WEEK 1: Connect with Nature

“… I love the first part of the last part of the day, when things begin to close.”       Jon Troast

I have to admit that when I saw “Connect With Nature” was going to be the first way for me to start raising my consciousness, I was thrilled. I am very lucky to live in a place that is steps away from a beautiful land preserve, so walking in the woods has been a big part of my life. Or rather, was a big part until our dog became too old to go with me anymore. Sadly, I have found in the last few months that I rarely take the time to venture down there on my own very often…so I was excited that this would be just the incentive I needed to get me back out there.

But then I started thinking about my Project Guidelines (#2 to be precise which is to ‘Push my Limits’), and worried that because walking in the woods was such an easy thing for me to do that perhaps it wasn’t really enough for me to gain any real new insights. And since insight is what I’m after here, I decided to give it a little more thought.

I recently listened to a cd by Gregg Braden, a scientist turned author, who is trying to bridge the gap between science and spirituality. I will probably talk about him a lot over the span of this project because I think he makes so much sense. Anyway, in the cd, Speaking the Lost Language of God, Gregg talks about a belief of the ancient indigenous people which struck me as something quite beautiful:

“…they believed that the moment when the sun goes down is the most powerful time of the day. It reveals a crack between the worlds, the space in-between, and in that moment, when it’s neither night nor day, we have the power to choose what will happen tomorrow, as well as give thanks for the day just passed.”

It occurred to me when I heard this that I rarely take the time to notice when the sun is setting (or rising for that matter). Sure, maybe once in a while when it is a particularly beautiful evening I will pause to watch the sun set, but in general those are two moments in my day that go by largely unnoticed. And if what the ancient indigenous people believed is true, then taking the time to pause and acknowledge the beginning and the end of the day might be something worth doing. So I decided that for Week 1 of my project I would “connect with nature” by doing just that…I would watch the sun rise and set every day and see if I could catch a glimpse of the “crack between the worlds.”

The first thing I realized, however, is that it would take an enormous amount of discipline on my part to even remember to look outside at the right time of day. I am at a stage of life where my short-term brain cells seem to come and go at will, and I am pretty easily distracted, which makes it hard to remember to do anything.  So I looked up the exact times of sunrise and sunset for the week, wrote them down on a post-it, and stuck it on my computer screen. I figured if I looked at it several times during the day maybe the information would plant itself in my sub-conscious and it would help me remember to go outside. Why don’t I just set my cell phone alarm? Well, unfortunately, even with my new android, I am forever leaving it in my car…it drives my family crazy!  Anyway, for the most part I was successful, although I found it way easier to remember sunrise than sunset. It was also easier to sit and enjoy the sun rise and reflect on what I hoped the day would bring. I found myself a bit impatient in the evening for the sun to go down, which I am sure is why it is considered the ‘most powerful time of the day’…it takes a lot more effort to pause and reflect when there’s dinner to be cooked and NY Ranger games to be watched. But the truth is that the couple of times I was actually able to tune out all the chatter going on in my mind and sit and watch the sun go down, were the times I noticed a couple of things that I may have missed otherwise.

For example, I realized that the expression ‘the space in-between‘ is something I’ve read or heard about quite often:

Dr. Wayne Dyer, the inspirational speaker/author, talks a lot about finding the ‘space between thoughts‘ when he is describing his Japa meditation practice. He refers to this space as ‘the gap’, the silent place between one thought and another in which we can find true peace. I tried it a few times when I first heard about it and found it pretty hard…but there were a couple of times where I did actually find myself ‘in the gap’ and  it was an incredibly relaxing place to be, even if it was just for a second or two.

There is also the ancient Zen observation; “It’s the silence between the notes that makes the music.” Even though I am not a musician I have always loved this idea…that silence can be more powerful than all the words in the world.

And, of course, there is Dave Matthew’s oh-so moving song called The Space Between. I love the line; “The space between your heart and mine is the space we’ll fill with time.”  For me, the image of filling the space between two hearts with anything…be it time, or love, or hope, or honesty…is just so beautiful.

The second thing I realized was that there is a big difference between pausing to reflect on something (i.e the sunset) and meditating. I naively thought at the beginning of the week that I might be able to kill two birds with one stone and get a jump start on #3 on the list (Simple Meditation). It didn’t take me long to figure out, though, that in order to really connect with nature you have to be very conscious of what is going on around you. And it was very interesting to sit quietly, watching the sky darken, and allow my thoughts to take me where they wanted, which is pretty much the opposite of meditating. And what was even better was how, once I was settled and the energy surrounding my presence had quieted down, the sounds of nature became so loud. There is definitely a silence in the dusk that makes the birds sound clearer, and the rustle in the tree branches more perceptible. It’s as though the world itself is settling down to sleep, and just as we are more inclined to say our prayers at bedtime, I felt as though the world was waiting to hear mine. It made it easy to be grateful for the day just passed, and hopeful for the day to come.

This realization lead me to thinking about how these two times of the day are something that we, as human beings on this earth, all share. Whether we live in tsunami devastated  Japan, the war-torn Middle East, or right here in suburban Connecticut, the sun rises and sets every day, no matter what. And just imagine if we all agreed to pause in that most powerful moment of the day, in that ‘space in-between’, maybe, just maybe, we would find ourselves together in the ‘crack between the worlds’ where we are all the same – no matter what ‘world’ on this earth we are living in – and with our combined power choose peace for the day to come.

I can imagine it. Can you?

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HERE I GO

With the recent tragic and earth-shattering events that are taking place in Japan right now, I am feeling so completely helpless that my mind just keeps searching for something, anything, that I might be able to do to help make a difference. The immensity of what has happened and the future ramifications for not just Japan, but for the whole world, make the usual avenues of help (i.e sending money) feel inadequate. I’ve been praying a lot, but even that doesn’t seem to be easing the anguish I feel deep in my soul. So I am going to do something I’ve been talking about doing for some time now, but for one reason or another have put off actually doing…I am going to start a blog.

Now, this might not seem like such a big deal, but for me it is a giant leap into the unknown and one that is pretty scary to take. Believe it or not, the first time I ever even understood the whole point of blogging was when I saw Julie & Julia…up until then I just didn’t get it. But giving your soul an outlet, no matter what you’re writing about, can only be a good thing.

So in honor of Japan, and myself, here I go.

I’ve had this idea for My Consciousness Project for quite a while…ever since I read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project (www.happiness-project.com), a couple of years ago. I considered, at the time, starting my own happiness project, but realized pretty quickly that I am actually (luckily) a very happy person. What I was beginning to question, though, was not so much my happiness quotient, but my spirituality quotient. Having gone through a couple of pretty scary health issues in the last few years, I was starting to really wonder if there was some sort of big life lesson that I just wasn’t learning. Did the universe really work that way and if so, was there something I should be doing that I clearly hadn’t figured out?

I started reading books on the whole mind, body, spirit connection which lead me to try a few alternative healing methods. One thing I noticed through all this, was that when I would talk to certain people about these ideas, a lot of them would roll their eyes saying, “Oh, you’re into that?”. Or worse, their eyes would just glaze over and they’d change the subject. Some people were nicer, but I could tell they were looking at me a little differently, probably thinking to themselves “..and I thought I knew her so well!” So the first idea for my project was to see if it was possible to practice all of these different consciousness raising methods in such a way that people who might otherwise roll their eyes could be swayed to try it for themselves. But that’s as far as I got…for some reason I just never was able to put pen to paper to get it started.

Looking back now I think that it was because the idea was more about other people than about me. Sometimes I guess the universe does know what’s best.

Thankfully, I recently came across a quote from Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist philosopher, and I knew right away that I had found the basis for my would-be project. Ikeda asserts that:

“A great inner revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of an entire society and, further, will cause a change in the destiny of humankind.”

Is it really possible that if I, a regular, everyday person, am able to raise my consciousness -my awareness of myself and the world – that I will actually see the change that I hope for? Given all that’s going on today – from Japan, to the Middle East, to the overall disconnectedness of the human race – it seems to me that if ever there was a time to try, it is now. There is just so much good to be found in the world, that if we could just tap into it more often than we tap into the bad then maybe, just maybe, we can turn things around.

So here’s my plan…when I googled “ways to raise your consciousness” I came across a site entitled “100 Ways To Become More Conscious: How to Raise Your Consciousness” (4Mind4Life.com). I actually laughed out loud when I saw it…don’t you just love the internet? Anyway, I am going to go down the list, one at a time, and write about my experiences…I’m thinking one a week is a good starting point. Some are easier than others, some are a bit redundant, and some are going to be very hard for me…I am guessing, however, that those are the ones that are going to spark “a great inner revolution” within me.  So, for the sake of my project, I promise that I will not conveniently overlook them. In fact, just so I won’t be tempted I will list them here:

#30 – See perceived faults as a “mirror image” (I can be a little judgmental of others, so this could be an eye opener)

#32 and #54 – Face your deepest fears/Muster up some courage (I have to give these some thought…speaking in public and ocean waves are the two that come to mind)

#58 – Purify your body (I am guessing wine is out?)

#73 – Turn off the TV (I am hoping this one won’t fall during hockey season!)

You can see the whole list under “Pages” in the right hand column.

Anyway, my goal is to have the project completed by December 21, 2012 which is just short of 100 weeks from now (94 to be exact). I am figuring it will work out perfectly as some of the ideas on the list are very similar to one another (i.e #3 – Simple meditation and #49 – Take time for internal reflection) so I can double up some weeks to avoid overkill of any subject. Why that date? Well, it is believed to be the culmination of a cycle in the Mayan calendar and, therefore, feels to me like an appropriate ending point for my project as well.  Not because it’s the actual end of something, at least not in a doomsday sort of way, but because it seems to be offering us an opportunity for something even better to begin. One of my all-time favorite lines from a song is, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”…I just love that.

So for me, right now in my life and in the world, the best thing I can think to do is challenge myself to be better than I am. It is my fervent hope that Daisuka Ikeda is right and when my project is done the world and I will be in a better place than we are right now.