Awakening Your Spiritual Superpower

Awakening Your Spiritual Superpower
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I think as most of you know that the title of the talk for this evening or the subject matter is awakening your spiritual superpower and in the weeks since we first announced the program I’d be getting a lot of emails from people wanting clarification and offering suggestions on what would be helpful and there was one thing in particular that really struck me in receiving these emails and that was the wide variety of interpretations on that word spiritual for some it meant higher rather than lower for others and that closer to God or spirit or soul than something else and various other permutations as well and so I thought that may be the best place to start this evening would be to offer a definition that we could use for our purposes here this evening I’m not trying to convince everybody to change their definition but for our purposes here I think it would be helpful to be on the same page so when we’re talking about a spiritual superpower much like a spiritual practice the idea is that not that the practice itself is spiritual or that the power is spiritual but more it’s like it’s designed to yield a spiritual result and that spiritual result is called many things some traditions call it enlightenment some traditions call it God realization some traditions call it self-realization and if we strip off some of the different dogma and perspectives from the different traditions I think we can agree that it really has to do with coming closer to our truest essence whatever word you might give that could be soul it could be spirit could be God could be nature in some traditions they don’t give it a name at all as a matter of fact that’s the biggest sin of sins is to call it a name and so from this understanding or at least this perspective that these spiritual practices or a spiritual superpower is aimed at helping us – I was gonna say reconnect but that’s not the most helpful word recognize that part of ourselves that is always already filled full peaceful spacious at ease I could go on and on but you get the idea the most essential part of ourselves the part that isn’t subject to the ups and the downs and the dramas and that this is and that’s that seem to torment so many of us these days and so if we are interested in creating this recognition or facilitating this recognition and the reason that I by the way little side note the reason that I backed away from the word reconnect is because oftentimes it is conceptualized as a disconnect or that I need to get back to myself or I need to get back to God and if you think about it logically we’re talking about accessing our most essential self and if that is your truest essence how could you ever not be that does that make sense so it’s really not a matter of becoming disconnected or separate from that which you are it’s more about being distracted from it and there’s a term that’s used a lot called spiritual ignorance and I like to pronounce it in a slightly different way spiritual ignore ants because it’s literally that we are ignoring that part of ourselves not intentionally but that it’s always happening it’s always here it is the most essential part of you but we’re ignore ant and the spiritual ignorance it’s important to note is different from what we conventionally think of ignorance conventionally if you’re ignorant of something we think oh you don’t know it and spiritual ignorance is not about knowing or not knowing it’s about perceiving or not perceiving literally ignoring again unintentionally and so the practices of spirituality and the superpowers there’s more than one of spirituality are designed to cure this ignore ants and in order to do that it makes sense for us to really understand what’s causing the ignorant of what we are in the short answer I’ve already given it is distraction distraction primarily of thoughts and feelings that’s why every spiritual tradition has somewhere in its core objectives the creation of profound stillness in the Yoga Sutras it says Yoga is distilling of the fluctuations of the mind with the recognition that when the fluctuations the thoughts and fluctuations we mean all thoughts good thoughts bad thoughts thoughts of God thoughts of dung and anything else on the planet when those are stilled it creates an opportunity for us to perceive this thing that we have been ignoring namely that which is aware which we could call spirit or soul or God or self and so that brings us to this idea of stillness and the question we need to ask is how is it created because if we want to create that oh and by the way irrespective of whether or not one is interested in spiritual endeavors so-called and this recognition of one’s true self this thing called stillness is what we all crave anyway this relief from inner turmoil the relief from a desire for something the relief from loneliness the relief from worry the relief from the anxiety the relief from the struggle so independent of whether or not you have a particular spiritual bent or not the creation of the stillness is really the secret sauce of a life well-lived or maybe said better the life that you want so back to the question that we need to ask if we want to be able to reliably create it and that is to ask how is it created and of course the answer is it’s not created it already is right now my words are swimming in this stillness and even on your worst days when you are beset by all sorts of emotions and feelings and thoughts and anxieties and worries all of those phenomenon are swimming in this same space of stillness and silence it’s a lot like the sky right that sky no matter how many birds are flying through the sky the sky is still the sky it’s still this still space but the trouble is is that when we have all of this commotion coursing through the stillness it becomes really easy to ignore the background the spaciousness that which you are that which doesn’t change or go away and so the answer to how do we create this stillness is somewhat oblique because if we want to we don’t create the stillness we uncover the stillness and if we want to uncover the stillness we need to stop the distractions and it’s that simple stop the distractions simple but not necessarily easy and if you want to stop the distractions you need to stop the madness and to think about this it’s a really appropriate image in the Yoga Sutras all of these thoughts are the word they use they he Patanjali uses in the Yoga Sutras is thrity which literally translates as wave still the waves of the mind if you think of yourself in a little wading pool and your goal is to still all of the waves in this pool if you go around slapping all the waves down in order to stop them and it’s pretty obvious that all you’re gonna be doing is making more waves and yet this is not that far off from the strategy that most of us have learned to stop the waves the disturbances the anxieties the frustrations the emotions the feelings that are poisoning our lives is by more activity doing more slap slap slap slap slap best of intentions but with unfortunate results so the key to this whole thing it’s suggested is if we want to stop the distractions we need to know where the distractions are coming from and the fact of the matter is these distractions are coming from the brain the brain and the nervous system and this is where we face a really interesting quagmire because if anybody has ever been laying awake at night with the thoughts anybody write again and again and over and over and over the mind and its thoughts are an exceedingly difficult thing to manage particularly in the moment over time we can train the brain to be more and more and more what we might think of as well-behaved to be more and more spontaneously and effortlessly on our side in other words more still but in any given moment the truth is that the things and people around you have more control of your thoughts than you do and I can prove it a purple squirrel and a top hat riding a unicycle you’re welcome right because the bread the fact the matters the brain is an associative mechanism that every input has an effect of creating an output and when we try to manage it directly we end up slap slap slap slap slap and having lackluster at best results which then raises the next question lot of questions it seems which is if we can’t control thoughts directly if we can’t there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to grab onto that brain in order to manage it directly at least in this moment how do we begin to minimize the distractions and everybody everybody understands what I mean by distractions right so I mean the distraction of worry the distraction of anxiety the distraction of frustration the distraction of loneliness the distraction of fear the distraction of anger all of that turmoil that happens within us is what I’m referring to and of course make no mistake about it all of those things are manufactured moment-by-moment by your brain in your nervous system the stuff is not coming out of nowhere it’s manufactured by the brain in the nervous system based upon what it’s seeing or hearing or tasting or focusing on in some way so if we can’t manage the mechanism directly the mechanism that creates these distractions the only option that we have or let’s put it this way the best option we have is to stop feeding the mechanism and you’ll see that most of us are not very good at that again reference the lying in bed and the thinking and the visiting and than that where is all of your attention in that moment it’s on the train of thoughts and you’re focused on it zeroed in and every time you’re focusing on it what you’re doing is you’re that’s another input for the brain and you’re gonna think more of that right there’s not an accident huge change of topic that we are beset with mass shootings in this culture and I’m gonna argue I’m not making any pronouncements on gun control so don’t write letters but I’m gonna argue that the biggest contributor to this is what we see on TV and on our phones advertising works because the brain is an associative mechanism I remember when I was in high school I don’t want to say how many years ago but a long long time ago no matter how upset I got it would never have occurred to me but it occurs to people now to go shoot things up because the brain is exposed to that over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and that’s how the brain works so one of our most important things in terms of our managing our lives or evolution is to recognize how the brain works and then be able to take advantage of that and to head it off at the pass when it’s working in a way that’s not serving us so back to the feeding of the machine your brain is fed by where you place your attention right now they’re in your experience right now there are thousands tens of thousands of things that you could be attending to right there sensations in your ankles their sensations in your back there’s the feeling of your breath there’s the sound of the air conditioner there’s the lovely statue up behind me there’s the people to your left there’s the people to your right their tastes but your attention for most of us at least I hope is here right so all of those other things are not being attended to and this is where it’s important to make a distinction and to be really clear on the difference between your thoughts and your attention and this is something that most of us not necessarily most of us in this room was certainly most on this planet haven’t really made a conscious delineation between those two because your attention is that which is aware of things so right now you are aware of the sound of my voice true or not true and you’re also aware of the sensations in your legs which we’re not true and you’re also aware of a thought of a purple squirrel and a top hat on a unicycle true or not true true right so those are things literally now arguably the sound and the sensation are more solid gross tangible things than a thought but they’re things is that fair and there is something else that is aware of those things yes that’s attention or at least what we’re calling attention alternatively called consciousness awareness but we’re gonna call it attention and when I place my attention on something uplifting like my little chihuahua at the back of the room that is the raw material that my brain uses in order to create to manufacture the thoughts and feelings that happen to me now and when I place my attention on a dwindling bank account those are now the raw materials that my brain is using in order to create the thoughts and feelings that I’m experiencing now does this make sense and so where I choose to place my attention matters immensely when it comes to how I feel and like we talked about last time how I feel is the only thing that matters to me it’s the only thing that matters to you all of those things that you want whether it’s a car or relationship or money or saving the whales you only want because you believe they will make you feel better if you want a million dollars and you make a million dollars and you’re still wracked by angst you’re off to the races for another thing because that’s not what you wanted you wanted to feel better or you wanted stillness or inner peace so this thing called attention is your spiritual superpower or maybe said more specifically your developed ability to consciously place your attention one place or another is your spiritual superpower and it’s your also secular mundane everyday superpower as well in terms of your well-being and your wellness and how you feel because there is a huge limitation to this thing we call attention and that is it can only really focus on one thing at a time this whole thing called multitasking myth the men and women at MIT debunk that years ago when you are multitasking what you’re really doing is something is called rapid toggling your attention is focusing on this and then that and this and that back and forth back and forth back and forth back and forth really fast which by the way puts a huge toll on your nervous system which has all sorts of other ramifications for another time but suffice it to say that your attention can only focus on one thing at a time that’s why you can’t text and drive safely right if I’m focusing on the phone I cannot focus on the road period and it’s also by the way why movies work anybody ever had a pissy grip’ grumpy day and then your friend calls up and let’s go see some sweet little rom-com like I don’t know what’s out right now that’s good anyone anyone toy story said oh yes if you think that’s a romantic comedy you guys will talk after ok alright woody woody finds love alright so we’ll leave it at that okay so in any event it doesn’t matter whether what movie it is when if you enjoy the movie you’ll notice how for that 90 minutes or however long it is all of your problems evaporate isn’t that remarkable I mean you could be struggling mightily with relationship problems with finance problems with health problems none of which go away change in any way shape or form for that 90 minutes before those 90 minutes it’s as if they didn’t exist it’s because your attention can’t attend to the movie while it attends to these problems now if it’s a terrible movie at least to you that only means it doesn’t have enough horsepower it’s not interesting enough for you to capture your attention fully and so you sit there still flitting between your problems and the fact that you paid $12 and that your recliner is broken or whatever else first world problem you might have in that moment and it’s only because attention hasn’t been captured and so it’s allowed to go and focus on all of these things that then become the raw materials that are creating more of the unwanted feelings so the key is something that we call in the yoga business dhaarana which means concentration but it’s not just concentration per se because the fact of the matter is that everybody in this room and most people on the planet are phenomenal at concentrating on what the mind wants to concentrate on and the mind wants to concentrate on in case you haven’t noticed what’s wrong right and this is not an accident this is hardwired into your nervous system by mother nature is called negativity bias it’s designed to keep you alive because mother nature understood back in the caveman days if you’re there smelling the flowers instead of paying attention to saber-tooth Tiger you’re gone and so there is a bias hardwired into every one of us to focus on the problems on the negative on what’s not working despite the fact that you may be swimming in a sea of blessings but here’s the good news because attention can only focus on one thing if you can put it on something that’s positive just like in the movie all of those things that are so-called negative all those things that are the raw materials for the thoughts and the feelings that are assaulting you fade into the distance and the brain begins manufacturing uplifting helpful hopeful thoughts and feelings just by virtue of the fact that it’s placed here and not there but the problem is is that very few of us have trained our attention in such a way even those of us who have advanced degrees if you think about schooling when we’re in school our focus isn’t on training attention it’s on filling the brain full of data for the most part and being able to do various different kinds of cognitive gymnastics all of which are helpful things but it’s a different game it’s a different skill set so most of us on this planet end up with what I like to think of as free-range attention right attention that just can wander and peck anything that at once and as a result it does and generally what it pecks is the stuff that’s problems the stuff that’s identified by the nervous system that’s a threat and those are all of the that’s all the raw materials that’s feeding into your brain and that’s why you feel miserable when you do I’m saying you do all the time but what I am saying for sure for everybody in this room you feel miserable or angst-ridden or frustrated way more often than you need to dislike guarantee and that includes this one so the trick is taking back control of your attention and at the very beginning when we did our little meditation you probably noticed I asked I got I hope you know gonna be dosed off but if you didn’t doze off you noticed that I asked you to place your attention on the feeling of the breath and you probably immediately complied and brought your attention to the feeling of the breath but how long did it stay there if you’re honest and if you’re really paying attention you’ll see it was seconds because it’s breath breath breath breath oh after this well maybe I’m gonna go get some chicken wings or for the really advanced practitioner is a breath breath breath breath oh look how good I am focusing on my breath and the thought about focusing on your breath is a different animal from your breath so we we have this this attention that is supposed to serve us but we’ve become its servant it wanders around and latches on to things creating desires in the brain which sends us on wild-goose chases in order to placate the brains desires because desire is nothing but an uncomfortable feeling that we don’t want around which is why we’ll do just about anything to fulfill the desire to get the relief so where we can make the greatest impact and again this is from what we call a so-called spiritual perspective and creating stillness to notice who or what we really are or to recognize our truest essence or our spirit or a soul or whatever nomenclature you choose to place on that or it also serves us in our everyday life to create the state that we are chasing 24/7 I want the perfect relationship to be relieved from the uncomfortable turmoil of loneliness I want to win the argument to be relieved from the uncomfortable inner turmoil of feeling wrong I want to make an impact in the world from being to be relieved from the uncomfortable inner turmoil of feeling insignificant but it’s all driven by uncomfortable feelings that’s all we want and when we can recognize that and recognize the power of attention and how that can serve us to not create that state but to uncover that always already existing state the background through which the turmoil moves it changes the game so here’s the practice and I’ll warn you it’s laughably simple which is another trap that an awful lot of people fall into dismissing the simple as impotent because we do live in a culture that lodz complexity complexity / simplicity more is better more complicated as better more technology as better more bells and whistles are better and so when we talk about something as simple as what I’m going to suggest it’s really easy for your modern-day brain to go or even the most well-intentioned will understand it and mistake that the understanding of the practice is somehow a substitute for the mastering of the practice and so one of the most helpful practices in training your attention to obey you to serve you to be able to be placed on something that lifts you up even in the midst of it getting distracted by something that is causing turmoil is a meditation practice called anapana in anapana is a very very simple focusing on the feeling of the breath not the thought of the breath that’s something else not a visualization of the breath that’s also a thought the feeling of the breath in the nostrils and in the upper lip and the process is this I sit tall I closed my eyes and I feel the breath and it’s breath breath breath breath breath breath maybe I get some chicken wings should I get buffalo wings too spicy but I like spicy it’s fun but tomorrow and the moment that I notice that my attention is free-ranging I say the magic yoga word aha there’s that habit of allowing attention to run the game as opposed to me running the game and I come back to breath breath breath breath breath breath breath breath we’re out of toilet paper oh yeah there’s a sale at Walmart I don’t like Walmart smells funny aha back to the breath and it’s really important that every one of those deviations first of all is recognized as a victory because the there are people who will be on all of these wild goose chases and all of these distractions never recognizing that they are disconnected from their life in this moment which is the only place their life is lived and so when you notice the deviation that’s a big victory and then when I come back that’s the second half of your victory and then when I deviate again that’s a victory and then I bring it back that’s the second half of that victory so it’s victory victory victory victory victory victory victory victory and it’s important that words important because otherwise it’s damn and other words that I shouldn’t be saying on the internet and then that starts a whole nother thing right because as soon as I go I can’t believe that I’m not able to focus on my breath that’s the raw materials for the next thought isn’t it and that starts a whole narrative each word and that narrative is another deviation from the breath and even as I said earlier oh I’m doing really well breath so it’s just a matter of training it and it will not is that different from training a little puppy because after all a little puppy is a brain in a nervous system on a stick four sticks right and you’re a brain and a nervous system on two sticks but you’re remarkably similar no matter what you would like to think about yourself and the fact of the matter is is that brain training for puppies and for people for adults and for children requires repetition and consistency and so when the little puppy of your attention start to wander uh-uh no no here sit stay and then it wanders gonna know sit stay good puppy and then sit stay and every time you notice you could say it’s not learning but if you’re really paying attention you’re going staying an extra beat and staying an extra three seconds it’s considering whether it should leave before it leaves right so there’s these little incremental movements that are happening that if we just look at and go oh the puppy is not learning because we’re judging it from the big picture as opposed to looking for the little incremental changes so it’s the same with you and your nervous system it’s that every time the pup and here’s another thing to keep in mind you can’t teach a puppy not to sit and stay when it’s sitting and staying right so the pet the puppy falls asleep it’s not learning to sit and stay it needs to deviate and then you know this right it’s the divi nation that provides the opportunity for the training is that clear because it’s really important so if you wanted to train your attention to sit and stay and you figure out that you’re really good at focusing when you’re sitting in a hot tub with a glass of chardonnay I’m going to recommend that that’s not the best place to train your puppy mind because if it’s easy the training opportunities doesn’t exist important so if you’re motoring along with some sort of meditation technique that is easy for you just to lock on it means that you need a more difficult technique because it is in that tendency to wander that tendency to deviate including the actual deviations that the opportunity for growth exists so celebrate and use please your deviations when the mind is uncooperative a lot of people say oh this is not a good time to meditate that’s the best time for you to train your brain to sit and stay now granted there are some times when it’s so wander II so out of control that it might not be the best time but waiting for the mind to be calm as the time to meditate is defeating meditations purpose as a growth exercise namely the growth at you taking back control of your attention and therefore you providing your brain with the raw materials that are going to lift you up as opposed to pulling you down that seems to be all I think but let me double-check nope there’s one more thing so first I’ll ask does the process make sense and maybe more importantly does the reason for the process make sense is it clear to you how your attention could be your biggest enemy or your biggest ally in you living the kind of life that you want right that’s really really invest them if nothing else tonight that’s the thing to walk away from this with because I will tell you I’ve been doing this for coming up on thirty years helping people with this technology of mind body stuff and there are an awful lot of people who are really really expert at the tools like how to do a yoga posture and how to do this meditation technique but their competency at the tools are somewhat divorced from what the tools are trying to accomplish and why it’s important to accomplish those and the understanding what we’re trying to accomplish specifically namely I’m trying to accomplish the control of my attention because the control of my attention is what feeds my brain and what feeds my brain is what creates the kinds of thoughts and feelings that I have understanding that chain is the most empowering thing so as long as we understand that and we do and I hear a hallelujah and if you’re not clear I’m gonna be here after and y’all know where to find me and then understanding how this simple practice of anapana and by the way breath doesn’t have in this case any superpower it could be a candle it could be a flower that you’re looking at it could be the sensations in your body could be your right knee it’s really just about focusing on one thing and one thing that’s kind of boring right because if it’s really interesting the mind doesn’t want to wander and there’s no opportunity there so understanding that principle is where we make our money combined with repetition daily practice doesn’t have to be huge 15-20 minutes every morning is enough and there is nobody honest but I’ve heard every excuse anybody can carve out 15 or 20 minutes if it’s important to you but I promise you that this practice done regularly will change everything it will put you in the driver’s seat of how you feel which changes how you relate to people it changes how you’re able to focus it changes how productive you are it changes everything there’s one of my teacher said this is the one thing that will take care of everything in your life if you really invest and that is all you

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