How many times do you do you have a sudden realisation that you were not present at all when you were just doing something and now barely remember doing it? Common moments like this can be driving home or doing a domestic chore. Even worse, is having that realisation after doing something really important for someone, or only partially paying attention when a loved one was talking with you or doing something with you that could have been a special moment?
Allowing ourselves to get lost in our stream of thoughts too much of every day is even easier now with the cacophony of distractions in modern life on top of over-thinking and lack of time or care to just sit and be fully present. Not balancing ‘being’ with ‘doing’ means we can be cut-off from the most important aspect of who we are within ourselves and with each other – and that is love.
To help reconnect, there is a resurgence and redefining of ways to practice consciously being present in the ‘now’ on a daily basis. A specific chosen mindful activity serves best when it is a self-nurturing and quiet activity. A regular and particular time of day, is most effective when it is the start and end of each day.
One of the ways our thinking mind can draw us out of our deeper self, is through our unconscious acceptance of assumptions which come out of long term habitual thinking, as do our automatic or reflexive opinions and stance on things.
It is natural to categorise things as good or bad, right or wrong, important or not important, likeable or dislikable and even spiritual or non-spiritual because these dualistic points of view become part of our moral identity and character.
This is okay when we are open to adjusting and refining our boundaries and views as our knowledge and maturity develops. However, making them a rigid and unquestionable part of our identity, turning them into a universal truth everyone must agree to in order to be acceptable to us, is what can have our past conditioning run the show, so we are seeing old projections rather than what is truly before us. This can get in the way of our ability to listen more deeply to ourselves and others in the present moment.
When our points of view come into conflict with other people’s views, the inner tension can alert us to turn up our state of being present. With presence, we can review how to deal with even subtle tension and conflict in a way that maintains our own integrity to presence here and now, while being respectful and open to other people’s points of view. This is part of living from the heart and exercising wisdom. It is putting trust in our own deeper nature, rather than than identifying primarily with an opinion or belief which may have some merit, but is a projection of mind and not our true selves.
Treating our viewpoint as a universal fact leads inevitably to making other people wrong or manipulating them into thinking ‘our’ way as the only ‘right’ way, because no two people have exactly the same ideology. Many people have vastly different views on certain matters. When we are unconsciously judging and manipulating, we are removed from our innate wisdom and love.
If we are identified with the living presence that is doing the thinking, then we can loosen the hold and be free from the compulsion to take a strong position on every opinion and thought to defend our identity. This is because when our identity transcends our thoughts and beliefs, it is not defined by them. We can then take our view points and reality as relative and feel less threatened when they are challenged.
I imagine that you recognise certain conditioned beliefs and their matching experiences are your own and not necessarily the truth or experience of everyone. Yet many people have a mindset or have decided certain views are simply the way they are, things are and that is it. When we do this, we close ourselves to new positive experiences and awareness of new possibilities in relationships and life situations that are part of our life path and life lessons.
I have come to the point of view that the only way to truly bridge differences between people, and move through our own defences and unconscious walls, is to commit daily to coming from love with everything, including ourselves.
While there are many types of love in life, what characterises true love is a heartfelt sense of our own oneness with whatever or whoever inspires or requires our love. From the point of view of spiritual awakening, that means everything and everyone, but it does not mean becoming passive and easily manipulated to other people’s views.
It does mean looking beyond differences to a sense of common essence with others as a primary mode of operating, and then dealing with any issues only once that sense of oneness is found in that moment. Being centred there within our own hearts, then connecting with that essence in others as first base is required to then apply love in communication and engagement.
A person or relationship, an activity, an object or sensory delight that we may apply the word ‘love’ to is usually where we feel a bond, emotional investment or a strong sense of pleasure. On a deeper level where we become more identified with our universal self, the essence of ourselves as a living being, love becomes more broadly the sense of unity or oneness within our own inner essence, which is the same living essence expressed uniquely through all other living beings in a living and animated universe.
This love transcends, yet does not exclude romanticism, sentimentalism and pleasure seeking. Nonetheless, these can draw us away from real love when invested in from the conditioned and conditional mind. They are transformed to something beautiful when embraced with presence and essence.
From this view, oneness exists every microsecond whether we are dealing with pleasure or pain. Suffering comes when we cannot accept, when we struggle with or resist pain. Being in oneness means learning to have a sense of connection to life and reality no matter what is going on, so that good or bad, pain or pleasure, do not draw us into rejection or attachment. In this way, our depth of oneness and presence enables us to experience greater depths of pleasure or pain without being drawn away from its great breadth and strength.
We all have great reserves of untapped strength, wisdom and compassion. Only the vast spaciousness of presence can give us the ability to be open heartedly present with deep pain in ourselves and in others.
On this basis, it is helpful to be reminded or inspired to feel our love and oneness or connection to people and the world by tuning within to our own soul with heart and mind, having a conscious choice as to with whom, when and how we express or flow this conscious love and sense of being into the moment.
I often reflect on a principle that to a non-spiritually minded person, nothing is spiritual; but to a spiritually awakened soul, everything is spiritual. Spiritual here is implied by conscious presence that transcends the thinking mind. Much of the time, our hearts and minds serve us best when clear and reflecting our true essence like a still pond reflecting the moon. Clearer thoughts can then arise than when we are locked in our own stream of thinking and reacting to mind disturbance and mind content.
In this state, our own unique character and body are outer garments of expression to be used consciously to express our deeper essence. The living conscious essence that is experiencing the mind, body and character we have, is intimately with us every second yet impossible for us to really define intellectually. It is closer than our own thoughts. It is where we can find a profound sense of transcendence and authenticity of being while observing our life experience in the present moment.
Greater potential and challenge for pleasure and fulfilment arises when we can engage this consciousness in any situation with anybody, and in specific moments with a specific somebody. This requires equanimity and non-attachment to our own position and stance in life, so that many battles once fought over various points of view are no longer engaging us. Yet it also means living with conviction to whatever task, behaviour and principles are in alignment and engage us at the depths of our being with full consciousness.
Being more present, appreciative and open with conscious depth, enables exploring greater depth of experience and having the courage to meet challenges as well as many simple and special moments with an open heart. All experiences and actions can benefit everyone, including ourselves, when approached with a heartfelt and conscious intent.
It is our thinking mind that labels people, situations and things so that they become over-familiar and taken for granted. This happens when we are perceiving them through a conditioned mindset of associations that have become habitual. Being in the present moment tunes us in to even common or familiar settings as if we are there for the first time, enabling a timeless appreciation of things, like a long term relationship or elements of daily life, as a gift.
The conditioned and thinking mind cannot provide this because it defines everything into its own self image and time bound set of thoughts and feelings. Living presence experiences the living moment directly. The conditioned mind experiences everything through its own constructed content, narratives and conclusions. Even things that were once precious can become part of what feels like ‘ground-hog day’ to the conditioned mind. It is then we unconsciously become distant and only partially present while our mind goes into a blend of auto-pilot and distraction with unrelated streams of thoughts. Meanwhile, we miss being fully present in a relationship or situation.
It is a challenge to notice when we have a limiting thought and shut down. It is also a challenge when we are drawn into a thought stream, then realise we are not fully present, to then awaken ourselves with a deep breath and ‘re-set’ in the here and now. It is time for us to rise above our own conditioning when it is activated and decide to be present with our own love.
Open hearted presence is enough to transform a conditioned thought or feeling in ourselves that is causing a ‘shut down’ and distracting us from being more present, loving and embodying our authentic true selves. It is not the situation or person causing our ‘shut-down’ but our own inability to respond consciously.
When you notice you are taking a position against something, or else feeling mental, emotional or physical resistance with someone or a situation, see if you can use breath and body awareness to relax and become open from within to deal with the situation from a strong and open heart. Be open to whether the resistance or tension is arising from within yourself or is something you are picking up from around you. Transforming such moments requires self-honesty, being non-judgemental and trusting in the power of presence in the world before launching into any action or expression.
The power of presence is available once you have found the sense of oneness with self and all of life in the moment revealing not only love but that you are love.
Yoga asana’s and meditation is a morning ritual I follow most mornings. Of the many things I get from regular practice is a lesson about dealing with challenges in life that I find yoga continually teaches beautifully.
While meditation, Qigong and Taiji are practices I have done for a number of decades, one of the unique moments that yoga offers, is creating the space, stillness and time to relax and breath into specific discomforts in ways that gets more subtle, deep with progress.
It occurs in a way that really opens up mind and body energy for the day ahead. Forcing or processing physical, mental or emotional blocks and resistance, is not necessary.
The principle of relaxing into discomfort can also be applied to daily feelings of conflict or tension on emotional, mental and physical levels in daily situations. Yoga can help train you to notice even subtle disturbances or disharmonious feelings and sit with them, making them your friend rather than something to avoid, then using breath and observation with your whole being to enable a wonderful shift.
Bringing breath and consciousness to the exact point or edge of discomfort in a particular pose is all that is required to intimately feel and shift energy or tightness, releasing tension to gain clarity in the moment. It is about surrender with intent, allowing the dissolving of energetic resistance in body and mind in a way that takes you more deeply into a place of formlessness and freedom.
Practices that utilise breath and meditation in movement unite mind and body, allowing a real inward journey that opens up inner awareness. They also combine controlled exertion with deep relaxation, and both combined provide a powerful process of building resilience and depth of relaxation of mind and body.
Yoga presents an opportunity in many asana’s (prolonged postures and body positions) to find a point of resistance deep in a joint or soft tissue that is ready to let go. Traditionally developed systems of yoga work through all of the body and energy channels in a systematic way so a progressive process may unfold of balancing, stretching and strengthening the body in every nook and cranny.
Maintaining continual release of thinking for awareness of breath, while performing controlled movement and relaxed determination required to hold balance, strength or co-ordinated flexibility serve to calm and strengthen relaxed focus of the mind.
Often, in the beginning, there may be many points where there are obstructions to reaching the shape and position of poses or asanas. As practice progresses over time, asana’s that were once impossible or difficult begin to happen as movement and openings occur, the points of resistance becoming more fine and deep. Yet the level of physical performance is not the point.
By spending time breathing and consciously connecting to points of resistance while also maintaining a sense of how the whole body and mind are responding, is part of the art. Subtle shifts in resistance or discomfort takes you on a progressive journey long before a visible change occurs in range of movement and depth of balance.
What is apparent is correct practice and intent combine to activate usually hidden points of tightness, blockage or immobility. All it needs is continued gentle intent and practice to release, while the breath and light of consciousness do the rest. An unwinding of these historical and unique stress patterns then can occur also impacting shifts in perception, body awareness and state of consciousness.
We tend to judge discomforts and want to stop them and cling to feelings we prefer. In this process, there is no resistance to the discomfort, nor attachment to an outcome. It is about acceptance, surrender and being fully with what is in the moment and allowing a transition to spontaneously occur.
The results show that processing or judging issues are often not required to move through them. A calm and open heart and mind with gentle focus and acceptance are often enough. The light of consciousness itself provides all the transformation we need if we can get our own conditioned thinking and self image out of the way.
In the inner practice of yoga, while inner body experience, breath and synchronised movement bring you to a point of maximal stretch in a certain pose, the feeling of resistance may be on many levels. We can use this approach to more gracefully move through difficulties and enjoy the process within ourselves.
Being able to be present and calm with discomfort, allowing it to transform into something else is a learned skill. It need not involve any controlling or forcing. Instead working at the edge of the comfort zone is where we can be in discovery and change rather than suffering in a space we don’t want to be.
The willingness to allow shifts to happen is required. Old tensions reflect old survival mechanisms so tapping into abiding inner peace is where we can feel energetically safe to let old protectiveness go. It is powerful to let go of preconceived ideas of what shift or outcome we think we want, and be open to what presents itself in any moment or situation as the here and now process.
It is often tempting to want to hurry up and manifest what we want, and yet the greatest treasures lie in attuning to the process where we learn not just what we want but also what we need.
Enjoying and expressing ourselves more openly in the present moment is where our creativity and discovery can really happen. Conscious movement and breath can be a safe way to find and release unconscious patterns in ourselves. Through practice we can be better positioned to attune to that process as they are activated in relationships, emotional ‘ups and downs’ and demanding life situations.
Photo on Visual hunt (caption added)
You know those times when things are getting a little on top of you and then you notice your shoulders are slumped as if in a defeated posture, or when you are getting physically tired your breathing is not deep and open, then you start to yawn and feel like a good stretch?
Tiredness from mental and emotional workload can be shifted fast. For example, have you ever been really tired, feeling like there’s not much left in the tank, then when you relax and watch a good movie or get into an upbeat conversation or phone call with a good friend you suddenly have your energy back?
The speed in which that happens shows how much of the time our energy levels are tied in with mind as much as body. Much of our tiredness, stress and mental states are tied in with our posture, self talk and many ways we contract inside or shut down when we are resisting or struggling with something.
Underlying fear, stress, anxiety or anger and emotional battle readiness to deal with ongoing challenges are examples of emotional tones and psychological states that cause energy drain. They get worse when prolonged over hours, days or weeks. For some people, these states may even become part of their normal way of functioning from a difficult phase in their life.
Conscious breathing synchronised with simple simple body movements can be the fastest way to feel inner balance, peace and wellbeing. It is also the fastest way to energise and shift your state of mind.
Physiological studies support the experience we get when we get a big smile happening or straighten the spine and start breathing deeply. They show a massive amount of chemical reactions take place when we ‘strike the pose’ and the right stimulation to the nervous system releases the endorphins (the bodies happy bio-chemistry). Just try right now, one long deep inhale and exhale through your nose with a big smile on your face and see how that feels in your whole body.
Using the principles of qigong and physiology there is a simple sequence you can do to release stress, clear your head and energise yourself. Qigong is an ancient art developed and refined over centuries to get energy and blood flowing through the right channels and is used for health and longevity. It incorporates breath, movement and relaxed focus of mind.
Here’s a little sequence to try that feels good and shifts your energy before you get down to work, or when you need some energisation or stress release. Once you have practiced a couple of times, this takes less than three minutes.
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes a little inward, and knees dropped in a slight relaxed bend.
- Tilt the hips and pelvic floor forward with the spine and neck straight. Arms are relaxed by your side with palms facing forward.
- Take a deep breath into your lower abdomen with a relaxed smile on your face and the feeling of a smile in your heart. Do this three times in through the nose and out through the mouth – long and deep.
- After the three breathes, breath in as you bring your hands into prayer position in front of your chest, then continue the arms and hands fully stretched over your head as you complete the inhale.
- Exhale as outstretched arms and open hands slowly come down to shoulder height.
- Inhale again into the lower abdomen, then flex your whole body – start with tightening the buttocks, pelvic floor and abdomen, then flexing torso, legs and feet, arms and hands. Hold for 3-4 seconds, then release the tension and breath, letting your hands slowly come down to your sides.
- Repeat steps 4-6 five times, bringing arms up and out, inhaling into the dynamic tension then releasing.
- Keeping hips and legs in the same posture, finish a relaxed deep breath into the abdomen, raising hands palms up to the sides of the chest, then\ timed with a relaxed exhale, turn the palms down and lower them to your sides. Repeat this three times.
- Finally, bring your feet together, arms by your side, hips still slightly tilted so there is subtle tension in the pelvic floor and do a couple of normal breathes engaging the lower abdomen gently. Chin is in, spine and neck long, straight as if lifted. Relax your mind and feel through your whole body down into the earth beneath your feet. Feel your hips relaxed yet stable and set, your upper body straight relaxed and light.
- Open your eyes and you are ready to take that relaxed and centred energy shift and mind-body awareness with you into whatever you are doing. See if you can keep a small percentage of your attention on your breath and inner body sensations as you engage in your next task.
In Part I of this article looked at a the shifts in consciousness associated with ‘the zone’ or ‘flow performance’ which are terms referred to in the sporting context. In this second part, I explore the relationship and transition of this conscious shift into ‘mindfulness’ or ‘conscious presence’, which are terms used in a spiritual context for a specific state of consciousness.
The conscious states in these various contexts can enhance wellbeing and performance not just in a demanding situation, but also in normal daily life. They are indicative of a deeper conscious state we can access that provides a deep quality of awareness and enables us to deal with life’s challenges without stress, pain and suffering. What are the elements we can incorporate into our physical activities and lifestyle to help us achieve these conscious shifts?
In this article, I cover three key elements that make physical activities most effective in shifting consciousness and releasing stress.
Shifting Consciousness and Releasing Stress
A different scenario to high acuity and elevated states of awareness during adrenaline sports and activities primarily activating the sympathetic nervous system, are the relaxing synchronised activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system and train the mind to achieve subtle but sustained states of awareness to those discussed in Part I.
Activities like Tai Chi, Yoga, or Hiking in nature can provide prolonged experiences of this type of awareness. With the right practice and inward focus, they can provide a conscious release from the thinking mind with body movement and mind-body awareness as a transitional focus to get there.
In these instances, a ‘flow performance’ or in ‘the zone’ experience can also occur, albeit not as intense and brief, with gradual progression in stability and duration of the experience, beyond the activity that facilitates it, into normal daily life.
Nonetheless, occasional intense experiences arise at unpredictable times just as they do with more adrenaline oriented activities. I have had some peak moments of flow and awareness arise on days when I was not feeling so good and there was a need to draw more deeply into myself to focus and perform. Such unexpected peak moments may not have even correlated with an unexpected peak performance but left me with a shift that enriched more energised practice over the following days and weeks.
Three Key Elements
There are three key factors that provide a powerful combination for practicing and developing mindful awareness which are shared in a great range of disciplines like those mentioned above. They are:
- Controlled body movement or posture, synchronised with
- conscious and purposeful breathing, along with
- focused but relaxed attention with full inner-body awareness.
In adrenaline sports or dangerous activities, as in high concentration work and activities, the mind is highly focused in the immediate moment and every second. Training oneself to voluntarily be fully focused in the here and now and immediate experience, body awareness and activity at hand, with a mind clear of thought and heart open in presence is the key here.
To do so with a sense of alignment and harmony (the state of mind as primary to the experience as the activity itself) is a universal theme of philosophies and spiritual teachings like zen, buddhism and other approaches that make inward focus and personal experience their primary focus. This is why Tai Chi is often associated with Zen and Taoism, or Hatha Yoga and Pranayama breathing exercises with inner Yogic meditation and Indian Vedanta.
The basic elements however, can be applied to any activity or non-activity like simply sitting which is at the essence of zen practice, or pouring a cup of tea like the more elaborate tea ceremonies of China and Japan. This is simple but subtle, which is why it is hard to conceptualise and is better to be contemplated through practice rather than theory and intellectualising.
The dimension where such practices become truly spiritual, is in the consciousness that opens the practitioner to an authentic sense of deep peace and expansive presence that can overcome suffering (emotional and mental turbulence and pain) and putting the ego in its place as servant rather than master. Becoming immune to anxiety and stress through this transcendent state is coupled with access to a sense of unity with life with a feeling of abiding peace, love and even a consistent underlying blissfulness.
From Movement to Mindfulness
The key in all of this is the super high acuity of the present moment while the sense of self is replaced with an immersion in the entire experience based in the interaction occurring between self, the environment at hand and any interaction with others without separation between them. The experience of all three is occurring within, in the conscious mind. This is where the term ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ is relative. Sages throughout the ages have communicated deep insight into the nature of everything being an experience in consciousness itself.
In this state of high acuity, identification with a self image dissolves. It is replaced with a sense of being the space in which your enhanced experience is occurring, rather than identification with the content of the present moment experience. This comes with a sense of accepting connection or unity with it all. Mental narrative and thinking is replaced with a still open receptivity, that provides for spontaneity and responsiveness that is not consciously premeditated.
This is not a zombie-like state, but a surrender to an innate intelligence and consciousness that alert and full of life. When it is found repeatedly, there is a sense of returning to a home base of consciousness that is there whether we tune into it or not. It is the life and conscious essence of our existence.
Even when a brief insight and awakening is achieved, for example with some professional athletes as discussed in Part I, if the whole focus at the time (and following) for the person is on winning or losing or some external outcome, then it may not transform into anything more than a psychological zone for optimal performance. It either becomes part of the high of winning or is discounted and negated in the disappointment of losing and the conditioned identification with mind content is not transcended.
If the focus of the experiencer is on the pleasure, connectivity and fluidness of the experience as a primary outcome in and of itself, then such a peak state can be appreciated and recognised as a deeper state of being. Being lifted from the conditioned and mundane sense of being a separate self reveals or validates a profound sense of life that many describe as spiritual.
Such peak experiences can be a time when we drop our usual familiar mental constructs and ‘points of reference’ spontaneously. Just a few, or even one experience like this, can open up a new sense of what ‘conscious’ being and doing is. It is certainly a profound shift when a person feels irreversibly, albeit subtly and obscurely changed, and peak moments like these have produced this kind of impact for many.
A sporting challenge, prolonged or extremely acute stress and suffering or a spontaneous and blissfully perfect moment can all provide for a few, an portal to those peak moments when we spontaneously experience a shift in being and awareness that translates into a new level of perceiving and performing something in our life. In a sense, it could be perceived as the purpose for the challenges and struggles of life. Meditative movement or stillness can nurture and train mind and body awareness to be more attuned and prepared for such moments.
These moments can be termed as states of heightened mindfulness or ‘the conscious practice of presence’ as they can produce a recognisably high acuity of here and now consciousness. Other benefits of this sense of higher self is that it imbues life experience, beyond good or bad, with a greater appreciation of beauty, goodness and excellence as intrinsic qualities in nature, other people and life in general.
Photo on VisualHunt <“https://visualhunt.com/re2/276d13“> (quote added)
Many people adopt long term, even life-long, practices of some physical activity because of the physical, mental effects of well-being as well as a love for the activity itself or the skill sets acquired by doing it. Long term practice and participation in a certain discipline or activity can provide a rewarding journey that contributes to self development and enrich your life.
In addition to many health benefits, the outcomes of focused and demanding physical activities provide many incentives such as muscle tone, cardio fitness, improved energy levels, a rewarding endorphin hit, a better body image or the experience of stress release. Outdoor activities have the additional rewards as a healthy and invigorating way to get out in fresh air, sunshine, sometimes in country-side, beach, river or ocean.
Can such activities provide even more profound benefits than those of health, wellbeing and life balance in terms of quality of life? This article and Part II to follow briefly explore how deeply these activities assist us in terms of quality of consciousness, and even transition into spiritual awakening and redefining ourselves. Also covered below are four factors identified by professional athletes and sport psychologists that are characteristic of the high or flow performance states referred to as being in ‘the zone’ or ‘the flow’.
Impacting Quality of Life
A common saying is “what you put in determines what you get out” and in line with that, the answer to the above question certainly hinges on intention and focus to make a physical activity more than, well … more than just a physical activity.
The experience and recognition of a deeper and more profound sense of self while performing a loved activity can arise in spontaneous peak experiences or can by a gradual and consistent part of something which has become an aspect of someones way of life. The personal rewards gained can then translate into other areas of their life.
Accessing or drawing on deeper levels of strength and endurance for example can translate into mental and emotional strength and endurance as well as physical. Similarly, tapping into deep and diverse personal resources to maintain training regimes and disciplines, simply because of the value gained by keeping them up consistently, can translate into being more prepared to face other life challenges and vice-versa.
It is facing and overcoming any life challenges that facilitate personal development on all levels, so having a regular practice that you enjoy can provide challenges by choice that help us with the challenges we don’t enjoy as much or for those unexpected challenges we face and don’t consciously choose.
The same applies to spiritual endurance and depth. Physical activities can be a great vehicle for awakening consciousness if the quality of consciousness while doing it becomes part of the practice and a purpose for the activity in and of itself. An outward outcome like competitive success or attaining prowess in a physical skill, that may have originally been a primary motivator, can become an added bonus or consequence when initial goals have been met and deeper value and reward from the discipline and practice begins to be revealed.
For example, striving for and at least partially achieving a level of excellence in anything in life can also have positive ramifications in other areas of life. When a level of excellence begins to be attained it can have the impact of transforming the outlook and mentality of the achiever. They now have a level of excellence and expertise in something to personally take ownership of that becomes part of their outlook on the world and other aspirations and lifestyle endeavours.
When personal values and qualities are developed and internalised, they can be incorporated into a person’s sense of life and self generally. When career success, long term competence in a hobby or personal pursuit is only externalised to that specific task or goal to measure oneself by, it can only have a limited benefit to the person and other aspects of life. Such transitory externalisations can be financial or competitive, attention or status seeking. These can provide validation, enjoyment, a sense of achievement or create more opportunities. Yet, without a context of internal values to ones sense of character and awareness, they may not deliver long term meaning, purpose and ongoing value to ones sense of self and life fulfilment.
High Performance States as Peak Experiences
Peak experiences among professional sportsman are often documented and discussed. Terms such as being in ‘the flow’, ‘the zone’ or psychological ‘sweet spot’ in sports is still associated in the mainstream with maintaining a state of being psyched up, challenged and goal focused while enhanced by arousal of the nervous system and mind.
However, from understanding associated brain patterns and endorphin releases along with athlete experiences, I do not think these specific states rely on being hyped up. This can help adrenaline release but is not an essential element of the four phases of ‘the zone’ below. The science developed around these states is relying more developing the skill to enter an alert meditative state while embracing outward challenges.
When you listen to more seasoned athletes who experience ‘the zone’ spontaneously and repeatedly to varying degrees as a result of their focus and natural state of performance, especially when doing something elite or even groundbreaking, their descriptions and explanations tend to be inwardly reflective and profound.
American basketball player Kobe Bryant set a record in 2003 with 12 three-pointers in a game with nine of them in a row without a mis-fire. He was quoted as saying about his state of mind during his high point that “It’s hard to describe. You just feel so confident. You get your feet set and get a good look at the basket – it’s going in. Even the one’s I missed I thought were going in.”
Like many players in the zone, Bryant was relatively quiet with a neutral expression going into the game and throughout. He displayed his optimum performance with almost trance-like composure, experiencing acutely high awareness of his body and his environment, the whole court and players as well as the rhythm and flow of the game without being self consciously focused on it all. These are demonstrative physiological signs of alpha brainwave states associated with ‘the zone’ among many sports psychologists and researchers.
Four phases acknowledged by American NFL sporting commentator Kevin L. Burke for athletic peak experiences of ‘flow’ or in ‘the zone’  are:
Firstly, that most athletes will say it is not predictable or controllable. [However, the science of training the mind are developing and this will likely change in the future.] Ironically, the experience itself gives a sense of being in control, due to a sense of being in harmony with the flow of the game or activity and a sense of knowing or certainty with each action.
Secondly, most flow performances occur when an athlete is feeling intensely challenged.
Thirdly, there is a clear understanding of what they are to do, even a clear image of the actions ahead which includes a lucidity of their objective and how they will achieve it.
Finally, they are not concerned about scores, trophies, fame or money from a win in the moment. What is most valued is the actual enjoyment of participation rather than any outward objective.
Many people have experienced everything happening in slow motion while in this space. Also of interest is that there are many instances in competitive team events of team mates thinking there may be something wrong prior to the peak performance, because the athlete had become unusually quiet and focused with a neutral expression rather than the usual hyped up aggression and determination.
After a few years of martial arts training, I have had a similar experiences, a stand out one when defending myself in a real situation. I responded non-aggressively but effectively in the same way some sportsman report paying their game in their peak state. The experience seems profound and lucid, the greatly heightened awareness including an experience of 360 degree vision and slow motion so I had a sense of abundant space and time as I observed my responses. The lucidity of the experience has remained with me in a positive sense in every detail even decades later.
Unconscious competence lends itself to this state also. Someone unskilled or inexperienced in an activity are not likely to perform highly in this state. Regular runners, tennis players, cyclists and many others have written about transformational states they have gone into during endurance training or in the intensity of an important event. The normal egoistic sense of self is gone, as super acuity expanding the senses and awareness takes over.
This is greatly facilitated by adrenaline sports that have an element of danger as they really require great focus in the moment and this can be quite addictive with the the rush of mood elevating chemicals along with mental sharpness. However, meditative activities can bring practitioners into the same state, so maybe it is not about the demands of the activity as much as it is about becoming free from identification with the thinking mind?
The next article will look at the key elements to activities that provide shifts in consciousness and awareness that contain elements of ‘the zone’ and ‘flow’ but go deeper in supporting conscious awakening.
Photo on VisualHunt <“https://visualhunt.com/re2/276d13“> (quote added)
In addition to comments like “I can’t meditate, my mind is too active”, I also get many questions about how to deal with mental and lifestyle obstacles to practicing presence or mindfulness during daily life, as well as during meditation sessions. What I offer here is a very simple approach that I believe is the basis of good advice on mindful presence and meditation from many practitioners and teachers that I also apply on an ongoing basis.
The short and simple answer may sound basic but there a lifetime of refinement involved and once you practice this approach for a relatively short but consistent time, it takes out the frustration factor many experience in trying to force or use their will in controlling the mind. Frustration only compounds the mental obstacles to being present and enjoying relaxed deep meditation.
The key is to make any distraction or disturbance, thought pattern or other obstructions, your focus of observation rather than fight it or let it drive you. This is best done in combination with relaxed conscious breathing and inner body awareness to help centre and anchor you. In other words, include mental chatter or outside disturbances in your conscious field of observing with loving or non-judgemental awareness.
Especially in the initial seconds or minutes of resetting yourself, combining conscious breathing and fullness of inner body awareness not only helps relax mind and body but also provides an anchor for you be still and present (the eye of the storm) amidst mind activity, stressors and pressures of the moment or environmental disturbances. A dissociation then occurs between you as the observer and these active elements which helps train the mind in maintaining undisturbed presence while being amongst the continual flow and changes of form and activity of life in general.
A disturbance may be noise or activity around you, inner turbulence or mental activity, an emotional upset or a mounting feeling of pressure that there is too much going on at the time to pause and really be present while you deal with it. It can be a countless array of things that the mind hooks on to in its habitual mode of activity and having to have an ongoing narrative when your focus is away from the true essence of consciousness.
Once you have taken enough breathes combined with inner body awareness to begin to settle (even if you only have minutes for the exercise) you can then give yourself permission to observe your mind activity in a detached non-judgemental way as you continue. This helps the mind to settle further and can be done eyes open or closed.
Even if it mind activity remains agitated for a time, affirm you are not your thoughts and that this is only the activity of mind which will pass. When you continue to observe mind activity while present with breath and inner body awareness, a subtle shift of identity occurs. Consciousness of being as the thinker of thoughts becomes more primary to the unconscious identification with the effects of thoughts and feelings that are our inner reaction to a situation. Low energy levels and mood of the day can also require us to be more consciously present than usual in order to experience mindful presence, feel ourselves and be on top of things.
Whatever it is, the fact something is challenging you to feel stillness, calmness and be fully present in the moment means that ‘something’ is the training you have been gifted in that moment to go deeper and become more adept at mastering your psychology, awareness, effectiveness and wellbeing.
A semi-conscious allowance to be pre-occupied, distracted with inner tension, or waiting for something to pass before you take a breath and relax mind and heart into a conscious state of being, is a symptom of identification with, and being sucked into, the narratives, conditioned perceptions and mindset of the conditioned mind. It can also come from investment in an outcome so that we loose ourselves for a time in some mundane pursuit that seems vitally important in that moment.
The conditioned mind is based on past programming and future concerns. Our true consciousness or state of being is always fully present in the here and now. Being disconnected to that full presence is a sign of reactivity, avoidance or attachment to some aspect of what’s going on in relation to past experience and future concerns. The only true remedy is to let go of concerns and break the loop by practicing some mindful presence for a time. Then when you go back to dealing with whatever is going on you can feel more present, aware and bring that sense into your actions and way of dealing with things. Often, perspective and perception shift and we can then deal with things better, less reactively and with more awareness.
Another prompt to take a moment to practice conscious presence is when you find yourself taking a conflictive position on some matter, opinion or stance. This can take us out of presence and into our mental projections of beliefs, opinions and reactions. Whether these are right or wrong, good or bad, we are more empowered, clear and on track if our identification is not centred on an opinion or resistance to external matters and instead rests in timeless and non-judgemental consciousness while we deal with the relativities of life.
Internalising a sense of conflict and non-acceptance with something, even if it is not involving you, get’s in the way of feeling whole, balanced and open in the present moment.
Even at this moment take some deep breathes, being present and aware of your entire body from within. In the precise moment affirm all is as it is including yourself and you can be fully present in heart and mind. Does this simple intent and action help you feel more present and aware of yourself and your surroundings?
Consider the last time you got caught up in a situation or train of thought (it can be positive or negative). Continuing a few conscious breaths of body awareness here and now, imagine being more fully present with an open heart at that time you are recalling, so you can experience and respond to it with more of your deeper consciousness. It may mean enjoying a good moment more or dealing with a difficult moment better, feeling the empowerment of not losing yourself in it and applying yourself consciously.
Come back to any distractions or stressors that may be current in your day or evening and be present with it fully – observing with a relaxed, open heart and mind. Affirm that “It is what it is”. Simply by more fully illuminating our experience in any moment with a full and present consciousness not identified with it, choice and transformation become more possible within and through you. This is subtle yet becomes more and more empowering and awakening with practice.
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Are your living and work spaces conducive to the mind space and tone you want to develop in your life?
I was recently visiting an ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto-Ohara, Japan. It is called Sanzen-in Monzeki and is beautifully maintained. It is magnificent in every season and this northern hemisphere summer setting meant I have now seen it in all four seasons – the spectacular red maples of autumn (or fall), snow covered beauty in winter, colourful flowers of spring and the incredible greenery of summer.
Having green matcha tea and serenely overlooking a garden that looked as if it was out of some celestial heavenly realm, made me feel like I was in heaven. I reflected on the beauty, harmony and peace it emanated and how conducive it was for attuning to the same qualities within. I could see some people who were also calmly present while others were less settled and preoccupied even in such a beautiful and sacred site.
Such places are so beautifully designed as places for meditation and cultivating conscious presence in every moment. The indoor-outdoor design of screens and walkways of beautiful timbers set amongst gentle water ways and many decades of detailed gardening have such a unique beauty.
There are many ways we can deepen and broaden our sense of living-being by cultivating qualities that become more meaningful as we mature and develop. Such qualities of peace, beauty, connection to nature, and harmony rate more with age for some, more so as modern life becomes more intrusive and busy. Reading or listening to inspiring people, quality time with friends or loved ones, inspiring or deeply resonating music are other delights that inspire such qualities, as can the environmental spaces we live in or frequent.
I am so grateful to people who create places that inspire a feeling in me that stays well after I have been there, because it appeals to a quality of experience that already resides in the presence and being-ness that we all share deeply within.
In any wilderness setting it is easy to feel such a harmonious connection with nature that also resonates with a strong inner consciousness of being in the moment. When we feel alert calmness of mind and heart, with a sense of connection without and with all things around us, such a moment reflects a happy state of presence.
In art, architecture and garden design there are some wonderful examples around the world of inspired human design and refinement of detail that invokes a similar sense of sacredness, beauty and harmony. Isn’t it great how ancient and modern, famous and unknown private finds can gift us a subtle and deep reflection from within the creator or artist through the medium of their trade, impacting all who experience it. We can all be universal consciousness expressing and enjoying itself through us. My favourite examples of art forms that combine human ingenuity and nature, are the many traditional gardens throughout Japan I have visited and are yet to visit.
In our modern world, we have even more means at our disposal to create and control our living environments. Blending natural elements into human design and manufacture that are conducive to spaciousness, calmness and peace are places that can make people stop and take note, take some breathes and become fully present in appreciation of the space they are in. It does not have to be extravagant. How many times has a simple inexpensive yet thoughtful setting inspired you to stop and reflect in appreciation for a moment? In truth, at such times people can be enjoying being brought out of their stream of thinking into conscious presence even for a just a few moments.
There are also countless examples of people who find simple small ways at home or work places to create an arrangement and space somewhere that is consciously or unconsciously there to connect them to a state of being while going about their day or evening. Does your living space reflect this to a degree or could you nurture yourself and others by addressing this more in your own space?
While some chaos and clutter can be unavoidable, it can also be contained as organised mess in storage and out of the way areas. Otherwise clutter can induce cluttered mind activity through association, the hidden anxiety that goes with accumulated disorganisation and the mounting neglect and ‘clean up’ it infers.
Most people set up and maintain their living spaces in a way that reflects how they want to feel and as well as the most practical set up for their belongings and space available. However, sometimes it can take on a life of its own until it reflects old aspects of yourself that can be good to move on from. Or maybe a refresh assessment and decision to transform a living space is timely and can be done simply with what you have access to already?
A simple flower arrangement can communicate a present time and changing element that communicates beauty and care. Some degree of empty space and simplicity punctuated with a few items that reflect your own taste and lifestyle themes can inspire calmness and creativity. It may not suit everybody right at this time, but simplicity is a theme that I hear again and again from those refining their living space as part of a positive shift in energy and mindset.
Yogic vedanta and ayurvedic principles contain useful concepts of the three gunas; sattva, rajas and tamas. They are applied to consciousness, health, environment, lifestyle and all aspects of reality.
Sattva reflects calm energy and refinement of spirit that invokes purity and balance. As it infers balance, any imbalance is associated with negative symptoms of the other two gunas.
The quality of rajas is activity and excitement. Imbalanced, rajas can be associated with attachment, excessiveness, fickleness, reactivity and compulsiveness.
The quality of tamas is inactivity and inertia. Imbalanced, tamas can be associated with depression or suppression, envy or infatuation, fatigue or stagnation, feeling stuck and unmotivated.
All three are required in a positive sense as we are human doers as well as human beings. High excitement and busyness can be embraced from inner stillness and with periods of inactivity. Balance is not getting lost in activity and attachment, nor is it indifference to things and others by tamasic detachment. A sattvic state embraces all three gunas if they are balanced – rajasic energy not becoming over-active and dominant, nor tamas becoming stagnant and obstructive.
It may be a helpful to assess the presence or absence of sattvic aspects of your own living and working environment. Does your living space inspire balanced energy with an aesthetic sense of homeliness? Do various objects or overall content and design refine and energise in a calming way? Does anything or any aspect distract or deplete your energy from being fully present and where you want to be in life? Is something there to make a statement or cultivate a genuine quality? Could disorganisation and clutter be further minimised?
Likewise, does your desk or work pace have elements to reflect being as well as doing in aesthetic ways? Is it organised with some area of space rather than cluttered and jam packed.
Bedrooms should invoke peace and calmness and be absent of stressful associations with work and activities as well as free of clutter and stagnant energy. They should be conducive to rest but also good to wake up rested and ready for the day. Lighting, colours as well as content and design can be considered this way rather than just aesthetic value. Living and work spaces can encourage a mood and mindset that suits you and your lifestyle inducing a sense of calm positivity and goodwill. Objects and images associated with negative, reactive or dysfunctional themes would not be sattvic.
Updating and aligning your personal and work spaces to reflect the quality of consciousness and results you want to cultivate, can be a powerful part of shifting energy and flowing more of who you are into your life and impacting others.
When it comes to diet, stress management, dealing with any health and lifestyle issues or deepening your own personal spiritual life there is one common key factor. If you have high levels of stress, churn over repeated discussions in your head about certain things, procrastinating about certain compulsive or ingrained habitual behaviours you want to change or have a persistent ongoing concern, then the following is especially relevant.
The backbone to all of these areas is self-love, because it impacts our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Before you assume that is just rewarding and nurturing yourself, which is great, the self love I am referring to goes deeper than that.
We really cannot receive or convey love fully unless we are open and accepting within ourselves to fully experience our own love, independent of our personal and unique expression of it.
The body and mind are only fully healthy when there is an accepting and loving foundation to our state of being. Cell function, hormonal balance, brain function, immunity, digestion, the microbiome in our bodies as well as cardio vascular and nervous system health are all impacted by our emotional and mental tone and what messages we are giving ourselves each and every day. It is a feedback loop between mind and body so balance or imbalance can be self-reinforcing. Self-love is a tonic for stress, anxiety, physical imbalances and the key ingredient to personal wellbeing.
To explore our own potential in having a personal and experiential spiritual aspect to life, requires a sensitivity to frequencies of love, compassion and good-will. Our sense and expression of these can only be authentic or deep if we draw on these qualities of consciousness regularly within and towards ourselves as well as others. Our relationships or sense of connection is also empowered, as people recognise and are drawn to someone who emanates comfort and self acceptance with love in themselves.
So what is self-love at its foundation? If we contemplate love aside from specific associations with romance, love of family or friends, love of a pet or a life passion, then we must look to what all these contexts (and any others) have in common in terms of what we recognise and know as love. If love is inclusive of these different relationships and feelings, it is also deeper and more universal than what distinguishes each of them.
In line with many spiritual teachers and traditions, I relate to the essence of love as being the recognition and spontaneous sense of oneness. When we recognise a living aspect of ourselves in another living being or in nature or life around us generally, then there is a sense of connection and unity that underlies all form and differences which are temporary and changing.
We can feel a sense of oneness when on our own and it is possible in any situation with others. It may be conscious or only semi-conscious at times but we respond positively nonetheless when this feeling arises from within, and especially when it is a mutual experience with others. There is a pure beauty, happiness and goodness that comes with a deep sense of unity as our being-ness includes our own world and others.
This is where meditation or coming back to simple mindfulness can be of great assistance. The mental narratives of our conditioned mind are often negative in tone. This is a primary cause of stress or disturbance and can be tied in with chronic illnesses. Even if they are positive, identifying with our commentaries and conceptualisations is losing ourselves in a mental construct rather than being in an alert state of presence in the here and now and experiencing it as it is. Absorption in mental constructs creates a sense of disconnection from ourselves and others. It is a tension of misalignment which may have become subtle in its normality and is a root cause of underlying discontent and unhappiness.
Our mental narratives and conceptualising are generally conditioned by the past and projected onto the present or into the future. This puts us out of sync with feeling love and oneness in the here and now because true love and presence is a living and spontaneously arising feeling from the nature of our consciousness which is timeless rather than a projected concept or time-bound thought.
Being aware of our thinking and narratives then shifting gears when they are not useful or positive is a great practice of self-awareness and beginning to adjust old thinking patterns. In most cases, they are actually not that positive or useful, unless part of a creative or problem solving process. The greatest practice we can do in our busy lives, is to take opportunities every day to not think at all and just ‘Be’.
This does not mean putting pressure on ourselves to have no thoughts which is a practice of frustration and inner conflict. It means that we take time to just be and observe. If that observing includes an open hearted acceptance and mindful awareness of each thought as it arises, as well as our breath, body and immediate surroundings, then the mind will settle down and we can begin to feel a deeper peace and be restfully energised.
This is a practice of self love in and of itself. Unity and connection within ourselves wherever we are at the time arises from the conscious space in which you are reading this now. Even if there are things about ourselves or a situation we would like to change or improve in time, in any single given moment we can practice letting go of our attachment to an outcome or future-based projection we have constructed, and simply accept be here and now. Trusting issues can be resolved out of this presence is a totally different way of going about life for someone who is constantly pre-occupied.
Positive thinking can be a great means to an end, as it can make thinking more constructive and absent of self-sabotaging and limited conditioning. The thinking mind tends to focus on what distinguishes things from each other and whether they are favourable to us or not. This is the dimension of separateness where fear and concern, attachment and aversion become more activated. It is also how we get drawn in and become reactive to life.
However, settling into the essence of our living being and consciousness through mindful presence can be an end in itself. Its value is in the moment as well as being cumulatively and progressively beneficial.
Free of our narratives and concerns about past or future allows the unchanging and continual primacy of being become the foundation of our doing. Allowing time to practice and experience this regularly leads to recognition of a wonderful quality and sense of being. This spectrum of feeling is pervaded with love and compassion for it is a unified field of awareness. It does not need to be willed or manufactured, as many practitioners confirm generation after generation, because it arises spontaneously when we give it mind and heart space.
Even if you know this conceptually, it is not the same as actually allowing yourself to ‘be that space’ here and now. Applying it daily develops the art of being and doing without getting lost in the doing. When we are in conscious being, we experience the primary essence of ourselves and others as the same universal essence.
In a state of conscious being, what we may like and dislike about ourselves or others becomes transitory, relative and superficial. It doesn’t define us in any moment. When an issue arises that actually matters, it can be approached without reactivity because it no longer matters completely. The primacy of conscious being keeps things in perspective.
There is an inherent perfection in formlessness that helps us accept and work with the relativity of form. The way we face and perceive life situations may reflect aspects of our character but are not absolute truths or who we really are.
In presence we don’t become anaesthetised, but rather more perceptive, accepting and capable of acting creatively without reaction. We can more deeply love with a penetrating awareness.
Ultimately, conscious awakening is a deepening understanding through personal experience that unlimited conscious love is what we are at the core of our own living essence. Complete love is always here and now – self love is about opening up to it here and now from within, then letting it fully infuse our awareness and ‘doing’ with each breath.
There are three big benefits from contemplating death in a positive sense. Firstly, it adds to appreciating every living moment, making the most of it, and not taking things and others for granted. Secondly, it adds a sobering depth and motivation to contemplating the big picture of life and contemplating spiritual meanings. Thirdly, it gives perspective on what the little things and big things are in life and worth your energy and focus. In other words, what is important and not taking too much too seriously.
In terms of spiritual growth and general maturity, as we let go of fear and embrace life more fully, one of the final fears to face and move through is the fear of loss and death. It may not be the concept of death that is frightening but times in your life when you come close to it personally or with someone close, or when you get a sense of letting go fully into something unknown where your own sense of self is put to the test, then facing death and fear of death can seem pretty close.
Spiritual awakening as a transformation ultimately hits the chord of any fear of death, because true awakening marks the end of identification with the ego self. This can feel like a type of death for the part of us we are letting go. In the Bhagavad Gita (Gita 6:37-39), Arjuna’s question reveals one of the final fears and anxieties in the mind of one who has recognised the truths in Sri Krishna’s teachings yet still has doubt in himself to fulfil them. Self doubt feeds this final fear when we are poised to let go of what is tangible and familiar to the ego mind and step in faith towards the values and consciousness of the higher Self. Essentially Arjuna is asking what happens to a person who is unsuccessful in yoga (spiritual union) who has let go of material identity but has not mastered his mind, so ends up short on union of consciousness as well as material success and identity. It is a fear of being lost between worlds, of failure and loss in gaining nothing.
Sri Krishna’s answer (Gita 6:40-44) reveals the Gita’s view of life and death. He reflects on the immortality of spirit as consciousness and that anyone with good intentions and actions will never meet with an evil plight or death. The idea of reincarnation is a strong part of Indian thought and culture, providing a context and karmic rationale for both heavenly and worldly, life and death consequences for choices about living one’s life. Whether you are of a culture or personal belief in reincarnation back in the material world or incarnations through higher levels of spiritual realms beyond this world, the same principles apply, whereby salvation does not arrive by merit of a heavenly pass at death. Rather death is just a portal to further ongoing existence and where we continue to reap what we have sown, playing the main role in our own salvation and development towards true awakening.
Similarly (Gita 2:27-28) is less poetic but very clear and applicable to all of us whatever our faith, convictions or belief. Considering a universal truth in this world for those prescribing to different views of life beyond death, no one can argue about the inevitability of death. Krishna notes this and the veiled nature of existence before and this material life as a fact of life, so “why lament about it”?
That everything material changes and passes is cause to ponder the big questions about reality, before and after the fleeting time we have in our current physical body, and the profoundness of experience and consciousness accessible to us. Whatever our lifestyle, bodily deterioration is occurring gradually and is ever present on a physical level, until at some point the body will be cast aside (Gita 2:22).
Easwaran in his Gita companion says “It is good to face death with courage, but that is not enough; we must learn to face it with understanding.” (p.191). In a spiritual sense, through meditation and practice of presence generally, we can become familiar with consciousness that transcends sense organs and objects, including projections of mind. This transcendent awareness brings with it a sense of living awareness and identity independent of the body and thinking mind. Thus, an intuitive sense or even knowing of death as a doorway to another state of pure consciousness comes as a natural part of insight and realisation of the nature of this unchanging consciousness from which our ever-changing perceptions and responses arise.
Being mindful of death can be a means of making the most of each living moment, of the profoundness of every moment. Some saints and seekers do things to deepen this mindfulness. Saint Teresa of Avila kept a skull on her desk. Yogis, saints and masters in India sit before cadavers to meditate to help them transcend mortal mindedness. Warriors (spiritual and military) or those living in harsh conditions often use the inevitability of death to fuel their conviction and focus on their conscious choices, actions and life path. It fuels comradeship. It heightens the focus, conviction and mind power of shamans.
In the Gita (8:12-13), Sri Krishna gives Arjuna a crash course in how to die which is the basis for various meditations and mudras for unifying mind and soul, as well as preparing for optimum consciousness during death. Basically, the meditation describes withdrawing the vital energy and focus from body and senses into the mind where a mantra and intention towards the divine or consciousness of consciousness itself is the sole awareness accompanied by the sound of Aum. This is full immersion in pure awareness and presence. From there in Gita terms the consciousness transcends mind “into Buddhi, the higher mind, and finally into what is called the causal body, the seat of I-consciousness. Easwaran discussing this verse describes the process “like taking off an overcoat button by button, then removing your jacket, and finally your pullover, folding each piece carefully and setting it aside.” (p.194).
In normal meditation, some vitality is kept in the body to keep it living. Experienced meditators will vouch for a heightened sense of aliveness and awareness when in this state than normal body consciousness. Whatever the details of after death existence, Sri Krishna notes the unchanging nature at the seat of consciousness itself, which can be realised in life and continues after death.
Uniting all faculties “by the power of yoga” or the biblical “loving God with all your heart, your soul, your strength and mind” to achieve deep awakening requires sustained devoted and dedicated effort. It does not have to be complicated, done always with closed eyes, but rather a consistent part of being present while we attend to living our lives fully present in our selves, our environment and others. It does require a balanced character and approach to life. Spiritual teachings universally view development of the soul and ‘awakening’ as a cumulative result of mindful practice while living a meritorious life as the key to fulfilment and happiness, as well as readiness for when it is time to go.
Arjuna asks Krishna ‘what if we aren’t ready and haven’t got there?’ The assurance is when death is understood through contemplation and knowing the nature of consciousness itself, it looses its terror. Much of the problem with dying is the inability to let go, along with regrets about life. As Easwaran points out, in conscious dying “all attention is on where you are going: there is no attention on what you are leaving behind, which means no clinging. It’s not so much that you’re not afraid of death; the question simply does not arise”. In other words, like in deep meditation and practice of presence, the process is less about letting go of identification with thoughts and body and more an engagement with a known existential state of being.
Many people who have been in a dangerous instant where they thought they were about to die, experience no fear and an instant acceptance. I have experienced this a few times. My daughter experienced it when she fell from a cliff and thought that was it. As an observer in that instance I confronted my worst of fears as a parent then went into protect and rescue mode when I saw her mercifully injured but okay below. It is different for the person facing this moment for themselves, when all of life has lead to one key instant.
The cumulative effect of spiritual effort contributes to our level of consciousness at death. Meanwhile, we can enhance the experience and depth of conscious choosing in our daily lives as the layers of conditioning stored in the material mind is unravelled in the light of that consciousness and spiritual identification. The opportunity for continued learning and discovery, facing challenges “calmly, courageously, and compassionately” is part of our purpose.
I’ll finish with a final note from Easwaran that the getting of wisdom is not just learning more, but the capacity to learn from past mistakes while facing new difficulties by ‘detached intellect’. “Detached intelligence is the very source of wisdom … that acquired wisdom awakens us to the extent we listen to it, not so much in the head as in the heart.” (p.203).
God Talks To Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self Realisation Fellowship, 2nd Edition 1999)
The Bhagavad Gita, by Swami Sivananda (Divine Life Society, 15th Edition 2015)
Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (The Blue Mountanin Center of Meditation, 2011).