Practical Enlightenment, the path towards real change

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.

A Celebration In Each Moment

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.”Thich Nhat Hanh

There are times when we feel inspired to behave in what is what we consider to be the right way, and other times this inspiration doesn’t come no matter how much we grasp at it. Is there a way to break out of the ebb and flow of life? There are two primary “opponents” that seem to prevent this. The imaginary one is the outside world. What people think of us, what they say about us, if a situation seems fair or unfair. The second is our inner world. The thoughts like “I am not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be happy if others are suffering.” Let’s look at each obstacle individually.

The Outside World

The Stoic philosophers spoke a lot about knowing what you can and can’t control and not surprisingly, to not worry so much about what is outside of your control. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and follower of Stoic philosophies wrote in his journal “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” The outside world is subject to countless influences that we could not possibly control with all of the effort in the world. Friends or family may become ill, companies lose business, anything which seems convincingly predictable, can change at a moment’s notice.

In some regard that may make the world seem like a chaotic and unpredictable place which forces you to always be on the lookout for what tragedy might strike next. That’s certainly a valid way to see the world if you so choose, but it may not get you the peace of mind you so desire. There is actually no need to fight this opponent at all because there is nothing to fight. You recreate the outside world in your own psyche whenever you interpret something, and then color the experience based off your own expectations and interpretations. This outside world is a straw-man for the real culprit, which is your inner world.

Your Inner World

The good news is that since the interpretation of outside events matter more then outside events, you have far more control then you could have ever imagined to your personal state of mind and enjoyment. As the quote from Thich Nhat Hanh mentions in the opening of this article, freedom from these ebbs and flows of life can be cultivated through daily practice. Have you ever noticed when you’re terribly sick or upset, that a part of you notices that something is off balance? That a part of you is unmoved by the experience but continues to observe it as it occurs? If not, see this for yourself next time you are in such a situation. The only reason frustration gets out of hand, is because it is fully accepted and takes the driver seat of your entire being.

A simple shift of realizing this place from which you notice your frustration, allows you to much more easily return to a natural state of being. This is not done with effort, but with realizing, and allowing yourself to return to your natural state. This idea of effort is another delusion of the mind. We try to be somebody in the outside world by changing ourselves, but then you are trying to be somebody in the world that appears to be so chaotic and ever-changing. You are already somebody, you cannot not be somebody. Who are you when you aren’t somebody? How can you tell when you’ve become “somebody”? You cannot, this is a conflict with no end.

The Way Out is Through

The act of struggling and constant conscious effort to alter or control things is the very thing that prevents your success. You may believe that the moment you stop trying so hard everything will fall apart and you’ll lose whatever progress you’ve worked so hard towards. Yet too much conscious effort is exactly what prevents our natural spontaneous self from being expressed. Have you noticed how when one tries to do well at an interview or a date, they seem to have the exact opposite happen? Always trying to think of what to say or do next prevents your ability to be present and spontaneous. Have you noticed when an interview or date did go well, it came off as effortless? You weren’t concerned with the outcome, you simply enjoyed the process and kept a relaxed state.

The freedom which comes from trusting ourselves must be cultivated only because we have spent so long believing otherwise. Yet this practice is worth more then anything else, it is your ticket to be able to celebrate each moment of life, simply because you are present to it and trust you will be able to handle whatever comes up. It is to see the difficult parts of life as an obstacle to be overcome, not a tragedy which has happened to you. It is to see the world the way it really is, instead of through a filter of your personal biases based off past ineffective beliefs. Take great joy in this practice, as the more you see it through on a day to day basis, the more you can enjoy life in that way you’ve always wanted, not subject to each passing wind pulling you in every imaginable direction. It is to be still and centered even in the wildest of storms.

The way out is through daily practice. Through a daily awareness of what is actually happening and what is colored by your past experiences. It is to return to the present moment instead of fighting past or future demons in some attempt to deal with something that isn’t actually happening right now. The result is the ability to celebrate each moment of life, because each moment is worth celebration.

 

 

Standing Up For Something

“If you stand for nothing, you will fall for everything.” – No one actually knows. 

I’m certain most people have heard this idea or a similar one at some point in their lives, so let’s jump right into why it’s of benefit instead.

Do you know that person who seems to get swept up by every passing tide? Perhaps you see some of it in yourself. (I certainly have) They may be talking about the wiki-leaks one day, oil spills the next, government corruption another day, their big business idea, how they could never do 9 to 5 life because they’ve read the four hour work week. This is a person who gets pulled along for each ebb and flow of the passing tides.

On the surface it may seem like a good thing. Look at this person who really cares about themselves and the world! Wow, look at all this stuff they know a lot about! Of course, the events of our world, and the direction of our lives are all very important subjects, but once you take a step back and look at a person like the one mentioned above objectively, the illusion vanishes.

Tyler Durden: Oh, I get it. It’s very clever.
Narrator: Thank you.
Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?
Narrator: What?
Tyler Durden: Being clever.
Narrator: … Great.
Tyler Durden: Keep it up, then. Right up.

Here’s a fun thought experiment, if you saw “no one actually knows” in the quote and said “no, you’re wrong, someone knows, I’m going to spend the next 45 minutes of life researching this quote” – you might be more susceptible to the ebbs and flows of things that don’t matter, then you might suspect!

Unfortunately for this week’s problem, while awareness is still a big piece, the solution comes more slowly. Instead, all I’d like you to do is consider where your attention goes. Do you try to show everyone how clever you are with all the secret conspiracy theories going on in the world? I’m looking at you flat earthers! Are you pulled in every imaginable direction with each time a video game, movie, or TV show comes out?

Allow me to leave a special mention for the one that effected me the most, and I find may be far more common then I’d like to believe. Spirituality systems. While there are beautiful things about chakras, yoga, meditation, tapping, reiki, duality, oneness, etc. There is certainly a benefit to dipping your toes in lots of systems to see what may resonate with you, at least early on. Yet, if after a time you’re still going half way into each one, you’re still standing for nothing. You don’t need to prove or disprove the level of determinism in the universe, or connect your soul to universal oneness to have a generally good time in life.

You may be thinking “Nope! You’re wrong! Wikileaks / government corruption / entrepreneurship / yoga / determinism are really important to me and the world!”. Wonderful! You get it then! You stand for something. None of the things above are wrong in themselves (except maybe flat earthers), but it’s your divided attention that makes you suffer.

I’d like to leave you simply with, how many things do you care about, and how many things do you really care about?

How To Be A Better Emperor

How To Be A Better Emperor

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Last week I introduced the idea of Emperor Meditation, an idea that’s based around creating a map of your psyche by comparing your body to a country, and your mind to the palace which rules it. It came from an inspiration which was a mix of studying Eastern traditions, as well as from the belief that if these processes were a little more fun, they may be engaged with by more people!

“If you are conscious at the same time that you observe, the line of your attention will resemble two arrows, one showing attention directed on the thing you observe and another on yourself.” – Ouspensky (20th c. Fourth Way teacher)

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When taking an audience with citizens like desire or anxiety, sense inside yourself just as much as you listen to what they say (as the arrow with two heads). This way you are not led astray by their words, and will not retreat and let one of them take the throne. [Feel fully the sensations as they come up, and do not fight against them.] Fully listen to the words of your countrymen, but do not judge or add extra meaning to it. This way you remain a compassionate ruler, and not one who fights against his people.

The issue is not to only allow certain citizens into your palace, as trying to toss them out will just make them return over and over, and with a vengeance, but to fully listen to them, and respond effectively. [Focus on the sensations created by an idea or emotion, but don’t add meaning to it. Watch how quickly it dissipates when the sensation is observed instead of avoided.]

An ancient said, “When people are in the midst of the disturbance, this is a good time to apply effort to keep independent.” Stay comprehensively alert in the immediate present, and suddenly an awakening will open up an experience in the midst of it all that is millions of times better than that of quiet sitting. – Huang Yuan-ch’i

Once you realize how simple it can be to keep the peace of your citizens and country, you may also begin to explore the glorious palace of your subconscious. There are so many doors! Behind some you will find beautiful new things you had no idea were there, and behind others, misfortune of the past you had shut away.

Behind the doors of misfortune are simply events from when you gave up your rule. Thankfully, with your new emperor powers of feeling sensations without judgement, you can deal with them with ease. Maybe you gave an embarrassingly bad presentation as a kid and everyone laughed at you, and then you were afraid to run meetings at work or speak to crowds. The embarrassment, the shame, merely citizens who were running your country at the time, who had no idea how to rule. Allow your adult emperor self to return to that time, and feel those sensations fully, without letting embarrassment and shame take control this time, and see how these sensations melt away as well.

As you’ve seen above, it’s possible to rule your palace without giving control up to reactive emotions and ideas. You may allow them an audience, listen to them, perhaps have a cup of tea with them, and then kindly inviting them to keep walking.

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.” Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.” Huike said, “Having looked for my mind, I realize it cannot be grasped.” “There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified your mind.”

The real fun starts with the other doors of the palace. The ones which open to beauty you didn’t even know about. Take a second and think about things you would like to do that seemed too anxiety inducing before. Perhaps public speaking, comedy, going to more social events, asking out that cute girl/guy in class/at work. As emperor, these things become easier and easier, as you continuously return to being the master of your palace. You no longer allow your country to be ruled by every passing thought or idea. These are the citizens that will gladly bend a knee when the master returns. None of them want to rule your country anyways, they’ve clearly proven they have no idea how!

Emperor Meditation

Emperor Meditation

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you know for yourselves that these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness, then accept it and live up to it.”Buddha (Kalama Sutra)

Let’s take a quick look at the concept of meditation. Often times, it is thought to be about spending hours alone in a dark room, in silent contemplation, trying to shut away your thoughts. While this practice is helpful as a form of training, it is not really the goal of meditation.

“If you want to attain the Way by shutting the door and sitting quietly with a blank mind, that is like shutting the doors and shutters and hoping to see the sun. What “way” does that accomplish? It must be the way of dark rooms, I guess . Only when you mix with the ordinary people, integrating illumination, living in the cities and towns, are you activating great use of great potential. This is the real function of practicing and holding the Great Way.” – Liu Yiming, 1734-1821, Taoist master (Awakening the Tao)

Thankfully there is more to it then that! How silly would it be to spend hours in quiet contemplation, then re-enter the world, and return to your old habits. If you have a spiritual practice, and it has no real-world benefit, there is little point to it! This is why the real goal of meditation, is to always be sitting in meditation.

“Good friends, what does the term sitting meditation mean? When mind and thought are not aroused over any good or bad object or situations in the external world this is called sitting. When you see in the immutability of your own essential nature inwardly, this is called meditation.” – Huineng (6th Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)

And so, let us create a new pathway now, to introduce a new form of meditation. Based off the practices and imagery of several Eastern traditions, I call it Emperor Meditation.

Now imagine a large beautiful country, thousands of homes, large fields of green and trees, and at the center of it, a palace. This is a massive palace, it can be seen from far and wide across the country, it towers over the whole of the country. It hosts thousands of citizens. Soldiers, chefs and wait staff, cleaners, various noble families. It gets quite hectic inside!

This country is your body, with the palace being your mind which rules over it. The citizens are joy, desire, temptation, anxiety, fear, love, lust, and all the other emotions one can fathom.

It turns out that the emperor has vanished. No one knows where he could have gone. The country is in chaos. One by one, the occupants step up to rule the country, though only temporarily, as being the false rulers that they are, they cannot last long. Eventually the emperor returns, and the citizens step back in line. They take audience with the emperor when they want to propose something, but the emperor has absolute veto power while he sits on his throne.

When one is not aware, the swirling of thoughts and emotions inside of you will take control. The sensations in your body lead you to believe you are anxious of a situation, now anxiety sits in your throne. As anxiety rules, the sensations become worse, and the rule of anxiety grows more intense. Anxiety doesn’t know how to rule your country, therefore, the country is thrown into chaos during his reign. He’s quickly tossed out by the other citizens, but without the emperor to keep things in order, he’ll return in due time.

When one is aware, the thoughts and emotions can be observed. As the emperor sits on his throne, and observes the disturbances going on in his country, he can take control of the situation. He is able to observe the sensations, and notice them for a simple disturbance, he does not add new meaning to them, or throw himself into panic. As anxiety comes to take audience with the emperor, the emperor will hear him out, let him speak his peace, and then reject his proposal.

Alright, so now that you may have some idea of what I mean by emperor (or empress!) meditation, let’s take a quick look at two practical ways to incorporate it.

First, there is a benefit to taking 10 or 15 minutes a day, morning or night, or both, and practicing to know what it’s like to sit in your throne. To build knowledge in the sensations of your body, and be able to direct your thoughts in times of chaos. It’s only by the emperor being away that another citizen can take the throne. He cannot be usurped from his position, in this context, he is literally immortal and invincible. The only troubles arise when he is away, when awareness has vanished.

Second, the true meditation exists in the real world. The emperor must be there at all times to rule his country correctly. He cannot give up the throne even for a second, to those occupants of the palace who will do nothing other then plunge the country into chaos. Though, when he recognizes having given up control, he can return to his throne immediately, and return the country to peace and prosperity.

Meditation doesn’t need to be stuffy and serious, instead, take charge of your mind as an emperor would in his palace. There is no benefit to a meditation that is only performed while one is at home in a dark room! The words of the Buddha at the start of this post hint at the right way to rule your country, anything else is the gossip of your citizens, who you can’t trust to run your palace.

Tune in next week for a follow up article on “How To Be A Better Emperor”!

How To Be More Wrong: The Defence Against Dogma

When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. – Anaïs Nin

Imagine a world where each and every person happens to follow your beliefs in their entirety. They meditate or pray at the designated times, they have the right kind of diet, their values too, are fully in line with yours. Whether it’s a religion, political party, philosophy or spiritual system, I want you to take it and simply imagine that it applies to the whole world.
Now imagine that a child is born into this world. They would grow up to believe exactly what you believe. They would follow all the same practices, and be driven by all the same morals. Chances are, while at some point you may have thought that converting the whole world to your way of thinking, the scenario above likely horrifies you.

Classically, the term philosophy translates as love of wisdom“, there is meant to be a constant ongoing discussion, a questioning, of what things mean and the right way to do things. Though in this, the questioning is everything, it is the discussion that is the purpose.

I’ve noticed a phenomenon in my own experience, which was reminded to me by Mark Manson’s wonderful new book. While I’ve learned and experienced loads of new things since living with more awareness in the past two years, it’s been a constant process of being a little less wrong about everything along the way. When I think about the ideas I had about myself or the world three months ago, I find it easy to laugh at myself. Then I realize that’s been happening every few months, and it’s bound to happen a few months from now. Meaning at this moment, I must be wrong about loads of things.

It’s hard to accept, we’re heavily invested in knowing the answers to everything. I’m not sure if we’re to blame or maybe society, culture, school, parents or anyone else, but we can sure take the power back to be okay with it. If you’re interested in growth, does it seem like a better mindset to know you’re wrong about things, and continue to learn, or would you prefer to think you’ve found “the answer” and now commit to holding strong to your ideas until the whole world begins to believe the same things as you?

Of course, there is a need to trust in yourself as well. But trust in your direct experiences to life, in what you’ve seen for yourself, well before you trust in an idea that sounds convenient that came from someone else. Discover for yourself how much benefit there is not to invest so much in what you know, and convincing the world of what you know. Chances are, you wouldn’t want a world filled with robots who only believe and behave in the same way as you. The beauty of life comes from our willingness to choose and commit to something that is born from our own experiences and understanding. Even if we end up having to read and analyze a lot just to drop it all and finally trust in ourselves.

In My Head: The Main Tenants

 

At times, I just scribble out thoughts on paper or in a digital note, I figured some people may be curious to see what it’s like to see a totally unedited flood of my thoughts, so here is the first segment of this new section called “In My Head.

  • The obstacle is the way. Once you’re on the path, the universe will test your skills to determine your resolve. Taking action is the only requirement, success may come at any moment.
  • Worthiness is the ability to exist. Worthiness cannot exist in comparison to others or in reference to others, as those are all changing. Worthiness comes in the realization that you are the observer of all, and nothing changing can be tied to worthiness.
  • In the kindness towards others, you can remember our oneness. To smile and love and feel at peace in the world is to be one with the world at a very fundamental level.
  • All feelings of upset, frustration, anger, impatience and greed, arise as an opportunity from the universe to release that which is being suppressed, in order to return to the feeling of oneness. Become excited at a frustrating emotion and chase it to its root to be able to yank it out. This fuels the love of the universe and allows for your growth as well as those around you, as you are all one.
  • There is nothing to do, nowhere to be, nothing to accomplish, no legacy or imprint to leave behind. There is only taking the steps towards where your heart drives you, and allowing the journey to take its course. To understand that the universe is on your side and truly will conspire to help you out. Don’t forget this simply because the lesson of the moment is difficult or seems hopeless, as this is a part of the journey too. A most valuable part. For the thing easily obtained is easily ignored and forgotten. Let go and allow. Fully experience as the observer. Always remember the universe is on your side.