Return to Stillness

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Another beautiful morning! The sun is shining full and bright over on Eaton Dr, but is kept from shining on us by the big redwood trees to the south. I imagine to be hit by the sun this morning would be to feel at least 10 degrees warmer. Here in the shade it is very cold.

I’m feeling great this morning! Yesterday I did not feel good at all. In the morning I did, but then something happened. Almost instantaneously I did not feel good at all. It was a twinge in my chest. A rush to my head. A feeling in my shoulder. A taste in my mouth. I immediately went back into the fight against fear. Fear of heart attack. Fear of death and thought of all that would mean. Fighting those thoughts. Along with feelings I’ve felt before, returned the bewilderment that often accompanies them. Confusion. I had been relaxed, I thought. I felt relaxed all morning up to the twinge. I even felt relaxed the day prior through my deposition. How could my nerves be so sensitized that I could have such an episode despite my alleged relaxation?

Sadly, I ended up taking a Xanax. The feelings were strong and fear was making them worse. I hoped the Xanax would aid in the deescalation of both. It did. This, once again, should prove to me that it’s all psychological. That if I were having a heart attack, Xanax would not provide such relief. This should once again prove to me that I “have nothing to fear but fear itself.” This should also remind me that it can happen completely subconsciously. That worry and fear have their roots deep down where I forget about them at times and think I’m feeling relaxed. But they’re still there waiting for the smallest inclination of WORRY to bring them back to the front of my mind.

WORRY!!! Even only brief! The duration to effect relationship is exponential. For example: In a short pause from writing just a second ago, I caught myself in the act. Sitting at my writing desk I’m able to look out my bedroom window and enjoy the most expansive view we have from anywhere on our property. The redwood trees on the distant hill are far enough away to appear hazy even on the clearest day. All of a sudden it occurred to me that if the neighbors build a large enough structure on the back portion of their property, that view that I have spent years enjoying would be blocked!

Worry! Fear! Panic!

I noticed it happening. I noticed myself living out that very unlikely scenario in my mind. It would mean this. It would mean that. I would feel this and that. I was rehearsing devastation as if that future had already been written. I was doing it myself. I was giving those roots of fear and worry the thoughts they needed to grow and sprout in the garden of my mind.

Because I observed it, I was able to slow the escalation and stop it shy of panic. As I now sit in the same spot, instead of the negativity I had been seeing in my mind’s eye, I am now seeing the bright red leaves of the neighbors’ tree. Upon the branches from which those reddened leaves hang, small chickadees hop. Fluttering their wings and then landing on another branch. I always find such peace and joy watching birds. Then I focused on the branches.

The branches were bending under the birds and would bounce after the bird leapt from them.

But then, it struck me. No longer stressed by the weight of the bird or the bird’s act of pushing off of it into flight, the branch quickly calmed. Quickly returned to stillness.

Beautiful, that return to stillness. No more tension or forced movement. No more stress. Natural rest. Peace. Stillness. Visual silence.

With that branch, let me too return to such a state. The bowing and bouncing, the stress and the tension were but brief and did not prevent the branch from returning to rest. Let my worries and the thoughts kindling them be so brief. Let my mind now find the same stillness found so quickly by that branch. And when thoughts return, when worry, fear, and panic start to rear their weight, let me remember they are but a small chickadee, and my mind need only bounce briefly before returning to stillness.

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

To steal the line from one of everyone’s favorite movies, but now to look at it from a different angle. Forest’s mama told him that life surprises you with it’s events just like the surprise of opening a box of chocolates, “never knowing what you’re gonna get.”

In my journal writing this morning I had a similar thought. My initial thought was thinking about life as a movie rather than a box of chocolates. The original title of this post was going to be, Life is Like a Movie. Let’s think about it that way for a minute. A movie. You sit down to watch a movie from beginning to end. It starts with the title and then ends with the credits. Like life, you’re named and you die. But what about the movie itself, the life?

If we press play to start the movie and let it play from beginning to end, how long will the movie last? Depends on the movie, but I would guess the length of the average movie is somewhere around 90-100 minutes. Life. Average life span is what, 60 years? That being what it is, 90 minutes, 60 years, or a box of chocolates with a certain number of chocolates in it, we have A LOT of opportunities to control the quality of those quantities!

The thought that got me started this morning was the realization that just about every task I set out to accomplish, I try and get it done as quickly as I can. If thinking in terms of the movie, I watch with my finger on the fast forward button. If thinking in terms of the box of chocolates, I open the box and stuff the chocolates into my mouth, one after the other. We arrive at the end of the movie, an empty chocolates box, much more quickly this way. With much less enjoyment, and even awareness, of what the movie was about, or how delicious the chocolates were.

So far I’m thinking you might be thinking, “well, yeah, this is obvious.” And I agree. But what I don’t think everyone has the same understanding about is the cumulative effect that living this way has on your body.

Living life in fast forward day after day has a very negative cumulative effect. At least it has on me. I’m not a scientist or psychologist. I don’t have a degree and haven’t done studies. I have read parts of some books on the matter, but am still only qualified to speak for myself.

It has become my automatic instinct to try and do EVERYTHING I do as quickly as I can. EVERYTHING. Thinking, talking, cleaning, writing, reading, gardening, showering, brushing my teeth, painting the walls, building a door, etc. This is a problem. A lot of the tasks I’ve set out to do are new to me. Like gardening, building doors from scratch, remodeling kitchens and bedrooms on my own, having a 55 gallon aquarium full of fish, growing vegetables from seed, etc. I’ve not done them before, at least not enough times to do them in fast forward and still do them well. Not enough times to have a grasp of what needs to be done in BETWEEN the beginning and the end. So what happens when I set out to accomplish a task?

First, I figure out step one. That figuring out, that planning phase, like everything else is done in fast forward, so often I will start, hit a wall, and then realize other steps needed to be taken first. The wheels start to come off because I’m so wired for speeding through the process. This causes all sorts of frustration. Anger at myself. Sometimes blame on others. Other negative thoughts and emotions that time and time again lead to breakdown. Breakdown after breakdown leads to task after task NOT being accomplished. I’m living in a world full of non-accomplished tasks. That’s on the surface, but what about under the surface?

Inside, I feel the effects of all those breakdowns. They don’t just happen and disappear. They fall on my psyche like an atom bomb leaving devastating destruction behind them. Fight or flight. I flee. I find a new task to try and accomplish while the previous task’s mushroom cloud is still blocking the sun and making it hard to breathe. Failed attempt after failed attempt blocks the sun more and more. Makes breathing more and more difficult. But I’ve been relentless. I tell myself, “Come on, you can do this! Well maybe not this, but this. Ok you can’t do that either, maybe this, or this, or this, or this, or….hey look, a squirrel!”

For years now, I’ve been living in a world of unfinished tasks. I’m FUULLLL of mushroom clouds, blocked suns, and oxygen deprivation. I can feel it. Tightness in my chest. Tension in my neck and jaw. Weight gain. Confusion. Anxiety. Depression. Loss of confidence. Denial? Breakdown!

My thought this morning was this, what if I had been living in slow motion for all these years? What if I start living in slow motion now?

Build a Bridge to Your Dreams, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

All the great Teachers have laid stress upon the importance, not of envisaging an enormous period of time before you to do the difficult things of the spiritual life, but to pay attention to the little passing moments, the minutes and hours of each day. Therefore they taught: Fill the day full; watch over it, guide it; regard each single day as if it were the last day that you knew you were going to live.”
-A. Trevor Barker, Theosophist

Imagine a great chasm like a gorge or canyon with a decrepit bridge going across, missing several wooden slats. It would take a great deal of courage to cross that bridge. If the chasm represents crossing over to some great life goal, each day would be one wooden slat on that bridge. The more days that you miss in working toward that goal, the more the bridge falls into disrepair. The more days that you practice, the more trustworthy and study the bridge becomes. In the spiritual life, each day of work is another day that the bridge from here to there will remain in good repair, will be a sure way to cross over the chasm.

This morning you may be thinking of your life’s quest, the reason you get out of bed each day. Your quest may be something quite large, something so big that it is intimidating to think about. But if you think of doing only one day’s work, suddenly this impossible task is brought down to scale.

Think for a few minutes about what you need to do today to make your dream a reality. Build your bridge one wooden slat at a time. If you do that one thing, you can live this day with purpose and conviction. Each time you feel discouraged, come back to one simple task that you can achieve in short order.

-From: A Mindful Morning, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

“Walk Down the Path,” by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

The surrender of the ego is the most difficult thing we have to do….
The surrender of the ego is the ONLY way of life.”
-Bede Griffiths, Hindu-Christian Mystic

Those of us who feel drawn to the spiritual life have a long and uncertain road ahead. We have no guarantee of success or even of progress. The path goes through dark and lonely places. We face terrible demons that we would rather ignore. The usual comforts of life can be torturous for us. The only consolation is knowing that we are making the journey of the ages, undertaking the process of transformation that is the destiny of every soul.

Today, you have a choice as to whether you will do the work of contemplation or let the time slip by. There are no punishments or rewards other than the natural outcomes of your choices. You only have to ask yourself what you truly want in life and act accordingly . Know that the struggle itself will ennoble your soul, and that, as you struggle to enrich your life, you allow others to do the same.

-From, “A Mindful Morning,” by: David Dillard-Write, PhD.

Build Your Concentration Skills, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

“Divine consciousness makes us feel that God is right here, inside each life-breath, inside each heartbeat, inside everyone and everything around us.”
-Sri Chinmay, Spiritual Teacher

We have lost the ability to pay attention with the diligence necessary to see the hidden, divine side of things. Painter, poets, and mystics catch glimpses of it. To see property, we have to discipline the minds, to pick something from nature or culture and concentrate on it exclusively. The object of concentration could be anything – a few lines of scripture, a poem, a rock, a bird, a flower – but the intensity and fervor of concentration make the insight come. Our world, at every turn, will oppose and thwart the total concentration of mind and heart. So the quest for mindfulness will be at odds with the world if it is undertaken seriously.

When a place or an object of human manufacture particularly strikes you, in a way that makes you feel that perhaps the world still holds some beauty and truth, flag that place or object as a possible focus for meditation. Even this morning, you can visit your favorite place or find a few verses to concentrate your mind Familiarize yourself entirely with the object of meditation so that you can see it even with your eyes closed. Then listen deeply , with complete absorption, waiting for its secret to be revealed. If you are on a tight schedule, set a timer for, say, twenty minutes, and use that time for concentration on the object.

From: A Mindful Morning, by: David Dillard-Wright PhD.

Forget About Whether or not It’s Working, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

“There is a saying, ‘To catch two birds with one stone.’ That is what people usually try to do. Because they want to catch too many birds they find it difficult to be concentrated on one activity, and they may end up not catching any birds at all!”
-Suunryu Suzuki, Soto Zen Monk

We can get into an anxious state of mind where we want to know if we will fulfill our goals in life. In spirituality, this is manifested as a desire to know whether or not the practice is working, and so we examine ourselves for signs of some sort of enlightenment. This could be true whether we are saying mantras, chanting verses, or sitting for zazen or dhyana. The trouble is that stepping back from the practice actually makes it more difficult to engage with the practice. The hard thing is to just do the practice and not worry about whether or not it is working, and to be fully immersed in life.

Try not to compare yourself with the yardstick of spiritual experiences you may have had in the past, perhaps when you first began your favorite practice. You are not the same person that you were ten or twenty years ago. It’s not that those experiences don’t matter: It’s just that they happened to someone else a long time ago. Try to focus on the realization that you might have today, in this moment. Make today a new occasion for expanding your capacities and increasing your awareness.

From: A Mindful Morning, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD.

Everything Falling Into Place, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
-Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Westerners have become accustomed to thinking of time as an arrow, moving always forward in a linear fashion. We think of ourselves as perched on the razor’s edge between a never-arriving future and an always-gone past. This concept of time would be foreign to most of the people for whom ancestors are every bit as present as those alive today. In Asian societies and many indigenous traditions, time is cyclical in nature, not linear, as the patterns repeat over generations. The person close to you in this lifetime might have been close to you for many previous lifetimes.

The arrow of time concept, which goes back to the Ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea, causes much anxiety, since everything must, by definition, be done now or not at all. But what if you were to shift your thinking to believe that everything is already implicitly done? What if you believed that you were living in a present that is already past, already accomplished? Sometimes such a belief is criticized as fatalistic, but it also produces a good deal of freedom. As you set about your morning, picture everything already accomplished, from your first deep breath of the morning to closing your eyes at night. Picture everything falling into place, as it was always meant to be, as it has already been written.

-From: A Mindful Morning, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD

“Don’t Change” by: Anthony De Mello

I was a neurotic for years. I was anxious and depressed and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change.

I resented them, and I agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.

What hurt the most was that, like the others, my best friend kept insisting that I change. So I felt powerless and trapped.

Then, one day, he said to me, “Don’t change. I love you just as you are.”

From: The Song of the Bird, by: Anthony De Mello

“Stopping Self-Torture“ by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD

“Seek the unknown way, for the known way is an impasse.”
-Heraclitus, Ancient Greek Philosopher

If you cannot sit quietly and be contented within yourself, no amount of searching in the world will ever be any comfort. If you cannot delve into the space of a few minutes of silence and emerge with some new point of view on the world, you will be condemned to live in derivative belief systems borrowed from others. Silence restores our relationship with ourselves, and, in this way, it also becomes curative for our relationships with others. From this one still point, this center, all other interactions take their character. If I am impatient with myself, I will also be impatient with others. If I am angry with myself, I will also be angry with others, And yet, who is this “I”? It is a series of interactions that can be either harsh or peaceful, either frantic or calm. So we can choose the tenor of our lives from the quality of our mental states.

Practice being gentle with yourself this morning. Can you give yourself the same unconditional love that the great religions of the world recommend as a way to treat others? this may feel odd at first, but try it anyway. You should begin to feel a relaxing, a loosening inside like you have more room to breathe. As you go easier on yourself, you will also begin to have more patience for others.”

From: A Mindful Morning, by: David Dillard-Wright, PhD

I like sharing things that I read when I strikes me as significantly significant and I feel strongly that it could have that same significance for somebody else. As long as I cite my source, it’s ok to post someone else’s words, right? It’s not like I’m trying to claim them as my own. Most of the stuff I post is “self-help” type stuff, so the author would probably be happy that his/her words are being shared and potentially helping more than they would have had I not shared them….right? Of course they’re being robbed of what you, the reader, would have otherwise been forced to spend to read the material, but then I consider myself to be doing the author the favor of advertising. Hopefully, by sharing their words, you, the reader, will be encouraged to go on Amazon, or even better, to your local bookstore or bookstore’s website (given the times) and order the book for yourself. I HIGHLY recommend EVERY book that I “advertise” on my blog.

Now, my own words in regards to the words I borrowed from Dr. Dillard-Wright. It was really the first sentence that packed the biggest punch in my reading. “If you cannot sit quietly and be contented within yourself, no amount of searching in the world will ever be any comfort.And then the second sentence was thought-provoking: “If you cannot delve into the space of a few minutes of silence and emerge with some new point of view on the world, you will be condemned to live in derivative belief systems borrowed from others.”