Meditation – When God Speaks To Us

As Jeremy Taylor so eloquently described it: “Meditation is the tongue of the soul and the language of our spirit; our wandering thoughts in prayer are but the neglects of meditation.”    

     It has been said that as we pray, we are speaking to God. But when we meditate, that is when God speaks to us. Communing with the Source of everything cannot be achieved while immersed in the noise and restlessness of chaotic thoughts. The mind is capable of many levels of activity that span the full gamut, from utter bedlam and hyperactivity to serenity and peace.

     Life in its hectic phase is like the river’s rough surface churned up by the wind. Those waves represent the flurry of thoughts, the recurrent worrying thoughts stirred up by the perceived windstorms of life. The incessant nature of these streams of thought, the constant chatter in our minds generally gets us nowhere, imprisoning us in an unending eddy of discontent. If we are not mindful of its trap, we can get caught in its current as it drags us into the abyss of the turmoil that created the thoughts in the first place.

     The commotion of the mind is analogous to the turbulent surface of the river. The deeper portion of that same flowing body of water is less chaotic, with movement much less than that found on the surface. The deepest part, the bottom of the river, has a barely perceptible motion to it at all. If you have ever gone scuba diving or been at the bottom of the deep end of a swimming pool, you have likely experienced that calm.

     After a fierce storm, once the turbulence has abated, if allowed to do so, the river’s murky water will settle. As the mud gravitates back down, the water’s innate clarity returns.  When one is able to quiet the mind by whatever means, it is like looking into those calm waters where one can see with absolute clarity all the way to the bottom.

     I have found that meditation takes me to that respite. It provides the channel that allows me to dive deeply into the mind where calmness, peace and serenity prevail. Meditation leads me to space where I can cultivate consciousness in its most pure form.

     Life’s accrued experiences add multiple shrouds to our essence. Often these coverings blanket us with baggage that is burdensome, a heavy load that we may find impossible to continue carrying. In order to unload this excess cargo, these layers must be shed, much like peeling off the outer most portion of an onion. As we do so, our essence in its most distilled form is revealed. It has been likened to donning a Halloween mask every day for an entire lifetime. It is not until all of those facades have been removed, peeled away from the pure face that one’s true persona emerges.

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

          I am reminded of an event that occurred back in September of 1977, the beginning of my second year in medical school. The summer had been had been a soggy one for Kansas City as yet another intense storm front headed our way. In less than twenty-four hours, it dumped 12 inches of rain on the soaked city.

          Within hours, Brush Creek, normally a mere trickle of a stream, rose twenty-one feet. Flash flooding produced a torrent of raging water smashing into everything in its path. In an instant, underground-parking garages became submerged in the murky, debris-filled water; store front window imploded from the pressure of the waves crashing into them. Chaos abounded!

          I was perched on the peak of a stone bridge that arched over the creek, a passive witness to this awesome expression of Mother Nature’s unleashed power. I watched as large trees were easily uprooted. Tossed downstream like matchsticks, I was intrigued at how we tend to underestimate the power of such natural forces. The raging river engulfed everything in its wake. Nineteen people lost their lives in those few minutes of that fateful day, including a young family of four whose car had been swept away like a flimsy particle of dust into the roaring, wild wall of water.

          Many times since I have found myself reflecting on that frightening and deadly rampage. I have often contemplated the important metaphor offered that day back in the 70’s.

           A bridge over troubled waters…this is what is offered to us.

          We consider ourselves fortunate as we lollygag along savoring life, accruing pleasurable experiences here and there. There is no question that smooth sailing can be a marvelous experience. Its enjoyment should be appreciated to the fullest. But at some point, the calm waters of life will become tumultuous and unsettled, occasionally they may rage out of control. Setbacks and obstacles will be encountered. Deep and wide crevasses might appear before us on our previously smooth path. They will threaten safe passage to the other side of the canyon where we think the sun must surely be shining.

          We apprehensively peer over the edge of the precipice, perilously looking down at the rapids slicing into the floodwaters. Fearfully we hope against all odds that we don’t lose our footing. We pray that we won’t fall into the abyss of the turbulence below.             

          As the pressure surges, the waves begin lapping up against us and steadily rise higher and higher grabbing at us, threatening to engulf us. If we can’t escape their clutches, the waves will surely carry us away in the fierce fury, dragging us into the deep darkness of the frigid undercurrent.

          It would be nice if we could avoid such turmoil and the suffering and fear generated by it. But sorrow, sadness, disease and loss are all part of life as we know it in the material world. None of us is immune. The challenge is to find the way to navigate through these seemingly difficult experiences. The question becomes how to bridge the divide over such troubled waters. How does one learn from these apparent negative experiences? And are they really negative experiences?

          When faced with adversity, it is how we respond to the difficulty that determines who we are. Our life experiences will become calamitous only if we make the conscious decision to make tragedies out of them. We might just as easily choose to view them as opportunities for personal growth. The search for discovering the way across the deep canyons of our journey with all of its inherent difficulties and dangers can become the driving force of change. The more daunting the challenge and the greater the apparent obstacle, the more potential there is for enlightenment.

           Rather than lamenting the troubled waters we encounter, we can choose to be grateful for them, as these obstacles in life can be the source of strength that empowers us to rise above the very adversity that appears to obstruct our way. We can embrace these tumultuous times and challenges, accepting them as gifts from the Divine. By being grateful for the raging river that blocks our way, we can use the experience to bridge the gap from turmoil, disappointment, and suffering to a place of understanding, wisdom and insight.

          As Sogyal Rinpoche so eloquently put it, “To see through the eyes of the mountain eagle…is to look down on a landscape in which the boundaries that we imagined existed between life and death, shade into each other and dissolve.”

Free Your Mind From Stress

Well, first of all, I would ask you to consider . . .  what is stress?  If I gave you an empty bucket and told you to go outside and fill that bucket full of stress and bring it back to me…..could you do that?

The answer is no. Stress isn’t tangible; you can’t feel it or touch it. You can’t see it. It’s a creation in our mind, purely illusory.

I think it was Marshall McLuhan who once said, “Our mind is like a magazine with a new edition every four seconds.” It has been suggested that each day, we have over 100,000 thoughts cross our mind. Most of them are recurrent, a constant flurry of negative, repetitive, and worrying thoughts which are our own creation. They get us nowhere. We can’t blame them on anyone else; no one forces us to think the way we do or puts those thought in our mind. We have simply trained ourselves to think the way we do.

Most of us create our own hell. Our unhappiness is generally a reaction to some outside force. In other words, we allow ourselves to become a victim of a circumstance. Our response is to fret and worry. What we don’t appreciate though, is that worrying is a total waste of time. If you have control over a situation, you shouldn’t have to worry about it. And if you don’t have control over a situation, worrying about it isn’t going to get you that control.

What generally happens is that we tend to worry ourselves sick. . . literally! Chronic stress has been tied to almost every major illness known to man. If not as the inciting cause, at the very least an exacerbating factor in the progression of     heart disease, strokes, ulcers and even cancer. The saddest thing is that it is self-inflicted and can result in some form of mental illness. In fact, 13% of Americans have some form of mental illness. Dr. Mark Olfson of Columbia University found that 20% of young Americans have been diagnosed with a personality disorder that interferes with their everyday life.

There are prescribed pharmaceuticals millions of people take to treat stress and anxiety disorders, but the danger is that by taking drugs to “cure” our problem, we end up not going through the experience, instead we go around it.

So the key is that we must free ourselves from the enslavement of the mind. We must learn to liberate our consciousness from destructive thoughts. The incessant mental chaos that percolates through our minds prevents us from discovering our own inner peace.          Mark Twain once said: “I’ve had thousands of problems in my life, most of them never actually happened.”

Several years ago, I was sharing an afternoon with my daughter, Laila. Working at a café was a young lady with Down’s syndrome. As she bused tables, she approached us, introducing herself as Suzie and asked if we needed anything.  I was very impressed by her sweet disposition. Despite what many would consider a somewhat tragic life, this young woman appeared to be happy and at peace, having found her niche.

It was then that Laila made one of the most profound statements I think I have ever heard.  She said: “Daddy, why can’t we all think like Suzie?  She probably doesn’t waste any energy fretting about al Qaeda and I am certain she doesn’t worry about the stupid things that clutter my mind. I bet she doesn’t judge other people and probably doesn’t feel animosity toward anyone.”

Why can’t think we all think like Suzie? Why can’t we have the same pure and innocent thoughts of a Down’s syndrome child? Why can’t we express unconditional love to everyone with whom we come in contact? Why can’t we live a stress-free life? 

The answer is quite simple . . . we can!