The Seeker of Peace


Meditative Focus
July 16, 2009, 2:45 pm
Filed under: spirituality | Tags: , , , , ,

I am currently reading Winifred Gallagher’s recent book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. It’s a well-researched discussion of how we change our subjective reality by what we choose to focus on. There’s no spiritualism or Law of Attraction here; Gallagher is drawing on research about how the brain operates to explain why, for example, a higher emotional state can result in a better life.

One section on meditation struck me as particularly interesting. Here’s an excerpt:

Not only how you focus, but also what you focus on can have important neurophysiological and behavioral consequences. Just as one-pointed concentration on a neutral target, such as your breath, particularly strengthens certain of the brain’s attentional systems, meditation on a specific emotion – unconditional love – seems to tune up certain of its affective networks.

This runs counter to the claims of many self-proclaimed self-help gurus, who say that any type of meditation will give you the same benefits. I have seen many recommendations to do whatever type of meditation you feel most comfortable with. However, if Gallagher is correct, different meditative focuses will produce dramatically different results.

If I meditate on a point of focus, I’ll have better attention and be less distracted. If I meditate on emotions such as love, joy, and gratitude, I’ll become more empathetic and less prone to fear and anxiety. Frankly, I could do with improvement in both areas.

The funny thing here is that I don’t recall anyone ever recommending meditating on an emotion. As part of my Sedona Method practice, I’ve summoned particular emotions, although not for long enough to qualify as meditation. Larry Crane often recommends “loving yourself,” although that’s hardly the same thing as meditating on love.

I have been terrible with my meditation practice to date. This is largely because I’ve been sucked into trying for the Zen ideal of a blank mind. It would be much easier to focus on something specific, or on an emotion. Perhaps it’s time to redouble my efforts at meditation. And, this time, I’ll make sure to choose my focus carefully.



Provoking the Inner Child
June 25, 2009, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Suffering | Tags: , , , , ,

I have heard many times of the “Inner Child,” the idea that our childlike aspects live on within our psyche. We can think of the Inner Child as an independent entity, one who needs our explicit attention and support to meet his needs.

I’ve done various exercises in the past to connect to my Inner Child. Self-hypnosis, visualizing my inner child, trying to have a dialog with him, and similar techniques all came to nothing. Sure, I could daydream about my Inner Child as well as I could any other topic, but it never affected me more than any other daydream. I concluded that either the Inner Child idea was psychobabble, or that mine was healthy and needed no help.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago: I recently joined Facebook, and was reconnecting with several old friends. Out of the blue, in a public discussion, someone I haven’t spoken to in decades says, “Hey, weren’t you the one who…” and proceeded to relate an embarrassing incident from my high school days.

It was an incident that I hadn’t thought of in years. Mental association quickly provided several other emotionally punishing moments I had repressed. Before long, I could actually feel a teenage version of my Inner Child crying inside me, begging for comforting and reassurance. Apparently, I had repressed him along with the memories, and done it so successfully that even deliberate exercises couldn’t break through the walls. It took the emotional sucker punch of a jerk to bring the feelings to the surface.

After giving an internal hug to my Inner Child, I found a wellspring of material to release using the Sedona Method. I realized that these incidents still had the same emotional charge that they did in high school; repressing them and my Inner Child had prevented any progress. With releasing, I could quickly realize how pointless it was to carry around this emotion from long ago. How many people, aside from me and the one person who brought it up, even care about any of this ancient history?

So, in a way, I suppose this old acquaintance did me a favor. Lester Levenson would probably even say that I manifested this now for a reason. I still have a lot of releasing to do on old pains, but I do think that I’ll be better for it.



Cleaning House
June 10, 2009, 7:48 am
Filed under: World | Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday, we replaced the carpet in much of our house. The preparation for this included emptying half of our rooms. I found this a deeply cathartic experience, in many ways a metaphor for clearing my mind.

It’s stunning to me how much detritus we’ve accumulated after living here only 14 years. Some of it was merely neglected – who can remember everything we stick in a drawer or closet? However, I discovered I was holding onto a ton of junk due to emotional attachments. A combination of Sedona Method-style releasing and physical disposal worked wonders to help resolve these attachments.

There were many books that I was holding onto “just in case.” Most of these were ridiculous. I had books on software engineering that were a decade out of date, just in case I should return to writing software. I had books from a executive training program I took at a large company; they consisted more of corporate propaganda than useful information, but I held on to the just in case I resumed a big-company management track career. The list goes on. As I went through them, I realized that I kept them out of pride in my past work; they were a physical manifestation of how stuck I was in the past.

There was a similar process with the various knickknacks left around. Whether a set of Baoding balls I picked up free at a trade show, or a finger painting project my daughter did 10 years ago, they were all things that had significance at the time. However, that time was long ago. Discarding them was like releasing my emotions: freeing up space to live in the moment.

My wife mentioned how wonderful she found the enforced spring cleaning too. Jews start the Hebrew year with the Ten Days of Repentance ending with Yom Kippur, clearing the guilt from their community. Many Asian cultures start the New Year with a traditional deep house cleaning. I think we miss something not having a set time to do an annual cleaning, whether emotional or physical. Perhaps we would be better at that if the Romans hadn’t changed the start of the year from March to January.



Seeing Spirituality
May 28, 2009, 11:51 am
Filed under: spirituality | Tags: , , ,

Rather than the do the traditional Memorial Day barbecue, I spent Monday in Los Angeles attending my father’s ordination as a rabbi. There were roughly sixteen people being ordained that day, split between rabbis and cantors (clergy members who specialize in religious music).

I’ve written before about the difference between spirituality and religion. The ordination service was a perfect example to me of the dichotomy. As part of the service, each ordainee spent a few minutes talking. I heard many deeply spiritual things, as people discussed finding god in all things, building a life of love, and similar themes.

The proceedings included a full Jewish afternoon service, with the traditional liturgy. The liturgy is far from spiritual. It beseeches the Jewish god to “vanquish our enemies” and otherwise provide blessings to his “chosen people.” (Please note that I’m not criticizing the Jewish liturgy compared to any others – most traditional liturgies have content such as this.) The only mitigating characteristic of the Jewish liturgy is that it’s in Hebrew, meaning that many people don’t understand what it says.

How does an ordainee reconcile a spiritual journey with traditions that are rigidly religious? From hearing them speak, I think the answer is to see the traditions as merely that: a cultural heritage. Many of these newly minted clergy didn’t sound religious at all, instead expressing heartfelt personal experiences.

This reinforced what I wrote in my earlier post: that for spiritual people, their religion turns to cultural tradition as they gain spiritual experience. The ordination service also taught me something new: that there are schools training a whole generation of spiritual clergy. Perhaps this provides some hope for religion after all.



Life’s Little Challenges
May 18, 2009, 8:37 am
Filed under: World | Tags: , , ,

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was considering become a math teacher. I mentioned then how I hoped I could tell if that urge was guidance by whether it was easy.

I received the word back from the university’s transcript evaluator. It turns out that, despite the program director’s initial optimism, I don’t have enough college-level math classes to qualify for the program. (Ironically, I could easily qualify to teach physics. It’s too bad that doesn’t hold very much interest for me.)

If I want to enroll for next year, I’ll need to go to a community college and retake a host of basic subjects I learned back in high school: algebra, geometry, etc. It doesn’t matter that I took many classes that had those as distant prerequisites; for this purpose, having classes about Fourier series and Legendre polynomials is no substitute for good old fashioned basic algebra!

Going back to school to take four or five basic math classes sounds anything but easy. While passing the class would be easy, since I’ve already learned all of the material, dealing with the excruciating boredom would be hard. I imagine that I could mitigate that by taking online courses and thus not having to sit through classes, but that’s still hardly an example of the universe clearing my path.

It’s situations like these where I struggle with the mindset promoted by the Sedona Method and A Course in Miracles. Both of those suggest that, when you approach the correct goals properly, things should be effortless. If I use that criterion, either teaching is the wrong goal or I’m approaching it incorrectly.

This viewpoint contrasts with decades of training for me. I’ve learned since an early age that obstacles are things to overcome, and that much of life’s satisfaction comes from overcoming barriers. Any number of self-help books and inspirational teachers say the same thing. However, fighting against the tide seems a perfect example of what the Sedona Method refers to as “wanting control.”

I still haven’t decided what to do. Since I have a few months before I would have to register for any of these math classes, I can take some time to think about it. However, given how fundamental the decision is, I’m not sure whether a lot of thought will actually help.



Yearning for Kyoto
May 1, 2009, 8:38 am
Filed under: Non-duality, spirituality, Suffering, World | Tags: , , , ,

Even in Kyoto,
I yearn for Kyoto
– Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)

I found this poem in the prelude of Mary Pipher’s recent book, “Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World.” See uses it to illustrate the point that, “Embedded in the concept ‘seeker’ is the less flattering word ‘dissatisfied.'” Matsuo-san’s poem resonated with me deeply, and in a very literal sense. You see, even when I was in Kyoto, I did in fact yearn for Kyoto.

The year was 1997, and the trip to Kyoto was an arduous one. It involved a flight from the USA to Tokyo, a connecting flight to Osaka, and then a 45-minute cab ride to Kyoto. That last segment I shared with several coworkers, making the airplane parts of the ride seem roomy by comparison.

This was a period when my Crohn’s Disease was flaring up badly, and as a result, my immune system was not working well. Thus, it as no surprise that, by the time I arrived in Kyoto, I had picked up a nasty cold. This proved to be even more of a problem than I could have expected. I was chairing committee meetings throughout the trip. There was a large population of Europeans and Asians at this meeting, and they politely expected to be recognized by the chair before saying anything. This was true even if two of them were carrying on a debate among themselves. At least I had a microphone, allowing me to quietly croak, “Go ahead,” rather than having to raise my voice to be heard.

During that week, I yearned for the other Kyoto. I wanted to see the Imperial palace. I wanted to eat some Japanese food, rather than the greasy and awful Italian, Chinese, and American fare I received. I wanted to see the town, not be stuck in a windowless conference room.

Yet, mulling over Matsuo-san’s words, I can now see another side to the trip. I [u]was[/u] in Kyoto. I got to marvel at the sophisticated features of the Panasonic toilet seat in my hotel room. I could appreciate the beautiful courtyard garden of the hotel. I laughed at the fact that Japanese hotel rooms, unlike their American counterparts, include a complementary adult diaper should you need one.

Thinking back on it makes for a very valuable cautionary tale. How much more would I have enjoyed the trip had I allowed myself to be in Kyoto instead of yearning in Kyoto? And how often, even now, am I still not present, still yearning for something else?



The Consequence of Boredom
April 29, 2009, 10:20 am
Filed under: God, World | Tags: , , , ,

Do enlightened people get bored? Jed McKenna, who claims enlightenment, spends much of his time playing video games. Why would he do that if he weren’t bored?

I certainly don’t claim to be enlightened, yet I certainly share Jed’s sense of boredom. When I closed my business a few months ago, I was so sick that I had very little energy to do much of anything. Now that I’m feeling much better, I feel as if I don’t have enough outlets for my energy.

In this void of activity, I felt a sudden compulsion to become a schoolteacher. Before I started my investment advisory business, I laid down several criteria that were important to me in a job. I had down such things as a flexible schedule, low stress, not having to work in committees, etc. Teaching as a career fails on every count. Yet, it somehow feels right to me.

In what seems an eternity ago, I wrote the fifth post of my blog. In that post I described how I felt an urge to start blogging. I worried whether that urge was valid guidance, or something from my ego, and decided that I could tell the difference by how easy it was.

Now, I have a similar concern. Is my compulsion to teach a form of divine or intuitive guidance? Or, is it my mind casting around for things to do to fill my day? The latter would be a particularly insidious trap. By choosing a career that meets none of my “rational” criteria, my mind could usher me into a situation where I have far too much mental noise for any spiritual practice.

So, I’m going to fall back on my previous insight, and see how easy it is. So far, it appears that it might be almost frighteningly so. I may qualify for a program that would let me take education courses in summer school, and be in a classroom this autumn. When the idea occurred to me last week, I had no idea that I might actually be in front of students four months later.

Now, I’m waiting for the university’s transcript evaluator to decide whether I have enough qualifying college courses in the relevant subject areas to qualify. If the answer comes back yes, then that would be a major indicator that this path could be easy.