There is nothing to practice. To know yourself, be yourself. To be yourself, stop imagining yourself to be this or that. Just be. Let your true nature emerge.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Have you ever watched a pelican dive? It will circle high above the ocean and then make a gliding turn for an accelerated downward dive, landing with a huge spray of water.
Today as I watched the pelicans dive it struck me how they never miss their water entry. It is always a perfectly executed turn, drop and splash. I've never once seen a pelican "blow it" landing in a belly flop or forgetting to pull it's wings in before hitting the wall of water. The beach is noticeably not littered with pelicans with broken wings and head injuries. Although anyone who has ever miscalculated a dive into a pool knows, missing your water entry is painful and can be fatal.
In the pelican world today, thousands of birds will make perfect entries and bob back to the surface unharmed.
Yet, unlike humans, the pelican has not practiced 10,000 hours until they reached mastery in order to accomplish this complex set of maneuvers. They didn't study, take exams or get diving certificates. They just know. They just dive. They pull their wings into the perfect formation at the perfect moment because it is what they are born to do.
Out of the egg, straight to the natural self.
Every creature on earth is the same in this respect.
So what about us human beings?
We humans are a part of the same natural world. Do we not also have a natural self that is perfectly made to do what it is made to do? I wonder why it doesn't seem that way to us ...
What is the natural (magnificent) self of a human being?
Why do I experience life as if I am motoring under my own steam, a separate entity making its way through life on willpower and acquisition instead of an integral flowing part of the natural universe, clinging to nothing?
"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin" (Matthew)
Why doesn't it seem like that for us?
Why don't I experience natural me in the flow of life without the struggle?
Shouldn't all beings have the same endowments -- the ability to be perfect in relation to their surroundings without needing a PhD to do so?
Life stops if we withdraw personal effort, attention and control.
Without effort nothing happens.
We believe that we are the actors, movers and shakers of each minute of our lives. We also seem to think that we took our foot off the pedal, released the grip on the steering wheel and let go of making life happen -- our lives would slow down to an unbearable snail's pace. We think we would deflate as if we were punctured balloons.
But are we really making life happen?
Many times I've had people tell me that their greatest fear is that if they become too happy or too content, they will no longer want to do anything. Really? Without the push to achieve, to get and to do you'd would just turn into a marshmallow and stop going to work? Some think they will turn into a slug within a month or perhaps just eat and eat and eat until they explode.
In the natural world no animal ever eats itself to death.
No animal thinks it needs to be worthy.
No purpose, no goals and no savings -- will he be OK?
It is interesting to consider just how much life is in motion and how much we are part of it. Despite what we may think.
Look how during your life you've often been lifted along for the ride. I question that any of us has the kind of control that our daily choices and actions imply.
When a parent tells a child to get an education there are assumptions about how education paves the way for a better life. What I noticed in my life is that although I quit university and was a chef for most of my 20s while I traveled and wrote poetry -- I went back to school and then completed my bachelor's and an M.A. in less than 4 years. Because I had learned 3 languages in the process I then became a Conference Interpreter at the European Parliament. My life was unfolding perfectly for me. I didn't make or plan any of it. I was along for the ride.
In fact I've been along for the ride for every major life event I can think of, including the birth of my daughter.
When we are sick, the body knows how to heal. When we are unsure or can't make a decision, life doesn't throw up its hands in desperation and then drive off without us. It moves on and takes us with it no matter what we say or think -- decisions get made for us all the time.
I was reading some of the stories in "The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Recipes from an accidental country girl" a cookbook written by unlikely city gal who meets rural cowboy, gets married and then writes cookbooks because "Cowboys don't each sushi." A perfect life, I'd say, unfolding despite her other plans! And she wouldn't have it any other way.
What can we take from this?
It is difficult to imagine human life taking place "naturally" without the momentum of our personal effort and planning. Our very concept of how life operates for humans as opposed to other creatures seems, in itself, to remove us from the natural rhythm of life.
How might it be helpful to us to conceive that humans too might be part of a flow that moves, contains and ultimately holds us?
It seems to me that the natural world is showing us something true about ourselves if we would listen a bit more closely.
So what would it be like to live in that flow?
What is Self-Love?
Why the ways we try to love ourselves do not work and why it's so much easier than we think...
Generally speaking we all believe it's a good thing to appreciate who we are and not be too hard on ourselves. We get that on some level, it's important at least like ourselves somewhat. After all, we wake up with ourselves every day for the whole of our lives and it's tough to put up with the constant presence of someone you mildly detest.
When it was first suggested that I might need to practice to learn to love myself, I was told to look in the mirror everyday and repeat "I'm beautiful! I am fabulous! I am loved!" over and over until I could feel it.
I've written about using affirmations and I've taught visualization and visioning and I've nothing against them. Affirmations in particular are always intended to have a positive effect. And frankly I can't see how saying "I love you" to yourself could have a negative effect. I have simply noticed that most people, affirmations well in hand, still find it difficult to love themselves and accept love from others. So I started wondering about that.
I came up with a simple reason why affirmations don't work to love ourselves. We are trying to love the wrong thing.
When look to our personalities, which are constructs that we have built over time, pretty much everyone finds it difficult to see their innate value and lovability. We have spent so much time trying to be deserving; it's impossible to see that we are deserving just because we are here. So stop trying to love your "persona." Personas are not lovable. They are a mask over our true nature. It
is no wonder why positive affirmations don't help people. We are desperately trying to love the mask. "Learning to love the personality you've built in order to interface with the world is a waste of your time" (101 New Pairs of Glasses Chapter on Self-Care)
We need to look beyond the construct, beyond what we have got used to seeing in the mirror and identifying as "me." We are not these personas and masks that we wear. We are not our stories about ourselves. We are something else.
What are we?
Who are we?
What experience do you have of who you are beyond the body and beyond the daily self-chatter?
Do you believe you are broken?
Do you think that although you arrived as a baby perfectly and beautifully made to live your life, that somehow you inner self got taken away from you, dashed to the ground and shattered?
As we look past and beyond the mirror, it may sound slightly esoteric, but really you do have a very real awareness of this. Otherwise you would not know you are talking to yourself. You can only know that because there is something that is you that can observe "you." Aside from this, you'll also recognize that you are are picking up non-physical, or beyond physical information all the time. What is that? How do you know someone can be trusted, for example, when only you've just met them? What sense is picking up on that? What are you picking up on? The fact is that we look beyond the persona that people present to us all the time in everyday life.
Seeing beyond bodies, beyond forms is not as difficult as we make it out to be. And at the same time it is the hardest challenge we face.
Notice times when you have been able to reach beyond what someone is saying or doing and see their essence as a human being. Times will soon come when you can see your own more clearly.
If you are not entirely fooled by what is looking back at you.
I believe humans are, in our nature, good.
I begin here because I am about to talk about helping others and anytime we talk about how we relate to others - whether in deep service or being a good friend - it seems important to begin with a good look at our assumptions about people.
A.S. Neill, author of "Summerhill" (see below) stated essential human-ness so clearly when he said that when children are left to their own devices they are "innately wise and realistic." He proved this at his Summerhill school by leaving children free of restrictions, including being obliged to go to school. What followed Summerhill opening of the educational cage door challenged and continues to challenge our views of troubled children. It showed that that without rules to control behavior, children gravitated naturally toward behaviors that were good and social.
Roger Mills, the founder of the Center For Sustainable Change told me something similar when he said, "well-being is buoyant" in each and every person no matter what situation or their history. His project in Modello proved this was true and did so in challenging socioeconomic circumstances ... the kind most of us will never come close to facing.
I wanted to lead with this as a clear, fundamental assumption of our human nature because in relationships with one another, where you stand on this changes everything
- how you listen
- what you hear
- what you say
- what you don't say
- what you do next
It changes the very definition of what you think is happening in the moment. If you think you are having an issue, it changes the nature of how to see and define that issue and as a result, the solution. It has a profound affect on how you help others and what you think you are helping. It changes the nature of the moment itself.
In fact I will go to far as to assert that what you assume to be true about the nature of people even affects another person's ability to think clearly in your presence!
As we watch the people we care about live in the troubled waters of their daily lives, the impulse to help, to advise, to try to alleviate another's suffering is a constant invitation. Everyone, including me, falls into the temptation to try to help another out. We like to lift their moods, solve their issues and take away their discomfort. We have many overt and covert ways of doing this.
But our impulse to help can be an very unhelpful thing.
I remember one day when I had been particularly involved in trying to help by listening and offering my "cheer up" approach. I was startled to realize that everything I was saying was totally selfish. It was all for me. I wanted this person to be happy, not for themselves, but for my sake. I wanted them to feel good so I could look at them and not feel bad. Ultimately, I had to admit to myself, I had my best interests at heart, not theirs.
If I had begun this same interaction by remembering that all people have essential qualities that include a tendency toward buoyancy of well-being and inner ability to solve one's own problems, I would have approached it differently:
I would have dropped all my devices and just loved them.
I would have looked beyond what I was seeing toward their true nature.
If you are a coach, friend or parent, loving people isn't difficult, it's just that it strips you of anything to do. Maybe we have a hard time with this. Loving in the sense I'm talking about, that is recognizing the person within, is not a "doing."
When we are doing love
, we are probably not being love
And what is the inner nature of us all if it is not Love itself?
There is nothing for Love to do, except perhaps look for itself in the other. Love is the recognition of wholeness in the other and the understanding of their capacity to see for themselves, in their own time and in their own way.
Ultimately, love allows the other all of their joys and sorrows and does not pretend to know what is best, what is good or what is needed. It never tries to take over for the wisdom of another. It can be there no matter what is happening. And it feels good. A Course in Miracles asserts
that everything we do is either "love or a call for love." This is a fairly high vocation for anyone and probably the single most important thing you can understand if you are a parent, lover or friend.
It is the great peace-maker, not just in our relationships but in our internal environment.
For those of you reading this who are coaches, it will remove your role as "helper" and turn you into someone whose presence is a true help to others.
Turn the mind inward and cease thinking of yourself as the body; thereby you will come to know that the self is ever happy. Neither grief nor misery is experienced in this state
--Sri Ramana Maharshi
I hope you had a chance to catch the radio show, The Human Spirit Rises
with testimonies of hope, transformation and recovery from addiction and difficult circumstances.
Circumstances seem to have us so very trapped don't they? They come in the form our own habits and compulsions as well as in the ways other people seem to be able to step on our lives, interrupt our peace of mind and just generally create havoc in our world.
Even though we can see that no thing can truly make us happy, it is much harder to see clearly that no thing, person or circumstance has the power to ruin us. For me to have any sense that this is true in my life, I am often questioning the power of things.
How does a diagnosis have the power to make us fearful?
How is stress created in us?
How does someone disappearing from your life create sadness in you?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying these feelings don't or shouldn't happen. But I do spend time reflecting on how sadness, stress and fear arise within me. What is the mechanism? How does it work?
It may seem like thinking about such questions is pointless. That pain is just pain and sadness just is. And that's it. All I suggest is that for any of you reading who do work with others, this is a rich field for inquiry. Those of us who coach and work powerfully with people who are suffering and in pain, must reflect deeply on the true sources of pain and the means by which humans experience their troubles. If we do not, we can't help people as much or as well.
The closer we look at human feelings and all human experience, the more we notice a simple truth: that all people simply feel whatever they are thinking in the moment. Even the past and the future are experienced as thoughts in the moment. They cannot be experienced in either the past or the future, for obvious reasons.
So all life is made of thought. All thought comes to life within us. The truth about everyone who has a human body is that the nature and depth of pain and suffering arises in the present moment through our present moment thinking. And through nothing else.
I consider the work I do to be the work of liberating people not only from the depressing cycle of having things on the outside make us miserable, but also to free souls to be happy regardless of all the things we try to acquire, resolve or make disappear so that we can experience being satisfied and fulfilled. It seems to me that I am teaching people how to live an uncontingent life. (To the extent that I go first!)
I just cannot think of anything more important.
The ego is the sum total of all your smallest ideas about yourself - Robert Holden
As challenges come along in life I notice we are often rush out to meet them in our weakest and most frightened states. Perhaps we've gotten so used to being harried, tired and behind the eight ball that we don't even notice we've rallied up our most inadequate capacities and gone straight out to try to resolve our most important issues.
I have been thinking about the resiliency of the Human Spirit and as I reflected on the nature of all of our "spirit" a rather dis-spiriting idea occurred to me. How many times have I had an important decision, a delicate conversation or a really tough life challenge, and allowed myself to try to resolve it using my poorest mindset? The answer was, unfortunately, many times!
Examples of what I mean:
- agreeing to have "the talk" about your relationship when you are tired or have been drinking
- standing up to confront a co-worker about a bad habit while thinking "that was the last straw!"
- correcting or disciplining children in the heat of anger
- talking to the boss after you've already missed the deadline and haven't slept well
What I'd emphasize in each of these examples is not the situations or the physical states, but rather the mental states.
It is common to all of us to lose our way, lose our temper and address issues when we know that our our mental capacities are on low ebb. Everyone can get stretched and find themselves with less of their normal abilities in any given moment.
Of course it would be great to say that we could recognize this is the case in advance and then be sensible enough not to "go for it." But the very real problem with this is that it is precisely in your poorest mental state that you are least likely to listen to your very good sense.
So is there any good end to this cycle?
As it turns out, there is ...
A great way to stay stuck exactly where you are is to keep thinking the same thing
over and over and over.
Processing events via repetitive loops in your head increases tension and stuckness.
How do you get relief?
If you've ever made a mistake in life I'm sure you realized that there comes a point where you just have to face up to it. No matter how bad it gets, you'll never be able to wake up one day and ask yourself for a divorce. No matter what you do or fail to do, you'll still always be looking at yourself in the mirror.
For some of us, that's a bit of a problem. I'm sure it's been the reason behind many personal change programs and innumerable self-help books.
But if you are going to live with you for the rest of your life, for better or for worse, isn't it time to make peace and get on with it? I'd certainly prefer to. Especially since the alternative is to be stuck on an endless track of regret or anger with no exit ramp.
So how do we live with our mistakes without letting them consume us with regret and rumination?
How do we let go of our thought ruts?
I've seen and practiced many methods for releasing the past, most all of them very helpful. Then recently something more profound occurred to me as I thought, "What am I actually trying to let go of?"
If you have ever wanted very much to forgive someone for something they did to you, or if you've done something you desperately regret, this is a very important question.
What gets "let go of?"
What gets "forgiven?"
If you are willing to take a closer look, you may make an amazing discovery. The only thing that remains once an event is over, is the thinking about it. There is no more event. There are memories of course. But these are, as Sydney Banks
said so well, "thoughts carried through time." And they are nothing more than that.
This is not to say that events have not happened. This planet most certainly has a history of wars, arguments, strife and ill-deeds. But in the aftermath of the deed, only one thing remains: the human being with their life stretched out ahead of them. What then? To continue to be hurt by an event, you must pack it up in your mental suitcase and take it with you. If you didn't the past would be completely gone. Nowhere to be found.
Now that is going to sound extremely difficult if you are trying to move on from something that was big or traumatic. But if you'd like to at least consider the possibility that these bigger events are no different from smaller ones and that the way we move on from our Goliath battles is exactly the same way we let go of our mosquito bites, you may see something new.
Nothing forces you to keep thinking about something over and over.
The past has no power to assert itself through time.
For example, I know that I absolutely cannot recall all the exams I did badly on in school. I know I didn't get straight A's. But I don't have a vivid recollection of each exam and each result. I know I had a great deal of stress and effort and in some cases trauma around exams. I remember vaguely I used to have nightmares during my university days. But after those exams where done I left them in the past. They didn't matter. I didn't take them forward as things to be sorry, sad or angry about. Interestingly, I don't remember trying to let go of them either. In fact, I don't recall doing anything in particular except just getting on with my life.
I don't think there is anything intrinsic in any event that would force you to take it forward with you in time. In fact, we are letting go all the time. Because we just don't think about it or if we do, we don't really take the thoughts that seriously. We shrug, "oh well," and order lunch. We see that we are only having a passing thought.
Here's another example to consider. When we first are getting to know a romantic partner, they look great to us. Once a few things have happened between us, they seem changed; they've become the clump of grievances we hold against them. How is it that someone we love becomes someone we despise? Let's face it, if you have ever been in a serious relationship, did you or did you not spend time rehearsing what you would say, how you would respond to something, or what someone did or said to you? Maybe you were driving, or sitting at your desk, or talking to a friend.
In these moments you were bringing the past into the future through your thinking. They become what you think about.
Anyone in a successful relationship, whether a romantic partner or a parent, knows that you must let go of the rehearsing the past in your head before you can see the person for who they truly are. We also call this forgiveness.
The past has no power to assert itself into the present. Not all on its own. It needs your help. It needs your power of thought to do that.
On the radio March 2nd, I cover one of the chief mechanisms by which we keep ourselves from letting go of what's happened and moving forward in life: obsessive thinking. Mental rumination keeps the past alive in the present and, as I talk about in my book, 101 New Pairs of Glasses
"robs you of your now."
Joining me is Gabriela Maldonado who I work with at the Center for Sustainable Change.
Ever notice how people say they are in charge of their lives, but they then act like they are not?
I might hear someone say "I always attract addicts!" as if they could control all the aspects and choices of other people.
On the other side, I hear people say things like or "Why am I not drawing more money into my life?" as if that where a question for the universe rather than a question that relates to the personal choices one makes during each day.
It's quite a muddle all this. And it is important to see as clearly as we can.
I don't see the point of taking on more and more responsibility for the random things that happen to us while simultaneously abdicating responsibility for our choices. So I've been reflecting on an important question lately:
Who's in charge?
... and in charge of what?
I see people acting crazy, torn apart, suffering, because they have not considered this question deeply enough. If they could see the ways they take over-responsibility for others and under-responsibility for themselves, their lives would change radically for the better.
For example, everyone knows they are not in charge of the boss, the spouse, the kids or the economy. Of course we hear people complaining and arguing about how unfair all these things are all the time.
But look more closely. Look at how they are blaming their own actions on these things. I heard someone recently saying that because the boss is a b*tch, their own bad attitude at work was totally justified. That comment passed unchallenged by anyone. Who "makes" you angry? Who "upsets" you? How do they do that? How do they get inside you and do that?
Every breath of blame holds some excuse for our own behavior.
No matter what other people do they cannot get inside us and make us see or do anything.
Viktor Frankl proved that.
Do you disagree?
In fact many people are in prison right now because it made sense to them to shoot someone who showed "disrespect." Do you think they had to kill a person because of a comment? Probably not. But they do
. And I assure you, you and I all have areas of life where we are believe something similar and because it makes sense within the confines of our own mind we go blind to it.
Science was blind to it too. Now the latest brain science research is not only discovering the previously "impossible" plasticity of the brain, but it is throwing out the whole theory that environment determines behavior in any way. Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga said in his Gifford lectures
that humans are responsible agents and responsibility is found in how people interact, not in brains.
Of course, this information does not help us that much day to day. It never will until we are willing to shine a light into our blind spots. One of our big blind spots (and I know, because it's mine too) is in understanding ourselves and how the human machine works.
Internally every human on this planet is a powerful storyteller. We are inventors of reasons and interpretations that we treat as facts and refer to as "reality." This activity keeps our brains very busy and our mental lives very full.
How much are you willing to see that the majority of the day is made up of moving in and out of the feeling states that are being created by your own thinking and not created by the outside world acting on you?
Most of the day we are entertained mentally.
Have you ever caught yourself wandering off into a day-dream?
You are not asleep; you are fully awake in your body, but your mind has literally meandered into a thought stream. Maybe you are thinking about the upcoming weekend hot date, plans to get to the airport on time, or the way you'll move your money around so you can pay for something you want.
If you really sit for a moment and consider this, it is quite amazing how you are your own 3-D special effects team. Strings of random thoughts arrive flying by at such a speed as to make their arrival and shifting patterns completely unnoticeable and yet illuminated through you into full-sensory experiences.
A day-dream is a good example of how we can get completely lost in that experience.
What we forget is that all thoughts have this same effect. We also forget the transitory nature of thought. There is no constant, permanent thought.
If you know anyone who is consumed in worry, obsessed with the past, or has trouble listening to people or sitting still -- it is not that they must change their thought patterns, it is that they need to become aware that their internal cinema is entertaining them. And I guarantee you, they don't know that. They will tell you it's because of something, someone or some event that either happened to them in the past or is happening now. They see themselves as Response. So sometimes we recognize that we're in the inner-cinema and other times we don't.
This is really where the idea of Who's In Charge? comes in. It's not that we need to control what we think. We can't change the inner-cinematic effect: this is how we work as humans. But we certainly can stop blaming others for what is happening in our own internal world.
In this sense, no one has the power to make you do anything and no one can have any kind of effect on you. Only you do that.
This is radical, but freeing news.
I admit it, I thought that as I got more "developed" life would get easier.
Yet I notice that despite my good intentions, life as a human is just tough sometimes. It seems no matter how much I learn from my mistakes, life simply continues to have its rough patches and I haven't managed to smooth the way for myself as I thought I'd be able to.
However, in contrast, I have got easier about the fact that it can be hard.
So many of us go through life feeling ill-equipped to deal with our challenges. Thinking we are inadequate, we decide to remain on guard. With our guard up we actually become more rigid and less responsive, so we don't flow easily with challenges. We tend to do poorly, try even harder (from an even less responsive place) and then get even worst results. We don't always get better and better over time. Instead we can face similar challenges over and over.
When we think we must have everything figured out -- all the before, during and after -- we are putting ourselves mentally at our worst. We become preoccupied with analyzing and assessing our problems. Mentally we shrink, not expand, and creativity is replaced by stress. In essence, we begin using our imagination against us, worrying about things instead of seeing the creative solution that is unique to the situation. We become less and less clear. We choke. We panic. We react. (See last week's post on reactivity
So, hands up if you ever have come at your parent, partner, child or boss utterly promising yourself you won't get riled up and then, in heat of the moment, being unable to stop yourself spiraling downwards.
Is it possible that our best-laid planning and all our ideas about how to handle our problems, actually kept us from responding well in the moment? Just Plain Losing It
Let's say I plan and rehearse all those things I want to say to my boss about why I deserve a raise. Do I walk into the boss's office already struggling to remember my well-rehearsed speech? Am I so concerned about flubbing it that I'm tongue tied? "Well, I went to that confidence class," I remind myself, "so it should be fine. I'll just breathe and do like they said" Wrong. I've slid so far down my own ladder internally and my state of mind is so degraded that that I can't remember anything I've learned. I'm a goner. We go about trying to solve problems by processing them, even though the evidence shows that the more mental effort we apply the less flexible, responsive and creative we become.
Trying to go at life's issues in the typical ways that we do -- planning, strategizing, making resolutions, withholding, weighing options, practicing behaviors, trying to control ourselves -- just often don't work out the way we envision.
Is there an easier path?
You may have noticed that we humans already possess an ability to have a new thought in any given moment. When we are not all tied up in mental knots we have awareness of what's happening around us and we have the ability to tune in. What's more
- Everyone has intelligence to use and with which to reflect.
- Everyone has a "heart" to feel emotional life as it happens.
- Everyone has an ability recognize and express love.
- Everyone has a sense that allows them to recognize what is good for them (gut, intuition or wisdom, whatever you want to call that).
All these and more
are examples of the kinds of capacities we are all are built with and can use to navigate our day-to-day lives. We all have them. No exceptions.
And yet how little we understand that this is true.
It's funny to me that everything I did to try to avoid difficulty or pave the way for myself in my best-laid plans never carved out the life I expected, never made people behave the way I'd hoped, and never controlled a single life event no matter how hard I applied the hammer and tongs.
Very often I found creative ways out of situations that I would have described at the time as impossible to resolve. Yet here I am. This has happened to all of us. How is that?
The moment someone says to me "I can't handle this!" I often see that, in fact, they are handling it perfectly well. Even if you have a mindset that is paralyzing you right now, it won't last. It's going to change. Something different is going to occur.
But we don't seem to trust that will happen. Instead we go petal to the metal on our mental accelerator. Our brains are full and then we send them into overdrive.
Many people find that this whole scenario shifts when they take a moment to write things down, or they let their internal world settle, before opening their mouth. What actually happens in this moment is not that the writing does the trick, but that they begin to access the fact that they have possibility. A brand new idea can pop up. And it often does.
It just like finding your purse when you stop looking for it. Or coming over the top of the hill and finally seeing the view.
I am constantly witness to the incredible resources we all have available in any moment. I wish I had a dollar for every person who has said to me "I don't know what to do!" who after a short few moments in conversation actually then revealed that, in fact, they know exactly what to do.
No one need do anything to create this capacity for fresh thoughts. No books can teach you. No other person can give you directions. You already have this. We are all essentially "Plug-and-Go" -- born equipped to deal with life and solve our problems when they arise through absolute reliance on this beautiful fact of life:
Random, unpredictable and completely unlimited numbers of ideas are circulating in you, right now, waiting to take shape.
You will never rid life of problems. You will never shed all your personal problems. But really, is that a problem?
"Real? What is Real? How Do You Define 'Real?'" - Morpheus in The Matrix
Life never lets up does it?
No matter how much you learn, progress, relax or move forward, something or someone can erupt and present you with a challenge to the quiet moment you are having, the focus you are concentrated in, or the peace of mind you're enjoying.
Life is in your face and you can't ignore it or meditate it away. Though, believe me, I have tried. You too? Didn't work did it? So what about that?
If I were working with you as a coach, the very next thing you might say to me is "Well then, what should I do?
Now, that would really seem like the right question, wouldn't it? But let's look before that. The question is not what to do
so much as "Where will you look for the answer?"
I've talked about this in my book
, but let's explore this more.
The answer to the challenge of other people and circumstances is not in finding the right response to is happening in front of us; it's in reading ourselves.
What you and I have both been trained to do is exactly the opposite. We've been trained to try to correctly interpret a situation and then process a lightening-rapid search in the data base of our previous experiences, our opinions and beliefs, and information gleaned from others in order to locate the appropriate words or actions to rise to the occasion.
Now, what you and I both know from experience is that not only do we rarely come up with the correct answer, but much of the time all logic, reason and temperance are completely aborted and we simply react. I bet you've tried a million gazillion times NOT to do precisely that. Right? We all have. We try not to react, we promise ourselves we won't say this or that but (as is the case with all "trying") we fail. Suddenly we find ourselves embroiled, annoyed, and saying things we later regret.
How many times have you sworn to yourself you would get off this particular merry-go-round? Hm? I have. For heaven's sake, I've been just recently swearing to myself that I won't get angry and then I find myself shouting at someone on the street.
Want to know what I've done to fix that?
I DO nothing. Because all my doing
and my trying not to do
is part of my issue.
I dont' want to do anything because I can't.
First, that would be trying to go against a law of life, a principle which says that I feel everything that I think.
Second, instead of seeing that is what is happening is going on inside me, I interpret my own bad feelings as a call to action.
The compulsion to act is not a signal to act! Check out that feeling of a compulsion to do something; is there urgency in it? Are your own feelings stirred up? If they are, that is telling you quite the opposite. It is probably NOT the time to press SEND on that text message...
But who can notice this when we are convinced our problem is outside of us and not inside of us? Who can see that in the moment, when all any of us want to do is to try to resolve the bad feeling through action. And don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the feeling itself is a problem -- it is not. No feeling is ever a problem. The fact that you feel what is happening in you is not a problem at all. What I'm saying is we constantly misread the signals of our feelings as calls to action. Instead of seeing them as the sign that we are off kilter inside of us.
Common misinterpretations of our internal signals will have us leaving phone messages we regret, making angry hand gestures, using our cars as weapons, drinking too much, overeating -- a litany of reactive, even obsessive behaviors arise from not understanding the true source of our own feelings.
Of course, this is not always self-evident. For a very long time we've been taught to ascribe our feelings to the outside world. "You make me so angry!" we'll say. "His cheating made her start drinking heavily," we'll say.
These are not words we just say. These are reflections of how we believe we are constructed. I am not talking about a theory here. This is not a concept. This is the reality of how you and I and every human being on this planet is built to work. You feel whatever you think. I feel whatever I think. That is a part of the definition of how a human system works.
We think we are responding to a world that bumps, blows and buffets us all over the place. But we never are. That world we each see and each person we see is truly a function of what is IN us at the time we are looking. This is why you can go to a very beautiful place on vacation, and take all your worry with you and have an awful time. The beauty will not affect you. You will affect you. This is why you can be in a terrible traffic jam and being having a perfectly good time. If traffic has causal power, why is it not affecting you today? This is not a concept, it is a capacity we all have to experience the outside world as a function or literally, a result of the inside of us.
Ultimately this may well mean that there really is no reality. But that is far beyond what I understand for now. All I know is that if I can appreciate knowing how it really works,
- I can read the signs more accurately and not be confused about the source of my feelings
- I can use my feelings as a guide to know when I'm off center
- I can stop trying to control my feelings - including needing to "quiet my mind"
- I can go right ahead and live my life WITH all my feelings happening, because I know they are just signals
- I can allow my internal world to right itself; as it inevitably does
Now, I want to apologize that I did trick you with the title. This is not the cure for any of us to never, ever be reactive again, but does it help to know that when you are reacting, that it's coming from you and that's just the way the system works?
It has helped me a great deal.
I said to the almond tree, Friend, speak to me of God,
and the almond tree blossomed. - Nikos Kazantzakis
How like trees we are. Except for one thing... they are not upset.
But let me backup for a moment.
One morning I was watching a palm tree.
This one, actually.
It's rather beautiful how they sway with abandon (I swear they are going to snap in half!) and how tall some grow on huge spindly legs -- some three times higher than the homes below them.
I was watching a palm standing perfectly silently. Everything was still in the air. So I thought. Then a few of the feathered fronds began twitching wildly. There must have been one small stream of air gusting through that part of the branch.
The palms are so high that they catch all kinds of air currents that I never feel or see. These invisible winds can strip the palms of all their fronds and send them hurling to the ground, crashing through the windshields of the cars below. Or just tickle them gently. Palms are truly at the mercy of the shifting winds. Nothing can change the effect the wind on them: they sway and flutter all day and all night. It is easy to see that this whole picture works very harmoniously, even on the stormiest of days. In fact, it seems built to work this way.
Tossed by the Wind
As I watched the palm fronds doing their accordion dance, it occurred to me this is the way human thinking works too. We experience our thoughts much the same way the palms experience the winds. Thoughts move through us long before we detect they are there and we too, sway and flutter. (In terms of our feelings that is).
One thing I know to be true about humans is that thoughts are the source of our feelings. Stormy thoughts stir up inevitably dark and tempestuous feelings and activate our senses. We can't stop that process any more than the palm can not sway in the wind.
When the human has passing thoughts moving through they ondulate in harmony with that thinking, just like the tree bends with the passing wind; the difference is the tree is not upset about the fact that this is happening.
The Tree is Neutral
When our thoughts are blowing around and our feelings are getting tossed up and down, however, we get anxious and afraid. We don't feel neutral about this. We get concerned about our own movement. I work with many people who are concerned about the way they are feeling. They ask me, "Why do I feel so bad?" Consider the possibility for a moment that there are not infinite answers to this question. There is, as far as I know, only one answer to this question: thought is blowing through.
Sydney Banks who first described the 3 Principles wrote in The Missing Link
, "Thought on it's own is a completely neutral gift."
The simple explanation for all of it is, you are experiencing what you think.
If only, like the tree, we could be neutral about this process! After all, it's just the way we are made. Trees don't prefer calm days to windy days.
Trees are not concerned about storms.
People are not like this are they? We humans would like it all to stop moving. We want it smoothed out. We don't want to sway in the wind. We don't like it. All these troublesome feelings getting stirred around ... we want to control the wind. We want to locate the person who sent the wind and make them stop. We hire people hoping they will tell us how to stop the wind.
We are not always happy when we realize we can't stop the wind blowing.
It's No Big Deal
One of the laws of life is that, as humans, we think. Another is that we feel what we think. What if we could really see that this is just no big deal?
It is so very important to know that the human is not defective as he/she experiences the ups and downs of emotional life.
I was telling a friend that the great benefit of learning the Three Principles is not that my life has smoothed out to a lovely even hum, but that I've stopped worrying about tracking where I am in every moment and trying to control what I think. I accept that I am in movement.
I used to be incredibly concerned about my moods. I thought they meant something about me. Now I see how they come and go and I am much less attentive to them. I'm not trying to create a prevalent "good mood" I am simply getting clearer about how the process works. And that clarity has left me much kinder and more understanding towards myself. Being less concerned about shifting feelings also tends to leave me in a clearer state of mind generally, so I notice I occasionally have made better decisions about what truly needs to be said out loud, or whether I should be driving.
When I am not trying to change my own mood or judging it, I get more open to seeing it for what it is.
We are actually as perfectly built as the tree. You already are the tree that bends. If you were not unhappy about that, you'd be as contented as the palm tree, or let's say -- you'd be as "non-concerned" as a palm tree -- and you'd stop trying so hard to control the content and flow of your thinking.
In that moment you'd find your complete freedom, because you would literally no longer be like Don Quixote "tilting at windmills."