Because we live either in the future or the past we inevitably suffer in the present moment over that which may or may not occur. The human mind has evolved to ponder how to survive in an often hostile and threatening universe. This by necessity requires creating and imagining future narratives and strategizing how to deal with them.
This clearly beneficial survival mechanism can unfortunately produce suffering when it is allowed to range free and without constraints. We seem to live in that imagined future and in the process accelerate the perception of time. The challenge we all face is how to balance the necessity to plan and protect ourselves and our loved ones while not abandoning the need to recognize the beauty and majesty of the present moment.
Our lives seem to race by us. Minutes become hours become days, weeks, months and years. We shock ourselves at the passage of time and it seems to accelerate as we age. This time treadmill is on fast forward with no evidence that it will slow down until we ultimately stop running. Will we inevitably reach the end of our lives and look back in shock at how quickly it has passed?
It may just require a recognition of our nature and to make a concerted effort to slow down the process. I return to the topic of meditation. It requires the ‘time-out’ or in other words taking a forced vacation from the incessant thoughts that bring stress and anxiety to our daily existence. It requires a recognition that we can be in a safe place–even for that time we take to do it. It allows us to calm the mind and observe its thoughts.
This is the practice of mindfulness in which the contents of our minds—our thoughts and feelings can be allowed expression but without attachment. It also changes how we perceive time. The present moment may seem like an eternity when we attempt to change our perception of it. That is what is so fascinating about meditation. Try it for only ten minutes and shock yourself by the difficulty in staying with it.
It is difficult to accomplish because it challenges the way our minds have developed over a lifetime and how it works by default. But it is worth the effort if we can just take the time to practice it.
I keep returning to this topic because I need to reinforce to myself the need to do it. The intellect understands what should be done even though we constantly find excuses to avoid it. We just need to act on it. Nameste
Anyone out in cyberspace presently immersed in a meditation practice? Raise your hand. What about those who have tried numerous times and always seem to have it slip away. My hand is raised now. Why is it so difficult and more importantly why is it so valuable? Clearly this short piece will not answer these questions completely but here’s some thoughts on the subject.
We should meditate because of its health benefits. Really. It leads to a reduction is stress, in measurable stress hormone levels, it increases self-awareness, it reduces blood pressure and the fight or flight response on our cardiovascular system. It increases sense of serenity and reduces reactivity (how we respond when we get cut off while driving). It seems to promote an optimistic approach to life rivaling the benefits of antidepressants, it decreases the brain volume in the amygdala, the center of stress, anxiety and fear, increases the grey matter volume throughout the brain in older meditators versus older non-meditators. It may also open individuals up to spiritual experiences. Need more reasons?
So why is it so difficult to do? Probably for the reasons we need to do it. Our minds through culture and evolution are determined to think about a multitude of thoughts in as short a period of time as possible. Anyone who has tried meditation can attest to that. Try meditating for only ten minutes. Set an alarm and realize how inpatient we all are. We will often check the timer just to make sure it hasn’t stopped working. Only ten minutes seems like an eternity.
Known by a variety of terms including ‘monkey mind’ our thoughts leap from one to another like monkeys in a cage. We can understand why this occurs. Darwinian survival mechanisms promoted the ‘worriers’ over those who chilled out and just let it all happen. Which one of our ancestors could anticipate threats could escape or avoid them. This cognitive legacy can now hurt us as much as help us. Meditation endeavors to dampen that innate response of the mind.
Some of the confusions regarding meditation may relate to the variety of approaches. From mantra to mindfulness and a seemingly infinite variations of each, we can can caught in the middle ground of not know what to do. I have been there and clearly each approach has benefits and admirers. Mantra may be somewhat easier to begin with but I will return to the mindfulness approach. It relates simply to the present awareness of the breath. When thoughts intrude, as they inevitably will simply observe them and go back to the breath. Sounds easy but it isn’t. I like this approach because it leads to the Buddhist notion of the witness consciousness. We are NOT our thoughts or emotions but can become the witness of them. We can recognize that our higher self, the soul, observes the creation of our mind. This awareness can be profound in and of itself. Difficult to achieve. That’s why it is called a practice.
In an era where many are diligent in working out the body, let’s be equally committed to training our minds to function at their highest level.
Good luck and namaste. I know I’ll need it.
A metaphysican’s desire— to explain consciousness. What is it? Is it strictly and simply the functional product of neural pathways integrating themselves within the unlikely structure known as the brain?
Or is there more here. Is consciousness the expression of the mind, clearly not identical with the brain, the physical apparatus and structure. The mind seems to be where we are. Right now. It is the space in which “I” reside. It is the conglomeration of all my thoughts and feelings, cognitive and emotional essence. But is that all? Do we delude ourselves into believing that there is nothing more to us than this?
Is it conceivable in any way that consciousness is not merely the product of neural activity within the brain, but that it represents something more? It is clear that physical damage to the brain though injury, disease or congenital birth defects influence our thoughts and feelings.
We appear to be strictly. the product of physical brain functioning. But what about the reports of near-death experiences (NDE) with their out of body recollections. Numerous examples can be found in which cognition, observation and reporting of these experiences confirm what seems to be logically impossible— awareness exists outside of a fully functional brain.
Critics will claim the NDEs are illusory projections of a disordered hypoxic brain. Really? Then how can a disordered, malfunctioning, disabled brain produce such clear, emotionally and spiritually transformative experiences?
So what if the relationship between the brain/mind/soul is this. The brain is the physical transmitter of consciousness. But mind or consciousness is an amalgam of the physical brain with its inherent proficiencies and deficiencies and soul consciousness which is our true essence and has reincarnated over many lifetimes..
The soul consciousness essentially incarnates and observes the working of the mind which creates and reacts to its own creation. So essentially our minds our egoic selves is the “place” in which our consciousness resides. Much of this information can be gleaned from the writings and research of Michael Newton and his work with deep hypnotic regresssion.
If we find evidence that consciousness CAN indeed exist without the functioning of a physical brain,then we can open ourselves to the possibility of a cognitive soul that reincarnates over multiple lifetimes.
In my continual search for a meditation practice I return to concepts that may or may not have “worked” in the past. Referring to a 2009 blog posting on this topic I can find some renewed interest in its features.
It centers on the breath but with an awareness of the ephemeral nature of existence. We know that breathing has both a voluntary and involuntary component–if not we would not survive an evening’s sleep. But the voluntary nature of breathing is powerful and can be used as a spiritual metaphor.
We can visualize the Universe, God, Ein Sof as willing our existence–literally from breath to breath. This Kabbalistic interpretation differentiates us as animals, living beings who do not exchange oxygen and CO2 passively like plants.
Therefore, we can regard our very existence as a choice which depends on the Universe offering the gift of life for just this breath and not another. When we breath in, the Universe is breathing life energy into us. When we breath out the Universe is accepting our release of control. Our usual state of consciousness avoids considering this possibility. But we can focus and immerse ourselves in gratitude for life itself–and the gift of one more breath.
This is akin to the notion of releasing the illusion of control in which we usually exist. Our giving it up to the Universe allows us to finally relax. There is no reason to panic, or worry. We can release our tight grip on ourselves. Plunging into the abyss is our destiny. Will we recover from it?
Wait for the next breath.
Science Daily provides me with much interesting material drawn from across the spectrum of new scientific advances from a variety of fields. The article entitled “Origin of human genus may have occurred by chance” discusses one of the explanations for Homo Sapiens superior intellect and ultimate survival as global climate change “event” which altered the physical environment of our pre-human ancestors such that we ultimately evolved.
This article essentially dismisses the global change argument and therefore concludes that our emergence as a subspecies, is genus occurred “by chance”. This opens up a fascinating but controversial discussion of who we really are. Are we merely the ultimate survivor in the pure expanse of evolutionary forces? Or do we posses a spiritual nature which completely alters the interpretation of humanities very existence.
I have often referred to French Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin whose quote “you are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience but a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.” This understand of the nature of who we are completely alters any concept of “chance” in ultimate human evolution.
Is there evidence for such a belief. I believe there is. Read the book, the blogs, be open to your own perception of the world. The truth is out there.
The invention of time lapse photography
By George Melies, 1897
Brought them to their feet
In absolute astonishment
Those dancing flowers
Skies flashing blue, pink, crimson
Clouds expanding, contracting, swelling
Wisping into nothingness
What was it like
To be there
When time revealed itself
All at once
On the emerging verdant leaves
I see succulent birth
Knowing the frailty
The temporality of existence
Makes this moment
Those seekers of metaphysical truth often speak of their “practice” by which they usually imply a spiritual practice. What they mean by that term may vary greatly. It might involve meditation, yoga, prayer, organized religious participation or a variety of deeply personal experiences in the pursuit of meaning and spiritual development.
But there is an approach that I have been pursuing over the past few years–that is to regard my medical practice AS a spiritual one. It might not be obvious to any outside observers, i.e. My patients or even my staff would not have noticed any change. The transformation is more subtle perhaps but definitely an internal one. I would like to regard what I do in my medical practice as a spiritual practice as well.
I attempt to be mindful of this when I put on my white lab coat at the start of a session of seeing office patients. I am consciously and subconsciously donning the robes of the shaman, the priest, the rabbi in order to bring into the examination room a sense that healing can and will occur.
As I type these words I want to make clear that I don’t see this action as elevating myself above my patients. I don’t feel that this is about my ego. On the contrary I am humbled to be in a position to help alleviate suffering. I say a silent prayer to Divinity to give me the wisdom, to offer solace, to make recommendations. In essence to assist in any way possible to help in the healing of my patient.
The exam room is, to me, a secret garden, a confessional box, the holy of holies. I am not trying to be overly dramatic with these words.
I have tried to make my medical practice my spiritual one.