The Soul’s Journey – Is There Any Such Thing As a Bad Meditation?

November 26, 2019

During the early days of my meditation practice I recall attending a meditation workshop on Primordial Meditation, Deepak Chopra’s version of Transcendental Meditation and on video he stated that there was no such thing as a bad meditation. I have held to this belief through good times and bad.

Imagine my concern recently to listen to a podcast from one of my favourite CBC broadcasts – Tapestry (Tapestry is a weekly exploration of spirituality, religion and the search for meaning.) and hear Professor Ralph Purser accuse the military and corporations of hijacking mindfulness for their own nefarious purposes. Could it be true? Can meditation be put to negative use?

The professor’s premise is that mindfulness is being used by corporations as a stress reduction tool to maximize profits, and by the military to help soldiers become more focussed. I listened with dismay – had my premise been fallacious all these years. Then the interviewer asked a question about the writer’s strong negative critique of Jon Kabat-Zynn on the ground he introduced mindfulness to corporations and the elite.

At this point Purser’s credibility dissipated. I have a great respect for Jon Kabat-Zynn as a teacher and a human being. Perhaps I am not wrong after all. I found 4,970 Google hits for the words, “there is no such thing as a bad meditation” so I have numbers on my side. I am also in the company of such luminaries as renowned author and motivational speaker the late Dr. Wayne Dyer who always stated the same.

American philosopher Ken Wilbur suggests that meditation can accelerate the development of human consciousness and that the only way to test this hypothesis is to begin meditation. I feel meditation is a bit like a wonder drug except it is free with no side effects. Proven benefits include reducing stress, stimulating the immune system, increasing blood flow, regulating the heart beat, improving mood, activating the intuitive faculties, strengthening neural pathways, and improving compassion and empathy.

Dr. Andrew Weil sent me an email summarizing the seven benefits of meditation that he is aware of then I encountered a wonderful book by Rick Hansen titled, “ Buddha’s Brain – the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom which listed a dozen more. It is easy to convince yourself of the positives of meditation if you take the trouble to review the data.

The military may think they can use mindfulness meditation to create better soldiers, and corporations may consider they can improve profitability by reducing stress but what do they really know? Perhaps this is more like a Trojan Horse that looks like a gift but insidiously begins a process of creating better, more self aware human beings that change the very institutions that thought they were controlling them.

It is these institutions that most need a shift of hearts and minds and I suspect that more will be accomplished by Jon Kabatt-Zynn bringing mindfulness to corporate and world leaders than will ever be achieved by the attacks of the professor.

The Soul’s Journey – Holding The Opposites

November 22, 2019

During my morning meditation this morning, a thought intervened. Before I could wave it away and return to the breath it observed, “Stop worrying, let him have his way, why do you care, it’s his event, and you won’t be doing this again.” I brought my focus back to the breath but some time later another thought interrupted, “You have a responsibility, you are not acting with integrity, you need to have a voice, you know you are right”. Once again I waved it farewell and returned to my mindfulness practice.

It was not until some time later as I sat with my morning tea reflecting on the glorious Fall day in Vancouver and recording some thoughts in my journal that, the memory of the two voices returned. It was not all unfamiliar – the voice of compliance versus the voice of confrontation. I had honed these two opposite responses in my relationship to my authoritative father.

As a child and for much of my adult life these voices had been almost entirely reactive and I rarely felt in control of which would emerge. Once I got fired when the confrontive voice emerged with one of my bosses and I told him, “You do not have a constructive bone in your body.” Other times I have slunk away feeling like a small disgraced child.

More recently in my quest to become conscious I have learned to pause, to take a breath and perhaps deliberate on my response. Management Guru Steven Covey’s words “Between the stimulus and response there is a gap” in his renowned book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® has been remarkably helpful to pave the way.

More recently eminent Jungian analyst James Hollis in his book Living The Examined Life reminds me of C.G. Jung’s advice, “to suffer the dimension of the opposites within ourselves as long as we can bear it and to wait upon the appearance of the third” Hollis suggests that the third embodies the discernment of which choice summons us to a more developmental journey. It is time to wait and discern.

This week I have also encountered the need to try and maintain positivity relative to the global comedy that we seemed destined to play out. Recently I listened to two podcasts – one titled Does the Deep State Exist, a devastating report by journalist Jack Livesay on how the “Deep State” undermines democracy and in fact represents the fulfillment of a prophecy by President Dwight D Eisenhower  on the dangers of the military-industrial complex.

And the other by Sacha Baron Cohen, a brilliant, insightful damnation of how the social networks breed fake news, propagate hate and are also destroying democracy.

In between I watched a delightful travelogue featuring British comedienne and raconteur Joanna Lumley in her series The Silk Road where she follows in the footsteps of Marco Polo. This episode took place in Iran and was fascinating, intriguing, beautiful but most of all so different to perceptions of Iran we get from our media. The people were so lovely, friendly, helpful and wonderful examples of the capacity of our genus for kindness and generosity.

I felt a welling up of sadness at the possibility if certain factions of the US military industrial complex have their way, bombs will rain down on these cousins of hours. What kind of species are we when the killing of innocent human beings becomes an acceptable by product of the insatiable desire for weapons production. So here again the need to hold the opposites of human behaviour and wonder how to sustain hope in light of the terrible possibilities.

Ironically I believe I know the answer but whether it is remotely achievable is another question. It requires the changing of hearts and minds to perhaps what the Buddha referred to as “The Four Immeasurables – Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity”. Then we can redistribute wealth, eliminate violence, guarantee basic standards for living and resolve global warming. This is easy to say but difficult to do. It is by no way new, and every wisdom tradition has at its heart the same principles. Yet I wonder if we can survive as a species long term unless we can radically change.

So I can only hold these opposites about our species. On the one hand peaceful, creative, ethical, loving, caring, capable of great change, advancement and self sacrifice. On the other fearful, grasping, greedy, manipulative, violent and selfish with the capacity to willfully destroy our selves. Perhaps I can find hope in this beautiful Cherokee story:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

 He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The Soul’s Journey – Have I Lost my Mojo?

November 6, 2019

Recently my sister called to check on me and as the conversation unfolded I realize she had some concerns about me. She told me her daughter Amy thought I had lost my Mojo. I was both fascinated and alarmed by the idea that I had left such an impression on my niece.

I thought I should check precisely what Mojo means and found out that the traditional meaning is magical power, a spell or talisman. However in the Cambridge English dictionary it describes Mojo as a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy.

How disconcerting! What had I said to give that impression?

I went to my journal to assess what has been happening in my life at the time of the conversation. To my surprise I had been at my beautiful place in Cortes island and recall feeling particularly joyful and positive at that time. Obviously this had not been translated in my discussion with my niece. My curiosity mounted. What resulted in the impression that she passed on to her mother?

My sister explained that she thought it was connected with a conversation about spirituality and that Amy believed I had lost my belief. A light shone dimly through the fog surrounding my recollection. I recalled sharing with Amy that I had found the simplicity of my earlier beliefs had been transcended by a complexity around holding opposites. I was feeling less clarity and more confusion about my path but I was not concerned as I knew I was in good company. Eminent author and Jungian analyst James Hollis suggests that signs of a spiritual maturity were that, “ The mystery will transcend our desires for clarity and certainty.” The mystery perhaps had become more mysterious after the following transition that occurred last year.

I have just concluded Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari and I am feeling disturbed. For 25 years I have lived with the belief we are spiritual beings having a human experience and not the other way around. Suddenly this is in question. Previously I had been reading Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond an equally depressing saga of human viciousness and brutality. Where I asked myself, in the bloody, violent, competitive, destructive story of our genus was there any indication of underlying spiritual beings? It was a strange moment to consider letting go of something that had so powerfully influenced the journey of my life and has helped me find meaning in my own experiences. Suddenly like a match extinguishing itself in the dark the light was gone.

Then I asked myself a question. What remains if I let go of this concept of the eternity of a Soul moving from incarnation to incarnation in some mysterious way I did not understand. What would then remain? I went for a walk allowing this confusion and lack of clarity to be absorbed in the exquisite beauty of a Vancouver evening. I noticed no distress I just felt different. I sensed it was yet another evolution of my worldview and there have been many.

I reviewed what remained: I still believed in a guiding force that I call the inner compass in my life. I continue to relate to the concept of the unconscious with all its unseen power over me. I will continue to seek meaning in my life and unravel my own psychology and explore this mystery I am part of it. The driver of this I still choose to call Soul ,for now I give up the need of immortality. I felt a sense of relief.

Then I saw an enormous gift from this transition. It seems to me that the preciousness of this one life expands once one can no longer rely on anything to follow. It creates a sense of responsibility to the collective to support its positive unfolding. I came across a relevant quote from James Hollis that seemed inspiring, “What I long for is an experience of this life that I would not trade for an eternity in those Elysian Fields.”

I have certainly been undergoing a transition in my belief structure. However I always believed continuing change is a positive and not negative. It is as though all the beliefs I have ever held are to some degree like those nesting Russian dolls and the new one both replaces and embraces the old.

I called my niece to ask her what she had meant and she seemed bemused. “Those are mum’s words, not mine”, she said. “I was just sharing our conversation and perhaps not doing a very good job.”

I laughed; it was another lesson in not making assumptions. The good news is my Mojo seems intact and to quote the words of Julian of Norwich “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

NB I came across this wonderful poem by my friend Ann Ladd who writes beautifully about the sense of deconstruction on the spiritual journey.

Humble Journey

My certainty is tattered and torn

shredded beyond recognition

It is frightening, though inevitable

to dismantle the platform

that gave me a view of the world

that allowed surety of

purpose an action


The world as it is!

Bedevilled by its shocking

unfairness and cruelty,

graced by its generosity

and indescribable beauty,

reluctant acceptance

humbles me,

leaving only the choice

of attitude and action

in a given moment.

I choose forgiveness and