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felt my father’s heartbeat and his shallow, calm breathing as I lay on the Mexican tile floor beside him, cradling his head and protecting him. Moments before, we were conversing at the end of supper, enjoying the leftover lamb from the previous day’s Easter celebration. Then, something was terribly wrong, as my father was unable […]

Continue reading at The Mindful Word journal of engaged living [http://www.themindfulword.org]
Original author: Contributing Writer
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One has come to the absolute fact—not relative fact—the absolute fact that there is no psychological security in anything that man has invented; one sees that all our religions are inventions, put together by thought. When one sees that all our divisive endeavours, which come about when there are beliefs, dogmas, rituals, which are the whole substance of religion, when one sees all that very clearly, not as an idea, but as a fact, then that very fact reveals the extraordinary quality of intelligence in which there is complete, whole security.
The Wholeness of Life, p 166    
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ot telling the truth and the creation of false narratives is the current state of affairs in 2017’s political world. We hear a narrative about how the Democrats have lost their way and the misdirection of their message to voters was the cause of Trump winning the presidential election in 2016. Then it’s said that […]

Continue reading at The Mindful Word journal of engaged living [http://www.themindfulword.org]
Original author: Contributing Writer
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So where is security? There may be no security at all. Just think about it, sir, see the beauty of that—having no desire for security, having no urge, no feeling of any kind in which there is security. In your homes, in your offices, in your factories, in your parliaments and so on, is there security? Life may not have security; life is meant to be lived, not to create problems and then try to solve them. It is meant to be lived and it will die. That’s one of our fears—to die. Right?
The Last Talks, pp 34-35    
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Alien

In his “Confronting Reality” series, Jack Surguy challenges commonly held assumptions that our society has adopted as truth. His thoroughly researched and authoritative writing manages to debunk various psychological, scientific, political and social theories that are commonly endorsed within the Western cultural milieu. Challenge your mind to change.

To be labeled a conspiracy theorist in the Western world today is equivalent to being accused of having a delusional disorder or being overly paranoid and unable to rationally and logically assess reality.

According to Sunstein and Vermeule, a conspiracy theory “can generally be counted as such if it is an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who attempt to conceal their role (at least until their aims are accomplished).”

Today, calling someone a conspiracy theorist (CT) is essentially a way to discredit the person and invalidate their arguments. According to certain research articles, those who believe in conspiracy theories are associated with delusional ideation, low self-worth, a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness, feelings of solidarity and paranoia, a lower education level and loneliness.

What about common sense?

Reading the research on conspiracy theories reminded me of one of my classes on IQ testing in clinical psychology. The professor wrote the sub-test results of a fictional client on the chalkboard and we were supposed to come up with as many possibilities as we could to explain why the overall IQ score was low.

We were all very proud of ourselves as we rambled off issues of cultural differences, lack of rapport, test anxiety, ADHD and so on.

The professor nodded his head and continued to write each possibility on the board. He then said, “There’s one more.” We continued to theorize, throwing all the possibilities we could think of out there, until we finally had to give up and say that we simply didn’t know of any more possibilities.

The professor shook his head and asked us, “What if the person is just not that smart? What if they did the best they could, and that’s all they were able to do?”

What!? You mean there’s no underlying pathology that’s the root cause of their results?! Funny how an advanced education can warp a person’s ability to use common sense!

Our governments lie to us

Rubble of WTC 7This fact is rarely debated and almost universally acknowledged by most people. If this is true, then why are people who question the official story provided by government agencies ridiculed?

Why are people who question the official story provided by government agencies ridiculed?

When esteemed academic, psychologist, linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky was asked about 9/11, he replied, “There happen to be a lot of people around who spend an hour on the Internet and think they know a lot physics, but it doesn’t work like that. There’s a reason there are graduate schools in these departments,” and also, “There is just overwhelming evidence that the Bush administration wasn’t involved. Very elementary evidence. You don’t have to be a physicist to understand it. You just have to think for a minute.”

Yet when Chomsky was asked what his opinion was on Building 7, he replied that he didn’t have an opinion.

In addition to not having an opinion, Chomsky also appears to have had memory loss, or just has a profound lack of historical knowledge.

Cuba

Despite the ridicule of those in the media who indignantly ask if a person really believes the government would ever act maliciously against its own people, history provides an abundance of evidence that indicate governments do act in subversive ways towards their own populations.

Consider the unclassified document, “Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense,” written on March 13, 1962, in which proposals were suggested to help gain public support for a military conflict with Cuba.

A series of well-coordinated incidents will be planned to take place in and around Guantanamo to give genuine appearance of being done by hostile Cuban forces. … Start riots near the base main gate. … Blow up ammunition inside the base; start fires. … Sabotage ship in harbor; large fires … Sink ship near harbor entrance. Conduct funerals for mock-victims. … We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba. … We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington. … The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated). We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the United States even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized. … Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots … Hijacking attempts against civil air and surface craft should appear to continue as harassing measures condoned by the government of Cuba. … It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a chartered civil airliner en-route from the United States to Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama or Venezuela. … The passengers could be a group of college students off on a  holiday or any grouping of persons with a common interest to support chartering a non-scheduled flight.

Vietnam 

USS Maddox 1962In I.F. Stone’s Weekly, dated August 24, 1964, it was revealed that the U.S., while on patrol in Tonkin Bay, knew about the bombings that were going to take place on two islands off the North Vietnamese coast. The U.S. intentionally moved into a position that gave the appearance that the ships were attacked by an aggressive force.

The document goes on to state, “The process of brain-washing the public starts with off-the-record briefings for newspapermen in which all sorts of far-fetched theories are suggested to explain why the tiny North Vietnamese navy would be mad enough to venture an attack on the Seventh fleet, one of the world’s most powerful. Everything is discussed except the possibility that the attack might have been provoked.”

Biological warfare testing—San  Francisco

There was also Operation Sea-Spray. In 1950, the U.S. military wanted to test out biological warfare, so a Navy ship just off the coast of San Francisco sprayed Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii, two forms of bacteria, in the direction of the city to observe how the infections would spread.

Of course, citizens were never informed of this test, and at least one death and several hospitalizations resulted from the testing.

Willowbrook experiments

Even more disturbing were the Willowbrook experiments, during which more than 700 mentally disabled children were intentionally infected with hepatitis in the hopes of discovering a cure. Several children died from the experimentation.

The government response was that the children likely would’ve contracted the disease either way, and that the data gained from the study helped produce a treatment.

Experimental measles vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that, in 1991, they injected an experimental measles vaccine into more than 1,500 babies without informing the parents of the drug’s presence.

It was discovered that several young children in the black community died shortly after the injections. Though the CDC insists that withholding information from the parents was a mistake and unintentional, they continued to use the vaccination on children in the Third World.

Outrageous vs. believable conspiracy theories

One of the fundamental flaws that I observed in almost all the research I explored was the failure to distinguish between outrageous conspiracy theories—such as the idea that our politicians may be lizard aliens in disguise—and the more believable ones, such as the possibility that the government bulldozed the crime scene at Waco to cover up unlawful behaviour. Much of the research often presented information and results in a biased manner.

Conspiracy theorists, racists and Marxists 

protesters with bannerIn a 2011 study titled “Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories” by Wood, Douglas and Sutton, the authors seek to understand how individuals can endorse contradictory conspiracy theories. According to them, the conspiracy theorist’s worldview of distrusting the government is so strong that it overrides contradictory conspiracies.

The article compares a CT’s worldview to that of those with extremely racist beliefs, such as Theodor Adorno, whom they suggest in relation to Nazi anti-Semitism. The authors further state that conspiracy theorists’ mindsets can be best understood as “monological” and as a “worldview” or ideology:

If Adorno’s explanation for contradictory anti-Semitic beliefs can indeed be applied to conspiracy theories, conspiracist beliefs might be most accurately viewed as not only monological but also ideological in nature. Just as an orthodox Marxist might interpret major world events as arising inevitably from the forces of history, a conspiracist would see the same events as carefully orchestrated steps in a plot for global domination. Conceptualizing conspiracism as a coherent ideology, rather than as a cluster of beliefs in individual theories, may be a fruitful approach in the future when examining its connection to ideologically relevant variables such as social dominance orientation and right-wing authoritarianism.

To state that CTs can be better understood, if viewed in the same way as orthodox Marxists, is problematic.

Marxists vs. Conspiracy theorists (CTs)

Marxists are seeking to change the social structure so that a transfer of power can occur, resulting in a system governed by Marxist principles. CTs are driven more by a critique (and arguably, a distrust) of those who seek and possess political and financial power.
A Marxist may interpret an arising event as inevitable, due to the forces of history, but the Marxist will also insist that if Marxist principles were adopted, many social injustices would be eradicated. CTs, while possibly explaining events from a worldview of distrust, typically don’t insist on or advocate for any specific form of government practices being adopted.
Marxists will likely interpret all events from a Marxist perspective. CTs aren’t necessarily bound to interpreting every event in terms of governmental distrust.

Facebook Live Chicago beating

For example, on December 31, 2016, an 18-year-old Chicago man who was mentally challenged and diagnosed with schizophrenia was kidnapped and tortured by four other individuals. Three of the accused were 18 years old, and one was 24 years old. The story grabbed national headlines due to the video that was put on Facebook Live, as well as the fact that the victim was white and all the accused were black.

In the video, the accused can be heard yelling about their hatred towards white people and the recently elected president. As emotionally charged as this event was, the Internet wasn’t consumed with conspiracy theories in response to the actions of the accused. The vast majority of people don’t believe the government or shadowy individuals orchestrated the event, even though it was highly publicized.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin shooting protestThe same can be said of the Trayvon Martin shooting that took place in 2012. The case was highly publicized, but there were no prominent conspiracy theories put forth about the event.

Adherents of Marxism, however, pushed interpretations of the events that insisted that the ruling class is using such events to distract the working class. Regarding Trayvon Martin, a Marxist website claimed, “Racism is used to divide and conquer the working class, to divert our attention from the real problems facing us. Instead of fearing and fighting against the cuts, austerity, and crisis that capitalism rains upon us daily, we are instead taught to fear and fight each other.”

Regarding the four individuals charged with kidnapping and torture, George Gallanis of the World Socialist Website stated:

The backwardness and violence expressed in the actions of the perpetrators cannot be seriously considered apart from the conditions of grinding poverty that dominate the Chicago neighborhood in which they live and the impact of reactionary political and ideological trends such as racial politics that are so relentlessly promoted by the Democratic Party political establishment and the media. … The ISO is seeking to whitewash its own role in working to divide the working class along racial lines and conceal the class issues that underlie the growth of poverty, social inequality, police violence and militarism, as well as the rise of right-wing and racist political forces.

Marxists also provided their interpretation of the 9/11 attack and the subsequent invasion of Iraq when they stated that, “the US invasion of Iraq was the result of aggressive capitalist expansionism in order to secure threatened oil for future production.”

These examples strongly suggest that CTs are fundamentally different from orthodox Marxists. In fact, the article by Wood et al. unwittingly demonstrates this difference. Consider the conspiracy theories the authors mention in the article:

The events of 9/11 as an inside job The autism-vaccine connection The military assault that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden The death of Princess Diana

The official government report on each of these events contained problematic information that, at times, contradicted itself.

9/11

In the history of high-rise buildings, only three have ever fallen due to fire damage—and all three of these instances occurred on September 11, 2001. The official story insists that the airliners that crashed into the buildings at some 80 stories high contributed to the structural damage reportedly caused by the resulting fire. However, Building 7 was never touched. Yet, it still collapsed due to the reported fire damage.

It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in physics to know that 15 stories falling onto 80 stories doesn’t result in a collapse rate nearing free-fall speeds—in all three buildings.

Thimerosal and autism

The CDC has long insisted that thimerosal, a form of mercury mixed into childhood vaccination shots, is in no way associated with autism. Yet, studies from Geier, Kern and Geir, Khaled et al. and Kern et al., along with a multitude of other studies, have demonstrated that levels of thimerosal in the body are associated with autism.

In July 2010, the Hazardous Waste Section of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources collected samples of vaccines containing thimerosal and sent them to a third-party testing facility to be analyzed. According to the reported results, the vaccine that was labelled as containing only 0.01 percent thimerosal actually contained more than 0.2 parts per million (ppm), well beyond the officially stated amount.

Osama Bin Laden and Princess Diana

News paper headline is Osama Bin Laden deadSimilar problematic information can also be found in regard to the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Princess Diana. For example, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, Saddam Hussein was captured alive and forced to face trial before the world. Osama Bin Laden was killed and his body was buried at sea, leaving a poorly developed picture as the only evidence supporting his death during the U.S. raid.

A few months prior to Princess Diana’s death, she reportedly wrote a letter to a friend stating that she feared for her life and believed some sort of car accident was being planned as the cause of death.

Questioning the official story

The point here is that all the examples Wood et al. provided as conspiracy theories offer credible evidence that calls into question the official story. However, if events appear to make sense and there aren’t significant lapses or contradictory information within the official stories, conspiracy theories don’t develop.

If events appear to make sense and there aren’t significant lapses or contradictory information within the official stories, conspiracy theories don’t develop.

This suggests that CTs aren’t beholden to a worldview that makes them see everything through the eyes of overwhelming distrust, but they’re instead using deduction, logic and common sense to decide if an official story makes sense and isn’t inconsistent with known evidence.

Wood et al.’s description of CTs as monological, speaking only within their own system and ignoring their context in all but the shallowest respects, is inaccurate and misrepresents CTs. Furthermore, the Wood et al. study is invalid by design, because it offers no control group to compare results with.

Belief in contradictory theories may be just as prevalent among CTs as it is among any other group concerning other issues. Furthermore, the authors’ measures failed to demonstrate the link between a monological belief system and conspiracy theories. Their closing statement, “Believing that Osama bin Laden is still alive is apparently no obstacle to believing that he has been dead for years,” seems to question the intelligence of individuals who may consider or even believe in some conspiracy theories.

Did the authors provide evidence for their stated theory? No, not in any scientifically meaningful manner. Take the statement, “conspiracism constitutes a monological belief system.” First, we have to ask what a monological belief system even is.

Ben Goertzel stated that a monological system is a belief system that lacks communication and only sees events or phenomena from one perspective. However, research doesn’t support this assertion. In fact, some research has even supported the idea that conspiracy theorists are more open-minded and more open to experiences than other individuals.

Be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep

Flock of sheepOther researchers have claimed that conspiracy theories are the result of feelings of powerlessness and an attempt to regain a sense of control in life. Researcher Viren Swami states that having truth or information others don’t can reassert feelings of agency.

According to Swami, via an article in the New York Times by Maggie Koerth-Baker, “It can be comforting to do your own research even if that research is flawed. It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep.” Regarding feelings of control, he said, “while believing George W. Bush helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks might make you feel in control, it doesn’t actually make you so.”

The article went on to say that people who didn’t obtain information to debunk conspiracy theories “were more likely to withdraw from participation in politics and were less likely to take action to reduce their carbon footprints.” (Global warming had to fit into the issue in some way!)

What all these articles and theorists again fail to discuss is how the vast majority of conspiracy theories are the result of:

Significant gaps in government explanations Outright contradictions within evidence and the official story Significant evidence excluded or not addressed

The reasons most often given by those who reject any questioning of the official 9/11 account focus on the effects it’ll have on society at large.

While Maggie Koerth-Baker may convince herself that individuals who suspect or believe our highest political figures were in some way involved in 9/11 are providing themselves with a sense of control, the reality is actually the opposite.

The reasons most often given by those who reject any questioning of the official 9/11 account focus on the effects it’ll have on society at large. In a September 2008 debate on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Jefferson Flanders of New York University insisted that “the notion that the US government would be complicit in the murder of 3000 citizens, I think poisons civil discourse.”

Flanders went on to insist that keeping something like the government’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks secret would be nearly impossible and was therefore unlikely. Flanders never actually dealt with the evidence put forth by the other guests on the show that implicated the government. Instead, he relied on theoretical reasons why it simply couldn’t be true.

 Conversation with a 9/11 CT critic

A recent conversation I had with an ardent critic of any 9/11 conspiracy theories supported my above observation. Jon, as I’ll call him, put forth Flanders’ argument that trying to pull off such a hoax would require the co-operation of many different people from many different agencies. and that someone would’ve come forward and leaked information and evidence that implicated the government.

I pointed out that the argument:

Avoids all evidence that suggests otherwise. Isn’t an argument based on physical and/or historical evidence, but on a theoretical assertion that assumes the difficulties that would hypothetically be involved in carrying out such a mission.

An additional argument that questions the validity of this position is the practice of the military operating on a fragmented, need-to-know basis that prevents military personnel from knowing the full consequences of their orders. The underlying principle is that since we’re so severely limited in knowledge of how the government works behind the scenes, basing arguments upon positions that lack such information is highly problematic.

9/11: Let’s look at the facts

As mentioned, within all of history, only three high-rise buildings have collapsed due to supposed fire damage, and all three of those buildings fell on 9/11.

London Grenfell Tower fireLondon’s Grenfell Tower caught fire on June 14, 2017 and burned for 24 hours before the flames were brought under control. As you can see in the photo on the right, some sections of the building gave way and partially collapsed.

Yet, during the 9/11 attack, the Twin Towers and Building 7 collapsed in about 12 seconds and collapsed into their own footprint, meaning that they collapsed straight down and didn’t fall into any neighbouring buildings. The testimonies of demolition experts provide evidence that the buildings fell just as buildings do when they’re rigged with explosives for demolition. There are multiple reports from firemen, police and pedestrians who reported hearing several explosions prior to and during the collapse.

Jon acknowledged these issues and stated that he’d reviewed the evidence. One issue in particular, the supposed plane that flew into the Pentagon, had really made him stop and question the official reports from the government. Jon is a strong Democrat and a very intelligent person. He in no way believes that the U.S. government is guilt-free, and doesn’t consider himself a “sheep.” In fact, Jon even stated that he believed the government was involved in the shooting of president John F. Kennedy.

Intrigued, I questioned him about his reasons for rejecting the possibility of governmental complicity on 9/11.  He sat quietly for a second, and then said that he needed to rephrase what he initially stated. Jon then said, “I don’t want to believe that our government would have any involvement in an attack that killed 3,000 American citizens.”

Jon’s denial of evidence that implicates the U.S. government in the attacks on 9/11 is an effort to gain control over the terrifying idea that our own government would harm and kill thousands of innocent American citizens.

The CT, however, acknowledges this fear but courageously continues to examine the evidence. They then allow that evidence, rather than fear, to determine their conclusions.

Being dedicated to truth has always been a dangerous endeavour.

Joan of ArcResearchers have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to discover why people believe in conspiracy theories. Perhaps their time would’ve been better spent investigating the possible reasons people don’t give these theories more serious thought and contemplation.

Chomsky is an intelligent man. How could he not have an opinion on Building 7?

Perhaps, more importantly, investigations into the emotional and psychological make-up of those who ridicule and demean people who question the government’s official accounts of events should be more thoroughly explored. Perhaps an investigation into the mind of Noam Chomsky, who without hesitation attacked and demeaned a student who asked about 9/11—but then stated he had no opinion on how Building 7 collapsed at near free-fall speed, even though it was never struck by a plane—would be a worthy endeavour. Chomsky is an intelligent man. How could he not have an opinion on Building 7?

The real question, of course, isn’t why Chomsky doesn’t have an opinion; rather, it’s why Chomsky is afraid to share the opinion he does have. Another question to ask is who takes the greatest risk when discussing conspiracy theories. If a CT changes their mind about government involvement in 9/11, then the result is more trust in the government. However, if Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly, who’ve both viciously and mockingly attacked CTs, were to change their minds about the government’s involvement in 9/11, then their entire way of reporting the news—and perhaps even their ability to continue reporting the news—would come under question.

Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.: those dedicated to truth and seeing things clearly and accurately have always been a thorn in the side of those who wish to rule and control others through fear and manipulation. The attempt to pathologize those who refuse to unquestionably accept official reports handed down by government agencies, especially when those reports are contradictory and conflict with evidence, is a method that’s been used to discredit critics throughout history.

However, scientists and researchers today, at times, join with those seeking to discredit any critics. This violation of the public’s trust of those who identify themselves as unbiased researchers is especially troubling, and further demonstrates the crisis scientific research has found itself in today. Nevertheless, courageous citizens who care little for the expert opinions of these scientists will continue on in their search for truth and justice!

images: 1. Pixabay 2. by NIST [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3. USS Maddox Photographed by PH2 Antoine. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons 4. by Damon D’Amato (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons 5. by David Shankbone (CC BY 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons 6. Is Bin Laden Dead? by Ben Sutherland via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 7. Pixabay 8. by Natalie Oxford (CC BY 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons 9. Pixabay
Original author: Jack Surguy
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When we close the windows and doors of our house and stay inside, we feel very secure, we feel safe, unmolested. But life is not like that. Life is constantly knocking at our door, trying to push open our windows that we may see more; and if out of fear we lock the doors, bolt all the windows, the knocking only grows louder. The closer we cling to security in any form, the more life comes and pushes us. The more we are afraid and enclose ourselves, the greater is our suffering, because life won’t leave us alone. We want to be secure but life says we cannot be; and so our struggle begins.
Life Ahead, p 54    
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Posted by on in Mindfulness
Shelli Pruett is a Los Angeles-based artist. She has a degree in Fine Arts from New College in Sarasota, Florida. Her work has been published in many venues, including The Wall Street Journal. Her cartoons range from the pithy and philosophical to the whimsical. They’re about life and spirituality in this modern world, as well as alternate worlds of imagination.
Original author: Shelli Pruett
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Posted by on in Mindfulness
Shelli Pruett is a Los Angeles-based artist. She has a degree in Fine Arts from New College in Sarasota, Florida. Her work has been published in many venues, including The Wall Street Journal. Her cartoons range from the pithy and philosophical to the whimsical. They’re about life and spirituality in this modern world, as well as alternate worlds of imagination.
Original author: Shelli Pruett
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So does thought fundamentally, basically, give security, psychologically? Thought has its place; but when thought assumes that it can bring about psychological security then it is living in illusion. Thought wanting ultimate security has created a thing called god; and humanity clings to that idea. Thought can create every kind of romantic illusion. And when the mind, psychologically, seeks security in the dogma of the Church, or some other dogmatic assertion, or whatever it is, it is seeking security in the structure of thought.
Thought is the response of experience and knowledge, stored up in the brain as memory; that response is therefore always moving from the past. Now, is there security in the past?
The Wholeness of Life, p 160    
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Julian Daizan Skinner teaches Zen Yoga - Boris's story

The following has been excerpted from Practical Zen: Meditation and Beyond, in which Julian Daizan Skinner, a Zen master, offers practical advice and guidance that’ll help novice and advanced meditators alike succeed in their practice.

A gay child in an atheist family

As a little kid in Croatia, I wasn’t good at running, jumping, physical things. I’d always much rather be with older people.

When I was nine months old my parents had a very serious car crash. I was separated from my mother for a time; I don’t know whether this was the cause, but from the age of two until I went to school, I suffered tremendous separation anxiety from my mother. And then at seven years old I had a terrible shock when I realized that I’m mortal. My parents were both atheist, and my path to becoming a scientist was my feeling that this was a rational way to get control and make sense out of life.

Education went well for me. For my parents, being stupid was the worst crime that you could commit. On the other hand, they placed no value on emotions. To gain my parents’ approval, the only way was to excel at school, and so I did. I never really got on with schoolmates and avoided bullying by not drawing attention to myself. And then, in the seventh grade, I realized I was gay and that was even more isolating. I handled it by staying at home and studying harder.

The university years

Once I got to university I made friends with other geeks, but there was always this question of, “Boris, why aren’t you interested in girls?” Still, it took me a long time to come out. I had my first sexual contact with a man only when I was 37 years old.

The only reason I dealt with this was incredible loneliness. I was single while studying at a research institute in Germany, and also when I came over to the University of Manchester. When I began working at the University of Oxford, I became a professor of computer science—my dream job. My career was on the way up. Nevertheless, one day, I hit the bottom. I realized if my isolation went on like this for another year, I’d blow my brains out.

Fortunately, I was on a project that had me in Barcelona for three months, and that’s when things began to change. There was a gay man in my company. It was also a common sight to see openly gay people in the street. By the time I was back in Oxford, I was ready to meet someone. I got into a three-year relationship with a very nice person. This was wonderful, but it also allowed me to see all my dysfunctions playing out. I started therapy.

The process of therapy made me realize I was absolutely riddled with anxiety. I knew I couldn’t carry on like this. I read a book about mindfulness and began to practice meditation, and I immediately felt some relief. The realization that it’s fine to simply feel what you feel and that you can allow yourself to experience emotions without trying to wish them away was incredibly powerful.

First encounters with meditation and Daizan

I encountered Zenways meditation and mindfulness practices at the university and quite soon met Daizan. It was immediately obvious that this meditation stuff had tremendous potential to change lives. My response was, initially, to feel a lack of self-worth, to feel that this was one more field I had to try to excel at. It took a long time before I got to realizing I could just be me.

On the other hand, I immediately felt quite a lot of physical benefit from meditation. I’d had a problem with severe stomach cramps. One time, I began to meditate and told myself it was fine to experience this pain without wishing it to go. After about 10 minutes the pain dissipated completely, for the rest of the day.

I was very ambivalent about the forms of the Zen practice—the incense, the gongs, the strange people. It felt foreign to my atheist background, but at the same time, I felt challenged by it—a challenge I had to respond to. So I was feeling my way forward with this and signed up for a Zen retreat with Daizan.

It was hell. Three days of pure anxiety. It showed me that I’d had this level of anxiety underlying my life and now there was no avoiding it. I also saw how much judgment I had. I felt resentment towards people I saw as doing better than me. The whole thing was just so uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it was clear to me that this was what I needed. I saw that I couldn’t live with this level of anxiety in my life underlying everything. I faced it and it started to shift.

Insights from my second retreat

Ordinary man walks across bridge as shadowy monk looks on - Boris's storyI realized that I needed to pursue this more, and signed up for another retreat with Daizan. One thing that was tremendously helpful was reading a book called The Self-Illusion: Why There Is No ‘You’ Inside Your Head, by Bruce Hood. The book outlined psychological research showing that we’re not a fixed entity with a centralized control point, but are actually much more malleable and changeable than we seem.

I saw how the little intimations I was starting to get through my practice were actually squarely in line with science. On my second retreat, this dimension came into sharp focus. It became vividly clear to me how everything is relative, how we use one word to define another word, that reality isn’t in this world of words, that there’s actually nothing we need to know. It’s hard to explain, but so much fear dropped away and I felt euphoric. Since then, I’ve been able to face the future much more freely.

I saw how the little intimations I was starting to get through my practice were actually squarely in line with science.

This sense that there’s nothing to know has continued to deepen. A couple of months ago I saw how my mind constantly tries to analyze and dissect things, and thus gain a sense of control. In science we try to do this, and it’s clear to me how this project is useful, but through that route we’ll never get to the bottom of things, because we’re always looking at things from the outside. And the deeper you go, the more the ground you’re standing on starts to shift. Some of the scientists I speak to consider the Big Bang to be the basis on which everything stands, but it’s clearly not. So from that point onward, the sense grew that while it’s OK to try to understand things, this is no way to deal with your fears, feel safe and conquer life.

Instead, I’ve found that life happens and all you can do is be it. One thing I discovered in meditation is how much I have this drive to escape what’s happening around me—to be the safe observer who’s not actually committed to the moment, who has no responsibility.

I’ve found a strong connection between my relationship to my body and my relationship to life in general. I now know what people mean when they talk about “energy” in the body and in the world.

For me, the antidote to my sense of separation is embodiment. In meditation, when I bring myself back to my body and don’t separate from whatever’s arising, everything’s actually fine. I’m gradually bringing this full involvement into my life, my relationships and my work. Whether what’s happening is “good” or “bad,” my role is simply to show up and not try to escape.

«RELATED READ» PHILOSOPHER OR MEDITATOR?: How meditation can help us resist the fantasies and ideas that control our lives»

Beginning full-time monastic Zen in 1989, Julian Daizan Skinner has practiced and received Dharma transmission in the Soto and Rinzai traditions, and has been named successor of Zen Master Miyamae Shinzan, founder of The Zendo Kyodan Lineage. For more information, visit zenways.org.

Front cover of Practical Zen book - Boris's story Excerpted from Practical Zen: Meditation and Beyond by Julian Daizan Skinner. Published by Singing Dragon – www.singingdragon.com
image 1: Westmoquette via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons BY); image 2: Hartwig HKD (Creative Commons BY-ND)
Original author: Contributor
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Posted by on in Krishnamurti (RSS feed)

The desire to be secure is one of the most curious things. And that security must be recognized by the world; I don’t know whether you see this. I write a book and in the book I find my security. But that book must be recognized by the world, otherwise there is no security. So look what I have done—my security lies in the opinion of the world! “My books sell by the thousand”, and I have created the value of the world. In seeking security through a book—through whatever it is—I am depending on the world which I have created. So it means I am deceiving myself constantly. If you saw this! So the desire for thought to be secure is the way of uncertainty, is the way of insecurity.
The Impossible Question, p 182    
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The ignorant man is not the unlearned, but he who does not know himself, and the learned man is stupid when he relies on books, on knowledge and on authority to give him understanding. Understanding comes only through self- knowledge, which is awareness of one's total psychological process. Thus education, in the true sense, is the understanding of oneself, for it is within each one of us that the whole of existence is gathered.

What we now call education is a matter of accumulating information and knowledge from books, which anyone can do who can read. Such education offers a subtle form of escape from ourselves and, like all escapes, it inevitably creates increasing misery. Conflict and confusion result from our own wrong relationship with people, things and ideas, and until we understand that relationship and alter it, mere learning, the gathering of facts and the acquiring of various skills, can only lead us to engulfing chaos and destruction.

J. Krishnamurti, Education and the Significance of Life    
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Mansion on hill

In our weekly Mindful Dreams column, Aneta Baranek of the School of Metaphysics is offering free dream interpretations to The Mindful Word readers, as well as articles on dreams in general.

If you’ve ever been curious about deciphering the cryptic contents of your subconscious mind, here’s your chance! If you would like Aneta to interpret your dream, fill out this form. She will respond with your dream interpretation through this column, published every Thursday. Aneta would love to receive more comments for the dreams interpreted. If you can relate to a dream posted here or have any insights to add, you can post them as comments to the interpretation, or email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Intro

DREAM

Hi Aneta,

A guy that I like turns out to own a huge mansion on a hill. It’s an aloof and sterile place. It’s windy and there’s a cold breeze. The mansion is guarded by tall, dark green pine trees.

He’s home, but acts aloof. He’s immaculately dressed in a suit and tie. It’s warm inside, but the attitude is cold, like he was just doing his duty by inviting us in (“us” meaning myself and maybe a close friend).

The mansion seemed like an important place of status, thought of by the community as a mysterious place where a wealthy man lives. This wasn’t a pleasant dream, and I woke with a bad feeling of seeking out a place where I wasn’t loved or welcomed.

– Kim

DREAM TITLE: “Cold Mansion”

DREAMER: Female, 61, U.S.

MAIN SYMBOLS:

Guy — an inner aspect of the dreamer

Mansion — place in mind of the dreamer

A hill — elevated place

Wind — very dynamic movement of thoughts

Trees — subconscious mind existence

Clothes — outer expression

Close friend — a familiar aspect of the dreamer

Wealth — value

INTERPRETATION

Hello Kim,

Thank you for sending in your dream.

Let me start off by stating that our dreams reflect to us our attitudes from our waking lives.

Our dreams are messages from our subconscious mind, devised to aid us in assimilating our daily experiences. When we interpret our dreams, we have the opportunity to learn from our waking experiences and to adjust our thoughts and attitudes so that we can grow and evolve.

This dream speaks to a state of mind that you “visited” 24 to 48 hours prior to having this dream, symbolized by the mansion. You connected with an inner aspect of yourself—the man—that appears to be very wealthy (value), immaculately dressed (self-expression) and aloof (emotionally withdrawn). The mansion being on a hill and guarded by trees symbolizes that this state of mind is an inner state of your being deep within your subconscious mind.

APPLICATION

If this were my dream, I’d look at how I work with my own emotions. How do I process them? How aware am I of them?

It’s the feelings or labels we assign to emotions that determine whether these emotional states are perceived by us as “positive” or “negative.”

The dream speaks to your own emotional state of being (the mansion), which you’re not comfortable with. You might be either discovering your own aloofness or learning that the way you relate to your emotions is quite aloof and disconnected. Only you, as the dreamer, can determine the actual connection between this dream and your emotional states.

Emotions come from our thoughts. Emotions (e + motion = energy in motion) in themselves are neutral, allowing for the movement of energy throughout the mind and body. It’s the feelings or labels we assign to emotions (anxious, scared, joyful, etc.) that determine whether these emotional states are perceived by us as “positive” or “negative.”

Emotions and feelings are here to guide us and help us assess how aligned we are within ourselves at any given moment. An important task for us is to learn how to co-operate with our emotions, how to receive them and utilize them as a feedback system, as opposed to getting lost in them or resisting them altogether.

Your dream is a wonderful guiding post that’ll help you deepen your understanding of your inner world of emotions. As you heed the emotional guidance, you’ll discover more ease and flow in your life.

May your dreams illuminate the inner and outer you…

image: Pexels
Original author: Aneta Baranek
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smartphone

We’ve all been through the phase of internet/smartphone addiction, which isn’t going anywhere, even though we know that it invades our privacy. Recently, the news of the Roomba vacuum cleaner collecting data to sell surfaced, and I’ve had sleepless nights ever since.

Other negative aspects of the digital universe include, but aren’t limited to:

An unhealthy obsession with social media Internet trolls Deteriorating health Incessant promotional gimmicks Oversharing An overabundance of apps

Plagued by constant alerts, updates and notifications, and the urge to check and reply to them all, I finally decided that now is a good time for a technology time-out. And so began my ambitious, self-imposed ban on everything digital for a week.

Before I started my seven-day routine, I jotted down everything that I was tentatively going to do in my journal so that I’d stay true to my schedule.

Day 1

On Day One, I went old-school.

At work, I turned off the WiFi and Bluetooth, and kept an analog clock on my desk to avoid peeking at my smartphone’s screen (barring a few furtive glances). For note taking and to-do lists, I used pen and paper and used the smartphone exactly twice for booking cabs.

I figured out that life could be very difficult without Siri, and as an alternative, I interacted with people to ask them for directions (hey, I was on a detox, not them!), used the Yellow Pages and read the newspaper to get by.

Instead of texting compulsively, I called people. To my surprise, this took me less time than I’d anticipated. However, I kept the conversations to a bare minimum and called only when it was urgent.

Lesson

Sheryl Crow taught us that “the first cut is the deepest,” and I found out that the first day of a digital detox is the toughest!

I fidgeted a lot, feeling my wrist for my missing smartwatch while hearing my phone buzzing and beeping. Thanks to my support group of immediate family members and friends, there were no calls or texts that needed my immediate attention.

Day 2

On Day Two, I began restricting my data usage with the My Data Manager app (you can also do this by changing your phone’s settings). Next, I made a list of important and not-so-important apps, which helped me remove or uninstall apps I didn’t really need. These included social media apps that I only used when taking and posting mindless selfies every few minutes.

In no time, I managed to declutter my phone by keeping only the bare minimum amount of apps necessary for survival. I also archived all my texts, hit the mute button and switched to flight mode at bedtime.

Lesson

With my data usage reduced, I had more time to spend on my health, hobbies, friends and family. This was when I realized that the detox was working great for me!

Day 3

On Day Three, I was to carry out the to-do list of activities I’d included in my journal before kick-starting my digital detox program.

The list included cooking an elaborate meal at least once a day; taking up long-lost hobbies like reading, music or the arts; organizing my work desk; starting do-it-yourself (DIY) projects; bullet journaling and rediscovering the joy of handwriting.

Lesson

While enslaved to technology, our attention span goes for a toss. We constantly message, post, share and wait for people to respond within seconds. In the absence of this, everything runs at a snail’s pace. However, this slower pace helps us take charge and focus on the more important things in life.

Day 4

By Day Four, the whole digital cleansing routine had become easier to follow, barring one very important factor—cutting down on my screen time.

After reducing my screen time considerably, I noticed that I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed.

Starting with my smartphone, I began cutting down on screen time by reducing the time I spent binge-watching Netflix on my laptop, as well as my television time, and took to physical books by ditching my e-book reader.

Additionally, I stopped looking at any screen at least two to three hours before I went off to sleep. In fact, I made my bedroom a gadget-free zone, using an alarm clock to see the time and wake myself up as I did in my yesteryears.

Lesson

Research says that excessive cellphone use leads to disturbance in sleep patterns. After reducing my screen time considerably, I noticed that I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed. This was a first for me in many years.

Day 5

Day Five fell on a weekend, and I decided to make the most of the free time I had. I called up my friend to go on a short trek with me.

While I was itching to take photos and post them on Instagram and Snapchat, I decided to preserve the memories in a different way by collecting stones and foliage and discovering the joy of being close to nature.

The absence of pictures was the sad part, maybe, but then I remembered this quote from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri:

He heard his father cry out—they had left the camera with his mother. “All this way, and no picture,” he’d said, shaking his head. He reached into his pocket and began to throw the striped stones into the water. “We will have to remember it, then.”

And I captured the memories by remembering them.

Lesson

Withdrawal symptoms are real and hit you when you least expect them. We go crazy for Likes, shares, retweets and an increasing follower count in the virtual world. But in reality, it’s the quality of life that matters, and it’s the time spent with people close to you that keeps you moving forward.

Day 6

graphic novels
I allowed myself to be a little lazy on the penultimate day of the detox.

I started with a book and ended up playing with puzzles such as a Rubik’s Cube, Mini Crosswords, Sudoku and brainteasers. This was the day when I reread my collection of graphic novels and comics, which kept me engaged and prevented me from constantly checking my phone. It also helped me relax after a hectic week and prepared me for another hectic week ahead.

Lesson

When the virtual world overtakes the real world, we tend to isolate ourselves and forget that there’s life outside of gadgets. My detox taught me to look beyond them and rediscover the joys of spending time doing (sort of) nothing.

Day 7

By Day Seven, my detox routine had become part of my life. It would be a blatant lie if I told you that I didn’t miss my gadgets. However, I felt more at home without them than with them. On that day, I repeated what I did throughout the previous week and found that it was easier than ever.

Lesson

I was well-settled into the routine and realized that gadgets needn’t be the centre of my universe.

A positive experience

I was able to work my way through a voluntary digital detox program for a week, and I’m glad I did it. Everyone should do something like this now and then, in order to beat monotony and rediscover their roots!

Have you ever tried a digital cleanse? How did you fare? Let us know in the Comments! 

Brian Zeng is the owner of the site Ponbee.com. He’s an entrepreneur by spirit and enjoys sharing his insights on an array of topics.
image: 1. Pixabay 2. Pixabay
Original author: Contributing Writer
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boy screaming at cowering girl

In our Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.

If you would like Jack to assist you in any areas of your life and relationships, fill out this form. He will respond to your questions through this column, normally published every Tuesday.

QUESTION

I‘ve been in a relationship with a guy I’ve known since December. We’ve been dating since January. He tells me things and claims to love me. However, he’s still talking to his ex, who’s also named Jessica. He tells her how I’m just an addict and he’s pissy about having to buy me drugs.

The drugs are why I know him and honestly, he has the addiction and I don’t. Meth is not something you can bounce back from. It takes at least 21 days or so for you to snap out of feeling like you need it to accomplish anything.

Why do I put up with it—tell people I’m doing well and in a great relationship? I put him before everything and also do everything he asks me to. Is it because I feel indebted to him? What should I do? Please help me see things more clearly.

Marvin, 30, U.S.

ANSWER

Dear Marvin (AKA also named Jessica),

Thank you for your question. If I understood correctly, your desire to see things more clearly pertains to a relationship you’re in that also involves an ex-girlfriend and evidently, some substance use.

There’s a lot to unpack, but I believe the best place to start is with your request to help you see things in a better light.

Let’s talk straight

At times, I believe the most effective way of offering any form of assistance to another is to proceed in a direct, straightforward manner that doesn’t seek to water down or sugarcoat any statements. In this case, I believe this approach is likely the most effective choice.

First, your request is somewhat problematic. In what way do you want to see things better or more clearly? From what you included in your question, you see things just fine. You’re in a relationship with a person who has regular contact with his ex, and during their conversations he evidently degrades you and expresses his frustration with having to financially support your recreational drug use.

What facet are you not seeing clearly?

You state that you lie to your friends about the relationship, which suggests that you indeed see things clearly and wish to hide those aspects from your friends. Again, it sounds as if you see things very clearly!

Choosing to stay in an unhealthy relationship

For whatever reasons, you’ve decided to stay in this relationship. Perhaps that’s what you’re asking to see in a better light—you seemingly want to discover the underlying reasons you’re choosing to stay in an unhealthy relationship.

There are times when reasons mean little. There are times when action is what’s most vitally important.

I have two responses to this:

First, you’re staying because a need is being met through this relationship. If a need wasn’t being met, you wouldn’t stay.

Second, why does knowing the reason matter? There are times when reasons mean little. There are times when action is what’s most vitally important, regardless of any possible reason.

Put out the fire

firemen putting out a fire in a buildingA few years ago, I was renting a small apartment from an older couple who lived in an adjacent apartment. One afternoon, I decided to take a short nap, and as I started to drift off to sleep, I heard what sounded like popcorn popping. Curious, I got up and looked around the corner into the kitchen, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

I went back into the living room to resume my nap. However, I again heard what sounded like popcorn popping. I entered the kitchen again, listened, and then heard the strange popping sounds coming from the restroom across the kitchen from me. I walked over and peered into the restroom, and to my horror, saw that the ceiling was on fire and the flames were quickly spreading across the entire ceiling. I ran and grabbed the fire extinguisher that was under the kitchen sink, then ran back to the bathroom and started shooting the flames with the extinguisher.

My fear intensified when I realized the extinguisher wasn’t fully charged and had stopped working before I could extinguish all the flames. I had to think quickly! I ran back to the kitchen sink, turned the water on high, and used the spray hose attached to the sink in place of the extinguisher. Thankfully, the hose was very long and the water pressure was high enough to effectively douse the flames.

As I continued to shoot water at the ceiling, I grabbed my phone that was thankfully in my pocket, and dialled 911 to report the fire. The fire department arrived within minutes and took over. The cause of the fire was a small fan in the bathroom light that had evidently jammed up before I’d moved into the apartment. When the light was on, the fan tried to work, but was unable to turn the blades. Eventually, it short-circuited and caught fire.

None of that mattered, though, when I first saw the flames—none of it. In fact, I don’t recall any thought of how the fire started passing through my mind the entire time I was fighting the flames. My only focus was extinguishing the flames and the threat they presented.

I later discovered that the older gentleman who lived adjacent to me was sleeping during the fire and required assistance to get out of bed. The firemen told me that if I hadn’t been home, the older gentlemen would’ve likely been killed in the fire because the ceilings of our apartments were attached.

When a person sees a fire, action is called for—instead of an attempt to discover what may have started the flame! 

The fear of taking action

The same principle can be applied to your situation. You know the relationship isn’t healthy, and you know it’s a waste of time, so the reasons for your compulsion to stay don’t matter. Action is what’s needed, and after action, you can then try to understand the underlying psychological reasons.

Yet, taking action is where the main problem lies—the issue isn’t seeing things more clearly, the issue is your fear of taking action in regard to what you already know you need to do. Trying to uncover some psychological motives for your desire to stay in the relationship will simply allow you more time to stall, instead of acting to improve your situation.

Again, you see things clearly, you’re just too afraid to act.

Emotionally and psychologically safe

That being said, there may be a couple of insights that could motivate you to take the action you likely fear. You stated in your question, “I put him before everything and also do everything he asks me to.”

I doubt this is due to you feeling indebted to him. Instead, if we step back and look at the situation carefully, what we see is a person involved in a relationship with someone they know can’t be trusted or depended upon. This is someone you know you can’t emotionally invest yourself in, and you know that in the long run, this relationship won’t work out. In a very unconventional way, the relationship is actually emotionally safe for you.

You know you can never allow yourself to become emotionally vulnerable with this person, and perhaps that’s where your need is being met in this relationship. The relationship allows you to remain emotionally and psychologically safe, while real, authentic love relationships require vulnerability and a willingness to give power to another who has the ability to crush you emotionally if they choose.

Real, authentic love relationships require vulnerability and a willingness to give power to another.

Love is risk.

However, you’ve created a situation that allows you to avoid all the risk and vulnerability. In fact, the relationship even provides you psychological protection from the inevitable breakup. How could the relationship ending be your fault when you’ve put him before everything and have done everything he asks you to? Who could blame you?! He was obviously an ungrateful jerk who didn’t realize what he had.

With this line of thought, you’ll then be able to move into the next unhealthy relationship bearing no fault, no burdens and no responsibility for the failed one before.

Work on the relationship you have with yourself

Now, I fully acknowledge that much of what I’ve said here is based on assumption, but those assumptions are based on the experiences of many people I’ve worked with in similar situations. Their actions, or lack thereof, were born out of a fear of being alone, and at the same time, a fear of being in a real, authentic relationship that required vulnerability. Their solution was to become involved in a series of relationships with individuals they knew were untrustworthy, so becoming vulnerable wasn’t a concern.

I don’t know if this helps you see things better or more clearly. My hope is that you’ll see that your fear of being in a real, loving relationship is likely the reason you put up with your current one.

Breaking this cycle requires action—you’ll have to act and move in the direction that’s in your best interest. Then, you’ll need to face the doubts and emotional demons that dwell within.

When working with others in similar situations, I’ve always advised staying out of any romantic relationships. The main relationship you must work on is the one you have with yourself. Once that relationship changes and improves, you’ll no longer tolerate people who engage in the kind of behaviour you described in your question.

Remember, love is risk.    

P.S. As you probably noticed, I avoided the entire issue of drug use. While I fully acknowledge the devastating consequences that can occur as a result of drug abuse, the way it was mentioned seemed odd to me—almost as if it were mentioned as a way to draw attention away from your relationship issues. If you’re struggling with addiction, I highly recommend seeing a professional to help you with those issues as well.

images: 1. Pixabay 2. When the sun went down by Gideon Wright via Flickr (Creative Commons BY)
Original author: Jack Surguy
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It had been two years since I’d made the accidental discovery. My false hope of reconciliation was like a wino with a lottery ticket. It was my second marriage. I refused its death, despised just the thought of divorce and stayed for our two girls.

I found Buddhism in the bookstore, as I happened upon one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s short books. I found some solace in meditation. By chance, I found out about Plum Village’s upcoming seven-day retreat. My wife liked his poetry and probably thought she could spend her week writing.

A double-latte of frustration

Monks walking meditationDay One. Five-fifteen. Three bells suspend sleep. I sit on the edge of the bed and pull the small window curtain. One adamant star melts into the corona of blue-and-yellow dawn. I watch the bell-ringer monk floating on to the next victim’s dorm. The monk gently strikes his thunder-clapping Tibetan wake-up bell. I’m no lover of Buddhist mornings.

Arise. Dress. Wash face. Brush teeth. Find the communal toilet. Move bowels, but not chop-chop: “Mindfulness is the awareness of every breath.” Whatever. It’s 5:25 a.m. I don’t like communal toilets, army latrines and especially porta-potties.

I begin writing in my fresh journal. Midway into the first paragraph, I’m interrupted by a stranger’s knock on the flimsy door. I write, “Please Go Away!” I loudly rip the page out of my journal and slide it under the door.

The note returns, “Don’t be selfish. Hurry Up!”

I wonder, “Who is this person?” I write back, “Hey, do you have The New York Times Book Review?” I hear vanishing, wait another minute, then flush the toilet. One of my screwball public bathroom phobias is letting anyone hear me flush.

Buddhists never hurry, and walking meditation is so gradual, a cop would mistake it for loitering.

I step into the fall chill, peer-pressured into walking meditation. Buddhists never hurry, and walking meditation is so gradual, a cop would mistake it for loitering. I follow 200 head of cattle. They follow a high-ranking monk who moves at the enthusiastic pace of a dying snail.

In the book that I read, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we be flower-fresh: Inhale, feel like a flower; exhale, feel fresh. I resist. Inhale, want coffee. Exhale, want coffee. A double-latte of frustration rises to the top of my brain.

I survey the throng of the saintly-patient with their flower-fresh smiling faces. My highly intuitive smile detector weeds out the pseudo-smilers. I’m never a pretend smiler, and I silently pronounce each pretender “guilty, guilty, guilty.” I consider their sentence—perhaps a sewn-on patch that spells the word “hypocrite.” Nope, too much like a condemned Jew. I’m about to step inside the dining room, when a group of 12 cut in line directly in front of me.

They appear from nowhere, void of the robes worn by monks. Instead, they wear freshly shaved entitlement with their flexible Yoga bodies. I feel a sudden urge to roundhouse their Namaste grins. Five hundred dollars says they drive a Mercedes-AMG with handicap placards. I want to whack them like Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo and watch them forage for their heads like beheaded chickens. Wouldn’t you know, the first Thich Nhat Hanh lesson is all about non-judgment!

More desire brings more suffering

Thich Quang Duc self-immolationDay Two. I set my alarm to 4:30 a.m. Arise. Dress. Wash face. Brush teeth. The wife sleeps in. I watch a woman hold the handle of the toaster to avoid the sound of the spring-popping noise of her toasted toast. People eat too delicately; the chorus of fork-to-dish needs subtitles and waltz music.

After breakfast, we sit in meditation with the entire Sangha of 600 people. We’re told that a Sangha is a unified group that finds strength in gathering. Thich Nhat Hanh speaks slowly, in perfect English with a Vietnamese accent. Never in search of a word, even his pauses are musical silences.

In 1963, “Thay” watched his own monk self-immolate in a busy Saigon, Vietnam intersection. Cars drove around him while he poured gasoline over his head and lit a match. The monk was protesting war with a torch of compassion. Thich Quang Duc, as he was known, was photographed in a lotus position as flames besieged him. The disturbing picture won a Pulitzer Prize.

Listening to that story, I lose my concentration. Following Thay’s words is like reading the same paragraph over and over. I look at the monks and nuns, wondering if they might sacrifice themselves. One of the French nuns looks like a Renaissance angel. I find myself longing for her while Thay dissects the Eight Realizations.

“More desire brings more suffering”—his words tap my shoulder, as if he just whispered in my ear, “How’s your wife?” I guess that’s why they call him a Zen Master!

It’s a free period. Alone in the usual silence, I find a hand-sewn finger puppet embedded in dried mud. I carefully excavate this find, a terracotta army of one. Holding it up to the light, I see my girls. The paradox of seeking inner peace while forgetting them strikes me with a downcast blow. At the same time, a distant ringing pierces my absent-minded mindfulness. I emerge to the presence of the dinner bell.

Thich Nhat Hanh says he chews each bite 25 times—he sees the sun, the clouds, the rain, the farmer, the labourers, the truck driver and the produce man or woman placing each potato into its bin. I figure it must take him a couple of hours to get through his vegetables.

Unenlightened, my imagination sees the farmer’s lovely daughters, until my mouth of potato mush turns into what feels like Gerber baby food. I now cheat, chewing each bite only 15 times and sneaking larger bites.

An epiphany!

Thich Nhat Hanh in VietnamAfter six days in silence, with all of my daydreaming, self-mocking and judgmentally bad Buddhism, I’m aware of a heightened reality. I have bionic hearing without a spy device. I can hear very low-decibel sounds—whispers, distant trucks, different birds and the clattering of silverware, as if somebody turned up the volume on the TV. I’m a Mirabilis flower that bloomed overnight.

After six days in silence, with all of my daydreaming, self-mocking and judgmentally bad Buddhism, I’m aware of a heightened reality.

This wasn’t mystical at all, purely physical, but I did seem to have the ears of Superman. He’d use his hearing for the good of mankind, and I did, too, for I achieved an epiphany! Sardonic as it may have appeared, the retreat left my wife wordless for an entire week. Spoiler alert: my bionic hearing disappeared on the drive back home.

Day Seven: The last lunch. My internal clock feels accustomed to early morning. At times, I’m more aware of my lack of awareness. I observe blissful faces and faces hard-etched with suffering.

I’ve seen the whispering-talkers break silence in their hiding places. I’ve watched the regulars who cut into the breakfast line with daily predictability. Yet, I feel undisturbed by it all.

I jot a note to a monk who dines at a nearby table: “Dear brother-monk. How do you deal with hypocrisy?”

He glances at me, gestures for my pen, and writes, “First, I forgive myself, and then I forgive my brother.” I’ve never forgiven myself, but I did fold his note into my wallet.

You don’t say “goodbye” after a silent retreat. You wave, or heaven forbid, hold your hands together and say a silent Namaste. Thich Nhat Hanh calls it a lotus bow. His sincerity is real.

I’m the surgeon of my own heart

Heart surgeryWe arrived home, each having gained a veneer of serenity.

The folded note still beats in my wallet, like “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I’m the surgeon of my own heart, cutting open my fears of doubt, loneliness, self-pity, endless child support and never loving again. I’ve cradled, coddled, accepted and forgiven those enemies—yet they remain immovable.

During our last big-argument, we shouted over each other. My self-criticism plays the same song on the same broken record. Why did I spend so many years in the absence of her love? I asked a wise friend, “Do you think she ever loved me?”

He framed the simplicity of his answer with a simple question, “If you must ask, don’t you already know?”

How long will this self-forgiving business endure?

“First, I forgive myself, and then I forgive my brother.”

Some days, I could see the beautiful poet, the mother of our children and my sincere hope for her to succeed. Those were the good days. In between, there were neutral days, which were also good. Unfortunately, the troubled days were the status quo. The remnants were the days of detritus—those self-injurious days spent dwelling on her emails.

I’d used her computer for something so trivial, so quickly erased from memory, when I came upon her almost-defiant subject lines—it was as if she wanted me to find her love letters, her letters to men so beneath her affections. There was no irony in it, nothing but incomprehensible darkness. Our marriage wouldn’t go quietly into the night, nor conclude with a delightful epilogue. The final, overlong end was an involuntary seizure. I would enable her, again, for the sake of the children.

The day we arrived home was September 9, 2001. In two days, the government-forced total air silence reminded me of something.

One of my favourite films, Dodsworth, contains this memorable souvenir: “Love has got to stop somewhere short of suicide.”

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Scott Stambler lives with his golden retriever on a horseless horse ranch nine miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He teaches film music, picks tumbleweeds and is writing an autobiography about his narcissistic mother.

images: 1. Meditation in Thailand banner Walking meditation by Donavanik (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) 2. By d nelson (arrival) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0) 3. Pixabay 4. Thich Quang Duc self-immolation by Malcolm Browne via Wikimedia Commons
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As the American people watch their “land of liberty” get mangled into a version more fitting for a sci-fi film than real life, what we the people can best do is try to understand what’s going on so we can reason with them and try to come to a compromise.

America is still a representative democracy. If the people who put Trump into power change their minds, he’ll have to change his actions, otherwise he won’t get re-elected. And we all know how important votes are to this man.

Using fear as a political weapon

While the motivations of Trump supporters are as varied as there are people, there’s one underlying current that all their motives ride on: fear.

From blaming immigrants for being potential terrorists to blaming foreigners for stealing jobs, a lot of the fear comes from what’s been labelled as the “other.” Pointing fingers and labelling the “other” creates an easy enemy for Trump to campaign against—and now that he has power, to punish.

As if that’s going to work. Like much of Trump’s politics, this has to do with optics. He’s creating an optical illusion that makes people feel better, feel safe.

Uncle Sam can’t keep us safe. Uncle Sam shouldn’t keep us safe.

The nanny state

An American friend of mine was relating a story about a little gathering she had at her house in San Francisco. They were playing some acoustic guitar and singing. Nothing all that loud, but not exactly quiet. They got paid a visit by the police, who came to the door because of a noise complaint.

A Brazilian traveller was at the party and got enraged that the police showed up. They weren’t angry about the noise complaint itself, but because the neighbour didn’t ask them to be quiet instead of calling up the police to handle it.

The concept of “neighbour” is nothing more than a nuisance we can do away with by making a short phone call to the local PoPo.

That’s the type of society America, and to some degree, all other Western countries, have stooped to. We no longer take responsibility for ourselves. We’re refusing to take ownership over ourselves and our communities. We’ve compartmentalized ourselves into 350-square-foot boxes and tuned out the world around us to the point where the concept of “neighbour” is nothing more than a nuisance we can do away with by making a short phone call to the local PoPo. After all, we pay their wages through our taxes, so we might as well make use of them, right?

Wrong. Just because we pay for something, that doesn’t mean we should use it. That’s the mentality governments take when they buy into the military-industrial complex’s sales pitch to buy the latest and greatest bomber. If you spend trillions of dollars on the military, it’s going to get used.

I wonder if arsonists think the same way. Damn those firefighters sitting around all day playing cards. Let’s make them do some work! (Which isn’t actually the case, since any fire department is dispatched to all kinds of emergency responses.)

The no-nanny state

I once lived in a mountaintop village in India called Dharamkot. In the year I was there, I never saw the police (or any “authority” figures) once.

The reasons for this are varied: Indians don’t pay much taxes, the little tax they pay gets gobbled up by corrupt authorities and some places just don’t need authority figures for society to run harmoniously. There’s an understandably strong distrust of government authorities in their culture. Since villagers are self-sufficient, they just don’t have much need for authority. In other words, it’s the exact opposite of the Big Brother state we live in.

One night, there was a restaurant blaring music until the middle of the night. The sound could be heard all over the village. I asked a local friend what would happen in a situation like this.

Problems rarely happen there, but occasionally a business would start up and try to throw late-night parties, so the village would deal with it by calling a community council meeting of neighbours. A representative of the council would go speak to the offender and work out a resolution. In this case, the restaurant could play music until a certain time of night and at a certain volume.

This is also a culture without a social safety net, in which family plays that role. One’s family ties are closer, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, since many people are enduring painful marriages to keep the family together. Divorce is uncommon and looked down upon. The population is mainly agrarian, with two-thirds living rurally.

The comparison between rural India and urban America can only go so far, of course. I’m using it more as a reminder of what we were before we urbanized and developed into our current form.

Urban interventionism

Cities naturally demand more intervention, not just because there are more people, but because there are more people of different cultural backgrounds encroaching on each other’s space.

In the U.S., where 80 percent of the population is urban, there’s going to be a need for authority to keep law and order.

That trend towards urbanity is unfortunate, but it’s a a done deal (for the foreseeable future, at least). It’s unlikely that the tide is going to turn back much, with the exception of a percentage of back-to-the-landers and downshifters who see the value of opting out of city life in favour of greener pastures.

Few will deny the importance of a social safety net. If Indians had access to free health care, pensions and employment insurance, they’d welcome it.

Drawing boundaries in the nanny state

Gated community in Arizona - Fuelled by fear
But there’s a difference between asking for law and order and asking our government to be our nanny to watch over us. Growing up in this kind of culture, it’s easy to forget or not think about what an acceptable limit is in the first place, because we’re writing the rules as we go along.

To ask your government to build a wall to protect you—come on. I get that walls are going up everywhere. There are more than 20,000 gated communities in the U.S. If that’s not a reflection of fear, I don’t know what is. It’s kind of like asking your father to fight your battles for you even when you’ve become an adult. What is adulthood for, anyway? They say 40 is the new 30, not the new 10.

Between fear-mongering politicians and worry-inducing media, the American population is a frightened one.

To ask your government to keep out immigrants, when that government has fought wars to win resources from those people who are immigrating—then to ask your government to keep those low-paid migrant workers who farm your food so you can eat—is ridiculous. It’s the same mentality the U.K. has in thinking they should have free access to the European market without allowing the free movement of people. It just doesn’t make sense.

Trump used fear-mongering to his advantage during his campaign. Between fear-mongering politicians and worry-inducing media, the American population is a frightened one. Fear is an easy emotion to manipulate. It’s a powerful emotion. It’s the one negative emotion that underlies all other negative emotions.

Fear at the root

Jealousy, greed and anger all have fear in common, because we live in a constant struggle between desire and aversion. When we can’t get what we want or push away what we don’t want, we’re unhappy. This state of samsara glues us to the treadmill of the not-present state.

When we’re fixated on the future or the past, we’re coloured by some shade of fear, because we fret about what we want in the future but might not get (desire), worry about what may be coming to us that we don’t want (aversion) or feel scared of the outcome of our past actions (regret).

Fear isn’t always a negative thing. If we didn’t have a healthy sense of cautionary fear, we’d drive on the wrong side of the road for kicks or swim with sharks for a stunning selfie opportunity.

It’s logical to fear people who want to kill you, which is why it’s understandable that people fear terrorists. And since terrorism now is most often linked to Islam, it’s at least understandable why people would fear Islamic people. It’s for that reason that labelling people as Islamophobic is counter-productive. What we have to do is work on isolating the terrorists and keeping them out (and ourselves safe), not just targeting all Muslims with the hope that the terrorists will somehow be caught.

That’s an example of fear overcoming our sense of reasoning, and that’s a problem. It’s the same issue with building a wall to keep out the Mexicans. There’s just no logic. It’s fear run amok in our minds.

The question is, do we want to live in fear, with big government playing nanny for us, or do we want to live freely with less government intervention? Conservative governments favour less intervention, and that’s something I agree with them on.

We’ve been given the power of free will. Do we not have a responsibility to exercise that power?

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image 1: Stan Wiechers (Creative Commons BY-SA); image 2: Weidner (Creative Commons BY-SA)
Original author: Kiva Bottero
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Life is unconditional acceptance

An alignment with the present moment allows us to feel the neutrality of stillness, the peace within and the possibility of being in a place of complete acceptance of what is.

Yet, in fact, we already have acceptance of what is. It’s already here. It happened, it’s happening and life as we experience it has already been accepted. If you want to “do” acceptance, you’re too late, for acceptance has already “done” it.

Life is unconditional acceptance. There’s nothing that has happened or is happening that hasn’t been or isn’t accepted. You can agree or you can argue with what is, what has happened or is happening, but regardless of your relationship with acceptance, whatever you decide is and always will be accepted by acceptance.

We live in a world of unconditional acceptance of what is. There’s no escape from that. Your acceptance is accepted and your non-acceptance is accepted. Acceptance is done.

Acceptance and the present moment

The present moment and acceptance are one and the same. The present moment is the aliveness of acceptance.

We have no control over the existence of acceptance and the present moment. We can’t make acceptance or the present moment go away, or change either of them. We can’t get out of the present moment or turn the underlying acceptance of life into non-acceptance.

What we can do is connect with the acceptance of this moment. We can sense it, feel it and know it. We can experience its profound depths.

This present moment and the acceptance of it is an unseen, never-changing permanence. It’s the backdrop, the collective; it’s universal. It’s the unconditional acceptance of what is. It is.

We can literally wake up to reality just by aligning ourselves with the stillness and acceptance of the present moment as it is.

We can align ourselves with the present moment by tuning in and becoming aware of ourselves and our experience in the now. Whether we connect with it or not, stillness and presence is always here as a permanent place of peace and tranquillity, accepting all that is.

It’s amazing that we can consciously connect with and become aware of that. We can literally wake up to reality just by aligning ourselves with the stillness and acceptance of the present moment as it is. This is beyond individuality; it’s universal oneness. It’s not me, yet it’s me. It’s the me that’s you, the you that’s me, the me and you that are everything and nothing. It’s not a separate me. It’s “no” me and “everything” me at the same time.

You are the present moment

Line of happy people jumping up and down in shallow water - Present-moment acceptance of waking-up-ness
The present moment and acceptance have nothing to do with you, for they are you. You’re already accepted as you are in this precise moment. That’s a done deal.

We can learn to be with it, the present moment, and we can choose to accept acceptance, yet we’re also individuals with our unique and separate experiences and perspectives. Now, we’re also talking about movement and change, choices, opinions, preferences, wishes and desires, opposites and duality.

We experience negative and positive thoughts and feelings. We love and hate, we feel good and we feel terrible. We experience gratitude and envy, contentment and dissatisfaction, happiness and sadness, and so on. I just can’t help but want what is to feel fantastic; to be full of positive energy, enthusiasm and passion. I want to feel contented and happy.

Acceptance comes without promises and has no attachment to the past or the future. It only asks that we accept this moment exactly as it is right now. That’s all, no more and no less than that. This prompts the question, should we accept what is—both the negative and the positive—or should we reject the negative and try to change it into something more positive?

I can’t keep my eyes “open” for long

In my experience, there continues to be a me here wanting this and not wanting that, a me I can’t deny. I prefer positive feelings and thoughts over negative ones. This individual me isn’t neutral, and I want more and not less.

It appears as if I’m mostly an individual me who happens to frequently open my eyes to present-moment reality, but I can never keep them open for long. They shut again, and then I sleep and dream my story of me dreaming the story of my life. I go along with this, for what else is there to do? I like this and don’t like that, and I want this and not that—that’s me.

I want to be awake to reality, to observe and be with what is without preferences, yet I also want to feel good and have a wonderful life. I want to have my cake and eat it, too, and perhaps we all can.

Simultaneously awake and asleep

Perhaps, instead of being in a wake-sleep cycle, we’re simultaneously awake and asleep or, in other words, spiritual and human. Perhaps we’re waking up slowly and each human is noticing themselves, more and more, as a spiritual being. Perhaps you and I are in a gradual process of waking up into a new consciousness, a permanent and unending opening.

Perhaps, instead of being in a wake-sleep cycle, we’re simultaneously awake and asleep or, in other words, spiritual and human.

We may be forever and always waking up, never quite asleep and not fully awake, but what matters is our alignment with the acceptance of the present moment as it is, however it is. With that, there’s no waking up or staying asleep, there’s just this moment and our experience of it.

Think of yourself right on the edge of waking up. Can you feel it, sense it, that almost-there feeling—right on the edge? You’re about to wake up, about to go beyond the edge into the unknown of conscious wakefulness. Close your eyes for a moment and be with that sense of being so very close to the edge and about to jump or fall off.

Now, connect with this: There’s no edge.

There’s only the possibility for you to connect with the present moment and align yourself with the acceptance of what is. Both are already here, now. You can’t invent them, but you can discover or rediscover them again and again. It’s always possible to remember that in this precise moment, you and all things are already accepted exactly as they are, as you are. There’s no other possibility.

Perhaps we’re in the permanent process of waking up: permanent waking-up-ness. It can feel freeing to be with that, the acceptance of being with where you are and how you are. You’re neither awake nor asleep. You’re in waking-up-ness and the sense of “almost, but not quite there yet” may never change.

I first became aware of present-moment reality and the acceptance of what is many years ago, and since then, I’ve been in waking-up-ness. I may live out the rest of my life in this process of waking up.

Perhaps it began much earlier than I thought. Perhaps I was born into waking-up-ness. Perhaps it began before my birth. Perhaps waking-up-ness is eternal, and together, we’re waking up. Perhaps we’re all in the same “waking-up boat” and there’s no other boat.

But what if there’s no such thing as waking up?

Man floating on back in water (Philippines) - Present-moment acceptance of waking-up-ness
Alternatively, there may be no such thing as waking up. Perhaps there’s only present-moment experience and our alignment with the acceptance of the way the present moment is. I can feel a sense of peace when there’s nothing to do about it and nowhere to go.

We’ve arrived. We’ve made it. We’re waking up (or not) and the process of doing so is without beginning or end. There’s no finish line. We can’t go back to the not-knowing of asleep-ness, but we’ll never wake up in a future that will never happen.

I’m in the not-asleep, not-awake, “now” club of waking-up-ness. Waking-up-ness is a not-knowing that’s alive and curious, open and conscious. It’s watching and waiting, being responsive and active. It’s trusting that the next moment will follow this one and allowing it to come.

Come and join me in waking-up-ness and let’s stay forever, floating on the sea of present-moment acceptance of what is. It’s already here, you know.

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Woman with red lipstick

In our weekly Mindful Dreams column, Aneta Baranek of the School of Metaphysics is offering free dream interpretations to The Mindful Word readers, as well as articles on dreams in general.

If you’ve ever been curious about deciphering the cryptic contents of your subconscious mind, here’s your chance! If you would like Aneta to interpret your dream, fill out this form. She will respond with your dream interpretation through this column, published every Thursday. Aneta would love to receive more comments for the dreams interpreted. If you can relate to a dream posted here or have any insights to add, you can post them as comments to the interpretation, or email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Intro

DREAM

Hi Aneta,

I was driving in an unrecognizable car with my best friend and I think she was drunk. We decided to go out and I started putting on red lipstick, but I applied it all over my chin and lips in an ugly fashion.

Later, my friend disappeared, and along with a group of other people, I was kidnapped by a few men. These men coupled their detainees off and forced the men to rape the women. I was paired with this nice guy who cried because of what they forced him to do.

I tried to change the definition of the situation and pretend as though I wasn’t being raped, but that I wanted it to happen. When it was over, I immediately felt absolute panic in my heart and cried, screaming. I then woke up.

I’ve never had a dream like this and it terrified me. What does it mean? Help!

– Mathilde

DREAM TITLE: “Kidnapping of the Self”

DREAMER: Female, 25, Canada

MAIN SYMBOLS:

Car — physical body

Drunk — impediment of the will

Lipstick — outer expression

Kidnapping — a sense of being forcefully overtaken

A guy — unknown subconscious aspect of the dreamer

Rape — forceful creation

Heart — understanding

INTERPRETATION

Hello Mathilde,

Thank you so much for sharing your dream with me. It’s quite a vulnerable thing to do. I appreciate your openness in doing so.

This is a pretty dramatic dream, if taken literally. However, our subconscious mind communicates with us in dream symbols, rather than factual messages. The meaning of dream symbols are derived from their function. As you’ll see above, kidnapping has to do with a sense of feeling overtaken against your will, rather than being actually kidnapped. Similarly, rape has to do with our creative forces and how we’re forcefully utilizing them, rather than being actually raped.

Overall, your dream is telling you that you might be feeling somewhat out of control in your waking life (being kidnapped) and doing/creating things against your will (rape). This might be a temporary occurrence or a prolonged way of being. The dream also speaks to ways in which you undermine your outer expression (lipstick) and identity (face) with the makeup being applied in an outrageous fashion.

There’s also a way in which you’re not being fully honest about what’s happening (trying to change the definition of the situation at hand).

APPLICATION

The thing to remember about dreams is that they reflect the dreamer’s perception of their waking life (specifically, a day or two prior).

If this were my dream, I’d see it as a call to pay more attention to how I create and approach my life. Your dream highlights the need for more direction, more purpose in everything you partake in. There seems to be a need for structure and responsibility.

This might be just a temporary state of being in response to a major event in your life, or it might be an approach that you’ve fostered for a while. Either way, you have the power to change and use this dream as an impetus for a more awakened and conscious existence. You’ll then stop feeling as if events or circumstances are forced upon you.

One way of adding more structure and direction into our lives is to evaluate all areas within them. I’ve written an article about this, “Using the Bagua Map to Take a Complete Inventory,” which you can read online. This article will give you more direction on how to take account of your current life experiences and create plans and goals for your future.

Harness your creative energies, Mathilde, and direct them with purpose, and your life will take on a much deeper meaning!

May your dreams illuminate the inner and outer you…

image: Pexels
Original author: Aneta Baranek
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