My whole life, I have followed the trail of inspiration wherever it would take me. This quest has led me to sacred chanting, divine play, Repose, and Deep Creativity, all of which have inspired me endlessly.
Today, I pay tribute to a most astonishing and delightful source of inspiration in my life. This past year, I fell deeply, passionately in love. I must confess that I never saw it coming, which makes it all the more wonderful. Now, December 12 has become one of the holiest days on my calendar. Not only is this the Day of the Virgen de Guadalupe; it is also the birthday of my beloved Maria--the woman of my dreams and the joy of life.
Through Maria, I have learned so much about the sacred power of shared love. In the weeks and months ahead, I look forward to sharing some of these lessons with you. I have come to the conclusion that if you are fortunate enough to have a great love in your life, you have everything you need to experience inspiration on a daily basis. And if you cultivate that love, it will only grow more inspiring with each passing day.
In honor of this auspicious occasion, I offer the following prayer:
My love for you is holy. Let there be no doubt. I am the humble peasant climbing the Hill of Tepeyac, and you are an apparition far more resplendent than anything I could have imagined.
From the very beginning of my life, I have been searching for you. In your joy, I am born and reborn again. And in your love, I am annihilated gladly. I dissolve in your embrace until there is nothing left but you.
I am the devoted pilgrim finding redemption at your altar. Since the moment my heart started beating, it has burned with passion for you. My adoration for you is complete, Beloved, and it can never be extinguished.
In the barren desert, I gathered roses and placed them carefully in my cloak. Today, before the eyes of witnesses, all these flowers fall away, leaving only an imprint of you on the fabric of my being. Your beauty would be no less miraculous if mine were the only eyes that could see it. But many a dream has been illuminated by your radiance.
I honor and celebrate the inception of you. In your effervescent smile, I have found my calling. After eons of wandering through this dream world, at last I am lucid. In answer to your question, I say: “Yes, you are here, Beloved. And I am here in you. I live to fill you with delight.”
What would happen if we faced our "inner self"? Who would we find? What would that self be like?
In his classic essays, Montaigne claims that we fail to discover the inner self out of fear. But maybe we just don't know what to look for or where to find it. Searching for the inner self might be the ultimate adventure. We are stalking something mysterious and intangible that lives within us. When we find it, we may discover the deepest and most substantive answer to the age-old question: Who am I?
The inner self lies at the core of our identity. But what exactly does that mean? We could say that the inner self is what remains when everything else get stripped away. For example, we are not the titles and degrees we have earned, nor can we be defined by our possessions. Why? Because we would continue to exist without them.
Same goes for the roles we assume in our lives, as spouse, parent, friend, student, lover, boss, teacher, rival, coworker, or assistant. We may switch roles many times over the course of our lives, and yet something of us stays the same.
The circumstances of our birth seem to stay with us for our entire lives. These include our birthplace, family of origin, culture, race, ethnicity, sex, and religion. Yet each of us varies in the extent to which we accept and embrace those circumstances. For example, we may choose a spiritual path that differs from the religion in which we were raised, or we may immigrate to a new homeland.
Some would argue that there is no such thing as an inner self. Social psychologists maintain that who we are is more a function of the situations in which we find ourselves than some lasting, stable disposition or set of traits. Buddhists tend to embrace the doctrine of anatta ("non-self), which states that there is no such thing as an unchanging, permanent self, soul, or essence.
If this is true, then the search for an inner self seems pointless. And yet, Buddhists also believe in reincarnation, implying that something within us continues beyond this life and transcends our death. One Buddhist master stated, "I am not this body, so I was never born and will never die. I am nothing and I am everything. Your identity makes all your problems. Discover what is beyond them, the delight of the timeless, the deathless.”
The one thread that runs through our lives is: I AM. This is the experience of being, of consciousness, of pure essence. The form we take is constantly changing. One day, we say, "I AM X," and the next day, "I AM Y." But regardless of what we identify with or how we define ourselves, there is always I AM.
When you contemplate this simple statement, "I AM," you will find your inner self. And when you do, you will discover that it has nothing to do with what you think, how you act, or who you know. Your inner self runs much deeper than that. It's time to uncover this greatest of mysteries.
What if there were no such thing as spirit or spirituality? Suppose that we stopped looking for anything beyond the material realm. This intriguing premise was proposed by the late Michael Stone in the TEDx talk shown above. Would there still be room in such a reality for yoga?
Stone defines the Sanskrit word yoga as "intimacy." But what is intimacy? The Latin root of intimate means "inmost" or "intrinsic." In yoga, the objective is to recognize our connection to a greater whole, experiencing true intimacy with that whole. If the material world is all there is, then intimacy means that we are each an intrinsic part of the material world. At the same time, we can make the case that the material world is intrinsic to us.
The natural processes and physical laws that are unfolding in the universe around us are also abiding within our bodies. None of us is a closed system. All of the boundaries of our bodies are permeable, which means that there is a constant exchange of materials happening between ourselves and our environment. With each breath, we take in the atmosphere and also add to it. Eating is a truly remarkable act in which we transform plant and animal matter into the cells and tissue of our bodies while capturing some of the energy contained in that food so that we can fuel our thoughts, speech, and actions.
Every atom that exists "out there" has the potential of ending up "in here" because the distinction is arbitrary. The matter that makes up our bodies is changing from one moment to the next. Did you know that the food we eat and the water we drink was probably excreted by some other organism at some point in the past? And everything we excrete--sweat, piss, poop, spit, snot, and cum--will be vital to another organism at some point in the future. There is no such thing as waste, except in our own minds. Absolutely every particle that makes up our bodies right now will be cycled through the greater whole. Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and all the other elements that comprise us at this moment have their natural cycles. They are constantly moving through the natural world.
Yoga can exist in perfect harmony with a materialistic worldview. You do not need to believe in anything beyond the material universe to have an intimate relationship with that universe. You just have to embrace one simple idea that is based on scientific fact: What is in me is in you as it is in all things. We live in a universe that is governed by the principles that all matter and energy are conserved at all times. The "stuff" that makes up that universe simply flows from one place to another in a dynamic and continuous stream. If you and I are in the same room for any period of time, we will exchange matter and energy. There is no doubt we will share parts of ourselves with one another.
This leads to what Martin Buber called the "I-Thou" relationship, which is the idea that whatever I love or revere in myself I must also love and revere in you. Why? Because there is no separation. The boundaries between us are relatively meaningless. They change so constantly and inevitably that we would be foolish to enforce them.
Virtually every yoga class ends with the greeting Namaste, which literally means "I bow to you." The reason for this greeting is the recognition that we are made up of the exact same stuff. By saying "Namaste," we are expressing our aspiration to see beyond the mental distinctions that appear to separate us. These distinctions are not consistent in any way with the teachings of physics, chemistry, or biology. If we are going to embrace materialism to the fullest, we have no choice but to assume our natural place in the universe as yogis. Namaste!
Thanksgiving is such a great holiday. Not because of turkey and trimmings or family and football, although these may add to the enjoyment of the day for many of us. No other holiday places such a priority on gratitude. On Thanksgiving day, we give thanks for all of the gifts that continue to stream into our lives on a daily and yearly basis.
Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful and graceful. These two terms are related. They both have to do with receptivity. Everything in our lives is a gift, starting with life itself. A gift comes to us, ultimately, from a mysterious source and without us having to earn it. Why were we born in the first place? The chance to experience the richness of this life is a gift. We may not know where we came from or how we got here. Chances are we did nothing to earn the privilege of life. Neither did we have to earn the affection of those who have loved us from the beginning. Love is a gift that keeps enriching us from moment to moment.
To be graceful means to receive the gifts that come our way fully, completely--with open arms and an open heart. No struggle. No questioning. No wondering if we got dealt a good enough hand or why we didn't get more. It would be wise to begin any meditation or visualization regarding abundance by acknowledging the fact that we have already attained it. Whether we know it or not, abundant gifts have already been bestowed upon us. For one, we have made it this far. If we have food, clothing, and shelter, we are gifted. If we have talents that we know how to use in the world, we are gifted. If we have people whom we love and who love us in return, we are gifted. And if we have the use of our faculties and relatively good health, we are especially gifted.
We admire those who are graceful. These exceptional people move through the world artfully, creating beauty and warmth wherever they land. At the heart of such grace is gratitude. Let's give thanks for every gift that comes into our lives, even those that may be disguised as challenge or hardship. In retrospect, some of the greatest obstacles that we encounter turn out to be our greatest opportunities. That is why one of the nine intentions in The Pledge, which many of us recite on a daily basis, states:
On this Thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude for the extraordinary grace that has been bestowed upon me. Every day, I wake up thinking, "Wow! How can it get any better than this?" And then somehow, it does! Last year, I thought my life had reached its pinnacle: Deep Creativity was about to be published, 30 years after its conception. This was the culmination of my life's work, and I felt complete. Global Chant, which I started in 1996, had built its own momentum, with several groups running themselves happily and independently of my efforts. People were contacting me on a regular basis to report the benefits of Repose, which I consider to be one of the most remarkable gifts to come into my life and that I have been able to share with others. My life was not just good; it was wonderful!
And then, out of the blue, I met the woman of my dreams. A year later, I am engaged to be married to my beloved Maria Mendola , who is my match in every regard. If I had asked the universe to find me a partner that is perfect for me--my equal and my complement in every regard--it would have been her, without a doubt. But I didn't ask, I didn't pray, I didn't visualize. Maria found her way into my life and my heart with no effort on my part. She is a true gift for whom I give thanks on a daily basis--sometimes many times a day. I am grateful for this blessed life I lead, which includes the presence of supportive individuals like you. So, on this Thanksgiving holiday, all I can say is: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!
This morning, I came across the beautiful calligraphy you see here. This is a depiction of the Japanese word kaku-sei, which means "awakening." Drawn several years ago by my dear friend, Rev. Henry Ajiki (who recently lost his remarkable wife and spiritual partner, Michi; like everyone else who knew her, I share in that loss), it depicts one of the central themes in my life's work, which is the experience of spiritual awakening. But what exactly does that mean?
If you follow this blog, you know that I am a proponent of the dream argument, which is the position that that life is a dream. That being the case, we can learn a great deal about spiritual awakening by considering what happens when we awaken from the dream state that occurs during a normal night's sleep.
In our dreams, you and I are the protagonist. Essentially, we are the lead actor playing the part of ourselves in a drama that unfolds in our mind's eye. While immersed in this drama, we may be unaware that the experiences and adventures we are undergoing are all a fabrication of our own imagination. For instance, I recently dreamed that I was the lead guitarist for a blues band--a wonderful fantasy that appeals to my innate passion for music.
Because this was not a lucid dream, I was totally caught up in the role I was playing. In other words, I didn't know it was a dream until I awakened from it. Then I realized that it was all something I created. Not only was I the lead actor and protagonist in this imaginary play, I was also the producer, director, and playwright.
This brings us to the heart of spiritual awakening. When you awaken from the dream of "objective reality," you transcend the role you have been playing in that dream and align your awareness with the "dreamweaver," to borrow a term from John Lennon (3:46 mark of the video for the song "God"). This is the important shift from creature to creator. Rather than just acting as a character in a play, being moved by forces beyond your control, you begin to recognize that the one who envisioned that play in the first place lives and breathes inside of you. When that happens, you come fully into your power as a human being. That is the true nature of inspiration, which is why I write and speak about this topic like none other. It is the reason I devoted 30 years of my life to writing Deep Creativity.
My intention for you, dear friend, is the same one I set for myself on a daily basis: May you awaken fully from the dream of objective reality in this lifetime, discovering your fullest connection to the dreamweaver that abides in you. Here and Now, Baby!
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Head, one of the most bizarre and wonderful American films to come out of the 1960's. Featuring The Monkees in a wild departure from their popular TV series, Head breaks free of cinematic conventions in spectacular ways. The storyline is circular and the actors shatter the fourth wall so often and so dramatically that viewers have no choice but to give in the experience rather than try to make sense of it all.
Directed by Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) and co-written by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson, Head challenges viewers' ideas about reality. This is why it holds a special place in my heart. Creative inspiration requires an element of "lucid waking," which is the ability to realize that our waking reality is as illusory as the dreams we experience when we sleep at night. Inspired art draws our attention to the dreamlike nature of waking reality by blurring the lines between "real" and "imagined." In this sense, Head qualifies as inspired art. I am not alone in this view. Filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright rank it among their all-time favorite movies.
But don't take our word for it! You can watch Head right here:
If you took part in last Saturday’s “Stay Inspired, Play Inspired” workshop, you know what a special day it was. Together, we took a journey into the heart of creative inspiration. By the end of the day, many of you made important discoveries that could have a profound and lasting impact on your lives. Now, the question becomes: What do I do with this new understanding?
In the days and weeks to come, you have a chance to deepen that understanding and to integrate it in ways that continue to inspire you. The reality is that inspiration begets more inspiration, as long as you make room for it in your life. Here are a few ideas to help you do that on a daily basis:
1. Set your intentions for the day. Like anything else, inspiration is a practice. An important part of that practice is to aim high. When you establish and express the ideals to which you aspire, you will begin moving towards them. My own aspirations are captured in the nine statements that comprise The Pledge. I have been reciting these statements every morning for the past decade. Each time I say them, I can feel an alchemical change within myself. The Pledge has the power to transform and inspire. Give it a try, or create your own set of aspirations.
2. Repose. As you know, lying in Repose for seven minutes three times a day has all kinds of mental and physical health benefits. For me, the most compelling reason for incorporating Repose into my daily routine is that it opens me up in ways that are conducive to my experience of inspiration. As you discovered on Saturday, receptivity is an important component of inspiration, and few tools I have ever encountered are more conducive to receptivity than Repose. Immediately after awakening every morning, I lie in Repose. And I encourage you to do the same.
3. Self-care. Inspiration is a full-body experience. So it is vital to take care of your body. My fiancée, Maria Mendola, taught me a set of morning ayurvedic rituals for cleansing and purifying the body. These include tongue-scraping, irrigating your nostrils with a neti pot, exfoliating your entire skin surface, and oiling your skin. I also wake up my digestive system by drinking a cup of warm water with lemon. Every day, I set aside time for exercise, which includes stretching, cardio, resistance, and breathwork. If you have limited time, space, and access to exercise equipment, you can still get in a good workout. I recommend using one of Andy Petranek’s Living Room Workout videos, which are free on YouTube and can be done in about 10 minutes.
4. Creativity time. If you want to channel your inspiration into a creative pursuit, make time in your day to create. I set aside about three hours every morning for my writing. Rarely do I write beyond 11 am, and yet I have been able to publish four books, with two more in the works. Mornings are best for me because I feel fresh, energized and focused. Listen to your own body rhythm and be as resourceful as you can. You may have to find creative ways to work around your other responsibilities, but it can be done. It is simply a matter of priorities.
5. Open your heart. Inspiration is about passion. There is a reason that Deep Creativity includes an unconditional love invocation (pp.179-182). All great creative breakthroughs begin with love. Then there is joy. Make sure to do the things you enjoy and to enjoy the things you do. I consider all of the activities I have listed here as forms of play that I enjoy to the fullest. Make sure to savor each moment while you are eating, creating, exercising, lying in Repose, or engaging in any of your other daily rituals. And express your gratitude, both through silent forms of grace and by acknowledging acts of kindness by the people in your life. There is no more powerful way to open your heart to inspiration than by saying, “Thank you.”
These five suggestions are a great starting point as you enter this new phase of your life. In other blog posts, I have written about cultivating intuition and imagination, both of which are important elements of creative inspiration. You may want to check out these tips, as well. And you are always welcome to send me your questions and comments. May you know what it is like to live an inspired life!
One of the boldest ideas I have ever encountered entered my awareness at age three. That was the first time I can recall hearing the song, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." From the moment I heard it, I have been intrigued by that last verse: "Life is but a dream."
Maybe the verse is just poetic license--a whimsical notion intended only to amuse and delight. But what if it turned out that life really is a dream? How would we know? The main characteristic of a dream is that it is a product of our imagination. We fill each dreams with people, places, events, and other elements that we create ourselves. Everything in the dream is a product of our psyche. For example, we may take in the scent of a rose in the dream, but when we awaken, we know that this was not an actual rose--just a symbolic representation.
Waking life is the gold standard to which we compare our dreams. We know that a dream is not real because it differs in remarkable ways from the characteristics of waking reality. The practice of lucid dreaming as taught by my friend and colleague Stephen LaBerge revolves around the notion of a reality check. In order to realize that you are dreaming while you are in the dream, you might move to a nearby wall and flip a light switch. If something out of the ordinary happens (e.g., a foghorn blares or fountains of water shoot out of the floor), then you have a clue that you are in a dream as opposed to waking reality.
But the problem with a reality check is that waking reality itself may not be all that real. The constructivist viewpoint in psychology says that everything we know to be true is a construction of the human mind. We create symbolic representations of everything we experience in our waking life: plants, animals, objects, locations, other people, and even ourselves. We might assume that beyond these symbols lies an objective reality that any sane person can recognize, but this assumption was dispelled by quantum physicists nearly a century ago. As one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrodinger, stated so eloquently, "The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one."
In other words, objective reality is not so real after all. Physicists have called into question the most fundamental aspects of that reality, proposing that time and space are an illusion. There is overwhelming evidence, as I explain here, that you and I have never touched anything in our lives because that would be impossible:
Given the illusory nature of what we call waking reality, why can we agree on so many things? You and I would probably give identical answers to these questions: What is the date today? Who is the President of the United States? Which two teams are playing in the World Series? It would make sense that you and I share the same reality, which is the basis of our consistency with one another. But what if we agree to the extent that we are of like mind? Your reality and my realty might overlap only because of similarities in terms of how, when, and where we were raised, not to mention what we were taught and our common genetics.
Most of the time that you are dreaming, you are not lucid. In other words, you do not know that it's a dream. And for that matter, neither does anyone else that you encounter in the dream. Rarely does another individual approach you in the dream and say, "Hey, this is not real." Everyone in your dream is equally caught up in this reality that you imagined. Seeing through the facade is not easy.
The same might be true for the dream of waking reality. What would it take to experience "lucid waking"? How would you be able to recognize that the seemingly concrete reality in which you are immersed in your waking life is actually a product of your imagination? This is a major theme in all of my writings--especially Deep Creativity. If we can see through the very compelling illusion of objective reality (Einstein: "Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one"), then we are faced with some enormous and extremely exciting questions?
What would it be like to awaken fully from the dream of waking reality?
Who is the one that is dreaming this dream?
If this reality is just a dream, can we change it? If so, how do we do it?
What is the point of it all? Why do we have this dream in the first place?
When and how did this dream begin? When and how does it end?
How do we stay lucid? And what advantages are there to doing so?
Lucid dreaming can begin with the recognition that we are living in a dream, but the more advanced practice involves the use of intention to shift the direction of that dream. So, if this waking life is also a dream, and you could experience lucid waking, what would you change? How would you want the dream to proceed? To answer these questions requires vision, as I wrote about in a previous blog. Having a compelling vision for yourself, your community, and your world has to be the starting place for creating meaningful positive change. So, in our "Play Inspired, Stay Inspired" workshop this Saturday, October 27, that is exactly where we will begin!
Last week, the UN released a report on an impending global crisis that has been described as climate genocide. Assuming that current trends continue, according to this report, atmospheric temperatures will be high enough in as little as 12 years to kill off hundreds of millions of people, disrupt the world's food supply, destroy all of the world's coral reefs, and set off a chain of global heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and floods the likes of which the Earth has rarely seen. And that may be the best-case scenario. We are on pace for a temperature rise by the end of this century that would put civilization at stake.
With this report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is sounding an alarm. And how has the world responded? So far, it has been business as usual. Not a single world leader has declared a state of emergency. Not a single corporation has re-examined its current business model. In the U.S, our President proudly denied the reality of climate change on national television while one comedian joked that he is "willing to do absolutely nothing about it" because the problem is essentially too big for him to care about or grasp.
So, it would seem that the response to the UN report is to ignore future consequences and live "like there's no tomorrow." But that is not what we are doing. Most of us are busy planning for our future, including our career, family, education, and retirement. We are also doing our best to distract ourselves with movies, sports, TV, social media, video games, and myriad other forms of entertainment. Any of these arts can draw our attention into the present moment, but more often than not, they help us tune things out.
If we really responded to climate change--not to mention all of the other global crises we face--by living like there's no tomorrow, that could be an extremely positive outcome. "Imagine all the people living for today," wrote John Lennon. I have always been able to imagine that. For example, I know that all major creative breakthroughs come out of intense experiences of the present moment. As I have described in Deep Creativity, this has been the case throughout history. Effective solutions to the climate crisis will emerge from moments of creative inspiration, as has every other important discovery. I believe so much in the power of creative inspiration that in the last two years, I have traveled the world sharing ways to develop and nurture that inspiration.
Even if Al Gore was right in his assessment that we are now living in an "age of consequences" rather than an "age of action"--that in spite of our best efforts, climate change will have a major impact on all of us--our ability to live like there's no tomorrow really matters. Today becomes that much more important when we know there is no guarantee of a tomorrow. If enough of us make the commitment to live in the present, everything changes. We become acutely aware of the precious gifts that fill our lives, including other people, plants and animals, natural beauty, and the abundance of food and other resources that may not always be there for us. Do not take a single thing for granted, my friends. If we had any doubts before, the UN climate report reminds us that nothing in our lives is a given, and that in a single natural or man-made catastrophe, it can all be taken away. This awareness that everything in our lives is impermanent gives the present moment a greater sense of urgency. Let's immerse ourselves in the present moment to the fullest!
My Fellow Americans: A revolution is coming. All the conditions are in place. In 2011, half of all Americans were living in poverty, and by all estimates, this number will continue to increase. An article published in Time magazine declared that “every pillar institution in American society—whether it’s General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church, or the mainstream media—has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent, or both.”
Trust in our system of government has never been lower, and for good reason. Unless you are rich, white, male, Christian, and heterosexual, the government does not seem to be particularly concerned with your needs. This is not a partisan matter. Issues like climate change, lack of adequate health care, social and economic injustice, loss of privacy, contamination of food and water, and gun violence affect all of us. “When the rain falls,” sang Bob Marley, “it don’t fall on one man’s house.”
Given the inevitability of the coming revolution, it might as well be effective. In Deep Creativity, I identify vision as one of six qualities that predicts the success of creative endeavors. Vision is the ability to conceive of new possibilities that lead to new realities. These possibilities tend to exist beyond the scope of most people’s imagination. As Jonathan Swift observed, “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”
One of the most articulate and misunderstood revolutionaries of the Twentieth Century, Angela Davis, recognized the importance of vision as a means to enact meaningful, lasting change. In a 1972 interview, she said, “When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary front lies in the principles and the goals that you’re striving for—not in the way you reach them.”
A revolution can only succeed if it has a substantive core vision. Here are five guidelines for creating such a vision:
I want to hear from you! Please share your questions and comments. And sign up for my newsletter, where I will pass along the insights, ideas, and inspiration that come my way.