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1/31/2009

What Is Anxiety?


Observe and find out, once and for all: what is anxiety? Is anxiety a metaphysical signal of disaster sent from the future? Or is it merely a neurological sensation in your body, in the present moment? Which of these possibilities is reality and which is superstition?

For most of Western history, we've been living under the delusion, the superstition, that our anxiety is a metaphysical reality consisting of thoughts, very important thoughts, about the future. We trust that these thoughts are both real and true. Thus we prophecy our own doom, projecting our anxiety into the future as thought. Our thought becomes an intention, because thoughts driven by fear are the most powerful intentions.

But the truth is, our anxieties are simply neural impulses arising from this body: its hypothalamus, solar plexus, and adrenal gland. We do not have to convert these uncomfortable impulses into mental movies, fraught with images of the future. We can simply rest in the sensations as they arise in the belly, the heart, the head. We let go of the mind's melodrama and embrace the sensation that gives rise to the image before the image becomes solidified into a fear. We discover a great freedom: our neurological discomfort doesn't have to be projected as a story. Indeed, converting our brain's sensations into movies and words just sucks us into the future, and the future only exists as imagination. Let us awaken and understand this after so many lifetimes of superstition: The future exists only as imagination in the present moment; its images arise from nerve impulses in the brain.

Instead of fabricating the future, we can rest in Presence: the dignity of this body, the dignity of this breath, the dignity of each sensation as it arises. Pinpoint-awareness of a sensation right now takes us deep into a single photon of light, which quantum physics reveals to be the instantaneous ripple of an infinite energy-field. Each angry, fearful, or anxious feeling is really an opportunity to rest in the ever-expanding bliss of a radiant sea.

Resting in our anxiety as sensation allows a graceful sacrament to occur. The neural impulse of anxiety blossoms and dissolves as we bathe it in awareness. Just welcome the sensation, deeply observing it just as it is, whether hot or cold, numb or tingling, sharp or dull. Give the sensation compassionate attention and space. This is all we need to undo. Then watch anxiety blossom and dissolve into free energy. You will discover a great secret: this body is made of fire.

Anxiety is the same fiery stuff as joy. One is tightly bound and the other is loosened. But both are woven of the same threads. When pain is embraced in the space of awareness, it loosens like a knot floating in water.

What is this body but a temple where we offer the pain of centuries on the alter of conscious sensation, to dissolve into pure light? Let us not interfere with the Grace of this sacrament. It simply happens in the patience of space. And it happens, finally, as a dance of joy.

Your body is radiant. Whether filled with pain or pleasure, the radiance of your body is God. "Therefor, glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6: 20)

1/18/2009

Say Yes



Faith is not a list of no's, but an infinite yes. Religion gives us thou-shalt-nots to guard the yes, tough outer husks to protect the living seed. Unfortunately, most people keep the husks and throw away the seed.

A pregnant woman follows injunctions to protect the life growing inside her. She refrains from drinking this or eating that. She lives carefully. Someone ignorant of her pregnancy might see her life as a list of weary negations and self-denials. But the mother-to-be is not aware of restriction: she is only aware of love, and the new life love nourishes inside her. The mother's life is a yes, not a list of no's.

Every religion begins with an inspired Master whose life expresses one infinite Yes. The master imparts Yes to the disciples through his mere Presence. Then the master teaches them to sustain that experience through the gift of meditation: a specific inward practice that attunes mind and body to the infinite source of light, energy, and joy. Through meditation, the disciples nourish the Presence inside them, even after the master is gone.

But soon after the master's departure, the followers forget the inward practice. Instead, they attempt to live the master's Yes by imitating his outward behavior. They establish rules of conduct in a desperate effort to attain spirituality through imitation of the past. A religion is born, with a list of no's. Through these practices of thou-shalt-not, one tries to avoid suffering, ignorance, and self-doubt. Don't eat that, don't touch this, don't associate with these people, don't use their dishes.

Eventually, the Yes fades away and all that is left is the list of no's. The inward seed disappears: the outer husk remains. It is time for a new revelation. A new master appears proclaiming, "These rules mean nothing if you're not alive. Just say Yes!"

What is the practice of Yes given by every great master of revival?

It is the Word of creation, carried into the Heart by means of the Breath. Here is the only real temple, the only real church: the human heart. Here the seed of God vibrates, engendering a new creation with each breath.

This practice is given as the breath of mantra by guru to disciple. But it is also the essence of the Western spiritual tradition. It is high time for us to realize that this meditation practice is just as much a part of Western religions as Eastern ones.

This practice was given by the Hebrew prophets to the disciples of Israel, as recorded in the Talmud: "The pronunciation of the divine Name of four letters the sages confided to their disciples once every seven years." (Talmud, Kiddushan 71a) "Why is it that the children of Israel pray in this age and are not answered? It is because they no longer know the ineffable Name." (Midrash on Psalm 91)

This practice was given by Jesus: "Hallowed be thy Name." (Matthew 6) "Father, keep them in your Name that they may be one, as we are one... I have revealed your Name to them... so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I may be in them." (John 17)

In the West, this practice was passed down by the Desert Fathers, who called it Prayer of the Heart. "Let the remembrance of Jesus be united with your breathing; then you shall understand the use of silence. " (St. John Climacus, 8th C). "Let the name of Jesus be your breath." (St. Nichodemus of the Holy Mountain, 13th C.) "Constant remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ, quietly led into the heart by way of breathing and again led out, without any extraneous thought or imagining." (The Monks Callistus and Ignatius, 14th C)

In the 17th Century, with the literalism of the Protestants and the materialism of the Empirical Philosophers, Christianity turned away from the inward practice of meditation. Now, the new Master comes to restore our inward light. The Master comes with gifts from the East, just as the gifts were given at the cradle of Jesus in Bethlehem: gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts from the East are the three jewels of meditation, the mantra, the heart, and the breath: gifts of the science of Yoga.

Let us keep to the path of right behavior, respecting the commandments, the no's of our religion. But let us not throw away the Yes, the inner sweetness, the practice of meditation.