CALMING THE INTERNAL SEA
This month, we are looking at "sail-abrating" life by pulling up anchor and letting God take the rudder as we examine how to successfully navigate through life no matter what the condition of the sea.
There is something, something that we all have, something that we all use, something that every single day can either hold us back from our ability to navigate or can give us great assistance. It is our mind!
Ram Dass, a modern day spiritual leader, once wrote: "We are all prisoners of our minds. This realization is the first step on the journey to freedom."a
And so, I want to make a pretty rash statement this morning -- right up front. Are you ready? Can you handle it?!?!?
If your mind is out of control, then your life is out of control. If your mind is out of control, then you simply cannot be letting God take the rudder - so to speak - and no successful navigation can possible occur. It is as simple as that!
Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud's premier student in the field of psychoanalysis, often told this story of the power of mind that is calm and serene.
It seems there was a village that had been experiencing drought for five consecutive years. Many Rainmakers had been called, but they had all failed to make rain. In the villagers' last attempt, they called upon a renowned Rainmaker from afar. When he arrived in the village, he set up his tent and disappeared inside it for four days.
On the fifth day, the rain started to fall and quenched the thirst of the parched earth. The people of the village asked the Rainmaker how he had accomplished such a miracle.
The Rainmaker replied, "I have done nothing". Astounded at this explanation, the villagers said, "How can that be? After you came, four days later, the rain started."
The Rainmaker explained, "When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was that everything in your village was out of harmony with heaven. So I spent four days putting my mind into harmony with the Divine. Then the rains came."b
If your mind is out of control, if your mind is out of harmony with the Divine, then your life is out of control.
If this is the case, what can you do? How can you calm the Internal Sea of your mind?
There is a very interesting book: Essential Spirituality: Exercise from the World's Religions to Cultivate Kindness, Love, Joy, Peace, Vision, Wisdom and Generosity by Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D.c
Based on over twenty years of research and spiritual practice, this is a ground breaking and life-changing book. In his decades of study, Dr. Roger Walsh has discovered that each of the great spiritual traditions has two things in common.
First, and most importantly, they all have a common goal: The goal of recognizing the sacred and divine that exists both within and around us.
And, second, they share common practices -- according to Walsh, a number of common practices -- to reach that goal.
Notice the word PRACTICES! That word is important. 2500 years ago, one of the Holiest of the Holy, The Buddha, said:
However many holy words you read,
However many you speak,
What good will they do you
If you do not act upon them?d
Today, I will share one of those common practices. You may want to read about the rest.
This morning, I want to share with you the practice of Calming the Internal Sea, the practice of controlling that out-of-control mind, that is common to all great spiritual traditions. But before I do that, here is a practice that differs slightly from religion to religion.
What is that practice? It is the practice of changing a light bulb, as we ask the deeply spiritual and highly philosophical question: "How many church members does it take to change a light bulb?"
If you are a Roman Catholic, the answer is: None.
Come on! We all know they use candles.
IF you are a Pentecostal, the answer is: Ten.
One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.
If you are a Presbyterian, the answer is: None.
God has predestined when the lights will be on and off, and we are not to interfere.
If you are a Baptist, the answer is: At least 15.
One to change the light bulb, and two or three committees to approve the change. Oh, and one person to provide a casserole.
If you are a Methodist, the answer is: (see Baptists)
If you are a Lutheran, the answer is: None.
Lutherans don't believe in change.
If you are a Mormon, the answer is: Five.
One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it.
And finally, the following was prepared by a New Thought minister in response to the question "How many of your church members does it take to change a light bulb?":
We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to meditate upon and journal about your personal relationship with your light bulb, and share it next month at our annual light bulb Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life and tinted, all of which, we believe, are equally valid paths to luminescence."
An equal opportunity joke - poking fun at us all! But seriously . .
CONTROL THE MIND
Chuang Tzu (SUE), Taoist Sage once said:
Control the mind.
then the harmony of heaven
will come down and dwell in you.
You will be radiant with life.
You will rest in Tao.e
May you develop mental concentration . .
for whosoever is mentally concentrated,
sees things according to reality.f
That sounds wonderful! Important. There's just one problem. Our minds are restless creatures. Always on the move, they wander ceaselessly, jumping from past memories to future fantasies, constantly plotting and planning, pursuing pleasures and fleeing fears. While driving down the road, we plan our day, refight yesterday's argument, worry about our finances and listen to the radio.
No wonder so many people feel frazzled during the day and exhausted by the end of it. Even more remarkable than the perpetual agitation of our minds is the fact that we recognize only a fraction of this frenzy.
Walsh writes: The recognition of just how extraordinary out of control our minds are was one of the greatest shocks of my life. No training in medicine, neuroscience or psychology had given me more than a hint of it. I was utterly unprepared for the realization of the extent of the mind's wanderlust that my first silent retreat revealed. Each hour I would sit down determined to remain alert and aware and to focus on the sensation of the breath. Yet within seconds, my attention would zoom off into pleasant memories or fearful fantasies and all thought of the breath, or even that I was meant to be focusing on it, was forgotten. Time and again I would awaken from my fantasies and vow that this time I would really focus on the breath and yet, seconds later, both breath and vow would be forgotten. It was a humbling experience, and afterward I wrote: I was forced to recognize that what I had formerly believed to be my rational mind, preoccupied with planning and problem solving, actually comprised a frantic torrent of forceful, demanding, loud and often unrelated thoughts and fantasies . . . It became clear that I had little more than the faintest inkling of self-control of either thoughts or feelings.g
And remember what I said earlier -- If your mind is out of control, then your life is out of control. If your mind is out of control, you are not experiencing, nor are you going to experience, successful navigation of the waters of life.
How's your level of one pointedness? You can get a taste of it in just a couple of minutes by doing the following brief experiment.
Close your eyes and visualize a white ring with a white dot in the middle, on a black background. Try to focus your attention undistractedly on the image and to keep it clear and steady in your mind for one to two minutes.
It is astonishing to find how dramatically the image shifts and changes despite our best effort to hold it steady. Not only does the image change, but attention wanders away to passing thoughts and fantasies.
Buddhists have long compared the mind, lurching from thought to thought, to a crazy monkey leaping erratically from branch to branch. Or how about this description found in The World's Religions by Huston Smith: The motions of the average mind, says the Hindus, are about as orderly as those of a crazed monkey cavorting about its cage. Nay, more; like the prancings of a drunk, crazed monkey. Even so we have not conveyed its restlessness; the mind is like a drunken, crazed monkey that has St. Vitus' Dance. To do justice to our theme, however, we must go a final step. The mind is like a drunken crazed monkey with St. Vitus' Dance who has just been stung by a wasp! . . . How long can the average mind think about one thing -- one thing only, without slipping first into thinking about thinking about that thing and taking off from there on a senseless chain of irrelevancies? About three and a half seconds, psychologists tell us. Like a Ping-Pong ball, the mind will alight where its owner directs it, but only to take off immediately on a jittery flight of staccato bounces that are completely out of hand.h
What if the mind could be turned from a Ping-Pong ball into a lump of dough, which when thrown sticks to a wall until deliberately removed? Would not its power increase if it could be thus held in focus? Would not its strength be compounded, like the strength of a light bulb when ringed by reflectors? This is the aim of concentration. . . . When all the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not -- that, say the wise, is the highest state.
When a student once asked Ramana Maharshi, one of the 20th century's greatest Hindu sages "What stands in the way of my knowing myself or God?" he shot back "your wandering mind."i
So in our busy lives, with our challenges, our activities, how do we focus our wondering minds? How do we concentrate? How to we calm the internal sea? Here are a few simple exercises that Walsh recommends.
Of course, the practice of meditation is a form of calming the internal sea that every spiritual tradition promotes.
But how about this? How about transforming daily activities into sacred rituals? By deciding to use daily activities for spiritual awakening, seemingly insignificant routines become sacred rituals dedicated to developing calm and concentration.
To begin, select a particular activity, such as opening a door, and commit to doing it with as much awareness as possible. Thus, during the day, you will no longer hurl doors open and barge through them mindlessly.
Rather, you might stop before each one just long enough to take a deep breath. Reach carefully for the door handle, feel its touch on your hand, turn it and open the door gently. Then step through and gently close the door behind you.
For the trivial cost of a few seconds you have calmed yourself, brought your attention into the present moment and transformed a mindless routine into a mindful sacred ritual.
Same thing when you get in your car. Instead of jumping into the car and roaring off with the radio blaring, try the following. Leave a few minutes early so you won't feel hurried. Seat yourself behind the steering wheel and take three slow, deep breaths. Remind yourself that you want to use this ride as part of your spiritual practice. Then drive calmly and mindfully, enjoying the scenery and the knowledge that the ride is contributing to your awakening.
Transform telephone calls into wakeup calls. A normal day is filled with numerous interruptions and minor irritations. How often do we answer automatically and semiconsciously when the telephone rings.
Letting the telephone ring slightly longer while taking a deep breath allows you to be fully present to the conversation.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk who was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his remarkable peace work. At his center in France, the staff take two breaths before picking up the telephone. When you call the center, there is a slight pause, and then you are speaking with someone offering you their full attention and calm, clear awareness.j
If you decide that the telephone will be your spiritual alarm, and take a deep breath before answering, like the people in Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery, it might be helpful to put a little note to yourself on the telephone to serve as a reminder, so you don't go into automatic pilot.
How about this, before picking up the phone to say: I am calm, poised and at peace with the world.k
With exercises like these, it soon becomes apparent that any normal activity can be transformed into a sacred ritual and a moment of awakening.
As Jewish wisdom emphasizes: "Any natural act, if hallowed, leads to God."
Those who devote acts such as these to awakening to the present moment may relate to the words of Brother Lawrence, a simple 17th century French monk whose writings about using daily activities as spiritual practices has inspired millions of readers.
We know very little about his life except that he entered the monastery after years spent as a foot soldier. He described himself as a "clumsy fellow who used to break everything" and apparently his superiors agreed. Clumsy and seemingly untalented, he was exiled to the monastery kitchen to wash pots and pans.
But Brother Lawrence did not regard his job as a distraction from spiritual life, or as something to be finished quickly so he could get on with his prayers. Instead he decided to use washing, and every other activity, as an opportunity for remembering God, and constantly brought his attention back to this focus.
After several years, the results of his practice became so evident that even the abbot of the monastery went to him for advice, and Brother Lawrence was able to make the remarkable statement:
This time of busyness does not, with me,
differ from the time of prayer,
and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen
while several people are, at the same time,
calling for different things,
I possess God in as great tranquility
as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.l
Contemplation and mediation are skills; as with any skill they take time to master. For most people the benefits develop slowly but build over time. The first days, weeks, months of practice may feel neither deep nor rewarding, so when starting it is helpful to make a commitment to continue for a specific period of time. And sticking to that commitment takes a word that some of us aren't too crazy about, but it's an appropriate word here -- discipline. Discipline was once defined as: Carrying out a resolution long after the mood has left.
Great paradox of this work -- when we least want to do it, is when we probably could benefit from it the most!
Roger Walsh writes at the conclusion of the chapters on this: The concentrated mind is not only calm but also clear. Just as still water becomes lucid and mirror like, so too a calm, clear mind accurately reflects the world. Chuang Tzu (Sue) wrote:
When water is still, it is like a mirror . . .
and if water thus derives lucidity from stillness,
how much more the faculties of the mind?
The mind of the sage in repose
becomes the mirror of the universe.m
A calm mind offers a clear mirror with which to look out at the world and in at ourselves. A calm internal sea gives us spiritual freedom -- the freedom to experience the presence and the Power of the Divine in our lives; the freedom to manifest a life filled with joy, love, health, abundance, wisdom, and peace.
One last practice from Thich Nhat Hahn. It's a breath break. Say as you breathe:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.n
How freeing it is to experience this - I would say it's something to "sail-abrate"!
cEssential Spirituality: Exercise from the World's Religions to Cultivate Kindness, Love, Joy, Peace, Vision, Wisdom and Generosity Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D
dBuddha from Essential Spirituality: Exercise from the World's Religions to Cultivate Kindness, Love, Joy, Peace, Vision, Wisdom and Generosity Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D p. 21
eChuang Tzu Essential Spirituality: Exercise from the World's Religions to Cultivate Kindness, Love, Joy, Peace, Vision, Wisdom and Generosity Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D p. 45
fThe Buddha Essential Spirituality: Exercise from the World's Religions to Cultivate Kindness, Love, Joy, Peace, Vision, Wisdom and Generosity Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D p. 147
gEssential Spirituality: Exercise from the World's Religions to Cultivate Kindness, Love, Joy, Peace, Vision, Wisdom and Generosity Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D p. 148
hThe World's Religions Huston Smith, p. 48
jThich Nhat Hanh
kScience Of Mind p 249
mChuang Tzu from Essential Spirituality: Exercise from the World's Religions to Cultivate Kindness, Love, Joy, Peace, Vision, Wisdom and Generosity Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D
nThich Nhat Hahn