Mindfulness & Higher Levels of Consciousness

To continue my train of thought from my last post, I choose to believe that we humans are uniquely supplied with a brain and conscience so that we might go beyond our reptilian or primal brain. Yes, we must maintain our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species. But I know we can be so much more!

A part of my learning at Naropa University in Boulder, was the study of higher levels of consciousness, most notably with Ken Wilber. There I learned of the research into what can happen in the human mind when we are able to shut off the constant thinking, wondering and worrying, reaching beyond this primal state of mind.

Buddhist monks have shown us that we can achieve an infinitely expanded true self through deep meditation. This is in accordance with Buddhist philosophy, which focuses on being liberated from one’s insignificant self consciousness to attain a higher state of being, thereby reaching an “infinitely expanded true self”.

The Buddha taught that consciousness is “like a stream of water” with different layers or levels. Mind consciousness is the first level, using up most of our energy. Mind consciousness is our “working” brain that makes judgments and plans; it is the part of our consciousness that worries and analyzes. The brain is only two percent of the body’s weight, but it consumes twenty percent of the body’s energy. So using mind consciousness is very expensive. Thinking, worrying, and planning take a lot of energy.

We can economize this energy by training our mind consciousness in the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future.– Lion’s Roar

As strange as it may seem, my own trauma brain injury in 2008, helped me to access this higher level of consciousness more easily. Partially because I don’t have the energy to think and worry as much as I used to, I can simply slip into a state of mindfulness as I choose. Call it what you will, this is a great relief! I tire quickly with too much interaction or “thinking” and then I give up and just live in the present.

I have also found living close to nature to be quite mind liberating. City life kept me in a constant, often unconscious, state of anxiety and vigilance. It took me a few years of living away from cities and most other people to relax that vigilant mind state and just be here now. Sometimes I may still feel sudden city anxiety, but I quickly recognize it as not needed and let it go.

To learn more about all of this, I can highly recommend the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar and this particular article called: “The Four Layers of Consciousness”

I still stand with Gandhi & Dr. Martin Luther King and against tyranny!

Those who know me, know that I find most human behavior exemplified in the 2012 Disney Nature film Chimpanzees. Go watch it and you will learn the simplicity of how most of us behave and why. Protecting our young is the female role in nature. Aggression against others is the male role, especially when it comes to defeating our enemies. This is human nature or our natural behavior when confronted with the many challenges of life.

What is not natural is non-violence in the face of violent opposition. In fact it seems counter-intuitive and certainly not in our best interests. And yet, Gandhi defeated the most powerful colonial power on earth with these methods. Martin Luther King also championed this response to hate-filled, deadly mobs. Even that Capital policeman who seriously considered shooting at the rioters who were attacking him on January 6th, decided that his best means of defense under the circumstances was to tell them he was human and had children instead. This probably saved his life.

But this method did not save the lives of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. The “might makes right” assassins murdered them both. They were both quite clear that this would probably happen. Witness the many strong American advocates for racial justice. Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King knew that they would probably die at the hands of assassins, but this did not deter them from walking the talk everyday. Not one of them lived to be 40 years old. These were the human leaders who decided to believe in something far more audacious than brute force. It wasn’t about more powerful guns and bombs for them. It was about taking a stand against those who had no sense of fairness, equality and integrity. Those who felt boundlessly insecure about their place in the world. Those who simply said: “might does make right.”

Democracy is also a force that stands stubbornly above the simple and stupid assumption that whomever has the most guns wins. Democracy is based on the idealistic assumption that we can each have our say at the voting booth and then have a peaceful and civilized transition of power in our country.

Amazingly, this system has worked for decades, until a few ill-informed, hate-filled white-supremacists led by the craziest president in American history, decided might makes right. That mob crime scene at our capital was a sacrilege, a violation of all we find sacred about this country. I cannot imagine the day I would break down the doors and windows of my capital and destroy so many symbols of our democratic system of government. In other countries these traitors would be summarily shot.

How ironic that the system these anarchists hate so much, is the exact same one that will save their lives!

How many parents miss out on knowing their adult children well?

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately…

I see now that my own parents never bothered to get to know me as an adult. Perhaps they thought mistakenly that they knew me as their child, even though they barely knew me through adolescence. And the sad part is, now it is too late.

I know now that my Dad, who died this past March, did not know me at all. He thought I was not-so-smart, a very bad planner and certainly not ambitious. As it turns out his idea of ambition and mine were just quite different. Most unfortunately, my Dad, the well-known Colorado botanist, never appreciated my interest and skill with native plants. Mike overheard him comment in….

… my beginner garden back in March of 2018, “This is just going to be a bunch of weeds!”

He thought I had no idea what a native plant was, or how to grow them. Little did he know that I was already planning with Mike the terraced hardscaping of this slanted slope, and what would grow best here in terms of water needs, critters, etc. Yes, a few of my experiments have not worked out, but overall…

I am quite proud of the product of Mike, John Carter and my own burgeoning efforts! (June 2019)

And as far as my other ambitions go, I have always refused to see myself as a loser. My brother John and I are the first Carter generation of what I now call “spiritual seekers.” Making lots of money and receiving accolades from many was never in the plan.

Finding eventual spiritual peace with Self, others & nature was the plan.

Mom and me in 1985

This past Christmas with my mother was a revelation to me. As she slowly recedes into dementia, I now see she will never “know” me either. I am still her “little Laura Lee,” her youngest daughter. She loves to look at pictures of us together when I was a baby, her last one.

This leaves me wondering how often it is that parents invest the time to truly know how their kids turned out. Is it a fear that their children didn’t turn out so well, that keeps them from asking? Are they afraid it will seem too intrusive, like an invasion of privacy? Or do they just prefer not knowing.

Please don’t assume that you already know your child completely and stifle your impulse to truly know them on a deeper level while you are still around. Don’t assume you know them intimately. Ask them open ended questions like:

“What are you searching for in your life? What means the most to you right now?”

My Love Letter to Colorado

The Flatirons in the 1960s from Crossroads Mall, our favorite place to shop!

I was introduced to Colorado at the ripe old age of twelve when my Dad decided to take a new job in Boulder. A move from Emporia Kansas to this mecca of hippie culture in 1966 moved me fast forward into a new way of seeing. I’ll never forget the time some guy on “The Hill” offered me acid at age thirteen. I much preferred candy at The Country Store on Broadway at that age. For us the culture shock was just beginning!

A couple years later we moved to Colorado Springs so my Dad could take a job at Colorado College. From one of the national centers of hippie culture to a majorly conservative military town, how shocking for our young, vulnerable minds. Between Fort Carson, The Air Academy, Peterson Air Force Base and NORAD, the military presence was hard to miss, and our teachers in junior high and high school were often retired military officers. My brother John, the natural rebel, had the most trouble with the conservatives there. He got suspended from school for wearing a peace symbol around his neck! We all wore black armbands when members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine on May 4th 1970. This was the first time I protested anything.

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio… ” – Crosby, Stills & Nash

Then I went to college for short periods at Colorado College (2 years), University of Northern Colorado (1 semester) and CU-Boulder in quick succession. What was I seeking? To understand Asia and learn Chinese after living in Bangkok at the end of the Vietnam War.

Over the years after college I lived in Asia, on the West Coast (Seattle), near the East Coast (Cornell University) collecting graduate degrees and worked at a number of university libraries. But Boulder always called me back. I felt safe and comfortable there. After one of my most harrowing years, studying Chinese at the Stanford Center in Taipei, I found myself sitting there wondering where I should move next. I chose Boulder, a place where I always felt safe and comfortable. I ended up with a position at CU-Boulder libraries for a few years.

Mount Blanc Fall of 2018

So really the theme of my life has been, go out and explore the world, then return to Colorado for safety and reassurance…

The crowning glory of my love for Colorado has been our move six years ago down to the foothills west of Walsenburg. With an astounding view of the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, out in the country, far from all people noise, that’s the Colorado I love best! I have climbed peaks, run rivers. even biked a few off-road trails, but now I’m happy just looking outside and dreaming of past adventures…

“The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” – W.B. YEATS

Winter Solstice 2020

Tomorrow, Monday the 21st will be the darkest day of our year. This is the day with the fewest hours of daylight, marking the start of astronomical winter. After this solstice, days will begin getting longer and nights shorter as spring approaches.

The word solstice is derived from the Latin word sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”), because at the solstices, the Sun appears to stand still. The seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction.

The Winter Solstice in Human History

The winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle for most ancient cultures back to the neolithic. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter food reserves. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.

This is attested to by physical remains in the layouts of some ancient archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and ceremonial structures in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. The primary axis of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge.

In the midst of gathering darkness, light becomes ever more valued…

The winter solstice was immensely important, because the Ancient ones were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months.” In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most domestic animals were slaughtered because they could not be fed during the winter, so it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready to drink at this time.

For me, this Winter Solstice has even more meaning, following one of the worst years in American history. This Solstice gives me hope that next year will be so much better in so many important ways! 🙂

Photos of building passive solar in Colorado in the winter: Deck the roof, not the halls!

My intuition told me to go back and look at some previous photos from six years ago, when we were building our passive solar home in the foothills of southern Colorado. Sure enough, December 17th six years ago was the day we put decking on our roof.

Unless you’ve built something yourself, you may not appreciate the idea of “drying in” your structure, but this is major, especially in the middle of winter in Colorado.

I remember when we drove up here, there were workmen all over the top of our house in very cold weather, working their asses off! Our contractor brought all his friends over to work on a Saturday to get this done. What was amazing was how comfortable they all seemed up on that roof! A snow storm came in later that day…

But the roof got covered and we were halfway to being dried in.

We got so excited about the smallest progress back then, after taking five months just to get approval from the county and our slab poured properly for passive solar heating! They forgot the insulation for the slab at first, but Mike got on them for that!

The windows came next! It was finally looking & feeling like a home!

But there were still a million more details to work out…

but we got her done and moved in on the first of August 2015.

Then we rested while staring out at our spectacular view, for months, none stop! We cannot get enough of this even years later. The silence is magnificent!

Crisis or opportunity? How do we convert our breakdowns into breakthroughs?

Watching the news these days fills me with sadness. I feel like the witness to the worst misfortunes that have befallen this country in my lifetime. Job loss, poverty, hunger, terrible health losses and death, not to mention the worst economy perhaps ever. This is truly a terrible crisis for everyone involved. I do feel badly for those who feel no hope as this year comes to a close. Those of us who now live on Social Security and Medicare are so fortune that we have survived our own crises and lived this long.

When I look back over my own life, I remember when I lost a job, then ran out of unemployment checks, my fears of losing my home and the depression that ensued. This was not so many years ago for me. This was my life in 2004. I remember crying with the counselor at the state employment office, my desperation was that great. Since then I have lost my health to an unidentified problem with my lungs. Mike also almost lost his home when Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) dominated his life in his mid-30s. He had to move out and rent his home so he would not lose it. I would not wish these kinds of crises on anybody. Mike and I do know that hopeless, sinking feeling personally. That is why we give to charities for the hungry and homeless.

What I did when disaster struck was sit down and consider how I would now find a way to land on my feet and avoid future misfortunes. Mike and I feel we both learned a lot from our own crises, things like how to protect our assets, ask for help and find strength inside that we did not know we had. We also learned not to be critical when bad things happen to others. In other words, we learned compassion in place of harsh judgment. We never could have imagined that these crises would happen to us, but they did, so the first goal is to not be too critical of ourselves. We now know that compassion must begin at home and then expand outward to those around us. Judging those who suffer does nothing to help them problem solve. Although it may seem harsh, the Chinese were correct when they combined the characters “danger” and “opportunity” in their word for crisis.

What is this difficult situation teaching me? What opportunities are presented right now for me to benefit from?

If you live through the crisis, you must then struggle to find the opportunity that may be well-hidden in your terrible misfortune. In every crisis there is a message. This is nature’s way of forcing change into our lives. What old structures or ways of thinking need to be reviewed? What bad habits can go so that we can try something different and better? Sometimes life crises require some serious soul searching and surgery to cut out the worst assumptions we have made about ourselves. This can lead to psychological reframing of our problems.

For me, my midlife crisis (divorce, job loss, career loss) led to a brutal analysis of what I needed most in my life to make it worth living. I decided that love was my greatest need and highest priority, and I would need to make some major changes in my heart and mindset to make that happen. I would also need to learn to listen carefully to my intuition, the wisdom inside that had been accumulating for decades. Why had my culture taught me not to listen and believe in these messages? Once I started to listen to them, they came through even more clearly and I followed them. This process led me to a positive career change and love.

Eventually I would appreciate my crisis, because without it I would have never changed so much. Today I’m so glad I got divorced and lost my job. Only then was I ready to accept love and embrace a whole new way of living and loving. I heard the message of my crisis and saw the opportunity within it. Is it time for you to do the same?

I am a trained psychotherapist and have written a few books about how this process works…

A Lifetime of Christmases!

Yesterday, at the end of our annual viewing of “Polar Express” I was unexpectedly overwhelmed with memories, both recent and long ago. What is it about Christmas?

In our family, I was always the one who insisted that we do it up right, while my Dad protested. We weren’t religious, so why celebrate Christmas? To this day, I don’t know why I insisted, but I’m still glad I did. I believe we all need rituals in our lives, a special way of marking and recognizing the ways we grow and change through the years and decades.

This year I especially feel my history from childhood on up, and I miss my Dad very much. Even though he could be an old stick-in-the-mud at Christmas, he was always there.

Soon we will put up our tree and I will probably cry when I look through my special decorations which mark and celebrate the many years of my life. So many memories, some harsh, some jubilant. Such is life!

Surprise! I’m looking forward to Christmas!

This is the time of year I usually post my “I’m beginning to dread a lot about Christmas” post. Once those ubiquitous commercials begin, I start complaining. But this year feels different. I’m anxious to get our tree cut (from our own land!) and decorated, and I’ve ordered just a few small, special gifts online. I wonder why…

I think it’s because of the tough past few years. I know I was too depressed last Christmas to decorate the tree. My health has been a constant concern for a few years now. When you’ve been consistently healthy for most of your life up until around age 60, and then you keep having serious new ailments turn up, it’s disconcerting to say the least. The one I fought the hardest was going on fulltime oxygen. I simply could not believe it, and I also didn’t want to! It’s terribly cumbersome, expensive and irritating. Try fixing dinner while trailing around an O2 tube. But I did somehow adjust after a couple bad falls and much difficult breathing convinced me.

Funny how illness may help one appreciate things in whole new ways. When you are no longer so certain that you will be here for Christmas next year, you see things differently. Now I want to enjoy every little detail. Oxygen tube or not, I want to be present for every moment now.

A New Thanksgiving Gratitude Challenge!

I have been making Thanksgiving dinner for so many friends and family for most of the past fifty years of my life. It usually turns into a bit of a stress-fest trying to get everything done and on the table at the same time. When it’s time to make the gravy I am usually at wit’s end and exhausted! I guess I should add I am very controlling and bossy in the kitchen…

So last night Mike laid down this challenge to me: Let him do it all. He has done it before, before he met me, he reassured me. This blew my mind as I started taking it in fully. Could I let go of that much control? Could I trust him to do it right? This all blew my mind, because it showed me exactly what a control freak I still am. Did I trust Mike to do it well and do it “right?”

Of course, we do need to take into consideration that I am now on oxygen fulltime and even then sometimes short of breath. Since I first saw it, I have related too well to that new anti-smoking ad about starting in October if you are in charge of fixing Thanksgiving dinner this year. I have to admit it made me laugh because that was me! And no, I never did smoke, just crappy lungs, which no MDs so far can figure out.

As it turns out, I cannot turn the whole affair over to Mike, but he will be doing most of the work. I feel I need to make my cornbread dressing and the pie. Funny how we slowly give up control, and only when it becomes almost impossible to do it all yourself!

Now for one of my favorite stories about Thanksgiving. When I was in my late 20s I went to Taipei Taiwan to study Chinese language at the Stanford Center. Thanksgiving can be tough in a place where nobody even knows what a pumpkin or a turkey are. Soon after I got there in September, my grandmother died and I could not go home for her funeral. My brother-in-law did something really kind for me that year. He had his grade school kids make me Thanksgiving cards and sent them to me. They were all so cute and welcome, but one of them still comes to my memory every year.

This kid had drawn a turkey and along the bottom he wrote the words:

“I am a turkey too yum yummy yum yum!”

to be sung to the tune of Little Drummer Boy!

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My Thanksgiving is perpetual.” — Henry David Thoreau