Back in the early Seventies, two married friends of mine decided to be early adopters of the latest thing in bedroom furniture: the flotation mattress, or waterbed. I happened to visit them not long after the bed was delivered, and they delightedly invited me to lie on it. I gingerly made my way to the center of the bed, feeling like I was crawling over a wriggling mass of Jell-O. Once there, though, it felt wonderfully relaxing, like floating on a softly undulating pool of water—which, of course, is basically what I was doing.
A couple of weeks later, I saw my friends again and asked how they were enjoying their waterbed. The husband gave his wife a rueful look and said, “We had to get baffles.”
“Baffles?” I asked.
“Yeah. They’re slats that are inserted into the mattress to break up the waves that can form in the water.”
He then told me that one night his wife had jolted into wakefulness with a painful cramp in her leg. Her thrashing about had created a wave in the water of the mattress that rushed over to her husband’s side and flipped him out of the bed onto the floor, bruising his arm.
My friend was laughing as he related this to me, though he admitted he hadn’t been laughing at the time. It is a funny story. But it’s more than that. Over the years as I’ve observed the effects of subtle energies of thought and feeling in our environment, I’ve had numerous occasions to think about it. It’s an ideal metaphor in many ways for our relationship to the invisible currents of thought and feeling that surround us all the time.
It’s as if we are all lying on the same waterbed. Though we live our separate lives on the surface, we are resting on invisible networks of connectedness. These connections create a collective human field which, like my friends’ flotation mattress, can transmit waves of feeling from one part of humanity to another. If people cry out with fear and suffering in Puerto Rico or Syria, for example, the subtle energy of their emotions are not confined to their physical locality but ripple out, like the waves in a waterbed. And when those waves reach where we are lying, we, too, can be “flipped out.” Our own personal energy fields can respond in unanticipated ways. Our mood may suddenly change, leaving us feeling anxious or fearful, angry or hateful, for no rational reason that we can discern. But because we believe that our thoughts and feelings exist in a private subjectivity within our own heads, we can fail to recognize that, like a radio or television set, we are picking up on information “broadcast” from somewhere else.
If we identify strongly enough with these sudden and anomalous “flips” of emotion or thought, then we can add our personal energy to them. We propagate the wave onward through our collective “mattress,” increasing the chance that others will have their moods, their thoughts, their feelings flipped as well. And sometimes this “flipping out” can lead someone who is susceptible to take dangerous and hurtful actions in the physical world.
These subtle waves moving through our human collective field are undoubtedly given power and shape by media. The news is an almost continuous litany of anxiety-producing images and stories. We are bombarded on two fronts, consciously by negative information transmitted through news programs, radio shows, social media, and the Internet, and subconsciously by negative energies generated by the many ways in which human beings inflict emotional, mental, and physical suffering on each other.
The situation is not hopeless, but it does require our attention. We need to understand that our thoughts and feelings can have nonlocal effects and to take responsibility for what we project into the world.
One action we can take is exactly the same as my friends took with their waterbed. They got baffles to break up the waves. We can do the same, except in this instance, we are the baffles. Simply by refusing to give attention and energy to sudden “flips” or bursts of negative feeling and thought, whether stimulated by media or by some, hidden, unconscious, invisible subtle influence, we can stop a wave from developing and propagating further.
Recently I was sitting in a restaurant chatting with a friend when I felt a sudden, unreasonable anger, even a hatred, for government employees. There was no reason in the world for me to feel this; it certainly wasn’t anything I was thinking about, and I don’t cultivate anger or hatred in any event. Yet the feelings were intense. It would have been easy and natural to identify with them.
I’m familiar, though, with how feelings like this can travel through our collective waterbed. And knowing this, I knew it was time to be a baffle. I first acknowledged the feelings and didn’t try to push them away; in effect, I was holding the subtle energy in my own field so it wouldn’t travel on. Then I consciously invoked a feeling of love. I enfolded the anger in this love, and as I did so, the intensity of these strange feelings simply evaporated.
I didn’t have to know where these feelings came from. How could I know? These days, so many people are angry with government at all levels. My job as a baffle was not to pass them on, not to assign blame to anyone for generating them in the first place.
Being a baffle means deliberately standing in a calm, loving, solid place, and this means knowing yourself. It means cultivating the kind of emotions and thoughts in the moment that you would like to receive from others, that you would find supportive, encouraging, protective, and loving. We can’t help broadcasting into the subtle environment, into the network of connections that tie us all together, into the waterbed of humanity. But we can choose what we project, and when we run into its opposite, as we surely will, we can then transform it or at least not pass it on.
I’ve focused on the transmission of negative energy here because that is what creates problems for us; given human habits, it’s what we are likely to fixate on, as well. We are hardwired to be sensitive to threats. But it’s important to realize that our waterbed can transmit waves of good feeling, waves of courage, joy, love, and support as well. This is a whole area of spiritual service in itself, deliberately being a source of the kind of positive creative energies we’d like more of in the world.
With this in mind, when you suddenly feel happy for no reason or in spite of everything on the news, you feel that the world is an OK place and that good things will unfold, then you can “flip” for that wave. That’s the kind of thing we definitely want to pass on.
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