Straight and Narrow Path ~ Spine of Shiva

530735302_e447c704feI am a firm believer that any book or bible can only help point the way for us to experience the living word of Love and Truth that is in our hearts.  There are many teachings in Christianity and, indeed, in every other religion, which gets taken out of context and twisted into something unrecognizable from the original intent – often times even quite the opposite of what the Teacher, Prophet or Messiah had in mind.  Yet, if you truly pray with an open and yearning heart and contemplate the words, it can lead you back to the original meaning.  This is the point and practice of Mystical Christianity.

Even though I have never read the bible cover to cover, I have had the experience of being in prayer or meditation and suddenly understanding a phrase or a verse that I have heard repeated all my life without knowing what it really means.  One such phrase is “the straight and narrow path.”

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” 

right_roadThis bible verse from Matthew 7:14 has been used for centuries as a way to justify a very straight and narrow religious point of view and all kinds of discrimination or prejudice for those the particular church deems not straight or narrow enough.  But I experience that the phrase is not about being straight as in heterosexual or even straight as in upright and rigidly conforming to religious norms.  And narrow does not mean narrow-minded.

One summer years ago I had just dedicated my life to God and at this particular time that meant I was not working “out in the world.”  I spent my days mostly alone, working at my desk and taking care of my ministry’s retreat center and sweet little temple.  I would water the plants on the decks and in the temple and then take the opportunity to kneel at the altar and pray or meditate.  I wore all white just because I felt like it, and I do admit, some days I would put my white sarong over my head and dress up like a novitiate, just for fun, just because it felt good to me, even though no one else was around to see me – or I guess specifically because no one was around to see me.  (Otherwise the only opportunity I had to dress up like a nun was once a year on Halloween.)

41w5HDcnoKLThroughout the day I would stay tuned into my heart.  I know we often talk of the Temple within the heart, and it is most often used as figurative speech, but I actually would feel my little inner self inside my little inner temple in my heart.  It was like I could tune in to my heart and feel myself kneeling at the Temple in my heart, sometimes prostrating, and sometimes, when I was feeling less than surrendered, I could feel myself standing or restless, not quite in the mood to be empty or devoted.

One day as I knelt before the altar in the temple, I looked at the picture of Jesus and poured forth my love for Him and then closed my eyes with my hands on my heart.  I tuned into the Inner Temple of my heart and could feel myself kneeling with my head bowed to Christ.  All of a sudden I experience myself kneeling inside a column of white light.  It was the most exquisite, peaceful, soft and radiant white light I’d ever felt.  And I could see it as a straight and narrow column or path connecting me to God.  And it didn’t have anything to do with behavior or moral code or do’s and don’ts or should’s – the only thing that helped me stay in this beautiful exquisite blissful straight and narrow column of white light was my focus on loving God.

That was it – that was the mystical meaning of the straight and narrow path that I felt from the living word in my own heart.  I don’t know what mystical scholars or ecclesiastical books might say about what was meant with those words in the bible, but my experience of those words was about the simple and profound power of devotion.  The straight and narrow path I felt inside of me is about keeping my focus steadily on loving God.  It’s not about anything else, and it’s certainly not about judging someone that we deem to be off the straight and narrow path that we have self-righteously drawn out for ourselves.

Shiva NatarajAnd, as is usually the case, this mystical meaning of the straight and narrow focus on God can also be found in other religions with different words.  Last weekend I was over at a friend’s house and they had just acquired a new Shiva Nataraj statue.  They invited us over for puja, to bless and consecrate the new addition to their temple room.  We chanted the Om Namaha Shivaya 108 times and afterwards I stayed in the little room standing in front of the Nataraj.

Shiva is the Hindu aspect of God as the ultimate yogi, the ultimate meditator with absolute pure focus solely on God.  As I was standing in front of the Shiva statue I all of a sudden felt my spine become straight and narrow in single pointed focus on God.  I could feel Shiva’s spine as a focus so straight and narrow that it felt like a thread – a thin, glimmering, golden thread of light.

I was reminded of my experience of the straight and narrow column of light connecting me to God.  Shiva’s spine is also the straight and narrow focus on God, and it has nothing to do with renouncing or not renouncing the world, it has nothing to do with do’s and don’ts or should’s, it only has to do with getting into the state of consciousness where you are residing in single pointed focus of loving God.

The straight and narrow path is internal.  It’s all an inside job.  The mystical truth is between you and God.  And whether you practice devotion to Christ or meditation with Shiva, the straight and narrow path is found in the temple of your own heart.

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World Peace is Logical

2013-12-17 17.15.58I am currently auditing a college class in the Religion and Philosophy department.  After 20 years of being on an experiential spiritual path I wanted to experience the study of Religion and though there has been no chanting, praying or ecstatic unions with the Divine, we have had some great discussions.  On Tuesday three students gave a presentation about Jainism in which they spoke of the Jain belief that world peace will come from people individually finding inner peace. After their summary of the book they read on Jainism they presented some discussion questions for the class – one of which was “Do you think World Peace is possible?”

Sadly, but maybe expectedly, several students gave the answer that though World Peace is a nice idea it is not realistic and that because of “human nature” they don’t think it could ever be achieved. Finally, I raised my hand and said “Not only do I think World Peace is possible, I think it’s inevitable.” I heard one student in the back yell “Right on!”

Of course as more and more people find inner peace there will be world peace.  The idea that the world can change based on individual people changing is so obvious it’s hard for me to understand how anyone can think it’s not realistic. To me, it’s a “duh.” It is simply logical. It’s not even airy fairy or far out in the least– it’s just common sense. 

OF COURSE as individual consciousness changes the collective consciousness changes! Collective human consciousness, or “human nature,” is not some separate thing of its own, some detached creature or monster that will always be prone to war and violence and greed. I know we talk about it that way – just like we talk about “the economy” as if it’s a living thing in and of itself with headlines like “Stock Market Panics” or “Wall Street In Pain.” But the economy is made up of individual people. We created it, so we can re-create it and change it in any way we want to. And the same is true for our collective consciousness and the world we live in.

Collective human consciousness is by definition simply the sum total of all of our individual consciousness – it is literally made up of each person’s thoughts and emotions and as each person changes, the collective changes. That isn’t some difficult or far off theory or wishful thinking – it is simply what IS.

So of course as each person evolves and grows and becomes more loving, compassionate, understanding and peaceful, the collective will change also.

Here is a video of the movie director David Lynch and physicist Dr. John Hegelin talking about how people think of Peace as a nice little lady idea, but that there is electromagnetic and quantum physics science behind the creation of Peace from the Unified Field.

In addition to the energetic effects of the collective consciousness, there is the societal effect.  When these changes in individual consciousness happen, it affects everyone in that person’s circle of influence. That person will treat their co-workers differently, share their new perspective with their parents, speak differently to their uncles at Thanksgiving. They will raise their children to love their neighbor, to not hate the Other, to respect life and practice compassion. The more and more this is being taught in our schools and to our children, the more and more this will just become a part of normal life – as much a part of any culture as speaking a language or wearing clothes.

220px-ShivabalayogiFurthermore, just ONE individual consciousness can have a much greater impact than just their one share of the human vote. Look at Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa. You can even look at Oprah Winfrey or Angelina Jolie! And these are just our well known historical and societal celebrities. There are also the spiritual celebrities or consciousness heavy weights!  My friend Suresh was telling me over dinner how one day he was driving with a friend through Bangalore, India and all of a sudden he felt an immense pulse of Peace come over him.  He didn’t know why so he asked his friend what the building was they had just driven by and found out it was Shivayabalayogi‘s ashram and the Swami was holding satsang.  And the day I spent at the M.A. Center in San Ramon, CA when Ammachi was there I was completely uplifted into a consciousness of absolute peace beyond time and space!  I was aware of the sound and the beat of the music but I was witnessing it from the state of timelessness and the eternity of Stillness and Peace that is behind all things.  Ammachi’s being radiates such tremendous love and compassion that it is palpable – it was like I could physically feel a difference in my cells just from being in her presence. She adds much more peace to the collective consciousness than one little jerk can add negativity.

So, for many reasons, it doesn’t have to be 100% of people to change. It’s not like if 75% of people become peaceful there would still be the 25% who remain assholes and run around being violent and warring and carrying on. That is the beauty of collective consciousness – the collective can carry us, it can create a field of peace and calmness that forms our collective reality.

And for those who don’t believe in the power of ashram drive-by’s, there is peer-reviewed scientific studies that show that a small number of people focusing on Peace can have an effect on the greater whole. There are clips of this research on the Meditation and World Peace page, but in essence – for group meditation or prayer to have a scientifically measurable effect of peace on a society, it only takes the square root of 1% of a population. For a city of one million that is only about 100 people coming together in group meditation, creating a state of inner peace inside themselves to decrease the amount of violence for everyone in the whole city. And studies show that it only takes 1% of a population to have a personal practice of meditation or some form of centering prayer to stop the rise of violent crime rates in that society – so even our own individual changes in our personal lives create a scientifically measurable increase in peace for our society as a whole.

meditation_image_550_wThen you look at mainstream culture. Meditation is becoming more and more popular. It has proven health benefits and is being taught in all kinds of yoga classes, stress reduction seminars and success workshops around the world. If only 1% of the population meditating can stop the trend of rising violent crime – imagine what will happen when meditation is as common as exercising or brushing your teeth!   When 10% of the population meditates crime rates will decline by large percentages. When 20% meditates there will be greater coherence and peace in the society as a whole. When 40% of the population finds inner peace conflict will cease, peaceful solutions will be the only acceptable reality. Imagine what will happen when 51% of the population finds inner peace!

These are just percentages that I am imagining. As far as I know there isn’t any scientific evidence that shows what exactly will happen as each percentage point of inner peace is reached. And I don’t think that it even needs to reach 51% to have a tipping point. But my point is – World Peace is absolutely possible and achievable. As much as we can look at the news, at what is happening in Israel and Gaza or Syria and Iraq or Sri Lanka and many other places in the world – there is so much change and evolution of consciousness all around us that we just ignore or take for granted. It was only 140 years ago that we had slaves in this country! It was only 140 years ago when one human being could own another human being! As Louis C.K. puts it in the clip on the Video Inspiration page: “That is just two 70 year old ladies living and dying back to back – that is how recently you could buy a guy.” How foreign and distant and unthinkable does that seem to us now? How much has the collective consciousness changed in just 140 years?

Nehru & GandhiHow can it be considered so “unrealistic” that in another 140 years the act of war or the act of one human being murdering another human being will be just as unthinkable?  When in fact the act of one human being murdering another human being is unthinkable to MOST people already! And for some strange reason, those same people who wouldn’t even punch someone in the face think when nations murder human beings it’s just an inevitable part of “human nature.”  As Nehru points out – that is just silly:

“If two men fight in the streets the policeman separates them and everybody thinks how silly they are. But how much sillier and more foolish it is for great countries to fight each other and kill thousands and millions. It is just like two savages fighting in the jungles. And if the savages are called barbarous, how much more barbarous are the countries that behave in that way?”  ~ Jawaharlal Nehru

So here is my If and Then:  If human nature or the collective consciousness is simply made up of each individual’s consciousness and those individuals are changing and becoming more compassionate and peaceful, then the logical conclusion is a world that is more compassionate and peaceful.  So, that is why I say World Peace is possible.  World Peace is inevitable.  World Peace is logical.


Find your own way of increasing your impact of Peace! 

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Are Meditators Cooler than Other People?

vinyasa-yogaNo.

I know when the question is asked so bluntly the answer is obvious, but judgment can be a sneaky thing and it has been known to crawl into a spiritual community or two.

When I lived in the New Age mecca of Asheville, NC I had a friend who whenever I would mention someone I met he would ask “is he a meditator?” as if that is the question that divides the worthy from the unworthy. The same friend made a pact with an equally “spiritual” friend that they were going to be enlightened in 6 months – yes, they set a date. His reasoning was that “I Am God” so I can decide and I decide to be enlightened and if I decide, then it will be so! They also felt that Christ or Angels or Masters or any “intermediaries” were an unnecessary distraction because “I Am” and therefore I can go direct to the Godhead!

At the same time I was taking classes in “energy studies” and going to group “awakening activation” circles (parts of my spiritual path that gave me a great deal and that I am very thankful for). My main teacher at the time was my massage school instructor, Craig, who also taught Merkabah meditations and beautifully shared his passion for how the physical anatomy of the brain corresponded to ancient Vedic poetry about awakening. At one Tibetan bowl ringing circle we were meditating in the midst of the sound waves and the Divine Presence was palpable. The moment I remember the clearest was when Craig walked by me and leaned in and said “There is the God that I Am and then there is the God that I ain’t!” It was his way of saying that there is a God that is more glorious, more benevolent and just more friggin AWESOME than we could ever contain!

I remember that moment often. And I feel that one moment taught me something vitally important.  I feel that humility is such an essential quality on a spiritual path, and it is very rarely talked about. Maybe that is because it’s hard to point out humility or you end up looking very Uriah Heepish calling attention to how “umble” you are. Or maybe humility is just by nature a meeker spiritual quality and doesn’t call attention to itself as much as courage, knowledge or rigorous self-discipline.

Or maybe it’s because it’s not a very popular concept in the Westernized spiritual talk of being “co-creators”, of “manifesting abundance” for ourselves and “I Am God” consciousness, or even the slightly removed “I Am One with God.” And yes, of course, in absolute truth we are all the “I Am” – but when that deep spiritual truth is co-opted by the small ego self, it’s not pretty. And sometimes “spiritual” people can behave just as judgmental and petty as high school teenagers.

It’s a strange dichotomy in our culture. On one side we have this struggle to feel worthy of our Divinity, worthy of God’s Love and Benevolent Grace and all the beauty and peace God wants to shower upon us – the “not enough” that is engrained in us. And on the other side we have this over the top spiritual arrogance of claiming we are God before we have purified our consciousness enough to have that be an actual manifested reality. Because even if something is true in absolute reality – i.e. that we are One with God – it doesn’t mean we ACT that way – and acting that way is how we ACTUALIZE it.  And actually doing that takes a lot of emptying, surrender and well, humility.

And that is the goal, isn’t it? That is why we meditate, contemplate, pray and work on ourselves – so that we can embody more of the qualities of the Divine – love, compassion, joy, light, peace and bliss – so that we can really act like we are made in God’s image. But it is very important to remember that loving kindness and compassion are what matters, and if you get there by meditating or by praying or by just being a good person with a loving heart, so what?  Who are we to judge?

sistersI look at my sisters and their families and they are beautiful people and I think they wouldn’t mind me saying they have never meditated a day in their life. I always thought of myself as the “spiritual one” – but I see how much good they create in the world and I am humbled. They have both created lives of harmony and good families – lives where their kids don’t know what yelling is. When they had their children they decided they didn’t want to re-create our upbringing of yelling and screaming and “not enough.” They applied themselves, read books, really thought about the choices they would make as parents and became conscious mothers. Their kids feel loved and respected and are being healed of the “not enough.”

My sisters do not have any pretense about being spiritual, yet they are changing humanity! The generational shift is amazing! They did not say – “I Am consciousness itself, I am going to change the world” – their only motivation was loving their children and wanting to create a better emotional life for them, and it IS changing the world.

So, I have decided to redefine what being “spiritual” means to me. It’s easy to get attached to this thought of being spiritual, almost as if spirituality has become a status symbol as much as a Mercedes or a Gucci bag. But it’s not about being the person who does yoga on the beach at 7am or who meditates for an hour every day. It is more about being compassionate. It is more about just making conscious loving choices in daily life. And I thank my sisters for not even trying to be spiritual but just being part of the evolution of the human race! It is humbling and beautiful to witness.

Changing Our Selves AND Changing the World

be-the-change-you-wantWhen Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world” he did not mean to just be the change on your yoga mat. Can anyone accuse Gandhi of sitting idly by in meditation – transforming himself inwardly as the world around him was unjust, brutal and violent? No. Gandhi did not simply meditate for peace and justice – he used the inner peace he found in meditation to take action and create real and meaningful change in the world.  The inner transformation through spiritual practice awakens in us a hunger for more love, compassion and justice in the world.

To me, what Gandhi meant is for us to have a unity of inner life and outer life – to have our quest for peace and justice in the world be reflected by peace and equanimity inside. Otherwise, we could be working for peace on the outside while raging with hatred against the world on the inside – and no matter what the anger or hatred is about, it is still putting out the vibrations of anger and hatred into the world, it is still polluting the collective mind. And, the nature of anger is that it cannot be contained or aimed just at one thing – it seeps out in how we treat those around us, those we love and anyone we come in contact with. So, if we are working for peace and we continue to rage inside, we are being counterproductive and working against ourselves and against peace.

Yet, I have often encountered people who say “Be the change you wish to see in the world” as a way to ONLY focus on change inside and not do anything in the outer world for change, to simply meditate every morning or say a prayer for peace before bed each night, but not think about the social impacts their choices or actions have on our world and the people around them. And yes, prayers and meditation for God’s Peace on earth are very good, but I don’t think Gandhi meant for us to ONLY change inside, to go to church on Sundays or take a yoga class on Thursdays and not take it any further than that. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “Union” – and how could you truly practice Union and realize the Oneness you share with all of life and then stand by and do nothing? When you truly realize the Union of life, the Union of God, you cannot sit by and watch the suffering of others and just say, oh well, I’m meditating.  I think our prayers for peace are meant to be ceaseless and to encompass all our actions in life.

The Dalai Lama has also said “Change only takes place through action, not through meditation and prayer alone.” And in a recent public talk when asked “What is the most important meditation technique at this time?” his answer was “Action,” – to meditate in order to take it into action.

There needs to be a balance of inner and outer focus. If we only focus on social activism and political action we get burnt out and bitter. There are plenty of politicians or social activists who start out with a mission for good and end up with toxic thoughts and angry actions. If we only focus on inner prayer or meditation we get self-absorbed and isolated in our own little world.  There are plenty of well-meaning people who set out to change the world by changing their own hearts but drift off into la-la land and lose touch with reality.

I think that the great spiritual leaders of peace and social change in our world have modeled this balance for us to apply in our own small ways. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and those who have changed entire nations through Love and Truth Force – they use their inner focus on the Divine or the spirit as a way to keep them inspired and in a state of love in their actions for change in the world.

Amma-5201There is also the truth that we cannot change the world simply by changing the outside circumstances – that to create lasting change we must create a change in consciousness. As the beautiful Ammachi put it “Simply transferring the world’s nuclear weapons to a museum will not in itself bring about world peace. The nuclear weapons of the mind must first be eliminated.”

So, to create this change in consciousness we must first do it in ourselves – we must first be the change we wish to see. And then through action, inspiration, education, osmosis, transmission and electromagnetics we can begin to change the consciousness of others – and thus, change the world.

 

Unity & Peace Inside & Out – the Mind is Not the Bad Guy

scottsaw_eternal_embraceI recently went to a chanting circle.  In all the quiet spaces between the chanting, the leader of the group included some guided meditation instructions, reminding everyone to get our minds out of the way to let our hearts and souls just be.

At one point she spoke in a soothing voice to let our minds be quiet, that the mind was not designed to be in harmony with the soul… and from deep within my meditative state something inside of me said – say what??

How is it possible that I was designed with some part of me in constant conflict with my soul?  How could any part of me not be designed to be in harmony with my Self?  Why is the mind always made out to be the bad guy?  How can I truly find inner peace if I’m constantly telling a whole part of my being to shut up?  How can my heart and soul only expand by pushing a part of me out of the way?

These were the thoughts that were going through my mind in the midst of chanting God’s name – and I didn’t want to push the thoughts away.  As common as it is to use this kind of meditation technique, I realized that it’s still coming from a conflict paradigm – the soul vs the ego, the heart vs the mind… who will win?  But I do not want to conquer some part of myself.  And if we truly DO change the world by changing our thoughts and our internal world – then I want to love myself and create unity & peace with ALL parts of my being, inside & out.

Of course the mind was designed to be in absolute harmony with my soul – it was designed to be in perfect harmony with the whole universe!  God did not design us to be in conflict within ourselves or with each other.

So, I would like to change the conflict model of meditation.  Let’s have the soul embrace the mind and entice the mind to serve the soul.  If we love our minds instead of fighting with them, our minds will love us back and do anything for us.  The mind is amazing – it gives us focus, intelligence, insight and the ability to use words to express, to pray and to chant the name of God.  Ask your mind to help you focus on the stillness inside yourself, ask your mind to keep coming back to the peace you truly are, ask your mind to rest inside Divine Light. Invite your mind to be a full participant in your spiritual practice.

The mind is perfectly capable of understanding Truth – that is what it was made for – so let’s not push it out of the way.  Let’s unify the soul and the mind into one purpose of loving God, loving the Self and loving each other.