This picture of me with the Board of Directors of Unity of Marathon in the Florida Keys was taken on my last day as their Senior Minister, almost ten years ago now. Life has changed quite a bit for all of us in that period of time as I’m sure it has for you. As I look at this photo a rush of memories overtakes me, and as I follow the details of certain memories, I discover gaps in my recollection – names, events, situations, reasons, and so on. I also recall distractions – a sustained police siren in front of the spiritual center during a meditation. A visitor’s angry outburst in the middle of a talk. Burning cookies in the kitchen setting off smoke alarms. A heart attack at the start of a service and the parade of paramedics. The always jarring but endearing cries of babies, and tots unabashedly screaming, “I wanna go home!”
Those gaps in the memory stream, or those memories that are so acute that every detail from smell and thought, sound and light can be recalled with unusual clarity, deserve inquiry, don’t you think? What was I thinking or doing during the period of time leading up to and following those memories? Were my thoughts in the same place as my feet – in other words, was I worried about a project due at my other job, or wondering who was texting me, or trying to figure out how we were going to feed everyone after the service at the potluck that half the folks forgot about, or thinking about traffic and the two-hour commute back to my home in Miami?
Going deeper, I can remember the always-happy people, the chronic complainers, and the worrywarts. I remember the folks who always showed up to help, the fickle, the uncertain, the dependable, the unreliable, and the ones who were so distracted by the content of their minds and the unnecessary self-created drama they would produce that everything became a crisis. Some were so adept at identifying with the “conflict-du-jour” that it would manifest as physical afflictions – heart racing, out-of-breath, exhaustion, illness and so on. And all of this is a perfect representation of everyone’s work, social and family groups.
Like all of us in this picture, you too will experience change, with or without your chosen preference being realized. You will change your thoughts, your bodies, your minds, your relationships, your location, your health, your jobs, your interests, and so on. You will also eventually change density (use whatever definition that means for you). At some point you will no longer be as you are in your current arrangement of molecules. This has actually been happening since you arrived on the planet. Every day a new arrangement of molecules presents itself as you. For example, the molecules of that cute little boy I once was are nowhere to be found, replaced by graying hair, looser skin, a wider midsection, and sometimes aches coming from places I did not know I had. Eventually those molecules will no longer present as an organic state. What then?
Looking back on my life I can remember that boy – the tot, the teen, the twenty-something and so on – and although the molecules that comprised the face in the mirror have changed, if I become still and aware I will notice that the presence of Who I Am has never changed. My Grandma described this idea perfectly when she used to tell me, “My mind says I’m 19, and my body says, ‘go to hell.’” The point I’m making is, Who You Are in essence has been there throughout all the events of your molecular, organic life experience – unchanging, independent of the arrangement of molecules that form the face you see in the mirror. How much time do you dedicate to becoming intimately familiar with that Unchanging You?
The way we live our lives today can almost be likened to standing before a giant vat filled with the letters of the alphabet. We take those letters and create words with them, and then we assemble and arrange those words to create labels and descriptions. Then we use those labels and descriptions we just created to inform how we experience life, unaware of the difference between the experience and our descriptions of it; unaware that what we are experiencing shall ensue with or without those descriptions. If we can disidentify from the scramble of letters we use to label and describe, what remains? The experience itself.
The moment that you are able to recognize that you are, in fact, participating more in the labels and descriptions of the experience than the experience itself, you have moved your consciousness from the contents of the mental continuum into the actual experience of your life. This is a subtlety that cannot be grasped intellectually, it must be experienced. Come back to this paragraph and re-read it as necessary without trying to grasp what it has to offer with the mind. Just let the idea settle.
In our society most are either seeking or in a constant state of distraction, longing to be anywhere but where they are – lost in DigitalLandia, frightened by the fear-ladened news, caught up in social outrage, nauseated by Washington, consumed by consumerism, precluded by opinions, non-mindfully meandering in a minefield of mediocrity. Of course we must play the part: pay the taxes, fill out the forms, stand in the lines, check off the boxes, and so on, but what if in so doing we could make one simple shift? What if every time we recognize that we have disappeared into the thought stream – into the vat of alphabet letters, frenetically arranging and rearranging them to create words and descriptions and then emoting and behaving according to what has been modeled – what if we could bring our consciousness back into the body for a moment of silence? What then?
In a moment of awareness-silence life is experienced as a non-conceptual state – everything is simply exactly as it is, independent of the labels and descriptions we apply. As your participation in this practice ensues these moments of silence begin to string themselves together and become longer. You begin to see that the silence is always and has always been there, right behind all the frenetic activity of alphabet arranging, and the resultant emotions and behaviors we have learned to employ to match the descriptions we create. You recognize this silence because it is the Unchanging You that has been looking at/from you in the mirror at (and through) all those changing faces throughout the years. As you expand further into this consciousness you begin to place your emphasis on the silence more often than on the activity of alphabet arrangement. It’s not that you become a monk in silent isolation; it’s actually the inverse that is true – whether you prefer to live life as an inward experience or an outward experience, life becomes more enriched as the quality of your thoughts, speech and actions begins to up-level automatically, unimpeded by the repetition of the conditioned mind’s narrative. This profoundly beneficial insight offers greater skillfulness in decision-making, creativity, productivity, relationships – the list is endless, and your most challenging situation of the moment will be your proving ground to bring about permanent change.
As I offer the ideas I am presenting to you here I go back to this picture; to these lovely gentle souls I had the privilege to serve for a moment in time. I have kept in touch with most of them over the years and know many of their victories and challenges. I will tell you, Reader, what I have always told them: your life is happening right now. Irrespective of the conditions and circumstances within which you may find yourself, whatever they may be, inherent within them is your ability to experience profound peace of mind, independent of the descriptions you apply. If you think the external has to change in order for the internal to balance you will never get there. The opposite is required: once you master the internal, the external will either come into alignment with your new point of power, or naturally and compassionately dissolve.
Take responsibility for the quality of your thoughts and the energy you bring to your moment-by-moment experience. Live your life as you know it could be. Adorn yourselves in elegance – wear the good clothes, dress to feel fabulous, buy the good food, use the good dishes, wear the sexy underwear, buy the lotions and creams that make your skin feel and smell luxurious, eat the cheesecake, smell the flowers, decorate early for whatever season you choose, (keep going…) Put down your devices, turn off the television, and come Home, as often as you remember to do so.
And if you don’t remember where Home is, go to the mirror right now, and See the Unchanging You. That is where you’ll find true balance.
RJ Starr has been a columnist for Garden Spices Magazine since its launch in 2014. Concurrent with his career in healthcare administration, he was Minister of a Unity Center of Marathon in the Florida Keys, now retired from organized ministry. He serves in regulatory affairs for state-licensed medical cannabis companies throughout the U.S., and writes for Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, and other publications.