Just some thoughts for today…I was driving home from the office tonight and it was beginning to get dark. I pulled in the driveway of my house and sat in my car as I often do, just looking at the stars and the evening sky. It was so beautiful, and it shows us just by being itself how massive, intricate, and wondrous our world is; it shows us how minute and fleeting what us humans on earth do, what we fill our lives with. More and more as I allow myself time for contemplation or even just stopping to look around at the earth’s natural beauty, the more I see the potential in our own minds to take us outside of the trivialities that it is often times consumed with. Our own minds, when completely open and less dominated by ego, can mirror the universe’s massiveness.
But it does often require meditation in order for us to channel our efforts into something other than our own thoughts/perceptions/interpretations. The more that I’ve allowed myself to take in my surroundings and contemplate the earth and universe, the more I learn about myself and the deeper I prod into my own potential.
I’ve also realized that emotions can be the key to exploring your own intuition and perceptions and gaining insight into them. It’s necessary to allow them to exist fully and let them play their course. Listen to them, think about why they may be existing in that moment. I didn’t consciously realize their importance in this way until recently; and part of this is due to being able to experience the difference from having muted emotions on anti-depressants to having them back in full force. It’s too bad that so many people have negative experiences or ideas attached to embracing or especially showing their emotion.
Most of us have incredibly busy lives full of ambition and activity, and as a result our minds are always busy with the activity of our daily lives. Setting some time aside each day to contemplate our surroundings and our life can begin changing things drastically, just by allowing yourself to come to terms with what’s going on in your life and also putting some time into thinking about these things against the backdrop of the massiveness of our universe.
It may take some people a long time to allow the power that their thoughts hold over them to slowly lose grip, and they may not feel anything at first when meditating except for maybe some relaxation. But those who can look up at the sky or wilderness and see the beauty and mystery around us and how small we are in comparison, can start embracing and manifesting more of a massiveness within themselves. I can promise you that therein lies another world beyond what you can imagine, waiting to be explored and used to its full potential.
“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti
The other night I was on the phone with my mom, and she recalled a spiritual experience I had in 2005 (but this isn’t the exact experience I’m going to talk about in depth today. Stay tuned for part 2 for that one). She said, “tell me what you saw again exactly? And, how did you even get there to begin with?” She had been coming across more and more accounts of people from all different backgrounds and life experiences that were experiencing these remarkable things in regards to evolution of their mind and consciousness. She noted that so many of these people seemed so different, but were coming to the same conclusions as each other and as I have.
Similarly, what I’m seeing now the longer I’m alive, is that more and more people are become “spiritually” aware (which in my mind is something I’d normally just term “awareness” in general). Though we still have a gaping lack of this spirituality (or awareness) in this day and age, I feel like I see more people around me that get it. It could just be me noticing it more, too. Regardless, I always knew it was something inherent in all of us. But many times, what people do and what they believe actually turns them away from their own guiding light.
My mom had began to become more and more curious…with herself wanting to see what others have seen. This conversation with her led me to decide I would write a bit about how my own spiritual experiences happened and how they have affected me today for any others who might have this same wonder; or for those who might be curious about how their own experiences are similar to mine. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about them much and recounted them, so I’ll take you with me on my journey:
My Journey Into a Higher Awareness: The First Experience
First of all, I’ll start by saying…I’ve always been a “spiritual” person. And by that I don’t mean I was ever into church, religion, or even doing anything that represented the typical concept of spirituality. I can just say I have always been introspective, and I’ve always listened to my intuition. Aside from that, I wish I could recall every important detail about what was going on in my mind at the time of my actual spiritual experiences. But there was a lot, and it was a long time ago.
The first one started when I was about 18. I became more withdrawn…preferring to be alone most of the time. As mentioned, I was always introspective and somewhat introverted. But this felt like a strong pull. I really don’t remember what specific things were going on in my head except for a few moments that stuck out to me forever. Like how every night I would go to bed and I would feel like I was somehow getting closer to myself, my essence. I was also a big runner back then, and while running I’d often imagine myself running through a forest path with parrots flying alongside me and being completely and totally free. Attached to nothing…just running, just living, just experiencing.
I then somehow came across 101 Zen Stories from some online forum, and I began reading them. I didn’t know much about Buddhism or Zen Buddhism at the time, but I noticed a particular sense of deep calmness that came over me when I read them. I thought, “hmm, that’s weird…I just feel so at peace from these.” That clued me on to the fact that there was something deep within me that resonated with these stories.
Many times other thoughts, concepts, and images would come to me that felt strong, but I had no idea where they were coming from or even the full picture of what they meant. This was my intuition working for me. I became inspired to write poems at this time that tried to express concepts that were coming to my head…but I didn’t even fully understand their significance at the time.
No Value Judgments
I remember walking around Portland, OR, where I lived, and at this time a feeling overpowered my mind about an idea of a world without value judgments. Where nothing is judged as good or bad by anybody or anything, but is seen completely free of these value judgments. Try to imagine that. A world where people just see things, and don’t apply values to them as one way or another. Things just exist as they are and there is no attachment to things. Complete neutrality. At this time, this theme was really strong during this first spiritual experience. When it came to me strongly at this moment while walking around, it seemed to actually alter my vision of what I was seeing. Everything started to blur together. Everything felt strange. And I knew that what people spent so much time doing, worrying and thinking about was essentially meaningless.
I think what was really happening here that made me feel so strange is that our world is of course based on value judgments. We’ve built up a world based on shoulds and shouldn’ts, on rules, on definitions, on concepts. We interpret the world through concepts that we’ve learned and accumulated over time. What’s behind the concepts? What is our perception made of if we erase the attachment we have about the ideas of what things mean and are? My intuition began to allow me to loosen up this meaning that myself, society, and individuals had attributed to things and my own self.
Fast forward to closer to the night before the actual direct experience. All I remember is that I was telling one of my friends, “I keep thinking of a world that has no value judgments… everything just is as it is…I can’t tell you how weird I feel right now, and I don’t know why.” The feeling I had was the key. I couldn’t put my finger on it. And why was it so strong? But I remember his response really clearly, which was, “Liz, utopia doesn’t exist.” There was more that he said, but that’s the part I really remember. I remember thinking too that his response was irrelevant. That what I felt didn’t have anything to do with trying to change what was existing currently, but rather that it was something more personal to me and what was going on with the framework of my mind.
Attuning My Mind to a Breakthrough
Also important to note during this time, I didn’t have a car so I took the bus to school. It was about a 45 minute ride from my house, through downtown Portland, and into SouthEast Portland where campus was. I would often naturally zone out on the ride there. My mind would automatically become mesmerized by the noises of my surroundings, and tune into something stronger, bigger, more massive than my own thoughts. This was basically meditation, but not only did I not consciously try to meditate, I didn’t even call it anything. It just was. It just happened.
I also had been reading books I had come across ever since the 101 Zen Stories (since that ended up affecting me in a positive way). The most important one I had encountered for me, was “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman. This book was ridiculously funny (and by the way I’ve read it now 8 times or so and still find it hilarious), and it incorporated eastern philosophical concepts in a practical, easy to digest way. Especially the ever-so-commonly talked about concept of “I” in spiritual literature: when you use the concept of “I” — such as “I’m going to the gym” — who is the “I” in that statement? What ideas do you have about your own identity? It illuminates the fact that we conceptualize ourselves and attach ourselves to this idea of ourselves. And that this idea really just is a mental construct — it isn’t our true selves. Anyway, that whole subject could be a separate one or two blog posts. Or a whole dang book. The point is, I really marinated on these concepts in the book, and they only furthered the progress of what was already going on with me mentally.
The next day after speaking with my friend about a world with no value judgments, I ran on the treadmill at the gym. As mentioned, running was always a mental release for me too. I’d often automatically focus on the repetitive noise of my feet running on the treadmill, and it’d spur me out of my thoughts and focus just on the noise. My thoughts were being given less power, because I wasn’t putting energy into them. I was zoning into something else, a world that my thoughts didn’t dictate. A world where my mental constructs weren’t in the way. Weren’t dominating my perspectives.
The Direct Experience
After a few minutes of running, everything in my vision began to turn white. And, I could no longer feel my physical body while running, AT ALL. It’s almost as though I was dissolving. And I felt something open up in my mind…but it was just a few seconds of this (30 seconds or so) and I began to feel fear. Seriously — what in the hell is going on? What’s happening to me? But at the same time, I had the strongest urge to cry that I had ever had. Not out of sadness, but of pure relief and bliss. The strongest feeling I had at that time was that I felt like I finally found something I had been looking for for a long time. But I didn’t know from when, nor was I fully conscious that I was even looking for it. I’m not even sure I could define “it.” I also felt and saw that my entire life that I had lived felt like an illusion.
I went home and I cried that entire weekend, literally on and off crying nonstop. But I felt pure bliss, and a level of happiness that I hadn’t yet experienced in my life to date. I felt like my personal energy was glowing and overflowing from my physical body. I felt reborn. My mom was out of town that weekend, but when she came home, I tried to explain it to her. How do you explain something like that? What context do you give it?
This is what I said to her, when I could get the words out between tears: “The best way I can explain it is think about living on a planet that has a certain way of operating. It has certain characteristics about it that define it. You come to understand this planet, this world by the laws that you learn and perceive are defining it. You have an idea of what the world is by perception developed from experience and practical knowledge that you gain. It is the world as you know it. It’s life as you know it. Then, imagine suddenly waking up on a new planet (when you didn’t even know a new planet existed in the first place) that contained a whole new set of laws. It had a whole new set of definitions, or maybe a lack thereof, because it caused you to loosen up and dissolve your own definitions about your place in the world and the world itself. A part of your sense of identity dissolved away. You realized the perception you had of yourself and the world was extraordinarily limited and not relevant to the massiveness that it actually is. I directly experienced a glimpse of this massiveness. And it made my definitions, my framework of the world fall away. It shattered my life.”
This is why the tears were streaming down my face. In that short time period on the treadmill, that experience had shattered my boundaries, my perceptions, my framework, what I knew to be life, for good. That’s why my life in that moment up to that day felt like an illusion. Because the concept I had about it and myself was the grand illusion. And it made me realize that the world and myself can’t be defined by me, or they can, but those definitions have to be seen for what they are. Maybe as temporary tools, but nothing with any significant meaning. And they are potentially, and likely, limited. In our true nature, we are boundless, we are infinite, and full of endless potential. So when other people say things like this, they aren’t just spewing empty positive bunk. It’s true. You just have to believe.
Death Isn’t the Only Release
Some people don’t experience a release like this until death. When we are near death, we begin to let go of our attachments to this world — through our senses, and through our mind. I believe this is why so many people feel at peace in the moments before death. Death begins the process of the dissolving of our bodies and minds into the massiveness of the universe. The truth is, we can take our minds there now, while we’re still alive. We just have to be open and learn to let go of our ideas of ourselves and the world.
Why did this all start to unfold and then finish in one single direct experience, in a way that ripped through my mental limits, instead of just loosening them up slowly over time? Partly I can say this is because it wasn’t an intellectual process. It was a direct experience of a higher level of consciousness. But other than that, I’m not entirely sure and that’s something I don’t think I can put in words. How I describe the experience doesn’t even come close to the experience itself.
“After ecstasy, the laundry” –Zen Proverb
Well so that was a fantastic experience, but what now? Back to everyday life. Am I supposed to do anything different now? Experiences like this are ground-breaking, but eventually the potency and feeling of them fade away into a memory. I can say about 13 years later that while my mind’s framework is less limited and more aware, it is still easy to fall into the holds that society, people, and life experiences place on you. It can be really difficult to escape certain situations and circumstances and live closer to your soul (for lack of a better term). Sometimes your soul can get covered back up, a little bit. Some things end up tying you down — financial troubles, or maybe it’s just fear — and they can feel nearly impossible to get out of. But if you have an experience like mine, it’s hard to forget it. It’s hard to forget its importance. It’s hard to put something like that on the backburner and just succumb to a limited life. Yes it’s mostly mental, but when you have so many circumstantial things (such as your job, or other people) constantly controlling your life, people imposing their ideas of how you should live your life on you, I won’t say it’s impossible — but it is very difficult to feel free, and not like a slave.
If you listen to your intuition (or learn to listen to it), you’ll notice when something in your life isn’t aligning with you. But you have to have an understanding of what you truly want, first. It doesn’t have to be an intellectual understanding. Just an inherent feeling. But if you have fashioned your idea of yourself and your life completely after what other people have dictated and aren’t very aware of what’s outside of this (or aware that you have even created your own limits), you may not feel a strong contrast between what you truly want and what you have now. You may need to uncover the bullcrap first, and lean into your potential. It’s up to you to take action and learn what a truly happy life means for you, to understand limitlessness in perception, and how to take the steps to live it. It takes a strong and courage soul to pursue this, because it usually isn’t easy, and it requires patience and a strong belief in yourself.
I feel the best advice I can give to anyone about this — including myself as a constant reminder — is to think about every day what you want out of your life. What you truly want. Don’t let go of it. Don’t doubt it! Doubt will dim your light. I’m guilty of doubt, too. And in this world, it’s so easy to become so covered up and so used to limited feelings of happiness. So many of us don’t know what true bliss or freedom of mind feels like, or that it’s even possible.
Just remember: there are people with different levels of awareness walking around on this earth. Some whose light has been dimmed, some who have discovered their light and are following its path. There are a myriad of mental dimensions (maybe physical ones too) and levels of consciousness and no one can know their true limit. You are not truly defined by anything.
Stay tuned for my next blog post on my second spiritual experience in 2005.
“You cannot speak of ocean to a frog living in a well—a creature of a narrow sphere. You cannot speak of ice to a summer insect—a creature of a season. You cannot speak of the unvarying way to a pedagogue: his scope is too restricted. But now that you have emerged from your narrow sphere and have seen the great ocean, you know your own insignificance, and I can speak to you of great principles.” -Chuang Tzu
I’m a long-time sufferer of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
As a result, I know how uncomfortable, agonizing, and threatening anxiety can be. I also know how tough it can be to deal with and combat. When I first started getting my most intense bouts of anxiety, I didn’t really know how to deal with it. I had no defenses. I didn’t even really know what was going on, or the fact that what I was feeling was not due to any very real dangerous threat outside of the fear that I had. Even if it was even somewhat of a threat or an issue in real life, my mind was definitely blowing it up to gigantic proportions. And even if I knew that intellectually, it didn’t seem to help much.
After years and years of battling long bouts of constant anxiety and occasional panic attacks, I became motivated to help others learn and strive towards the same thing I did in order to master the anxiety. It can be a long road and it can cause many people to go down paths of alcoholism or drugs to relieve it, because the last thing you feel like you can do when you’re in the midst of panic and impending doom is to calm yourself down.
What’s the Key to Mastering Anxiety?
I learned that the key to mastering anxiety really lies in a combination of things. Just the way the definition of health encompasses a combination of things – physical health, mental health, diet, spirituality, exercise, etc. It’s the same with anxiety.
Anxiety can have a trigger or one root cause, but you come to realize that sometimes or maybe most of the time, that trigger doesn’t matter. It only matters in that approaching that trigger a certain way may help deflate the anxiety. But no matter what, it’s the anxiety that perpetuates itself and creates a monster in your head, and actually has much less to do with the original trigger or whatever it might be your anxiety is associating the fear with.
Your anxiety wants to associate it with something and makes that association important in your head. But, you have to learn to place less importance on it. It’s in anxiety’s nature to grab onto something and turn it into something else. It doesn’t matter what caused it. Try not to let it grab onto anything.
The FIRST Key is attending to your basic health needs. That would be:
-Getting Enough Sleep
-Eating Healthy (people’s idea of healthy varies greatly. When I say healthy I mean, cut the sugar out of your diet except for smaller amounts of natural sugars like from fruit. Get in tons of greens. Get in different types of protein daily. Eat healthy fats. Get rid of saturated fats. Lower your carbohydrate and sodium intake).
-Exercise (and challenge yourself!)
I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but these three things are the absolute keys to solving most health issues! Yes mental health issues, too. The way you eat, how often you exercise, and how much you sleep will contribute immensely to the balance of your brain chemicals. And the balance of your brain chemicals is absolutely essential in how intensely you will experience anxiety, and how well you will deal with it.
I have been on prozac for 9 years, and after I improved my diet, sleep, and exercise patterns, I was finally able to reduce my dose and eventually wean myself off. Of course, I am also at a stable time in my life. Not to say I don’t ever experience anxiety, but my life, job, relationships, finances, are for the most part stable – which provided a good situation to start weaning myself off. I rely on intensive exercise to give my brain chemicals that boost instead of the prozac. It DOES work.
The second keys to mastering anxiety are:
-Learning to recognize anxiety the second it starts occurring. Not only the mental experience of it but the physical manifestations as well.
-Once it comes, instantly noting it as such and watching your mind closely at this point. Don’t let your thoughts spiral out of control and feed the anxiety. Because that will happen fast – and you won’t even notice it, unless you are paying attention. And I know once you get in high anxiety/panic mode, it’s much harder to wheel yourself back down to a calm state.
–Maintaining a pro-active attitude. Once the anxiety comes and say you weren’t able to unwind it in time and it ended up getting to a high level, it’s time to dedicate yourself to working on it. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel better, within reason. I bought massage pillows, essential oils for aromatherapy, and I made plans of things to do to keep myself busy during the day. Dedicate yourself to getting over it. Keep watching your mind. For every thought that feeds your anxiety, combat it with a positive one. Do not give up. The mastering of anxiety will come down to how well YOU learn to grab onto it by its roots and pull it up. And don’t lose hope! It took me years of practice to be able to deal with it right off the bat and not let it get bad. It’s hard. Look at yourself like a student of anxiety that’s just learning its tricks and mischievous ways of getting you all strung out. With some hardcore dedication, you will be a mental ninja in no time!
–Know that anxiety comes in many forms. Learn to recognize those for what they are, too. I got all sorts of weird mental and physical symptoms with my anxiety. Depersonalization, constant heart racing, constant nausea, sweats, shakes, insomnia — the list goes on. But the most difficult form to deal with are the tricks it can pull on your mind. It makes you doubt the more positive things people are trying to tell you. It makes you paranoid and at times almost addicted in a strange way to the negativity. It has so much allure and it pulls you in. Don’t fall for it! It’s mental poison! Enough of this can then eventually cause depression and then it starts feeding itself perpetually. If you let it spiral out of control, it will become fat, then you have that much farther to go once again to untangle your brain. Not fun.
“The belief is that being afraid keeps you from doing something dangerous or just dumb. But that’s one of the processes fear uses to protect itself. When we look more closely, we begin to see – especially if we decide to approach something we afraid of – that fear is protecting itself against us.
It looks as if fear is on your side, taking care of you, keeping you safe… until you decide to do something it tells you not to do. At that point you become enemies; you are in an adversarial relationship with that which is supposedly protecting you.
In other words…rather than simply being a signal that something is going on, fear begins to look like an active force with an agenda of its own.
One might conclude that fear itself is the danger.”
-The Fear Book, by Cheri Huber, page 23.
Tips on mastering anxiety to be continued!