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Be Prepared

Be Prepared

As you all know it is always best to be prepared for all possibilities as often as possible and as best you can.  This is of course the motto of the Boy Scouts, something I had drilled into me thousands of times during my time in that organization as a child and teenager. At that time being prepared meant having all the right equipment for whatever we were doing, camping, cooking, hiking, and so on. I did learn good survival skills in the mountains, how to dress for the weather, how to make a fire with sticks and no matches, how to tell the time by the sun and shadows, and how to orient with a compass in order to not get lost among many other useful things. But of course we know that being prepared is way more than these skills, or at least it should be. Let us take a moment and consider what it actually means to be prepared or rather what it does not mean first.

Being prepared does not mean being in total control because realistically life is a grand adventure and involves constant mystery and if we want to be in control we might as well never leave the house.  Even staying home can be risky considering how many accidents happen in the home environment. I always think of the story that my friend Pat Liles tells about how she determined that her daughter had some really difficult astrology one day so they chose to spend the day at home. They decided to do a sewing project and that seemed innocent enough but then her daughter Phoebe stuck a needle between her teeth to hold it for a moment and she aspirated the needle. It got lodged in her throat and resulted in a mad dash to the emergency room where it was removed. The best laid plans……..

We cannot control our lives? What happens is what happens. We like to make plans and that is not a bad idea as long as we know any plan is subject to change or sudden alteration. As the John Lennon saying goes, “Life is what happens when we are making plans.” So planning is not control but it is part of being prepared. If I am planning a trip to the high mountains I must be prepared for sudden storms, winds, and slick rock conditions. I can lessen the risks this way but I cannot predict exactly what will happen.

Being prepared is not coming from a place of fear either. I can think “What if this happens?” or “What if that happens?” and work myself into a state of horrible anxiety but this has nothing to do with being prepared. It is just indulging in my fears and that is actually a disastrous form of preparation because it makes disaster more probable.

What does it mean to be prepared and what is the best form of preparation?
Shortly we are are going to go into what it does mean to be prepared but first lets tackle what the best form of preparation is. The best form of preparation for most things is having experience. I have been to the icy north and I know what the conditions are and I know what to bring and I know I will have to get in shape for intense cold. I have been to the jungle and I know how to stay well and how to dress for heat as well as insects. I have been to India and I know what the trains and buses are like and how to deal with that exotic environment. This is a basically good strategy but let’s face it. This time it may be totally different like the time there was heat wave in the far north or a cold front came through the Amazon from Antarctica, or the time I was on a tour in India and we flew everywhere and stayed in fine hotels.

What I have learned about being prepared is to go lean and mean. In the late 1800’s travelers were mostly wealthy and they traveled with many large trunks on steamships and wagons. Both men and women wore heavy layered clothing with hats and so on and this required a burdensome amount of luggage. Now we have learned to travel light and can go all around the world with an absolute minimum of baggage, often with just one suitcase or backpack. So it is the same being prepared for what is coming. We don’t have to prepare for every eventuality. The best preparation is to have the right attitude. When Parahamsa Yogananda was a boy he convinced his friend to go on a trip around India with literally no money and no luggage. He told his friend that God would look after them and see to it that everything went fine. His friend skeptically agreed, so they set out on a grand adventure and total strangers fed them and gave them shelter and took care of them every step of the way until they were tracked down and brought home by irate parents. So we don’t need to go into the future with garages filled with canned goods, hordes of weapons, and stockpiled ammunition, fuel, generators and the like. All we need is the right attitude and to be light on our feet and highly adaptable.

In what ways do we need to be prepared for the coming times and coming events? Let’s do a little inventory here.

We need to be prepared psychologically, emotionally, and physically. That is, it would be very helpful if we are emotionally stable, and sound of mind. Being addicted to opioids or methamphetamines is not exactly what I would think of as being well prepared for the future. Being deeply depressed or highly anxious about the future does not make for good preparations either. We need to think of ourselves as trained athletes. Most athletes do not need to cart around a large amount of equipment. Their equipment is mostly their highly prepared body and their trained mind with maybe some skis or golf clubs, or a bicycle in addition. That is exactly the way each of us needs to be. We need to have an optimistic and yet realistic and practical sense of what to do. We go forward with a strong sense that we will make the most of whatever adverse conditions we run into. At the same time we do not take foolish risks and if is snowing too hard we don’t train that day. The main thing is that we have learned to manage our emotions, we don’t panic under stress or adversarial conditions, we know we don’t perform our best if coming from anger, vengefulness, fear of losing, trying to humiliate the competition, and other low frequency motivations. We compete for the love of the sport so we meet our life challenges with a sense of adventure and because we love our lives and what happens when we are fully engaged, when we are passionate about our service.

We need to be prepared spiritually. Being prepared spiritually means not being a baby about our relationship with Spirit. Whining, begging, and getting angry with God or Spirit when everything doesn’t go our way or how we would like it to, just won’t cut it. These are all signs of grave immaturity spiritually speaking. This is just not good preparation for the future. Realizing that we are multidimensional selves making free choices about our actions is quite helpful. Accepting and loving ourselves even though we seem to not always know what we are doing,  is an excellent approach. Knowing that we are always learning, even if the lesson is what not to do, is highly beneficial. Realizing that help is all around us just for the asking is critical to success. We have been furnished with a warehouse of tools, medicines, and a whole university full of advisers cleverly camouflaged as stage props. The Earth is a pharmacy. The universe is loaded with resources, medicines, and helping spirits. We have an endless supply of fellow travelers on our path of life. Knowing how to ask for help when we actually need it is vital. Nobody does it alone.

This actually brings us to the part about being prepared socially. We need to speak up and ask for help and we need to offer our services often and to those who could use them. Everything is reciprocal. We are not here to just receive and not here to just provide. We are here to consistently do both because life is more like a river, not so much a landlocked lake. There is always something coming in and something going out. Otherwise there is imbalance.

Finally we need to be prepared to die. This is not a joke. We are all going to physically die someday and perhaps sooner than later.  What is the best preparation for death? To learn to rapidly produce a state of gratitude and love which in truth requires no thinking. The practice for this is to think about things you are grateful for until your body and Spirit knows the feeling by heart and can reproduce it anytime, anyplace, in an instant as your car is hurdling over a cliff, as you are dodging bullets in a firefight, as you are facing a firing squad, as fever consumes you, as cancer overcomes your body.  When faced with imminent death we need to know how to say, “Thank you Spirit for everything. Thank you for my life.” This will only happen if you practice it.

And then, what comes split seconds after this gratitude is the ability to become completely silent within, at a moments notice. Rather than screaming “Oh no! Oh no, I’m going to die!” over and over, you become quite calm with a slight smile and you become silent, without thought. This is the best possible scenario according to the awakened masters, the yogis and yoginis, the enlightened Buddhist llamas. They say that if you can maintain this state of emptiness for the time it takes to wave the sleeve of your robe back and forth three times, you will have an excellent passage to the other side and be in a truly prepared state for passage through the bardos with ease and grace.  This is being prepared. Dying with your last thoughts being worry about what will happen with your will or the people you are leaving behind is hardly helpful.

The closest thing to dying that we do every day is that we fall asleep and dream. This rejuvenates us but it is also about as close to actually dying as we can get because we lose identification with our bodies temporarily and discover that we can travel and have experiences independent of our bodies. So it makes sense to practice preparation for our last moments just before falling asleep. To fall asleep with gratitude is a great way to enter the dream state. To fall asleep by quieting the mind and experiencing the supreme intelligence of empty awareness is an amazing way to fall asleep.  And when we wake up from sleep and dreams the best way to do this is by being still, quiet, empty and then transition into gratitude for a new day, new choices, new perspectives, new actions.

If you are always prepared for death because you have practiced often, then you are adequately always prepared for your life, no matter what happens. Preparing for death is preparing for life. What an interesting proposal!

José Stevens PhD is an international lecturer, corporate team builder and organizational coach, consultant and trainer. A psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and author of more than twenty books and numerous articles, he is also co-editor for A Journal of Contemporary Shamanism and a board member of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners. He is the founder, with his wife Lena, of the Power Path School of Shamanism and The Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating youth in indigenous cultures. He has completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol Maracame in Mexico and has studied with the Shipibos of the Amazon and the Paqos of the Andes for the last thirty years.

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