Lessons from Silence

June 28, 2013

A short time ago I had the privilege of participating in 3 day silent Chopra Center meditation retreat known as Seduction of Silence.  This retreat was an offshoot of a 7 day program called Seduction of Spirit.  Those of us taking place in the silent retreat were part of the larger group as well, but for three days we were not to speak or engage in conversations with others.  As you might imagine, this experience is a big departure from one’s regular daily activities.  Extended time in silence can be difficult to explain.  It creates a deepened understanding of life that doesn’t translate easily into spoken language, which explains why it’s taken me some time to integrate the experience and share with you here.  What follows are a few of the insights I gained and how I perceived the experience.

The silent portion of the retreat began for us on a Tuesday morning.  We had been instructed the previous day that upon waking we were not to speak and to avoid overt forms of communication (such as sign language or writing) unless absolutely necessary.  Since we were in a retreat setting, we were more or less isolated from the outside world and surrounded by a team of volunteers to provide help and support if needed.   This was a good thing, as choosing deliberately to not speak outside of this environment in our daily lives would be both challenging and frustrating.  At the retreat we were provided with a button to wear that told the other participants we were “Honoring Silence”.  This helped prevent others from trying to engage us in conversation while we were deepening our meditation practice.  We also had a separate dining area so we wouldn’t get drawn into the conversations and activity of other participants during mealtimes.  However I chose to eat in the main area along with my wife who was not in silence, but was attending her first retreat of this kind.

The majority of the retreat was spent either in meditation, yoga or attending various lectures or activities.  Though this entire time though, we were silent.  No comments to one another about the weather, the food or any of life’s usually trivialities.  It was very interesting to notice my mind during this experience as the urge to speak would arise, (usually out of some conditioned response) and be held in check by my commitment to remain silent.  I was initially surprised by how often the desire to speak would come up, but after a few hours had passed those urges became less pronounced and less desperate and demanding.   I can’t speak for the other participants, but after a while it felt as if I slipped into a “silence groove” that started to feel more and more familiar.  Similar to breaking in a pair of new shoes – in the beginning it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but as time passes, the shoes (or silence) begins to feel like home.

During this time some interesting insights began to reveal themselves to me.  Nothing otherworldly or ‘far out’ as you might expect; but rather a simple, down to earth and common sense understanding of myself, humanity, communication, ego, attention, stillness and spirit.  Here in brief are the lessons I learned.

1.  We talk too much.  That’s right – as individuals, as groups of people, as a race, we just talk much too much.  Now don’t get me wrong, human communication has been and continues to be a vital and important part of our culture, society, growth, development, and evolution.   However, what I noticed as I spent this time in silence was that much of our normal speech consists of mindless filler, rather than quality communication.  Not unlike the empty calories from a light beer, we regularly engage in conversations that seem to focus on trivialities, stating or restating the obvious or providing narration and running commentary on life’s events.  We seem compelled to fill the space with, as Eckhart Tolle says, “one damn thing after another” in hopes of avoiding a dreaded lull in the conversation.  You might know people like this as I do, who would rather fill the air with genuine nonsense rather than accept the natural stillness that provides a refreshing counterpoint between words and sentences.

Even worse than mindless verbal dumping is however, the negative use of speech to pollute the environment or willfully harm others.   In his amazing book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz challenges us to live the first agreement and Be Impeccable with the Word.  Being impeccable with the word means we choose our words consciously, speaking positively, seeking to uplift others, to speak with compassion, kindness and peace.  The opposite of impeccability is gossip, hurtful speech, cynicism, and chronic negativity.   Ultimately, our words have power to create or destroy and we should choose them with care.

But to return to my main point, in talking more than is necessary we water down the quality of what we have to say; the ratio of meaning to words spoken becomes terribly imbalanced.  I’m not saying that everything we say has to be a deep thought or a powerful and transformational insight, however in practicing mindful speech we can raise the level of our conversation substantially.  That mindfulness also helps us recognize when silence is the best answer.  As a relatively introverted person, I find that I would rather speak only when needed rather than just out of a conventional need to talk.  Before I move on to my next point I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu:

“He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.”

This quote has frequently served as a reminder that in matters of spoken communication less can indeed be more.

2.  We talk about ourselves…a lot.  This one hit much closer to home than I wanted to admit, but once I dug a little deeper into it, I saw just how powerful and liberating this insight was.  When you talk, how much of that talk is about yourself?  If you’re honest, you’ll probably find that much of your conversation is used to glorify and validate the ego.  I was once given some valuable advice about conversations that sheds light on this notion: If you want a conversation to be about another person, ask lots of questions; if you want it to be about you, don’t.  But before we beat ourselves up over this, it’s important to realize that this is all the ego knows how to do.  It wants attention.  It wants approval and validation.  So it’s only natural that it will try to steer the conversation back towards itself whenever the chance arises.  Subtly or overt, the ego finds ways to say “Hey, look at me, I’m here; I’m special.”

As I spent more time in silence, I could feel my ego becoming increasingly irritable.  After all, if I wasn’t talking, then how would it get the attention it craved?  It’s at times like this that you discover just how slippery the ego is, because as the silence deepened, my ego tried to use sneaky, ninja-like non-verbal tactics to get the attention of others.  Some were successful, some weren’t; but what I came away with was a deep appreciation for how desperate the small self is for attention and approval.  Normally, when we are engaged in our daily lives, that external activity overshadows the ego’s game plan, but in silence that strategy stands out with more clarity.  It doesn’t mean that we are always successful in slaying the thousand header dragon as Carlos Castaneda calls it, but through the awareness of what‘s really going on we gain the power to tell the ego to sit down and shut up for a while.  It’s not as if we dissolve or destroy the ego, just tame it; and time in silence can be a great obedience school.

3.  Silence deepens our ability to observe the world.  In our daily lives most of us are inundated with activity, distractions, and attention grabbing situations and concerns.  No matter what we’re doing, there is always something going on, something to pull us away from our true state of ever present witnessing awareness.  In prolonged silence though, things get very quiet.  This may seem incredibly obvious, but the silence I’m talking about isn’t just the decreased external activity experienced during a meditation retreat.  Rather, I’m referring to the mental state of spaciousness that comes about as the intellect and ego take a time out.  To refer to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle once again, the whole process is about what could be called “Space Consciousness”.  In other words, through silence, you create a more intimate relationship with that space, because it feels as if there is so much more of it.  This is just the opposite of the way we normally function in the world.  It’s as if we have a big beautiful room that we keep filling with furniture.  We keep adding more and more to the room until there isn’t even space for us to move, and in doing so the room becomes unusable.

But through silence, the thought furniture is hauled away of its own accord and we are able to just be in the space.  That space, the witnessing self and true nature of who we are becomes the background of all our activity.  The result of which is that we experience a heightened state of observation or witnessing.  At times during the retreat it felt as if all there was for me to do was watch – watch others, nature, my own behavior and thoughts.  With the mental clutter in my mind temporarily abated, I found myself listening more deeply, witnessing more, and being more present.  Less caught up in the drama, I could just watch it without judgment.  If I had to use a word to describe this experience I would choose ‘Moksha”, a Sanskrit word that means “liberation”.  In this type of liberation, we truly are free to be in the present moment.  No longer tormented by the illusions of the past or future, we can truly live in the eternal Now.

4.  In silence we experience a shift in awareness.   What do I mean by a shift in awareness?  In simple terms, it means a change in perception.  We’re all used to looking at the world in a unique, specific and conditioned manner.  What we don’t often realize is that there are other perspectives, other states of awareness beyond what we’ve come to expect as normal.

According to Vedanta, the world’s oldest living spiritual philosophy, there are 7 states of awareness, but only the first three – deep sleep, dreaming, and waking are obvious to most people.  To use video game language, the remaining four states could be considered “Level -ups” into a completely new way of looking at the world.   Each changing state of consciousness has its own unique biology, perceptions, knowledge, and reality.  Extended time in silence helps to clear the lenses of perception and allow for a shift into higher states and a more expanded sense of self.

Spending that time in silence, I began to experience a reality in which I felt a deep connection with others without ever having spoken to them.  The communication was both subtle and profound and was I imagine a result of the decreased mental static that we were all experiencing.  In that stillness, we could communicate soul to soul, rather than mind to mind or ego to ego.  This is the true goal of Yoga and meditation; the union between mind, body, spirit, and environment.  The more time I spent in silence, the more I felt the boundaries between myself and others beginning to dissolve, even if just temporarily.  This was truly an amazing feeling, something not easily captured by words, but real and tangible nonetheless.  Although this experience became less pronounced following the retreat, it served to validate the deepest truths of Yoga and Vedanta – that there is ultimately only one reality and through the practices of Yoga, Meditation, and Silence, we can have direct experience of that reality and know it as our true nature.

5.  I didn’t want the silence to end.  As the last day of silence wound to a close, I found myself not wanting to return to speaking.  I think my reluctance to talk stemmed from how much I had enjoyed the time in stillness, but there was also a side of me that wanted to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment for having made it through those three days.  In fact, I wanted it to last longer.   Silence had become an intimate friend and I wanted to stay wrapped up in it for as long as I could.  But with this desire to remain in stillness came one last insight – perhaps my desire to prolong my silence was just another way for my ego to draw attention to itself in a game of spiritual one-upmanship.  How important and special would my ego feel knowing it out-silenced everybody else?  Hmmm.  Sneaky bugger, the ego.

Regardless, the following day I began speaking again.  Softly, mindfully, and I hope, with more awareness than before.  I admit it was a little disappointing to begin talking.  It initially felt crude and clumsy compared to the second attention I had experienced during those three days, but as time wore on I was soon back to normal conversation as if nothing had happened.   I knew though, that the experience had changed me.  Profound silence of this kind touches everyone in a slightly different way, but we are all transformed to the very core of our being when we embrace the stillness within.   This was an amazing experience; one that I’ll never forget; one that will continue to provide insight and understanding for a long time to come.

Namaste,

-Adam

It’s been a little over a week since I attended the 2013 Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association East Coast Retreat in Boca Raton Florida. It was a four day martial arts seminar that consisted of Special Ops Kali, Military JKD, Collapsible Baton, Pepper Spray, and Simunation Reality Based Handgun instruction. An amazing learning opportunity, this program was without a doubt one of the best and most comprehensive martial arts training seminars I have ever attended. In this post I want to describe and recap my experience for the benefit of those who couldn’t attend, but to also reabsorb the wealth of information and knowledge I received during those few short (albeit very intense) days. Here goes…

The retreat officially began on Friday morning at 8:00 am. I had unfortunately not been able to attend Sifu Singh’s Tia Chi class the evening before, nonetheless, I was excited to begin training with my fellow members of the Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association. I had been on a hiatus from my JKD training for the last few years, but after attending the Action Strength certification in October of 2012, I realized just how much I had been missing my JKD roots and was eager to jump back into training. That morning we hit the ground running with Sgt. John Riddle, a 28 year veteran police officer with the West Palm Beach Police Department and Instructor at Progressive Self Defense Systems. John’s program consisted of instruction in use of both the Collapsible Baton and Pepper Spray. The majority of the day was spent working with the baton – types of batons, how to carry, deploy, strike and defend; striking targets, and baton retention. Drilling through multiple carry positions, opening techniques and strikes, we laid down the neuromuscular pathways that would help us to use the baton under pressure. I think we all had our eyes opened to the unmistakable effectiveness of this powerful impact weapon. It’s small, concealable, easy to deploy, highly functional, and a great tool to add to any self defense tool bag.

After dinner we returned to learn about all the subtleties and applications of pepper spray as a self defense option. The discussion covered all the details of pepper spray usage: the active ingredient (oleoresin capsicum), the physical and psychological effects of use, different delivery systems, spray patterns and carry positions. We also explored the Tactical “L” as a pattern of movement to integrate during the deployment of the spray. We were then able to drill our deployment using training canisters against John’s BOB training dummies, ensuring accurate targeting and spray patterns. Finally, to close out the night, John gave us the option of experiencing the effects of pepper spray firsthand. As I had no backup driver back to my hotel and the effects could take 45 minutes to an hour to wear off, I had to pass on this opportunity. However, one member of our group chose to get sprayed (thanks JB, for taking one for the team). In the end, I came away with a deep appreciation for the simple and direct effectiveness of this tool. As a force multiplier, pepper spray is a highly beneficial weapon that can be carried by women and men alike and is not to be underestimated.

Through all this, I can’t speak highly enough of John’s instruction. The thoroughness of these two courses, the detail of the information, plus his years of experience made for a very educational and entertaining learning experience. Not only did we get the technical knowledge, but we also received a unique perspective into situational awareness, the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), law enforcement, and the legal implications of using either of these tools to defend ourselves. John was the consummate professional who could both instruct from a theoretical perspective and demonstrate his skill forged through real life experience. I felt as if no stone was left unturned as his knowledge as a teacher was largely unparalleled to any instruction I have received in the past. I’m sure that my fellow classmates would agree that no one could have been more deserving of Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame’s Instructor of the Year award. Thanks John, for setting the bar so high.

With one day and two courses down, we returned Saturday morning to dig into the meat of Special Ops Kali with Sifu Singh. We began with a few Action Strength ground flows to warm us up and center our breathing. Singh then began to detail out the theoretical framework for our JKD weapons curriculum. Building from the ground up, Singh broke out the self-preservation strategy (defang the snake), elaborated on the self-perfection training drills used to hone our attributes, and listed out the specific aspects of the weapons game such as footwork, zoning, weapons ranges, and striking angles. Once the theory was laid down, it was time to drill; Largo Mano, Numerada, Sumbrada, and light sparring – we trained through each drill and slowly began to merge them together one by one into a flow. By the time our lunch break rolled around, we were all ready for a breather, but it didn’t last long, for as soon as we returned it was back to training, but this time with the blade. Hubud and the U Drill were integrated into the matrix; meeting the force, passing the force, riding the force; all were drilled repeatedly until we were able to merge the knife and stick together. As Saturday afternoon wound to a close, Singh called out the drills while we transitioned from one partner to the next, sampling the energy of our fellow students. I found this to be an amazing exercise as 1) I had to manage my breathing during what turned out to be a 30-40 minute round of continuous drilling and sparring, and 2) with so much external activity and the drills being called out, it provided a unique opportunity for some profound mental stillness. I realized that there was not time for the ego to take over when a stick or knife was coming at me, I had to just BE in the moment. It was all great stuff and my mind was reeling…but there were still two more days to go.

Sunday morning began with more Action Strength but Singh wasted no time in moving us into the Military JKD applications. The theoretical map of the art continued to grow as we were introduced to the fundamental JKD concepts of primary and secondary attacks, the 5 ways of attack, the 3 phases of a fight; interception and destructions, the straight blast, and JKD trapping. Each principle was integrated out of a moving platform of footwork, the straight lead and Pak Sao; continually moving us closer to sparring with each drill. Returning to the theory once again, Singh explained the various possible reactions to the blast and how to counter each one. More drills, more experience, more sweat.

Sifu Singh also explored the emotional dimension of the fight in great detail, looping back to the importance of breath control and how through a deeper understanding of the emotional and mental aspects of a fight we can learn to use our minds rather than be used by them, resulting in panic and defeat. Wrapping up the theory, Singh elaborated on the arts we could draw from for finishing/follow up arts and techniques. Broken down into three levels, each group of techniques offered us multiple options along a practical use of force continuum.

Not one to let us get stuck in our heads for too long however, Singh ordered us to suit up with our gear and prepare for one last round of drills and sparring. This final round was the culmination of all we had worked on: Single Stick, Knife, Espada Y Daga, Eye Jabs, Jeet Teks, Straight Blasts, Trapping and more. Weaving drills together with sparring, we switched partners and ran through it once again. When it was all over, soaked in sweat, Singh guided us through a breathing exercise to help slow down our mental activity after the high level of training intensity we had experienced.

By the end of the day I was exhausted, but more than satisfied with everything I had learned. I was especially fascinated by the map Sifu Singh had used to develop a sound theoretical framework for understanding JKD. As many of us know, while Jeet Kune Do is an incredible art that’s both highly effective and great fun to train in, the intellectual understanding of the art is not without its challenges. Singh’s background allows him to look at Bruce Lee’s theories and art through the eyes of a computer programmer and translate the ‘program’ into a tangible and workable outline for training and evolution in the martial arts. Coupled with his skill as an athlete and martial artist, Singh’s teaching ability places him firmly on the cutting edge of the martial arts frontier. He led an amazing program that was evenly paced, highly informative, fun and physically demanding. I look forward to my next opportunity to train with him and his highly skilled senior instructors, all of whom treated each of us like family throughout the entire weekend.

For most of us, the retreat ended Sunday evening after we received our certificates of completion along with a few well earned promotions for some of the JKDAA Instructors. But for four of us, we still had one more day of training to go…

Despite the fatigue I felt throughout my body I was still highly anticipating the final day of the retreat with John, who would lead us through a Simunation Reality Based Handgun Training Course. Far more than firing at paper targets in a shooting range, the Simunation program involved active combat shooting drills and situational training to prepare the student for an actual high-stress handgun scenario. The Simunation system utilizes paint marking cartridges fired at 430 feet per second which, when coupled with appropriate body protection allows trainees to fire at living, moving targets in realistic situations.

The Simunation classes are small, so the four of us received some incredibly personal instruction from John in handgun basics, drawing, clearing misfires, and active shooting drills. With each exercise we integrated the previous skill until we were able to fire on command, move, reload, and resume firing under various conditions. We were then introduced to the steps for clearing and searching rooms and buildings. John’s school features a ‘shoot house’ – a fabricated set of rooms, hallways, and functioning doors that allowed us to practice our movements and techniques in the most realistic setting possible. Each of us had the opportunity to make our way through individual rooms and doorways, buttonhook around tight turns, and crisscross an entry while working with a partner. The training was both insightful and practical, giving us real world tools and techniques that are used by law enforcement agencies under actual life or death situations.

The culmination of our training was live scenario training in which each of us, suited up in protective gear and armed with fully loaded Simunation handguns had to defend ourselves against potentially armed and dangerous attackers. We each experienced two scenarios, one solo, the other as a team. In both cases adrenaline was running high as we tried to anticipate where an attack might come from and how best to respond, both tactically, legally, and ethically. To make matters worse, prior to the team scenario, John had us sprint roughly 100 feet to further amp up our emotional content. For those of us waiting outside to participate, the sounds of gunshots and yelling added yet another level of realism to the experience.

When it was all over, we were each debriefed on the scenarios and the choices we made. We also heard from the attackers and John who offered additional insights into our performance. Overall, it was an incredible experience, one that I won’t soon forget. In fact, I’m looking forward to taking the next level of Simunation training with John in the future, as I’m convinced this type of training provides the knowledge and practical experience that can save your life or that of your loved ones under pressure.

So there you have it. At the end of this long and action packed retreat, I can say without hesitation, that the 2013 JKD Athletic Association East Coast retreat was an amazing martial arts training opportunity. From the quality of instruction to the specific curriculum, to the camaraderie of everyone participating, the entirety of the event was truly outstanding. For those of you who might be interested in expanding your training, or those who might be looking to test the waters of the martial arts in a reality-based training program, I can’t recommend this course and those offered by the JKD Athletic Association highly enough. I also can’t express my gratitude enough to all those who assisted me with my training – John, Singh, Brian, Gavin, Clay, Bev, JB, Kyle, Darrell, Vicki, Leigh, Kirk, Liz, Cat, Francisco and Anshu. You guys are the best. See you soon!

The discussion that follows came about after a link I posted on FaceBook sparked an interesting debate between an old college friend and myself. The link was about what’s known as the Maharishi Effect, a little known phenomenon in which the effects of large groups of meditators practicing a specific technique together can supposedly impact the population at large, even those who aren’t meditating. This is claimed to be due to the nature of the field of consciousness and how energetic ripples can spread out from from a point of higher concentration and spill over into the larger environment. If this sounds like something out of science fiction, you’d probably be right, however, large scale scientific studies seem to have confirmed this effect.

The conversation my friend and I shared hovered around the validity of these claims, the scientific method, and the nature of the world we live in. After reading it through, it seemed like a conversation worth sharing. So out of courtesy I removed my friend’s name from the transcript (we’ll call him Frank), but the rest is pretty much word for word. I hope you like it.

It went something like this:
Adam Brady shared Spirit Science and Metaphysics’s photo.

Yes, yes, and yes! (My emphasis)

Did you know that group meditation has a measurable impact on the behavior of the world around you? A great example of this is the Maharishi Effect, where in 1978 a group of 7000 individuals meditating on thoughts of love and peace were able to radiate loving energy energy which reduced global crime rates, violence, and casualties during the times of their meditation over the course of 3 weeks by an average of 16%. Suicide rates and automobile accidents also were reduced with all variables accounted for. In fact, there was a 72% reduction in terrorist during the times at which this group was meditation. Almost 50 studies have been done further confirming the benefits of global meditation and it’s direct impact on everything in the world, even so far as to have the results published in the Journal of Crime and Justice in 1981. We know meditation has endless health and psychological benefits, but it is now being explored by politics and sociology because of its undeniable energetic impact. Everything is energy, including your thoughts. These thoughts have a radiant quality that ripple through the consciousness field and energetically effect all things around you. If you want to change the state of society, it starts right now by finding peace and love within yourself.

“I think the claim can be plausibly made that the potential impact of this research exceeds that of any other ongoing social or psychological research program. It has survived a broader array of statistical tests than most research in the field of conflict resolution. This work and the theory that informs it deserve the most serious consideration by academics and policy makers alike.” — David Edwards Ph.D., Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin

http://maharishi-programmes.globalgoodnews.com/maharishi-effect/

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10683169608409775

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J076v36n01_12


<Frank> No doubt that meditation can be useful personally, but not upon other subjects in the manner claimed by the article.
<Adam Brady> Frank, I’m going to have to differ with you on this one. The TM organization has been running experiments on the effects of group meditation for over 40 years with hundreds of published research and articles demonstrating that the Maharishi Effect spills out into the collective consciousness of a given population. You can find the studies to back up the claims at TM.org, or in books such as Victory Before War or Permanent Peace. Not only that, I can attest to my own experiences in large group meditations as being something that appears to have far reaching effects. I know it runs contrary to modern, conventional science, but I truly believe there’s something more going on than just relaxation.
<Frank> I don’t differ with your sincerity, Adam! But is there any credible outside peer-reviewed evidence? I doubt it. Same goes for remote prayer — there’s no physical mechanism. I don’t have anything against TM per se, just unrealistic claims about what it can achieve. (That goes for a lot of things!) I’m sure you can “feel” some effect, but I just suggest caution about what is perception and what is objectively measurable.

No disagreement, I hope, that more people acting thoughtfully and positively makes for a better world! I don’t doubt that group meditation helps the participants to do just that. Shouldn’t that be enough to claim?
<Adam Brady> Frank – have no fear, I didn’t think you we’re questioning my sincerity. However, I do want to address the points you make here.

Most importantly, while I appreciate the benefits and advancements we have enjoyed thanks to the scientific method and a rational materialistic worldview, I find it to be far from complete when attempting to explain the true nature of reality, especially in light of how consciousness factors in to the overall picture.

In regards to the lack of peer reviewed evidence for the Maharishi Effect, Remote Prayer, Remote Viewing, Non-Local healing/intentionality, and other similar phenomena, that lack of evidence really depends on when you choose to look. Currently, hosts of physicians, physicists, engineers, researchers and organizations such as the institute of Heartmath, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences (to name just a few) are aligned with this paradigm and their work supports the same overall conclusions that the TM folks arrive at. Most of these individuals or groups aren’t well known because they are underfunded, marginalized, and sit on what is considered the fringes of science due to a deeply entrenched materialistic worldview that patently denies any experience that falls outside the boundaries of conventional science and experience. Furthermore, from a scientific standpoint, ‘measuring the immeasurable’ is not a field that most scientists are eager to explore, in fact, many in the scientific community regard the serious study of the Hard Problem of consciousness to be a dangerous and potentially career killing move.

If the scientific establishment denies the plausibility of group meditation influencing society on the whole, it’s not surprising that getting another group to take interest in replicating large scale experiments such as what the TM group has been doing since the ’70s is unlikely, especially when confirmation of their findings has the potential to upturn the whole apple cart of established belief. Ideas like this one are hard to swallow because they mean a complete reframing of how we think the world works, and are generally met with rigid opposition. I’m not saying its a conspiracy, but old ideas can be hard to change, especially when it calls for a paradigm shift. If you remember, not so long ago, in light of the Newtonian worldview, physicists felt certain there was nothing more to learn, until of course, this whole quantum mechanics thing showed up and turned the whole scientific community on its head.

Further, I can’t accept that just because something hasn’t been objectively proven means that it’s ultimately not possible, period, end of sentence; only that we currently lack the necessary tools and or mental framework to understand what may be happening. No, there may not be a physical mechanism for these types of things, or at least not in the sense that we can readily detect, but does that mean nothing’s happening, or that it’s not real, or does it simply mean that our tools (and our minds) have limits?

While I agree that subjective perception doesn’t necessarily reflect objective truth, that doesn’t mean those perceptions aren’t valid and should automatically be dismissed. This is the very reason the TM folks do the research they do. They practice their technique, have certain experiences subjectively and then ask, ‘what are the measurable, objective markers associated with those subjective experiences in regards to blood pressure, heart rate, brainwave coherence, levels of blood lactate, or neurotransmitter levels in the meditator?’ Once they had repeatable results, they then looked at what those effects might be in the surrounding environment, based upon the predicted field effect of a consciousness – based model of reality. So, ruling out the subjective perceptions can sometimes be like throwing out the baby with the bath water; they may not have ultimate scientific validity, but they can often be an indirect tool to help get you there.

And just so you know, while I posted this link because I believe in the value of group meditation to influence the world at large, I’m not a TMer nor am I associated with the TM Organization in any way. However, I have been practicing meditation for over 16 years as well as studying meditation and consciousness in an effort to deepen my understanding of how the practices of meditation and yoga can do what they do. In that study, I have come to appreciate the work the TM organization has done to deepen our understanding of meditation, consciousness, and transformation. I would love to see outside groups replicate their experiments and results, but for the reasons mentioned above, I don’t think that’s likely anytime soon, so in the meantime, they have the largest collection of data on the effects of meditation and in many ways serve as the benchmark to compare against.

You ask if helping people live thoughtfully and positively isn’t enough to claim from meditation. Perhaps it would be if those were the only benefits, but even aside for the debated Maharishi Effect, the list of benefits that come from meditating (alone or in a group) could easily fill several volumes. As a meditation teacher, to not share those benefits with others, I believe is a grave disservice to the practice.

In the final analysis, there’s no doubt that a healthy dose of skepticism is beneficial to any field of study, but at the end of the day, the difference between a seeker and a skeptic is that one explores the unknown and validates it through his own experience, while the other sits back and claims “that’s not possible.” As a seeker, I have chosen to explore my life with an open, yet skeptical mind to seek the sources of my own ignorance. In doing so, I have tried to follow the teachings of the Buddha when he said:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

This is where I fall back on the validity of my own experience. I’ve had experiences that support my belief that this stuff is real. Can I prove to you or my meditation students that the Maharishi Effect is real? No, I can’t. I can only teach them what I’ve learned and encourage them to have their own experiences to either validate or disprove the idea. To me, that’s what it means to be a scientist of yourself and to use your life as the laboratory.
<Frank> Thanks for the thoughtful response. I don’t disagree at all with any personal benefits from meditation or the ability to measure response in blood pressure, etc. of an individual. I read an article (in Smithsonian, I think) recently about Aung San Suu Kyi and how deep meditation helped her get through her long isolation and not get overcome with anger. Quite inspiring, really, to the point that I’d be interested in trying it some time. (You’re the man for that!)

Yes, scientific tools are imperfect, and there will always be unknowns. Yes, there is always (as it should be!) a certain amount of resistance to radical ideas. (Just look at plate tectonics, for example, which we take for granted now, but was a radical idea just 50 years ago.) And yes, scientists are human, too, and have their own nutty fringes. I don’t subscribe to the extreme “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist,” but a hypothesis without any supporting evidence (theoretical or measurable) is still just a hypothesis (take string theory, for example). In the case of remote prayer, however, there was actually a properly conducted study recently (can’t find it offhand) that found no statistically significant effect on hospital patient outcomes. ESP, psychic awareness, etc. have not stood up to careful study. It’s hard to justify funding to properly test more of the same.

Whatever the individual effects and benefits of meditation are, to extrapolate to an effect on others (who are not aware of the activity), is a huge leap to be rightly regarded (in my opinion) with some skepticism. It’s fine for the TM’ers to believe it, but I don’t like to see them trying to get public monetary support for “fighting crime” without good *independent* evidence — that’s what raises the big red flags for me (and why I felt compelled to make a comment). You wouldn’t trust a pharma company’s claims for a drug and buy their product if it didn’t have some measure of independent FDA review. (Although too many people believe the claims of “natural” herbal medicines that fall outside of FDA review, even Steve Jobs.) That kind of self-serving promotion is what turns me off of the TM organization, though not necessarily the practice itself. I’m totally fine with your own promotion of personal benefits, which I agree are real. All I’m saying is to be careful extrapolating beyond that.

Good conversation, Adam!
<Adam Brady> I definitely hear what you’re saying Frank. All good points you make and I agree that we should be cautious when public funds are involved. The self serving promotion you mention is a turn off for me as well, however as I said earlier, the TM folks have run the most rigorous and robust studies on meditation to date (in no small part due to an enormous budget), so I feel somewhat obligated to as Bruce Lee would say, “Absorb what is useful, Reject what is useless…” I know some former TMers who tell me the organization is a cult, a very well meaning cult, but still a cult. So, to the discriminating mind, (which I like to think I have) I’ll take what I like and leave the rest.

As for the Maharishi Effect and other fringe-dwelling ideas, I hope the future will give us that independent, peer reviewed validation that will bring it out of obscure “woo-woo” circles and into the world for serious consideration. In the meantime, I still share the idea with my students and let them take it or leave it.

Thanks for the great discussion Frank. I appreciate an intellectual sparring match as it helps me to better articulate my beliefs and encourages me to deepen my understanding of other perspectives. You da man!

Signing off on 2012

January 1, 2013

While I don’t usually write a synopsis or “Year in Review” for the 365 days that have passed since the last New Year, I think there’s some value in reflecting on the major milestones that marked the potential turning points my life has taken in 2012.  When I consider each of these choices or experiences, I realize that without them, my life could be very different than where I find it now had I made a different choice or missed a given opportunity.  Therefore, the emotion that I find most appropriate on this New Year’s Eve 2012 is gratitude.  Would I call 2012 a perfect year for me?  No, but what year could ever live up to that expectation?  A year is far more than a sum total of days or experiences. To use a somewhat overused phrase, “It is what it is.”  The value of a calendar year is a subjective experience.  It’s an interpretation based upon who we are as individuals and how the passage of time relates to our personal dreams, hopes, expectations, or fears.  We give meaning to each year as it goes by; without us, a year would be empty pages on a calendar.

With this in mind, I choose to look at this past year in appreciation for those whose lives have touched mine, for those whose lives I’ve been able to touch, and for those experiences and people that helped make me a better person. Some of the more memorable moments include: the loss of Chopra Center Co-Founder and Medical Director Dr. David Simon, who will always be remembered as an amazing teacher, gentle soul, and lighthearted kindred spirit to his beloved Hafiz; attendance at the Chopra Center’s final SynchroDestiny course in February which sparked some amazing coincidences, the effects of which are still being felt to this day; becoming a certified Hardstyle Kettlebell Instructor thanks to some great instruction by Franz Snideman; seeing the successful launch of an after work meditation class that to date has helped introduce over 100 WDW Cast Members to the transformative effect of a meditation practice; teaching 3 Primordial Sound Meditation Classes and sharing the practice with several friends such as Laura and John Giancarlo and Christopher Gayle; having the pleasure of completing 3 years of teaching Yoga to my students at the Orlando DRC; re-launching my website with help from my good friend, Andres Handschy; beginning to train in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu with my wife Dana; also cheering for Dana as she continued her amateur running career and successfully completing her 11th half marathon; getting to spend quality time with my family over the summer as my brother Matt and I helped my parents lighten their load of archival toys and relics from their attic in Pennsylvania; experiencing the unparalleled beauty and magnificent cuisine of France for 2 weeks with Dana; attending an Action Strength Certification course in Boca Raton with Harinder Singh Sabharwal and tapping into a new understanding of functional strength training and JKD; getting to hang for several days with longtime buddy and soul brother Marc Pfeifer; witnessing the turbulence and anxiety of one of the most divisive presidential campaigns I can remember; sharing a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family at my brother’s home; watching with interest as the world didn’t end on December 21*; and spending the Christmas Holidays with Dana’s family in chilly Philadelphia.

For each of these experiences, I am grateful.  Even for those experiences that might be perceived as negative or upsetting (some unlisted here), I choose to be grateful. Each person, each opportunity has been metabolized into who I am.  This is true for each of us.  No matter what 2012 has been like for us, it’s imperative not to lose sight of the fact that the circumstances of our lives are not as important as how we respond to those circumstances.  Life is what we make it.  Knowing that, reflect back on this past year and recognize that while what happened may not have been your choosing, the meaning you give it will rest with you alone.

                An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves. – Bill Vaughn

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I close out this interesting, amazing, challenging, thoughtful, sometimes painful, uncertain, and always transformative year with heartfelt thanks to my family, friends, students, and teachers who have helped me grow and inspired me to keep going.

May 2013 bless the world with infinite peace, harmony, laughter & love.

Namaste,

-Adam

* Just for the sake of argument, I’m not one who thought the world might self-apocalypse at the end of the Mayan 5124 year cycle.  I do, however believe that December 21, 2012 does mark the end of one world age and the beginning of another; one hopefully that is heralded by a shift in our global consciousness for the better.  Ritam…

In the days following the Newtown, Connecticut shooting I have found myself (as I believe many Americans find themselves) awash with sorrow, grief, and disbelief at what is one of the most horrific acts of violence most of us could imagine.  This terrible act of shooting down 27 people, mostly children in their elementary school is almost too shockingly horrible to believe.  If only it wasn’t real.  If only last Friday had been just another school day in the midst of the busy holiday season.  Sadly, for the families and friends grieving, the holidays will never be the same again.  Before I say another word however, let me offer my personal and heartfelt condolences over this dreadful event.  The families and community of Newtown have been in my prayers and thoughts every day since the shooting and will continue to be so in the weeks and months that follow.  This event has ripped a hole in the consciousness of the world and our nation, and we are right to feel these wounds for some time.  Only with time and concerted thought, speech, and actions will we be able to heal and transform ourselves and our nation to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again.

As I’ve watched the news and read articles and posts about this massacre, I’ve seen both the best and worst of humanity; the unbelievable compassion of a grieving community and nation, the support of our President and the commitment of his office to prevent the conditions of this massacre from existing in the future, and the enormous outpouring of love and concern for the victims and their families.  At the same time however, we have been exposed to the chaotic swirl of the media’s sensationalistic coverage of the event, the deeply entrenched opposition of sides in the gun control issue, and the appalling plans of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest the funerals and memorial services of the victims. In watching it all unfold, and with no little amount of reflection, contemplation, and meditation, I’ve begun to deepen my understanding of the issues that are at the heart of this tragedy.  I would like to share them with you here.  If my observations and insights resonate with you, great.  If not, that’s fine too, I just hope that you recognize that these are my opinions based on my experiences and understanding.  I’m not a parent or a gun owner, but that doesn’t mean I can’t grapple with these issues and try to understand them.

What causes a young man to force his way to an elementary school and brutally kill first graders and their teachers?  How does such a thing happen?  Is there a simple or single answer?  I truly doubt that.  I have heard the argument that such mass shootings are due to the explicit and violent culture we live in.  Television, film and video games have become unprecedentedly violent.  Young minds are being exposed to (and desensitized to) violence wherever they turn and without the psychological maturity and development necessary to understand right from wrong or life from death, it’s easy to believe that it’s only natural to want to be like the hero or character in the latest film or video game.  In my mind there is no question that such influences shape the minds of young, easily influenced children.

There is another factor, the parents.  Raising children in our current society is one of the most challenging endeavors imaginable, and clearly some are not up to the task.  The responsibilities of parenting are immense, no small part of those is seeing to the healthy mental development of their children as they grow.  In the aftermath of this shooting, criticism has been leveled at the parents of mass murderers as the source of the problem.  If they had been better parents it is believed, some switch in their child’s head wouldn’t have flipped and the carnage could have been prevented.  I’ll acknowledge that I believe there is a valid argument here as well.  If parents don’t do their part to lead a child from adolescence to maturity with care, compassion, responsibility and love, an imbalance will most certainly result.

Add to the mix the very real possibility of mental illness.  After reading an article in the Huffington Post, (Here) I’ve come to recognize that even with the best parents and values in place, mental illness can rear a very ugly head and turn an otherwise normal individual into a raging, distorted version of humanity that if left unchecked may eventually erupt in a catastrophic expression of violence.  Such individuals become increasingly impossible for their parents or caregivers to manage and without professional help, they have little hope for finding a place in our society.

While violent cultural influences, irresponsible parenting and mental illness bare some of the blame in these tragedies, it’s far more complicated than we believe.  Warped by violent societal influences, ignored, abused, or misguided by poor parents, we can’t imagine what goes through the mind (or lack thereof) of such an individual.

It is at this level that the pro-gun community believes we need to address the problem.  If we can effectively treat mental illness, stop people from growing up dysfunctional and seeing violence as an acceptable outlet for that dysfunction, the cycle will be broken.  To an extent, this makes sense.  I believe that the cultural and societal influences we are exposed to need to be evaluated.  The balance between free speech and violent films, video games, and other media must be carefully examined to maintain and uphold the values that support healthy emotional and psychological development.  At the same time, parents need to both be held accountable for the environment in which their children are raised as well as given the support to deal with cases of mental illness.  If these conditions set the stage for sociopathic or psychopathic behavior, we must find tools and means to help parents raise children in a supportive and healthy environment.

With this being said, I don’t see how this approach can provide any relief in the short term.  While creating cultural change on this level is definitely needed, it would take years, if not decades to create the organizations and institutions required to affect this type of change on a national level.  The regulatory bodies that monitor the amount of violence in film, television, and video games aren’t going to change overnight.  Further, providing counseling or social work options for improved parenting would be a monumental undertaking, and once in place who and how would oversight be provided to ensure that the morality and values of our country would be maintained? Not to mention the outcry of parents recoiling at the government or some outside body that would tell them how to raise their children. In addition, treating mental illness can be a very slippery slope in that it can often go unnoticed for years before expressing itself.  Even if all of these things were accomplished, how long would it be before the changes started to be seen in the culture at large?  I believe it would take years to see significant reduction in large scale violence, and as evidenced by the shootings in this year alone, we can’t wait any longer.

It is from this standpoint I believe that if we truly want to prevent these types of shootings, we must take a serious and hard look at our current gun legislation.  I know this is a volatile and multifaceted subject but we must ask ourselves how many victims must die for our nation to have a mature and rational discussion on the possession of firearms.  While some may find it inappropriate to discuss these matters so soon after a mass shooting, I must point out that the same argument was made following the shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin earlier this year; however, it seems the discussion never took place.  Indeed, it’s not too soon to have a national discussion on gun legislation; it’s clearly much too late.  If we refuse to face this issue and continue to sweep it under the rug, we will be doomed to repeat the past again…and again.

Before I continue, know that as a trained martial artist, I completely support the right for us to protect and defend ourselves as necessary, including the use of firearms.  I have fired guns, trained with them, and understand how to handle them safely.  I am neither a firearms noob nor a complete and total anti-gun liberal.  I do, however believe that there are some huge misconceptions about the role firearms play in our society.

When the First Amendment was adopted in 1791 it read:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

At that time, the early American settlers saw their right to bear arms as important to one of the following purposes, in no particular order:

  • Deterring a tyrannical government
  • Repelling invasion
  • Suppressing insurrection
  • Facilitating self defense
  • Participating in law enforcement
  • Enabling the people to organize a militia system

Colonial America was a rough place and the frontier could be as close as your back yard, and with the recent separation from the Crown, no one knew how long the American experiment would last before the British might come knocking.  In addition, the early Colonies didn’t have a police force per se, so if there was an issue, local officials might need to arm themselves and band together to deal with a problem.  Not only that, consider what “Firearm” meant in those days.  A musket was hardly an efficient weapon by today’s standards.  It was a long, heavy weapon that fired a single shot following a 15 second reload period and had an effective range of between 100-150 yards.

Under these conditions, the original language and interpretation of the First Amendment made a lot of sense.  However, no one can argue that times have changed and the purposes for the First Amendment might look a little different in today’s context: With few exceptions, most Americans don’t live on the edge of the wilderness, and even if they do, they’re usually a short drive to a more urban environment.  Secondly, we (as the civilian populace) aren’t required to defend our borders in the event of an attack; that’s what our Armed Forces are for.  We have the largest and most well armed military in the world and if there’s an issue they can’t manage, it’s not likely that an unorganized civilian population is going to pull it off.  Likewise, law enforcement organizations now exist that are designed to protect the domestic population.  And while some might argue that we live under a tyrannical government that we need to be prepared to rise up against, we clearly have it better than many, many places on this planet that truly are tyrannical and oppressive states.

However, what does remain in our times is the need to defend ourselves. And when I say self defense, I’m referring to a personal attack to myself or my family; something that represents a clear and present danger to my personal health, safety and welfare.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, this justification for owning a gun has taken on an enormous amount of psychological and emotional baggage.  When people think of their guns, it often strikes a very patriotic chord, associated with the image of our country’s roots, our forefathers, the Constitution, fighting for our freedom, protecting our rights, taming the wilderness and the bulwark of the American Dream itself.  Indeed, this association is made brutally clear in the well known statement in favor of gun ownership, “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hand.”  In other words, I would rather die than give up my gun.  It should be clear by now that the concept of guns in this country goes far beyond a tool for self protection.

Ultimately, a firearm is just a tool.  But it’s a tool that can be extremely deadly.  I think that’s where we get ourselves into some murky territory.  Gun right activists are keen to point out that a gun is just a piece of hardware, and hardware doesn’t kill people.  That may be true, but an important distinction is understanding the intention behind that piece of hardware.  The intention behind a firearm isn’t like the intention behind a hammer.  The intention behind a firearm in its most basic form is simple – to kill.  Some might argue that the intention is to protect or hunt, but how does a firearm do those things?…by killing.  And while it’s true that many other tools can be used for killing (baseball bats, kitchen knives, hammers, hands, fists, etc.) the point here is that a gun has no other ultimate purpose than to kill.  And as such, I believe gun ownership invokes a higher level of responsibility than the ownership of other tools.

Now as a point of comparison, consider driving an automobile.  To have the privilege to drive in this country several things are required: First, one must have adequate training in the proper use of an automobile, both in theory and in practical experience.  Second, a driver must be insured to protect both him or herself and the other motorists on the road in the case of an accident.  Third, the driver’s vehicle needs to be registered on a yearly basis.  Lastly, one must have a license to operate a vehicle that is regularly renewed to ensure that certain criteria for safe driving are still being met.  All drivers are familiar with these steps, and while they can be a pain, I imagine most of us recognize their necessity and don’t consider them to be unreasonable.

Now in light of the firearms discussion, take a moment to consider that there aren’t similar guidelines for firearm ownership. While some states may require registration, and owners may choose to attend courses for concealed carry permits and the like, on the whole, the regulations are far less rigid in regards to firearms than automobiles.  Coming back to intent, recall that the intention behind a firearm is to kill, while the intention behind a car is transportation.  I think this recognition is important.  A tool to kill is less restricted than a tool for transportation. I recently read a Tweet that reflected this irony by pointing out that in America we fight over who can get a marriage license, but we seem not to be concerned with who has access to an assault rifle…

As we continue to dig deeper into this issue the paradoxes seem to become even more glaring.  For example, consider that a few years ago a failed attempt by a terrorist to detonate a shoe bomb on an airplane led to all of us having to take our shoes off in the airport, yet there have been 31 school shootings since Columbine and we still have yet to change how we regulate guns.  In light of this fact, gun right advocates continue to argue that more gun laws won’t change anything because criminals will just break the laws anyway.  But by that logic, why have traffic laws, or any laws for that matter?  Criminals are undoubtedly going to try to break laws, but I believe the point of the laws regulating firearms is to make the access of firearms by criminals or the mentally disturbed more difficult.  Since 1982 there have been 61 mass shootings in the United States, and in 49 of those shootings, the firearms were obtained legally.  I would hope we can all agree that firearms, especially assault weapons should not get into the hands of criminals or the mentally unstable.  In light of the long-term results associated attempting to reform the violent culture of our society, and to get the mentally imbalanced the help they need, a change in the way we regulate firearms may be the only step that will make a difference in the short term.  Granted, criminals will do their best to obtain firearms, but if one person’s life can be saved by stricter legislation, wouldn’t it be worth it?

Know that I’m not talking about banning all guns.  In the days after these recent shootings there has been a knee-jerk reaction by many gun enthusiasts to defend their firearms and point out the fact that a more armed populace would pose more of a deterrent to a potential mass killer than any existing or future legislation.  I saw multiple FaceBook posts following the Aurora, Colorado shooting in which someone claimed that if they had been in the movie theater with their handgun, they would have been able to stop the shooter.  While I believe taking out a body-armored homicidal lunatic using multiple semi-automatic weapons in a dark, smoke and pandemonium filled theater is possible, I think it’s much less likely to succeed than most would like to imagine.  I’ve practiced martial arts for over 25 years, training in many realistic-based scenarios to simulate and manage the fight or flight adrenaline dump that clouds thinking, slows reaction time, and distorts perception. And even with all that training, I realistically know there’s no guarantee that a given technique (or clean shot) can be pulled off under the pressure of a real threat.  Add to the mix the external conditions, the level of overall situational awareness, dealing with the surprise of the attack and target acquisition, it’s challenging to believe a shooter could be put down as easily as some suggest.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t attempt to resist in such situations, though.  I’m merely pointing out that some things are easier said than done.  If you have any doubt of this, I highly recommend you watch this video of an ABC clip that demonstrates the difficulty average people without specialized training have when responding in an active shooter scenario. http://youtu.be/ZryfuNgdSHY.  It makes a very clear point that even those with handgun training can rarely use their firearm efficiently in the face of a mass shooting scenario. Once again, this doesn’t mean we don’t do all we can to defend ourselves and stop the attack; I just thought it makes a pretty clear point.  It also paints a picture of a shootout scenario with the bystanders sometimes getting caught in the crossfire.

As I hope has become clear, this issue isn’t as black and white as either side wants to make it.  Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, has become the mantra of the pro-gun movement. I agree.  It’s preposterous to imagine a gun of its own accord killing a human being.  However, guns do make killing people easier and horribly more efficient than most other methods.  Coincidentally, on the very same day of the Newtown shooting, an equally crazed individual attacked schoolchildren in China with a knife, stabbing 22 of them.  Some say all this proves that killers will be killers no matter if they have access to guns or not.  However, the difference in these two situations is clear – the children in China survived their attacker.  The victims in Connecticut, as we know, did not.  Clearly the magnitude of the attack was mitigated by the type of weapon used in China.  Is a knife a deadly weapon? Of course.  But can a knife spray bullets in the manner a .223 caliber Bushmaster semiautomatic assault rifle can?  No.  It’s all about the ease in which a gunman can kill his victims in a rapid-fire, detached and distanced manner that makes all the difference.

As a conclusion, in light of these observations, it’s difficult for me understand those who feel that a deep examination of gun legislation is the wrong course of action.  Yes, mental health in this country is a very real part of the problem, if not the ultimate source of these tragedies.  But until we can make changes on that level, it seems that additional steps must be taken to insure that the deranged and twisted individuals of our world don’t get their hands on the tools to hurt us.  No one is saying you don’t have the right to defend yourself.  No one (as least not me) is telling you to give up your guns.  But I do believe we have a responsibility to deeply understand these issues and to make the hard choices that will protect us all in the long run.  We owe it not only to everyone who has ever died needlessly in a shooting, but to the future generations that we wish to protect from similar pain and suffering.

A Shift in Perception

October 31, 2012

The majority of my students come to learn meditation for one primary reason – to relieve or better manage stress.  In our society stress has come to be the accepted byproduct of a life lived in the fast-paced, frenetic, modern world.  We’ve all experienced it at some time in our lives; acute or chronic, real or imagined.  As more and more research reveals the correlation between a stressful lifestyle and the chronic health conditions that afflict our society, people recognize that they must take action to manage their stress or face the physical, mental, and emotional consequences.

Stress, as familiar an experience as it happens to be, is often vaguely defined as a sense of tension, pressure, or anxiety, or a constriction that feels as if a powder keg within is poised to explode at any minute, but never does.  However, stress pretty much boils down to one thing – the feeling of not getting your needs met.  Whenever we have a desire we wish to accomplish, we set out in a particular direction, but occasionally we run up against an obstacle.  When we encounter resistance, we seek a way around, over or through that obstacle.  Unfortunately, we can’t always get past the barrier and that causes a blockage in the otherwise uninterrupted flow of our energy.  This experience we interpret as the familiar sensation of stress.

Once the stress arises, it triggers a chemical cascade through our physiology that we have come to know as the fight or flight response.  This response, first studied by American Physiologist Walter Cannon, consists of an entire symphony or biochemical changes to our normal relaxed state of being.  It is the equivalent of a complete rewriting of our mind-body software.  Within the span of a few heartbeats our entire system is rewired to run or fight.  We secrete stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, increase our respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration and breathing, redirect circulatory function, release additional blood sugar into our system, increase the stickiness of the platelets in our blood, and decreases the blood supply to the frontal cortex of our brains.  All these things happen almost simultaneously, preparing the body to go into battle.

This response evolved over millions of years as a survival strategy and has been used with great success to ensure the continuation of our species.  However, our current dilemma is one in which we activate this response for non-life threatening situations, anywhere between 5-15 times a day.  A hectic drive to work, too many emails, a confrontation with a coworker or spouse, a work deadline, the evening news; all these and countless other situations send us spiraling into the stress-based world of fight or flight on an all too frequent basis.

However insidious stress may be though, it is simply the effect, not the cause.  Stress and the fight or flight response is just our body’s automatic coping mechanism.  If this is true, then what actually triggers the stress to manifest; where does it all begin?

In a word, it begins with Perception.   What is perception?  On the surface level, perception is the process of using our senses to acquire information about the surrounding environment or a specific situation.  But ultimately, perception encompasses our attitude or understanding based upon what is observed or thought.  So perception governs how we view and understand the world we live in.  It informs and helps to build our worldview and to a great extent determines how we live and the choices we make.

In regards to stress, perception is the primary cause.  Stress doesn’t exist independently of our interpretation.  It’s not as if a cloud of stress is hanging over the highway as you drive to work and you become stressed as you pass through it.  Instead, stress begins with the perception of a threat.  This threat can be either physical or emotional, but usually involves the crossing of a boundary of safety.  Once the threat is perceived, the very act of perception activates the chemical messengers that instantly transform the physiology into fight or flight mode.  No perception of threat, no stress response.

In the words of Dr. David Simon, “Reality is a selective act of attention and interpretation.”  This means that what you consider to be your reality is really the culmination of what you put your attention on and the meaning you give to it.  We all pay attention to different things; we look at one object or situation and ignore another.  Our conditioning and experiences have programmed us to look for some things and not others, and when we become aware of those things, people, or situations we interpret them and give them a specific meaning for us.  I say for us because this process is a completely subjective one.  Your experiences based upon your actions, memories, and desires will be different than mine and will therefore lead you to notice things in a different way than I do, thereby creating a different experience of reality.

This is worthy to note because we can all remember an occasion when we were with someone and experienced the same objective situation in completely different ways.  Imagine for example, that you are at a restaurant with a friend when suddenly across the room, you notice your Ex, with whom you experienced a turbulent breakup a few weeks before.  That situation causes a shift in your awareness that isn’t shared by your friend because your memories of your Ex are different than your friend’s.  Your mind-body system may perceive this situation as a threat and kick into full blown fight or flight while your dining companion has a completely different experience of that same event.

This is the power of perception.  How we perceive the world shapes our understanding of who we are, what the world feels like, and if it’s a safe or dangerous place.

Change your perception, change your world

So, we can understand now that perception has an incredibly potent effect on how life unfolds for us.  But if we want to live life fully, we need to learn how to shift our perceptions away from a worldview in which life seems threatening and dangerous to a worldview that is uplifting and supportive.  Fortunately, meditation it the perfect tool to accomplish this goal.

Through meditation we gently settle down into a more relaxed and peaceful state, our thoughts gradually become more and more abstract, and may even stop for a time.  Through this process the effects of the fight or flight response are reversed, allowing the mind and body to shift into a state of growth and healing rather than protection.  The perception of a threat is also relieved and the physiology receives an unspoken signal that everything is all right.  If this isn’t amazing enough, the effects of meditation aren’t localized to the time spent in meditation alone.  Instead, the stillness accessed during meditation spills over into your regular daily activities, allowing you to be less stressed on an ongoing basis.  But the real beauty is that through regular meditation, you begin to retune your perceptual software so that the world doesn’t look as dangerous.

When we meditate, we slip into the stillness, often referred to as the Gap between our thoughts.  This Gap is powerfully transformative because by entering into it on a regular basis, you embody that stillness, that space, and it begins to infuse your life on every level.  To a certain extent you actually become that silence and it changes how you perceive and thereby react to the world.  At first it’s a very subtle difference, but as you continue to practice, you notice that rather than perceiving the world and instantaneously interpreting it a certain way, (i.e. good, bad, supportive, dangerous), you find that there is a slight glimpse of stillness, a little space between perception and reaction.  That little space is all that’s necessary to see the situation from a different, more reflective perspective.  In that pause, you realize that you have choices to how you will respond to what you perceive.  You’re no longer trapped, imprisoned by conditioning and forced to react in a repetitive robot-like manner.  You can choose differently.

According to ancient wisdom traditions, this process is known as cleansing the windows of perception.  When we can see things clearly, as they really are, the world takes on an entirely new quality.  It is fresh, new, and undistorted by our preconceived notions.  We can see things in their simple purity, unclouded by our beliefs or prejudices.  This is true freedom.  In the end, nothing has any meaning until we give it one.  There is no ultimate good or bad, right or wrong, only the interpretations we assign to the external situations and circumstances of our lives.

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

-Edgar Allen Poe

The magic of meditation is that through the process we are not only relieving the stress of our lives during the real-time practice of meditation, but we’re also causing a shift in perception that alters the interpretation of potentially stressful situations in the future.  Some students, reluctant to make the commitment to a daily meditation practice, often use meditation in times of crisis to help manage the stress of the issue they are facing.  However, if meditation were to become a regular part of their lives, they would find that due to the shift in awareness that comes through extended time in stillness, the perception of a “crisis” might change altogether, revealing an opportunity, a deeper clarity, or a moment of transcendent awareness.

Regardless, we can see that by changing our perceptions we are literally changing our world.  When we see our experiences through new eyes, we’re no longer condemned to stress and anxiety; we see things as they truly are, free from the burden of judgment, and from an enlightened viewpoint.  In that enlightenment lies true liberation in the embrace of the timeless present.

Thoughts on Action Strength

October 24, 2012

This past weekend I had the unique pleasure to attend the Action Strength Level 1 Certification workshop in Boca Raton, FL.  It was taught by Harinder Singh Sabharwal, CEO and Chief Training Officer of the Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association.   Action Strength is a specific training program that develops functional strength in a manner that aligns the body, mind and spirit as an integrated whole.  It’s a system that is truly beyond compare in its ability to unify the body as one coherent unit to channel and deliver enormous amounts of power for any athletic endeavor.  On the whole, the weekend was one of the best training experiences of my life, one that will forever change the way I understand what it truly means to be strong, healthy, and fit.

I don’t make these claims lightly, either.  I’ve been weight training and training in the martial arts for over 25 years, practicing yoga and eating a plant based diet for over a decade, and have been doing some kind of workout 6 days a week for the last 5-7 years.  I thought I understood fitness and what it meant to be in shape.  I was wrong.  Action Strength was unlike any training I had done before and I learned very quickly that rather than being strong and fit, I was really just scratching the surface of my perceived abilities.

I had rudimentary understanding of the type of exercises involved in the Action Strength program from DVDs I had watched over the last year.  Tai Chi, Bodyweight, Kettlebells, and Gada (Indian Mace) exercises made up the physical portion of the system while the mental aspect was deeply rooted in the philosophy of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and Malavidya, the ancient Indian science of strength and power.  However, having never trained with Harinder, I had yet to have the true experience of this practice in action.

One of the first and primary insights we learned was that strength is a skill.  This was a new concept for me.  Honestly, I don’t think I had ever given it much thought, other than to assume that strength was a given or genetically predetermined.  As a tall and small framed guy, I believed that the length of my bones and muscles had a significant impact on how much power and strength I could generate.  The idea that strength could be learned and developed through a progressive approach to training was quite literally something I hadn’t considered before.  And after listening to Singh describe the different progressions and the science of numbers and repetitions, I began to realize that perhaps my physical limitations were dependant not upon my genetic makeup, but more on my training method which, up to this point had been based upon the conventional model of exercise and fitness.

The modern fitness and exercise model relies heavily on the western materialistic approach which breaks the body in to separate pieces or systems; muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, organs, etc.   From there it uses exercises that isolate and work each muscle group or system individually.  For example, to build muscle you would perform a weight lifting exercise for just one or two primary muscles while the
bulk of the body’s other muscles are at rest.  In a similar fashion, to increase aerobic capacity, we are taught to isolate the pulmonary and respiratory systems through running, biking or swimming.  This may sound like an over simplification, but the point is that contemporary fitness programs lean more toward working the body’s pieces rather than the whole body, let alone the mind.

In contrast, Action Strength is about the exact opposite.  In every exercise, we are striving to engage and recruit as much muscle as possible.  In this way, the body becomes a unified whole integrated through posture, breathing and intent.  As such, the exercises generate much more power and strength than conventional exercises.  The entire body is moving in harmony as opposed to disparate individual parts that break the chain and thereby disrupting the body’s energy flow, known in Eastern traditions as Prana or Chi.  As you might imagine, utilizing the entire body can make for an intense exercise experience.  However, one of many benefits of this type of approach is that since the exercises are so focused and concentrated, more can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time.  In as few as 15 to 20 minutes, the entire body can be worked out, energized, aligned, and unified for overall strength or for sport specific activities.

In addition, Action Strength incorporates a specific breathing cadence for each exercise.  Known as pranayama in India, this steady, deep breathing combined with the repetitive nature of the exercises (especially the Dand and Bhetak ) sets up a unique mind-body feedback loop that quiets the mind and enhances overall mental focus and awareness.  This is especially beneficial in the realm of martial arts in which your breathing determines your overall level of endurance and relaxation when physical stress is at its highest.  But even for those not inclined toward the martial arts, the exercises and their breathing component help to establish a state of stillness during intense physical activity which becomes a form of moving meditation.  Training in this manner helps us to understand that we lift the weights to condition the mind; as the mind comes more under our control, we can use it to hardness the tremendous power of our muscles for whatever task is at hand.

This mental shift can lead to a powerful transformation in the recognition that our physical limitations have their roots not in our bodies, but in our minds.  As Singh reminded us, when our breath is steady and controlled, our minds are brought to a focused intent that allows us to override the internal dialogue that keeps us rooted in the perceived limitations of our bodies.  Every time we push a little further, refocus our intention and breathe, we bypass the mental static that says, “I can’t do this”, or “I think I’m going to die!” and tap into our true potential that lies beyond the level of the mind.   In these moments we’re able to dig deeper than we have before and get to know ourselves better.  This is what Bruce Lee referred to as discovering the causes of your own ignorance.  Action Strength therefore becomes a vehicle for self-transformation.  When you see that self doubt comes from “in here” rather than “out there”, you realize that you alone hold the keys to your own evolution and growth and are poised to take your next step with confidence and power.

While Action Strength is designed to help people at all levels of health and fitness grow stronger (i.e. coming back from an injury, the next level, or high performance), it’s not necessarily an easy path.  Action Strength training is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix solution.  It’s not something you do for a few weeks or months and then move on.  It’s an ongoing progression of skill and strength.  Each level of achievement sets the groundwork for the next so we continue to grow stronger through our lives.  In this regard, I have just begun.   But this weekend’s program was an amazing start on this path.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Harinder Singh Sabharwal, Anshu Sabharwal, Brian Olson, Gavin Garringer, John Riddle, and all the participants from the seminar that put up with all my noob questions.  Your help and patience is what made this weekend such an amazing experience.

From here it’s up to me to both integrate this training into my life as well as share it with others, which I plan to do in earnest.  Look for FB & website updates (www.revisedreality.com) and private training updates in the future.   In the meantime, feel free to contact me with questions if you’d like to learn more about his amazing strength training system.

-Adam

A Disturbance in the Force

October 17, 2012

Unlike years past, I’ve found the current political season to be downright repellant.  And I don’t think that’s too strong a word.  Literally, over the past few months I’ve felt an increasing repulsion from the entire Presidential campaign process, almost like two magnets at polar opposites.  Yes, I have my beliefs about which candidate will take our country in the most nourishing and evolutionary direction, who will help make our country strong again, and who will best represent this country as President for the next four years.  Despite these beliefs, I can’t get around the fact that this Presidential campaign has become a bloody battleground strewn with lies, accusations, character assassination, and wholesale negativity unlike we have ever seen before.  Our current political paradigm endorses libel, slander, hate speech, and a total disregard for factual information.  The truth literally doesn’t matter anymore.  What does matter is who can raise the most money, scream louder, hurl more accusations, and contrive the most destructive attack ads.

Ultimately, we can’t blame the candidates, their organizations, the pundits, or the political parties they belong to.  The face of these campaigns ultimately reflects the state of our consciousness as a nation.  The fact that two opposing parties can act this way shows that we live in a country in which this type of behavior has become acceptable.  This should give us pause.  Ask yourself a question – are the values demonstrated by the race to the White House the values you would teach your children?  If you’re like most people, the answer is a resounding “No!”  But if that’s the case, why do we stand for it on a national level?

Perhaps it’s because we’ve become complacent, perhaps it’s because we sense a futility in trying to fight such an intractable paradigm, or perhaps we’ve settled into apathy and assumed that we can’t make a difference.  Or maybe we’re just afraid to be the change we want to see in the world.  But for whatever the reason, we can’t afford to allow ourselves to slip further into darkness.  Every negative exchange, commercial, internet meme, or political talk show creates ripples in the entangled field of consciousness of which we are all a part.  Even the debates themselves generate a polarizing effect, deepening the shockwaves of negativity and creating collateral damage in consciousness.  I know I’m not alone when I say that after watching a debate or reading an article about the current political climate, I feel drained and emotionally overwhelmed.  The shift may be subtle, but it’s unmistakably real and it stands poised to undermine so much of what we have attainted as a nation. 

So what’s the answer?  In a word, awareness.  When asked how end suffering in its multiple forms, the Buddha always had the same answer – awareness.  With greater awareness we see the world with clarity, understanding, and compassion.  The lack of awareness or ignorance hides and clouds the true nature of reality, like a dirty mirror.  But through awareness we can wake up from the sleep that allows the negativity I’ve described above to exist.  Whether it’s through educating ourselves, consciously choosing not to propagate the negativity through posts or mindless comments, removing our attention from the status quo of the political campaigns (A.K.A. turning off the TV), or through the grand-daddy of all awareness building tools, meditation, we can continue to shine our light amidst the darkness of these times.

In the Indian spiritual classic, The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna (higher consciousness) councils his disciple Arjuna in the ways of yoga and awareness as they overlook the battlefield of Kurukshetra.  Before them are two great armies, equally dedicated to the other’s total destruction.  Arjuna is overwhelmed with fear and grief because he knows the warriors on both sides of the conflict and does not want to have to fight them.  Krishna teaches Arjuna the path of yoga, higher awareness and the way of action, giving him the ability to transcend the conflict and act as a warrior of light, performing his duty and serving the world in the process.

In a similar manner, through expanded awareness, we can transcend the current political battlefield and view it with compassion and clarity.  We can then make the most nourishing and evolutionary choice for the course of the next four years.   What we cannot afford is to sit back passively and let someone else take action.  This is a participatory universe.  But the good news is that the action you take comes from a shift in perception.  To quote Dr. Wayne Dyer:

 Become a mystical being by simply changing your mind from one that created and experienced problems, to one that resolves them.

As warriors of light we can transform ourselves, but at the same time create a transformation in consciousness that will bring light to the darkness of our current political discourse.  When this happens, we cast our vote not only with the ballot we use at the polls, but with our awareness.  And one vote with awareness has the power to shift the world.

Event Horizon

September 8, 2012

We live in an amazing country.  The innovation, the creativity, the freedom, and the tradition built on decades and centuries of blood, sweat, and tears of the Americans that came before us; the beautiful hills, plains, coastlines, lakes, skies and forests; the industry, business, schools, churches, museums, libraries and laboratories; the culture, the music, the family, the friends…home.

America is truly a wonderful country.  But I fear it is a country on the brink of potential self-annihilation.

As I’ve watched the political climate of our country grown increasingly polarized, it’s difficult not to see it as a prelude to something terrible.  Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, Progressives and Regressives, our political culture has splintered away from two parties that would at one time, (despite certain differences) cooperate to serve the greater good to being diametrically opposed cultural factions that seem hell bent on destroying each other.  This is not a good thing, not at all.

While we’re all familiar with Darwin’s notion of survival of the fittest, another, more enlightened perspective on growth and change suggests that cooperation rather than competition is the real agent of positive transformation.   For an example in your own life, consider your body.  All the cells in your body must work in harmony with each other with a shared goal.  They all perform unique functions, but in doing so, they serve the greater good of the body.  If one group of cells decides to go rogue and live only for themselves it’s not called treason, it’s called cancer and it will kill the body in an attempt to gain ultimate control.

Likewise, our country cannot function in a healthy manner as long as we are tearing ourselves apart with an ideological war for superiority.  We’ve all heard the motto, United we stand, divided we fall.  This is no metaphor, this is reality.  If we continue to dig in our heels and refuse to compromise, the end result will most likely be catastrophic.  Even now, the rhetoric between parties is growing increasingly more rancid and caustic.  Name calling, aggression, hostile propaganda, hate speech and lies have become acceptable tools of the trade when it comes to the vilification of the other side.  Are these the tools of a civilized society?  We all intuitively know they are not, regardless of our political and ideological leanings.  We must find another way.

Modern neuroscience has recently revealed that we as human beings have a ‘Negativity Bias.’  This means that we are automatically drawn to the negative or bad side of situations, circumstances, and events.  This is due to the fact that in humanity’s more primitive state, we had to be constantly on the lookout for danger or anything that might be life threatening.  This survival mechanism was hard wired into our brains and it no doubt served our ancestors well, however (and unfortunately), in our modern world, we feed into this bias toward the negative with increasing frequency even when our lives aren’t being threatened.  The bias toward the negative plays directly into our political climate and leads us down the road of the worst case scenario.  This in turn causes fear, and in that fear we lash out with a primitive response against our perceived enemy.

As you can probably see by now, this process is cyclical.  It’s a feedback loop that is on endless replay.  But with each loop the hostility, anger, fear, and reactivity increases.  It’s frightfully similar to the well known Start Trek cadet test known as the Kobayashi Maru.  For the non Trekers out there, the Kobayashi Maru is a no win scenario…

I titled this post Event Horizon because that is the term given to the leading edge of a Black Hole.  It’s the point of no return.  Once anything crosses the event horizon, it will get sucked into the gravity well of the black hole, no ifs, ands or buts.  We as a nation similarly stand on such a precipice.  It will only take a nudge to send us careening into the abyss.  One over reactive event by either party and the result will call for immediate retaliation.  In a heartbeat we could in a death spiral from which our culture  as we know it might not survive.

Now I’m not trying to be a pessimistic gloom and doomer, but I want to urge you to recognize that we are indeed in a very dangerous place.  You’re free to disagree and tell me I’m paranoid and grossly over reacting.  But to make another Sci-Fi reference, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”  By nature I’m a very positive person and as such hold to a positive and bright vision of the future that we all have the potential to move into.  However, we can’t do so unless we, not just the politicians learn to dial ourselves down.  There is a solution to the Kobayashi Maru, but just like in Star Trek, the answer is to break out of the system entirely and reprogram the test.  We must choose not to play the game and rise to a higher level of consciousness.  We must learn to be more careful with our thoughts, our speech, our actions and our FaceBook posts.  Yes, we enjoy our wonderful freedom of speech in this country, but that speech doesn’t ever come without consequences.  That’s known as Karma.  Every thought, word, and deed generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind.  So as we’re vehemently supporting our party or our beliefs by liking or reposting internet memes, it’s helpful to be aware that it isn’t necessary to cut someone’s head off in order to look taller.  Actions always have consequences and when you’re wading through a lake of gasoline, it’s wise not to light matches.

We all have our beliefs about how the country should be run, which laws should be passed, how the Constitution should be interpreted, or what our founding fathers had in mind for our country.  But do those beliefs need to be plastered like billboards on our home pages?  While it might be our intention to show support to a particular ideal or help educate our less well informed friends, I’m willing to bet that those posts are less convincing than you might imagine.  As a matter of fact, research shows that for any given subject, most people’s minds are already made up and any attempt to change their opinion or get someone to come over to your side usually causes them to become even more entrenched in their opinion despite your reasoning.  Now if you want to show your support for a cause or an ideal, I get that, I do.  However, when it’s a comment or meme laced with negativity or hostility toward the other side, does that really help the situation?  It might make you feel better by venting your frustration over the issue, but in the greater scheme of things are you making the situation better or worse?  Would it not perhaps be more enlightened to share something positive?

Our world, our culture is full of cynics.  With the advent of the internet it has never been easier to be a keyboard heckler or troll and tear people down just for the fun of it.  It wasn’t that long ago that I learned the history of the word cynic.  It comes from the ancient Greek word kunikos, which means “doglike.”  The cynics were a Greek sect that behaved like dogs by barking and urinating in public.  They sought virtue by faultfinding and endlessly pointing out the flaws in others.  Most of us find this notion reprehensible in our society, but how many of us behave in just that way to incite a reaction or to fire someone up on a volatile topic?  Perhaps a better code would be to follow the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba who said,

“Before you speak, think -Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone?”

For those of you who have had the privilege of attending Mark Russo’s Fudo Shin workshop, I remind you of the meditation in which we visualize suiting up in diamond armor and wielding a diamond sword to cut down ignorance and defend those who are lost in their own illusions.  That is what we are all called to be, especially in times such as these.  We must be the Light Bringers, the compassionate ones who will not get caught up in the melodrama of this stage of our country’s evolution.  We have the potential to help guide ourselves and others through these turbulent times to the safe harbor of our next stage of growth and evolution.

Yes, I said evolution.  Not simply in from a biological perspective, but from a global one.  You see evolution is our future.  Everything in nature is growing, changing, and moving forward.  We evolve personally, biologically, psychologically, spiritually, and culturally.  That change is inevitable.  And while I don’t wish to take a political side in this essay, I will tell you that I consider myself to be an Evolutionary.   I wish to be a positive force of change in this world.  I want to help this world, this culture to get where it needs to go so we are all happier, healthier, more fulfilled, and more enlightened than ever before.  In my understanding, this is where we’re all going anyway, however haltingly.  Holding back the change and growth of a culture, a nation is like preventing a 10 year old from turning 11, or like holding a beach ball under water…it can never succeed.

We do indeed stand at a crossroads in our evolution and we have more power than ever before to make a positive change in this world.  We can’t expect someone else to do it for us.  It must start with us.  By making conscious choices, choices that benefit not just ourselves, but choices that benefit everyone we are connected to, we can change our course before it’s too late, and in doing so, step back from the event horizon and into a future of unlimited possibilities.

Thoughts on Impermanence

August 6, 2012

I’ve recently had reasons to reflect on one of the essential concepts of the world’s great wisdom traditions.  It’s so fundamental to our life here on earth, yet few of us ever take the time to recognize the lessons it has to teach until we’re forced to face it.  The concept I’m referring to is the impermanent nature of existence.  While impermanence is part of many belief systems, it is one of the building blocks of the Buddhist tradition in particular.  As the future Buddha meditated and reflected upon the nature of reality, he recognized the transitory nature of his thoughts, his breath, and his emotions.  He came to a realization; everything that has a beginning has an end.  In fact, everything on the physical and mental level of existence is equally impermanent.  Everything that is born will one day die.  Everything that is created will one day be destroyed.

Consider for a moment, that in 100 years, everyone you have ever known will no longer be living.  The buildings in which you live and work will one day be gone or replaced.  The institutions, organizations, businesses and governments that you belong to will likewise someday come to an end.  The largest, most enduring features of our world; great buildings, wonders of the natural world, our planet, our sun, solar system, the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond are not eternal.  We’ve come to experience these things as never-ending due to our limited and narrow view of time.  However, on a cosmic time scale we can see that even the grandest and most spectacular features of our universe are not immortal.  It’s a sobering thought, knowing that, nothing lasts forever.

As I mentioned, this idea is not something most of us embrace willingly.  It’s usually in the face of some crisis that we are forced to come to terms the impermanent nature of the world.  This resistance is completely natural though.  Despite the fact that our bodies are a living expression of impermanence as cells and atoms are constantly being replaced, DNA is replicated, and tissues and organs are renewed, we still feel uncomfortable with the notion of where this constant change is eventually leading.  Contemplating impermanence, we cannot help but to face our own mortality, a prospect that for most of us creates no small amount of fear and anxiety.   So from a psychological standpoint we run away from this undeniable truth.  But in our flight from the reality of impermanence, we create our own suffering.

According to Vedanta, one of the world’s oldest spiritual philosophies, there are 5 causes of suffering.  Known in Sanskrit as the 5 Kleshas they are as follows:

1.       Not knowing the true nature of reality

2.       Identification with a false sense of self

3.       Attachment to objects of desire

4.       Avoidance or fleeing from objects of desire

5.       The fear of death

While each of the Kleshas are a significant cause of suffering, it’s important to realize that they all tier up into the first cause – not knowing the true nature of reality.  In this first essential cause, all the other forms of suffering have their root.  Understanding the Kleshas gives us valuable insight into how the nature of impermanence can lead us to suffer.

Let’s skip the first two Kleshas for a moment and look at the more obvious relationship between impermanence and the last three.  First, in our attachment to objects of desire, be they material objects, relationships, emotional states, conditions, beliefs, or ideologies, we are only setting ourselves up for pain since the object of our desire will one day be gone.  When we become attached to something that is transient and impermanent, the loss of that object brings about suffering.  Next, in the avoidance of things we don’t want (which are also impermanent and transient) we generate suffering because in a very real sense, we can never get far enough away from something we don’t want.  The relationship of impermanence to the last Klesha is undoubtedly obvious in that the very recognition of our own impermanent nature conjures up images of our death.  Fear of death is one of the greatest of all fears and in and of itself can create enormous suffering.

Now, let’s return to the first two Kleshas.  In reverse order, identification with a false sense of self is referring to ego-based consciousness.  Our personality or our sense of “I” makes up this center of awareness.  This leads to suffering because the ego is also impermanent and ever changing.  Your sense of I is undoubtedly different than it was when you were a child or teenager.  But going one step further, according to Vedanta, this ego state isn’t who we really are, and in identification with an illusory self, we become attached to the role we’re playing rather than the role-player.  We therefore take our roles and positions awfully seriously and when something violates the boundaries we have established for these roles, we suffer.

Finally, we come to the first Klesha; not knowing the true nature of reality.  This is the key to understanding all the other forms of suffering.  According to Vedanta, the world we have come to accept as ‘real’ is an illusion, a shadowy reflection of the ultimate level of reality which is pure consciousness or awareness.  We perceive our material reality though our senses, which paint only a small fraction of the whole picture.  In believing in the absolute nature of the physical level of reality, we fall prey to suffering through what is known as the mistake of the intellect.  We end up believing in the absolute dominance of the physical domain of existence filled with pain, violence, poverty, sickness, aging and death.

However, seeing through the false image of reality holds the key to our liberation from suffering.  Remember, impermanence is the arising and falling away of all forms and phenomenon.  But it is possible to go beyond impermanence altogether, to the level of pure consciousness or pure awareness.  This is the changeless state, the field or backdrop upon which all change takes place.  When we identify with this level of our being, we become established in who we really are, the field of non-change.  Once the illusion of not knowing the true nature of reality falls away the remaining Kleshas lose their hold over us and we can be free of suffering.

Thus, the impermanence of our existence can be a great teacher.  Rather than being something to be feared or dreaded, insight into the impermanent nature of our world can liberate us from needless suffering.   When we are firmly grounded in the infinite, unbounded and changeless field of pure potential, we can witness the impermanence of our lives with calm detachment.   When we can accept that everything on the material world is transient and ever changing, we are freed from our attachment and can be more aware and present in each moment.  Knowing that this experience, this relationship, this house, this job, this body, this life will someday end, we can more deeply appreciate life in all it’s amazing, subtle and complex beauty.