“It takes a while to realize that God can empty the garbage…” – Ram Dass
When I first began my spiritual quest in my late teens I had the good fortune of being given a copy of Ram Dass’ epic, psychedelic, yoga bible Be Here Now. It spoke to me exactly where I was: one foot in the counter-culture world of “Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out” and one foot pointing hopefully towards the path of Enlightenment that has been tread by all great masters from Jesus to the Buddha.
It convinced me, quite dramatically, that behind all matter and form there was a subtle, spiritual dimension at work. One look at the picture of Ram Dass’ guru, Neem Karoli Baba, and I knew, “This strange little man in a plaid blanket KNOWS something I don’t!”
Ram Dass’ journey from a neurotic, acid-dropping Harvard professor named Richard Alpert to a blissful devotee-yogi gave me hope that I could break free from my own average, middle class upbringing in the All-American city of Spokane, WA and embark on my own spiritual journey. But where to begin? I started with the obviously (obvious in hindsight!) dualistic hypothesis: If I can just get away from the world, THEN I can be spiritual.
I reckoned, ‘The Buddha talked about “harmless food gathering” as a means of livelihood and to spend the rest of one’s time in meditation and contemplation. All I have to do is get some job on a farm and then I can be free to pursue the REAL purpose of life.’
And I also thought, “Perhaps if I become a monk, then I can be free of the world and all of its demands and seek that which is True!”
Well, I started helping out at a permaculture farm at Ananda Village in California, and I can tell you, the work did not exactly line up with my naïve musings of what “harmless food gathering” would look like. It was HARD work! The last thing I wanted to do after escaping the hot, California sun was to sit in meditation!
I also had the opportunity to brush shoulders with some of the monastics there and was similarly dismayed. With my twice daily half-hour meditations I thought I was an advanced meditator, but these people were actually enjoying getting up at the crack of dawn meditating one-and-a-half hours before breakfast, half an hour at noon, and a long, three-hour meditation at night before bed. Here I was itching and scratching after 25 minutes or so, thinking about my next meal!
I realized: It wasn’t the world that was the problem, it was me. Unfortunately, the idea of escaping the world was much simpler than the idea of escaping myself. How does one escape oneself? Or perhaps more correctly, how does one live in harmony with oneself?
“Para-gram” on Balance:
The material and the spiritual are but two parts of one universe and one truth. By over-stressing one part or the other, man fails to achieve the balance necessary for harmonious development. Life is expressed in a threefold way: through thoughts, desires, and actions. Rightly guide all three forms of expression and they will lead you to a higher state of consciousness. In your activities you are the creator, the preserver, the transformer; your will is the director. Practice the art of living in this world without losing your inner peace of mind.
Follow the path of balance to reach the inner wondrous garden of Self-realization.
Mindfulness is a great practice for “rightly guiding” thoughts, desires, and actions. Joel & Michelle Levey, in their book Living In Balance, offer a wonderful system for understanding the nature of our minds called “The Wheel of Mindfulness.”
Whether in your meditation (Spirit) or in your active life (Nature) try to be aware of these five aspects of self.
I Notice “Perceptions” – Can I simply perceive this moment without judging or interpreting?
I Feel “Emotions” – Can I simply be aware of my emotions without adding to them a personal storyline?
I Think “Stories” – Can I be truly present in reality, and yet watch my thoughts, without being swept up into them?
I Want “Desires” – Can I be aware of my desires and yet simply remain centered and content without them?
I Will “Intentions” – Can I be the director of my life and act intentionally, not from habit but from true creativity and inner freedom?
I found these 5 mindfulness areas from the Levey’s book to be most hopeful in striking a balance within myself. Balance can be as simple as living more in awareness, living more mindfully. By truly being present with our perceptions, emotions, thoughts, desires and actions, we can live more in harmony.
I would like to end this Heart Thought with a blessing from John O’Donohue’s To Bless The Space Between Us.
Gina Salā, vocalist, chanting artist, music director and sound healer talks about chanting, yoga, and spirituality.
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