Author Archives: Donna Quesada

The Indian Woman at the Coffee Shop

What follows is an excerpt from a book that I have been compiling notes for, throughout the last few years. It chronicles many true stories of synchronicity and divine blessings.

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When I arrived at my local coffee shop, to write on the topic of prayer, I parked next to a car identical in year, make and color, to the car I had just before this one. I glanced through the windows and saw that it was loaded with clothing, as well as various and sundry random stuff, including a dog bed. It was this last item that moved me the most. It was as if someone was living out of the car, and they had a dog.

As I gathered my computer, and started toward the door of the coffee shop, I saw a thin thirty-something, Indian woman, walking near the parking lot with her senior dog. It touched my heart because the dog was arthritic. Then after a few moments, I saw them turn around and go toward the parking lot and toward the car that was identical to my old car — it was hers!

I paused for a moment, wondering about her situation. She left her dog in the car… it was a cool morning, so there was no problem with that. I could tell that she took good care of him, by the way she placed him in his little doggy bed, among all the other stuff, which was piled high all around him. And then she walked into the coffee shop before me.

I was moving slowly that morning, and ended up entering just as she was exiting. She asked me if I knew a lawyer. It was indeed, an unexpected, and out of the blue request, to be sure, especially, since we had not already spoken or been introduced in any way. She must have felt an openness about me. She then proceeded to give me the run down of her current life situation and challenges. She was in the middle of a difficult divorce and in transition, and without a stable place to live.

(As an aside, I couldn’t have known, that less than two years from then, I would also find myself in the middle of a stressful divorce.)

Through her rushed and frazzled words, I could sense her stress and fear and anger. And I could tell she had been crying. I told her that unfortunately, I knew of no lawyer. But I could feel her frazzled energy and I told her to breathe… and I breathed with her. And finally she stopped and breathed in a moment of calmness. It was likely her first calm moment in many days.

I told her to take her power back with that breath. And I told her that while she googled attorneys, I would pray for her. I gave her a hug, and after she apologized for being “gross” and un-showered, she went to drink her coffee outside, while I set up my laptop in my usual spot inside, by the window. I did pray for her, heartily… at that very moment, before ordering my usual bagel & tea.

Interesting that after going to this local coffee shop for 10 years, I never saw her there.

About a half hour later, I looked out the window and saw her engaged in a big conversation with a man, who I never saw before. This conversation went on for the next 45 minutes. As I was leaving, I stopped next to them, and said, “I see this man is helping you.” To which she said, with obvious relief and gladness in her tone, “yes!… it’s an incredible coincidence! He’s an attorney and he just happened to walk by and talk to me and he’s been giving me wonderful suggestions.”

She thanked me as I left, but I was thankful too. What really mattered was that she now felt that she had options and hope. A prayer had been answered… just like that.

I never saw either one of them again.

Simplest Relationship Advice, Ever

If you’re happy and satisfied within yourself, you’ll find any reason to be happy while in the company of anyone else. Your perspective will be shaped by your state of mind, and thus, you’ll see only the good in them and all around you.

But, if you aren’t happy and satisfied within yourself, you’ll find any excuse to be disappointed by what the other does or does not do. You’ll notice the offenses readily and will be quick to spot the deficiencies everywhere.

The latter sets up a kind of neediness, in which, you’ll look constantly to the other person to do certain things or stop doing certain things, so as to fulfill the fantasies in your mind and your idealized vision of how things should go.

This is what Esther Hicks refers to as “looking for love in all the wrong places.” It is why self-care and your relationship with yourself is at the core of all other relationships. Like a healthy heart, it keeps everything else around it healthy and happy.

I know it is tricky because… “what about when the other really does display intolerable tendencies and inappropriate patterns?”

In response to this all too realistic objection, I am thinking of Alain de Boton, a fellow philosopher, and his successful Ted Talk called Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person. In a humorous way, he suggests that we are all… well… a bit crazy. We’ve all got surprises and hidden neuroses that make us all challenging to be around. And to expect to find someone who doesn’t require some tolerance and patience and forgiveness is fanciful. Even foolish.

It’s not to say that there is never a time when walking away is the right thing to do, but when it is, you’ll know so surely and confidently, that you won’t need an article or a Ted Talk to tell you. You’ll feel the answer in your bones.

710zmyvR8PL._US230_ In the 90s, I used to use John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America, along with the PBS special that went along with it, in my classroom. I loved his heart centered presentation of the benefits of a plant-based diet, at a time when the word “vegetarian“ was still far from being accepted as a normal, not to mention better, alternative, for the animals, the environment, and us.

Last month, more than 25 years after his book came out, I had the pleasure of interviewing this man for Awaken.com. Here is an excerpt of the written transcription. Follow the link below, to watch the first part, on Skype:

In all the Baskin/Robbins stores, there used to be large photographs on the back wall. Brown and White of Guernsey and Holstein dairy cows grazing in beautiful Wisconsin pasture. They were gorgeous and they spoke of closeness to nature and you see these cows living a beautiful life. And as a kid, working in the stores, I thought those pictures were beautiful. I believed them. Surely, that is where the milk comes from, that makes the ice cream that we are selling and manufacturing… And then, one day I went to a farm with my dad where we bought a lot of our dairy products. It was nothing like the pictures. Nothing. First of all, there was no grass anywhere. Second of all, the cows are all in confinement. They are basically imprisoned and they have very little space. And they are standing knee deep in their own manure. And they are feeding out of a trough, and I go towards the trough.

Im a kid now, probably 13 or 14 years old, and I walk towards the cow with love in my heart. Im a boy. And Im hoping, I suppose, to pet the cow. Or at least look into its eyes. I just want to make contact. And I approach slowly, and as I approach, the cow gets really frightened and agitated. And Im thinking, cows are placid creatures. What has that cow endured, that it is frightened when a small boy approaches it? What has it endured? Whats been done to it? And I investigated that. And I found out how these animals were treated and it was so opposite to the images portrayed in those pictures. And that type of green-washing or humane washing continues to this day.

https://www.awaken.com/2019/08/awaken-interviews-john-robbins-pt1-alignment-with-spirit/

Beautiful Sky (How Does Presence Heal?)

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How does presence heal?

Not as an idea, it doesn’t… and won’t. Because as an idea, it’s just one more thing to work on. One more thing to master and inevitably, get wrong. And so, it becomes another project, another item on the list: Meditate for 15m

But on this day, as I was taking my early morning walk with the dogs, grey clouds were stretched across the summer sky. The first sunbeams of the day were searching out any cracks they could find. I gazed up at all of this, while the dogs were sniffing around, and a few drops fell on my face.

The welcome contrast of a cloudy morning in the middle of the hottest and driest month took my thoughts back to the summers spent with my Italian grandmother, in Las Vegas. I remember going with grandma to the market very early, on many mornings, just to “beat the heat.”

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But one morning, we were lazing about as a sweet rain cleansed away the swelter. The coolness that stood in, on that day, awakened new scents and sounds. The strangely pleasant smell of wet asphalt filled the room where we were lying together. And chirping… “It sounds close!” … “Must be very close!”

So, I hung the upper part of my nimble, 12-year old body down, to investigate. Peering into the darkness under the bed, something jumped right up at me, grazing my cheek. I yelled out and in a lightening flash, jolted back up again. We laughed and couldn’t stop laughing. We laughed at my silliness and at the surprise of the moment. We laughed at the delight of it all. And at nothing in particular. And then we laughed some more.

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And at that moment, this morning, while my dogs continued to sniff, I was jolted back… but, differently this time. Away from the to-dos and toward everything that matters. Like a cosmic reminder, a mute meditation bell, a dramatic call to nothing at all, it silenced the busy-ness of the mind, and made room for the bounty in front of me.

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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Follow My Other Blog, Too!…

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