Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Meditator

Now is the time to meditate. I sit in my favorite lotus posture and begin to calm my body and mind. Just as I start to relax, the phone rings. Darn! I answer the phone and some guy tries to sell me life insurance. I tell him; no thank you and hang up the phone. So, I return to my meditation position. Just as I begin to settle down, I hear a knocking at my front door! I get up and go to the door. Someone has just left a flyer at my doorstep. As I walk back to my meditation space, the phone rings again. It is my brother. I tell him I will call him back. This time I pull the cord off the phone. Jesus, all these interruptions! I again resume my meditation posture. Now I am a bit agitated and I have to concentrate on calming my mind. I begin to watch my breathing and after a few minutes, start my meditation practice(mantra). Thoughts arise in my consciousness like little bubbles vying for my attention. One thought concerns a problem at work. I spend (what seems like an eternity) engaging in a daydream-like panorama of dealing with the problem at work. It seems a coworker is unhappy with how I have been treating her. She came to me with a problem on one of her cases. I helped her the best I could and she kept asking for more direction. I told her to visit me and I would gladly........Oh, then I remember; I am meditating, the bubble of my daydream panorama bursts. I resume my meditative practice once again. Then, suddenly, I have to sneeze! I firmly hold my nose so I don't sneeze. That would totally blow away my meditative state. But, of course I sneeze all over the place. I get up and grab some tissue. Once again, I return to my lotus posture. I resume my meditative practice. My breathing begins to slow down and my mind is calm. I am determined to go deeper in my meditation and let all my concerns go. Deeper and deeper. My mind is quiet now. I am feeling at peace. A feeling of joy begins to pervade my being and I become light, like the air. A glow begins to radiate near the top of my head (Sahasara chakra) and with my inner eye, I can see an inner light. Little dances of ecstacy begin to permeate my consciousness. I am feeling happy and content inside. Peace. Then something tells me it is time to end my meditation. I reverse the meditation process and begin to awake, saying a prayer of thanks to the Universal Spirit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Modern Day Mystic

What is a Modern Day Mystic? Well, first of all a modern day mystic is a mystic. According to the Wikipedia, “a mystic is one who practices mysticism”; "Mysticism (comes from the Greek, mystikos, an initiate of a mystery religion) It is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centers on a practice or practices intended to nurture those experiences or awareness."

The essential part of being a mystic is the direct experience of the Divine, whether through personal experience, intuition or insight. Mystical experience shares this common thread through all religions. There are Catholic mystics, i.e., St John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila; Islamic mystics and the Sufis, i.e., Jalaladdin Rumi, Kahil Gibran; Hindu mystics, such as; Patanjali, Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Aurobindu; Taoist mystics, i.e., Lao Tsu, Chang Tzu and many others.

According to Evelyn Underhill, there is a process of mystical experience that she delineates into five stages:

"First is the awakening, the stage in which one begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality. The second stage is one of purgation which is characterized by an awareness of one's own imperfections and finiteness. The response in this stage is one of self-discipline and mortification. The third stage, illumination, is one reached by artists and visionaries as well as being the final stage of some mystics. It is marked by a consciousness of a transcendent order and a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The great mystics go beyond the stage of illumination to a fourth stage which Underhill, borrowing the language of St. John of the Cross, calls the dark night of the soul. This stage, experienced by the few, is one of final and complete purification and is marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will, and a sense of the withdrawal of God's presence. It is the period of final "unselfing" and the surrender to the hidden purposes of the divine will. The final and last stage is one of union with the object of love, the one Reality, God. Here the self has been permanently established on a transcendental level and liberated for a new purpose. Filled up with the Divine Will, it immerses itself in the temporal order, the world of appearances in order to incarnate the eternal in time, to become a mediator between humanity and eternity."

Not all mystics go through all these stages of mystical experience, nor do they have to undergo them in any kind of special order. But Underhill's depiction of mystical experience is a good description of what many mystics go through. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is also a good outline of the process of mystical experience. Basically Patanjali discusses eight steps of mystical yoga practice. They consist of: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The first five steps of: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara are ways to purify the mind and body, preparing one for deep mediation. This would be similar to the awakening and purgation stages of Underhill's mystical experience. The last three steps of the Yoga Sutras consisting of: Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the contemplation and meditation that result in the final stage of union with the One Reality. This would be similar to Underhill’s last stage of mystical experience or union with the Divine.

A major difference between Underhill’s stages of mystical experience and Patanjali’s eight steps of the yogic mystical process is the “dark night of the soul”. Underhill describes this as a complete purification marked by helplessness, confusion and absence of God’s presence. For Patanjali, the mystical yogi has prepared for this through the purification of mind and body, so there is not quite the despair that is evident in the “dark night of the soul”. But in both processes the individual mystic does have to let go of the ego in order to reach Samadhi or union with God.
In conclusion, a mystic is really anyone who has had these mystical experiences. If you have had direct experience of God or Divinity, whether through your intuition or direct awareness, than you are a mystic. So what then is a modern day mystic? First of all, I came up with the phrase “modern day mystic” when I wrote my book, To Jill with Love, Memoirs of a Modern Day Mystic. Then later after my book was published, I noticed that Thomas Lyons also uses this phrase in his book, Modern Day Mystic: A Psychic & Spiritual Journey Through A Not Quite Ordinary Life. To quote from his book: "A mystic is someone whose very existence is an immersion in the Divine Mysteries of Life."

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word "modern" comes from the Latin "modo" meaning "just now" and from "modus" meaning "measure". "Modern" is defined as that "which relates to the present and may involve recent techniques, methods and ideas". So a definition for a "modern day mystic" could be: "someone who practices mysticism in the present day and may utilize recent innovations, techniques, methods or ideas." Why is this important? Because a modern day mystic has to communicate his or her mystical experiences through present day culture, religion and technology. Things are different now than they were in the past. We have become a more global society due to new technology and transportation. I am more aware of other countries, religions and nations than my grandparents were. I can turn on the TV and see what is happening on the other side of the world instantly. I think this has given arise to a more global consciousness. And part of that global consciousness is a more expansive view of oneself and the world. Ancient mystics were more restricted in communicating their mystical experiences through their specific culture and religion. Now as a global society, we are much more aware of other religions and mystical practices. Also with advances in technology, we understand the universe differently than we did in the past. Through the advent of Quantum physics, scientists have redefined the nature of matter and energy. The universe is not what it appears (what many mystics have said all along), it is really an illusion. When we observe matter closely, it is not solid at all, but actually consists of electrons and protons swirling in a magnetic field. The table that I lean upon, may seem solid to my senses, but in reality is far from it. So as technology progresses, our understanding of the universe changes and it is up to the modern day mystics to share how the divine manifests in the present day and age.

A modern day mystic knows the universal mystical reality that is the source behind all creation and a modern day mystic never loses sight of the truth which is very ancient, but ever experienced anew.

For further information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mysticism, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mysticism, and see Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness, Thomas Lyon’s Modern Day Mystic, A Psychic & Spiritual Journey Through a Not Quite A Ordinary Life, http://www.yogamovement.com/resources/patanjali.html, and see: Jill Lowy, To Jill With Love, Memoirs of a Modern Day Mystic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Power of Positive Thinking

Think Positive! It is very easy to say that, but it can be very difficult to do. We have so many problems confronting us on a daily basis, which can be so negative that it can be hard to stay positive. But it is important to try to be positive, even if you are not feeling that way. Why? Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I moved to Vermont after living in Chicago many years. I had no job and very little money. After a few months, all of my money was about gone and the rent was overdue. I was getting pressure from everywhere to pay my bills. During the midst of my troubles, I applied for a job position as a Counselor with the Department of Human Services. During the day of my application, the human resource person told me that there were over one hundred applicants for the job position. I could not believe it! What chance would I ever have at securing this job? I felt more depressed and very half-heartedly completed the application with very little hope at getting it. I went home and spoke to my friend about it. He could see that I was feeling very doubtful about my chances at getting the job. He told me that I needed to change my attitude. I argued that it was not realistic! There were all these other applicants with much more experience than me applying for this job. How would I ever have any chance at all? He patiently told me that I needed to be open to the possibility that I could get that job. I was still pessimistic, but I agreed to give it a try. So I opened myself to the possibility and prayed to God to help me. The following week I received a call from the Department of Human Services scheduling me for a job interview. I was blown away! Out of all those people, I was chosen for an interview. Well needless to say, I interviewed well and got the job. There was no way I would have gotten that job, if I had not changed my thinking and my attitude. It was an important lesson.

From an esoteric perspective, the reason it is important to think positive is because matter follows thought. There are three planes of existence in the universe. They are the physical, astral and mental planes. Manifestation begins on the higher planes as a thought or idea and then manifests on the physical plane. An idea has to manifest on the mental planes before it manifests on the physical plane. When the Wright Brothers began to work on creating the first aircraft, they had to have the idea of flight and it's possibility, before they began making their aircraft. Many people, who were not open to the idea of flight, thought it was silly. They would say things like; If man were meant to fly, he would have wings. Of course, they never flew. One time, a close friend of mine, Steve had this black cat. Steve told me that his cat could do tricks. I had never seen a cat do tricks before. Dogs yes, cats no! Steve said his cat could lay down at his command. I was very doubtful and told Steve that cats are far too independent to do any such thing. We then went to the living room where Steve's cat was sitting on his couch. We both sat next to his cat and Steve told his cat to lie down. Well the cat just sat there and did nothing. I looked at Steve with that I told you so look. Steve immediately said I was being too negative and skeptical, which was interfering with his commands. I said OK, I will be more open to the possibility. So Steve told his cat again to lie down. Well, his cat just plopped right down on the couch. It was very impressive! But what impressed me even more was how my skepticism was working as a real force to prevent Steve's cat from performing his trick. It showed me how important it is to keep an open and positive mind. Negativity is a real force that can cause negative things to happen. That is why it is soooo important to think positive in all that you are trying to accomplish in this world. It is also important to be aware of other people's negativity, especially when they are unaware of it. If you can help them to become aware of their attitude and guide them towards being more positive, you will be doing them (and yourself) a great service.

Many famous Yogis emphasize the power of positive thinking. See Paramahansa Yogananada’s many books at: http://bookstore.yogananda-srf.org/ and Swami Vishnudevananda’s: http://www.sivananda.eu/en/sivananda-yoga/the-yoga-masters.html. Also see the entertaining books by Norman Vincent Peale, who many consider the Father of Positive Thinking: http://normanvincentpeale.wwwhubs.com/

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why do we celebrate our Birthday?

My birthday is coming up soon and this led me to think about birthdays in general. Why do we celebrate our birthdays? Is there something special about the day we were born? Well, there is! From an astrological perspective, we come to this planet for a specific purpose. Our astrological natal chart is a mandala of all the planetary energies operating at a specific place and time that is unique to each individual. Basically, we are all manifestations of Spirit that have incarnated on this Earth at a particular space and time for a specific purpose. The astrological sign that you were born in provides a clue to your nature and your purpose here on this physical plane.

We should celebrate our birthday as a reminder of our original purpose here on this planet. During the year we have sojourned through the twelve months and twelve zodiacal signs gaining the experiences that life has to offer us. These are the Twelve Labors of Hercules that we undergo every year. (From an esoteric perspective, Hercules’ Labors are symbolic of the ego’s struggles and triumphs through the twelve astrological signs). Every year, we return to the time of our birth, not quite the same as we were the year before. Each sojourn around the sun is different and brings new opportunities for greater awareness and self-realization.

It's interesting that one of the customary birthday rituals that we celebrate is the receiving of gifts. I am sure most people have fond memories of some of their birthdays they had growing up and the gifts they received. I remember one particular birthday where I received a brand new Schwin bicycle. It was midnight blue with streamers coming out of the handlebars. I was so thrilled! That bicycle enabled me to visit my friends and explore my world in a new way than I ever could before, bringing me ever new adventures.

But there is one major gift that we receive every year that most people forget about. And that is the gift of life. God has given each of us the gift of life! It is very easy to forget that. We become so involved with our trials and tribulations that we forget who we are and why we are here. Our birthdays are a celebration of the gift of life, given to us by the Universal Spirit. It is a time to reflect on who we are, what we have been given and what we plan to achieve. It is a time to be grateful to God for our very existence. Thank you, God!

Happy Birthday!

For further information on Twelve Labors of Hercules, please see: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/labors.html.