Author Archives: Donna Quesada

Was Woodstock the First Postmodern Event? (excerpt with link)

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Here is an excerpt from today’s post on my other blog. It’s a sizeable read, but a fun one. And, I broke it down into highly readable sections. I’ve been working on this one for a while. It taps back into my college interest in postmodernism—actually, I wrote my Master’s thesis on the subject—as well as my love of the late 60s. In this article, I argue that Woodstock was the first postmodern event. Yep! Here is an excerpt and a link to it. Please follow me over there, too!

The Woodstock Music and Art Fair wasn’t just a multi-name concert. It was an expression of widespread dissatisfaction. Like the Warhol Brillo boxes, it was a statement. It was social activism. In a way that had never been seen before. It was a critique of the status quo. Although the impetus was Vietnam, it was a call for the wholesale readjustment of all social and political elements that were seen as oppressive.

Finish here:
https://fiftyyearsafter.blog/2019/07/17/woodstock-the-first-postmodern-event/

Do Your Eyes Work? What’s So Special about That?

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From my recent interview with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, on the question of… What’s so great about now?

What is says in the great Mahayana teachings, the Heart Sutra… there is no place to go. This is the first thing people misunderstand about meditation. Now, I have to sit down and experience something cool. Something found. Something transcendent. Healing… that is better than my ordinary this moment, which is so boring and stressful. And of course, that is getting off absolutely on the wrong foot. It’s not about getting somewhere else. It’s actually allowing yourself to be where you already are.

So, you say, “what’s so special about where I already am?” Nothing, except everything. Do your eyes work? What’s so special about that? Are you breathing? What’s so special about that? Can you think and feel? What’s so special about that? Only everything. So, we take everything for granted, until we lose it. Until our eyes don’t work. Or we can’t catch our breath. Or, it feels like life is falling apart. Or, the body is falling apart.

Donna: I love that metaphor. It’s almost like, dropping in is turning our whole body and mind into a big sensory organ, like the eyes.

Jon: Which it is. The whole body is…

* The Whole Skyped Interview will soon be available to watch, on www.awaken.com (other interviews include, Dr. Dean Ornish, Byron Katie, Caroline Myss, and many others)

Why Gratitude Works

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My goal in this post is to say, as precisely and concisely as possible, why gratitude is a good thing. Because in spiritual parlance and self-help guides of all sorts, we hear it, and it sounds intuitively correct, but I’d like to be able to understand why gratitude heals, rather than have it feel like a dogmatic commandment.

The two teaching concepts I’m putting together here are Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and the Yogic model of energetic anatomy.

Buddha has famously pinpointed our attachments as the source of our chronic, self-inflicted, emotional  angst, in the second Noble Truth. He called it Trishna, which means thirst, but refers to any number of tangible and intangible attachments that we carry, at any moment in time. While this idea is often erroneously translated so as to make desires themselves the bad guys, it is rather, our attachment to them, that causes anguish. To make this less abstract, an attachment is any rigid preference. Any mental insistence that things have to be a certain way, or take a certain form.

We all have many of these attachments running, at any time, like open apps in our iPhones. For example, that I’ll never lose my money, or my job, or my car… that I’ll get the call back, or the publishing deal, or the award… that others understand me, that my peers respect me, that my family approves of my decisions, and on and on. Now, imagine if those attachments took the form of energetic cords, reaching out in all directions, plugging into those imaginary situations, out into the surrogate world, where fantasy exists… (see my drawing, above).

From the point of view of energetic anatomy, our life force, or prana, comes into our bodies through the crown of our heads. Like money given to us, it it now up to us, to manage it. If that energy gets siphoned off into myriad attachments, through energetic tendrils, reaching out into a hundred various and sundry fixations, then we’ve invested poorly and the result will be exhaustion at best, and illness at worst.

This is where gratitude comes in. Gratitude quells the inevitable discontent that comes from the endless reaching and grasping. If trishna is thirst, then gratitude is what quenches it, at the root level—from the inside, before those insatiable energetic tendrils even have a chance to stretch out and place their suction cups on anything, on the outside.

So, closing with the analogy of having open apps in our iPhones (something I didn’t know was a problem, until my grown kid looked at me aghast, while swiping them all up and making them vanish… how was I supposed to know?) Our attachments, like those open apps, sap our energy and drain our batteries. So, harnessing and managing our energy, as martial artists and Yogis have always known, becomes the whole game.

This stands from the point of view of healing and feeling better, which are really one and the same. Because the minute we find something to be grateful for, which is how to start, we instantly feel content with what is, rather than anxious about what isn’t. At that very instant, the inner struggle recedes, as we bring our focus on what we have, which feels good, rather than on lack, which feels bad.

I Don’t Have to Figure It All Out Right Now

A very simple question:

What’s the big deal about Now?

I remember one of the advanced monks asking this question to Roshi, at a Zen meditation retreat, many years ago. From Ram Dass’ 1971 classic, Be Here Now, to Eckhart Tolle’s contemporary bestseller, The Power of Now, and the ubiquitous self-help emphasis on mindfulness, it warrants the asking. It has become standard among mental health practitioners to champion this most basic of meditation practices, for its proven benefits for those suffering from depression, to PTSD to the more benign, but inescapable varieties of generalized anxiety, all as common as daily bread. And surgeons recommend it for pre-treatment nerves, as well as post-op recovery. Mindfulness is, at its most simple rendering, the ongoing act of bringing your attention to this present moment… here and now.

Sooo…..

What’s the big deal about Now?

First, let’s answer that question with another question…

Because… What if this moment, here and now, is full of pain and misery? (Why would we want to be present with it?)

The answer to this last question, is that this present moment is not full of anything, at all. It is only our heads that are full of commentary, or as my Zen teacher used to say, ruminations. He loved that word. It comes from the Latin word for chewing. Makes sense. We like to chew on stuff. And chew some more. Then, chew some more. Even when — and there usually isn’t, unless you’re solving some mathematical equation — there’s no nutritive value left in whatever it is you’re chewing on.

Why do we do this?

It’s a compulsion. And we all do it. We are all obsessive compulsive. We’re problem solvers. We want to figure out that which can’t be figured out. We want to solve… even when it’s unsolvable. And know the unknowable. We want to have all the answers, ironically… right now. We’re not so good with the idea that there’s more to come, just around the bend… and relaxing with that. It makes us feel nervous and insecure not to be sure… not to be certain about things. Although, as denoted in the Alan Watts book that started it all for me, The Wisdom of Insecurity, there is an unmistakable prudence in simply letting life dance its dance. We don’t obsess about getting to the end of the dance, or rush to get there.

When we can summon up enough faith to do that, we will have enabled within ourselves a different relationship with this moment.

And that is the answer to the first question… it’s not the now, that has so much importance, it’s our relationship to the now. When we’re living easily with what is happening now, then we will be resistance free. And being resistance free is what every spiritual tradition, everywhere, from the beginning of time, has extolled.

And how do we do that?

After 30 years of practice, I still wouldn’t call myself an expert at it. At all. But, that’s why they call it a practice. It’s never really, fully and finally, accomplished. But, I do like the Abraham-Hicks access code:

I don’t have to figure it all out, right now.

This is like a golden key. A doorway into the state of nonresistance… into a more peaceful relationship with whatever this moment holds. Use it like a mantra. Say it to yourself when panic taps its familiar tap. It works because it’s general. If it were more detailed, and applied to some specific problem, the mind would find some argument, and the ruminations would continue. But in generalized form, it dislodges the ruminations.

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https://fiftyyearsafter.wordpress.com/

 

My New Year’s Message: Enter the Field of Magic

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The whole idea in life is to live in ease. To put it as Buddha did, to reduce suffering and mental angst. Finding a path of ease becomes our polestar. As Abraham Hicks says… “Whatever we do, we do because we think we’ll be happier in the doing of it.”

But, I have found that the approach to that place of ease is very different, depending on which spiritual teaching you embrace. For example, Abraham says:

“When you call source forward and you don’t block the current with contradictory thoughts, then it looks and feels like ease and grace and well-being.”

But mostly, we call sporadically, blocking that flow with our own doubts. We look too often toward other people’s opinions, and other people are not only fickle, but do not see the big picture, and are necessarily limited by their own experiences. More importantly, they have their own ideas of what constitutes a “good life.” But perhaps, most importantly of all, they came for a different purpose than we did and so, couldn’t fathom ours. Thus, by looking for their approval, we not only give away our power, but we invite confusion into our energy field. And in this way, we block our flow from source. As an analogy, it is like what happens when we pollute a river of clean, pristine, crystalline water flowing toward a feeding pond.

For most people…and for many well-meaning spiritual teachers, the answer is to “slow down the asking” because we’re not managing what we’re asking for. In other words, to stop desiring because unmet and un-manifested desires cause suffering. But that would be like saying the answer to the polluted river is to stop the flow, altogether. We’ve seen the havoc that dams create.

The answer is, rather, to enable ourselves to become a vibrational match to our desires. Said differently, to get the resistance out of the way, rather than slow the desires. You can’t drop desires anyway… the desire to take the next breath is, after all, a desire. And doesn’t the mere attempt to eradicate all desires make life dull?

The idea is to enable the desire to flow in ease, like the river. And better yet, to flow with the river. That happens when we stop slowing down the flow with doubt…when we stop sticking the oar into the mud with contradictory thoughts, which in turn, affect our overall vibration. The idea is that without resistance, we soar into a higher frequency mode of being and we come to match our desires. This is the field of grace, in which synchronicities occur.

How do we do this? By dropping into the realm of feeling, rather than overthinking. By using our “vibrational senses.” By becoming super aware of how our entire body feels in various situations and the signals it gives us. This is the feminine aspect of spiritual practice; feel the down flow of energy, the descent, rather than constant focus on the upflow, the ascent, into the concept known as “enlightenment.” Incorporate the Yin to the Yang. The “feel-flow,” like the Beach Boys song. And in this aliveness of body, step into clarity and easiness. Grace and magic. And total trust in yourself, without needing to know the details of how everything will unfold.

Yoga at Woodstock?

In my article, entitled “Woodstock: The First Postmodern Event?” I make the case that Woodstock should indeed, be considered the first truly postmodern event. In it, I explore the difference between modernism and postmodernism, and how Woodstock is different than other festivals because of the way it embraces postmodern ideals. Part of this movement included the influx of eastern ideals, many of which made their way to the festival itself. More below, along with a link to the full article on my other blog. Thanks for following me there!
~DQ

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Eastern Thought—
Part of this all-encompassing desire for social change included the openness to new ideas in spirituality. The interest in Zen Buddhism, Yoga and other religions of the East, arose with postmodernist thought and what came to be known as the “Bohemian lifestyle.” Eastern spirituality was seen as less rigid than the authoritarian western counterpart. The pervasive ideals of peace, acceptance, and nonviolence were seen as welcome alternatives to the atrophied moralistic religious dogmas of the west, which seemed to consider everything a sin. Eastern thought provided the ideals that the countercultural movement espoused….oneness.

Read entire article at my other blog:
http://fiftyyearsafter.wordpress.com

Get over Yourself! Advice from my interview with Caroline Myss

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I had the unbelievable honor, to interview Caroline Myss, last month. I have, for a long time, counted her as one of my own teachers and continue to be inspired by her books and lectures, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to have the opportunity to interview her for Awaken.com. The first part of the interview will be posted there this Sunday. For now, here is a portion of it…she is speaking about the recent pilgrimage she did through the Spanish El Camino. It contains a simple, but life-changing piece of wisdom:

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Caroline: …The Spanish valley was stunning. And I see all these little hamlets and some snow on top of the mountains. And I thought, my god is this beautiful! And I just stood there and smelled the air, that wonderful way that air smells with water in it. I just filled up my lungs and stood there and thought, this is so beautiful…I’ve never seen this before and I want to remember every single glimmer. I want to make this great, big, huge memory for the rest of my life. I want to remember this moment, standing on this mountain, standing here right now, this day. Then it occurred to me…that I couldn’t remember most of my life. Faced with desire to make a great, big, huge memory. I was confronted with the reality that I had very little memory of all the ordinary days of my life.

Donna: Like dreams.

Caroline: And it took my breath away. And then I stood there and then the second tsunami hit. And I thought, I could die in this moment. Right now, in this moment. So much life is happening on the planet in this moment. People are being born, people are dying. People are making agreements. People are getting married. People are getting divorced. Souls are coming in. Souls are leaving. Businesses are being born. All these things are happening right now, in this moment, that I am standing here. Friends are meeting. Friends are saying goodbye. Strangers are sitting next to each other. New conversations are starting. And I’m imagining all the things taking place in the moment that could be my last moment. And I am looking at this valley and thinking, this could be the last thing I see. And I thought…and I hardly remember this life that I have lived. I remember so much about it, of course, but if you said to me, “where were you on October 4th, 1967?” I have no idea. In high school, somewhere. The truth is, I thought, what a humble experience.

And who would even glance backwards, once I leave the planet and life would go on and that would be that. And then tsunami three…I didn’t remember hardly any of the things that I was once fretting about. Or, what made me so angry, or whatever, and that delighted me. And so, when you say, “what can people do?” Humble up! Get over yourself. There is nothing about your life that is that big a deal. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You are not that important to anybody, at all. There is nothing that we are doing that someone else cannot do. Humble up! You want a practice? That’s it.
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Follow me on my other blog (next up: postmodernism & Woodstock): https://fiftyyearsafter.wordpress.com

 

The Emptiness of Anger

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While working my way through a thick stack of homework papers recently, I came across one, written by a Chinese student who spoke of his hatred toward the Japanese. I’ve received other papers through the years, alluding to the very same grudge. This common resentment is because of the Japanese invasions into China during the 1930s.

I often wonder while reading, if they even know at whom they are angry, and whether the feeling is directed toward today’s generation of Japanese. I even wonder if it is a feeling at all. It is perhaps more like a cultural habit. 

Nonetheless, if the cynicism is directed toward today’s generation, then I wonder whether these young Japanese are even familiar with the history of WWII. If they’re like most young people, it’s just an anecdote in their history books.

They are a good three generations removed from the relevant, and “chargeable” generation. This generation is busy with the same personal concerns we’re all busy with, and worried about issues that affect us all equally, like the economy, or the environment. And in a more personal context, they’re worried about transferring to a good university, the problem they’re having with their girlfriend or boyfriend, and whether they’ve used too much data on their cell phones.

In this light, it is clearly pointless to be angry at these people.

So, then what about the older generation, those who were in their prime during WWII? The culprits. In a similar line of thought, my guess is that the average Japanese person back then, was waiting for news of the war, like the rest of the world…concerned most immediately, about the safety of their families…looking for assurance that life would continue in some semblance of normalcy…hoping that their village wouldn’t be crushed. They weren’t personally involved in acts of destruction, at all, and chances are, didn’t wish for it, either.

So, who should the culprit be? Perhaps the government, but that particular assemblage is now nonexistent.

The Chinese aren’t horrible for persisting in their anger toward the Japanese. If they are, then we all are equally horrible. We all do the same thing. The Buddhists call it ignorance.

 We condemn the Germans, as a whole, for the holocaust. But all it takes is remembrance of the many Germans who tried, themselves, to bring down Hitler, and the many others who took in Jews, at their own personal risk.

Ironically, it would be all too easy to direct the same bitterness toward the Chinese, due to their violent seizure of Tibet, but the ordinary Chinese people of today have not seized Tibet, and weren’t even around when the whole thing started, some 60 years ago, under Mao. They are getting along like the rest of us, doing the things the rest of us do everyday, and probably don’t know much about it, aside from what their Government, through heavy censure, has allowed them to know.

The point is, with deeper consideration, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a target, and to hold onto anger.

Eckhart Tolle — A Hidden Pearl (The Real Purpose of Life)

Below is a treasure of wisdom that is not found in any of Eckhart Tolle’s books. I transcribed it myself, from a talk that I attended years ago. In this exquisite passage, he expresses the true purpose of life, which is, essentially, to awaken. And what does that mean? It casts light on the reason why so many…who have achieved fame and fortune by external measures, still fail to experience joy in life.

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True flowering is not the achievement of this or that. Sometimes, the flowering happens indirectly, through an achievement, which doesn’t help the person, either…if they still identify as the form of achievement.

The true flowering is the arising of presence in you…when you become transparent. And that can happen at any age and it doesn’t matter where you are in your life situation. It doesn’t depend on “success,” by worldly measures. Some people have succeeded, by world standards…and others, who have failed, by world standards…maybe in a year, they’ll be rich and famous.

I was a “failure” in the eyes of the world, 10 years ago…and now the world thinks I’m a success. Completely meaningless…completely meaningless.

It doesn’t matter where you are…what life situation you’re in, at the present time. The ultimate purpose of your existence is…for the form to manifest that which is beyond manifestation…to become an opening for the unconditioned…for the stillness, the awareness, that energy stream, that frequency.

I believe Ramana Maharshi used the expression, a current of awareness that flows through you. That is non-conceptual intelligence.

And it’s more than that, too. It’s love.

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My new blog: https://fiftyyearsafter.wordpress.com
(Latest article: The Space where Ram Dass & Timothy Leary Diverge)

Timothy Leary and Ram Dass

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Timothy Leary and Dr. Richard Alpert (Ram Dass)

LSD & the 1960s—
It is hard to chronicle the era of the late 60s without reference to drugs—or to the Woodstock festival, itself, which was complete with “acid tents.” It was Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, who pioneered their use in therapeutic settings….although it cost them their professorships at Harvard. And, while Alpert would take a different path into Hindu spirituality, Leary continued to publicly promote the use of LSD and became a prominent player in the 60s counterculture.

Their work is chronicled in the documentary from 2014, Dying to Know. Narrated by Robert Redford, it patches together conversations between the two iconic figures throughout their friendship, which spanned five-decades. This analysis is more a close up of the most philosophically interesting part, than it is a review of the documentary, itself. It is one of their last conversations, erupting at the very end of the movie, in which, spawned by a discussion of what happens after death, they wrangle over the existence of the soul, which in Hinduism, is called the atman:

Ram Dass: I’m interested in awareness AFTER the brain gets eaten. I think about the dissolution of conceptual structures.

Timothy Leary: There are neurological and anatomical explanations for hallucinations.

RD: I’m interested in how death catapults us into non-conceptual space…my sense of continuity of awareness beyond the brain…is it just my wanting to keep something going?

TL: I don’t have that.

RD: You used the word, “soul”…what do you mean by it?

TL: “Superconsciousness.” And it…she…hangs around the brain.

RD: Well, Ramana Maharshi says, it’s right here (touches heart).

TL: (Rolls eyes)…A wonderful organ to pump blood. These Indian gurus…they’re using the heart as a metaphor? A bad metaphor.

RD: It’s in the lower, right hand corner…the size of your thumb…the atman

TL: (Aghast) Are you kidding me!?

RD: It’s in subtle form…not manifestation.

TL: (Un-camouflaged sarcasm) How do you contact it?

RD: You gotta get a better technology.

TL: Atman…better than LSD?

RD: In LSD, you saw all that, but it went by so fast, and you didn’t have a model to save it…it just went through…so much went through…but what we have conceptualized, is just a tiny edge…a trivia of the whole model.

These kinds of disputes, not unfamiliar to them, serve as a demonstration of opposites in harmony. It’s science and religion cutting the rug. It’s the Yin and the Yang in play, where Leary acts as Yang to Dass’ Yin…with his hard-edged, masculine demand for certainty, alongside Dass’ softer way, and willingness to surrender into the realm of the intangible.

As a relevant aside, what is often forgotten is that science and religion started out asking the same questions… What is reality?… What am I?… Is there a God?… Is there an afterlife? It was all housed under the umbrella term philosophy. Even the category of “scientist” didn’t exist until the 19th century…1833, to be exact, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Guys like Newton were called “Natural Philosophers.” The different arenas just embraced different methods of ascertaining Truth.

Psychedelic—
These two scientists of the mind have been inextricably bound together, since their meeting in 1961. As if hand chosen by cosmic destiny, both lived at a time, a uniquely situated precipice within the timeline of the 20th century – when it was possible to explore these age-old questions in ways that were as yet, unprecedented in the western world.

Impelled by both deep curiosity and mutual admiration, these academic big wigs journeyed through the inner landscapes of human consciousness. They went from theory and books to personal experimentation. First hand empirical investigation into uncharted territory, aided by psilocybin and eventually, LSD.

Each had just the right amount of ingredients to get the mixture right…just enough personal trauma and general suffering, together with the right amount of natural disobedience and rebelliousness. For Leary, it was profound grief after his first wife’s suicide. Ram Dass (then, Dr. Richard Alpert) was homosexual at a time when it was far from acceptable.

Coming to Different Conclusions—
Something deeper was revealed through this exchange in the documentary. Like two trees growing in different environments, in different soil and all around conditions… not knowing the long term results until they reach maturity… But eventually, one tree bears fruit that tastes like love and feels like an open heart, and the other bears fruit that tastes like sarcasm and feels like vexation.

Ram Dass had found something that Leary hadn’t, and it has the aroma of divinity….while Leary’s projection carried the unmistakeable flavor of anguish. One of Leary’s five wives offers us some insight, when she explains the disconnect Leary has always had between his mind and his heart: ”the mind was always in charge and the heart got left behind,” she explained.

Roads Diverge—
It was 1967. Ram Dass wasn’t Ram Dass yet. After traveling the Himalayas, with fellow westerner, Bhagawan Dass, he stumbled into his first meeting with a little saintly looking man, wrapped in a blanket …the man who would become his teacher…Neem Karoli Baba (Babaji). Here he describes their first encounter:

The first time I looked at him, I said to myself, “I don’t want to be hustled.” The second time I looked at him, all I wanted to do was touch his feet…I looked up and he was looking at me with unconditional love and I had never been looked at with unconditional love by anybody…I felt loved…I felt loved…and I felt something happening in my heart.

He was forever changed.

Ram Dass would subsequently explore the same philosophical questions through different means…spiritual means. Under the guidance of his Guru, he would eventually discover the biggest Truth of all: I am a soul….that which would forever separate him from Leary.

“You have to be somebody before you’re nobody.” The idea, in eastern teachings, is that the realization of our truest essence—that we are spirit—engenders a natural breakdown of the ego, with all its attachments to identity and roles. There is a kind of death that occurs through the realization of what we really are.

Ram Dass sat in wonderment at how his friend, given his taste of expanded states of consciousness, could have remained a philosophical materialist…that is, one who holds that all things, including consciousness, are merely material. For Leary, there is a neurological answer for everything…including altered states of consciousness.

Ram Dass wanted more than a taste…he wanted to discover the means of how to integrate and maintain expanded states of consciousness. It was this desire that led Roshi Joan Halifax—featured in the documentary—to dig deeper, as well, as she embarked on her journey through Zen. So, she searched for a means to train the mind to be stable…in lieu of what she referred to as merely temporary, “decorative states.”

An Interesting Paradox—
They started together… but ended up continuing their lifelong journeys, exploring the inner dimensions of who we are, but on two very different different paths. Leary, exploring the mind with psychedelics, and Dass, with Bhakti Yoga…a devotional path, aimed at union with God through love.

Leary was at once a rebel against everything, but at the same time, not willing to waver from this very milieu….one that wouldn’t support anything less than empirically tested results. It was almost as if he were saying, “here you go…by your very standards, I’ll reveal your fallacies and limitations!” …As if he wanted to stick it to the world, using its own measurement scales.

Meanwhile, Dass traipsed barefoot into a far away, exotic land, steeped in God…and smothered in divinity…showered with deities, goddesses and myriad celestial beings with their fantastic myths and folklore…unconcerned with scientific methodology and framework.

The Final Transition—
Ram Dass counseled Leary’s family, after his friend’s death from prostate cancer in 1996. He reminded them to let their minds soar with his love, as he passed into the beyond, and to regard death just as highly as life…to let the mysteries of the universe, as they unfold, be beautiful. His last words were, “why?…why not?”