Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The glass is already broken

Columnist discusses thoughts on letting go

Mark Epstein tells a story about a Zen master who holds up a glass knowing it's already broken. He enjoys the glass, drinks from it, sees it reflect the sun in different patterns and taps it to make a nice sound. But when it breaks and he understands the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

No one can deny that Americans have a hard time letting go, and it costs us. We fill up our houses, then storage units, and insure our stuff in case it's broken or stolen. This physical stuff throws us off balance, weighs on our psyches and manifests in insomnia, obesity, stress, sickness, disconnection or all of the above.

Prescription drugs will cure us of the stress of ownership we're told, and commercials are filled with images of life with pills. Wearing white clothes, we'll float on butterflies out of our bedroom windows as we fall asleep with Melatonin. Armed with Viagara we'll take sunny boat rides to private island cabanas with dream partners, found on match.com.

Beside taking a pill to chill, we're told the cure for our consumer hangovers is more consuming and dumping, which isn't working according to Annie Leonard, who produced "Story of Stuff." She writes about the effects of consumerism saying her "goal is to make the invisible visible and have people think more comprehensively about life."

Taking a more holistic approach to understanding our need to buy things and hold on to them reveals that we already have what we need - we just can't see it under all the garbage. Since all action originates in the invisible world of thought, the logical place to begin a cleansing of the material world is in the mind.


Right now, 4 million pounds of space debris is orbiting the Earth, threatening satellites, communication and the lives of our astronauts. Our minds also have ominous debris floating around. Eighties song refrains, Smurf snippits, car accidents, vacations, fear of bungee jumping, traumatic memories, faces and places swirl in my head threatening to crash and re-surface during a board meeting.

While memories are important, certain ones can keep us attached to unhealthy emotions and energy from our past, so we need to let them go.

Some say the first step is to take an inventory. Through meditation we can observe our thoughts then acknowledge and release them, freeing ourselves to move forward to our full potential.

Sitting quietly as an impartial observer during meditation allows one to watch thoughts arise and pass away without interference. A first meditation session might go something like this. "OK, I am observing my mind, sitting quietly ... wow, I need to vacuum under the couch ... OK, I'm observing my thoughts ... my feet are cold ... focus, focus ... did I get Aunt Lola a birthday present? ... where is the vacuum? ... do I smell mold? Is that rain I hear?"

OK, there's no denying meditating is hard, but with practice I'm told it gets easier.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a 37-year-old Harvard-educated brain surgeon, wrote a book called "A Stroke of Insight" - after she had a stroke that silenced her left hemisphere, the source of all this brain chatter. She discovered that the right hemisphere is complete bliss without language and other analytical skills. She describes it as Nirvana. Accessing it can improve quality of life.

The closest I ever came to Nirvana came from a surprising source - a gong. One sunny afternoon in Venice Beach, Calif., a healer named Laura played a gi-normous Zlidjian gong for my friends and I for about an hour.

Lying comfortably on a rug, my monkey mind jumped all over the place while she struck the gong. After a while my mind quieted, and I floated into a prescription drug commercial. Clouds were moving in fast forward, swirling in front of spectacular blue skies, I flew over large deserts and oceans, catching glimpses of my yoga instructors in warrior poses on breathtaking cliffs.

I was hooked. After buying my own gong, I begged people to gong for me while I took a quick trip to Nirvana. No one could gong more than 10 minutes before they grew bored and started talking. Now my Nirvana vessel is sitting dusty on my piano. Guess I'll settle by watching a music video.

As Folk Festival wraps up today, we've had a week of right-brain-filled moments. Guy Davis took us away to a happy place filled with chocolate kisses from the chocolate man and then brought us to our feet in standing ovation. We were united in our love of great music; these are priceless moments that can't be bought.

So stop worrying about your physical stuff. The glass is already broken, the shirt is already stained, the house has already burned down, your car is already wrecked. Just enjoy what you have, and if you like to strike a gong, please contact me.

• Courtney Nelson is a Juneau resident. She can be reached at nelsonfamily@acsalaska.net">nelsonfamily@acsalaska.net.

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