Conscious Relationship By Mark Walstrom

Our longing for connection is natural to human existence. We’re all tribal people and our health and happiness are intricately tied to connecting with others. It is often through relationships, especially intimate relationships, that we find meaning and purpose in our lives. Yet, for many of us, relationships are a struggle.

It’s been said that relationship is the yoga of the West. An intimate relationship is a powerful mirror that constantly challenges us to take a personal inventory of our lives. It offers us an opportunity for personal healing if we make a conscious choice to move in that direction.

Love is a powerful force. When we don’t know how to handle its power, we slip into misguided, and often painful ways of being. Love is a force that inevitably brings to the surface the parts of ourselves that we desperately try to keep hidden. It is because of the closeness and the possibility of love in the relationship that these issues emerge. Many of us blame our relationship problems on a lack of love, but it is actually the love in the relationship that has brought forth the issues. A close relationship is a powerful light, and like any strong light it casts a large shadow. When we stand in the light of a close relationship, we must learn to deal with the shadow.

In all of our intimate relationships there is a moment when we first “wake up” and begin to notice our shadows. At first we feel dazed and discouraged, then when the full extent of the issues are revealed it turns to shock. It’s at this point the key choice occurs, to begin a conscious relationship where we move to a higher level of intimacy, or an unconscious relationship which stagnates, or eventually withers and dies.

Typically, our ego resists the personal exploration necessary for a conscious relationship because it wants to hold onto cherished beliefs about who we are, what is right, and what we need. We move toward love and suddenly our ego throws up a wall. The ego fears surrender. Our task in relationship is to consciously break through and soften the layers of masks we have donned to protect us from hurts, losses, and loneliness. Allowing ourselves to be shaken to our roots is a source of a growing relationship.

Our core self longs for us to crack our shells. In doing so we become free to experience all that is within us. In relationship not only are we challenged to face our most primitive feelings of longing, love, loss, and fear, we are challenged to welcome feelings of power, creativity, passion and sensual pleasure. Many of us are afraid of expansive energy washing through our bodies, cracking the boundaries of our limitations, exposing us to our primal selves. We have a choice to feel this energy or close down around it. To allow ourselves free-flowing energy is to say I surrender. It means we fear nothing that is human and natural. We release ourselves from the misery of holding back and playing it safe. By contrast, the ego closes down to the free-flowing energy resulting in rigid beliefs, fear of change, and disconnection from our authentic selves and others. All authentic relationships include conflict and the challenge of staying awake.

Conscious relationship also requires an ability to both merge and be separate, to come together and be apart, creating a constant rhythm. It consists of two people, devoted to each other, being true to their individual paths as well as being intimate with each other. We need to willingly open the door for our beloved to spend time realizing his or her passions and life goals.

Being conscious in relationship is another way of saying go slowly. Staying conscious can be difficult because our survival instincts want to avoid discomfort and have things defined and settled. Crawling in love is about staying mindful and aware. It is about going slowly enough to pay attention and hear the inner voice of wisdom when our ego wants to rationalize, analyze, and defend. When we crawl in love we are more likely to deepen our bond through a variety of experiences over time.

We begin our journey of conscious loving always remembering that there is a circular relationship between our ability to know and love another and our ability to know and love ourselves. The more we commit to knowing and accepting ourselves, the more we are able to surrender to loving another person.

Losing Our Way

While modern advancements have brought some progress in the way we live, for the most part, they have created an illusion of comfort and security and taken us further away from living as part of the natural web of life. 

The Moken people of Malaysia are an example of an indigenous people whose traditional way of life has been diminished and is now threatened with extinction through globalization and money driven exploitation. For many years, Mokens and other indigenous Asian tribes, have existed in a harmonious relationship with each other, the sea and the natural world. They pride themselves on self-reliance, family and community but now many struggle daily to survive. The Moken people and their way of life is a reminder of what it is to live in a flow state with natural laws. 

The grind of daily living in our society has many of us living on auto-pilot mode...out of touch with ourselves, each other and the web of life. The following documentary film can help us re-imagine a way of living that is more grounded, connected and balanced.

 

 

 

 

The Road Least Traveled: Why We're Not Making Any Real Progress And How To Get There By Mark Walstrom

At the surface level, it appears that the problems we are currently facing, individually and collectively, are numerous, complex, and often require expensive or sophisticated solutions...if one even believes there is a solution at all. However, if we look into the very core of many of the problems, we discover the reality of the human condition; we are the problem. What we define as "problems" are self generated, for the most part, and come from a state of unconscious conditioning. The solution is to wake up...to move beyond the limitations of the conditioned ego self and into a freedom of being that liberates our hearts, minds, bodies, and breath...bringing us into a direct and personal connection to our truest nature, each other, and the source of life.

If the process of truly waking up was easy, more people would be enlightened and society would be functioning at a much higher level. People often talk the talk of transformative change and give it lip service, but how many are actually walking the walk? Some may not know there is another way to live, but many seem to have accepted the ego identity as all there is. There is no judgment of others intended...just a realization that when we don't undertake the necessary effort to wake up, our lives suffer...we're not truly present in our moments. Waking up is nothing less than a significant, life long undertaking...a reorientation of one's life. Perhaps that's why it's called the Heroes Journey, The Narrow Way, the Road Less Traveled.

While there are many paths offered to those who desire to truly wake up, the proven paths (those that actually help people wake up) share three primary and distinct levels of movement:

The first level of movement is to be present in each moment to see what is actually happening in your life...to make conscious what has been unconscious...both externally and internally...especially your thoughts, feelings, and actions. This practice exposes what the ego nature is while connecting us to reality as it is.

The next level of movement is to stay in the present moment long enough to allow fresh, life-affirming choices to come into awareness. This practice counters auto-pilot mode and helps us see that we always have options.

The third level of movement, and perhaps the most challenging, is to live and embody these new awarenesses...to actually change. While change is often unsettling, it is empowering when done in a conscious, intentional manner. This deeper level of change is what Mahatma Gandhi was encouraging in his statement "Be the change you wish to see in the world".

And...

Victor Frankl..."Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom".

Dietrich Bonhoeffer..."There remains for us only the very narrow way, often extremely difficult to find, of living every day as if it were our last, and yet living in faith and responsibility as though there were to be a great future.”  

Paring Down To What Matters By Mark Walstrom

What if the highest form of living, both on the human and spiritual level, is nothing more (or less) than having a vulnerable, transparent, and personal experience with yourself, others, the Source of life, and whatever is happening in each moment without thoughts or commentary on it? Would you still need your therapist? Would you still need your meditation, yoga, or prayer practice? Would you still need your religion? Would you still need to keep your fixed idea of who or what God is? Would you still need to seek salvation, enlightenment, or Atman?

What if all of your thoughts, practices, and seeking are actually distractions from what is real, possible, and sacred? Isn't that one of the primary teachings of Lao Tzu, the Buddha, and Jesus? There is a saying---"You can't get any closer to God than you already are. Why are you trying so hard"?

Perhaps a new revolution is emerging...to become clear and open channels for vital life force energy to move through us into the world in a unique manner that is possible only through each of us. To live and love in each moment...nothing more, nothing less.

A reflection by Stephen Mitchell:

"The more we move beyond our ideas about life and death, the more open we are to life. This radical ignorance is not a path to wisdom: it is wisdom itself". From The Second Book of the Tao

There Is Help Along The Way By Mark Walstrom

Many people come into our life to help us grow up along the way...family, friends, professionals, strangers. If we're fortunate, we'll also come into a connection with those who can help us wake up.

There is a difference between growing up and waking up. In growing up, we learn on our own and with the help of others how to move from a lower level of functioning to a higher level of functioning in life but we remain under the unconscious influence of the ego self. In the process of waking up, we move beyond the ego limitations and return to our essence which requires a specific type of guide to help us navigate the challenges of this demanding path.

While the journey beyond the ego self and back to our true nature is ultimately an individual experience, we need help along the way. Dante had Virgil, Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz had the good witch Glinda, the Israelites had Moses. If you are serious about waking up, it is imperative to move beyond cognitive thoughts and ideas about transformation and enter into a relationship with one or more living intercessors who know how to be a catalyst for your movement from your mistaken identity of the persona to your true nature.

There are specific qualities of a person that can be of assistance in your personal journey of awakening. First and foremost, this person knows the path of waking up intimately because he/she has been intentionally and consciously engaged in their own process...most likely for their entire adult life and quite possibly longer. They will ask open and honest questions to help you go deeper into your understanding of reality. They are not afraid of their own shadow, yours, or the shadow side of life...no matter how bizarre or intensely it presents. They will help you see the truth in all areas of your life. Wherever you are on your path, they will meet you there. They have the capacity to "see" you beyond your persona self...they "know" you already. They recognize the initiatory experiences you are facing and thresholds that you need to cross...and will offer guidance and inspiration for the safe passage of those challenges. They will call out and expose the lies, maladaptive coping strategies, and fictional stories of your ego self. They will be catalysts for the necessary movement from awareness and insight to generative action, They will help increase your tolerance for fear and change. And, the primary quality of a true guide is that they know themselves to be called to this work...it is their vocation...their gift to this world. They do not discriminate who they help because they know that all have the longing and the yearning within to return to their true nature...to come into union again with the source of life.

You don't have to be concerned about how to find a guide. If you are on a committed path of waking up, trust that they will show up in the right time and manner. They want to find you as much or more than you are looking for them. They will come from all walks of life and be engaged in living in this culture and society just as you are. You will know when you have met them. It will be a personal encounter...a personal relationship that will change your life. And they will know when their time with you has come to an end and bless you on your way.

While the ultimate "guide" in life is direct knowing and experiential connection with the Source of life in each moment, our journey to get to that place can be enriched and inspired from others in the human family who know a legitimate path and have walked that path themselves...or at least are ahead of us.

The Time Is Now By Mark Walstrom

(This blog was written a couple weeks after the shooting at Douglas High School in Florida, killing 17 of the students and staff).

The young survivors of the horrific massacre at Douglas High School have done something that many adults haven't done...they've organized with a vision and plan of action toward change and they won't go away until real, necessary change happens and they feel safe. While many adults are offering hollow condolences and engaging in endless FB debates, these kids are burying their friends and teachers, marching in Washington D.C., showing up at congressional hearings and confronting some of the most feared organizations (NRA) in person. 

Thank you millennials for showing us what it takes to be the change you wish to see in the world.  Bring it on! Some of us older adults are right behind you! 

Times are a changin.

 

Everybody Is Doing Time. Nobody Is Living With Any Real Power. We All Need To Come Out By Mark Walstrom

For many people, auto-pilot living is the norm. The days are consumed with just trying to keep up with real and imagined tasks. This way of living sucks the life out of us...exhausting our bodies, minds and resources. We feel stuck, trapped and confined. It is our personal prison.

Live long enough in auto-pilot mode and any sense of enjoyment or true freedom is diminished. We feel dis-empowered and will seek to regain what has been lost through ego-centric or ethno-centric behaviors and mal-adaptive coping strategies. Where there appears to be divisions among us, in reality, what is often happening at an unconscious level is that we're trying to gain a sense of power back but slip into fear-based control behaviors instead. Rather than reflect on our lives and admit we've lost connection to our own true nature and each other, we align ourselves with an ideology or group that gives us the perception of belonging and power.  The core wound is the same, the manifestations are varied.

Coming back into our true power requires a coming out process. Just as LGBT+ individuals have had to courageously come out, all of us can do the same. Coming out is the simple, honest act of living in congruence with one's truest nature...even if doing so triggers hostile responses and reactions from others. Its about dropping the persona mask, moving beyond auto-pilot living, being real and living as clear and open channels for the creative life force energy to move through us into the world.

 

Living In The In-Between By Mark Walstrom

In our current mode of living, reality consists of the thoughts, beliefs, and mental constructs that come from the mind. All of us have been influenced to believe something. We’ve stored these beliefs in our mental warehouse and retrieve them moment by moment, projecting them on to the experiences of our life.

Take a few minutes right now and inventory some of your beliefs regarding money, religion, politics, parenting, world affairs, technology, and sexuality, just to start. The list could go on endlessly because our beliefs are endless. Some of our beliefs have been locked in our minds since early childhood while other beliefs have been established more recently. Regardless of where or when our beliefs took shape they create a finite reality.

At the very least beliefs and mental constructs limit us and can never be authenticated. At the worst beliefs can be harmful and even lethal as evidenced by racism and terrorism. We see life through the narrow and filtered lens of our beliefs. With beliefs come judgments toward others who do not share the same belief. Beliefs are defended and debated. We believe our beliefs and become smug by thinking our beliefs are truth.

Trapped in our thoughts, beliefs, and mental constructs we all suffer from a case of mistaken identity and a limited worldview. Our behaviors mirror our beliefs. Much of our frustration and emotional distress occurs when the reality of life refutes our deeply held beliefs, “Now what do I do?”, “Now who am I?”

To free us from the limiting constructs of the mind we engage in a variety of maladaptive behaviors such as excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, overeating, overworking, techno surfing , just to name a few. Our current mode of living often involves seeking relief and cures, looking for somebody to rescue us, or clever escapes. We attempt to make our conflicts go away, only to discover further conflict is created when we try to make a resolution occur that does not happen.

Every belief we cling to divides us. We don't live lives of originality and discovery. Our expression of life is incomplete. Our way of living is remote. Life becomes predictable, compressed, and small. We go to great lengths constructing elaborate schemes, plans, and strategies based on our beliefs.

On the other hand, if we’re not living in the constant chatter of the mind then where or what would we be living in? Put very simply, we would be living in the space in-between the thoughts, beliefs, and mental constructs. This is where words fail us and we are left with nothing but silence.

Words are deficient to really grasp the in-between. Some of the words being used to describe the in-between are silence, void, and emptiness. Some of the qualities that are said to come from the in-between are clarity, peace, love, creativity, and wisdom. To try to describe the in-between, however, is to contain it. Even my attempts to convey the idea of the in-between seem ridiculously limiting.

There are no words to adequately describe the in-between because it is unknown. The experiences we have in the in-between are continually unfolding. Rather than trying to conceptualize the in-between we simply need to experience it, moment by moment. Thinking of the in-between is not the same as living in the in-between.

You’ve probably already experienced some moments, perhaps briefly, of living in the in-between; an epiphany arises, a flash of insight, a solution to a long-standing problem that seems to “come from nowhere.” Athletes describe the in-between as being in the “zone.” Many artists say they gain access to their creativity in the in-between. Even scientists know that great discoveries come from that place “beyond mind.”

How, then, do we escape the entrapment of the mind and all of its confining thoughts, beliefs, and constructs and live in the in-between?

Do nothing. In between the busy chatter of the mind is a vast experience of life beyond words and we don’t have to do anything to “get there.” What we're left with is a renewed awe for the power of silence, that luminous gap between words, thoughts, beliefs, and concepts. If we simply stay quiet long enough and pay attention to what is occurring within us and outside of us, we can live more often in the in-between. This is true freedom.

I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Waking Life which seems to exquisitely sum up the power of living in the in-between. Two characters were engaged in a deeply philosophical conversation at a café. At one point one of the characters says to the other, “Let’s just be quiet and not talk for awhile.” After a few moments of silence the second character responded, “Now that was a holy moment.”







 

Where Are The Warriors?

The term "warrior" has many meanings. Historically in literature, a warrior is typically associated with a male soldier who fights in battles. However, from a spiritual perspective, a warrior is one (male or female) who is on a conscious path of waking up. In these turbulent times we need more spiritual warriors.

The core source of most, if not all, of the problems that humanity is facing (natural disasters aside) can be attributed to individual and collective ego manifestations...a.k.a. unconsciousness. Too much "me" and not enough "we". The ego self is not bad or wrong...it is simply the unobserved self. The ego is what takes over when we don't live in the truth and reality of the moment, instead we speak and act out of conditioning, habit, and personal scripts. We don't have to continue living out of the ego...it's a choice.

A simple first step of shifting to warrior energy is to acknowledge that you are currently living from the ego persona and no longer desire to live from its limiting and energy draining ways. It takes strength of character to admit this but it's the way to begin to diminish the negative effects of the ego construct. Then one can commit themselves to a proven path of awakening and immerse themselves in the teachings and practices of that path. Each of us has to find our own way. The invitation here is to penetrate the illusion of the ego self and live as a warrior of consciousness...a state of being that cannot be adequately expressed in words, only experienced directly.

We need more warriors!

 

Inspirational reading:

A Personal Journey from "Passover Remembered" (Alla Bozaeth-Campbell)

Pack nothing. Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free.
Don't wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment from the journey, but eat standing, be ready to move at a moment's notice.
Do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind...fear, silence, submission.
Only surrender to the need of the time---to love justice and walk humbly with your God.
Do not take time to explain to the neighbors. Tell only a few trusted friends and family members.
Then begin quickly, before you have time to sink back into the old slavery.
Set out in the dark. We will send fire to warm and encourage you. We will be with you in the fire and we will be with you in the cloud.
You will learn to eat new food and find refuge in new places. We will give you dreams in the desert to guide you safely home to that place you have not yet seen.
The stories you tell one another around the fires in the dark will make you strong and wise.
Outsiders will attack you, and some will follow you, and at times you will get weary and turn on each other from fear and fatigue and blind forgetfulness.
You have been preparing for this for hundreds of years. We are sending you into the wilderness to make a new way and learn our ways more deeply.
Some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings that even your closest friends will have to learn your features as though for the first time. Some of you will not change at all. 
Some will be abandoned by your dearest loves and misunderstood by those who have known you since birth and feel abandoned by you.
Some will find new friendships in unlikely faces, and old friends as faithful as the pillar of God's flame.
Sing songs as go, and hold close together. You may at times grow confused and lose your way. Continue to call each other by the names we've given you, to help you remember who you are. You will get where you are going by remembering who you are. Touch each other and keep telling the stories.
Make maps as you go remembering the way back from before you were born. You will be only the first of many waves of deliverance on these desert seas. It is the first of many beginnings...remain true to this mystery.
Pass on the whole story. Do not go back. We are with you now and we are waiting for you.

Saying "Yes" To Life By Mark Walstrom

Saying "yes" to life.

Have you ever had the awareness that you have a choice how you are going to meet life in any moment?

Regardless of our past history or current circumstances we can choose to either have a direct experience with the current moment (saying YES) or allow ourselves to slip into one or more of the endless options to check out (saying NO) partially or in the manner of a full on blackout. Saying YES is not better than saying NO...its just more liberating.

from mythologist Joseph Campbell...

"I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive."

The Body Knows By Mark Walstrom

Would you like to know what's really going on in your life? Check with your body, it will tell you everything you've ever wanted to know and what you don't want to know as well. There is a profound wisdom in the body. It doesn't lie.

Not getting enough sleep? The body knows.
Suppressing your emotions? The body knows.
Eating fast food or substitutes for real food too often? The body knows.
Relationships not working? The body knows.
Not getting out in nature much or at all? The body knows.
Trying to be somebody you're not? The body knows.
Lack of exercise or physical activity? The body knows.
Maladaptive coping strategies taking over? The body knows.
Living in fear and insecurity? The body knows.
Out of touch with reality? The body knows.

And, the contrary is true as well...the body knows when we are experiencing an ease of living, connecting with others, taking care of our selves, feeling a part of the web, being present in the moment.

Put simply...the body is a direct mirror for what is actually happening at the deeper, more subtle levels of our life...if we are tuned in.

Typically, our body is the first thing we lose contact with when we shut down and slip into conditioned living. We know longer have access to the felt sense. Waking up, then, is not possible until we reconnect to our body...especially the breath.

Try this simple exercise...sit quietly for a few minutes, close your eyes and do a thorough body scan slowly and mindfully, when you encounter a sensation of pain or discomfort ask your body what it is trying to communicate and then wait patiently until some clarity comes into awareness.

Questions to consider:

How connected are you to your body?

What kind of feedback has your body been giving you lately? Did you follow its wisdom?

Hey...waking up can be fun! Here's a music selection that will connect you to your body.

It's Not Enough By Mark Walstrom

if you say you want equality, social justice, and peace in the world. That's not enough. Neither is protesting, making financial donations, writing editorials, or engaging in debates. It's not enough.

The way societal change happens is when individuals become the change they wish to see. We all need to do our part. We all have to change. We need to commit ourselves to cleaning up, growing up, and waking up with the guidance of others who know the way. Otherwise, we are part of the problem. 

Fear...Many Faces, Same Result By Mark Walstrom

 

There is an insanity to all of the violence that is plaguing our world today.

Who or what is responsible for these acts of violence?

Is this the kind of world we want to live in?

While it makes some logical sense to blame power hungry leaders, corrupt governments, poverty, and a host of other social ills for this pandemic of violence, those are merely the surface level markers of the underlying affliction. The greatest threat to current and future stability in the United States, as well as the world community, is fear. And the most debilitating fear is the fear of taking an open and honest look within ourselves and how we contribute to the very fabric of society that we abhor. Until we accept this reality we will continue treating the symptoms rather than addressing the underlying cause.

Fear is the single most destructive force within each of us. While its true that some fear is life affirming, like instinctual fear that steers us away from potential danger or fear that motivates us to take positive action, the majority of fear is born from a deep insecurity within and is life-denying. Many of us, prior to our 10th birthday, already had the seed of self doubt planted within our psyches and from that time forward we've lived under the internal tension of that lie...that there is something inherently wrong or bad about me. The great majority of us do not escape this affliction.

The fears that impact our lives are varied, numerous, and well disguised: we fear change, we fear uncomfortable emotions, we fear uncertainty, we fear failure, we fear success, we fear differences, we fear intimacy, we fear vulnerability, we fear not having enough, we fear not being enough. It could be said that we fear living and we fear dying. Many of our fears are not so strong that we would label them fears and the internal scripts that feed the fears are even further out of our conscious awareness.

Nevertheless, however mild or intense our fears may be, they create an underlying tension that preoccupies us with the need to seek relief which leads us to becoming increasingly self-centered and we establish maladaptive coping strategies...and the most extreme maladaptive coping strategy is violence.

It is important to see our self-absorption as fear-based and an unavoidable phase in our development. It is equally as important to see it as a phase we must pass through. Life experience tends to move us away from self-centeredness and toward responsibility. However, the nature of the issues we face today, individually and collectively, suggests we are in the middle of the painful learning curve of this developmental hurdle. Fear continues to keep us living out of our unhealthy ego drives.

The longer we function under the influence of fears and the unconscious lies that create the fears, the more we create a shadow self. The greater the fear, the larger the shadow. The larger the shadow, the more destructive the effect of the shadow. For most people, the shadow remains unexplored. Without exploration and integration, the shadow remains hidden and continues to be projected onto others in negative and sometimes harmful ways.

The road to recovery and renewal is a challenging one, not just because of the enormity of the problems but because we have yet to recognize the core issue beneath the problems. We will see true progress toward resolving societal ills by leaving the surface level of the problems and dropping into the core, acknowledging that our individual fear-based attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are part of the problem. However, an acknowledgment alone will not be enough. We must be willing to make fundamental shifts in the way we live.

While the complexity of these issues is enormous, we can start with some simple changes that everyone can do regardless of age, race, sex, ethnic origin, religious affiliation or non-affiliation, socioeconomic status, personal beliefs, or political ideology. Here are some suggestions:

1). Be accountable. Admit to yourself and others the ways that fear has negatively effected you life and the lives of others.

2) Increase your capacity for self-reflection to access the hidden fears and realize your undeveloped talents and gifts that have been neglected. Work with a companion guide that can be a catalyst for movement away from the unconscious, conditioned self.

3) Dialogue with trusted others. Share your dreams and passions for a better world and discuss action steps for positive movement in that direction.

4) Monitor your thoughts...all thoughts...even the thoughts that seem positive...and drop them like a bad habit. Instead, try to live each moment as a direct experience of that moment rather than thinking, analyzing, or judging the moment. 

The words of Albert Einstein offer us wise counsel: " No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it". We can't rely on others to save us. Our leadership is operating under the same trance of fear and denial of personal responsibility. You and I are the only ones that can make a real difference in the world.

From Rumi...

"Your task is not to seek love, but to merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it".

Warped Reality By Mark Walstrom

"America is getting angrier and more afraid every day". 
Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh

It's 1944. You're an American G.I. on the Pacific island of Peleliu with a Japanese tank creeping your way. You aim your bazooka and pull the trigger, sending the tank flying in a cloud of fire and molten steel. Somebody yells, "One down, keep it up!" You run toward the burning wreck and see a Japanese soldier, whose legs have been blown off, writhing in agony. You pull out your machine gun, point it at his face, and fire.

This execution of a wounded soldier is one of hundreds of savage scenes in the video game Call of Duty, which has sold more than 250 MILLION copies since its introduction in 2003. The game's violence is hardly unusual in this MULTIBILLION-dollar industry. Now imagine such scenes rendered in virtual reality, you could literally crane your neck down to see the Japanese soldier begging for mercy at your feet and, when you fire, watch his blood splatter up on you. After years of anticipation, a host of "immersive reality" consumer devices are being rolled out. (from Andrew Rosenblum, Psychology Today, October 2016).

What is the effect of the above referenced article in your body? Your psyche? Your soul? Did you have any thoughts like "Wow, that's intense--who would play that kind of game? Glad I'm not like that!"

Being human with a well developed persona, we are all under the influence of a warped reality more moments of our life than not. Maybe not manifesting in the same intensity as the game scene in the above article--but probably so at times. Its not surprising that 250 million people spend their money on escapist games--living removed from our truest nature is a painful existence and we're looking for an out from the pain. And, life can be challenging--why not check out?

How do you try to escape your pain?

Where do you live in virtual (simulated, artificial, make believe) reality in your life rather than actual reality?

How are you waking up from the trance?

What are we waiting for?

John Mayer - Waiting On the World to Change

 

Transformation: A spiritual Earthquake By Mark Walstrom

There is a difference between conceptualizing transformation as an idea or ideal that happens "out there" and having internal transformative experiences by living in the reality of the moment.

The primary reason that true transformation doesn't occur is that the closer we come to actually crossing over a threshold that would lead to a fundamental reorientation of our life away from the unconscious ego drives and toward conscious living, the more fear arises and paralyzes us if we are not aware of its presence...either halting our movement or redirecting us back into the familiar ways of the ego self.

Preparation for the actual movement in one's life is a necessary stage...reading, engaging in various practices or disciplines, and developing emotional strength and stamina...but at some point one has to make a decisive, intentional choice to act...to move beyond the cerebral and into direct experience of the moment...and allow it to change us.

The spiritual earthquake that occurs in transformation is that I am no longer who I thought myself to be...which is simultaneously terrifying and liberating.

Here's a recent reflection by Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr that speaks to this theme followed by a music selection by Jimmy Cliff:

(Richard Rohr)
For much of my life, I've been trying to facilitate transformation--conversion, change of consciousness, change of mind--with various strategies and formats. The transformed mind lets you see how you process what's coming at you. It allows you to step back from your own personal processor so you can be more honest about what is really happening to you. If you do not detach, you are too attached to yourself.

It's not so much about what comes at you; it's what you do with it. The Achilles heel of organized religion might be that we tend to tell people what to see instead of teaching them how to see. The contemplative way of looking at something is letting it be what it is in itself, as itself, without any meddling from me by needing to describe, fix, consume, sell, understand, or use it in any self-serving way.

Transformation is not merely a change of morals, group affiliation, or belief system--though it might lead to that--but a change at the very heart of the way you receive, hear, and pass on each moment. Do you use the moment to strengthen your own ego position or do you use the moment to enter into a much broader seeing and connecting? Those are two very different ways of seeing.

From a religious perspective, a conversion experience is an experience of an Absolute. And once you've experienced a True Absolute, everything else is relativized, including yourself! Once you've experienced fullness, you don't need to keep seeking "that which does not satisfy" (Isaiah 55:2). Authentic God experience always leads you toward service, toward the depths, the edge, the outsider, the lower, the suffering, and the simple. What you once thought was "the center" has shown itself not to be the center of anything. If there is not such an earthquake in both your heart and mind, I do not think you can rightly speak of spiritual conversion.

Transformation begins with a new experience of a new Absolute, and, as a result, your social positioning gradually changes on almost all levels. Little by little you will allow your politics, economics, classism, sexism, racism, homophobia and all superiority games to lose their one-time rationale. You just "think" and "feel" differently about most things. If this does not happen in very specific ways, I have no reason to believe you have been converted. Your motivation foundationally changes from security, status, and sabotage to generosity, humility, and cooperation. If you do not want to go there, you'd better stay away from the Holy One.

 

The Separate Self By Mark Walstrom

The primary obstacle to ending individual and collective suffering is the need to separate ourselves from others, natural order, and the source of life. If we truly are all one by nature (part of the web of life) then any sense of separation that is experienced comes from within us in the form of mental constructs: thoughts/perceptions/ideologies/beliefs/judgments. And the extreme expression of separation is violence toward self ("I don't belong") or others ("you are the enemy").

While we all have distinct physical features and personal histories, a sense of separation keeps us feeling alone, isolated and empty. DIFFERENCES ARE A GIVEN, SEPARATION IS A CHOICE.

A quote by physicist David Bohm:

"Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality."

Spiritual Bypassing: The Great Deception By Mark Walstrom

Of all the ways that we fool ourselves into thinking that we are living authentically and on the high side of life, spiritual bypassing is probably the most deceptive and damaging.

The term spiritual bypassing was first introduced in 1984 by author, psychologist, Buddhist practitioner, and one of my mentors, John Welwood. He describes spiritual bypassing as a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks...trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced it and made peace with it. Spiritual bypassing often wreaks its worst havoc in relationships. We've all read about the spiritual guru or religious leader who fell from respect for stealing or a sexual scandal. For many of us though, spiritual bypassing is not that obvious.

John writes: "The basic human wound which is prevalent in the modern world, forms around not feeling loved or intrinsically lovable as we are. And as we internalize this conclusion, our capacity to value ourselves becomes damaged. In contrast to the indigenous cultures, modern child-rearing leaves most people suffering from various levels of insecure attachment: self-hatred, lack of grounding, chronic insecurity and anxiety, overactive minds, disembodiment, lack of basic trust, and a deep sense of inner deficiency. So many of us suffer from an extreme degree of alienation and disconnection that was unknown in earlier times--from society, community, family, older generations, nature, religion, tradition, our body, our feelings, and our humanity itself".

And he adds: "Being a good spiritual practitioner cam become a compensatory identity that covers up and defends against an underlying deficient identity, where we feel badly about ourselves, not good enough, or basically lacking. And when spiritual practice is used to bypass our real-life human issues, it remains unintegrated with or overall functioning".

Psychology speak aside, our individual lives and our relationships will continue to suffer and we will not be able to truly wake up from the mistaken identity (ego) until we become aware of how we bypass the necessary work of moving beyond the internalized script that we are defective at our core.

Of course, there are many spiritual practices that actually help us wake up...like silence. But waking up requires that we discern what spiritual practices and study are actually helping us wake up and what are continuing to feed the ego self...keeping us unconscious and stuck in auto pilot mode.

Wound and Light by Valerie DodgeReyna

"The wound is the place where the Light enters you"- Rumi

Today as I write I am mindful of the recent and present catastrophic disasters that are hemming in havoc at the borders of North America.  Harvey, Irma, Maria…are marching eerily to the same beat of the major earthquakes and raging forest fires.  I am personally affected by this as I await in silence to hear a word from my beloved family in Puerto Rico who have felt the heat of these epic storms, now twice with a few weeks.  The lights have gone out from a complete loss of power and in the face of hope. 

If you find yourself feeling numb about these events you are not alone.  The human mind cannot possibly comprehend what the earth is purging and the human heart has a certain capacity for what the feelings can hold.  

But there is gift. The gift of the wound. 

Like disasters, "the wound" is powerful enough to take us to the most important things in life.  To drink in the deeper water that satisfies our thirst, to the pearl of great price and to the buried treasure underneath the surface of what the eyes can see and the heart aches over.  

If you pay attention to the silent gestation that is happening beneath all the rubble, you will notice shimmers of light emerging out of the darkness.  The normal playing field of humanity has been leveled in these disasters and we are witnesses to something underneath the blankets of security, the inequality of power and false identities.  I have noticed a common thread of humility with glimpses of the true self and a collective strength that has resurrected from the mounds of debris.   As the images surface of those who are helping one another we are witnessing the truth in equality, the innate goodness of humankind, and the beauty of a united purpose.  Though incredibly hard, I am hearing what is sacred in the conversations; many who are saying “I have lost everything but what is most important now is helping others”.  But we know too well from 911 how temporary this awakening can be.  

Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Do you ever find that a daunting inquiry? 

I believe we only see as far as our wounds limit us.  So we try and think our way into living or we live into the limitations of a persona that has been shaped by these wounds perhaps without ever noticing them until one day like the earth our wounds cry out, "Mend my life"!  For most of us it takes a catastrophic event.

Again, there can be a gift in these events.   However, finding our true self does not have to enslave itself to disasters.   There are other ways to wake up.  If you pay attention, you will hear the voice calling you home. 

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Journey by Mary Oliver

 San Jaun, Puerto Rico-2013

San Jaun, Puerto Rico-2013

The Felt Sense Of Waking Up By Mark Walstrom

The intellect cannot help us wake up from the trance of auto-pilot living. It requires a return to the body...the felt sense of life. We simply give ourselves permission to feel again...or maybe for the first time. It starts with the breath. We allow ourselves to experience the natural rhythm of our breath. As we breathe the armor and protection soften and slowly drop away.

Breathe...just breathe...and feel yourself come back to life.

1000 Gestalten...a performance art video of embodied waking up...

 

 

Lose Yourself, Gain the World by Mark Walstrom

Since the beginning of religious life there have been prophets, sages, masters, and teachers who have extolled the virtues, if not the necessity, of losing oneself as the way to happiness and true freedom of living. How, then, can you lose yourself and gain happiness and freedom now? Surprisingly, it is both simple and accessible to all who want it.

There are many names for losing yourself in such a way that you are truly free: The Heroes Journey, transformation, conversion, metamorphosis, The Road Less Traveled, shadow work, death and resurrection, contemplation, salvation, The Narrow Way, enlightenment, drala, Wu Wei, and many more. But naming it is only the first step. The challenge is to consciously live the experience of losing yourself in day to day life.

If losing your self to gain happiness and freedom is your preferred manner of living, then it is necessary to first understand what happiness, freedom, the self, and your truest nature are in this context. The self is who you think you are...your persona. It is not your truest nature. Your entire reality is built upon a premise of a self. Like many others, you probably have invested a lot of time, energy, resources, as well as enlisted the help of others, in constructing an identity (self) that you believe will bring attention, approval, success, and worth. While living through the mask of the persona can generate pleasurable experiences, positive social benefits, and is an inevitable part of human development, it is only a shell of what is possible and cannot bring you true happiness and freedom. Further, when you unconsciously accept the limited confines of the artificial personality as reality, it is impossible for you to live from your truest nature. In order to access and live your truest nature, you will have to “lose” your self.

Nature, if allowed to be in its organic state, is pure life. A tree is a tree, a flower is a flower, an eagle is an eagle, an atom is an atom. Each plant, animal, cloud, river is distinct and an expression of its truest nature. There is no confusion of identity...no conflict. Everything is connected, therefore, everything matters. You also are part of the web of life...you belong to the natural order of life. Your truest nature is the core of your being...your essence. It is the creative spark of life that enlivens your words, actions and gestures...an intimate and empowering interface between the source of life and all humanity.

You'll know you are living from your truest nature when, in spite of continued external demands and pressure, your thoughts, emotions, physical being, and breath are in congruence with each other. You experience a flow state. You make conscious choices rather than habitual, conditioned, and unconscious ones. There is a quiet and natural presence that emanates from you. Nothing is lacking. Your truest nature is the unique and generative expression of life force energy flowing through you in every moment. Losing the self makes it possible to access and live your truest nature.

Happiness, from the perspective of the self, is usually associated with the accumulation of things, expectations that are met, personal achievements, or pleasurable moments; graduation, marriage, birth of a child, job promotion. But true happiness is more of a natural state of being than a possession, result, or isolated experience. Happiness is the joy you feel as you live and express your truest nature. Greater levels of happiness are continually possible as you evolve into deeper levels of your truest nature. There is no limit to your happiness because there is no limit to your truest nature.

Freedom is the birthright of every living being. It is not something you have to earn and does not require authorization from anybody else. You can literally be imprisoned and still be free. For the most part, though, your freedom is diminished or lost not from external influences but when you live from the unconscious limitations and survival strategies of the self. You will experience the vast qualities of freedom when you are awake and live from your truest nature.

Losing, in this context, appears to be a verb that implies action...something you have to do. However, in reality, losing your self involves doing nothing. You simply live in direct experience of the present moment and what is. There is no effort required, no struggle or urgency to make something happen, no destination to reach...no instruction, theory, cosmology, doctrine, or dogma to follow...no degree or credential necessary...no religious or non-religious affiliation to claim ... no need for beliefs, nothing to improve, fix, analyze, or resolve. You simply wake up and live the truth of your being in each moment rather than live from the unconscious, limited confines of your persona identity. Without a self, your truest nature unfolds moment by moment and you gain expanding access to all that life has to offer. Doing nothing is a surprisingly active and full place. You are real, vulnerable, transparent, and in conscious, intimate relationship with others, the present moment, and the web of life. In other words, you are awake, acutely alive, and in love.

Waking up, like losing, suggests there is something you have to do in order to wake up. However, when waking up from a state of physical sleep you don't do anything to wake up...conscious connection of the present moment simply comes into awareness and eventually your eyes open. Waking up is simply coming back to the moment...having direct contact with the actuality of life....including uncomfortable feelings. You are here now...and now...and now. Living in the persona is akin to a sleep state and creates frequent disconnection from the present moment by way of limiting and often unconscious beliefs about who you think you are and what life is all about. Many moments of your life pass by without actually living them...you are not engaged but in auto-pilot mode. There are beliefs about life and there is direct experience of life.

Losing your self can be emotionally unsettling and temporarily disorienting because you've been attached to your personal identity and all of its survival strategies for the greater part of your life. Without a fixed identity, there is a collapse. You may experience a sense of being confused or lost which creates imagined fears. The shadow side of your life will surface...all that has been repressed, ignored, denied, and judged. Pain is the messenger. The message is to wake up. We cannot hurry it or end it. It happens in each moment and for a lifetime.

If you choose to lose your self, it can be helpful to find and befriend a living companion guide or healer who has first-hand experience of living from their truest nature and can help you remember who you truly are as you go through change. Even somebody who is living just a little bit more from their truest nature than where you are living can help you see what is possible. A true healer is a mid-wife of consciousness...offering a wake-up call and a mirror to see reality...pushing at the edge of your understanding. The healer cooperates with the natural movement of life... helping you lose your self with ease and grace and discover a life of heart and soul.

In the end, whatever you name it, losing your self is an inner practice of becoming...the gradual evolution from infancy to mature union with life itself (God). It is an initiation toward a new way of living that is profoundly simple, original, and alive. Life is dynamic and free, spontaneously arising and then falling away, impermanent. To that end I offer my wholehearted support to help you awaken to your truest nature. My ultimate purpose is to serve as a guide for movement in the direction of that which is within you, and every one of us, and which we must discover for ourselves.