Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Inspiration of Owls and other Nocturnal Sounds

This post is dedicated to an owl, for had it not been for this owl, this post would never have been written.

I sat outside Tuesday night nursing a beer, enjoying the soothing silence of the midnight hour. Within minutes I noticed the silhouette of something up at the top of the pine tree in front of me, with the moonlight slightly reflecting off of it, but didn't quite know what it was at first, until I heard its distinctive "hoo hoo".

Yes, it was an owl. Then I got the idea to mimic it, to call back to it in my very best Sagittarian Owl voice, but it was either too good, or not good enough, because it must have startled it and caused it to fly away. Yes, this is what I do. Drinking beer and hooing like an owl after midnight. Ha ha. No, I haven't fallen off the deep end yet, but I very well may end up living under a bridge. Don't you just love my melodrama? And my propensity for both exaggeration and self-deprecation? If I keep this up, I may have to look for work at the National Enquirer.

Okay, moving on, back to the story.

The owl had a pretty good size wing span, though I didn't see it well enough to identify what type of owl it was. But it reminded me of the dream I had last year of being hunted and eaten alive by a bird. It was either a hawk or an owl, though in my dream it was much bigger than myself. Either it was a giant bird, or I was a miniature person. Owls are cool, but I'd hate to be eaten by one.

Anyways, hearing this owl was pretty much the highlight of the night. I can count on one hand the number of owls I've ever seen in my life. So it was quite the momentous occasion. Set the mood for the entire night, to be one of sustained concentrated listening. Not to star gaze like I usually do, and not even to really be absorbed in thinking about anything at all, but to just focus entirely on whatever I could hear, zooming in on it and following each sound for as long as possible. The more you listen, the more you actually hear. Your hearing actually improves to some extent with focused awareness.

So I resume drinking my beer, ever more conscious of the sounds of the night. A few minutes later, I hear a rustling in the bushes just a few feet away from me. What could it be? There was definitely something out there, something big. I'm thinking, maybe it could be a dog, or something bigger, maybe a bear or a mountain lion. It turned out to be pack of wild javelinas, a family of five. Pretty cool to see an owl and some javelinas on the same night. Doesn't happen too often, actually it was a first.

I listened to the javelinas meander away into the darkness of the night, cutting through my neighbors yards. It was pretty quiet outside. After midnight is pretty much the only quiet time around here. The day is loud. Too loud. Constant air traffic. Air force jets. Commercial airliners. Flight for life helicopters. Military helicopters. Cargo planes. Automobile traffic. Construction equipment. Loud voices. Too damn loud for me. That's the price you pay for living next to a busy highway, near a busy shopping center, and under a busy flight path. It's noisy all day long.

Things could be worse though. At least the nights are quiet. That I am very thankful for...but I really do want to get out of here. I feel like a forlorn sailor stranded on a desert island in the middle of an endless sea of sand, and running out of water FAST. Maybe I should start buying lottery tickets, like all the other desperate fools. I've had my fill of Arizona. In fact I think I may have had my fill of America. And no I'm not anti-American...I'm pro-paradise. Still looking for my Shangri-La.

But where to go, where to go? How about another planet? Seriously. Or how about a different time period altogether. Sometime in the distant future where ignorance and suffering has become extinct. Where there is no more war. No more crime. No more idiocy. No more greed. No more dishonesty. No more mindless destruction. Where everyone is operating on a higher octave of consciousness, smarter, kinder, juster, happier, healthier, wiser, and existing for the sole purpose of mutual evolutionary advancement...enlightenment for all.

Enlightenment for all? How about enlightenment for one. Better than none. I don't know if it is even possible to enlighten anyone other than yourself. You can say the wisest possible words, but if a person isn't ready to receive them, it won't do them the least bit of good.

See my post: The Lonely Road to Enlightenment.

Part 2 - The Art of Listening.

Listening is a skill that can be improved with practice. Concentrated listening is a form of concentrated awareness, where you focus all your attention on listening. Over time exercising your listening skills will not only improve your hearing, it will also help you become more attentive overall.

There are two major types of sounds: verbalized sounds associated with human language, and non-verbalized sounds, which may either be natural or man-made. Consequently there are also two main types of listening associated with these two types of sounds, each utilizing a different hemisphere of the brain. One is verbal, the other non-verbal. One is more logical, the other more intuitive.

Listening to someone talking, is much different than listening to non-verbalized sounds, because with speech you are not just listening to sounds, you are also processing ideas, making sense of intellectual abstractions, are actively engaged in interpreting the symbolic meanings of language. There's a lot of work involved in that. It's also easier to be distracted by people talking. Personally I find it next to impossible to concentrate on reading in an environment with a lot of talking going on, but I can tune out non-verbalized noises much easier.

In other words, since words are associated with very specific ideas, whenever you are listening to someone speak, you are listening more so to ideas, than sounds.

Whereas I have found that listening to natural non-verbalized sounds are more melodic, less-distracting, and actually engage that part of the brain that helps stimulate intuition, the ability to know directly beyond words.

It is therapeutic to take a break from sounds associated with human speech. To spend some time outside listening deeply to the non-verbalized sounds of the earth. Leaves rustling. The wind howling. The rain pouring. Water dripping. Fire burning. The sounds of birds, insects, and other animals. The sounds of footsteps. Walking. Chewing. Scratching. Digging.

It's interesting listening to these things. To listen to these sounds with undivided attention. Concentrated listening. Focused listening. Sustained awareness. A meditation on listening. The quieter it is outside the more you will hear. The more time you spend actively listening, the better your listening skills will become.

Personally I find the midnight hour to be an extremely valuable time for listening. Because depending on where you live, it is usually the time of day when man-made sounds are at their quietest, making it much easier to focus on other sounds you may not ordinarily hear.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Exercise as a Moving Meditation

What exactly does that mean to say that exercise is like a moving meditation?

I suppose that would depend on what you mean by meditation, and the reasons why you are meditating. Whether you are seeking relaxation, improved concentration, enhanced creativity and cognition, clearer thinking, deeper awareness, and a more lucid understanding of yourself and the world you live in.

Those are actually all very good reasons for meditating AND exercising.

I like to do both, to sit still and to exercise, to relax and to think deeply upon things, and sometimes to just completely empty my mind and not think about anything at all, experiencing things directly. I like to do both but I have found that getting regular exercise actually enriches the experience of my sitting still time.

Exercise is comparable to giving your car or bicycle a tune-up, where you are prepping your body (mind, brain) for maximum efficiency and productivity.

Physical exercise stimulates blood flow to your brain, improves the efficiency of your oxygen intake, and releases natural endorphins into your bloodstream. The result being that not only is exercise good for your physical health, but by also making you feel better and your thinking clearer, it's also good for your mental health too.

In other words, if you exercise prior to engaging in some form of creative mental activity, such as reading, writing, or meditating, you will see an increase in productivity. At least I do, perhaps I can only speak for myself, but it is difficult for me to imagine this not being true of anyone else. Try it sometime. Make it into a science experiment. Write down your results. See if you notice an improvement.

I've done this several times myself, and I have noticed an improvement. Which is why I speak so highly of exercise, and truly believe it is like a wonder drug that everyone SHOULD liberally partake in.

Anyways, getting back to the original question of how physical exercise is like a moving meditation, I will expand upon that here.

Movement deepens awareness. Vigorous movement outdoors vigorously deepens awareness of the outdoors. Exercising, moving vigorously, running, lifting weights, makes me feel more alive. Being in movement makes me feel more alive and aware.

Think about it. What is the difference between life and death?

Things that are living are in movement, things that are dead are in stagnation, the only visible movement being disintegration, dust unto dust, until nothing visible remains. To be alive is to be in harmonic movement, a dance between your body and your mind, between body and the physical space you occupy. Self and the world. Body and Earth. Earth and Sky. Microcosm and macrocosm. Masculine and feminine. Creation and destruction.

To live is to maintain an equilibrium between the two opposing forces of creation and destruction. Equilibrium is not stationary, it is ever flowing, it is moving with the movement of the universe, dancing with it, like wind, like water, like fire, and the earth dancing through intergalactic space.

Exercise aligns you with this cosmic movement, to momentarily ride the wave of living through movement. Or something like that.

I've also noticed that exercise makes me more alert to my surroundings, where I see more, hear more, and feel more. Pumps me up. Makes life more energized.

If I sit too long I actually feel more sluggish and less aware of my surroundings.

This is why I call exercise a moving meditation, because not only is it simultaneously relaxing and energizing, it also helps deepen your awareness of your surroundings. At least this is true for me. I learn everything through trial and error. All advice I give has been acquired through direct observation by personal experience.

Stillness has its place too. Can't always be in movement. Need time to rest, to reflect, and to introspect. And yet, when is the mind not in movement? When is the breath not in movement? When is the heartbeat not in movement?

There is no stillness in life. Without movement, life ceases to exist.

If there is no absolute stillness in life, what do people mean when they speak of sitting in stillness and stilling the mind? It means to slow down, to relax and to become more aware, not to stop completely. When you stop completely, your body stops completely, and what happens then? You die.

Which is why it is during sleep that you are closer to a state of death than you will ever be so long as you are alive. Because death is more closely associated with stillness, and life with movement, exercising brings you closer to life.

So exercise already! No more excuses. Whether that means running in a circle, lifting some weights, or walking across the country, just do it! Get moving. You'll feel better, and you'll feel more alive, in a good way.

Then afterwards while sitting in stillness, contemplating the things you've learned, letting the insights pour forth freely like a vibrant energizing rain, you can joyously soak it all in.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Difference Between Solitude and Loneliness

Here's a great quote from The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt about the difference between solitude and loneliness:

"The lonely man finds himself surrounded by others with whom he cannot establish contact or to whose hostility he is exposed.

The solitary man, on the contrary, is alone and therefore "can be together with himself." In solitude, in other words, I am "by myself", together with my self, and therefore two-in-one, whereas in loneliness I am actually one, deserted by all others.

All thinking, strictly speaking, is done in solitude and is a dialogue of thought.

Solitude can became loneliness; this happens when all by myself I am deserted by my own self. Solitary men have always been in danger of loneliness, when they can no longer find the redeeming grace of companionship..."

To me this description in many ways parallels the differences between introversion and shyness. With introversion as an orientation of thinking more akin to solitude, and shyness more akin to loneliness. In that someone who is shy, may wish to be with others, but is afraid to reach out to them, and if ending up alone feels lonely; whereas an introvert being fully content with themselves, may selectively choose to be alone but without feeling lonely at all; with solitude being a positive experience of being alone, loneliness being a negative one.

I myself am a solitary person. Not a lonely person. I've never felt lonely before in my life. Not even as a little kid, when I was for awhile the new kid on the block who didn't have any friends. I've always felt perfectly at peace with myself, my greatest solace being nature and books. I've never felt completely alone because I've always felt a deep sense of companionship and connectedness with the earth and the sky and the greater universe.

If I were locked up in solitary confinement without a book or a window, that would be hell, but so long as I can be outside and see blue sky and stars and green grass and trees, and hear the sounds of nature and the sounds of birds singing, even by myself I wouldn't feel alone, wouldn't be lonely.

Of course that could all change in the blink of an eye, where solitude could easily digress into loneliness, where strength could be overtaken by weakness, where peace of mind could dissolve into misery...where if this connection to love is severed completely, all that would remain in its place is a feeling of separation, alienation, and isolation.

All it takes is a split second for your attitude to change completely, where your entire world could be turned upside down and inside out.

Attitude really is everything.

In order to never lose this feeling of connectedness, this "redeeming grace of companionship" with the world, it requires an attitude of openness and goodwill toward the whole world.

So that even in the absence of human companionship, you will never feel entirely alone, and even in the absence of housing or material possessions, you will never feel entirely homeless or deprived, but feel at home and among friends wherever you may be, even when alone you'll experience a peaceful solitude without loneliness.