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I’ve been listening to some CDs on Meditation and Relaxation. I’ve realized that (1) I like having some guidance. A calm and steady voice helps me focus on my body and my breath. (2) If there is some kind of sound or music then I’m able to hold the practice longer. (3) I feel like a failure for both of these!

In a way, the right voice (and “right” is very personal so I recommend you try a bunch of different CDs) is like a teacher. In the privacy of my own home, and in the course of my own life’s rhythm I can benefit from having someone “teach” me how to meditate. I follow the guidance and I’m able to experience the benefits. I am more relaxed following at this point in my practice.

Music or some sound has the effect of a boundary. For me it encloses me in a safe and secure space inside my meditation. Perhaps due to my own life experiences I’m a bit leery of all that inner infinity! Music (or even birds’ singing in my yard) helps create a container for me to relax into.

And, once I’ve discovered these two preferences I find myself immediately moving into judgment and criticism. If I were a REAL “meditator” then I wouldn’t need a voice or a guide. I would thrive on silence. I’m not able to “do it right” or “be any good.”

I hear these inner admonitions and, today, I let them go. I know they have created a ground of anxiety and panic for me. It is in that place that my terror, my fear of the world and its workings, has grown and thrived. I no longer want to nourish that ground. So, I touch them and release them. I refuse to hold on to them, to make them “mine” any longer.

This ‘practice’ of letting go the inner critic is increasing my sense of peace and groundedness. I think this is the point of meditation.

So maybe I’m getting there anyway. Wherever ‘there’ is!

I watched “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” the other day. I’ve seen it before, but this was the first time I watched it with a critical eye. I’ve always enjoyed Star Wars, although I admit that I’m more of a Lord of the Rings nerd. I’ve always preferred fantasy to sci-fi, although the two have a great deal in common. I say this only to point out that I’m only marginally familiar with Star Wars and its characters.

During my latest viewing, I noticed a lot of neat things that I’ve never seen before. One of the most interesting (to me) was that Yoda’s words often bore a striking resemblance to Buddhist philosophy. I looked it up briefly and I found this article on the Buddhist Channel that explains Yoda’s Buddhist inspiration.

As an example, I’d like to share this one snippet with you. When Anakin Skywalker (who eventually becomes Darth Vader) visits Yoda for advice, Anakin is troubled by visions of his wife’s death. Here’s how the conversation progresses:

YODA: Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.

ANAKIN: I won’t let my visions come true, Master Yoda.

YODA: Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.

ANAKIN: What must I do, Master?

YODA: Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

Take another look at the first line quoted above. If we think of the “dark side” as something a little less sinister, we could easily translate this as Buddhists have done for thousands of years. The fear of loss — or any fear — is a sure path to suffering. The only way to free yourself from the fear of loss is to detatch yourself from whatever it is you fear to lose. It may be friends, family, your job, your health, or even your life.

Yoda was exactly correct when he said that Anakin must train himself to let go. Letting go is not something we decide to do, it’s something that requires a great deal of practice, discipline, and courage. Many people think that detatching oneself leads to apathy, but this is not the case. When I first started studying Buddhism, I was worried that I would undermine myself and others by trying to “let go” of everything. On the contrary, letting go taught me to love more deeply, to anger more slowly, to appreciate more, and to want less.

Another Buddhist teaching that Yoda echoes is on the nature of death itself. Yoda says “Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not.” There’s no “Force” in Buddhism, but I suppose one could call it that. From the Buddhist perspective, we do not die because all of life exists on a continuum. Without getting into details of the philosophy, it’s important to note that one’s perspective on death is critical to how one chooses to live. If you believe that death is unnatural and to be avoided, you will live in fear of it. Yet, if you know that this is untrue, and that death is necessary for life, then it becomes easier to cope with.

Yet, with all things Buddhist, nothing comes by belief or knowledge. There is nothing to believe, no gods to embrace, and no dogma to adhere to. Instead, we must all look deeply within ourselves and find that the truths we seek are much closer than we realize. After all, you can’t change reality to fit your preferred vision of it. The only thing you can do is change your perspective to fit reality. It’s the only path to achieve freedom from suffering.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but much of my own anxiety is centered around a feeling of groundlessness. In a sense, it’s almost as if I’ve spent much of my life feeling out of touch with the things that truly matter. In this way, it’s easy to get lost in the bustle of modern life and forget about the big picture.

For me, overcoming anxiety is about seeing the big picture and understanding my place as a husband, a brother, a son, and even a human. Buddhism taught me that the best way to conquer the feeling of groundlessness is to accept that life is, essentially, groundless and that the search for stable ground is a waste of time. Instead, we should spend our time living in the present moment, even if that means standing on uncertain ground. You can think of this is metaphorical terms by examining your own life. Do you search for stable ground? Certainty? Do you want to know what will become of you, your family, your belongings?

Here’s the bad news: You can’t know. Yes, you may get sick. It may happen tomorrow, ten years from now, or seventy years from now. Yes, you will die eventually. Yes, everything you know and love is impermanent. Nothing lasts forever; not the Earth, not the Sun, not the Milky Way, and presumably, not even the Universe itself. We’re all destined for birth, life, and death, in the cycle of existence. This is the only thing you can know with any degree of certainty.

Even the Earth itself is alive. It’s still cooling from its formation billions of years ago. Imagine our planet: a massive lump of iron, rock, and gas. It is on this that we humans were born, whether you believe it to be the hand of God or a natural process. Here we are. The Earth is, literally, our Mother. She breathes still.

Listen to this. This is the sound of the Earth. This is the heartbeat of the planet that allows you, me, and everything else to live. Without the Earth’s rumblings, none of us could be here. The Earth’s molten iron core (which sloshes around sort of like milk in a coconut) generates a magnetic field which protects us from deadly cosmic rays. When the When the Earth’s iron core cools — which it ultimately will — we will all die. Nothing will protect us from cosmic radiation and our DNA will become bombarded with deadly radiation that will kill every living thing on this planet.

When I listen to this, I hear the sound of the Mother. And it helps me to understand a little bit more about where I come from and where I belong. I am a part of the Earth. The Earth is a part of us. We’re bound together in our fate. There is nothing to fear.

Eric over at Panic! made a post a few months ago about the Buddhist perspective on anxiety. It’s worth reading… even if you aren’t a Buddhist. I can’t claim to be unbiased as I myself am a Buddhist, but I personally believe that the Buddhist approach to everything is amazingly rational and incredibly effective. It’s unfortunate that our society tends to view Buddhism as a “new age” religion or belief-system.

While out on the town with my wife a few weeks ago we wandered into a witchcraft/wicca shop out of curiosity. Like most of these establishments, this shop had many Buddhist statues and other traditional (and non-traditional) Buddhist paraphernalia. We left quickly, partially because it was dark and uninteresting, and partly because some woman kept following us around with a stick of incense. Weird.

After leaving the shop, my wife looked at me and said, “Do Buddhists believe in that bad energy stuff?” My response was, “No, most Buddhists don’t believe in bullshit.” Buddhism is about two things: the causes of suffering and the end of suffering. Everything else is fluff. There may be many different ways to approach the cessation of suffering, but as the Buddha himself said: Buddhist teachings are like a raft that one can use to reach the other shore. It’s a vehicle, nothing more.

So, with that being said, I’ll end my rant here. The point is that I don’t want you to think that a Buddhist approach is somehow contradictory to your beliefs. Buddhism is merely a means to develop an enlightened mind. I’ve found Buddhist teachings to be a very powerful antidote to anxiety, not because they have me praying for relief or passing off my pain to some grand scheme, but rather because anxiety is a state of mind, and Buddhists are all about changing our states of mind so that we can live in peace. Read the link, there’s some good stuff there.

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain