This year my wife gave me just two things.
A book and a bowl. (I know, right?)
Doesn’t that just scream PARTY TIME!!! THIS guy is absolutely OUT OF CONTROL!!! Not exactly a cake filled with beautiful strippers armed with cans of Kool Whip and an open mind to your creative ideas about where to apply it and lick it off. Nonetheless, it was one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a long time.
Because there was a theme: Connection.
Connection to something far greater than ourselves.
These two very simple gifts (NO batteries, Apps or WiFi connection required!) turned out to be a couple of super secret awesome tools that can help you connect to the world in a way that has little or nothing to do with our current definition of that word, “connection”.
First the book. It was The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks.
It’s a comprehensive collection of poems and verses by the ancient Sufi mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, who wrote them more than eight centuries ago. No doubt you’ve seen his timeless words of inspiration quoted on countless Pinterest boards and scattered wide and far across the web.
We even included Rumi’s profound poetry in our wedding vows.
The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.
C’mon, if they made records back then, this dude would have been the original smash hit superstar 800 years before The Beatles were even born!
Rumi speaks of our inseparable connection to the creator of this thing we call life and the eternal continuum that has no boundary of time or space. Call it God, Source or whatever you choose that makes you comfortable. But somehow Rumi manages to put into words the inconceivable. The Oneness of all things that we humans have been trying to convince ourselves we are totally separate from since beginningless time.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
You could sit with just one poem by Rumi and get lost in a world so profound and expansive, you might question the logic of ever coming back to that tiny little “reality” you call your life.
At times he speaks of wreckless abandon, untamed love, drunkenness, insanity and bewilderment at catching a mere glimpse of this connection to the eternal. How this spiritual connection is something closer to us than our own selves. Yet because we spend all our days drunk and blind in the tavern of life we can’t see what’s right in front of us.
Excerpt from “Who Says Words With My Mouth?”
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home…
Eventually, we wander out into the streets, stumbling around drunk and falling into gutters, pissing ourselves trying to find our way Home. (or maybe Tweeting nonsense all day about our self righteous opinions?)
From one point of view, we’re living in the time of true global connection. Where all of our thoughts and ideas can be traded and shared across the world in a split second, coalescing into a kind of collective consciousness. Or what famous futurist, Ray Kurzweil liked to refer to as The Singularity.
But what is it we’re actually sharing that’s going to change the world? Have we discovered the next Einstein? Or Dr.Seuss? Or Hemingway? With all this amazing technology at our disposal, can you really say in your heart of hearts that you’ve seen anything at all online today that your great, great, great, etc. grand kids will someday be talking about?
What’s the shelf life of your favorite Tweet? 30 seconds, if that?
Yet, Rumi’s words echo across the centuries in a way that lays to waste in one stanza the usual drivel we share each and every day that’s so “Hot” or “Trending” across the web when it’s really as disposable as that Kleenex you just blew your nose with. Read one or two of Rumi’s poems and spend a little time in contemplation and you’ll instantly understand what it means to get your mind blown.
From “Things Are Such”
Things are such, that someone lifting a cup, or watching the rain, petting a dog or singing, just singing-could be doing as much for this universe as anyone.
Then there was my other gift, which may have been even cooler.
It was a Tibetan singing bowl, used often in Buddhist meditation and sound healing practices.
I’ve been meditating now for a few years. And there is no better way I can think of to hit the “reset” button on your mind than to sit in meditation each and every day, get very quiet and connect with that very place Rumi describes so eloquently in his poetry.
As a musician and producer, the idea of adding this deeply healing sonic component to my practice was really exciting, since I have always believed music has universal healing power.
You’ve probably heard one in your travels. This is the bowl you strike on the rim with a fabric covered wooden mallet to produce these extraordinarily rich and complex tones that “sing out” through space in ever expanding, forever sustaining waves, piercing right through your soul. The feeling they produce deep within is sublime.
I know, I know, words again that just don’t do justice to the incredible SOUND of this bowl. It’s like talking about the taste of wine. You have to HEAR it!
Still, sitting in silent meditation with this exquisite sound ringing out and enveloping your space just connects you to something primordial. Something so much deeper and greater than yourself. It’s not only music to your ears but salvation for your soul. And in this never ceasing echo chamber of digital noise we live in today, we desperately need a dose of salvation!
To mention the thought of silencing or disconnecting from this ALWAYS ON world, even for a minute is to invoke panic attacks and the paralyzing fear that you’re missing out on something really important. Guess what? You’re not.
I live in New York. The place that invented ALWAYS ON.
And while it may be true that this is the city that never sleeps, a little known secret is that there’s this tiny window in those 24/7/365 hours of operation where when no one’s looking, New York yawns and takes a little cat nap. Where the city grows very still. It happens somewhere between 3AM and 5:30AM.
This is my meditation time. The time when I make real connection with the world. Before I’ve got to get the kids up for school, make the coffee…you know, time to make the donuts?
In meditation, the everyday world melts away as you still your mind from that mental tsunami of never ending thoughts and emotions until you finally reach that quiet place within. Where a more peaceful reality comes into focus and you connect to your heart. In that place you begin to tap into something far greater than yourself.
By the time I rise from meditation, I am more peaceful. I feel more connected to life and the whole world. The tsunami tamed, I walk outside and catch a glimpse of a pink sky that suggests how the day may unfold. New York is still silent.
My little Zuni crabapple tree outside in my breezeway is just coming back to life after a long cold winter. The buds are suddenly apparent for the first time. I smile at the stoic resilience of nature to endure what we see as harsh conditions as it prepares for its next task. The coming of Spring.
One could easily miss this beautiful moment if you weren’t paying attention. Like maybe if you were trying to get a head start on your day, checking your phone for email or a quick morning browse at those early Facebook status updates before everyone’s awake.
But the truth that, in that moment, if you were to choose to “connect” in the way most of us do these days, you would have missed out on a real opportunity to connect with the world. The real world. Where we get to delight in the small wonders. Like a beautiful sunrise or a tree about to remind you of the circle of life after a cold, desolate winter.
Tell me something. For all this “social” activity, do you really end up feeling more “connected” to people after spending an entire day on your computer?
Can you compare all those Tweets and Likes and +1s to say, slow dancing with someone you’re really turned on by? Can you smell the perfume she’s wearing from that comment on your blog post? Can you feel the warmth of her skin against yours in that newsletter you just opened in your Inbox?
Or is it more like one of those visits in prison where your lover is right there on the other side of the glass on the phone? So close but you can’t…well, you know.
I ride the subway most days.
It’s really kind of sad when you look around and see everyone buried in their phones. Buried in their “technology”. They’re looking everywhere else in the world except where life is actually happening, which Some are dosing off clutching them so tightly as though maybe, just maybe a really important text might come through that they just have to answer right away. Meanwhile, real life is going by all around them and nobody’s even paying attention.
I was sitting on the bus the other day, taking my kids to school. It was packed with the usual mix of commuters and parents doing the morning dance of getting the kids to school and getting on with their own day.
My little guy was sitting across from me. He’s almost five. I was looking around the bus, catching a glimpse out the window of the Harlem Meer pond in Central Park in the morning sun as we drove by down Fifth Avenue. When I looked back at my son, his arms were folded. I looked down and noticed my arms were folded too. So I unfolded them and put my hands in my lap. My son did the same thing.
When I gave him a look and called him on his game, he gave me the biggest smile and started laughing out loud (an actual LOL!). Most people didn’t even notice though. They were all buried in their phones reading important news, texting important texts and sending important emails, I’m sure.
It was such a priceless little slice of life. And it was gone in an instant. I guess in the end it was just meant for the two of us. Or maybe it was just for those people who chose to be alive in that moment.
Seriously, try this.
Step 1. Turn off ALL technology
Step 2. Sit down
Step 3. Shut up
Step 4. Close or half close your eyes
Step 5. Listen to your breath.
(don’t TRY to breathe. Just breathe normally) Really pay attention to each cycle. From the start of your in breath to the end of the out breath. As the tsunami of distracting thoughts come into your mind (and they will) DON’T follow them. Simply let them drift away and bring your attention back to your breath. Do this for a few minutes until your mind becomes calm. Like a perfectly still lake. Once you arrive at this quiet place, hang out there for however long you can. It feels good, no?
Step 6. Open your eyes. Smile.
Do you feel more peaceful? Even just a little? Do you not feel just a little more connected to life? YOUR life? Your breath, this IS your life. It happens one breath at a time.
Imagine if you could put this kind of focus into everything you did?
How “connected” would you feel to life then? Try this simple exercise for a month. You don’t have to wear a robe or give flowers at the airport or bend your legs like a pretzel or chant “OM”. Just breathe.
You’ll be amazed how the world begins to change for you.
In the words of Pink Floyd:
“Breathe, breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care.”