A Time of Renewal
This month, many of us celebrate a holiday tradition. It’s a time of the longest night, and the deepest journey into the soul – the Winter Solstice.
Whatever you celebrate or however you spend this month, let it be a time to renew yourself in some way. Nurture yourself, in body, mind, heart, and spirit. If you do so, you make way for new potential to arise as the sun’s light begins to grow on December 21st. I invite you to create a ritual to honor the awakened Divine possibilities.
The season focuses on peace, and thus I’ve dusted off my Peaceful Mind, Peace on Earth (Part 2) article from several years ago (some of you may remember I republished Part 1 last December). its message of cultivating inner peace rings true in any season.
Join me this month for our second Spiritual Family gathering, Living in the Light, this Sunday, December 9th. Details on the Spiritual Family page on my website.
Speaking of my website – a brand new, absolutely gorgeous AwakeningSelf.com is coming in mid-January! Stay tuned for the launch date. It will have many wonderful new features and great content to explore.
As always, to renew your spirit you can listen to my many archived Awakening Self radio shows. The Awakening Self Radio Show returns in January with Evening Mediation and Inspiration on Monday, January 7th from 9-9:30pm, and the Awakening Self Radio Show on Friday, January 25th from 1:30-2pm, with special guest Edward Espe Brown.
May you and your loved ones, and all beings everywhere, experience the peace, joy, and inner renewal of this holiday season.
– Event Calendar
– Awakening Self Radio Show Schedule
– Featured Article: “Peaceful Mind, Peace on Earth (Part 2)” by Rev. Connie L. Habash
– Spiritual Quotes
– SPIRITUAL FAMILY continues on December 9th!
Theme: Living in the Light
Sunday, December 9th, 9:15-11am.
330 Melville, Palo Alto, CA
Join me for an all-ages celebration of the Divine through yoga (kids and adult classes!), meditation, singing, spiritual discussion and community. For details see Spiritual Family
– Follow me on Twitter!
Receive weekly inspirations as well as upcoming events. Go to Twitter and click Follow!
– SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE sessions available for the holidays!
Seeking to deepen your connection to something Greater? Longing for a mentor or someone to inspire you? Wanting to find your answers within, but don’t know how? For the month of December, I have available 2 spaces per week for 45 minute Spiritual Guidance sessions via Skype (from anywhere in the world), offered by donation. [Note: these are different than psychotherapy/counseling sessions.] If you are interested, contact me.
– SACRED JOURNEY Women’s Psychotherapy Group
with Connie Habash, MA, LMFT, meets every other Monday from 3:15-4:45.
WAIT-LISTED FOR OPENINGS IN EARLY 2013
– NEW WEBSITE LAUNCH IN JANUARY!
Get ready – AwakeningSelf.com is getting a whole new, inspiring look with new features, including a weekly blog. I can’t wait to reveal it to you! Look for the announcement after the new year.
– Farewell to YogiChocolate
For a few years, I have offered my yoga classes for download on YogiChocolate. Unfortunately, they had to shut down their business on October 31st. We wish them well. Look for my yoga and meditation class downloads to be available again sometime next year.
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Awakening Self Radio Show Schedule
On break until the end of the year.
Upcoming in January:
Evening Meditation and Inspiration
Monday, January 7th, 9-9:30pm PST
“Let Your Higher Self Lead the Way”
Awakening Self Radio Show
Guest Edward Espe Brown
Friday, TBA – 1:30-2pm PST
Soto Zen Priest Edward Espe Brown, author of several books including The Tassajara Bread Book and Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings, joins us for an exploration of meditation, cooking, and living our practice.
Check out the Awakening Self Radio Show archives to listen to over 25 inspiring shows!
Peaceful Mind, Peace on Earth (Part 2)
by Rev. Connie L. Habash
Holiday cards say it. We hear it in carols. “Peace on Earth” is a familiar refrain during December, and a common wish for the New Year. It’s a shared sentiment among all traditions, religions, and spiritual paths. We’d all like to see Peace come to our planet. Yet, from tension in the line at the bank, to arguments with our spouses, to military campaigns, we still don’t see the harmony we’d like to in our world. There’s much to be done before we will experience peace in our world.
It starts in our minds
Ultimately, peace begins in our own minds. So often, our consciousness is filled with anger, judgment, jealousy, revenge, fear, impatience, obsession, or agitation. You name it, there are a hundred ways in which our efforts to be at peace are hindered from within.
Imagine, then, a whole country filled with people whose minds can’t be happy with anything, are unable to wait for their good, and who perceive others as adversaries or competition. It would be hard enough to keep peace within the borders let alone to conceive of harmonious relations with other nations. This is the situation in our present day world.
Yet, peace on earth is possible. To embark upon this path, each of us needs to take responsibility for creating our own peace within. The word for peace in Sanskrit, “Shanti”. This word is often chanted 3 times at the end of sacred verses. It is a call for peace on 3 levels.
The first level is calling for peace in the natural world – that we are protected from floods, famine, earthquakes. The second level is invoking peace in our communities -amongst nations and neighbors. The last level is considered by many to be the most challenging to achieve – inner peace.
Although we can put up a good front, the mind is a great trickster and can be running amuck even when we put on a smile and a pleasant demeanor. If we really want peace in our world, we must be willing to undertake the task of calming the mind.
Cessation of the agitation
This task is the main goal of yoga. Most of the Yoga Sutra, the classic text of yoga philosophy, is devoted to the explanation of how to quiet the mind; to cause the mental agitation to cease. Without going into the some of the more esoteric and elaborate aspects of this practice, we can talk about the basics and, in simple terms, learn how to become more calm and peaceful within.
To calm our inner state we first must become masters of self-observation. In other words, we need to be able to watch the contents of our mind carefully. What thoughts arise? Often, we don’t even know that we’re having thoughts – they’re just flying by unconsciously, yet having a large impact on our emotions, decisions, and actions. It’s like having the radio or television on constantly. After a while, we don’t even notice it is on. Yet some part of our mind hears it and hears what’s being broadcast.
If the only programs that were broadcast in our consciousness were about love, joy, and being happy, it probably wouldn’t be such a problem. But that is not how our minds usually work. The mind is adept at seeing problems and coming up with solutions. It wants to have a task, a job, and if we don’t give it one to focus on, it will focus on problems.
Everything’s a problem
It’s quite easy for the mind to see most everything as a problem if we allow it to. Our thoughts can slip into envy, jealousy, feeling we can’t compete, fear that we won’t get what we want, anger at believing someone got something we should have, etc.
If we aren’t vigilant about observing the mind, it begins to perceive most of life as a problem or to cause problems for it to try to overcome. This allows the mind to feel useful and successful. In other words, the ego is created and is bolstered by the feeling of overcoming adversity. Life is perceived as one long struggle and the ego wants to be the winner. If it feels it can’t be, there is despair and outrage.
Meditation reveals the obstacles
One of the best methods for becoming a master of observing your mind is meditation. Sitting still, without any task whatsoever (other than perhaps watching your breath or chanting a simple mantra), we can very quickly begin to understand what is going on all the time in our “heads” while we are unaware.
Here’s plausible inner dialogue one might observe during a mediation session: “My nose itches. Am I allowed to scratch it? Why not! I should be. What’s the big deal? I feel trapped by this meditation. Having to sit. It hurts my back. I’m angry. I have a ton of things to get done and what is this doing for me? Nothing. What a waste of time. Why is that person breathing so loud? It’s so distracting. I want peace and quiet. My jaw is tight. Gosh, I didn’t know I was clenching it.”
These thoughts might reveal a perception of being trapped in situations in life and a resulting resentment. They speak of impatience and possibly feeling that other people are responsible for making us feel peaceful. Finally, there is a realization that these attitudes of resentment, impatience, and expectations of others cause tension in the body. Through meditation, we can observe the obstacles to our inner peace.
An undisciplined toddler
Once we become honest observers of ourselves, we not only can see clearly what thoughts are arising in any given moment, but we recognize that, most of the time, these thoughts are causing us stress. The mind can certainly be used in very productive ways – when we are calculating a payment, when listening to someone and trying to understand them, or when writing an essay. But most of the time we’re not in such focused work, and an undisciplined mind, just like an undisciplined toddler, runs wild and gets us into trouble.
Thoughts, not reality
The next step is undoubtedly the most difficult – creating change in our consciousness. How do we develop a more peaceful mind when we’re filled with these thoughts? We begin with seeing them as they are – only thoughts. These ideas that arise in our head are thoughts, not reality.
However, the majority of the time, we react to them as if they were real. We may begin to treat the person we thought was breathing loudly with disdain, because we judged that not only was their breathing loud, but it was a problem. The truth is that it was simply a person breathing. Whether or not it is a problem is up to us, not the person breathing.
Identifying with the thoughts – or what is real?
In the Yoga Sutras, the author, Patanjali, informs us that if we do not free ourselves from these fluctuations of mind, we then identify ourselves with them. We become at the whim of the rise and fall of our emotions. We are blown about by annoyances, misinterpretations, projections. We lose our center and become the victims of circumstance.
Our reaction to what arises in life determines whether the “heavy breather” becomes a non-issue or something that ruins our day. If we believe our thoughts, we could easily go about our lives reacting to everything. But if we start to reality-check and notice, “hey, that’s just a thought – what if I decided to pay attention to something else rather than dwell on their breath?” we find that it fades into the background.
Affirmation – changing the thoughts
As we begin to question the reality of our thoughts, we can undertake the next practice – considering what to replace them with. In the beginning, it may be helpful to use something as simple as affirmations. If we are having a thought, “I will never be able to do all this work”, we can replace it with a positive statement that supports us in the result we’d like: “I am able to finish my work in a timely manner.”
Although we may not always believe these affirmations at first, consider this: why is it so much easier to believe the negative statement than the positive? Even if we’ve had a history of having difficulty with our work, it’s possible that we’ve had those problems because we have consistently believed the thoughts that say we aren’t capable.
Cultivate the opposite
Again, Patanjali’s wisdom shines through the ages to offer a similar suggestion. In the 33rd verse of the second chapter of the Sutras, he states that in order to repel “unwholesome deliberations” – negative thoughts, reactions, attitudes – that one should cultivate their opposite. Not just filling in a positive affirmation when there is a negative belief, but practicing feeling, behaving, thinking, and speaking in a manner aligned with the positive response to that negativity.
Patanjali gives several examples of the practice of replacing the negative with the positive. By becoming free from thoughts, words, or deeds that are harming, all interactions become harmonious. This is not just to refrain from hurting another, but to fully embrace kindness, love, and compassion for all beings.
Embodying those qualities, all tensions and enmity dissolve around us. People naturally feel safe in our presence. If we feel dissatisfied, by practicing appreciation of whatever comes to us and allowing ourselves to feel content with the good we can see in our lives, we begin to experience happiness.
This can be applied to any aspect of life. If you feel anger towards a coworker and you want to be freed from that, consider what the opposite would be. If you’re unable to feel love for them, can you feel compassion for what they may be experiencing that causes them to act in ways that anger you? Can you then extend that practice to wishing that they are free from their pain and suffering?
A sense of connection arises with that person – that all of us, at one time or another, experience suffering. You may be able to extend the wish that both you and that other person are happy. If that other person becomes happy and friendly, wouldn’t you like them more? This cultivates the ability to express kindness or even love to that other person. When we do this, we naturally feel happier and more loving within.
Non-attachment and practice
In the beginning, this seems too difficult to do. We often have expectations that our efforts should create instant results. Many of us tend to give up when something we desire requires extended effort. Yet again, the father of modern-day yoga philosophy reminds us that the two most important keys to success in the practice (particularly the practice of finding the quiet, peaceful place beyond these fluctuations of mind) are Non-attachment (Vairaagya) and steady, unrelenting Practice (Abhyaasa).
Non-attachment and Practice. We need to keep doing the right thing, regardless of whether we get instant results or not, regardless of whether we feel immediately better or if it is easy or difficult. We must persist without expectation of particular outcomes, being unattached and open to the process. If we cling to a certain result, we again become ensnared in the demands, worries, frustrations, and judgments of the fluctuating mind. Step back, observe without reacting, and continue to practice.
It’s possible when we start within
Naturally, as we observe the rise and fall of our mental fluctuations, see what disturbs our inner peace, and cultivate positive qualities to replace negativity, we experience more calm, joy, and contentment. Through these practices, we plant the inner seeds of peace and they begin to grow. Peaceful minds become our internal experience. When each person takes on this kind of practice, peace then can grow in the world. Ultimately, we are responsible for ourselves first. This is our part in creating peace.
Peace on Earth is possible. Now. It’s up to each of us. It’s up to you.
Copyright © 2006, 2012 by Rev. Constance L. Habash
“What counts is knowing who you want to be and asking for it.”
– Bruce Wilkinson, “The Prayer of Jabez”
“We are all flowers in the Great Spirit’s garden. We share a common root, and the root is the Mother Earth.”
– Grandfather David Monongye
“None of us would consciously injure our own body, because we know it would be painful. Similarly, we will feel the pain of other people to be our own when the realization dawns within us that everything is pervaded by one and the same consciousness.”
– Mata Amritananadamayi (“Amma”)