Our Greatest Freedom

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You may have noticed the category for this blog is Ancient Wisdom. That’s where these ideas associated with our greatest freedom originated. I’m combining two sources here: the Kabbalah and The Upanishads.

The first thought comes from a book titled Kabbalah For The Student, 2008 Michael Laitman, Laitman Kabbalah Publishers. This is a text book used with an online Kabbalah study program. It contains numerous articles written by Rabbis who teach the Kabbalah. Honestly, it is not an easy read, but then the study of the Kabbalah is not simple either. Within this volume is an article on page 375 titled The Freedom, by Rav Yehuda Ashlag. The author introduces a quote about the ‘angel of death’ and then introduces the concept of freedom in order to explain the quote. If I may just give you ‘the bottom line’ as they say in business, the concept is that our greatest and most effective freedom is the freedom to choose our environment. By environment is meant primarily our friends but also the ideas, goals and lifestyles they represent.

Surrounding ourselves with the right kinds of friends gives us the greatest opportunity to improve ourselves as human beings; more specifically, it gives us the greatest opportunity to improve ourselves spiritually. This assumes that we recognize that improving ourselves spiritually is our purpose in life. If someone doesn’t know that, or disagrees, this point would look unimportant. But for one who agrees, it is of vital importance. We must associate with those people who have the same goals we have. Or, said another way, we tend to become like the people with whom we associate. “Birds of a feather …”

This concept is subtle, but powerful. Over time we develop habits based upon our thoughts and actions. These thoughts and actions are influenced by our environment: ideas and people. Once developed, a habit is difficult to change. I know. I smoked for ten years and found it extremely difficult to quit, in spite of health warnings. The same is true of ideas. Once we accept them into our lives we ASSUME they are correct; often not ever questioning them again.

My favorite quote of all time is from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (IV, 4.5):

“You are what your deep, driving desire is.

As your desire is, so is your will.

As your will is, so is your deed.

As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

Choose your environment carefully. It will become your destiny!

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Maybe Bad, Maybe Good

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This past Sunday I was standing in my back yard when I noticed what appeared to be a crack in a major branch of the maple tree which shaded my patio. I found it went all the way around to the other side where it was even larger. I researched tree services on Monday, and called one on Tuesday. He came out, examined the tree and stated the whole thing had to come down. Removing the one branch would only unbalance the tree because the other two went in opposite directions, toward neighboring houses.

I just loved that tree. It was so large I never had to worry about sunburn when I sat in its shade regardless of the time of day. I struggled with the decision, finally agreeing because I didn’t want future problems for myself nor my neighbors. So I told him to go ahead. He scheduled it for this morning.

At 8:15 AM the crew of six showed up and began their work. One man climbed forty feet above the ground using special shoes and ropes and began lopping huge branches off. I still felt bad, but I watched and took pictures to share with friends and family. (I’ll post those on FB tomorrow.) By 10:00 AM only the main trunk stood there, seven feet above ground. As they cut it some more, the supervisor waived me over, pointing at the trunk. They had just cut a three foot section off. The cut revealed that the tree trunk was hollow from the ground to a point about five feet up. It was so old, it would have fallen down sometime soon, probably this summer or fall, depending on the weather. By 10:15 AM it was all gone.

This situation reminded me of a story buddhists tell about a man visited by misfortune who shrugs and says, “Maybe bad, maybe good.” Later good fortune comes out of what happened; he shrugs and says, “Maybe, good, maybe bad” and something bad follows. The story goes on for a number of events. The main point of the story is that we should remain detached from outcomes, especially since they are all impermanent. So it was with my maple tree.

But I miss it, so I saved a large piece of hollowed out trunk and I’ll convert it into a natural flower pot; maybe bad, maybe good.

Ancient Wisdom: The Hula

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I used to view Hula dancing from a cultural viewpoint, as in, ‘gee, that is really a beautiful, graceful dance.’ I have learned Hula is more than just a dance. Sunday night I was watching WYCC, a local PBS broadcasting station. The program they showed at 7:00 PM was listed as Pacific Heartbeat. It featured an hour long coverage of the 2013 “Merrie Monarch Festival” held in Hilo on the big island of Hawaii. 2013 was the 50th anniversary of the festival. In its early years the festival had attractions like the ‘beard growing’ contest in honor of King David Kalakaua (reigned: 1874-91). King Kalakaua gave permission to perform the Hula again. It had been forbidden in the early 1800’s. In the 1970’s Hula competition was introduced and the popularity of the festival surged. Now it attracts dance teams from all over the world.

Hula is not just a cultural part of Hawaii. It is also a spiritual practice which includes the teachings of the elders and it requires disciplined practice and focus. In the book Mana Cards, the authors describe hula in relation to the Hawaiian goddess Laka. Laka is the goddess of inspiration, especially where hula is concerned. On page 93 of Mana Cards, the authors write, “More than a dance, hula is an essential part of Hawai’i. It is treated with such respect that dancers adhere to strict traditions when gathering the plants for their costumes and the hula altar. Hula is a complex ritual, a form of worship, a spiritual practice, a discipline.” Specific plants and flowers which are said to be Laka’s favorites are placed on an altar, each one symbolizing a connection to the goddess. Dancers pray that the goddess will inspire them in their dance and make acceptable efforts into excellent ones.

If you have the time and wish to view the 2013 Merrie Monarch Festival film, you will find it at http://www.pacifiicheartbeat.org. Just scroll down a short way and click on the picture of the video from 2013. I guarantee you will enjoy the video and find the dancing both inspiring and highly entertaining. For you ladies, the competition also includes some handsome male dance groups. Aloha!

The Spirit of Aloha

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The definition of aloha we are most familiar with is listed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: a Hawaiian term used to greet or bid farewell.  That definition is true, but incomplete. If you search for a definition online you will find it also means love, affection, the breath of life, and a way of living with love and respect. Also true, also incomplete.

If you go to gohawaii.about.com you will find it is considered undefinable; much like our English word ‘love’. In a Hawaiian spiritual sense, aloha is an invocation of the Divine which permeates the universe. It is an acknowledgement of the Divinity that dwells within and without. It represents the presence of Divine breath; like the Asian concept of Chi in Tai Chi and Chi Gung.

Love is such a pleasant concept that we forget it also has a negative connotation. Our definition of love is affected by our expectations of love. The book Mana Cards: The Power of Hawaiian Wisdom by Catherine Kalama Becker, Ph.D. and Doya Nardin has such a description of the Mana Card titled “Aloha”. There are symbols on the aloha card.  A red sugar cane plant is on the left and a yellow-green sugar cane plant is on the right. Red sugar cane was used in love potions. Yellow-green sugar cane was use in potions to cling or to hold fast. A hibiscus plant represents being loved by many people. The rainbow represents true, unwavering love. And the adult hand holding the childlike hand represents unconditional love.

All of these are aspects of aloha, or love. Yet the expectations are not the same for each aspect. Clinging suggests the lover craves or needs the attention in order to feel complete within themselves. At the other end of the spectrum is the unconditional love we feel for our children. Aloha has also been the spiritual path of Hawaiian kahunas. One such priest or expert, Daddy Bray, taught that the way to experience true love (aloha) was to be “honest, truthful, patient, kind to all forms of life, humble, in harmony with your true self, God, and all humanity (Mana Cards, p. 64).”

On page 65, the aloha description ends: “Aloha is an unselfish, nurturing love that radiates calmness, acceptance, and warmth. It is strong and tender, a great gift to the world and whomever it touches. Allow the spirit of aloha to shine from your soul.” Amama ua noa.

Soul Parts

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How can a soul have different parts that exist separately? I’d like to ask the question from the opposite point of view: “Why do we think our soul is a separate entity?” The answer is that we think it is separate because we perceive ourselves as separate in our physical form. Is this the ultimate reality or is it only human perception? In the New Testament Jesus is quoted as saying “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” In the Hindu religion they refer to two kinds of self; one with a small ‘s’ and the other one with a capital ‘S’, to indicate we are part of a larger whole. In Buddhism teachers talk about our small mind and big mind. These are all ways of describing something that is beyond our physical perception; a unity that exists as the basis of all creation.

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki, a buddhist monk, gives a talk about visiting Yosemite National Park and seeing the large waterfalls. He notes how all the water is united in the river until it reaches the waterfall where it is separated into streams that resemble curtains of mist falling slowly down until they reunite at the bottom. It takes a long time for this to happen because the falls are so high. He thought how the drops of water must have difficulty falling to the bottom, not realizing they are part of the larger whole. Each drop is part of the larger body of water, but when it is falling it forgets that. It is not until the drops are reunited in the whole that they regain their composure, their one-mindedness that being part of the river provides. Shunryu Suzuki urges his students to use meditation to realize the ‘oneness’ of all things. Realizing the oneness will allow us to be detached from our previously erroneous view of life. On page 95 he states, “When you realize this fact, you will discover how meaningless your old interpretation of life was, and how much useless effort you have been making. You will find the true meaning of life, and even though you have difficulty falling from the top of the waterfall to the bottom of the mountain, you will enjoy your life.”

 

Our Divine Connection

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The bible teaches us we are made in the image and likeness of God. I have heard discussions about this, and differing opinions as to what ‘image and likeness’ mean. Perhaps you have too. My focus has always been, “How can I understand, and more importantly experience, this connection?” I have discovered an answer that satisfies me, so I will share it with you. It probably won’t perfectly coincide with your idea; it didn’t coincide with my original idea either. But it is a pleasant explanation and it may be you will wish to incorporate it, or parts of it, into your belief system. I’m not proselytizing; only reporting. The decision is yours.

I believe what is taught in Hawaiian spirituality. The term they use for it is Aumakua. As with many Hawaiian words, it can be divided into smaller words; au meaning distant and makua meaning ancestor. These beings are spirits and were thought of like we think of guardian angels who would advise and help us. In the book Spiritwalker, Dr. Hank Wesselman defines it in the Glossary as our “Personal ancestral spiritual aspect; our High self, god self, angelic self; and as the Immortal spiritual source self.”

As I learned  journeying to the spirit world, our Higher Self exists separately but concurrently with our earthly self. So this means that, even though both are part of the same whole, they can exist at separate levels of consciousness. Why aren’t we aware of this connection? Because our consciousness is so closely tied to our physical body that it’s focus is on the overabundance of information our brains constantly receive from the outside world. The world is a huge distraction. And it leads us to believe we are separate entities, not connected to anything else. That concept helps us survive in the physical world, but it blinds us to the possibilities of the spirit world. In order to experience our Higher Self, it is necessary to find the level of consciousness between complete wakefulness and sleep; a place where we can step into the spirit world while still being conscious of our physical surroundings.

During one of my earliest journeys to the Upper World of spirits, I encountered this spirit. At first I viewed it as a separate being. Then, as we began to communicate our thoughts, I learned that we were one in being. Although I felt an emotional reaction, it had the biggest impact on my mental outlook. After the journey ended and I returned to ordinary reality, I realized that I had been receiving guidance from my Aumakua throughout my lifetime. It was as though I recognized the source of those thoughts that had always been helpful; keeping me out of trouble when I was young and helping me make correct decisions as an adult. My Aumakua was the being I had always thought of as my guardian angel.

Next blog: How can parts of the soul exist separately?

 

Learning Hawaiian Wisdom From Mana Cards

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Mana is a spiritual power that flows through the universe, creating health and wellbeing in our bodies, minds and spirits. Each mana card symbolizes a way in which the flow of the mana energy may be increased. One of the cards, number 26, is Nalu which means waves and also contemplation. It shows a man swimming in the ocean and has several symbols: the sun represents a new day, another chance; the rainbow means release; a lava flow represents obstacles building up and going away; and the waves symbolize emotions, coming and going.

When our emotions are resisted, or blocked, they can cause physical and/or psychological problems. How we react to our emotions determines whether they will be bad for us. Like waves, we can underestimate their power and they can harm us. Fighting emotions or fighting waves is a losing battle. And they can’t be ignored because they will overpower us and carry us away.

One way to avoid being swept away by a wave is to dive underneath it and let it pass harmlessly over our heads. Another way is to go with the wave and see where it takes us. Sooner or later its power will subside and we will be released from its grasp. In either case, we don’t struggle against the wave. It is too powerful.

Emotions are like waves. We should recognize, experience, and understand them.  When we do, it is like diving underneath or letting them move us around. Paying attention to them allows their power to dissipate. Then we can allow them to pass us by. We will feel the emotion and let it go. This letting go will keep them from harming us.

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