Way of the Screaming Baby

I’ve often wondered why our 15 month old daughter screams so much. Her brother never did, but this one screams at the drop of a hat.

I think I finally understand. If I can experience her screaming and not lose my alignment, then I am on the right path.

I’m learning the way from my toddler’s tantrums. Ear-piercing and soul-numbing shrieks are my training ground for Zen-like calm.

Knowing that manifestations are the effect and thoughts are the cause, her cries are a perfect opportunity to wean myself off reactivity and fixating on conditions.

Every scream is a lesson in alignment. God sees only good in it, so should I. Thank you, tiny, beautiful, pooping master.

Learning to meditate

I want to learn to meditate – specifically to quiet my mind.

I’ve tried to learn before, but I didn’t really understand myself enough back then. And contrary to what we are told: meditation is not a panacea.

Learning to meditate isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation, any more than learning to run. Running is good for your health, but the unspoken assumption is that you are able to do it healthily in the first place.

Some people need rehab or physio treatment or personalised training before running can be a regular, healthy activity. Meditation is the same.

Quiet your mind

Meditation 101 is to quiet your thoughts. But some of us are intense and driven thinkers, and our intense and driven thinking often has a cause.

If you take people with PTSD or chronic anxiety and get them to quiet their thoughts, they may find it impossible. In my case I suspect my intense focus on thinking is a way of finding control and stability amidst anxiety.

Yet I want to feel the relief of a quietened mind. I want to find my mind at peace before anxiety begins and before my thoughts race to manage it.

The first step is acknowledging that my constant stream of thoughts is not the whole of my mind. In fact it’s more like the tail end where wordless insights are translated into language.

Focusing on them will bring me more of them, but they are only translations and cannot surpass the wisdom and clarity I already possess.

It’s like these blog posts: focusing on a subject enhances my clarity and insight, and rereading them may focus it even further, but I can’t learn anything new from the words themselves. It’s the focusing, not the words or the thoughts that really matter.

The front porch and the computer

I used to spend many hours at home sitting at the computer. But as I learned to feel better I noticed that it left me uncomfortable and weary to stare at the screen for so long.

I discovered I could lie on the couch and use my phone instead. For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me before.

And now I’ve discovered the front porch is a really nice place to sit in the cold wind, all rugged up, with a cup of coffee and some incense burning nearby.

I’m envisaging my mind in a similar way: I’ve spent many hours focused on the part of my mind where thoughts turn into words, sifting and analysing and planning and predicting.

But that leaves me tired and uninspired. I don’t need to be there!

Quieting my mind means finding a different place to sit and focus. Somewhere more relaxed and enjoyable. Somewhere that gives me energy instead of taking it, and allows inspiration to flow.

The approach that works for me is bathing my mind in relief. That’s what letting go of thoughts feels like to me.

Posture, eyes open or shut, duration, that stuff doesn’t matter too much if I can just find the feeling of relief and immerse my mind in it to the exclusion of all worries and cares.

Feels like a good place to start. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Tempting fate

Sometimes we feel drawn and almost impelled to pick up a topic or commit to an action that seems like it would change our circumstances for the better.

It’s the mixed feeling that if we just say something now or push a little we can get things moving and have what we want.

But it’s mixed because at the same time we feel hesitant. Something is off and action doesn’t feel like the next logical step so much as a venting of steam, not inspired but slightly manic.

Don’t do it

If you feel mixed about a course of action you’re pretty much guaranteed a result that is at best mixed and at worst a painful and difficult letting go of resistance.

The problem is that your reality is already a perfect match to the sum of your own thoughts and attention. You can’t solve a problem with the same mind (or feeling) that created it.

The mixed, uneasy feeling is your own guidance telling you what lies in store. Yes, your action might “move things along”, but not in an easy, enjoyable, magical way.

The man in the mirror

I love the analogy of looking in a mirror and trying to change the reflection instead of changing yourself.

The whole of your reality is a reflection of the thoughts you think and the story you tell yourself. So if you aren’t happy with it, change your thoughts and tell a new story.

The impulse to try to “bang things into place” by force or by interference might seem like the quickest path to the outcome you want, but it’s still all about the reflection.

If you are at peace your world will be at peace. If you feel contentment your world will reflect that. So what if you feel an urgent, uncomfortable need to stir things up and express your inner conflict and frustration?

When you’ve had enough of turmoil and doing it the hard way you’ll find yourself valuing ease a whole lot more, and declining the sudden and pressing offer to tempt fate once more.

The garden within you

There’s a place of peace and clarity within us. You can go there if you retreat just a little from all your worries and cares.

Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
inside the body and out of it,
before gardens and after gardens.
– Kabir

Getting there is easy. Staying there is harder, because we’ve spent all our lives investing in stories of “out there”.

Stories of how important it is to worry, strive, prove yourself, accomplish something.

Stories that began with us accepting there was something wrong or broken or inadequate about our own existence.

Stories where it’s a mean world out there and your success is a measure of your worthiness and your happiness is a reflection of your success.

Guard your heart

Guarding your heart means not allowing your thoughts about life to force you out of the peace and happiness within you.

After all, we have God’s own assurance that nothing can go wrong for us.

Christ didn’t let himself be killed to pay a price required of us by his own Father. His was a sacrifice to end all sacrifice, not because God requires or demands sacrifice but because we humans had got it into our heads that sacrifice was necessary.

Sacrifice was never necessary.

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

To obey originally meant “to listen”. The Hebrew for “obey” likewise means “to hear”.

We tend to interpret this verse as saying “enough with the sacrifices, just do as you’re told!”

Because obedience conjures images of dutifully following commandments. Listening and hearing God’s guidance is conflated with following orders.

Yet the whole point of the Bible is that God desires a genuine relationship with us.

Or rather, God has never ceased pouring out His love and blessings upon us. We are the ones hiding, refusing, and rejecting the grace available to us.

The garden within

It’s easy to find the quiet place within you where God dwells. But to carry that peace and love out into life requires us to let go of the worries and cares that have accrued around our external circumstances.

I can close my eyes and feel close to God, but open them and feel the tie of thoughts about everything I see before me: house, belongings, family, YouTube, chores, plans, worries and fears and hopes and wishes.

The work before us is to let our thoughts be changed by the peace and love we find within.

Bit by bit, soothe and soften and ease the story of our lives until we can remain in this love always.

The Way is like an empty vessel
That yet may be drawn from
Without ever needing to be filled.
It is bottomless; the very progenitor of all things in the world.
In it all sharpness is blunted,
All tangles untied,
All glare tempered,
All dust soothed.

It is like a deep pool that never dries.
Was it too the child of something else? We cannot tell.
But as a substanceless image it existed before the Ancestor.

– DDJ 4. Waley

On being special

We all want to feel special.

Special in this context means “marked off from others by some distinguishing quality”.

So to be precise, we all want to be special in a good way.

Maybe we won’t admit it to ourselves or to others, maybe we prefer a different form of words, or a different kind of specialness. Maybe we’d rather say loved, respected, admired, important, powerful, rich, talented, and so on.

But these are, I would argue, just different ways of being special.

Some people may have found the special status they are looking for, but for most of us the desire to be special brings to light the inverse: we don’t feel special, or loved, or respected, etc.

In my experience and study, our search for some means of becoming special is ultimately futile because it is based on a misapprehension. We take “not special” as the default reality and seek to change that reality.

But “not special” is, according to various mystics, sages, philosophers and other observers of the human psyche, a false belief or fear, hence any attempt to remedy it by becoming more special is bound to fail.

The desire to feel special is part of a natural desire for wholeness, peace, joy, and other good things. But we have misdiagnosed the problem, the obstacle to experiencing these very positive emotions.

It seems that the obstacle is reality. I’m not special enough, that’s why I don’t experience these positive emotions. Therefore I need to find a way to become more special.

But the true obstacle is a false self-image, a self-image that contains gaps and holes and knots.

The self-image is false because we built it when we were children, on the assumption that we could take other people’s reactions to us at face-value.

In other words, if your siblings always treated you like a little prince or princess, you would accept at face value that this is how you deserved to be treated. You would assume that something about you was causing this response in them, as surely as good food elicits hunger and ends in satiety.

But if your siblings treated you like a perpetual nuisance, a wearisome annoyance, or an unwanted competitor for parental attention, then likewise, you would assume these reactions followed naturally from some aspect of yourself.

Young children do not understand that the minds of their elders are clouded and confused by a variety of motives: fears, desires, anxieties, and their own flawed self-images.

Children grow up, unwittingly cultivating these false selves. Expecting everyone to treat them like a prince and becoming angry and resentful when others don’t. Or expecting everyone to resent and despise them, and denying opportunities to experience something better.

A large part of our spiritual path lies in recognising that people’s responses to us when we were children were governed by forces and themes much bigger than we could have understood at the time. We come to understand the motives of our parents and siblings. We recognise that the way they treated us was not about us at all, or only minimally.

But the flawed self-image we carry around is hard to shake. It’s like being raised in a cult, and then having to relearn everything about how the world really works. Learning that the government isn’t out to get you, or that aliens aren’t coming to rescue you. Or that your leader wasn’t a prophet but a narcissistic manipulator.

That’s why genuine religion both depreciates and transforms the self. The theme of death and rebirth is ubiquitous because so is the mechanism of our flawed self-image.

In practical terms, what can we do about it?

In a religious context there are devotional and meditative practices designed to lower the protective barriers of this false self. These include practices like trying to feel the presence of God rather than focusing always on your selfish fears and desires, or trying to recognise the fragility of the self in metaphysical terms.

At present I’m just trying to remind myself that I don’t actually know who I am, and to then try to be conscious of the subtle traces of my false self-image where relevant – usually in the midst of fears and desires.

In the context of wanting to feel special, what we seek is not to be found by adding something to ourselves, but by letting go of, or seeing through the illusion of this false self-image. The reason we don’t feel peace and joy and contentment is that we have learned to expect much less from life. We can’t accept whatever peace and joy and contentment are available to us in the present, because our self-image is too tightly wound  to accept it.

We’ve been inculcated with a false requirement to change ourselves, improve ourselves, achieve something in order to be content, to be happy. We’re primed to view everything in life with respect to how it advances or impedes our desire to be more special.