Daily Practice

Yoga,_double_exposure_by_Victor_Tondee_

I had a pleasant and unexpected visit from a student who took my freshman seminar last fall. Its topic was mindfulness and critical thinking. I like to imagine it had a lasting effect, but it’s general education, not a course in my department, so I may not see the students again unless they get into my perpetually wait-listed yoga class as juniors or seniors. This young man stopped by to tell me that he was finishing the books, Work as a Spiritual Practice and The Wise Heart. Like many, he got about two thirds of the way through them during the course. Reading them more slowly and thoughtfully on his own, he’s getting more out of them. He wanted me to know that the class had an impact, and that his way of thinking about and looking at everything was changing. He’s paying attention to what he eats and questioning his choices, not being mindless. This sounds small, but in the big picture of a life, it’s not. How we relate to the world and ourselves through our food can be meaningful as well as have an effect on our health.

That which we teach ourselves, we truly learn. The class gave him the opportunity, but now he’s independently applying and internalizing the skills of meditation and awareness. He asked me for suggestions and the main thing I could say was practice. Daily practice. I’m not a guru or spiritual teacher; I’m just someone who has committed to daily practice. With that, everything changes. He asked about opening the third eye, and I said that it can happen, but it’s not a goal, and in the Buddhist traditions, it’s seen as more of a side-effect than something to get too wrapped up in. Yes, psi occurrences—the siddhis, as they are called in yoga—can result for meditators, but if they are set as goals they can be distractions from present-moment mindfulness. For some people, they never happen. For others they arise for a while and then quietly cease. As I mentioned in my review of One Mind, such events are evidence of interconnectedness and a deeper level of reality, but mindfulness doesn’t strive for special effects in consciousness. There’s nothing to seek, only practice.

*****

Image: originally posted to Flickr by Victor Tonde at http://flickr.com/photos/115887883@N05/16943456596

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Book Review: One Mind by Dr. Larry Dossey

Chakra_Another

To some people, psychic events are kind of cool, fun and interesting. To others, they are troubling and to others, they are woo-woo nonsense. To a few, they are the subject of serious science.

In this book, Dr. Larry Dossey’s thesis isn’t simply that nonlocal or psi phenomena exist, but that these phenomena have spiritual, ethical and ecological implications. He provides compelling evidence from research and a vast collection of illustrative stories to show that shared knowledge and perception over a distance are not only possible but common. People who are not normally psychic have this connection with loved ones at times of intense need. Psi connections occur with twins, with pets and owners, with doctors who know when patients need them, and are even shown to take place between minds and machines in experiments with random event generators. Dossey calls this capacity to share past, present and future in our consciousness the One Mind, and notes that love is a factor that enables it.

It’s not the only factor. Mere helpfulness will suffice. Some gifted individuals can bring their psychic ability into action on purpose, finding shipwrecks that were previously undetected by other means or locating stolen property.

Our society is afflicted by the illusion of separateness, fueled by rage, fear and negativity. Dossey persuasively builds his argument that individuals are woven into a web of being through consciousness that is not confined to the brain and body or to one place and time. In the final chapter, he quotes Vaclav Havel on transcendence, wrapping up the journey through the various forms of evidence with this reminder that we not only can transcend the boundaries of ego and self-vs.-other thinking, but that we must.

A review can’t do justice to the contents of this book. It is constructed so that ideas build upon ideas, scientifically and philosophically, and it is also entertaining, like a conversation with widely-read, witty and irreverent expert. If you liked the review, you’ll like the book even better.

Larry Dossey’s web site: http://larrydosseymd.com

 

 

Image: Chakra by Ranjithsiji

The Epidemiology of Peace

Meditate_Tapasya_Dhyana

In 1993, a group of approximately 4,000 people practiced meditation in a focused and consistent way for a measured time period as part of an experiment in reducing crime in Washington DC through creating a more peaceful collective consciousness. The crime rate was significantly reduced. This was a successful, well-designed scientific experiment, and from the 1970s through the 1990s several others were done with similar results. This type of intervention hasn’t become a mainstay of public policy, though a study done in Merseyside, England found that it saved the local government money. Do we need more meditators? More people in in government who pay attention to these ideas?

Though I write fiction that involves psychic phenomena, it’s not the only reason I find the science behind it important. I’m reading Dr. Larry Dossey’s book One Mind, and I’ve been thinking about the effects our multiple minds have on the One Mind we all share—the interaction of our individual psychology with transpersonal psychology. It can be positive, like the meditation experiments. It can be negative, like the rising level of what I’ll call recreational anger in the United States. I get the impression there is an audience for anger—angry radio, angry TV, angry politics—and that the audience is getting pleasure out of this state of hostile arousal. I’m not one to enjoy outrage for the fun of it, so I can’t claim any insider insights into it. As an observer, I wonder, does it create a wave of disturbance leading to additional anger? Do negativity and meanness have a kind of viral quality that can spread through the shared psychic space of a culture? Is there any connection between our level of anger-for-fun and anger that kills? I don’t know the answers.

Still, I’d suggest that each individual contribute his or her drop of peace to the ocean of the collective consciousness through actions, thoughts and words as well as meditation. It’s an experiment worth trying. Imagine what would happen if we all practiced self-forgiveness and self-study. If we humans all sought moments of stillness and awareness of beauty. Paused to reflect before speaking and acting. Made a daily practice of seeing what Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield calls the “inner nobility” of others, whether they are family members, friends, opponents, or strangers. Perhaps we can change the world-mind, one careful, loving person at time. Our peace-minds would be the psycho-spiritual equivalent of the sterile male mosquitoes that scientists release into disease-ridden areas. No one gets killed. The problem stops reproducing. To continue my epidemiological analogy, when the effort is dropped, the mosquitoes find fertile partners again and the diseases they spread come back. We can’t take peace and wisdom for granted. Meditation is a called a practice for a reason.

Do you notice changes in your life if you keep up the practice?