“A Miracle in the Town Square”

man in orange robe standing on gray concrete floor during daytime

One day an arrogant and wealthy politician encountered a monk at the center of the town square. The monk, clad in a flowing orange robe with a begging cup in hand, did not pay the politician any notice. He just strolled slowly by the prominent man with eyes staring straight ahead absorbed in a walking meditation.  Enraged at having not been acknowledged, the politician ran up behind the monk and aggressively grabbed him by the arm and said:

“Don’t you know who I am? Everyone bows down before me!”

The monk locked eyes with the politician for a few seconds and then suddenly began laughing hysterically out loud. Growing even more enraged, the powerful and famous man raised his fists in the air and threatened the monk with violence. He then demanded to know what was so funny. Still laughing, the monk pointed down at the politician’s feet. The politician looked embarrassingly down at his feet and saw that he was standing in a pile of fresh cow dung! As the politician bent down to clean the dung off his shoes, the monk stood over him and said:

“I think I remember who you are now. You are that former politician turned humble servant of his people. Now allow me to help you clean the cow dung off your shoes.”

 At that moment it has been said that a great miracle took place. An arrogant and wealthy politician was transformed into a kind and humble servant for the poorest and most oppressed among his people.

Mindful Musings: Mar 19

“The Locksmith”

By: Forrest Rivers

skeleton key surround with dry leaves

Fear and selfishness

Unlock the gates of hell

Faith and service

Unlock the gates of heaven

You are the Locksmith:

Which of the two gates will you open?

Forrest Rivers is a writer and teacher who lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His new book, COVID-19 and Humanity’s Spiritual Awakening is now available on Amazon HERE.

Mindful Musings: Mar 16

“The King who Served for One Day”

By: Forrest Rivers

Once upon a time, there was a great king who after many years of intense meditation practice and reading the scriptures ascended to the throne in the wake of his father’s passing. On the afternoon of his first day in power the King called over his devoted assistant and said:

“Oh, beloved friend please bring before me the most impoverished couple in the kingdom.”

In no time at all the assistant appeared with an elderly couple wearing nothing but rags and carrying alms cups in their hands. The king felt great shame in his heart for his father’s dreadful neglect of the poor. He then locked eyes with the couple and said:

“Thank you for journeying all this way. How may I make my kingdom of service to you?”

The couple bowed and took two nervous steps forward in the king’s direction. The old woman then spoke:

“Your majesty we stand before you with great reverence. The truth is we work hard but we haven’t eaten in six days. We would simply ask for a respite from our grinding life of poverty. “

In a display of overflowing love, the king hugged the pair and gave them a year’s worth of food, brand new clothes and enough gold coins so they would never have to work a day in their lives again.  The couple cried tears of gratitude and then went on their way.

Later that same day the king once again called over his devoted assistant and said:

Oh, beloved friend please bring before me the two most diseased people in the kingdom.”

In no time at all the assistant appeared with one young man and one young woman who were groaning in agony. The king stared at the pair with deep compassion for their ill state of health and said:

Thank you for journeying all this way. How may I make my kingdom of service to you?”

The two bowed to the king as the young man spoke:

“Your majesty it is a great honor to be here in your presence. As you can see, we have both been robbed of our youth by this scourge of leprosy. We would love nothing more than to have our health restored.”

With overwhelming empathy for the pair’s suffering, the king summoned the best healers in the kingdom and set them upon the task of curing the two lepers. Within just three hours the healers gathered and successfully cured the pair of their disease right there before him in the palace. In disbelief, the two former lepers cried tears of joy and went on their way.

As dusk set upon the kingdom, the young but saintly king called over his devoted assistant once more and said:

“Oh, beloved friend please bring before me the two most oppressed people in the kingdom.”

In no time at all the assistant appeared with a middle-aged couple. They were visibly malnourished and had terrible scars from endless days of dangerous toil across their faces and arms. Recalling his own life of luxury, the king felt not only empathy for their suffering but disgust at the injustice they had endured under his father’s rule. The king stared at the couple and said:

“Thank you for journeying all this way. How may I make my kingdom of service to you?”

This time the pair of visitors fell down to their knees and began sobbing. The oppressed man spoke first:

“We have been beaten, starved and forced to toil in the mines. All we have known is great sadness and despair. “

The oppressed woman then spoke:

“After so many years of enslavement we are both resigned to our lot in life. All we ask is freedom for all our brothers and sisters who labor in servitude next to us. That is all we request.”

The king’s heart was so moved by the selfless words of the oppressed couple that he too dropped to his knees and said:

“May your wish be granted. At this moment I here by abandon my right of succession to the throne and turn over the kingdom to you two wise servants of the poor and downtrodden. May it fall upon you to end the enslavement of our people and restore justice across the land. And may your first decree as king and queen be to liberate all those humble souls who produce the wealth for this kingdom. “

In response to the King’s words, the oppressed couple began chanting sacred incantations to this great king of love and compassion. The king then left his final instructions to his assistant to introduce the new royal couple the following morning and show all the people proof of his seal of approval anointing them as his successors.

The next morning at the first crack of dawn, the now kingdom less king packed a bag full of food and supplies and set off by foot eight miles (about 13 KM) into the surrounding mountains to a storied peak where many seekers before him had gone in search of their enlightenment.  After a challenging four hour climb through the breathtaking pine forests he at last arrived at the top of the majestic mountain. The king walked over to the edge of the peak and looked off in awe at the glorious vistas ahead. He then sat down in the lotus position and began to meditate. But just as he began to close his eyes and tune in to his own breath, he heard an unknown but tender female voice surround him that spoke with the wisdom of the ages. This mysterious voice said:

“Thank you for journeying all this way. How can my kingdom be of service to you?”

Astounded, the king recognized the voice that repeated the question he had once asked as belonging to the mountain. Beaming with joy, the king then replied to the mountain’s familiar question:

“All of my life I have intuitively known that power and riches are not the measure of a man or of a life worth living. I have journeyed to your rarefied abode in search of the deepest wisdom.

After a long moment of silence, the wise mountain spoke once more:

“Great King, you have already discovered the deepest wisdom. When you alleviated the suffering of the poor couple you embodied the deepest wisdom. When you gathered all the kingdom’s best healers to cure the two lepers you embodied the deepest wisdom. And when you gave up your kingdom to the oppressed couple so that all the commoners could at once be free you embodied the deepest wisdom. Now that you have journeyed all this way I invite you to stay with me for a period of 45 days and 45 nights. On the 45th day a great surprise shall await you.”

And so, the king stayed on the mountain for the entire duration of 45 days and 45 nights and learned all the secrets of enlightenment from his new guru.

 Finally, on the 45th day two mysterious pilgrims arrived at the King’s cave that was located just below the summit of the majestic mountain. The pair appeared wearing head scarves to mask their true identities. The king silently motioned for them to sit down on the ground in front of him. The two pilgrims obliged his request and began to remove their scarves. To the king’s great surprise, the two people seated in front of him were the oppressed couple whom he had turned his kingdom over too six weeks before. The former oppressed woman then spoke:

“Noble one, we have journeyed here to confirm the rumors that a holy man truly lives atop this mountain. “

The former oppressed man then said:

“Now that we have confirmed that the rumors are true we humbly ask that you return to the kingdom and serve as spiritual advisor to our kingdom. The people have been released from their heavy bonds of servitude and what they now desire is to pursue the path of self-realization. You, Great King, can help lead them there. “

Overwhelmed with joy, the former king turned holy man enthusiastically accepted the royal couple’s offer. Before setting back off to the kingdom the following morning, the three esteemed guests of the mystical mountain spent the 45th evening of the king’s retreat in a soulful night of prayer. And as the three prayed together for the kingdom’s peace and good fortune, they each swore that they heard the voice of the mountain speak to them with these parting words:

“May your kingdom always be of service.”

Forrest Rivers is a writer and teacher who lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His new book, COVID-19 and Humanity’s Spiritual Awakening is now available on Amazon HERE.

Mindful Musings: Dec 31

“Eight Soulful New Year’s Resolutions Everyone can Achieve”

By: Forrest Rivers

monks beside green trees
  1. Start a daily meditation practice-Besides reducing anxiety and stress, meditation helps us deeply connect to our inner most spirit. It also helps break down the walls of separation that keeps us mired in illusion. There is no “correct” way to meditate but the best times to do so are either in the morning when you wake up or sometime in the evening after your day’s work is done.
  2. Volunteer in your community-Mystics of every faith have long celebrated the spirit of service as one of the surest paths to awakening. There are numerous opportunities to serve in this period of pandemic-related suffering. Volunteer at your local food bank, deliver groceries to the elderly, or enlist as a mentor.
  3. Set the intention to engage in at least one act of kindness each day-the benefit of this one is obvious. The world simply needs more kind people!
  4. Keep a daily gratitude journal-Each night before you go to bed write at least two to three things that you were grateful for in that day. You will immediately notice how this practice helps you adopt a more positive mindset
  5. Get out into nature at least 3-4 times per week—nature is the light that fills all darkness. In nature we can’t help but feel connected to the supreme source of living truth and wisdom. Go take a walk in your local city park, go hiking in the woods (if you have woods near to you) go swimming or paddling in the river or ocean.
  6. Find a creative outlet-Creative expression is the soul’s natural expression of joy and spiritual release. Learn an instrument, pick up a paintbrush or write some poetry while on a walk-in nature!
  7. Plant a Garden-Nothing says soulful like growing your own food and vegetables. Plus, gardening gets you outside and fosters a state of communion with the Earth like no other.
  8. Join a community(sangha or satsang) of spiritual seekers-The benefits of joining a spiritual community (even virtually) are many. The great and late spiritual teacher, Baba Ram Dass, said it best in his delightful book Be Love Now, when describing the beauty of his own sangha centered around the great Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba(also known as Mararajii:) “It’s as if Maharajji has been my father or mother forever, and the satsang, the circle of devotees, is a family of the heart that keeps coming and going, having reunions and going away. Over many lifetimes, we all have different guises and costumes and appear on stage in different scenes playing different characters. We’re all parts of the jigsaw puzzle of each other’s karma.”

Mindful Musings

“Five ways to Inwardly Evolve in these Troubled Times”

By: Forrest Rivers

The world is in a panic about the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this still-emerging global outbreak, schools and universities have either shut down or have been forced to shift to remote classes, government buildings have been shuttered, restaurants and bars have been closed indefinitely and many billions of people have been forced to self-quarantine amid an increasingly chaotic environment that has some questioning if we are witnessing the wide-scale collapse of our social orders.

There is no doubt that the human health threat of the Coronavirus is both real and alarming.

Perhaps just as concerning is the negative economic impact on the poor from all the forced closures and hits that the service industry has already endured. Adding to all the turmoil is a general climate of fear that has found its collective expression in panic-buying at grocery stores, massive unrest in global financial markets and extreme totalitarian measures being taken by governments around the world to contain the virus.

Fortunately, for us all, there are glimmers of hope that have emerged from this pandemic. If we can allow ourselves to be with what is, our response can provide us with ample and profound opportunities for spiritual growth.

5 ways to inwardly evolve in these troubled times


homeless person

Meaningfully contemplate death

A hallmark of any global pandemic is the media’s emphasis on the number of dead and dying. Undoubtably, the repetition of mounting death tolls from the disease can produce deep anxiety and fear among the global public. However, if we shift our perspective just a bit, the existential threat this virus now represents provides us all with a wonderful opportunity to confront our own fears of death.

Why is confronting this intrinsic fear so important? Many seekers within the Buddhist tradition believe that making peace with the inevitability of our own death is among the highest spiritual practices we can pursue. When we transcend our own fear of death, we unlock the sacred gate to live more freely and fully in the present moment. When we live more freely and fully, we follow our dharma and all of humanity benefits. This virus provides ample opportunity for such reflection.

Serve the elderly and the poor

Unquestionably, the rapid spread and fallout from COVID-19 presents a direct threat to the welfare of all global citizens. However, two very large demographics are at an especially heightened risk. Elderly people (those above 60 years old) and poor people are facing particularly difficult times. Due to their advancing age and weaker immune systems, the elderly are at a much higher risk of dying from this infection.

On the other hand, highly restrictive lockdown protocols by world governments have ground the world’s economy to a halt. It is the poor and working classes who have faced the brunt of economic shutdowns to contain the virus. Bartenders, restaurant and retail workers, flight attendants, custodial staff, small business owners and even many teachers are paying the price of our governments’ health measures through a wave of massive job layoffs and frightening financial insecurity that hasn’t been seen since the start of the Great Depression in 1929.

Now is a great time to rediscover our compassion as one people, and step up to alleviate the suffering of all those who are most vulnerable among us. Krishna, a God incarnate within the Hindu tradition, once counselled his beloved devotee, Arjuna, that karma Yoga (the spirit of selfless service) is among the surest paths to personal truth and enlightenment. Today, service to those who are vulnerable is imperative.

Reconnect with nature and art

In governments’ attempts to control the spread of COVID-19, the world has been advised to avoid large crowds and gatherings, stand six feet away from other people and self-quarantine at the immediate onset of symptoms.

In places like Italy and China (are Canada and the U.S. next?) citizens have even been forced by the military to remain confined in their homes, with the exception of trips to grocery stores or pharmacies. While social distancing is far from ideal (due to greater isolation and increased cases of depression), the time alone and away from work may wind up providing us with ample time to reconnect with the natural world and explore our creative outlets.

As a regular hiker and lover of the Earth, I have noticed how many more people have taken advantage of this forced period of isolation to take to the woods and explore the beauty of nature. As the capitalist machine grinds to a halt, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our Earth Mother emerges once more in the forefront of our awareness?

Social distancing also provides an ideal environment for self-reflection and the exploration of a plethora of creative outlets. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if the enforced solitude caused by this pandemic winds up breeding a renaissance of creative expression, the likes of which we have not seen since the hippie counterculture of the 1960s.

Recognize humanity’s sense of oneness

Since the turn of the new millennium, it seems like the human race has been deeply embroiled in sectarian conflicts, and has been hopelessly divided by ethnic, racial, religious, national and political divisions.

Much of humanity has forgotten that there is far more that unites us than that which separates us. As the wise Ram Dass once noted, “we are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.” The universal threat that COVID-19 presents to all human beings gives us a rare and beautiful opportunity to see past our superficial differences.

The existential fear this virus provokes is a powerful emotion that we all now share, regardless of what corner of the world we reside in. With this basic understanding comes a higher spiritual realization that we all share in one another’s suffering and joy, and that we are all tied together in a vast cosmic web.

This crisis may very well help us recover our sense of common humanity. If we can learn to adopt this perspective throughout these tumultuous times, the odds are good that we can also begin to identify and redress the very serious societal injustices that exist within our cultures when the scourge does finally pass.

Start a meditation practice

The anxiety that people, particularly the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, are feeling from this pandemic is understandable. However, what if the anxiety that many are rightfully feeling can be channelled into more positive ends that promote lasting and meaningful spiritual growth?

Enter the ancient Eastern practice of meditation. The extreme existential fear that we are now facing may inevitably lead many people to look within and seek some semblance of inner peace, amid the onslaught of a panic-driven media. The times are ripe for all of us to establish a daily meditation practice of stilling our minds, opening our hearts and surrendering to the present moment.

Further, the unique conditions of self-quarantining, coupled with a high-anxiety environment and unprecedented access to online meditation resources lends itself to the emergence of a ‘meditation evolution’ among the world’s populace.

A profound and inspiring movement towards inner peace and enlightenment could be one remarkable outcome of these trying times. And meditation could very well be the channel by which many seekers ascend into the higher states of planetary consciousness.