Archive for the 'Meditation' Category

Two New Videos

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Here are a couple of talks from my April 2011 workshop at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Exploring the Mystery of Consciousness. I’ve turned them into videos with gentle images of water.

Buddha, Dukkha, and The Journey to Now
This looks at the parallels between Buddha’s spiritual journey and our own. I describe how the Buddhist term dukkha, often translated as “suffering”, is better described as discontent, and stems from resistance to our experience of the present moment.


Audio Only

Ayahuasca: Is It Really an Entheogen
Entheogen means “generating god within”. Ayahuasca may well produce profound spiritual openings and personal transformation, but does it really generate a connection with the Divine?


Audio Only

The Easiest of Times; The Hardest of Times

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Buddha had it easy. He was not distracted by television, the internet, news of disasters in foreign lands, or the latest shenanigans of stars and politicians. He did not need to return phone calls, respond to the emails piling up in his inbox, or catch up with the latest tweets and Facebook postings. He did not have to work at a job in order to pay the bills. He was not worried by stock market woes, radiation leaks, climate change, or bank failures. His mind was not ceaselessly buzzing with the dull roar of traffic, muzak, and ever-present electrical hum. He was not bombarded by seductive advertisements telling him he lacked this or that and could not be happy till he had them. He was not embedded in a culture which sought at every turn to focus his attention on having or doing the right things, filling his mind with unnecessary thoughts and invented needs.

Yet his path was hard. Growing up, the only spiritual advice he had was from Vedic priests who advocated elaborate rituals and sacrifices as the path to salvation. He had to leave home and spend years wandering through the forests and villages of northern India searching for spiritual guides. And those of any help were few and far between. The spiritual pioneers of the time were just beginning to realize that spiritual liberation came from within rather than some or other deity. But how to free the mind? He tried everything available, studying with the best teachers he could find, even adopting austerity to the point where he nearly died of starvation. But in the end had to work it out for himself. And when he did he came to the then radical realization that it is our attachment to our ideas of how things should be that keeps us apart from our true nature.

Today we have it so much easier. We can reap the benefit of Buddha’s discoveries—and of the many sages who augmented his teachings with their own discoveries, leading to the rich lineages of Tibetan, Zen, and Theravadan Buddhism. We can learn from the wealth of other Indian philosophies that have evolved over the centuries, from Taoist teachings, Sufi traditions, and Western mystics. Not only do we have the benefit of all those years of spiritual enquiry in so many cultures, we can access the wisdom of the many awakened ones alive today. We can go sit at their feet, read their words, listen to recordings, watch videos or live streams on the internet. We also have advances in psychology, neuroscience, chemistry, and biology to help us on our way. Most significantly, we are distilling the diverse expressions of this perennial wisdom into a common understanding. Stripping away the trappings of time and culture, we are collectively discovering, as Buddha did for himself, that the essence of awakening is simply letting go of our preconceptions and judgments, returning our attention to the present moment, and there recognizing our true nature.

In short, it is becoming easier and easier to awaken, while our times conspire to make it harder and harder. How do they balance out? Overall, is it any easier or any harder than 2,500 years ago? Who knows? But we can shift the balance in our favor by being ever watchful against the distractions, and taking advantage of today’s growing wealth of spiritual wisdom.

How do I pray?

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Someone recently asked: How do I pray? I answered: I pray not for divine intervention in the world around, but for divine intervention in my mind, for therein lies the root of my discontent.

We usually think of prayer as an appeal to God, or some other spiritual entity, to change the world in some way. We might pray for someone’s healing, for success in some venture, for a better life, or for guidance on some challenging issue. Behind such prayers is the recognition that we don’t have the power to make the world the way we would like it to be—if we did, we would simply get on with the task—so we beseech a higher power to change things for us.

Changing the world in some way or other occupies much of our time and attention. We want to get the possessions, opportunities, or experiences that we think will make us happy—or conversely, avoid those that will make us suffer. We believe that if only things were different we would be happy.

This is the ego’s way of thinking. It is founded on the belief that how we feel inside depends upon what is going on around us. When the world is not the way we think it should be, we become discontent. This can take many forms—dissatisfaction, disappointment, frustration, annoyance, irritation, depression, despair, sadness, impatience, intolerance, judgment, grievance, grumbling. Yet whatever form the discontent may take, it is actually a creation of our own minds. It stems from how we see things, from the interpretations we put on our experience.

For example, if I am stuck in a traffic jam, either I can see it as something that is going to make me suffer later—being late for an appointment, missing some experience, or upsetting someone—and thus begin to feel anxious, frustrated, or impatient. Or I can see it as the chance to relax, take it easy, and do nothing for a few minutes. The same situation; two totally different reactions. And the difference is purely in my mind.

The ego believes it has my best interests at heart, and holds on to its view of what I need. Locked into a fixed perception like this, it is hard for me to see that I am stuck. I believe the fault lies in the world out there, rather than my beliefs about how things should be. So I tell myself a story of what should change in order for me to be happy, and set about trying to make that happen.

When I find I cannot make the world the way I think it should be, then I might, if the need seems sufficiently important, beseech some higher power to intervene and change things for me. I am, in effect, asking it to do the bidding of my ego. Yet, as most of us have discovered, the ego seldom knows what is truly best for us.

If, on the other hand, I recognize that my suffering may be coming from the way I am seeing things, then it makes more sense to ask, not for a change in the world, but for a change in my thinking. I may pray for the traffic jam to go away, when it might be wiser to pray that my feelings of frustration and tension go away.

The help I need is help in stepping out of the ego’s way of seeing. So when I pray, I ask, with an attitude of innocent curiosity: “Could there, perhaps, be another way of seeing this?” I do not try to answer the question myself, for that would doubtless activate the ego-mind, which loves to try and work things out for me. So I simply pose the question, let it go, and wait.

What then often happens is that a new way of seeing dawns on me. It does not come as a verbal answer; it comes as an actual shift in perception. I find myself seeing the situation in a new way.

One of the first times I prayed this way concerned some difficulties that I was having with my partner. She was not behaving the way I thought she should (and how many of us have not felt that at times?) After a couple of days of strained relationship, I decided to pray, just inquiring if there might possibly be another way of perceiving this.

Almost immediately, I found myself seeing her in a very different light. Here was another human being, with her own history and her own needs, struggling to navigate a difficult situation. Suddenly everything looked different. I felt compassion for her rather than animosity, understanding rather than judgment. I realized that for the last two days I had been out of love; but now the love had returned.

With conventional prayer I might have prayed for her to change. But the divine intervention I needed was not in her behavior, but in my own mind, in the mindsets that were running my thinking.

The results of praying like this never cease to impress me. Invariably, I find my fears and judgments drop away. In their place is a sense of ease. Whoever or whatever was troubling me, I now see through more loving and compassionate eyes. Moreover, the new way of seeing often seems so obvious: Why hadn’t I seen this before? Asking this simple question allows me access to my inner knowing, and lets it shine into my life.

The answer does not always come as rapidly as in the above example. Sometimes the shift happens later—in a dream, or when relaxing doing nothing. The prayer sows the seed; it germinates in its own time. Nor do I always get answers to such prayers. However, even if I only get an answer half the time, those times make the asking well worthwhile.

The beauty of this approach is that I am not praying to some power beyond myself. I am praying to my own self for guidance. Below the surface thinking of my ego-mind, my inner being knows the truth. It sees where I have become caught in a particular mindset, and is ever-willing to help set me free.

Moreover, since my prayers are directed within, to my own essence, I have no concerns whether or not they will be heard. The one offering the prayer and the one receiving it are the same.

There’s No Such Thing as Ego

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

I don’t have an ego. And nor do you.

That doesn’t mean you and I don’t get caught up in egocentric thinking and behavior, but that we are mistaken in thinking of the ego as some separate individual self. some “thing” in the mind.

When I observe my own mind, I notice there is an ever-present sense of “I-ness”. This has been there all my life, and has not changed. The feeling of being “me” is the same feeling I had when I was ten years old. My thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, attitude, character, personality, roles, desires, needs, and beliefs may have changed considerably over the years, but the sense of “I” has not.

I do not find a separate ego, another “self” that sometimes takes over. What I find instead are various patterns of thinking that condition how I decide and act. At times, I may feel fearful or judgmental, and I may behave in ways that are manipulative or self-protective. I may think that if I could just have things be a particularly way I would be happy. I may feel insecure and want attention from others, seeking to feel important. I may draw a sense of identity from my social status, the roles I play, my character, or my lifestyle. And when this is challenged in some way, I may try to defend and reinforce this constructed sense of identity.

In each case, past experiences and conditioning create beliefs, attitudes, needs, desires, and aversions. These become the lens through which I see my world, affecting how I interpret my experience, the thoughts that arise in my mind, and a whole set of stories about what to say or do, in order to get what I think will bring make me feel better. However, the “I” that is interpreting and thinking is the same “I” that is always there. But its attention has become engrossed in some or other “egoic” pattern of thinking, leading to correspondingly egocentric decisions and actions.

What we call the ego is not another separate self so much as a mode of being that can dominate our thinking, decisions, speech, and actions, leading us to behave in ways that are uncaring, self-centered, or manipulative.
Our exploration of ego would be more fruitful if we stopped using the word as a noun, which immediately implies some “thing”, and instead thought of ego as a mental processes that can occupy our attention. For this a verb is a more appropriate part of speech. I am “ego-ing”.

The difference is subtle, but very important. If I see the ego as a separate self, some thing, then it is easy to fall into the belief—common in many spiritual circles—that I must get rid of my ego, transcend it, or overcome it in some way. But seeing ego as a mental process, a system of thinking that I get caught in, suggests that I need to step out of that mode of thinking—to look at the world through a different lens, one less tainted by fear, insecurity and attachment.

This is a much easier and more effective approach. When I notice myself caught up in egoic thinking, rather than berating myself (or my imagined ego), I can notice what is going on and step back from it. This doesn’t mean I have eliminated that way of thinking. It will surely return. And when it does, I can choose to step out of it again. Transcending the ego thus becomes an ongoing practice rather than a far-off goal.

See also: Another way of seeing in Prayer for Peace

From Hafiz:

Friday, November 19th, 2010

It happens all the time in heaven,
And some day
It will begin to happen
Again on earth—

The men and women . . . .
Who give each other
Light,
Often will get down on their knees

And. . .with tears in their eyes,
Will sincerely speak, saying,

“My dear,
How can I be more loving to you;
How can I be more Kind?”

Seek and Ye Shall Not Find

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

“Seek and Ye Shall Find!” In daily life this may be true; the more we search for something, the more likely we are to find it. Although, even in this realm, synchronicity sometimes plays an important role, opening us to possibilities we never could have planned for. [see: How to be a Wizard]

But when it comes to finding our own inner essence, the opposite is true. Whether it be settling into meditation, finding inner peace, or discovering the true nature of the self, seeking stands in the way of our discovering the truth.

Seeking has some goal in mind, something it wants to find. It creates a focus and a slight tightening of consciousness. It may not be obvious at first, but when the mind is quiet this faint background tension becomes apparent.

In such a state we cannot, by definition, be totally at ease. Only when we let go of all seeking, or any wish to find some other state of mind, can we be truly free. When we do let go completely, and accept our experience exactly as it is, the mind falls back into its natural unconditioned state. [see: The Natural Mind] We find what we have been seeking; and realize that it has been obscured by the very act of seeking.

But do not try to stop seeking, for that will only repeat the error at a subtler level. When you notice that an attitude of seeking has sneaked its way back in, simply notice it. Let it be. Accept it as part of what is happening in the present moment, and you will fall back into the truth that lies beyond all seeking.

The Path of No Path

Monday, November 23rd, 2009


Spiritual teachers with non-dual leanings often say that there is no path to enlightenment. There is nowhere to get to; you are already enlightened, you just do not know it. There is no need for a technique or practice; they will only keep your mind trapped in the illusion of relative phenomena. Do not meditate; do nothing.

There certainly is a profound truth embedded in such statements. When awakening occurs, there is the realization that there really was nowhere else to get to, no higher state of consciousness to achieve. The world remains as it is, and your experience remains as it is. What shifts is your relationship to experience, or rather your non-relationship to it. The identification with a constructed sense of self is no longer there. “You” are not thinking, seeing, breathing; thinking, seeing, and breathing are just occurring. It is obvious that it always was this way; but all our wanting, striving, clinging, avoiding, and self-identification obscured this simple fact.

In this sense there is nothing to do. The very opposite: it is our doing that is the problem. When we let go of all attachments as to how things should or could be, we wake up to the truth of what is. Even the word enlightenment is misleading; it implies some other, “higher”, state of consciousness. This is what makes the statement “you are already enlightened” so confusing, But to say you are already awake, but not awake to your own wakefullness, or you are already aware, but not fully aware of awareness, makes more sense.

From the awakened perspective, it is true that there is nowhere to get to. This is why many teachers say: Do nothing. Stop. Don’t meditate. Don’t try and get somewhere other than you already are. There is nowhere to go. Nothing to do. There is no path.

And yet… Many of these teachers did tread a path. Some spent years investigating the true nature of our apparent “I-ness”. Others followed a path of total surrender, or a deep deconstruction of experience. My own glimpses of the truth have come in periods of deep mediation, when the mind is totally relaxed and still. Then I see so clearly there is nowhere to get to. And yet, if had not followed a path that allowed me to drop into a deep stillness and let go of my habitual mode of experience, I would not have fully appreciated this truth.

So from the unawake perspective—which is where I am most the time, and probably most of you are most the time—there are paths to follow. And, until such time as they are no longer needed, the paths that help the most are those that develop the skill of letting go, allowing the mind to relax, releasing all effort, all trying to get somewhere. So, do not meditate an intent to reach some enlightened state of being. But do take time to let the “doing mind” die away, to sink into your own being, Take time to learn how to do nothing.

Praying for Peace – A Different Take

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Each of us would rather experience peace than suffering. One reason we do not experience as much peace as we would like is the result of how we see things, the interpretations we put on our experience. If we see things through the eyes of fear and anxiety, caught in judgement or frustration, wishing things were different, clinging to some idea of what we want to happen, then we create discontent and discomfort – the root of so much suffering.

Yet this is the way our everyday self, the ego mind, tends to see things. It grasps onto what it thinks will make us happy, rejecting what it thinks will bring us pain. It may, from time to time, bring us temporary happiness, but it seldom finds real peace in what it sees.

If we are not at peace, then it just may be that it is our way of seeing that is the culprit. We may not realize that we have become stuck in our perception. We may not realize there is another way of looking at things. But deep down we know. Our innate wisdom, the quiet inner voice of the unconditioned self, knows. We have only to open to it, with an attitude of innocent curiosity, and ask: Could there perhaps be an other way of seeing this?

In doing so we are praying to our inner self for guidance. We are praying for peace. But we are not praying to be given peace. We are praying to be shown the way to peace within ourselves.

A Meditation for Air Travellers

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Airplanes would be an ideal place to meditate—nothing to do, lots of spare time to relax—except for one thing; all the noise and bustle going on around you. In that respect, an airplane might seem the worst place to meditate.

To make meditating in a plane both easy and enjoyable I have recorded a basic 15-minute meditation practice in a form that takes into account all that is going on in a plane. Download it, transfer it your iPod, or other mp3 player, and take it with you on your next flight. You will arrive more relaxed and refreshed.

http://www.peterrussell.com/Meditation/PlaneMed.php