The Big Picture

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Recently I was on a wildlife safari in Ndutu, Tanzania, in the Northern Serengeti. On one of our last days, we rose early before dawn to see which creatures were out and about. We stumbled upon a mama lion and her four baby cubs and watched them up close from our jeeps for a little while. The sun in Ndutu is hot, and the region is arid- a dustbowl by any measure- and lions need to hydrate early and often to manage the day comfortably. The lions we encountered were generally tolerant of humans photographing them, but lions are as protective of their cubs as we are of our little humans, so some caution is appropriate. As they moved toward a nearby water source to drink, we pulled back to give them space & comfort to make that walk without fear of intrusion or harm. 

We watched from across the stream as the lions moved slowly and cautiously toward the bank, mama desperately trying to maintain control of the cubs, who were wandering this way and that. It's difficult to herd cats- even for lions! 

The mama lion finally gathered her kids and started down the hill toward the bank. As the sun grew bigger and hotter in the sky, other trucks and jeeps appeared on location. But they didn't creep up to the spot or pay any heed to what the lions were doing or attempting to do. They didn't even notice our retreated position. The SUV's moved up the hill at speed, vehicles cutting each other off to score the best view. This abrupt action spooked the mama and the babies, and they retreated away from the cooling water and back into the building heat of the day. 

We've all been in this situation before: a scenario is playing out, and someone bursts into the scene without taking full stock of what is going on. They have their blinders on and can only see one possible conclusion, and they act based on their limited viewpoint. Whether it's jumping to conclusions or taking control of a conversation without understanding the backstory, the result is typically pain and misunderstanding, or worse. 

Our meditation practice helps us avoid this fate. Every time we take the opportunity to fit in our practice, we are releasing stress and clearing out the cobwebs in our mind,  expanding our consciousness. Expanded consciousness brings with it a greater awareness and perspective, and when this happens, our blinders come off: we can pull back and see the big picture, to evaluate and appreciate the truth of every situation. The result is clear intention, better communication, and the best possible action or resolution. 

Everyone wants the macro view, to see the full spectrum of every moment and be our best selves in every situation. It feels like a super-human skill, but it doesn't have to be. Meditate twice a day, and it will become your reality. 

We Are All Connected

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These windmills were my discovery of the day. They are fascinating to watch, as they turn & spin in response to the wind. They are located within Tongva Park in Santa Monica & I found them during an interactive theater experience there this afternoon that explored what it means to feel community with others. 

We may often feel ‘connected’ to something. When we meditate and experience a deep calmness within ourselves, that’s us dipping our toe into consciousness. Consciousness is one oceanic thing: it may seem like we are individual crests of water floating across the sea, but those waves all settle as ocean- one massive, all-encompassing ocean. 

We are all connected, in one way or another; we are all part of the same universal community. 'ALL' includes everyone: even those folks who seem different from us, or those we may not like. Sometimes it’s challenging to see ourselves in every person around us: what do I have in common with that homeless person or that person who has different political beliefs, or that person who practices a different religion than I do? And yet there is always common ground. Start at the most base level- you’ll find something you have in common with these ‘other’ people. Maybe you both have the same color hair. Maybe you both like the beach or the mountains or the same place for coffee. Maybe you like the same sports teams. We may have contradictory beliefs in other areas, and that's okay. We don't have to be the same person to get along. 

A polarized society does not have to be the ever repeating known. There are ways to find a connection with anyone if we make the slightest effort. Take the first step & engage with someone you might otherwise have written off or ignored because they were different from you (smiling is an excellent icebreaker). You may discover you're part of a whole community you never knew existed. Give it a shot- you'll be surprised at the result.  
 

The Change We Seek

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Last week, I painted my house- where we gather for Sunday group meditation. It was a dramatic change, from beige & white to slate blue. It was enough of a shift that people who had visited the house before couldn't find it: they were walking up & down the block, mystified where my house had gone, wondering if they were on the right street. The house they knew was unrecognizable from its current version.

The same thing happens after we practice meditation for a little while: we begin to change. We start smiling more, laughing more, brushing off small nuisances, & chilling out. The good parts of us increase, & the bad parts- our weaknesses that maybe only we know about- decrease. We're becoming a better version of our self. 

When we sit down to meditate, we experience our least excited state. Even when our mind is caught up in thoughts or our to-do list, we're connecting to the calm, peaceful easy feeling that resides within us. We start to identify with our bliss. And when we do, we can't help but share that warmth & love with everyone we meet. We become an exporter of happiness: patient & adaptive in challenging situations; always rolling with the punches & taking it as it comes.  

These changes often surprise those around us, the ones who know us best. Our friends may wonder, "Who is this person? Where's the guy I used to know? The only difference is they're meditating. Can meditation do all of that?"

Yes, it can. 

Progressive, evolutionary change is possible, & it's what we want. It's why we started our meditation practice in the first place. Why put it off any longer? Twenty minutes, twice a day. Make time for your practice & experience your best self. 
 

Using Our Senses

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Last month, I took the opportunity to spend some time with family & friends in Northern Wisconsin, & I slept every night in a treehouse on the shore of a lake. It's a delightful spot. Each night as I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the wind blowing through the trees in the distance. I could feel the air & the breeze as it coursed through the screen walls of the house & touched my skin, or on cooler nights, the tip of my nose- the only body part not covered by my sleeping bag. The treehouse itself rests on rails that attach to four separate pine trees. When the wind blows, the trees bend & pitch, sometimes violently, which shakes the entire structure. I often wondered if I would wake up the next morning in a tree house, or in a cabin that had fallen to the earth. Sometimes I rose in the middle of the night & wandered outside to take in the breathtaking night sky, seeing the light of the stars bouncing off the ripples on the lake's surface. And when rainstorms came through, I could smell the precipitation and its lingering flavor on the leaves and pines that surrounded me. 

In all of these expressions, I am connecting with my senses. Sight. Taste. Smell. Touch. Hearing. When we use our senses, we are completely in the moment. We are, by definition, present. When the cool breeze touches my skin, it brings goosebumps to the surface. It is an immediate sensation, & can't be ignored. My attention is pulled to the present, if only for a few seconds. 

We can all embrace the present moment anytime & anywhere; we don't need to be in a treehouse in an idyllic rural setting. Our senses are always available & always reporting back to us what's going on. Unfortunately, we're rarely paying attention: we're more inclined to speculate about what's coming next or dwell on things that have already happened. 

It's remarkably easy to have a sensory experience- we've been doing it our whole life. Close your eyes (sight is typically our default; it's good to give our other four senses some time at the plate). What do you feel- are you cold, sweaty, maybe feeling an ache in your body? What do you hear- beyond the conversations around you? Birds, the wind, water, chipmunks? What tastes do you have in your mouth- sweet, savory, perhaps a spice or flavor? Is there a smell in the air? Herbs, flowers, humidity, freshly cut grass, asphalt on a rainy day, fast food, donuts? There are endless options available to connect us to the present moment. 

Everything we need is right here, right now. When we want a reminder, stop & pay attention to what Nature is offering up around you. You'll find there is a symphony of voices waiting to be heard (felt, tasted, smelled, or seen). Tapping in takes but a moment of our time. And the reward is infinite. 

Our Mistaken Intellect

In ancient times, Egyptians believed it was possible to live again after death. It was thought, however, that the body had to remain intact for the soul to continue its journey- hence, the practice of mummification. 

To prepare the body, the embalmers would remove and carefully preserve all of the organs, except two: the heart & the brain. The heart was regarded as the source of reasoning & feeling. It would testify to the goodness of the deceased, & was crucial to survival in the afterlife. As such, it remained untouched & in place within the body. And the brain? It was useless: the embalmers drained it unceremoniously from the body & tossed it aside. 

This practice of preservation dates back to 3500 BCE. Interestingly, even then, folks questioned what that little voice inside their head was telling them. And clearly, they didn't like what they heard.

We all know the voice well. It comes up whenever we wonder whether we're capable of doing something- anything. Can I get that job? Should I ask that person on a date? Am I smart enough to solve this problem?

The little voice is our mistaken intellect. It has a memory & is remarkably proficient at reminding us whenever we've stumbled at any time in our life. The purpose of our mistaken intellect is to create doubt within us. And because it's a familiar voice, we typically believe whatever it says. 

Unlike in ancient times, we recognize our brain has some redeeming qualities: the intellect isn't all bad. Sometimes, instead of playing the role of prosecutor, it switches up & becomes an advocate, praising us for all the things we can accomplish, & showcasing our true nature. And yet because it plays both sides of the game, it becomes even harder to discern reality from fake news.   

Our mistaken intellect requires a course correction: the nagging negativity needs to take a flying leap & depart from our internal echo chamber. Our meditation practice initiates that step. Each time we meditate, we are raising our consciousness state. Our stresses fall away & in their place, we experience broader awareness of our truth. We recognize our full potential. And we start to see glimmers of light piercing their way through the dark basket in which we sometimes find ourselves. 

We are capable of anything & everything. Our potential is limitless, & happiness & bliss are there for the taking. Next time the little voice makes an appearance, put your brain to good use & consider pressing the mute button. It's the smart move.