The Invisible Woman

burka

by Michael Maciel

There was a cartoon floating around on the Internet a while back depicting two women passing each other on the sidewalk. One was wearing a burka, the other a bikini and a pair of sunglasses. The woman in the bikini and sunglasses thinks to herself, “Everything is covered except her eyes.” The woman in the burka thinks to herself, “Nothing is covered except her eyes.”

The contrast between the two women pales in comparison to the contrast between women and men, the way men see themselves and the way women see themselves. Men, regardless of what they are wearing, see themselves as individuals. Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. A man might be judged by his outer appearances, but those are generally a statement of who he is, whether he’s wearing a Wall Street suit or Hell’s Angels’ leathers. Two such men passing each other on the sidewalk will also have thoughts about each other, but the inner dialog will have a very different context than that of the two women. The context within which the men are thinking goes something like this: “I know I’m richer than you are, but you can kick my ass,” juxtaposed with “I can kick your ass, but you can throw me in jail, even if I don’t.” And in a broad, general sense, the rest of society sees them the same way.

bikiniBut how does the rest of society see women? Where the men’s outer appearance is incidental to WHO they are, the women’s appearance speaks to WHAT they are. With men, the appearance is secondary. It’s one aspect in a set of aspects. But with women, it’s the only aspect.

Is this always true? Of course not. There are always exceptions to every rule. But when ninety-nine out of a hundred think this way, it might as well be the only game in town.

In the world of men, a crumpled up man in a wheelchair speaking through a voice synthesizer can be a giant of history, if his name is Stephen Hawking. But a woman running for president of the United States is judged first by what she’s wearing and second by whether she has a pleasing personality. Her diplomas and political savvy are barely acknowledged. She can stand for the country, but only if her feet are together. Her appearance and her behavior, if deemed correct, get her in the door, but they also render her invisible. That’s the kind of door that first slaps you in the face and then in the butt. There is no way to win that game.

The woman in the burka is invisible–a black smudge in a world of color. But the woman in the bikini and sunglasses is invisible, too. Her costume hides her just as effectively, but in an inverse way. One outfit reveals only the eyes and thus emphasizes seeing; the other outfit reveals everything but the eyes and thus emphasizes being seen. Both outfits are proscribed by men and by the system that men have created. Both are assigned from the outside–they do not arise as authentic expressions of self.

No one likes to be invisible. In the movie “Avatar,” the people connected themselves to their world and to each other. They greeted each other with “I see you.” But we have cut ourselves off. We have found ways NOT to see each other. We have replaced connection with commodification. We see each other as things, not as persons. And when we objectify other people, we objectify ourselves. Andy Warhol described our condition by repeating the image of a glammed-up Marilyn Monroe, a parody of the objectification of women. And Lady Gaga shows us what it’s like to be a woman in 21st Century Western society by wearing nothing but strips of raw meat.

As people, we want to feel like we belong. Unfortunately, we have used this very human primal need against each other by stipulating absurd rules for membership. It’s a hole we have dug ourselves into, one which we must now escape before the hole gets filled in.

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Training Your Heart

healthy-heart

by Michael Maciel

We can only want what we value. Take away the value, and you take away the desire. If you want something that you think is valueless, or worse yet, harmful, then there is a component of value in it that you are unaware of. Your job is to find out what it is.

Training your heart involves studying your desires. If you want something that’s not good for you, then somewhere in your mental circuitry you have made a false connection. You have associated two ideas that are incompatible. The act of smoking, for example, can be wrongly associated with feeling important—someone who should be taken seriously. The desire to feel important, as though your life matters, is real. It’s the association of that desire with the act of smoking that’s not. That association was engineered by those who sell cigarettes. Once you realize that the association is unreal, you can then set about addressing the actual desire—the need to have your life matter. That can lead to all kinds of exciting possibilities. But if you substitute those possibilities with the act of smoking, you effectively keep them from materializing. Then your life potential runs the risk of going up in smoke.

The worst thing you can do to your heart is to deny that your desires are legitimate. This is absolutely forbidden. When the mind and the will gang up on the heart like this, all kinds of health problems can arise. Rather than condemn your desires, investigate the associations that underlie them. It’s a wiring problem, not a moral one.

— from World Priest, available soon from Amazon

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Zone of Illusion

 

 

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by Michael Maciel

Here is an excerpt from a post on Matthew Livermore’s blog, Valley of Vision:

“Therefore, the thesis that I am advancing with one hundred per cent conviction is that every Hermeticist who truly seeks authentic spiritual reality will sooner or later meet the Blessed Virgin. This meeting signifies, apart from the illumination and consolation that it comprises, protection against a very serious spiritual danger. For he who advances in the sense of depth and height in the ‘domain of the invisible’ one day arrives at the sphere known by esotericists as the ‘sphere of mirages’ or the ‘zone of illusion.’ This zone surrounds the earth as a belt of illusory mirages. It is this zone which the prophets and the Apocalypse designate ‘Babylon.’ The soul and the queen of this zone is in fact Babylon, the great prostitute, who is the adversary of the Virgin. Now, one cannot pass by this zone without being enveloped by perfect purity. One cannot traverse it without the protection of the ‘mantle of the Blessed Virgin’…It is therefore the protection of this ‘mantle’ which is absolutely necessary in order to be able to traverse the ‘sphere of mirages’ without falling prey to the influence of its illusions.”

_____________________________________

In Advaita Vedanta, the term “neti neti,” which means “not this, not that,” describes this same method for traversing the zone of illusion. (I sometimes find it helpful to cross-reference Christian principles with those of other religions; looking at a problem from a different perspective can bring clarity to it.)

Arriving at high spiritual states is a process of elimination. Since God cannot be killed, anything that can be gotten rid of is, by definition, not God.

The Zen saying, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” also gets at this (more perspective).

The terms “purity” and “virgin” fall into this category. They have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual mores, except when they are used in a secular sense. But we’re not talking “secular” here, are we.

Not being a woman, I have no idea what it’s like to deliver a baby, but the phrases “purity of intention” and “singular will” do come to mind. The whole process seems capable of moving mountains with the unstoppable power of a glacier. Hence the imagery of Mother and Child in the esoteric literature throughout time.

Only one sperm penetrates the egg; all the rest are rejected: neti neti. Virgin to the end. So it is with our single-pointed desire to become one with the Divine (purity of intention). As we rise up in spiritual consciousness, we encounter this “zone of illusion,” and it takes all of our willpower to reject what we find there. The “reward,” or “Holy City,” is what remains after we have killed all the “Buddhas.”

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Divine Guidance—How to Know God’s Will

lighthouseSounds huge, doesn’t it? I mean, what are we talking about here? Is it God’s will as it applies to our entire lifespan, or do we simply want to know what to do next? It seems to me that figuring this out is the first step.

Of course, the two have to be in agreement. Our moment to moment life has to be in alignment with our life’s purpose, doesn’t it? That’s called integrity. But what if we don’t know what our life’s purpose is? How then are we supposed to know what we should be doing today?

Being one with God, in a practical sense, is doing God’s will. Spiritually speaking, it’s where the rubber meets the road. No amount of mystical experience, divine revelation, or wide-open chakras can compensate for the lack of a full-on engagement with God’s will. Even if you’re “spiritual, not religious,” unless your life is in sync with the Universe, getting high on Spirit will only be a temporary fix at best. It will do little to actually transform you. What we do here in this life is the litmus test of our spiritual evolutionary status. As Huston Smith says, “It’s not the altered states but the altered traits” that count.

poiseTrying to figure out your life’s purpose is as intimidating as trying to know the entire plot of a novel before you write it. I don’t know of any author who does that. They all say that the plot, along with the characters, evolve as the story unfolds. No wonder we have such a hard time trying to figure out God’s will. The plot, it would seem, is never revealed ahead of time. There are no spoilers in God’s Plan.

If writers waited until they knew what they were going to write about, nothing would ever get written. Author Joan Didion says, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Writing, it turns out, is a process of self-discovery. Why then should the story of our life be any different?

Before we go any further with this, we need to lay one thing to rest: God’s will is not, has never been, nor will it ever be written down. Everything that has been written is nothing more than a set of principles. The Bible (or any other sacred text) is a style sheet, a collection of guidelines, not a personalized prescription. By design, it has something for everybody. But if we try to script our lives according to its dictates, we quickly discover that the sheer volume of its wisdom can quickly overwhelm us. When it comes to guidance, there is no one-size-fits-all version. What is wise for one person is often foolish for another. Timing, as they say, is everything!

So how do we do it—how do we engage with the creative process called Life? Someone once asked me, “How can I help?” I replied, “Well, what can you do?” Unless you have something to start with, something you can “bring to the table,” engaging is going to be difficult. The best place to start is finding out what lights you up. This is not a matter of what you want, but what you love. As Joseph Campbell used to say, “Follow your bliss.” And by that, I don’t think he meant “follow your desires.” We all know where that can lead. No, he meant follow that which gives you joy, not pleasure. Discovering the difference between joy and pleasure is a rite of passage into adulthood, and the enquiry into God’s will is an adult pursuit. God’s will is not geared towards instant gratification or cheap substitutes. The goal of moral development is to bring us to this threshold.

A writer’s worst nightmare is writer’s block. And everyone who has ever wanted to live a spiritual life, to do God’s will, or even to simply be a good person has experienced the spiritual equivalent of writer’s block. The way out is the same for both: write something—anything! When we don’t know what God’s will is, the best thing we can do is anything. At least give God something to work with. You have to be able to do something before you can be of any use to God. So what does it matter what profession you choose, what country you live in, what political views you hold, or what religion you are? Those things are not important to God. If they’re more important to you than they are to God, then that might be the problem. What you know is not as important as what you value.

bookYou have to be willing to let your life’s story unfold creatively. Like a novel. It’s not that you aren’t the author. But then, God isn’t the author either. Stories write themselves. God is just as eager as you are to find out how it ends! In fact, I say that that’s why we were created. God wanted something to read!

Trying to write the story you think you should write is the worst kind of self-betrayal. God didn’t create you to be someone else. Art is nothing if not authentic. And authenticity (along with timing) is everything. If you bring anything to God, bring that. Bring authenticity. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot,” says the angel in Revelations. Lukewarm, in stories as well as in life, doesn’t cut it.

You can pretty much go anywhere as long as you go all out. Our lives are judged by their level of commitment, not by generic standards of right and wrong. Does this give us an excuse to hurt people? Of course not. But what normal human being finds bliss in hurting people? (Anyone who finds joy in hurting people has a much more serious problem than finding their life’s direction.) Sometimes, people do get hurt, but we call that a “mistake.” If we live our lives in constant fear of hurting someone—in constant fear of making a mistake—then we’re back to lukewarm. The best we can do is the best we can do. No one, and especially not God, expects us to be perfect. “Good” is good enough.

In a sense, we are characters in God’s novel. And just as stories tend to write themselves, so does God expect us to show Him/Her who we are. God doesn’t know how we will develop. If that were known, what would be the sense in writing the story? God breathes life into us, and then it’s up to us to see where the wind of that breath carries us. Our journey is a day-to-day, moment by moment exploration of who we are, what we’re made of, and what we’re capable of becoming. We write our own script, our own dialog, and, to a large degree, the plot. Just like the characters in a novel. This is God’s will, that we go forth and multiply. Not children, but “children.” What will we give birth to? How can we multiply the potential that we are? If God wants anything from us—anything at all—it’s a surprise. There’s no cosmic ultrasound that will show us (or God) what’s going to come out.

 

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Sins of Omission

fishbowlThere’s no way around it: “He who would lose his life, for my sake, shall find it.”

Our souls are committed to growing. Growing requires stretching. And stretching is hard work.

Living “as if” has been greatly misrepresented in the movies—there’s no such thing as a twenty-four year old brain surgeon in high heels. Many go for the look; few work for it.

But just because people love the glamour of achievement more than achievement itself doesn’t negate the fact that we must first step into the shoes before we can wear them (not necessarily high heels). This is called the Law of Assumption, and it is essential to the spiritual path.

Every area of human knowledge is one of those “many mansions in my Father’s house” that Jesus spoke of. And every one has a door upon which we must knock (knock and then push) if we are to enter.

Knowledge is power, and power never surrenders itself; it must be seized.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Equilibrium is the result of growth, not the cause of it. To grow, we must become unbalanced. We must push the limits of our capabilities and extend ourselves past them. First the egg, then the chicken. That’s life’s first test—can you, indeed WILL you, break free from your shell?

What you don’t do is sometimes worse than what you do.

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Snowflakes and the Death of Judgement

snowflake

by Michael Maciel

We are not so unique, you and I, although we cling desperately to the belief that we are. All snowflakes are different, but they all have six points. None have seven.

It’s our belief in our uniqueness that leads to “I am better than,” or “I’m not as good as.”

When we come to the realization that each of us is the embodiment of the full spectrum of human capacity, we are not so prone to judge.

We see ourselves in each other, from the very best to the very worst. Six, not seven.

I may hate what I see, and you likewise, but it’s the trait, not each other, that we despise.

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Karma vs. Love

forgive“Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” – John 20:23

What does it mean to “retain” someone’s sins? And why would anyone want to do that?

In New Thought, they say, “See the other person whole, perfect, sinless.” This heals the other person, because it acknowledges the perfection in which they were created. Any “sinfulness” they have acquired, such as meanness, selfishness, fear, pride, etc., they have created for themselves. God did not create the illusion.

sinThis teaching is a deliberate contradiction of the doctrine of “original sin.”

Seeing people the way God created them (perfect) tends to dissipate the illusions within which they live.

In terms of John 20:23, this is the “remission” of sins. Knowing the truth about a person sets them free.

Why, then, would you want to retain the illusions harbored by another person?

To answer this, we first have to talk about KARMA. Not the karma you learned at your mother’s knee, the kind that sounds more like the wrath of God, but the real karma that was created as a means for us to learn and grow.

oopsWe live in a system that returns to us what we give out, vibrationally speaking. If you vibrate hatred in someone’s direction, they are going to respond with anger—towards you. Vibrate love, and they will want to give you things—good things. The purpose of life on Earth is to learn the difference. Repercussions, both good and bad, are the mechanisms by which we figure this out. Every action comes with its own consequences.

But if we interrupt the learning curve by rescuing a person from the consequences of his or her actions, we make the process longer, and therefore more difficult.

untouchableWARNING: This little chunk of philosophy can be greatly abused, and has been for millennia. Case in point: the Hindu Caste System, which, by the way, goes by different names in every social system on the planet, both religious and secular. People suffer because of their actions in previous lives, previous jobs, previous relationships, previous _______(fill in the blank). People are poor because they’re lazy; people are stupid because they didn’t study in school. The justifications for self-righteousness go on and on. This is not an endorsement of karma, nor does it reflect what karma really is. This is the lack of compassion.

“Retaining” someone’s sins is the opposite of seeing them whole. It is saying, without rancor, “This is what you are doing.” It’s when the person cutting in line catches you looking at them, and the look in your eyes says, “Yep, you’re cutting in line.” You don’t smile, you don’t say, “That’s okay.” You don’t let them off the hook. You are simply observing. You don’t say to yourself, “Maybe they’re in a hurry. Maybe they have a child waiting in the car. Maybe_________.” Instead, you KNOW that what they are doing is a violation of the rights of others.

confessionThis is “retaining” their sins. It is also “righteous judgement.” The word “righteous” means “lawful.” When someone is breaking the rules, you don’t let it slide. You don’t condemn them for it, but you don’t excuse it, either. Nine times out of ten, when someone makes excuses for someone else, it’s to cover their own transgressions, not because they have a generous heart.

In some systems of thought, the retention of sins is called “mirroring.” You mirror back to the other person exactly what they are putting out. Mirrors hold onto nothing. They take nothing away. They give back exactly what they see.

MirroringHow much mileage does a person need from their errors before they finally learn from them? How many other people have to suffer at their hands before they learn their lesson? If you jump in and pre-empt their learning process, you are aiding and abetting the crime.

Jesus did not invent this principle. Neither did anyone else. It was here when we showed up. Like air, like water, like the Sun and the Moon. The Earth is like a time-share condo; it has rules; it has availability dates; it has a contract. Break it, and the consequences kick in. It’s not good or bad. It’s just business.

tiger

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What’s Wrong with Saying, “I am God”?

God-02I think the problem lies in thinking, “I am this,” or “I am that.” It is far more useful (in terms of realizing a spiritual life) to say, “I am.” This short-circuits the ego and pre-empts the problem altogether.

Saying, “I am God,” just isn’t very useful. It’s too easily usurped by the ego.

Saying, “I am,” without the “this” or the “that” attached to it makes us feel more alive, or, in spiritual terms, more filled with the Holy Spirit. The more we feel the Spirit of God moving through us, the less we are inclined to say, “I am God.” In fact, in moments like that, saying, “I am God,” sounds silly.

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the overwhelming realization is that “God is.” That’s all. It doesn’t diminish us and it doesn’t obliterate us. Neither does it cause us to think more highly of ourselves. Those ideas simply cease to exist.

The saying, “I must decrease while he must increase,” is a signpost. The ego, however, cannot help but read it as a destination. By saying, “God is,” the “he” and the “I” disappear. This is the ultimate mystical experience.

Language is, by its very nature, objectifying, therefore it cannot help but reinforce the notion of being a separate self. Saying, “God is,” circumvents language. It denies it the opportunity to describe. And in the vacuum of that, a higher perspective rushes in.

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How to Tell When a Story is Symbolic

Detail of the "Sight" scene of the Lady and the Unicorn  (Dame à la Licorne) tapestry, in which the unicorn looks into a mirror held by the lady. The six charming scenes, which cover the walls of an entire room, bring to life the romance of the age of chivalry. The tapestry was designed by French artists and woven in 1485-1500 in Flanders. It was discovered in 1841 by Prosper Merimee in Boussac Castle and aquired by the museum in 1882. Each of the six scenes includes a beautiful lady, a unicorn, and a lion. The animals wear heraldry that identifies the sponsor of the work as Jean Le Viste, a powerful nobleman  close to  King Charles VII (1422-61). The backgrounds are filled with woodland creatures, plants and flowers, creating an enchanted landscape. Five of the scenes illustrate the five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. The sixth scene, which may belong at the beginning or the end of the series, is especially beautiful and intriguing. It is labeled with a banner reading, "To my only desire," and shows the lady placing a necklace in a case held by a servant.

In this picture of the tapestry, The Lady and the Unicorn, the unicorn’s hooves are turning back the Lady’s dress, revealing an underlying layer. By using the image of a unicorn, the painter is letting us know right away that the scene isn’t meant to be taken literally.

The Lady is also holding a mirror capturing the image of the unicorn; we see both it and its reflection simultaneously. Which is the real? Again, the author is telling us that we are dealing with an abstraction, not concrete objects.

This is an example of how spiritual teachings have been handed down by teachers and schools for a long, long time.

In The Lady and the Unicorn, the viewer knows that since unicorns do not exist in real life that this picture is a metaphysical message, not a rendition of physical reality. The unicorn is a kind of “tag” that lets everyone know that this painting contains symbolic images.

This kind of tag shows up in sacred scripture a lot.

birth of buddhaIn the story of Buddha’s birth, for example, we hear that he was born out of his mother’s side. Now, everyone knows that this is impossible, so right away we are alerted that the story is symbolic.

This is what the author of the story intended.

A symbolic story can be nested within a literal account of what was happening historically, but historical accounts do not have the tags that tell us to be on the lookout for symbolic content.

red riding hoodTags are similar to the way we preface a bedtime story for children. For instance, we say, “Once upon a time…” This lets the child know that the story is made up. The parent will say, “Once upon a time, a big bad wolf lived in the woods.” The parent doesn’t say, “Hey, there’s a wolf living in the woods!”

Whenever we encounter an “impossible” event in sacred literature, we should immediately look for symbolic content. This is how sacred teachings have been passed down for millennia. After all, a story or an image is much harder to corrupt with multiple interpretations.

It will stand the test of time.

Abstract, philosophical concepts, on the other hand, are easily interpreted in ways that the author did not intend.

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Meditation, Willpower, and Driving

by Michael Maciel

As a young man growing up in Reno, I was into sports driving. The Mount Rose Highway, leading up to Lake Tahoe, and the Virginia City Highway, leading (as you might guess) up to Virginia City, were my training grounds. Both were treacherous mountain roads, but they were well-paved and perfect for learning how to master the art of driving fast through turns.

912One hot summer day, I was driving a friend’s 912 Porsche. He was in the passenger seat. We were approaching a hairpin turn on the Mount Rose Highway just above Galena Creek where the road swings around a maintenance station. Anyone can drive through a hairpin turn, but not everyone can drive through one fast.

In a hairpin, you come in high, dive in at the apex, and swing wide as you exit. The object is to maintain speed throughout. Since it was a hot summer day, the tires were sticky on the asphalt, and the 912 (good at any temperature) was taking the corners like it was on rails. Coming up to the turn, I had slowed to 50 mph. My friend Kent said, “Don’t slow down.” I said, “What do I do?” He said, “Just turn the steering wheel.” To my amazement (Porsches are phenomenal in the turns), the car sailed through the hairpin with barely a screech.

curvesOne of the problems that rookie drivers have is “stiff-arming.” It’s when you’re in the middle of a scary turn and your arms stiffen up, as though pushing on the steering wheel will keep the car on the road. It’s a fear response, and it gets a lot of drivers into trouble. No matter how tight the corner, very little pressure is needed to turn the wheel—pushing on it does nothing whatsoever. Once you learn that, driving is a lot less tiring, and it’s more fun.

Meditation
It takes willpower to meditate. But willpower, as in driving, isn’t stiff-arming; it’s simply turning the steering wheel.

discipline

Basic meditation is quieting the mind, or, more specifically, not thinking. You put your attention somewhere other than in your head, you keep it there, and then you just sit. Sounds incredibly exciting, does it not? Nevertheless, that’s what it is, and the benefits of a solid meditation practice are extraordinary. Once you acquire the ability to hold your attention in one place, there are other things you can do, but not until you are able to master this simple task.

While holding your attention in one place is an act of will, it’s not effort-ing—it’s just doing it. When someone told astronaut Jim Lovell that going to the Moon was a “miracle,” he said, “No, we just decided to go.” So it is with holding your attention in one place—you just decide to do it.

When a guru gives a disciple a seemingly mundane task, he’s seeing whether the disciple has the willpower to get it done. If the disciple stiff-arms his way through it, then the guru knows that he hasn’t yet mastered the will. Spending unnecessary energy doing a job means that there’s resistance going on somewhere inside the disciple’s mind. He hasn’t surrendered to the task. He’s still wondering whether he should, instead of simply turning the steering wheel. If he can’t demonstrate mastery in a mundane project, he won’t be able to meditate.

Stabilize
One of the reasons why Porsches are so good in the corners is that their weight distribution is close to 50/50, meaning that the car’s center of gravity is about halfway between the front and rear wheels. This makes the car very stable. It doesn’t understeer (plow through a turn) nor does it oversteer (spin out). When you’re driving fast, confidence, along with skill and a good vehicle, is everything.

Balance is the root of confidence. It allays fear. Drift far enough away from your center of gravity and your confidence erodes quickly.

buddhaSince the first goal in meditation is to quiet your mind, place your attention on your center of gravity. Ironically, that place is in the area of your belly button. That’s right—your navel. You are going to contemplate your navel. Don’t laugh. It works. In martial arts and Chinese medicine, this area is called the hara. It is the center of your body as well as your center of gravity.

Anatomically, the navel is where the umbilical cord enters the body of the fetus. It is also the point where the aorta branches into the two femoral arteries. If you visualize the umbilicus attaching at this point where the three major arteries converge, you can see that the four blood vessels form a kind of tetrahedron, the first geometric solid. And “solid” is a good place to begin your meditation.

Quieting the mind and stabilizing yourself are essentially the same thing. And, as you will discover, placing your attention anywhere other than inside your head will bring your brain-chatter to a halt. Focusing on the hara has the added benefit of bringing you to a standstill, energetically speaking. It’s like moving to the center of the merry-go-round. It is the centripetal locus of you.
The-CorePaying attention to your breathing focuses your attention on the hara. Proper breathing is diaphragmatic breathing or “belly breathing.” While there are other areas you can focus on, using this as a starting point will teach you  how to quiet your mind. Other areas can have more of a centrifugal force and can be very energizing, so unless you have mastered the ability to hold your attention where you decide it should be, your mind will wander all over the place.

Focusing on the hara gives the term “balanced life” a whole new meaning. This is inner balance, and you want to have it before you venture into higher states of awareness, otherwise you will lose traction. Venturing into areas of higher awareness is venturing into areas of higher energy. Driving through a hairpin turn at 15 mph is a lot different than driving through it at 50. Unless you can hold your attention where you want it, going into those higher areas will send your mind careening off the road. You should see all the “skid marks” on a zendo floor.

Practice
solidMeditation is an acquired skill every bit as challenging as sports driving. There are rules. There are techniques. There are hours and hours of practice at different speeds and on different road surfaces. There’s vehicle maintenance to do, check lists to follow, deadweight to eliminate, engines to tune, tires to change—all falling under the category of “preparation.”

In a meditation practice, diet and exercise are important. Your vehicle has to be in good shape. This is why hatha yoga was developed. It prepares students for the rigors of inner work. Thinking that meditation “just happens,” that anyone can do it if they simply want to is one reason why so many people find it too difficult and give up. Meditation must become the central focus of your life before you begin, not just as a result of having done it.

Prepare, and then begin.

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