Giving Presence

As we cross the threshold from the holiday of giving thanks to the holiday of giving presents, I offer encouragement to include in your giving this year—in addition to whatever actual “presents” you may give—the gift of your actual presence both to your loved ones, to strangers and lastly, but not least, to yourself. “Easy for you to say!” you may well respond. “It’s the $@#! Holidays!” (Or: “Have you seen my $#@! in-box??”)

How do we find our own presence within; how do we re-discover what some would call our higher Selves, our own souls … in the midst of the busy-ness of this season, and of our overall lives?

We know when we have touched this place of quiet feeling, a sense of assurance arises within, and our problems seem smaller, solutions more evident, or we are content to simply enjoy life as it is, now, no matter what our circumstances.

"We know when we have touched this place of quiet feeling, a sense of assurance arises within, and our problems seem smaller, solutions more evident ... "

Our children benefit, our spouses, our families, our colleagues.

I have learned for myself that the how is as simple as stopping. In my work of late, I’ve been using the term “surrender.” Surrender in the very best sense, meaning we stop trying to control everything around us (a futile task!), and even what is within our own minds. We stop. Emotions may continue, energies in the body. Chaos may swirl, still, for a while. But we do not need to continue to feed our thoughts, which add complexity to the storm. We can stop.

What is here, under this surrender, within this stopping? Under thoughts of what must be done, what we must do, what we must achieve, or change, and how we can prove our worthiness, or disprove our unworthiness? What is under, beneath, within, before and after our “to do” list, whether accomplished or not?

Presence!

Beautiful Sunset - Ami Chen.

 

Within simple presence, when the mind is quiet, we discover the universal feelings of connection, love, peace—and a fulfillment that includes all others in its gentle embrace. When “me” and its non-stop trajectory is lost, when self-concept is forgotten, even if only for a moment, we are actually found.

I am very fond of the authors Hugh and Gayle Prather (Hugh has now passed on). They reflect in their book, Spiritual Parenting, on the idea that the Christian holiday at this time of year is perhaps particularly joyful because it celebrates the birth of a child.

The child’s mind, the child’s innocence, the child’s feeling all are not actually lost as we age. They are obscured by thought. It is that richness of mind and connection to life Jesus referred to when he said, “Be like the little children.”

I believe our gathering together and preparations for the holidays reflects our deep desire to feel love, to feel connected, to feel delight, to feel presence, to feel a sense of the sacred. Indeed, most of our efforts in life are directed subconsciously toward these goals. Ironically, and wonderfully, we can stop at any moment and find this presence is already here!

" ... We can stop at any moment and find this presence is already here!"

Perhaps we must first become present to ourselves before we can show up as present for our families … What does this mean for you today? An unscheduled walk in the woods, or by the ocean? A hot cup of tea, and your favorite chair? A good lie down in bed? A moment with your pet, or on your meditation cushion? Or perhaps simply slowing down in whatever activity you find yourself in, now.

Ask yourself (and tell no lies!): Does what you think needs to be done really need to be done? And if so, does it need to be done today? This minute? Is there something more important, more essential that could be discovered first—that might pave the way gently for good things to come?

Your present—your presence—gifted to yourself. I suggest this is this best gift you could “give” this holiday season. We could make a pact. I will give it to myself, if you will give it to yourself. What do you say?

Ami Chen Mills-Naim is author of The Spark Inside and State of Mind in the Classroom (revised, 2nd printing due in 2016). She leads the “Everyday Satsang” drop-in class through Santa Cruz Yoga. Next class is Sunday, Dec. 13, 2-4 pm at 1010 Fair Ave. Suite E. Class fee is $15. Ami also provides personal and professional coaching, is a global speaker, and leads retreats, webinars and trainings via the Internet and in person. Find more at www.AmiChen.com

 

The Holy Spirit in the Holy Land

Just before Passover, or Pesach, and Easter, my family and I returned to Israel to visit with my husband Barukh's extended family, or tribe, really--in Kefar Yona, Israel ... just a few miles west of the West Bank.

Several women from Israel had contacted me earlier about coming to visit, to speak to community and youth-at-risk issues, and so Life unfolded this way ...

I had the pleasure and honor of meeting with Sue Lachman and Carol Dweck, as well agency representatives, community volunteers and government officials at the base of City Hall in Jerusalem, just steps from the old city.

After an extended meeting that somehow also included several solar energy industry representatives, plates of bread and hummus, various chopped salads, and many cups of coffee, Sue and I entered the Jaffa Gate of Old Jerusalem.

We made our way past the energetic shopkeepers, hawkers of wares (you can see why Jesus turned over some tables here). We wound through narrow, cobbled streets toward the ancient Western Wall of the Jewish Temple that religious Jews believe will someday be rebuilt. On the way, an elderly, bearded Jewish man walked ahead of us, slowly, slowly, and as we passed, behind us, stopping to kiss each stone wall of this remarkable ancient city.

I have come here before with skepticism, with a kind of frustration at the religious/political/cultural tides of past and present, the fears for the future, the deep misunderstandings, that have created unending violence and conflict in this "Holy Land."

The glittering Dome of the Rock rises above us, on the Temple Mount, where Mohammed is said to have ascended to Heaven. Behind us, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it is said that Jesus was crucified at Golgotha, laid to rest on the Stone of Unction, and moved into his tomb.

At the Western Wall, which is relatively quiet today, men and women separate (I have had my reservations about this too) and Sue and I enter on the women's side. Women, both Orthodox and not, place their hands upon the wall, mutter prayers, weep, or simply sit in peace and silence on rows of plastic chairs situated before the wall. The evening is warm and full of a dusky orange glow I associate with Israel, its earth, air and stones.

Some Asian tourists take photos of the observant, and an understandably bothered Jewish woman shoots them an effectively scornful look. She, too, has been crying.

I am overtaken with a sense of reverence, a quietness here--and am moved to tears myself. In the cracks and crevices of the wall, besides the many stuffed, folded prayers on paper, flowering weeds unwind themselves into the Israeli spring, and pigeons coo and flutter from one ledge to another.

Despite the wars and abuses, the sometimes violent attachment to thought that makes a Holy City such as this very often unholy; the yearning for some meaning beyond the small self, the surrender to something greater can be felt here. Barack Obama left a paper note in the crevices of this wall when he visited. It was later scavanged by journalists. It was because of this note, and what he wrote on it, that I voted for him.

What is holy? Is it this wall, that dome, the rock where Jesus is said to have been crucified? Or is it what we carry to these places, and unleash from within ourselves--our dreams, intentions and prayers? Our yearning for divinity? Is God not everywhere, if God is God? Or is there atmosphere, as Joel Goldsmith has named the feeling of a place?

Perhaps.

And do we also always live and move and have our being in some atmosphere, the divine gift of Consciousness ... which sanctifies us endlessly, and anywhere, when we are still, when we are open to receive?

The next day, I gave a talk to a group of interested Israelis. What follows are excerpts from an evening in Ra'anana, Israel, just before Passover, 2012. This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity and/or to emphasize a particular point. Part II will come in a later post.

Local Host: I was able to spend the whole day yesterday with Ami in Jerusalem and it was a joy ... so thank you, Ami.

Mystical Mama (MM): It's been a joy, it's been a pleasure to be with you in Jerusalem. [To the group:] We went down to the Wailing Wall, the Western Wall, and while we were there, we had a brief discussion about whether the wall itself was something Holy, or whether it was all of our intentions when we go that create a feeling at that wall. I certainly felt something at that wall. It moved me, it made me cry.

At any rate, I know for sure that our intentions mean a lot, and this space itself becomes holy when we have an intention toward that. I love being with people and talking about these 3 Principles because I then get to experience that feeling. I think in the Jewish tradition it's called Shekinah. It's like the "Holy Spirit," actually, the feminine Holy Spirit. Something soft, something peaceful. Indwelling. I love that word.

I am not Jewish. My husband is Jewish, he's Israeli. And I spent a year studying Judaism, which isn't a lot. I understand that people spend entire lifetimes, so I'm not going to pretend to know much. I know that word, and it's beautiful to me.

And what the Principles we are going to talk about tonight, what they really speak to is: What is the source of that feeling in ourselves? Where does that come from? ...

I've been told that I have a job tonight, which is that I need to talk about what it is that we are actually talking about! ... The report is that people are saying: We don't know what it is, and we've come several times [to various classes]. What is it? So, I have the task of defining the Principles for you and putting some form on something that is in fact, quite formless.

Whether you're religious or not, you've probably had experiences of great peace in your life, possibly and probably from "out of the blue," just a sense of peace, a sense of well-being, a sense of "everything's OK." And so we'll be talking about what is that, and how is it that we go in and out of that space of feeling a sense of peace?

But I thought it might be nice to just "get here" for a second, together, because we all came from traffic, perhaps came from rushing, feeling we might be late ... I had the thought, because Passover is coming, of the parting of the Red Sea. I'm sure all of the Rabbis are talking about it these days.

What occurred to me is that, if we could take a moment in our lives to "part the seas" of time, and to have one side of the sea be the past, and one side of the sea be the future, and just walk right down the middle, clear of all that.

Just for this brief time period, and it would be wonderful if you could continue that into the next moment and the next, on into your lifetime! ... But perhaps we could just take a moment this evening. So I am going to ask you to oblige me, just take a moment with me to be quiet for a minute or so ... Just to get here a little bit. So--

[There is a long moment of silence that is then interrupted by a loud door buzzer.]

Participant: Time's up!

MM: Yes! The sea comes back! ... [Laughter.] So what did you find in that moment? What did you experience? What is here? Was there peace? Was there a flood?

Participant: I was trying to keep the waves out. I was walking in the middle, I was keeping my thoughts from going that way, towards what I have to do.

MM: I think the title of this talk is "Peace Before Pesach," when there's so much to do, at least for religious people. So this is apt. Anyone else? Did anyone hear the sounds, the buses?

Participant: I didn't hear the sounds. I didn't pay attention to them. I went inside myself and I felt comfortable in my own body. It was peaceful.

Participant: I felt relaxed. Just in that moment, you just let the tension go. You make a point of saying, "Now you can let go." And you just let go. It's good when someone actually tells you to, because one doesn't always do it by choice.

MM: Yes, although it's certainly possible.

Participant: Yes, but one doesn't always do it. Especially before Pesach.

MM: [Confirming] Yes, it's possible, but one often doesn't do it. Especially before Pesach. Anyone else?

Participant: It felt right.

Another: It was nice. I was quiet. It felt nice. It was unusual, I'm not usually quiet.

MM: Well, most of us aren't, are we? Whether we're outwardly loud, or outwardly quiet, most of us are quite noisy on the inside. And especially people who are often quiet on the outside. There's one way of being that's quiet, and it's really quiet. It's lovely. And we all know that feeling--

Participant: I don't like quiet, I'm afraid. When I am at home, I like noise. I put the television on. I'm not even watching it. I hate quiet.

MM: It seems strange to be quiet?

Participant: Yes.

MM: Yes. But you did it just now.

Participant: Well, it's a bit different here, when everyone is doing it.

MM: Is it? ... And how did it feel?

Participant: Yeah, it was fine! [Big smile.]

MM: Yeah! You never know.

So, what do we have here? This is a question someone asked me perhaps a year ago. What is here? What is always here?

[Note: a participant chimes in here with the word "consciousness," which is also apt.]

And it hit me that quietness is actually always here. Not the quietness of "Oh my gosh, the sounds have all stopped, the TV is off, and suddenly it's quiet. And now my mind is very noisy," which is a different kind of quiet. It's an external quiet. That is not inner quiet.

But when that layer of static, the static of thinking, starts to fade down a bit, whether because we are intending for it to, or just by accident, because we are accepting that static fully, or because it is a blessing, an act of grace, what we find underneath the static of our thinking, even in the midst of our thinking, is quiet. And that's always here.

And it's a quiet that can lend itself to action, it could mean that you go and do some work and you're very focused, or you're doing something creative or you are parenting ...

Because you're coming from a space of quiet, the parenting is very natural ... Have you ever felt that way with your children--the parenting is not all up in your head, but you're actually seeing the beauty in your children?

Participant: You're being present.

MM: Yes, you're present. And present and quiet are the same thing. Those two "walls" of the Red Sea are just created out of something that's really nothing, which is Thought. It's just thought.

In reality, all we have is this moment, all the time. Again, what is always here? This moment is always here. We know that. We know now, we're together in this room. There's the table, there's the candles, there's these crazy flowers that look like they've been dyed by some incredible artist, and a bowl of oranges ... We know there are the sounds of the buses ... This is what we might call "reality."

And there's always some reality that we're in, there's always some experience we are having in the physical realm. And if we were just to leave it at that, what a blessing it would be! [Laughs.]

If you look at children, they haven't learned to overlay something on top of reality. They're in the physical reality that they've been born into and it's like a miracle to them, every single thing that comes into their experience, is like some kind of amazing miracle, a cat, a kitten, a puppy, a bus ... Bus! Let's ride the bus! ... On the bus, what's happening? What do the people look like? Everything is something amazing, some aspect of creation.

If we just could be in the simplicity of awareness, of Consciousness--just that we are conscious, we are conscious human beings (and that's one of the Principles, by the way, so I've covered that one--)

Participant: When you're talking about the child, is it--? Let's say a child is building a sand castle. When a child is building a sand castle, that is what he is doing. He's not thinking about what is going to happen to the sand castle afterwards, and is there a wave going to come, is he going to get dirty? Whereas the Mother will be extrapolating all the possible scenarios that could be coming. But the child is in the moment. Is that what you mean?

MM: Yes! Exactly.

Participant: Not to think further. And the bus. He gets on the bus and he's just thinking about the enjoyment of the ride. Whereas I would be thinking: "Where's the bus going? Am I going to get there on time? Am I going to be late? Where am I going to sit?" We process, whereas children don't.

MM: Yes. We think quite a lot more. But before we begin to "think quite a lot more," there's this basic capacity for an experience of life that we call Consciousness. A lot of people call it consciousness, it's not new, nor a special word that the 3 Principles community has come up with. It's been around. It's just awareness. That's all it is. And it's so simple. And when it's simple and pure, life is very simple, like a child's life.

And then, as we get older, we start to develop some kind of thinking, some kind of an overlay. Someone told us this kind of a bus is a good bus, this kind is a bad bus, or it's better to have a car, actually. It means something different if you have a car, or if you have this kind of clothing or that kind of clothing, or this amount of money or this amount ... This is who you are, this is what you like, this is what you don't like, and on and on and on.

So we start to create a world of our own, which you could call a "personal reality." And our personal reality is created through our capacity to think.

That thinking somehow gets stored, magically, and we're able to pull it up. It also comes up on its own after a while, even when we don't want it to. As adults, we start to be in this reality, be in this world with an overlay--of judgement, value making, rejection. We start to make meaning out of everything: If this person looks at me a certain way, it means something ...

We've created a filter of reality through our thinking. We're no longer fresh in reality, we're now walking around in a soup of our own history, of our own making.

It's of our own making, but it's also quite natural because this is what human beings do. We're like little computers and first we're clear, we're fresh. You start off with almost nothing, and then you need some software, and you start getting software and you start running programs. Soon we have far too many, much more than we need to get through life. And the programs begin to obscure the natural wisdom, the natural capacity for love, for gratitude to life, that we each also are connected to--Pure Mind, Pure Consciousness. So we each run different programs, and those programs are created from this simple Principle, which is one of the 3 Principles, of Thought. And through this power to think, we create all the meaning that we see in this world for ourselves ...

We are the ones that create that.

It feels like someone gave it to us. It feels sometimes like the Truth. We might fight to the death for some particular thought. But actually, it's something that we are doing inside of ourselves. Most often, without even knowing that.

Part II, to come, will contain the rest of the excerpt from the evening. The Center for Sustainable Change and Your Mystical Mama are offering a six-week online and telecall course in the 3 Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought, "Foundations in the Principles," beginning May 5. For information, registration and scholarship applications, please click here.

Innocence & Forgiveness

We celebrate several sets of holidays around here ... the traditional American & Christian-based holidays, Jewish holidays and Chinese holidays. Every day is practically a holiday!

At Christmas-time, I talk to the children about Jesus and what I see as his essential message of Love & forgiveness. Alia (age 5) heard my little song and dance about Jesus over a light breakfast this year, and then said: "That's a good story."

There is a beautiful passage in A Course in Miracles that re-interprets the message of the crucifixion. Rather than being about the death of a son in "sacrifice" (how similar to ancient traditions of sacrificing animals, humans, etc. to God or various Gods) .... the message is rather about how one who, faced with the ultimate undeserved attack upon his body, his person, his name ... taught the message of forgiveness in the final moments before his, at least bodily, death.

How is it then, that we, when faced with slights and injuries of much less significant proportions, can so easily become enraged and vengeful? Toni Packer, in the somewhat obscure but revealing little book The Light of Discovery, describes many of our daily encounters as: "you say something that hurts the image I have of myself, and I say something back that hurts your image of yourself ..." (and she notes, "if that is all that is going on, nothing is learned.")

As a suburban Mom, I like to look at these grander themes through the lens of daily life. What does forgiveness mean with children, spouses, partners? Teachers? Relatives? Drivers on our commutes ... and other possibly troublesome folks?

How can we see the innocence in one another, "turn the other cheek" as it were? I am certainly no expert and could easily list a few people I have not quite, fully, er, forgiven. At the top of the list, probably, would be Me.

On Christmas Day, I happened to have scored with a nice gift for my husband, a set of very tall liquor glasses on thin stems--each a different shape and brilliant color. I had hoped ... and he actually liked them more than I expected he would. And then there was the moment when, in all of her excitement, our Alia reached quickly across the dining table to grab one of her presents and broke a glass--beyond repair.

My husband got angry. Why? He liked the present, actually, had already become somewhat attached. He interpreted Alia's actions as being linked to a kind of hyper-ness she sometimes gets into (a possible long term problem? ... worry, concern, are we parenting all wrong?) and spoke in stern tones to her about "moving too fast," and now look what happened, etc.

Alia burst into tears after a second or two of silent processing, and then went running to her room to ball herself up in blankets and be upset for a good while. Now it was my turn: I could get upset at my husband for over-reacting, for possibly marring our young child's Christmas Day, etc. etc. I had worked so hard to make a nice day for us all, and I saw the breaking of the glass as no big deal.

But by the Grace of God I saw instead my husband's innocence. I understood the reasons--rational or not--why he got upset (as listed above); and most importantly, I saw the seeds of all his reasons in myself. My heart went out to him (along with my daughter). I get attached to things too, I judge our daughter too, I worry about her future, too. How could I throw the first stone?

So, I let it rest. I helped Alia come back to our really quite lovely Day. My husband settled down and apologized to her. And I was relieved that I had not added more judgment and pain to the judgment and pain that had already occurred.

I say "by the Grace of God" because I am honestly not always so good at forgiveness.

I also realize that other sorts of slights are perhaps harder to forgive. Victims of physical attacks, of war and other sorts of violence ...

I am clear, however, that if we cannot learn to overcome these small, seemingly mundane incidents, the larger ones will go on and on in their endless and furious cycles.

The mysterious doors between life and death are opening around me now (in my circle of friends, in my family) ... Like the holidays, it's a time for reflection on what's important. And if Jesus was right, those things are Love & forgiveness. I think, in the end, they are really One.

As we are really One. Without Love & forgiveness our Oneness cannot be known and felt.

And our Oneness is ultimately that which is Eternal.

Do you have a story or thought on Love & forgiveness? If so, please share in "comments" ...

With Love,

Your Mystical Mama