Do You Have Phantom Conversations?

I was walking up a steep hill in our neighborhood on a sun-baked late winter day with unseasonably early irises blossoming my path and wild turkeys chit chatting in the distance. Yet, I barely noticed any of it. My mind was busy having an unpleasant conversation...with someone who wasn't there. Do you ever have "phantom conversations"?

There are wonderful conversations to be had with someone who is not present. Perhaps we might seek support or advice by connecting with the essence of a deceased loved one. Or we might want to prepare...once or twice...for an important meeting by rehearsing what we will say.

I define a phantom conversation as repeated, agitated internal conversations with someone not present. It's not a one-time rehearsal for a talk I plan to have, but rather ongoing inner disturbances that often occur in lieu of actually speaking my truth to someone.

Now there is one helpful thing about a phantom conversation. Sometimes in the midst of my internal rant I realize that my self-righteous position is absolutely ridiculous. I end up saving myself and the other person a great deal of unnecessary drama.

Mostly these inner diatribes are just a ticker tape of my judgments and self-defenses. When I can liberate myself from their addictive lure, I realize the total futility of proving myself right to someone not present.

So how do I liberate myself when caught up in a phantom conversation? Midst my rambling, I realize that I've not been hearing the gobbling turkeys or savoring the jasmine fragrance. The present moment intrudes on my illusion, and I return my attention to what is right in front of me.

I then choose to open my heart with the power of gratitude and let this moment nourish me. For me gratitude is often the key that will open my mind and free my heart. Otherwise, the lure of the internal drama is simply too strong. In that gracious space, a smidgeon of compassion for the person I've been "talking at" might sneak up on me.

Perhaps such a shift is what it means to live a contemplative life. Contemplation, originally comes from the Latin templum, which is a "place of observation". So, contemplation is to engage from a place of observation. The contemplative life is cultivating the ability to observe both our inner workings and our outer reality simultaneously, and then take an appropriate action here and now with a free mind and an open heart.

Of course, this is not easy. We have spiritual "practices" because this game of life is challenging.

Cultivating inner freedom through non-judgmental self-observation is my daily commitment. Like an addict, I have to return each day to the admission that I'm hooked by phantom conversations and other unhelpful habits of my psyche. Then I return my attention to the Highest Power of the current moment, reconnect with gratitude, and pick up my conversation with the here and now. Some might call that a return to sanity. I call it prayer.

Lord of the Dance

My prayer time and meditation practice has felt rather stale and empty lately. The emptiness I'm ok with because I want to be emptied of all my silly stories and ego patterns. Yet, even in this necessary spaciousness, I've sensed that something essential has been missing, though I could not put my finger on it. Well, they say that when the student is ready, the teacher arrives. My partner Herb recently gave me a lovely miniature bronze statue of Shiva Nataraja. Nataraja means "Lord of the Dance". This figure symbolizes the heart of both Hinduism and of our human experience.

The statue depicts the contradictions that define our lives. In Shiva's upper right hand is a drum that beats the sound from which the universe was born. In his upper left hand is fire, which destroys creation, reminding us of the constant cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. The ring of fire represents everywhere that this dance occurs, which is the whole of the universe. And the statue sits on a lotus flower, symbolizing that the whole of the universe rests in the human heart or consciousness.

What Herb and I find most intriguing is the only moving part: Shiva's hair. The hair strands winging out to the side of his head look like a halo and are reminiscent of the Biblical character Samson, whose locks gave him great strength. The tradition is that Shiva's hair, usually wrapped up in a pyramid atop his head, starts to unravel and flails with reckless abandon as the dance becomes wild and ecstatic. He is fully embodied, sensuous, and on fire with life.

Oddly, Shiva's face is impassive. His expression represents that tranquil nothingness out of which all creation springs, reminding me of the emptiness I've been experiencing in meditation. It identifies neither with the joy of creation nor the pain of destruction, but rather holds it all with an accepting perspective. His gaze is eternity; his dance is the temporary, fully-engaged rhumba of the here and now.

I am realizing that this symbol speaks directly to my own spiritual path. I have focused so much on the gaze of eternity, that I've been missing the dance of life. Both are essential experiences. So, I'm starting to experiment. My morning devotional time still features quiet, but I'm also incorporating movement, vibrations of a singing bowl, images from my dreams that lead to inner dialogs, St. Francis' prayer spoken aloud while standing, and the warming beams of the sun's early rays. The silence and the sensuous are starting to spill over into the rest of my day, enabling me to experience that tango between the infinite and the finite.

While I don't have any hair to fling wildly in ecstatic dance, I am sensing the drumbeat of the universe in my own heart...and in my spontaneously tapping toe.