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INNER SPACE


In January of 2013 National Geographic magazine published an article entitled "Restless Genes." It was about "the compulsion to see what lies beyond that far ridge or that ocean - or this planet," and how it's a defining part of human identity and success. The article discusses the uniquely human obsession with filling in the Earth's maps and exploring distant poles and high peaks, with sailing all the oceans and even leaving the planet. The question gets raised as to what gives rise to our "madness" to explore, what drives us to the moon and beyond? 

Of course there are genetic candidates, such as a gene called DRD4, which controls dopamine. Dopamine is instrumental in learning and reward. Roughly 20 percent of all humans carry a variant of this gene, which researchers tie to restlessness and curiosity. These risk-takers explore new places and opportunities, including drug and sex, and generally embrace change and adventure. I can think of a few friends that probably carry it. Hello Steve and Deej! The gene is also closely associated with ADHD. If your hyperactive kid is destined to become the next Cousteau, that's all the reason I'd give not to medicate little Johnny. 

DRD4 is also tied to human migration, and those who carry it within nomadic tribes are stronger and better fed, but if they live as settled villagers they tend to waste away. The conclusion scientists derive from this is that a restless person is fed on adventure and therefore thrives in a changeable environment but languishes in a stable one. Whether or not our tendency toward adventure will ever be definitively tied to a gene or group of genes is doubtful. "Genetics doesn't work that way," says one scientist. 

And really, all humans can be great explorers, since we all have the triad of great mobility, unparalleled dexterity, and imaginative thinking. Imaginative thinking is by far our biggest asset, and my imagination was excited by the time I finished the article, which made me resolve to become an explorer myself. But not of some distant domain, such as outer space. Rather I renewed my commitment to explore shall we say inner space. I've done a lot of traveling. I even lived abroad for a time. But the restlessness that characterized my 20s and part of my 30s has long since given way not to a complacency, but to a contentment. Make your outer life monotonous so your inner life may shine, to paraphrase one writer. Or as the sage Ramana Maharshi put it, "Great spiritual accomplishments can be won in the privacy of your own study - provided you resist the Herculean temptations to leave home."

In short, I became restless to be restful. And without a car physically I could not go very far.

As I near the 4 year anniversary of my resolve to be a navigator of the inner realm, I wonder what if anything I have discovered. More often than not when I sit down to meditate I drift off to slumber. And when I don't, the thoughtless state is so like sleep I have a hard time telling the difference. The vacant mind may as well be unconscious, because the moment you are aware that you are conscious, you are by definition thinking. I wish I could say I've had life-changing revelations during these 45 months. Yes I have written books, and read many more besides, but their details escape me. Have I gained greater insight into the deeper workings of my psyche, into the machinery of my emotions? Perhaps. But thoughts and feelings change, and as quickly as you grasp one it gives way to another, doesn't it? While I am certainly able to communicate my thoughts and feelings better than ever, the same goes for anyone who chooses to pick up the pen and practice putting words on the page. You too can get good at self-expression in no time. 

I think more than anything I have become more content just being. I am less distracted, less prey to destructive thoughts. More patient. Yes I still curse when the pooch tarries around a gutter - Max is such a "junk yard dog"! - albeit the obscenities I mutter are under my breath. And I consider ending my life when a back spasm makes living it almost impossible. But like everything else, these thoughts and feelings pass. More than anything I remain fixed as the witness of the show, watching my every movement, observing how I react to situations, and understanding what my reactions say about me. The world is a mirror and everywhere you turn you see your own reflection. Narcissus had it easy. I don't always admire what I see.

Also, I live more consciously. And in this settled time I have hardly left the house except when absolutely necessary. Like today, when I needed groceries, and the car's tires needed air. We should all become explorers of the soul, navigators of our own inner reality. As one holy person has said, "Don't waste your time dallying along the shore collecting broken shells. These are so many worthless trinkets and baubles. Instead plunge headlong into the ocean of your nature and see what pearls lie at its depths." When I first heard the expression "Follow the master, face the devil, fight to the end, and finish the game," I thought the game was life, and finishing it meant making money, earning some renown, popping out 2.4 kids along the way and maybe making timely mortgage payments. I now realize that the master is your inner voice and the devil is the ego-based personality that seeks selfish ends. The fight is between the two selves, lower and higher. And the game is Self-realization. The secret to its success lies in turning within. And more than scaling peaks or sailing seas, more than discovering new apps or earning a pretty penny, if you can master yourself, if you can learn to sit silent and still and dwell in the inner reality, you deserve to have your name in the record books, as I see it. Because not many have come before you, and you are a beacon to all that tread the path hereafter.

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