Tag Archives: meditation

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success – Deepak Chopra

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I needed a skinny book and Deepak Chopra’s distillation of his tome on Creating Abundance was sitting there just waiting to be read. Success and abundance are desirable commodities in the post-apocalyptic urban dystopia we inhabit so I settled in for a quick perusal of ancient teachings. Not that quick, actually. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success is a pocket-size fusion of Eastern wisdom and Western affirmation. Chopra’s laws have been around for a while but he does have a knack for explaining the esoteric in accessible language and this book has plenty of both. So I contemplated it rather than plowed through it and it took longer to read. Which was okay as it was as calming as a meditation on intention and manifestation — a written guided meditation.

Here are the laws:

1. Pure Potentiality - we are pure consciousness and when we recognize this we can tap into the universal energy field and create anything. But, to reach that state of awareness, we have to transcend the ego, leaving behind fear, the need for external approval and personal control, and our “social masks”.  

2. Giving – in order to receive, give what you want to get–affection, support, money–life is about a dynamic exchange, the free flow of energy. 

 3. Karma, or Cause and Effect – every action generates an energetic response. You create your reality and your past shapes your present, your present designs your future. Tricky. But an optimistic way to view this is to find the opportunity in each challenge and transform your old, crummy karma into choices for positive–and rewarding–activity going forward. 

 4. Least Effort – don’t push the river. Put your intention out there and turn your attention to getting on with your life. The good stuff bubbles up in its own time. Type-A Westerners have a lot of trouble with this one.

 5. Intention and Desire – the quantum energy field is influenced by intention and desire. Yours, actually. Lavish your intention on something and it becomes more important in your life. Neglect it and the thing withers. Intention is pure desire without attachment and you can activate it to manifest whatever you want by stating an intention clearly and then infusing it with the stillness and pure potential you experience in meditation. Guaranteed to remove struggle. Someone should bottle this.

 6. Detachment – let go of your insecure, fear-based need to see the result you imagine. Note to control freaks: you will not be good at this. Attachment is scarcity-consciousness, implying no real belief in your own infinite self and your limitless potential to create. Detachment celebrates ambiguity and can tolerate insecurity. Detachment delivers, oh ye of little faith. 

 7.  Dharma, or Purpose in Life  – your talent is unique in all the world and no one but you can express it. Your purpose in life is not to run out of milk and socks; it is to soar. When you share what is yours to give, you are richly rewarded. The catch is, you don’t do it for the rewards. You do it to do it. The material rewards are a bonus.

I like these ideas. I suck at many of them. Probably why I am putting in so many hours as a hack writer that I have to find skinny books to read. Chopra adds step-by-step applications to each of the seven laws and, at the risk of spoiling things, I’ll share an observation. Meditation figures prominently in many of them. Clearing your cluttered mind on a daily basis makes space for what you imagine to live and breathe.  However you define success, you may get within striking distance of it by following the formula of these seven timeless spiritual laws. So, off to the meditation cushion and the world of infinite possibility I have yet to conquer.

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams   Deepak Chopra | New World Library   1994

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription – Deepak Chopra

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The Ultimate Happiness Prescription was the thinnest book on the stack so it bumped the 400, 500 and 900+ page monsters aside. Deepak Chopra rides to the rescue on a day hijacked by too much real life. Good message for the frazzled, in any case. The book explores spiritual and neurological dispositions toward emotional equanimity and follows each of seven keys (Deepak Chopra likes to write self-help books in lists of seven) with some simple steps to move your happiness set point up on the scale.

It’s quite sensible, not very woo-woo at all. Body awareness provides clues to how you really feel about events, circumstances and decisions. Chopra examines the interrelatedness of matter, the energy field consisting of the entire universe and you in it, as he tells you to pay attention to what you feel and where in the body you feel it. Stress affects certain areas, anger and fear others—by bringing awareness to physical feelings you can mitigate and even heal what might be making you unhappy, or unwell.

There’s a very good section on being present in the moment. Nothing new about the teaching—it is thousands of years old—but it is a powerful catalyst for change. The point is that happiness can only exist in the moment because the past is over and the future does not yet exist. That seems obvious but we cart around so much baggage that we seldom devote full awareness and appreciation to the present. Chopra recommends a mindfulness practice to increase present-moment awareness. He emphasizes the benefits of meditation as well.

I tend to like Chopra’s audio and video lectures more than his books. Those events seem to treat subjects in greater depth than the slim, nicely laid-out books. But The Ultimate Happiness Prescription is worth the relatively short amount of time it takes to read it and probably worth a few re-reads, too. The activities Chopra suggests and the points he makes apply to every type of self-improvement effort. In the end, he delivers an introduction to the quest for enlightenment—not some exalted mystical state but a better, saner, more intelligent and, well, happier way to live in this world.

The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keys to Joy and Enlightenment   Deepak Chopra | Harmony Books 2009

Peace is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh

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Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who organized the Buddhist Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1969, has written numerous beautiful slender volumes dense in mindfulness philosophy and practical teachings. Peace is Every Step, introduced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, translates the mindfulness practice into ordinary life. It is infused with the gentle wisdom Nhat Hanh has shared with readers and audiences since the turbulent 60s and is no less appropriate for these tumultuous times.

Nhat Hanh’s point is that we cannot just work for, legislate or impose peace—we have to become peace to have any influence on our surroundings, our government and on the health of the planet. His is a very empowering teaching. By paying close attention to the moments of our lives, we enter that still space of perfect balance, of being fully present in the now, and release all chaos and confusion.

The book is divided into three main sections—each consisting of subheads with precepts, inspiration and examples to make mindfulness absolutely clear. Breathe! You are Alive outlines how to eat, wash the dishes and walk mindfully with instructions about the attention to the breath that returns your consciousness to the moment. Transformation and Healing deals with anger, love and compassion. Nhat Hanh explains a way to hug using three deep meditation breaths to anchor yourself firmly in the connection. It sounds a little bit awkward but extremely cool. Peace is Every Step talks about real awareness of the immediate and extended world around you, seen and unseen suffering, and how to contemplate clouds when you are the river.

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the great masters of mindfulness meditation and his appeal to many people is his approachability and his no-fuss notions of how to live a richly rewarding and generous life. From politics to ecology to watching leaves color and fall in autumn, Peace is Every Step is a prescription for healing ourselves and our fractured planet, a do-it-yourself manual for replacing fear, enmity and confusion with a serene and sustainable existence.  

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life   Thich Nhat Hanh | Bantam Books  1992

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There – Sylvia Boorstein

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I’ve been revisiting some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings lately and thinking about consciously living with more mindfulness. That seems like a fairly gentle way to de-stress, be present in the moment and very focused on whatever I am doing. Sylvia Boorstein’s Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There is a down-to-earth how-to for elevating the quality of your life without making yourself crazy. It’s not a story; it’s a primer for giving yourself a meditation retreat that will establish or deepen a mindfulness practice. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to follow the schedule and reap the benefits. You just have to do it: sit, walk, eat, sleep. Simple–but not. Most of us don’t retain the skill, through childhood and into adulthood, of just being with ourselves.

Boorstein counsels you about setting up a retreat–in a formal retreat center, a borrowed cottage or a room of your house with the phone turned off and the family on hold for a couple of days. You structure the get-away however you can, even if you can’t actually get away. Prepare your exit strategy from daily responsibilities–someone else may need to walk the dog, cook the meals, collect the mail, etc. You’ll be busy doing nothing. Organize the most basic necessities–comfortable clothes, good meditation cushion, timer or alarm clock with a pleasing tone, a shawl or cover-up to ward off chills, walking shoes–unless you are lucky enough to be staying on a warm beach and living barefoot.

Walking and sitting meditation periods alternate between and around meals and sleep. It can be hard to just sit and empty your mind. Minds chatter–Buddhists call this monkey mind–and it can seem impossible to turn those streaming thoughts off. But that’s why they call it a practice. Let the thoughts arise, note them and let them go. Eventually they will go. At some point, you will become aware of your breathing. Focus on the breathing. Return focus to your breathing when a thought interrupts. No big deal. Do it over and over and the thoughts will get bored and go plague somebody else. But it takes practice and you don’t make a big competition out of it. Take a break and take a walk.

Here’s how you walk: find a clear, quiet, private place. If it is in your garden or along a wooded path, be sure you can traverse it without a lot of interruptions. If you are home and your path is a hallway, clear it so you can walk unimpeded. Set the timer or the alarm on your watch. Then stroll. Don’t check the time. Walk for half-an-hour. Begin by becoming aware of all the sensations of your whole body–the feeling of the breeze, sunshine, relaxed shoulders, relaxed breathing. Gradually your steps will slow and then you can focus on the sensation of your bare feet touching the floor or the movement of your knees as you step. If your mind starts up with its flotsam and jetsam routine, go back to the whole body awareness and run through the progression again. Stop when the alarm goes off.

There are many brief instructions for various ways to approach the sitting and walking practices and how to overcome the dread monkey mind, or at least get it to chill a bit. Boorstein relates the actions of the retreat to the precepts of compassion and awareness that are central to Buddhist teaching. But the lessons are logical and pragmatic, not didactic. You’re not becoming a Buddhist–you are becoming a more peaceful person. A peaceful person knows how to eat mindfully. There are ways to pay attention to the food, to your reactions to it, to the sensory impressions you have, to the acts of chewing and swallowing. Those tricks make you very present to the moment of eating a meal.

Throughout the book, there are short stories and anecdotes to illustrate a precept, a practice or a common pitfall. It’s very easy and very doable. You don’t de-stress by stressing over how you let go of stress.  You do discover more of who you are, buried under all the layers of your busy, disconnected life. You could follow Boorstein’s guide for a weekend, a week or a lifetime. Every activity–or lack of activity–can be folded into regular daily life. Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There is a kind of Mindfulness 101.  You don’t even need a retreat to try these techniques. You can practice them for a half hour here and there in the carnival of your quotidian. Little by little, they will help you to get past all the noise and really hear the music.

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat with Sylvia Boorstein   Sylvia Boorstein | HarperSanFrancisco   1996

Everyday Zen – Charlotte Joko Beck

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The Laundromat is atypically uncrowded and I get two jumbo washers right next to each other so I don’t need to take a deep breath and remind myself to accept life “just as it is.” I was ready for it, though, after spending the morning immersed in Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen, a book-length collection of dharma talks on Zen practice, its purpose (no purpose) and the philosophy behind it all. I did manage to misread the SOAK and WASH cycles and dumped the detergent and bleach in the wrong ones. Oh well. Perfection is not the point, after all.

Beck was a plain-speaking, no-nonsense Zen teacher (she died in June at age 94) who covered the Zen precepts from basic practice to enlightenment with stories, examples and candid directives. Sitting zazen—the Zen term for a meditation session—seems uncomplicated: sit, breathe, empty your mind. But it is a rigorous practice that exacerbates or initiates aches and pains and could torpedo your psyche. Get too emotionally uncomfortable, a very real possibility, and you might abandon the effort in order to avoid confronting your callous, misguided and unattractive dark side.

The dharma talks explain how—and why—to persevere. “From the withered tree, a flower blooms” is Beck’s favorite quotation from classic Zen teachings, much repeated. Uh oh. Guess who’s the withered tree in this metaphor? The flower represents your progress—maybe a joyful breakthrough or an experience of inner peace. Don’t count on a big explosion of light, O Buddha-wannabe. Imperceptible change is the norm—very incremental. Sit down on your cushion and settle in for the long haul.

It’s a seductive practice, though, tough as it may be. “Enlightenment is not something you achieve,” Beck writes. “It is the absence of something.” Sounds nicely minimalist and elegant, unlike the life of someone with every towel and bathmat in the house putting the soap in the wrong cycle and trying not to splash bleach on herself. I think I soaped too early the last time I was here, too.

Beck cautions that to seek enlightenment is futile and ambitious. Zen is a progressive clarification, a lifetime of lifting veils, shedding misperceptions, accepting the moment. She details ways to handle anger, pain, disillusion, confusion, even breathing. She punctures all the bright balloons of dreamy, nirvana-like states and says simply that you get better at knowing what is true for you and making decisions about your life as you progress.

Duality and individuality are false notions in Zen. Everyone and everything is connected, no separation, no difference. That maniac neighbor who screams and cusses at his kid for six hours straight on Saturday night? You. Every Presidential candidate with his hand out for corporate largess? You. That prune-faced fourth grade teacher who kept you in for almost every recess all year? You. The Dalai Lama? You. All the same. Zen is great physics. Nonduality contradicts James Hillman’s theory of The Soul’s Code, the book I read before this one. Hillman builds his work around the concept of individual fate. Zen is a zebra of another stripe. Not only are you interrelated to the entire universe but nonattachment is a central issue and benefit of all that focused sitting.

Nonattachment loosens the bonds that lash you to your desires so your life becomes calmer, less driven to get and do things, less tinged with disappointment at all you want but don’t have. People who aren’t in the grip of attachment tend to have fewer things, Beck says, but that’s really irrelevant. What is crucial is that you can tell the difference between what is impermanent and what is important. Soap cycle—impermanent. Clean towels—a greater good. All the toys in the toy box? Fine. Few or no toys–make do with your imagination? Also fine. You become free, light and smarter about how to live.

Zen isn’t for everyone. But it isn’t some esoteric practice reserved for a few hardy initiates either. Sit every day, according to Beck, and you’ll gradually open your life to a quiet joy and a peaceful acceptance of each moment as it is.

Everyday Zen: Love and Work (Plus)   Charlotte Joko Beck | HarperSanFrancisco  1989

Change Your Story, Change Your Life – Stephanie S. Tolan

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Stephanie Tolan wrote an essay about gifted childen called “Is It a Cheetah?” It’s fairly well-known in gifted homeschooling circles and it is a cogent argument for honoring the intelligence of children and providing the level of challenge and the variety of subjects they need. Her Newbery Honor novel, Surviving the Applewhites, about a very unconventional unschooling family and the delinquent who is placed in their care as a last resort, is a delight and mirrors many of the tenets of our own unschooling journey in a conventional, competitive, consumer-driven society. So I was predisposed to enjoy a book-length exploration of the power of story when I stumbled across it in pursuit of some other scrap of knowledge.

Change Your Story, Change Your Life is Tolan’s primer for using the power of mind/intention/imagination to write your own story. She espouses something she calls the Story Principle that holds we are each the Author of our own life and can write it how we choose. The idea is to script the ordinary and the profound events into a narrative that works for you. Too often, in fact most of the time, she writes, we blindly accept the conventional wisdom we are handed and the way things have always been since we were old enough to notice. But these stories may not serve us at all and typically lead to missed opportunities, failure, depression and fear. By consciously writing our own narrative, we tell the story that should happen and life aligns itself with our plot.

Tolan’s research is deep and wide. She has read Eastern mysticism, Western philosophy and psychology, spiritual classics from all cultures, and scientific journals on the workings of the mind and on quantum physics. She’s bright enough to pull it all into a coherent argument for listening to the small, still voice within and taking action in our own best interests, not out of habit. She writes explanatory chapters followed by exercises to give readers the visceral experience of trying the storytelling practice and having it work. You may recognize experiences of your own in the examples she provides.

“A butterfly is not a caterpillar with wings” is one fabulous remark in the section on ways to view death and what happens next. Tolan compares the process of letting go of physical life to the formation of a chrysalis from which an entirely new and transcendent creature emerges. It’s a sensible and beautiful way to confront the social stigma of death and move past the fears into curiosity and empowerment. She discusses the need for a suspension of disbelief—skepticism being the norm in our world when it comes to the numinous and miraculous. Her view is that miracles are just the triumph of belief and practice over negative thoughts and their consequences.

Change Your Story… is not a Pollyanna prescription for avoiding harsh reality. It’s a seminal shift in POV that can determine our mundane and magnificent moments. I think, if you believe in the essential power of story and you create your own, you narrate a world and a role in it that can mirror your deepest desires and allow you to live them. Several years ago, I printed out the phrase Stories are Healing, a perfectly balanced assertion (s t o r i e s | h e a l i n g– both seven letters, easy to set in type) and taped it to my computer to counter existential despair.  So I’m already on board with the basic premise. Really, how does it make sense to consign a conscious life to a hamster wheel, followed by oblivion? For those who don’t mind reading on .pdf, you can access the whole book for free at http://www.storyhealer.com/story_healer_full.pdf.

Tolan’s Story Principle is logical and, in both small and substantial ways, it delivers. Try telling yourself you will find a parking space easily at a crowded mall, or that the train you need will arrive just as you reach the platform. Bingo. Life just got simpler. Try it with bigger and bigger things to prove to yourself that it works. Add some practices to still your monkey mind, like meditation or quiet walks in nature, tune into your own intuition, begin to study the volumes of science and spiritual wisdom she suggests and you can become a powerful bard with a life you choose—electrifying page-turner or peaceful journey.  Think about it. This could be the only New Year’s resolution you need–tell your own story, invent a beautiful life.     

Change Your Story, Change Your Life   | Stephanie S. Tolan  2009