We live in the Milky Way Galaxy. The edge of our galaxy is over 50,000 light years away. (For comparison, our moon is 1.3 light SECONDS away.) Trying to comprehend how far a light year really is I did some math: light travels at 186,000 miles a second, so in one year light travels a whopping five trillion, eight hundred and seventy-eight billion, four hundred and eighty-nine million, eight hundred fourteen thousand two hundred and ten point one miles (5,878,489,814,210.1). Multiplied by 50,000 and we understand what “really really really big” is. The Milky Way has between 200 and 400 billion stars; that’s just the Milky Way. Add to that some 80 billion galaxies out there and that’s about the point where my mind blew up. (Did I lose you before then?) Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the universe is incomprehensibly large. How small are we?
N.A.S.A.’s Wilkinson microwave probe, which confirms principles of quantum physics, determined that the universe is made up of 96% dark matter and energy: 71.4% dark energy, 24.6% dark matter, and 4% regular atomic matter. Of the 4% percent of atomic matter approximately 3.999% consists of subatomic particles/cosmic dust. What we are left with is .001%. Everything that we can see, you and me, the planets and stars, the desk that I’m sitting at, the trees in the forest, the car that you drive, everything we see basically consists of nothing. How small are we?
Everything that we can see are made up atoms. The atoms have a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons with electrons spinning around them. Atoms make up cells and cells make up molecules: nothing is solid. To quote a term from Deepak Chopra, “everything is a verb”, there are no nouns. All objects are either growing or decaying.
When the conditioning begins…
When I was a little boy, we were learning about the solar system, atoms, etc. in science class. I became very confused. I kept asking the same questions over and over again; apparently, I was frustrating my teacher. Using the analogy of the solar system to explain the atomic structure, I tried to understand how human bodies stayed together. There was so much space between the atoms and the subsequent molecules which make us up, why don’t we just float away? What held us together? She replied “our skin” but I then asked was not our skin made up of atoms and molecules? She replied that it was. For some time in class, I would fixate on my fingernail and all I could imagine was the atoms and molecules running around and I envisioned an entire universe on the tip of my finger. After several days I asked the question again; what then, is holding us together? My teacher replied, “Your skin, are you stupid or something?” The entire class laughed at me. Later in parent teacher conferences, she said I was a day dreamer and was not paying attention in class; my parents were not happy. I was not given a very good grade in science. That was nearly 60 years ago.
After my year-long sabbatical studying and practicing meditation, I have concluded that we are all an infinite, universal, molecular soup. We are not small, we are one with the universe, without boundaries. We are infinity, we are the universe.
From the moment of our birth, we have been going through social conditioning, feeding our ego self the illusion who we are. In discovering who we really are, we must first discover what we are not. Meditation helps us move beyond our social conditioning and helps us discover that we are not our body and we are not our mind. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Most problems we encounter can be attributed to our awareness or lack of awareness. Let’s assume we live in a house that has only one window on the north side. Let’s further assume that we have never left that house, our entire life has been spent between the four walls. To us, the outside world consists of only what we can see out of the one window. We are convinced of this because of our constricted awareness.
In Deepak Chopra’s book “spiritual solutions”, Deepak identified three kinds of awareness: constricted awareness, expanded awareness, and pure awareness. All problems can be found in constricted awareness. Solutions can be found in expanded awareness.
Looking outside of our north facing window, all we can see are trees and green meadows. One day we get a visitor who tells us about all the problems in the big city. We have no idea what he’s talking about and are not able to comprehend the troubles that exist because of our lack of awareness. Shortly thereafter, our visitor comes back to our house and installs a huge window on the south side. We look out this new window and what we see astonishes us, in the distance there is a large city with tall skyscrapers. Our awareness was just expanded and so has our understanding and perception of the world around us.
Most of how we view the world is because of our social conditioning. We are taught from birth how things ought to, be based on this conditioning. Our social conditioning defines our life and therefore restricts all that we can be and limits so many of the possibilities that we are capable of. Our worldview has been looking out of the window on the north side only; it is the sum of our awareness.
To solve all our own problems and those of the world, we must expand our awareness and the awareness of those around us. Until we can see the world clearly out of the window on the south side, we can never understand the other points of view. All solutions are in expanded awareness.
The true crisis in our world is not political, economic, or social and it is not climate change nor the destruction of our ecosystems. The true crisis in our world is constricted awareness. The solution to solving all problems, be them personal or global, are in expanded awareness.
A number of years ago I was driving to the John Wayne Airport in Newport Beach California, on my way to a meeting in Van Nuys California. It was very early in the morning, overcast and drizzling slightly; I had checked the weather forecasts and knew that my entire flight would likely be in the clouds. Cloudy skies meant that I would be flying my plane in inclement conditions and wouldn’t have much of a view of the beautiful California coastline and Los Angeles basin. I opened the hanger door and completed my preflight check. Just before getting into the airplane I did my attitude check - something I always do before flying. I remember not feeling particularly joyful nor depressed, it was just one of those dreary days. I picked up my clearance for the route I would be flying to Van Nuys, taxied to the run-up area where I would do some final tests, then I taxied to the runway in very low visibility conditions. Moments later, I took off and was flying in the clouds, barely able to see the propeller in front of me. As I continued to climb to my assigned altitude, I felt a bit anxious, but as soon as I broke out of the marine layer, I found myself bathing in pure glory.
The view was spectacular; I could not see anything below me except clouds, but I was bathed in beautiful sunlight. Out of the left side of the airplane was the top of Catalina Island, completely shrouded in the marine layer and on the right side of the airplane I could see the tops of mountains poking out through the clouds. It is a vision that has stayed with me all these years.
When our perspective changes, so does our awareness. From the ground, where it was dreary and rainy, I assumed my day would go the same. However, in the sky I saw sunshine, paradise, and felt pure joy. I continued my flight plan and prepared for the approach into Van Nuys Airport. As I descended back into the clouds, I brough with me the feeling of joy, so even though I was landing in dark, rainy conditions, the sunshine was still within me.
As I walked into the meeting, people were complaining about the weather and what a terrible day it was; they were totally unaware how beautiful a day it was above them. I couldn’t help but think how happy they all would have been if they had traveled with me on the flight. I don’t remember what my talk was supposed to be about that day, but I do remember making an impromptu speech about changing one’s perspective and becoming more aware.
My meditation practice has become like that flight I took so many years ago. I go through my morning ritual just like my preflight ritual, then head upstairs to my meditation room. I light a candle and some incense and instead of climbing into the cockpit of my airplane, I climb onto my meditation chair, throw a blanket around me, and start my timer. I take off into the clouds of my inner-self and soon emerge out of the darkness into the sunshine.
I can say, without a doubt, my meditation practice has changed my perspective and more importantly, increased my awareness. The first soul question of “Who am I?” has taken on a new meaning for me. Transitioning from activity into silence is a worthwhile journey.
The Gifts of Silence By David Simon
The great paradox of exploring silence is that ultimately, we can’t experience it with our mind or encapsulate its essence in words. To enter a deep state of stillness and silence, we have to go beyond the mind’s constant stream of thoughts into the field of pure awareness. In our dynamic, goal-oriented world, we don’t usually spend much time or attention cultivating this quality of awareness, but it has been my experience that learning to surrender to silence nurtures all aspects of life—including our environment, our body, our relationships, our creative expression, our heart, and our soul.
The Sufis and Taoists say that those who say, don’t know; and those who know, don’t say. So the fact that I’m willing to spend a few words discussing silence may imply to the reader that I don’t know, but I’ll take my chances because I believe that if this exploration helps you weave even just a little more silence and peace into your daily life, the benefits will be profound.
· Learning to Listen
If you close your eyes right now and listen to your environment, you may hear the traffic moving on the street below, the television in the next apartment, or the refrigerator humming in your kitchen. These sounds contribute to the ambient noise of modern life, which we usually filter out of our conscious awareness.
Even if you are in a completely silent setting, you may still notice an ongoing level of activity that is independent of your surroundings. The source of this activity is your mind, which hosts the continual inner conversation you are having with yourself. Notice that you don’t have to try to think; the thoughts keep bubbling up from an inexhaustible source.
Noticing our mind’s constant inner dialogue is actually a cause for celebration, for until we become aware that we are having thoughts, we usually believe that we are our thoughts and that we’re defined by a continuous pattern of memories and anticipations. Freedom begins when we are able to transcend the thought traffic and start to shift our identity to the silent witness that is not bound in time or space. This inner silent witness observes all the thoughts, emotions, sensations, and experiences unfolding in our life without getting caught up in the stories, repetitive thought-loops, and conditioned reactions that keep our mind in bondage. You can connect with the witness right now by noticing what you’re thinking and then asking yourself, Who is the one who is thinking? The aspect of yourself that is able to observe your thoughts as well as your answer is the silent witness.
Learning to still the mind’s dialogue opens the door to a domain of silence that has the potential to heal and transform your life. As you tap into this inner silence, you begin the process of shifting your internal reference point from ego to soul, from fear to love, from anxiety to peace, and from constriction to expansion.
There are many ways to access the field of silence, yet I have found that one of the most powerful and systematic approaches is the practice of meditation.
A Tale of Two Minds
I remember my first experience of meditation when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. I had a remarkably conscious social studies teacher named Mr. Schacko. One day when we were studying a lesson on Eastern philosophy, he introduced the idea of meditation. He said, “You know, in the Western world, we take great pride in having a very active, creative, dynamic mind. In some way or another, the underlying belief of the Western mind-set could be summarized as ‘whoever has the most thoughts, wins.’ In contrast, in certain parts of the Eastern world, such as India, Nepal, and Tibet, there’s a much greater appreciation for a quiet mind.”
“So we have these two world views,” Mr. Schacko continued. “The one we’re immersed in is about keeping our minds active, having our thoughts going all the time, and memorizing lots of information. Then there’s the Eastern view, which is focused on how we can find silence.”
When my teacher introduced this concept to my class, most of my fellow students thought it was very funny. It seemed like it was so easy to have a quiet mind. Why was it such a big deal?
Then Mr. Schacko said, “Okay, right now everybody close your eyes and see how long you can go without having a thought.”
Of course, anyone who has practiced meditation even once knows that it doesn’t take long before we have thoughts. And I remember my very first thought was, Uh oh . . . what if they are right? And what if having a big, active mind isn’t the best use of our awareness?
Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was my first real introduction to meditation and it has stayed with me for more than forty-five years. I learned that the ability to quiet our mind and experience silence is a practice that requires attention and cultivation.
Several years later when I was a young college student, all things Eastern seemed to be exploding on the Western cultural front. I was once again exposed to the concept of meditation and quieting the mind, and I started to realize that we in the West have been really afraid of the emptiness that often accompanies silence.
When we haven’t embraced silence, we seek fulfillment and gratification through achievement, material possessions, sensory experiences, and status. Yet no matter how much we acquire, the pleasure we glean is transitory and only partially satisfying. It’s as if we’re trying to stave off the anxiety and discomfort that are bubbling just below the surface by filling our minds with thoughts and engaging in perpetual activity and busyness. We may do this in a thousand subtle ways—automatically turning on the radio when we get into the car, opening the refrigerator to grab a snack when we find ourselves alone and bored on a quiet Sunday afternoon, feeling uneasy about a long silence in a conversation and rushing to fill it with our words.
Riding the Waves of Awareness
When people begin to practice meditation and other technologies to quiet the mind, they may experience a sense of discomfort ranging from restlessness to actual agitation. It’s common to feel resistance in part because so many of us grew up with nearly constant sensory and mental stimulation. If we’ve never sat quietly with our eyes closed, opening to silence may feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first.
Yet the shift from outer activity to inner awareness ultimately allows us to generate an internal state of peace and happiness that is independent of the people, situations, and circumstances around us. With practice, the transition from activity to silence reduces stress and becomes the source of our most blissful state of awareness.
Investing the time and energy to go through this transition is well worth it. When the mind quiets, we experience the silent space between thoughts. And the thoughts that do arise are less conditioned and come from deeper, less predictable, and less familiar layers of awareness. The philosopher Alan Watts described this as the “wisdom of uncertainty,” which reminds us that in the ambiguity of life, we drop into a deeper domain of awareness that touches the sacred source of all evolutionary impulses.
Since uncertainty is woven into the fabric of creation, we cannot always accurately predict which sensations will unfold—happiness or sadness, pleasure or pain, enthusiasm or emotional constriction, love or hostility. Yet stepping into the unknown, while sometimes terrifying, is what makes life compelling, powerful, and meaningful. In addition, as we become more experienced travelers in the realm of silence, we can learn how to consciously choose interpretations that generate more comfort than distress.
Taking time to close our eyes, quiet our mind, and go within offers a profound opportunity to go beyond our ego’s tight identification with the transitory aspects of our personality and personal lives—and connect more deeply with our essential nature, which is infinite and eternal. Then when emerge from our meditation, our mind is refreshed and we’re able to see the same experiences from a slightly different perspective—one imbued with the peace and clarity we have tapped into during meditation. This is the basis of authentic love, healing, creativity, and transformation.
Lifelong entrepreneur and resident of the 1000 islands. Started his meditation practice in 2018.
15.What am I Grateful For?