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June 30, 2005

The Courage to Unwind

Phuket, Thailand

I am here on the island of Phuket in Thailand after having arrived here from Tokyo last night. The difference in the mood, the energy, the pace of this place is staggering. Almost immediately after the plane landed, I could feel myself starting to unwind, to begin once again to listen to the sounds of silence. Not just the silence of no sound, but the kind of silence that lives deep within the heart and soul. It is only after being here for a while that I truly began to realize just how much stress I was experiencing in Tokyo on a day-to-day basis. In a place like Tokyo (or New York City or any other big urban center) there is an endless bombardment of noise pollution, both heard and unheard. Atmospheric pollution from machines and from people are present everywhere. You can hear it and feel it nearly all the time. It is so constant that it literally consumes you and becomes so much a part of yourself and your life that, after a while, it becomes invisible. Pollution, by definition makes that which is pure, impure and that which is empty, full. The mind, the senses, the spirit begin to become filled with thoughts, emotions, elements which are not essential. These elements begin very quickly to impede one's capacity to experience one's true Self. The spaciousness, the natural peace and silence of the Self begin to be compromised and in their place one begins to experience the more superficial and convoluted aspects of oneself, which include fear, doubt, anger, attachment, craving and anxiety.

Living and working in a city is unavoidable for many people. It is simply a reality of living in this modern world. It is very important to realize though just how unnatural it is for humans to live in the highly concentrated places, where aspects such as productivity and entertainment are emphasized over harmony and balance, peace and happiness. Great care must be taken to ensure that a certain modicum of balance is restored on a regular basis. It is important to find ways to establish places of refuge from the stresses of the city, both inside and outside the city.

Refuge within the city will mostly take the form of time spent that honors and nourishes the Self. Examples of this include, spending time in quiet, natural places such as parks, participating in sacred activities such as yoga, meditation, martial arts, tea ceremony and the like and other activities and places that foster a deeply contemplative and reflective state of mind.

In many ways, refuge outside the city is even more important. This is because it is only when one fully divorces oneself from one's environment, can one gain a certain perspective. If you are dedicated to walking a spiritual path, it is imperative that you regularly take time outside of the city. Find places that allow you personally to clear, your heart, your mind and your soul. They are retreats of many different varieties that one can participate in. There are places of awesome natural beauty, where the energy is wholly conducive to the purification of heart and mind. Go to these places regularly and often!

In a place as intense and as crazy as Tokyo, it is easy to forget to take care of the Self in these ways. As much as you can, therefore, find ways to remind yourself. Don't be shy about asking those close to you to remind you as well.

Om Shantih!



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The Final Celebration
Joy in Okinawa
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Adi Sankaracarya (788-820 A.D.)
We Are Light
Reflections on Sri Sankaracarya's Viveka Chudamani, Part 1
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