Tag Archives: mindfulness

“A Man’s Book of the Spirit” by Bill Alexander

This book was given to me about 25 years ago by someone who was providing me with spiritual counsel at the time. Throughout the years, I have read through the daily meditations multiple times. Currently, I am taking a break from this one and reading another daily inspirational book (and I have yet another on order), but at some point, I will likely read through this again, since it provides such a wealth of insight and inspiration.

The book offers daily mindfulness passages with a men’s spirituality leaning. Each day you are presented with a quote, a brief elaboration on the passage, and sometimes an associated assignment or prompt to help reinforce the spiritual principle. What I like about the quotes is that they are not from any particular tradition, and come from poets, religious texts, actors, philosophers, etc. Often with self-help meditation books such as this, there is a “tradition” to which the book adheres. That’s not the case with this one, which is why I have used it for so many years.

I do not think this is in print anymore, but you can probably find a used copy online if you are so inclined. I have to say that my copy is beginning to show its age along the spine, and I am not sure how many more yearly journeys it will support. But I will keep it until it begins to come apart, which I will then take as a sign that it is time to explore other paths.

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Thoughts on “Being Ram Dass” by Ram Dass

When I received an email from Sounds True announcing the publication of this book, I knew I would be reading it. I loved Be Here Now and could not pass up the opportunity to read a first-hand account of Ram Dass’s life, which ended on December 22, 2019.

Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert in 1932. The book covers his long and interesting life, from his childhood to his early days as an explorer of psychedelics with Timothy Leary, then his journey to India where he met Maharaj-ji and became a devotee, and finally, his later years following his debilitating stroke.

There are so many wonderful and insightful seeds of wisdom in this book, it seriously warrants reading by anyone who has even a sliver of interest in spirituality and service. I will share a couple quotes that stood out for me.

Service as a spiritual path lacks glamour. I liked moving in and out of planes of reality, esoteric teachings, secret mantras, meditation in caves, experiences of bliss. Those experiences of different planes originated in my use of psychedelics, and I’d grown attached to those experiences. It was another trap that I created for myself, another kind of spiritual ego.

I had romanticized and idealized my spiritual path—so much so that I distanced myself from the nitty-gritty of life. I wanted to transcend this earthly plane, with its imperfect humans caught in their greed and ambition and selfishness, including me. Serving God was an ideal. Serving God in the form of other people, with all their vagaries and flaws, politics and personality quirks, was a whole other kettle of fish.

(p. 280)

I confess, I am guilty of what Ram Dass describes. I know I have “spiritual ego.” In addition, I find myself constantly vexed by the attitudes and behaviors of my fellow humans. I make a conscious effort to practice empathy and acceptance, but it does not come easy for me. It is so much easier to “love and serve” those who I like, but those who anger me? That is hard. I suppose I should take comfort in the fact that I realize I still have a way to go along my path. There is hope for me yet.

This segues nicely into the next passage.

Gandhi said, “When you surrender completely to God as the only Truth worth having, you find yourself in the service of all that exists. It becomes your joy and recreation. You never tire of serving others.” Billions of acts create suffering in the world—acts of ignorance, greed, violence. But in the same way, each act of caring—the billion tiny ways that we offer compassion, wisdom, and joy to one another—serves to preserve and heal our world. When I help someone change their perspective on their individual problems, I also change society.

(p. 360)

I must confess, I have been seriously considering ending this blog. But it is the possibility that maybe something I share might help one person, the chance that I might help spread some small crumb of wisdom or insight or inspiration to another person, that brings me back to the keyboard to write yet another post.

If you are reading this, I hope you will consider the wise words of Ram Dass, and maybe pick up a copy of his book and read it. Thanks for stopping by, and may we all contribute to spreading some happiness in the world. The world desperately needs more happiness right now.

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Monstress: Issue 28

I have been reading this comic since its inception and enjoy the stunning artwork and superb writing. Anyway, this installment has a great quote which I want to share.

The Goddess decides how long we live, sister. Maybe I have a minute, maybe a hundred years, but I’m going to enjoy this carrot and being alive with all my devotion.

There is a lot to say about these two short sentences. Firstly, there is the truth that none of us know how long we will live. So many of us plod through life either in denial of our mortality or in fear of death. But the fact is, we will die, and we know not when. But keeping that in mind, we can begin to appreciate each day.

I love the image of eating and enjoying the carrot. It is a beautiful representation of living in the present moment, of practicing mindfulness. I am going to paraphrase something that Don Juan told Carlos Castaneda in one of his books, that you should engage in each act as if it is the last thing you will do. If you are eating a carrot, take your time and enjoy that carrot, because it may be the last thing you eat.

Finally, we come to living life with devotion. I often wonder what the world would be like if the majority of us lived our lives honoring the divine spark that exists within us all, instead of focusing on ourselves and our own personal gains regardless of the effects on others and the world. It seems like a utopian vision, I know, but everything was just a vision at one point, until it was actualized. I try to maintain a sense of reverence to the divine and a focus on spiritual values. Often I fall short, but I try, and that is all I can do.

Anyway, I hope you found this quote as inspiring as I found it. Have a wonderful day, and thanks for stopping by.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 57” by Lao Tzu

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You govern a kingdom by normal rules;
You fight a war by exceptional moves;
But you win the world by letting alone.
How do I know that this is so?
By what is within me!

The more taboos and inhibitions there are in the world,
The poorer the people become.
The sharper the weapons the people possess,
The greater confusion reigns in the realm.
The more clever and crafty the men,
The oftener strange things happen.
The more articulate the laws and ordinances,
The more robbers and thieves arise.

Therefore, the Sage says:
I do not make any fuss, and the people transform themselves.
I love quietude, and the people settle down in their regular grooves.
I do not engage myself in anything, and the people grow rich.
I have no desires, and the people return to Simplicity.

This beautiful passage can be succinctly summed up by saying that the more we try to control things, the more things go awry. I learned a valuable lesson a long time ago, that I am powerless over people, places, and things. The only thing I have control over is how I choose to react to situations that occur in life. And it’s my experience that if I pause and reflect before I act, I usually make better choices, or I come to the realization that what seemed like an overwhelming  problem was not quite as big as my obsessive mind made it appear at first.

These days, I try not to spend too much time indulging in news or social media hysteria. But I do glance and wonder at the strangeness of these times, and I’m inclined to believe that if people would step back and stop freaking out, things would improve.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you have a wonderful day.

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Thoughts on “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse

I originally read this book as a teenager and figured it was high time I read it again. It made an impression on me all those years ago, but I knew that reading it at this stage in my life would be a completely different experience.

So now I face the problem of writing a post about this book. This text is so rich, and there is such a wealth of wisdom contained in its 149 pages, how could I possibly do this book justice? But as I begin writing, I realize that it doesn’t really matter what I write. This book transcends anything I could possibly say about it. It will resonate differently for each person who reads it, based upon where they are on their individual paths. So I will just share what resonated with me during this reading.

He saw people going through their lives in the manner of a child or an animal, and he both loved and disdained this at the same time. He saw them striving—and suffering and getting gray—over things that seemed to him completely unworthy of this price: over money, over small pleasures, over a little respect.

(p. 71)

How many of us have wasted much of our lives chasing after these types of things, distractions that only offer us a brief respite from our unhappiness? And then, once the novelty has worn off, the void returns and we continue the dismal cycle of striving after things that we think will bring us happiness, but only cause more suffering. It seems that we are all destined to go through this to some extent. I certainly did for a while, and if I am honest, I still do, although thankfully to a lesser extent. I still seek and enjoy my “small pleasures”: books, music, good food, etc. But I try to keep this in perspective and not let it become the focus of my life. There is so much more to experience, and what feels like precious little time left. I refuse to waste any more time chasing phantoms, trying to acquire things that in the end will mean nothing to me.

But what a journey that was! I had to pass through so much ignorance, so much vice, such great misunderstanding, so much revulsion and disappointment and misery—just to become a child again and start over. But it was right. My heart affirms it. My eyes laugh upon it. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the level of the stupidest of all thoughts, the thought of suicide, in order to be able to experience grace, to hear OM again, to sleep properly and be able to awaken properly.

(pp. 95 – 96)

Spiritual growth and enlightenment is not a result of denying and rejecting the material world. One is graced with spiritual enlightenment as a result of going through the challenges and difficulties that life presents. When I look back on my life, I went through a lot of hard times, a lot of pain, and a lot of deep despair. But had I not gone through it all, I would not be the person I am today. We do not grow as individuals through ease and comfort. It is adversity and difficulty that forces us to search deep within ourselves for the strength to take another step. It is through learning to deal with life’s challenges that we gain wisdom. After all, we are spiritual beings having a worldly experience.

No, a true seeker, one who truly wished to find, could not accept any doctrine. But he who had found realization could look with favor on any teaching, any path, any goal. Nothing any longer separated him from a thousand others who lived the eternal, who breathed the divine.

(p. 109)

Everyone must follow their own path, and all true spiritual paths lead to the same destination. We seek the same thing. We all need to encourage others to follow their paths, and not come from a place of fear where we need to argue the validity of our own paths. Judging others because of the spiritual paths they choose does not strengthen our individual faith; it only diminishes someone else’s and makes their journey more difficult than it need be.

I’m really glad I read this again. This is one of those universal books which every human being should read, at least once. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my words. May you find happiness on your journey.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 56” by Lao Tzu

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He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Block all the passages!
Shut all the doors!
Blunt all edges!
Untie all tangles!
Harmonize all lights!
Unite the world into one whole!
This is called the Mystical Whole,
Which you cannot court after nor shun,
Benefit nor harm, honour nor humble.

Therefore, it is the Highest of the world.

In Buddhist thought, there is a concept called maya, which roughly means illusion, that basically what we perceive is a construct of our mind. If one accepts this tenet, it stands to reason that reality is something that exists beyond the limited grasp of our senses. It appears that Lao Tzu is expressing a similar idea in regard to the Tao, that it is the “Mystical Whole” that lies beyond the scope of our normal consciousness.

In the opening couplet, Lao Tzu warns against those who profess to know the Tao. To speak of the Tao is to attempt to use words to convey the ineffable. It does not work. All that one can do is provide guidance as to how one may glimpse the unseen reality of existence, and this is what Lao Tzu does in the second stanza.

By blocking passages and shutting doors, we are essentially turning off the stories that our minds tell us about what is real. Our brains are a tangled knot of information that dictates how we perceive everything. But as we begin to silence the noise of our minds, our focus shifts and we can glimpse the harmony and connection of the world around us, as well as our connections to this world.

As we all grapple with our rapidly changing world, it would serve us well to pause and reflect. By silencing our overwhelmed minds, we may be able to get a clearer perspective on what is really happening in these times of uncertainty.

Pause, and breathe.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 55” by Lao Tzu

One who is steeped in Virtue is akin to the new-born babe.
Wasps and poisonous serpents do not sting it,
Nor fierce beasts seize it,
Nor birds of prey maul it.
Its bones are tender, its sinews soft,
But its grip is firm.
It has not known the union of the male and the female,
Growing in its wholeness, and keeping its vitality in its perfect integrity.
It howls and screams all day long without getting hoarse,
Because it embodies perfect harmony.

To know harmony is to know the Changeless.
To know the Changeless is to have insight.

To hasten the growth of life is ominous.
To control the breath by the will is to overstrain it.
To be overgrown is to decay.
All this is against Tao,
And whatever is against Tao soon ceases to be.

Lately, I have been practicing mindfulness meditation on a regular basis. This has caused me to read this passage from a mindfulness perspective.

What makes the “new-born babe” the embodiment of perfect harmony? It is because the child lives in the present moment, and is not distracted by thoughts of the past and future, with the phantoms of the mind that draw our attention away from the only thing that is truly real—this moment.

Someone told me years ago that if you live with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you end up peeing on the present. While the truth of this is evident to me, I am still guilty of tumbling down the rabbit hole of obsession, lost in dreams of the past and concerns of the future. Even as I write this, my mind wanders off to thoughts of what else I need to do today, what others will think about when they read this, blah blah blah. But at least I can recognize this now, and I suppose that is a small step in the right direction.

I don’t expect to ever become totally free of my obsessive thoughts, but if I can be just a little more present, that would be enough.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a mindful day.

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“Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm” by Thich Nhat Hanh

So I finished reading this book about a week ago, and today, the day I am writing my draft post, is the day after the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. I had picked this book for a book club which I started, for which tonight is the first gathering and we will be discussing this book. Anyway, I selected this book because it seemed important and relevant to the current paradigm, which is a fear-focused society. When I read the blurb from the back cover, I knew that this was a timely book to read.

Fear has countless faces: from the fear of failure to worries about everyday life, from financial or environmental uncertainties to the universal despair we all experience when faced by the loss of a friend or loved one. Even when surrounded by all the conditions for happiness, life can feel incomplete when fear keeps us focused on the past and worried about the future. While we all experience fear, it is possible to learn how to avoid having our lives shaped and driven by it. In these pages, Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a timeless path for living fearlessly.

There is such a wealth of wisdom in this short book. I took a lot of notes when I was reading through it. While I can’t cover everything here, I will share some of the passages that stood out for me.

We all experience fear, but if we can look deeply into our fear, we will be able to free ourselves from its grip and touch joy. Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay.

(p. 4)

This is so true. Fear is essentially the disease of “what if.” We look at our past and see what went wrong, and then we look to the future and worry about whether these things will happen again, or if something worse will occur. Our obsession with the past and future causes us to lose touch with the present, which is truly all we really have. The past is gone, and the future is uncertain. Therefore, being present in the now is the best way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by fear.

If we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by our fears, we will suffer, and the seed of fear in us will grow stronger. But when we are mindful, we use the energy of mindfulness to embrace our fear. Every time fear is embraced by mindfulness, the energy of fear decreases before going back down to the depths of our consciousness as a seed.

(p. 38)

As with everything, if you feed it and nurture it, it will grow. This is also true with fear. The more we feed our fears, the more fearful we become. It is really simple, but unfortunately not that easy. When in the grip of fear, it is difficult to step back, take a breath, accept that you are fearful, and then shift focus to the present, recognizing that at this moment, that which we fear is not an actuality. Something else to keep in mind, prolonged fear often leads to anger and/or despair, both of which are very dangerous mental states. For that reason, it is really important to address fear when it arises, and to do so in a healthy and positive way.

Everyone feels very much the same. Our planet is beset by so much danger. There’s so much violence and suffering in the world. If you allow the plague of helplessness to overwhelm you, you’ll go insane. You want to do something—first of all to survive, and then to help reduce the suffering. And we’ve seen, just as the Buddha saw, that is we don’t have a sangha, we can’t do very much. So we come together and we stick to the sangha through thick and thin, because we know that there is no way out of this situation except with a sangha.

(p. 122)

A sangha is, for all intents and purposes, a community. So what Thich Nhat Hanh is saying here is that being involved in community is the best way for us to deal with our collective fear and suffering. Isolation only breeds more fear. When we separate ourselves from our neighbors and our communities, we begin to look at people as “others,” and become suspicious of them. This leads to fear, which only deepens our isolation. It is a vicious cycle that can only be broken by open communication, acceptance, and community.

This book is a quick read (only 164 pages). I highly recommend reading it. Even if the ideas are already familiar to you, it is good to reinforce them.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading!

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“Meditation is Not What You Think” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

I picked this book up on a whim. I was at a Barnes & Noble café getting a coffee, and they were offering $5 off this book with any café purchase, so I could not pass it up. I had not read any Kabat-Zinn books, but had heard great things about him and was eager to read his work.

Overall, I really liked the book, a lot. It is the first in a four-book series, and was originally published as part of a larger book called Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. It seems like it is the appropriate length, and that it might have lost some of its impact if buried within a bigger tome.

In his introduction to the book, Jon eloquently expresses something that I have been feeling, that humanity is at a crossroads, or a threshold, and that the collective choices we make now will impact the course of humankind.

I don’t know about you, but for myself, it feels like we are at a critical juncture of life on this planet. It could go any number of different ways. It seems that the world is on fire and so are our hearts, inflamed with fear and uncertainty, lacking all conviction, and often filled with passionate but unwise intensity. How we manage to see ourselves and the world at this juncture will make a huge difference in the way things unfold. What emerges for us as individuals and as a society in future moments will be shaped in large measure by whether and how we make use of our innate and incomparable capacity for awareness in this moment. It will be shaped by what we choose to do to heal the underlying distress, dissatisfaction, and outright dis-ease of our lives and our times, even as we nourish and protect all that is good and beautiful and healthy in ourselves and in the world.

(p. xxiii)

While there is a wealth of insight and information in this short book, for me, there is one critical paragraph that, although long, really encapsulates everything that this book coveys: that collectively, we need to slow down, become more mindful of our thoughts and actions, and begin to shift the direction of humanity toward the kind of sane, sustainable, and supportive future that we so desperately need.

As the pace of our lives continues to accelerate, driven by a host of forces seemingly beyond our control, more and more of us are finding ourselves drawn to engage in meditation, in this radical act of being, this radical act of love, astonishing as it may seem given the materialistic “can do,” speed-obsessed, progress-obsessed, celebrity-and-other-people’s-lives-obsessed, social media-obsessed orientation of our culture. We are moving in the direction of meditative awareness for many reasons, not the least of which may be to maintain our individual and collective sanity, or recover our perspective and sense of meaning, or simply to deal with the outrageous stress and insecurity of this age. By stopping and intentionally falling awake to how things are in this moment, purposefully, without succumbing to our own reactions and judgments, and by working wisely with such occurrences with a healthy dose of self-compassion when we do succumb, and by our willingness to take up residency for a time in the present moment in spite of all our plans and activities aimed at getting somewhere else, completing a project or pursuing desired objects or goals, we discover that such an act is both immensely, discouragingly difficult yet utterly simple, profound, hugely possible after all, and restorative of mind and body, soul and spirit right in that moment.

(pp. 71 – 72)

Our paradigm is about to shift in a huge way, and I for one will do everything I can to attempt to make this shift a positive one, and that begins by changing myself. I have made a lot of conscious changes in my life over the past couple years, and continue to examine myself honestly to see where I can continue to grow and improve. Meditation and mindfulness practice have played an important role in these personal changes. I encourage you to pick up this book and begin to manifest changes in the world by changing yourself, if you have not already begun to do so. If you have already started on this path, I encourage you to continue. What we do today is important.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my musings.

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“Be Here Now” by Ram Dass

Several months ago, I went to see the film “Dying to Know” which was about Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who changed his name to Ram Dass.  The film reminded me that Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now, was one I have been meaning to read but had not gotten around to. So I decided to bump it up on the list and recently finished reading it.

The book is essentially the hippie’s guide to meditation and mindfulness. It’s lavishly illustrated with surreal psychedelic spiritual images that aid the reader in tuning in to the proper state of consciousness when reading this text.

The book is divided into four sections:

  • Journey – The Transformation: Dr. Richard Alpert, Ph.D into Baba Ram Dass—This first section details Ram Dass’ explorations in consciousness expansion through the use of psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary, which ultimately led him on a journey to the east where he met a guru and discovered his spiritual path.
  • From Bindu to Ojas—This heavily illustrated section, which comprises the bulk of the book, contains Dass’ spiritual musings and thoughts.
  • Cook Book for a Sacred Life—This section offers suggestions and practical advice for individuals starting on the spiritual path.
  • Painted Cakes Do Not Satisfy Hunger—This final section is a long list of suggested reading. As I perused this list, my own reading list swelled exponentially.

While the language of the text is very hippie dippy, and feels a little dated now, the spiritual insights are still profound and relevant. There is way too much to share in a single blog post, but I will share a few that resonated deeply with me, and I encourage you to take the time to read the book closely and ponder what Ram Dass offers.

Georges I. Gurdjieff, a westerner who went on this higher trip or at least on a large part of the trip, said: you don’t seem to understand you are in prison. If you are to get out of prison the first thing you must realize is: you are in prison. If you think you’re free, you can’t escape.

(p. 42)

Reading this made me think of the average American. Americans love to believe they are free: free to seek happiness, pursue the careers they want, travel, elect who they like, etc. But American freedom is just an illusion. We are constantly being manipulated by media, advertising, peer pressure, and so forth. Americans have allowed themselves to be enslaved by a consumer society that profits from their exploitation. But don’t ever try to tell an American that he or she is not free. Americans are quick to fight in the defense of their belief in freedom.

That psychosis business is an interesting business. If you go through the doorway too fast and you’re not ready for it you’re bound hand and foot and thrown into outer darkness. You may land anywhere and lots of people end up in mental hospitals. The reason they do is: they went through the door with their ego on.

(p. 98)

We hear this warning over and over again: it is important to stay grounded when doing spiritual work. I have witnessed people close to me slip into mental illness because they explored consciousness without remaining properly grounded. It is sad, because you are powerless to do anything for that person. They become trapped within their own subconscious and can no longer function in this plane of reality.

When your center is firm, when your faith is strong and unwavering, then it will not matter what company you keep. Then you will see that all beings are on the evolutionary journey of consciousness. They differ only in the degree that the veil of illusion clouds their vision. But for you . . . you will see behind the veil to the place where we are all ONE.

(p. 53)

This is something I need to remind myself about on a regular basis. With all the craziness, intolerance, and fear that I see on a daily basis, I need to remember that all of us are spiritual beings on the path, and we all progress at our own pace. I have to resist the temptation to judge others based on where I am on my journey. All I can do is follow my own course and maybe I might inspire another person on his or her path. What a blessing that would be!

Thanks so much for stopping by. And remember, don’t cling to the past or obsess about the future, just be here now, because this moment is all we really have. Everything else is a mental construct and an illusion.

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