Articles and Essays by Rick Baldwin

Protection From The Storms

Birds on a Wire

Image by roshanjoshi from Pixabay

A few years ago I was watching a documentary about the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. You may recall, there was a tremendous loss of human lives and property in that tsunami. To witness the destruction being captured ”live” on video, gave a sense of immediacy to the tragedy. I felt as if I, too, was there with many of the survivors, barricaded in an upper-floor house or hotel, hoping the sea of death and destruction wouldn’t swell any higher and sweep us away.

I was struck in particular by one scene of the video. Dark, muddy water flowed through the streets of a small village, taking everything in its path that wasn’t anchored to the ground. Houses crumbled, cars were tossed around like toy boats, and human beings, unlucky enough to not find higher ground, were hurled about in the debris-filled, ocean soup. A man and woman, thrashed about in the black water, hung on to a broken tree, and frantically searched for something more stable to cling to that would possibly rescue them from impending doom.

While the man and woman clung for their lives, I was soon aware of two birds that landed on a power line directly above the chaos. The juxtaposition of the two scenes hit me hard. The two birds, apparently deciding to take a break from their flight to relax, were oblivious to the heart-wrenching display of struggle and survival that was being played out directly below them. They surveyed the picture, determined there was no threat to them, and continued their peaceful pause. Meanwhile, human tragedy continued to take its toll beneath them.

I’ve never been able to shake the image of those two birds or to forget the idea that, in the midst of every human tragedy, there is an atmosphere of rest if we know where to search. Sometimes that rest is in the deepest of the ocean during a hurricane or it’s in the highest altitude during a tornado. And while those physical locations may provide for us some protection, there is also a spiritual dimension that ensures peace during any storm, tragedy, or catastrophe. We may not be as fortunate to be the birds on the wire, with physical distance from the calamity but we still have that spiritual location of peace and protection we carry within us wherever we go, even if it is in the heat of the battle or in the heart of the destruction. 

This spiritual center of peace within us is our true Being. Because it is who we are, we can never be removed from it. It is our secure foundation to hold to when we are being tossed about by life’s waves. When we become aware of this center of our Being on a regular basis, we begin to realize that it is never touched, moved, or injured in any way during any condition, even if our body is maimed or destroyed. We begin frequently to reside in the awareness of this spiritual location ”above the earth’s calamities,” similar to the two birds in the tsunami.  We anchor ourselves in this place of deep joy and peace, untouched by sickness, tragedy, or annihilation and, in doing so, we see manifested our true life of happiness, peace, and love.

Please, Don’t Feed The Ego

Girl in Silence

Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

 

Do you sense that we are currently under the influence of tremendous ego energy?

It’s true. Election years are always one of the most gratifying times for the ego and, at this writing, the United States is in the middle of one. There are so many opportunities to believe “I am right and the other person is wrong.” But why stop there? “I am on the path of political truth and righteousness while so many others are unconscious, selfish, and evil! Why can’t everyone else wake up and vote properly?” Election years are the all-you-can-eat, free buffet for feeding the ego.

The year 2020 has become synonymous with catastrophe. With the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine leading the way, we’ve since seen fires, hurricanes, riots, racial unrest, deaths, asteroids, pestilence, plagues, and a pretty decent amount of mediocre music performances. It’s so tempting to believe we are personally under attack and that current conditions are putting our individual well-being at risk. The result, as we can see, is a global wave of anger, insecurity, anxiety, and depression.

During this time, it becomes a vital practice to pause and ground ourselves in the recognition that nothing can disturb the peace which is our true being. We are not that temporary existence under attack by a multitude of forces. Our mind will constantly attempt to tell us otherwise, but when we choose not to believe the warped fantasies of our own mind and to instead look to the reality of our experience, we will notice that our essence and our reality is still there, unmoved, unharmed. Even the greatest of calamities cannot move us from our true being. There within us is the spiritual light shining as bright as always.

When you notice the world becoming louder with its testimony of destruction, it is the perfect time to go within for the realization of real peace. That peace will never be found in the world, nor in your own mind but it is always there.

Look beyond all temporary states to your own permanent being and take refuge there.

Life Through Limited Perspective

Spider

Image by Franck Barske from Pixabay

 

We have seven mammals living in our household. Each of us, it seems, has a penchant for continuous hair loss. It isn’t unusual at any given time to find areas of dog, cat, and human hair on the floor, forming temporary, interspecies carpeting.

This morning I watched a spider walking across the floor and attempting to maneuver through one particular hair jungle. Its spindly legs attracted and carried hair strands of similar leg size, causing the spider to pause every so often to shake loose the additional cargo before continuing its journey.

As I watched this little nature documentary happening live on my bathroom floor, I thought about what it would be like to live in the world of that little hiker spider. A world where one would walk across a hard, polished tile, while enormous ropes, in a multitude of sizes, shapes, and colors, clung to your legs. Not to mention, a world where you could, at any moment, be devoured by a ginormous, whiskered feline. Or inadvertently squished by shuffling slippers. It’s a completely different world than my world, yet the exact same world, isn’t it?

The only difference is in the perspective of the experiencer.

I often consider how the object I know of as “my body” appears to the bacteria and other live beings that also reside within it. What I consider my body, they also consider (so to speak) as their body. I experience my body as this large, moving shape I use as a vehicle for awareness. A host, which lives within this body, experiences it as a dark world of seeping moisture, chemicals, and nutrients. What I label as “my body,” a host might label (so to speak) as “my world.” It’s a completely different experience of the exact same object, depending upon perspective.

Even my own experience of my body ignores the reality that it is composed of many different, and seemingly separate cells, almost all of which began as things outside of my body and not things I would normally consider to be my body: food, water, air, impurities, viruses, germs, and an occasional craft beer. It’s a perfect example of how I think I know something so intimately familiar as my own body, when the reality is, I only know it from my own limited perspective.

We can get so attached to our own human, eye-level existence that we ignore the fact our own world is really an illusion. We see what we see and how we see it but we never know the reality of what we are actually experiencing. We don’t hear the variety of sounds in this world that a dog hears, nor can we see the multitudes of colors like a butterfly. Still, these “pieces” of reality exist within the world we occupy and we rarely consider it.

The error is when we believe we “know” anything as it is, or experience reality in its wholeness. Living a life of conditioned and habitual thinking has forced us to label and categorize our experience so we can comfortably believe we know the truth of our world. Actually, we only see distortions, half-truths, and illusions fabricated by our mind. A mind conditioned by our own upbringing, education, society, and opinions. In being satisfied with that mind-created reality, we never know the truth about anything.

To spiritually experience reality, it is necessary to go beyond our mental creations. We transcend our human existence of habitual thought and we experience the world with inner silence. We look at a flower without the mind telling us it is a “flower” or the color “yellow” or that it smells “sweet.” We experience the flower, and everything else, without mental labels, without descriptions and in deep silence and open awareness. It is in this atmosphere that the true nature of the reality of our experience is revealed.

Flash Meditation

Flash Meditation

Image by Shahariar Lenin from Pixabay

 

In the midst of the whirlwind of daily life, it is easy to forget that the essence of who you are is peace. That may seem laughable at times, but it is in those times especially, we should pause to discover and contact our true self, the calm beacon of light that silently never blinks in the middle of life’s storms.

Even when we are not aware of it, peace is present in the background of all of our experiences. It never goes away because it is who we are. All we need to do to experience it is to turn within in silence and be aware of our being. This is the true purpose of meditation. Meditation is not simply a technique for relaxation, but rather a connection to the presence you are. In meditation, you feel relaxed because you have connected with your peaceful nature, a nature that is beyond thoughts, beyond words, beyond the mind.

Our lives have become conditioned to being controlled by our minds. Most of us live with continual mental noise, a non-stop loop of mind stuff that distracts us from our true nature like clouds distract us from the clear blue sky. To live this way is really a form of madness. Fortunately, we have the power to slow this mental controlling down, if not bring a complete end to it.

Make it a regular practice in your life to pause at several moments during the day just to feel the presence and peace of your being. Don’t make it a mental practice. Pause, and actually feel this vibrating presence. These pauses do not have to last longer than one or two seconds. You can end it quickly before the mind even has a chance to get involved. To pause for ten seconds is wonderful! You can quickly make these flash meditations a habit. One second of peace before an important call. A brief moment of connection before you pick up the kids. A couple of seconds experiencing present peace before dinner. You will soon discover you are finding more and more opportunities to connect with the peace you are and these moments will become an increasingly sacred and transforming practice in your daily life.

That’s Just Your Opinion, Man

Opinions

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

 

Surprise, it’s okay to not have an opinion about something! In fact, it’s completely acceptable to dump all opinions you currently hold about… well, everything!

I realize that isn’t a very popular opinion. (See what I did there?) We live at a time and in a society that values its opinions about everything from political parties, social movements, restaurant service, video content, social media posts, music quality, advertisement effectiveness, and on and on and on. Almost everything we run across includes a “Like” button, a review space, or a feedback feature and we’re continually pressured to decide what we think and to tell everyone. You’ll even find Like and Share buttons at the end of this article. (You don’t have to use them, you know…)

The essential Being which you are never holds opinions. You are not your mind. That which you essentially are does not, and even cannot, hold mental positions about anything. Clutching opinions forces you to live in a world of abstractions. It prevents you from really knowing the things or experiences you hold opinions about as they truly are.

Opinions keep us mentally locked into a conceptual past rather than consciously residing in presence. They are often based on former experiences or conditionings which prevent us from seeing the reality of what is being experienced now. They don’t allow for the truth that all things change, move, and transform. An opinion is simply a cartoon version of reality.

To not hold on to opinions doesn’t suggest we do not humanly have preferences. We can still enjoy the immediate experience of cardamom ice cream or Cardi B or House of Cards without needing to form an identity around that enjoyment. We do not need to make the dislike of Polka music into part of a personal story of who we are. Enjoy an experience in the present, agree with a religious perspective now, or dislike the food flavor you are currently experiencing, then let it go.

This is not an opinion: to remove opinions from your life is to move closer to the awareness of who you really are.

Why Spirituality? An Introduction

Lighting a Candle

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

 

What makes a person choose to live a spiritual life?

Our world seems to have everything we could ever possibly want to experience. There are places to go, things to do, movies and TV shows to watch, hobbies to attend to, wars to fight, friends and families to spend time with, sex to have, partners to love, drugs to take, wines to savor, pets to cuddle, jobs to go to and tasty foods to eat. We literally have a universe of things to do. So why would anyone want to focus on spirituality, an activity which often removes us from all of these exciting experiences of our world?

Many of us have had moments when we have realized the experiences available to us in this life are not very fulfilling unless they are also giving us a sense of peace and happiness. If we are not experiencing inner peace and happiness from our jobs, we soon begin pondering different employment. We’ll leave relationships when they no longer give us the peace and happiness we crave. Even with a seemingly infinite amount of things to see, do, and participate in in our world, we recognize most of those things aren’t worth doing unless they make us happy or fulfilled.

One of the main selling points of religion is that it will give you loads of inner fulfillment. Since the beginning of time, prophets and dynamic personalities have promised peace, happiness, and a blissful life if you would just worship their gods, pray their prayers, and live their particular way of life. And it seems to work for some people. Their faithful attend places of worship on a regular basis, remove certain experiences from their lives, wear particular clothes or symbols, and read recommended holy books. Whether they truly find inner peace and happiness can only be testified to by the individuals, but there seems to be no shortage of believers, disciples, and devotees to the numerous religions.

Most of us, however, would rather not remove ourselves from the activities of the world. We have no interest in becoming monks or ascetics or hermits. We want to experience all the excitement and fun life has to offer while also gaining the peace and happiness we feel on an intuitive level is our birthright. So we examine religion a bit to see if there is something we can take away and incorporate into our daily lives. We try meditation but can’t relax due to our noisy, crazy mind. Friends may suggest yoga, but we can’t experience inner peace when we are trying our best not to topple over. So we give up. We’d like to find something that works but it’s just way too much trouble.

My own life has been a long, focused pursuit of the spiritual. I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t trying to find god or at least the most effective path of reaching him/her/it. I went to church, read books, prayed, meditated, fasted, listened to teachers, gurus, and preachers. At times I felt like I was close, other times I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. Still, the quest for a spiritual life was always my main motivation. I didn’t know how to separate that seeking from who I was as a person. Then one day that happened on its own.

When I was forty-something years old and still living a life as a spiritual seeker, I had an experience in meditation that clearly “told” me there is no god. As you might imagine, that was a startling and unexpected message to come to one who had spent his entire life in the pursuit of god. Yet, oddly enough, at that very moment existence became clearer than it had ever been for me. Everything finally made perfect sense. At the time, I felt it was the closest thing I had ever felt to the experience Jesus described as being “born again.” It was a complete change of consciousness. From that moment, I ceased everything “spiritual” I had been working on, thinking about or studying and for ten years I lived life with no god. It wasn’t at all the life my Southern Baptist upbringing told me atheists experienced. There was no anger, despair, sense of loss, or hopelessness. On the contrary, I was filled with more joy, fulfillment, and inner peace than any moment I ever experienced as a spiritual believer.

Ten years after my “conversion” to atheism, I felt an inner pull to start meditating again. It wasn’t something I felt would be the start of a new spiritual practice. In fact, I assumed it would be nonspiritual meditation for the sole purpose of more focus, clarity, and creativity. It turned out, however, to be a doorway into a new experience of spirituality, an opening of inner perception and enlightenment. It was that “place” I sought to be my entire spiritual life. And it came without effort, expectation, or desire. Imagine that.

One of the continual frustrations on my life-long spiritual journey has been the seemingly complicated and complex instruction given by teachers which often seem to lead nowhere other than a new state of inner confusion. When I finally reached that space of  “enlightenment” it could only be described as the most simple awareness. Natural. Uncomplicated. Why was it necessary for me as a spiritual student to spend so much time trying to decipher spiritual puzzles, koans, and parables in order to reach this natural state of simplicity? Was there not a teacher somewhere who could have helped me wake up without pushing me further into darkness?

If anything, that is the main purpose and goal of this web site. To help provide a clear and simple path to those interested in “waking up.” Waking up to the nature of who you really are. Not to dish out a little bit of peace and happiness for your life journey but to help you realize that your own very nature is peace and happiness. That very nature is the background on which your entire life experience appears! I have no intention of assembling a new teaching. The world doesn’t need a new religion. My intention is to simply provide pointers in the way of thoughts, ideas, and examples that may prove helpful to your own spiritual life. These pointers may help shake your conditioned mental foundations and open new insights leading to your own awakening. It is my intention and hope that you too experience the beauty, simplicity, and infinite wonder of the reality which you are.