Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is the Universe a Simulation?

The universe is huge.

Being a lover of sci-fi I have always assumed that we, as in we humans, will eventually get to stars but the more that I learn about the distances and the math involved, I feel my confidence waning.

Because the universe is really, really big.

But just because we may never jump in our starships and zip to the next solar system in time for next week's episode, doesn't mean there aren't frontiers to explore. The ocean is full of the unseen and there are planets and moons such as Europa than may even harbor life. So there is plenty to do.

And I am beginning to contend that we may end up creating our own frontiers. And with a bit of encouragement, I may further contend that we may be living within one of our frontiers.

The Simulation Hypothesis has caught my imagination over the last few years and it appears that scientist are taking the idea more and more seriously to the point that experiments are running to try to determine if we are living within a simulation. And the more I think about it and the more I see advancements in computing and other technologies, I would have to wonder if it's more likely that we are part of simulation than not.

The reasoning is that certain conundrums in physics and philosophy suddenly make sense if we assume the existence of a simulation. That's a bit of an oversimplification but definitely the gist of it. And it makes a lot of sense. The computer game industry builds more and more complex simulations of entire worlds that become more and more immersive with each passing year. How long before they actually build a simulation so perfect that participants can't discern the difference between the simulation and "reality"? And what happens then?

Now throw in quantum computing. Suppose that a quantum computer with all it's potential is the home to this simulation. Move this scenario fifty years into the future.

What can happen then?

This is where my imagination really takes off. What if a simulation is created within a quantum computer based on simple self sustaining algorithms and the scientists just sit back and watch it grow? What if they watch the simulation take shape and evolve. Then what if they work out an interface so that they can go into the simulation as participants and observes the evolution first hand.

What happens then?

 But what if one of this simulations really takes off and it becomes truly self sustaining? But, due to quantum fluctuations, the mere act of observation of the scientist from within the system actually crash the system. So the scientist propose to send in avatars with their memories blocked so that their preconceived notions can't effect the experiment but when the avatars are withdrawn from the simulation, they can recall their experiences and report.

What then?

Watching the headlines of science new, it's not hard to see the possibilities. A computer manages numbers and a simulation is nothing but numbers. Taking a survey of games like Skyrim with modern mods installed, it's not hard to see the future

So it's very possible that in the near future we will create our own frontiers to explore. We will build worlds and send in explorers to observe the developing universes.

But that begs the question: Is that what we are doing now?

Are we in the simulation? Did we conveniently forget where we came from and why we are here?

Is there some scientist sitting outside the box poking us with a metaphorical stick?

Lots of questions with few answers but answers may be forthcoming. Although I have to wander what happens the day the scientist looks at the numbers and realizes that this is the simulation.

What happens then?

Probably nothing.

Considering a lot of the Eastern philosophies are concerned coming to terms with maya or the illusion (or delusion) of reality and considering there are documented "masters" who have become "enlightened" and suddenly the rules don't necessarily apply to them any longer, I think we are safe from the threat of catastrophic realization. Another way to look at it is that some have become aware of the simulation and have learned to hack the simulation source code like Neo in The Matrix.

So these are not new ideas.  Look at Plato's Cave or Decartes' Demon or any religion where a "controller" is controlling a "system of control" and technically that's a simulation. But for the first time, actual scientists, not philosophers are looking for actual proof and that is exciting.

It's also interesting to think about what happens if the scientists prove that we are part of a complex simulation. What exactly would change?

Sadly, once again, probably nothing.

The realization that reality is a string of 1's and 0's doesn't change much at all. The sun still shines, the grass still grows, it still hurts when I stub my toe. It's not like it matters that it's "real" or not because, technically, it's real enough.

Now, assuming proof that reality is a simulation, some may learn to hack the source code of reality a lot easier since the whole "faith" problem is removed from play. Some may be able to take that proof and run with it. I have a feeling most would care until they were hungry again and then living would take precedence.

It doesn't matter really, the source of reality. If it is a game-like simulation running on an super-computer on the desktop of some teenager in a super reality, then we are still in play. Isn't that a thought. It's not scientist in this super reality running a serious simulation. It's some kid on summer break just messing around with something like the Sims or Minecraft.

But it just doesn't matter. To a certain degree. Until it starts to explain certain things. If the "masters" of the world have learned to hack the source code of the simulation, could the existence of the simulation also explain other supernatural phenomenon?

One of the first that comes to mind are the oft-reported Greys. Are the Greys actually the Programmers? Or maybe the avatars of the programmers?

Are ghosts just artifacts like burnt in images on a lcd screen?

Could there be alternative reason for running the simulation altogether?

Could the entire purpose of the Simulation be to produce one of Kurzweil's singularity's? Basically, a Simulation is how computer scientists in the super reality create superior A.I.. Which basically makes us retroactive brain food for a developing A.I..

Could the simulation be done. From the perspective of physics, all time happens at once. We just experience it in a linear fashion. If someone was observing from the super reality, they would see a sequence of events that they could press the play or pause button on.

Crazy stuff but a lot of fun to think about.

But once again, in the end, it doesn't really matter. To me at least. Apparently a simulated reality is as real as reality so what does it matter? I'm not sure everyone would feel that way but a shrug is about all I can give it.

At least until someone pulls the plug and the battery backup fails.

200 Hours of Yoga: One Year Later

So last year about this time I was pushing towards the end of a 200 hour yoga certification class. The experience was a bit of a whirlwind and I've spoken before about jumping into the deep end  so soon after discovering yoga. I'm still on the fence about whether or not I would suggest that for anyone else. I had about three months of classes before I entered the program and, while it worked for me, I don't think I would recommend it for anyone else. A year of regular classes would have served me well.

But, that being said, it did work. I have a regular practice and stress levels are down and blood pressure is down and mental acuity is up. My meditation practice is what benefited the most and it's also why I think I fit into the program without the benefit experience. Meditation is my method of maintaining the software and I've worked on techniques and methods for a number of years before adding yoga to the mix. I'm not going to say that yoga is the final piece of the puzzle but it's definitely a sign post on the road to serious introspection if you choose to let it be.

But it's not magic. It's not even mystical. You can get caught up in the transformation processes and it can feel magical but in the end what's really happening? Your moving. Your moving with intention and concentration. Points of stress are being released. Breathing is happening.

At it's best it's a moving meditation. You have to concentrate or you are falling over so your mind just naturally clears. Then as the points of stress release especially around the neck, shoulders and hips, the meditation moves deeper and the breathing becomes more meaningful.

Which explains why blood pressure drops with a regular practice. Yoga, among other things,  is basically a fully responsive stress reduction system.

But yoga is so many different things to different people that I think a lot of the basics that could be so beneficial to so many people are lost in the yoga culture. Everyone has a lot of ideas and expectations that contribute to the air of the mystical and may turn a lot of people away before they even get to the mat. They see yoga bunnies in blinding tights bouncing onto the mat and contorting into advanced asanas without any explanations and they think they are expected to keep up. Or if the explanations are forthcoming, they are shrouded in intentional obfuscation in the effort to keep it mystical. Or keep it tuned to their own expectations.

For instance, I've been told that if you're not speaking Sanskrit, then it's not yoga. I've been told that yoga is really for woman and men shouldn't be intruding into classes and making everyone uncomfortable. I've been told if your are not reaching for samadhi then your wasting your time. I've been told that if you haven't been to India then you can't teach yoga.

The list goes on. And thankfully none of these came from the studio I trained at. I heard most of this after I started digging into the culture both in the Big City and online.

And I could spend a lot of words refuting every point but the actual point is that a lot of different people have a lot of different ideas about yoga.

Which is fine. Everyone is experiencing the realities at their own pace.

But I have to say that I found myself floundering in the culture after training was done. Remember that I had little to no experience before I started so when I started digging and discovering some truly diverse viewpoints, I honestly felt better going at it alone for a little while. This gave me time to refine my own practice and test theories and try some things. And just figure things in general.

Most go into 200 hours with the idea of becoming teachers. I went in with almost zero expectations and about halfway through I started thinking about teaching and then toward the end I decided that teaching may not be for me. I tried it and I wasn't happy with the results. I thought I should try it again but the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I became with the idea. I still have a lot to learn and teaching is a great way to learn but, in this case, it's also a great way to get someone hurt.

So yoga is just for me right now. I need to learn and grow and investigate this set of tools and see what happens.

A year later, I think it's safe to say 200 hours is just the beginning.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Buttered Chicken

I traveled to the Big City recently and was introduced to buttered chicken, a spicy, tomato based Indian dish served with naan and rice. The restaurant was a hole in the wall of a strip mall with an unassuming name and room for maybe fifteen people. But it was clean and smelled of spices and tea and staff didn't speak a word of English but that offered no hindrance to the experience and this tiny establishment has easily entered my top five favorite places-to-eat.

Not having a lot of experience with Indian food, I went with the aforementioned buttered chicken which was suggested as a good introduction for a westernized pallet. What followed was one of those glorious moments of discovery that should define life and living. The dish was an exploration of flavors delivered with a smooth texture of flavored cream over jasmine rice. One can assume that one knows what one likes. One can think that boundaries of flavor have been explored. But one good dish can implode your expectations of what cooking can achieve.

Well, now we have a problem. The Big City, of course, is not short on restaurants but is about an hour away and my Small Town thinks that the Chinese buffet with it's Americanized deep fried imitations of nothing Chinese is fancy foreign style eating. There is one Thai restaurant that is very good but the menu is limited to, well, Thai. There are some sushi options cropping up and a couple of very expensive restaurants where the fancy folk gather for superiority contests but there are no hole-in-the-wall ethnic eateries offering exotic tastes and unique culinary experiences.

So I'm on my own for the most part if I want to explore these new horizons. I decided to start with buttered chicken since I know what one version of it tasted like and therefore had a "target" to shoot for. When I go back to the Big City, the goal will be to try a new dish and see if it's worth trying to replicate and so on.

But first: Buttered Chicken.

A quick search for recipes and a conclusion is quickly reached: Buttered chicken is to India as chili is to Texas. Every family has their own recipe and their's is the only one that tastes right. Second conclusion: It's not a simple dish. There are steps involved. It's not hard by any means but it is involved. Once again the comparison can be made to Texas chili.

But it's very doable. But as far as recipes, the variations are mind numbing. I settled on a slow cooker variation that featured coconut milk and yogurt and the first batch came out edible but no where close to my target. I was missing the actual masala though and trying to substitute with what spices I had. However, I would caution against short cutting the ingredients and that may be the most challenging part of the dish is tracking down the masalas. Masala is a mixture of spices that can vary from region to region and family to family. You can find recipes to make your own but the list of spices involved is intimidating and expensive. I made a side venture during one of my trips to the Big City to an Indian market and the clerk was very helpful in pointing out the best brands for what I was trying to achieve ("My wife uses this brand and I married her because of her cooking.")

Next attempt, I ditched the slow cooker and went back my cast iron skillet. My instincts were telling me that my comparison to Texas chili were spot on and this required low, slow heat and a can of Ro-Tel. I still liked the ingredient list from the slow cooker recipe, I just wanted to manage the cooking of the ingredients in their own time as opposed to cooking them all at once.  So the chicken went in, then the tomato paste and small can of Ro-Tel, Spices and the yogurt were next and then I let it simmer on medium-low heat for about forty minutes. Then I added the can of coconut milk and brought it back up to heat and it was done. Total cook time was about an hour which is long for me. I stirred and tasted and tested like an Italian grandmother and added curry and masala as I thought it needed it.

In the end the flavors were spot on and I can see potential for getting creative. The RoTel, although not traditional, adds a bit of heat but if you want to punch it up a bit, add more of the garam masala. I used more chicken that the recipe called for but it was fine. 

But, of course you need naan, which is the traditional Indian flatbread. But I still avoid gluten when possible and so the search began for a gluten free alternative. I found the solution here:  Three ingredient paleo naan. Note that I've substituted the coconut milk for almond milk and it works fine. I also tried rice flour in place of the almond meal and it works but you need to cook the bread longer. 

Here are the links to the recipes for convenience:

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Rites of Spring

Well, Spring kind of blew up on me.

I worried about it all through that harsh winter, waiting for warmer temperatures and cursing late frost that killed some of my early plantings. I had lists of things that had to be done and projects that I wanted to try and I considered myself halfway organized but, as usual, I found myself juggling a huge to-do list within the confines of an impossible schedule.

I got the garden in the ground. I got the fence around the garden to stave off marauding deer. I got the chicken coop put together and the new chickens settled in. Next came the container plants on the back porch and a couple of loads of pottery to get fired with new glazes that needed testing. I also got behind in my mead making and had to scramble to get some jugs brewing so I'll have good stuff for the holidays in six months.

And I finished my 200 hour yoga certification and picked a class to teach one night a week. Oh, and I changed jobs. Which, if all goes as planned, could leave me with more time for all of these projects but we'll have to wait and see.

So now we are deep into Summer and I have a freezer full of squash and green beans and the chickens are laying eggs and the grasshoppers have finished off the garden. I'm still buried with a to-do list as long as my arm but it will be alright. I'm taking each day as it comes and letting the Universe decide what needs to be at the top of the list each day. I'm pretty spastic towards the to-do list anyway, often ignoring carefully laid plans when I suddenly realize that I have a perfect storm of materials, time and energy to move a project to the top of the list with little warning. It's an annoyance to many who have to associate with me. I say I'm going to spend the day on pottery or drawing and I'm found hip deep in a whole in the ground because I heard about a simple design for a hot box to help sprout seedlings. And I can understand the annoyance but I can't really let it slow me down. If the energy is right, it's time to move and get something done. Plans be damned.

But things still get done regardless of the order I do them in although some projects do fall to the wayside occasionally. And that's ok. A lot of times the elements of the wayward project crop up in another project and it's like I planned it that way all along.

But moving on, I think it's time to shake the list up a little and see what else comes up. With the yoga course finished and the new job and the energetic Spring behind me, I'm starting to peruse some new ideas and revisit some very old ones. As it turns out, a lot of the ideas I've been working on for years have some fancy names and catch phrases. Apparently I've been working toward simple living all these years and didn't really know it. If someone asked, I said I was looking for a simple, artistic lifestyle. Also, I've always wondered about living within the ecosystem and either having a positive effect or no effect at all. That's called "permaculture" which actually has more to do with just the utilizing agricultural systems within a natural system and therefore guaranteeing sustainability. Which is interesting because sustainability has always been an interest as far as trying to make or grow your own stuff.

Now I'm not selling everything and moving to an off-the-grid cabin in the mountains just yet. But I want to explore the possibilities and see if someone can get closer to a simple, sustainable lifestyle without eschewing all forms of modern convenience. Which means, I just realized, that nothing is really going to change. I'm just moving forward under the banner of fancy words and pretty catch phrases. But knowing those fancy words and catch phrases does make coming up with meaningful search phrases a bit easier. The benefit of the internet is that what used to take me a day of finding the right book hither and yon now takes about ten minutes.

So forward unto long lists and unknown projects. There are a lot of ideas to explore and things to make.

Universe willing, of course, and in the order she dictates.

She does seem to be pretty good at getting things done after all.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Notes on the Chakras: Sahasrara

In the terms of the classical system, the seventh chakra, Sahasrara, is the finish point. It resides at the top of the head or in some observations, just above the head and it's visualized as a thousand petal lotus that shines with the radiance of pure spirit. It is the point of connection between us and the Universe. In theory, if all the chakras are spinning and the seventh is open, then you are in tune with the cosmos and open to her wisdom.

I won't say much about this one and not because I don't have much to say. I could wax on about definitions of divine and the interconnection of things or even delve into the quantum revelations of modern science and the effect the observer has on the observed just by the effort of observing. It's heady stuff and I love it but I hesitate to discuss it openly.

I don't like messing with a person's idea of God, the Goddess or the Divine. It's a very old rule of mine that states "Thou shall not tamper with another's faith." If I am approached and questioned, I am willing to have a guarded discussion about faith and dogma and religion and so on. But I don't think it's right to hold up banners claiming to know anything for certain when ideas concerning the divine and spiritual matters are constantly evolving in even the most faithful.

This chakra is about your personal relationship with whatever you choose to call the energy that is greater than all of us. But that's just it. It's personal. If we choose to talk about it in a quiet setting over coffee and a simple dessert, there will be an agreement concerning open minds and a lack of judgement. And I may even get it in writing.

I wish it wasn't this way actually. I wish we could talk freely and openly and have nothing to fear about discussing the various ways that everyone sees their own spirituality. But, alas, it cannot be. We just haven't made it that far as a species yet.

You see, people hate each other over the perceived differences in spiritual perspective. People kill each other over perceived differences in spiritual perspective. Think about that. Wars are fought, atrocities are encouraged over differences in spiritual opinion.

So, I'm sorry but we just can't talk about it. It's too subjective, too dependent on personal experience and the dogma that was shoveled onto tender young minds. How can we threaten that? Those are traditions, mind you, passed down through generations with prejudices and preconceived notions intact. We can't threaten these with new ideas or evolving notions. It's just too much.

But it's a shame though. Even a passing glance at some form of comparative religions studies will leave most with the impression that a thousand different cultures were all trying to describe the same thing with different words and at different times. It's like they were standing in the museum staring at the most beautiful painting that was ever created and then they were asked to describe it.  Words fail, of course, and opinions form about what they saw, or what they think they saw. But the painting is still there, somewhere and some seek it out through the corridors of the self, hoping for just a glimpse at perfection, a personal communion with all that could be without the dogma and the prejudices and the notions.

But we can't talk about that. Because, what would we say, really? I mean, I could point out that the painting may not even exist. I could bring up the fact that a thousand sages across a thousand ages have all agreed that its not the painting that is important, but the journey to the painting that brings wisdom and enlightenment. But if a thousand sages said it all those times and so few listened, why would I just rehash what no one wants to hear? Active spirituality is work. The answers are not easy and forthcoming. And sitting in a pile of dogma is so comfortable and easy.

So I won't say anything. I leave this chakra to be explored by the willing or ignored. And I will just have to hope that those brave enough to explore will have the sense to realize that what you bring to this chakra is what you will see. Be careful with what you carry, be wary of the mask you wear when you step into this light. In many ways it can be a mirror, a reflection of yourself within and without. This is one of the reasons the ancients sought to clear the lower chakras before opening this window to the divine so that their vision would be unfettered with the expectations of this physical plane.

And, see? Now we are just getting into crazy talk and I just won't go there. This is me, holding my hands up, gently stepping away. I have to have faith that you will find the path that you intended to find. There is a plan, after all, or I have faith that there is a plan. Or I have some inkling that time is a construct of perception and that everything that will ever happen has already happened and we just experience it in a linear fashion in order to get the most out of it. That is an interesting thought, though. Everything has already happened and we just have to get there. Or is every second birthed from the second before? Or does it matter either way?

Maybe not. It may not matter at all. Which is why you might notice that the "enlightened" have a tendency to shrug a lot. Does it matter? Eh, we'll see. Live in the moment. Answer to the now. Breath and wait without expectation.

We'll see.

And that could be the perfect answer to everything.

But enough of this. I leave this here at the end that can never end and hope that I haven't said too much. Not just about this particular chakra but all of them, the entire system. I feel the need to offer a disclaimer that these ideas and impressions are my own and there are much more qualified authorities on such matters that should be referenced and cross referenced. In the age of the Internet, the first rule is "Find three sources for everything". This project was my own attempt to clarify my own impressions and filter years of study. I have much more to learn and I can even admit that I have no idea what the next step in this journey is.

I guess, we'll see.

Notes on the Chakras: Ajna

What is real?

What is the definition of reality?

For most, this isn't even a question. "Real" defines itself. "Reality" is proof of reality. I'm here, aren't I? How much more "real" can you get?

But what if we remove the filter of subjective perception? What's left? What are we actually experiencing in the midst of this crazy mishmash of energy and matter? Our brains take the perception of various wavelengths of radiation through ocular nerves and process that mess into a coherent vision of a local reality. But what if our nerves or brains or eyes were different? Would reality be different?

Questions such as these bring us to the sixth chakra. It is called Anja and its job is to mitigate the illusion.

Some would immediately argue that point. Some would say that Anja is meant to see past the illusion, not mitigate or control. This is the most glamorous chakra, after all, often touted as the gateway to enlightenment and an obvious focal point for meditation. It's location is at the brow point between the eyes which is why it's referred to as the "third eye", an apt description that has easily leaked into popular culture. It's the source of wisdom and the intellect, intuition and the conscious and unconscious mind. Open this chakra and you see things as they truly are.

"As they truly are..."

I have issues with that phrase. I think it's misleading at best and dangerous at the far end. It implies that we are all in the thrall of a collective psychotic break, that reality is not what it seems at a base level and if we try real hard, we can see what "real" reality looks like.

Well . . . Maybe? As a fan of fantasy and science fiction, I am very open to the idea of other realities and universes and the idea that there is more above and below this realm of experience. But I also realize that the core reality is just that. The core. The base. The collective experience that we all can agree on.

Some of this inherent confusions come from the eastern concepts of maya which can be translated as "illusion" or even "delusions". A lot of the older texts discuss overcoming maya and using the sixth chakra to do it. This is one of the many instances where I would love to be able to read the original text in the original languages in order to draw my own conclusions. The western ideas of maya translate into the idea that the reality itself is the illusion to be overcome and that may be the case but I am beginning to believe that it's not reality that's the illusion but our perception of reality that's not real.

It goes back to that filter of subjective perception. The word "subjective" as defined buy Google means "based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions." How many of us can say that we view reality without the influence of feelings or opinions based on past experiences?

Imagine your mind as a video recording device that started fresh and new and free of any preconceived notions. Now imagine that any experience you have is represented by a tinted glass, a filter than can fit onto the lens of your recording device. Your begin recording and each experience adds a filter to the lens. So the perception of your reality is tinted by the filters of experiences to the point that you may not even see reality for what it truly is.

So, maybe it's not reality that's the illusion. Maybe it's our perception of reality that is the illusion.

The sixth chakra is the lens to our recording device and it holds the filters we've placed their throughout our lives. Let's keep in mind though, that we may have come into this life to collect some filters and experience things from a particular subjective viewpoint. But to have control of the filters, to see with clarity and a heightened sense of spiritual awareness is a noble goal. A lot of chakra work has to do with clearing up issues so that one can act consciously as opposed to reacting subconsciously. Being able to perceive a situation or person clearly is a huge step toward such goals.

So what is real?

Does it really matter? If you choose to embrace the filters that tint your perception then your reality will always be your version of reality, your version of "real". If you choose to let them go, then you see reality for what it is and go from there. To a degree, your filters define you as a person. The collection of experiences, both painful and joyous, created the personas we cling to like driftwood in a turbulent sea. To let them go means you might have to sink into unknown waters and find yourself swimming with the real you.

And I can't imagine it getting more real than that.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Notes on the Chakras: Vissuddha

So we come the fifth chakra and I almost don't know what to say.

Which is ironic considering that the fifth chakra is the throat chakra, the center of speech and communication and listening and expressing. I've heard it called the chakra of consequence due to the fact that words have power and how we express ourselves to the world is our effect on that world. Some express too much and some express too little but I have to wonder what the balance is. The eternal challenge is when to speak and when to shut up. And I usually opt for remaining quiet for a variety of reasons.

This chakra is my personal challenge which may be why I'm finding it difficult to talk about it. Full disclosure: I am painfully shy. So shy, in fact, that to walk into a room full of people takes a supreme effort. I'm a little better one on one but I am intimidated by groups of people I don't know.

Now, those that know me personally would scoff at this. My writer's sense of detached observation married with my six foot six frame gives me an unintentionally intimidating presence. So I don't look shy. And if you approach me, we will have a good conversation. If the conversation steers towards a topic that I am well versed in such as pottery you will have a hard time getting me to shut up. I have spent time in front of groups of people speaking off the cuff, following all the rules of public speaking such a making eye contact and projecting my voice and trying not to say "um" after every other sentence. So most of those that know me might not accept that I battle shyness in almost every social encounter. But I do. I've had 40-something years to work on it but rest assured, there is scared little five year old inside of me that would rather stand off to the side of the playground, looking down and kicking dirt clods rather than risk a bad social encounter.

But I think I've done well. I have faced my fear and let it pass over me. And I have been fortunate that special people took an extra step and said the extra word to close the gap a bit so I didn't have so far to reach to make that first connection. Those people were friends before we ever met and I am eternally grateful. I am also grateful for those friends who truly know me and understood my battles and either had my back or held the door open so I could escape if i needed too and did so without commentary or judgement.

Because judging someone else's fear is wrong. What right does anyone have to tell someone else that their fear is illegitimate? When you are truly afraid of something, the most real thing in your universe at that moment is that fear and to have someone stand and state that your fear is stupid or silly is a direct attack on that person's reality. You can offer rationalizations to help guide a person through their fear and you can offer understanding so that they know they are not alone. Or you can just offer a hand to hold which can be an anchor in the storm that makes the fear less real. But to dismiss their fear is to dismiss their experience and how can you climb over the mountain if someone is constantly telling you the mountain isn't there?

This leads back to the fact that your words have consequence. How you express yourself is the imprint you leave on your local reality.

You can help or you can hurt.

So what do I have to say about this chakra?

Not much really. Obviously, it's the one I've worked on the most without realizing it and it's the one that still needs a lot of attention. I think it will always be a work in progress more so than the other chakras due to my artistic endeavors which I believe is another expression of this particular chakra.

Because that is what art is. Philosophers struggle all the time with the definition of art but in the end it is just a means of expression, an encapsulation of an experience. At some point long ago, someone was inspired to paint on a cave wall and an idea was conveyed, an experience was communicated and the totality of the human experience was accelerated because suddenly the idea could be conveyed and the experience could be communicated.

(Some would attached the artistic endeavor to the next chakra up which has a lot to do with "seeing" and "perceiving" but I don't see it that way. The fourth chakra feels. The fifth chakra expresses. The sixth chakra perceives. Or at least it thinks it does. We'll delve into illusions and the nature of reality with a later post.)

So it's all about expression and all that it entails. We have an inner reality and through the fifth chakra, we express that inner reality to convey the idea and the experience. I find it interesting that the name of this chakra, Vissuddha, means "purification" in sanskrit because as we express that inner reality, we purify the experiences and purge the inner reality and if we choose to not express, to hold it all in, to hide the good and the bad, then we putrefy. We can find a way to let it out that is healthy and expressive. Or we can find a way to express it in such a way that's not so healthy and probably a bit destructive. Or we can rot. It's a bit crazy how often the importance of this chakra is glazed over in favor of the "love" of the fourth or the glamour of sixth.

So what do I really have to say about this chakra?

Ok, probably too much. I could go on about the nature and means of expression and how it can be judged for good or bad and I could talk art for pages and pages and it would be really interesting on a personal level to talk about some of the conversations I've had with that scared little five year old I mentioned above. I don't think people realize the power of going back and talking to the person you once were and trying to work through different issues. Because that person you once were is still in there somewhere and they might still need help.

See, I could go on and on.

But I really need to shut up.

Because I honestly can't tell if I've said too much.

Or if I haven't said enough.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Notes on the Chakras: Anahata

The fourth chakra, called Anahata, is deemed most important in many yoga traditions. It's the center of feeling, the source of caring, the fountain of compassion and the engine of love that drives our spiritual connection to this physical illusion. When it's open and nurtured, we feel connections and empathy towards the world. When it's closed, we feel isolated and alone.

Now, interestingly enough, I don't think too much about this particular chakra but I pay attention to it all the time. For me, it's the center of the system and the gate to processing what the other chakras are radiating. It's like a window into your current spiritual being and if you pause and listen you give yourself a chance to act instead of react. If you have a chest clenching rush of fear, you should be able to pause, sit in the emotion and analyze if your body is actually in physical danger. If you take a hit to the ego and the third chakra wilts away for a moment, you can stop and decide whether or not to take what was said or done personally and allow it to affect you. When Anahata is open, you have time to feel the connections and understand more fully the emotional content of any given situation and act accordingly rather than reacting badly.

But that's a lot of responsibility, isn't it? To consciously act rather than react? It removes the "I just wasn't thinking" excuse from the the table and you must accept that your actions have consequence especially when you act consciously.  Reacting is easy and gets easier as Anahata shuts down and you lose those connections and that empathy that links you to the world.

It's those connections that make the world real. Many would argue the point but the way I see it, without Anahata, we exist, but we are not "here". With the first chakra, I can eat, run and survive. With the second chakra I can procreate. With the third chakra I can make my space and protect it. But with the fourth chakra, we connect. We plug in. We empathize and relate our base experience with the experiences of others and suddenly we are "here". We are in this reality and we are together.

So the joys and sorrows that each level of experience can bring manifests in the heart.  Imagine the warm fuzzy feeling a full pantry or a full tank of gas brings. That's a first chakra glow that manifests in your chest. How about the blessed ache that the sight of a beautiful woman brings, that little knot of nervous energy that happens right behind your sternum. Second chakra chiming in. How about the chest puffing glow that you get from a compliment that feeds energy straight to the third chakra?

It all happens in the chest, in the flower of Anahata. And being open and connected allows us to be here and now and fully in the moment which is the goal of almost all the spiritual disciplines.

But let's talk about love for just a moment since most sources will take this chakra and the sense of connection, call it "love" and be done with it.

Some would call me a cynic. I think of myself as a realist. I'll answer to either tag so I don't see that it matters. But full disclosure is in order for me to state that the word "love" is over used.

It's a marketing ploy and little else. It's a word that has some crazy generalized associations that is abused by manipulators and greeting card companies to get what they want. The word has so many associations and so many levels and layers that it is very possible that no two people could give you an accurate description, much less a definition.

"But that's what makes it magical," someone will say.

No, that's what makes it useless. Words have definitions. Words have meanings. When one word has so many levels of meanings, it becomes diluted.

If someone uses the word "love", what do they mean? If you let the love flow, what is flowing?  Which kind of love are we talking about? Is it the love a man feels for a woman? Well if everyone feels that for everyone, this is going to get kinky quick. How about the love a parent feels for a child? That love is crazy powerful and you don't realize how powerful until you feel it but it is very focused. How about the love for a medium rare steak and bourbon over ice? Hell, I'd marry it. But is it love? I might die for the love of a woman. I will die the love a child. I'm not that worried about a good steak served with alcohol no matter how much I love it.

But cynicism/realism aside, this comes down to a shifting point of reference and everyone stands on a different point when referring to love and that point is formed by life experiences, both past and present.

So is it possible to have a universal point of reference?

I don't know.

But I read a book on lucid dreaming once called The Lucid Dreamer: A Waking Guide for the Traveler Between Worldsand it described  mystics who had seen things and understood those things as only mystics can. But when they tried to explain, they could only sit and cry because there were no words to describe just how beautifully connected everything is.

That's a pretty interesting reference point.  Love is the moment where words fail.

So I guess it's alright to use the word "love" and acknowledge the degrees and shifting points of reference while realizing that language is not powerful enough to address the possibilities. But I still think "connection" is a more accurate description and the connection can be cultivated in Anahata without confusing it with marketing ploys.

And the more we cultivate, the closer we get to that moment where words cannot explain the oneness of the universe.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Notes on the Chakras: Manipura

So we've worked our way up from Muladhara to Swadhistana and now we come to Manipura. The basics are out of the way. We survive and thrive and seek creation through means both subtle and overt and so we can begin to actually develop a sense of self. We can worry with an ego and the baggage that it brings.  We survive, we thrive and we discover our boundaries.

Manipura is located behind the solar plexus and is associated the element of fire. So we've moved up from the earth (Muladhara) to water (Swadhistana) and now we have the fire. I find this chakra particularly interesting since this is the one a lot of the martial art traditions point to as a source of energy and power. It's fascinating study of cross cultural references to the same thing. Yoga has prana and the various martial arts of china and japan have chi. It's the same stuff and although the methods of manipulation of this energy vary, a lot of the philosophy is remarkably similar.

And it's not surprising that some of the martial arts traditions consider this a source of power since that's basically what Manipura is all about: Power. But not power in the traditional western sense. This is the power of the self, the structure of the ego. This is the force of will and the sense of individualism.

But let's begin by looking at the idea of "power". In the West, when someone says "power", it is assumed that they are referring to power over something or someone. It's an external thing mostly. A measure of someone's mark on the world or the extent of their influence. But power can mean something else especially if approached from an eastern or shamanic viewpoint. In this version, power is internal and personal. In the West power is measured by lines on a map. The power we speak of here is more like fires in the furnace.

It's more about the sense of self that can lead to your level of influence on the material world. The ego is a fluid and dangerous thing, inflating and deflating on the whims of fate. Some people fill up a room with their ego, their personal power. Some huddle in the corner and hide since their egos are like flickering candle flames in a breezy room. To a large degree, it's all about how we see ourselves in relation to the world but it's also how we think others see us as well.

It just couldn't be simple, could it?  But one should notice that the story gets more complicated the higher we move up the chakra ladder. Survival is a pretty basic concept. Sex is definitely more complicated that survival. But we have to add a layer of identity over the survival and sex and now we have a bit of a mess since all the chakras reflect aspects of the others. That's a mistake a lot of students of the chakra system make almost immediately. They isolate the chakras from the others and study them individually, eventually forgetting how much they influence each other.

As an example, let's return to the analogy of the third chakra being the flaming furnace of ego. The brighter the furnace burns the more confidence we feel and the more secure we feel with our place in the world. In a sense, we can say that the other chakras can fuel or feed from this furnace. So if we feel secure in the first chakra and we feel comfortable in our physical environment as in all our needs are met, the ego is fine. It may be bolstered even. I have food. Shelter. I must be doing something right! The furnace is fed. On the contrary, a lack of resources and the onset of hunger can mess with one's mind and seriously dampen the fires of confidence.

Same thing goes for the second chakra. Sex is gasoline to the furnace of the third chakra. If someone has sex with us we must be all right in someone's book and that feeds the furnace. Confidence is bolstered (usually) and we feel better about our place in the world especially in relation to the creative vibe of the second chakra. Rejection and the denial of sensuality can suppress the ego and suddenly we question not only our value but also how others value and perceive us.

Security in the physical world is an underlying theme of the first three chakras. Basic needs directing our place in the world on many levels. Consider how the lack of security on any of those levels can drive behaviors and provide motivations.

From here on up is the path of the spirit, the emotions and feelings and connections to higher consciousness. But we can not deny the anchor of the first three chakras that work to give us presence in this physical world. We came here for a reason, to be in these body and experience the reality of the physical and learning how the needs and desires and the furnace of the ego dance together and make life happen is a sure path to self discovery.