TIME AS FRIEND

In traditional spiritual models, time is often regarded as a villain, the primary nemesis of students of awakening. And indeed it has been correctly emphasized by teachers—both historical and contemporary—that the doorway into sacred Now cannot be unlocked in either the past or future. It is surely obvious that in order to achieve an awareness of the present, one must necessarily be focused on the present. Also, even in simplest human terms, many people come to view time primarily to represent the inevitable movement of life toward atrophy and the dissolution of death. From either of these views, the temporal progression can hardly be regarded as a friend.

One vital aspect of the spiritual journey, however, involves the reinterpretation of all things that have been perceived by the student in a negative light into a positive experience. In a sense, awakening is not the rising up into Nirvana, but the translation of earth into Heaven, or perception into Reality. In the world of perception and time, the Reality of all things is buried beneath the perceiver’s personal evaluation. In this way we are actually blinded to Reality by our own judgment, which seeks to divide everything we see into one of two categories—“good” or “bad.”

In Truth, all things are actually neutral. We make them seem good or bad depending on our view of them. It is therefore not the things of the world that need changing in order for Nirvana to be achieved, but our evaluation of those things. This includes the passage of time.

I would like to offer you a new vision of time that has the power to transform it from your enemy into a friend. This new interpretation includes two parts:

  1. Time does not bring death. In order to understand how time can be viewed as beneficent, it is necessary to experience yourself as you really are. What you are in Truth does not age. Your true Self is deathless. It cannot be attacked, injured, or changed in any way, by any force—including time. When you identify with It, you will realize that time is harmless.
  2. Time is like a river that flows through you, continuously cleansing you and removing all of your past mistakes, along with everything you have judged to be harmful, valueless, painful, or negative in any way. Time will sweep all this debris away and into the oblivion of the past, where it will disappear into nothingness so long as you do not choose to cling to its reflection in the mirror of your mind. All of your mistakes and pain no longer exist. The flow of time has removed them all, and made you free of them now.

Be thankful for time, then, for it can as easily be a friend as a foe. Only your decision holds the power to determine which it is for you. Choose with wisdom.

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The Christ Incarnate

Recently I spotted Jesus driving a late model Ford Bronco, smoking a Camel non-filter. He still had the beard, and it was still poorly kept. At first I didn’t think he saw me, but when he stopped at a roundabout, I noticed him, noticing me, noticing him. A twinkle lit his eye, and the corner of his lip turned upward. He didn’t look directly at me, but then again Jesus doesn’t have to in order to make a point.

So there I was, stuck behind Jesus while he waited for traffic to clear. I wanted to follow him, but just then an opening parted before him, just like Moses and the Red Sea, and Jesus slipped away. I tried to punch into traffic, but the Red Sea closed in on itself impossibly fast. As he zipped out the opposite end of the circle, he looked back at me, the subtle grin now an expansive smile. Then he blew a long stream of smoke from his window, and was gone, just like that, as if he had vanished into thin air.

It was definitely Jesus—no doubt about it. That wasn’t the question. When you see the Christ incarnate, you know it, baby! It leaves you breathless. This is a true story.

Later, I got to ruminating. Had Jesus’ disappearance after the resurrection all been a sham? Maybe he hadn’t vanished from the Earth after all. Perhaps he had quietly blended into the masses, and had been hanging out as an ordinary citizen ever since, just like one of us—paying his taxes, working at Subway, hanging out on street corners with homeless guys, drinking beer. Who knows? Maybe, thought I, Jesus Christ had always been here.

I meditated on this, because I knew there was a lesson in it. If Jesus reveals himself to you, you can be sure it’s not an accident. You don’t get to a position like his without being in command of the details. In fact, it wasn’t until I remembered seeing Jesus another time, in another person’s face, that I started to suspect the truth. This most recent sighting had been so vivid and intense, it opened up my mind to other “sightings” I had previously dismissed as imagination. As I thought harder, even further into the past, I was startled to realize I had, in fact, seen Jesus on several occasions.

At last the clouds in my mind parted. The reason Christ can appear in different people at different times is that he lives inside of us. So he can peek out from any pair of eyes, and can appear in any random face. Jesus, I realized, is everywhere, and always.

Look carefully for the Lamb of Innocence in everyone you meet, and you will begin to see exactly what I mean. The most extraordinary thing about this phenomenon, however, is that once you start seeing him in others, you begin to realize that the shinning eyes of Christ are watching you as well, right from your own reflection every time you look in the mirror. He lives inside you too.

Christmas and Newtown

It’s Christmas time again, a time that at its core is meant to represent peace, family, and the birth of holiness here on earth. After the recent school shooting, however, many people may ask, “How can a loving God allow such atrocious acts as occurred in Newtown, Connecticut?” This is a reasonable question, and an important one to answer, especially in regards to Newtown. While there have been other school shootings, none have triggered the immediate outrage this one did, in part due to the age of most of the victims. The murder of young children feels especially repulsive to us, in part because of their relative innocence.

It is important to discuss how things like this can happen despite God’s love for us, and also to understand what God’s response is. The ego always attempts to use such tragedies as evidence that God does not love us, or that there is no God. Some people even believe that God actually causes such things to punish us for our “sins.” To believe that God caused this tragedy, or even allowed it to occur, is to accuse God of murder. One thing is sure, either there is a God of love or a god of war, but not both. Love and war are opposites, and it is impossible for anyone, including God, to be dedicated to both. We believe it is possible to worship both love and war only because we do not understand what real love is, its absolute nature. Also, human beings slip so easily from loving to hating, sometimes we can’t even distinguish the difference. God does not suffer from this same confusion. Every experience I’ve had of being in God’s presence has been an experience of absolute love, protection, and care. And it’s not just me. Mystics throughout the ages, from all traditions, have reported this same experience.

Newtown is yet one more American tragedy, an unjustified act of unthinkable violence. It is not God’s will, but do not be deceived by appearances. God always answers such acts with His own healing solution, even if that answer is not immediately apparent. Let us not use this one, sick soul’s act of vengeance as an excuse to find the world reprehensible, unlovable, a dark place of violence and murder. Those who attack do not love themselves. This is the cause of all violence, therefore it must be true that love is the only answer. How can you solve a problem that is caused by a lack of something except by providing what is missing? When your car runs out of gas you instantly realize that the problem can only be solved by adding fuel. Why is it so much more difficult to comprehend that a lack of love can only be healed by providing love? Love is the only answer to violence and sickness in all its dark forms. There is no other solution that will work, and the sooner we learn this, as a species, the sooner we will put an end to the ugliness of the world, and reveal its hidden beauty, which God has endowed it with forever.

Hatred and attack are human behaviors, stemming from an absolute lack of love and light. This is the only way any person could become capable of murdering little children. Yet the truth is, the human will is an extension of the Divine Will, being a direct creation of It. If God were to try to “force” us to live in peace and love each other, it would actually be perceived as an attack. God is incapable of attack of any kind. We must choose peace on our own. What God can do, however, is to ensure that the souls of all those who were murdered are kept safe in Reality, despite the violence by which they left this earth. They have not died, for the gift of life is eternal. Today they sleep, resting serenely upon the bosom of God’s love; tomorrow they will be reborn, to rise and teach the lessons which God has blessed them with during their slumber. So it is that those who have been slaughtered will one day become great teachers of peace, a gift for all humanity. For wherever evil creates horror and tears, God bestows a miracle to bless our sight, mend our hearts, and replace our tears with faith, smiles, and laughter.

Natural Miracles

As a long-time devotee of A Course in Miracles, I occasionally get asked about the nature of miracles. What is a miracle, do they really exist, and if so, how can we learn to experience them? Some people don’t believe in miracles, but I know they are real. I see miracles every day. It is true, however, that in order to receive a miracle, appreciate it, or even recognize it at all, some training is necessary. Miracles are bundles of mystical energy that radiate from the timeless, eternal, unseen Spirit, into the time-bound, temporary, gross physical world. For this reason, you must be able to release any sense of fear associated with experiencing something you cannot see with your eyes, touch with your hands, or understand through ordinary linear perception. Otherwise the miracle would only generate fear, when its ultimate purpose is to heal fear.

Miracles can be born into time only through our awareness of Eternity—even if that awareness lasts just a moment. One instant is enough to allow the miracle to enter your life. One moment of perfect openness, non-judgment, and appreciation for all life. It is equally true, however, that without this appreciation it becomes impossible to receive a miracle. Miracles are all around you, and yet without a loving mindset, they remain invisible. This is because they are gifts of purest, Divine love, therefore you need to be in a state of love in order to receive them.

Some miracles produce physical changes in our lives, such as when a person spontaneously heals. It should to be clarified, though, that this sort of healing is not their ultimate purpose. Such events are merely side effects of the miracle. Love naturally heals. The real purpose of the miracle is to mend our sense of separation from each other and God. Miracles heal our fear of death and sickness, our feelings of guilt, hatred, and loneliness, along with all of the similar emotions that keep us blind to the timeless, deathless Self that dwells within us—our Core Self. Miracles awaken us to this higher Self, for it is our lack of awareness of who we really are which is the ultimate human sickness.

If you want to learn to receive miracles, it does require some discipline, practice, and training, but most of all it needs your willingness and love. For starters, learn to sit quietly and open your mind to the present moment. The here and now is the birthplace of every miracle. Close your eyes to the world and turn inward. Forget about the past, and release any concerns regarding the future, as well as all sense of anxiety, guilt, fear, or judgment of any type. Miracles can be known only in quietness.

Secondly, open your heart to forgiveness, gentleness, and unconditional love. Let no fear intrude upon your ability to love openly, without reservation. The nature of the miracle is to expand, like a great wave arcing across the sea. It isn’t meant for you alone. In order to receive a miracle, you cannot stop it with yourself; you must learn to allow them to flow through you, out into the world and to others. A blocked miracle is an un-received miracle. So you need to believe that other people deserve miracles too, and learn to allow the miracle to pass right through you, blessing all living creatures without distinction. In this way, you become a channel for the healing energy of the miracle, and as it moves through you, you receive the miracle’s blessings in whatever form you need, whether it is healing of the body, mind, relationships, or even just your general life circumstances. The forms of suffering do not matter. No form of illness is immune to the loving blessing the miracle brings.

Simply learn to align yourself with love and become intensely present—with an open heart and an open mind—and miracles will no longer be a cosmic mystery. Just like me, you will begin seeing them appear all around and within you, every day, surrounding you with beauty and blessings for all the people of the world, including you.

Meditation Posture and Positions

How should you sit during meditation? This question comes up again and again during my classes. The truth is, just as there are no secret meditation techniques, there aren’t any magical positions either. How to sit during meditation is one of those hot topics that has been talked about to the point of obsession, when in fact it is a secondary matter. This is typical of ego-based thought: all the things that are unimportant and lead to no real progress receive the bulk of our attention, while important matters are hardly considered at all.

With this in mind, I will be brief here. Sit up when you meditate. Reclined positions induce sleepiness and withdrawal, whereas sitting up will help keep you alert. Meditation is not a passive withdrawn state, but an energized, enlivened one. You will also want to sit with a straight back. There is no need to keep your back perfectly ramrod straight, which increases muscular tension, but let your back remain gently, naturally straight, and avoid slouching. Keep your shoulders back, and chin up. Rest your hands in your lap or along your legs wherever they naturally fall (palms up or palms down, it does not matter which). There are many distractions to meditation, and physical discomfort is one of them. So above all else, you should adopt a position that is comfortable.

Chair (or Egyptian) Position
Sitting in a chair is a great place to start. Any straight-backed chair will work. Simply sit with your feet flat on the floor while following the above guidelines. You can use a pillow or two to make yourself more comfortable.

The Burmese Position
Sometimes called “Indian Style,” this simple and comfortable cross-legged position is a staple for many meditators. Sit on a pillow and cross your legs in front of you, keeping both ankles on the ground. This position, along with the Lotus and Half-Lotus (see below) may be performed on a yoga mat on the floor, or on a comfortable chair, bed, or sofa.

The Lotus Positions
The Half-Lotus takes the Burmese one step further. It is a cross-legged position in which one foot is folded over the top of the opposite thigh, while the other foot remains on the ground as in the Burmese. The Lotus Positions have the advantage of increasing stability, which becomes more important during deeper meditation. The disadvantage is that you need to be relatively flexible. The Full Lotus is performed by placing both feet atop the thighs.

Meditation Benches and Pillows
Specialty items such as meditation benches, pillows, and cushions are optional purchases you may consider. Benches are typically fashioned to allow room to tuck your legs beneath so you sit in a kneeling position, and pillows are simply small cushions designed specifically for meditation.

If you are just getting started, keep it simple. Try sitting on a chair, or use the Burmese Position. As you grow more accustomed to how your body reacts to meditation you will gain a better idea of what works best for you. As with all things about meditation, what works for one person may not for another, and the best way to discover your own needs and preferences is through experience. A much more important thing than good posture to develop—which really will deepen your meditations!—is compassion, gentleness of both action and thought, and simple loving kindness. You see, it isn’t how you sit that matters during meditation. It is how you think and feel that counts. Nothing liberates the spirit like the cultivation of unconditional love.

Body MInd Healing

Health and healing. In our world these states are synonymous with happiness. The sick know this well. Without health, life can feel like death—dark, fearful, isolated. Throughout history people have conjured endless remedies for an equally endless list of ailments, and treatments have ranged from the elaborate, magical rituals of witch doctors, to the most advanced care of modern medicine.

There is a new lesson emerging, however, which is gradually changing the way we approach health and healing in a bold way. Even modern medicine is catching on, and it begins with this: A patient’s mind, beliefs, and attitudes have a stunning and direct effect on their health.

Imagine a world where your body did not control you, but you controlled it. Where you were in full charge of your own health. This may sound too good to be true, but it may not be as farfetched as you think. Numerous studies have sprung up supporting just this. In his book Meditation as Medicine, Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. notes that “Virtually all of the latest scientific research indicates that each of the body’s organs and systems is inextricably linked.” This includes the mind. For example, it has been discovered that neurotransmitters and their receptors are distributed throughout the body, not just in the nervous system. Essentially what this means is that, while the mind may be centered in the head, it has a network of smart outposts located throughout the body. Dr. Khalsa clarifies this by noting, “Your mind is not just in your brain.” It’s literally in your body too.

Yet the recognition that the mind influences health and is connected to the body is only a rudimentary lesson of an even more fascinating consideration. The lesson’s next step is that the mind does more than just affect the body—it produces it. Put another way, the external is nothing more than an extension of the internal. If this is true, in order to heal the body, it is first necessary to heal the mind.

This is a startling thought that I believe will one day turn medicine on its head, and it is far more than just metaphysical theory. It is emerging science. One top researcher in the field, Candace Pert, Ph.D., summarized her ground-breaking findings in her book Molecules of Emotion, by saying quite directly, “Mind doesn’t dominate the body, it becomes body—body and mind are one.”

Mind becomes body. If this theory turns out to be true, it might just be the greatest medical discovery in history. Consider the implications: Sick or well, the body’s condition finds its roots within the mental and emotional fabric of the patient. This would also mean that any physical healing—at least of a lasting nature—would necessarily arise from healing the psychical diseases of the individual. In fact from this view, no matter how advanced they are, physical remedies without emotional care only treat symptoms—like trying to cure a brain tumor with aspirin. It might help the headache, but it won’t cure the cancer. We must fix what’s broken inside our minds before we can successfully fix what’s broken inside our bodies.

How to Meditate

There are many meditation types, each with different approaches, yet they share one objective: to help practitioners experience a pure state of being through which they realize that their life exists independent from thought, the body, and time. You are much more than just your ego and body.

Some meditation teachings have become quite popular. Zazen is a Zen Buddhist practice that often focuses on either counting or minding (paying attention to) the breath, while Transcendental Meditation uses mantras—which are repeated words, sounds, or sentences—as its primary focus. There are also guided meditations and other visualization practices during which you focus on imagery. Some techniques aim toward opening the heart through the development of forgiveness, compassion, and loving-kindness, and still others stick with more routine forms like simple breathing techniques, or focusing one’s attention on various parts of the body or the meditation chakras, such as “third eye meditation,” during which you attempt to keep your awareness centered at the point between your eyebrows.

No one technique is necessarily better than another. What works well for one person may not for someone else. Likewise, as you progress you may find yourself evolving from one practice to another. In other words, what works for you today, may not down the road. The meditation journey is an evolving one. When choosing a technique to start with, keep it simple. The best techniques are elegant in their simplicity. The most important point to remember is that the best meditation form is the one that you actually use!

If you have never meditated before, try it now. You will need just five to ten minutes and a quiet space to proceed. When you are ready, assume a comfortable, seated position, close your eyes, and begin.

1. Relax. Take several deep breaths, breathing into your abdomen so that your belly expands like a balloon, and exhaling fully, and then allow your breath to return to normal. Spend a minute or two getting relaxed. Feel the tension draining from your muscles one at a time, beginning with your feet and working your way up your legs and torso, chest, shoulders, jaw and brow, and down your arms to your hands. Try to intentionally relax each body part.

2. Count. When you begin to feel relaxed, on the next in-breath, count silently to yourself, “one.” When you exhale, think, “two.” Inhale, “three.” Exhale, “four.” Continue counting to “ten,” and then start over again from “one.”

3. Focus. Try not to become distracted by other thoughts. When you find yourself caught up in regular thinking, gently but firmly return to the practice of counting your breaths, starting over again from “one.”

During this practice, pay particular attention to the quiet spaces between breaths. There is a sense of pure awareness that can be experienced through this practice. Try to relax into this space of quiet stillness, and feel as if you are merging with and becoming one with it.