HEALING RELATIONSHIPS

Our personal relationships can be the source of the greatest joy and the most painful sorrow.  What percentage of our lives are engrossed with the negative aspects of those connections? Unfortunately, the troubling times seem to loom fresh and powerful in our consciousness.

Perhaps is because we are clearly worriers and worrying produces feelings of unease, unhappiness, anxiety and or depression. Most of us are quick to assume the worst. When we are disappointed in others we quickly believe that they might have consciously attempted to damage us in some way, or disregard our feelings, or abuse our kindness. In truth, it is nearly impossible to comprehend the motives of others. They may not understand them either. But the reason we frequently see the glass ‘half-empty’ may have evolutionary and genetic implications.

The worriers among our ancestors, the ones that ran at the first glimpse of trouble, who stood erect at the first strange noise, who saw the world as threatening and dangerous, probably survived to reproduce.  They passed along this negative outlook down the generations.  It is literally in our genes. It is true that there are other impulses which often surprise us–altruism, courage, the willingness to die for a country, a cause, a loved-one.  This tribal identification, not dissimilar to the reactions of ‘hive’ animals such as ants and bees, promotes the survival of the group, even at the expense of some of its defenders.

Yet we understand joy because we have all tasted it–and it can be incredibly uplifting. It may correlate with the neuropeptide dopamine’s release in the brain. But what is the source of our joy?  Is it based on the accumulation of material goods? Success at work? At play?  Does satisfying our competitive need to ‘win’ do it?  But what about our interior state of consciousness? Philosophers and mystics have always pointed to our inner world, our minds as the creators of our reality. But does that meditator’s concept that we are each merely  the witness of all our thoughts and feelings [therefore disassociating from them]?

As crucial as our mind’s interpretation of our inner world may be, there is an entire universe out there. We are not isolated, we are not celibate monks inhabiting a monastery. Most of us have family, friends, work associates who we need to deal with.  Much of our joy and suffering arises from those relationships.  Certainly we can choose how we ‘spin’ those interactions.  Ultimately, however, we need to balance them against the real world around us.

To delude ourselves that all is well when it is not the case is ultimately unhelpful. But it is not unreasonable to create the environment by which change and transformation can occur. How do we balance the fear with the reaction to that fear? One concept that deserves special attention is that of karmic connections.

Those who believe that souls reincarnate over many life-times with the same souls playing different roles may perceive a difficult conumdrum. Is it ever the ‘spiritual thing to do’ to reject, abandon, escape from close friends and particularly relatives who upset us, challenge us, annoy us? Do we confront and challenge with threats and withdrawal? Or do we understand that our proximity indicates that we are placed together in this particular lifetime to assist each other work through difficult circumstances together.

Who knows the best way to deal with such situations? Do we attack, go on the offensive, berate, yell, humiliate the other? Or do we patiently and persistently challenge those we care about to become their higher selves?

That is sometimes the most difficult approach of all. Yet to avoid the effort to heal such close relationships only postpones the inevitable–in this lifetime of those that follow.

GOD OF THE GAPS–revisited

Among the metaphysically inclined, there is a strange concept know as ‘God of the gaps’.  It’s source has been ascribed to 19th century theologian and preacher Henry Drummond.  Does ‘God’ or ‘spirituality’ reside in the gaps in our scientific knowledge of the universe?  If so it seemed as if God was doomed to evaporate like a puddle after a torrential downpour.  The term  has been utilized to compare the progress of scientific knowledge with the mystery that God or spirituality has often inhabited.

With the advent of science beginning in the 17th century, the ultimate mystery of existence has been steadily and progressively been replaced by scientific knowledge. A projection into the future would have pleased any hard-core atheist and skeptic.  It was leading to an eventual disappearance of any ‘gap’ in understanding about the nature of reality and consequently the elimination for any need for a spiritual dimension to reality.

Such confidence in the eventual dissolution of any mystery or "God of the gaps’ in understanding was palpable in Western intellectual thought up until the twentieth century. The French cosmologist Pierre de La Place was asked by Napoleon why he did not mention God in his description of the origin of the universe.  He famously repled, ‘Sire, I had no need for that hypothesis’.

The celebration of human reason over spirituality is apparently rather premature. The twentieth century introduced the powerful and perplexing concepts in physics known as relativity theory and quantum theory. Without venturing into their descriptions, it is quite clear to anyone who attempts to comprehend them, that they fly in the face of ‘commonsene’ understand of the nature of reality.  Rather than eliminate mystery of the ‘gap’ they rather increase it.

The twenty-first century has offered very little relief from such mystery. Physicists have been unable to come up with the long desired ‘theory of everything’ to incorporate both relativity and quantum theory. The much vaunted superstring theory of the universe is offering more mystery than explanation and remains highly controversial

Even more stunning to many is the realization that all the known matter in the universe–galaxies, solar systems, stars, planets, people, molecules, atoms even subatomic particles represent only about 4% of the entire universe.  The rest seems to be composesd partly of dark matter and mostly by dark energy.  One small problem–no one know what they really are! 

‘God of the gaps’ anyone?

METAPHYSICAL DIET FOR THE AGES

Are you tired of carrying the weight of the world on your body? Do you worry incessantly about your future, that of your family, friends, our planet, the universe? Do find it difficult to even laugh or smile very much? Does global warming keep you up at night? Are you so weighed down with existential angst that you are metaphysically obese?

Then try the Metaphysical Diet. Begin your day with a cup of gratitude–instant or brewed. Awaken with the awareness that this new day is a gift to you.  It is an opportunity to transform yourself in everyway possible. For a moment don’t think about anything else. Just be still. Just be still.

Dig into a bowl of silence. Don’t speak. Don’t turn on the TV or radio or ipod. Don’t blast your mind with diverting sounds. Don’t be afraid.

Bite into a slice of mindfulness. Be aware of the present moment–only that. Be aware of each bite, how your muscles chew. Be aware of the taste. Breathe in and out and pay attention to your breath as well.

Pay attention to each bite and how you swallow.  Feel the food sliding into your stomach. Each morsel will fill you.  You will be aware that you are full much sooner than when you eat under ordinary circumstances. In those cases you are paying attention to other things–reading, listening, speaking. You wind up eating much more than you realize, than you really need.

And that is it.  Very simple really. You will find yourself becoming much slimmer–in mind and body.

MINDFULNESS & MULTITASKING

What does a traditional Buddhist form of meditation have to do with our contemporary crisis of multitasking?  Perhaps everything.  Science has confirmed what most of us suspect–we really can’t do it all!

Multiple studies from a variety of research centers have confirmed that although we can usually accomplish many tasks nearly simultaneously, the quality of each task unquestionably suffers. And we suffer as well–emotionally and physically.

Activities which have become almost automatic, such as eating or watching TV seem to be ‘doable’.  Clearly most of ‘us’ do not drive well when we are on cell phones. The consequences of lack of reflex response to driving, or drifting out of lanes etc are potentially lethal.

Studies have shown that we are less efficient when we do multiple tasks. Responding to calls or emails when we are engaged in deep concentration always results in a considerable ‘down time’ trying to reconnect with our previous work.  In a similar vein, when we multitask, we often lose the ‘creative edge’,  responding, instead to tasks with routine or uninspired results.

We may be producing more–but we are sacrificing quality for quantity.  In many fields, this is just not acceptable.  Nor should it be.

The bottom line:  we need to become more mindful, more aware of the present moment.  To do so is what mindfulness meditation is all about.  It is the opposite of the multitasking frenzy which has overtaken many of us.

It is not coincidence that many of us are suffering from more anxiety, insomnia, drug use, eating disorders, stress related disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, TMJ, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, tension headaches etc. Multitasking is assuredly behind much of it.

To practice mindfulness, we must relinquish the fantasy that we can do it all. We must pay attention to one thing, in the present moment. We must make time to do so by creating sacred spaces in our lives which we can devote to specific tasks and not respond to other tasks. We must honor our physical/mental/spiritual needs for rest and peace. We must turn off our pagers, blackberries, beepers, phones, ipods, internet connections. 

We must carve whatever time we have into periods of specific activity. We can periodically check-in with the rest of the world, but we must honor those times when we are not available. It is ultimately what is best for our own health, the health of those around us, and will allow us to reach our highest potential.