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Archive for January, 2013

Walking Mindfully

 

 

Walking mindfully one Sunday afternoon last fall led me to compose this poem:

 

A November Walk

 

When crows vocalize

In the late afternoon,

Golden poplar leaves

Dance against bare branches

And lawns turn bright emerald

Above the deep blue lake.

Only then, Autumn settles in

And makes way for Winter.

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In my last post, “Recalibrating to the Right Brain,” I mentioned that for several months last year I felt an acute sense of heartbreak observing the deterioration of one small but critical part of my father’s mind.  At age 90, dad has lost the faculty to recognize the falsehood of claims by scammers that he had won 2.5 million dollars, if only he would pay them $75,000 in “taxes and insurance fees.”

Actually, I experienced all five stages of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief.  First there was denial:  ‘we can talk dad out of this absurd delusional thinking.’  Then came anger:  ‘what’s wrong with the bastard; he has the nerve to throw all his money away?!’  Then came bargaining:  ‘Dad, yes, I’ll sign to transfer money into your checking account, provided you use it to pay your actual bills.’  This was quickly followed by the heartache I mentioned.  I was rocked by strong feelings of depression over losing the dad I always knew I had, my father with sound judgment.  Finally and unexpectedly, I arrived at the fifth stage, acceptance:  ‘my dad has a brain problem brought on by ageing and it’s normal for elderly people to have some sort of compromised mental or physical abilities.’

Faced with a problem that causes you heartache, what does it take to reach the stage of acceptance?  In a word, it takes the ability to acquire a sense of detachment from the problem.  I experienced detachment briefly in early September, while I was still in the throes of the depression stage. It happened when my partner and I got away for four sun-soaked days with two dear friends on the Oregon coast.  God blessed us with perfect balmy weather every day, the sunsets were magnificent, and the evening revelry was delightful.  Driving down from Seattle for this mini-vacation, I kept thinking, “Oh my God, my father is giving all his money away to criminal con artists for bogus sweepstakes prizes!!!”  By the time we drove back, I had acquired a new perspective on the matter.  I thought to myself, “I know an elderly person whose mind has become vulnerable to financial fraud, and he just happens to be my father.  We’d better protect him from this misfortune.”  My pre-acceptance stage proved only to last a few days, but it laid much needed ground work, and I managed to circle back to it about three months later.

How do you achieve the detachment you need to reach Kubler-Ross’ acceptance stage?  The answer is both very simple and very difficult:  you have to let your ego get out of the way.  My ego was dramatizing the situation to the max.  Every time I thought about the situation, I imagined my father in the gutter and I pictured myself losing my inheritance.  “Woe is me, all is lost,” I kept repeating to myself.  Somehow I completely forgot that this had nothing to do with me and everything to do with my father.

Detachment is one of the most significant concepts in Eastern religion and philosophy.  At the same time, it is one of the most difficult for Westerners to understand and accept.  It seems to us that detachment goes against the principle of compassion to the point of being anti-life.  It seems to be a doctrine dictating that we must not allow ourselves to love our family members and friends; that we must distance ourselves from them as much as possible.  In a way, this understanding is exactly correct:  after all, Siddhartha did walk away from his beloved wife and children and renounce them in order to become Buddha.  Similarly, in India, many vagabond beggars stray away from social entanglements to avoid becoming attached to anyone.

But in a more modern sense, detachment can mean learning to conduct one’s life effectively by not allowing one’s ego to sabotage right action.  Buddhist monks, nuns and great Buddhist leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron show us a way to be compassionate to others without obsessing over the bonds that attach us to them, whether they are bonds of family, business or friendship.  Which of my own perceptions about my dad was the most compassionate:  the anxiety-ridden emotion, “Oh my God, he’s giving all his money away!” or the more detached awareness, “I know an elderly person who has been scammed.  He is my father and I need to help him.”  An attitude of detachment can actually promote compassion, whereas an over-wrought emotional entanglement can lead to attacking the other person, which is the opposite of compassion.

In Chapter 6 of Joseph Campbell’s book, “Myths to Live By,” there is a wonderful passage that describes how acquiring a sense of detachment can be analogous to conscious role-playing, where one learns to play the role of father or son or any other human part, without forgetting that the role is simply a necessary tool of action and not a fundamental or permanent attribute of your soul:

“There is a curious, extremely interesting term in Japanese that refers to a very special manner of polite, aristocratic speech known as ‘play language,’ asobase kotoba, whereby, instead of saying to a person, for example, ‘I see that you have come to Tokyo,’ one would express the observation by saying, ‘I see that you are playing at being in Tokyo’ – the idea being that the person addressed is in such control of his life and his powers that for him everything is a play, a game.  He is able to enter into life as one would enter into a game, freely and with ease.  And this idea is carried even so far that instead of saying to a person, ‘I hear that your father has died,’ you would say, rather, ‘I hear that your father has played at dying.’  And now, I submit that this is truly a noble, really glorious way to approach life.  What has to be done is attacked with such a will that in the performance one is literally ‘in play.’”

This is how acquiring a sense of detachment can help us in modern life:  if we can let our ego get out of the way, we can more clearly see the role we need to play to effect compassionate action. In a game of tennis, the ego or the brain never hits the ball over the net; the racquet in the hand on the arm in the shoulder socket always does.

IMAG0113

Walking the beach at Oceanside, Oregon helped me find a sense of detachment.

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It’s been a long time since my last post on “Bird of Spirit,” my on-line spiritual journal.  In the past year I’ve experienced something more than writer’s block:  something more like heartache, having lost my 88 year-old mother on July 9 and my partner’s mother on October 19, 2012.  Both of them suffered a lot in their last months and years, their bodies and minds rebelling against them in steady, undignified and irrevocable deterioration.   Hardest of all, I witnessed my father falling into a highly focussed form of delusional thinking, which has led him to give away most of his assets to an elder fraud sweepstakes scam.  In short, 2012 was a very difficult year for me, and the wings of my spirit were severely clipped.  It was definitely time to recalibrate, so I arranged for an energy healing session earlier this month with a real spiritual warrior, Jessica Maxwell, author of “Roll Around Heaven,” who has generously become my de facto guru.

But what actually needed recalibration?  Jessica saw clearly that my left brain was over-activated and my right brain suppressed.  We now know from many sources, including Jill Bolte Taylor’s astonishing work, “My Stroke of Insight,” that when neural activity in the left hemisphere of the brain is suppressed, as it was with Taylor’s stroke, one’s consciousness is suddenly free to experience God’s eternal and infinite bliss and peace.  This is what the Hindus call “samadhi,” or God-union, and the Buddhists call “bliss consciousness.”   Christians simply call it “grace.”

Guiding me by drawing the infinity symbol in the air with her finger, Jessica encouraged me to allow my consciousness to flow into my right hemisphere.  I could actually feel a pulling sensation on the right side of my head, like the force of a magnet.  In a spiritually democratic, equal-opportunity, East-meets-West form of worship, we lit candles and invoked the spirits of Yogananda, Lama Karma (Oregon’s own Tibetan Buddhist monk), Amma, and Mary Magdalene.  Three hours or so later, I could feel my heartache slipping away, and my meditation practice has improved ever since.

Why does recalibration work?  It works because we are creatures in this world but not of it.  The neurons of the left brain are like the strings the Lilliputians used to tie poor Gulliver’s body to the earth.  An even better analogy is to a balloon tied down awaiting its next flight:  we are the passengers caught in the basket between the soaring dome of our right brain above and the anchoring cords of our left below.  One half of our mind is in heaven; the other half refuses to see it or admit it.

When I went to see Jessica, the first thing I told her was that I felt like I was a lotus plant that had not bloomed in a very long time.  The lotus is honored in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology not only for its beautiful, floating flower but for the mucky roots anchoring it to the lake bed.  My roots were definitely anchored in the muck, but my head was not above water.  Now I feel like I’m ready to bloom again.

But why do we so often or always forget to stop and recalibrate?  We are like walking lotus plants, always trekking through the muck of life, with our heads only barely above the water line.  We forget to recalibrate because most of the time we’re unaware that our right brain is even there.  If we were not tied to the earth, we could not survive; we would forget to feed ourselves.  More significantly, all the earthly rewards we could possibly want to reap are linked to the care and feeding of our left brains, those problem-solving machines.  Reasoning is rewarded by society; blissful feelings are not.  Who are highly paid lawyers, doctors and scientists if not persons whose left brains have been carefully nurtured, fed and trained?

The more time you spend reasoning to solve problems, seeking that higher earthly paycheck of money, fame or recognition, the more you forget to recognize and honor the part of your brain that connects you to heaven.  Let’s just say I spent all of 2012 trying as hard as I could to solve problems.  We always forget that after one or two hours spent in the light of our right-brains, away from thoughts, the solution will simply present itself.  Visiting the right brain is like oiling the machine: the Light becomes a light-bulb.  A machine that is not oiled regularly always cracks and breaks.

 

 

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