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Who Would You Be Without Your Story?

18 Sep

You have to check out this video of Byron Katie working with a lady who believes, “my mother shamed me.” I am always encouraged and liberated after watching these videos. All of my bullshit stories…”I should be successful,” “people should love me,” “I should be treated with respect,” “people should be nice to me,” blah, blah, blah….all of these stories running through my mind. And as soon as I drop the story and accept reality as it is…I find that things begin to change. I can take action without striving for approval. I act out of a sense of abundance not lack. I act out of freedom and not dependence.

These videos make it beautifully clear how our beliefs constantly get in our way. “Who would you be without your story?” Katie always asks. I’m still exploring that answer and I look forward to sharing that exploration with others.

The video is a bit long, but if you have the time, it’s a great way to sit in some truly transformational practice.

*Note: if you’re not familiar with Byron Katie’s work, then she might come across as a bit harsh or judgmental. Understand though that the people who attend these workshops are there to get the truth. They’ve reached a point where they are tired of their story and they a re brave enough to ask for some help. The questions that Katie asks, and the responses that she gives are always intended to help the other person realize their truth.

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Conscious Leadership or Leader Consciousness?

20 Mar

Up until a month ago, the term “conscious leadership” was new to me. However, as I’ve immersed myself in the literature and community, it’s become clear that while it may be a new term, it was not a new concept. I’ve been studying the great contemplative traditions for a long time and they in turn have exploring the boundaries of consciousness for thousands of years. So, while the term may be new, the truth it points to certainly isn’t. The benefit comes from the fact that conscious leadership is taking these mystical insights, integrating them with the best research and theory from organizational and leadership studies, and wrapping them it all up in business language that Westerners can stomach.

I think it’s a step in the right direction, but it also means that some things might be lost in translation. The sheer complexity of consciousness studies is awe-inspiring. The history of the great mystical traditions is overwhelming by itself. Then you add the important insights from philosophy of mind, and more recent contributions from good old cognitive-development psychology, and you have this massive amount of great information to pull together. And this is before you add all of the crappy information.

Now, I’m not one of those people who says that you shouldn’t even bother trying to define words like “consciousness” or “leadership.” Trying to define the words you use is an important exercise. It forces us to make difficult choices and create elegant solutions. So, for the purposes of this article, I’d like to offer my own definitions of both and see where that takes us:

Consciousness – The state of being aware of sensory forms (both internal and external).

Leadership – The process of intentional influence of one person upon others.

You’ll notice a few things. First, they are short definitions. This is because I believe that simplicity amplifies meaning. Second, notice that neither of these definitions includes a moral dimension. This is because I believe that the distinction between TRUE and FALSE is much more relevant than GOOD versus BAD. Third, the two primary verbs are awareness and influence. When we put these two definitions together, we start to see that conscious leadership is primarily about the ability to be aware and the ability to influence based on that awareness.

Now, most leadership models would have you believe that you need to be aware FIRST, then you influence others (this would be accurate linguistically because “conscious” modifies “leadership”). This would certainly fit the hero-style leadership models of the past. The leader is worshiped as an omnipotent deity and the central lever when it comes to organizational change. But we know that this is only one side of the coin. The primary focus on the individual is often shorthanded as “leader development” and the collective focus is often called, “leadership development.” The whole of the field is then called, confusingly, “leadership development.” Clearly, we need to do a better job with our definitions.

The field of conscious leadership seems to be a bit confused on this point. Conscious leadership is used almost exclusively to mean the individual awareness of a leader. I would like to submit that there should be an equal focus on “leader consciousness,” which would be the collective counterpart. As much as I respect the efforts of thought leaders in conscious leadership, I think it sells itself short if it just repackages ancient wisdom. It’s a noble service on it’s own, but it won’t really contribute to the leadership literature if it doesn’t expand its questions. What would collective leader consciousness look like? How would it operate? To me, these are far more interesting questions.

Desire isn’t a bad thing – it’s just a thing

7 Mar

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An old woman had supported a monk for twenty years, letting him live in a hut on her land. After all this time she figured the monk, now a man in the prime of life, must have attained some degree of enlightenment. So she decided to test him.

Rather than taking his daily meal to him herself, she asked a beautiful young girl to deliver it. She instructed the girl to embrace the monk warmly – and then to report back to her how he responded. When the girl returned, she said that the monk had simply stood stock-still, as if frozen. The old woman then headed for the monk’s hut. What was it like, she asked him, when he felt the girl’s warm body against his? With some bitterness he answered, “Like a withering tree on a rock in winter, utterly without warmth.” Furious, the old woman threw him out and burned down his hut, explaining  “How could I have wasted all these years on such a fraud.”

To some the monk’s response might seem virtuous. After all, he resisted temptation, he even seemed to have pulled desire out by the roots. Still the old woman considered him a fraud. Is his way of experiencing the young girl- “like a withering tree on a rock in winter” – the point of spiritual practice?  Instead of appreciating the girl’s youth and loveliness  instead of noting the arising of a natural sexual response and its passing away without acting on it, the monk shut down. This is not enlightenment.

Excerpt from Tara Branch’s book Radical Acceptance (page 143-144).

Can You Hear the Mountain Stream?

4 Mar

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A Zen Master was walking in silence with on of his disciples along a mountain trail. When they came to an ancient cedar tree, they sat down under it for a simple meal of some rice and vegetables. After the meal, the disciple, a young monk who had not yet found the key to the mystery of Zen, broke the silence by asking the Master, “Master, how do I enter Zen?”

He was, of course, inquiring how to enter the state of consciousness which is Zen.

The master remained silent. Almost five minutes passed while the disciple anxiously waited for an answer. He was about to ask another question when the Master suddenly spoke. “Do you hear the sound of that mountain stream?”

The disciple had not been busy thinking about the meaning of Zen. Now, as he began to listen to the sound, his noisy mind subsided. At first he heard nothing. Then, his thinking gave way to heightened alertness, and suddenly he did hear the hardly perceptible murmur of a small stream in the far distance.

“Yes, I can hear it now,” he said.

The Master raised his finger and, with a look in his eyes that in some way was both fierce and gentle, said, “Enter Zen from there.”

The disciple was stunned. It was his first satori – a flash of enlightenment. He knew what Zen was without knowing what it was that he knew!

They continued on their journey in silence. The disciple was amazed at the aliveness of the world around him. He experienced everything as if for the first time. Gradually, however, he started thinking again. The alert stillness became covered up again by mental noise, and before long he had another question. “Master,” he said, “I have been thinking. What would you have said if I hadn’t been able to hear the mountain stream?” The Master stopped, looked at him, raised his finger and said, “Enter Zen from there.”

Excerpted from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (2005, pg. 236-238).

More Microscopes!

28 Feb

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In 1665, the English physicist Robert Hooke looked at a piece of cork through a microscope lens. He noticed some strange shapes which looked like little “prison cells.” Robert Hooke believed that these cells served as containers for the “noble juices” or “fibrous threads” of the once-living cork tree. He published his discovery in a book Micrographia, the first book describing observations made through a microscope. However, for the next 174 years naturalists debated the existence of cells until Theodor Schwann and Matthias Jakob Schleiden collected all of the observations and unified the field in the conclusion that “cells” did indeed exist.

It is not surprising that Hooke’s discovery of cells sparked such a violent reaction from the scientific community. After all, without the use of a microscope, which had just been invented, other people had no way of verifying Hooke’s observations. They called him “crazy” and a “liar” and given that they had no direct experience of looking through a lens and seeing little structures, we can understand their skepticism. And yet, you could give a microscope and a slide to an amateur and he could see right away that there was something there.

As important an invention as the microscope was, the true break through came thousands of years earlier with the invention of the scientific method itself. It is through this simple process that we determine truth. It goes something like this:

1) Ask a question

2) Formulate a hypothesis

3) Conduct an experiment (using the proper tools)

4) Come to a conclusion

5) Verify that conclusion with a community of other scientists

The process is supremely logical, eliminating as much of our bias as possible to get at the truth. I’d like to suggest that the same process can be applied (at least metaphorically) to meditative or contemplative traditions. It is a bold claim, but one that can be easily falsified. My argument goes like this; For thousands of years the great contemplative traditions have echoed the same basic message. “The world that we see is one of suffering. If we quiet ourselves and listen to the present moment, we realize that the world we see is not the only world. Behind everything that exists, there is a fundamental essence and we can experience this essence directly. When we experience this way of being we no longer experience suffering.”

Of course, this is a horrible generalization and it certainly does not include the more conservative interpretations (particularly in the West), but mystics from all traditions seem to echo a similar message (albeit with their own regional flavor). And just as the scientific community doubted the existence of the cell, collectively we have been debating that there is a reality beneath the world of thought/mind. I’d like to suggest that the argument hinges upon nothing more than a lack of microscopes.

The practice of meditation or yoga or any other variation of mindfulness practice which focuses one upon the present moment is a tool through which you must have to verify the claims. Unfortunately, it seems that for most people we must practice for years and years before we ever get a glimpse of what the mystics and monks have been writing about. Without that commitment, one will likely never have that direct experience, and without the direct experience, one will likely never believe that it exists.

So, the world will continue to be skeptical and assume that phrases like “formlessness,” “presence,” “awareness,” “awakening,” “enlightenment,” “essence,” “god,” “being,” etc. are all just lies made up by people who are trying to sell you something. However, the community of practitioners, which stretches across oceans of time and space, seem to have some agreement. In fact many schools of Buddhism focuses on the training and development of students by having masters validate the insights of their students (like a chemistry teacher grading a student’s science project).

So, if you really want to test the hypothesis that there is something deeper than ego/mind at work, then you need the right equipment to make your own observations. Don’t take anything I say at face value. Challenge it. Be skeptical. But if you are not willing to look through the microscope at the little things moving around inside yourself, then are you really in a position to say they don’t exist?