“Pay It Forward” (A Life Lesson from the Ganja Shop)
****This story occured before COVID-19 so no social distancing rules were violated!
It was the start of a typical evening along the Colorado Front Range. Rush hour traffic was unbearable due to multiple car accidents caused by impatient drivers. Understandably, I felt a bit antsy from this hair-raising commute. So, I did the only sensible thing any 420-inclined person might do in a legal state: I stopped at my favorite ganja shop for some much-needed herbal relief! As I made my way into the shop, I was greeted by my favorite bud tender with a hug and smiles. Who wouldn’t be happy in a weed shop! After a few minutes of friendly banter with my grateful host, I motioned toward the pre-rolled joints in the back of the room and inquired about their cost. My beloved bud-tender smiled and said it was $ 11.50 after tax. I reached into my wallet and pulled out $ 7.50. I was clearly short. You know the look children give when they are denied candy by their parents? Well, that is how my face must have appeared to everyone around me. I didn’t have enough cash to buy my favorite green candy!
Since I was a well-liked regular, my bud-tender succeeded in cutting a dollar off the cost. However, I was still $ 3.00 short to make the purchase. Then, suddenly, at the very moment that I was prepared to walk out the door a young man emerged from the back of the shop and handed me $ 3.00. Stoner Heaven! I turned to the man and introduced myself. We then exchanged hugs and I turned to my bud-tender friend and said: “See, that man is a shining example of how world peace will one day be achieved. It won’t come through the brokered “peace” of nation states but rather through the generous acts of individuals”. For several moments, the two of us talked excitedly about the beautiful concept of “pay it forward.”
Three days later, with the interaction from the dispensary still fresh in my mind, I spotted a homeless man on the side of the road. I introduced myself to him and we started talking as two brother souls. As I came to find out, this person was an inspiring being who had fallen on rough times in the wake of a recent break up. He had dedicated much of his previous adult life to protecting the Earth from corporate predators and he had a deep faith in the Universe. I handed him $ 7.00 and promised that the next time I saw him I would bring him a copy of the Upanishads, a sacred Hindu text that was also dear to his heart. While driving home, I thought of the power of “pay it forward”. I then smiled real wide as I acknowledged the fitting setting of my training in this practice…the ganja shop!
“Let Go, Let God”: Words of Wisdom amid a CrisisBy: Forrest Rivers
Like many people, when the outbreak of COVID-19 reached North America I found myself glued to my computer following the latest news about the terrible virus. Many questions from the media’s early coverage soon arose in my mind:
- Was the crisis being overblown by money hungry corporate news outlets seeking to turn record profits?
- Have I already contracted the virus?
- Will my elderly parents avoid getting sick?
- Are world leaders really doing all they can to protect us from the pandemic?
- Should we even look to our governments to protect us or would we better off shifting that responsibility to individuals, families and communities?
- How can I help to alleviate suffering for other people during this time?
The questions went on and on and on. Consequently, From the second week of March (the start of social distancing) right on through the first week of May, I spent countless hours reading everything on the web related to COVID-19 to gain a deeper understanding of this historic and consciousness altering event. After many weeks of having near anxiety attacks brought upon by “news binging”, I finally realized that like millions of other people, I had become consumed by the endless emotion train of confusion, fear, paranoia and genuine sadness for the fate of humanity. On the one hand, it is only natural for us all to want to know every developing detail about the pandemic and its cascading effects upon society. After all, we are presently facing our generation’s greatest existential, public health and economic crises’ all at once! On the other hand, such heavy preoccupation with COVID-19 related news also has the unsettling tendency to pull us away from the present moment.
Every minute we spend obsessively surfing the web is a minute we waste living HERE NOW. Is it wise for our own and our loved ones’ safety to keep an eye on the latest developments? Absolutely! However, there is a balance that must be maintained. From a spiritual standpoint, it may be more beneficial for us to focus our awareness on soulfully rich activities that increase our overall sense of well-being. Establishing daily routines built around positive and uplifting practices like meditation, nature walks and creative expression can go a long way in cultivating a peace within ourselves that can effortlessly be shared with those who are suffering in these times. My old meditation teacher, Dave Smith, used to have an awesome saying that helped his students let go of their anxious and fear-based thoughts during challenging life events: “this is how it is now.” Simple, yet profound. Far from asking us to close our hearts in response to this crisis, such a statement invites us to fully open our hearts through truly surrendering to what is…. even if what we find is discomfort. For that emotion, too, shall past.
Sitting in front of the computer or television set day after day reading every little tidbit of news on COVID 19 will only fill us with anxiety and make us unable to respond consciously to this crisis. When I sat down to write this piece, I became aware of my own hypocrisy on this point. So, I made the choice to begin each morning with a 30-minute meditation rather than pick up my computer and work myself up into a frenzy over the latest frightening news. For me, this was an empowering decision as it showed that I can in fact control my mind (I was beginning to doubt myself!) and find some semblance of inner peace amid a fearful climate of sickness and poverty. If I can empower myself, then you can certainly do it too! Maybe, in addition to my beloved meditation teacher’s mantra we can also adopt a second one that is just as relevant to the times we live in…. “Let Go, Let God”.
“Death is a Passage not the End” Over the years, it has become as good as living truth to me that we are more than our bodies. When we die, I have no doubt that some essence of who we are transcends the act of death and the flesh of the body. Of course, exactly where we go remains one of the greatest existential mysteries. Similar to both the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs on Reincarnation, I intuitively feel that each of us has taken countless births as males and females, as rich and poor, as oppressor and oppressed and even as faithful lover and duplicitous cheater. It is even possible, as Tibetan Buddhists believe, that we have even taken animal form in our previous incarnations!
Perhaps, the Universe’s grand intention for reincarnation is for us all to steadily build toward full awareness of who we truly are through the many experiences lived and lessons learned from each incarnation. Buddhists might call this awareness “nirvana”, Hindu’s “self-realization” and Christian mystics “infinite bliss”, but the same idea is implied. Through each passing incarnation we move closer and closer to realizing our total union with the One, God, Tao, the Universal Mind. It is true, that hardliner materialist scientists cling to the notion that when our bodies die we in fact die too. However, isn’t it at least a little bit ironic that the very cycles in which they study can easily be summoned to rebuttal such closed ways of interpreting our being?
After all, the seasons undergo an eternal cycle of birth, death and re-birth. The sun and moon partake in both an exquisite and cyclical dance of cosmic positioning. And, as theoretical physicists are just beginning to prove through reason and what sages have long known through meditation, the cosmos itself is constantly expanding, then imploding only to expand again. If we are truly one with all that is and comprised of the same universal matter why would our experience deviate from that same deeply profound and eternal law found everywhere else in our known Universe?
“Dust off Your Spiritual Lamp”
By: Forrest Rivers
All the world’s mystics have discovered that the Self is more than our bodies and more than our minds. Why, then, do too many of us spin upon a wheel of despair driven largely by our own feelings of inadequacy? I can only attempt (key word here) to answer this question by posing another one: have you ever dug through your forgotten belongings only to find an old lamp covered in dust? If you have, then you noticed that as you flipped on the switch very little light shined. So, what did you do? Chances are, you simply wiped it away until a purer radiance shown.
The lamp metaphor can easily be applied to our own feelings of insecurity. Fortunately, there is something you can do when the negative emotions of shame, doubt and self judgement rear their ugly head (as they so often do). Meditation is that sacred cloth used to wipe away the dust of your childhood fears, pain and feelings of inadequacy. When we start to meditate regularly, it becomes increasingly difficult to run away from our higher selves…our “Atman” to borrow a beautiful Hindu phrase.
In the depths of meditation, the spark of God that lives within all of us reveals that very truth our minds try to keep concealed: self-judgment is a glitch in our own perception and is merely a small bump in the road on the higher path to self -realization. When we dust off our spiritual lamps through the awe filled trance of meditation, self judgement is transformed into self-acceptance.
“An Ode to Leary”
By: Forrest Rivers
Quiet your mind
The world is consumed
But you don’t have to
In the senseless drama
From our worship of ego
For a wise man once said:
But turn on to what?
Tune in to who
And drop out from Where?
To living spirit
And the most high
To Mother Nature
And heed her signs
From this illusion that hides
The Unity of Creation.