Semantics Obscuring Truth

In this age, we are fortunate to have easy access to an abundance of materials shared by Enlightened teachers and their students. Many writings have been translated, often after being passed down through oral instruction through dozens, if not hundreds of practitioners who were responsible for sharing the sacred teachings they learned. This is just one reason, no matter which tradition we follow, we must investigate the teachings ourselves by putting them into practice. And of course, the main reason we must do this is to discover if they actually work!

While we are plugging away working on our practice, we naturally talk about the principles we are exploring with our teacher and with others who are interested in the Path. During these discussions, it’s easy to get lost in semantics. Proper semantics is crucial in refining our understandings; however when we get tripped up by what we think a word means, it can stop us from discovering what is beyond the words.

As a Buddhist teacher, I sometimes use the words God and soul and Self. Some traditional Buddhists from long lineages naturally balk at these terms because the Shakyamuni Buddha taught ultimately there is no God and no soul and no self. There was a time when the word God would trigger unpleasant connotations and cause me to tune out. We shut ourselves off because of the limited definitions held within the mind … in other words, semantics obscures the Truth and gets in the way of a meaningful exchange.

As a teacher, I need to meet students where they are in their own understanding. We can begin only from where we are. When we avoid using certain familiar words in our study, it can create an effect where one bypasses deep-seated beliefs that can preclude liberation.

Every sincere religious follower of any tradition I have met seems to agree that God is undefinable and beyond words. In Buddhism, one equivalent word for God is Dharmakaya – the clear light. Some other words I have been known to use to describe what is beyond words are: Eternity, the Divine, That, Infinite Eternal Awareness, or simply Light. In the confusion of thinking we are a separate independent entity, we have a relationship to God, to the Dharmakaya, which we can develop. As we explore this relationship, our notion of the word God expands along with our awareness.

When using the word soul, people often think of a permanent structure complete with an image of our physical form and personality that remain intact after physical death. If I use the word soul, what I am actually referring to is the aspect of the aggregates that travels from lifetime to lifetime. The personality and body are temporary and dissolve with death. There is a causal body that retains awareness; it is this awareness that is reborn endlessly on the wheel of samsara as a result of the karma put into motion.

In Buddhism, there’s a concept of non-dualism that can be fun and annoying when taken to the extreme. Non-dualism teaches us there is no self; that is there is no absolute self. People sometimes have fun trying to speak to one another in non-dualistic terms – the standard come back for anyone expressing an opinion or describing an experience is: “who’s opinion?” or “who is having that experience?” This can be a fun way to break the egotism that can arise as we become more aware, and this type of play loosens the attachment we have to our opinions, experiences, and our self in a lighthearted way. It can also degrade into an annoying defense strategy used to avoid looking deeply at our limited experiences of Reality.

In order to make sense of our experiences on the Path, we often refer to our self and to our higher self. In Buddhism, we understand the self is relative. We have an ego-driven self which looks out only for itself. We also have a higher or deeper self which knows of the inherent interdependence with all that exists. In either case, the self/higher self exists only in relation to this world that has unfolded within samsara. There is no separate self that stands apart from existence. Occasionally, I follow the lead of other teachers who have used the term Self, with a capital S, as a way of discussing being an embodied form of that undefinable concept of unity with God, or Enlightenment.

As you continue on your own adventures on the Buddhist Path, notice your relationship to these and other highly charged words. Take time once in a while to contemplate them and discover what they mean to you and how their meaning changes as your awareness grows.

 

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by contributing any amount through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn more ways you can help keep the work going.

THANK YOU!

The Novaturient Explorers – Rama Birthday 2018

On February 9, Rama’s birthday, I journey into the heat of the desert with 86 friends from different generations of the Study. Rama used various names for his teaching adventures, but overall he mostly referred to it as “The Study” – meaning the study of self-discovery and God-realization. This event was a family reunion of sorts; I had the good fortune to reunite with some people I had not seen in 10 or even 20 years. I wanted to speak with everyone present, but there is never enough time at these gatherings. Many of us have been hosting Rama birthday events for the past 20 years, but this one felt different. It was not just a celebration of our dear teacher; the intent was also to build a new relationship of deeper cooperation with each other.

Those of us drawn to the Study are constantly novaturient. That is, we are always seeking powerful changes in our life, behavior, or situation. We know life is impermanent, so when things begin to feel stagnant, we know big shifts are about to happen whether we want them or not. Instead of waiting on the sidelines, we tend to consciously ride the transient waves of existence.

On this Path, we experience many major life changes that are akin to internal deaths and births. With each new birth, the seemingly reasonable thing to do is to dip our toe in, and if everything feels comfortable, we quickly jump in feet first. This can feel like the safe way to do it, but there are some serious drawbacks. By the time we have put our toe in, the birth into the new state of being has begun and there’s no stopping it. If the circumstances are not comfortable, we may go through it slowly, agonizing about every new experience as we lament the passing of the old, perhaps even regretting that we put our toe in the water – as if we really had a choice! We’re essentially being born breech. If we have a strong support network, they can help us get turned around, or if needed cut us out of the womb. If we’re alone, we must fight and kick and tear our way into our new life. Either way, it’s a messy and destructive process.

Instead, when we feel the time of massive change is upon us, we can be humble and bow. We can focus on gratitude for all the beautiful and horrible events that have brought us to this moment. With our head down, we can dive into the new version of our being. Obviously, this takes tremendous faith in the process, since there’s no slowing down or stopping. We need to be calm as our old self sloughs off so we don’t create resistance or get tangled in the cord that nourished us. And finally, we must let go of the previous life that sheltered us and allowed us to grow.

Once we are born into our new self, we are naked and vulnerable. That is how I felt meditating in the desert with the members of Rama’s lineage.

When the timing worked out that I could attend the birthday adventure to the desert, the organizers asked me to lead the opening remarks and meditation. After Samvara walked us to a beautiful spot where Rama had taken students many, many years before, I sat in front facing the group, where I could see the remaining stragglers make their way to this special power spot. Once everyone arrived, I spoke a few words and settled into meditation.

I could feel the energy of the desert enveloping me. I could also feel the anger and jealousy of a few people. Thoughts like “Who is she is to be sitting up there?” “Why is she leading us? She’s not Rama!” slammed into me. At first I wanted to push back, to exert my will and maintain my space. As I watched these ideas arise in my mind, I realized these psychic hits were nothing in comparison to how hard I’ve hit myself mentally during the dark moments in my life. It became evident there was nothing any of these extremely powerful people could ever do to me that would be worse than what I’ve done to my own self – and the same was probably true of them. In that moment, I felt our unity. I knew they were me, I was them, and Rama was here with and as all of us.

Compassion and equanimity arose with my mind, and I opened my heart as wide as I possibly could and let the desert do with me whatever it would. I dissolved. Everyone sitting beneath the cliff in the desert dissolved into each other as one tribe, one love.

After my singing bowl signaled the end of the silent meditation, Veronica rose to invite people to share their stories of power. Such delight followed! Laughter, tears, and memories of the incredible miracles we witnessed were shared.

One story stuck in my mind, about a recent dream a woman had. She told us about a glowing line of light on the ground that stretched out to both horizons, and Rama telling her to pick it up. She doubted that she could and hesitated. After some prodding, she gathered her strength to lift the line of light. When she picked it up, it turned out to be light as a feather. Rama laughed and said, “You didn’t think you had to lift it on your own, did you?”

We, along with the thousands of Enlightened beings who have come before us and will come after us, are all carrying the lineage – this line through the ages that lights all the worlds.

Her story was an excellent reminder to all present that the miracles are still happening. Those of us with students already know this, because we hear about their extraordinary experiences and see firsthand how Rama’s light is very much alive in our own lives. The ones in our lineage who are out on their own may have forgotten about the everyday miracles, or have gone through too many breech births to feel excited by the prospect of yet another major shift. Yet, it’s time to dive in and become a new self. I for one am willing to trust the process, to see where Light leads me and our lineage. And for those out there on the sidelines, know we are here, ready to welcome you home.

I don’t know what this new life together in The Study will be like as our conversations continue and grow deeper, but I am excited to find out!

 

 

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by contributing any amount through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn more ways you can help keep the work going.

THANK YOU!

Jenna

Why We Need a Teacher

Before the Internet Age, I would borrow books from the University library on the Eastern Wisdom Traditions. I remember being so angry as I read book after book. They would discuss the free states of awareness and bliss I inherently knew existed but did not know how to access. They would allude to secret techniques and tell of the beautiful metaphor called the Transmission of Light. I could follow much of what they said, up until a certain point when it began to sound like double-speak, with phrases like “awareness aware of awareness” or “voidness void of voidness”. When the discourse reached this point, no matter the tradition, it invariably ended with something like: Words are meaningless; you must have a Teacher to show you the Path.

My Protestant Christian upbringing taught me we can access God directly – no middleman needed. I practiced the focusing techniques I could find on my own, and found beautiful realms that made me feel happy and high. But the experiences were fleeting, and not the life-changing spiritual metamorphosis the books revealed. I knew there was more, if only I could find the secret method in some obscure book. Or perhaps I needed to decode the metaphors to find the right breathing technique, and the doors to Infinite Awareness would snap open for me. Deep inside my heart, I knew it was possible, and that the way was within me.

The idea I needed to bow down to some teacher like a sycophant was abhorrent. It all sounded so cultish, this guru worship and devotion to some person who would decide if someone like me could hear the magic teachings. With each new book, I would get excited feeling this must be the one with the secret code, but each time as it stopped just short of revelation, I would yell at the book, “Oh come on, just tell me already!” Out of frustration I wanted to throw the books against the wall, but many were old and borrowed, so I restrained myself.

Then one day, after I had decided those exalted states described in the books were mere stories and exaggerations, I met my Teacher. He did not offer any special breathing exercises or meditation methods. He invited us to sit up straight. As we sat, my mind opened beyond the confines of myself. There was Light – a tangible golden Light – filling the room despite my efforts to blink it away. My mind dissolved in silence, and I was forever changed.

How this process works exactly, I cannot say. All I know is it does, and it has for thousands of years. Even if I had left and never saw him again, I was irrevocably changed with that one meditation. Fortunately, he was entertaining enough that I stuck around to learn how to share this secret teaching with others. While I may never reach the level of intensity he was able to transmit the teaching, I’ve watched students blossom before my eyes.

It is not a “shhh, don’t tell” kind of secret. Secret means hidden in plain sight from those who are not yet open. When a teacher goes into the silent state, something is transmitted that is beyond all of our senses. The meditative state is shown to the student, and the student opens to it, and then learns how to access that state beyond the mind. This silence is already within each of us; it’s really a matter of access, of finding the door.

The best analogy I can come up with is swimming. We can talk about swimming, we can watch videos about swimming, and we can imagine swimming. But until we actually get in the water, we have not been swimming. A Teacher takes you swimming beyond the Mind. This is how we learn to meditate. This is what it means when the books say we need a Teacher.

Now I wish I could walk up to any random person, stop my thoughts and transmit this teaching so they can experience the innate bliss of being. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we all have the free will to control the focal point of our attention. It is through this focus of attention that a student becomes receptive to the Transmission of Light. No teacher can force this on another person.

Hence, all the preliminary techniques in countless books and now on countless websites exist to prepare you for that meeting. Even before you find a teacher or even if you have no interest in finding a teacher, you can benefit from the exoteric methods you find widely available. At a purely physical level, they can help with relaxation and anxiety and be wonderful tools for building a happy life. Mentally, focusing techniques can help make your mind stronger and provide a level of balance, allowing you to bounce back quickly when life events knock you down. Insight techniques can help you make sense of the wanderings of your mind so you don’t feel so trapped by it. These are powerful tools anyone can benefit from using, and ones that can be taught by anyone who uses them.

For the rare individual who wants more, who craves that life-changing spiritual metamorphosis, a qualified Teacher is required. The teacher cannot do it for you; rather, they show you what is already there. If this is something you are drawn to explore, make your mind ready by strengthening it. Then open your eyes, let your body move into action, and you will find your Teacher. We are sometimes in the most unlikely places, so be open and trust yourself. And of course, it will most likely not be what you expected!

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by contributing any amount through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn more ways you can help keep the work going.

THANK YOU!

Money and Vibration

Money is a form of energy. How we spend our energy – our capacity for physical and mental activity, our time, and our money – reveals where we focus our attention. There is not a right or wrong way to utilize our energy, but how we spend our energy affects how fast or slow we vibrate.

When our vibration is fast, we are sensitive to the non-physical elements of existence. Our senses become sharper, we become aware of more opportunities, and this translates into a happier, brighter life. On the other hand, when our vibration slows, we become more entrenched in the physical. Life loses some of the magic, and we become easily trapped by our own ponderous thoughts. We start to believe we are these fragile bodies.

The good news is we always have a choice of where to place our attention. Of course, the first step is to become aware of where our attention currently resides.

Take some time to sit quietly and observe where you have been spending your energy. What have you been doing physically? What occupies your time, both physically and mentally? Where do you spend your money?

We all need to spend a certain amount of energy – activity, time, and money – on self-care. When we spend money on a rejuvenating home, nutritious food, clothing and transportation suitable to our work and play, and on all the things that support our lifestyle, we are practicing self-love and this causes us to vibrate at a higher level. This higher vibration creates more energy, which we can then put into the things that are important to us. If we try to skimp, or if we refuse to take care of our basic needs appropriately, it will be reflected in our vibration level.

The next level up, where we spend the extra energy we have on pursuits beyond our self-care, determines the direction in which we will grow. Many people become lost once they have achieved the self-care level and make unconscious decisions that often deplete their energy. This can cause a cycle of desperation, where we lose energy and then must scramble to obtain what we need for our lifestyle, then we lose it again, and this game plays out over and over. It can also make us susceptible to greed sickness, where we have what we need, but we always feel it is never enough. With greed sickness, we collect more money and more physical items in a futile attempt to feel fulfilled, and often see others as competitors or enemies. Either way, life is difficult and miserable.

If we bring our attention to where we are spending our energy, we can make shifts that are in alignment with what we truly wish to experience. As with all spiritual practice, we begin with our own being. Once we are stable, we can begin to utilize the extra energy in wonderful way. We can be generous and open to new opportunities, which increase our vibration and thus the amount of energy we have access to expands once again. We can make every large and small expenditure a conscious choice that leads to a higher, happier life. Eventually, an understanding develops which shows us we do not actually own anything; rather we are stewards or caretakers who are here to enjoy all that life has to offer.

 

 

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by contributing any amount through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn more ways you can help keep the work going.

THANK YOU!

Joshua Tree Joint Venture

With great excitement, I learned one of my spiritual brothers accepted my invitation to join us at our Joshua Tree Retreat with some of his students. Excitement shifted to curiosity, and then I realized I had no idea of what to expect, so I dropped all ideation and settled into the unknowing of what was going to happen. As I planned the final touches of the retreat, I made certain there were opportunities for him to bow out gracefully if things started going sideways between us or our students. While I love all of my spiritual brothers and sisters, sometimes when those of us who studied with Rama get together things can be weird, and not always the good kind of weird.

 

Since I began teaching, I’ve made it part of my practice and continuing education to visit other teachers of all traditions to learn how they offer teachings. However, I don’t know if others do this or if it’s just an outgrowth of my natural curiosity. I admit part of my motivation for making the invitation was in the hopes of being invited on one of his trips so I could see how he creates the desert experience for his students. It seemed only fair to show him how I do desert first.

 

For my students, I searched extensively and found an almost perfect retreat house for my group – the only downside being we could not entertain visitors. I recommended a hotel close by for his group so he could make their lodging arrangements. I confirmed all the reservations, and bought tickets for our sound bath at the Integratron for those who had registered. I sent out several emails in preparation for the trip, and coordinated with fellow Dharma Center teacher Teresa, who would give us a short presentation with the history of the Integratron and take us to a nearby place of power. Finally, I dug out my Joshua Tree maps and scoped out our route and planned the final details of our adventure using Google maps to ensure we had plenty of time to meet up with the other group and move from place to place.

 

The energy before the trip hit us hard in the form of various types of opposition. Most of my students were able to push through, but a few could not and had to drop out. Because of the opening in the retreat house, one student who had not planned to attend experienced a series of small miracles that allowed him to fly into town and join us at the last minute.

 

Two weeks before the trip, the physical therapist who had been helping my body gain strength moved away, and her replacement did not know the same technique. I let the new therapist work on me, but found myself  physically exhausted and in severe pain from the treatment, and I was couch bound for the remainder of the week that I had planned to do all of my pre-packing.

 

As students continued to call me with their oppositional issues, I wondered if I needed to make some changes to our plans and decided to move up the meeting time of our night time outing so we would not be out as late as I originally thought.

 

Fortunately, my massage therapist had a cancellation and was able to fit me in and stabilize my body. This allowed me to keep my commitment to teach a workplace meditation class on Tuesday. It was a risk scheduling the workshop just two days before our trip because I knew driving in early morning rush hour traffic would wipe me out for the rest of the day, but I felt the call of Eternity to sit with this group. The class was powerful and fun; they even set up a beautiful meditation area for us in the hotel’s conference room with zafus and a Tibetan singing bowl!  As expected, although happy and high from the meditation, I spent the remainder of the day resting and had to put off packing until Wednesday, just one day before the trip. I organized every detail on Wednesday so I could have a relaxing morning before making the long drive.

 

Early Thursday morning, I picked up my phone so my husband could show me a certain setting and noticed an email from the rental house company. Our retreat house had been cancelled due to a plumbing issue!

 

October is high season in Joshua Tree, so most rentals had been booked months in advance. I knew it would be a challenge, and immediately started to look for options. Then I caught myself and realized it would take some energy to pull off the near impossible task of finding 9 beds available in either a house or hotel the same day for the full weekend. I sent out a quick email to my students to let them know about the change in lodging, and that I would update them soon with our new destination. My first task was to have breakfast.

 

After fueling my body, I dove into the travel sites hunting for options. The only large houses available were two hours away from where we planned to be, making them unappealing options. The hotel our brother group was staying at was fully booked. Finally I found a hotel with rooms, but the area had a spacey, astral vibe. It definitely was not the environment I had meticulously planned for my group to have the highest brightest experience. However, I knew driving two extra hours each day would have a negative effect on the group, so I took the plunge and booked three hotel rooms, plus the “presidential suite” which offered a large living room area where we could gather for group meditation.

 

This change in lodging, of course, altered all the details I had planned for the trip. During my initial planning, I kept trying to find a way for us to see the park during the day, but the timing was not working out, so I had given up the idea. With our new location, however, the distance to Joshua Tree was too far for us to go out for lunch on Friday and return to rest before our evening adventure. Instead, we changed course and went to Joshua Tree during the day for a couple of hours before meeting with the other group. We found a wonderful trail that meandered between the rocks, allowing us to each walk and sit on our own, and embrace the energy of Joshua Tree. As I walked, I found an impression of a Buddha meditating in the rocks high above on a cliff!

 

We gathered back at the car and arrived at our meeting spot to find our brother group. The separation between the two groups was apparent. Since I had given a teaching to his students, they recognized me and made me feel welcome. I watched as the students from the two groups eyed each other from a distance and wondered if they would come together. Because I was the leader for the trip, I gave final instructions to all the students present before heading into the desert.

 

As we sat under the stars, I felt the pressure of people expecting some kind of a performance. It would have been easy to cave in and start giving a long dharma talk. But that would not have been authentic. Since this way my turn to lead, I had no choice but to commit 100% to following my own practice. I go to the desert to feel the desert, and let her teach me. I bring others with me so they can also learn from the desert the way I do. So instead, I ate my sandwich and encouraged others to eat whenever they felt hungry. Most of the students did not eat, and instead waited expectantly. Remnants of self-consciousness dissolved with every bite I took on the imaginary stage.

 

After meditating in silence, a feeling of separation among the students remained. To alleviate this, I requested everyone share a moment of personal power. I began by sharing my experience meditating in front of them: My back radiated heat and out of the corners of my eyes I could see gold light, as if someone was shining a bright flashlight on the rock towering behind me. When I turned my head to see the light directly, it would disappear. Once I went back into silence, the light would grow brighter.

 

The outpouring of truth blew me away. In the dark, people were free to share openly experiences they would normally guard as precious memories. One person shared that they also saw the gold light on the rock behind me. Another talked about how she felt like she was waiting for the show to begin, only to realize she was seeing light radiating out in front of her, and that what she was waiting for was already happening. Some shared private, profound moments, and others told stories that caused us to burst into laughter. As each person shared their moment of power, I watched them unite with all the others who had told their stories. By the end, we all merged into one field of Light.

 

We sat again in silence, letting the desert wash through us as the stars danced. The temperature dropped drastically, and although my back was warm, my front was icy cold. I visualized the heat from my back wrapping around me like a blanket and I felt comfortably warm. The inner fire is like having a pot belly stove in the third chakra. If you can keep the hot coals inside the chakra, the heat naturally rises through the central channel and gently warms everything with a soft light.

 

As the night wore on, I could feel a dark heavy energy approaching. When I bring people to the desert, sometimes we sit through the heaviness and laugh, letting it purify any dark corners within our own being. Other times we get out of the way. Knowing we had more to experience together the next day, I signaled that it was time to go.

 

In our hotel suite, my group gathered for a morning meditation. Using the previous night’s energy as a springboard, we dove deep into the Light. My heart burst open wider than ever before, sending a ring of white light around group. It spun in a circle, joining us in our hearts.

 

At lunchtime, when we met with the others I felt the unity of our disparate groups. Although our main focus is on different outward forms of the practice, there was a deep respect and hunger to learn from each other. In the past, I’ve felt some teachers and students attempting to put forth their way and their structures as the best. This time there was only mutual respect. Teresa took us to a hill covered in quartz crystal and shared a sky and earth meditation that solidified our connection to the Path and each other.

 

During our informal discussions while waiting to attend the Integratron sound bath, I felt no competition. There was only a sense of discovery and mutual love of Light. We all wanted to spend more time with each other. Because the reservation for the retreat house was canceled and we wound up at the hotel suite, we could!

 

I invited everyone back to our hotel for a celebration of the magical blessing I felt reverberating throughout our entire Lineage at the meeting of our two sanghas as they merged into a maha-sangha.

 

During our evening group meditation in at the hotel suite, we felt the unification as one tribe, dissolving in Light. Once again my heart chakra exploded with light, and I felt the entire room shift. The love brought tears to my eyes as rings of light poured through my body. I’ve never felt so comfortable so quickly among a new group of people.

 

From behind the kitchen counter, Samvara and I watched as all the student intermingled in a natural and relaxed way. We were both delighted at the excitement in the room, and we could feel the significance of what we were witnessing. Since Rama left the body, we have been a fractured Lineage. It has been my wish since opening Dharma Center that we find a way to uplift and work with each other for the benefit of all beings. That night, watching the birth of new friendships, I saw the healing of our Lineage.

 

In the morning, our brother sangha had already begun their journey home when my group gathered for our final meditation. As we sat together in silence, my body dissolved into light. I felt it transform first into a crystal pyramid that grew to encompass the entire room, with an open top to the blue endless sky. Then it melted in rainbow light that pulsated from my heart and out into the world. The entire structure of my body dissolved in the rainbow. Tears of bliss filled my eyes and I felt completely renewed.

 

The experience of this weekend retreat at Joshua Tree has made me a more confident teacher, with deeper access to realms of light beyond description. It has also reaffirmed my trust in Eternity that my wish for all within the Rama Lineage to find their way home will be realized. I feel so blessed to be given the opportunity to walk the Path with such wonderful friends, and I look forward to many more joint ventures among our Lineage into Light.

 

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by contributing any amount through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn more ways you can help keep the work going.

THANK YOU!

Jenna (Turīya)

Oregon Adventures – Anxiety and the Unknown

The day before we were scheduled to leave, a wave of intense anxiety washed through me. It was more intense than anything I had ever felt. Typically before travel, I get bouts of nervous excitement and thoughts filled with worries about what I am I forgetting to pack? This was completely different.

I have friends who suffer from severe anxiety and I wondered if this is what they feel on a regular basis. As it persisted and rolled through my mind and body, concern that this was a new symptom of my chronic illness rose within me. Many others with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and/or Lyme disease count anxiety among the plethora of symptoms, and I have been fortunate to not have it on my list.

Pulling my mind off of that track, I went through all of the preparation I had done for our journey to Oregon.

I know from my spiritual practice that our energy body moves ahead of our physical body in both time and space, and relays information back to us. One of the ways it communicates is through our emotions.

I reasoned maybe there was something important I forgot, and the anxiety was my body’s way of telling me.

There once was a time where I could throw some clothes in a bag and head out the door, ready for whatever life presented. Then my body became much more high maintenance. Even though I have severe pain, traveling is still one of my favorite activities. I love seeing new places and experiencing all they have to offer. The sights, the sounds, the people, and the energy of every state I’ve visited have their own unique flavor.  Now I plan every detail I can, often piling up the clothes and items I plan to bring a week or more in advance. This gives me time to watch the weather and remember anything I may forget to bring. It also lets me pair down if I try to bring too much, as I’ll go through the pile a few times before actually putting it in the suitcase.

I checked the weather once again, both for our 6am train out of Old Town San Diego on Labor Day Monday, and in Portland, Oregon for Tuesday through the rest of the week. The forecast for Portland had dropped by 10 degrees, so I removed a pair of shorts and added a pair of long pants and a sweater to my suitcase. I went over the plan for our trip to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary once again in my mind: Tuesday night relax in Portland after the train ride, Wednesday visit the waterfalls in the nearby Columbia River Gorge, Thursday drive out to the Oregon coast town of Cannon Beach, and Friday walk through the Japanese Gardens. We would spend the first three nights in the city, and on Friday night we would stay in a hotel by the airport so we could sleep in a little and avoid any morning traffic stress.

Eggy the bartender in the antique Parlor Car

The anxiety persisted, so I reviewed all of our reservations, beginning with the Amtrak train from San Diego and the Coast Starlight from LA to Portland. I also checked on the rental car from Hertz and they said because they were understaffed, they could not pick us up at the train station. He suggested we take a cab from the train station to their office and they would deduct the cost of the cab from our rental. I made sure the hotel’s spa with a hot tub, steam room, and massage therapists was open. I had printed out all the reservations just in case my phone went down, and put the papers in easy reach along with the phone chargers and tablet that was filled with movies in case we needed a distraction on the train.

I felt some of the excitement return, but there was still a feeling of apprehension. With a list of suggestions from my Facebook friends as a starting point, I had scoured the activities in the Portland area for things my body could handle without setting off too big of a flare. I knew there would be an increase in pain; there’s no avoiding that, but with proper planning, I can usually handle the overexertion for a few days. Before thoughts about “what if my body freaks out?” could take hold, I reminded myself I could add in more rest time in between our adventures if needed.

Finally, with the anxiety continuing to surface, I called my neighbor who had graciously agreed to drive us to the train station at 5am, and then pick us up from the airport on Saturday. She told me everything was in place for her, and that our departure time fit into her early morning work schedule perfectly. She also said her husband had the house key so they could care for our cats while we were away. I backed up my computer and double checked the supplies for the cats.

Since there was nothing else I could check on, and I had prepared for everything I could possible think of, I let the anxiety sit within me. Needing some rational explanation, I told myself it was just the excitement of going on an overnight train trip for the first time. Then I decided to concentrate on the joy I felt for being able to share this adventure with my husband, and knew whatever happened we would handle it. The anxiety quieted into background noise and I felt ready for the trip to begin.

Sunset over the Pacific

From our seats on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train we watched the sun rise and light up the ocean. At Union Station, we easily found our way to the Coast Starlight and our little sleeping cabin. We were thankful we had splurged for the private bathroom and the extra space our cabin had in comparison to the tiny roomettes we saw in the adjacent train car. During mealtimes, we enjoyed the food and sitting with the other passengers. I even met a woman who wanted to learn about meditation!  We laughed every time we ventured out from our quarters because the constant turbulence made us bounce off the walls. In the parlor car, it was hard to tell who was actually drunk because no one could walk straight. Watching the ever-changing scenery zip by was better than any television show. The sunset over the ocean was absolutely spectacular!

Once we arrived in Portland, the cause of my pre-trip anxiety became clear.

Although it was warm, the ash falling from the sky blocked the sun, creating a surreal feeling of an apocalypse. From the crowd passing through the station, we heard there was wildfire in the nearby mountains completely out of control. In the cab, I discovered the address on the reservation paper for the rental car was the train station! Exhaustion from a rough night’s sleep on the train coupled with the eerie atmosphere of falling ash could have easily erupted in frustration, but fortunately both I and the cab driver had internet access, so we quickly found the Hertz office.

Haystack Rock (from the movie The Goonies!)

On the way to the hotel, we listened to the radio and learned the fire was in the Columbia River Gorge – the same place we had planned to visit the next day. Disappointed we would not see the famous Multnomah waterfall, but thankful for the efforts of the fire fighters, we changed our plans and decided to visit the coast on both days instead. Once I fully accepted the reality that things were not going to go how I planned, the anxiety completely vanished. This opened me to the possibility of discovery, and I became excited about our trip again.

 

Oregon Coast

Instead of a short drive east, we took a longer drive west to the beautiful coast on both Wednesday and Thursday. This allowed us to see more of Oregon, and thankfully, my husband loves to drive! We took a different route each time, although Google maps would not let us take route 30 through the city no matter how many times I tried to click on the road inside the map app. Since there were no street signs to direct us once we left the main highway, we let Google win. It directed us over the bridge into Washington State, up Interstate 5 far enough that we questioned our decision, and then back down over a bridge to route 30 in Oregon. So, we got to see a tiny bit of Washington too and enjoy some impressive bridges!

 

Sequoia Selfie

On Friday, the smoke in the city had cleared. In my research, I discovered Portland was home to a few random Giant Sequoia trees. One was growing in someone’s front yard accessible to the public, so my husband indulged my desire to see it. I couldn’t give it a hug because the homeowner had planted flowers around it, but I was happy to see it thriving. We also rode in the sky tram, having no idea it only went from one part of the hospital to the other. We laughed at the top, realizing there was nothing to do but turn around and go right back down. Although the sky was cloudy, we still enjoyed the sweeping views of the city.

 

At our last stop, we finally got to see a few waterfalls. They were very small, man-made waterfalls at the Japanese Gardens, but still lovely waterfalls! Even with all the tourists, and the buzz of cars at the outskirts, the gardens created a wonderful sanctuary and a perfect finish to our adventure.

Waterfall with Cranes

 

 

Perhaps if I had dug deeper into the anxiety, I would have learned about the fire while still on the train. But then I would have missed some of the scenery with my mind burrowed inside the internet reading the news. And I definitely would have driven myself a little nuts trying to change hotels to one by the ocean. I appreciate the early warning my body gave me, but I’m glad we stayed at the hotel in the city. Although they did not have any massage appointments that worked with our schedule, being able to use the steam room and hot tub allowed my sore muscles to relax enough to enjoy our travels. And the drive across Oregon is absolutely beautiful – even two days in a row. I have no doubt if there was more I needed to do, my body would have let me know. Sometimes I’m stubborn when it comes to listening, but I’m finding the more often I pay attention to these clues, the easier it is to interpret them.

 

The next time you’re hit with a wave of unusual anxiety, check in with yourself and be prepared that things ahead may change unexpectedly. Allow yourself the freedom to embrace the adventure of the unknown so you can enjoy the ride!

Heavenly Falls
Waterfall with Bridge

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by contributing any amount through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn more ways you can help keep the work going.

THANK YOU!

Jenna

Souring the Sweet

You’re at the beach, laughing with friends as you enjoy a picnic lunch. The waves are lapping the shore, the sun is shining and random clouds pass by at just the right moment to keep you from overheating. It’s a fun, happy, perfect moment.

During a natural lull in the conversation, one of your friends nonchalantly says, “There’s sand in my fruit cup. Is there any in your food?”

You examine your sandwich, and say, “No, I don’t see any.” But now every time you chew on a potato chip you wonder if the grit between your teeth is salt or sand. The perfect moment is gone, and you begin to notice how hot the sun is, and you’d like to cool off in the water, but it’s too cold. The wind that once felt refreshing is now annoying as it blows everything around.

We all have that friend, and sometimes we are that friend, who sours the sweet.

It’s not intentional. We don’t mean to bring everyone down from their mountain of bliss, yet these random comments come out of our mouths and spoil the moment.

This pointing out of the negative or unfortunate is a habit based in our community-building process of complaining. Yes, complaining does build community! The fastest way to start a conversation while in line at the grocery store is to complain about standing in line. Some of you already know what I’m talking about, and those that don’t, try it! Soon you and your new friend will find all sorts of things to complain about together, and you’ll leave the store feeling like you had a moment of connection.

When done with purpose, complaining or pointing out the negative is a good thing that helps us grow and evolve both individually and as a society. When done randomly out of habit, it can destroy our peace of mind.

On the spiritual Path, we strive to be positive. This doesn’t mean we live a world of saccharine sweetness where we never acknowledge anything negative. Being positive on the Path means we seek ways we can grow and expand our awareness from whatever is presented to us.

We pay attention to the habitual thoughts running through our mind, and we consciously choose what to say and how to act. We begin to learn that by choosing positive words and actions, our thoughts become more positive. Over time, we begin to notice more of the sweet and less of the sour.

When we observe the sour, we can stop ourselves and examine our motivation for sharing what we’ve noticed. Will telling others there is sand in our food help in any way? Will sharing our unpleasant experience benefit anyone? Or are we acting out of habit, seeking a way to connect?

Once we know our motivation, we can consciously choose how to respond to our mind’s noticing of the sour. We can take the experience as an opportunity to let go of our attachment. If we want to connect with someone, perhaps we can find something beautiful to share instead. We can also point out the sour, and then provide ideas of how we can improve the situation, like suggesting we cover up the fruit salad to stop any more sand from getting into it. This practice holds true for the events we face in our world that are much more serious than sand in our food.

Instead of being the downer souring the sweet moments with friends, either in person or on social media, we can use the moments we catch ourselves starting to complain to grow. It all begins with paying attention to our thoughts and the motivations behind the actions we are about to take. If we can stretch ourselves towards the positive in the moment of acknowledging the sour, we can create compassion within our being and find ways to act out of loving-kindness. In doing so, we sweeten the sour.

 

 

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by contributing any amount through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn more ways you can help keep the work going.

THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

Impermanence of Spiritual Names and Book Rankings

First of all THANK YOU for making Peace with Pain a Bestseller! It was fun to see the bestseller label on Amazon for two days. It was fun to watch Worlds of Power, Worlds of Light hit number one in its category of mysticism. It’s also been fun watching the rankings fall. Such is the play of life. We rise high above the mountains, then we glide down into the valleys. When we are fully present, the entire ride is spectacular in all its mysterious glory.

This world is impermanent. Nothing here lasts. And that is part of its beauty. These fleeting moments we get to be here together, experiencing creation, destruction, and re-creation, are precious because they cannot be permanently preserved.  Although a photo or screen shot can help us hold on to a moment frozen in time for a short while!

If we become distracted by our thoughts and reactions, we miss the opportunities presented to us, which occur only Now. This is the powerful lesson of impermanence: keep watching, stay present, no matter what. The experiences we witness and interact with may elicit tears in one moment, and laughter the next. The truth is, we never really know exactly what is coming next… and that makes it exciting!

A few months ago, I received a new spiritual name. Since then it’s been percolating inside my being, creating structures that will allow it to do its work in this world. Today with the full moon, it’s pushing its way out into the world.

Spiritual names are funny things in that people like to make all sorts of assumptions. During the course of my journey, I’ve held many different names. Some have been used publically, some are still held privately between me and Eternity. We use spiritual names for a variety of purposes, and the reason behind a name for one person may not be the same as for another. In short, a spiritual name is highly personal.

Many years ago, I was given the name Dharma. I fell in love with teaching and with the teachings. I became so enamored by exploring, practicing, and sharing the pathways to Enlightenment, I no longer cared about my own desire for Liberation. I simply adored discovering Truth in all its myriad forms. Once in a while, I still run into students who knew me by that name.

In that timeless moment when Grace freed me from all doubt and suffering, I became Isis. It was a name I had held long before I met my beloved teacher Rama; a name I had tucked away in a forgotten memory recorded in an old journal. The Goddess was my first teacher, and it was fitting She would give me the name Isis to use once again for the great magic of transformation.

Several months after becoming Isis, the media began to use that name as an acronym to refer to a group of nefarious people. My name and the line into Light it represents became charged with extraordinary power. I and others who carry the name Isis hold a door open to the Divine Feminine, the potential energy of all creation, the true meaning and power of that name.

I got hit with emails and “helpful” suggestions from people that I should change my name because of the events of the world. I found wonderful essays by others who shared the name Isis about how they chose to hold to the Divine power and keep their name, despite what was happening and the obstacles they faced. I was amused when I realized in the movie The Gods of Egypt, they dodged the name Isis by referring to her only as Mother. I have some students who avoid calling me Isis. The time a student looking for our seats chose not to yell Isis in a crowded theater and instead use Jenna was probably a good idea! But that’s the other funny thing about spiritual names – we really don’t have a choice, at least not if we want to stay true to our Path.

I love the name Isis, and all She represents. I love all that has arisen within me since I was reborn as Her. However, like all things, that spiritual name was impermanent. A new name, a new aspect of Light continues to unfold, and it’s time to publicly recognize this new incarnation.

Today, I am Turīya. (pronounced: tu-ree-ah)

Sharing a new spiritual name is a bit like rolling out a software upgrade, and it will take some time for it to be installed everywhere. The older software is still available; I am still Isis, just as I am still Dharma. I am also Jenna, Jennifer, and if you’ve known me a really, really long time, Jenny. It doesn’t matter to me what name you prefer. Whatever one you select will allow that version of the software to run and we can have an interaction on your terms.

Turīya is difficult to define. The best explanation I can share is Turīya represents groundlessness, or the background upon which existence and non-existence plays. Like all spiritual names, this one is also a doorway through which students may pass to experience the expression of Light.

As the present moment unfolds before me, I don’t know what is next in this impermanent world. Isis taught me to always look at and accept that what is, is. So in the spirit of Isis, I am Turīya and I look forward to meeting you as I explore this ever-new world.

Spiritual Assignments

When a spiritual teacher accepts a student, a karmic bond is created. The teacher agrees to share their awareness, and the student agrees to complete the assignments given by the teacher. The assignments are designed to help students incorporate the new levels of awareness they are learning about into their lives. This process is facilitated by the teacher giving empowerments to the student, during which energy is transmitted from Eternity directly into the student’s subtle body.

Ideally, the student then uses this extra energy to follow through with their assignments, even when it is not clear to the student exactly how the assignment will help to stabilize this new level of awareness. Sometimes students get lost in their personal dramas and allow the energy to be spent in other ways. No matter how the student uses the energy from the empowerment, the assignment is still there to be completed. Fortunately, teachers are very patient. They have been known to wait lifetimes for students; as with all karmic bonds, death does not end the arrangement.

Near the end of his life, Rama gave the Kalachakra Empowerment and a special teaching to all of his current and former students who responded to the invitation. During this event, he pointed out that we could use this technique and teaching to dissolve in Samadhi within 6 months, and Enlightenment within 5 years. Rama took contracts very seriously, so it was with great kindness he merely pointed out the option to us, instead of making it an assignment. He knew not all of his students were genuinely interested in dissolving into Enlightenment, and that many of them simply liked the feeling of being around the Light.

Of course, interesting things always happened at group events with Rama. He had this incredible ability to speak to us individually, even in a room packed with hundreds of people. This empowerment was no different, and people walked out with different details about the teaching. So, it’s possible some heard this idea of Enlightenment within 5 years as an assignment, while I heard that it was only an option. Years later, I met someone who had been at the event who told her students this special door to Enlightenment would stay open for only 7 years. Perhaps she used it as a method to inspire her students to work harder, since it’s easier to give 100% if you know it’s only for a short time. Or maybe that was what she heard, because that was what she needed to devote everything to the practice. If you were there, then only you know what the message was to you.

No matter who you study with, if they are an Enlightened Being, then when they speak to a group, part of your job as a student is to listen closely to what resonates with you. These things we hear from our teachers are important to contemplate on our own, especially if it causes any type of confusion, guilt, or pain. Sometimes we get lost in believing what others tell us they heard, instead of trusting ourselves. Beneath that resistance to trust is our way to Truth.

Ultimately, the awareness all spiritual teachers share is the wisdom of listening to our own heart. While we can hear about the practices and techniques a teacher followed to dissolve into Enlightenment, there is no fixed, works for everyone, Path. Each assignment leads the student closer to understanding this truth, and helps to develop trust in both the Teacher and in one’s own highest self. In the end, we all must find our own Path home.

 

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by contributing any amount through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn how you can help keep the work going with a one-time gift or as an ongoing Patron.

THANK YOU!

Jenna

 

Tantrika

O, to be a pratyeka-buddha
Dissolved in private nirvana
At peace as an eternal student of the Buddha
But I know this Enlightenment
is not mine.

I see the endless game of samsara
How could I ignore the cries
of those who suffer from delusion?

Jumping in with both feet,
This tantrika sings the hymns
Illuminating the illusion
For those with eyes to see.

Although the body experiences
pleasure and pain
and the cascade of thoughts,
the Mind rests in Light,
ever perfect, shining bright.

****

To be notified of new blog posts, please join my Happy News Mailing List.

My work is entirely funded by my readers – by you. If you like what you have read, if you find insight or inspiration in these words, please help pay for this website by sending money through PayPal.me/jennasundell, or visit my Support page to learn how you can help keep the work going with a one-time gift or as an ongoing Patron.

THANK YOU!

Jenna