The Circle of Existence: Chapter 10 – Awareness Over Discipline

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by DCH Park

Kids Giving you problems? Hire an Elephant by peasap, https://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/4684467836/

Kids Giving you problems? Hire an Elephant by peasap, https://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/4684467836/

“Awareness is empowering.”
– Rita Wilson

“Buddha means awareness, the awareness of body and mind that prevents evil from arising in either.”
– Bodhidharma

“There is no such thing as cold, only absence of heat. There is no such thing as dark, only absence of light. There is no such thing as evil, only absence of connection.”
– anonymous

In my control class in college, we studied various ways to design and analyze dynamic control systems of various types, ranging from purely mechanical ones to electrical ones (which had no transistors) to electronic ones (which did). Analytically, all of these systems could be modeled and understood using the same principles. Mathematically they were identical in spite of the fact that completely different physical components and forces were in operation in different systems.

There are primarily two different philosophies or approaches to designing control circuits. One is called feedback and the other is called feed-forward. Most of the control systems in use in the world today are feedback systems.

In a feedback control circuit, a portion of the output of the system is fed back into the control circuit inputs. The control circuit combines this feedback with the operator control inputs (the other external inputs) to automatically adjust the system. For example, if you adjust the speaker volume in your car radio to a certain level, the volume setting is the “operator” or external control setting. As the volume setting is increased, the control circuit sends a signal to the speaker drivers telling them to work harder.

Since it’s a feedback control circuit, a portion of this speaker driver signal is also sent back to the control circuit and combined with the manual volume setting. Typically, the feedback signal is inverted so that as the volume goes up, the feedback causes the control signal to decrease and if the volume goes down, the feedback control signal increases. This type of negative feedback control tends to be very stable because it tends to push the output toward a stable center – down if the output gets too high and up if it gets too low. This is why it is used so widely.

In positive feedback control, the feedback is not inverted. Thus, it tends to further amplify the system’s outputs. If the output goes up, positive feedback makes it go higher faster. This is what happens when a microphone is placed too closely to the speaker it drives. The speaker output is picked up by the mic and amplified through the speaker, leading to an unstable feedback loop that usually results in screeching.

In a feed-forward control circuit, there is no return input that takes the output back into the system. Certain assumptions are made about the ways in which the external world behaves and the way in which the system should act. The (external) control inputs take these assumptions into account and are simply fed in. As long as the assumptions are accurate, the system behaves as expected, but if the assumptions are off, even just by a small amount, the system might become unstable. Outputs may become unpredictable or even destroy the system altogether.

This is what happens when a car suddenly loses traction on a patch of ice. The car’s behavior suddenly changes so that the driver’s assumptions about how the car will react are suddenly wrong. Control inputs that are normally safe – holding the wheel straight and pressing on the brakes – are no longer safe. Instead of producing normal results – straightening out the car’s trajectory and slowing down – they do something else – promoting a spin with locked wheels. One solution to this problem is to “close the loop” automatically and combine the external outputs of the system with the inputs. In other words, make the feed-forward system into a feedback system by adding a sensor that loops back to the inputs. This is what anti-lock braking systems do.

In exactly the same way, enhancing the feedback control in your body and life can enhance your stability and equanimity. The key is to develop your facility with awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the seminal influences in bringing mindfulness and meditation into the medical establishment mainstream, points out that awareness, like thinking, is an inherent human ability. However, in this culture, unlike thinking, awareness is an ability that is not widely prized or even recognized, much less one that many people are trained in using.

Control via thinking alone is a form of feed-forward control. In the body, feed-forward control is essentially experienced as a kind of numbness that cuts you off from the external world. Without feedback, there is a tendency to slip into a perception that the external world is on the other side of an invisible and inviolable barrier – an impossibly fine and absolutely impregnable curtain that separates you from the external world.

In the body, Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy, is an extreme example of what can happen when feedback is lost and only feed-forward control remains. Hansen’s disease victims lose sensation in their extremities. Loss of sensation starts in the fingertips and toes and progresses inward. Motor function control is unimpaired. However, because all sensation is lost, including pain, victims lose the ability to sense when they have damaged themselves. As a result, they inflict repeated trauma to affected tissues and the body begins to erode. Eventually fingers, toes, noses, and more can be lost to physical trauma.

Hansen’s disease is an extreme example, but the same mechanism is at work in less extreme situations every day. When you feel a headache due to stress or over-work and take an analgesic instead of a break, you are choosing to numb the pain and dampen your natural feedback in favor of a feed-forward control signal to keep working or work harder. You are choosing to ignore the feedback signal to take a break or that something is wrong.

Feed-forward control is experienced as numbness and expressed as discipline. In the absence of sensory connection and immediacy of feeling, exertion of will remains as the only means to gain control. It is like being on one side of a wall and trying to control what happens on the other side by pulling and pushing rods that go through the wall without being able to see, hear, or feel what is happening. Instead, you metaphorically rely on graphical progress reports that are projected on a screen, not knowing if those reports are accurate and timely and having no way to verify them since you blocked the feedback.

Cultivating your awareness is key to addressing this shortcoming. By becoming more fully aware of the many sensory cues (as opposed to cultural, traditional, and other “cues”) that are available to you, you strengthen your feedback loop. Your experience of your surroundings and even of yourself shifts. You pierce the barrier that separates you from your external world and feel the world more richly and subtly.

For example, when I wanted to lose weight, I noticed that it was a struggle as long as I approached it as a discipline. To make matters worse, I was keenly aware of flavor and the sensations of eating, swallowing, and feeling full, which became positive feedback signals that tended to amplify the unhealthy behavior and desire for unhealthy foods. However, once I began to notice other sensations, like the listlessness I felt after a food binge or unhealthy meal and the feeling of tightness and deflation I felt after just one bite of unhealthy food, my relationship with food and weight control began to change significantly. I no longer had to struggle to control something that I could grasp intellectually but not feel. I could cultivate awareness of what was going on in my body and how I felt. Healthy choices dropped out of that awareness effortlessly.

Losing weight and eating more healthily were no longer hard. They became the easiest things to do. Making unhealthy choices became hard because in order to make those choices I would have to ignore what I so clearly felt.

If you don’t have sensation, you might hit your thumb with a hammer and not even know it. Without strict discipline and rigid attention to specific details, you might keep hammering and actually break your thumb or worse. On the other hand, with your awareness and sensation intact, if you hit your thumb with a hammer, you stop pounding because your thumb hurts. Taking care of your thumb becomes the easiest thing to do.

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More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Circle of Existence: Chapter 9 – The Forge

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by DCH Park

Rick Sharloch, Yuma, sunrise in the Sonoran desert

Rick Sharloch,
Yuma, sunrise in the Sonoran desert

“26 April: I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”
– James Joyce

“You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”
– James Anthony Froude

“Nothing splendid was ever created in cold blood. Heat is required to forge anything. Every great accomplishment is the story of a flaming heart.”
– Arnold H. Glasgow

I was watching some random television the other day when one character said something to another about a stretch of desert called “The Forge” and how crossing it would prove fatal. It suddenly connected for me how life is in many ways a forge in which we temper our spirits.

There are many teachers and authors who espouse the value and virtues of success, wealth, and joy. No doubt, these are worthwhile things. The ability to open to joy in our lives directly determines how much joy we can have in our lives. Likewise, financial success will at best be difficult to achieve and maintain for someone who believes that rich people are somehow dishonest or less honorable than poor people.

Nonetheless, I have found that it is dealing with the challenges – the difficult things – in life that have led to the most potent lessons and often to the greatest joys. It has been said that what we look at disappears and that by noticing and holding silent presence with those parts of ourselves that are in pain, anger, or discomfort, we allow them to open like a seed softens in water, and lead us to the heart of our pain.

(Although doing so is a whole practice unto itself. Being able to be aware of something without creating or echoing any blame, recrimination, or judgment is a skill that is not taught, much less widely practiced, in this society. Hence it is easy to get lost in the first step – noticing what is there, how you feel. When you get lost and enlarge the emotion, you can never experience all of it. You make it larger all the time, so you can never find the edges or the center.

When you take the opposite approach and notice yourself feeling whatever is there, you are both inside the emotion, feeling it, and outside the emotion, noticing yourself feel. You are bigger than the emotion and you experience that you are bigger. The emotion is thus limited and you can experience it completely. Then you can follow the trail it’s a part of all the way back to the wound it springs from and heal it.)

It has also been said that in order to lessen the influence of undesired or “negative” thoughts and expectations our best course is to redirect our focus toward things that we would prefer. The intention is to allow the undesired experience to dissipate as we gain momentum with our preferred experience. This is an alternative view that, although popular, runs counter to the idea of turning into the pain.

To be fair, it does seem to lead to financial and/or romantic success for many people as they define it. However even when it does work, it is relatively slow (often taking 20 years or more) and it fails to consider the question of whether the game we find is the game we “should” be playing. In other words, it fails to recognize the existence of defining beliefs, much less ask the questions of what existential beliefs we have, how those beliefs shape society, and what beliefs we would prefer.

Consider the image of the forge. Sword makers in ancient Japan were able to produce steel blades of remarkable quality using techniques and materials that were very primitive by today’s standards. They successfully married two disparate qualities of steel (characteristic of different types of steel) into single blades. Thus, their blades were flexible (a quality of ductile, low-carbon steel) while also being hard and able to hold edges (a characteristic of brittle, high-carbon steel).

At no point does the steel resist the process. It accepts the intense heat and the plunging cold as silently and gracefully as it accepts the pounding hammer. Each blow of the hammer and each calorie of heat energy is felt and shared by the entire billet. As they are accepted, they induce a change in the steel itself. These changes are shared throughout the depth of the steel and accumulate to transform a jagged piece of ore into a shining blade. This transformation is as critically dependent on removing impurities as it is on strengthening and interconnecting parts. Too many impurities and the blade is fatally flawed, just as not enough of the right steel or a weak inter-layer bond ruins the blade.

Do not resist, analyze, or otherwise try to contain, control, direct, or buffer your experience. Doing so will only prolong the process and possibly weaken or damage the final result. Be humble. Be accepting. Be the blade. Allow the heat and the hammer to do their jobs. Bring your whole self to the moment. Be honest with yourself and with your experience. As impurities burn off, let the smoke go. Let new connections form, recognizing that each new link changes the potential and dynamic of your whole web of connections, allowing you to bend or cut as needed.

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More of the book, The Circle of Existence can be found at www.smashwords.com.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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Feedback Over Feed-Forward: Awareness and Acceptance

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by DCH Park

I have noticed over the years that there is a tendency for people to hold on to old ways of seeing and defining things – even of defining and seeing themselves – as they learn about who and what they truly are and begin to relax into themselves.

For example, one person may focus on studying the Law of Attraction and principles of success while holding on to a concern about making enough money to pay bills. Another person may find serenity and relief from stress in meditative practices and yoga and nevertheless struggle with getting the inconsiderate jerk who cuts him off in traffic or the selfish bastard who voted for the wrong candidate to see the light.

It is also not uncommon for some people to struggle with understanding new concepts and ways of being in terms of the old ways of being that didn’t work. After all, why else would someone explore a new philosophy unless the old philosophy felt somehow restrictive, incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise unsatisfying? Even simple curiosity is an expression of a possibility or desire for discovery of something exciting, new, and possibly better.

If that’s the case, why hold on to the lenses and definitions of the old philosophy when trying to understand or evaluate the new philosophy? I remember reading a psychology paper once that focused on presenting and validating a new measurement tool. The new tool, it claimed, was superior to the old tool. The paper’s authors went about constructing elaborate statistical analyses of test results from using the new tool and claimed that the new tool was clearly superior because it yielded results that were statistically equivalent to those from the old tool.

I couldn’t believe it. A new tool is superior because it gives you the same results as the old tool that it’s intended to replace? How can a new tool be new if the yardstick for validating it is the old tool?

By the same token, how can a new concept or philosophy be evaluated from within the paradigms of the old philosophy? By definition, the old philosophy would be unable to make sense of the new paradigm. If it could, it would already contain the new philosophy and thus, there really would not be a new philosophy.

Columbus’ idea that the world was round was a new paradigm that didn’t fit into the world-view of flat-earthers. They couldn’t understand or evaluate Columbus’ idea because it didn’t fit into their pre-existing worldview. They had no way of understanding it except to label it as silly. This is exactly what mainstream society still does with New Age and metaphysical philosophies.

Ironically, even those who try to embrace new philosophies also do these things to some degree. The blind spot that these points of view have in common is that they don’t take themselves into account. In other words, they don’t see themselves as philosophies and paradigms that can be articulated, evaluated, altered, or rejected and replaced as appropriate.

This sort of self reference or self awareness can form a kind of feedback loop that helps to stabilize and strengthen the whole conceptual framework. Without self awareness, the mind can fall into a feed-forward crisis in which its assumed model of the world leads to erroneous outputs that worsen the situation rather than improve it.

This is a natural mistake that the mind is prone to make. Without practice, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that philosophies and points of view are tools that can be useful in creating a better life and that the tool can always be replaced if a superior way to create a better life comes along. The trap is that the mind begins to see or define itself in terms of the philosophy. It identifies with the world view contained in the philosophy. It’s as if a carpenter were to forget that his hammer is a tool in his hand and see his hammer as his hand.

Dare to take charge of your own perceptions, recognizing that they are your perceptions. You own them. You create them. They are your responsibility. You can change them. They don’t dictate the world. They don’t control you. You are in control.

Just as the carpenter can (remember or re-learn to) lay his hammer down, you can (remember or re-learn to) lay your perceptions down. Until he does, the carpenter would have a hard time petting a dog, caressing a cheek, or washing his face. Until you do, you will struggle with appreciating and exercising the potential of your own creativity.

© 2012, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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The Nature of Karma

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by DCH Park

Karma is a widely recognized word these days, though it’s not well understood. Most popular notions of karma have to do with cycles of debt, obligation, and sin. If somehow in life I have done something to hurt you or that is morally or ethically repugnant, I incur a karmic debt that my soul carries until it is repaid.

I may not repay this debt immediately, but I must eventually, even if I don’t do so until another lifetime. Thus, in another life I may find myself on the receiving end of exactly the same mistreatment that I inflicted. In extreme cases I may find myself reincarnated at a low station in life or even as a lower order of animal as a form of cosmic restitution. This is what I learned as a child about karma in school. It also reflects most American’s basic understanding of karma.

I find it interesting how similar this view of karma is to ideas of divine justice and eternal punishment on one hand and Santa Claus checking his list on the other. All of them depend on some supremely powerful agency who can’t be fooled and keeps track of all of the secret sins that we commit. Consider how well suited such a notion is to keeping people in line. Since the agency is able to see and know everything about us, we have to meticulously police ourselves in order to be found worthy.

Karma has the added “benefit” of a built-in explanation for suffering and an argument for embracing your lot in life no matter what it may be. – If I am suffering it must be due to a karmic debt that I must repay (or that I’m paying forward). Any action that I take to change my condition carries the risk of upsetting this balance and throwing me deeper into karmic debt. If I am a servant or slave, I must have a large karmic debt. I’d better not try to revolt or change the social order. In fact, I would be wise to strive to be the best servant or slave that I can possibly be. It’s best to not even try to mess with Santa’s list, just be good!

On the other hand, if I am rich and powerful, it must be due to having lived very generously and properly in one or more other lives. I must therefore be a virtuous soul and I am justified in enjoying my wealth. Furthermore, my decisions must be inherently just since I am an obviously relatively enlightened soul.

However, in Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda describes the first meeting and initiation of a young man who would become a great yogic master with Babaji, an immortal Christ-like figure who brought yoga back to humanity after it had been lost. Babji tells the young man to return to the cave where they first met in two days. When he returns, he finds a great palace with a sumptuous banquet set up instead of the cave in the rocks.

Amazed, he asks Babaji why the palace had appeared. Babaji explains that they were close friends in the young initiate’s former life and that he had expressed a strong and sincere desire during that life to be in such a place. Babaji had chosen to manifest the palace for his friend upon the occasion of his initiation as a gift, in order to discharge the karmic debt that he had created with his wish.

The true nature of karma, then, is in the ties that we form to bind us to the creations we choose. As long as these creations are chosen from the perspective of freedom and joy – in other words from the heart of our power – they are a bond that we make with ourselves and the universe. We are bound to them until we release them, for example, by experiencing them and fully discharging them.

As long as we ignore or resist them, our creations will continue to present, even if they are no longer what we would choose. They lock us into patterns that repeat or even grow over time. Letting go of resistance and opening to these experiences can be the beginning of freeing ourselves from the karmic bond.

Beyond experiencing the chosen creation, deep healing comes from a return to the joy and power in which the creation was chosen in the first place. From this perspective, it is easy to discharge the creation or relinquish it even without fully experiencing it, since we are now on the same level of creation or higher.

Knowing this, we can even discharge karmic bonds without having to experience the creation fully. Awareness of the nature of karma and of what is happening in the body and the world can be enough to illuminate the bond and the choice that motivated it. Given this recognition, it is possible to return to that point of creation and un-make the choice, thereby freeing the energy devoted to the creation and opening the way for deeper healing.

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Post Holiday Blues

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by DCH Park

A friend shared with me once that he has noticed that, as the years go by, he is less and less involved in Christmas, New Year, and the whole end-of-year holiday ritual. In my own experience, having small children around can help to make the holidays seem more exciting but personally, I feel very ambivalent about teaching another generation to embrace the culture of stuff. (If you haven’t seen the Story of Stuff, yet, go to storyofstuff.com. It is an entertaining and thought-provoking 20-minute animation that is well worth your time.)

Regardless of your own political and economic view of holiday rituals, like it or not, closely following the celebrations, is the time to clean up, pay the piper, and return unwanted gifts, but this prospect can weigh on the spirit. Not only can cleanup feel enervating, arguably gift-giving itself is bad for the economy. For one economist’s intriguing view of the inefficiency inherent in gift giving, go to http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2010/12/21/132203873/the-tuesday-podcast-making-christmas-more-joyful-and-more-efficient.

As my friend noted, it’s never as much fun taking down holiday decorations and putting them away as it is to put them up in the first place. After the New Year celebrations are over and the time to reassemble your life arrives, a sense of ennui or depression can set in. For some people the blues can encourage long delays in taking down decorations. I have a few neighbors who seem to keep their decorations up well into the new year with one or two who seem to hold onto them until March every year!

For most, the post-holiday depression is generally mild but it can linger. A feeling of lassitude, perhaps stemming from the combination of large amounts of rich foods and sweets with warm beds, long nights, and winter temperatures outside, it can make it feel hard to rise in the morning. A routine of early rising and focused work that seemed to flow effortlessly into the beginning of December might feel hard to get back to. Simply getting out of bed in the morning can seem like a chore.

At such times it can be very helpful to remember that the divisions between mind, body, and spirit are illusory. Most scholars trace the modern view of the mind/body split to Rene Descartes, the sixteenth century French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and writer after whom the standard Cartesian x, y coordinate system in geometry is named.

In fact, evidence from many fields increasingly supports the view that in fact there is no real separation between mind, body, and spirit. They are best understood as different aspects of the same thing. Imagine an object floating in space. A light shined on it from one direction produces a shadow of a triangle. From a different direction, the same light and object cast a shadow of a rectangle. From a third direction, the shadow is square. Which is the “true” shadow of the object?

In much the same way, the body, the mind, and the spirit are all different aspects of a single, multidimensional self. What affects any one of the three leaves traces in the others, just as beating the object with a hammer to change the square shadow also affects the rectangle and triangle shadows.

If you are feeling blue because of the end of the holidays or for any other reason, one of the best ways to change this is to move your body. Engage in some physical activity. Go running or work out at the gym. Practice yoga or shovel snow. Go dancing or hiking. Any physical activity that gets your heart beating will also move your energy. As the energy begins to flow once more, the feeling of depression and weariness will vanish.

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Forming Powerful Resolves

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by DCH Park

Consider the manner in which powerful resolves are made. Also called manifestations or creations, resolves are statements about what you desire and choose to call into your experience.

Whether you embrace Abraham and the Law of Attraction, Napoleon Hill, Wallace Wattles, and the principles of success, Huna, or any other philosophy of success is immaterial. The ability to compose powerful statements about what it is that you intend to create in your life is useful, even if it’s only to firmly set your goal in your mind so that you don’t waver as you proceed.

Of course, many schools of thought and philosophies of success recognize the importance of taking action to reach your goals. The ability and readiness to recognize and act on opportunities when they arise is a vital part of creating success. You can never know ahead of time from which quarter a new opportunity may arrive and often situations that present themselves at first as burdens, disappointments, or distractions lead to or morph into huge opportunities later on.

Action in the world is no doubt a key component in successfully realizing your creation(s) in the physical world, however, the creation of whatever it is that you may prefer begins with your resolve. Napoleon Hill was neither the first nor the last person to note that “thoughts are things.” All success and all failure have their beginnings in the thoughts that we cultivate long before either success or failure are realized.

There are several principles or guidelines that may prove useful to keep in mind as you form your resolve. In no particular order, these are:

  • Be clear and definite.
  • Be simple and direct. Use as few words as possible.
  • Define your desire in positive terms.
  • Be aware of the feeling tone that accompanies your recitation of your resolve.
  • Believe it. If you don’t or can’t believe it, it won’t happen.
  • Begin with baby steps – “Crawl, Walk, Run.”
  • Use images. Images that evoke strong felt experience are best.
  • Powerful words that evoke images are good. Excessive verbiage disconnected from images is poor. Language can actually impede the creation process.
  • Express your resolve in the present tense.
  • Include yourself in the picture.
  • Relax. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It is yours. You can refine it, restate it, or change it altogether at anytime as you learn and grow.

Clarity and definiteness sound obvious, but in practice, achieving them can be challenging. Generally, it is better to be as specific as possible about the desire while at the same time releasing all notions about the manner in which your desired creation will appear in your life in the physical world.

The classic interpretation of this principle emphasizes specificity about worldly details, so instead of saying, “I have lots of money,” the principle is taken to be a recommendation to be specific about the amount, “I have $10M in the bank.” Extraneous details about the desire, especially about how it might be achieved, are revealed in this way as being counterproductive.

However, as worded, the desire that “I have $10M in the bank,” in its focus on the physical details, entirely misses the context which gives that $10M significance. For example, $10M in the bank sounds good unless you owe $20M. Alternatively, consider that 50 years ago $10M would have seemed like an impossible sum and 50 years from now, $10M, though still a lot, may seem more like what $500K seems now or what $100K seemed like in the past.

One common response to this shortcoming is to add more words to describe the context, but this rapidly deteriorates into long, wordy statements that would be more appropriate in a legal contract than in powerful manifestations. This practice is reminiscent of trying to reason back to the object that casts shadows on a wall from nothing but shadows. To even have a chance of being accurate about the object, you have to take into account any imperfections and irregularities in the wall as well as in the light. Is the light bright, steady, dim, or flickering?

Even after adjusting for all of that, you still have no way to knowing from just the shadow if the object is a dog or someone casting a shadow that looks like a dog or even if there are several objects that line up to cast a composite shadow. You may not have any idea at all of what the nature of the object is.

In a similar vein, perhaps the statement “I have $10M in the bank” is definite but not clear. The focus on the $10M might be like focusing on the shadow. Is $10M really what you want to enjoy or is the $10M simply a familiar cultural proxy for something deeper, truer, and more personal? Incidental details shift as the context changes, just as the shadows on a cave wall shift as the fire dances, but the inner truth is constant, just as the object casting the shifting shadow remains unchanged.

The unchanging truth that you might be reaching for through the proxy of $10M might be a sense of wealth and ease firmly rooted in the felt knowing and embodied experience that when you need or want something, it is there for you. That, in other words, the experience of privation and self-denial that characterizes a lack of resources is as abstract for you as the temperature on the far side of the moon might have been to the Ancient Mariner.

Embracing clarity and definiteness about this deeper reality – the personal, felt experience of wealth and ease – not only makes your resolve much more powerful and immediate, it opens up possibilities through which you can enjoy its realization that you would probably have otherwise remained closed to. Letting go of your focus on $10M allows you to explore and appreciate the true abundance and variety of your wealth and the richness of the universe.

It is best to state your resolve so that your desire is directly identified. Stating your desire in terms of its opposite actually defines the opposite more than the desire. One person, tired of always fighting with his spouse, focused on “not fighting all the time” rather than something like “I love and appreciate my wife.” They ended up divorcing each other. Although divorcing his wife did ironically provide a means to realize his resolve of “not fighting all the time,” it was precipitated by continued and escalating conflict with his wife. By focusing on “not fighting,” he actually manifested more fighting.

To understand this, most success and attraction gurus content themselves with hazy statements like, “the universe doesn’t understand (or respond to or accept)‘not’ and ‘no.’” Although these statements are accurate observations, they have very little or no power to illuminate. They merely articulate another rule to remember and follow from the mysterious rulebook of life.

I have personally always had a hard time accepting that. In my experience, when rules are put forth with little, weak, nonsensical, or absent explanation, it indicates that someone is hiding something (like an agenda or ignorance) or that I am missing or misunderstanding something. Happily, Huna provides a philosophy of success that illuminates the situation.

As mentioned above, images are very powerful. Huna makes clear that images are the means by which messages are sent and received outside of and beyond what people commonly experience as physical reality. Thus, the resolves that you formulate are communicated to your High Self and the universe beyond in the form of images. Notice that it is impossible to negate an image. If you picture something, say an apple, and then try to negate the apple, you end up with the apple or something else instead. There is no negative apple.

Negation is a function of language (the trope of a circle with a slash is culturally defined and thus a linguistic artifact). Since spirit communicates with images, there is no negation in communicating with spirit and resolves defined in terms that negate something actually convey a desire for the thing being negated.

As with anything, you must crawl before you walk and you must walk before you run. It may be too much of a stretch to go directly to your ultimate goal. In that case, it can help to start small and build up a track record of relatively smaller successes. For example, if you are very ill or badly injured, it may seem like nothing more than wishful thinking to resolve to be fully healthy with full use of arms and legs.

However, smaller goals, such as not feeling so achy, being able to eat and hold down a meal, or just sitting up in bed may be good places to start. As successes mount, your expectations will naturally shift so that bigger and bigger things become possible. Soon, things that once seemed impossible become natural.

This is an interesting subtlety. The emotional tone with which you state and hold your resolve is critical. If you are negative and pessimistic when you embrace your resolve, the net effect is to delay realization of the goal or in fact to create the experience of lack, which naturally engenders greater pessimism. You can ride the spiral down as easily as you can ride it upward. Some people take this to mean that feelings of joy and exuberance are important in making resolves. However, others note that the feeling of certainty or faith is the most important and powerful feeling tone.

When you go to a distant place full of beauty and wonder, especially if you have been anticipating being there for some time – for example the Grand Canyon or Disneyland – there is a sense of reality to the place that only serves to underscore the impact of being there. It is akin to the knowing that water is wet and fire is hot.

This is the faith or knowing that can transform a resolve into reality. Emotionally, it is already real. From this point of view, it makes no more (or less) sense to be exuberant or bubbly over your resolve than it does over the fact that fire is hot or that Disneyland is. Holding a resolve in such faith has amazing power. It can instantly transform your perspective. Actions can suddenly seem possible, even matter-of-fact. Success can become as inevitable as the morning sun.

As Annie sings, “tomorrow is a day away.” It tends to be self-defeating to resolve that you will have, be, or do something “some day.” It can be equally frustrating to resolve that you “want to” be, do, or have something. Resolving to want something is immediately self-fulfilling. You already want it. Ta-da! You’re successful. You created what you desire.

Instead, state your resolve in the present tense. Rather than “I will create a fortune,” state “I have a fortune.” What is even better, focus on the experience of having the fortune. What does it feel like? This also has the virtue of putting yourself in the picture. It does little good to picture piles of money if you aren’t there to enjoy it. Similarly to creating in the present, picturing piles of money, a new house, new car, or new spouse without including yourself in the picture is easily realized. These things all exist in the world. Focus instead on your experience of yourself enjoying these things.

In conclusion, remember that words are generally not the best vehicle for making or stating your resolve. They can be helpful as tools to explore how you want to define your resolve and for accessing it quickly. However words are a poor vehicle for capturing and conveying your resolve. Images and body sensations are far more powerful. Beyond the emotional and physical solidity of faith and belief, body sensations can help make the resolve more vivid and immediate.

For example, if you desire a vacation in Hawaii, an image of a white sandy beach may be potent but compare that to imagining yourself on that beach. Feel the weight of your body as you sink into the sand, the warmth of the sun and sand on your face and back. Smell and hear the ocean.

If you are having challenges in forming your resolve, begin with what you have and be aware of what does and does not work well or feel right. Use it. State it. This is often quite helpful in uncovering lacunae that you don’t see because a conceptual blind spot hides it. If this happens, you can always refine or change your resolve. It is yours.

For example, one person felt that she had a good idea of what she wanted because she had always had a sense of what success would be like or look like and she felt successful, at least on paper. However, when she did an exercise that called for her to state her resolve clearly, she discovered that she did not have a succinct, powerful statement. She had only vague and poorly defined notions of what she wanted.

Yoga Nidra is an excellent practice for this sort of realization. The name translates as “the sleep of the yogis” and it is a means for putting the body to sleep while remaining awake in order to gain conscious access to the creative imaginal mind. More information about Yoga Nidra and other practices will be available in these pages shortly.

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The Nature of Wisdom

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by DCH Park

It has been said that wisdom is in knowing things as they truly are, not as we would like them to be. To me, it seems that this is largely what was meant in Conversations with God (Vol. 3) by the statement that the biggest difference between highly evolved beings and the rest of us is that the former observe more clearly and completely. They don’t fool themselves, for example, that they can dump pollutants into the air, earth, and water or their own bodies without consequence. Nor do they expect high-quality government services like fire, police, roads, and education without paying for them.

To bring the focus back to the nature of wisdom, consider a question: How does this perspective relate to your immediate personal experiences? Specifically, how does observing and knowing what is truly going on relate to wisdom?

The simple fact is that we each have complete access to all of the truth and wisdom that we need and crave in our lives. All we have to do is ask for it and be open to receiving it. It often takes us in surprising directions. Such surprises can be delightful. They can also seem strange, threatening, or scary at first.

In my experience, the unexpected appears frightening or threatening only when it is leading in a direction that I don’t want to go in. Invariably, the decision to avoid that particular direction is one that I have held for some time before receiving guidance and my resistance springs from my adherence to my earlier decision.

For example, if I am trying to make new friends or meet a life partner, I may get that I would benefit from going to parties and events and meeting people, but doing so may seem daunting. It’s so much easier to stay at home or go out with friends whom I’ve known for years. Alternatively, I may want a promotion but the new job may require that I speak in front of rooms full of people and I might prefer death to public speaking.

In any case, it can be difficult to get past these emotional reactions or even to see that it is possible to get beyond them. It can feel effortless and automatic to drop into a state of dread, resistance, or frenzy over the unwanted path, even (maybe especially) if it seems like the most logical or only path forward. In the midst of such self-imposed crises, focus tends to collapse. We lose connection with our essential selves and, through our essence, to our world and instead find ourselves confronted with difficulty, dread, and failure.

Another common reaction is to become depressed, confused, overwhelmed, or uninterested and numb. One key thing to realize is that emotional reactions like this are usually layers of affect that have built up over time like layers of hard candy. Each layer may have a different flavor, but each one is doing the same thing – adding another layer of protective coating around the soft, gooey center. Even numbness and depression can be flavors of emotional layering.

Some people recommend applying massive amounts of discipline at this point to “power through” the resistance. However, there is another way. It begins with simply noticing what is present for you in the moment. Whatever you may be thinking or feeling is fine because you are thinking and feeling it. Judging, condemning, or stuffing the feeling or yourself for having it probably won’t help. Have they helped in the past?

Let go of the resistance and give yourself permission to really notice what is present. If your judgment, etc. eclipses the original thought or emotion, notice yourself judging, etc. Have no judgment or opinions about whatever you notice yourself thinking and feeling. Simply notice that you are thinking and feeling it.

The next step is to sit with this awareness for a while. People often ask how long they should sit and the best answer is, “As long as it takes.” How long does it take for water to soak into a seed once it is planted? Is it the same for a kidney bean as it is for a marigold seed? There really isn’t one definitive answer to apply in all cases. However in every case, at some point a sea-change occurs. The quality of the experience changes and we don’t feel so stuck or immersed in the thought or feeling.

At this point you may find it helpful to ask yourself why you are thinking or feeling this thing. I find that it is helpful to allow the silence to fill in the space that follows such questions. We are trained by society to have answers to questions and our minds often leap to fill in that space with answers. In the process, we obliterate the silence. Questions have value in themselves beyond any answers we may construct with our intelligence. Allow the question and its silence to unfold.

Eventually this process leads to truly powerful insights and creative solutions. This is the realm of true wisdom and inspiration. Wisdom and our connection to it flourish in the inner silence. We each may come to that silence in different, idiosyncratic ways, which is perhaps the reason that true silence is best cultivated in solitude. Interestingly, although it is cultivated in solitude, as familiarity with your silence and wisdom grow, you inevitably find that it becomes a bridge to connect with everyone and everything more immediately, playfully, and powerfully.

Sitting meditation is not the only way to cultivate silence. Some may access it through movement or dance. Others through yoga or manual labor. Still others through poetry, music, or math. However you are most comfortable accessing inner silence in your life, recognize and honor it and the truth it brings you to. Regardless of what form it takes, if it supports your connection to inner silence, it is a form of meditation. Whether you are comfortable or familiar with formal meditation techniques or not, if you have benefited from a regular practice that brings you into touch with and greater awareness of your own inner silence and peace, you have meditated. Such meditation is a vital key to developing conscious, volitional access to wisdom and creativity.

If you haven’t found any particular practice to be effective, yet, or you wish to explore more formal meditation, you can start by noticing the silence. Modern life is full of distractions. Indeed, many things are deliberately designed to distract us and pull us into a story or drama (and out of connection to our inner silence) in order to get us to buy something. When such distractions arise, notice yourself being distracted. Then notice the silence that follows.

Alternatively, take a few moments, close your eyes, and notice the sound and sensation of your own breathing.

Notice the sounds all around you. Don’t try to identify them or picture their sources. Just notice them.

Then notice the silence between the sounds.

Notice the silence beneath the sounds. What lies behind the sounds?

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Body-Mind-Soul III

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by DCH Park

It may seem paradoxical, but one of the surest and (in my experience) most powerful and quickest ways to spiritual clarity is to cultivate the body and connections to the physical world. By this, I don’t mean getting dressed up in designer workout clothes and primping to be seen in the gym nor sweating and grunting to press five more pounds or gain or lose another quarter inch. These foci can be helpful but can also very easily slip into distractions from cultivating spiritual clarity. They are parts of the illusion and easily serve to draw us further into the game of doing, striving, and achieving within the illusion rather than helping us gain perspective on the illusion. There’s nothing wrong with such pursuits, of course, and they can be a lot of fun. However, they are different from the Mind-Body-Soul convergence that we are considering here.

Note that this is not meant as a blanket condemnation of body building or any other pursuit for that matter. There truly is no such thing as a vice as long as we do it consciously. For example, I have a friend who is exploring weight-lifting as a yoga practice. He focuses on working out as an opportunity to be mindful of his full experience – (I imagine) he notices the smells and sounds, the feel of the weights and different exercises, the different muscles that he uses to lift, stabilize, and release, the sensations of muscle fatigue, failure, and recovery.

For example, the deltoid muscle in the shoulder has three different parts. Each part is responsible for different movements of the upper arm. Consciously feeling how the different parts of the same muscle (and more generally, different groups of muscles in the body) are involved in different motions can be very illuminating. Ultimately, it may become manifestly apparent that the emotional context and meaning with which we clothe our pain (for example, due to muscle failure) is quite different from the pain itself and even that the pain is the result of choices that we make.

Very often, in this culture, we learn that we “need” to keep moving. We learn to emphasize the quick payoff and immediate gratification and we learn that this gratification is secured through action. We are rewarded for keeping our “noses to the grindstone,” no matter how painful or messy it can be to grind our noses off. In order to do that, we learn to ignore our pains and frustrations and to “get on with it.” We have all kinds of quick tricks and techniques to help us ignore our pains – everything from so-called pain-killers to the full panoply of modern life, including rich food, fancy clothes and possessions, thrilling video games and movies, exclusive social events, and expensive vacations.

The irony, of course, is that we don’t gain any lasting peace or comfort from these things. They don’t lessen the pain or discomfort. They don’t resolve anything. What’s more, through consistent use of pain killers and decades of stubbornly ignoring the signals our bodies send us, we can so deaden our awareness of our bodies in order to be better able to “drive on through the pain,” that we end up feeling cut off from our bodies. We don’t only deaden the pain, we eventually deaden all sensation from the body. We throw ourselves out of balance.

Even if we could selectively eliminate only pain, we would lose valuable information about our well-being. Pain is a signal that something is wrong. Ideally, we respond to the signal with a change in behavior so that we mitigate the thing that is wrong and lessen the pain signal. However, if we deaden the pain in order to make it easier to continue the same behavior or conditions, we risk seriously damaging ourselves. So even selectively eliminating only pain can lead to being off-balance and potentially serious health consequences.

Cut off from our bodies this way, we are cut off from a part of ourselves. We come to experience the numbness as a void left behind in the place where our body sensation used to be. In blindly trying to fill this void, we yearn for sensation and travel down a road that leads to craving sensation. So we turn to recreational drugs, extravagant meals, and various other entertainments to induce thrilling sensation vicariously. We look outside ourselves to induce a body sensation – any sensation – to fill the void left behind by our detachment from our bodies.

As anyone who has tread very far at all down this path can attest, two things become clear sooner or later. One is that the sense of satiation from drugs and entertainments doesn’t last. The second is that we get used to the external entertainments that we use to distract ourselves from our dissociation from ourselves. We get bored with them more and more easily. Thus, we fall into the trap of seeking ever newer, edgier, and more extreme distractions to derive the same level of satisfaction. Over time, we have to struggle harder and harder to maintain the same level of efficacy. We become like the Red Queen in Through The Looking Glass – having to run as fast as we can just to stay in place. However, the landscape doesn’t move a a constant rate. Over time, it gets faster and faster. This is clearly a losing proposition. After all, how fast can you run? At some point, you are bound to reach your limits. What happens then?

An alternative to exhausting yourself in what could easily be a futile attempt to be happy by numbing yourself to how unhappy you are, would be to realize that by cutting yourself off from your body, you are cutting yourself off from yourself. You are splintering yourself in order to be more effective. Ironically, an integrated, whole you is more powerful and capable than a shard of the whole could ever hope to be. Consider the possibility that by first healing your shattered self, you can make the quest to be yourself in peace, joy, and wholeness simpler and more straightforward. If such a thing were possible, would you choose it?

The path to reintegrating the shattered parts of your being can be found through recognizing and honoring your body’s wisdom and messages. By cultivating your connection to your body and the immediate surroundings, you reintegrate and grow your whole being. Just as my friend practices with his yogic approach to body building, bringing consciousness to the body makes all the difference. It is also the exact opposite of numbing the body or distancing yourself from body sensations.

These are two sides of the same coin. On one side, we have the prospect of escalating strife and struggle in hope of eventually arriving somewhere and deriving a measure of peace and contentment from that accomplishment. Along the way, we sacrifice our connections to our bodies, our families, even our health. On the other side, we recognize the wisdom of our bodies and pay greater conscious attention to what they are telling us, honoring that wisdom in our choices and attitudes.

In both cases, we begin with the body – either ignoring its pain and discomfort – treating it as a disposable tool – or cultivating a deeper awareness of and openness to its wisdom. Along one path lies the prospect of mounting frustration and fire drills as we need to run faster and faster to stay in place. Along the other, there is the prospect of greater and greater clarity and self-possession. Which path calls to you?

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Using All Parts

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by DCH Park

During one of the early Mars lander missions, after the probe was safely on the surface and had been taking pictures and transmitting data for a few weeks, the mission plan called for the deployment of a new instrument that had been concealed beneath a protective cowl. The robot arm had to pull out a retaining pin to release the cowl and then pull the cowl back.

NASA controllers had a camera positioned to record and transmit the whole operation, of course, so they could see what happened and deal with any problems. After the retaining pin was removed, the robot arm dropped it into the sand, but it wasn’t a drop-it-and-forget-it throw-away. Before the pin was dropped, they moved the camera to view and record it hitting the sand and the tiny crater it made. The idea was to observe the grains as they flew and measure the size and shape of the tiny crater to infer grain size, density, compaction, atmospheric effects, gravity, and so on. It was reported at the time that one controller quipped, “Indian use all part of buffalo.”

In life, things inevitably come up that can be irritating, frustrating, confusing, scary, or painful. When this happens, we can easily become lost – completely wrapped up in the drama of emotional turmoil and forget the bigger picture, even forget who we are and what we are striving for. Often for those of us who have had some success with “getting away from it all” and cultivating quiet space/time for contemplation, yoga, or meditation, getting distracted in this way can have a sharper poignancy. We feel doubly frustrated because we know from experience how much clearer, easier, and more fun things can be when we are “in the flow” and we feel ourselves pulled out of it, yet we don’t know how to get back.

I have found that some of the popular teachings are not very helpful in this regard. They suggest refocusing on the things that we want in order to take focus away from things that may be coming up that we don’t want. Although this advice may be helpful in returning focus to enjoyable things, it can easily slip into active resistance of unwanted experiences, which can have the opposite effect. It can also fail to fully release the negative emotions. This is not a problem for small things. They tend to be released automatically as we focus on other things. However, big things are not so easily dismissed.

This gives rise to a joke in mainstream culture about the guy whose world explodes – he loses his job, his wife leaves him, his house needs a new roof, he wrecks his car, his dog runs away with his wife, and he stubs his toe. He sits down amidst the rubble that was his life, closes his eyes tightly, rocks back and forth gently, and mutters to himself desperately over and over to go to his “happy place.” In some circles, this is also known as a “fluffy bunny.” It’s funny because it doesn’t work, at least not well.

The next time things become frustrating, painful, or scary, try remembering the Indian using all parts of the buffalo. These things don’t have to be distractions from your sense of peace, calm, and purpose. They can be opportunities to learn and practice being at peace while also being in your life in the world. Don’t resist or ignore them or the feelings that come up. Welcome them as part of being alive. Fully feeling what you feel is the first step toward getting past the feeling.

Notice whatever you’re feeling and be the witness of your own experience. Witness yourself feeling the feeling. Let it run its course, witness it as it does. Then witness it leaving. Let it go.

In this way, every part of being alive becomes more fuel to carry you further and faster toward being truly free. Every frustration, disappointment, pain, or feeling of sadness or fear is actually an opportunity in disguise for greater healing and empowerment. The more you chose to see it as an opportunity, the easier it will be to seize it, even welcome it, as one and grow from it.

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Stay Active

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by DCH Park

Several years ago I visited Crete on a shamanic retreat. The views were amazing and the waters of the Mediterranean were cool, blue, and salty. The food there was quite remarkable, too. Unlike in the United States, where the norm is for food to be processed and delivered in mechanized, shrink-wrapped, factory-fresh fashion, in Crete it is not unusual to see a truck carrying loosely loaded fruit, without a box or a label in sight. The fruit is simply piled into the back of the truck, held in by the wooden slats that surround the bed.

Preparation of food for the table is similarly fresh and close to the earth. For example, each taverna has a garden from which much of the food they serve is harvested daily. Feta and in some cases olives are produced according to family traditions, so each taverna’s fare is different from the rest. There is a palpable sense of connection, groundedness, and flow that extends in a subtle, rich arc from ancient times through the present moment and into the future.

I was struck by a sense of connection that I felt between Crete and Maui. They each have great beauty, power, and wisdom, but there is a different flavor and tone to the energy in Crete from that in Maui. After some pondering I realized that the connection was that they had the same feminine energy, except that whereas Maui was the ingénue, Crete was the crone. Two different phases of a single beautiful cycle.

Perhaps it was the fact that feta was part of at least two out of every three meals for the entire two weeks of the retreat. Perhaps it was the many sweats and the day-long fire circles, during which we sat, chanted, and drummed with only occasional dancing or movement. Perhaps it was the contrast of hiking for miles every day for two weeks only to sit for many hours on one plane after another on the return journey. Perhaps it was all of these things, but when I returned, I experienced the one and only bout of constipation I have had my entire life.

I was shocked at how miserable I was just from not having a bowel movement. It seemed to drag on forever as day after day passed with no relief. Of course, in retrospect, it is clear that as waste material backed up in my intestines, they were leaching toxins that affected my energy levels and sense of general well-being. It is also clear that the associated energy blockage led to energy stagnation that had similar effects on my senses of emotional and spiritual wellness.

None of that was apparent to me at that time, though. In the midst of a new, miserable experience, perspective and insight are often lacking. Finally, I decided to move my body and resumed a routine of yoga and exercise that I’d been avoiding in hopes of recovering from my inertia as if it were a cold, which was the closest thing to it that I had yet experienced.

Of course, the movement helped to unblock the stuck energy I was suffering from and soon, I was regular once again. It is remarkable how connected everything is in our body/mind/spirit as a whole. A disturbance in any one can and usually does lead to disturbance in the others. Likewise, unblocking flow in any one leads to relief in the others as well.

It can be particularly helpful to keep this in mind during times of illness, injury, or forced inactivity, as sometimes happens in the middle of winter. It is important to respect the limits of your body and to stop before you re-injure yourself or injure yourself further, but as long as you stay within your body’s limits as it heals, stretching and movement can actually speed healing. Remember that the sense of lethargy or tiredness and stiffness isn’t just from over exertion, illness, or injury. It is also a sign of stagnating energy and one of the simplest and most effective ways to open the flow is to move.

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