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#3095 - Tuesday, March 4, 2008 - Editor: Jerry Katz
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A Commuter's Guide to Enlightenment, by Dr. Stewart Bitkoff
Arising from his daily commutes on New York City's Major Deegan expressway, this is a beautifully explicated work founded in Sufi tradition, which instructs on how to be free from the control of your thoughts. Bitkoff communicates on many levels, from the most obvious and practical to the utterly divine. Prayer, positive thinking, therapeutic meditation and breathing, surrender to God, are all weaved into this story in such a way that you don't always know that you are being instructed.
Whether you are looking for some peace of mind to get you through your daily commute, or if you are pursuing a much deeper understanding of life, this book will serve you outstandingly.
Because Bitkoff instructs on many levels, keep this book around for a long time. You never know when some portion of it will begin to make new sense to you. I suggest reading the entire book now and parts of it every 3000 miles. --review by Jerry Katz
Excerpts from A Commuter's Guide to Enlightenment
In many ways, I am the thoughts I think. While driving down the highway, my interpretations of what I see are based upon my previous experience.
Today, it was raining and depending if I liked or disliked rain, I was affected in a particular way. Rain can be cleansing or a problem for driving. It can help to cause an accident or help flowers grow. Rain is any number of things and my response is usually based upon my pre-conceived ideas.
On a daily ride, how to process all these different observations, thoughts, and repeating patterns? As you gaze about and see the world filled seemingly with endless variety, you cannot help but wonder and struggle to make some sense out of it all. This is our inner desire for order and purpose.
According to the mystic, the mind questions and is confused so that one day the heart might answer.
* * *
Seeing What is in Front of You
When questioned concerning the definition of a Sufi, or the end product of this form of learning, one of the great teachers of the Path replied, to be a Sufi is to see what is in front of you.
Seeing what is actually in front of you, as opposed to what your past experience and thought process indicates is present or others have taught or indoctrinated into you is there, is a rare skill.
Mentally, we are extremely adept at categorizing and generalizing things - often instantly. This ability has been honed over millions of years and has helped the human race survive. You see, when we were hunters and struggled physically, daily, with many enemies, we needed to know and recognize instantly when a threat entered our environment. Depending upon a sound, a movement caught out of the corner of an eye, or spotting a strange animal or person in an open field, we needed to form an opinion instantly and react.
Often, in todays complex world, the threats are not as physically eminent and the use of this skill has shifted into other areas. We all want things simple, and this natural ability to generalize quickly, makes complex modern life more manageable; it helps us know what we like and dislike. Also, if we broke down every decision or thought pattern into all the positives and negatives, eventually, we would never take action and get bogged down.
However, as I have seen on a daily commute, this ability can be troublesome and limit potential: depending upon when it is used, if it is applied accurately and whether I am even aware that I am doing it.
When questioned about their daily commute, as indicated earlier most people summarize and generalize by stating, it's a pain, but what choice do I have?
However, while this is part of the daily reality for millions of commuters, it is not the only possibility. As I have seen, the daily commute is much more than this and to see what is actually in front of you takes a certain mental posture or frame of mind. Fortunately, this more positive way of viewing things can be learned and according to some is the singular indicator of an enlightened person.
Seeing reality, as opposed to what I have categorized into a neat compartment, based upon past experience is present, is a very helpful skill in everyday life. Seeing what is actually there, as opposed to what I have inserted into the situation, allows a wider range of options and happier more tranquil thought patterns. Also, with this flexibility of thought, greater freedom to express who I am and eventually unlock spiritual capacity.
* * *
Back on the highway, heading toward work, it feels good to be healthy again; joining in the commerce of the city.
The complete life is one where the spiritual and physical realities are joined. We were created to participate in our community yet retain the capacity to see the world from another vantage point. This view is integrating. Be in the world, but not of it.
We were not all created to live in caves, as hermits and contemplate our navels. Who would travel the Deegan into the city, so the worldly affairs might prosper?
* * *
Duty & Responsibility
Driving on the Deegan, I am reminded of the time, as a youth I promised myself never to live the life of a commuter.
Now thirty years later, I have joined the endless row of humanity - traveling the highways to work. Duty to my family and wanting a suburban life, have led me to becoming something I never wanted.
You know, its not so bad. In fact, it seems natural. One spiritual rule describes this phenomenon: To attain you have to give up the things you want and accept those you dont. This is done to free the traveler of desire, teach the traveler about responsibility, and assist in reaching a place of acceptance.
Acceptance, or surrender, is neutral; and the higher consciousness operates under this condition.
* * *
If you have ever driven on the Deegan, during rush hour, the first thing that hits you is how discourteous the drivers can be. Usually, people cut each other off, and if someone sees you put on your signal to change lanes, often they speed up so you cant make the switch.
In this situation, it seems unnatural to be courteous. In fact, if you want to be courteous and repeatedly let others pull out in front of you, you never reach your destination on time.
Each situation has its own rules. The spiritual traveler must be flexible.
* * *
Throughout this Guide, the reader has been exposed to the importance of monitoring individual thoughts. This monitoring activity has been in connection with a daily commute to work.
For students who have been in a spiritual school, thought monitoring and recognizing individual patterns of consciousness, is one of the first things learned. In recognizing these, the student learns about the repeating nature of every day consciousness and how certain thoughts can be disarmed through substitution activity. In part, that is what meditation teaches; how to substitute a pleasant focus word or visual image for a repeating sometimes irksome thought pattern.
On the ride to work, this is a good skill to have. When the traffic is backed-up and I am going to be late to work, it is essential to monitor my reactions and minimize time in a negative zone.
To control thoughts, what has helped me has been to have a short focus word or mantra that I like and repeat slowly, over and over in my mind. On the ride, I substitute this word, whenever something happens or the traffic backs up. After I react emotionally to the event, by slowly repeating the word and concentrating each time, over and over, in time I usually calm down.
Many people use as their focus word a name or concept from their religious background (Jesus, Mohammed, Allah, Love, Light or Vishnu). Others use personally pleasurable, relaxing names or visual images (sunshine, happiness, name of their wife or lover).
As indicated above, in my own situation, I repeat one of the Names of God and visualize light and healing energy attached to it. Feeling this energy emanating from this Glorious Name, in time, heals and soothes me.
* * *
The hardest battles are not fought in fields or on distant seas,
But within ourselves.
We are the enemy
Who ravages every defenseless position.
* * *
Making A Situation Work
In the middle of writing this collection on the Deegan, I began to wonder - what purpose will it serve? O why do it?
Then it occurred to me that much of our life is spent doing things we dont like and have to do. Much is dull and repetitious. Driving the Deegan is a symbol for anything we do which becomes something we would choose not to do, but must complete out of necessity or duty.
If we have exerted as much energy as possible to make the situation work for us and cannot change it, still being unhappy, what is left for us to do? Change our attitude, or somehow find a way to benefit.
In reality, I can only control, by varying my times of travel, the traffic patterns, but so much. The Deegan gets a lot of traffic at all hours. Yet, I have some control over myself and my attitude toward commuting. Over time, I realized the best attitude was one of quiet acceptance and doing those things which helped me deal with the situation. I could listen to the radio or travel with a companion. Most often traffic was backed-up. That was the reality.
Once I became aware that the only thing I could control was myself, and this was accomplished through a quiet acceptance of my daily commute, other things began to happen. I began to listen to the quiet, deeply hidden part of me that saw things in a unifying pattern. This part accepted that I had to travel this highway every day - something another part of me hated. The higher part taught I could make something of the situation, if I was open to the possibility.
We all have things in our life we hate to do. Some people have options and are able to replace these things with others. For some, this isnt always possible; part of the function of this writing is to offer an alternative way of viewing things . . .
A Commuter's Guide to Enlightenment, by Dr. Stewart Bitkoff
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