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.

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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.



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?



Keeping Up with the Joneses
April 14, 2009, 1:12 pm
Filed under: Non-duality, spirituality | Tags: , , , ,

I recently did A Course in Miracles Lesson 149, which includes a review of the thought, “When I am healed I am not healed alone.” When I first covered this thought back in Lesson 137, it didn’t affect me much. This time, however, I found it much more profound.

I have always had a tendency to compare myself to others. In many ways, relative status was more important than absolute achievement. As you can imagine, this caused a lot of unhappiness: there are always people with more money, faster promotions, more authority, etc.

I realized this weekend that I’ve carried the same competitiveness into spiritual work. That may sound silly, but I now realize it as something very insidious. At a subconscious level, I would actually dismiss or denigrate the spiritual progress of others. That person is still too wrapped up in the world. This other person claims to be happy, but has some huge series of misfortunes. No one can prove that the Law of Attraction works. Etc., etc., etc.

Why should I expect to have abundance in my life if I wish something different for other people? Why should I expect to be healed if I’m doing it to be more advanced than others? It’s a concept that seems obvious when stated, but was strangely hard for me to realize.

I’ve been doing some work with the Sedona Method on allowing myself to enjoy the abundance of others. I can tell that I have some resistance to this idea, but it’s settling better with me after doing some releasing. Ultimately, others’ abundance is part of my experience, and thus mine too.

So, on that note, I sincerely wish for your success and happiness!



Fear of Death
March 30, 2009, 4:22 pm
Filed under: spirituality, Suffering | Tags: , , , ,

Lester Levenson said that overcoming our fear of death was a key step in going free. An article in last week’s issue of The Economist reminded me of this. The article reported on a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that religious people were more likely to try to prolong their lives with extreme medical procedures.

I’ve written before about beliefs, going so far as to cite them as the source of unhappiness. I would expect that people with strong religious beliefs would also have strong beliefs about life and death. The irony here is that many of these people believed in an afterlife, and thus been less fearful of death.

I suspect that, at some level, even our ego knows that our beliefs are merely that. Who wants to actually test their belief in an afterlife? I’ve heard people actually say they don’t want certainly beliefs tested; a common example is when religious people claim that if there were proof of a god, then there could be no faith. True, but hardly helpful for finding Truth.

Maybe this is why Lester found the fear of death such a key topic. For most of us, death forces us to face some of our key beliefs. To avoid fearing death, we have to let go of our beliefs of what will happen. Otherwise, we’ll recoil when those beliefs are put to the test.

Coincidentally, or perhaps synchronically, death has been on my mind a lot this past week. Not my own in this case, but that of my dog. At a ripe old age of 17, she’s lived a long time, especially for a pet rescued from the Humane Society. Yet, as her health fails at an increasingly rapid pace, I can’t help feeling sad about it.

I believe that when her body fails, she’ll be gone forever and lost to me except for fading memories. How’s that for a belief that causes unhappiness? This appears to be the time to use the Sedona Method. As I try to do so, I see why teachers usually leave addressing the fear of death for advanced courses.



Return to Spirituality
March 26, 2009, 12:21 pm
Filed under: Non-duality, spirituality, World | Tags: , , , , ,

In my last blog post, I mentioned that a week away form spiritual pursuits had given me a new vigor. That vigor was short-lived, as evidenced by the fact that it’s been three weeks since then without a post. I again strayed from doing the A Course in Miracles exercises, and mostly stopped doing the Sedona Method.

I’ve spent those weeks in a pattern of distraction and business. How far I had sunk hit home this week. I was reading an issue of Forbes, which had a list of the world’s billionaires. Apparently, the number of billionaires is down dramatically from last year, with most remaining billionaires still having lost huge amounts of money. I found myself feeling a perverse satisfaction that they were now closer to my net worth. How ego-driven can one get?

When I wrote my last post, I thought that the break from spiritual pursuits had helped. Now, I think that was just my ego indulging in self-justification. When I start enjoying the downfall of others, it’s a big warning sign that something is wrong.

This morning I resumed my ACIM exercises. I picked up where I last left off: Lesson #137, “When I am healed I am not healed alone.” Juxtaposed against the Forbes article, I saw a very clear choice: a path of spiritual pursuits and loving others, or a path of materialism and feeling satisfaction and envy.

I am very glad that I had previously made it far enough in my efforts that I was able to recognize the depth of my backsliding. Now, I pray I’ll have the discipline to overcome my ego and continue down the right path.



Vacation from Spirituality
March 4, 2009, 12:25 pm
Filed under: spirituality, World | Tags: , , , , ,

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve struggled on and off with my spiritual work. Sometimes, I’ve felt okay with this. In general, though, it’s been a little frustrating, which I fully acknowledge is an ego response.

When I do Sedona Method-style releasing, the releases just haven’t felt as strong as they used to. The meditations for the A Course In Miracles workbook have been hard to sustain without even more distracting thoughts than usual. It’s as if I’ve developed resistance to the whole effort.

About a week ago, I decided to just indulge my ego. I took a hiatus for a few days from ACIM. I only released when it occurred to me, rather than trying to do it often. I spent a fair amount of time distracting my mind with reading and computer games. I even let myself get emotionally upset about the stock market, although that still produced much less angst than it would have just a couple of months ago.

(I did not, however, lose my recent health improvement. Even when backsliding, one has to draw the line somewhere!)

This break seems to have helped quite a lot. I resumed my ACIM lessons with a new vigor, and they were again easy. I’m still only releasing as it occurs to me, but I can again feel the relief from the thoughts. I feel much less resistant than I did.

Perhaps it’s all an ego trap to think that progress can come from backsliding. In this case, I’m very glad I took a few days back in the thick of the world and catering to my ego. Maybe I just needed a concrete reminder that what I’m giving up isn’t valuable.