Struggling With A Bad Thought

April 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured

By Kathleen Norris, Special to CNN

April 6, 2010 8:16 a.m. EDT

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Author: Acedia is profound indifference and inability to care about things that matter
  • Early Christians recognized acedia as one of “eight bad thoughts”
  • Kathleen Norris: Like spiritual morphine; pain is there, but you can’t give a damn
  • No remedy, but you can learn to recognize it and resist it

Editor’s note: Kathleen Norris is a poet and the author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Cloister Walk”, “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography” and “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.” She recently finished a tour for her latest book, “Acedia and Me.”

(CNN) — On a recent trip across America, what surprised me most was the number of people — over 200 in one city, 80 to 150 elsewhere — who wanted to discuss this odd word, “acedia.”

It’s an ancient term signifying profound indifference and inability to care about things that matter, even to the extent that you no longer care that you can’t care.

I liken it to spiritual morphine: You know the pain is there but can’t rouse yourself to give a damn. Read more

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The Difference Between My Dog And Me

October 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Popular Posts

When I leave my house my dog sits outside my office door and waits for me.  He sees me go out the front door but he goes outside in the backyard, where my office is, and sits by my locked door.  He does that because during the day that’s where I always am and in his mind he can’t understand where else I could be.  I’m always there so I must be there.

I think people do the same thing when we lose someone.  Death is such a confusing experience.  One minute a person is part of our lives and then in the next they are gone. How to make sense of it?  Not in a religious or spiritual way but in a visceral physical way? Not possible. So we go to the places where the person we lost used to exist and look for traces of them.  We sit outside their doors and hope somehow they are inside.

But just like in my dog’s case no matter how long we wait our “person” won’t mysteriously materialize. They now occupy a different realm in our lives and it’s a hard transition for the people left behind.

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6 Ways To Restore Your Energy And Find Rest In Everyday Life

August 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

You may be the type of person who tells yourself that you need to get away in order to rest or that you will rest when you have time. Perhaps you say that when the job or project is done, then you’ll rest. Maybe you are even waiting for “the kids to be grown up” before you’ll rest. This way of living life, where we are consistently putting off what is essential for us, makes no rational sense at all. Rest is already in our presence and the purpose of this article is to assist you in making a crucial, subtle shift that may enable you to fully experience rest in at least one of its many facets.There are many ways of looking at what rest actually is. It is not only a multifaceted word but also, in life, a richly nuanced expression — an attitude that we can bring into our daily lives, no matter what we are doing. There is no need to wait to rest when we can rest right now in the moment or between moments. We don’t need to strain to live. As counterintuitive as it may seem in today’s culture, for the most part life can be lived in a relaxed, restful way.

As far back as 300 B.C., the philosopher Chuang Tzu observed that when an archer was practicing, he shot with relaxation and skill. When a moderate financial award was placed in front of the archer, he got a little tense, his aim faltered and he often missed the target. When a large award was offered for his accuracy, he became nervous and worried, with obvious results. This led Chuang Tzu to wryly observe that, “He who looks too hard on the outside gets clumsy on the inside.”

In modern times people who play golf find their swing is near perfect when there is no ball to hit. But once a ball is placed on the tee and someone is keeping score, the inexperienced golfer’s swing inevitably fails and the ball goes off its intended path. When a golfer has a drink, he often becomes more relaxed and his game improves. So even though a specific feat can be improved by artificial means, it is at the expense of our being fully present and reduces our ability to respond to other circumstances. Imagine how our performance in everyday life would improve if we could learn to find rest and relaxation from within ourselves.

The question is, “How could we relax in the process of living?” or, “How can we have rest in our daily lives? How do we live for the rest of our lives?”

Here are six resting points or techniques that can assist us in finding rest and relaxation, peace, tranquility, and restoration within ourselves and within the great self that embraces and holds us all. Try one and you’re on your way to the rest of your life.

1. The Breath: Following the rise and fall of your breath can bring you to a peaceful and calm place and restore your energy. It brings you present. Allow your breath all the way into your belly to reduce stress. The key to natural and full breathing is in the exhalation – the letting go. However, don’t force anything.

2. The Nap: It is very underutilized in our culture. Twenty minutes is ideal but even a five-minute nap can be very restorative. Don’t go more than 20 minutes or you may feel groggy. If you only have a minute, try this. Hold some keys in your hands and bend forward in your chair with your lower arms resting on your thighs. As you nod off, the keys will drop and wake you up. Even in that minute, you will feel a little more refreshed. The point here is that taking a little time for yourself for rest, prayer, meditation, or spiritual exercises can profoundly affect the quality of your day.

3. The Pause: Learning to pause is a great tool to have up your sleeve. Its value is in bringing you consciously present. You can pause a moment in your daily routine and say, “I am present. I am here, now.” Then allow yourself to be with whatever is revealed. A further refinement is to bring your attention to the pause between exhaling and inhaling. Even doing this once will give you a moment of rest and restoration.

4. Silence: The word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent.” Choose to be present and alert and to listen past the inner conversations of the mind. Listen past the sounds of the world and just listen to the silence. Listen attentively to whatever comes forward out of the silence. If things start to distract and disrupt you, bring your focus back to the silence. When you practice bringing your presence into the silence, you will experience a knowing and a wisdom that will start flowing within you. It will usually bring you to a state of peace, calm and clarity.

5. Doing nothing: A great way to interrupt the pattern of habitual doing. It is akin to entering a state of observation, where you perceive things clearly just for what they are. An analogy is watching boats going out to sea. You observe them as they pass you. Then you observe the next one. If you gawk or think about how you would like to be in a boat, you have moved out of observation. Observation is only about what is, not what you know or don’t know about a situation. The power that comes from that, internally, is tremendous. It’s an active place of neutrality. The process of observing what is, is the process that releases and restores us.

6. Meditation – Resting in Yourself: “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” Lao-Tzu. When you haven’t developed an intimate relationship with life or with yourself, you’ll tend to look toward having sex or acquiring more money, or to any attractive distraction to fill the emptiness inside. To fill yourself, you have to be prepared to spend time alone – quality time with yourself, not with a good book, not watching television, art or with music. Although those have their place, learn to be quiet with your own inner self. Any time you can bring your focus onto one thing, a flower, a sacred word, a scene in nature, you are meditating. The simplest way to meditate is to observe the rising and falling of your breath.

Written by Paul Kaye, DSS, President of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA) and co-author of numerous books with Dr. John-Roger, NY Times #1 Bestselling Author. For more information, please visit www.msia.org or www.mandevillepress.org.

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A Sandy Pool with Just Enough Water

June 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

This past Sunday morning at the Buddhist meeting I rolled out of bed to attend, the floor was opened to the meditators who’d come here seeking enlightenment (or just a little peace), as the monk that usually gives the dharma talk was presiding over a funeral.

We were invited to share our experiences of how the path and practice of Buddhism has brought about positive changes in our lives. This raised a question as to whether it is really possible to gauge the progression of spiritual growth in one’s life. Or whether there is any real point in trying to assess such a thing. As I sat listening to the exchange of ideas and experiences, and ruminated about what I might say in turn, a sense of futility lodged itself in my mind. As far as this spiritual journey is concerned, I often feel like a haggard wanderer, marching through the desert in search of a drink. At the last moment, just before keeling over, I find a sandy pool with just enough water to keep on trucking toward the promised oasis.

Such frustrations are like an unwelcome traveling companion that reminds me of my own distinct lack of “progress” in matters of the spirit. Like a stowaway on my spiritual journey, it keeps on my trail, whispering a vague message of the ultimate futility of all of my undertakings, both spiritual and secular. It’s a message that creeps in through some subconscious backdoor, then slowly diffuses into conscious recognition. It spells out a humbling verdict: all my plans and projects, the one’s I carry on dreaming about, amount to a pot of fool’s gold, puddles of inconsequential nonsense. (That includes this essay, in its current impoverished state). Paradoxically, I find this uplifting somehow, an acknowledgement of my own state of relative meaninglessness and cosmic ineptitude. It provides a real sense of relief from the pressures, expectations and obligations that the burden of a good education can place on a man’s life.

This is not to say that I don’t continue to take my pet projects seriously (I wish them all the best), nor that I should chuck them aside in a tantrum of despair. Like every other life form that’s been set loose on this planet I need an outlet for the photosynthetic energy that nature has stored up in my system (thank you Sun!) Better to channel this natural bounty toward mildly consequential pursuits than to allow it to dissipate and find dark crevasses to ferment in. And by recognizing the skimpy stature of my own schemes within the grand scheme, I am better able to impose order over the unruly hatchery of my dreams. After all, dreams complain incessantly when they aren’t allowed to come true. Unfortunately, they are like those little sea turtles on the mad dash for the ocean. All of them want to see the watery world. Only a few are truly destined for a taste of existence.

Anyhow, I think there might just be some real value hidden in my pot of fool’s gold. The phony bills I’ve got stashed there can be used to redeem existence from a sad state of excessive seriousness. We are all playing with the same pile of monopoly money; it’s a currency that can convert the dour business of living into a more enjoyable game.  An existential game that is, not a nihilistic slugfest.

The rules of the game are the same as those that apply to living anyway: The clock is always running. It all amounts to naught. The final score will always be zero. And you play as though your life depends on it.

While such thoughts wandered back and forth in my mind, all I had to contribute to the discussion was the following simple definition of spiritual progress that the monk had previously offered: If you are suffering less, you are making progress.

It’s hard to argue with that.

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