Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Pain is Inevitable - Suffering is Optional

Yesterday was the warmest day of the year so far, with temperatures in the 80s by midafternoon. I finally tore myself away from the computer and headed out for a walk. It's still extremely lush and green here, with wildflowers including lupines, buttercups and Douglas Iris blooming in gratuitous profusion. A steady breeze kept the temperature from becoming unbearable, with the added benefit of wafting all the smells of a flower scented heaven into my nostrils.

About half way through my walk, the breeze also blew some pollen into my eyes. As a contact lens wearer, pollen and other irritants are a regular part of the "isness" that I deal with on a daily basis, especially in spring. Knowing this, I had even brought a bottle of special drops for my eyes in case my contacts started to bother me. I knelt down at the edge of a grassy field next to some young cedars, but carefully placed my hat upside down and proceeded to pop my contact out. To my surprise, the breeze grabbed my contact and tossed it into the grass. Now, this grass was between six and 12 inches deep, and my immediate reaction was something quite a bit stronger than "darn."

There I was on my knees, one contact lost in the grass, trying to locate a tiny, nearly transparent circle of blue plastic less than a half inch in diameter. The bright sun shone like gold on the grass and the breeze waved the green shoots around in a friendly frenzy. With my contact gone, I had to get down within 6 inches of the ground in order to see anything clearly. I was right on the edge of getting really upset with myself, as this is a new contact and would cost $50 to replace. If you really knew me, you'd know that I spent most of my life with a severe inner critic, and I could feel it wanting to pounce on my apparent screw up. I chose not to engage, and quietly celebrated remembering that I had a choice in the matter.

Invoking my spiritual practice of staying fully present in the moment, I took a couple of deep breaths and begin to notice the astonishing beauty spread out before me. Miniscule flowers the size of an ant's head grew underneath the tall grasses, miniature pink blooms serving as exclamation points for this lilliputian world. For a moment, I forgot all about my contact and just marveled at the intoxicating beauty of this tiny little patch of ground.

As my breathing slowed, and I became increasingly aware of every blade of grass, every grain of sand and earth, each ant and insect busily crawling around in their world, and realized what a gift losing my contact had been. I had been so focused on my walk, on the trees and the astonishing view, that I had been paying no attention at all to the amazing spectacle at my feet.

After a couple of minutes simply enjoying this extraordinary little world, I noticed the glint of my contact and picked it up. I congratulated myself on my patience in my ability to see the gift of losing my contact. I gently set the contact down on the brim of my hat, which was still turned upside down in the grass. I took out my water bottle and my drops so that I could clean my contact and place it back in my eye. However, the wind had other plans. As I reached to pick up the contact, the breeze effortlessly picked up that petite piece of plastic and flipped it back in the grass. I couldn't believe it.

Obviously, I had not become sufficiently present the first time I went through this process, so I had the opportunity to do so again … quiet my breathing, focus on the beauty in front of me, choose not to make myself wrong, and simply be available for the contact to show itself again. After a few more minutes of kneeling in the beauty of the day, bowing to the sacred all around me, sure enough, the contact "showed up." This time I didn't let go of it, and within moments it was safely back in my eye. As I stood up and prepared to head home, I spent another moment in quiet reflection, honoring my experience and grateful that I had chosen to accept the moment as it was without creating any suffering for myself.

If that had been the end of the story, I would have felt it worth the telling, but opportunities for me to keep choosing not to suffer continued showing up. My contact continued bothering me all the way back, about a 45 minute walk. I did not attempt to take it out and clean it again; rather, I simply stayed present, noticing that in each moment. I could choose to turn the pain into suffering … or not. My eye kept tearing, and it was difficult to keep it open through the pain. And yet, the beauty of the day called insistently through the hum of innumerable bees collecting nectar from the veritable explosion of blooms. In particular, the hillsides along the road were carpeted with flowers, particularly vetch, a low green vine bursting with millions of small purple blossoms. Whole sections of hillside were blanketed in this glorious profusion, this spring riot of life. I was amazed. Sometimes my eye would clear up for a few minutes, and I was grateful. Then the pain would return, and I felt grateful that I was not creating suffering for myself in addition to feeling the pain.

I was so touched by this experience that I felt compelled to write it down as a teaching opportunity. Pain and suffering are not one word. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. It is a core component of my teaching, as it is of many who use the path of inquiry to discern our true nature. Remember, in each moment we have a choice. We can welcome the pain that inevitably comes with the gift of life as an opportunity to become fully present in the moment. Suffering is simply not necessary. I am grateful to life for every chance I have to explore this perspective, and to share what I learn with you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is God Real?

In a recent Newsweek (4-9-07), avowed atheist and best-selling author Sam Harris squares off with Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA and author of the world-wide best-seller The Purpose-Driven Life, in a piece titled "Religion: Is God Real?"
I found it to be interesting reading, as far as it went, but wholly missing a crucial point. While I share Harris's certainty that there is no "Biblical God," I do not share his conclusion that there is no God whatsoever. I believe that God/Goddess is Consciousness itself, and that this Conscious Awareness permeates the entire universe and beyond with non-dual, unconditional love. The most spectacular, unending gift of this Awareness is life itself. To me, this core belief is what Spirituality is all about.

Harris and Warren argue from an either/or perspective; "Either a Christian God exists, or "he" does not." My passionate rejoinder is that God is not so small, and certainly cannot be contained or understood in such an anthropocentric story.

Warren goes on to talk about the evidence of God in the "tens of thousands of times" he has personally witnessed miracles. He mentions a specific time when his prayer was answered, and another instance when it was not. Personally, I see miracles every day, so I'm cool with the concept. However, I think Warren is using the first of the two meanings of "miracle", the gist of which is, "An extraordinary occurrence that surpasses all human powers and is ascribed to God." I prefer the second meaning, "A superb or surprising example of something; wonder; marvel."

Using the second definition of miracle, I see life itself as a surpassing wonder. When I am present and paying attention, I feel God's unconditional love with every breath I take, every note of music, every ray of sunshine, and every hug I give or get. Miracles are everywhere, if we have eyes to see, hearts to feel and the presence to be grateful for each moment of life.

To continue this discussion between Harris and Warren, the question arose, "Why would God give a little girl cancer, or if she had it why would earnest prayer not take it away?" The answer, something to the effect that God works in mysterious ways, seems utterly specious to me. Here's how I unpack this whole notion of how an infinitely loving God could "allow" bad things to happen to anyone.

Life is the ultimate gift of God's unceasing, infinite, unconditional love. Life has limits. We have bodies that are born, grow, decay and die. One could make a case that God condemned us all to death by giving us life in the first place. Some of us wind up sticking around longer than others. Making that God's fault or responsibility is like making winter the fault of summer. To claim that there is something unfair about a life "cut short" is to miss the miracle of every breath, every smile, every tender gaze that was available while alive. Life is not "fair," it just is. We can see life as a miracle or a tragedy, and we will find abundant evidence for either position depending on our perspective.

Of course, losing a child under any circumstances is heart-breaking. It's just that losing a little girl to cancer is no more sad than losing a child to malaria, starvation, war or an accident. When people we love leave the world, our feelings of grief and sadness can, if we let them, turn us into constricted, shut-down shadows of who we really are. The very same losses can break our hearts open, allowing us to experience the miracle of life from an infinitely more precious, tender and vulnerable place.

We, all of us, are God-in-form. Every single moment of our lives we have choices to make. We can choose to see ourselves as victims of a capricious, unknowable, judgemental and vengeful god, or literally as God experiencing the fleeting yet miraculous gifts of life. I choose to hold every breath as an act of worship, every hug as holy, every kind and generous word as sacred. In the end, it all comes down to a simple yet profound choice; love, or fear?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hugs are Healing

It is clear that safe, caring physical touch is as important to our health as food, air or water. It's been amply demonstrated that newborns deprival of nurturing touch can actually die, even if their other physical needs are met. Sadly, in our culture physical touch, particularly in the form of hugs, is often seen as unsafe. In particular, men are discouraged from hugging each other lest it be seen as somehow "gay." (As though there's anything wrong with being gay. There isn't). Men and boys can be ridiculed, hurt or even killed just for being affectionate, loving people. To me, this is heartbreaking.

Hugs are a healthy, genuine way to express affection, friendship and love. It should never be wrong to hug a friend of either sex, or your child, brother, sister, father or mother. I have been in dozens of Challenge Days and other workshops where healthy, safe hugging is taught. It's amazing to me that we have to teach how to hug in the first place. But since there's so much unsafe touch in our culture, someone has to model safe touch, so we do.

Challenge Day teaches that we need three hugs a day just to get by, and that with six hugs a day we are doing pretty well, and that 12 hugs a day help us to really thrive. Numerous studies bear this out. Our bodies respond immediately to loving touch. Our heart rate goes down, along with our blood pressure. Our breathing slows, our muscles relax, and our immune systems pick up. Anyone who has spent much time hugging knows exactly what I'm talking about.

You'd think I would have hugging down, and in some ways, I do. I'm considered a world-class hugger by many who know me. I love hugs, both giving and getting. A little over a month ago, after our most recent Challenge Days here in Ukiah, my beloved wife and life partner JoAnn suggested that we begin to actually count how many hugs we gave each other every day, and make a concerted effort to get at least 12.

What soon became apparent was that, even though JoAnn retired from teaching in June, and we live, work and play together 24/7, 12 hugs a day were way more than we had been getting. We realized that, quite unintentionally, we had often been getting by on no more than three hugs a day (if that). JoAnn and I have been together for over 11 years. We adore each other. We're happier together then we've ever been in our lives. And still, these last weeks of going for 12 hugs a day have been amazing! We deserve more! And so do you.

Try this: become fully present with someone you trust (perhaps by taking a deep centering breath or three), ask for a hug, then melt into it with another deep breath. Go ahead and try it right now. Find someone to hug. If you're alone, take a deep breath, relax, and imagine getting a wonderful hug from someone whose hugs you truly adore, and make a mental note to get a hug as soon as you can. I guarantee that one of the surest ways to become drunk with wonder is to get 12 hugs a day. I dare you!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

We Are Pure Energy

Quantum physics clearly demonstrates that energy, in one form or another, constitutes the most fundamental building blocks of the universe. To be even more precise, these building blocks, called quarks, or quanta, are actually the potential for a particular frequency, or state, or amount of energy. I use the word potential because we cannot measure the actual energy involved until we specifically observe it The universe, then, is a field of pure potential that is continually coalescing into the now moment. Click here for those interested in delving more deeply into this fascinating subject.

When we understand, or grok, this foundational truth, we can extrapolate this awareness to our own bodies and our moment to moment experience. Each of us is composed of trillions of cells. Each cell contains millions of molecules. Each molecule is made up of atoms (each water molecule contains two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom-- and up to 90% of our bodies are water). Hydrogen, the simplest and most abundant atom, contains a single proton surrounded by a single electron. An oxygen atom consists of a nucleus of eight protons surrounded by eight electrons. Each sub-atomic particle, such as a proton, are made up of quarks. Even though we think of ourselves as being composed of matter, the underlying truth is that at our core we're pure energy. In fact, if all of the energy stored in our countless trillions of atoms were simultaneously released, it would create an enormously powerful explosion rivaling a hydrogen bomb.

My point is that everything about us and the universe in which we live ultimately has to do with energy. Our thoughts are electrical impulses firing through the trillions of synapses in our brains. Our feelings, or emotions, are also, at their core, pure energy. Looked at one way, the pure, unconditional, infinitely precious love of God-As-Us beats our hearts and pours out into the world in unending waves of energy. These waves, like light, are refracted through our hearts into all the colors of the rainbow. The major energy centers of the body, sometimes called chakras, each have a color associated with them. Our first chakra, located near our genitals, is about survival, and is red. We associate red with anger, and in our culture anger is taught to be an inappropriate, or "bad" emotion. However, as we've seen, behind our stories and our labels this energy that we call anger is just energy. And like all energy, if it's blocked it creates problems.

It turns out that anger, like all of our emotions, is not bad. There are, of course, more and less appropriate ways to express anger. Many of us are most familiar with destructive choices such as violence against another, the environment, or even ourselves. Here's the magic: every feeling fully felt shifts! In order for there to be healing, there must be feeling. We must "move the energy" so that our chakras (energy centers) stay clear and free-flowing.

To sum up: feelings are energy. Blocking, or stuffing our feelings creates enormous short-circuits in our bodies. These short-circuits are the root cause of stress. Stress is the root of many of our most common diseases, including depression and addictions. To read an incredibly thorough account of how our environment, including our thoughts and feelings, impacts our bodies in a deeply physical way, read Bruce Lipton's The Biology of Belief. To read more about how our emotions create our experience and how the stories we tell ourselves create our emotions, read my book Drunk with Wonder.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What if Peace Broke Out?

I recently realized that I have a story (yes, I have lots of them, even though I've written at some length about letting go of our stories so that we may more fully embrace our spirituality). This particular story says that in order to be "spiritual" I need to stay above the fray of messy human affairs such as politics. The truth is, in spite of my best efforts, I do have strongly held views on any number of issues. I just usually keep them to myself. But something happened the other day that forced me to reconsider my position. A young politician named Barack Obama, who shows more promise to galvanize this country than anyone since JFK, spoke out on his belief (which he has been clear about all along) that the Iraq war is a huge mistake, based on faulty and even downright misleading "intelligence" - and about a president who was hell-bent on going to war and "getting" Saddam. Barrack further stated that he thought that the deaths of thousands of our servicemen and women, and tens of thousands of Iraquis, has been an essentially useless waste of precious resources. He was so immediately attacked and vilified that he felt it necessary to backpedal on this issue, that somehow by telling the truth he was dissing the troops.

Why are we, as a country, so terrified of the truth? The shadow knows. I'm quite sure Barack meant no disrespect, nor do I. That's not the point. The point is that a sad, terrified man and his minions essentially stole the presidential election in 2000 and then went about imposing their fear-based perspective on an all too-compliant public. So here it is: have our troops (not to mention Iraqi civilians) died uselessly? Well, that depends on your perspective. The folks over there were slaughtering each other 1,000 years ago, and may choose to do so for another 1,000 years. It's horrible, it's tragic, I fervently wish it wasn't so. Be that as it may, what have we accomplished? Besides wasting trillions of dollars, spilling uncounted barrels of blood for oil, ruining countless lives, nothing is really going to change until the people who live, fight and die there change. When are we going to learn that we cannot impose our will, no matter how much we spend and how many lives are lost? Over 58,000 servicemen and women died in Vietnam. Now, around 3,500 in Iraq. While that's not even 10% of the body count of Vietnam, each life that's cut down is a tragedy, doubly so because it was preventable.

Ultimately, every one of us is responsible for how our country behaves in the world. We must Be the Change we wish to see in the world. The change I wish to see is an end to war! An end to standing armies and to a culture that worships violence as noble. It's not. It's legalized murder. It ruins lives, and ruins countries. If I was face-to-face with someone who has lost a loved one in this war, I could only say, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I did not vote for this administration or this war. If it had been up to me your child would still be here."

All we're doing in Iraq is training a new generation of Jihadists to hate us. If we don't put a stop to this insanity, it will be our grandchildren dying next. Are you OK with that, or are you willing to stand up and be counted as someone who chooses "to study war no more"? I urge you to contact your congressperson and your senators to vote for establishing a
Department of Peace and to vote for someone like Barack Obama in the next presidential election. If we're ever going to live in peace, we must practice peace. That does not mean that we must allow ourselves to be conquered, it simply means that we do not run around the globe starting wars. Bring the troops home now, before even more are senselessly slaughtered. It was a horrible mistake to start the war, it cannot be a mistake to end it. And just so your know, I love this country. I just love our sacred Mother Earth even more (and all of the people of the world). Check out Anna Qunidlen's latest "The Last Word" essay in Newsweek titled Tomorrow, Tomorrow for more on this perspective, which I know is shared by millions of thoughtful global citizens.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Only One of Us Here

On 1/22/07, THEODORE ROBINSON <thelawteam@prodigy.net> and Center for Inner Healing wrote:

Hi Steve and Skywatcher,

This is just a followup on our call this morning. It was a pleasure speaking with you. I've looked carefully at your site and enjoyed it, especially the questions and answer section. As I said during our call, the information squares with everything I've been studying for years now, but its said in a unique and wonderful manner.

Since you mentioned doing massage and Reiki, I just wanted to mention to you that if you haven't already heard about it, Emotional Freedom Technique EFT, might be something you'd be interested in. It would work well with your massage because its somewhat physical and it brings about big changes of mind and attitude in a big hurry as well. I also think it is very consistent with your overall approach.

You mentioned that you have a unique way of helping people evolve (unless I misunderstood you) and I'm interested in discovering more about that. Do you have it posted anywhere on your site? Or is it in a particular part of the book that I haven't noticed yet?

As I said, part of my reason for asking about this is because I'm interested in putting together a symposium of awakened beings who could come together for a weekend or other period and share their thoughts and methods with a large group of attendees. I know two or three others who would be wonderful candidates for such a weekend and would like to at least investigate the possibilities. So, since I'm not all that aware of what your unique technique is yet, perhaps you could let me know. This is just the beginning stage of planning, but its important to know what everyone has to offer so that we can balance the programming and provide a dynamic agenda and presentations so that it will become a nationwide draw. Anyway, that's my vision of it. As I said, we live only thirty miles from NYC and it has an unlimited number of potential attendees.

Thanks for the book again. I'm enjoying it immensely.

Hello Theodore,

Your call this morning was such a joy to my heart! Thank you for seeing that I have a perspective to share that some will (and do) find useful. Since JoAnn SkyWatcher is my Beloved wife and life partner, yes, I am quite familiar with EFT. She often speaks of little else. While tapping is not my thing, I find that using my own version often helps relieve physical and emotional pain and stress. I certainly appreciate how various healing modalities serve a wide variety of perspectives, and have often witnessed significant shifts in people JoAnn has worked with.

My particular focus these days seems to be with the heart and soul. Drunk with Wonder is my take on the 'isness" of how we got to this point in our evolutionary journey, and a vision of where our species might go as we continue our dance into the light that is already/always right here and right now. I hesitate to call anything I do "unique" simply because of my profound knowing that there is really only one One of us here. That said, I seem to have a particular facility with sitting in a group (or individually) and answering questions. My higher self especially enjoys the give and take such opportunities afford, and others in the group often seem to get a valuable (useful) perspective as well. Some call this activity Satsang, though I have no particular interest in the Guru story. My focus is on being a cheerleader for people who are ready to surrender into their own magnificence. There is nothing I have learned, nothing I am, that is not available to all. I am also comfortable speaking in front of groups (love it, actually), though creating experiential opportunities to "play" is even more fun. When I'm all of who I can be, I clearly "see" the Divine in everyone, and love nothing more than to radiate that Divinity as a loving mirror.

The devil, as they say, is in the details, and I have learned from my own life experience how deeply invested many of us become in our pathology (I'm wounded, therefore I am). With willing people, I am often able to help break through their stories of fear and lack and see the truth that they (and all of us!) are nothing less than divine, infinitely precious sparks of God/Goddess.

Of course, I imagine you're quite familiar with all of this. Every teacher, every visionary, and every cheerleader knows and teaches a version of this story. I trust that the perspective I have (and love!) to share will continue to be useful for some people. Personally, I know of no higher gift, or praise, than to be useful. JoAnn and I would love to talk about coming back east and spending time with you in whatever forum or symposium you may create. Sounds delightfully stimulating!

Theodore, I hope this email answers some of your questions. I look forward to hearing back from you, and learning your reaction as you read through Drunk with Wonder. My goal with the book was to take people on a journey of discovery. I hope you continue to enjoy the ride.


Steve Ryals

Monday, January 08, 2007

Is too much Testosterone a Terminal Illness?

So here we are in the twenty-first century. Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? So much has happened. Certainly times and experiences have waxed and waned. So many families, children, laughter, terrified screams, unutterable joy, unimaginable savagery.

And we now know of at least sixty centuries of people building towns of cities, trading and competing for resources, going to war. Our ancestors, distant almost beyond imaging, were using fire around a million years ago. First the reptilian brain, then mammalian brain, were up and running. Then they learned how to cook meat, which gave them enough protein and fat for their brains to expand. A million years ago, they still had no prefrontal cortex, no language as we know it today. Our ancient ancestors explored their world, made simple tools like stone axes, and continued with no discernible evolution for hundreds of thousands of years.

Eventually, all the branches of human evolution died out, leaving us. Our curiosity, our cunning, our capacity for guile and treachery is legendary. It’s easy to see that our species, like those before us, has come to the end of how it’s been. Either we continue to adapt, radically adapt, or our species will go the way of our ancestor species. Flying into a psychotic rage and slaughtering others will no longer save us. Actually, there is some evidence to support the notion that our species continues to evolve, including the evolution of consciousness itself.

You see, in many ways our ancestors from 100,000 years ago were not that different from us. If we were to dress and groom them, they could walk down a crowded city street with barely a glance. For tens of thousands of years, most of our evolution for has been inside, in the development of our brains. There are many of us now who long for peace, who envision a world where everyone feels safe, loved, and celebrated. But those of us who choose peace have been at the mercy of those who choose war. One of the hallmarks of those who choose war is that they have no mercy. Blood lust is as real as sexual lust.

Studies show that high levels of testosterone do make it more likely that those men suffering from it will father more children, and seem to have some additional benefits. Yet we are now hearing that these high levels of testosterone are toxic to the individual as well as to the society in which they live (see article here). As a society, I believe we most find ways to harness and channel this energy in honoring, respectful ways that do NOT include war. Many of us, and more all the time, do not suffer from a surfeit of testosterone. We’re not hyper-competitive, we don’t need to be the best, the richest, the flashiest or the loudest. Yet we have a right to be, a right to live in peace and thrive.

There is an old adage that might makes right. Yet, when we look at our human history over the 8,000 years or so we’ve been keeping track, empires always fall. The center (of power) never holds. And now, with our ability to annihilate each other, to fish the oceans bare, create global warming, and continue to dither as the ruthless prey on the defenseless (Darfur), our species, considered the most adaptable in our long lineage, must adapt and evolve again if we are to survive in a meaningful way. When will we, as a species, wake up and see excessive testosterone as a terminal disease?

Resistance to Blogging

I’ve read that blogging is supposed to be a way to get real and lay it all on the line. Today I’m noticing that I have great resistance to daily blogging. I just don’t have any wish or desire to share my mundane thoughts with the world. They’re not interesting to me … how could they be to the world? And it seems like so much work to keep coming up with something to say, especially something fresh and interesting, day after day. Oh well … so I don’t blog every day. I can’t imagine that anyone cares one way or the other. Be that as it may, here’s what I have to say today:

One theme that seems to be cropping up lately concerns the idea of hope. It has been suggested that hope leads to complacency; that it is only when we abandon hope that we take action in the now. From this perspective, hope is seen as being projected into the future, and that somehow this projection will keep us from acting in the present.

I maintain that to be hopeless, which means “without hope, despairing,” takes away any context for action. A suicide is a hopeless, despairing act of utter finality, a vote that things will not be getting better. If I were terminally ill, I’d want to check out with some dignity at a time of my choosing. Watching my father going through his incredibly long, tortuous journey to death is not something I would wish on anyone. (Well, maybe Bush or Cheney or Rumsfield – no, just kidding. Not even them.)

To have a child is one of the greatest votes of hope I know of. I don’t think having a child has anything to do with complacency. As far as I know, people lost in despair do not have children. We must become fully present in the moment is to see the beauty and perfection of the now. Yet, to open our hearts fully is to experience the anguish of knowing that the horrible reality of war, famine, disease and torture doesn’t have to be this way, that, at some deep level, all of our experiences are a choice. Without choice, we’re victims, puppets going through the motions, harnessed to our DNA like mules to a wagon. I choose to hold out hope for a brighter future for our world. That’s why I’m so passionate about creating a world where everyone feels safe, loved and celebrated. How about you?