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Mindful Musings

“Cycle of Birth and Death”

The Prince of Birth and the Prince of Death

Contended in the darkness

The Prince of Death announced:

“I am the culmination and window into the beyond. Therefore, I am more important!”

The Prince of Birth retorted:

“You may be the window into the beyond, but I am the inception point and the rite of passage back into the wisdom of form. Therefore, I am more important!”

In response, Brahman broke into laughter at the audacious claims of his two devotees

And playfully declared:

“Birth is such. Death is such. Birth or death what’s the fuss?”Death is Sure as Birth

Mindful Musings

“Nature’s Inspiring Qualities”

The Smoky Mountains vs. the "Smokey Mountains”: Who's Right?It would be an understatement to say that the natural world humbles our very being. For example, how many people have climbed to the top of a mountain and experienced the sentiment of feeling inconsequential? It’s impossible not to.

Anyone who has made the pilgrimage up a summit reports feeling profoundly humbled. For on the majestic peaks, our souls are moved by the sheer majesty of views that await us: a gorgeous colossus of trees, the mesmerizing stature of nearby mountaintops, the noble presence of soaring eagles and those subtle but dazzling flashes of white light that sparkle against the backdrop of a midday Sun.

As we inhale a slow, deep breath of the crisp mountain air, we become instantly aware of our own insignificance in relationship to the Cosmos. In so doing, we come to embrace the notion that humanity is but one tiny wave in a vast sea of oneness.

It’s from Mother Nature’s power to humble that we uncover the source of pure inspiration. We tap into this coveted but sacred energy through the Earth’s reservoirs of natural beauty. When we decide to descend back down the same mountaintop, we carry this feeling of renewal back with us, injecting it into our day-to-day lives.

For some people, this newfound inspiration finds its light through their commitment to previously neglected aspects of their being, such as their family and friends, their life’s work and especially their own spiritual growth. Yet, for others, transcendental experiences in nature will produce sudden and profound personal epiphanies.

In these moments of heightened clarity, we feel as though we’re viewing life through a new pair of eyes. In these moments, the art of existing finally starts to make sense, as one begins to live their life with a greater sense of purpose and awareness. In these instances, it’s not uncommon to make major life changes like leaving a longtime job or long-term relationship to devote oneself to a higher calling.

For others, nature so inspires them, that they’re moved to express these emotions of divine love through creative outlets like poetry, painting, photography and music. For example, well-known writers and poets like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman were all so moved by nature that each felt compelled to share the wonder of it with others.

Further, entire forms of written expression such as Haiku (a unique form of poetry that emerged long ago in Japan) also remain popular and finds their medium through the observation of nature. And much of the remarkable art crafted by Indigenous peoples from around the world depicts various divine aspects of the Earth.

In fact, in my own dwelling, I have a beloved piece of artwork that was made by a Native American artist from the Hopi tribe in Arizona. This work of art is a mosaic of sacred images drawn from nature and painted on a smooth, rectangular slab of clay. This remarkable piece of work reminds me that the natural world is the purest source of creative inspiration.

Finally, cultural anthropologists have long accepted the notion that music—that most profound mode of universal expression—had its genesis long before the development of formal language in the earliest tribes. Today, still, the Indigenous peoples of the world reflect their love for the Earth in song and dance. It’s telling that more traditional music pays homage to Mother Nature. Listen to roots reggae, folk or bluegrass songs for confirmation!

(Excerpt from my essay: “Nature as Divine Love”)

 

“Merging into Oneness”

True Oneness - N-lightenment -By: Forrest Rivers

Though I never met him in person (I do feel I know him in the spirit), Baba Ram Dass, the inspiring hippie (in the truest sense) pioneer of consciousness has been among my greatest and most inspiring teachers. Unlike many self-described “gurus”, Ram Dass truly “walked the walk”. Without the slightest hint of putting on a show, his actions were a genuine reflection of all the inspiring themes he lectured and wrote about: love, compassion, humility, peace, suffering, the pitfalls on the spiritual path and Karma Yoga(the spirit of service). The following is one of my favorite quotes from him:

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.”

 

In the earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak it appeared that Ram Dass’s words were becoming a reality. War between nations seemed to no longer matter anymore as the virus, itself, became the common enemy of mankind. And, for a hopeful moment it appeared like division along the lines of sex, class, race, religion and politics would dissolve over night as the pandemic did not discriminate in choosing its victims. For the first time in our lives, the attainment of a collective higher consciousness was a real possibility. Of course, one of the chief aims of all spiritual traditions is to directly experience this connection that all beings share. Call this mystical life force energy that connects all things God. Call it the TAO. Call it the One. Or, call it the Great Mystery. In the end, whatever name you call IT doesn’t matter. What matters is the knowledge that such a state of divine unity is possible for humanity to achieve. The early days of the pandemic brought us infinitely closer to recognizing the heavenly state of such oneness.

Everywhere, people began to acknowledge their universal humanity. The ranks of volunteers grew to serve at food banks, younger people came to the aid of their elderly neighbors, groups organized to provide shelter to the homeless and many began honoring over-looked “essential workers” like grocery store clerks and food delivery drivers. However, as the period of social distancing wore on, the world gradually fell back into the old programmed patterns of fear and separation along lines of associations…. especially in America. Barely three months into the pandemic the following events took place:  armed protests against the shutdowns emerged, massive urban demonstrations and riots broke out in response to the latest police killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota; military rule at home supplanted any notions of democracy and the very rich continued to peddle their political influence to extract what little wealth remained among the very desperate poor and working classes coping with unprecedented unemployment

. How could the achievement of world peace feel so close yet also so far away? After all, for many, COVID-19 was perceived as a watershed event that revealed mankind’s potential to transcend the illusion of separateness. But, as they say, old habits die hard. The oneness that we all know is possible deep within our souls is still unfulfilled. However, this pandemic has already had the effect of helping us grow in our consciousness…. just as Ram Dass said. Just weeks before the outbreak of the virus, little on the surface appeared to unite us. But following its emergence, we have begun to awaken to see our common humanity.

No matter our differences on the surface, we have all gone through this period of hardship and suffering together. And, because of that we will grow stronger together.  In this moment, most of us know someone who has been severely impacted. Some of us have a friend or loved one who has fallen ill to the virus. Others of us know someone who has lost their job during the pandemic. Whether we want to admit it or not, all of our politicians and news medias’ attention to our supposed lines of divisions are intended to deliberately stoke fear of each other.  Why? So, we turn a blind eye to the very serious abuses of power that are taking place. What’s more, if we can still our minds and go beyond the egoistic mindset of our own leaders we will see that we are not all that different anyways.

Such demarcations like the color of our skin, the region of the world we happened to be born in and the religious traditions we were exposed to growing up were all out of our control. They were left up to fate and destiny. When we meet a cat or dog do we discriminate against it based on the color of its fur? Do we decide whether to pet it or not based on the location where it was born and in what manner it connects to living spirit? Of course, we don’t! So, why do we do so with humans? In the end, it is my hope that this experience we have all shared with COVID-19 will allow us to see past all the divisions and acknowledge the inherent soul connection we all have as beings of loving awareness. Maybe, once we recognize this connection with each other we will also see it reflected in humanity’s most important and sacred relationship of all: the Earth.

Mindful Musings

“Your Brother’s Keeper”

In what land
Is it OK
To slaughter 
Your brethren
Like sheep?

And,
in what land
Is it acceptable
To wage war
Against those
Who dare to speak?

The darkest nights
Are upon us now
Open your hearts
And hear the children
weep....

The beauty of love
May escape us now
But in this moment
we can choose to be:
Our brother's keeper.
Valley demonstrators protest George Floyd death - The Monitor

Mindful Musings

“Dreams worth Chasing”

By: Forrest RiversThe Significance of Dreams John, a friend of mine from Colorado, shared his dreams with me on a (socially distanced) yet inspiring hike through the mountains together. In the year leading up to the pandemic, this highly talented sound engineer and music booker spent around 80 hours a week working at a music venue. While he found his work satisfying, he confided in me that the long hours and breakneck pace of booking bands six nights a week and running sound for those same acts had taken a toll on him emotionally. Like many skilled workers in the entertainment industry, John suddenly found himself unemployed when all bars and music venues were forced to shut down as COVID-19 began its rampage through the United States. But he was one of the lucky ones. In contrast to the countless millions of frustrated and desperate laid off workers that would follow, John experienced a smooth transition to the unemployment rolls. He related to me that the time away from his job has provided him with greater balance and fulfillment in his life. It has also strengthened his relationship with his wife and filled him with more gratitude for all the positive things in his life. Most of all, his hiatus from the daily grind has given John the courage to chase his dreams and live life to the fullest. His dream is to move off to a remote and beautiful track of land his mother owns outside of Moab, Utah. Specifically, John and his wife want to live on that land in an RV that they recently purchased. In inspiring fashion, the couple has decided that there is no better time then now to pursue their dream and take a courageous leap into the unknown!

During this period of crisis, stories like John’s are growing in frequency. With far more time off to spend contemplating our lives, many people are coming to the realization that now is the perfect time to finally pursue their dreams. With death staring us in the face and with the highest percentage of people out of work since the Great Depression, this moment has carved out an existential crossroads that we are all being called to navigate. Some of the questions we may be asking ourselves are as follows:

  • Once this crisis ends, do I really want to rejoin the “rat race” once more?
  • How might following a different path enrich me spiritually?
  • Is it really too late to change directions and follow my dreams?
  • How can I contribute to the uplifting of the human race?

 

As more of us begin asking these questions, we will inevitably come to find our answers through spirited moments of contemplation. And in these precious moments, the answers we seek will become clear as day like it has for my friend John. Despite its tragic death toll, COVID-19 has also been something of a blessing for many people who have felt “trapped” in the capitalist machine for far too long. The conditions are ripe to pour one’s time and energy into pursuits that more meaningfully serve the highest qualities of the human spirit. For other people, like my brother soul Alex, this pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse has only confirmed for him that he wants to take decisive steps in the next year to leave his well-paying engineering job and follow his dream of co-founding an off the grid peaceful community with other like-minded beings. In his mind, the economic system has badly failed far too many people and he would like the opportunity to show that a better way his possible. He envisions a community that serves the dual aims of providing a space fully conducive to spiritual growth while being grounded in the spirit of service. A beautiful and noble dream indeed! So beautiful and noble, in fact, that I hope to co-found this very community with him!

It is fully within our power to shift our perspective of COVID-19 from one of “doom and gloom”, to that of seeing this moment as a rare opportunity to follow our dreams through the grace of suffering. If we can manage to flip the dial of our awareness from pessimism to hope there is no limit to how far we can evolve in our consciousness and in our union with the One that has been called by many names.

Mindful Musings

“The Power of Loving Kindness”

By: Forrest Rivers

Home 2018 - Buddha Weekly: Buddhist Practices, Mindfulness, Meditation

Two of the primary purposes of meditation is to learn to let go and to recognize one’s interconnection to all things. During this period of mass sickness and poverty, Metta is a profound meditation technique that at once achieves both goals. Metta roughly translates to “benevolence” or “loving Kindness” in Pali, and comes to us from the Buddhist tradition. The purpose of this exercise is to focus on cultivating and sending feelings of goodwill to all beings. I was first introduced to it at my first group meditation I ever attended. The session was led by an inspiring dharma teacher named Dave Smith. Smith, who has made it his life’s work to aid in the recovery of those with substance abuse issues, led us through a 20-minute Metta practice. In that first sitting, we were asked to imagine sending rays of love to all sentient beings. This guided meditation so moved my spirit and opened my heart that I began attending Dave’s Sunday evening session each week.

Looking back now on that fateful day in early 2013, I am amazed at how completely this simple yet meaningful practice touched my soul. After seven years of reflection on the power of Metta practice, I have come to realize why it is so impactful: loving kindness meditations simultaneously quiet our restless minds and open up our wayward hearts. In these times of fear and uncertainty, what could be more inspiring than sending our deepest wishes of love and goodwill to the planet when we wake up in the morning or go to bed at night?

Through the ages, it has been said by more than a few sages that meditation is the highest form of prayer because it breaks down the separation between the external world and our own soul’s inner yearning for peace and oneness. If it feels right for you, you might find the following COVID-19 adapted Metta practice helpful:

“Find a comfortable position either sitting cross-legged or on the floor or seated up right on a chair of your choosing. Then, slowly close your eyes and bring your awareness to the center of your heart as you begin to inhale and exhale long deep breaths. As you deeply breathe in and out, imagine filling your heart with pink or green light(colors of love) on the in breath and then imagine sending that same light out to the world from your heart on the out breath as you repeat these words to yourself: may all beings be free, may all beings find peace and may all beings be blessed with good health as this pandemic passes like the seasons.” Try this practice for 15-20 minutes. But by all means, feel free to do it for shorter or longer intervals than what I suggest if it feels more comfortable for you”.

Metta meditation has the power to heal our minds and hearts. Remarkably, too, it could also heal the whole world in a time when we are in desperate need of healing. Two studies on the power of loving kindness were conducted in Jerusalem and in Lebanon in the 1980s. In both studies, Scientific researchers found overwhelming evidence of a powerful link between the practice of mass metta(loving kindness) meditation circles and lower incidences of war. As originally reported and published in the academic journal of Conflict Resolution (1988), during days of high attendance at a peace meditation held in Jerusalem, war deaths in neighboring Lebanon decreased by 76 percent. On those days of intention filled Metta Practice, crime and traffic tickets in the near vicinity went down as well. Incredibly, the exact same study was replicated again (with even stricter controls) and produced the same results as reported in the academic journal of Social Behavior and Personality (2005).

If Metta meditation practice can bring peace to a war-torn people imagine what it could accomplish in terms of alleviating all suffering related to COVID-19! When love meets prayer full intentions the possibilities for the evolution of human consciousness are endless. However, one question does arise: how can one go about starting a meditation or prayer circle during a time that requires social distancing? Max Reif, an inspiring writer for the conscious writing collective, the Mindfulword,org, may have the answer. In one of his many thoughtful articles written for this online publication, Reif relates how he has learned to tap into virtual online spiritual communities through Zoom(the interactive web interface program that has soared in popularity during the crisis) to cultivate the feelings of loving kindness:

In Reif’s Words:

“I rise, as often as possible, at 5 a.m. At 6:30, I attend “Virtual Morning Arti,” an international Zoom gathering of Meher Baba devotees. We recite prayers, sing two spiritual anthems and then spend an hour sharing whatever songs, poems, messages or anecdotes people are inspired to contribute. This event often leads me to great heights of joy! While the external world continues its hard slog, my internal world is brought to a point of shining—more than before the pandemic I think.”

Maybe, we can all follow Reif’s example. Is it really a stretch for our imaginations to envision meditation circles popping up all over the world through virtual connections? I don’t think so. Besides spreading some much needed peace and love right now, the emergence of such gatherings(even if they are only virtual) will also inspire hope…..the true motor of the human experience.