Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Think in the Beauty Way

In Be Careful What You Pray For, Dr. Larry Dossey describes the Navajo belief in the power of words, the importance of positive thinking and speaking in "The Beauty Way."

Dossey, a physician and researcher who has helped bring credibility to alternative therapies and to spirituality in medicine, distinguishes between 'loosely coupled systems' and  'tightly coupled systems.'

A lawnmower's gasoline engine is a loosely coupled system -- the parts are relatively autonomous and can be individually replaced when they malfunction. Far too many physicians treat their patients as if a physical malfunction is much like a faulty lawnmower part. Instead, human bodies are tightly coupled systems and highly interdependent.

So while doctors don't usually intend to do us in, the harm is nonetheless real when they make such pronouncements as "You're a walking time bomb" or "There's nothing more I can do." 

In contrast, researchers at Dartmouth Medical School have found the factor most highly correlated with survival and a positive post-operative course after surgery is the degree of spiritual meaning in a person's life. 

Whatever crisis you face, medical or otherwise, think in The Beauty Way. Ask yourself: 
How can I participate in my mental and physical health and not be a victim?

What is my purpose?

What is meaningful to me?

How might I make a difference in the world?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vanishing into Something Better

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth 
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

~ Mary Oliver, from Twelve Moons (1979)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Rose is a Rose

A rose is a rose is a rose. Gertrude Stein, 1922.

Behold: the rose:

Pay close attention, be fully in the moment. This is mindfulness.

The inexpressible beauty of nature reminds us we, too, are organic.


We are not mechanical, not race cars, we do not need to "go from zero to sixty in sixty seconds" to prove our worth.

... glory does not stay / And early though the laurel grows / It withers quicker than the rose... A.E. Housman, To an Athlete Dying Young,

So, as you go through your day:
  • Engage in each task with full attention, without anticipating the next task.
  • When you read something interesting, take time to let it sink in.
  • Notice your body's responses; at the first sign of tension take a deep breath, relax. 
  • If you're hungry, fully taste every bite; stop when you're full, appreciate that feeling as well.
  • When you realize you've been rushing around, stop and smell the roses.


    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    "K" is for Krishnamurti

    The devil and a friend were walking down the street, when they saw a man stoop to pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket.
    The friend said to the devil, "What did that man pick up?"
    "He picked up a piece of the truth," said the devil.

    "That's a very bad business for you, then," said his friend.

    "Not at all," the devil replied, "I'm going to help him organize it."
    This was a favorite story of Jiddu Krishnamurti, fondly remembered as "K" by community members of the Krishnamurti Centre in England, where I worked as a co-op for two weeks several years ago.

    K maintained that "Truth, being limitless... unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized, nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path."

    Imagine the paradox Krishnamurti then faced: trying to teach the unteachable. He came to this pathless path years after being "discovered" in adolescence by leaders of the Theosophical Society and groomed to be the World Leader of what later became the Order of the Star.

    After experiencing his own process, a state of clarity I would call presence, he realized he could only embody the teaching by not being a leader. His proclamation met with dismay within the Order, but to me is the ultimate example of "walking the talk":
    "I do not know how many thousands throughout the world -- members of the Order -- have been preparing for me for eighteen years, and yet now they are not willing to listen unconditionally, wholly, to what I say... You use a typewriter to write letters, but you do not put it on an altar and worship it." (Proclaimed leader in 1912, disbanded the Order in 1929).
    Krishnamurti frequently claimed that the great religious teachers had come not to found religions but to destroy them, and throughout his life he asked questions of his audience to lead them toward discovering the path within themselves. 
    "In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give either the key or the door to open, except yourself."

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    Dancing to a Larger Dance

    Guest post by Tim Flood:

    In The Presence Process Michael Brown argues that significant, authentic change can only be achieved by a full excavation of the psyche -- from external projection, back through behavioral and intellectual biases, to the emotive patterns that have kept the whole show up and running.

    Though this may be old news, it comes alive again with presence as its vehicle and with metaphors bridging between behavior, thought processes, and emotive patterns. Presence is the nurturing receptivity essential to what Brown calls our witness-observer, and metaphors are the language of presence.

    A transformative metaphor reduces resistance to zero by including and accommodating our complex emotional, intellectual, and physical patterns. Metaphors are the voice, the song, and the dance of the witty, kind, and intelligent inner observer. 

    Listen for the rich and various ways people express themselves in metaphor:
    I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well. Diane Ackerman
    Now listen for your own metaphors. Be present to yourself.

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    The Pattern That Connects

    "Premonitions open us up to each other and to the greater world... they show that we are part of something larger than the individual self, that we are an element in the great pattern that connects." Dr. Larry Dossey
    The opening story of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking should convince even the most skeptical that there are ways of knowing beyond the ability to make logical connections:
    "A team of experts with state-of-the-art measurement tools took more than a year to assure the authenticity of a supposedly ancient Greek statue the Getty Museum of California was going to purchase for $10 million. Then several art experts looked at the statue and knew instantly it was a fake. One said he "heard" the word fresh, which seemed odd to him, but on further examination he realized the statue was too "fresh" to be that ancient." (David Brooks, New York Times).
    We all have the capability to access these versions of a "sixth sense" although many shy away from that possibility, especially those who fear the unfamiliar. Even the word premonition carries an aura of foreboding - that something "bad" is going to happen.

    When we're fully present, however, the possibilities are neither good nor bad, we're simply open to a broader context of knowing, a larger "mind" or "field" as others have named it. One of my experiences is described in The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences.

    Whether you experience this knowing as a feeling in your bones, an image, or a nagging thought, it is saying to you, in Larry Dossey's words, "Wake up. The evidence for a larger world is staring you in the face."

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Sand Mandalas

    What is the essence of presence? Perhaps it is having no desire to control. Thus the sand mandala.

    Now often demonstrated by the Dalai Lama and groups of Tibetan monks, the ceremony begins with chants, music, prayers, and then pouring millions of grains of sand in bright colors from a metal tube called a chakpu. The finished mandala is about five by five feet in diameter, and takes three to five days to complete.

    The creation process concludes with a consecration ceremony, and then... they dismantle the mandala!


    For those of us who have become attached to our creations (our life, our image, our successes) this is astonishing, and we have much to learn.

    Formed into traditionally prescribed Tibetan iconography that includes geometric shapes and historical Buddhist symbols, the sand mandala is a tool to consecrate and bless the earth and its inhabitants. The dismantling of the mandala symbolizes the impermanence of all existence.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Beyond Stereotypes: Presence in Law Practice

    True presence is absent of preconceived notions, and that includes stereotypes. Among others, lawyers have suffered from innumerable jokes that caricature them in stereotypical ways.

    So I am delighted to say the best definition of presence I've found was created by CUNY Law Professor Victor Goode and Jeanne Anselmo, RN, author of chapter 15, "Relaxation" in Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice.

    Their presentation, "Law in the Service of Human Needs: Social Justice and Contemplative Practice," defines presence as a contemplative skill:
    "Therapeutic Presence assists students and attorneys to bring a centered, grounded, open, aware, active, concerned connection with one's self, one's client and the environment. It is not detached, nor is it numbing out, but rather is remaining as fully present as possible in the face of chaotic, difficult and challenging circumstances."
    To achieve this state, we develop awareness and trust in our own purpose and process, self care and self reflection, and deep listening. Borrowing from Goode and Anselmo's presentation, these steps are key:
    • Ground Yourself: Stand comfortably, breathe deeply and drop your breath to your center of gravity in the lower abdomen.
    • Center Yourself: Connect to your intention for the interaction and your deeper commitment; allow your personal and professional resources to arrive in the moment (spontaneously vs. planned).
    • Listen Deeply and with Compassion: Seek to understand the other person without judgment.
    To Goode and Anselmo: Bravo, Brava!!!

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    I Grok Spock

    "Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed — to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science — and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man." Wikipedia quoting Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land.

    Michael, the hero of Stranger in a Strange Land, was born on Mars where grokking was taken for granted. So he was unencumbered by the barriers to intuition many humans encounter. As an example, he grokked grass before walking on it to ensure he was not causing another creature pain.

    Grokking seems such a natural concept and so appropriate to any conversation about presence
    one can't logically explain exactly how to do it, but I think we're all capable of envisioning a connection so deep we are both one and all.

    I've always considered the Vulcan mind meld to be a form of grokking - again, we must leave the Earth to find beings for whom such a deep connection comes naturally. So I was delighted to find there's still a craze for "I Grok Spock" t-shirts. Why is that, I wonder? Possibly because we are the strangers in our own land, longing to be able to grok, to meld.

    What a combination - a deep mental understanding (which also requires physical contact) aligned with a complete emotional-intuitive awareness of another: body, mind and heart attuned.

    Imagine!