What You Need to Know About Wellbeing and Peak Performance (Part 1)

Anyone skeptical or neglectful of actively deepening their state of consciousness, and anyone not sure if it is for them, can be assured by current science that our bodies are hard wired and electro-chemically designed to be at optimum health and wellbeing at specific levels or frequencies of consciousness that can be measured and defined. The good news is, this information and available techniques make it easier and clearer than ever to harmonise mind and body at optimum levels of wellbeing and performance. Qualitative and meaningful aspects of specific conscious states can also connect us to timeless and universal loving awareness.

Our Brain Wave Patterns

Starting with some basics – our brain produces different brainwaves based on our mood and state of mind during the day. They can be measured using an EEG machine.

BrainWaveChart

Narij Naik, M.Pharm in his blog “The Benefits of Getting More Alpha Waves! (http://yang-sheng.com?p=5123)

spells out a typical day for many people:

You wake up suddenly out of deep sleep (Delta brainwaves) with a loud alarm. Almost immediately, you feel a sense of stress from the pressure of getting to work on time and facing the day ahead (Beta brainwaves).”

While creative thinking usually occurs in alpha states, beta states are activated by stress-related problem solving and doing tasks you don’t particularly like or do for unpleasant reasons.

Then, you jumpstart your day by grabbing a caffeine-rich cup of coffee or tea. Caffeine actually suppresses alpha and theta brainwave activity, keeping you in beta for most of the day.

The heavy work load, constant stimulation of the day job and managing the household, means most people are forced into a beta state from the time they wake up in the morning right until they get to bed and fall into a deep sleep (Delta brainwaves) exhausted from the day….. So, unfortunately, this unnatural and hectic lifestyle means people are forced from delta into beta, then back into delta with little room for alpha and theta brainwave activity.”

Research has also shown that people with addictions have a relative absence of alpha waves. Beta states are characterised by much inner dialogue that people identify with, much of the content often habitual, repetitive and negative, accumulating into mental and physical disorders.

Naik further explains alpha states: The Alpha brainwave state is actually considered the brain’s most normal functioning state. But, we seem to spend less and less time functioning in alpha. One consequence of this is the brain actually forgets how to produce alpha waves. This means we tend to feel more stressed and less able to cope with the strain stress induces on your health. So, the result is a greater chance of getting stress-related disorders and diseases. Anxiety and stress have a dramatic impact on lowering the strength of your immune system.

Generating more alpha waves makes you feel less anxious and more relaxed as the harmony between your mind and body is restored. Scientists have shown that highly creativity people like artists, actors and even entrepreneurs tend spend more of their time in alpha brainwave states. This is because creativity requires a surge of alpha brainwave activity.

Alpha states happen whenever you get that “aha” or “eureka” moment of a compelling new idea, which gives you the inspiration necessary to literally create something out of nothing. The brains of creative people tend get a burst of alpha activity when faced with a problem to solve. However, this does not happen for most people who are not creative. So, to become a more effective problem solver and creative thinker, you need to increase your alpha waves.

Scientists have also shown that this surge of alpha activity happens during peak performance. After studying the minds of professional basketball players, they found that an increased alpha brainwave activity occurs usually in the left side of the brain just before making a winning shot. Beginner basketball players on the other hand, did not show any alpha activity. More long-term studies showed that as players improved their game they started to produce more alpha waves, suggesting they are necessary for high-level, peak performance.”

Other associated benefits given by Naik are:

  • Improved Mood and Stability of Emotions – Having more alpha brainwaves usually indicates more positive, stable and balanced emotions. This means you can cope better with stress and keep calm in tough situations. Irritable, anxious and over sensitive people tend to spend most of their time in a beta state, and can usually greatly improve their minds by increasing their alpha brainwaves without resorting to taking drugs, excessive alcohol and other bad habits.
  • Performance and Getting In the “Zone” – the alpha brainwave state is associated with “peak performance” and players who get “in the zone” perform best when they have less beta brainwaves interfering with their peak, alpha state of mind. Studies on professional sports players have shown they have a surge in alpha brainwaves in the left side of their brain just before making a successful shot or playing decision. Those who failed tend to have a flood of beta brainwaves in their left side of their brains instead. It has been shown by experiments like these that “over thinking” (beta) or” under thinking” (theta) have a negative effect on game play, but being in an alpha brainwave state is the perfect state for high performance.
  • Super learning” and “Genius states” – learning new skills, enhanced memory and genius-like abilities are found in those who spend their time mostly in an alpha brainwave state. This is because the tasks associated with those abilities require less overall effort to accomplish and the ability to retain large amounts of information is enhanced.
  • Enhanced Immune System – Long-term stress and tension have a negative impact on your immune system and can even shut it down completely in extreme cases, due to the excessive production of cortisol and adrenaline. When you are in an alpha brainwave state, you are in a relaxed state where your immune system is allowed to work at its best. The “feel good” effect of alpha brainwaves leads to the production of happy and well-functioning cells in your body, which provides a healthy and efficient immune system ready to protect you from any disease.
  • levels of “Serotonin” – Serotonin is released more during alpha brainwave states. Serotonin levels are associated with your moods and low serotonin levels are linked to depression and other neurological disorders, such as anxiety and panic attacks.”

I will go further into the happy chemicals of the brain and body in another blog.

Four Ways To Cultivate Alpha Brain Waves

 1.  Meditation

For those who feel somewhat intimidated by meditation, Christopher Bergland in his blog “The Athletes Way” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way) refers to Dan Harris from ABC News who wrote, “10% Happier a No. 1 New York Times bestseller which demystifies meditation and illustrates why taking a few minutes every day observing your thinking can dramatically improve your life.

Harris strips meditation down to three key points for mindfulness:

  1. 1. Sit comfortably, with your back upright.
  2. 2. Focus your full attention on the feeling of your breath coming in and going out.
  3. 3. Bring your attention back to your breath. You don’t have to clear your mind; getting lost and coming back is the whole game.

 

2.  Yoga and Xigong Saunas

Both of these systems have become very popular and continue to be well studied. Reduction in serum cortisol (related to stress), increase in happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin are cultivated in these practices and correlated to alpha wave activation.

3.  L-Theanine

Bergland also refers to L-Theanine, the amino acid mood enhancer in green tea. “Studies have shown this substance can now be isolated and made into a supplement. It is a great natural booster of your natural alpha brain waves. Users experience a much more focused and alert mind, finding it easier to manage stress and get things done.” L-Theanine boosts natural production of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter dopamine. Bergland takes L-Theanine and says it is a very effective remedy “for my fairly scattered mind!

4.   Steam Rooms, Massages

These can be effective ways to relax the nervous system and body deeply, activating alpha brain wave production.

Functioning in an awareness of being, as well as doing, characterises alpha states. Two principles in the four examples above for cultivating alpha waves is firstly to have a regular time and place where you can relax fully, be still, peaceful and awake. Secondly, because the mind can only focus fully on one thing at a time then having a single focus like the breath, a mantra or sound, an object to gaze at, or a slow synchronised movement to repeat will displace mental chatter with practice. To get full value, use this time to cut-off from mental and environmental disturbances.

In the next blog I will go into the benefits of alpha states to the immune and endocrine (hormone and neurotransmitter) systems to show how far reaching the benefits are to each and every cell in the body as well as the mind, and how the body literally reflects the ‘tone’ of our mind. Our conscious state is a driver for the mind and body mechanism to function optimally as a self-sustaining or self-perpetual living being and for us to experience qualitative well-being and happiness. We are designed to relax into the ‘I AM’ state where we can better embrace the good and the bad of life and access creative thinking and solutions. An optimised body chemistry balances and adapts better, with every cell receiving and participating in the energy frequency and chemical messages produced.

The whole process of mind/body/soul feedback is self perpetuating as it is health and life affirming when optimised. The pivotal point to optimise this self-sustaining cycle as we deal with the world and life, is mindful awareness. Deepening our wisdom by applying knowledge while also transcending it through awareness of being, nurturing our appreciation of truth, beauty and goodness develop the experiential quality of our conscious state.

As Ram Dass and Ekhart Tolle agree, (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPmgTJGPzlg) loving awareness in the present moment can re-define love as recognising and sensing oneness in another. In alpha and deeper theta states we can get past naming, judgement and narrative of the ego to experience the arising of this love and awareness. Love is not an emotion in its higher sense, but a soul recognition of shared consciousness. Qualitative loving awareness in a predominantly alpha state of consciousness better opens us to realising ‘the one’ in ourselves, thereby in others – the formless in living form. Awakening from the formless, is reflected in the form of body and mind.

Photo credit:NICHD NIH on VisualHunt.com/CC BY

Six Simple Life Enhancing Principles for an Awesome Year

The start of a new year is a good time to look at these six principles that may seem simple, yet can be applied to enhance your life and have an awesome year! Five of them are the key principles of Sivananda yoga with another one added to include life engagement with others. Identify an area you could do more of in your weekly routine, or enhance by applying a principle that stands out for you.

Proper Relaxation

There are enormous benefits for mind and body to regular practice of deep relaxation. Quality sleep with complete sleep cycles is an important aspect of rest, recovery, and balance. The practice of conscious deep relaxation supplements this and carries benefits into daily activities by teaching conservation of energy, how to let go of worry, fear and tension, as well as how to relax the mind while being focused on a single activity. The key to the yogic principle of proper relaxation is combining complete rest of mental and physical activity to fully rest the whole nervous system.

Certain systems of yoga intensify the ability to fully relax by alternating concentrated activity that is not overly stressful or over exerting (not inducing fatigue) with full relaxation in between with a deeper and longer relaxation at the end of a session. Exercises that help open up circulation and energy flow in the body are also complimentary in preparation for deep relaxation.

To completely relax, it helps to get into a posture like floating in a float tank, where there is complete comfort and no need to move for a time. This is good to do for 5-10 minutes or more after activity, once the breathing and stimulation from activity has settled right down. Lie on your back and have the arms and legs spread out enough that the feet comfortably turn out and the palms of the hands turned up with the shoulders and chest open. The spine should not be too curved, but elongated along the floor or mat with the neck also comfortably lengthened. Use auto-suggestion going through each part of your body mentally, from the feet up, that “ ____ is relaxing” and “___ is relaxed”. Finish with the internal organs and then your mind itself and let go fully into receptive stillness for a time. Autosuggestion is a technique used by masters to control body functions usually not able to be voluntarily controlled like heart and metabolic rates.

Relaxation can be the most challenging of the five principles for some people, and if that is the case then start with shorter time and lengthen it on a regular basis. The sense of rejuvenation and fullness in the body is like pressing a reset button for mind and body and is a great start or finish to the day.

Proper Exercise

A quick summary of types of exercise and benefits: Resistance training has great benefits in maintaining circulation, muscle and bone density throughout life. Cycling, running and swimming can be great for cardio-vascular health and fitness. Interval training is considered one of the best ways to keep up metabolic rate, loose weight and increase fitness with efficiency of time and energy. Dance, martial art and gymnastic practices provide great co-ordination, core strength, agility and flexibility. All exercises can help restore hormonal balance as well as stress release in mind and body. Regular exercise elevates mood and mental focus.

Yoga asanas, or postures, can work systematically on all parts of the body – strengthening, toning and stretching muscles and ligaments (including minor muscles groups that can be neglected in certain sports), enhancing and maintaining spine and joint flexibility and improving circulation. Yoga, or practices like xigong and taichi can combine meditation and exercise by synchronising movement and breath in a relaxed state of full presence and conscious release of tension.

Proper Breathing

Proper breathing is full and rhythmic breathing, making use of all of your lungs to increase oxygen intake and maintain full functioning of the respiratory system for life. Any exercise that raises the volume and rate of breathing is of benefit. Yogic breathing teaches how to utilise the three key areas of abdominal and diaphragm, chest or thoracic and clavicular breathing. Yogic systems of kriyas and pranayama also teach methods to recharge body energy and control mental states by regulating the flow of prana (chi or life energy) stored in key energy centres of the body called chakras. These centres also correlate with key points of nerve ganglia (bundles of nerves and vascular tissue) aligned in the brain and spine, associated with key organs and glands of the body.

Various breath patterns can be powerful and specific to releasing physical stress, emotional blocks and mental/emotional patterns. Techniques like anuloma viloma focus also on quietening the mind.

Proper Diet

Proper diet obviously needs to be nourishing and well balanced in nutrients and food types. Processed foods need to be eliminated from regular consumption or all together. A diet based on fresh food (not overly cooked) is a key. Whatever the diet, mounting scientific evidence is showing a number of factors determine the best diet, so that a good diet for one person may not be the best for another. While there are many diets claiming to be the best, genetics, blood and body type, level of activity, and other factors play a part in determining the best food combinations and quantities. A predisposition to over-heating or feeling cold, stiff joints, bloating or gas, headaches, allergies, lethargy or large swings in energy levels, skin or digestive disorders all indicate issues with diet. Most types of disorders can be managed or resolved through diet. Over-heating and acidic foods should also be minimised, so a predominance of vegetables (with fruit eaten separately) is a common dietary principle in many systems.

Most of us know ways we can improve our dietary habits. Practicing a new habit for 21-30 days is a great start to make it a permanent change. Aryurvedic, naturopathic or nutritionist consultations can be a very positive step to make for anyone at a point of wanting to optimise health or deal with disorders sustainably and holistically. Is this something you can do this year to improve a health or lifestyle issue you know is better addressed sooner than later?

Positive Thinking and Meditation

Being conscious of the positivity or negativity of our thinking can be a game changer. The tone, language, and subject matter of habitual thinking are all influential to our character, perception, how we respond or react and how rewarding things can be. Using affirmations or adjusting a negative train of thought to a positive one are great skills to practice. The ability to observe and adjust our thinking is enhanced with meditation which trains us to observe our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Ultimately, meditation can train us to still the mind and transcend thoughts to reach new levels of conscious being and awareness.

Finding books, courses or teachers in these areas can be a great place to start to enhance this aspect to your life. The mind is essentially the most important aspect of self to consciously train in order to achieve greater life enrichment and harmony. If you already are on a personal journey here, is there something you can do in your life to take insight and awareness to a new level this year?

Conscious Doing – Expression, Engagement, Relationships and Daily Activity

The first five points set the stage to have better awareness and mastery in how we communicate and respond in relationship to our environment and others. Bad habits and compulsive behaviours can erode the many good things we do and impact our ability to be our true self within and in relationship with others.

This year, how can you better embody balance and health in mind and body to others and inspire loved ones to do the same? Is daily attention to nurturing one or a combination of the following points a good focus for you this year? :-

  • invoke a sense of love in your actions, be they personal or professional, through focusing on relaxing into open heartedness in all circumstances,
  • listening to others more by taking a few seconds to breath, feel and understand their points of view or repeating back what they say,
  • breaking and transforming a pattern of negative or compulsive thinking or behaviour,
  • making it a focus and reviewing daily where you are reinforcing positive values and principles you stand for and where you can do better,
  • separating thoughts and ‘doing’ from ‘being’ and awareness – practicing being present more in yourself and the moment, on your own and engaging with others. Identifying with the consciousness doing the thinking and actions is a significant step in awareness and conscious interaction in the world. Eckhard Tolle’s teaching focus on this with a modern, practical and universal approach.

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Christmas and New Year Reflections

Christmas day – the day we most want to share with those closest to us, is a celebration of family and friendship when we feel grateful for those in our lives – those who are with us on the day, those elsewhere doing the same and those who have passed on. Magic and love is in the air for children and adults alike. It is a day when laughter, companionship and gratitude are practically sacred and mandatory, enabling us to cast aside any sense of burden and celebrate life as it is with sharing and giving of ourselves, gifts and seasonal dishes.

Traditional or seasonal festive events bring families and communities together in a celebratory tone of goodwill, providing a familiar cycle of customs and culture in tune with the seasons and harvests. The festive season of Christmas and New Year in the west provides the upliftment and sense of renewal that comes from the gratitude, celebration and love shared with those close to us on a day where millions of others are doing the same. Aside from religious traditions, the modern materialistic and retail promoted aspect, the most widely celebrated aspect amidst the lights and decorations, Santa ritual and the great Christmas lunch is this celebration of love and friendship.

In religious circles Christmas marks the birth of a spiritual saviour which can imply at a symbolic and universal level the Birth of Being or Awakening: spiritual rebirth or renewal within when we open our minds to connect with the nature of consciousness and the divine nature deep within. The renewal comes with opening heart and mind with the faith, trust and good-will of a child, with many doing this openly more-so than on most other days of the year. Many people notice more smiles between strangers and general good humour and goodwill when in public places at this time. This is a very healthy release of tension and renewal of faith in humanity for the social psyche. The spirit of Christmas Day with our loved ones is the ever new vitality of life and consciousness when we share lightness of being with a spirit of genuine care and giving. Conscious connection and unity in this mind and heart space brings us closer to real spirit or Christ nature which can take us beyond our human frailties and neurosis.

Jesus may or may not be a significant figure in your life, yet he represents awakening of man to the spirit within us all and the divine as the source and destiny of all. At the time of his ministry, his was a universal message to people of all faiths, cultures and social standing about the spiritual nature of life and consciousness offering us immortality and a plan of ascendency. He encouraged all to take life and consciousness as a gift freely, with the trust and acceptance of a child, to live in thankfulness for it, giving freely of ourselves to others in love and goodwill now and forever.

The message of an available and personal connection to the grand scheme of things, that the true nature of reality is on a spiritual level that we can tap into now and that holds a hidden destiny for each of us is a truly universal and great ideal. Aligning to values and conscious living in every moment, holding the space of love and gratitude in divine presence, enables better recognition of spiritual truths. While Jesus taught the message of relating to universal consciousness as a divine Father, aligning our minds and hearts to a personal experience of the divine provides a living, profound and immediately relevant source of transformation. Spiritual experience by nature is more transcendent while also being a grounding source of being than the changing landscape of lifestyle and self image, social and cultural differences, or beliefs and ideologies based on historically conditioned trends of the time and contemporary world norms.

Spiritual truth is truth that can apply in any age and is at the base of all great ideals, philosophies and practices that lead to true awakening to those who actively seek and live it. The power and reality of spiritual truths can be recognised not only in the subjective response within the seeker but also in the values and progressively life affirming attributes evident in good people’s lives, in the social fabric of people and communities that take on such faith and values. Spiritual truth is not rocket science, but based on a subtle simplicity of faith and knowing of the pure nature of the heart and mind, a sense of spiritual truth that is a subtle key for the seeker and practitioner.

Thus, at Christmas time as we enjoy the goodwill felt in the company of people we love and share life with, we can affirm the significance and core value of life founded in shared goodwill and friendship. Without goodwill and friendship in its many forms, life becomes empty of shared meaning and fulfilment. With it, we affirm the deep down purity of soul and spiritual nature in ourselves and each other.

In this way, Christmas reinforces renewal of faith in human nature, love and goodwill. Let us renew our faith that the nature of life and consciousness finds its own reflection in such ideals and values, and that opening our hearts and minds deeply and authentically to this knowledge with conviction, can bring us closer to greater personal freedom and realisation within our hearts and minds.

The deep love and unity we feel during these festive times can feel more real than all the passing ups and downs of life’s struggles for a reason. It is a closer reflection of our true nature than the worldly troubles and the mind activity we use to deal with them. While the challenge of life is important for shaping character and refining personal identity and decisions, we need reminding of what our true nature is within and shared. Knowing our true nature provides perspective and a real foundation to be more functional individually and collectively. Acknowledging and valuing this in faith, trust and goodwill further enables us to embody and generate beauty and goodness in our lives. Aligning and co-creating our lives from our true nature of spirit, further enables us to feel fulfilled and truly ourselves, to share and manifest in the world together in the formless essence of joy, friendship and camaraderie as fellow beings on this planet in the vast universe.

Real friendship, generosity of heart, and learning to love each other (warts and all) is rewarding because it is an end in itself. It engages the true nature of being before us and is deeply personal, just as the true nature of life and consciousness is profoundly personal as it is impersonal and universal to all beings.

Embodying life in this spirit, Jesus encouraged not only universal love and brotherhood of all mankind, but gave it the context of a Creator of love and being who we can come to know on a personal level as a child to a parent. Recognising the truth and capacity for oneness in such a divine nature, awakens us beyond our material and ego self, is the foundation of our ascendent path towards the birth of Christ consciousness. This birth from within is a living, present and immediate spiritual cause for celebration for which the traditional nativity scene, the life and teachings of Christ point towards.

With New Year upon us, a reset or new starting point in our choices and decisions of the year ahead, the pursuits that drive us and give us purpose presents itself. New Year is a time we can reflect not only on sought after accomplishments and challenges ahead in a worldly sense, but also how we can more fully apply the values and aspects of our deeper nature to our relationships and the countless tasks of ‘doing’ before us. Where do our deepest convictions lie and how do we exercise them in our work and lifestyle, in our relationships, and in ourselves?

In reflecting on the New Year with the joy of Christmas fresh in our hearts and minds, let us apply conscious intent not only towards key things we want to do or achieve in the coming year but also the state of being and quality of consciousness we want to align with.

In love and good-will I hope you have had a Merry Christmas and wish you the best for a Happy New Year!

Photo by …-Wink-… on VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

A Simple & Powerful Way of Enhancing Mindful Living

What are we always doing naturally that is immediately and continually available as a focal point of grounding and expansion of consciousness, providing the link between form and formlessness, doing and being, physical life and beyond death? …… it is our breath.

Conscious breathing is the vehicle for various therapies, relaxation techniques, basic and advanced meditations which are about shifting the mind to a higher awareness and spiritual awakening. Conscious breathing is also key part of the benefits and authentic practice of yogic techniques, xigong and taiji which are about unifying awareness of body, mind and spirit beyond the separate ego-self.

Breathing is something that happens by itself, so it can be witnessed like consciousness, so in meditation it is not something you do but witness with awareness. This is perfect for putting the receptive mind in an open, present and alert state.

These techniques involve directing the breath in ways that engage inner alertness, a relaxed yet focused mind synchronising breath, movement and attention producing a sense of mind, body and spirit alignment and wellbeing. In qigong and taiji for example we can practice performing actions that are practical while maintaining a mindful presence of body-consciousness and the environment around us. In other words, they can enhance the effects of conscious breathing in stilling the activity of the mind while maintaining wakeful alertness of mindful body movement that is synchronised with the breath. This type of mindful practice trains and teaches us how to apply this same balance of doing and non-doing with a spacious awareness while dealing with daily tasks, observing our thoughts and feelings as they arise and thus help develop identification with consciousness instead of the content of consciousness. We can learn to utilise breath and mindfulness to maintain a sense of balance, a sense of stability and focus while being present with real arising thoughts and feeling responses to situations without getting taking away by them.

With this awareness we can become more empowered to deal with stress and emotional reactions, habitual negative or non-productive thinking, behavioural habits and compulsions, by being able to experience them without them becoming our whole sense of self in the moment. Without processing them, just by embracing them deeply with the light of consciousness and presence, keeping our energy moving with conscious breathing, these same thoughts and feelings can transform from habitual and predictable reactions to new and creative ground.

The space between our thoughts and feelings is what reveals the consciousness that is projecting them. Maintaining a state of presence and awareness of this background of consciousness gives us a greater ability to respond and experience all aspects of ourselves and our life with equanimity and perspective. The breath can be used as an intermediary focus between the content of mind and the consciousness from which it arises. Learning to engage with more quality and frequency of consciousness of consciousness can then become the grounding point for spiritual awakening and experience.

Mindful awareness enables us to experience spaciousness of mind and heart where thoughts, feelings and situations come and go in a medium of consistent stability and relaxed openness. Conscious breathing gives us an immediate tool that helps ground our present moment awareness within and without in a balanced way. At the same time boundaries can dissolve so we feel unified with reality in and around us. Good practice of Qigoing and taiji or yoga combines relaxed body movement or postures with conscious breathing to further ground this mindful awareness into our inner experience of the physical body and the circulation of breath and subtle energies to create a more tangible subjective experience associated with this state of being.

However, you don’t have to practice these disciplines for years or become an expert to start getting great benefits. Taking brief times to be still and breath even a dozen times at the start and end of the day, while mindfully breathing 2-3 times during daily activities can provide progressive benefits with a little persistence. This involves being aware of the body form head to toe, and being fully present during each second of inhale and exhale, noticing any natural holds or pauses, areas of relaxation and tension in breath and body. Just taking brief times to do this, observe and be aware with a relaxed mind as it happens will bring its own results.

Many of us have characteristic breath patterns which reflect how we deal with stress as does the stress patterns evident in our posture and body tissue tension and sensitivity. Noticing pauses or momentary holds in the breath along with the quality of inhale and exhale will gradually open the breath naturally to a more rhythmical and deep cycle and calm the mind to wakeful alertness. Conscious breathing, sustained or regularly practiced as a momentary technique will naturally still the mind and energise the body promoting alert mindful awareness. These two conditions, a calm still mind and relaxed alertness or focus, are preparation for realisation of the nature of consciousness and therefore spiritual awareness.

The experience of inner body awareness using postures and controlled movement synchronised with breathing helps to ground us from ‘spacing out’ in such states, ensure we are practicing a balanced alertness of non-thinking consciousness. In this consciousness, awareness of breath, inner body experience and surroundings can then be all observed in equanimity. When the observer or the consciousness of the experience embraces the experience unconditionally in the moment, it is not defined or contained by it.

One of the first techniques of basic yogic breath is a three phase breath expanding the abdomen, then the chest or thoracic region, followed by the top of the chest or clavicular area with the inhale, noticing any pause before allowing each region in the same order to relax with the exhale. Try practicing this in your conscious breathing.

With practice as you feel more fully present in yourself after some conscious breathing you can also invite joy, love or peace fully into mind and body. These, along with illumination, compassion, goodness and beauty are natural qualities that can be tapped into in such calm, open and unified states. How simple and valuable then, can the breath be, in taking charge of developing more deep and authentic personal experience of these often sought after states.

Making a daily practice of conscious breathing enables us to employ such practice effectively before, during or after times we feel imbalanced, forgetful or reactive. in order to regain a centred and deep sense of being that was always there and never truly lost. Just notice what happens, not only to yourself but often to those around you, when you break a pattern of stress or reaction that would otherwise have run its course. Notice the change and then stay with the breath rather than creating a commentary of the gained insight and shift, thereby remaining present in your ongoing ‘nowness’.

When you are in mindful stillness, you are tapped into who you are as the source of thought and experience and not defined by them. Thus your awareness resonates more closely with the authentic self untainted by any one mood or situational context, closer to the formless and eternal self which can also be termed spirit.

May you continue in serene and energised conscious breathing.

Photo on Visualhunt with quote added

Finding and Enjoying the True Treasure of Life

In the modern era, there is so much commercial noise globally around obtaining things, worldly wealth, and success— on our phones, computers, iPads, and tablets, as well as on TV and wherever we go on the city streets, on public transportation, in shopping malls, in the magazines we read. In our twenty-first century comfort many of us do not feel the need for a ‘Kingdom of heaven’ or a ‘spiritual life’ at all, whether we are enjoying our worldly struggles and challenges or not.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his joy he went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went away and sold all he had and bought it.

(Matthew 13:44–46)

Relative to the noise, complexities and distractions of our lives today, one could be forgiven for thinking the kingdom of heaven is even more deeply buried than ever. The ‘treasure’ or ‘pearl’ in the teachings above are not contradictory to worldly success and wealth, but the obsession or even the identification with material world things is close to the root of missing the riches of realization of true self and reality. The cultivation of desire and attachment to the material, the mindset of “things” as an end in themselves, is a threat or obstacle to “being” in the what Jesus referred to as the kingdom.

Jesus testifies that the treasure of the kingdom of heaven is something to be discovered and found—hidden within us and not blaring at us like so many worldly acquirements. Our will, intention and co-operation is required to find the true treasure within us and present all around us. There is divine purpose in this requirement for us as co-creators of our own destiny and participation in life and consciousness.

This parable describes how, for the person who seeks and does discover, recognize and stake a claim, this treasure or pearl can be acquired securely. First, we must keep it treasured within where it was found. Second, by making it the primary purpose and importance of our life, identity, and inner focus, we must devote all of ourselves and all we have to the alignment and sustenance of this inner connection and co-existence in the divine. This is done with the awareness of what is the cause and what is the effect in our existence and experience of life. Only in this way can we truly embrace the whole spectrum of material, mental and spiritual life. ‘Selling’ all we have or are, and buying the field, is taking ownership of our life and of the treasure within, devoting every part of our nature and life (the field) to the treasure within it. This is like the principle of loving God or the divine nature of all, with all our heart and mind.

The merchant is like the spiritual aspirant who has a realization or revelation within himself, that he or she has recognized the precious or authentic divine truth being sought. Once he has this recognition, the merchant or aspirant wisely acts and devotes all he is to aligning with that pearl of truth and nurturing its growth and fulfillment in his life. This taking of ownership through focus and action will lead to the bearing of spiritual fruits in one’s character and in one’s life. When these are in abundance, so to can all aspects of the life that is true for us be in abundance.

When it comes down to an authentic and undivided mind and sense of self, we need to have a strong and certain sense of identification with our true self. What is that true self? It is not our thoughts, beliefs, emotions and points of view. It is not who we present to the world or who we think we are. It is the consciousness and spaciousness that is experiencing all of that.

To get beyond our own projections of what we think ‘that’ is or who we ‘think’ we are, we must practice letting go of the things we are not and observe them. Mental activity and the things of life never stop, so gaining deeper perspective can come from consciously observing them, including our narratives and perceptions of them. When there is enough space consciously and a strong enough sense of ‘being-ness’ that we can become familiar with, that state of being enables us to experience the phenomena of our inner world and its activity as it is arising. We we can observe mindfully in each moment our thoughts and feelings, our complete subjective experience of being in the moment, then start to separate the things we are not from what we are. We can sharpen our distinctions of what is our own inner activity – projections, responses, reactions and perceptions of the outer world.

Until we invest our identification completely in the observer or ‘experiencer’ rather than the content or experience, we will still get drawn into identifying with the good and bad, the ups and downs of our divided and conditioned self and be led away from true ‘beingness’ by those same thoughts and feelings by our attachment or aversion to and from them. Identification with the content of our life results in a divided mind suffering inner conflict and insecurity deep within from attachment and identification with a small and separate ego self. This self is based on an investment in survival and protection as a separate self. It is the self of attachment to its own reality of manufactured layers of beliefs, responses and reactions to ensure survival and happiness based on fear and uncertainty.

When we invest ourselves in the consciousness that is unchanged and experiencing all of this in the background, a great spaciousness arises, where we can can experience things more as they are. We then have greater awareness and choice about our responses, and by dissolving our identification with our own separate reality about reality, we can experience greater unity in our sense of self and as part of the cause and effect of things as they are. Gaining a rock solid ‘isness’ of things is by virtue of the nature of the life and consciousness from which we experience existence. We are actually more enabled to do respond effectively without anxieties or misplaced intentions. In identifying with the consciousness that is experiencing the individual self, we realize the individual self is an extension of life and consciousness itself which is our greater self. The true self is not a product of the world, it is not self made and the things of real concern are not our normal daily worries. In this realization, we can gain an ever present humility of being unified with a vast and endless whole as an individual while also feeling that same vastness and wholeness is expressing itself through the individual self as a vehicle for each of us all to be here.

The more we base ourselves in our own truth and knowing of this, and allow ourselves to be and live in that subjective experience, the more is revealed about the true nature and unity of life and consciousness. The greatest aspect of this, as confirmed by all great masters of the ages, is the deepening experience and understanding of love and unity, of inherent goodness and beauty. In the acquirement or discovery of this great truth is the gratitude and appreciation of truth and compassion for all of life. Our recognition of some aspect of divinity comes from the knowing of the nature of life and consciousness from direct awareness and choosing, from which comes the knowing of what this essence reveals of the nature of its own substance and function, cause and destiny.

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Connecting to the Power of Life in the Present Moment

Mindfulness

Mindfulness, is a buddhist term embraced by western psychology and is now a modernised term for practicing awareness of experience in the present moment or a ‘state of presence’. In the buddhist context it develops self knowledge and wisdom to achieve enlightenment and be free of suffering. In western therapeutic modalities it is used to deal with mental illness, anxiety and stress. The last sixty years it has been researched and recognised as an approach for various effective therapeutic uses, in addition to general wellbeing, performance enhancement and spiritual awakening.

The deeper art of mindfulness is in training the mind to let go of identifying with projections of self. Projections of self may be through identification with outward appearances, circumstances and material things. More primary are inner projections of identification with thoughts, emotions and bodily experience. These ever changing aspects of experiencing the world as individuals can take us on cycles of ups and downs that seem to have a life of their own. Many people’s sense of self and the world, moods and states, perceptions and opinions are reflected in their mental narrative and emotional state as an overall accumulative effect as well as acutely during intense moments. Identifying with them is considered to be the source of suffering by ancient teachings. Training our mind enables us to get beyond our projections of self, deeper into authentic states of inner equilibrium and self realisation, beyond thought and emotion and into the more stable background of consciousness from which mental activity arises.

The inner projections above are the primary ways we really get locked into egocentric identity and loose our ability to be consistently in the drivers seat when it comes to thoughts (most of which are repetitive and predictable yet filter our experiences enormously), emotions (which can really influence our perception independently thoughts and beliefs or collaboratively with them, cause us to be reactive instead of proactive, and forget ourselves when they arise intensely). Body image and inner body experience can also become part of a self-perpetual loop. Emotions, thoughts and bodily experience become illusory when based on our conditioned programming and expectations, we cannot separate them from our sense of who we are. Our personal experience of thoughts and beliefs becomes its own evidence of the reality of those same conditioned beliefs and views thus reinforcing them. The psycho-physical landscape of how we hold ourselves in body and form in the world reveals where we are balanced and life affirming. Alternatively our stress patterns will reflect imbalance, a divided mind identified with positive and negative thoughts and beliefs spliting our identity from our true state of Being.

When we are identifying with these three primary inner projections, they cease to be useful tools for embodying, expressing and sharing our true presence in the world. Instead they become a tool of the ego and in the guise of ‘adaption’, ‘protection’ and ‘self image’ and become the substance of what ‘ego’ does to separate us from a true sense of connection and oneness with life and consciousness. Ego hinders us because it involves identifying with aspects of our life and selves that have no inherent existence of themselves. Ego identification is investing our experience of self in the things and self-created images we give meaning to, rather than identification in the source of where that meaning and purpose truly comes from, our true self as pure consciousness and life.

So how do we best practice ‘mindfulness’ in a way that disengages us from this false identification? Can we be more fully and consistently in a unified state, harmonising mind, body and emotion with our true nature and values? Can we spend more time in qualitative creative and insightful states rather than mundane and habitual ruts of thinking? Is it realistic to be consistently in this space of alignment at the right place at the right time? What further aspects of life experience open up to us when spiritually mature in this way?

Mindfulness is in principle so simple, it can easily be disregarded by ego consciousness. Not only that, it can be very difficult to break old habits and so requires consistent practice, consciously with will and effort until it becomes second nature. Even then, we must be on guard when it comes to egocentric states that take us back into identification with conditioned patterns and suffering. The ego seems to resist being put in its place once we have invested in it for security, success, survival or happiness. In truth, the ego can do nothing of its own because it is our creation, our own projection of ourselves.

Practice and Application of Mindfulness

Essentially, basic mindful meditation is a practice in stillness for what is also required in action to live in a true state of presence. It is being able to subjectively surrender our complete experience in the moment to the consciousness from which it arises. It is allowing ourselves to be still, present and unified in a presence or spaciousness of being. This state is found, and not manufactured, often using breath or another single focus as a way there. We can observe each thought, feeling and data input as it arises or presents itself. Initially, many associated thoughts and feelings are are noticed like a cascade effect of ceaseless mind activity. Things can seem to get busier before they settle if we are not used to this shift.

With practice of stillness, presence and observation, these associated thoughts and feelings diminish until we experience some space between arising thoughts and observed sensations. Eventually we realise they occur in our consciousness, and we are in fact the space of consciousness in which it all occurs. It is not about understanding this intellectually, but being in it fully and subjectively. With that experiential realisation it becomes much easier to get into the zone quickly and more easily maintain it while we go about our day of tasks and communications. Thinking and feeling becomes more balanced, even minded, yet even more rich and far reaching with more choice.

Enormous changes occur once this happens, this shift and new sense of inner freedom and wellbeing continues to provide greater depth, awareness and insight based on personal realisation and experience that goes deeper than our words and mind narratives can conceive. Love, receptivity and connectedness can be enriched on new levels. This space is not vacuous but full of subtlety.

With practice, the most opportune time to apply mindfulness is during highly positively or negatively charged experiences. Mindfulness is not just a neutral or numb state, although can be easier to attain in a neutral state t first. Relaxing mind and body during ‘charged’ times, and embracing each thought and feeling as a projection of who we are, help flex the muscle of consciousness and awareness. These times offer high energy that intensifies and expands our state of presence. When ego identified, we tend to energise projected thoughts, feelings or egocentric needs relevant to the time, loosing ourselves in intense moments, sensations or role playing. With mindfulness we can embrace the same content from a deepening and expanding consciousness with alignment in our true state of being and transform the energy from reactivity into a personal victory of higher consciousness and conscious action.

It is sometimes useful, while witnessing these times of highly positive or negative experiences, to affirm simply and briefly within yourself “I am not my thoughts”, “I am not my feelings”, “I am not my body”. Then simply be, observing what is going on within and without before we speak, decide or act. The content (thoughts, feelings, perceptions) are still there to be experienced even more deeply but without attachment, aversion or the dislocation of identification with them. No matter how bad or how wonderful our thoughts and feelings are as they arise, our true being is an immensely greater field and reality from which they arise. Embracing really strong thoughts and sensations in this conscious state of presence enables greater joy, true insight and reality of being.

Practices like Taiji, qigong, meditation and yoga help us to disengage from identification with our inner projections. Actually doing anything you enjoy with complete attention can be effective for many people in sport, business, or hobbies like working in the garden. The advantages of taiji, qigong or yoga is that they create a space to feel every part of the body and breath consciously and fully while relaxing the nervous system and mind. They are designed and developed over the ages to balance the mind and body energy specifically. Golf, relaxed rowing or gardening for example, can offer similar states but not necessarily cultivate the focus and quality of the conscious state depending on the intention and experience of the doer. Likewise, we see in the orient, zen walking and raking, flower arranging, calligraphy and painting done as a sacred discipline in special settings along with martial art applications like archery or taiji sword. With intentional practice, intent and setting are important combined with controlled and relaxed activities done in a state of still mind, synchronised movement and breath.

Activities that are too sedate or too stimulating to mind, body or both may not be as effective to develop the mindful state. The above are active ways to utilise inner body experience to take one out of the thinking narratives of mind. Yoga teaches one to release resistance, discomfort and disturbance by relaxing and breathing into it with acceptance and allow it to transform without having to process or ‘do’ anything with it. The light of pure awareness or consciousness itself is transformative and unifying. So it is with all things in life. This is why some non-action techniques of sitting meditation or sivasana (corpse pose in yoga) are considered as both the most simple and advanced techniques of practice. What activity incorporating these principles would make an enriching part of your daily practice?

 

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Three Proven Approaches to Spiritual Health and Vitality

Three main branches of yoga defined in the Bhagavad Gita thousands of years ago, before the many diverse styles and branches (and focus on physical asanas) of modern times.  They apply universally to any faith or path as the three main aspects of spiritual practice:

  1. Alignment with divine love and compassion (bhakti yoga, devotion, worship)
  2. Wisdom through knowledge and realisation or direct experience (jnana yoga)
  3. Practical application of mindfulness and values through selfless action and service (karma yoga)

How can we utilise these principles to nurture and practice them in our modern lives?

Bhakti Yoga (The Path of Love and Devotion)

Bhakti Yoga, the way of love or devotion, can be well suited to modern life. Easwaran in his Gita companion book says it is “natural to forget ourselves for those we love.” (p.125). The challenge is to deepen our understanding and experience of love. Love is a term applied to so many deep and superficial things these days, that it is almost too crude or too common a term to apply to a more rarely experienced deep and profound consciousness that is the essence of our spiritual nature. Real love and compassion in the conscious sense, go beyond emotional or mental needs and preferences to become a state of consciousness also transcending self will.

The sanskrit word bhakti means a state of consciousness in which you forget your (ego) self. A common counsel to those practicing bhakti yoga is to practice the art of unconditional love with one relationship (a partner, intimate friend or close family relationship), then extend that love genuinely out to others and ultimately to all life.

A spiritual or religious view helps by providing a sense of a shared source and destiny of life and consciousness as the means of connection and unity with others. A transcendent foundation to reality helps one understand inherent unity beyond the conflict and diversity of the material world. Authentic love and devotion to a divine or universal being (bhakti) must come from a deep personal truth and connection which requires spiritual effort and the ability to get past the conditioning of differences in appearance, gender, culture, religion and ideologies.

If we can regularly connect from within to a presence or field of love in and around us, with no labels attached, then we can better learn to consistently identify with it in place of identification with the little ‘self’ by consistently aligning our actions and state of consciousness in this state, in the present moment, throughout all that we do on a daily basis. This in turn produces the ability to remain in the flow of universal or connected consciousness. In A New Earth, Ekhart Tolle describes in depth, three states that allow this connection and flow: enjoyment, acceptance or enthusiasm. Bhakti is possible anytime by connecting within in the correct state of consciousness that we are capable of at the time and situation.

Therefore, while religious chanting, singing and dancing are traditional and common practices for surrendering into a bhakti reverie, so to can quiet and private worship or meditating, walks and time in nature, as well as quality time and intimacy with friends and loved ones. Intimacy here means communication and connection that is truly an authentic sharing of each other in a selfless way, where we have the safety and understanding to be frank in sharing values or uplifting views and heart felt thoughts with each other. 

Bhakti is not about a purely moralistic universal love or a romanticised emotional ideal. It is a transformative and heart felt experience of a profound connection and oneness of divine love that expands ones view, understanding and compassion for all life. It is spiritually significant where it includes a sense of a greater reality and presence than the material world before us. Thus, relationships gain a deeper meaning when their purpose includes affirming and expressing this universal sense in each other for the benefit of all.

Jnana Yoga (The Path of Wisdom through Realisation and Knowledge)

Jnana Yoga, the path of wisdom or knowledge, is not just about intellect . Easwaran describes it as “direct, experiential knowledge of the unity of life, attained by progressively seeing through the layers of delusion that glue us to the body and mind – something that is simple to talk about but almost impossible to do.” (p.118). (also see the Gita 12:3-4)

Scripture and teachings in spiritual traditions can be a means of obtaining tried and true guidance, especially with guidance from a teacher. For most people in modern times, access to quality information is now huge from many channels, but still requires discrimination of quality. However, jnana is really about the inseparableness of knowledge and experience. Especially when it comes to authentic states of consciousness, our own nature of being (spirit and consciousness) enables us to recognise truth when we experience it. There is a deep capacity of recognition of profound reality and divine truth when we experience it. The deep wisdom of masters is not from dry intellect but hand in hand with love of God: “to know is to love, and to love is to act” (Easwaran, p.119, also see the Gita 18:54-56).

Karma Yoga (The Path of Spirituality through Action and Service)

Karma Yoga is the path of selfless action. It is more than service, which is most important, as service becomes yoga “when we forget ourselves in that work and desire nothing from it ourselves, not even recognition or appreciation.” Therefore, the quality of consciousness in which an act is done, is an integral part of the spiritual value of performing actions and service to others. Many who receive great recognition have done great things for the world, so this distinction is not at their expense. Rather, it highlights the importance of people doing acts in ways that shrink or dissolve egotism and separateness. “The question is what effect this work has on them [the doer]. If it loosens egotism, pride, and the bonds of separateness, it can be called karma yoga, but not if it is making these bonds stronger.” (Easwaran, p.120).

Sri Krishna says true selfless actions alone will help free us from the results of past karma (Gita 4:22-23) which is why this approach of service is called karma yoga. In his autobiography, Gandhi spoke about how difficult it was to tirelessly work for others without getting attached to things turning out his way. Since we can’t control so many factors in life, Sri Krishna affirms it is in our power to act wisely, but wise not to be anxious about the outcomes so we may live and act with an evenness of mind (Gita 2:47,48). Caring about our actions and motivations without getting entangled in our own personal investment of the outcomes is a fine line to walk. Gandhi summarised this famously with: “Do your best, then leave the results to God.” This is the secret to Karma Yoga – using the right means to achieve the right end without attachment to the outcome.

Dhyana yoga or meditation is the foundation of all yogic paths in order to train our minds to get to deeper levels of consciousness. In these busy times of materialistic distraction, such a regular practice becomes all the more valuable. It is our own personal and direct connection to spirit or the divine that really determines the spiritual quality of our life. It can only be found by being fully aligned in the present moment. Krishna in the Gita says:

Meditation is superior to asceticism and the path of knowledge. It is also superior to selfless service. May you obtain the goal of meditation, Arjuna! (Gita 6:46)

Love, wisdom and service exercised throughout life from deep consciousness and connection to the whole, obtained through worship or meditation, is our ultimate purpose in being here and all we do. So, create a little checklist and see how you exercise these three aspects in your life.

Recommended Reading:

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita -; A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiris Press, Tomales, CA, USA, 2011)

God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship, USA, 1999, Second Edition)

The Bhagavad Gita, translation & commentary, by Sri Swami Sivananda (The Divine Life Society, India, 2015, Fifteenth Edition)

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, by Eckhart Tolle (Penguin, 2008)

Photo by Eddi van W. on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Uplifting the Quality of Love and Friendship in Your Life

A great aspect of life that I find most encapsulates beauty, goodness and truth is friendship. What a marvellous gift! Friendship universally valued, is founded on mutual love and regard for one another. It nurtures our sense of connection and enriches life. It’s a safe and nourishing means to gain perspective of our personal realities through sharing thoughts, feelings and views with each other. In friendship we truly enjoy each other and life as personalities, invigorating life meaning, the value of sharing love, reminding us what is important. We couldn’t imagine life without it. Every friendship is so unique, and what we gain and share in different friendships often surprise, delight and fulfil us mind and soul.

Our need for companionship is a natural instinct on every level of our being as we are not created to be in isolation. Beautiful friendships do not come from neediness and dependency on each other for security and completeness. Beautiful friendships reciprocate an unconditional love that each person has found within. These authentic friendships we all would like in abundance and the way to cultivate them is to cultivate our own ideal ‘friendship’ in ourselves.

To become a good friend to others is much more achievable if we have an abundance of love and a sense of connection within ourselves. Feeling complete, means we have more energy and concern for others. There is one reliable source of this.

In the Gita, Krishna speaking as an embodiment of the divine says: “I am the Self, dwelling in the heart of all beings, and the beginning, the middle, and the end of all that lives as well.” (Gita 10:20) It is universally recognised that it is in the heart we most truly see ourselves and each other. In religions around the world, it is the calm or spirit aligned mind unified with the heart that is attuned to truth, meaning and higher values.

A pure intent, coming from love and strength rather than seeking it, enables us to be more present and loving, able to respond to life and situations with thoughtfulness and compassion. We all want to respond more readily to authentic and genuine needs, rather than react or get ensnared by conditional ego needs in our ourselves or in others. From a free and independent state of ‘universal love’ we can seek to understand others, even when their actions may not be in our own interests.

To love universally does not mean approving or advocating indiscriminately when we see things that are obviously misguided or outright evil and wrong. However, like the saints and masters, we can condemn the sin and love the sinner as we ourselves hope to be treated. This means exercising love with wisdom. It is only through understanding that we can genuinely achieve the spiritual ideal of ‘loving our enemies’. Even the worst types of characters can be friendly to their family or those close. Therefore, spiritual wisdom in our responses is being discriminating but non-judgemental to those who slight us, seeking out the goodness in them, understanding why they do what they do, then responding appropriately without taking it personally. In the joy of righteousness, or the courage of challenging injustice, we can act with love in our hearts for the benefit of all concerned. It is not easy at all, yet a profound ideal of applying mindfulness.

Offering love and friendship in any circumstance is a way to freely apply our higher nature whether joyously or sternly. If the intention is to be true and authentic and of most value to others, then such acts of love and friendship are not a means to an end but fulfilling a pure and complete end in itself.

Those who realise the power of an open heart in facing life, discover the sacredness in and through their relationships. Personal spiritual experience comes from a sense of the divine in the universe at large as well as a personal connection within. This personal religious awareness may permeate all four levels of the realisation of values and the enjoyment of universe fellowship: the physical or material level of self-preservation; the social or emotional level of fellowship; the moral or duty level of reason; the spiritual level of the consciousness of universe fellowship through divine worship. (Urantia I:5:5.2)

Thus, friendship can be a sublime channel for actualising divine love if, even in ordinary moments, we consciously connect to the source of personal love within and omnipresent universal love around us. “Love spontaneously gives itself in endless gifts. But those gifts lose their fullest significance if through them we do not reach that love, which is the giver. The question is, in what manner do we accept this world, which is a perfect gift of joy? Have we been able to receive it in our heart where we keep enshrined things that are of deathless value to us?” (Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize-winning poet of India).

Jesus love and regard to all people equally, challenged the social mores of racial and gender prejudice in his time. He broke such a social code when speaking to a Samaritan woman by a well, saying: “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14). This ‘fount of living water’ amounts to our own conviction and willingness to feel great divine love within ourselves and to embody it for the benefit of all.

Realising the inner fountain of love and life according to Sri Krishna is to calm worldly attachments and aversions, focusing oneself completely with inner devotion with the divine. In the Gita, Krishna speaks to the cultivation of such love within when he says: “Only by undistracted love can men see me, and know me, and enter into me. He who does my work, who loves me, who sees me as the highest, free from attachment to all things, and with love for all creation, he in truth comes to me.” (Gita 11:54,55)

A great sense of meaning and purpose comes with cultivating conscious love and friendship and including the world at large in that love. It is greater than the pursuit of a personal happiness from external things or trying to fill emotional or psychological gaps in an isolated and conditioned self.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment more important than these two.” (Mark 12:30,31)

Thus, the key to great love and friendships can be found by applying spiritual values in ourselves and with others to overcome worldly and ego needs. Sacred friendship requires effort – engagement of all aspects of our personality, and an acknowledgement of a personal relationship in and with the divine. The rewards are immense and real.

Jesus presents ideal love and friendship as the love of a divine parent to all combined with the mutual love of neighbours or brother or sister sharing a divine source and destiny: The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me who is doing his work.” (John 14:10) “.. you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you”. (John 14:20) “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” (John 15:9) “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12,13).

This depth of love is a great human achievement to be exercised in wisdom. While Jesus followed through with this truth in the ultimate sense, we can devote our lives to mindful daily practice. Truth, beauty and goodness in our true nature is demonstrated by so many people the world over. There is a quiet majority who are essentially good and beautiful souls. May love, unity and friendship become the art form of our times.

Recommended Reading:

The Berean Bible (download online – public domain)

The Bhagavad Gita (download online – public domain)

The Urantia Book (download online – public domain)

Photo by drhenkenstein on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Enhancing Beauty, Truth and Goodness in Our Lives

“The concept of truth might possibly be entertained apart from personality, the concept of beauty may exist without personality, but the concept of divine goodness is understandable only in relation to personality. Only a person can love and be loved.”

The Urantia Book 1:7.3

Life can be received as a bestowed gift. Can we lay claim as humans to be self made, to understand and control the spark of life, the source of consciousness, in this material universe? We are self aware of our existence with a depth of perception, intelligence and understanding. In contemplating and observing this simple yet profound fact, many of us come to a realisation that the nature and source of our consciousness and life, conscious beings in a structured vast soup of molecules called the universe, is of a transcendent and universal nature. This nature includes all attributes of conscious experience that are a result of it – including great love.

Any unifying field of reality will include a primal energy behind the observable inherent patterns and structures as well as chaos and randomness. In addition, with the evidence of intelligent life and our own subjective and noblest truths, such a unifying field can be no less than the giver of life and consciousness. Therefore, attributes of self awareness, purpose and meaning must also arise from a vast and infinite cause that may not be human on a creator and deity level, but neither can it be divorced from or less than the lives that it bestows – our most evolved attributes as individuals and as humanity.

We are each such a small part of a vast and abundant evolving creation. The immensity reflects the infiniteness of the universal source. Yet, the personal and individually unique aspect of each of us also reflects that the infinite scale of creation is matched by personal attention and connection in each living being. So we are each important with a purpose. The personal and rich nature of our life and consciousness can only come from such a vast and immense universal force and infinite being with great love. Thus, the personal spiritual aspect of our relationship with what we may call God, can be fittingly appreciated and cultivated in a way akin to child and heavenly parent, as personified in many world religions.

The realisation and knowing of divine presence and love brings a gradual accumulation of implications and revelations in its wake as we mature and face life. Our capacity to experience the fullness and richness of that spiritual relationship deepens and expands if we consistently draw on it as much as we engage in the life before us with honesty and authenticity. There is a beauty and symmetry in Infinite Being of a transcendent, absolute and perfect nature being able to share a sense of finiteness and imperfection with us as ascendant beings evolving towards the perfection and nature of the infinite on both a personal and vast collective scale.

The Urantia Book (quoted above) also says that God is to science a cause and primal force, to philosophy an idea and hypothesis of unity, and to religion a person, even the loving heavenly father, as a spiritual experience (1:6.2). He is all of these and more. We may see divine beauty in life and the material universe, recognise or feel a sense of truth in our intellect but a knowing sense of goodness is always personal. Whatever names, religion or path we use in our instinctive knowing and gravitation towards spiritual nature, the most relevant and compelling step from faith and sense of recognition of the divine, is realisation of personal connection. It is a loving experience of profound truth, beauty and goodness.

Every aspect and moment of life can be impacted when we begin to take ownership of our own personal spiritual convictions and conscious experience. Realisation cannot be thought out intellectually as much as discovered, when we open ourselves up in faith, drawing from the source of our life and consciousness within our own hearts and minds. This is a shared situation and reality with countless others. While the detail of self and life may define us as individuals, the essence of our values, struggles and higher truths are universal as is the life and consciousness from which it arises.

With a manifested body and material universe around us, a personal subjective illuminating connection within, we can see that although the ‘maker’ remains unseen to our physical perception, a shared connection with our maker is within. We can develop this sense through how we apply it in our lives with each other and compare views and understandings with one another. Despite the extremes and dualities of good and evil that are a legacy of an evolving material world, it is up to each of us individually to align and identify with the affirming substance of what we feel within and between us.

The highest teachings of east and west agree that our greatest enemy is ourselves. Our conditioned mind and our obsession with fickle thoughts, desires, likes and dislikes become a cage of false identity and limited perception. We remain detached from others and life while we are attached single eyed on our inner narratives and conditioned responses to the data our physical senses provide, including chemically induced moods and emotions from our bodies or what we put in them.

Yet when we learn to free our minds, distinguishing between the product of mind activity and the consciousness doing the thinking, we can start to align with existential being – not of our own conditioned manufacture. It is the consciousness under our noses, so to speak, or rather deep within our mind. It is existing consciousness that is there already when we’re not trying to be or do anything. Once we go there repeatedly, we start to bring more order and choice into what we think, how we react and look to a more inner sense of authenticity. Inherent in this and in the absence of need or compulsion for outward verification (through worldly power, security, wealth, recognition, sensuality, etc.) is an inner verification of aligning with truth, beauty, goodness and the values of love and the genuine interest of others. Causeless bliss within becomes more available as we align insight and pure consciousness. It is also revealed more in life and people around us.

In aligning with a source that has given life and consciousness to all, our own separate will and self interest can mature into one of personalising the greater universal will. We can become more authentically ourselves by progressively embodying our own conscious experience of universal presence and its attributes. Intention and application brings realisation. Spiritual realisation leads to a natural reverence for all life, a co-ordinate and co-operative sense of contributing to the progress and interests of everyone. This is the key to engaging in the flow and synchronicity of life, experiencing the universal presence and its qualities in everything as a connected unity.

The challenges of life are there for us to overcome by drawing on the indestructible and dependable reality within us. This reality is for us to realise subjectively, just like discovering a deepening sense of love, as a more real and immediate dimension to ourselves than the changeable and temporary nature of material senses and world around us. The material world becomes an instrument or vehicle of transformation through alignment and application in the divine.

Universal goodness, beauty and truth can genuinely infuse our personality. We can appreciate it more in life and others. We can follow whatever vocations and relationships in life we are drawn to with a baseline sense of meaning and purpose. This meaning and purpose is fulfilled by how consciously we embody spiritual reality and values. When we seek to selflessly apply love and goodness, beauty and strength, conviction and truth to all aspects of our days and lives together, we can find greatness in small things and a dependable inner identity embracing any life challenge.

Recommended Reading: The Urantia Book  (available from various organisation publications and online stores as well as free online downloads).

Photo credit: maf04 via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Winning the Most Important Battle with Love and Unity

The Battle Within

Both Mahatma Gandhi and Paramahansa Yogananda among other esteemed masters and teachers of India hold that the war of the Gita is the war within. There is a field called Kurukshetra (north of Delhi) where the battle is said to have occurred. Yet these great teachers insist in the Gita the field is an analogy for our mind and the battle one we must all fight within. The entire Gita poetically and profoundly narrates a conversation between Arjuna and his treasured lord and companion Sri Krishna during the legendary battle between a divided ruling family and their forces.

Much in the Gita supports this such as when Sri Krishna tells Arjuna the enemies he must conquer are lust, fear and anger. The dialogue between the two becomes a living truth when the principles covered throughout the discourse are applied to thought and action. The Gita concisely represents the essence of India’s ancient and timeless spiritual wisdom as well as teaching true yoga before it diverged into its many modern streams.

Life as Unity

Eknath Easwaranin his companion book The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita states that “the central message of the Gita is that life is an indivisible whole – a concept civilisation flouts at every turn”. The principles of unity and how to live with them in the Gita is the only way we can have abiding peace or live with one another and the planet in harmony.

Getting to the Root of our Problem

While Krishna’s initial response to Arjuna’s pleas of counsel in the battle field sounds hopelessly philosophical, instead of hacking at the branches of Arjuna’s issues (and our own) it goes to the root. As frustration leads to anger and eventually war or a cycle of crisis, it is only in understanding who we are and what truly satisfies us that can provide a basis for living together in peace and prosperity. The Gita presents the bottom line of all human dilemmas as a conflict between a lower self and a higher self. This is the dual nature of human and divine. Both Christ and Krishna embody the purpose, path and fulfilment of unifying this dual nature once the divine is given dominance. Yet the path is difficult and the aligning requires an artful approach to life and knowing ourselves.

Suffering and Awakening

With awakening comes a even deeper connection to others, greater understanding and compassion. Easwaran makes the distinction between those who suffer life’s hardships while dwelling upon themselves versus those who experience no separateness and experience suffering universally – “with such a vast field to absorb your capacity for sorrow, there is little left for dwelling on your own suffering” 1. A hallmark of the Gita (and a universal theme in spiritual traditions) is the two approaches to spiritually aligned living of contemplation and action. Victory over selfishness is through selfless service, where there are always things to be done to ease sorrow and suffering of others. (Note Gita 6:1).

Easwaran says: “The main problem with identifying ourselves [predominantly] with the body is that we spend our lives trying to satisfy nonphysical needs in physical ways” 2, such as through relationships based on separate needs, compensating for ego driven desires, needs and deficiencies or through material wealth, power, recognition for security. This can occur in all spectrums of human life from survival level to high levels of excess. Sri Krishna and the Gita would counsel that this is a bottomless hole because “that which is infinite can only be filled with something infinite”. The deepest drive within us, beneath appearances and conditioning, is for “direct, personal, experiential knowledge of the eternal reality that is within” 2.

Stress

Easwaran notes it is often not the circumstance or task itself that makes us stressed but the mind dwelling on our dislike, wishing things or people were different, making people wrong, while “always making ourselves the frame of reference” …. “stress flourishes in a divided mind” 3. He suggests that no one really knows what the external world really is, since what we experience is largely determined by our nervous system and mind. We create our own turmoil and the nervous system responds to our choices while we think we are reacting to things outside. (note Gita 2:14). “Events are just events, neither pro nor con, neither for us or against us. That is why the Gita says when we see life as it is, we see that there is no cause for personal sorrow. This one insight brings compassion and the precious capacity to help without judging or getting burned out” 4.

“This is practicing yoga on the surface of life” and “what begins as training attention becomes, in time, training of the will, and eventually desire” … unification of consciousness gradually moves, level by level, deeper an deeper into personality” 5.

Yoga to Unify self with the Divine

Most spiritual traditions agree, the little self will (ahamkara in sanskrit) or the ego is the culprit behind our difficulties, conflicts and sufferings. Yoga is about healing the ‘split’ consciousness and resolving the battle perceived through ahamkara. The word ‘yoga’ relates to the english word yoke; signifying binding together parts that have been separated. But yoga originally did not mean so much union of body, mind and spirit so much as “complete identification with the atman, [universal spirit within] which uses body and mind as instruments” 6.

The mark of healing the split between our true nature and identification with mind and body is unconditional love of life (Gita 6:29,32). Because there are countless problems and issues to work through, Sri Krishna says: “Don’t just try and tackle the problems the mind creates. Go to the root: tackle the mind” 7 (Gita 2:41).

Just like walking is a great skill that becomes unconscious, yoga as explained in the Gita, trains us in the experience of monitoring the lower mind from the higher mind, providing a higher level of feedback. Thus with training we can maintain balance when faced with anger, fear, negative emotions and thoughts. This does not impair feeling deeply, but removes compulsive and reactive responses so the mind regaining balance quickly is at its best in dealing with what is at hand. Easwaran recommends practicing doing little things you dislike or are uncomfortable with to “lower the like and dislike threshold” and gain a more balanced mind 8. Ways to do this are including less liked foods in your diet, prioritising chores at home or essential tasks at work that you tend to avoid, while affirming their benefits to others as you do them.

Becoming more “free to enjoy everything and equal to every situation” means “you have choices everywhere, so you never feel trapped: whatever the circumstances, you can break out”. The Gita says this brings a lasting joy long before yoga is perfected (Gita 2:40).

Through regular practice of yoga combined with right intent, the spiritual aspirant can achieve the goal of unification and become a yogi. “The ultimate goal of yoga is lofty, not at all easy to attain. Shankara says succinctly, “Yoga is samadhi*.” It is not just a matter for faith, although the first steps require it. Sri Krishna asks us to put the teachings to the test for ourselves and Arjuna finally rises to the challenge (Gita 18:73).

* Samadhi – direct experience of reality when the mind is still and settled in living realisation of the unified and consciously awakened state. Sahaja samadhi – continually established in wisdom or samadhi. The experience of unity in meditation and realisation must be experienced repeatedly for direct awareness to gradually become continuous. Sahaja samadhi is to live in samadhi in all creative acts and normal life moments, navigating challenges and successes without any disturbance of the unified state.

Recommended Reading:

Essence of the Bhagavad Gita -; A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy, by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiris Press, Tomales, CA, USA, 2011)

Quotes: 1. (p.64); 2. (p.73); 3. (p.164); 4. (p.165); 5. (pp.165,166); 6. (p.111);

7. (p.113); 8. (pp. 116,117);

God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, by Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship, USA, 1999, Second Edition)

The Bhagavad Gita, translation & commentary, by Sri Swami Sivananda (The Divine Life Society, India, 2015, Fifteenth Edition)