HEALING POWER OF IMPERMANENCE

The Buddhist notion of impermanence is usually associated with the notion of death–everything that presently exists will die and, in geologic time, in a blink of an eye.

Now how does that notion make anyone feel? Hardly what would be considered to be healing, I might imagine. Yet the beauty of the notion of impermanence is it’s power to heal our lives in the present moment.  After all, that is all that truly exists. The past is gone, the future uncertain. The present moment, however fleeting, is where we exist and it is impermanent.

What that means is this–there are continuous opportunities for change and transformation.  It means we are no longer held victims by our past–issues with our parents, our upbringing, events in our lives. Of course we are all formed by our past experiences. No one can question that assertion.  But if we ponder the impermanence of all things, even the past loses its grip on us.

Likewise we are not bound by our mistakes.  We are imperfect beings in a process of evolving. The course of our evolution is a matter of our choice.  We need to realize that fact. No one is diminishing the difficulty of making such a choice–otherwise no one would get ‘stuck’ in habits of negativity and depression.

In fact our habitual behavior, the source of much of our suffering, is also impermanent.  But we don’t realize it!  We are victims of the illusion that everything remains the same–including our own suffering.

Embracing impermanence will liberate us from the suffering of our present states of minds in our present lives.  It will direct us away from worrying about the future, about our own death and the death of loved-ones.  That is the law of nature and we are all bound by it.  Accepting impermanence rather than trying to deny it will allow us to deal with death when it’s time is here.

The truth that everything changes, nothing stays the same, empowers each and everyone of us to make the changes we know we need to do–and to stop fearing impermanence even though it leads to physical death.  It impels us to live in the present and to be healed by that awareness.

Al G. and Jeff P.–Finding Happiness in the Process

I’m not sure how or why this came to me the other day. But I recall a discussion that one of my college friends had with a classmate [this is more than 35 years ago].  Jeff P. was a typical chubby, mid-size but intelligent sloppily dressed college student of the late 60s, more into smoking pot and listening to records than any physical exercise.  He and I were members of the more ‘intellectual’ fraternity on campus.

Al G., on the other hand was a member of the football team and constantly working out.  He was huge and in retrospect I suspect he might have been using steroids.  Although, this may be an unfair recollection, especially considering that our college played other small liberal arts schools, there were no ‘athletic’ scholarships, and no one who played sports had any hope of a professional career.

I recall Al G. ‘working’ a hand grip in one of our political science classes. He just couldn’t stop from ‘doing something’ to build up his physical strength and form. In fact it seemed, in retrospect, that he had just about reached his peak in both, and was in a maintenance mode of working out.

Jeff P. sat next to him and one day reported the essence of a conversation between the two of them.– Al G. looked over at Jeff P, looked him up and down and wistfully noted, ‘Hey man, I wished I looked like you’  Jeff P. was shocked and asked back whether he was just ‘busting his balls’ over his sloppy physique.  ‘No man, I ain’t shitting you.  I wish I looked like you so I start this whole thing over again.  I just loved getting this big!

I know that many might find this comment odd, but psychologists who study ‘happiness’ note the significance of process in our lives, how overcoming adversity, rising to a challenge, following a difficult but ultimately rewarding path is what brings us satisfaction in life.

Al G. was experiencing that let-down of ‘success’.  He had reached his limit, his potential and was now disappointed because he just was happy.
It is a curious aspect of human nature. We may dream dreams of achievement and success-but when and if they arrive, we are disappointed.

Having watched the Oscars the other night I couldn’t help but notice the difference in reaction between first-time winners and repeat winners.  The repeaters seemed happy, but less enthusiastic.  Perhaps it was just their personalities, but it seemed to me that the Coen brothers seemed a bit nostalgic for when they were kids, just starting to make movies.

How many family businesses, built upon the sweat and tears of parents or grandparents, fail when handed over to a generation who did ‘t have to participate in all the pain and suffering involved.

Now most of us would rather skip the ‘pain’ of working hard, struggling, building careers–yet we need to understand how powerfully important is the process of transformation in our overall sense of contentment and happiness.

I

THE MYSTERY OF NON-ATTACHMENT

There is a fascinating and perplexing Buddhist concept, non-attachment, which has grabbed my attention and thinking deeply.  It appears in much of the Buddhist literature I have read and apparently parallels the Taoist teaching, when the sage walks, he leaves no footprints behind.

It is based upon a view of the radical impermanence of all things–physical objects as well as those we may choose to love. To become attached to anything will ultimately lead us to disappointment and suffering because everything we know and love will fade away and die.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, renounced his family, even his new-born son as a hindrance to his personal spiritual journey.  Yet are we capable of such an attitude?  Should we even view non-attachment as a desirable goal?

This is an incredibly difficult conundrum.  Clearly, attachment brings suffering. In fact it can be said that the extent to which we suffer after the loss or death of a loved-one may parallel the depth of that love. Does this imply that we cannot express our joy to a great extent either, worrying that the fall from such heights to the depths of despair is not worth the suffering?  Is the price of reducing suffering, to reduce feeling, engagement in the world of being?

In order to reducing suffering, are we to live life as if protected from our emotions by an outer shell?  Do we don a ‘condum’ in order to protect ourselves from feeling?

To some extent, however, we do create our own suffering when we attach ourselves to deeply to those situations in which we have no control.  Control is a major problem for many in our culture.  We tend to desire to control everything–our personal lives and futures as well as those of people around us.

It is often in this regard that we wind up suffering.  It is often impossible, even undesirable to try to control others.  Many who have tried and failed can attest to the suffering that has ensued.  We cannot live anyone else’s life–try as we might.  There are times that we need to ‘let go’ and trust that life will progress along its own necessary path. After all, we can barely control our own thoughts and actions.

Yet we try.  It is so difficult not to attempt to help those we love avoid their own suffering.  Yet ultimately we cannot do it.  We all have our own unique paths, despite our bonds of love and affection.  I could not prevent my Mother’s death–neither could I intervene in the choices of others who I love. 

Perhaps the compromise is to remind ourselves of the Serenity prayer ascribed to several sources and paraphrased here: God, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Here is a form of ‘non-attachment’ which might possibly work for me.  But I will continue to struggle with it.

THE POWER OF LOVE & THE ‘PARANORMAL’ PERCEPTION OF PETS

This rather long title was necessary to introduce the next ‘experience’ I heard from a veterinarian with decades of clinical practice.

Several weeks ago I was invited to do a book ‘party’ at the home of close friends. Among the group was a veterinarian I’ll call Joe.  I had never met him but he was well known in the community and very well respected  for his kindness and expertise in treating animals.

Afterwards he related to me an experience he had quite a few years before.  He would ‘board’ dogs for a time until their owners could come for them.  One night he got a call from his assistant that one of the dogs seemed in some extreme distress–it was making a frightening howl which seemed rather unusual.  Dr Joe arrived and was amazed at the bizzare sound the dog was making.  He was very familiar with dog barks and howls but had heard nothing quite so pitiful and distressing.  He quickly eliminated any physical problems with the animal.

The next morning the phone rang.  It was a member of the owner’s family. They asked Dr Joe to hold on to the dog for a while.  The owner, it seemed, had died the night before, suddenly.  And it was at the precise time that the time  dog began to howl.

Those of us who heard this story were rather stunned by it.  Dr Joe proceeded to state that he has subsequently heard the same type of howl three times–and each time it has signaled the death of the owner.

Should any of us be surprised?  Not really.  Those who have or who have had pets understand their feelings of love for their animal.  We assume that our pets love us as well.  They clearly express this in their own way.

Dr Joe’s experiences demonstrate the depth of those feelings as well as the ability of animals to perceive information that most of us cannot. 

Of course there are numerous examples of human beings having had the same type of experiences.

Please note that I use the term ‘paranormal’ in quotes. I am still not certain what that term means. It is term which many associate immediately dismiss as unreal, unscientific and therefore untrue. This is why I have tended to substitute the phrase ‘extraordinary experience of awareness–EEA’ because these perceptions may not be ‘paranormal’–only rare and precious.

We can clearly learn many lessons  from our pets–loyalty, companionship, cooperation, caring.  Perhaps we can learn also learn about the metaphysical truth about the nature of reality–the interconnectedness of all of us–and the power of love.

THE VALUE OF SADNESS

Much of my interest over the past year or more has been exploring the relationship between the mind and body. It is unequivocally clear that our mental constructs [paradigms] create our view of reality and, therefore, tremendously influence our levels of contentment [happiness] or discontent [sadness].  It is a choice, a difficult one at times, but one that can be ‘cultivated’ by being aware of the possibility of choice.

The field of positive psychology has promoted this notion as well. But what happens when we just feel sad?  Should we quickly dismiss it? Should we chide ourselves for our ‘weakness’? Our inability to pull ourselves out of it? Absolutely not!  In fact, that will only contribute to our sadness, our sense of inadequacy, or belief that we are incapable of finding joy.

The truth is–all life is comprised of joy and suffering. Not all suffering can be, or should be immediately dismissed–even if we could.  Suffering, like physical pain is an inherited, evolutionary adaptation to existence.  Both alert us to problems we should attend to. 

Some of our emotional suffering we can address and assist in our own healing.  But if view our emotional life as something which we should be able to control completely, we will only make ourselves more depressed.

There is also the power of sadness to transform us–personally and creatively.  It can alert us to a deeper reality which demands a reaction.  Artists have used their own angst to create incredible art–of all kinds. Without this sense of melancholia, who knows what music, painting, writing, plays, books etc. would not have emerged.

Personal sadness may alert us to change our life’s conditions–seek a new job, career, friends, spouse.

Society’s dependence on drugs, alcohol, sex to deaden our feelings, our dark emotions, does nothing to transform ourselves.  We just become numb, unfeeling, uncreative and fail to reach our highest potential.

I am not advocating the ‘dark side’ as a state of being–only as a reality which can become a source of growth and healing. Don’t worsen sadness by feeling guilty or inadequate.  Embrace it as part of life, an opportunity for growth.  But choose to act on it, rather than succumb to it.

CENTRAL PARK VORTEX–REVISITED

There may be a few out there in the blogosphere who recall my July 8th 2007 posting on Central Park in the heart of New York City. Well, I am looking forward to the opportunity to present my concept of Central Park as a vortex site to several influential members of its governing board.

The succeeding months have not diminished my firm conviction that Central Park, in the center of Manhattan, unquestionably the greatest, if not one of the greatest, cities on this planet deserves the designation as a vortex site

While physicists may describe a vortex as a swirling cone of energy, metaphysicians have designated sites around the world as vortex sites based upon much more subjective criteria.  Places frequently described include: 1] the great pyramid at Giza in Egypt, 2] Machu Pichu in Peru, 3]  Stonhenge in England, 4] Sedona, Arizona and scores of others.  The common feature of all these sites is their mystical combination of natural settings and human creation. They have historically drawn myriads by virtue of some ill-defined energetic attraction. Their designation, though subjective, is testified to by the enormous crowds of people who are drawn to them.

I have found Central Park to clearly manifest these qualities. I have personally  experienced the calming, meditative effects on my state of mind.  The mixture of rock, water, fields, winding pathways, trees, vegetation, evocative signs, bridges, tunnels, natural settings and man-made structures…..all seem perfectly balanced with a deeply resonating soul.  Its human denizens balance the solitude with their energy and joyous vitality. It is a living matrix created by Vaux and Olmstead–a true work of art.

Further inspection of the map of Manhattan will reveal that city streets form perpendicular grids, between 59th and 110th street, horizontal and vertical, which feed directly into the park. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History has described the semi-annual occurrence in which the setting sun aligns with the east-west streets as Manhattanhenge, a clear analogy with the vortex site at Stonhenge, England.

The energy of Manhanttan is powerful and focused.  The lush vegetation of the Park is evidence that life is flourishing there as a consequence of such flow.

  There is concept in science that deals with flow and gradients.  All energy is directed from high concentration to an area of lower concentration.  The innumerable computers, cell phones, electronic apparatus which surrounds the park invisibly expel their electromagnetic energy out into the streets. It is the notion of an energy ‘sink’ that explains this flow and discharge into the Central Processing Unit known as Central Park.

Likewise, the high concentration of oxygen which builds as a consequence of such plant life, spills outwards, along the grid to supply the oxygen deprived New Yorker’s of life giving sustenance.

An overhead photograph of Central Park with its rectangular shape is highly suggestive of a macroscopic silicon computer chip. This contention is further strengthened by the awareness that the large outcroppings of bedrock throughout the Park are known as Manhattan schist, composed mostly of the element silica.

Furthermore, unknown to many, including many native New Yorkers is the fact that Central Park is one of the nation’s premiere bird-watching locations. Clearly, migratory birds recognize the power of this vortex site and are drawn to it. Further evidence of its power are  the millions of human native New  Yorkers, visitors and tourists who eagerly flood through its portals every year.

Within the Park there are unrecognized vortices:  from the Carousel to the immense Reservoir, attracting millions of runners per year. It is an elliptical amalgam of the basic elements: water, air, light and earth.

I have come to the awareness that every tree within the Park is a vortex site itself.  Recognize how it funnels light and carbon dioxide down to its roots, then disseminates oxygen back upwards to the sky. And what about rotation and spin?  Merely walk up to and past a large expansive tree whose branches extend and reach upward. Keep your eyes fixed on its upper trunk and notice how it spins as you move past it.  Is this a legitimate example of a vortex?  Of course.  Einstein clearly demonstrated how all motion is relative. Whether the tree moves or you do is irrelevant. The appearance is that of rotational motion–ie a vortex.

So what is Central Park? It is a work of art–a human creation which is so perfectly designed that it appears to be totally nature’s own.  It is a place of tranquility, of solace, of healing.  It is the Garden of Eden which accepts one and all–native son, visitor, sinner or saint. If there is any place on this planet which deserves to be deemed a vortex site it is clearly Central Park.  It has my vote.

HAPPINESS VS PLEASURE–A MODEL FOR HEALING

A fascinating Buddhist distinction between happiness and pleasure is worth considering.  It may be a powerful tool for changing our behavior in a positive direction–ie healing.

The Dalai Lama in his book THE ART OF HAPPINESS distinguishes between happiness and pleasure. Happiness, in his view, is the purpose of living.  Although I might disagree with his use of the word ‘purpose’ here, it is clearly a universal goal.  The relief of suffering, a universal experience, is understandable.

Pleasure applies to the derive to do whatever ‘feels good’. This may or may not be in our own best interest or that of our fellow living beings. In order to be truly happy, we need to direct our thoughts and actions towards compassionate and loving activities. If we really consider this we will find it to be true.  To help others, to receive even the slightest acknowledgment from them, is a tremendously healing gift for us.  It explains the notion that both healer and healee are healed in any compassionate encounter.

There are those who obtain pleasure in clearly perverse and harmful ways. Child molesters, criminals, drug addicts,  may claim that they are fulfilling their bizarre and pathological ‘needs’ yet there is no way that this can lead to happiness, particularly for those they abuse.

Clearly, when an action is compulsive and uncontrollable, from violence, to smoking or overeating it is not healthy or healing. This cannot possibly be regarded as happiness either.

Many of us sincerely desire to stop one of more compulsive behaviors.  We want to quit smoking, drinking, drugging. We want to lose weight.  Yet the compulsion for the pleasure of the activity seems to defeat our best efforts to not perform them.


So….-the next time that any of us reaches for that next cigarette, the next drink of alcohol, the next shot of illicit drugs, the next cupcake……just stop and think–I am I fulfilling a desire for pleasure?  Will this support my goal for happiness?

We might just stop in our tracks–if we realize that happiness for us will be NOT to continue on this present path….we might very well find the strength to forgo the pleasure. 

This can be a very powerful tool for personal transformation and healing.