Archive for the ‘health’ Category

Riddles with frogs

A couple of weeks ago, during a hike deep in the city, I stumbled upon what could be termed as a “secret garden”. It was very different from the surrounding woods around it. A flat piece of land, with pools filled with lilies floating on the face of the water. Small bridges criss-crossed the water and lead up to a patch of land with low shrubbery.
A heavy rain has just fallen, and now the sun was coming out, along with most of the animals. Birds were flying low over the water, along with all kinds of insects buzzing around the reeds.
When I stepped in, I was the only person there.
Then I herd a strange noise. It sounded like an old man coughing. At first, I was startled. I looked around to see where the other person was “hiding”, but there was no one there. It was apparent that some kind of animal made that noise. The noises seemed to be coming from the edge of the pool. I walked down among the reeds and found the culprits. It was a bunch of frogs. They all squirmed away except for one, who stayed put, frozen like a statue.
You have to understand, that as memory serves I have never seen a live frog in my life, and certainly not in nature. So I was very excited to see it. I took out my camera and took a few pictures from several angles, and the frog still didn’t move. It just stayed there, modeling for me.

So it was just me and the frog, on a wet patch of land near a pool, in a cool summer day after the rains.

And then, I had this uncomfortable feeling of being an invader. Since I was the only person there, and since I’m not a National Geographic photographer, I’m not used to interacting with animals in nature all by myself. I felt like somehow I was interfering with the sacredness of the place. Taking out my camera, pushing through the leaves, hunkering down, taking the pictures, making noises. Of course I shouldn’t have felt that way. Aren’t humans part of nature? That’s right, sometime we forget it, but we are. As long as we are being an organic part of any natural scene, we are usually welcome. Of course, most people don’t know how to do that. I took out my camera because I wanted to preserve the moment. But you can’t really preserve a moment. All you can do is create a visual memory. The moment is right there in front of you as it happens, and it should be cherished.

When was the last time you went to a zoo? People take out their cameras and are busy taking pictures about 90 percent of the time. The amount of energy they put into photographing the animals is much more than the amount of energy they put into looking at them, actually watching them. They’re too busy creating the visual memory than to actually experience it. I see excessive photographing like this as an offshoot of Western consumerism mentality. We want to “buy” the moment. We want to capture it, put in a little box so we can watch it later – or not. Sometimes, people just take tons of pictures because they can. They have the gadget, don’t they? It’s digital, right? Don’t need to save film with that, you can easily take 400 pictures, so they use it. But it’s an illusion. You can’t save a moment in a little box. It’s already gone before you know it. That’s why it’s so precious.

Being there, in front of the frog, I tried to spend more time actually watching it than photographing it. Between each click I stared at it, looked at its eyes, it’s glands, its yellow mouth.

It was beautiful.

And then it struck me. I’m the only one here, I thought. Except for me, it’s just the animals and the plants. But what if I wasn’t here? Would it still be same? Would there still be frogs? Would the ground still be wet? Would the reeds still be yellow and green?
The minute I stepped into the garden, it became a “garden”. The minute I saw the frogs they became “frogs”. But there was no garden or frogs before I arrived there. It was all just there, existing, being, but it didn’t have any labels attached to it. As humans, we created a set of labels, that sometimes prevents us from seeing the big picture which is always the more real one. Of course, it’s very hard for us to do it any other way. When we see a frog, then it’s a frog. That’s what it’s called. But is it really a frog? Try and say the word “frog” many times one after the other. If you do that (as with any other word), it will lose its meaning and become nothing more than noise. So when a human steps into a situation where a human did not exist before, the situation becomes labeled. It all goes back to that famous riddle:

If a tree falls in the the forest, but there’s no one there to hear it, does it really make a sound?

If I would’ve tried and come up with an answer, then it would be probably be “of course not”, or maybe “it creates sound waves, not sound”. But incessantly looking for answers is another labeling process. The mind wants to understand everything. Sometimes a riddle is much better than any given answer. It opens up many possibilities, while an answer only leaves one.

As we all know, reality is subjective. We perceive the world trough out mind and through our senses. What we see as one thing, is another thing altogether for other creatures that share our world with us. Many of them we can see, but it is also very possible that many we cannot. The world, and the universe, I think, operates on many many levels, and we, as humans, can only comprehend a small part of it.

That is why we should be aware of the labeling process we as humans have. Not only towards nature, but towards other people too. Imagine, if there were no labels, there would be no judgmental thought. Then there would be no hate, no wars, and much less violence in our world. Imagine a world where blacks would not have been feared and hated just because of the color of their skin, or a world where Jews would not have been sent to extermination camps because they were considered “impure” by the horrendously effective Nazi labeling machine.

It is important, for each and every one of us, to be aware that there are many layers to everything in life. It is much reacher then our minds can ever perceive. If we see it solely through the mind’s labeling process, we are missing all the possibilities that this same labeling prevents us from seeing. The world was here before we emerged as a species, and will probably still be here after we’re gone. We should respect it as our home, and we should respect the ones who share it with us – plants, animals and other people. Words are a means of communications. A means to understand the world. But they are not all there is. Beyond the words there’s a vastness of beauty and life that we are ignoring too many times because we’re too busy turning it into something that we can comprehend mentally. Something that we can call by a name. So we can have an opinion.

This post, as is the custom in blogs, will be labeled like crazy. Tags, categories, you have it. This is how the system works. Internet is information, and information is made out of labels.
Because if a post is written, but there’s no one there to read it, was it really ever written?

Indeed, something to ponder…..

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Free Your Mind

Recently I came across a very interesting and profound book called The Power Of Now. It was written by a man named Ekhart Tolle and its basic premise lies in its straight-to-the-point title. If we seek peace, we must live in the present.

Many of the ideas I’ll be throwing out here are derived from this book, (which is highly recommended – the author, unlike other spiritual teachers, had an intense personal experience that is the beginning of a journey which led to this book), but also from my own experiences. One important thing to note is that I am far from mastering what I am about to describe – years of egoic pre-conditioning and mind chatter are hard to dissolve in a day – but just being aware of the possibility is a big step in the right direction.

I had my own personal wake-up call in the winter of 2008. Long story short, I had anxiety attacks. Scary stuff. After a few trips to the ER I was referred to a neurologist. She performed a neurological examination, then proceeded to pick up the phone and register me – without even asking, thank god – to something called the Mindfullness Stress Reduction Program.

In this program I first became aware of the basic concept of Mindfullness, which is just another word to describe the act of “being in the moment”. It can be done through formal meditation, but also during ordinary activities such as taking a shower, walking, listening to music, swimming, washing the dishes. Anything really. As long as your mind is not busy with constant thoughts, with mental noise, you’re doing it right. When we are busy with constant thoughts, we usually think about past and future. Past memories are fine, but the dysfunction sets in when we replay events from the past and find ourselves in it, identifying with it, letting it inform our present, usually in a negative way. We create a pre-conditioning which inhibits us and prevents us from tapping into the power of the present moment – from experiencing it fully and seeing it clearly for what it is. As far as future goes, we usually fantasize/worry about it. This is also irrelevant to the present moment, and creates anxiety.
A healthy use of past and future is when it is done for practical purposes: If we need to be somewhere tomorrow morning, we might need to think about setting the alarm clock. Or, let’s say a week ago we forgot to set the clock, so we might think about the past in practical terms: “A week ago I forgot to set the clock. I better not forget this time”.

One way to visualize this is to imagine a large room in our heads. Now, this room is pretty cluttered. There’s junk everywhere. Old stuff, from the past. Let’s call them “Old Magaiznes”. And then there’s those still empty, “plastic receptacles”, that for our purpose will represent the future. Other than those, there are the “pain-bodies”. Negative emotions stored in our bodies and in our psyche. Emotions we failed to face in the Now, i.e, in real time, and ever since then we’ve been harboring them inside, letting them fester. Let’s say the “pain-bodies” are represented by a green, icky mold covering the walls and the floor. Usually we don’t pay attention to it, because the clutter in the room obscures it from us. But once in a while, something happens in the outside world which triggers it, and then, the mold crawls out among the old magazines and empty receptacles and demands notice. It wants to take over the room. Sometimes it succeeds and covers everything. That means we get deeply depressed, agitated, sad, angry, afraid, jealous. You get the picture. Then this matter subsides, and the mold retreats, letting the magazines and the receptacles fill the room again.

Our real self has nothing to do with mind and constant thoughts – it is the room without all the clutter, or actually, the room with neat shelves which contains jars where we store practical, useful mind-objects. That way we can use the mind without it using us. If we could just do it, if we could get rid of all the mental and emotional excess and just see the room as it is, in its natural state, the way it was supposed to be, we would be free of negativity and fear, and we will know peace and joy. We will know what it truly means to be alive. No pre-conditions. No judgments. Just Being.

The best way to even having a small chance of achieving this state of higher consciousness is, apparently, to live in the present as much as possible. To be attentive and alert, to accept it, to yield to it. To respond rather than react. To leave all drama and conflict behind – especially conflict with ourselves, which is the most destructive – and is the catalyst for most external conflicts.

There’s nothing new in The Power of Now. The same fundamental truths were part of ancient eastern wisdom (the Tau is another word for Being), and were preached by Jesus and Buddha. It is the same spiritual principal that exists throughout human history.
These are all different words to describe the same thing. We cannot grasp it mentally, and we mustn’t attach too much importance to words. Words are just signposts to show the way. But in the end, this state of consciousness can be only felt, not understood and labeled mentally. I mean, it can, but then you’ll be missing the whole point.
I had a glimpse of this state of connectedness to the state of Being/Presence back when I was in New York. It was one of the most profound moments of my life. That is why I know it exists. That is why I know there is more than mental noise in the human experience.

Only a truly “enlightened” man/woman can get rid of all the clutter in the room. Most of us can’t do it, at least for now. But there is a way to maybe make it easier. Let’s imagine we can project a duplicate of ourselves into this room. It will look like us, but it will shine with white light, or blue light, or whatever light you wish. And this conscious personification of us will stand guard in the room, and watch and observe. And whenever our mind starts getting really entangled with all the riveting drama in those old magazines from the past, our little luminous angel in the corner will first cough politely, and if that doesn’t help, if our stalwart reader is still with his nose deep in the magazines, the luminous figure might say: “Hey, you. Yes, I’m talking to you. I see you there, sitting there, indulging in the past. You can go ahead and knock yourself out, but just know that you’re not allowed to be in this room anymore by yourself, I will always be here, watching you”. The idea is that the minute the pre-occupied past-reader hears the voice and sees the presence, it will wake up from its trance and vanish from the room, back to the present moment which is taking place right here, right now, outside of the room, outside of the head.
The same principal can be applied to thoughts about the future. Whenever our smarmy little ego is not happy with the present and sneaks out into the room to fill those receptacles with fine scenarios/fantasies/wishful thinking, all kinds of chocolates that are insubstantial because they are just a projection and can melt and transform in any moment, or if he’s just staring at those receptacles, worried what to fill them with, the guardian will be there, watching him, jerking him back to the present.
And perhaps more importantly, whenever the mold, or the pain-body, begins to crawl again all over the room to make us miserable, we will let it crawl but we will watch it. We will not leave the room unobserved. We will watch the mold crawl and say: “I see you. I feel you. I acknowledge you, but I will not let you take over my mind and my body and my behavior and my identity.” We accept the pain instead of resisting it. It is not for the faint of heart, but if you can master it, if you can face deep-seated pain, especially when triggered violently, you have transcended and escaped the vicious cycle of emotional pain.

All our pain and suffering stems from neediness. I want. I need. If I’ll have this or that or this person, then I will be happy. But those are powerful illusions, because all you need, all you desire, well, you already have it. And the rest is just a game. Life is a stage, and we’re all actors. The secret is to actually experience it. Consider: when you don’t identify mentally with anything, when there are no attachments. When there are no attachments borne out of need, how much more simple and easy life would be.
But then, where would the ego be without the drama?

The answer is that it wouldn’t be. Just Imagine. A world without ego. No wars. No violence. No destruction of nature. Just us, Human Beings, not separate of the world and the universe but a part of it, connected to it, feeling the pulse of the cosmos inside us.

Once you are aware of this principal, you start noticing it around you where you didn’t see it before. I am currently reading a book called The History of Western Philosophy and find that many philosophers of ancient times incorporated these ideas into their teaching. You also begin seeing it in art, in certain movies (I hope to have a post soon about movies which include these ideas), and elsewhere.
If you want to have a perfect example of stillness in the present, all you need to do is watch animals. Animals always live in the Now. I actually recognized it in my (then) cat a few years ago, although I couldn’t really explain why I envied her so much. Or why I felt at this moment to in tune with her, and why all I wanted to do is pick her up and hug her. It was because she showed me presence, while I was sitting there, sulking, she showed me the way out.

And if I can turn mushy for a second, this is actually what Love is. “What the world needs now is love sweet love”. Remember that song? Truer words were never spoken. This is not the “love” that is created by the ego: a love that can turn into hate and jealousy and despair and un-love when things aren’t going right or when we feel threatened. This is the true love that has no opposite. To know that we are not adrift in an uncaring universe, but a part of it, a part of the same energy source that created everything around us, plants and animals and even rocks. Yes, one of the best ways to experience this state to some degree is to go out to nature, with no distractions (leave the i-pod at home), and just pay attention.

And by the way, the person writing this words is a great cynic who used to stay far away from anything that smacked of “universal love”. I just came to a point in my life where I recognized the truth in it.

The Watermills

Sometimes things in life converge in a peculiar way. For the past few weeks I’ve been practicing, or attempting to practice, some  forms of meditation to help alleviate stress and anxiety.  Stress and Anxiety which stem from personal difficulties, but also, I’m quite sure, from the nature of the actual world we live in. A world that puts first and foremost the constant striving for success and achievement, both personal and professional. The constant comparing with people around you, are they happier than you, do they have more money than you, are they in better shape than you. You find it almost impossible to just exist in your own skin without going all over the place and compare, judge and critique. The mind, the modern western mind, is in constant chatter. It always has something to say, and at least for me, most of the things it has to say aren’t really positive or nice. It reminds me of what I can’t do and what Iwas never able to do, no matter how much I tried. It lives almost exclusively in the past or the future, and almost never in the present.

So it was interesting to me, specifically in a time like this when i’m trying to subdue the mind-chatter by meditation (and mostly not succeeding for now, but at least I think I understand the concept), that I happened to watch Akira Kurosawas’s Dreams. Now, I hope I don’t need to mention that, but Kurosawa is one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived and Dreams is one beautiful, mesmerizing film. It is made up of eight stories that represent, well, dreams. But those are not the dreams of The Sopranos for example (which if you ask me are more “realistic” portrayal of how actual dreams unfold) but a more subdued version, more like surreal short stories. The main theme of the film, as I see it, is of celebrating life and nature and it has a major criticism against science and technology as harbingers of pollution and misery. Of course, it is not technology itself but what Man does with it, which means this is ultimately a film about the spirit of man and its capability to create and destroy at the same time.

But the film is so visually breathtaking, and so slow and deliberate in its presentation (this is most certainly NOT a Hollywood action film), that,  if you’re in the right mindset for it- and after three weeks of partial-meditation I sure was – you may be rewarded by something which is akin to a meditative state. This film is magical.

It was exactly what I needed to see right now since it complemented perfectly my state of mind or rather the state of mind I was trying to achieve. There is something at the same time soothing and frightening in it. For some of the segments are truly beautiful and serene (Crows, The Peach Orchard) but some are grim and scary (The Blizzard, Mt. Fuji  in Red). In the end, I was especially struck by the final segment, titled Village Of The Watermills. It takes place in one of the most beautiful locales I have ever seen. I find it hard to believe a place like this can actually exist. It looks like paradise and not in the commercial, cliched way –  an island with white sands and palm trees – but actual paradise, the real one, up in heaven. It consists of a conversation with an old man followed by a rather joyous funeral procession filled with song and dance and I almost cried with the beauty of it all, and wished I could visit it.

The Village of the Watermills seems like a manifestation of what your own self should ideally feel like when you’re in a meditative state: Serene, peaceful, with nothing of the outside world barging in on you. A place which exists only for itself and which represents your inner being, after all the clutter and noise and bullshit of the modern world is swept aside.

At the end it’s just us and nature, from which we came and to which we return, and if we try and remember that, remember what the important things are, we may be in peace.

I think most of us deserve it.