Celebrating Solitude

Photograph © 2018 Peggy Kornegger
Even though I’ve been in a couple for 35 years, I love being alone. It’s been a part of my life since childhood. I grew up as an only child on five acres in rural Illinois, where I spent a good portion of my childhood playing outdoors alone (or with my dog) and sitting in trees reading. I don’t ever remember feeling lonely. My parents and I were close, so I was with them a lot too, and I had school friends who came to visit, but at the core of my life was time spent in solitude. It became the peaceful center from which I lived outward into the world. As an adult, I always relied on time alone to come back to myself, away from jobs and social situations. Don’t get me wrong—I loved my friends, but there was a certain point at which I had to step away and be alone. It was like breathing to me.

I have so many memories that involve finding joy in being by myself. One of the most vivid was when I worked for a senator as a student intern in Washington, DC, in college. One lunch hour I wandered around outside the Capitol Building alone and then sat in the sun in a quiet spot where no one else was walking. I can remember having a sudden flash of absolute exhilaration when the thought crossed my mind, “No one else on Earth knows where I am right now.” There was something incredibly exciting about that to a 19-year-old living in a new city, trying out grown-up life on her own. I’ve never forgotten that feeling—of being an alive, independent, free spirit in the world.

When I took up bird-watching many years later, I felt a similar thrill being alone in nature: a magical aura that surrounded a sudden encounter with a migrating bird in a bush or tree. If I were absolutely still and silent, the birds came closer and continued with their bird lives as if I weren’t there. It was a precious gift. There were even times when a wood thrush or warbler would land in a branch close to me and sing its heart out. Some kind of special connection occurred then—a living awareness that passed between us. I treasured those moments. It was perhaps my first conscious experience of the spirit of life that is in all beings.

After I embarked on a spiritual path in my 30s, time spent alone in meditation or contemplation became central to my journey. I found it absolutely key to have those daily periods of solitude in order to connect with my own soul and with God. In solitary silence, “stillness speaks,” as Eckhart Tolle has written. Divine connection is an inner experience that comes only when we set aside all external distractions and open our hearts and souls to something greater, beyond the material world.

These quiet moments are extremely precious to me. They are at the core of my life as a human/spirit on this Earth. Ultimately, too, they bring me closer to those around me. I am fortunate in having a life partner who understands and supports my wish to have alone time. She too needs time to herself. When we come together from our separate solitudes, our connection is even deeper and more loving.

Words are often unnecessary with friends and family who share this kind of connection. Something beyond verbal language is passing between us. We recognize and celebrate one another’s souls when we are together and carry our heart connection with us when we are apart. This is life on Earth at its most expansive and wonderful. To me, time spent alone is an essential part of being human, of being conscious spirit in physical form, which is why we incarnated at this particular time on this particular planet. The world is full of so many distractions. It is only in stepping aside and looking inward that we find the true nature of who we are in this extraordinary universe. Every day I say a prayer of gratitude for the solitude that is a sanctuary of peace in my life.

 

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First, Last…Now

Photograph © 2017 Peggy Kornegger
There are moments in our lives when we are completely immersed in what we are doing. So much so that the past and future do not exist. Everything is fresh, new, and fascinating. We are seeing with what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind,” as if for the first time. Babies and small children see this way. People at the end of their lives often see this way too, as if for the last time. At either end of the first-last spectrum, it’s the immediacy of the experience that is so powerful. We are not lost in thought or distracted by irrelevant details. Life presents itself front and center, and it has our full attention. The question then becomes “how do we live like that all the time?” Is it even possible? I believe it is, but it is definitely a practice, not a casual, passing wish. You have to align yourself with it, make a promise within your own heart not to get lost in forgetfulness.

When I visited South Africa last fall, I lived each moment intensely throughout the trip. No past, no future, just one continuous stream of present-moment awareness. Traveling is often like that. Because everything is unknown, never-before-seen, your mind focuses intently on what is happening now; nothing else exists. In the African bush, I was alert and super-aware all the time. As I learned to carefully look around for the eyes of predators when leaving my hut or tent at night, I found that my senses were sharply focused on every detail of my environment.

Photograph © 2016 Peggy Kornegger

Riding in a safari jeep, in close proximity to elephants, giraffes, and zebras, was an experience I had only imagined having, yet there I was living a reality vastly more vivid that my imagination. From a riverboat at sunset, I saw buffalo, waterbuck, crocodile, and saddle-billed storks along the river’s edge, and then as the sky darkened, thousands of fireflies lighting up the African night. During those two weeks, there was no need to think about living in the moment—there just was nothing else.

Upon returning to the U.S., I used my meditation practice to bridge the immediacy and novelty of adventurous travel with the habits of daily life. I focused on my breath and opened up to that timeless space within that is pure awareness. Every day when I went for a walk, I reminded myself to look for something different and to choose new routes. In my garden each morning, I noticed every newly opened flower—orange lilies, purple spiderwort, yellow coreopsis. The key was to keep “seeing with fresh eyes” in order to step out of routine. To reinvent the ordinary in whatever way I could so that I was constantly stepping into the unknown, the unexpected, in every moment.

It’s not really difficult to live focused in the present. Your physical senses automatically show you how to do it when extraordinary beauty or sudden danger crosses your path. You are immediately aware and intensely alive in those moments. At other times, you can expand your awareness by giving yourself memory mantras, as Thich Nhat Hanh does when he repeats “present moment, wonderful moment” in his mindfulness practice. The breath too is a built-in tool for re-centering in the now. The more I embrace the idea that there really is nothing but the present moment, the more aware I become of how precious it is. So then, whether I’m in the African bush or in my own backyard, everything around me is new and exciting—a first-last, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Deepest Peace

© 2016 Anne S. Katzeff / Artist
© 2016 Anne S. Katzeff / Artist
I have discovered that the more I want a situation or person to either change or stay the same, the more I suffer. Yet I have also found that there is a peaceful core within me that understands impermanence and nonattachment. These two Buddhist principles have helped me accept the transitory nature of life. When I am deep in meditation, experiencing profound inner peace, I see clearly the truth of impermanence (nothing, good or bad, ever stays the same) and how letting go of attachment to a particular outcome frees me from the mental/emotional habits of the personality self. At the soul level, all is well, unfolding perfectly for my own expansion and evolution.

Embracing impermanence and nonattachment has been a gradual process for me, over many years. They used to be just concepts that I thought sounded good but I couldn’t really connect to experientially. Lately, however, as my spiritual awareness has deepened, those two insights have risen to the forefront of my consciousness. I often repeat them to myself like mantras to access the peace within me, which they are an integral part of. This is the soul’s peace, which does not judge or have opinions; it just witnesses. And from the witness’s point of view, it does not matter if something or someone changes or not. It’s all part of a greater picture that I, as a human being, have a limited ability to see in its entirety. I just have to trust in my soul’s perception (and in God) and surrender to the power of a divine purpose in everything.

Surrender and trust have also been key to letting go within my own life. They, too, accompany the experience of inner peace that I am connecting to more and more. There is a reason why these principles have been around for thousands of years and have been at the core of the teachings of great spiritual masters. They bring us to a place of flow in our lives, accepting “what is” and aligning with the continuous fluctuations of human existence. This is a time on Earth when the voices and energetic imprints of the greatest teachers are becoming more available to everyone. Their wisdom and beingness within the collective consciousness are here to help us as we move into our own wisdom and life mastery.

Events in the world, and particularly within this country, are now making it essential for us to live in connection with our souls, accessing the deeper truths about life and living. In an environment in which people are being persecuted because of bigotry and prejudice, where is justice? How do we live with this? How do we love all of humanity when some are acting in destructive, hateful ways? This is the challenge of our times: to live in such a way that our own souls’ wisdom and light affect the collective consciousness in a positive way. If we believe that love is stronger than hate, and peace more powerful than fear, then we need to live that in every moment. For ourselves and for everyone who crosses our path. When we shift our own energy out of judgment and outrage, then everything begins to shift around us. The peaceful soul brings peace to the world.

As I see it, this is how we are evolving as a people and as a planet within a huge constantly changing universe. As the saying goes, “there is no way to peace; peace is the way.” May we all help each other find our way again and again to that deep inner peace.

Meditation on Donald Trump: Breaking Through to Oneness

Photograph © 2017 Jasmina Desai
Photograph © 2017 Jasmina Desai
When Donald Trump was elected President, I vowed never to look at a video or photo of him for the next four years. I couldn’t stand to see the visual that went with the arrogant bulldozing bully. I kept to that intention until the inauguration, when I actually did see a photograph of him and Melania and the Obamas together, in which he looked like a terribly unhappy and disturbed man (she looked “absent” entirely). The Obamas, on the other hand, looked joyful, alive. I felt real sadness looking at that picture—that some people could live such miserable lives, and make others miserable in the process. Still, the fear and depression I experienced as he began to implement his destructive campaign promises grew ever stronger. I knew I had to come to terms with my reaction to him. I had no idea the form it would take, however.

Background: In some Buddhist traditions, the monks take part in a practice that would appear odd and repulsive to many: meditation on a corpse. The reasons behind what may seem like macabre behavior are two-fold: 1) to overcome one’s aversion to death and the loss of the physical body; and 2) to realize that the external aspects of the physical form are not who we truly are. It apparently has a powerful affect on the monks who practice it.

At the end of January, I flew cross-country for a spiritual gathering in California. On the six-hour flight, for some reason I suddenly remembered that Buddhist practice and thought that perhaps my strong aversion to Donald Trump would make a good focus for a similar meditation (picturing him alive, not dead!). I closed my eyes and began. I didn’t feel much of anything for a while, but then slowly a softening began to occur within me as I pictured his face—a movement to a greater non-reactiveness. A remembrance that beneath every physical form there is a soul. These weren’t conscious insights—more like an opening of a closed door within.

At some point, I was moved to open my eyes and look out the plane window. I gasped audibly when I saw the entire snow-covered expanse of the Rocky Mountains spread out below in majestic splendor. What more stunningly vivid reminder of the “greater picture” could I have possibly been given? I began to cry at the extraordinary beauty of the morning sunlight on the sparkling snow and earth formations. The patterns were magnificent and ever-changing: ripples and folds, flowers and sea stars. I was gazing at infinity stretching out into the mountain ridges in the distance. From my vantage point at 30,000 feet, there was only interconnectedness, a seamless planetary landscape that was part of an infinite cosmic landscape, of which we all are microscopic but integral parts. No separation.

Meditating on Trump, “face to face,” brought me back to that precious experience of oneness with everything—the soul’s perspective. I realized that if you don’t face what or who is right in front of you with courage, honesty, and inclusiveness, life eludes you, and on a larger scale, change and possibility elude us all. The light that shone on Earth as far as my eyes could see in the Rockies is the same light that will bring us to clarity of vision and connection in the days ahead. We don’t need to constantly be caught in fear and anger as we move forward toward a more balanced and compassionate world. In fact, it may block us from seeing that what connects us (love) is more powerful than what divides us (fear). In spite of the illusion of separation that locks us into aversion to those we see as “other,” we can step away from that perception and choose kindness and compassion for all beings instead. That one small act can help to shift the collective consciousness. Deep within our hearts and souls, oneness always prevails.

 

Peace of Mind

Photograph © 2015 Peggy Kornegger
Photograph © 2015 Peggy Kornegger
Everyone aspires to “peace of mind,” but is it possible to access it when the mind often seems at war with itself? We in the Western world have long been a left-brain-dominated culture. We inherited a worldview in which rationalism and scientific thought predominated and have grown up and lived lives in which logical thinking and behavior was valued above all else. Left-brain orientation is often seen as directly opposed to intuition and emotions, associated with the right brain (and with women). Feminists in the 1970s and 1980s pointed out that feminine attributes have been undervalued and often denigrated within the prevailing patriarchal systems. This split between masculine and feminine and left and right brain caused an imbalance and disharmony that divided individuals against themselves and undermined day-to-day human interactions.

Gradually, over time, people have opened to the idea of a healthier whole-brain orientation and functioning. In 2008, neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor published her groundbreaking book My Stroke of Insight, which chronicled her experience of how her left and right brain functioned after she had a stroke. Initially her left brain (language, organization, analysis, mathematics, linear time) was almost completely nonfunctional. On the other hand, her right brain (nonverbal, intuitive, inner peace, timelessness, spiritual connection) was providing her with brand new life-altering perceptions. Trained as a scientist, she had lived almost entirely in a left-brain world. After her stroke, she began to see the limitations of that narrow outlook as she experienced the world with no separation between herself and everything around her. A deep inner peace filled her, and a profound connection to something greater opened her heart. It took her eight years to completely recover the functioning of both halves of her brain. Part of her motivation was to be able to tell others how crucial the right brain is to our well-being as individuals and as a global community. Each part of our brain has important functions, and when they work in tandem, we are more whole as human beings. We now need to consciously welcome our right brain’s input to bring about balance.

My own spiritual journey over the past 25 years has brought me to some of the same insights as Jill Bolte Taylor. Like so many others at this time, I am opening to an experience of consciousness that includes everything and everyone in its infinite expanse. In deep meditation, I have at times felt no separation between my physical body and the outer world. Boundaries fall away, and I am just open-ended awareness. Recently, in fact, I had this experience while walking in my neighborhood at dusk. My body was part of infinite consciousness, as were the crickets and locusts I heard in the trees. And I heard them not from inside my head but from within that conscious awareness which was simultaneously everywhere. The crickets and I were points of life within that vast awareness, the God essence that is experiencing the world through me and the crickets and everything else. A deep sense of peace and oneness arose from this awareness.

That is the peace and oneness we are beginning to access now, individual by individual and group by group, until ultimately it will fill the planet with a new way of being. Harmony, balance, wholeness, loving-kindness—these will no longer be utopian ideas but instead real ways of living our lives. When we allow our hearts (and right brain) to guide us, that high vibration entrains the left brain like a tuning fork so that both parts work harmoniously together, and we human beings do the same. It is an incredible cosmic shift we are living through, and we incarnated to do all of this, for ourselves, for one another, and for those who come after. Peace of mind and harmony of heart—that is the promise and fulfillment we are individually and collectively stepping into now.