Photo Credit: Thomas Leth-Olsen. (CC 2.0)
In twenty-first century terms, we need only to boot-up our minds to participate in the psychic internet to which we are already connected, thus overcoming the delusion of separation. Each of the major religions has the same goal: to provide us with a way to know and experience God. The only difference lies in the instructions for accomplishing this knowing.
Millions of people throughout the world have found God through the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran. The formal doctrine taught by each religion can be viewed, without disrespect, as a kind of "sacramental software". The original intent of each religion was to offer us a sacrament or ritual to allow us to experience and talk with God. Think of it: For countless centuries we have been fighting holy wars over software!
When Ken Wilber writes of the various spiritual paths he says,
"They are not beliefs, not theories, not ideas, not theologies, and not doctrines. Rather they are vehicles; they are experiential practices. They are experiments to perform..." (From the foreword of Lex Hixon's book, Coming Home)
Money Does Not Buy Happiness
Here in Silicon Valley, by the shores of beautiful San Francisco Bay, we live in a world of technology and restaurants. Many residents of this wildly prosperous region focus desperately on money, bodies, and stuff. The tragedy of our prosperity is that while diverse opportunities for making money are everywhere, making, giving, and receiving love often receive a lower priority -- the proliferation of personal ads not withstanding. In the economic downturn of the 1980s, many high-flying men and women lost their condos and were forced to sleep in their BMWs.
In the last large project I, Russell, worked on as an aerospace scientist, my group was given a billion dollars to install a very powerful laser on a Boeing 747 aircraft to shoot down scud missiles. This project employed locally about one hundred scientists and engineers who worked together in profound disharmony and disrespect. On one occasion a colleague told me, "There was so much fear at that meeting, you could smell it when you walked into the room." My particular motivation for writing this book is to help my brothers and sisters in aerospace to find a way to choose again -- to choose gratitude for our fine lives instead of fear.
People are afraid of missing deadlines, exceeding budgets, failing to meet impossible technical requirements, reaching career dead-ends, or losing their jobs. All of these concerns derive from a feeling of scarcity. In Silicon Valley, people are much more frightened of poverty than of death or illness. At one point in my life, I was in such a crisis of meaninglessness and desperation, I was purposely riding my motorcycle without a helmet, with the idea that if I were killed it wouldn't be my fault. I eventually realized that living in a wheelchair with a fractured skull would not greatly improve my life prospects.
Nothing Will Ever "Make Me" Happy
We are worried about a myriad of problems: paying our mortgages, scraping together college tuition, finding a mate, and whether Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers will be able to play the next game. As an active member of society, it's very hard to know where to focus my attention to find peace. I am sad to discover that I can't find it in my morning New York Times.
I have learned from decades of pain amidst plenty that nothing will ever make me happy. Happiness cannot be found or achieved. It is a process, and a self-determined state of mind. The thrilling, happy event I've longed for, when it finally occurs, is over in an instant. Then I return to my previous state of mind -- whatever it was.
Statements and thoughts that begin, "I will finally be happy, when. . . " are simply false. For instance, amazingly, more lives are ruined than saved by winning the lottery. Divorce and bankruptcy are far more common a result than bliss or financial freedom. This may explain, as professor of religion Robert Thurman has suggested, the growing number of celebrity Buddhists, who have realized that their ultimate goals of fame and wealth did not bring happiness.
What Are the True Sources of Happiness?
In his groundbreaking book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed thousands of individuals about their inner-life experience. From these data, he describes people's sources of happiness:
What I "discovered" was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune, or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but rather on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience, will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us come to being happy.
Philosopher and teacher Andrew Cohen also writes about the search for peace of mind. "Unless the individual is abiding at least 51 percent in that state of not knowing [surrendering] the mind," he writes, "it will be impossible to affect any degree of perfection, which is the true expression of the ultimate source of being..." In other words, science and analysis are not always the answer.
Many schools of psychoanalysis teach that it is useless for the astute therapist to describe a patient's problem to him or her. The patient must experience it. This is very hard for the rational mind to understand. We have to experience the answer at the non-analytic, visionary, or somatic level of awareness, because that's where the problem resides.
The Choice Between Desperation and "Love and Connectedness"
One main problem with many churches and synagogues today is that everyone is comfortable talking about God but the silence becomes unbearable when we are asked to experience God. The experience of God is ineffable and silent. With the increasing desire for a spiritual life throughout America, the awareness is dawning that it requires both facing our discomfort with stillness and being willing to change.
Many people, even scientists, are recognizing that if we perpetually focus our lives on externals, on acquiring things in the future, such as money, possessions, sex, or even death, the result will inevitably be some assortment of desperation, anger, resentment, and fear. Spending 100 percent of your time thinking about money, bodies, and stuff will definitely lead to desperation. And spending 100 percent of your time experiencing love and connectedness, will likely lead to blissfully floating off the material plane, perhaps because you have forgotten to eat.
I am not foolishly knocking sexuality -- quite the contrary. Of course, it nourishes the body, mind, and spirit. We are concerned that the materialistic and possessive focus so prevalent in the media, in the locker room, and in ordinary conversation frequently leads to trivialization, pain, and grief.
Changing My Mind: From Fear to Gratitude
It takes very little to move your focus from fear to gratitude - and you get to choose! The most important step a person can take is from fear toward gratitude. The gratitude is for grace: the unearned gifts from God, or the Universe, that make our lives healthier and more abundant than almost any other place or time in the history of the world.
I realized that even if my focus is on gratitude for a few moments of the day, I still can spend the other half of my time worrying, analyzing, and resenting. It's not necessary to give up a discerning mind to achieve peace and meaning in life. It seems like a small step, but it had the power to effect great change in my attention, and therefore, in my experience. The most interesting thing about this step is that I didn't have to do anything. I just had to change my mind.
For example, when awakening every morning, I have the choice of what mental program to run. I can start the day thinking about bills to pay and jobs to finish, or I can open my eyes and give thanks that I am here for another day, that I enjoy reasonably good health, and that I live in a peaceful community. I had nothing to do with my good fortune to be born in a relatively peaceful country, for example, so being grateful is probably most appropriate.
Now, whom should I thank? For some, there is no question: you thank God. For me, the anthropomorphic view of God is not an entirely helpful answer. The Buddhist would thank his karma, the law of cause and effect, which sounds very much like Einstein's "organizing principle of the universe". Others may thank the universe, or the God of love, described by the mystics of all ages. This latter is the manifestation of God that is most easily experienced. Upon awakening in the morning, I can choose: "Life's a bitch and then I die" or "Thank you God, for another day of infinite possibilities". Another difficult decision!
Life's Principal Concerns: Peace, Love, Gratitude, Community
One way to move from fear to gratitude is to consciously cultivate some ritual to help quiet our mental chatter. Such a path might help us experience the unrestrained friendliness the Buddha said flowed easily from a relaxed mind, and to become aware of our true nature, which is unrestrained consciousness.
The Buddha taught a prayer that accomplishes all these things. It's called the metta prayer, or prayer of loving kindness. Even a skeptical scientist can be comfortable with this 2,500-year-old prayer, because it doesn't require one to believe anything. This brief prayer might also appeal to scientists because of its remarkable efficiency. It addresses in five short lines many of life's principal concerns: peace, love, gratitude, and community.
May I be in peace.
May my heart remain open.
May I awaken to the light which is my true nature.
May I be healed.
May I be a source of healing for all beings.
May I be in peace. We can't have peace; our challenge is to learn to be peace.
May my heart remain open. This prayer recognizes that our hearts are already open to give and receive love. To reside in this peaceful state it is essential to know how to move out of the separation we tend to foster to assert our beloved individuality and control.
May I awaken to the light of my true nature. Our true nature is love. The universe is filled with consciousness, which animates and inspires each of us, and which we express with our caring attention.
May I be healed. The first step toward healing is to recognize that forgiveness clears our mind space of old animosities.
May I be a source of healing for all beings. In our non-local world, if each of us is a center of loving kindness, we can help to heal all beings, or at least those around us, by moving ourselves from resentment to respect.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library.
The Heart of the Mind: Using Our Mind to Transform Our Consciousness
by Jane Katra and Russell Targ.
About The Authors
JANE KATRA, Ph.D. has been a practicing spiritual healer for twenty-five years. She holds a doctorate in health education and has taught nutrition and health classes at the University of Oregon. Dr. Katra currently works part-time as an "immune-system coach", while writing and participating in consciousness research. She is the author, with Russell Targ, of Miracles of Mind: Exploring Nonlocal Consciousness and Spiritual Healing.
RUSSELL TARG was a pioneer in the development of the laser and cofounder of the Stanford Research Institute's investigation into psychic ability in the 1970s and 1980s. His books include Mind Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Abilities and The Mind Race: Understanding and Using Psychic Abilities. A retired senior staff scientist for Lockheed Missile and Space, he now pursues ESP research at Interval Research Corporation, in Palo Alto, California. Visit the authors' website at www.espresearch.com.