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The best photographs tell a story rather than merely recording the scene. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how do you tell a good story, photographically? It’s not that easy to do, and many images fail to ignite the interest of the viewer because they lack a strong point of view, are poorly composed or somehow don’t express what the photographer found interesting. In other words, they fail to convey the story.

Many years ago I took a few specialized photo workshops, because for a brief time, I was intending to go down the path of photojournalism as my career. Those classes turned out to be very useful, as I learned how to think in terms of “the story.” I had to create a series of images, as well as find a way to tell a story with just one image. Who would’ve guessed that this would help me in nature photography?

Although, as photographers, we don’t employ the exact “who, what, when, where and why” concept that I learned in school for writing stories, we need to ask the same questions when creating a narrative image. A photograph can contain the who (subject), what (the action), where (sense of place), when (time of day or season) and even a why. As a photographer, it’s your job to determine what the story might be and find a way to present it in as compelling a way as possible. If you use this same thought process as writers do, you can create a more complete narrative in your composition.

Find the story in the landscape

Even a landscape picture tells a story. Begin by first figuring out what inspires you in the location. What makes the location unique? Try to establish what you want to express in the photograph. Then, look for a point of view that brings out your vision in the strongest way. Use any visual clues that help to express the story:

The lead photo from this chapter in the book

Is there a process of nature, or some detail that’ll express the story strongly? What elements don’t help the story that I may need to exclude? And is it the big picture, a small one, or a detail that tells the story better?

If the story isn’t obvious, it should at least cause the viewer to question the image. For example, in the lead photo of this chapter, the story is about the polished rock. With its unusual shape, the rock stands out, and the image is a compelling landscape composition, but if you don’t know geology, you won’t get the story that’s presented here right off. But you will ask yourself, why’s that piece of rock smooth and others around it rough? What’s going on here that makes this piece stand out? The photo may inspire you to search for the answer to these questions.

Capture the telltale moments

In a storytelling photograph, any gesture or action is an important element that can enhance the story being told. Sometimes, the action is the story, with the rest of the scene supporting it. Not every photograph you make has to have action, though; many nature photographs simply celebrate the passive beauty that nature offers up to us. But in a narrative image, where you’re trying to tell us something more than “isn’t this a pretty place,” gesture and/or action can enhance the story and make a big impact.

If there’s no animal or bird or exploding volcano to create action, look for other things that can imply gesture. The blurred water in a stream can be considered gesture. Dark clouds caught in the act of swirling overhead, rainbows and the splash on a rock from a little wave are all gestures that bring your stories to life.

Find the action

In photographs where animals are involved, there can be a key moment or gesture that becomes the main storyline. Getting the timing right to capture the moment when a whale breaches or a bird catches a fish is essential to telling the story.

Mother and child zebra necking - Expressive nature photographyIt’s important to look for clues that tell the viewer something about the animal’s behaviour or how it interacts with its environment. The way zebras neck, for example, tell us that they’re very social animals. Whales lunge-feeding tell us how these giants eat in the ocean, and a jackal making off with a piece of a zebra tells us not only what jackals eat, but how they provide for one another.

It’s important to look for clues that tell the viewer something about the animal’s behaviour or how it interacts with its environment.

Animals experience fight-or-flight situations, run, play and engage in other activities that are amazing to watch and to photograph. These animal stories aren’t unlike those of the human condition: The animals eat and sleep, and many express a bond and show nurturing to which we respond emotionally.

Portraits of animals, or what I like to call “trophy headshots,” don’t express stories. They’re simply a study of a wonderful animal or bird. These do tell us about the subjects, in the sense of their features—such as the long bill on a honeycreeper that allows it access to the deep parts of a flower, or the markings on a butterfly wing that make it look like a huge eye to avoid predation.

But even in a headshot, you may find gesture. It may be the direct contact of the wolf’s eyes, staring right through you; or, if the animal barks or yawns, you have gesture and you’ve managed to photograph the moment of that gesture.

Gesture and moments of action simply add more expressive qualities to the picture. Look for those: Is there a moment that’ll express a story strongly?

Moments of nature aren’t just about the actions of animals or birds or humans. Lightning, rainbows, glaciers calving, sun rays striking the land through openings in the clouds—these are all moments of nature expressing itself, and special moments to experience and photograph.
Glacier calving - Expressive nature photography
«RELATED READ» “SELFIE” PHENOMENON: Photos have become a creation of the self rather than an extension of the self»

images: Brenda Tharp
Original author: Contributor
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The sangha is practicing in the Lower Hamlet, Plum Village during the Spring Retreat. We begin this March 19, 2006 dharma talk with 18-minutes of chanting by the monks and nuns followed by a dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh.

We need to be nourished by joy and happiness in our daily life. Breathing in, I feel the joy. Breathing out, I am nourished by happiness. The practice is to know how to generate joy and happiness. How is this possible? We have the sangha and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Joy is born from the awareness that happiness is possible. Whether you practice alone or you practice with a sangha, you should be aware of the positive elements around us. But with a sangha, it is easier and we have the energy of the sangha. With a sangha, we can practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings much better.

What is the difference between joy and happiness?

Thay shares a story of a meeting with a San Francisco Chrinicle journalist. With each journalist, Thay always invites them to practice mindfulness before the interview so they can write a good article that can help many people by watering the seeds of joy. To write with compassion. Every article can be a practice.

Practitioners of meditation should get the right nourishment every day – joy and happiness. They are there already. How do we water these seeds? Walking meditation is one method.

Mindful consumption and the Four Kinds of the Nutriments (from the sutra, “The Son’s Flesh“). Collective decisions in a sangha can help protect us from unmindful consumption because we practice together. No effort. It’s wonderful. Compassion can protects us. And compassion is born from understanding. Understanding is born when you can listen and look deeply. And by consuming understanding and compassion, we can live a more healthy and happy life. And know how to nourish this understanding and compassion.

If you are able to support this project financially, please visit our account on Patreon where you can make a donation for as little as $1 per dharma talk.

The post Conscious Breathing is Nourishing appeared first on Thich Nhat Hanh Dharma Talks.

Original author: Chan Niem Hy
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Surely, to go far, you must begin very near, but to begin near is very difficult for most of us because we want to escape from “what is”, from the fact of what we are. Without understanding ourselves, we cannot go far, and we are in constant relationship; there is no existence at all without relationship. So relationship is the immediate, and to go beyond the immediate, there must be the understanding of relationship. But we would much rather examine that which is very far away, that which we call God or truth, than bring about a fundamental revolution in our relationship, and this escape to God or to truth is utterly fictitious, unreal. Relationship is the only thing we have, and without understanding that relationship we can never find out what reality is or God is. So, to bring about a complete change in the social structure, in society, the individual must cleanse his relationship, and the cleansing of relationship is the beginning of his own transformation.
The Collected Works vol VI pp 137    
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butterfly morph photographyI speak on behalf of young girls and women as I write these words about what I see happening in the world today. Every cell in my being objects to the conditioning by poor role models who represent what it supposedly means to be female and who resist the natural process of aging.

True, on a spiritual level, we’re all ageless. And, on a physical level, regardless of age, we’re sexual beings. It’s also true that sexuality and femininity shouldn’t be cut off by a certain age simply because society finds it taboo and persecutes us for being sexually liberated.

But there’s a huge difference between these truths and the celebrity-endorsed practice of denying the aging process by trying to look 21 at 60. Major celebrities don’t seem to understand that when you’re in a position of influence and power, you have a responsibility as a role model. They turn their backs on women and youth when they damn the process of physically aging.

You’re causing great hurt

The sad truth for these ladies is this: Yes, you can have the best plastic surgery, you can have the best stylists, and you can afford every possible product or procedure available to transform the skin. But if you’re doing this as an act of self-hatred, you’re hurting women and girls. You’re also hurting boys and men, and you’re hurting the Earth, which is energetically feminine. You’re mentally polluting the environment with the toxicity of your self-hatred and body-hatred. On the other hand, the body is acting from a place of love when it embraces change with grace, humility and respect.

The body is acting from a place of love when it embraces change with grace, humility and respect.

Taking care of yourself and maintaining a positive self-image are important things to focus on, especially if you’re a public figure. No one questions that. But when self-hatred and self-denial lead you down a path of polluting others’ beliefs through your career, that’s when your influence hurts others.

The adage stating that in order “to love others, you must love yourself first,” stems from the fundamental idea that how we treat others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves. When celebrity role models reject the process of aging and demonize the beauty and wisdom that come along with it, they’re rejecting and hurting themselves and, as such, all women and men—including their own daughters and sons.

You steal light from the youth

Once upon a time, this was acceptable because people were used to denying, destroying and butchering themselves. Today, in the Golden Age of a much higher consciousness, though, the young and the wise don’t find this behaviour acceptable, and won’t buy into the lie.

When you try to look 21 at 60, you steal light from the youth. Young girls deserve to enjoy their time in the sun. It’s their rite of passage. It’s their time to embrace and cherish each moment. It’s a blessing not to be gazed at with envy, but with appreciation. Girls don’t deserve to have to compare themselves, or have themselves compared to, a 60-year-old (or vice versa).

Feminists may argue that it’s sexist to say a 60-year-old must act or look “her age.” That’s not my point. I just don’t like seeing role models glamourize and support self-hatred, polluting the minds of youth and other individuals in society with their corrupt values. This has a deep and drastic effect on the mental health of others.

The soul shines brighter as we age

old woman smilingFrom a spiritual perspective, there’s one major reason to want to age gracefully with humility, acceptance and beauty:

You want the soul to shine more beautifully and become freer as you get older. As the body ages, the soul shines brighter. It knows it’s nearing its time to go, so it brings forth as much love, beauty and wisdom as possible to help “drop the body” when it’s time. This process is deterred by self-imposed mental illness when a person traps the soul in a state of attachment to the physical body, and the addiction to youthful appearance (which differs from simple hygiene or taking good care of yourself) prevents the flowering stage of inner beauty from coming to fruition. It’s inner beauty that takes you to G’d at the end of your life—not self-hatred.

It’s harmful when powerful, influential people project negative impressions about aging onto their followers, or onto the public in general. It’s highly ignorant, caustic and irresponsible.

It’s a woman’s spiritual role, as a “way-shower,” to help other girls and women transition from birth to death. All women have this responsibility. For instance, many of us have grandmothers and great-grandmothers who can guide us towards aging with wisdom and grace. We’re denied this guidance, however, when older women continue to act like our best friends in high school, dating boys our own age; or act as if they’re in competition with us, trying to rob us of our light and right to shine.

The inevitable passage of life

This issue is deeper than social taboos or whether it’s fair that men have certain privileges that women don’t. Today, I’m concerned about our roles as women when it comes to helping other women transition through various passages of life.

Sadly, when the 21-year-old woman trapped in a 60-year-old body becomes 80 years old, she’ll realize that while she could transform her skin in any way she chose, she couldn’t prevent the totality of her body from diminishing in a variety of other ways. She won’t be able to hide that fact anymore. From the window of her eyes, she’ll look out at her hands and “wake up” to say, “My G’d, I’m a prisoner inside my body.”

So, the great question is this: Do you want to become a prisoner of your own body? Or do you want to prepare yourself to be Free?

This may seem like a frightening proposition, but it’s one I’d be sure to consider seriously, while making an effort to allow myself to age with love and the expression of inner beauty.

«RELATED READ» THE BOOK OF SHE: Your Heroine’s Journey into the Heart of Feminine Power [book review]»

When she’s not making films, she’s making word-pictures. Ji Strangeway is a director, writer, poet and executant of the ineffable. Made in Laos, former resident of New York, and creating in Los Angeles, she’s on the web at www.jistrangeway.com.
image 1. via Pixabay 2. Daniel Dutkowski “portrait old woman in Bulgaria” via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Original author: Contributing Writer
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“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.”  – commonly attributed to the Buddha
Young woman joyfully climbing rocks - The energy of yesA resounding YES is a mighty, magical thing.

Commitment to a decision shoots positive vibrations throughout the body and buzzes in the heart. This wild energy of YES creates change, but change—even a small change—can be scary, exhausting and triggering. Even when we want positive and new experiences in our lives, most of us still fear change. Ultimately, it’s a fear of death that keeps us saying no; the fear that we’ll never again have what we’re leaving, even though what we say yes to may possibly bring happiness and new energy to our life. We’re more afraid of loss than we are of gain.

A frightening yes and a safe no

Four years ago, I stood shuddering on the divide between a frightening YES and a safe NO. One of my dreams was to open a healing centre and retail boutique. I’d thought about doing this for over 15 years. But the fear in my mind had always won the internal war as I spat out a stream of endless NOs.

NO! I don’t have the money to spare.

NO! I don’t have a perfectly clear business plan (as there was no market for this industry).

NO! I don’t want to fail.

But there was a twitch in my gut that wouldn’t settle down. This feeling told me to go deeper and explore the root issues that were at play. What did NO really mean to me? After time and reflection, I realized that resisting my dreams was really me staying stuck in my low self-esteem. If I didn’t take the risk, I wouldn’t have to face the failure or prove myself wrong with success.

I decided I needed to spend some time thinking about what YES might bring—how saying yes might change my life, as well as the way I relate to and value myself. In this meditative space, I dreamed about the possibilities.

Did the community want this and also need this? YES.

Would I survive as a person if the business failed? YES.

Do I trust myself to work hard and give it my best? YES.

The healing centre opened in the fall of 2014. It has sustained itself financially since day one and has provided myself and the city with a strong sense of community and connection. I’ve never regretted the decision.

Tune in to the solar plexus

The conflicting energies of YES and NO can be felt, known and separated. Absorb your focus into the body between the collar and pubic bones. This is the core energy centre of the Solar Plexus Chakra. It’s the energy centre from where our self-esteem, identity and self-value comes. It’s the place from which we build trust in ourselves and exert our healthy ego.

Imagine being asked an important question and answering with a strong, loud YES. Now imagine responding with an equally strong NO.

Feel the difference in your body? In your energy and emotion?

An honest YES feels fantastic and kinetic. A true and resounding YES feels like forward movement. You may even feel a tug in your heart or gut. A NO can feel heavy, perhaps a feeling of withdrawal as the energy shrivels and then stops the flow. As a response to fear, NO is a protective intuition, but unchecked, it scares us away from following dreams, taking on challenges and opening our hearts.

Is that NO a rational alarm protecting you from real peril? Or an irrational fear keeping you from enhancing your life?

Practice listening to your intuition

Statue of woman thinking - The energy of yesPractice distinguishing between your mind and your core identity, your intuition. If you’re someone who says “I think” in response to questions, you may be too much in your head. Instead answer with “I feel” and watch what happens. Connect with what your higher self knows instead of the fear-based story your mind wants you to believe.

Connect with what your higher self knows instead of the fear-based story your mind wants you to believe.

The more we practice listening to ourselves and following our gut, our intuition and our dreams, the more we strengthen our willpower and determination. Strength grows by applying strength. Courage is what shepherds us into new possibilities and happiness.

YES demands a leap outside the pampered comfort zone. It asks you to put your fears and your past regrets aside just long enough for you to reach out and embrace the unbridled (and perhaps unfamiliar) possibility of joy. Fear paralyzes you in a space that’s easy, but lifeless. To move beyond this stifling, suffocating fear is to go deep into your body and silence the trepidation and worry. We can achieve this with mindful presence.

Showing up to your fears and difficult emotions is as simple as sitting down and being quiet. Stillness allows time and space for the often suppressed emotions to come forward. As thoughts and emotions surface, we don’t need to chase them away, but instead give them a safe place to just be. This space allows us to trust ourselves and own our authentic feelings, as well as learn how to listen and tame the chatter of the mind.

When was the last time you said YES to something you were excited about? A YES teeming with sparkle and spirit? A YES that moved you forward?

That last YES you shouted still holds healing, happiness and growth. Draw from it now as you sit and be present, as you listen for guidance and stay open to possibilities.

Use your own judgment

You don’t have to say YES to everything. NO is a reasonable answer to something not right for you. But realize that NO doesn’t resolve personal issues such as time management, self-care or deeper intimacy in relationships. NO can be an excuse to cover fear. It’s up to you to discern if the next move is one that deserves action or a pass.

Ask yourself why you’re slamming on the brakes. Is it a rational reason? Or are you afraid of change?

Next time you’re faced with a difficult or exciting decision, pause before you answer and investigate what YES might inspire. Take a mindful moment to explore your emotions and intuition. Listen for the answer deep inside your body, not just in your mind.

YES energizes and motivates. YES green-lights a move forward to find joy and connectedness.  Could this be the season of YES for you?

«RELATED READ» MAKE A CHOICE AND MOVE FORWARD: Uncertainty can dictate outcomes, for better or worse»

image 1: Pexels; image 2: A woman thinking via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons BY-SA)
Original author: Contributor
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Self-knowledge is not according to any formula. You may go to a psychologist or a psychoanalyst to find out about yourself, but that is not self-knowledge. Self-knowledge comes into being when we are aware of ourselves in relationship, which shows what we are from moment to moment. Relationship is a mirror in which to see ourselves as we actually are. But most of us are incapable of looking at ourselves as we are in relationship, because we immediately begin to condemn or justify what we see. We judge, we evaluate, we compare, we deny or accept, but we never observe actually ‘what is’, and for most people this seems to be the most difficult thing to do; yet this alone is the beginning of self-knowledge.
The Collected Works vol IX p 137    
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silhouette of two people shouting at each other

The ability to stay positive is one of the first things to go when we’re going through tough times. Most of us get overwhelmed with the negativity of the situation and find ourselves in a “drama” that takes over our lives, leaving us drained, depleted and feeling hopeless about life and its possibilities.

But it’s actually when we’re at our worst, our most hopeless, that we need to rally and bring out the positive forces in spades! To help you do so, here are five simple ways to stay positive no matter what you’re going through in life.

Watch yourself from outside

Step outside yourself and become the observer. Watch yourself as if you’re in a movie and you’re the main character. This’ll help you detach from your situation, which may allow you to see possible solutions to your problem/struggle that you can’t see when you’re in the thick of it.

Put yourself in another’s shoes

When we’re in conflict with others, we tend to see it from our side only, and we can be stubborn about that. However, if you’re able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you may be surprised at what you find. When you can see the pain, the struggle and the difficulties they’re going through—even if, from your perspective, they’re the crankiest, grumpiest, most miserable and awful person in the world—you may be able to relate to that pain.

This is one of the hardest things to do, because we really don’t want to feel any empathy for those we feel are hurting us. But once you’re able to understand their pain, you may be able to feel empathy, or at least sympathy, for them. If not, then at least you can feel relief because you don’t have their pain to deal with!

Examine your “glass”

Is your glass half-empty, half-full or always filling up? I have an acquaintance who’s what I call a “reluctant healer.” She really has trouble letting go of her pain, her dramas and her fights, and you’ll be hard-pressed to hear her say anything in a positive manner.

When we’re afraid to change, it’s amazing what excuses we can find to keep ourselves from changing!

She ended up needing both her knees replaced last year, and even as she was healing and her knee pain was being significantly reduced, she could never admit that it was a good thing. She’d only admit that it was a good thing after prompting.

Do you want to be known as the “reluctant healer,” or do you want to be the one who’s consistently positive, looking for solutions and expressing gratitude for every experience and opportunity to heal? When we’re afraid to change, it’s amazing what excuses we can find to keep ourselves from changing!

Don’t push your pain away 

When we’re feeling pain or discomfort—whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual—we tend to separate ourselves from the pain. We push it away, as if it’s the enemy. Yet, how many times have we heard people who’ve gone through incredible struggles admit that if it weren’t for those struggles, they wouldn’t have gotten where they are today, discovered that inner strength of theirs or achieved their amazing accomplishments?

Embrace the challenges, the pain and the discomfort. Give it a big hug and send it love. Don’t make it the enemy. The only enemy is that voice within that tells us to give up, to be a victim, to let the world define who we are instead of deciding that for ourselves.

Find humour in disaster 

Most likely, in five years, you’ll be laughing at your current problem. Why not move that timeline up to now? Nothing feels better than to be able to laugh at something that’s causing you pain and drama. It’s not about being cold and callous and ignoring the pain, but a smile and a laugh can really lighten up the mood and energy in serious, tough situations.

The ability to turn a conflict situation around and make it a win-win for you and all involved is one of the most exciting, thrilling and rewarding achievements a person can experience. Not only will it make your life a happier place, it’ll be one step towards making the whole world a better place!

«RELATED READ» CONSCIENTIOUS DECISION-MAKING: Being effective when stress shuts you down»

Martha Moore, CPA, MBA is a transformational life coach and founder of The Free Spirit Project, LLC. As a life coach, she’s known for her unique style of no-nonsense and insightful guidance. She started her career almost 30 years ago, receiving her MBA and practicing as a CPA for several years, before following her heart to travel the world. Now settled in Colorado, for the past 15 years she has devoted her life to helping others discover the joy of following their own hearts and uncovering the courage, strength and passion within.
image 1. Pixabay
Original author: Contributing Writer
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Relationship is the mirror in which we can see ourselves as we are. All life is a movement in relationship. There is no living thing on earth which is not related to something or other. Even the hermit, a man who goes off to a lonely spot, is related to the past, is related to those who are around him. There is no escape from relationship. In that relationship which is the mirror in which we can see ourselves, we can discover what we are, our reactions, our prejudices, our fears, depression, anxieties, loneliness, sorrow, pain, grief. We can also discover whether we love or there is no such thing as love. So we will examine the question of relationship because that is the basis of love.
Mind Without Measure p 79    
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To live is to be related. So I have got to understand it and I have got to change it. I have to find out how to bring about a radical change in my relationship, because, after all, that produces wars; that is what is happening in this country between the Pakistanis and the Hindus, between the Muslim and the Hindu, between the Arab and the Jew. So there is no way out through the temple, through the mosque, through Christian churches, through discussing Vedanta, this and that and the other different systems. There is no way out unless you, as a human being, radically change your relationship.
Now the problem arises: How am I to change, not abstractly, the relationship that is now based on self-centred pursuits and pleasures?
The Collected Works vol XVI pp 34-35    
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Be still!—and KNOW,—I AM,—GOD.

The Impersonal Life by Joseph Benner front cover - Finding

If you’ve learned to “Be Still,” if you’ve studied and meditated upon this “I” as God within you, if you’re able to distinguish it from the personal I, and are conscious at times of being able to step outside, as it were, of your personality and view your human self as it is, see all its petty faults and weaknesses, its base selfishness, its animal appetites and passions, its childish desires and foolish pride and vanities;

If you can do all this and have seen these things with clear vision, know that at those moments you’ve been One with Me in consciousness, that it was your Real Self, I within you, permitting you thus to see with My eyes the Reality of things.

At those moments you were freed from your personality and were dwelling in My Consciousness, call it Cosmic, Universal, Spiritual or Impersonal Consciousness, as you will; for you couldn’t have seen these things in your self excepting through Impersonal eyes, My eyes.

Again, if you’ll look back you’ll recall many times when you felt strongly impelled to do certain things, some of which you did, with perfect results; others of which you argued against, your intellect reasoning you into different action, and always with failure, disappointment or suffering as a result.

This impelling consciousness was only your Real Self, I within you, at such moments guiding you, distinctly telling you what to do. At those moments you were hearing with your Spiritual ears, My ears, and when you Impersonally obeyed, success and satisfaction followed, but when you personally thought you knew better, discomfiture, regret and unhappiness resulted.

Again, there have been moments when you’ve felt approaching events, or the nearness of unseen persons, or inharmonious vibrations when contacting others.

This is only the real you feeling with your Spiritual or Impersonal Body, whose consciousness, did you but know it, is ever on the alert to protect and warn and advise you regarding all outer things, conditions and events.

But the best and surest way you may know Me is when Selfless Love fills your heart, and there’s a strong, compelling urge to help someone, to heal their ills, to relieve their suffering, to bring them happiness, to point out the True Way—that’s the actual feel of Me within you, pushing the personality aside, using your mind and body for the purpose I created them, as avenues for the expression of My Real Nature, which is Perfect Love, the Christ of God, the one, vitalizing, quickening, life-giving, strengthening, healing, all-supplying, all-informing Power in the Universe.

Mother holding sick baby - Finding meAll this is pointed out to you in order to impress upon you that it is I, in your Spiritual body, the Perfect body within, where I dwell, Who am always thus talking to you, advising you, teaching you, warning and helping you, in all the affairs of life; yes, in every little detail.

And if you’ll but turn to Me, and will carefully watch for and study these impressions which you’re receiving every moment, and will learn to trust them, and thus to wait upon and rest in Me, putting all your faith in Me, verily I’ll guide you in all your ways, I’ll solve for you all your problems, make easy all your work, and you’ll be led among green pastures, beside the still waters of life.

Ah, My child, if you’ll spend but one-tenth of the time and energy you’ve wasted in seeking without among the husks of human knowledge and human teachings, in earnest, determined efforts directed within to find Me;

If you’ll devote but one hour each day thus to Me alone, imagining and practicing the Presence of Me within you;

I here promise you that you’ll not only soon, very soon find Me, but I’ll be to you an exhaustless fount of such Wisdom and Strength and Help, as your human mind now can’t possibly conceive.

Yes, if you’ll but seek Me thus, making Me first in your life, never resting until you do find Me, it won’t be long before you’ll become conscious of My Presence, of My Loving Voice, speaking constantly from out the depths of your heart.

And you’ll learn to come to Me in Sweet Communion, and gradually you’ll find yourself abiding in My consciousness, and that My Word is abiding in you, and that whatever you desire will in seemingly miraculous ways be done unto you.

«RELATED READ» SPARK OF THE SOUL: The wisdom of mystic Meister Eckhart»

American mystic Joseph S. Benner (1872-1938) was one of the most thoughtful and impactful contemplative voices to emerge from the metaphysical culture of the 20th century. His books, particularly The Impersonal Life, have inspired a wide range of New Thought authors, and continue to be widely read today.

The Impersonal Life by Joseph Benner front cover - Finding Excerpted from The Impersonal Life: The Classic of Self-Realization by Joseph S. Benner, published by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017.
image 1: Pixabay; image 2: Kourtlyn Lott (Creative Commons BY-ND)
Original author: Contributor
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Relationship has true significance only when it is a process of self-revelation, when it is revealing oneself in the very action of relationship. But most of us do not want to be revealed in relationship. On the contrary, we use relationship as a means of covering up our own insufficiency, our own troubles, our own uncertainty. So relationship becomes mere movement, mere activity. I do not know if you have noticed that relationship is very painful, and that as long as it is not a revealing process, in which you are discovering yourself, relationship is merely a means of escape from yourself.
The Collected Works vol V p 230    
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Twenty-three years after its original publication, the popular New World Library book Neither Wolf nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, by acclaimed author Kent Nerburn, has been adapted into a feature film. Thanks to the Museum of the American Indian and the Marin Community Foundation, a screening of this Steven Lewis Simpson–directed film recently took place in San Rafael, California. 

Nerburn also cowrote the screenplay (with Simpson), and the main character, played by the talented actor Christopher Sweeney, is based on him. After seeing the final cut, Nerburn said, “The film, in both its choices that reflect the book and its choices that go outside the book, is always and uncompromisingly respectful and accurate in its depiction of Native people and life. To my mind, there is not one false note in the portrayal of Native reality.”

Many New World Library staff members, including me, attended the San Rafael screening, and it was a very powerful experience. Before the film, Hayna Brown of the Ho-Chunk Nation shared a blessing with the audience, inviting us into a deeper space of witnessing and presence. The name Ho-Chunk comes from the word Hochungra, meaning “People of the Big Voice” or “People of the Sacred Language,” and Brown told us that each word he spoke in his native language had many facets of meaning in English. It was a wonderful way to begin the presentation.

The film is a moving journey through the heart of Lakota country, guided by the wisdom of the 94-year-old Lakota elder Dan, played by the incomparable actor David Bald Eagle — a veteran of 1940s cowboy movies, both as a stunt man and an actor, who also trained John Wayne in techniques for horse and gun handling. He walked on his journey to the spirit world in July 2016 at the age 97, but he was able to watch the completed film before he passed on, saying, “It’s the only film I’ve been in about my people that told the truth.”

In the film, we meet quite a few characters, including Grover, played by Richard Ray Whitman — the slightly cantankerous but steady friend who drives Nerburn and Dan around in an old but very reliable green Buick on a “spiritual road trip” of sorts. There’s also the trickster character Jumbo, played by Harlen Standing Bear Sr., who can “fix anything” — but only on his own terms. And the pudgy corgi dog actor that plays Dan’s canine companion, Fatback, stole every scene she was in.

After the screening, Kerby Ann Gleeson, a Lakota Sioux of the Hunkpapa lineage, spoke about being the founder of the White Buffalo Woman Council and urged us all to take what we learned in this poignant film out into our communities — to talk about the issues of Native Americans across the continent and to stay present to the myriad of feelings the film may have brought up in us. “The first step is talking to each other,” she reminded us as the evening came to a close. 

We hope you’ll find a screening near you and see this wonderful film in your local theater. Until then, please enjoy the following excerpt from the book, which was adapted into a scene in the film. Neither Wolf nor Dog is written from the perspective of the author, Kent Nerburn, and in this scene, Dan is explaining the importance of being present and really listening. (And keep your eyes peeled for Fatback!)

# # #


“People should think of their words like seeds. They should plant them, then let them grow in silence. Our old people taught us that the earth is always speaking to us, but that we have to be silent to hear her.

“I try to be that way. I taught my children to be that way.”

He swept his hand out across the panorama in front of us. “Do you hear the sound of the prairie? That is a great sound. But when I’m talking I can’t hear it.

“There are lots of voices besides ours, Nerburn. Lots of voices.”

I smiled at his gentle lecture. “You make good sense, old man,” I said. He nodded in quiet acknowledgment. I think we both felt a sense of pride at how things were progressing.

He picked up a handful of loose earth and looked at it. “What do you do in your mind while we are up here, Nerburn?” he asked.

“Oh, I think about my family. Sometimes I make little prayers or look for shapes in the clouds. Mostly, I guess I’m just in some kind of reverie.”

“Do you know what I do?” he said. “I listen to voices. For me this hill is so full of life I can never be quiet enough to hear all the voices.”

I wanted to press him on this, but gently. I didn’t want to break the spell. “Do you mean real voices, or sensations that seem to have meaning?”

“I mean real voices. They’re not all people. They’re not all speaking our language. But they are voices. Listen.”

I heard the buzzing of locusts and the distant, rhythmic call of some kind of bird.

“Do you hear that bird?” asked Dan.

I told him I did.

“Do you know what he is saying?”

“I don’t speak ‘bird,’” I answered.

“You should,” he twinkled. “Learn a lot. The birds are ‘two-legs,’ like us. They are very close to us. He is calling to another. He is saying it will rain soon.”

“You can tell that?”

“Yes, and I can tell that the wind is switching to the north and we will soon have colder weather.”

“How do you know that?”

“I just do,” he responded cryptically. “It’s in the voices I hear. I can understand all the trees. The wind. All the animals. The insects. I can tell what a color of the sky means. Everything speaks to me.

“There,” he said, pointing to a patch of scrubby grass in the distance. “What do you see?”

“It looks a little greener than the rest of the hills,” I answered. “At least in a few patches.”

“Good. Now why is that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Look closer.”

I squinted my eyes. There was nothing to be seen except the short green grass.

“I don’t see anything,” I said.

“Look closer.”

I squinted again. There seemed to be some kind of movement, but it was too small to make out.

“Something is moving,” I said.

“Good. Do you know what it is?”

I admitted I didn’t.

“Pispiza. You call them prairie dogs.”

“Okay,” I acknowledged.

“That’s why the grass is green. Our brother prairie dogs dig under the ground to make their homes. They dig up the earth so the rain can go deeper and the roots of the grass can grow stronger.

“Where the grass is richer, the bigger animals come to feed. If we sit here quietly, in the morning, when the antelope are hungry, we will see them and we could hunt them. It is all because of our brother prairie dog. Where he lives, we can live.

“These are the kind of things I see when I look out here. They are things my grandfathers taught me. I hear them, too. My grandfathers. I hear their bones under the ground.”

I looked at the clump of dusty earth he held in his hand.

“You think I’m lying, don’t you? Or just a crazy old fool. I can’t explain it. But I know where the dead are buried. I hear them. They speak to me in some ancient tongue. It’s a gift I have.

“You’ve read about those people who can find water by using a forked stick? They walk along with the stick above the ground, and when they get above water the stick just points down.

“That’s the way it is with me. When I get over one of the graves I have a feeling inside me. It’s like a shiver. My grandmother had it, too. She said that our ancestors gave it to us, and that I should always listen.

“That’s why I come up here, Nerburn. Out there is where my people are buried. This is where I come to listen.”

“I believe you, Dan,” I said. And I did. Once, many years ago, I had taken a great deal of peyote. I had thought nothing of it at the time — it was just one of those acts that went along with life in the sixties. Within hours I was lying on my back under the midnight sky listening to the springs flow under the ground. It was a rushing sound, as if they were all speaking to each other. I felt like I was overhearing a conversation in the earth. Then, as I walked to a certain spot that sat like a plateau overlooking a valley, I felt a cold shiver come across me. “There are graves here,” I had said to myself. I knew I believed it, but I had never been sure whether it was the peyote talking or whether I had been opened to some deeper realm of meaning. I had never forgotten that moment, though I seldom shared it with anyone.

Now, this old man was telling me the same thing, but for him it was not some drug-induced awareness, but a part of everyday reality. I wondered what it must be like to have that sensitivity every moment of your life.

He saw my curiosity. “Here,” he said, “watch this.” He sat back on his haunches and cupped his hands over his knees. Nothing seemed to be different. I sat silently beside him, wondering what it was I was supposed to see. Suddenly, Fatback came rustling through the tall grasses wagging her tail.

“Good dog,” he said, and ruffled the scruff of her neck. Fatback wagged her tail furiously, then pushed back off through the weeds.

I raised my eyebrows and gave Dan a little half smile.

“See,” he said.

“You called her over here?”

“Want me to do it again?”

“No,” I answered, though I truly wanted to challenge him on this. But I knew that, on some level, everything was a test, and I did not want to appear the skeptic. My job was to record what I saw as he wanted it told, not to get involved in some ersatz anthropological research. All I could think of was what one tough old woman had said to me when I first arrived on the Red Lake reservation to begin the oral history project. I had gone over to her office to request her assistance in identifying elders who might be interested in participating. She stared at me with a hard glare, then stated, simply, “If you think you’re going to come up here and do one of those goddamn white anthropology projects, you can just get on your pony and ride.” Then she turned back to her beadwork and never said another word.

As much as I wanted Dan to prove that he had called Fatback, it seemed too close to a “goddamn white anthropology project.” So, I just said, “That dog’s got good hearing,” and let things go at that.

Dan chuckled knowingly. “You’re a good boy, Nerburn. Let’s go get some lunch.”

# # #


Tristy Taylor is an artist, interfaith minister, radio host, and associate publicist for New World Library. Her husband suddenly passed away in August 2015, and she has been documenting her grief journey in writing and photos on her blog, CreateWithSpirit.com.

Kent Nerburn is an author, sculptor, and educator who has been deeply involved in Native American issues and education. He developed and directed an award-winning oral history project on the Red Lake Ojibwe reservation in northern Minnesota and went on to write the award-winning trilogy that began with Neither Wolf nor Dog and also included The Wolf at Twilight and The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo. He has been a presenter before various groups, including the National Indian Education Association. Find him online at KentNerburn.com.

Excerpt is from the book Neither Wolf nor Dog. Copyright © 1994, 2002 by Kent Nerburn.

Original author: Publicity Admin
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doll abandoned in a parkIn our weekly Mindful Dreams column, Aneta Baranek of the School of Metaphysics is offering free dream interpretations to The Mindful Word readers, as well as articles on dreams in general.

If you’ve ever been curious about deciphering the cryptic contents of your subconscious mind, here’s your chance! If you would like Aneta to interpret your dream, fill out this form. She will respond with your dream interpretation through this column, published every Thursday. Aneta would love to receive more comments for the dreams interpreted. If you can relate to a dream posted here or have any insights to add, you can post them as comments to the interpretation, or email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Intro

DREAM

Hi Aneta,

This dream started with me and my two female cousins. We were walking around my neighbourhood when we passed a tree and heard someone crying. We stopped dead in our tracks and looked at each other in confusion.

We got closer to the tree and still heard crying, so we started looking around it. I found a hole in the middle of the tree in which there was a baby, crying. He looked to be about six months old. I grabbed him to get him out.

As I got him out and carried him, the baby started smiling and laughing. I held him while one of my cousins changed his diaper. We just knew this baby was abandoned. As we walked back to my house, I saw a couple of police cars in front of the house.

When I went into my house, alone, I saw my older brother, my mother and (I believe) my stepdad all having a conversation. It seemed like the cops were there for my brother. That’s how my dream ended.

– Rina

DREAM TITLE: “Baby in a Tree”

DREAMER: Female, 28, U.S.

MAIN SYMBOLS:

Cousins — familiar conscious/outer aspects of the dreamer

Neighbourhood — familiar place in mind of the dreamer

Tree — subconscious existence

Baby — a new idea

House — state of mind of the dreamer

Police — authority

Brother — known inner aspect of the dreamer

Mother — Superconscious aspect of the dreamer

INTERPRETATION

Hello Rina,

Nice to hear from you again! Thank you for sending in your dream.

The dream speaks to a new idea that’s entering your inner Self. The baby is the symbol for this new idea and the tree symbolizes your inner mind.

This idea comes from a very familiar place in your mind, symbolized by the neighbourhood. Since the baby isn’t yours, but is found by you in a dream, it refers to an idea that was conceived by someone else. Your cousins symbolize outer/conscious aspects of you that are aiding you in taking care of this new idea.

The dream also speaks to an inner/subconscious aspect of you that your brother represents. What are two main qualities that your brother would symbolize to you? These are the qualities that the dream is wanting you to pay attention to.

The police being present symbolize you calling upon your inner authority to address the part of you that your brother represents. Your parents symbolize the Superconscious parts of you that you call upon to cultivate broader inner communication within yourself.

APPLICATION

There’s a new idea that has entered your consciousness, and although it wasn’t conceived by you, it’s asking for your attention and care.

New ideas are precious and important parts of our growth and development. By reflecting on the 24 to 48 hours you experienced prior to having this dream, you might be able to quite accurately determine what idea this is. The baby responding with smiles and laughter symbolizes you making the right choice by tending to this idea in your waking life.

In manifestation, it’s very important to tend to the complete cycle of creation. Thought is cause. However, to manifest our thoughts—our ideas—we must give them enough of our attention and mind substance to ensure their physical existence.

How do you create, Rina? Do you daydream a lot? Do you follow through on your ideas? Do you actually see them come to fruition?

Your dream is asking you to pay closer attention to how you receive new ideas that are presented to you and how you nurture these ideas as you move forward in your life.

May your dreams illuminate the inner and outer you…

image: Abandonné, en couleurs !… by Asapix via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Original author: Aneta Baranek
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To understand oneself profoundly, one needs balance. That is, one cannot abandon the world, hoping to understand oneself, or be so tangled in the world that there is no occasion to comprehend oneself. There must be balance, neither renunciation nor acquiescence.
The Collected Works vol III p 22    
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wall with rise from the ashes written on itMany of us desire to be spiritual nowadays, so we read the books that other self-proclaimed teachers and prophets set up for us, in order to follow their guidelines, doctrines and belief systems. We accept and repeat what we read, like a parrot reproduces a word without knowing its meaning. If it sounds good and we can identify with it, we accept it and share it with the people who are prepared to listen and copy.

Words have no meaning whatsoever, though, if our actions don’t correspond. A man or woman can go to church for their whole life, yet never advance on the spiritual ladder. What are we supposed to do to be freed from our perceived sins without falling into the same trap over and over again? When will the suffering ever stop?

Spirituality, in its bare essence, is exactly about that: to make an end to all misery and transform the Self into something beautiful and lasting. In fact, every religion is about showing the individual the road to the Light and guiding them back Home. In that sense, spirituality and religion are exactly the same: they’re a mirror for the “fallen one” and offer a roadmap to an original state of Being—immortality.

Phoenix rising

What’s key in this quest is the process of awakening—not so much as a sudden wake-up call to an altered reality or another dimension, but rather as a series of insights—realizing who you truly are, and what to do in order to bring back peace and transform the old into something new and fresh. There’s indeed no better metaphor that symbolizes this process than the phoenix rising from its ashes.

If we want to put an end to all suffering, we need much more than a couple of metaphors showing us the underlying principles of enlightenment and spiritual awakening.  We need an operative method that gets us from point “A” to point “Z,” from darkness into the Light. Since we’re dealing with the invisible realm (consciousness), no external device or calculation will help us any further. We have no other option but to get there by the powers of our own will and perseverance.

The Christian adage “repent, and thou shalt be saved” holds great spiritual and philosophical beauty. It shows, in one simple sentence, that the beholder has corrupted their reality—the Self—yet there’s a way to be freed from all evil and restore the individual consciousness to an immaculate state of pureness and peace. If, however, we aspire to this enlightened path, we need to take the first step towards it—the realization that we were and are the initiator of our own misery and that of our whole reality.

Step into the light

The first step to every form of religion or spirituality is, therefore, to be found in the realization that it’s not the world or other people that are to be blamed for all things, but the individual themselves.

Every change truly begins with stepping up to the mirror and saying over and over again, on a daily basis, that what you see happening in the world is merely a reflection of yourself—your own thoughts, feelings and emotions. Hence, praying is nothing more than asking forgiveness and trusting that things will soon evolve to a lighter state of Being.

This simple Truth, that salvation lies within, is indeed the metaphorical and spiritual basis for all religion, showing us indirectly the path to liberation and enlightenment. You don’t need to be an academic or a religious adept to work with this principle; you just have to apply it on a regular basis and see with your own eyes what the outcome will be.

In that sense, the road back to “Home” lies simply in the hands of the individual—regardless of social status or intellectual background—and is available for every living soul who’s prepared to awaken from the darkness and step into the Light.

«RELATED READ» MIND OVER MATTER: Use the power of a peaceful mind to remember who you really are»

image: Rise from the ashes by Michel Curl via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Original author: Pieter Van Cauwenbergh
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The understanding of oneself does not come through the process of withdrawal from society or through retirement into an ivory tower. If you and I really go into the matter carefully and intelligently, we will see that we can understand ourselves only in relationship and not in isolation. Nobody can live in isolation. To live is to be related. It is only in the mirror of relationship that I understand myself, which means that I must be extraordinarily alert in my thoughts, feelings, and actions in relationship. This is not a difficult process or a superhuman endeavour; and as with all rivers, while the source is hardly perceptible, the waters gather momentum as they move, as they deepen. In this mad and chaotic world, if you go into this process advisedly, with care, with patience, without condemning, you will see how it begins to gather momentum and that it is not a matter of time.
The Collected Works vol VI, pp 37-8    
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In our Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.

If you would like Jack to assist you in any areas of your life and relationships, fill out this form. He will respond to your questions through this column, normally published every Tuesday.

Intro

QUESTION

How do we depend on ourselves for happiness and tranquillity without any external factors? How do we stop making other people responsible for our happiness and be at peace with ourselves? This is something I’ve struggled with since I was a child.

Denise, 26, U.S.

ANSWER

Hello Denise,

Thank you for your question. Being happy, content, and having tranquillity of mind that’s not dependent on external circumstances can be a rather difficult state to achieve. I believe there are a couple of reasons for this. The first has to do with the human condition itself and the other has to do with happiness and peace of mind. I’ll address human nature first, and then happiness and peace of mind, or tranquillity.

Human nature

Humans are, for the most part, social animals. From birth, we’re in relationships with others. This means that most people function at their best when they’re connected to a caring, loving community of people.

When we were infants, our caretakers rocked us when we were upset, fed us when we were hungry, and smiled, laughed and interacted with us. Studies have shown that when a mother stops interacting with her child and just stares blankly at them, the child will try to get the mother to respond for another minute or so. However, if the mother just continues to stare and avoids interaction, the child will become visibly distressed and start to cry. These interactions are of vital importance for healthy growth.

Being alone

woman sitting alone in the parkHowever, as children get older, another important skill for them to learn is how to entertain themselves. This is where learning to play by oneself is also very important.

Oftentimes, if there’s disruption in these components of growth during childhood, or if there are other significantly unhealthy behaviours occurring within the child’s home, then learning to be by oneself can be difficult. Indeed, if a person is fundamentally unhappy with themselves, then being alone is extremely difficult, because they have no one else to focus on or distract themselves with.

This is one of the main reasons people will stay in horrible relationships. Complain as they may, being in a relationship that makes them miserable is better than being alone.

Liking who we are

So, one of the main factors involved in being self-reliant in our happiness is to actually like who we are. When we generally like who we are, we’re not trying to escape from ourselves. If we don’t like who we are, we look to others or things to distract us so we don’t have to look at ourselves.

What does “being happy” even mean?

My recommendation to clients who come to me seeking happiness is to stop seeking happiness. In my opinion, the goal of “being happy” is problematic and will only end in disappointment.

What does “being happy” even mean? Does it mean the absence of any uncomfortable feelings or emotions? My two sons are now in college. Having them leave and be away for extended periods is painful at times. Yet, I’m extremely proud of them and very happy that they’re starting their new lives. The pain I feel when I miss them is an inherent part of the happiness I find in watching them grow into strong, intelligent, trustworthy, hardworking young men.

Trait or state?

little boy skippingHere’s where a distinction needs to be made between happiness as a trait and happiness as a state. In psychology, traits are considered more stable and long-term. States, on the other hand, are more temporary and can change from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute. With my sons, my happiness is a trait; it’s long-term, stable and endures over time.

However, when I miss them and experience sadness, the sadness is a state. I’m temporarily sad because I miss them, but this state of sadness will soon change and essentially dissipate, as my focus and attention is placed on other things in life. When thinking of happiness in this manner, I’m actually able to experience a state of sadness within my trait of happiness, which is more stable and long-lasting.

So the first question you must ask yourself is whether you’re seeking state happiness, which comes and goes and can change from moment to moment, or seeking trait happiness, which is more stable and enduring? If you’re seeking an enduring state of happiness, then you’re seeking something unrealistic, unrealizable and overall, very unhealthy.

How do we achieve trait happiness if happiness isn’t supposed to be the goal?

Consider the following exchange founding psychologist Alfred Adler had with a client:

Adler claimed he could cure anyone of mental illness in just fourteen days if they would just do what he told them to do. One day a woman who was extremely depressed came to see Adler. He told her, “I can cure you of your depression in just fourteen days if you will follow my advice.”

She was not very enthusiastic when she asked, “What do you want me to do?”

Adler replied, “If you will do one thing for someone else every day for fourteen days, at the end of that time your depression will be gone.”

She objected. “Why should I do something for someone else, when no one ever does anything for me?”

Adler jokingly responded, “Well, maybe it will take you twenty-one days.” He went on to add, “If you can’t think of anything you are willing to do for someone else, just think of what you could do if you felt like it.”

Adler knew that if she would even think about doing something for someone else, she would be on her way toward improvement.

– Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline: The Classic Guide to Helping Children Develop Self-Discipline, Responsibility, Cooperation, and Problem-Solving Skills

Adler’s words are hyperbolic or exaggerated, and not meant to be taken literally. However, his underlying message is that if we turn our focus to the needs of others, we’ll feel better ourselves.

Here’s where the paradox of happiness becomes most evident: the more we focus on ourselves, the more unhappy we tend to be; the more we focus on others, the more happy we tend to be.

I once worked with a client who was extremely focused on everyone else meeting her needs, and extremely depressed because they weren’t. I told her that even if we lined up a million people to tell her how wonderful she was, after the millionth person had finished, she’d turn and look for “Person 1,001.” She agreed. In other words, no one was capable of meeting her needs—only she was!

Happiness is the result of a meaningful life

younger woman giving older woman foodIn saying this, my intention isn’t to suggest that you’re a selfish person who demands everyone else meet your needs. What I’m saying is that if the focus of your goal is happiness, then you likely won’t experience happiness. The goal can’t be happiness; it must be how well and how much you try to make others happy and/or contribute to the betterment of others’ lives.

Happiness is a by-product, not the product. Happiness is the result of a meaningful life in which a person seeks to help others and ease their suffering. In Buddhism, before and after meditation practice, all the benefits that are gained are offered for the betterment of others. The goal of achieving enlightenment is sought only so the enlightened individual can help others who are suffering. It’s all done out of compassion for others. Similarly, Jesus told his followers to “die” for themselves and take up the cross of others (bear the suffering of others).

Focusing on the pain of others

Consider the following story:

While working in an acute adult psychiatric hospital, I was asked to run a group for the patients. One of the patients was a woman who was suicidal due to the intense, enduring pain she experienced from a severe neck injury.

The woman said that she’d been in constant pain for more than a year and just wanted the pain to stop. She said that she was a Christian and that her fear of facing God after committing suicide was the only thing that had stopped her from taking her own life; however, her belief was becoming less and less effective as a form of prevention. She was married and had two teenage children, as well as a child around nine years old.

For the next hour, the group discussed the pain, hurt and suffering they were all enduring. Many confessed a belief in God and thanked the woman for sharing her story. At the end, one of the patients asked if the woman could pray for them.

I took advantage of this opportunity. Before the woman started praying, I urged her to try and remember each person’s name, and pray in as much detail about their circumstances as possible, especially about the degree of suffering they’d shared with the group.

For the next 10 minutes, the woman prayed intensely, going from person to person and making petitions that their pain be eased and healing brought to them. It was an emotionally intense prayer. As soon as she finished, I quickly asked her how much pain she was in at that very moment, and how much pain she’d been in during the prayer. Tears welled up in her eyes and she lowered her head, crying. The group remained silent.

She then lifted her head and said, “I’m not hurting right now.” She’d found hope, and her hope was discovered when she was intensely focused on the hurt and pain of others. Now, did her pain come back later on? Yes. However, her practice now was to focus on others when the pain was getting to be too much to take.

Research supports this intervention. Sean Mackey, chief of the division of Pain Management at Stanford University’s Neuroscience and Pain Lab, has conducted studies that demonstrate significant decreases in the level of pain felt when participants focused on those they loved and cared about.

Finding meaning in something greater than ourselves

protests against Dakota PipelineI believe living a meaningful life is also a necessary component of happiness, and that the meaningfulness we discover must be something greater than ourselves. In a sense, we must lose our individual identity and allow it to merge with a larger group or cause.

We can see the power of this process working every day, in both negative and positive ways. On the negative side, people can get caught up in a mob mentality and commit crimes that, by themselves, they’d never commit. Those caught up in the emotional fervour of a powerful mob have later testified that they didn’t know what came over them or why they acted as they did—they were simply caught up in the moment.

Consider what happened in Egypt in 2011

At that time, Christians were being systematically targeted and attacked by Islamic militants. More attacks were announced against any Christians who were seen celebrating Christmas Eve mass. Other Muslims declared that they’d also show up at the Christmas Eve mass, where they’d stand and protect the Christians.

On Christmas Eve, thousands of Muslims showed up at the mass and created a large circle around the Christians, using their own bodies as protection against any who wished to harm the small Christian gathering.

“We either live together, or we die together,” declared Mohamed El-Sawy, a local Muslim businessman.

“This is not about us and them. We are one. … and I am standing with the Copts [Coptic Christians] because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together,” were the words of Muslim student Dalia Mustafa.

That same year, during other protests in Egypt, as Muslims knelt in prayer, making themselves vulnerable to the opposing protesters, hundreds of Christians formed a circle around them, offering their bodies as shields to protect the Muslims as they prayed.

The focus of both the Muslims and the Christians, in these situations, wasn’t on the self. Rather, both groups were focused on the well-being of others and on a cause that was greater than themselves, individually. As Mustafa stated, “This is not about us and them. We are one.” Again, research supports the belief that group cohesion and a sense of belonging are fundamental components of health and happiness.

According to Gregory M. Walton, professor and researcher at Yale University, “Belonging is primal, fundamental to our sense of happiness and well-being. … Our interests, motivation, health and happiness are inextricably tied to the feeling that we belong to a greater community that may share common interests and aspirations.”

Communities don’t have to be religious or faith-based to offer the benefits described. A person can find meaning and a sense of belonging in many different social activities, such as working with the homeless, volunteering at an animal shelter or supporting the local Red Cross.

Happiness is a choice

finger drawing a smiley faceI was in my mid-thirties when I discovered one of the “secrets” to happiness. It was during a discussion with a professor whom I greatly respected that I made this discovery.

The secret can be conveyed in only four words: happiness is a choice. We can simply choose to be happy. Here’s another secret: to enhance your ability to simply choose to be happy, let go of all the demands you’re insisting must be met before you can experience happiness. Accept what reality and life presents you. Does this mean you have to feel good about all of it? No. But remember, any bad feelings will pass as we live in openness to life and its unfolding.

To sum it all up

Again, I highly suggest that you move away from making happiness and peace of mind a goal. Rather, focus your goals on ways you can help others and become part of a larger community that’s focused on improving the lives of humans and/or other living things.

Instead of focusing on not being dependent on others, focus on learning how to comfort yourself in any given situation. When life presents problems or doesn’t meet your expectations, concentrate on relaxing, breathing, smiling and accepting life as it’s presenting itself. Discover meaning that’s greater than yourself and find a way to connect and contribute. Trust yourself.

This will all take time, as growth always does. But, as Alfred Adler stated, if you do this, you’ll discover one day that you’re happy, and that happiness will be a result of your effort to help another person or thing without expecting anything in return.

Happiness, self-dependence and peace of mind can all be found in our efforts to focus on others, serve others and become part of a caring community.

image 1. Pixabay 2. Pixabay 3. Pixabay 4. Hey Wells Fargo by Joe Plette via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)  5. Pixabay
Original author: Jack Surguy
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Original author: Publicity Admin
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In a world of vast organizations, vast mobilizations of people, mass movements, we are afraid to act on a small scale; we are afraid to be little people clearing up our own patch. We say to ourselves, “What can I personally do? I must join a mass movement in order to reform.” On the contrary, real revolution takes place not through mass movement but through the inward revolution of relationship—that alone is real reformation, a radical, continuous revolution. We are afraid to begin on a small scale. Because the problem is so vast, we think we must meet it with large numbers of people, with a great organization, with mass movements. Surely, we must begin to tackle the problem on a small scale, and the small scale in the “me” and the “you”. When I understand myself, I understand you, and out of that understanding comes love.
The Collected Works vol V p 96    
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