Mindful Musings

“An Encounter With the Spirit of Death”

By: Forrest Rivers(originally published on the mindfulword.org)

Two seekers of wisdom spent all day climbing a formidable mountain. After many hours of walking, the duo finally arrived at the summit, where they were greeted by an old mountain goat.

The two startled humans stared uneasily at the mighty being before them, and nervously shuffled backward. In turn, the mountain goat stared back at the pair with a look of amused bewilderment. The seekers grew exceedingly frightened and turned to run away. But before they could move, the mountain goat gently spoke to them through telepathy:

“Why do you have fear?”

The mountain goat conveyed feelings of great compassion through its inner voice, as it awaited a response from the still-terrified humans. After a few moments of stunned silence, the first seeker gathered up the courage to speak:

“Illustrious master, we feared for our lives. Your form is both wild and intimidating.”

The mountain goat warmly replied:

“But why did you fear for your lives at this very moment? Did you not just encounter the spirit of death all along your pilgrimage up to this hallowed peak? And did you not unknowingly stroll past a den of hungry bears and circumvent perilous cliffs on your way to this summit? Why did you not cower in fear then? One step closer to the den and you would’ve met the wrath of an imposing mama bear. One misstep along the rugged trail to the pinnacle and you would’ve plummeted to your death!”

The first seeker thought for a lengthy moment and then responded:

“I suppose we didn’t have fear in either case, because death didn’t seem imminent. We didn’t come face to face with a bear as we did with you. Nor did we fear the treacherous road up to this point because we’re seasoned climbers.”

The mountain goat pondered the first seeker’s words, and again replied:

“I see. But you still haven’t answered my initial question. Why do you have fear?”

A look of mild exasperation swept across the face of the first seeker, as they retorted:

“I think I answered that question already. We felt fear because we believed our lives were in immediate danger.”

The wise mountain goat looked firmly at the first seeker and said:

“You must learn not to fear death—imminent or not. No matter how hard you try to push your fear of it away, you’ll encounter it. “

The mountain goat paused for dramatic effect and then continued:

“I call your attention to a famous inscription on an old tombstone that reads: ‘Dear friend, please know as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now so you will be. Prepare yourself to follow me. ‘

What this inscription teaches is that rather than live in fear, it’s infinitely wiser to embrace death as part of the natural cycle—or way—of being. The degree to which you can consciously come to terms with this existential inevitability also determines the depth to which you live this life. “

The second seeker, who’d been silent, finally chimed in:

“Oh, venerable seer, my soul knows the truth in your wise words. But my mind is frightened at what lies beyond the end of the body. Please tell me, what is death and what’s in store for us beyond it?”

The mountain goat carefully gathered its thoughts before explaining:

“Death is, and death is not. Death is taking off the tight shoe. Death is the entrance into a world without beginning or end. Death is the continuance of a sacred cycle in which the soul drops the body and continues its quest to enlightenment. Death is the survival of pure awareness beyond the contours of the flesh. And death is the inner realm by which the soul reflects the light of its own luminous essence.

“Death is to reunite with the eternal Brahman and the one within all. Death is the entrance into the deepest realms of consciousness and where one goes interminably in preparation for rebirth in a new body. Death is a karmic bridge between the memories of yesterday and the promises of tomorrow. Death is to be fully present and clear of illusion. Death is to merge in complete union with the Eternal One—who alone is true.”

Monk and layman walking across bridge

The second seeker looked in awe at the mighty being before them, and asked:

“If death is all this, wise master, and elemental to the way of being, why are people in my own culture taught to fear it?”

The mountain goat fixed an emphatic gaze on both seekers and said:

“Delusion! People in your culture live in Delusion! Well maybe not all the people of … but surely those with any measure of influence and power. Your teachers and celebrities contribute to the cloud of delusion surrounding death. Your media spokesmen and politicians, too. And even your very parents … those inspiring souls who raised you with tender love through your innocent youth.

“However, none keep you more blind to death’s true nature than your high priests, rabbis and preachers. You see, here in the West, there’s a peculiar and arrogant tendency among your religious figures to attach their own fears and insecurities about death to their sermons and interpretations of scripture.”

The second seeker grew silent as they digested the sheer honesty of the mountain goat’s words. Finally, after a few moments of reflection, the first seeker spoke once again:

“Oh Noble One, how may we learn not to fear death?”

Before the mountain goat could reply, the second seeker quickly added:

“And how shall we, oh Illumined Being, come to accept death as part of the way?

The mountain goat stared lovingly at both seekers of wisdom and replied:

“What’s required now is for both of you to find the courage to prepare for the inevitability of your own deaths. Only through such preparation will you discover the truth of how to live right now. Be brave, learn how to sit still and meditate upon death. Make meditation a daily practice and come to study the sacred cycles of life and death in nature.

“Stroll through the woods in all four seasons and observe the unique qualities of each. Note the innocence of spring, the vitality of summer, the crispness of autumn and the stillness of winter. You’ll come to feel that each are beautiful, each are transcendent and each are interrelated. Finally, come to experience death not as an end but as a return to your purest essence.”

The wise seekers raised their heads up and looked reverently at their great teacher. The mountain goat bowed its head to both its disciples and suddenly transformed into a soaring eagle.

Both humbled aspirants burst into tears as they watched God’s first messenger fly above the enchanted blue mountain range and into the heavens. As the eagle flew out of sight, the last words that this soulful duo heard were:

Look within. Be free. Fear not the inevitable approach of death.”

 

Mindful Musings

 “The Self”

What are we?
Not atoms
Not molecules
Not compounds

Stardust we are
Fragments of an energy
Beyond the space of imagination

Perpetual motion
Products of Creative evolution
The forms of timeless seasons

The ultimate ground of being
Transcendent light illuminating
Green forests permeating
The depths of knowing….

We are all THAT
Nothing less
Nothing more

Climbing the mountain of consciousness
Is how wisdom is born.

Mindful Musings

Look to Bhagavad Gita as Inspiration in our War Against Ego”

image of hindu god  Krishna with cow, peacock , flute

By: Forrest Rivers

It is no longer a secret that western society is degenerating right before our very eyes. It appears that our bad collective karma (born from the seeds of unjust and immoral actions) has come home to roost. The Western world’s longstanding crusade to plunder the Earth through its predatory commercial schemes has set off a series of moral crisis’ that humanity has rarely seen. One could point their finger at the catastrophic onset of climate change, our feeble response to the COVID-19 crises, the rampant militarization of the globe, the collapse of our financial system, the shocking frequency of mass violent events and the worsening opioid drug epidemic to demonstrate our society’s troubled path. The signs of such an impending breakdown are becoming more obvious to us all. However, less obvious are the root causes and hopeful solutions for it.

More now than at any other juncture in recent history, the one thing that defines western culture is it’s glaring absence of spirit, love and wisdom. Put another way, Western civilization’s guiding ethos appears to be that of ego, division and ignorance. Bred by this society to all become complacent and narcissistic; the illusionary ideologies of consumerism and nihilism have been emphasized as natural expressions of our nature. Sadly, positive end goals for our species like universal humanitarianism, ecological unity and world peace are deemed impossible to attain. If we listen to our politicians and media talking heads speak, it can be tempting to give into the negativity that pervades the world today. However, If we all do as counterculture icon, Timothy Leary suggested we do a half-century ago when he famously said “turn on, tune in, drop out”, we might ignore all the negativity and intuitively recognize that  we, as one human family, are participants in a metaphysical  war of light and dark forces. The essence of those forces are spirit and ego.

Typically, when we hear the word “war”, we may think of a conquering army, innocent people killed or the awful images of physically and emotionally broken veterans returning home from battle. However, in metaphysical reality, the meaning of war deepens. Metaphysically speaking, one could interpret all worldly phenomenon as manifestations from the spiritual plane.  It is true that all attempts to interpret reality are decidedly personal and subjective. However, an argument could be made that we are all just actors in an incomprehensibly cosmic screen play (what Hindus call Lila). This belief, as many followers of Eastern religions espouse, points to a world where we have all been divinely assigned unique roles (in physical form) in accordance with our karma. We assume these roles in a way that reflects the present interaction of all contending forces in the Universe and their quest to achieve balance.

Of course, according to this same eastern worldview, no dueling forces in the cosmos are actually in any real conflict. Light and dark forces, good and evil energies as well as ego and spirit ONLY APPEAR to be in direct conflict to us from where we are standing. In our culture of “black and white” duality, we tend to dismiss the interconnected nature of seeming opposites. In reality, dark is needed to bring light; evil must be realized to know the meaning of good; one must first be ignorant to be wise and all of us must transcend the vanity of ego before we can taste the sparkling springs of living spirit. In a metaphysical sense, then, “war” is not strictly a conflict of polar forces that takes place outside ourselves. Rather, war is also a contest between the prevailing forces of nature WIITHIN ourselves as well. This “inner war” is akin to the kind described in the epoch Hindu text: The Bhagavad Gita. In that sacred book, the great warrior Arjuna, is encouraged to fight a spiritual “war within” by Krishna, his charioteer, guru and God incarnate in disguise. To be sure, the setting of the Gita takes place on an actual physical battlefield, but it becomes clear that the real theme of this story is the war within oneself.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the divine being of wisdom and compassion, instructs his faithful disciple Arjuna on how to achieve self-realization. From the onset of this incredibly beautiful and moving scripture, it is clear that Krishna equates the pursuit of self-realization with the surrender of one’s own ego before that spirit behind the forces of nature. Of course, Krishna represents one unique and perfect manifestation of that spirit in form. It is fitting, that Krishna encourages Arjuna to give up all selfish craving and focus his devotion on him:

“All those who take refuge in me, whatever their birth, race, sex, or caste, will attain the same goal; this realization can be attained even by those whom society scorns. Therefore, having been born in this transient and forlorn world, give all your love to me. Fill your mind with me; love me; serve me; worship me always. Seeking me in your heart, you will at last be united with me.” (Bhagavad Gita)

Arjuna represents the perfect disciple through his unwavering faith and devotion to Krishna. Yet, Krishna still cautions this great warrior about the pitfalls on the path to self-realization.  In order to break free from the hellish grip of ego, one must first learn how to still their mind through meditation and cultivate an attitude of detachment from the fruits of one’s actions.

On his first point, Krishna is crystal clear as to why all sincere spiritual aspirants should try to practice meditation…to achieve inner truth and peace:

“The Supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. Those who aspire to the state of Yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation. With body and mind controlled they should constantly practice one-pointedness, free from expectations and attachment to material possessions. When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the flame of a lamp in a windless place. In the still mind, in the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself. Beholding the Self by means of the Self, an aspirant knows the joy and peace of complete fulfillment.” (Bhagavad Gita)

On Krishna’s second point, he explains to Arjuna that devoting one’s life to the path of selfless service (Karma yoga) is both the highest calling of mankind and the surest path to self-realization.  In order to selflessly serve and fulfill one’s “dharma” or divine plan, all serious men and women on the spiritual path must first renounce the fruits of their actions. In other words, all beings must learn to act without expectation of worldly rewards or acknowledgments:

“Every selfless act, Arjuna, is born from Brahman, the eternal, infinite Godhead. Brahman is present in every act of service. All life turns on this law. Those who violate it, indulging the senses for their own pleasure and ignoring the needs of others, have wasted their life. You have the right to work, but never to the fruits of work. The ignorant work for their own profit, Arjuna, the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves. Perform all work carefully, guided by compassion.” (Bhagavad Gita)

As a culture we cling to all the external pleasures of the world that Krishna warned Arjuna about. The game of today…is wealth, power and fame. We play it to enhance our image and name. Sadly, our culture’s obsession with pursuing selfish materialistic desires just winds up creating more suffering for the world.  When you remove a sense of the sacred from life and assign it a commercial value what deeper elements remain? If the world’s rain forests disappear and endangered species go extinct, who cares? So long as western logging and mining corporations maximize profits and more wealthy businessmen grow richer. Likewise, who cares if one million civilians die from another senseless war? So long as the pockets of national leaders and oil investors’ grow fatter the horrors of war are justified. Finally, who cares if thousands of young men and women die on the streets from opioid overdoses? So long as there is money to be made off others’ addictions, we will continue to look the other way.

Fortunately, for us all, Krishna cares! Deep down, I believe we all do too! Like all great saints from every spiritual tradition, Krishna’s message is one of peace and personal transcendence. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna hands us the very spiritual weapons we will need to successfully wage war on our egos. In the end, is it really too much to ask for everyone to practice mindfulness and act selflessly? All of us are far more capable of evolving in the spirit of oneness than we give ourselves credit for!

 

Author Bio:

Forrest Rivers is a lover of the Earth and author of the book: The Hippie Revival and Collected Writings(https://www.amazon.com/Hippie-Revival-Collected-Writings/dp/1515396959). He lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Feel free to reach out to Forrest through email: forrestrivers4@gmail.com or leave a message on his website: forrestrivers.com

 

 

 

Mindful Musings

Our Collective Moment of Awakening Has Arrived

By: Forrest Rivers

(Originally published on the mindfulword.org)

Amid all the fearful media coverage and chaos surrounding the current COVID-19 pandemic lies a hidden truth that is just beginning to come to light: from a spiritual perspective, the current health crisis is something of a collective blessing in disguise.

Let me explain. While the world has been hit hard with both existential and economic catastrophes, something beautiful beneath the surface has emerged… unity and compassion.

Exposing societal injustice


Statue head covered in bandages

On the surface, it might appear that mounting death tolls (particularly, among the elderly and those with per-existing conditions) and runaway unemployment have, so far, defined the narrative of this virus’s fallout.

However, what has not been adequately accounted for by the media is the fact that this ordeal has pulled us all closer together. For the first time since possibly the Second World War, the whole of humanity has been forced to confront the painful truth that ignorance, intolerance, hate and greed wind up producing terrible effects for all inhabitants of this glorious planet.

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed societal injustices that have many re-questioning the values that are guiding humanity. For example, in countries like America, the health crisis has made it crystal-clear that the needs of living, breathing people should be placed before the profit of a wealthy few.

Basic social benefits that most industrialized nations enjoy, like comprehensive paid sick leave and universal health care, have long been absent in the United States. This is due to the fact that the U.S. government has long prioritized the political and economic interests of corporations over the well-being of its own citizens.

Gratefully, all of this is starting to change. In only one month (since the outbreak of the virus in North America), the number of ordinary Americans and politicians demanding the implementation of both programs has increased.

It now seems more likely than ever that paid sick leave and universal health care will become permanent fixtures in the U.S. system, long after the crisis ends. This is a positive move in the direction of a kinder and gentler society.

Caring for others


penguin feeding chick

There is further evidence of our globe’s growing unity and compassion in response to the crisis

It has been widely reported that numerous retired doctors and nurses in the United States, Canada and Europe have been coming out of retirement to courageously put their lives at risk in service of their fellow brethren. Clearly, many medical professionals are taking their Hippocratic Oath seriously. Thank you to those brave souls.

In several U.S. and Canadian cities, such as Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, Oregon, groups of private citizens have even begun organizing to provide health care and shelter to the homeless in response to the pandemic.

Portland’s Jupiter Hotel has gotten in on the act of caring for this highly marginalized group by donating several of its rooms for the homeless to self-quarantine in. Numerous reports have also begun to surface, in both the mainstream and alternative presses, that donations to local food banks and pantries have seen substantial increases since the start of government-mandated shutdowns of businesses.

This is encouraging news that sparks the hope that we may soon shift from a mindset of ‘consumer hoarding’ of essential foodstuffs and supplies to that of giving what we don’t need in this time of mass suffering. As the pandemic continues to unfold, it is inevitable that further inspiring acts of love and kindness will be on display for us all to point to and say, “See, there are signs that we are growing in our loving awareness.”

The Hindus have long believed that the entire Cosmos moves in a perpetual cycle between dark ages (those defined by ego, discord, quarrel and contention) and ages of enlightenment in which spirit, unity, compassion and faith in our divine nature prevail.

It is entirely possible that we are in the initial stages of a planetary shift in consciousness, from such a dark age to one of enlightenment. (The Hindus believe we are still in a dark age that they call the Kali Yuga, although the approximate start and end date of this era are debated by Hindu scholars.) If this is so, the current health crisis is not some cruel twist of fate or a cosmic ‘hiccup,’ but it has karmically appeared to jolt us out of our egotism and heartless complacency.

Despite the huge and tragic loss of life left in its wake, COVID-19 may well become regarded as one of our light posts on the path of a collective awakening. Perhaps, the age of enlightenment that Hindus allude to is just around the corner. All we have to do is awaken enough to recognize the signs.

 

 

Mindful Musings

“The Master and his Student”

A disciple approached his master and asked:
“Venerable One, what is Emptiness?”
The master smiled warmly and pointed his finger
At jagged snow capped peaks off in the distance
The disciple bowed and began walking
In the direction of the glorious mountains
Then suddenly, he froze in terror as a mighty cougar
Crossed his path
The disciple shot a frightful look at his master
Who now calmly stood, pointing his finger at the wild being
After a few tense moments, the cougar slowly walked away
And the master lowered his finger
Bewildered, the disciple inquired of the sage once more:
“But I thought you said the mountains were emptiness?
How can the cougar be it, too?”
The master smiled and again pointed his finger
But this time at his disciple’s feet
The disciple looked down, and then back up
Only to see the same cougar cross his path again.
He turned in horror and ran as fast as his feet would carry him!
When the cougar was finally out of sight, the disciple stopped to catch his breath
And attained instant enlightenment!