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The Gatekeeper and Urban Sprawl

I have had an inconsistent, but persistent, meditation practice for a lot of years now. So far I haven’t experienced any dramatic visions of light or revelation while I’m sitting, although I do often gain insight into my current life situations, whatever they may be. And I have definitely experienced accelerations in physical healing. 

But what I mainly experience is the relief of the slowing and quieting of the mind. As the years have passed, the time it takes for my mind to quiet down and become attentive to the breath has grown shorter, and the mind chatter itself has become more transparent and workable.

Another good thing has begun to happen lately, and that is that I am more prone to notice when a discordant note has entered my mental stream during the day, off the cushion. It’s a little like being an orchestra conductor and being able to hear that somebody is out of tune. Because my mind is, on the whole, less noisy, I can more readily sense the presence of a disturbance.

It’s like having a gatekeeper who is alert to intruders—or a filter that filters out undesirable mental factors. I feel that because of my years of steady, plodding, often reluctant practice on the cushion, my filter has become finer, my gatekeeper more alert and astute. Not infallible, but more discerning.

My son and I were laughing the other day, “I meditate and I meditate and I meditate, and for what?” I’m starting to see the “for what,” I told him.

It all boils down to the simple awareness that Byron Katie expresses so clearly: “If a thought hurts, it isn’t true.” Or, as A Course in Miracles says, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.”

The forces of the ego, the human mind, the physically focused mind, are predicated upon the belief that there is causality in matter, outside of mind. In other words, the ego is designed to keep the illusion of the physical plane real-seeming. That’s its job. Just as it’s the job of the character in a video game to take seriously the battles placed before it and not decide to say, “This is nuts. I’m outta here,” it’s the ego’s job to believe in the reality of the dream, and take at face value the threats it encounters.

On the other hand, it’s our job, as the indwelling soul or entity, to attempt to decrease the level of our human suffering and disconnection by expanding the ego’s experience of reality. 

The ego, in a sense, is like artificial intelligence. It can be programmed to learn to deduce outside of its own experience. It can receive packages of information that give it an expanded level of understanding. 

We, are not the ego. The ego is the swarm of reactive thought-forms and conditioned beliefs that create a sense of self, centered around a body. The ego is the ongoing story of the character you are playing in this game. And it wants to continue its existence. Yet it always feels, somehow, incomplete. This is because it senses its own temporary, fictional nature as a body.

It believes that the only way to continue its existence is to find something to add to itself to make it feel complete, or to resist anything that threatens it with loss. 

The idea of surrender is completely alien to it, because surrender is anathema to the fundamental illusion of the game—that we are victims of physical reality. It’s no accident that most video games have “me against the world” as their basic storyline. They are appealing to the egoic awareness.

Here’s a simple example from my own life: I recently learned that at the end of our already fairly busy street, the city is planning to sell 50 acres of public park land (said park being one of the reasons we moved here over 20 years ago) to a developer, to build 400 units of high-density housing with options for retail development. 

It’s been interesting to watch my mind as it tries to find ways to deal with this information. Admittedly, this is a first world problem, when many people don’t have clean water, basic rights, peace, or enough food, but bear with me.

The first thing that happened was a revving up of the engine of resistance. Immediately the forces of fear-and-preoccupation began spinning stories and movies in my mind of how awful this would be and what it would cause me to lose, and not only me, but my neighbors and all the wildlife dependent upon that 50 acres of land. 

It didn’t take long, however, for my gatekeeper to try and restore order by creating a bit of distance between me and the revving up of the ego-engine. Good gatekeeper! However, it was a bit of a battle.

My neighbors and I wrote letters and attended meetings and registered our displeasure, but so far none of this has made any difference and perhaps it never will. Still, my mind was playing movies at odd hours, about traffic and congestion and the various losses that might occur.

And then, one day as I was driving home from work, the gatekeeper suddenly found an opening and restored equanimity. It reminded me that in all lives, degrees of discomfort occur at times and that the key to transformation lay in surrender. That there may be unknown wonderful aspects to this situation and that all such occurrences contain an opportunity for the expansion of consciousness.

Now, the ego hates this kind of thinking. It hates the very idea of surrender, and its ace in the hole is to bring up the holocaust or various other horrendous situations and remind you of the importance of resistance. This is akin to when your mother used to say, “If your friends all decided to jump off a bridge, would you do it too?” There must be a name for this kind of hyperbolic argument but I don’t know what it is.

However, in this case I’d already tasted the sweetness of surrender. And I knew from experience that until I actively choose to stop resisting what’s happening in the present moment, nothing can change. What we resist, persists. 

When there is the playing out of a so-called negative manifestation, the ego will always take it as an opportunity to try to hook the awareness into fear and preoccupation. It will seize upon any opportunity to make the dream real and turn it into a nightmare. That’s its job.

Surrender is an acknowledging of the very momentum that created the situation in the first place, and a refusal to fuel that momentum by resisting it. So the first move is to wave an inner white flag and say, “I don’t want to fight.” 

Then, surrender says, “I don’t know what this means and I won’t act without knowing.” It’s a stopping, quieting, waiting, listening. Within surrender, there is patience, inspiration, and acceptance—a sort of calm abiding and trust. 

It’s a refusal to allow the mind to dwell upon negative aspects, or to compare the present situation with an imaginary past or future situation. It’s an accepting of the challenge, moment to moment, with the intention of finding a way to appreciate it. 

This type of approach has worked for me over and over in this life. It seems to transform not only my inner landscape but on many occasions it actually changes the physical manifestation. It’s like a way of putting in the clutch and shifting probabilities. It is a magical approach to change.

The magic of deep acceptance and surrender is that when you stop resisting a situation, you shift probabilities. Resistance to what is, is what keeps the current probability in place. As we fight it, it becomes more entrenched, more real, and draws power from the fight.

Surrender, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, creates inner quiet, which then begins to draw to itself or create for itself, a change in manifestation. As you appreciate what is, you, the creator of experience, are transformed and ultimately, eventually, so is the outer world. And if not the outer world, then certainly your experience of it.


I’ve been watching a show on the History channel called “American Pickers.” In it, two guys who buy and sell antiques travel around the country in a van looking for finds.

It’s where they look that’s so fascinating. They often look in the homes, outbuildings, yards, and back 40s of people who would ordinarily be thought of as hoarders. Frank and Mike, the pickers, never use that word. They call them “collectors” and they treat them with unfailing respect. No matter how deep the mess, how high the piles of rusty junk, discarded furniture, old household items and newspapers, they dive in and sort through avidly and without hesitation, offering cash on the spot and making deals. They take everything in stride—from pigeon poop to raccoon feces and worse. Wash it off and it’s a valuable antique, a piece of human history.

Most of the collectors are older white men. Many of them live alone out in the country, where they can stack as many old rusty cars in their yards as they want without censure. Some of them have multiple houses and buildings, often in various states of tumble-down disrepair, filled floor to ceiling with stuff. They are the people who both cannot throw anything away, and never pass by a discarded old something-or-other sitting by the side of the road without picking it up. They are the people who go to every yard sale, every flea market and swap meet. They may even dumpster dive, looking for things to save.

Some of them collect specific types of items, but others just collect and accumulate everything. 

Sometimes they’re married and have grown children. You don’t usually see the family unless it’s the family that has contacted the pickers to help dad thin out his collection before he dies and leaves them with a huge mess. Or because dad needs money and the family has stepped in to try and coerce him into selling some stuff. Often, the collectors find it hard to sell.

What is so fascinating to me about the collector/hoarders is the differences in their attitudes towards themselves. Some of them consider their proclivity a disease or an addiction they can’t manage, while other consider it their joy and genius.

Some of them are hugely proud of their collections. They are like chipmunks or magpies or bower birds showing off their caches. They love everything they have, from the smallest thimble to the biggest car. Rusty old falling-apart things are beautiful to them and they feel happy in themselves and happy about their lives. 

They don’t have a concept of clutter-clearing, or a desire for minimalism. The bigger the piles, the better they feel.

Sometimes, one of their buildings or one room in one of their buildings will be a sort of personal show room. Still packed to the gills, but more organized and arranged. This is where they keep their special things, their collections of items they’ve found over the years and are especially fond of. These old guys are invariably happy, strong and standing tall, eccentric as they may be.

Others, it is obvious, have the identical love of old things and the drive to collect them, but have been shamed for it somewhere along the way, and think of themselves as flawed. Usually there’s a son or daughter in the picture trying to get dad to unload some of this stuff, and dad is looking unhappy and conflicted and often ill. A visit from Frank and Mike, who are so honestly complimentary and respectful is almost always helpful to them.

So, same situation, same old houses where you can hardly walk through the accumulated generations of stuff. Same yards full of rusty metal. Same sheds piled to the rafters with dusty old things. And one person living this way is happy and proud, while another living this way is ashamed and beaten down.

The aspects of our characters that often bring us the most shame, and which we want to hide from others, may be aspects that someone else celebrates in themselves and wants to show off. It’s up to us. That’s all.

The Silent Walkers and Other Selves

There’s a genre of YouTube creators who walk. They walk all over the world. I’ve watched videos of walking in India, in Egypt, in New York City. The most important thing is that these people do not speak, they simply go for a walk and film it, using high-res cameras on gimbals, so that you feel as though you are the walker.

Because I love to walk, this is a magical experience for me. Walking through the back alleys of Kolkata or Queens, it’s amazing. I put them up on my 27-inch computer monitor or on the TV.

My very favorite walks are in Japan. And I have a favorite walker, as well. He’s a Russian computer guy who settled in Japan. He speaks fluent Japanese, and I know nothing else about him, other than that he walks on weekends and evenings. Long walks of an hour or more through cities and countryside, through daily life in Japan.

These videos have been a revelation to me. I find them deeply calming and soothing. One of the first ones I watched was filmed in the massive underground stations of Tokyo, which contain miles of restaurants and stores of all kinds. Like most things in Japan, they are spotlessly clean and beautifully designed. Walking through the crowds of people in the subways of Japan, through the lens of this Russian coder, I felt at home. I felt comfortable and at peace.

I wondered if it were just the action of disembodied walking that I found so soothing, a kind of ASMR effect, so I tried watching walkers in Europe, the UK, all over. I do enjoy some of them. But the effect of that feeling of rightness and of being at home, happens only in Japan. 

When I was a little girl, the highlight of my life, literally, was when my mother would take me into Manhattan and we would stop at Takashimiya, the Japanese import store. This was in the 50s and early 60s, when America still had an uneasy relationship with Japan. But for me it was that same experience of homecoming. Walking into the incense-scented air and looking at the little toys, the kokeshi dolls, the lanterns and paper flowers and stacks of origami paper made me feel that the world made sense in a way that it didn’t anywhere else. 

When I was 20, I briefly considered trying to get to Japan to study traditional Japanese pottery-making. I was living in Norway at the time, working as a potter, and secured an apprenticeship with a Japanese potter living in Sweden who told me I could sleep on the floor of her studio. But I couldn’t get a work visa for Sweden so I gave up the idea. It wasn’t a strong enough drive.

I don’t have any desire to go to Japan or illusions about the Japanese culture. I feel, rather, that I am already living in Japan, or have lived in Japan, quite a bit. And that it’s a place where I have found, or am finding, some degree of peace.

What does this mean? It feels so natural to me that I don’t even bother trying explain it to myself. I have another self living in Japan, whether now or in the past or future doesn’t matter. But that self experiences, or has experienced a feeling of safety, rightness and calm that I can draw upon by watching these videos. From the little I know about Japanese culture, I suspect that this self is, or was, male, but who knows?

Can we learn without punishment?

Do you punish yourself? I punish myself, or I have in the past. But why I do it has only recently begun to become clear.

Here’s an example of how I punish myself: A friend gets the flu and I don’t feel that I have been properly sympathetic or caring enough, or I’ve caught myself thinking about how I haven’t been sick for at least a year and have felt proud of that fact. This is when the punishing aspect begins. Somehow I don’t trust that I am ever going to learn to be kind enough or caring enough if I don’t force myself to remember what it’s like to be sick, and so, I get sick. It’s a predictable cycle.

The same thing happens when a friend has a mechanical problem of some sort and I judge myself as having been inadequately sympathetic. I’ll punish myself by manifesting a similar problem in my own life.

I do the same thing if I find myself celebrating my good fortune without (here comes the judge again) adequately sharing it. Guilty on all counts and some loss must be exacted so I can remember what it’s like to experience lack to some degree.

My knee-jerk response to this realization of self-punishment is to turn around and look at my parents in a desire to pass the blame along, but I’ve decided to take full responsibility for this one. It doesn’t matter where it came from, it’s mine at this point, and I’m owning it. Quicker and more efficient to do that anyway.

Most of us, when these types of things happen, would use the phrase, “It’s as though I am being punished.” We externalize the authority to God, to the universe, to some external law of cause and effect, to the idea of karma. 

But the truth is that it’s our decision. We, as humans, are the ones who use punishment as a learning device. Punishment is not a divine attribute.

I’ve been watching old seasons of Project Runway, which is a great example of how this works in our minds. It’s a show in which aspiring designers compete for a chance to show their collections at NY Fashion Week, by running a gauntlet of difficult design challenges under increasing pressure over a period of weeks. 

The editing will always pick out designers who are being cruel or bossy or backstabbing, or who are winning challenges but without enough humility, and set the audience against them so that we can rejoice when they are eventually punished with loss. It’s a universal human pattern.

However, I’ve become convinced that we can’t manifest this pattern unless we have an unconscious belief in our own inherent guilt, and, in fact, if we are identifying with the body, believing that we are living in an actual, physical, finite universe. When we believe we are the body, compassion becomes a difficult proposition.

The body-mind, the ego, the human mind, is a mind that has limited information, and believes in linear time and the laws of cause and effect. It labels everything, judges everything on a dichotomous scale, as either good or bad. The goal of the human mind, the ego, is to keep the dream real, keep the illusion, or as Seth calls it, the camouflage, in place. Keep the “this is all there is-ness” of it going.

The human mind believes that the solution to almost everything, is to resist it. This is how it solidifies the illusion of the separate self—by pushing against what seems to be outside of it.

And when it feels itself as a disconnected kind of marooned creature in this desert island we call life, it assumes that it is being punished because it has done something wrong. Hence, the idea of original sin, as opposed to the idea of fundamental goodness.

We are so primitive. We seek to appease our God by punishing ourselves before we can be punished.

I’ve been a real sucker for this routine in my life. But I’m on to it now, at least to some extent. It’s a work in progress. I can hear and identify the voice of the punishing guilt-monger when it arises and see it for what it is—pure bullshit. 

For example, I don’t go out much or socialize much, but on the occasions when I do, say, have dinner with a group, or go to some sort of social gathering, I will almost always awaken at 2 a.m. replaying the evening while an inner critic berates me for something I said. It will accuse me of having hurt someone, or having said something offensive, or having misrepresented something. (I often think that when I die I won’t need a life review because my entire life is one huge incessant life-review, and not in a good way.)

But now I am beginning to be able to see this as the voice-for-guilt. The voice-for-guilt wants my energy. It wants to create fear and preoccupation and convince me that the dream is real and that I am a sinner, on one level or another. It doesn’t want me to forgive myself for being a well-meaning but clumsy, inept human.

And yet, this is what we are—well-meaning but clumsy, inept humans. Can we learn without punishment? Can we forgive ourselves? In this, as in so many things, I love the Kabbalah idea that there are divine gifts, like this kind of love and forgiveness, that we cannot accept for ourselves. But we can do it because God wants us to.

As Abraham-Hicks says: You cannot get sick enough to help sick people get better. You cannot get poor enough to help poor people thrive. It is only in your thriving that you have anything to offer anyone. If you’re wanting to be of an advantage to others, be as tapped in, tuned in, turned on as you can possibly be.

Healing my relationship with my mother

This is a happy story, but I’m afraid I have to give a little background, so bear with me. 

My relationship with my mother was difficult. She was a master of passive aggression and guilt-mongering—a woman full of fears and anxieties that she freely radiated into the atmosphere around her. I spent most of my life struggling to not be like her. 

We loved each other deeply but the love was buried in a quicksand bog of knee-jerk reactions and triggering. For most of my adult years I could not feel the love. I knew it was there, somewhere, but it would only come to consciousness in isolated moments of surprise, suddenly taken unawares like a duck flushed by a hunter. Like when I’d first see her after a separation and experience the shocking recognition of how old and frail she looked. Or when she was visiting me and slipped in my kitchen, sitting down hard, and couldn’t get up—the love was overwhelming as I rushed to help her. Within a few minutes, or usually as soon as she began to speak, the bog would close over and all affection would be lost to fending off the onslaught of her neurotic personality.

My husband once said that after talking with my mother he sometimes felt like he needed a shower. He was exquisitely gracious with her, but nothing made much difference. Every time I went to visit her, in her last years, I’d promise myself that I would be kind and loving, that I would overlook what she said or did, and I would not get triggered. And every time I’d fail within minutes.

I was alone with her in the hospital the night she died, and I had a crazy fear that her demons, the ones she’d hosted forever, would come streaming out of her lifeless body, looking for a new haunt. I was afraid they would choose me. 

For two years after her death, I experienced vertigo—the world kept spinning. I felt as though so much of my energy had gone into pushing against my mother, that when she died the force of that resistance, no longer having anything to push against, unhinged my world and sent it spiraling through space. 

I couldn’t grieve. I felt only a strange combination of relief and anxiety. A feeling that even though she was dead, the relationship wasn’t over. I wanted it to be over.

We didn’t have a funeral. I had kept her ashes, and after that two years of vertigo, decided that maybe it was time to say a proper goodbye. We scattered some of her ashes in Lake Superior and my husband helped me bury the rest under a crab apple tree in our back yard. We dug a hole and I put in some photos and some of her small, personal possessions. We marked the grave with a stone and I began to cry.

The grief I finally experienced was as much for her life, her painful, sad life, and our messed-up relationship, as it was for her death. 

That was when the dreams began. In the first dream I recall, my mother’s closest friend handed me a doll—like a Barbie Doll. I was very happy to get this doll. I cradled it in my arms and felt such love for it. Then she told me that this doll was my mother. Somehow, this made sense. 

I could handle feeling the love if it was projected into a small inanimate plaything—something that couldn’t speak and couldn’t make the earth turn to quicksand beneath my feet.

As the dreams progressed, my mother became human and I was always her caretaker. Even though in dreams she was an old woman, I loved her as though I were her mother and she my beloved child. I felt an infinitely gentle and caring love for her. I held nothing back, was completely undivided. Every time she shows up in a dream I am thrilled, the way I’m thrilled when my son surprises me by unexpectedly showing up at my studio for a visit or a chat.

We don’t talk much. I’m usually helping her do something. She’s got a happy spirit in my dreams and the love I feel for her is simple and powerful. There is no hesitation in it. There are no blocks. And it’s always like the love of a mother for her child.

Am I, in some other lifetime, her mother? I don’t know! I don’t think it’s necessary to interpret these dreams. I feel as though our relationship is being healed. In a recent dream, she reverted to being a mother-figure and we had a disagreement of some sort. But we seemed to deal with it in a healthy way, as though we’d both learned how to disagree without letting our egos get in the mix.

I still don’t necessarily feel her love for me. That hasn’t come through strongly yet. Or I haven’t allowed it to come through, perhaps, because in life I’d lost confidence in her love. But I experience my love for her and that adds a recognizable constellation to my internal heavens. Something I can navigate by.

So, I didn’t know that this could happen—that a relationship could heal itself in this way, after one person dies. I also didn’t know that it was possible to have a truly demented relationship with someone here in human life, and for it to turn out to be, once all is said and done, so profoundly loving.

I don’t know what any of this means in terms of whether what I am experiencing in my dreams is actually “her.” Or maybe this is my inner self trying to restore balance, heal my emotions in relation to her in a gentle way. I don’t know what it is. But it’s been very effective.

The Proliferating Story

I’ve been looking at styles of preoccupation—the proliferating mind that seems to be the way in which we lose our lucidity here in this dream of life. I feel like it is the proliferating, runaway mind that makes the dream seem real and robs us of our power. 

Fear, in all of its styles and degrees, is the greatest creator of preoccupation I’ve found so far in my own mind. Fear—whether evidence-based or not—of change, loss, illness, suffering, uncertainty.

But I’d have to say that a great big fat second place, at least in my own mind, goes to guilt.

For example, my son and his partner, who is pregnant with their first baby, came over for supper last night. We had a lovely dinner and my son requested leftovers to take home, which I was thrilled to give him, but I also knew that this particular dish is a favorite of my husband’s so I limited the amount of leftovers I shared with them. I had also purchased sorbet for his lovely partner for dessert because she’s lactose intolerant and we were having fruit and ice cream.

I’d intended to give her the sorbet when they left because it turned out that it was her favorite flavor.

I failed in my intentions here in two ways. I put some (but not much) of the leftovers in a container for my son, forgetting that I had already set aside quite a bit for my husband. And I forgot to give her the sorbet when they left.

This morning I discovered not only the sorbet but the forgotten stash of leftovers that I could have sent with them.

Sounds like nothing much, right? But I was hurled into a maelstrom of guilt. How could I keep food aside rather than sending it with my child (who is obviously not a child and quite capable of feeding himself). How could I forget to give a promised gift to a pregnant mother? How could I FORGET TO SHARE? Am I losing my mind, my memory? What kind of a mother am I?

This was quite a shocking attack from the inner critic, but what made it memorable this time is that I had just enough awareness to say, “Hey, wait a minute. What’s going on here?”

It’s clear enough that somehow I’d accepted a belief concerning food and mothers and children—something like “All food must go to the children!” And yes, it was obvious that my well-nourished son and his partner would not starve without the leftovers and sorbet. But I began to see that the content of the attack was almost an excuse. It had nothing to do with anything actually happening in the present moment.

It was a way to create guilt-as-preoccupation. What I’ve begun to see is that the ego creates an illusion in thought, a story, and then tries to get you to solidify it by first, believing it, and then, letting it drive a series of mental and physical actions that are used to make the story seem real. It tries to create a feedback loop.

The ego is the driving force that makes this reality seem real. And it does this through leading us to become preoccupied with aspects of the game/dream/matrix, thereby losing our awareness and lucidity and forgetting the true nature of our identity as the creator of the whole shebang.

One way to maintain lucidity in a nighttime lucid dream is to remember to avoid getting hung up staring at a detail. To remember to keep your vision scanning, your mind fresh and aware of the fact that you are dreaming, and not become hypnotized by, or preoccupied with, any of the dream details to the extent that you lose your lucidity and fall back into dreaming.

One of the best ways I have found to do this in the waking dream that is this human life, is to be aware at all times of how my thoughts feel. Guilt thoughts feel as compellingly awful as fear thoughts. And they are sticky in a similar way, making it difficult to wrest your awareness out of the feedback loop long enough to see the ego behind the curtain, directing the show.

I don’t necessarily mean to create an idea of ego-as-villain. After all, it’s just doing the job it learned when we were children. What I want to do is to illustrate the fact that it can be tricky to stay awake, because the forces of preoccupation have so much momentum. And one of the best ways to awaken to the fact that you’ve fallen asleep and succumbed, is to get super-familiar with the feeling of being swept up in a proliferating story that feels bad.

I’m saying that to me, the content of the story is irrelevant, because when you boil it down to its essence, it’s all about fear, guilt and the preoccupation that arises simultaneously with them and causes us to go to sleep and lose our inner peace.

Here’s a theory—I almost think it’s the ego’s job to make the dream real—to challenge us in this way to remember ourselves. It is the ego that is the stage master, the costume designer, the makeup artist, the script writer. Maintaining the illusion is its job. And maybe it’s our job, as actors, to remember why we decided to be in this play, and to, finally, take control of the script.

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.

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