Dr. Terry A. Gordon
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.
Terry Gordon teaches us how to embrace and accept tragedies and the importance of living our lives with a positive attitude.
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.”
Well… wouldn’t it be wonderful to pass through this human experience without any problems. It would nice to avoid sadness, disease, disability and even death. But such is life. None of us is immune. At some point, we all endure these seemingly negative experiences. The question becomes — are they really negative experiences?
When adversity comes our way, how we respond to that difficulty is much more important than what has happened to us. It’s our response that determines who we are to become. If we are to progress, life will likely get more difficult. The more daunting the challenges and the greater the apparent obstacles, the more potential there is for personal growth. An ancient mystical text of Judaism called the Kabbalah tells us “the falls of our life provide us with the energy to propel ourselves to a much higher level.” It’s the falls of our life, the difficulties we face that can be a source of strength that enable us to rise above the adversity.
When faced with a seemingly overwhelming challenge, doubt might enter the mind, replacing confidence. The ensuing suffering can itself be paralyzing. It is easy to become discouraged by the loss of independence, now having to rely on others. It is easy to understand the indignity one might feel mourning the forfeiture of control over life. The greatest fear is of the loss of what we have most relied upon throughout our lives, the thing that for most of us has defined who we are — our body.
No doubt the loneliness created by these fears can have a crippling effect. Part of this loneliness is from the fear of losing yourself. Similar feelings of loss might arise from being separated from those things in life that have provided superficial pleasure, a false sense of identity or self worth. These might be the loss of your job, the loss of a significant other, a precipitous drop in the value of your financial portfolio or the loss of important bodily functions and autonomy.
Regardless of the loss, the response is generally the same — to react out of fear. This has an insidious way of affecting every other aspect of our existence. Ultimately, this can negatively shape our attitude and approach to the life that remains. The door of opportunity then slams shut for us to handle whatever challenges lie before us. In this frame of mind, it becomes extremely difficult to be receptive to the beauty of life that still abounds right alongside the perceived misery. What is left for us to then attract into our lives is the very thing we had hoped to avoid . . . darkness.
Albert Einstein once said: “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity”. Many problems aren’t problems at all; they’re just challenges whose solutions have yet to be realized.
This next concept is a difficult one for many to embrace. But here goes: Our body is really not ours anyway; it is on loan from the Universe. Nature is the landlord and our stewardship lasts but a blink of the eye. We must be very cautious not to place too much importance on the rental property.
Inside of us there are really two people; one is the ego. The other is our spiritual self. To access this higher spiritual consciousness, it is necessary to control the ego, putting it in its proper place. We are so much more than our body. This body, your domicile provides you the vehicle with which to accomplish your purpose in life. Remember your body is only temporary, a perceptive figment of your imagination. Your true and authentic Self, your energetic spiritual core is what supersedes everything in the material plane. In the over all scheme of things, what happens to the body is really immaterial. It is, after all, a product of nature; its survival is unimportant. Therefore don’t place too much emphasis on it.
Don’t allow yourself to be encumbered by the limitations imposed by this worldly experience. Always remember, you are a spiritual being having only a temporary human experience, not the other way around.
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.
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.”
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!