Practical Enlightenment, the path towards real change

“A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusion.”Alan Watts

What is it that a monk learns after 30 years of meditation? What does enlightenment feel like? Is it really a thing? Can I be spiritual enough without meditating that long?

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon over the past few months with people who’ve recently begun considering themselves “spiritual”, but are seemingly more upset with their lives than before this label. Perhaps in a sense, ignorance really is bliss, but that’s not quite the whole story either.

I. Before Spirituality

A person lives their 9 to 5 life with some level of satisfaction, and a level of acceptance for the rest. This is often accompanied with a subconscious seeking of distraction from everything that is unknown. For instance, the person who watches television during all of their free time after work, believing “I’ve earned it after working for 8 hours and commuting for another 2!”. This argument is not inherently right or wrong, but of course feels correct to the one making it. It gives an individual the means to not need to deal with problems they aren’t sure how to solve, such as with their partner or children. Instead, these things are ignored and left to simmer in the background until the tea kettle blows in some form or another.

II. During Spirituality

One day in the scenario above, let’s say the tea kettle blows and leads to divorce due to issues that weren’t being dealt with. Now let’s say one of these people realizes that ignoring a problem for too long causes a lot of pain, and decides to turn to spirituality to learn more about themselves.

Along the way the person discovers they have a hundred different limiting beliefs, isn’t a heart-focused entrepreneur, should be eating vegan, isn’t meditating enough, doesn’t have the morning routine of a winner, isn’t following their passion and isn’t hanging out with successful people enough.

Everything becomes broken down, analyzed, re-analyzed, and over-analyzed. Is life really supposed to be this complicated?

III. The Next Stage

For 99.967% of human history (totally a legit statistic) humans worried about very few things. Get food, eat food, make love, don’t die and sleep. Existential crises are born from cultural influences. When we began to farm, we established the difference between “my land” and “your land”, and more layers of hierarchy developed. Women had to be virgins in order to guarantee the children of farmers would inherit their land, and there were not a lot of other ways to prove it at the time. (You could make a religion out of this) Along the way, we successfully invented new ways to be insecure about everything.

What appears to be the most common realization from people who meditate for a long time? That a lot of the things they used to worry so much about were actually irrelevant. This is similar to the realizations people have on their death beds, that they can’t believe they spent so much time working, worrying about things that never happened, and not spending enough time with their family and friends.

IV. Practical Enlightenment

I consider Practical Enlightenment to be the most effective way I’ve found to make use of the insights of life-long meditators and those on their death beds. It is only ego that says you are more enlightened if you meditate more, eat vegan, and follow your passion. This is a “solution” discovered with the same thinking that created all of these problems in the first place.

Practical Enlightenment is not a way of thinking or an act of doing, it is a place you operate from. I know this will take a little bit of explanation, so let me get into it.

When you watch TV in order to avoid dealing with your partner, the place you’re operating from is one of insecurity, fear and doubt. There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching TV, or even binge watching TV. You may say “Oh, but someone might be binge watching TV all day, everyday, surely that’s wrong!”, and in some sense you are correct. Though they would certainly be operating from a place of insecurity to lock themselves up that much, or they happen to be watching a show they absolutely love, which is at worst an occasional thing.

If you’re a minimalist vegan who sells hand-made bracelets and donates 70% of the profits to feeding children in the third world, you aren’t necessarily more “enlightened” than a person who works 9 to 5 and spends their evenings partying each night. Both of these people can be operating from the exact same place. Only ego decides “I am helping the world, therefore I am better than others”. Does that really sound like the enlightenment you’ve been seeking?

V. The Place

The place you should aim to operate from is not something you develop, it is merely your default state. When you are not operating from a place of insecurity, fear, doubt, or any other such thing, then you’re able to be naturally joyful, confident, and loving. When you don’t have an identity tied down to personally fixing the world or going to dance at a club, you can do both from that place just as easily.

This process is effortless, there is nothing to do, there is only the awareness to notice why you’re doing a particular thing. When you allow your natural instinct and drive to take over, you’re no longer scrambling to find the truth, and you can personally come to the same conclusion as those who have meditated for lifetimes. It’s supposed to be easy, and it is, only the ego and the thinking mind try to make it hard.

End Game Concept #5: Do, Evaluate, Calibrate

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” -Albert Einstein

I was recently standing on a bench in Washington Square Park in NYC, and went for a funny stretch on one leg. Not the strangest thing going on in the park, but it felt like a fun thing to do at the time. Within a minute, a woman working in park security came by and asked “what are you doing, stretching?” I responded “Yes, stretching” she continued “Is that how you stretch?” and I responded once more “Yes indeed, this is how I stretch”, and then she left.

Quite a boring story I must admit, but one that was quite fun from my perspective, and allows me to give you a simple example of what this last End Game Concept is all about. Of all of them, this is the most practical, and most powerful. You need not read any books or take on any mentorship, to grow rapidly with this strategy.

You do something new, you evaluate what happened, and you calibrate your perspective based off this new knowledge.

If you think standing on benches is a weird thing to do, because everyone will judge you, and point and laugh at you, or talk about you behind your back, the best way to find out what actually happens, is to follow this DEC principle. Do it, evaluate when you see what actually happens, and not what your brain constructed idea was, and then adjust your perspective based off the new information.

Clearly if you are doing this for something new, you may need more then one attempt to fully integrate a new perspective. Yet, you’re not doing it for a particular result, this is purely as a fool, you’ve let go of what may happen, and are genuinely curious to learn the truth for yourself.

As I gave an example in a previous post, with saying “Hi” to strangers on the street, perhaps it feels like a very pointless or easy thing to do, and then you go to do it, and you feel some anxiety and you’re worried about what may happen. Perfect! Start using this feeling as an opportunity to apply this principle.

Okay so I’m scared of saying “Hi” to random people, but I’m going to try it. I’ve done it, now let me evaluate what happened, okay, that guy was sort of cold and ignored me, the lesson so far is not “people are cold and won’t respond” literally at this point it’s “that one guy was cold and didn’t respond” or play the reframe game “he must not have heard me”. Then you say it to a second and third, both smile and say “Hi” back. Perhaps one of them even stops to see if you wanted something.

New evidence, some people are “cold” and others are “friendly”, even when you did the same thing to all of them. What you did, had not changed, but others reactions changed, therefore, the variable here was not you, but them. In this case, you’ve calibrated your perspective to see how people behave.

Though if you are always getting a particular result, perhaps the thing that needs to be calibrated is your action. In this example, try to smile and wave. See how that may change things. Perhaps more effort to smile at strangers increases how many of them give you a friendly response.

Over my years of learning, this was my single greatest lesson. Do something, evaluate what happened, and then calibrate yourself or your perspective, to have an understanding closer to the truth. You can use this in job interviews, dates, social experiments, the way you talk to your kids, the way you interact with your community, anything at all.

Every aspect of your life allows you to try new things, be aware of what happened, and then work the results into your new understanding. That’s all you need to do, truly.

End Game Concept #4: Let Go

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”― Albert Ellis

I was walking down the street, doing a social exercise of saying “Hi” to random strangers, and I was suddenly in a place I had not been. I was not familiar with the place and was feeling out of my element. I wondered “What sort of meditation might make me grounded enough to be comfortable in this situation?”. Then I quickly realized how irrational that thinking was, and thought “well I’ll just say Hi and see what happens”, and so I did.

So if you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a long time eating up lots of information, trying different systems, and even various forms of meditation. You may have had varying levels of success, and perhaps some worked miraculously well even. You just want to run into the streets and tell all your friends and every stranger willing to listen how amazing this one thing you’ve discovered is.

This works as an excellent foundation, a sort of training wheels that allows you to get started down a path that might be foreign to you previously. Essentially to “fake it until you make it”. At some point you don’t need to worry about what the likes of Socrates or Jesus may have said, but you can believe in what you have to say.

There is a danger to all this too, and it is a pitfall I’ve fallen into several times, analysis paralysis. “The next book might get me over this one thing I need to learn”, “But wait, is that the right way to look at death? Let me read 10 more books on it from varying beliefs”.

Thus is what happened in my opening story, trying to think of what system, belief or strategy I may throw at the situation, when instead, the answer was just to do it. You do it, and you deal with it. You let go of your expectations or a particular outcome. You let go of the need to fully control yourself and others.

You learn and you learn, and you learn that you didn’t need to learn. Instead you remember, you remember how you were before so many ideas filled your head of how you need to be, how you need to act, how you need to present yourself.

This End Game Concept is tricky but also very liberating. It is to take all the things you’ve learned, all the things you do, all the things you want, and let them go. Not to stop what you’re doing, but to let go of all these things you’ve built up about yourself, and how you should be. It is like the number one thing you learn from self improvement, is that there is no self to improve.

If you are simply a person who does what they’re inspired to do, you don’t need to attach any of those things to yourself. You can take action which shows courage, but not label yourself a courageous person. For perhaps you end up in a truly dangerous situation, and you’re not a ‘courageous person’ and now you feel bad. Instead, let go. Do the act of courage when it feels right to you, but realize it can never define who you are. There is no benefit to placing unnecessary labels on yourself. Simply do. Let go. And do again.

End Game Concept #3: The Golden Mean

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha

“Always look on the bright side of life” the characters sing at the ending of the Monty Python film A Life of Brian, optimistic right until the bitter end!

Life isn’t so much about being optimistic all the time, but in finding a balance, while also holding onto the knowledge that to some extent, you will always dictate your reality. There have been countless times when I’ve made a biased decision about a situation that was decidedly negative or hurtful.

Take for instance something as common as your day job. Chances are, if you’ve worked in one place for a decidedly long time, your opinion of it is pretty concrete. Perhaps it’s ‘just paying the bills’ or ‘something you got forced into taking because of the schooling your parents made you take’. And so all of your life perspective surrounding your job will always be, to some extent or another, unpleasant. Just as a hotel cleaning staff can see their job as “picking up other people’s garbage” or “helping provide a clean and comfortable environment for guests”, it’s possible to see your job in a similar light.

If you view the above as lying to yourself, and impossible, you’re right. As viewed, so appears. Whether you’ve been working in a place for one year or five years, it’s still very much possible to change the story of your situation, or it’s not possible, if that is the story you’ve decided.

Storytelling is something we’re great at as a society. “I’m not good enough for that person”, “Nothing I do matters anyways”, “It’s too late for me to make that big of a chance at this age”. All of the above are decidedly, very real, and completely true for the people who are saying them. Though I’m not here to tell you to put on the sound of the ocean and chant “I am abundant”, that may not be the straightest route to changing your perspective.

Aristotle has a philosophic rule called the golden mean, that is, the desirable middle between two extremes.

The golden mean could be something like “I have goals and dreams, I’m willing to take action that matters to me to go towards those”. A realistic and humble story, is one that is much easier to swallow, and much closer to the objective truth. The ego loves the extremes, “Of course I’m a failure, look at all the times I messed up, pity me!” or alternatively “Look at how amazing I am, I can do not wrong, bow before me!” but it has difficulty inflating or deflating humility, there is little to corrupt in the truth.

You may not have the power to create massive change in your current situation right now, and perhaps aiming for massive change at the offset is a problematic way to start off anyways. It can take daily effort to stay out of one of the two extremes. If you proceed with the knowledge that you’re putting in the effort, and not doing so because you’re afraid of being a failure or trying to be the greatest ever, the chances of success in any aspect of life are that much greater. The grind is real.

End Game Concept #2: Nothing

“It’s nothing! “And this and…”, it’s nothing! “But this thing…”, it’s nothing! “But last night an angel…”, nothing. “Yesterday I almost died!”, nothing. “I had an experience, it was so…” nothing. “I want to be free!” Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.” – Mooji

The world is filled with nothing, but don’t trust those nihilists, this is a nothing that matters. Because, nothing matters. In part 2 of the series of “End game concepts”, comes, literally, nothing.

Let’s look at a popular idea, self-worth. You imagine it’s something that can be given and taken. Something that you have more or less of compared to your partner, compared to your competition. At work, in relationships, everywhere. Except that’s wrong. Worth isn’t a resource, it can’t be given or traded. It doesn’t activate when it’s validated or confirmed. It won’t start existing no matter what you do, or what anyone else says or does. Worth is a nothing. If it’s not something you can measure or compare, it doesn’t exist, it really, truly is, nothing.

Oh no, what if self-worth was truly not a thing? Could it be that you might live or behave differently? Why not try it out? There is a bigger problem now though, isn’t there? What if other things, aren’t a thing, and are instead, nothing?

Next comes, more nothing. Fear is a lovely kind of nothing. It’s the nothing that is trickiest, because it appears to be everywhere and in everything. Now there are very real fears, bullets for instance, are certainly something to be scared of. Stepping in front of moving traffic too, certainly a valid fear. Most other fears, are a lot less scary. In fact, facing a fear, has the potential to get you something. You may face it, and get nothing, but if you do not face it, you’re guaranteed to get nothing. Thankfully most fears, you’ve also made up. They are also nothing. Think of the last thing you were afraid of doing, but that you ended up doing anyways, how did it feel once you did it? Did you notice how 100% of the fear was entirely made up? Did you realize that, when you decided to ignore the fear, it was… nothing?

The last bit of nothing, is also the strongest. This is the spiritual practice I’ve found to work best. It’s a true return, to nothing. On the same wavelength as profound indifference, the spiritual practice of nothingness is the path to discovering who you really are. When you find out, nothing is actually as real as you thought it was. The need to listen to your parents, the need to follow the career path your on just because you went to school for it, the need to be married by 30. They were all decided by no one, and actually mean nothing.

My practice of spirituality is to wipe away all the nothings, and see if something is left, but I feel there will just be more nothing. How pleasant is that? Nothing to do, nothing to be, nothing to accomplish. Infinite possibility. In this space inside of you, that was once filled by the biases of your family, your culture, your education, once you’ve broken down all those walls, you truly are left with nothing. A beautiful nothing where anything can happen. Where you can truly see yourself and the world, in its full beauty. Where anything you want can be manifested, and you’ll still continue to be who you really are, nothing.

End game concepts are difficult and also, powerfully simple. They can be integrated the moment they are read, or they can be worked towards over time. Don’t believe either option is true, because, well, nothing is really true. Try it out for yourself, question your beliefs, your thoughts, your actions, your habits, and find what’s left when you wipe away all the things that are actually, nothing.



End Game Concept #1: Profound Indifference

“Real nobility is based on scorn, courage, and profound indifference.” – Albert Camus

In this new series of posts, (they have their own category and everything), I’m going to be covering what I call end game concepts. These are mindsets and concepts that are a sort of ‘end goal’. These are the ones you can use all the way until your grave, then maybe into your next life too.

Allow me to save you the trouble of your initial objection “profound indifference” sounds like an excuse not to care about stuff! That wouldn’t be very “profound” though, would it?

Here is an excerpt from the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti to help explain it a bit better:

Indifference comes into being when you listen to that noise with no resistance, go with that noise, ride on that noise infinitely. Then that noise does not affect you, does not pervert you, does not make you indifferent. Then you listen to every noise in the world – the noise of your children, of your wife, of the birds, the noise of the chatter the politicians make – , you listen to it completely with indifference and therefore with understanding.

Profound indifference is to be unshaken by the events of what you are observing, of what is going on inside of you or outside of you. You may take action against injustice, but your core, your real self, remains still. You did not do it because you are reacting, because they threw you off your state, but because you remained “unshaken”, you were able to respond with your full set of resources.

A clear mind, an unbiased and non-judgmental mind, one which sees the full situation for what it really is. Imagine how your perspective of the world and every situation may be then. This is the true way to live authentically in each moment.

Lets look at the following real world example, and then look at it from a reactive position, and one of profound indifference.

You’re on a first date. Perhaps you just came out of a long relationship and you haven’t gone on a date in a long time, and you want things to go well. You really, really want things to go well. Right now you’re exploring again and not really sure what you’re looking for in the short or mid-term. You know you need time to take everything in, and see what the world has to offer you right now.

The first date goes well, and you even got a kiss at the end, it seemed to be great fun for both of you. You really like the other person, and you have a feeling they like you too. You move onto a second date, half way through, they ask “where is this going? I need to know before we continue.”

Things got a bit intense, a little fast, didn’t they? Your gut reaction may be based “well, we’ve had a really great time, I really like this girl, and it seems like if I want to keep going at this, I’ll need to commit to her”. The risk is you rush into something out of fear of hurting the other person, and end up dragging something out because you couldn’t be honest with where you were.

Now let’s look at the “profound indifference” approach. You don’t let the current situation decide your response. You think back to what your situation is, what’s going on, and what you’re looking for. You accept that you aren’t ready to commit to anything serious yet, and you’re still trying to figure things out. Yet you also know you really like her, and want to see where things go, and as such, you respond something like this:

“I’ve had a blast with you so far, I’d love to keep seeing you and see where things go. I’d be interested to know how you feel about all this so far too. I just need to let you know that since just coming out of another long relationship, I’m still in an exploration phase right now. I’m not sure how much I can commit to any one relationship right now. If you’re not cool with it, I can understand, feel free to take time about it to decide what you want to do. We can keep seeing each other until you find someone to commit with as well. At this point I’m happy to explore whatever happens. I’d certainly love to keep seeing you based off our time so far though, I just needed to let you know where I’m at”. 

Some readers may see this as flakey and an inability to commit, but I’m certain they would agree a fully heart-driven answer of authenticity and what a person is really thinking, is much more valuable then a reaction in the moment that will sound good now, but be tragic and painful later.

Lastly, you may say “well that sounds all well and good, but I’m not sure I can do that kind of calm and honest answer with so many emotions up in the air”. You’re right, right now, that may be difficult. Don’t wait until that moment though. Practice it in each moment. With each choice you make. In every situation you are. Check in with yourself, notice where your biases are, how you may be compromising yourself to make others feel good or to avoid some other pain. Notice when you are reacting to a situation instead of deciding what you actually want to do.

Don’t wait for the most stressful or intense situation to start practicing “profound indifference”, do it every chance you get. It will take time, but end game concepts are like super powers, and they are worth taking the time to develop.

Relationship talk based off the teachings of the great lifestyle and no-BS guru James Marshall.