What is Energy? – Part 3 – A Side-by-Side comparison of Energy & the Force

Please note: “The Force,” “Jedi,” “Star Wars,” and a host of other related terms are trademarked by LucasFilm / Disney. Additionally, the opinions and views expressed in the below article are the author’s own and not associated or endorsed in any way by LucasFilm or Disney. Lastly, the goal of the articles in this series is to intellectually compare an idea from the fictional Star Wars universe with a concept from our actual universe – not to imply that these two things are the same.

What About All the ‘powers’ associated with The Force in Star Wars? Does working with Energy come with those also?

In the previous two posts, we explored Energy, at a high level, in comparison with George Lucas’ concept of The Force and we covered my personal discovery of Energy as an initiation point on my Spiritual Path. In this next installment, we will do a side by side comparison of the ‘powers’ associated with The Force from the Star Wars Universe compared to those associated with the concept I refer to as Energy.

Initially I planned for this to be one long post, but it topped out above 3,000 words and I have since decided to break it up into three sections; parts 3,4, & 5. Using the Wikipedia entry as our guide (I know that’s hardly exhaustive if you’re a Star Wars aficionado, but it provides an acceptable entry point) let’s look at some of the features of The Force;

“As the Force connects all living things, Force-sensitive individuals may feel what is called a “disturbance in the Force” when death or suffering occurs on a massive scale

Force-sensitive individuals may be able to sense each other’s presence and emotions across distances, as Luke and Princess Leia do in The Empire Strikes Back.”

I’m going to take these two together because my experience with them has been fundamentally related. I do tend to feel pain or ‘a disturbance’ in my heart chakra when someone I love is in trouble. I have also noticed this sensation in my heart chakra during times of extreme distress on a national and global scale; September 11th 2001 specifically comes to mind.

It’s hard to parse out whether this feeling is attributable to mere ‘fear’ on my own part or if it’s triggered by the energetic connection. Additionally, I’ve had a number of apparent ‘false positives’ – where I feel this disturbance with no readily identifiable cause. My ability to process what I get through my energetic connection into ‘sensible’ information is still developing so sometimes I feel things without knowing why.

Theoretically, if we are all energetically connected and we are mindful of that connection, we could certainly ‘sense’ things via that channel. Based on my own experience and understanding, this is a similarity between Energy and The Force.

“In A New Hope, the Force aids Luke in launching proton torpedoes with precision into a two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port on the Death Star.[3]

We could say that Luke uses his ‘intuition’ to help him launch the proton torpedoes. However, as much as I appreciate intuition, I don’t think the term itself is very self-explanatory. Another way to look at the situation is this; Luke’s energetic self is connected to all the other energy of the universe and therefore is more informed than his brain.

When he trains himself to listen to his energy body without his logical mind interfering he’s able to use that energetic information to gain more accuracy in hitting his target. The energy body informs the physical body more quickly than it informs the cognitive part of the brain.

The body is not interested in processing information, it leaves that to the brain. The body acts on information. On a personal note, I associate this ‘power’ with the ‘art of finding.’ When I go into ‘finding’ mode, I deliberately bring down my logic mind and visual dominance and let my energy field direct me. Check out the post on this subject for more detail.

Another exercise I have tried related to this is walking through narrow hallways with my eyes closed (slowly!) to train myself to feel with my energy where the walls are. Thus, I consider this ability to also be in common between both Energy and The Force.

Count Dooku, Emperor Palpatine and Yoda, despite age or size, are able to competently fight younger or larger opponents than themselves in the Star Wars prequel trilogy of films.[4]

This one is not that much of a stretch. Anyone who is familiar with the Martial Arts will probably have heard stories about smaller and – perceptibly – weaker individuals defeating larger or younger opponents. Martial Arts are heavily based in the concept I refer to as Energy – in Chinese based martial arts, the root is ‘chi’ or ‘qi’ which means breath, but is essentially synonymous with my use of energy (If you read last week’s installment, I mentioned that Tai-Chi was my entry point in discovering and practicing with my energy). In the Japanese tradition this translates to ‘ki’ as in Hap-ki-do or Ai-ki-do.

When the energy body and the physical body are in harmony and allowed to move without the logical mind interfering, truly amazing things can happen. I vote this as another one in the ‘similarity’ category.

Next week we’ll compare Energy and The Force on telekinesis, levitation, hypnosis, and mind control. Although all of the ‘powers’ we tackled this week seem to be similarities, next week we’ll find some differences. As a reminder, the purpose of this post and all others in this series is to intellectually compare Energy with The Force, not to imply that these two are the same thing.

What is ‘Energy’? – Part 2 – My Journey

In last week’s installment we introduced the concept of Energy and focused on a high-level comparison of Energy and the Star Wars concept of The Force. This week I want to take a step back and cover this topic on a more personal level because it is my own personal experience of Energy that has driven my desire to understand it, explore it, and share about it.

Twenty years ago, I had my very first awakening to this energy that connects us all.

Barely seventeen, I attended a Tai-Chi workshop run by one of my high school English teachers. She instructed us to rub our hands together to generate some heat (and presumably electricity) and hold them a few inches apart facing palm to palm.

We were then instructed to move our hands towards and away from each other to see if we could ‘feel’ anything. I gasped as I felt the air thicken between my palms into a substance like magnetic taffy. Other gasps in the room suggested that I wasn’t the only one having an otherworldly experience. What was this?

I went home and spent hours just playing with this substance. Could I feel it without rubbing my hands together? What happened if I hovered the palms of my hands over other parts of my body? Could I stretch it to be ‘bigger’ or condense it? Little did I know that I had awakened to a whole new way to experience my own existence that would permeate the rest of my life thus far.

The next day I went to school and excitedly approached my fellow students from the Tai-Chi class. To my dismay, each one I spoke with insisted that they hadn’t felt anything. Disheartened and thrown into doubt, I began to question what I had felt. Had it all been my imagination?

My initial enthusiasm and desire to share gave way to a quiet, individual exploration – the most dangerous kind. When I got home that evening I again spent hours ‘playing’ with ‘my chi.’   I practiced ‘sharing energy’ with select, trusted friends always focusing on deepening my awareness of how the energy moved and changed.

Although my friends said that they could feel it too when we shared energy, they didn’t seem to have nearly the same drive to understand it that I did. I felt confused, weird, and alone. It’s difficult to fathom this experience today because we are all so tapped into the internet that it’s fairly easy to find other people or sources of information wherever our interests lie. But in 1995 & 1996 the internet was still in a very raw state and only starting to seep into home use.

The summer of my eighteenth year my heart chakra ‘opened’ or ‘tore’ or something. Of course, at the time, I had no idea what was happening to me. I didn’t even know what a chakra was.

On the recommendation of my English teacher I picked up the book Hands of Light by Barbara Ann Brennan. The book was both exciting and disheartening. Exciting because the work validated my own experience (at least I wasn’t totally crazy). Disheartening because her location in New York seemed a ‘world away’ to a high-school student in Chicago.

Playing With Fire

Based on a section where the author discusses the energy of plants, I decided to try ‘sharing energy’ with some plants. My hope was that they would grow better with the addition of my energy into their field – or, if not that, that maybe I would feel more ‘connected’ to the natural world.

Growing up, there were always plants around. My mother was always growing things. In our breezeway, I found a table full of potential energy-sharing subjects. I chose one larger (but still easy to carry) houseplant and then a smaller plant among a dozen of the same kind obviously waiting to be transplanted.

Late at night, before bed, I took each plant individually (of the two) to my room and sat on the floor sharing energy with the plant for fifteen minutes. I then returned each plant to exactly the space on the table where I found it. I did this every night for about a week, but after not seeing any dramatic changes or results within those days I lost interest a little bit and stopped for a few days.

One day, shortly after I had stopped my energy ‘experiments,’ my mom came down into the basement, obviously distracted. “Two of my plants died” she started, “And it’s the weirdest thing. They’re not dried out or yellow from too much water. There is no sign of a disease, and they were fine a few days ago.  They’re still perfectly green, but brittle like husks – it’s as if whatever made them alive is just ‘gone.’ There are at least a dozen other plants on that table, but none of the other plants were affected. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As she spoke, I felt a growing dread and I raced up the stairs. In my heart I already knew which two plants it would be. Sure enough, as I looked at the two plants I had been sharing energy with so recently, I could see what my mom meant. I had never seen anything like it either. If I had to describe them, I would say it was like the plants had been ‘flash frozen’ except they weren’t cold and it was the height of summer.

To be fair, it could have just been an incredible coincidence. My home could hardly be equated with ‘lab conditions.’ But the timing and effects were highly suspicious. Two other incidents that happened roughly around the same time cemented my concern that I was ‘messing’ with something I didn’t understand at the risk of potentially disastrous consequences.

We use the expression ‘playing with fire’ for a reason. All the energy forces we know of are similar in this regard – indispensable in a small or moderate quantity, but highly destructive in vast and uncontrollable quantities; like a wildfire, flood, or hurricane. This is not to say that my energy is vast, but I certainly couldn’t control it and it may have seemed quite vast to a houseplant. I decided to stop experimenting.

Where to go From There

Despite my departure from actively ‘practicing’ with my energy, I continued to meditate and I continued to have energy-related experiences. I had psychic flashes where I suddenly ‘knew’ things I shouldn’t know. I started spontaneously ‘manifesting’ or ‘co-creating’ – meaning, I suddenly and unexpectedly started getting whatever I asked for, even silly things.

One of the oddest, my junior year in college I had a surreal experience when I was working in a warehouse as part of a summer job. I was standing next to a bunch of wooden pallets which were stacked to near shoulder-height. Another worker approached me quickly with a stack full of pallets piled high. Behind me was the drop-off for the loading dock. I was about to be crushed by the pallets and there was nowhere to go!

I remember moving. I remember lifting one leg and making a twisting movement and putting my foot down and lifting the other leg and twisting. I know it happened fast, so fast that the motion was a blur, even for me. But I remember the movement, kinesthetically. My next full conscious moment I was on the opposite side of the pallet stack. My co-worker looked at me and said, “How did you….?” And then he freaked out yelling, “Did anybody else just see that?”

I started to explain, to show him how I had done it, but when I tried to lift my leg the way I remembered doing, there was no way I could have gotten it high enough to get even my leg over the pallets, nevermind the rest of my body. I was struck silent and confused, I had no idea how I got from one side of all those pallets to the other with the loading dock drop-off right behind me (there was nowhere to step where I had thought I put my foot down.)

That was just one of the dozens of ‘energy’ experiences I have accumulated over the last twenty years. I know I am not alone. There is a relatively silent contingent of people out there who have had experiences just like mine, maybe the experiences are not exactly the same mechanically, but they are the same fundamentally.   One of the important things to take away from this story is that every person I ‘shared’ energy with could also feel that energy. This is a capacity we all have if we’re interested in pursuing it.

My hope is that sharing this part of my story has communicated that – when I talk about Energy on the blog it comes from what has been a deeply personal, tumultuous experience for me. I am constantly grappling with this concept; vacillating between skepticism and devoted faith, struggling to understand it without becoming so attached to the idea that I hang my whole identity on it.

I believe that the Universe is made up of Energy, that that energy is connected, and that the direction and flow of that energy is open to influence not as a result of reading or studying some new-age theory, but because that has been my personal experience in the last twenty years; over and over again.

How does this  Energy I refer to on the blog compare to the concept of The Force in the George Lucas Star Wars universe? Next week we’ll start a side-by-side comparison between the powers exhibited by Star Wars’ characters and the phenomenon that I have experienced with Energy.

Three Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Right Now!

Mindfulness is all the rage these days. Within the last twelve months, I’ve found John Kabat-Zinn, the ‘father’ of mindfulness practice in the US, quoted or referenced in a self-help book[1], a birthing book[2], a parenting book[3], and a business-coaching book[4]!

According to the Wikipedia article on Mindfulness, “The practice of mindfulness involves being aware moment-to-moment, of one’s subjective conscious experience from a first-person perspective.[5]

Last week we talked about the concept of ‘quieting the mind’ and we mentioned how engaging our “Task Positive Network” can help us do that.  Because the Task Positive Network contains regions of the brain that operate both the ‘Internal Sensor’ and the ‘External Sensor,’[6] engaging it is one way of bringing us solidly into the present.

As noted above, one primary goal of Mindfulness is also to bring us to the present moment. A former meditation teacher I had summed up the reason for doing that perfectly. She said, “We can’t change the past and we can’t change the future, the now is the only time where we can actually effect change.”

We can only change the now, and yet many of us are a bit lost in our Default Mode Network; rehashing events and conversations of the past or planning the future. Although there’s nothing better for developing present-moment awareness than establishing a regular sitting meditation practice, some people are simply not ready.

In light of that, here are three easy ways to bring ‘Mindfulness’ into your daily experience without sitting criss-cross applesauce or saying a single Ohm;

Mindful Walking

You might be surprised by how much you walk each day. There is a type of meditation, walking meditation, in the mindfulness / insight canon. This typically requires walking v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y and bringing attention to each individual movement associated with the simple act of walking.

While I certainly recommend everyone try it at least once, it isn’t necessary to have done walking meditation to practice mindful walking. When we practice mindful walking, we aren’t trying to change anything about our walk – we’re just observing it.

We can observe ourselves walking in a myriad of ways – one of the reasons why mindful walking is such a pleasure to do! For example, when we walk we can bring our awareness to the bottoms of our feet. We can wonder at the difference in sensation when our feet our connected to the Earth or when they are ‘in the air’ between steps.

It’s winter here in Chicago and I practice mindful walking over the ice and snow! Bringing my awareness to the bottoms of my feet as I step on new-fallen snow has certainly saved me from slipping more than once.

When the bottoms of our feet get a bit boring, we can bring attention to the cadence of our walk; the rhythm. Do we walk to a type of beat? Is it even or irregular? When we walk very slowly (as with walking meditation) it can be hard to keep our balance, yet when we walk at our regular speed we find balance in the momentum of our walk.

When we watch a child learning to walk, one of their biggest challenges is determining how to distribute weight optimally – this isn’t a mental challenge, but a physical one. Most of us have been walking so long we take this natural shift in weight for granted. Spending a few moments just observing that beautiful balance we find when we walk at our natural speed can be a lovely exercise in present moment awareness.

If those two ideas aren’t enough, we can draw our attention to our various muscle groups when we walk. How does it feel to walk just bringing awareness to our thighs, for example? Or our glutes? What if we focus on our shoulders as our arms swing back and forth?

Mindful Eating

How often do we “multi-task” eating? We grab something to-go, sit at our desk (or wherever) and chow it down while we work, surf the internet, or do anything but actually pay attention to the food in front of us!

When we eat a meal ‘mindfully’ we’re bringing our awareness to this under-appreciated activity. Similar to mindful walking, there are many ways to eat a meal mindfully. In her book Mindful Birthing, Nancy Bardacke describes an exercise of mindfully eating a raising while we think of everything that had to come together to put that raisin in front of us; the farmer growing the grape, the drying of the grapes into raisins, the distributors bringing the raisins to a store, etc.

I confess, this isn’t my favorite way to mindfully eat – as it still keeps me in my head, but it is one option and certainly something to try. The other ‘mindful eating’ exercise is more sensory in nature.   We bring our awareness to the texture and taste of what we’re eating. We can attend to our muscles as we chew – some foods require so much chewing that our jaw may get sore!

I have found, when I eat meals mindfully, I start to really notice how they taste! Too often, I’ve purchased ‘food’ items that are over before I’ve even appreciated the taste of them; a donut, for example. When we eat ‘unconsciously’ we’re less satisfied.

When we eat mindfully, in contrast, when we bring our full attention to how food actually tastes, we may notice when all we’re eating is just sugar or fat versus a meal with depth of flavor. A candy bar is more enticing, but when we eat mindfully – we may find that a raw red pepper has a more full-bodied experience to offer.

Mindful Posture

Posture is something we can always ‘check in’ on – in fact, you can do it right now! When we mindfully attend to our posture we can notice if we’re slouching, or tensing our shoulders or neck muscles. Many of us unconsciously tense up while we’re working – the more often we bring attention to this, the more likely we are to relax those muscles regularly and save ourselves from soreness later.

It takes less than a minute to bring awareness to our posture. Although there aren’t as many different avenues of awareness as found with mindful walking or eating, it is such a fast and easy check that we can do it at any time; in a meeting, sitting at our desk, even lying in bed at night!

A ‘posture check’ would be an easy alarm to set for a few times a day on a cell-phone. After only a few instances, your mind will be conditioned, when the alarm goes off to start automatically bringing attention to your posture.

Closing Comments

I hope one day you start a regular meditation practice. Scientific studies on the benefits of meditation on our health and well-being are piling up. However, even if you are unable to bring regular sitting meditation into your life at this time, the tips in this post can be a way to start bringing more mindfulness into your daily life.

 

Tune in next Wednesday when we start a five part series on Energy, a concept I have referred to often on the blog.

 

References & Footnotes

[1] Thanks for the Feedback , Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen, Penguin, March 2015

[2] Mindful birthing, Nancy Bardacke, Harper One, July 2012

[3] Getting to Calm, The Early Years Laura Kastner, ParentMap, August 2015

[4] Coaching Agile Teams; Lyssa Adkins, Addison-Wesley Professional, May 2010

[5][5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness#cite_note-Baer_defines2-1

[6] Reference, Mindfulness MD

What does it mean to ‘Quiet the Mind’ and How do we Do it?

If you’ve experimented with meditation at all, you’re probably familiar with one of the proposed goals; to ‘quiet the mind.’ The mind doesn’t make any noise, though, so what does this cryptic directive mean?

To help us find an answer, we’ll look to an interesting source; science 🙂 – neuroscience to be specific. Two specific brain networks tend to show up in scientific studies on meditation; the Task Positive Network (TPN) and the Default Mode Network (DMN)

The Task Positive Network represents the regions of the brain that are engaged and communicating with each other when we are actively engaged in a task. Meditation can be one example of such task. In contrast, what’s known as the Default Mode Network is often active when we’re not actively engaged in a task.

The Default Mode Network is responsible for some really important aspects of humanity like self-reflection and empathy. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to learn from our mistakes or experience compassion.

On the other hand, when the Default Mode Network is too active it tends to cause effects like mind-wandering, obsessing over the past and future, and over-analyzing one’s own or others actions.

Unsurprisingly, an overly active Default Mode Network is associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Several studies on meditation have shown that practitioners can change the way their brain operates in relation to these two networks – even when they’re not meditating[1].

For many of us, the Default Mode Network is active often throughout the day, perhaps even when we’re performing routine tasks that don’t require our concentration or attention. This is responsible for what we think of as ‘mental chatter’ and is the very activity we are trying to reduce or suspend when we ‘quiet the mind.’

Many meditation traditions start practitioners with ‘breath meditation’ a minute-to-learn exercise that has us draw our attention to various aspects of the breath. As noted earlier, our intense focus on the breath pulls us out of our Default Mode Network and engages the Task Positive Network. I love breath meditation. For a beginning meditator, however, a directive to ‘focus on the breath’ may not be enough to anchor our attention.

Although all meditation practices that use breath meditation as a starting point emphasize that the expectation is not that individuals will be able to solely focus on the breath for the entire meditation, that part of the point is to train the attention to keep coming back to the breath. Even so, the experience may be frustrating for beginners if breath meditation is the only tool in their kit.

Below are a few ideas to help supplement your meditation practice (or help you start one if you haven’t yet).

Start by finding something that requires intense focus

Provided we don’t live an overly sedentary lifestyle, we can probably think of some activities that require our active concentration. Playing a sport or an instrument, driving in the snow, and cooking might be some examples. The key is that these activities must require our active attention. Cooking a recipe we’ve made a hundred times before may not qualify.

If you’re struggling to come up with an idea, remember that doing something new, especially an activity that requires you to pay attention to your surroundings may be a good place to start. I believe this is why many people find intense physical activity to be mentally cathartic – it gets us out of our heads for awhile.

In high school gymnastics, we girls noticed that we best performed our routines when we simply doing. After a slip-up, a teammate would often explain by saying, “I started thinking.”

Try to notice when you aren’t thinking. When you have found one – or more – activities that put you into this ‘zone,’ look for ways to bring them into your daily routine. Even though you aren’t actively ‘meditating’ you’ll be increasing the amount of time overall that you spend with a ‘quiet mind’ and this can help bring your Task Positive Network and Default Mode Network in balance.

Expanding on the Quiet Mind

Once you’ve found an activity that ‘quiets’ your mind, try to expand on it. Try to ‘catch’ yourself ‘not-thinking’ and then immediately pull your attention to the breath to gently hold (or ‘be in’) that open, silent space.

If you catch yourself ‘not-thinking’ you may think Oh No! Now I’m noticing I’m not thinking – I’m going to start thinking again. Don’t panic! J You can re-engage your quiet mind my bringing your awareness to a particular aspect of whatever activity has engaged your attention.

Are you cooking? Bring your awareness to the smells around you – don’t worry about categorizing them, or identifying them, or determining whether you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like’ them; just smell them. Bring your awareness to the temperatures around you. Are your hands warm? Are your feet cold? Focus on stirring a pot or allow yourself to watch the bubbles rise in a boiling pot of water for a few moments.

Maybe you are engaged in a more active pursuit; playing a sport, for example. You can expand on a quiet mind during physical activity by bringing your awareness to your body. What muscles are being used? How do your feet move? Or your hands? What is your breathing like – fast? Halted? Are there sounds of shoes on a gym floor, squeaking? Clothing rustling? People yelling?

We sometimes think of meditation as a mental activity, but it’s actually the opposite. In my experience, meditation brings us out of our heads and into contact with our present existence – an experience that is largely sensory in nature.

Two areas associated with the ‘Task Positive Network’ in the brain are the “Internal Sensor” and the “External Sensor.” Thus, if we’re using our senses, if we’re actually paying attention to the information they bring in, our mind will automatically quiet down.

Using a ‘Visual Aide’ during Meditation may help

If you’ve tried the first two ideas successfully, but are still struggling with an actual sitting meditation, you might try a visual aide. When my mind is churning during a sitting or breath meditation and wants to rehash events of the day, I visualize a point of mist expanding outward and gently ‘pushing’ thoughts to the side.

I keep my concentration on the central point where the mist expands from, rather than on the boundaries where all the thoughts are. Another angle on this same concept would be to imagine water droplets in the center of a still pond, the ripples of the waves pushing thoughts to the outer reaches.

If it feels more relevant or powerful, the expansion can be tied to exhalation. Each exhalation gently pushing thoughts further and further to the outer reaches.

By focusing on the point from which expansion starts, the mind has an image to work with. As the mist or water expands from the center, the ‘open’ space in the mind, too, feels larger, more spacious and free.

I know that many mindfulness experts instruct the beginner to ‘watch’ the thoughts without attaching to them. The phrase “Let them come and let them go” comes to mind. That’s fine. If that works for you, by all means keep doing it.

In my personal experience with meditation, however, having thoughts running around in my head gets in the way of a deep personal connection with my energy and my body. For me, thoughts are not all that helpful during meditation so I prefer to just move them out of the way altogether. Some find there way in here and there, but largely it’s quiet.

If you have difficulty not attaching to your thoughts during meditation, you might want to try some variations of the practices listed here and see if they help.

[1] See information from the NIH and a particularly good post about this here.

What does Commitment have to do with the Spiritual Path?

Who hasn’t made a reckless (or not-so-reckless) commitment in a moment of duress? Please <insert divine authority>, get me out of this mess and I’ll never drink / smoke / bite my nails / lie / go home with a stranger / whatever / again.

How often, when we actually do find ourselves out of the mess, does that promise seem… silly? Unachievable? Who expects us to keep a promise like that? Especially if the ‘negative’ habit we are trying to avoid is an especially pervasive one, or the ‘positive’ habit we are trying to instill has many barriers – how often do we keep that promise?

I know my answer – not as often as I’d like.

Those promises and commitments seem silly to us later. I mean, why does God or the Universe care if I drink soda, or alcohol, or smoke, right?  However, our relationship with the divine and our own soul is as much about building trust as every physical relationship we have.

If we never keep our commitments to our friends or loved ones – what would those relationships be like?

Relationships are built the same way regardless of the medium of communication. Thus, we have every reason to believe that God / the Universe takes the commitments that we make in those moments – or any moments – very seriously.

The key is not to stop making these commitments as they actually are an important part of our relationship with the Universe / the Divine.  However, if we’re having trouble keeping those kinds of commitments, we may need to be more circumspect about what we commit to in the moment.

One option is to avoid committing to a totally unattainable goal.  For example, my default commitment is to stop picking my lips.  An uncommon but pernicious habit since childhood, my lips look quite destroyed when I’m stressed or bored or even just thinking because I compulsively pick at them.

Because this is the habit I feel most ashamed of and want to be free of, the promise to stop doing it is both the one I most often make and the one I most often break.  Here we’re touching on a core motivation of these kinds of commitments. There are particular habits we want to stop (or start) and, by extension, we think the Universe or our higher self also cares about whether we do these things or not.

Depending on the habit – that may or may not be true.  However, if we make a promise that is unachievable we are setting ourselves up to fail.  The commitments we make to the Universe need to be meaningful, they need to matter to us – but we don’t need to start by forcing ourselves to deal with the most difficult things in our lives.

Aside from trying to be careful of the commitments we make, the other key factor is that we need to respect these commitments once we’ve made them.

We can sometimes review the situation that provoked us to make a promise from a point of ‘illusory clarity’ after it’s over; I was never really in any danger or It was silly that I was so worried about this, etc. and, by extension, imagining ourselves ‘off-the-hook’ for any commitments we made in our momentary distress.

On the contrary, we are very much on the hook for any promises we made.  Every time I break a commitment (and I’m no saint, I’ve broken plenty), there is an erosion of trust in both my relationship with my soul-self and my relationship the Universe. I can feel an anticipatory twinge of guilt the next time I make a promise… am I really going to keep it this time?

On the upside, keeping these promises builds trust and strengthens the relationship between the embodied self and Universe (as well as the soul-self).  A strong relationship between ourselves and the Universe allows us to make the most of our current life at all levels; emotionally (relationships), financially, and – when we’re ready – to do the deep soul-self work that will help us master the lessons we came here to learn.

The Art of Finding

The Journey of Life is not about looking for answers,

it’s about finding them

I started spontaneously experiencing what is known as co-creation or manifestation fifteen years ago, before I even knew there was a word for it. All I knew was that I would ask the Universe for something and I’d get it. To be honest, it was a bit spooky, because sometimes it wouldn’t even be an intentional ‘ask.’

Sometimes it would just be a thought, wow, I really love that popcorn bowl – and then suddenly I would end up with someone’s extra popcorn bowl (the particular one I wanted). When books about manifestation, now more appropriately termed co-creation, started coming out, I was relieved. Oh good, other people have been experiencing this too, that probably means I’m not delusional.  🙂

At this point on my spiritual path, though, I’m exploring a new-to-me art; the ‘Art of Finding.’

Think of all the time we spend in life looking for things – keys, wallets, jobs, our life purpose, etc. Now, imagine we didn’t have to do that. Imagine that we could just find what we were looking for when we wanted or needed it. Think of how much more we could do if we didn’t fill so much space with ‘looking’ for things. I can see that future, I’m growing into that place.

What is the Art of Finding and How does it work?

Well, just like with co-creation, ‘Finding’ starts with a need or desire. Such as “I need to find my keys.” In the normal course of life, in the way we have been trained to ‘look,’ we would start with a methodical list of questions; where did I last see them? Where did I last use them? Did anyone else around here see them? We rummage through our brain for memories of where they might be so we can rummage through our environment for the keys.

We might find the keys quickly, we might not.

How does this work via the ‘Art of Finding’? Well, first I ask, “Can you please help me find my keys?” or “I’d like to find my keys, please.” Although, at heart, I believe this activity is about connecting into the energy field that surrounds us all and obtaining information that way – I don’t want to rule out that I have actual, non-visible entities helping me (like spirit guides or guardian angels or however you want to interpret that).

Out of respect for that and a desire to avoid the hubris of thinking this is about ‘me’ and what ‘I’ can do, I always ask – and I always say ‘thank you’ when I ‘find’ something. Releasing some of the definition that surrounds the ‘I’ is the first key to finding, anyway.

Then I turn down my mind and I actually ‘turn down’ my visual receptivity (think of when your eyes go soft focus during meditation). I keep my eyes open, though, so I don’t bump into things! 🙂 I turn up my awareness of my energy body, especially around my legs and feet. I let my feet walk me wherever they want to go and when they seem to have found a stopping point, I raise the awareness of my energy body to the upper half of my body – this helps me know what to pick up that ‘whatever-I’m-looking-for’ might be under, for example.

I turn up my visual receptivity and start scanning, but my mind is still turned down. This is key because I don’t want my intellectual or logical brain to direct where I look. When I can do this successfully, I can find whatever I need in a fraction of the time it would have taken me to ‘look. ’ (This conclusion is based on ‘finding’ a number of things where I would only have thought to look maybe fourth, fifth, or later in the logical chain – if I even thought to look there at all!)

I’ve used this technique to find a many dozens of things, now, including my husband or family in places where we’ve separated – like the mall or grocery store :).

It sounds easy, and in a way it is tremendously easy because you don’t actually have to ‘do’ very much – or, at least, your brain doesn’t. On the other hand, however, it’s more difficult to keep your brain or your ‘thinking self’ out of the way then it seems – even if you are an experienced meditator. It turns out, the dividing line between our spirit / intuitive self and our ego / embodied self is not quite so clear cut.[1]

For example – if I’m ‘finding’ my keys and a memory bubbles up of the last place I saw the keys, I can’t ‘find.’ It doesn’t have to be a ‘thought,’ it could be an image of the keys somewhere or just a feeling of where they must be. The power of that influence is great enough (for me, at this point) that I’ve lost the thread of ‘finding’ so to speak – now I can only look.

Interestingly enough, previously I would have thought that these images or feelings of the keys’ location were flashes from my intuition. From practice, though, I’ve learned that these are almost always distractions. They are doubly damaging because not only are they usually wrong, 🙂 but they also make me doubt myself and the process of finding in general.

I also struggle with finding when people (even my immediate family) are around because my self-consciousness gets in the way. Do I look silly? What if I can’t do it? Suddenly, I’m not finding anymore I’m performing – or at an even deeper level – I’m trying to prove that I can do it. All of that gets in the way of simply ‘doing’ it. When the stakes are high, especially the emotional or personal stakes, our abilities can be significantly impacted.

So what’s the difference between the Art of Finding and Co-Creation?

Since I started this post talking about Co-Creation, you might wonder what the difference is between the two. They’re certainly related. Both require active connection. Both involve putting what you want or need out into the Universe.

Co-creation is usually about influencing the future (specifically your future), moving energy in such a way to bring about what you need / desire, or building something new where there wasn’t something before. As a result, we can perceive co-creation as taking some amount of time to manifest in the physical plane.

Finding, on the other hand, happens in the ‘now.’ Finding is about gaining access to all the resources available to you at the moment, (including the ones you don’t logically know about, but you have energetic access to), and ‘finding’ what you need. When you turn the helm over to your energetic self (or –as I like to think of it – your whole self) you are not impeded by your own limiting beliefs about what you can and can’t know.

Here’s a particular instance that demonstrates this beautifully. My husband was helping to bathe our young daughter and asked me to get her bath crayons. I didn’t know where they were and decided to try to ‘find’ them. I half-closed my eyes, turned down my mind, and let my energy body take over. In this manner, I walked into our second bedroom and stood by the bed.

I opened my eyes fully… scanning the bed… I didn’t see them… doubt crept in… maybe I was doing something wrong. Then a memory bubbled up. Why on Earth would they be in the bedroom? I had last seen them on the bar, surely they were on the bar. Of course, now I can no longer ‘find’ because I can’t get the idea out of my head that they must be on the bar. I go over to the bar and start looking… sifting through papers, turning things over, etc.

My husband comes out to see what’s taking so long. “I can’t find them” I say, “the last time I saw them they were on the bar.” He immediately goes to the second bedroom, rifles through the blankets on the bed, and pulls out the crayons. “The baby and I were playing with them on the bed this morning after you left” he tells me.

I am shocked. I had been in the exact right place, even though I had no knowledge that my husband and the baby were playing with the crayons on the bed. My own self-doubt had gotten in the way and blocked me at the very last moment. It was then that I realized ‘finding’ encompassed much more than simply tapping into my own deep knowledge.[2]

Finding doesn’t just work for bath crayons and car keys, though, it can work for anything. Most importantly – Co-Creation and ‘Finding’ can go hand in hand.

One of the earliest posts I wrote for this blog was called ‘Ohm away from Home’ and was partly my lamentation that I could not find a good place to meditate in downtown Chicago close to my work. I had resorted to using conference rooms (not the most meditative of spaces) over my lunch hour. One could say I had begun co-creating – putting my desire out into the Universe for a place to meditate freely (ie, not subject to someone else’s program) a couple years ago.

A few weeks ago, I was again feeling this incredible longing for a space to meditate during the day. Suddenly the thought occurred to me to look for yoga studios in the area – maybe one of them offered meditation. I did a quick search of the internet and found a studio, Bottom Line Yoga, four blocks from my work that offered free meditation (free of cost and dogma 🙂 ) for a half hour at 1pm every day!

When I went to the studio, I asked the owner how long they had been open and it had only been about six months. I thanked her for offering a place to sit for meditation and told her that I had been wishing for something like this. “Well, it’s here for you, then!” she said.

This is the important time to remember the Trickster lesson of the Bait Thief… I know this studio is not here just for me or even offering meditation just for me (although interestingly I’m usually the only one there for meditation 🙂 ). However, it is also true that it is here for me. That is, in essence, how co-creation manifests in the physical plane.[3] I am one of the reasons why this studio exists, but certainly not the only or even one of the most important reasons.

More important for this post; although energetically I probably helped co-create this space, I also had to find it.

Allow me to clarify that ‘finding’ is not better that Co-creation by any means. Both are tools that belong in your toolbox of engagement with the Universe.[4] In fact, if I were to pick one I would favor co-creation because absolutely amazing things can happen through co-creation. However, there are times when we really just need something right now and for that ‘Finding’ is probably a better bet.

What are the Limitations of Finding?

The previous story raises an important limitation of finding. Because finding happens in the now, there are limitations. With Co-creation you can influence energy in such a way to create something new.  With ‘Finding,’ although there are probably many, many more options that we are presently or logically aware of, we are limited to what actually exists in the now. So, for example, when I was wishing for a space a couple years ago, there wasn’t one, so I had to settle for a conference room.[5]

Furthermore, there are some things that can get in the way of ‘Finding.’ I mentioned a few earlier; our own impressions of what can exist and where to find it; other people and our reaction to them. The biggest blockers, though, are our own filters and attachments.

I haven’t really mentioned the connection yet in this post, but it’s important to note that Trickster governs opportunity and chance as well as being the energetic influence to open a way forward (illuminate the way out of a trap) or close the path (lead you into a trap).

I feel comfortable saying that the ‘Art of Finding’ lands squarely in the Trickster’s jurisdiction. If you’ve read my post Trickster Makes this Road, you may remember that Trickster is also the agent by which visibility into our deep wounds returns to us. All of these elements work together in ‘Finding.’ In other words, our inability to ‘find’ in a particular situation is also an opportunity to explore what’s getting in our way.

Often we are surrounded by an abundance of opportunities we just don’t see. We don’t see them because we are so busy looking for something specific that our filters and prejudices rule out lots of options that are going to help us get where we ultimately want to go.

Here’s an example. I have a close friend who recently moved to a city where it is very impractical to have a car. She was struggling with what to do about the car. She wasn’t ready to sell it because she was unsure whether she wanted to stay in the location long term or not and it would cost her a lot more to buy a new car than just hang on to the one she had.

After some discussion it was clear she had many options available to her – at least a half dozen. Because she wanted something very specific, though, she concocted lots of flimsy reasons (some of them only based on emotional dislike) why only one particular option – the one with the most resistance – would do.

When we find ourselves in such a situation it’s always an invitation to closely examine our own fears, insecurities, and other deeply buried attachments.  If we can face those, we will almost always find a shining opportunity that helps us get exactly where we want to be.

I encourage you to play with the idea of ‘finding.’  If it’s obvious where something is, don’t waste time trying to ‘find’ it.  When you have some private time and space though, give it a try.  Don’t be discouraged if it’s hit or miss. The experience itself should give you lots of opportunities for self-observation.

My default operation these days is from a ‘turned-down’ mind and I still feel self-doubt as I develop my understanding of this skill.  There are many days when I can’t do it all, I can tell I’m simply not in the right frame of mind to ‘surrender’ my logic brain to my whole energetic self.  I’ll keep trying though – all skills develop with practice.

 

 

 

 

[1] This idea will fill out more in my next post (a preview of the book I hope to write, Echoes of the Soul)

[2] Prior to this event, I had thought maybe ‘finding’ just enabled us to access our own deep memories of where we had left things without our logical mind getting in the way – I now know that we have access to a much greater information than we realize to ‘find’ with.

[3] It should be noted that typically the ‘co’ in co-creation refers to co-creating with the Universe (or spirit guides, higher self, etc.) not necessarily with other people. However, here I am calling out that (I think) in many cases other people’s wishes and desires can certainly be a factor – it is a particular beauty of co-creation in the universe that solutions can appear that meet the needs, wishes, and desires of many people simultaneously! 🙂

[4] I’ll talk more about my experience of co-creation and how I believe it works, on an energetic level, in an upcoming post.

[5] To be honest there were a couple other places I tried meditating, but it just didn’t feel right or sustainable for a regular practice.

Trickster Makes this Road

“Most people don’t know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable and fall asleep and miss your life” – Brian Andreas,  Angel of Mercy

I was mid-way through writing a post about a completely different topic when I remembered a quote from Lewis Hyde’s excellent work  Trickster Makes this World that I wanted to use to launch the piece.  I located my kindle and typed the words I remembered from the quote into the search function.  No results found.  I tried a few different combinations and only then noticed the small print that said “This book has not been indexed.”  Not been indexed?  Argh!  I was going to have to dig for it manually?  How badly did I want this quote?  The kindle is not the best medium for skimming, but I tried that first anyway – skipping around based on the table of contents, glancing through pages, but that didn’t get me anywhere.  I was going to have to slow read the book from the beginning in order to find my quote.  Fine.  So, with a warrior frame of mind – this book was not going to best me – I started at the beginning.

As I read, though, something curious began to wind it’s way through my brain.  I have had a Trickster post on my list of writing topics since the beginning of the blog, but I hadn’t gotten to it yet and frankly wasn’t planning to work on it for quite a number of months more.  But in re-reading Lewis Hyde’s work, it suddenly felt like the Trickster was the most important and valuable topic I could be writing about right now.  All other work either faded into the background or became somehow dependent on me laying out the concept of the Trickster.  With my mind racing through how to structure the post, I began to laugh, for right there was the Trickster influence in action.  I knew in that moment, a Trickster post was the very next thing I was going to write.  I would never have chosen this course of action if I hadn’t been ‘forced’ to re-start the book.  And, of course, the beauty of the trick was that even though I now realized what was going on, I wanted to write this post, nothing excited me more.  The trap had been perfectly set and I was snared; hoist by my own petard.

“He is, in fact, some third thing…”[1]

From a cultural history point of view the Trickster is a super-human[2] character  who seems to embody the qualities of illusion, mischief, uncertainty (or chance), and metacognition.  Lewis Hyde finds examples of him in the mythologies of the Greek Hermes, the Nordic Loki, the Native American Coyote or Raven, and the African Eshu or Legba[3].  His trickery goes beyond paltry parlor tricks to be transformative on a grand scale; he upsets the established societal order.  So where can the Trickster be found in our modern world?  Hyde says, “Outside.. traditional contexts there are no modern tricksters because trickster only comes to life in the complex terrain of polytheism.  If the spiritual world is dominated by a single high god opposed by a single embodiment of evil, then the ancient trickster disappears.”[4]

I would argue, though, that the Trickster existed before any of these mythologies personified him.  It’s likely the trickster was a concept that communities were already familiar with that found room for expression in polytheism.  Our earliest form of human organization was leading a fairly nomadic lifestyle[5] as hunter gatherers.  Surely in the course of daily life these very ancient hunters must have come into contact with animals that didn’t “follow the rules.”  When it came to telling stories, this phenomenon was embodied in the character of the Trickster but, as is often the case, the simple symbol points to a much more complex, fundamental, and instrumental force in our universe that continues in tandem with existence itself.  Thus, In the modern world Trickster hasn’t disappeared so much as gone underground.[6]

But if he hasn’t disappeared, what, then, is the Trickster?  a god? an idea?  I prefer to think of the Trickster as an influence in the universe or perhaps a force of the universe – like Gravity or Entropy. Upon further consideration, maybe the Trickster is a result of the interaction between other forces of the universe – like the curvy line that separates yin and yang in the symbol most people are familiar with.  Or better yet, perhaps the Trickster is a way of seeing and interacting with the universe.  My inability to describe what the Trickster actually is underlines my point, however.  The trickster can only be seen out of the corner of our eye, try to look directly and we miss him[7] entirely.  Try to pin him down and, like a shadow, he eludes us.  However, it is an equally grievous mistake to pretend he doesn’t exist.  In order to understand and work with (or deal with) this phenomenon we need to allow him to remain uncategorized.  To answer the question of where he can be found?  Everywhere.  In the search for the Trickster it isn’t so much a matter of knowing where to look as knowing how to look.  Learning to understand how this character operates is the key to finding him.

“He of the stone heap”[8]

It would be too much to say that the Trickster is the ‘god of the road.’  However, Hyde indicates that Tricksters can be found “on the road” and goes on to say, “The road that Trickster travels is a spirit road as well as a road in fact.  He is the adept who can move between heaven and earth and between the living and the dead.”[9] The Spiritual Path, too, is a road-but-not-road and as a  causeway that moves ‘between heaven and earth’ it is exactly the sort of context where we can expect to find the Trickster at work – or rather at play.  For those walking the spiritual path, the Trickster can be found in the evidence he leaves behind.  It may sound silly, but it’s not unlike tracking an animal through the forest looking for dung or marks on trees.  The symbolic takes meaning from the literal because our lives are literal first and foremost – at one point in history we were all, quite literally, tracking animals through the forest to get our dinner.  Hyde spends quite a bit of time describing the Trickster in the context of hunter and prey, and this association works partly because in the ancient evolutionary dance between the two (ie, animals get wise to traps and learn how to avoid them, hunters craft better traps, animals get wise to the better traps… and so on) we find one of the key relationships that informs our understanding of what the Trickster character is really all about.

There’s a Reason he’s called Wily…

One prominent Trickster Hyde focuses on in the first half of the book is Coyote.  Hyde speaks of Coyote both as the mythological trickster character of Native American folklore, Coyote, and also in a literal sense (the animal, the coyote), noting, “Coyotes develop their own relationship to the trap; as one naturalist has written, ‘it is difficult to escape the conclusion that coyotes…have a sense of humor.  How else to explain, for instance, the well-known propensity of experienced coyotes to dig up traps, turn them over, and urinate or defecate on them?’  With this image we move into a third relationship between tricksters and traps.  When a coyote defecates on a trap he is neither predator nor prey but some third thing.” [10]

In folklore, Tricksters can be hunters, prey, and also this third thing which Hyde introduces as the ‘bait thief,’ a character who can, “separate the trap from the meat and eat the meat.”[11]  Understanding and employing the strategies of the ‘bait thief’ is key to safely and successfully walking the spiritual path, a point I will address in a bit.  According to Hyde, “…the bait thief doesn’t enter directly into [the] oppositional eating game…he feeds his belly while standing just outside the conflict between hunter and hunted.  From that position the bait thief becomes a kind of critic of the usual rules of the eating game and as such subverts them, so that traps he has visited lose their influence.” [12]  Here we find one of the underlying themes of both Hyde’s book and the Trickster’s character which is either the exposure of a false dichotomy or the transformation of what was previously thought to be an exclusive dichotomy into a triumvirate.  With the addition of the ‘bait thief’ the hunter / prey relationship becomes infinitely more complicated.  “In addition to animals that disguise their tracks and predators  that see through the disguise, we now have the encoding and decoding mind, and all the arts of reading.” [13]

Becoming a Bait Thief

So how can understanding the nature and operation of the Trickster help us walk the Spiritual Path? Taking our inspiration from the ‘bait thief’ persona of the Trickster, we can use such strategies to help us ‘read’ or interact with our Spiritual Path.  For example, we often encounter seemingly rigid dichotomies on the Spiritual Path, by using the perspective of the bait thief we may find that these are actually false.  One example of how this works taken from my own life is when I was mulling over going for a second past life regression, a very meaningful and life-changing session for me.[14]

The idea to go for another session had been floating around in the back of my mind for some time due to a current challenging situation.  Quite suddenly, one day at work, I overheard two co-workers discussing Brian Weiss’ book, Many Lives, Many Masters (which is about past-lives) right behind my cubicle.  I work in a fairly conservative industry and although the particular person who started the discussion is open-minded, I certainly didn’t expect to be eavesdropping on a conversation about past-lives at work!  Less then a week later I was working out at the gym in the early afternoon when I saw a television commercial for a Brian Weiss seminar on past life regression.  Granted, I do not watch a lot of tv, but I have never seen a commercial featuring past-life regression before.  Interest piqued, I went to my local library to see if they had the book Many Lives, Many Masters – and it was available!  This last may seem like a ridiculous thing to emphasize, especially given how good the Chicagoland area library system is.  However, I have definitely not found books at my library before – or, in many cases, found that the library had them, but they were checked out when I was looking for them.[15]  From a spiritual path perspective – it seemed like I was being directed to pursue another past-life regression sitting.  Were these events directed by some higher power or just a series of unrelated happenings that amounted to no more than a curious coincidence?

Understanding the concept of the Trickster-as-bait-thief allows us to safely navigate this dilemma.  For if I were to really believe those events happened just because of (or for) me, I run the risk of becoming delusional and ego-maniacal in my beliefs about my relationship to God and the universe.  This is to take the bait and swallow the hook and is the road of Ron Lafferty from Jon Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven.  Many a NRM[16] leader has been thus ensnared.  (See my post Sink or Swim for more about this danger).  On the other hand, if I completely dismiss these events as just a coincidence, if I ignore the ‘signs’ and turn away – I run an equally tragic risk of missing an opportunity to take the meaning and inspiration of a valuable message to create transformative change in my life.  In this scenario we are not captured by the hook, but we don’t get to eat either.  Only by simultaneous acceptance of both realities – the signs are meant both just for me and have nothing to do with me – can this boundary be safely traversed.  Just like the Trickster ‘bait thief’ is not concerned whether he falls into the ‘hunter’ category or the ‘prey’ category, this strategy allows us to take the meaning and the message without worrying so much whether the signs were ‘put there’ for us or not.  We can take the bait and leave the hook.

To take this association of the Trickster with the Spiritual Path a bit further, consider that one of the hallmarks of the spiritual path – the mystical experience – is the greatest trick of all.  For it is through this experience that we get only a glimpse, or to hold to the Trickster’s association with appetite, a taste of the beyond.  Like the lucky find[17] that it is, it has the power to change the fate and fortunes of our life. Hyde relates;

“..a wonderful West African story in which one of the gods is being chased by death and in order to escape ascends into heaven, leaving a rubbish heap behind on earth.  The lesson seems to be that becoming pure enough to avoid death depends on having left all dross behind.  By the same token, however, “deathless” purity is vulnerable to the return of what it sloughed off and tricksters…are the agents of that return” [18]

Once the mystical experience is over, we are forever changed, but all the dirt[19] we eschewed to ascend cloaks us once more on the return.  As a result of having witnessed the beauty and wonder of the universe[20], we can easily fall into the trap of only seeing our god-like, golden self and ignoring the pesky ‘dirt’ we believe we have risen above.  Yet everyone around us can clearly see our dirt and wonders how we can be so oblivious to it.  When we open our eyes and see the trap, only then can we do the ‘dirty work’ of cleaning ourselves up from the inside so that our light can shine through.

Eat or be Eaten

“In the Okanagan creation story, the Great Spirit, having told Coyote that he must show the New People how to catch salmon, goes on to say: “I have important work for you to do… There are many bad creatures on earth.  You will have to kill them, otherwise they will eat the New People…The myth says, then, that there are large devouring forces in this world, and that trickster’s intelligence arose not just to feed himself, but to outwit these other eaters.” [21]  When I think of people-devouring beasts – from a spiritual perspective what else could these be but our own subconscious fears and weaknesses that eat away at us from the inside?  On the Spiritual Path we must face these dark and disconcerting parts of ourselves, we must ‘eat’ our own dirt in order to find peace and renew our spirit.

Hyde notes that “Trickster commonly relies on his prey to help him spring the traps he makes.” [22] If it is the Trickster’s job to kill the devouring beasts that would eat us, then this is his mode of operation.  “The fleetness of large herbivores is part of their natural defense against predators; Coyote… takes advantage of that instinctual defense by directing the beasts into the sun and toward a cliff, so that fleetness itself backfires.”[23]  When we find ourselves enmeshed in a difficult situation, it often turns out that we were instrumental in our own entrapment.  In walking the Spiritual Path our very identity comes under intense scrutiny.  Qualities we previously thought of as strengths turn out to be our greatest weaknesses and traits we despise in others turn out to be deeply rooted in ourselves.  It is part of the Trickster’s job to expose our idiosyncrasies and landing us in a mess of our own making may be the only way to force us to face them.

We should take heart, though, that “Coyote can imagine the fish trap precisely because he’s been a fish himself…” [24]Only by having been both caught in traps and designer of traps does the Trickster become an authoritative guide and teacher.  “Trickster is at once culture hero and fool, clever predator and stupid prey.”[25]  With all this trap-springing and beast-eating, the Trickster is really, in a way, teaching us to be like him; to learn from our mistakes, to adapt to changing circumstances, to recognize that not only can our strengths be our greatest weaknesses, but sometimes our weaknesses can be or can become our greatest strengths.  At core, this message is a hopeful one. We may be caught in a trap today, but – if we learn – we may develop the cunnning to avoid a future trap.

Friend or Foe?

It is important to note that the trickster is the guardian of the road, not necessarily the people on it.  Sometimes, in walking the Spiritual Path (especially during or recently after a mystical experience), we can romanticize life a bit; believing everything is love and all the universe is benevolent.  While the truth is hardly the doom and gloom opposite of that, we must remember that sometimes love is “tough” and the universe is a place of both creation and destruction.  It is our perspective that puts a positive or negative spin on what are actually just events.  Not that our perspective is invalid, it is absolutely valid, but it is our perspective – not a universal truth.  We should approach the concept of the Trickster from a similar vantage point.

There is sometimes a tendency to associate the Trickster with our Western concept of Satan, but this is both mistaken and unhelpful.  “The Devil is an agent of evil, but trickster is amoral not immoral.”[26] says Hyde.  Equally unfortunate, however, would be to overly angelicize this character, believing that this influence would never “harm” us or anyone we love.  Rather, “He embodies and enacts that large portion of our experience where good and evil are hopelessly intertwined.  He represents the paradoxical category of sacred amorality.”[27]  In keeping with this image, I believe the trickster influence is responsible for much of the ‘spiritual testing’ that happens on the path.  If you are attacked and robbed by thieves on a real road you are unlikely to affectionately laugh it off as ‘spiritual testing,’ and this is often just what spiritual testing feels like.  You are robbed of some sense of your self, some piece of your identity or maybe something more corporeal than that – yes, the experience is going to lead to ultimate renewal and some deep learning, but it can certainly be very unpleasant when you’re going through it!

In determining the answer to whether the Trickster is friend or foe,  the answer should be obvious by now; he’s both – and neither.  What is a person who tells you truths you don’t want to hear?  A phrase from Barack Obama’s inaugural speech returns to me here, “we are willing to extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”[28]  We often have our fists clenched around our interior selves and attachments.[29] So long as we do, the Trickster influence is going to be prying open our fingers and trying to expose what’s inside.  If we loosen our hold a little, however, this interaction becomes much less hostile and we will realize that there is much guidance and support in the universe for those who are open and willing to do their own ‘dirty work.’

The Original ‘In-Betweener’

Although having to deal with a character with such an unpredictable nature as the Trickster may make us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, we should also remember that the intermingling of opposing influences [30] often inspires awe and fascination within us.  Noon and Midnight are more or less the same in their extremity, only dusk and dawn – where day and night come together – are constantly surprising us with their ever-changing beauty.  Each sunrise and sunset feel unique, as if we’ll never see it’s exact like again.  I’ve never heard anyone say “What a beautiful noon” yet often people talk of beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  It is the mix of perceived negative and positive events in our lives that keeps things interesting and the Trickster represents just this sort of interaction.

A story in Sonia Choquette’s new book Walking Home  demonstrates the Trickster influence in action.  The book is a recounting of Sonia’s experience walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage.  The Camino is, of course, a road – and not just any road, but a holy road.  Unsurprisingly, the book is peppered with Trickster-like antics in the experiences of Sonia and the other pilgrims.  The below anecdote stood out to me, however, as a very clear example of the type of Trickster activity I’m trying to shed light on in this post;

“..I entered a section of the Camino where everything seemed strange and magical and out of this world, and I found myself totally turned around.  I couldn’t find the arrows anywhere.  I was lost.  I continued on a bit farther and came to several forks in the road, a heavy mist in all directions.  I was confused and didn’t know where I was or which way to go… following my instincts I took the path to the left, where eventually I came upon…a house with an open door, so I called out.  Then I boldly walked in, hoping to ask for directions back to the Camino.  Inside was an older, scruffy, Spanish-speaking man…who invited me into his kitchen to have coffee… I thanked him and declined,  saying I just needed to get back to the Camino, but he shook his head and said that I was brought to him by the Camino for a reason and should stop and rest.  Seeing the light in his clear dark eyes, I knew that it was true.”

What follows in this anecdote is a meaningful revelation and a very healing experience for Sonia.[31]  In several places in the book she prays to not get ‘lost.’  Sonia, herself, is a spirit worker and thus means lost in both the physical and spiritual sense.  It is the hallmark of the Trickster, then, that here is an instance where she does, in fact, get lost and yet she ends up finding an overwhelmingly spiritual experience.  The nature of her happening upon the house, as well, has all the signs of the Trickster – there are crossroads, obscuring mists, a lack of proper signage.  It’s clear this place must be ‘found’ by those traversing the Camino, and is not a stop ‘on the map’ so to speak.

Sonia is a clear believer in God – and I am not trying to suggest here that accepting the “existence” of the Trickster supplant that kind of belief.  Hyde, in his book, notes that Hermes executes the will of Zeus and Legba executes the will of his mother, the creator goddess, Mawu.  Elsewhere he says, “In short… the Tsimshian Raven is a go-between, a mediator.  There are three spheres of being in the story, and Raven moves among them.”[32]  Thus, the Trickster is not meant to be or replace our idea of a benevolent ‘God’ – it is an influence or force that operates in the in-between and allows or creates the circumstances[33] for events – like Sonia’s experience – to happen.

The End is only the Beginning…

It is not my intention in this post to enumerate all the various ways Hyde identifies the Trickster in his book, Trickster Makes this World, and associate them one-by-one with the Spiritual Path.  Although there are many parallels and enough comparisons could be made to make my case very clearly, it would take a very long time to do this and I don’t think it is the best use of your time. (Also, remember what I said earlier about trying to ‘pin’ the Trickster down – it’s not wise to attempt it! or as Hyde puts it, “we should be wary of getting too comfortable with any single line of analysis”[34])

The goal of this post, instead, is merely to introduce the Trickster as an influence that’s still ‘alive and kicking’ so to speak and to raise awareness of his association with, and circumstantial guardianship over, the Spiritual Path.  Those who are actively walking the path[35] should consider Hyde’s book required reading.  I think you will find many more valuable insights for your work on the path in the book than can be found in this post.  Even if you are not actively walking the Spiritual Path, I strongly recommend the book as life, itself, is a journey and at some point or other in our lives we will all have a run-in or two (and probably many more) with this vibrant and volatile character.

[1] Trickster Makes this World, Hyde, Lewis; Farara, Straus, Giroux; August 17, 2010, loc 384 – the meaning of this is explained later in the post (Hereafter referenced as “Hyde loc + kindle location #)

[2] By this I mean he is like a god or a divine being – I retreat from using those exact words, however, as they have connotations attached to them in “the West” that I want to avoid associating too strongly with the Trickster.

[3] This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, merely an example of some main Trickster characters.

[4] Hyde loc 223

[5] or “on the road” in other words 🙂

[6] There’s an excellent quote from the Movie the Usual Suspects “That smartest thing the Devil ever did was convince the world he didn’t exist” – I was tempted to use this quote in the main text except that I think it encourages an association between the Devil and the Trickster which is a mistake. Rather, I think this quote is actually better fitting for the Trickster than for the Devil.  It is the Trickster who benefits from obscurity and confusion.

[7] There may be some who bristle at my use of the gender pronoun “him” – I, personally, am female – and support girl power in most cases, but in this post I don’t want to get sidetracked by a discussion of the Trickster and gender.  I feel like “it” sounds too weird and Hyde mentions that almost all Trickster references are male so I choose to use a masculine reference throughout the text.

[8] Hyde notes, “Coyote, Hermes, Mercury, and more  – and all tricksters are ‘on the road.’ They are the lords of in-between…He is the spirit of the doorway leading out, and of the crossroad at the edge of town…Travelers used to mark such roads with cairns, each adding a stone to the pile in passing.  The name Hermes [the Greek embodiment of the Trickster] once meant ‘he of the stone heap,’ which tells us that the cairn is more than a trail marker – it is an altar to the forces that govern these spaces of uncertainty, and to the intelligence needed to negotiate them.” (Hyde loc 163) If you are wondering if my heart stopped when I read this line and thought about the name and concept of this blog – yes it did.  Did I subconsciously remember this line when I created this blog even though I had read the book a few years before that?  Was it just a happy coincidence?  See what I mean?

[9] Hyde loc 166

[10] Hyde loc 384

[11] Hyde loc 403

[12] Hyde loc 405

[13] Hyde loc 1152

[14] At the time, I had very mixed feelings about past-life regression, something I hope to discuss more in an upcoming post on the cohesion of the soul.

[15]Hyde also identifies the Trickster as a blocker or creator of opportunity, “[Trickster] closes off a passage to capture its prey, or it finds a hole to elude its foe.  It can seize an opportunity or block an opportunity.”Hyde loc 845.  Speaking directly to library availability and unavailability I have recently been trying to track down the book Dancing Wu-Li Masters which I read almost twenty years ago and it’s been unavailable twice when I’ve looked at the library – once it was checked out and the other time it showed “available” but wasn’t anywhere to be found on the shelf. Obviously, I could have bought the book on the Kindle – but I hesitated because… if it wasn’t really a direction I was meant to be going at the time, I didn’t want to machete my way through the underbrush… that’s just a waste of time.

[16] NRM stands for “New Religious Movement” I wanted to avoid using the negatively-connotated term “cult”

[17] From Hyde, “In classical Greece the lucky find is a hermaion, which means “gift-of-Hermes” loc 2269

[18] Hyde loc 1958- by the way THIS is the quote that I was manually re-reading the book for!!!

[19] From Hyde, “…what tricksters in general like to do, is erase or violate that line between the dirty and the clean.  As a rule, trickster takes a god who lives on high and debases him or her with earthly dirt, or appears to debase him, for in fact the usual consequence of this dirtying is the god’s eventual renewal” loc 3104

[20] or God – interpret this however you like

[21] Hyde loc 409

[22] Hyde loc 344

[23] Hyde loc 348

[24] Hyde loc 365

[25] Hyde loc 351

[26] Hyde loc 227

[27] Hyde loc 227

[28] this was directed to the Muslim world in the speech, I am not using it here with any political underpinnings… I just think it is a good turn of phrase to represent this relationship.  Jung had a quote about approaching the unconscious minds that was more or less along the same lines – if we approach with fear and hostility, the interaction will be marked by such, but if we approach with an open mind it can be a much more positive experience – of course I can’t find the quote and I’m not about to interrupt this post to go manually read another book just to find a quote 🙂 🙂 🙂 this time I saw the trap, LOL

[29] I’ve had a post on attachment in draft for almost four years now because I am just not happy with it yet.  I’m hoping to clean it up and post it this year.  Attachment is such an important and integral topic to the Spiritual Path (plus there’s so much out there on it already) that I really don’t want to post a piece on it that I don’t love.

[30] I’m avoiding using ‘good’ and ‘evil’ here because I don’t think they are very helpful terms and there are many more opposing influences than just those two.

[31] I won’t give it away as folks should read the book  🙂

[32] Hyde loc 472

[33] as I write this I can’t help but think the phrase “moves things in such a way” and hearken back to my post about time – Everything is now.  There is a section towards the end that talks about how various elements must “come together” to grow flowers (vs. just thinking of growth in terms of elapsed time).  There is definitely a ‘motion’ element to the Trickster – Hyde, himself, mentions this and it may be why I keep finding so many parallels with how the Trickster operates and many of my own beliefs on how the universe works.

[34] Hyde loc 1501

[35] I talk about this elsewhere on the blog, but basically we are all on our Spiritual Path technically, I mean life is our Spiritual path, but many people are walking it without realizing it and therefore getting lost or missing things, or making things more difficult for themselves, or having to repeat lessons over and over etc. by “actively, consciously” walking the spiritual path I mean those of us who are cognizant that we are actually on a path, that we are meant to do certain things in this lifetime – and who are actively working to figure out what those things are and do them. As I write this, however, I do laugh at myself since I’ve definitely been one to have to repeat certain lessons over and over or made things more difficult for myself despite actively walking the path 🙂 :). Our challenges in life are precisely that – our challenges.  They are difficult mostly because they are difficult for us.  I hope to write more about my particular challenges in the series of posts about my journey (creatively titled “My Journey” 🙂 )

Sink or Swim

 “What is the difference between a psychotic or LSD experience and a yogic, or a mystical?  The plunges are all into the same deep inward sea; of that there can be no doubt.  The symbolic figures encountered are in many instances identical…But there is an important difference. The difference –to put it sharply – is equivalent simply to that between a diver who can swim and one who cannot.  The mystic, endowed with native talents for this sort of thing and following, stage by stage, the instruction of a master, enters the waters and finds he can swim; whereas the schizophrenic, unprepared, unguided, and ungifted, has fallen or has intentionally plunged, and is drowning.” – Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By

“There is no such thing as pure experience, raw and undigested.  It is always mixed up with layers of interpretation.  The alleged immediate datum is psychologically mediated.” – Sarvapelli Radakrishnan, Religious Experience and its Affirmations

Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul

My most recent meditation teacher emphasized the light side of spiritual development, referring to the work we did in class as “play.” I appreciate her perspective; if you are currently enthralled with the blissful aspects of meditation and spiritual development, by all means enjoy them!  After all, if the Path were fraught with danger at every turn what is the incentive to pursue it?  However, there is a balance to all things, and spiritual development is by no means exempt.  Powerful forces of both creation and destruction play a vital role in the universe.  When we begin connecting more deeply to our subconscious, our higher self, and the world around us, we find ourselves face-to-face with both of these influences.

Unfortunately, the field of spiritual development lacks much open-minded, scientific study and when the student encounters destructive influences, she must often navigate treacherous and murky waters alone.  For Ron Lafferty, a devout Mormon, a dogmatic belief that God was communicating directly to him ended in the brutal murder of his sister-in-law and niece[1].  The dark rivers of the self, once undammed, can flood, seep, and splatter across all aspects of our lives.  As another example, a Central American church which practiced ecstatic communion with the divine claimed to be possessed by the Holy Spirit.  Joyous celebrations initiated with innocent bliss grew more and more uninhibited.  When an ecclesiastical representative arrived to investigate the claim, he found the parishioners engaging in sexual activity on the altar and burning bibles in the church.  Disgusted, he pronounced the congregation to be, not under the influence of the Holy Spirit, but under the influence of the Devil and condemned the church to closure.  Although absolute moral judgment of the congregation’s actions is subject to debate, beyond doubt, for the ecstatic devotees, things had not gone according to plan.  Somewhere along the way they ran afoul of their ultimate goal and ended up in completely unfamiliar territory.  Reflecting on these examples, perhaps the closest I can come to describing the underlying danger with this work is to point, not to the participant’s actions, but to their steadfast conviction that they were acting on behalf of a higher power. Instead, they were constructing a delusional framework to allow physical outlet for their own subconscious desires.

Of course, the cases referenced above are extreme and high-profile examples of the shadow influence of the self; most students never need fear falling so far into delusion that they would carry out heinous acts of destruction and violence.  Yet, all students wading into their innermost depths have reason to be wary and attentive. Greater and more fearsome beasts lurk in our subconscious than can be found in any zoo.  Anger we thought we let go, desires long kept under tight control, fears we’ve repressed or “talked” ourselves out of, even past life influences our conscious mind is completely unaware of,  are down there waiting to come to light.  All energetic information obtained via connection is translated by the self into usable material.  In the acts of translation and interpretation hides the risk that our own subconscious mind silently adds its own spin, or worse, masquerades as guidance from the divine.

When the Going Gets Tough

Fortunately, we are not completely lacking in tools to help navigate these risks.  The most important first step is to take them seriously.  Recognize that no matter how skeptical you may have been starting out, when you delve into inner work you are likely to experience things beyond your ken.  The most dangerous thing you can do is let your ego or rational mind tell you “I’ve got this under control” or “I can stop myself before this gets too far.”  We are at our most vulnerable when we think we are at our least.

Once you’ve acknowledged the risk and are prepared to take some life-jacket type precautions, start by recognizing what you are connecting to – and what you are not.  When you open the channel of communication; it’s not always easy to discern where input is coming from.  Most inputs are likely to be coming from your own subconscious. There is absolutely no reason to believe you are on a special mission from God to cause harm to others.  Neither God nor the Universe needs help creating harm or misery for individuals or communities if that is warranted. Carefully evaluate both the direct and ripple effects of taking action on guidance received.  Does making this move satisfy your anger, fear, or desire?   If so, this is probably not the right direction.  Reflect on the quality of your meditation at this juncture – has it been held hostage by emotion and indecision about the current test or problem?  If the latter, try to create a space in your life to meditate in a focused, grounded way.  The aim of meditation is to bring about more clarity, not less.  If you are at all emotional about something, it’s not time to take action on it.  Put the problem to the side and allow your meditation to normalize; return to structured, guided meditation if needed.

Another strategy (and it’s best to use multiple strategies) is to use the concept of ‘Data Points.’ Most of us have at least some familiarity with plotting points on a graph and drawing a connecting line.  The key is to avoid putting too much credence in any one data point or incidence of perceived guidance.  Let the data points accumulate and try to understand the larger pattern from them before letting your mind draw a particular conclusion.  Give yourself some time to mull over the signals and signs before taking any dramatic action. Remember that, with relationships, it can take only moments to destroy what took a lifetime to build.  Another helpful metaphor along these same lines is the “Tai Chi fist.”  When I first started Tai Chi, our instructor taught us to form the Tai Chi fist by imagining that we were holding a bird in our hand.  If we held the bird too loosely, it would fly away.  If we clenched our fist, we would crush it.  I often think about this metaphor when I become too attached to a particular outcome for a situation.  Although it may be impossible to completely let go of your hopes for a particular outcome, it can be helpful to remind yourself not to clench your “fist” too tightly around it.

When All Else Fails

When you find yourself really in a rut, it’s time to seek outside counsel – real outside counsel.  Avoid relying on only your tarot cards or your circle of friends for direction as these may be (unintentionally) influenced by your own hopes and desires.  I recommend seeking help from a Past Life Regressionist, a trusted Psychic (ie. as in someone you or your family can vouch for as an ethical individual), or a trusted resource outside your particular mystical tradition (if you belong to one) who understands the spiritual path.  There are mainstream psychologists out there who do past life or Jung-type work – it may be worth seeking out one of those if you feel you need help from someone with professional psychology or psychiatry training.  Outside counsel may be expensive, but it can be worth it when you need a point of view from someone who has no emotional investment in your situation.  I have sought help from Past Life Regressionists and trusted Psychics when in ruts and found their help invaluable in directing me back to my path (the very existence of this blog, in fact, is due to such counsel).  Don’t be afraid to ask specifically about your problem, even though it may be embarrassing – after all that’s why you’re there.  If they don’t have much to say about it – it could be a signal that the problem looms larger in your mind than it does on your spiritual path.

When all else fails, walk away from the path for awhile.  Immerse yourself in activities that keep you anchored in a safe and healthy reality.  Retreat to friends, family, and take a few months off.  Don’t ignore new data points – record them dispassionately in a journal, but return to your work only when you feel ready.  Avoid completely forsaking meditation at this point.  Rather, focus on short, guided meditations specifically grounding, breath, or metta-type meditations.   If you find your meditation or prayer devolving into mental anguish about the situation – stop immediately and do something else.

Actively walking the Spiritual Path is an amazing journey of transformation; a worthy and necessary cause for everyone.  It may seem like the above essay is intended to convince you that the spiritual experience is not ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ but nothing could be further from the truth.  All communication – even that with the self is real.  It will be necessary at times to deal with revelations about yourself that may be deeply disturbing; desires and secret wishes that you may want to project onto others or that you may want to believe are coming from ‘somewhere’ or ‘someone’ else.  Navigating these steps on the path is necessary for progress – but doing so “alone” can be quite a challenge. Understanding the risks, taking them seriously, and developing strategies for dealing with these types of concerns (if they arise), can ensure your journey is as smooth as possible.


[1] Krakauer, Jon Under the Banner of Heaven, Anchor c:2004 / Random House

You Are Here

 

“A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you’re fast asleep.  In dreams you will lose your heartaches – whatever you wish for you keep.  Hold tight to your dream and someday a rainbow will come shining through.  No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true” – Walt Disney’s Cinderella

This opening song in the Disney movie Cinderella illustrates two things.  One, inspiration can be found anywhere, even an animated, corporate cartoon and two, that even a child can be expected to understand the connection between the heart and achieving fulfillment.

However basic this idea seems on the surface, most children and many adults do not actively seek to achieve the wishes their hearts make.  Instead, they mentally file them away in a box labeled “impractical” and pull them out in melancholy moments to accentuate what their life is missing rather than spur them to take an active role in their own spiritual development.

You have an advantage over many if you have recognized that there must be something more to life, something beyond the day to day experience of “surviving” or “getting by” whatever your economic situation may be.

Joseph Campbell speaks most succinctly to this feeling by terming this stage of life’s journey as “The Call.”  The stirring in the heart, the feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction with your life (however busy it may actually be) is actually a call from your heart to engage, to develop, to experience life in a deeper and more meaningful way.

The simplicity of this idea is deceptive.  Responding to “The Call” is not merely recognizing it and taking action by reading relevant books, engaging in activities such as yoga or Tai-Chi, or attending a meditation or self-help seminar.

Progressing beyond this preliminary stage and starting your own internal journey is actually the first few steps on a very long path.

At a high level, this stage is characterized by an opening of a dialogue between the conscious mind and the subconscious, between the self and the higher self, between one’s being and the universe.  It is all of these at the same time and the effort can only come from within.

The first step is hearing and recognizing this call to action, the second step is signaling a willingness to begin the journey, and the third step, the hardest step, is listening to, understanding, and acting on the response from the universe.  Only when one has taken all three steps has the spiritual journey really begun.

The Call

Even the first step, the initial ‘call’ from one’s inner being is, unfortunately, all too easy to ignore.  After all, our western, capitalist culture does not encourage finding fulfillment without entering into the market behavior of vending and consuming.

In response to our quest for deeper meaning, society and tradition push us into mainstream religions that often offer the comfort and celebration of community at the expense of individual spiritual development.

The looming church of whatever religion can sometimes make us feel that there is no room for a growth and exploration of individual belief; one must accept the mandated beliefs (or profess to) and keep deeply hidden any personal reservations or differences of opinion.

This is nothing new or unique to our particular place and time.  For centuries wars have been fought and people murdered as ‘heretics’ for the very act of believing something different from church doctrine; it still happens today in some places.

It is perhaps this violent history, however remote from our present experience, which has led many of us to feel extremely uncomfortable with discussions of our personal faith and, in the same vein, our personal spiritual development in public and sometimes even among close friends and family.  Discomfort such as this can only increase one’s feeling of ‘separation.’

Although seeking to develop further spiritually on an individual level will not necessarily resolve these conflicts and can actually increase one’s feeling of ‘apartness,’ there is some good news.

Walking your own spiritual path does not actually require you to commit to any particular religious belief or swear allegiance to any particular system; it can dovetail quite reasonably with whatever social religious practice you currently follow.

The challenge spiritual development presents instead is to thoroughly examine one’s own life and engagement with both the concrete and metaphysical world.  There should be no surprise if this causes the individual to both challenge old belief systems and develop new ones, but this will happen in its own time and through one’s own efforts rather than according to any prescribed dogma.

Additionally, seeking to develop and understand the self better can help the individual navigate his or her own life with more intent.  Although the feeling of “separation” from others may increase, often the feeling of communion with the self and the divine will intensify to such a degree that the absence of that feeling of “belongingness” from the community is no longer a cause of concern.

Seemingly in opposition with the conclusion just drawn, relationships with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers are likely to improve as one proceeds on this inner and outer journey.

As you understand yourself better, you will gain new insight into your own behavior and attitudes towards others as well as understanding their interaction with you.  This will allow you to express, recognize, and respond to love and other emotions in your interpersonal relationships on a new and deeper level.

Each individual must internally weigh these and other concerns against perceived benefits, but the fundamental fact is that there is really no great risk in taking that first step; hearing the call and making some effort to heed it.

At this point on the journey, your worldview is not likely to have changed so dramatically that any “damage” done cannot be undone.  Like the first flicker of eyelids in the morning; one might wake up, hop out of bed, and start the day or merely glance groggily at the clock and return to slumber.

Weeks or even days after reading an inspirational book or finding oneself moved by a conference or seminar or maybe even a particular worship service, we find ourselves slipping back into our old routines, our old concerns, focusing on the external and neglecting the internal.

In such a case, our eyes have only flickered.  In turn, this is why a more direct signal to the self and the universe is required to truly engage in the kind of meaningful dialogue that will start you on your journey.

If deep down you know this is only a spark to be quickly extinguished, the subconscious mind, too, will remain in slumber; hidden deep below the surface of your awareness.  Similarly, the higher self and the universe will be even more remote and difficult to access.

The Signal

When and if you decide you are ready to take more deliberate and intentional action, you are ready for the second step on the path.  This is a direct signal of intent to the subconscious mind, higher self, and universe that one is ready to begin their journey.

One should not expect that merely spending twenty minutes or even a week in daily meditation will result in a response. The timing from the first recognition and heeding of the call to the response from the universe will vary from person to person.

Ironically, like the seemingly “unfair” story of the prodigal son, a complete beginner may receive a response more clearly and quickly than a person who has dabbled in yoga, meditation, and exploratory reading for some time.  This may be because the more experienced spiritual student has signaled fickle interest often enough that it will take a sustained, deliberate effort to communicate commitment.

Another possibility is that the more awake and experienced student may have come to accept certain feelings and signals as second nature due to their own spiritual activities, and thus may be taking no particular notice of them now.

I recently experienced this in a meditation class.  Even though I have been walking my own spiritual path for the last fifteen years, when my meditation teacher recently asked me if I could feel my own energy body, I found myself shaking my head in a confused manner and answering, “I’m not sure.”

However, when she led our class through a meditation to feel our energy body and described the sort of techniques we should use to “feel” it, I recall thinking of course, I feel this all the time, I just didn’t think of it in those terms.  Students who have dabbled in spiritual development before need to be especially attentive to subtle signals they may be receiving.

However discouraging this “waiting” period may feel to your conscious mind, it is not without its own value.  The opportunity, here, is to begin to “clean out” one’s conscious (and sometimes borderline subconscious) mind and observe oneself from the outside looking in.

It is worth keeping in mind that the ultimate goal of this opening salvo is to communicate not only your desire to be more whole, but your commitment to pursue this endeavor with serious and determined intent.

As far as “sending” the signal itself, truthfully, the only way I have found this to really work is through meditation.  To be fair, meditation can take many forms; drumming, yoga, tai-chi, silent reflection, prayer, journaling, mindful living, etc.   However, the most striking results I have seen include at least some form of focused silent meditation either alone or in combination with other forms listed above.  The very act of sitting and clearing out the mind offers an opportunity to both observe the mind and communicate directly with it.

The signal must be clear, intentional, and serious.  By “clear” I mean uncluttered with fears or hidden motivations such as conforming to other’s perceptions or a desire to “confirm” one’s own skepticism.

Because of the inherent connotations, I cringe a little at using the word “serious” to describe communication with the subconscious mind, self, and universe.  Often this communication can be characterized by a jubilant feeling of “connection” and peace, an experience of exploring and engaging with your existence on a new and exciting level.

I would not deny this whimsical part of the spiritual journey by labeling communication “serious.”  Rather, I refer to the definition of serious that dictionary.com lists as, “being in earnest, sincere, not trifling” as well as “requiring thought, concentration, or application.”  Even when approaching meditation with joy and wonder, your communication should represent the aspects of seriousness listed above.

The clarity and intent of your signal can be made more concrete by journaling about what thoughts, images, and questions come out of dreams, meditation sessions, and simple mindful reflections.  Making the added commitment of putting pen to paper to record impressions and allow yourself to digest them can be a direct signal to your subconscious mind, higher self, and the universe that you are “listening.”

If you don’t feel comfortable with your writing, journaling does not specifically have to take the form of the written word.  Drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, song, music, or making collages by clipping relevant words, thoughts, and pictures from magazines or newspapers are perfectly acceptable ways to bring your meditative reflections into the corporeal world.  One of the fastest and easiest ways to journal is by using a personal voice recorder to tape your meditation sessions, dreams, and reflections.

Regardless of what medium you choose, always remember that the primary goal of this exercise is not to produce great art, but to signal to the universe that you are ready to engage; your goal is to actively pursue your life’s destiny.

The Response

If one has signaled clearly a genuine and sustained interest, the subconscious mind will open to the observer.  An opportunity will present itself, a door will appear, a signal will be sent in response; the universe will communicate, “I hear.”

At first, this is likely to be quite startling, and despite the inherent joy in such a moment, one is likely to be internally conflicted.  The student may question; is this a response?  Or have I been wishing so much for a response that I’ll convince myself anything out of the ordinary is a response?

Chances are that your first instinct is correct, but it is good to remember that communication from these meta-entities, rather than a singular shot in the dark, is often a series of encounters or experiences that taken independently seem like coincidence and only have meaning when considered together; a theme that either instantly rings so true you cannot doubt it or, if ignored, repeats itself and becomes more obvious and clear the more you meditate.

A response can come in many forms.  For one it may be a particularly relevant and meaningful dream or succession of them.  For another it may be the experience of overhearing a co-worker talking about a book they read that affected them deeply and then coming across that same book or author oneself in a seemingly random and independent way only to begin reading it and find just the answer or message one was seeking.

Some may find they feel a new spark of interest in an activity that blends spirit with physical movement like drumming, yoga, or Tai-Chi only to suddenly stumble upon an open workshop or see a flyer in a strange place advertising the very thing they were interested in.

Recently I received a call to action from the universe via the combination of a dream, a television show theme, and a church sermon all within the space of a week.

In the case where an individual is not yet very attuned to him or herself, a situation not altogether uncommon in complete beginners to meditation and spiritual development, he or she may actually not recognize a response or may completely misinterpret one.

In other cases, we may deliberately ignore a response or pretend we don’t hear it because we don’t like the message.  If many weeks go by without any seeming “response” or with a perceived response that seems confusing or in contrast with core ethical beliefs, it can be beneficial to seek direct counsel.

Ask an understanding and compassionate family member, friend, classmate, or teacher’s advice regarding your confusion and trouble.  If that does not help you bring clarity to the situation, there may be cause to seek more definite guidance from a psychic or through one’s own direct dialoguing process.

Most often, the struggle in the third step is not so much with hearing the response, but with understanding, accepting, and acting on it.  We may not feel ‘ready’ to take on the personal challenge our subconscious or higher self presents to us.

Challenges from one’s higher self and the universe will almost always be very personal and reach to the very heart and core of our being.  Perhaps the images presented to us while meditating are frightening because they remind us of our imperfections and weaknesses or they expose deep seated fears that are negatively impacting the way we live our lives.

Additionally, perhaps we feel we are being asked to do things we are not ready to do; open our hearts to people we are not ready to forgive, confess a transgression to someone who may not forgive us, or face parts of ourselves we are afraid of.

From a practical perspective, it is most important to have patience with yourself during this period.  It is not unlikely that progressing beyond this beginning stage may take from six months to a year depending on one’s level of dedication, quality of reflection, and timing of action in response to communication from the subconscious mind.

When faced with such deep internal fears, we do best to remember that all heroes throughout time have had to face great challenges.  In stories, as in life, these are often internal fears and conflicts made manifest in the external world either through our own projections or as messengers from the universe.

Rather than be discouraged, know that the practice of spiritual development is rewarding mostly because it is so challenging.  We are presented with opportunities to better understand ourselves, others, and the world we live in; to grow.