Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Getting Centered

Although they use different terms for the concept, many religions and philosophies emphasize the high importance of "being centered." They may tell you in their own language to be centered in God, in Love, in Spirit, in Service, in Your Heart, in Beauty, in The Present Moment, or in the space two inches below your navel (which goes by many names in Eastern traditions). There's no doubt that it's a great idea to be there. I want to talk about how to get there.

Naturally, I'm going to call upon Hawaiian tradition for help. The Hawaiian "place" for being centered is the piko , the navel, which also means a "center." One of the names for Easter Island is "The Navel of the World". Quite a number of ancient cities or areas have used that or a similar name for themselves, and that gives us a clue to a deeper meaning. In this respect it refers to "that point from which, toward which, and around which everything else moves." Literally and figuratively, the navel represents our connection to the source of life. Symbolically then, the navel is a direct conduit to the source itself, and to be centered in the navel is to be centered in the source.

In case you are starting to wonder whether this is a promotion for meditating on one's navel, rest assured that it isn't. Navel meditation is a good technique for certain things, but my point is leading elsewhere. In Hawaiian culture the navel area is also the center for the "heart, mind, and feelings" because these are alternate meanings for the word na'au , "intestines." Another word, mana'o , relates to thought, mind, belief and opinion, but in addition to expectation, concentration and memory. Hawaiians recognized intellectual thought as being something quite different and devoid of feelings. Manawa , the key word for the Huna principle "Now is the moment of power," also means "heart, feelings, affections" in addition to "the crown of the head." To confuse you a little further before I make sense of all this, the word piko can be used for the crown of the head and the genitals, as well as the navel. Have patience, the point will be made.

It seems reasonable to suppose that in order to be centered you have to know what centeredness is like. Surprisingly, very little is written or said about the experience itself. The terms "bliss" and "oneness" have been used a lot, but they don't really convey anything to someone who has never been there. It's like trying to describe your trip though the Sahara Desert to friends and family back in your home town who have never traveled outside of their own area. First they try to look interested, then they go blank, and finally, as soon as they can, they start to fill you in on the local gossip. In order to want to be somewhere, there has to be something there that you would consider worthwhile, something you can relate to as a good thing.

So here is my description of what centeredness is like. I can do this because I've been there, and I'm still working on the skills to get back there more often. Anyway, one characteristic of centeredness is peacefulness. When you are centered you feel peaceful. You have no conflicts causing stress, your mind is clear, and your body is relaxed in a way that really feels good. Another characteristic is a feeling of loving connectedness. You feel loved and you feel like loving everyone and everything around you. Fear ceases to be. A third characteristic is confidence. You feel able to do what you want and able to handle any circumstances that may arise. It's a very creative feeling where anger and frustration are non-existent. The last characteristic in my description is harmony. You feel like a significant part of everything that was, is and will be. All sense of insignificance, alienation, and being out of touch with life is gone.

Sounds great, right? Sure. Sounds impossible for most people, huh? It might sound that way, but it isn't. Anyone can do it, but that doesn't mean it's easy to do. If it were easy I wouldn't be writing about it, partly to help you and partly to help myself. If it were easy we'd all be there right now. But it's do-able.

What I'm about to give you is a way to get there. It isn't so much a technique as it is a certain kind of behavior to practice. What I'm giving you won't lock you into centeredness (I don't know if that's possible or even desirable), but it will help you get back to center when you've strayed away. The objective here is to get closer to centeredness each time you try. It isn't a promise that you'll experience the whole thing on the first try. If this can help you get a little more centered than you are - a little more peaceful, a little more loving, a little more confident, a little more in harmony - then that's a good thing, especially if you can keep getting a little closer every day.

Remember all the Hawaiian stuff above? It leads to the idea that feelings, or emotions, are the meeting place of mind and body. They are the means by which your mind and body communicate, with each other and with the world. Feelings are your feedback. The better you feel the more centered you are. So the practice is one of doing something that will make you feel better, without a lot of effort, something specific. All you have to do is to practice giving, the kind expressed in the Hawaiian word manawale'a. It means "to give freely and willingly' and a root translation would be "glad heart."

What do you give? Anything you want, as long as it's done consciously, freely and willingly. But you don't have to be limited to material things. And it's not a question of giving anything away. It's about giving gifts. Here are some ideas of what you can give: acknowledgement, attention, appreciation, gratitude, prayers, wishes, encouragement, support, presents, and healing or helpful thoughts and acts. You can give to other people, to anything in your environment, to anything or anyone you know of, to God or the Universe, and to your own body, mind and spirit. 

The objective is to give as much as you can as often as you can, and to give with the conscious intention of giving a gift. It sounds easier than it is. At some point you are likely to experience resistance or strange sensations as the practice stirs up deep patterns of thought and behavior. But the path of giving leads to centeredness.

The state of being centered is well illustrated in this Hawaiian proverb that refers to a person who can remain calm in the face of difficulty:

He po'i na kai uli, kai ko'o, 'a'ohe hina puko'a 
Though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Lateral Perspective

Some time ago I received a letter from a man asking for weapons to use in his battle against sorrow, pain, anger and fear. Since I approach everything from an Aloha point of view as much as possible, I gave him this answer:

"Let's sideslip into some lateral thinking and take a different perspective on this. As an alternative to dealing with sorrow, pain, anger and fear as enemies, you can treat them as behaviors based on assumptions held by people, rather than personified things that you have to fight. You aren't really going to encounter any sorrow, pain, anger or fear. You will encounter sorrowful, angry, and fearful people as well as people in pain. Then what you need are tools to help you deal with such people, or tools to help them change.

Going further out on our lateral limb, let's divide all human responses into passive and active modes of love and fear. Then we could say that the passive and active modes of love are peace and play, and that their fear-based counterparts are flight and fight. Flight responses involve passive resistance to change (personal, social, environmental) and often manifest as pain, sorrow, depression, etc. Anger, of course, is a fight response for getting rid of (destroying) an unwanted condition, especially the condition of helplessness. That's why it's so seductive. The movement, energy and changes effected give an illusion of power. But driving it is the fear of powerlessness.

The advantage of accepting these lateral assumptions is that it leads us to require only one tool to deal with all of it. We can observe that the core characteristic of a love response is confidence. Then we can extrapolate to say that as confidence increases so does love, while at the same time fear decreases, along with its two less effective responses. From that perspective, confidence is the tool that¹s needed. both for ourselves and for others. Specific techniques which serve that end are what we as healers or teachers use or create to apply that tool.

Here are two further thoughts to help you along. Firstly, confidence comes from a belief in your access to power. The more stable your source of power (or the more stable you believe it to be) the more consistently confident you will be. So techniques need to be designed to improve the access or strengthen the belief. Ke Akua Nui, the Spirit of the Universe, is a nice source to work with, but the most effective source is the one to which you attrubute the most authority or power. Secondly, remember that the tools for creating any techniques are feelings, words, images and/or movement.

Go for confidence., using any tools you know now or any that you learn, and believe without a doubt in any source for confidence that you choose. Then sorrow, pain, anger and fear will fade away without a fight."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Decision Jitters

My mother once sent me a miniature dartboard for my desktop, complete with miniature darts. On the dartboard itself were various statements like "Work early, Work late, Do it now, do it tomorrow, take a vacation, etc. It was designed to help a busy executive make decisions. I got very good at hitting "Take a vacation" whenever I wanted to, so it really didn't help much. Still, wouldn't it be nice if there were some absolutely sure way to make the right decision all the time? I mean something better than tossing a coin, doing a chart, spinning a dial or throwing a dart. Whoever could come up with something like that could get very rich very quickly.

However, I'm not holding my breath. The problem is that we never have enough information to make a guaranteed right decision every time we need to. We usually end up after the fact either patting ourselves on the back for having made the right decision when things turn out well, or condemning ourselves for having made the wrong decision when things don't turn out well. The silly part of this is that the decisions themselves were totally unrelated to the way things turned out.

Let's take a closer look at that. If something turns out well, and you congratulate yourself on having made the right decision that led to it, then you are also assuming that events are predestined. Many people do assume that making a decision about the future is like choosing a direction at a crossroads. One road will take you to fame and fortune and the other wil take you to failure and grief. All you have to do is pick the right one. If life were that neat then all we'd need would be good road maps. And to get those, all we'd need to do would be to make exactly the same decisions that people made who have already reached fame and fortune. After all, that's how real road maps are made. Follow the same route that other people have taken and you'll get to where you want to go. So why hasn't it been done? Where are the roadmaps to fame and fortune, health and fitness, love and happiness, spirituality and mystical union? If all you have to do is make the right decisions, why is there such confusion and so many different--very different--maps?

Well, I'll tell you. It's because moving into the future is not like traveling over the land, where everything pretty much stays in the same place. It's more like traveling over the ocean, where everything is changing all the time. The more knowledge you have and the more skillful you are, the more often you are likely to be successful. But there can be no guarantee that the next trip will be the same, even though you make all the "right" decisions you made before. There are just too many unknowns, too many variables, too many possibilities. If the future weren't like that we'd have better weather forecasts, no one would bother to bet on races, and everyone would get rich in the stock market.

So what can you do when faced with an important decision? The first thing you can do, if you want any possibility of a good result, is to give up being afraid to make the decision because you might not get what you want. If you are unwilling to take any risk whatsoever, you might as well lay down and die right now (but then how do you know if that would be a good decision?) And how would you know if not making a decision would be a good decision?).

The second thing you can do is to be prepared to modify your decision whenever that seems to be a good idea. To go back to the marine analogy, you might start your voyage under full sail, but if the weather changes it might be wise to modify your sails as well.

The third thing you can do is to increase your knowledge and skill as much as you can, while not expecting to be all-wise or perfect. By the time you know everything there is to know and are so skilled you will never be in error, any reason for making the decision will have long gone away.

The fourth, and perhaps most important, thing you can do comes after you make the decision. It is to keep your mind on what you want, and not on what you don't want. I would venture to say that out of all the things we have any control over (and they are few, indeed), this is the one that has the most influence over how well something turns out. The decision to set sail is over in a moment. Then comes the sailing, and that plays a far more important role in whether or not the trip is successful.

Keep your mind on the goal, and as little as possible on what's in the way. When that cannot be avoided, keep your mind on solutions, and as little as possible on the problems.

Remember, it isn't the map that gets you where you want to go; it's what you do after you read it.