with my schoolmates and at the next moment I’d be off on a thought tangent in my head—tripping, we used to call it—and I had no control over this movement in my mind.

Still later on, as I believed the thoughts in my head, I searched and sorted and judged and suffered a lot, finally suffered enough. And then I began to wake up.

So it’s like the normal human consciousness in the center of the football field of blaring screens gets mesmerized by one program after another. Eventually, as the mind becomes trained and gets under control a little, it’s like being able to focus the attention on one or another story at will. Not having to focus on the horror show if you don’t want to, or on the news if you don’t want to. The consciousness begins to perceive itself as being separate from the thought forms. It no longer has to fight with them or resist them or agree with them. It knows itself as not them.

After a while you get to a point where you begin to see that all the screens are playing variations of the same thing, at the same level, and none of them mean anything. They’re all meaningless, as ACIM says. They’re all noise, all just the static accumulated from eons of human talking and thinking and going round and round with words.

Then, in the football field of screens analogy, it’s like being able to leave the field at will. Or get up and shut off the screens, one by one. And then, perhaps, create your own programming. Or not. Or discover what lies above or beyond the arena of thinking.

For me this has been a gradual process. I still sometimes find myself believing in (identifying with) a thought form or a line of thought that is stressful, and not being aware of it until it shows up as physical pain, or an unwanted manifestation. Things play in the background and can snag my attention in that way. And yet, gradually, I’m able to leave the field more often and come into the silent safety of the present moment. The programs are wearing out and shutting down from lack of attention, and I feel less and less important. My sense of self is more porous and diffuse. What a relief!

The other day I suddenly saw—knew the truth of, rather than just understanding it intellectually—the fact that none of us is special. None of us is special or more important than any other one of us, and yet we are all necessary to the whole. Sometimes, as the mind gets quieter, awareness will just kick in, unanticipated. Like there is suddenly enough change in the vending machine and it automatically dispenses some felt sense or understanding beyond words.

Yes it’s true that most people are still entrapped, still enthralled by the swarm of screens, still believing that they are their thoughts, that the programs are real. And yet, even in their entrapment, in their seeming destructiveness and their suffering, they are intrinsically as important and completely unimportant as any other being.

When we first become aware of the suffering caused by the ego, which is the identification with the thought-swarm, it’s pretty horrifying. And yet, it must be a necessary step, a necessary aspect of the whole. To believe otherwise is like thinking that the flower is more important than the root of the plant, or more important than the manure in which it grows.

The Archer With No Arms

Having a human mind is a little bit like having a disability.

I saw a video a while ago about a man who was born without arms, who decided that he wanted to be an archer. Not just an archer, but a good archer—a world-class archer. Without arms.

So he spent hours, days, months, and years working out how to hold and shoot a bow with his legs. His focus was unwavering, and now he is a world class archer.

The human mind, in its state at this point in time (perhaps it is different in different time-spaces, but I can only speak from my experience now) is not prone to focus. It doesn’t easily concentrate. At least mine doesn’t.

So getting it to leave its addiction to thinking, distraction and entertainment, and focus on an object of attention, like the breath, for twenty minutes a day, is a challenge. No matter what time we waste in our lives, that precious twenty minutes every morning becomes something we have a hard time giving.

This is truly a developmental disability, this resistance to focusing. I was telling a friend last week about my experience as a student nurse, during a rotation spent working with people in a sheltered workshop. The particular client to whom I was assigned was a young woman whose job within the workshop was to tie a bow in a piece of ribbon. I can’t remember what the ribbon would be used for, but that was her job.

In order to teach her to tie a bow, I had to break down the steps to a degree that I hadn’t imagined possible, and then repeat them endlessly, or they’d disappear from her mind. There wasn’t any such thing as “cross the right over the left” or even the way you do it with a neurotypical kid and make some kind of a game out of it. The steps had to be broken down even further than that, over and over.

This is how it is with us and meditation and learning to focus the mind in the present moment. The difference is that we actually have a choice, but we so resist going to that place of inner quiet that we’ll come up with any number of excuses or distractions to avoid it. And yet learning to focus the mind and direct the attention is the only way out of our default human setting of chaos.

When I sit down to meditate, the first thing that happens is that I become aware of what my mind has been chewing on in the background. It’s like discovering that your dog has found a shoe and gone off to gnaw it in secret. I become aware of the latest load of opinions and fixations it’s been working on. I can see exactly what I’ve done to encourage that mindlessness.

But when sitting down to meditate, none of it matters. None of the content of the mind matters—opinionated thoughts, brilliant thoughts, whatever they are, they’re just thoughts. Resisting them or judging them, strengthens them. So I just shift my attention, again and again, from the thinking to the breath. From the human stream of internal chatter, to the breath, over and over until my mind is quiet. Ahhhh.

At first the shifting part is sticky. My mind had been chewing on that shoe in the corner and is loathe to give it up. That’s fine, that’s just the way the human mind is. But through persistence, like the armless archer, I keep on coming back to the breath. Eventually the mind begins to settle. It drops the old shoe and stays with this new object of attention. And then there’s quiet.

I don’t berate my mind. That would be like scolding the young woman at the sheltered workshop because she couldn’t tie a bow, even after several days of concentrated instruction. Things just are the way they are, and training is possible—but it takes persistence and dedication and a desire to bring the human mind out of its darkness and chaos, one mind at a time. Why? Because untrained minds cause a lot of suffering.

Once More in a Nutshell

I bumped into an old friend the other day who mentioned that he’d become interested in meditation and was looking at the nature of habitual thought patterns. That conversation inspired me to write a basic outline post about my experience with taming my own wild mind.

When you get a really good look at the ego—the swarm of thought forms that masquerades as a self here in this material world—it is easy to see why it’s called ‘the enemy within.’ It’s a mechanism gone unchecked for eons, and is quite capable of landing us in a deep well of suffering.

When I first understood that the thoughts going through my head were not mine, and furthermore didn’t necessarily have my best interests at heart, I was stunned by the implications. I’d been identifying all my life with something completely spurious.

As we begin to observe the maelstrom of conditioned thinking, it is so loud in the background of our minds that it feels out of control. With practice, though, and at first this practice is extremely clumsy and approximate, it quiets down a bit. It gets a little bit tamer.

In my experience, so far, it doesn’t actually go away. What happens instead is that our muscles of attention begin to develop. That’s our choice—where we place our attention. Attention is the magic wand in all of this. Whatever it touches, grows.

So learning to isolate the muscles of attention and pull the camera lens and microphones away from the constant internal chatter, the constant stream of thought, and bring them into the mentally silent present moment, becomes the task—the continual, never-ending task. This is what I call “coming out of thought,” over and over, all day long. It’s the same as mindfulness, but that word, to me, doesn’t really describe the process.

In the beginning, the muscles of attention are so atrophied that pulling them away from the internal chatter and into the silent safety of the present moment is like trying to stay awake when you’re completely and utterly exhausted. The draw of the thinking mind is so deeply addictive and seductive that we can barely resist it, much less wake ourselves up out of it.

The present moment feels empty, shabby, boring in comparison. It seems as though there’s nothing here. It feels flat and not the least bit as delicious as falling into the dramas and storylines of the thinking mind where there is color and sensation and emotional juiciness.

After continued practice, however, the present moment begins to have a draw of its own. At first the draw is that it’s a place of relief. It’s like a vacation from your mind. It’s like turning off the TV and shutting off your phone and just hearing the sounds of nature. The simplicity and lack of distraction, which at first felt like poverty, begin to reveal a quiet charm—subtle at first, but deepening with experience.

From this place of inner quiet, it’s possible to observe the nature of the human mind and question our beliefs and choices. It’s from here that you can get to a place where you sense the origin of a thought by how it feels. And eventually to a place where it seems as though no thoughts are actually true in the way we think they are. Truth doesn’t dwell at the level of human thought, although thought can light up the path.

At this point it begins to be possible to stop reacting against thought as though it is the enemy and you, its victim. Eventually it begins to seem likely that until this internal bully is seen as no threat, and is greeted with understanding, or even friendliness, it will continue to assert itself. What we resist persists.

When I say understanding, I don’t mean indulging the content of a thought. I don’t mean analyzing, or following along with it, or letting it get in the driver’s seat. I also don’t mean diving into the past to decipher its cause in an attempt to fix things—that, too, is one of those wild goose chases that the ego loves to involve us in. I mean just observing without commentary.

My favorite way to describe this is the Abraham Hicks buffet analogy.

In the buffet of the mind, there are many different offerings. Some may be so unappealing and even poisonous that we automatically know to steer clear of them. When they arise, we don’t need to do anything other than make a different choice. But if we begin to feel as though the yucky things shouldn’t be there, as though they are dangerous or threatening, or must be eradicated or purified, this makes the situation even stickier and harder to deal with. Resistance strengthens the very thing it aimed at eradicating, through the magic-wand effect of attention.

All resistance, no matter what is being resisted, seems to be part of the thought-swarm. All resistance, even against so-called evil, is itself the ego. Truth does not resist. It has no conditional judgment within it. Every aspect of reality is greeted with acceptance—with yes, instead of no.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to taste everything in the buffet, or have anything to do with it whatsoever. It’s the opposite of being a victim. It’s a realization of the creative power of your own mind, of your own magic wand of attention, and its ability to influence external reality.

Here’s a quote I love from Byron Katie’s A Thousand Names for Joy: “Not believing your own thoughts, you’re free from the primal desire, the thought that reality should be different than it is.”

As soon as you stop fighting with the dream, you remember that you are the dreamer.

Being Like a Tree

We have a big crabapple tree in our back yard that had a bumper crop of blossoms and crab apples last year. In the spring when the blossoms first appeared in their heaven-scented clouds, migrating bands of cedar waxwings would descend and gorge themselves on flowers. What a lovely thing to witness. During the winter there were all those gorgeous little red globes silhouetted against the snow. All but the most hard-to-reach ones are gone now, eaten by birds and squirrels. We don’t have leaves or blossoms yet in early May, and last week a flock of rarely-seen starlings showed up and polished off what they could find of the last wizened apples.

When I had my first three blogs, before the era of feeds and email subscriptions, people would check blogs when they felt like it, to see if there was anything new. When I had those blogs, I also had lots of readers. There is something to be said for just being out there and letting people find you, when and if they have an impulse to do so. Like a crabapple tree.

Lately I haven’t felt like writing as much, and I finally realized that one reason I don’t want to write is that I don’t want to go through the hassle of creating an email and sending it out. I also don’t like the automatic services that do it for you. I don’t want to send out my crabapples and have them arrive in people’s in-boxes. I want to just put my stuff out there and let people find me if they feel like it.

My marketing-professional friends are probably gasping in horror if they’re reading this, but this approach has always worked for me. I have never found that self-promotion works as well as simply letting people find me on their own. It’s paradoxical, but paradox is my friend, and feels more comfortable for me. I’m not after results, I’m after what feels right to me in the moment.

So, although this is the last post you’ll receive your in-box, I will keep writing, perhaps more often than I have been doing. I trust that you’ll check in again if you feel like it, and together we can prove out the law of attraction.

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