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The power of remaining calm

Calm among the chaos

As details continue to surface surrounding the rescue of the 12 young soccer players and their coach from miles deep within a set of interlocking waterways flowing between the jagged rocks of sea caves, we are learning that among other amazing aspects of this story, meditation likely played a key role in their more-than-a-fortnight’s survival under what were extremely perilous and life-threatening conditions.

This group having found themselves trapped miles away from their original entrance into the caves, it would be more than a week before anyone would locate them and provide food.  And it would be another several days before the first of three sets of rescues could be made, eventually bringing all the boys and their coach to safety — out from the deep darkness and into the light above.

The cave divers and the meditating monk

The flood waters and threat of the impending monsoon season had kept them held captive as a group, huddled atop a small ledge above the water line, with little air and little food or other basic life-sustaining necessities.  What they did have, was their Buddhist monk-trained coach who, it has been reported, led them through an ongoing practice of meditation. Meditation helped to calm their nervous systems and likely served to focus them on the possibilities of sustaining life rather than on the dread of extreme suffering or even possible death.  It allowed them to reserve and extend their precious, seemingly limited resources.

They had each other.  They had meditation.  And they had an unending access to a depth of another kind – that of spiritual sustenance.

None of this is to say, of course, that without the unparalleled coordination and carefully orchestrated efforts of the expert cave divers and other rescue volunteers and medical personnel, this group would have made it out safely.  All the individuals involved with their rescue (including one former Thai navy Seal who lost his life) are due a profound debt of gratitude, respect, and honor.  It’s beautiful to see all this humanity working together.  It is also, however, to acknowledge that more than physics, technology, and biology were at work here.  As the monk’s training and meditation exemplify, it was heart, mind and soul over matter. And it all mattered.

Hearing their story reminded me of the quotation from Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. In describing the importance of maintaining a strong inner strength while being held captive in the concentration camps during World War II, he said that in spite of the severe, primitive conditions, those who survived the best were the ones who “were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.” (Page 36, emphasis added).

Thankful for inner calm

One time while swimming in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California as a teenager, I found myself facing a near-death experience.  Thankfully, the experience was quick and I emerged without any dire consequences. But, after swimming out in the ocean away from the beach, I was suddenly wrapped up in a set of cross-currents, and was being pummeled around under water pretty forcefully.  I recall thinking that eventually I was going to run out of air, and saying to myself:  “If it’s my time to die, this may be it.”

I thank in part my ability to remain calm and clear-headed.  Instinctively, I (or my body, rather?) knew to preserve my breath and my strength while submerged in open water. I was fairly confident in that moment, that I could probably make it back to shore, if I could only determine which way was “up.” I released any resistance to the oncoming series of waves, and surrendered as eventually a big curling wave scooped me up and carried me up to the surface. If I had allowed myself to panic, at best I risked flailing around wasting precious breath; and at worst, I risked swimming in the completely wrong direction, going deeper and away from the surface rather than popping back up to the top and catching a fresh breath of air.

My experience, although potentially dangerous, was nonetheless brief. The extended period of time that the young soccer players and their coach faced deep within that set of sea caves, however, and their ability to remain that calm for that long, is nothing less than awe inspiring.  It will be so illuminating to learn more about them as they fully recover in the days and weeks to come.

For your consideration:

If and when our conditions are suddenly such that we are stripped down to the barest of elements and a matter of basic survival, priorities become abundantly apparent.  Choices to be made are brought into sharp focus.  In those moments, it helps, I would say, to have a deeply contemplative practice already in place.

Okay, your turn:

When have you found yourself in a turbulent situation, and one where maintaining a sense of calm ended up serving you well?  Has there been any other time you didn’t remain calm and wish that you had?

I invite you to SHARE your thoughts, feelings, and experiences by leaving a Reply in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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The honoring of union and unity: Are you in?

Oneness

Union and unity

or, at least the potential of it

exists

within ourselves

and with and among each other

and with the Divine.

We are more alike than we are different.

We are all made of the same ‘stuff,’ the same stuff as the stuff of the earth and the stars.

 

As we hear spoken at Mass on Ash Wednesday, from the Old Testament:

From dust we came and to dust we shall return.  (Genesis 3:19)

And, as set forth in the New Testament, we are reminded that:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. (Mark 3:25)

 

Also, as Americans we’ve often heard repeated this pre-revolutionary war era rallying cry:

United we stand; divided we fall. (“The Liberty Song,” by John Dickinson (1768))

 

Each of us has this one life to live – staying true to ourselves and our convictions, and with our own sense of right and wrong – while also living as members of our increasingly globalized society.

So, why do we so often seem to be hell-bent on finding ways to emphasize our differences in such a way that, rather than uplifting each other, threatens to cut each other down, and keep us separated?  Why must we do so in ways that are disrespectful and even dare I say dehumanizing?

To do so, is to forget an important spiritual principle, as so eloquently set forth in Yogi Bhajan’s First Sutra of the Aquarian Age:

Recognize that the other person is you.

I have this sutra, included in the list of all five sutras, posted on a wall right next to my bathroom mirror.  It reminds me of the mirror, if you will, that each of us is of each other and for each other.  (For more on this First Sutra, go here.)

How We Express Ourselves To One Another

On social media, I find it challenging.  I may not always, and may not ever, truly get it ‘right.’  I do approach it with the intention, however, of striking some sort of proportionate distribution among: raising awareness and shining a light on issues that matter to me in this world, and doing so without inflicting harm, shame or blame on another – especially on anyone in the private sphere.  Elected and appointed officials, in my opinion, are subject to a bit more scrutiny, although there too I do my best to raise awareness, clarify facts, and share my point of view in a way that’s not focused on shaming the person on a purely personal level.

For the most part, I look for examples of what I’d like to “see more of” in the world.  By contrast, I suppose that in so doing, I’m also pointing out what I’d like to see “less of” in the world – and yet, why give extra mileage to those things, is my thinking?  Haven’t those negative things already gained more than enough traction?

Sometimes, by design, I take a moment to reflect, and refrain from posting anything at all. It’s not that I don’t care.  Sometimes, I feel maybe I care too much?  Is there such a thing as caring too much?  I don’t know, really.  I do know that often there is much more to be learned from listening than from telling, and certainly more to be gained by showing compassion rather than by “making a point” in a way that’s browbeating and berating to another.

As I write this, I’m reminded of the proverb: There but for the grace of God, go I.

We never fully know what another person’s experience or conditions may be.  We can only hope to heed even but the briefest moments and garner but the slightest glimpses of understanding.  What would we do if we were in their particular situation or living within their particular circumstances?  What if the roles were reversed?  I am not suggesting that I have it all figured out.  I do know, though, that at least I’m trying to be conscientious and expressing myself with a certain level of decency while also maintaining my sense of advocacy on behalf of those values and ideals I hold most dearly. It’s an ongoing, day-by-day, invocation.

For your consideration:

With friends, colleagues, and even strangers, can we aim to be more compassionate, and less quick to dehumanize?  Have social media “won” the game — in terms of reducing us to online bullies and to showing up as web-based wielding knife-throwers? Can we change the rules of the game?  I say we can.

Are we up for raising the level of discourse? I’m game! Are you in?

Okay, your turn:

Where do you feel we’ve gone astray with regard to how we treat one another, and why? How can we improve our discourse? From a loving place, and not from a place of vindictiveness, harshness, or shame or blame, are there any examples you’d like to share?

I invite you to SHARE your thoughts, feelings, and experiences by leaving a Reply in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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The wisdom of the sages

There’s sage and then there’s sage !

Sage, as we know, is a type of herb. The sage plant has been used by a number of cultures for thousands of years.  It has been used in Chinese medicine.  It has been used by Native Americans in various ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. Some have even suggested that it leads to immortality!

In China, sage tea has been called the “thinker’s tea.” Along with its anti-inflammatory properties, it has been known to help improve memory and overall brain function.  Perhaps that is why the word “sage” also is used to describe a person who is wise.  It can also be used as an adjective (as in “sage advice”).

The title of this article is a deliberate play on words.  Sages and ages. They both connote a harkening back to ancient times as well as serve as a current example of ancient traditions put to good use in the so-called modern age.  Has there been a resurgence, or have these practices been put to good use all along?  Are we perhaps simply more aware of them now, due to the internet, globalization, and social media?

Sage has even become a somewhat trendy baby name, at least in the United States.  I wonder if it’s part of the ‘Apple’ craze?  (Referring to the celebrity’s baby’s name, not the computer company.)

We all remember being asked the question when we were young: What do you want to be when you grow up?  Me:  a philosopher.  I didn’t hear anyone around me saying that they wanted to be that.  It wasn’t exactly listed anywhere as a possible career track.  That didn’t matter to me.  If it was needed, and served a purpose, why couldn’t it be an occupation?

I wasn’t even exactly sure what all a job as a philosopher would entail. I knew in my heart, though, that it was a role that would be important and one that would be of service to others.  In my imagination, philosophers were the wisest people in their communities.  And, as such, they had a responsibility to answer seekers’ questions and provide helpful suggestions, recommendations, and solutions.

Sometimes we picture “wise ones” sitting on a mountain top, or living in caves in the Himalayas.  In my mind’s eye, I pictured them more along the lines of a wise man or wise woman in Ancient Greece sitting quietly in a town square, as the local villagers would stop by whenever they were seeking an answer to an inquiry or when wrestling with a concern that was weighing heavily on their soul, or when struggling with a conflict they couldn’t quite resolve.

I pictured philosophers dispensing wisdom not unlike a modern day pharmacist dispensing medicine.  And, I did truly envision “philosopher” as an actual vocation, and a paid position, for sure.  I even had a specific annual salary in mind.  I thought that a philosopher should make $300,000 a year.  Here was my reasoning:  At the time, the President of the United States’ annual salary was set at $200,000. Knowing that, accordingly, I figured that philosophers should be paid at least 50% more than the President, as they would be at least that much more wise and valuable to the country and citizenry!  Apparently, I really had put a lot of thought into this (grin).

While Philosopher or Sage may not be a job title, certainly there are modern day professions where others seek their guidance and advice.   Lawyers fall into that category (hence, the term “counselor at law”).  As with some other professions, within law, there are rules of professional responsibility.  It is part of the licensing process, and continuing legal education requirements as well.  And, as covered in this week’s Six-Minute Saturdays episode, many lawyers including myself were drawn to the law as a career because of a deep desire to be of service.

Admittedly, not all legal advice is the sagest or the wisest. I would suggest, though, that the profession is at least designed to serve that purpose, and with that intention.  And, ultimately, the client retains control over whether to heed that advice, ignore it, or even to seek additional opinions.

For your consideration:

So, with that in mind then, allow me to pose this question: Upon whom, ultimately, do we need to rely, for the sagest advice of all?

Are we not, each of us, deep down, our own best philosopher?  We simply need to access that inner wise sage.  That’s why meditation is important.  That’s why getting quiet and still is wise. By listening to our own inner guidance and messages, we each hold the power and divinity to reach the most appropriate conclusions and answers for ourselves.  And, that is valuable beyond compare.

Okay, your turn:

What’s been the sagest advice that you’ve ever received?  What’s the sagest advice that you’ve ever given? What’s the best advice that your inner-sage has revealed to you?  What made it so?  Did you act on it?

I invite you to SHARE your thoughts, feelings, and experiences by leaving a Reply in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2018 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.
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The Meaningfulness of Meaning: Living a Life Worthwhile

In this edition of Soul Notes, we explore the concept of meaning and what that constitutes in terms of a meaningful life.  In this article, I’ll make references to one of Viktor Frankl’s books, originally entitled From Death Camp to Existentialism, now more commonly known by the title: Man’s Search for Meaning.

A doctor of psychiatry, Viktor Frankl (Frankl) is the founder of the psychotherapeutic school of thought he named logotherapy.  In contrast to Sigmund Freud’s focus on human instincts and the human drive for pleasure, Frankl focused his work on man’s (humankind’s) quest for finding meaning in one’s life.

Part One of Man’s Search for Meaning documents Frankl’s personal experiences as an inmate in concentration camps during World War II.  In Part Two of the book, he elaborates on logotherapy and how his experiences in the camps provided the backdrop for himself to become in effect his own best patient.  Part Two includes examples of patients he treated outside of the camps along with scientific and statistical data to illustrate his points.

Prior to being captured, Frankl had already written the manuscript for his first book, The Doctor and the Soul.  He had tucked the manuscript into his coat before being forced onto the train for Auschwitz.  Once at the camp, he and all the other prisoners were stripped of their personal belongings.  Accordingly, the manuscript he had hidden in his coat was quickly confiscated.

Adding then to the already deep poignancy of Frankl’s observations made during the Holocaust, is the fact that he by necessity documented them all from memory.  He kept his mind sharp by reconstructing in his head the original manuscript of that first book that he would later rewrite and publish.  The only physical remnants of the original manuscript that he had been able to reconstruct while in the camps were in the form of key words and phrases that he would surreptitiously scribble on tiny scraps of paper.

Beyond the Physical:  Love, Spirituality, and A  Life Mission

Physically separated from his wife in the concentration camps, Frankl didn’t know if his wife was still alive.  It was in his mind’s eye that he would hold onto an image of her.  Just as through love he would cling to an image of his wife –- through a sense of commitment to his life’s work and overall life’s mission –- Frankl with devotion clung to the hope and intention of (re)writing his manuscript and publishing his psychological findings, all to the benefit of his profession and mental patients worldwide.

According to Frankl, love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. Love finds its deepest meaning in one’s spiritual being, within the inner self. He also said that even during his time in captivity, glimpses of nature, music, and humor helped him and others to survive.  They were grateful, he said, for the smallest of mercies.

Frankl further went on to contend that by devoting oneself to a cause to serve or another person to love, that the more human and actualized one becomes. In view of the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, he suggested then that life’s meaning even can be potentially unconditional.

If and when conditions get tough on the outside, spirituality can play an even more important role from the inside:

“In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, page 36, emphasis added).

In other words, the type of person each prisoner would become resulted more from that person’s mental and spiritual state, than purely his physical state.  Profoundly, Frankl maintained that one can decide to keep (and benefit from keeping) one’s human dignity, even in a concentration camp.

The Meaning in Suffering

Frankl was not suggesting that to have a meaningful life, one must suffer.  He did profess, however, that if there is meaning in life at all, there must certainly be meaning in suffering.  According to Frankl, those prisoners who discarded their inner morals, and who concluded that their lives were pointless, and thus “gave up” psychologically, were those who “forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, page 72).

The Importance of Having Faith in the Future and the Power of Personal Choice

Frankl also understood the importance of having faith in the future. Without a belief in a better future, he said, a prisoner was subject to losing his spiritual hold, and thereby made himself more susceptible to mental and physical decay at a much more fervent pace.

So, what to do?

We may not be able to change every situation that we face in life.  We can, however, change ourselves and our approach.

Through our attitudes, choices and decisions we make and the actions we take, we can rise to any challenge and accept the opportunity to infuse any situation with meaning, even the most difficult ones.  Meaning is possible with or without (although perhaps most strikingly during times of) suffering.

Our lives are lived in moments.  And every human being, as exemplified by Frankl, has the freedom to change themselves — and their experience of any situation in life — in an instant.

 “[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, page 66).

Each of us gets to decide what our existence will be in any given moment, and what we will become in the next moment.

That is true freedom.

Freedom Plus Reasonableness

Freedom alone, however, is not enough.  Frankl makes clear that freedom to choose must be combined with responsibleness.  Otherwise, as a race, the human race, we are destined for destruction. Every person has both potentialities within us – to be either a swine or saint, he said.  Which one is actualized, says Frankl, depends on the decisions we make, and not on the conditions we face.

So the beauty and the promise of Frankl’s work and legacy I would say is this:

Each of us has the challenge and the opportunity to bring with us the values of our past, make empowered choices and take responsible actions in the present, and thereby create futures of the highest value to humankind.

With that, we find meaning.

All is not lost.

Much is gained.

 

For your consideration:

What makes life meaningful? Can there be meaning in suffering?  Is suffering required?

Okay, your turn:

What has helped you bring a sense of meaning into your life?  Was suffering a part of it?

I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the Comments section, below. Soul-to-soul!

© 2017 Lori A. Noonan. All Rights Reserved.