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Do You Have A Practice

This talk is meant to suggest the importance of a regular meditation practice. The pull of the world, and the normal distractions and natural egoic self builders don’t remind us that we need to see that there is more than thought. There is experience. We can exist without our minds running all the time. We can train a state experience that fulfills us deeply and gives us many other perspectives on how to live, what is important, and how we can behave with one another. We need to practice daily however. We need to train the mind in this new way of understanding. If you are not training your mind, you may not see when you get lost again. You may not be as aware as you can be of your own belief structures that can limit and ultimately harm you.

Our world is aware for the first time of the entirety of itself. With our news media being global, we are able to see the natural horrors that occur from time to time. We also get to see, possibly too deeply, the unnatural horrors as well. Many people wonder what can we do about these things. What will help us understand these tragedies? We want to figure it out, with our minds. But I suggest that the best thing to do is to learn to put the mind down. Learn to sit in stillness.

As we see our own structures more and more, we are helping others resonate in that way. As humans become more aware of themselves, our language about what is important can change. The words presence, and stillness start to have more gravity. As we see ourselves, we see other people as well, and we might just notice when someone is in need of attention, or help. Disasters will continue to occur of course, but we can contextualize them, and perhaps not be as fearful of them because we can see that there is depth in sorrow, and joy in the ordinary. And that life is not set in any definite pattern.

If you are interested in self growth, I humbly suggest you commit to a daily meditation practice. The benefits are enormous. But more than that as a selling point, I want to say that if we talk about growing, but don’t do the work, we may still be just as lost as those that haven’t woken up at all.

Song: Soup by Blind Melon

Introduction to States and Stages

This talk is an introduction to states and stages of consciousness. States of consciousness are our now experience, and stages of consciousness deal with the growth of self along many lines of development in time. In this talk I want to explain the importance of each of these perspectives of consciousness and begin to point at how we develop each of them.

States of consciousness are not permanent. They include: emotional states, drug induced states, meditative states, waking and sleeping states, and others. Much of our time is spent trying to manage our state experience. We feel hungry, we go for food. We have a headache, we take aspirin. We want to feel good, we have a beer.

Stages of consciousness instead deal with development along many different lines. Those lines include cognitive, value, interpersonal, moral, sexual, etc. On each of those lines there are altitudes of development. Some are more developed morally than others. Some are more developed cognitively. There can also be movement along these lines. An individual may start out as selfish, and move to nationalistic, and then finally resonate from a world view. Stages are objective judgments of subjective experience. They are the structures and beliefs from which we see the world.

Why do these altitudes of development get to be called stages? Because study after study shows that over time the answers to certain question about our experience go in one direction. The way we process and interpret the world tends to keep going in the same direction along these lines. There is a tendency to grow and widen our capacity and our understanding and experience of deeper stages. We all may not move along the line, but almost nobody goes backwards. There is a direction to the movement.

Healthy stage development, along any line looks like this: When one experience (or stage) is taken from subjective experience into objective experience. When we can look back at the prior stage objectively we have fully and healthily evolved through that stage.

Meditation (state management) practice doesn’t always show us our current stage. And while true subjective state experience doesn’t allow us to see our current stage ever (because we’re in it) we still grow through the stages over time. Working on meditation isn’t always only a direct state experience. Often it is a thinking dialog and running into walls of self, belief, structures, etc. It is my opinion that this part of the practice of meditation often leads to an understanding of the stages we’re going through. This is not because of the state experience, but rather the opportunity for introspection sitting offers.

States don’t tend to evolve, unless trained. And even then, they still jump around a lot. (Buddhas still sleep, wake and dream.) But states of mind can evolve when trained. The idea here is that non-dual awareness and the like can be developed. To a certain extent that is a stage in the realm of state experience. Once you understand and have non-dual experience, it has the capacity to inform the rest of your state experience.

Basically, we want to learn to manage our state experience as best we can, and grow through the stages of development along all the available lines as best we can. Doing those two things is what self development and growth is about, in this moment and through time.

Referenced: Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics

Do We Change The World Or Accept It

Surrendering to the moment is a very important teaching. Learning to accept what is, is one of the fundamentals of growing spiritually. So if acceptance is fundamental to this teaching, then why do all these teachers want to change what is? Why are they unable or unwilling to accept the world in its perfection exactly as it is? Teaching is asking people to be different than they are. Why don’t all the teachers just accept the current state of understanding and move on?

This is a really great question, and points out a large logic problem with all this teaching business, and what enlightenment means. Do we want to change the world, or learn to accept it? The answer really is both. And the important clarification is the misunderstanding that to become enlightened is to blindly accept everything. That is not necessarily what enlightenment, or growth is about. Accepting absolutely everything would leave us motionless. That idea of stillness is an illusion. To a mind that is trying to manage state experience only, that would make perfect sense, and hence be a very attractive thing to try to attain. But that attraction is the same attachment that’s in any other form of desire. So what is this growth or enlightenment we’re talking about?

Integral theory and spiral dynamics talk about the difference between states and stages. And while a full explanation of the difference is beyond today’s talk, I will say that we are definitely trying for deeper states of consciousness, but also (and possibly more importantly) higher stages of development. Each stage is a level of attachment. It is a set of beliefs, or a paradigm that we walk through and act from. So the idea is not that we are trying to stay peaceful, or joyful, or happy all the time (which would be a state experience only, and doesn’t happen), but rather we are trying to walk through these larger stages of development (which would lead to more and more wisdom, durability, capability, and hence better state management as well). We try to become identified with larger and larger portions of reality.

So no matter what stage we’re currently identified with, what can we do to work within this paradox? At what point is our own attachment to change, or to an idea of something better, a problem? It is compassionate when we want to help someone else with their pain. But we begin to get lost when we insist on their growth or begin to get attached to it. Work to explain things you understand to those who don’t understand it, but don’t get attached to the outcome. Be mindful of your attachments, especially when they are masked with change for the “good” of something. Change and creation is always occurring with or without our intention. Be involved in that change to whatever degree you want to be, but know that acceptance is always available to you, and use it well. We have the ability to change what is (the external), but we also have the ability to change instead what we are (the internal) to acceptance.

Referenced: Integral Theory

Dive In or Drop It

This talk is inspired by the question: In meditation, do we dive into frustration when it arises or do we drop it? I use this question to do an overview of meditation, and then answer at the end.

Meditation is really about state management. We are trying to foster a better state of mind. To do that, we try to become aware of all that we are. What we are ends up being thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. The investigation of these aspects of our self ends up being our spiritual experience. Many of us begin to meditate to deal with Busy Mind. To quell Busy Mind we try to separate thoughts from emotions and physical experience. That is the practice of meditation.

To become aware of all these aspects of our self we use mindfulness, which is placing the mind on an anchor and leaving it. We fail repeatedly so that we can foster awareness. Where is our mind? What is it doing? As we try to leave it somewhere, it wanders. As we become more aware of that wandering, we wake up more and more. This practice allows our mind the ability to still.

So during this training, and in life, do I dive into frustration, or drop it? What is the real practice here? Well, we actually do both. We dive into the feeling of frustration, the emotion and physical sensation, but we drop the thought of frustration. This allows us to become less attached to our thoughts. That lack of attachment allows us to foster stillness and ultimately gives us more control of our minds. For beginning meditators, the most immediate benefit is combating Busy Mind. As you meditate more and more, the benefits go all the way down.

Informed Morality

This talk is about how non-dual experience can inform our morality. It was inspired by a magazine article that painted non-duality as morally irresponsible. Non-duality is not irresponsible. In fact, it can deeply inform our morality.

What is morality? Morality defines and distinguishes between right and wrong. Our own history and belief systems are where our morals are born. It’s important to note that our morals are not universal and can vary greatly. As much as we feel “our” morals are correct, they in fact are relative. There are endless examples of clashing morals, and this is where most wars come from.

So if we describe our relationship to morality in shades, we could say that on one side, there is a person who is fully attached to right and wrong, and all the personal beliefs that support what is right and wrong for that person. On the other side, there is someone who is experiencing a non-dual state; they drop the attachment to good and bad and do not experience duality. All different levels of attachment and morality fall in between these extremes.

If we choose to experience non-duality our morals are informed. This does not mean they are lessened, or weakened. We do not now prefer bad to good. Rather, loosening our attachment to morals can bring deep wisdom. Once we see non-duality, we become less attached, and because of this we are able to deal more easily with complex moral issues.

The world is seeming more and more complex as globalization occurs, technology increases, and more choices in general become available to us. It can often be helpful to come to that complexity with the mind of “I don’t know.” Non-duality comes from place of “I don’t know,” instead of the belief based “I know how it should be” mind set. This allows us to approach complex situations in a more authentic and capable way. “I don’t know” allows for finding out. “I already know” does not. Right and wrong attachments can often be based on beliefs that are not relevant or helpful.

People who practice meditation have the opportunity to work with their beliefs as they practice. But all people see the edges of their moral value systems when things upset them. When we get upset, it’s time to get non-dual. Take a moment to focus on your breath and become still when dealing with things, this will allow for a new morality.

Referenced: Friedrich Nietzsche

The Pleasure Pain Treadmill

Basic ideas:

  • Seeing that good and bad, or pleasure and pain are in all things.
  • We can use pain to promote change.
  • Ultimately, we can get off the treadmill of pain and pleasure.

Our desire to avoid pain and experience pleasure tends to push us around if we are not paying attention. When we use introspection to learn about the mind we see that we all try to avoid pain and move toward pleasure in everything we do. This is a huge thing to understand fully.

Pain tells us something is wrong, but we tend to overreact and begin to avoid all pain and discomfort. This creates a treadmill of pain and pleasure. Where we are constantly trying to manage our states of mind by moving away from pain and toward pleasure.

We can deal with this three ways:

  • Do nothing.
    • How does this hurt us? Well, if we’re unconscious of it we end up not being very durable. We end up running from any and all pain we see. We might think we deserve no pain, and so whenever it comes up, we feel like we’re cursed or unlucky.
  • Secondly we can learn to use pain effectively.
    • Think of someone who’s life situation is fine, versus someone who is in pain. The person in pain is motivated to change. The person who is fine, may want to change, but will often not go through the bother or work to change because there is really no motivation to do so. This is the first way to use pain effectively. Become aware of it.
    • We can also use pain for gain. This is a way to develop in a worldly sense. It can help us do things like lose weight, or perform better at sports, and evolve spiritually or behaviorally. We can learn to associate pain to things we’d like to change, rather than where they happen to fall. Examples of this might be associating pain with being out of shape, or associating pain to not meditating.
  • Lastly, we can get off the treadmill of pain and pleasure.
    • Pain is inherent in all things. The duality of being shows us that there is both good and bad in all things. Good and bad are facets or opinions of things and situations. So it is unwise to try to always get the “good.” It just won’t work. Seeing this truth is a huge teaching.
    • Learning to accept pain as a part of the experience is a great teaching of meditation. Pain/pleasure treadmill response is the normal human response to being. What would an exceptional response look like? How can we achieve that state? Meditation is one way.
    • We place ourselves in an accepting mode, and train that response to stimuli. Boredom and frustration, and even physical pain can come up during meditation. It is training to learn about the nature of our relationship to pain and pleasure, and ultimately have the ability to get off that treadmill.
    • We learn to stay through different painful events and not judge them. That lack of judging gives us a different, and better, experience of both pain and pleasure. Then we are off the treadmill.

Learning about this allows us to wake up to the understanding that this is how we’re built. We also learn that we can use pain to grow. And lastly, we learn that not fearing pain or being attached to pleasure allows us a deep freedom. Those experiences are a part of the oneness of being. We can learn to relate to them differently.

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Bring It Back To The Breath

In this show I promise not to be too deep. Today I spend a few moments fostering presence with you. I open with a couple of conscious breaths, then onto examples of, and reasons for, bringing your focus back to your breath. I end mentioning that in regard to any learning, we deeply need to apply what we learn. Learning alone isn’t enough. Without application, it’s just spin.

Fostering presence will be the next evolution of man. Join in that evolution by bringing your attention back to your breath.

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Why We Can’t Hold On To Stillness

In this talk I want to discuss what might be our biggest challenge. To find a state of stillness, and remain productive in the world. How do we accomplish, while remaining present.

Why are most of us unable to hold on to stillness? Many of us can find stillness, but why isn’t it easier to just stay there? This talk assumes that you know what I mean when I say stillness. Some call it big mind, or a state of presence.

I did a talk before called Stillness in Motion. While this talk is similar, it will differ in the level we’re talking about. Stillness in motion was a talk about the feeling of holding stillness while we do things.

I’ve heard Ken Wilber say things like you can’t be in a non-dual state and in a state of duality at the same time. I’d be interested to speak with him about that because I have a deep sense of being still, or in a non-dual state while still seeing and being aware of, and able to function in the world full of duality.

This talk will discuss, and point out that we definitely still have the desire to accomplish and do things. We may drop the attachment to that desire, but we still discern.

At the base of our being is a function of judgement. This judgement leads to most of our discomfort. It puts us on the treadmill of time. Judgement says this situation isn’t as I would like it to be, so let’s change it. It leads to inner becoming. I’m not enough, etc. Many spiritual teachings seem to imply that this is a bad thing. But it’s important that we don’t vilify this idea. We need this function to survive. It’s the same impulse that tells us we’re in danger. It also allows for us to better the world.

We don’t lose the ability to judge when we’re still. I usually begin to describe this judgement as “discerning” to show that there is a difference. It isn’t a lost, deeply judgemental, place that we come from, but we can tell what our preference would be. We do chose to walk, and eat, and talk, etc.

Many stereotypical representations of meditation imply that the meditator is unable to discern when in a deep meditative state. That’s just not accurate. I mentioned before the Burning Monk, who had gasoline (or some flammable liquid) poured over him and lit. Then there was a picture taken of him not moving. While his experience of that might have been different than yours or mine, he still was aware that he was burning. The amazing thing is not some otherworldly state of mind he found, but rather the choice to stay. The discipline to stay.

The trick is going to be to learn to remain still while we judge and think. Can we remain aware while we judge? We need to learn to watch our judgements. The subtle distinction is this: A frustrated meditator learns about a pleasurable state of mind and then catches themselves thinking and discredits all the stillness they achieved. Whereas, a centered meditator finds himself or herself in a thinking state and watches it, thereby remaining centered.

In this world, we have things to accomplish. There is work to be done. In every moment we look at the world and have opinions about how it could be better, things we need, things we want to have, or do, or give. None of that is wrong. It’s really important that we allow for that. There is such a thing as growth. There is betterment.

So is stillness in conflict with betterment? Doesn’t stillness imply that we’re done? While it is an appreciative state, we can be aware of movement, and the need for change while holding on to stillness. Stillness is a state of awareness. One that is realized and awake to the truth of a situation. If there is betterment to be done, do it, but try to remain aware.

Our innate ability and need to create and judge is what’s impairing our ability to remain still. And that’s a wonderful thing. The work we’re here to do is to marry the two. We’re here to blend the duality. We can engage in both experiences, and do our best to remain aware of where we are and what we’re doing.

Referenced: Ken Wilber, and Burning Monk

Dealing with Death – Ours and Others

We lose loved ones all the time. We hope for an afterlife. The self wants to grow and be powerful and young. It is completely opposed to it’s own extinction. So there is fear and panic around the thought of death for many. In fact, many people can’t even discuss it. But all living things seem to pass away. How do we deal with that?

Today we’re going to talk about death of the body, but also death of the self. We’ll talk about how meditation relates to death, and how putting your life in perspective can be meaningful. We’ll talk about the death of others and how to deal with that. We’ll talk about the desire for an afterlife, and how death really makes everything deeply meaningful. Death is a part of life, so let’s talk about it.

We’ve discussed in the past, that we are not only self. We are also in some way connected to everything. Can that other identity help us deal not only with our own death, but also the death of others, and finally other types of change as well?

All living things die. But we can expand the idea of death from there. Situations die, friends change, we get divorced. All of these things are mini-deaths. We “die” in a different way as well. I am not the same 10 year old boy I once was. That boy is gone forever. So we are all changing. Everything is in a state of change. Death s a kind of change.

Meditation actually teaches us a death of self. We are putting down the ego and just identifying with the big mind. You obviously don’t actually die, and you can retain your “self” as much as you wish, but each time you enter this other mind, you will see it is a death of self in that moment. You will find that this type of practice can change you fundamentally. It can make you more able to deal with change, and hence your own death, and the death of others.

Truly being in the Now is about not thinking about the future. The entire thing is to watch the mind that wants to leave this moment. So in that, the Now becomes much fuller. Our entire attention is on it, and it becomes rich and thick. The understanding of this type of mind leads spiritual leaders to talk about eternity. Many talk about no death, in the death of self. So the temporary idea of you, or your ego, dies in that moment. And what is born is a fuller understanding of timelessness, or eternity.

Pulling away from your life and looking at it on a time line is very helpful and can put your life into a different context. Often we find ourselves just drifting along, but all events are precious, so it can be useful to find that context and check in.

There’s an old saying, or it might have been a viral email that went around way back, about filling a jar with a marble for every year of your life expectancy, and removing one on your birthday. It shows the significance of our lives. That could potentially give a deeper context to your life as well.

The desire for an afterlife comes from the mind that that is unhappy and wants salvation. It also may have been used as a carrot and stick for controlling people. But whether that’s true or not, it is really important to expose the mind that craves a better future, the ultimate of which would be a glorious afterlife.

We think that to stay moral, our culture needs to be held in a “proper space” with the appropriate carrot and stick. Meaning, if I were to take away the idea of living a good life being the thing that gets us into heaven, people might begin to behave poorly because there’s no point in behaving well. The idea of putting down the external carrot and stick scares many people. They immediately image anarchy and insanity ensuing from removing those guidelines. But a sincere morality comes from seeing the beauty that’s here, not a future hoped for beauty.

We need to become OK with who we are, without the hope for a prize. Because fear of not getting the prize does not work as our motivation. Fear based morality will not work. The example of extremists who die to get to heaven also cause great pain and suffering. They want the “prize” too much. Their morality is quite different, but also belief based. Either type of morality doesn’t seem to be working. To be clear, I’m not attacking peoples beliefs necessarily, I’m just saying that the mind that thinks about salvation, or hopes for it, or gets attached to it, is not the healthiest mind. It is ego based, and fear based. Seeing the beauty right in front of us, rather than being controlled by fear will work much better.

Death of others is very hard to deal with. It is very hard to lose a family member or loved one. We are attached to permanence, which doesn’t exist. This is a fault of the egoic mind. While losing things we care about will always be hard, I want to point out that the natural desire for permanence can make dealing with death and change even more difficult. If we realize that nothing is permanent, then we don’t have unrealistic expectations around things like a loved one dying. We need to learn to face non-permanence.

Fear of death and the unknown is enormous. But death makes everything matter. Living forever would take value away from lots of things. You’d be able to take literally forever to master things, so being a master chef as an example would have little meaning. We’d constantly be approaching everyone knowing everything, with no risk because we’d have forever to fix any problems, etc. It would be a very different existence for sure. Certainly different than most people would fantasize. Death is a part of life, and it is something we’ll do well to get more comfortable with.

Show Music: Live At Tonic by Christian McBride

Doing It In The Now

It seems many people want to get the idea of what enlightenment looks like.  We’re all trying to “figure it out.”  I get many emails discussing understanding these ideas.  This podcast is about doing them instead.

The “Now” has become very trendy.  So let’s not get lost in ideas about it.  We even have great philosophical minds telling us we don’t have time to be in the now, which is a bit ridiculous.  What I think they are saying is that we shouldn’t be trendy about the Now.

Because we can play with words and ideas and labels at this level we should see that we will never “figure it out.”  Rather we should look at the desire that we have to figure it out.  The idea of how to do this is less important than doing it.  Our minds want to become experts, and so we look at all the possibilities of “getting lost” so that we can be sure that we will win “when those things show up.”  But that state of mind is already lost.  The waiting, thinking, planning mind is exactly the mind we are trying to put down.

Someone comes across the idea of being at peace.  And they are listening to these podcasts, and trying to meditate.  And they realize they are not at peace.  The mind that is trying to get to peace is lost in time.  The mind that wants to “DO” peace is the mind that puts down expectations.  This may feel very unnatural to us.  We want to figure it out instead.

So when we “DO” peace, when we allow for peace of mind by coming to this moment, whatever it is, we are doing it “all the time”.  Because we start to realize that now is all there is.

The important concept is this: getting to this moment “is the end of it”, EVEN if we leave this moment.  Sounds like a cop out, and is hard to get your mind around, but it’s the truth.

So let’s look at the actuality of living in the Now.  We don’t care if we can do it permanently, because that is another idea.  We just want to do it now.  When we come to the Now in this moment (whenever that is), we realize that this moment is always here.  So that is all we have to do.  The mind will kick up again and say things like “You won’t be able to do that in the future.”  And that may even knock us off a bit, but seeing that once we DO come back, there is no tally of how long we’ve been gone.  So doing it now IS doing it forever.  Because the illusion is the mind that creates a future that doesn’t exist.

So doing it in the now is as simple as coming to what you are, your breath, this moment, the sounds, the fears, the whatever, without worrying if you can do it again later.  If you’re doing it now, you’re doing it forever.

Referenced: Pema Chodron, Eckhart Tolle