Dealing with Life’s Adversities

So often, when people are faced with adversity, they expect to be able to resolve their issues quickly. Terry explains how practicing patience is critical for the healing process to occur.

Using Meditation to Recharge Your Battery

            The mind is capable of many levels of activity that span the full gamut from utter chaos and hyperactivity to serenity and peace. The commotion of the mind is analogous to the surface of a raging river as it rapidly travels downstream. Deeper in that same flowing body of water, the turbulence is less chaotic, its movement much less than that found on the surface. The deepest part, the bottom of the river, has barely perceptible motion to it at all.

            Life in its hectic phase can be 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 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.

            Meditation allows one to transcend limitations of the human experience. It allows one to become more reflective, coaxing us toward self-realization, ultimately enabling us to commune with the consciousness of the Divine.

            When one is able to turn off the incessant internal dialogue reverberating in the mind reaching a space of quietness and serenity, it is like looking into a calm pool where one can see with absolute clarity all the way to the bottom. It is through meditation that one can find this respite, this conduit through which you can gently reach the deep recesses of the mind, arriving at the bottom where calmness prevails, a place where things are peacefully quiet.

            When the sound ceases, the lessons of silence will reveal themselves.

            The peace offered by achieving inner silence is cleansing in the sense of emptying and clearing one’s mind of the chatter and chaos of everyday life. It allows purification of thought, a simplification of thought, clarity of thought that, in my experience is achievable in no other way. 

In The Power of Now written by Eckhart Tolle, he states, “True inner silence puts you in touch with the deeper dimensions of being and knowing. Nothing in this world is so like God as silence.”

            It has been said that when we pray to God we are talking to Him. But when we meditate, that is when we hear God speaking to us.

Walking On Thin Ice

           During the winter, I witnessed what appeared to be a miracle. At first light, I looked out onto the lake in back of our home and saw our swans walking on water! I thought to myself, wow, they must have experienced some sort of epiphany through the night as just yesterday they were paddling around the lake like normal birds.

          When the gray skies brightened a bit, I realized the optical “delusion” of the miracle. Through the frigid night, nature had deposited a thin icy layer on part of the surface of our lake, a layer so smooth that it appeared to be fluid. The swans were actually walking on thin ice. How natural they looked as they waddled across the silvery surface. As I pondered their feat, I acknowledged that I too have been walking on thin ice these past several months. I don’t believe that I have pulled off the balancing act as well as the swans appeared to be doing on this crisp autumn morning.

          As more daylight appeared, I could distinguish the lines of separation between ice and water. The lines of demarcation were S-shaped, six of them to be exact. Some were large, others smaller. I meditated on the S’s. What was the lesson this consonant was trying to teach me?

          The reason there were six S’s was obvious. There are six members in our immediate family. I made the “S” sound over and over again. Their meaning slowly came to me.

          The accumulating weight of responsibilities in life, whether work-related, financial or relational can be a formidable and overwhelming challenge. We may be forever walking on thin ice in a futile attempt to manage. If the burden becomes too heavy, the thin surface fractures and we lose our footing. For some, the burden falls from their backs allowing them to be rescued from the frigid waters. For others, bound tightly to their baggage, the weight drags them under as they sink deeper into the cold darkness below the icy surface.

          Meditating on the S’s, what came to mind was K I S S. It was not the band or the touching of lips. It was just the letters   K - I - S - S. 

          Then it hit me. Years ago my good friend, Don Karas, a colleague at The Heart Group, made an insightful observation. Every year he, Tyler, and I would put together a band for “Docs Who Rock”, a United Way fundraiser. Each year the presentation became more grandiose and extravagant. We performed some crazy antics! When things got too wild, Don would implore me to “K-I -S-S”. No, he wasn’t coming onto me; he was merely suggesting for me to Keep It Simple, Stupid. And he was right. The more complicated our presentation, the less successful it became.

          Hence the lesson of the S’s etched in the thin ice. Keep life simple. Despite the fact that challenges may appear to be very complicated, in truth they are not. By keeping it simple, living one day at a time, tackling one problem at a time, distilling things down to the basics, we can meet those seemingly overwhelming challenges with greater success.

          As Winston Churchill once shared: “Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.”

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.

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!

The Lessons Of Silence

     Years ago it was suggested to me that I take a course in transcendental meditation or TM as it is called. I chose to begin the course while on vacation with my family, as it gave me uninterrupted time without the distractions of work in which to embrace the training. For a week, I attended training sessions every morning; the afternoons were devoted to practicing my newly learned meditative practice.

     By the way, my kids had a blast, making unmerciful fun of me. When I would emerge from my afternoon meditation, they would all be seated on the floor outside my room seated cross-legged in a yoga position singing Ommmm Ommmmm…..

     They called me “Old FartoSwami”.

     As my practice developed, almost immediately I began experiencing a peace I had never known. While I have always considered myself to be a very happy person, I also realized I was rarely at peace. Transcendental meditation offered me a taste of what it would feel like to experience that blissful feeling more regularly and for a more prolonged period of time.

     The practice of TM is a mantra meditation. Mantra means that which protects the mind. A mantra is a chant; the repetition of what can be a sacred word or phrase. Chanting is found in many religions from Catholic liturgies to Native American incantations. The mantra is repeated over and over again as one cleanses the mind of the clutter that often fills it. TM is performed for 15 to 20 minutes twice daily while seated in a comfortable position with my eyes closed and my legs crossed. For me, I calm the mind by allowing the flurry of thoughts to flow through me like the wind swirling through a mountain pass. I do not pay them too much attention, concentrating instead on the space between the thoughts. This promotes purification of thought, a simplification of it, that results in a clarity of thought not otherwise achievable.

     As I dive deeper and deeper into my meditative state, I feel as if I am falling over a waterfall. I am actually observing myself as I fall. The interesting sensation is that the further I plummet the more slowly I descend. As I observe my mind’s progression, I become but a passive observer of myself as I approach a state of thoughtlessness. My mind, which usually idles at a million miles-per-hour finds the respite of meditation deliciously inviting, offering tranquility much better than any pharmaceutical on the market…and cheaper too! I go to a space of stillness, a place of unfathomable peace.

     I discovered that even in the midst of my hectic pace at the hospital and the associated pressures, if I felt myself becoming overwhelmed or upset, I could go into a bathroom and meditate, even if for just a moment. I felt as rejuvenated as if I had taken a 2-hour nap! I became refocused and much more efficient. Achieving true inner silence allows one to connect with a much deeper dimension of consciousness.  

     The change in me was noticeable and not just to myself. I began meditating in the morning before my workday would begin, and then once again before I’d leave the hospital to return home. There were a few times when I blew off the evening meditation. Upon arriving home, Tyler who was maybe ten at the time would often comment: “ya didn’t do it, did ya, Pops?” He’s a very perceptive young man who could tell a definite difference in me when I didn’t meditate.

     By tuning out the often-incessant internal dialogue reverberating within myself, through meditation, I discovered serenity within the silence. The mind is mercurial and restless, often with incessant worries. As the sound comes to an end, the lessons of silence become revealed.

     I strive to integrate meditation into every single aspect of my life. I can achieve that state of peaceful wakefulness while walking through the forest or watching a hummingbird flutter past me. I use meditation to place my focus on the now, abandoning the burdens of the past and ridding myself of fears regarding the future.

     As Lama Surya Das once said: “Silence is the threshold to the inner sanctum, the heart’s sublime cave. Silence is the song of the heart, like love, a universal language, a natural melody open to anyone, even the tone deaf or the religiously challenged. Try going out into the woods or sitting very near the ocean’s waves. Look up at the bright stars at night; open your mind’s inner ear and listen to the song of silence.”

     The Divine cannot be found in the chaos of one’s restlessness. Communing with God can only be in the milieu of silence.

Stress is a Silent Killer – and What to Do About It

A staggering 60% of patient visits to physicians is for a stress related reasons. Stress is tied to almost every major illness. Terry breaks down how stress affects the body and offers suggestions on how to deal with the stress we all will inevitably face.