Happy New Year!
New years signal new beginnings. Developing new awareness for our engagement with life is the theme of this third installment to my series “The Anatomy of Peace.” I will return to my short post format next week.
New Year’s resolutions are popular, but they don’t work for me.
Probably because they never make it to Easter.
There are things I would like to change. The problem is, behaviors are a lifetime in the making. Resolving to change those behaviors generally doesn’t stand a chance.
Meaningful change requires that we first see the world through “new eyes.”
I would never pull the same pranks today as I did when I was a teenager! I see the world differenty as an elder.
This post is about learning to see with new eyes.
If you missed the Introduction, Part 1, and Part 2, of The Anatomy of Peace” series, they can be found here: https://tim-coats.com/the-anatomy-of-peace/
Part 3, Energy, Connection, and “Being”
“Two Wolves” is a Cherokee legend, also known as “The Grandfather Story.”
It goes something like this:
One evening a grandfather told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
“In life,” the grandfather says, “there are two wolves inside of us which are always at battle. One is a good wolf representing things like kindness, bravery, and love. The other is a bad wolf, representing greed, hatred, and fear”.
The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second, then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”
The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”
We’re told we have the power to choose our attitude. That may be so.
More often, attitudes and emotions follow the ruts we’re already in.
Wouldn’t it be nice to feed happiness and joy instead of stress, anxiety and despair?
It’s not that easy.
Emotions aren’t fed by the part of our brain that adds two plus two and gets four. They arise from a deeper place that triggers feelings we often don’t choose, for reasons we don’t understand.
Emotions arise from a mysterious combination of genes and life experiences that carve out neural pathways deep in our brain.. If we could control these pathways, we could produce happiness on demand. But we can’t! Joy is not a product of logical thought.
But we aren’t helpless. Emotions originate in awareness, another word for the energy we give and recieve in life.
Every sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell was enabled by a sensory connection. Our survival depends on recognizing patterns in these connections. Once patterns associated with safety, danger, pain, and pleasure are locked in, logical thought isn’t necessary; we recognize danger and react without thinking!
If pathways pre-program our response, how do we find joy during times of difficulty?
The answer lies in the very nature of awareness. If we learn to train awareness, we have an opportunity to create new pathways. This post explores the dynamics of such training.
To begin, it will be helpful to better understand how the energy of awareness plays out in our lives.
We give energy to awareness in every moment of our lives.
Like the wolves, the awareness we feed, more than any particular circumstance, determines the joy we experience. This awareness can be divided into two categories; the first involves ourselves. I call this behavioral awareness. The second involves others. I refer to this as relational awareness.
There are three primary Behavioral Awarenesses:
Ego…Awareness focused on self. Keywords: Thought/Self/Insular
Flow…Awareness directed to an activity. Keywords: Doing/Focused/Absorbed
Presence…Awareness focused on awareness itself. Keywords: Witnessing/Conscious/Awake
There are also three primary Relational Awarenesses:
Resonance…Being present to relationships around us. Keywords: Sensing/Relating/Tuned-In
Radiance…The energy we transmit to others. Keywords: Sharing/Emitting/Giving
Love…Reciprocally shared Resonance and Radiance. Keywords: Mutuality/Union/We
Let’s review each of them:
Ego is energized by thought. “Self” is the point of reference. Ego is not a character flaw. Instead, it’s a context. All thought is ego-centric as it arises from experience, and “Self” is the context for experience. As adults, much of our awareness is dedicated to thought. As such, we are naturally ego-centric.
Ego is like gravity; it draws energy inward. We sometimes hear the term ego-blind, which is an apt description. When consumed in thought, we are blind to what is happening around us.
I referenced Flow earlier in this series. It is an energy of complete absorption. The psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, explained the concept of Flow in his pioneering study of happiness. His findings were published in his 1990 book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.”
A person in “Flow” devotes every ounce of their conscious energy to the task at hand. Think of an artist, musician, or absent-minded scientist who leaves home forgetting to put pants on. When we are in Flow, hours pass like minutes.
“Flow” has been described as a peak experience because in “Flow,” we aren’t distracted by thoughts or concerns. It is utterly relaxing! In “Flow,” psychic energy is released by “doing.”
“Presence” was covered at length in Parts 1 & 2 of this series. When “Present,” personal energy is placed directly in the moment. As in “Flow,” there is an absence of thought, except in “Presence,” energy is not devoted to doing. Instead, we focus on witnessing the moment. This is the energy enacted in mindfulness.
Now we come to an awareness energy not previously discussed. Resonance emerges from the foundation of “Presence.” When present, our receptivity to the world increases. Resonance is like diving into a deep pool and experiencing life “below the surface.” An example will help to explain this.
If I strike an E note on the piano at home in our living room, the E string on my nearby guitar begins to vibrate. To be fair, I can’t hear the guitar string, but if I touch it, I can feel its vibration.
The same thing happens in life!
When present, we find that energies outside us resonate within us. The Beach Boys called it “Good Vibrations!”
Resonance is often subtle as it is only experienced in direct relation to our “Presence.” Our cabin in NW Wisconsin is just a little red house next to a lake. Yet, I deeply resonate with this piece of heaven!
Everything contains energy. As we become “present,” we find that we “tune in” to the faint radio signals of life that we miss when consumed in thought.
Resonance is an active response to the unity of existence. The more “present” we become, the greater unity we experience.
As we move deeper into relational awareness, energies become increasingly subtle.
Resonance is the reception of energies beyond us; Radiance is the energy released from us. Radiance is the radioactive essence of our “Being.” An example will help clarify this.
Have you ever known someone so charismatic that you felt a strong connection when they entered the room? This can happen with people we barely know.
Years ago, we attended a church that was lucky to have a charismatic minister. We didn’t attend the church for very long, and I never had the chance to get to know Gordon on a personal level. And yet, as soon as he entered the room, I felt his energy. His mere glance in my direction made me feel better.
I marveled at Gordon’s charisma. Others felt the same way. Gordon energized everyone. He was radioactive!
According to Shawn Mullins, “We were born to shimmer, born to shine.” While Gordon was an extreme example, we are all “radioactive.”
Love is the mutual exchange of Resonance and Radiance. Three entities are involved in all instances of love; borrowing lyrics from The Avett Brothers, there is “I and Love and You.” The I and You are obvious. The third entity, Love, binds “Self” and “Other” together. This is what the philosopher, Ken Wilber, describes as “The miracle of we.” It is mysterious, full of meaning, and utterly indescribable.
In the Christian religion, the concept of union manifests in the Trinity; The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Fr. Richard Rohr calls it “The Divine Dance.”
As a young child going through confirmation, I remember asking our minister about The Trinity. I couldn’t figure out how the Holy Spirit could be contained simultaneously in both The Father and The Son. Our minister was a kind elderly gentleman who gave an honest but unhelpful answer. He said, “Tim, I am afraid that is beyond all understanding.”
As an elder approaching my 8th decade of life, I’ve come to appreciate that union transcends definition. Some things are beyond knowing. We become aware of them only through direct experience.
Allow me to conclude this section by stating that energy is implicit in “Being.” It is revealed in awareness and felt in accordance with our “Presence.” As we become familiar with “Presence,” Resonance increases, carving out new pathways that impact our emotional state.
“Presence,” rather than circumstance, defines life experience.
Now that we’ve seen how energy manifests in awareness let’s go deeper into how awareness impacts joy.
The first challenge is to become aware of where our behavioral energy is placed and bring it into balance.
The word emotion derives from the Latin word emotere, which means “energy in motion.”
Ego involves the inward movement of energy, and “Flow” involves the outward movement of energy.
When energy is devoted to ego-centric thought, we confine ourselves to previously established emotional neuro pathways. At times this triggers sadness or even depression. In a very real sense, we can be imprisoned by our thoughts.
On the opposite end of the behavioral energy spectrum is Flow. Flow is relaxing because it relieves us from thought-produced anxieties. Flow brings temporary relief but fails to address the underlying issue, which is our habitual response. Going to the gym, playing a musical instrument, or watching a movie provides an escape, but eventually, the movie ends, we finish our workout, or put the musical instrument away and return to “Self.”
“Presence” is the balancing point between the behavioral states of Ego and Flow. In Presence, we quiet our busy mind and simply observe. Presence restores psychic equilibrium enabling us to broaden awareness. This is the beginning step to building new pathways that rewire our emotional brain. This is illustrated in the diagram below:
Mindfulness is beneficial because it brings us to a Presence, which opens awareness creating new emotional pathways that lead to a new way of “Being.”
Fortunately, we don’t have to sit on a meditation cushion for twenty minutes to begin to reap the benefits of Presence. When troubled by thoughts, we can simply hit the “STOP” button, switching off the movies in our mind and returning awareness to the present moment.
Hitting the mental STOP button isn’t easy. Things happen that weigh on our minds. We are hardwired to continually touch and reopen old wounds by replaying them in our head. The effective use of STOP requires practice.
In my practice, I first hit STOP, then direct my awareness to a witnessing presence, even if only for a few moments. This has a significant impact on my emotional state. The benefits of this practice are further enhanced when STOP is complimented with traditional mindfulness.
It’s ok if you choose not to practice mindfulness. Consider the STOP button as an introduction to Presence. After hitting STOP, take three or four deep cleansing breathes. Practice this for a month, and see what happens.
In Part Two of this series, I claimed that Presence is the doorway to awareness. Let’s cover that next.
When Present, we witness relationships that were previously hidden from view. As Presence becomes increasingly natural, we notice new Resonance in life. For instance, instead of charging ahead distracted in thought on a three-mile trail run, we may notice a salamander scurry underneath a fern.
Everything in this world is connected. We experience Resonance in accordance with our degree of Presence to these connections.
Behind the scene, Resonance creates new pathways that rewire our emotional brain. I previously shared a personal example that’s worth repeating.
I am naturally wired to be task-oriented and impatient. I get irritated when things get in my way. Unexpected traffic drives me crazy.
One day after a mindfulness session, I turned on to the entrance ramp to Highway 169 near our home and found traffic at a dead stop. I had a meeting with our company’s CEO in twenty minutes. The traffic would make me late. Normally I would’ve gone crazy, but on this particular morning, in the afterglow of Presence, my very first thought was, “I hope someone isn’t hurt!” This thought was completely involuntary and sadly out of character. I attribute it to the practice of Presence, which rewired neuro pathways in my brain, creating a new way of “Being.”
Resonance is only half of the story.
Each of us exudes an energetic force field that acts on the people around us. This is Radiance. Radiance from an ego-centric person is entirely different from the Radiance of a resonant individual. New giving and new receiving invite new “Being” that changes not only the trajectory of our lives but also the lives of those around us.
Love, the ultimate exchange of energies, manifests in mutual Resonance and Radiance. When in Love, two individuals completely Resonate and Radiate with each other producing a dynamic equilibrium of giving and receiving. (See Diagram Below)
This post is getting long, so I’ll bring it to a conclusion.
Our lives contain a multiplicity of energy states. Personal energy is constantly in motion, flowing inwardly and outwardly. The key is to become aware of this energy and bring it into balance.
Too much ego traps energy inside, ultimately resulting in emotional outbursts.
Too little ego and we lose confidence and a sense of “Self” worth.
Like breathing, balancing personal energy is critical.
Breath in,… pause,… breath out.
Become aware,… pause in Presence,…. let go of “Self.”
The anatomy of peace is a question of balance.
The diagrams above illustrate the importance of balancing energy flow and provide a clue for curing our “dis-ease.”
I once read a book written by a master of Presence. He claimed that wisdom need not be sought. Instead, wisdom ensues from the repeated practice of Presence. This seemed like an outrageous claim until I experienced its truth.
Understanding occurs in the logic centers of the brain. Wisdom originates in the deeper relational centers of the brain. Wisdom arises from awareness of relationships rather than knowledge of facts.
When disturbed, we usually point to an unfavorable circumstance as the cause. This is logical. Things happen that upset us. However, if we can “stand back” from a particular situation as a witness, we find that what really upsets us is dwelling on the undesirable event in our thoughts.
I will close with a final example:
Most of us don’t understand the energy balance in our automobiles. When something gets out of balance (breaks down), we take the car to a mechanic. Once in the shop, the auto mechanic may discover that our brake pads are worn. Installing new brake pads restores the equilibrium between the rotors and calipers of the braking system, allowing us to apply the brakes and stop the car without any grinding noises.
What can we do when we are out of balance?
“Presence” is our “auto-mechanic.” When “present,” we simply witness our situation and response, not as an actor in a scene but as a director watching the scene. As we do this, it becomes clear that thoughts disturb our equilibrium. The solution to our dis-ease arises naturally in “Presence.”
Presence takes practice. If we are faithful in our practice, we find new Resonance in life, and others experience new Radiance from us.
Practices to accomplish greater “presence” are explained in my series titled “Silent Fitness,” found here: https://tim-coats.com/silent-fitness-2/
I close with a quote from Maria Popova expanding on a Walt Whitman poem from “Leaves of Grass:”
The secret of being is to “do nothing but listen,” so that the song of life—-which is the song of love—- may be heard.
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Link to previous weekly posts: https://tim-coats.com/posting-briefs/