Category Archives: Advaita Vedanta

Promoting your Self (with a capital S)

A working artist’s guide to staying grounded in the grind.

 

Our world changes so fast, you have to be superhuman in order to stay ahead of the curve. Keeping up with trends is exhausting, especially if your livelihood depends on it. 

 As musicians, my wife, Julia, and I try to strike a balance between being grounded and soaring.  Accordingly, each morning we take time to activate our bodies, read books that soothe us, and we sit in silence to connect with non-duality and taste timelessness. Then, we get on Facebook, make phone calls and promote the heck out of ourselves.

Aye, there’s the rub, me hearties! Musicians must eat and pay the rent. Even if it is our intention to play music that helps others slow down so they recognize the beauty within and without, we are part of the fast-paced world and must sing for our supper. Self-promotion does not come naturally to either one of us. While we are grateful to have an agent, there is always more work to be done. We have learned to step up to the plate.  

It is fair to say that we dance with our ambition, which provokes the actions that secure gigs. Then, there is our mind’s daily “To Do” lists, along with the ego’s assertion that there is always an image to project, to brand, to define, to deliver, to uphold.

Fear pipes in and says that we’re not getting any younger. It paints anxious, detailed murals of the future trying to get us to be proactive.

While our minds, egos, and fears all vie for control of our vessel, we are aware there is another part of us that is merely observing, watching it all happen from moment to moment.

I remember having a lovely conversation with my father one night. As we were talking about getting older, he remarked that inside he didn’t feel any different in his later years than he did when he was a child. His wonder at this observation left a lingering impression.

When my dad said he didn’t feel different inside, he wasn’t addressing the physicality or realities of growing older. It wasn’t about the aches and pains that start to appear, the life knowledge he has acquired or even the wisdom he exudes. I marveled that without labeling it, he was recognizing and acknowledging his conscious awareness; the part of him that is observing unconditionally. His body is not the same, his cells are not the same, his thoughts and desires are not the same, but his inner awareness has been untouched, despite all of his experiences, good and bad. 

Pondering this further, I recognize that while our minds are constantly busy, labeling, judging and classifying every little thing, there is always a part of us that is silently witnessing.

While we are going through the rise and fall of one cycle after the next, our being regards us.  It watches us react, reminisce, regret and reach out for more, or in some cases, less. It behooves us not to identify ourselves with any of these things, (e.g., pain, regret or even success.) This thought was reinforced at a conference recently when I heard an esteemed musician say that “if we can’t handle a standing ovation or if we need the standing ovation, we are in trouble.”

It is with the slightest shift of perception that we can identify with our observing presence. This presence offers peace, a freedom that opens us up to understanding, even gratitude for everything that comes in.

So, even though I carry on with my goals and my daily practices, I don’t have to postpone expanding into the calm and stillness streaming through me.

I remember seeing the group Beirut at the Treasure Island Music Festival.

Their lead singer, Zach Condon, blew me away, not for his master showmanship or for his incredible prowess. It was his openness. It was as if the music was streaming through him. 

His happiness was like a tranquil breeze. Something that reached us without effort. He was fully content and radiating a quiet bliss without attachment.

 

I say he blew me away and that is accurate. I was swept into the music; there was a merging, not a ‘me’ confining and codifying the experience.

In the midst of our daily dance, the slightest shift of perspective can transform the rat race into smooth sailing. So, if you are tied up in the riggings of your mind, quietly start connecting to your inner awareness and know that you are the boat, the sea and beyond. It makes the journey much more interesting and the treasures easier to find.

Paradox Parade

Making peace with that which seems to be contrary

“When I am in tatters and about to cave, in elementary matters: be the particle and the wave.”- The Levins 

This weekend, my wife Julia and I gathered within a wonderful community to see Joe Crookston, a master musician, songwriter and beloved cheerleader of humanity. Before the concert, I had a conversation with a friend who has a different political point of view. We agreed on many points but in the end, there was no swaying her from her stance. I had to say that I was grateful that we were willing to converse at all. Our beliefs can become a citadel from which we are unwilling to emerge. Recognizing that I care for someone who does not see or feel as I do, awakens the love from which all things become whole.

Of course, there is a process that takes place before love comes into the picture. There is a gambit of emotions that come into play that must be honored before I can authentically facilitate a greater understanding. Sometimes, however, I can find myself going down the rabbit hole with bad feelings and I have to remind myself that love is an option. That way I can manually shift gears.

We are the awareness that animates everything and yet we seem to be in a separate form from everything around us. What can bring us peace is quietly observing the drama of life as it unfolds without needing to over-identify with it.  Swirling around duality, our consciousness can silently become unified.

For a long time, there was a scientific argument about what light consisted of. There were proponents of the Particle theory who said that light was made of particles. There were proponents of the Wave theory who said light was made of waves. They were like two political parties attacking one another. Each side said they were right and that the other was wrong. Now we know that light is both a particle and a wave. It has both properties and depending on how you look at it, it may change from a particle to a wave. It may do the opposite.  All that time arguing may have been wasted, or it may have provided the breakthrough in understanding. It is a paradox.

Paradox comes from the Greek words para and dokein which mean “to seem contrary.”

We live in a world where there seems to be endless conflict without the hope of us reconciling our differences. Perhaps, if we can use the idea of the particle and the wave, we can learn to embrace the paradox and find a way to live in peace.

Here are some examples of paradox found throughout the world’s wisdom traditions:

In Judaism, a cherished practice started by Rabbi Bunim of P’shiskha, urged people to put these two statements in their front pockets. One on the left and one on the right:

“The world was created for me.” ( from the Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37B) and

“I am but dust and ashes.” ( from Genesis 18:27)

Saul, a man who killed Christians then became Paul, Christianity’s chief proponent. He said:

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”- Romans 11:32

A mystic Sufi was executed for proclaiming, “I am the Truth.”  Paradoxically, some saw this as a man claiming divinity, while others saw it as a humble denial of the ego which allowed divinity to shine through him.

The Taoist Lao Tzu said: “Heaven and Earth are long-lasting. The reason why Heaven and Earth can last long is that they live not for themselves, and thus they are able to endure.”

The psychologist Carl Jung had this to say: “The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”

The poet, TS Elliot said: “Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Mooji, a teacher of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta (which means “not-two”) says: “Paradoxically, the most powerful force in the universe is doing nothing at all.” And “Without the physical, the spiritual cannot be known or experienced. Go deep. Find and Be the Real!”

As a fitting last float in this Paradox Parade, here are the lyrics to one of Joe Crookston’s songs, which both did and did not revive the Buddhist poet and leader, Thich Nhat Hahn from a coma:

Fall down as Rain

When my life is over

And I have gone away

I’m gonna leave this big ole’ world

And the trouble and the pain

And if I get to heaven

I will not stay

I’ll turn myself around again

And fall down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

And when I finally reach the ground

I’ll soak into the sod

I’ll turn myself around again

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

And then when I turn dry and brown

I’ll lay me down to rest

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

And when that eagle learns to fly

I’ll flutter from that tree

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of the mystery

Part of the mystery

– Joe Crookston

We may never understand one another or ourselves and that in itself is a reason for rejoicing.