Mindful Musings

A Meditation on Freedom During COVID-19

By: Forrest RiversSo What IS Spiritual Freedom? — Spirit Quest with LindaAs the United States begins relaxing stay at home orders it has made me reflect on the meaning of freedom in the age of COVID-19. During this period of self-quarantining and social distancing, freedom has come to mean many different things to people.

For the mostly conservative anti-shutdown protesters in the United States (and to a much lesser extent in Great Britain and Germany) freedom has meant the right to work and operate one’s own business without undue interference by government. For these protesters, it has also implied the liberty to make one’s own personal decisions free of state tyranny. Yet, for other folks, freedom has come to mean something different. For many liberal urbanites and senior citizens freedom has come to be seen as the right to be protected from the threats posed by others’ irresponsible actions. In the context of this pandemic, some shoppers’ insistence on not wearing face coverings in crowded public places is an example of such a threat.

Medical workers on the front line of fighting the virus have also arrived at their own unique understanding of freedom. My sister, who is an ER doctor, has expressed to me that she and other medical workers would just like the freedom to be able to perform their (very vital) jobs without encountering societal road blocks along the way. A prime example of such a road block, is the US Government’s colossal failure to provide an adequate number of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits for hospitals.

In an inspiring development, a growing number of spiritual seekers, too, are coming to their own profound realization of freedom. In the context of the times, seekers of truth are regarding freedom as something that extends beyond the individual AND as one’s conscious choice to use their free will to alleviate the suffering of all beings. Such an understanding of freedom is akin, in a Christian sense, to being our brother’s keeper. And, in a Buddhist sense, rising to the level of becoming a Bodhisattva or one who devotes their life to service. This perception of freedom has everything to do with right intentions and challenges us to step outside ourselves and to flow with the great river of life. In the end, this acknowledgement of the interrelation of all things (oneness) is possibly the highest truth that mystics of every faith have discovered. Very fortunately for humanity, it appears that more people are beginning to understand that true freedom springs from an awareness that we are all connected. Below, are two powerful examples of this kind of freedom in action:

Example 1: My friend Jamie

For as long as I have known him, Jamie has been passionately devoted to the path of spirit and spreading the light of love. Recently, he began a live stream on Reddit centered on the themes of positivity and personal self-improvement. In just a few months, his platform has drawn up to 500 people at once from across the world. However, it is not the number of participants that matter in this story, but how Jamie has chosen to use his vehicle of expression to uplift others in this anxiety filled time. Recently, Jamie related a touching story to me about how he has been coaching (in his terms) one of his live stream participants through a difficult period of depression and sadness. Most significantly, Jamie revealed how this individual has been finding peace and comfort through their correspondences online. Incredibly enough, this participant lives in Australia! Jamie’s inspiring story is a testament to the fact that the vibrations of love can literally transcend the barriers of both time and space!

Example 2: My friend Austin

Austin has to be one of the kindest souls I have met in my life. And, as an inspiring musician, he has always succeeded in moving others to God through his creativity. During the thick of the stay at home orders, Austin could sense that his neighbors were feeling a little down from this extended period of isolation. So, he took out his guitar and started playing soulful melodies daily with the intention to uplift everyone around him. Austin brought so much joy to the people around him, that he received humbling letters of gratitude from some of his neighbors for spreading peace and love during an otherwise dark time for many.

The examples of Jamie and Austin are powerful reminders that you can still (responsibly) respect social distancing guidelines while positively impacting other beings through your freedom of choice to acknowledge the cosmic threads that tie us all together. In these unprecedented times of suffering and hardship, shift your perspective of freedom from what is good for you to what is also good for all your brothers in sisters!

Mindful Musings

Bryant McGill Quote: “Rejection is merely a redirection; a course ...

“Rejection Serves as a Guide to One’s Destiny”

By: Forrest Rivers

One day, I received a depressing (and snarky) email from a small publishing house. This letter was in response to an inquiry to publish a book I had finished writing, the Hippie Revival and Collected Writings.

A representative of the company wrote me the following message based off a brief questionnaire and not having actually read my book:

“I hate to rain on your parade but as presented your book has limited marketability. The word “Hippie” is “loaded” and retrograde. Using it in the title severely limits the market. Essays and poems on any issue are a hard sell. Interest in reviving hippies is a small pool. And I doubt that hippies are big book buyers. You say your book is “about [the resurgence of] the spiritual ideals of peace, unity and love” (I’d drop “resurgence” which is, again, backward focused) This is a broad market populated by people who buy books. You need to do your homework and that involves learning about what a publisher is looking for – something that SELLS!”

Some things to ponder,

-Publisher-

I have to admit that it hurt to read this critique. However, this response did serve as a reminder of sorts. The reminder was that all creative souls encounter rejection in their desire to share their expressions of the divine. Inspiring persons (to me) like Albert Einstein, Henry David Thoreau and Pablo Coelho all met rejection along their paths of exploring the Infinite. Einstein’s fascination with the laws of the Universe drove him to explore the depths of what he called a “cosmic religion.” Likewise, it was Thoreau’s awe for the sacredness of nature, which pushed him to move to the woods and (eventually) achieve transcendental states of awareness. Coelho, too, was so enthralled by a desire to share his faith in personal destiny that it led him to create one of the most inspiring and celebrated characters(Santiago) in modern literature. Crucially, each of these men experienced rejection for pushing the parameters of conventional thought at the time. The world was not yet prepared to receive their visionary takes on reality.

Primary school teachers and peers famously ridiculed Einstein for his unique powers of perception. Thoreau died in a state of destitution, never enjoying the wide literary reception he receives today. Coelho, the Brazilian born novelist, also experienced his fair share of rejection. A publisher once dropped his future international best-selling novel, The Alchemist, for poor book sales. From these three inspiring stories, one might gather that rejection is a crucial experience toward the fulfillment of one’s destiny.

One’s encounter with rejection provides an important check on their ego. Through humbling us, it is a reminder that we are not God’s gift to the world. The Universe does not spare any soul from enduring life’s trials and tribulations. Therefore, when we finally do somehow align with our cosmic destinies, we remain humble and gracious for our good fortune. We remember how challenging it was to achieve our dreams.  In the end, all that we are left with is heartfelt gratitude for that omnipresent source of inspiration….Oneness.

 

Mindful Musings

“Let Go, Let God”: Words of Wisdom amid a CrisisRecovery Greeting Card - Let Go Let God | RecoveryShopBy: 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”.

Mindful Musings

                    “Death is a Passage not the End”What Does the Bible Say About Death? 10 Important Things to Know 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?

 

Mindful Musings

“Don’t Fear the Falling Tree”

By: Forrest Rivers

Creativity boost - Trees falling without a sound, quantum ...When I go hiking in the mountains during a storm I am sometimes asked this question: “aren’t you afraid a tree might fall on your head?” Usually, I only answer with an ambiguous shrug. I am happy to report that I now have a sure reply! No. I am not afraid of a tree falling on my head. Nor, for that matter, do I fear getting struck by lightning, being attacked by mountain lions or getting lost in the woods. In very recent times I expressed these fears…. but not anymore.  I am just beginning to truly understand the meaning behind a most popular truth: you can only control what you can control.  At some point in life, we must all find our faith within and surrender to the Universe.  Indeed, if all occurring phenomenon are really manifestations of the Ultimate Reality, the One, the Infinite; then everything in the cosmos is perfect just the way it is. All our suffering. All our pain. All our hopes. All our dreams. All our feelings of loss and gain. Everything unfolds with great intention and purpose. We are always cared for even if we cannot fully tune in to the subtle but inspiring guidance of the Universe.

In the end, that which we perceive as our unbearable suffering may well turn out to be our greatest blessing(s) later in this life, through death and beyond. Why? Because God is love and IT’s driving motivation is for us all to learn and to grow. So, if it should be my fate for a tree to fall on my head while walking through glorious mountains then let it fall where it may! Perhaps, suffering such a fate would mean that my soul was prepared to experience the oneness that abides in passing from life to death and back again.

Mindful Musings

“Timeless Truths”

By: Forrest Rivers

The African drum beats
With great rhythm
Kirtan echoes
Through temples of love
Sufi dancers swirl
With ecstatic delight
Gnostic monks pray before
Their savior on the cross
Bodhisattva’s sit cross-legged
Under the tree of life

The names for ONE
May vary
But the range of expressions
Gives light to
The timeless truths
Of our being.

The Power of Kirtan | KripaluKrishna Das leading a Kirtan chant with fellow spiritual seekers

 

Mindful Musings

Oneness: the need of the hour - Deepika Bengali - Medium

“Faithful Promise”

If I knew, I would
Share the secrets of this Universe
With you

If I could, I would
Voyage with you
To the depths
Of inner wisdom

If I heard that you
Had entered the cave of enlightenment
I would drop to my knees and exalt
This sacred green Earth we walk on

If I saw the light
Of illumination in your eyes
I would sit beneath the Bodhi tree and pray:
For all souls’ deliverance
Into your world
Of seeing One.