Category Archives: letting go

The Long Winter

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It’s been a long Winter. Not just outwardly, in terms of cold temperatures, grey skies, wind, rain and occasional snow, but also inwardly too. I’ve felt myself stuck in a kind of inner Winter; physically, emotionally, creatively and professionally. Aside for commissioned work, I’ve struggled to write a single sentence. My third novel, which I initially had hoped might be completed and published this year, has stalled in the initial chapters. My two blogs have been frozen, with no new content in months. I engaged in a pre-scheduled blog tour to promote The Key of Alanar in January, and that was both fun and difficult. Fun because I love that book with all my heart, and I enjoyed sharing the process behind it, but also difficult because I really just felt like retreating from the world and hiding away.

I actually reached a point where I didn’t think I would ever write another word again. I just didn’t know if I could. The Key of Alanar totally exhausted me. I’d put more into that book than anything in my life, ever. I actually didn’t know if there was anything more I had to say, or even, sadly, any great burning demand for more. I began to second guess myself creatively and even personally. There’s nothing more toxic to any writer or artist than the horrifying thought ‘what will they think?’ It paralyses and chokes the life out of genuine creative endeavour. It instils a certain level of fear and pressure that makes it very hard press forward. This fear is always there in artists; the fear of failure, or maybe even the fear of success; of criticism or even worse, being ignored altogether. It’s always there as a kind of low level background rumble. But the moment we give into it, it becomes a deafening wail. It disrupts and paralyses and, if we happen to give into it and lose our momentum, it can be very very hard to overcome. Creative block can last for not just days and weeks, but months and years. Some truly talented artists never recover from it. In some respects they lose a part of their soul. There are few creatures in life quite as miserable as a blocked artist!

Perhaps this Winter season is a necessary one, however. Everything in life flows in cycles. There is a time for flowers to bud and bloom, for the sun to shine and for life to flourish, and also a time for things to wind down as the life force retreats inward. There is most definitely a time for dormancy, and maybe creativity cannot flourish without that. It’s the space in which new visions begin to take shape and new ideas start to form.

The last few days I’ve felt the first stirrings of Spring; not only outwardly in terms of seeing flowers bloom and small buds on certain trees, but also inwardly in terms of my own creativity. I think I’m ready to start writing again. In fact, I’m determined that I’m ready to start writing again. Every day I will sit and type words. I have no idea how those words will turn out, but at least I’ll begin to create a momentum once more. I have something to share with the world again, and now is the time to do it. Here’s to the Spring!

Tao Te Ching 15: The Way of the Enlightened

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– 15 –

The ancient adepts of the Tao were profound,

subtle and discerning;

their wisdom was unfathomable.

There is no way to describe them

other than vaguely by their appearance.

They were careful as someone 

crossing an iced stream in winter.

Alert as a warrior in dangerous terrain.

Cautious and courteous as a guest.

Yielding like ice on the point of melting.

Shapeable as a block of uncarved wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Amorphous as muddied water.

But the muddiest water clears

as it is stilled.

And out of that stillness

life arises.

Do you have the patience to wait

until your mud settles and the water is cleared?

Can you remain still and tranquil

until the right action spontaneously arises?

The Sage doesn’t seek to be full.

Only because she is never full

can she remain like a hidden sprout

and does not rush to early ripening.

 

Commentary

In this chapter, Lao Tzu  describes the Sages of old, those who lived their lives in constant alignment with the Tao. He poetically depicts them as being like elements of nature and this is a central theme of the Tao Te Ching: that by observing and aligning with the rhythm and flow of nature, we reconnect with our deepest essence, that which might be described as the Tao; the natural, spontaneous flow of life.

The Sage is awake, alert, kind, malleable and receptive. There is no element of self-seeking and, precisely because of this, she is in perfect balance with life.

What better role model to have than an enlightened being; someone who is liberated from the tyranny of mind, conditioning and societal programming, and is free, spontaneous and in complete alignment with their essential nature? And they do exist, although they are rare gems in our current world. Lao Tzu’s description is clear and inspiring. It might interesting to reflect on which of these characteristics you already possess, and which you can develop, cultivate or strengthen. Contrary to what many assume, our personality is not rigidly set in stone. In fact, it changes all the time, and with a little conscious effort can be easily moulded and developed.

Lao Tzu makes reference to muddy water, which might represent our unconscious neuroses, fears, aversions, attachments and the assorted mind-stuff that continually churns around in our head. So how do we clear this muddy water? Do we get agitated and try to stir it up or boil away the mud? Such actions only serve to worsen it. Instead, Lao Tzu suggests retreating to that still place within in which we are constantly connected with the Tao. He urges us to be rooted there; to wait patiently, allowing the mud to settle and allowing right action to spontaneously arise.

By letting go of our constant grasping and craving – and our never-ending quest for happiness and fulfilment, which in itself is a source of suffering – we can reach a state of peace in which we are more in harmony with the present moment. When we’ve stopped projecting into an imaginary future, all things begin to shine when we instead realise that life is simply THIS…HERE…NOW. This is all there is.

The silence wants nothing

This is kind of an addendum to the last post, as I felt compelled to clarify something. The overall message of the ‘Living Without Rules’ essays was essentially a simple one, and one that could probably be summed up as: stop living by the rules and demands of the mind, and instead ‘drop into’ the expanse of wordless stillness that lies at the core of your being, and let action arise from there.

It’s not easy talking about this kind of stuff. In India there’s an entire vocabulary — heck, an entire language — for defining and understanding the various states of mind and consciousness, concepts that are quite alien to most people in our Western culture.

You can only really understand this by having experienced it yourself. The good thing is that what I’m talking about is replicable. There’s a science to it. It might sound very subjective, but it’s actually objective — and with a little self-investigation, just about anyone can verify it for themselves.

There are prerequisites, however, such as a reasonably still, stable and enquiring mind. Enlightenment is seen as some kind of superhuman feat, but actually anyone can dip into the ‘enlightened state’ — on rare occasions quite spontaneously, but most the time with a little bit of practise first, to clear obstructions and what is known in Vedanta as a ‘sattvic’ state (which means clear, lucid, balanced and harmonious, mentally, emotionally and physically).

This might seem rather abstract until you’ve experienced it for yourself, and it seems to me that I maybe ought to try and convey the practical aspects of it at some point, offering some clear pointers that can help you tap into this for yourself. If you’ve already experienced what I’m talking about, then you’ll no doubt be on the same wavelength.

What I’m talking about is the baseline awareness that exists beneath all thought, all emotions, all feelings, perceptions and memories. It’s a stateless-state, ever-present and unchanging, and although it’s something most people are rarely conscious of, they wouldn’t be conscious at all without it.

It’s always there, beneath the apparent obstructions of the mind, and it’s the very same awareness and sense of being that we’ve had throughout our lives. Although our bodies, minds, beliefs, circumstances and self-concepts radically change over time, the baseline awareness and sense of being remains ever the same. And the funny thing is, it’s not personal in any way — it’s the very same sense of self — of existing; of being an “I” — that every single man, woman, child and animal possesses.

I tend to just call it awareness; not awareness of ‘this’ or ‘that’, but just pure awareness — consciousness at rest. Other names for it are the Self or the no-Self (I love the delicious paradox of it all — both point to the very same ‘thing’!), Being, or the sense of ‘I am’.

Basically, it’s a return to our original nature that we’re all really seeking, although virtually no one realises this, because most are still too busy trying to seek fulfilment and happiness in maya, the outward world of illusion (which is really just an experience in our consciousness, like everything else).

By reversing the focus of our attention from outside to inside, and consciously seeking this inward source, we finally find the joy, aliveness and fulfilment we were desperately searching for in all the wrong places. Consciousness resting in its source is often experienced as a tremendous bliss. What you’re really seeking is inside of you, and it’s more amazing than anything you could ever possibly experience ‘out there’.

The paradox that I inadvertently walked into with my last essay was this: when you are in touch with this baseline awareness, this innate sense of Self or being, you realise that it doesn’t really want anything. It’s characterised by an immense sense of allowing. It is unconditional love in the truest sense. It’s as though it pervades everything, without judgement and without any desires or preferences. It IS everything.

Consciousness at rest has no need to accomplish or achieve anything, no need to judge or separate. When you tap into this state, when you allow yourself to just ‘drop into’ it, you probably won’t feel it wants you to do anything except relax into it, and just BE. You’ll know that everything is fine, that the phenomenal world runs itself according to natural laws and the innate programming of all creatures. Life just happens. Creation doesn’t strain, it just occurs freely and spontaneously. There’s so much we can learn from that.

Our desires, likes, dislikes and preferences, and all our goals and ambitions arise from consciousness-in-motion, with the mind and body. Mind and body have no innate ‘life’ of their own, but are illuminated and animated by the reflected light of the baseline awareness, in much the same way as the moon is illuminated by the reflected light of the sun.

So, although the baseline awareness has no desires or ambitions of its own, its light is expressed by and embodied through the mind and ‘subtle body’ (our psyche, or active, aware consciousness as we know it; the mind and all its content). The way consciousness expresses itself through each of us is unique. If something feels good to us, if it ‘clicks’ with us, and brings a feeling of expansion and aliveness, then that’s a sure sign we’re in touch with the Self as it expresses its reflected light through the mind and psyche. Feeling good — and I mean really good, not just superficially good — is a sign that we’re connected and in tune with our essential nature. If we were to simply follow those good feelings and allow them to guide us through life, we’d pretty much have it sorted; we’d be in constant alignment with Self.

Basically what I wanted to highlight was the paradox of the Self and action. The baseline awareness, our essential Self wants and needs nothing: it doesn’t judge, compare or compete, because it’s already absolutely whole and complete. It’s entirely non-dual; permanent, ever-abiding non-dual awareness.

Yet, once we get in touch with this fundamental, primordial aspect of our nature, we may feel compelled to do certain things, to take certain actions that are in alignment with our unique nature as it expresses itself through mind and body. Actions thus taken — actions that arise spontaneously from this deeper place of stillness and wholeness — will always yield better results than those taken from the limited, grasping and constricted surface-level of mind. The latter will feel good and will usually have far greater results, while the former will feel desperate, anxious and will invariably create unforeseen problems.

I don’t expect you to just take my word for this. I invite you to try it for yourself.

I’m still working with this; attempting to re-wire my mind in order to stay in constant alignment with the baseline awareness, rather than being driven solely by the tides of the surface-level mind. It doesn’t happen overnight, yet to say the effort is worth it is an understatement of incredible proportions. For this is, I have to say, the difference between a life of suffering and a life of genuine happiness. I do not make that claim lightly. If you feel so called, why not investigate for yourself?

Living without rules part 3: Living from the heart

“A liberated man is extremely law abiding. But his laws are the laws of his real self, not of his society.” — Nisargadatta

The noise you just heard was the sound of Nisargadatta Maharaj hitting a very large nail on the head!

In some ways there’s little need for me to say any more, for that basically sums up everything I’ve been endeavouring to convey in this ‘Living Without Rules’ topic. But I’ve been wrestling with this beast for several weeks and I’m determined not to give up until I’ve found a way to wrap it all up.

I’ve known all along exactly what I wanted to say, but the truth is I’m still much learning to live and embody this in my own life. I’m still exploring, experimenting and learning as I go. But I often find the best way to get really clear on a given topic is to write about it, so that’s part of the reason I’m sitting here tapping away at the keys.

I’ve already argued that we enter this world in a state of perfection and that, as we grow up, we seemingly ‘lose’ that perfection. Well, it’s not so much lost as it is obscured by the arising ego, in much the same way as a shadow obscures the sun during an eclipse. A ‘social self’ is assembled, comprising a mask — or set of masks — that we wear to please others and to meet the demands of various situations. Although it has its function, it’s so overdeveloped in most people that disconnects us from our innate nature as pure, unconditioned consciousness or awareness.

It’s because of this there’s a deep, fundamental conflict at the core of our being: social self versus innate self; or what we choose to be in daily life versus what we truly are and what on a deep level we yearn to be.

The social self is a largely unconscious mechanism. It’s built upon following external rules and hinges upon our deep-seated need to be perceived in a favourable light by others.

The problem is, this mode of functioning is what causes virtually all of our suffering. We end up living deeply inauthentic lives and we suffer greatly for it. We become deadened, lifeless, stifled and robotic. We end up passionless, joyless, depressed, resentful, anxious and perpetually dissatisfied with life. That’s clearly no way to live and yet it’s the way countless human beings do live. It’s really little wonder the world is in such a mess.

A BETTER WAY

Surely a far better way to live is to step out of the prison of the social self, which has kept us fragmented and frustrated for the best part of our lives. We can then retrace the original state of authenticity, unicity, spontaneity and joy that we experienced as a young child. It can be done — and, if we want to experience true and lasting satisfaction and fulfilment in life, it simply must be done!

It’s the difference between living by the outdated, inflexible and often insane rules imposed on us by outside sources and instead living from the heart; being directed by what brings us joy and a sense of aliveness, satisfaction and a true feeling of ‘rightness’.

Instead of living by external rules, we live by an inner compass that will always steer us in the right direction, followings the laws not of society, but as Nisargadatta put it, of our inner self.  These laws are adaptive, flexible, fresh and dynamic and rather than turning us into depressed, frustrated zombies, they elicit within us a sense of aliveness, passion, joy and zest for life.

There’s no greater joy than being in touch with what we truly are and living a life of authenticity. It’s as rare and precious as a pearl, but it’s a pearl we’re each capable of creating, with just a little awareness, reorientation and, to begin with at least, a measure of consistent, conscious effort.

If you’re still reading this, it’s perhaps because you’ve already suffered enough in life. You’ve tried it the old way, you’ve been a good little social self and done exactly as you were ‘meant to’ most your life, and all you’ve gotten from it is dissatisfaction and suffering.

I think the majority of people are like that, although most spend all their spare time trying to numb themselves out with the Weapons of Mass Distraction: which include drugs, alcohol, food, obsessive focus on sex, sport, TV reality shows, compulsive internet browsing — the list goes on.

This simply creates a whole new set of problems and until we are able to let go of these compulsive distractions, there’s simply no way they can address the underlying cause of their unease and dissatisfaction. As a society we’re masters at dealing with problems by simply masking the symptoms. But in the long run, this just exacerbates our problems.

PREREQUISITES

So how do we live an authentic, inspired life? How do we live from our innate self as opposed to the constricting overlay of the ego and social self, the mechanism that over the course of our adult lives has choked just about every ounce of joy and aliveness out of us?

First of all, you have to be ready.

You need to be at a point where you have sufficient self-awareness to dispassionately gauge where you’re at in your life, how you got there, what’s truly motivating you and what fears and doubts have kept you from going within and following your heart rather than being directed by externals. You need to see the limitations of following external rules and how this can cut you off from your own wisdom and inspiration, disconnecting you and stifling your spirit.

You have to be willing to look at your pain and suffering, your frustration and perpetual lack of fulfilment, and clearly see how this derives from leading an inauthentic life. This is because your innate sense of wellbeing and joy has been obscured by the sycophantic, calculating social self as it tries to conform to external dictates. Until you’re very clear on this, you’re not going to have sufficient motivation to adopt a radical new approach to living.

When you’ve seen how a life directed entirely by the social self and external rules and expectations has led to nothing but misery, you can then start to experiment with something altogether different. You can live by the laws of your real self, as Nisargadatta put it. Instead of living by the head (social self), you start to live by the heart (innate self).

BEWARE THE VASANAS

It’s easy for misunderstandings to arise here. Some people will immediately take exception to this: “Are you really suggesting we should just do what we want all the time?” “That’s all very well, but it’s hardly practical!” “Wouldn’t we just end up like lazy, spoilt, self-centred brats?” “Our mind is the source of our intelligence, if we followed our hearts we’d get nowhere.” “Sentimental nonsense!”

Following our heart, living by our innate wellbeing and joy is not the same as being driven simply by our surface-level whims, desires and habits. In Vedanta these are known as vasanas — habitual mental tendencies, or grooves in consciousness, and they form the basis of our likes and dislikes, habits and rudimentary personality structure. If you were to simply follow your vasanas unquestioningly you probably WOULD end up lazy, spoilt, fat and useless.

Following your vasanas and being directed only by the superficial surface level of your mind is NOT living from your heart or from your innate being. It’s simply another trap, much like being stuck in the prison of the social self, only this time you’re stuck in the prison of the lazy habits of your own untamed mind.

You have to be aware of these vasanas, which tend to unconsciously drive your behaviour and motivations and into which you so easily ‘lose yourself’. Negative vasanas and personality traits need to be surmounted, otherwise you may find yourself spending all day everyday sitting in your underwear eating junk food and playing computer games or watching trashy TV. That’s not living from your heart, although you might think it is; it’s just what your mind/vasanas/personality may be accustomed to and comfortable doing. It may bring a kind of numbed comfortableness, but it’s highly unlikely to bring the joy, excitement and aliveness that’s characteristic of being aligned with your essential self (what? You don’t believe that it really feels that good? Then you really have to try it!).

Vasanas can be healthy or unhealthy (for example, your vasanas are largely responsible for the kind of food you eat and the lifestyle you lead) and the unhealthy ones need to be recognised and consciously rewritten or weeded out. This frees up the space, time and energy necessary for you to access and follow the deeper impulses of your heart; to do what you truly want to do, what brings you joy and what you really are here to do. This is a topic in itself, but I thought I’d briefly touch upon it here as it has relevance.

TUNING IN

Once you’ve recognised the need of shifting your compass from outside to inside, from social self to innate self and have begun to surmount superficial thought habits and vasanas, what you have to next to do is tune into your innate self. Before you can live from it, you first must find a way to access it.

This is where meditation is extremely useful. It is an excellent tool for redirecting your attention from constant focus on external and internal objects (the latter being thoughts, beliefs, emotions, memories, and all such content of consciousness) and bringing your focus to the Self, to the source of your own consciousness. Here you will experience a great sense of stillness, peace, spaciousness and aliveness. You’ll begin to experience a state of presence: consciousness without thought. Some people call this the ‘zen mind’.

In this expanse of wordless awareness lies an intelligence far greater, deeper and more primordial than the superficial mind and its continual inner monologue and regurgitation of past memories, thoughts, concepts, beliefs and future projections. It’s a state of natural wellbeing, of wholeness, lightness and ease. If the mind is especially still, you may even experience it as a feeling of great joy and bliss.

The majority of people aren’t readily familiar with the state I’m describing (I’m calling it a ‘state’ but that’s actually not entirely true, for it’s beyond all states, which are by their nature always fluctuating. It’s more like the ever-present baseline of our experience: a vast, unchanging sky of ever-present awareness in which all is experienced). Although not everyone experiences this on a regular basis, just about everyone has had a taste of it at some time or another. Perhaps at the sight of intense natural beauty the mind was suspended and, if only for a fleeting moment, there was nothing but pure awareness and along with it a sense of peace, stillness, expansiveness and joy. That’s what I’m talking about.

It can be accessed by meditation, or for some people by being alone in nature, by deep concentration, dancing, chanting, painting, yoga or performing a martial art. It’s helpful to find a means that works for you; something that diverts all the mind’s energy and opens up this space of pure being.

We can train ourselves to dip into it at will, simply by learning to ‘drop’ our mind and body and resting in this baseline of pure awareness. For most people, the mind is so active and the vasanas consume so much energy that it’s very difficult to do this, even for a few seconds. The mind has tremendous power and momentum, but the effort put into training the mind and learning to tame it, still it and reach beyond it will in time yield remarkable benefits. It’s an effortless effort, by the way, rather than a rigorous discipline. Sometimes it’s enough to simply, completely and totally LET GO — of everything!

SELF-DIRECTED ACTION

It’s from this state of awareness that we come to experience our innate wellbeing and our inner wisdom. It’s here that our joy and happiness resides, never in external things, people or events (although it might seem that way, but that’s another discussion entirely). It’s from this place of wordless spaciousness that we can make our decisions and ‘feel’ our way into right action. The right answers just spontaneously arise if we allow them to, and if it really is from this baseline of innate being, then they are always far better than anything the surface-level mind could have cooked up. You’ll simply have to take my word for it and experiment for yourself.

To access this inner wisdom, well-directed questions can help. In any moment it’s a good practise to be quite clear on what you want. Not what your mind or vasanas want, but what you, at a deep and fundamental level, really, really want! What do you feel compelled to do? What feels right? You don’t have to think about this or strain to come up with an answer, you simply allow the answer to arise as a spontaneous impulse of ‘rightness’. This is what gets called ‘inspiration’. It’s the source of all genuine creativity, insights, epiphanies and breakthroughs of any kind.

If you have a sense of ease, lightness and quiet excitement, then that’s a sure sign you’ve tapped into the wisdom of your innate self. If there’s any sense of unease, heaviness or tension around the answer, then it’s probable the mind and social self have co-opted the process.

Try putting this into practise. Do it for at least a week. Take some time out — an hour or so, or perhaps even a whole day if you can. Relax into that place of stillness, ease and lightness that’s beneath the surface of your mind, thoughts and intellect. Do whatever you need to access that innate wellbeing — it’s always there, even if it’s obscured much of the time by the denseness of your thoughts and emotions.

Once you feel connected with that, try tuning into whatever spontaneous impulses you feel.

What do you want to do?

Don’t just live by your existing habits and routines — open yourself to what you’d really, REALLY like to do, to what you feel would be fun and joyful. Then do it! Do whatever comes to mind, no matter how random or unusual.

Let these spontaneously arising impulses direct your actions. Look upon it as an experiment. I’m willing to bet you’ll end up feeling infinitely more refreshed, light, joyful, fresh, alive than you ever were when you were living by the rules and habits of your mind and other people.

I suggest starting with little things, minor actions you can take. Then, when you’re comfortable allowing yourself to be directed by this flow of inspiration, move onto the bigger things, and allow it to guide you when it comes to the larger aspects of your life, such as job, relationships, home environment, and so on. But do learn to walk before you try to run.

Again, people might argue that simply following their impulses is what leads killers to murder people and pedophiles to abuse children. Those are NOT and could never be the impulses of the innate self. Those are surface-level vasanas and mental aberrations. They don’t feel good; they are driven by immense pain and they cause immense pain. Dysfunctional behaviour is a clear sign that a person is massively out of alignment with their innate self. No one was born to kill or abuse others; to do so is a distortion of our true nature caused by a deeply damaged psychology.

DHARMA AND PAIN

The concept of dharma is helpful for ensuring our desires and impulses are in fact guided by the Self and not simply by our superficial likes, dislikes and whims.

Dharma is something that is built into us; an instinctual knowledge of what is right and wrong. Nisargadatta was once asked to made a differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. His answer was that that which brings peace and has a positive affect on self and others is good, and that which brings unnecessary suffering is evil. If you need any rules at all for gauging your action and determining whether they are derived from the innate self or the lower levels of the mind, this is about the only one you’ll ever require. Whatever you’re planning to do, keep in mind that actions arising from the heart will only ever be motivated by peace, harmony and an integral regard for the whole.

Our dharma is not driven by self-interest and self-gratification, but by a deeper sense of harmony with all life. When aligned with the innate self, we find compassion arises spontaneously and we intuitively act in service of others and the totality. We don’t act irresponsibility, but with a clear understanding of the nature of cause and effect. Sometimes we need to question our motivation for doing certain things to ensure it’s based upon our dharma or if the mind, ego or vasanas have taken over the show. If the latter is the case, suffering will always result. We’ll lose the sense of lightness, ease and peace we experience when rooted in the Self and we’ll instead begin to feel tense, desperate, grasping and constricted.

Pain is a signal that lets us know we’re off track somehow. If we’re experiencing psychological pain of any sort, it’s because the mind has obstructed our connection to our innate wellbeing. This is usually a sign that we have to slow down, take some time to rebalance and again dip into the ease and lightness of our innate self. From here we can see what action we are compelled to take. This action will always feel good — although it often might nudge us out of our comfort zone, so we may sometimes feel a little nervous or uncertain at the same time.

When determining the correct choice to make it’s helpful to notice the signals our body is giving us. ‘Right action’ is usually experienced in the body as a sense of expansiveness, a warm glow, a feeling of opening up or a kind of ‘inner click’. ‘Wrong action’ usually creates a tightness and constricting feeling, a subtle sense of unease or tension in the body. Many of us are so disconnected from our bodies that it might take some time and practise to be able to tune into these sensations and to sense what the body is trying to tell us.

Again, our dharma — our sense of right action — is  already built into us at a core level. The signals will be there to guide us, and the body is one of the greatest means of reading these signals. When we live our lives directed by our heart (aka our essential nature and innate self), we feel good! When we go against our own nature, we feel bad. It’s as simple as that.

ENDING THE WAR WITHIN

I believe the real reason so many of us are depressed and unhappy is that we’ve become disconnected from who we really are and what we truly want. We’re living inauthentic lives and we’re suffering greatly for it. There’s a kind of civil war raging within most people on a largely unconscious level, the battle between the mind/ego/social self and the expansive, free-flowing, adaptive and limitless intelligence of our innate Self.

It’s essential that we end this battle now, for our own sakes and for the sake of the planet we’re systematically destroying.

People that are happy, at peace and able to freely express their true nature are generally highly functional people. They tend to be compassionate, caring, creative and usually a lot of fun to be around. They have a natural regard for themselves, others and the whole — and, by heck, it’s contagious! On the other hand, people that are deeply disconnected from their true nature are often very dysfunctional and create an enormous amount of needless suffering for themselves and others. If we as a species are to survive and thrive, we need to learn to be embody the characteristics of the former and not the latter. We need to be authentic and to live, embody and express our true integrity, creativity and aliveness. The choice is really up to us.

If the old external rules are no longer working for us — and on both individual and collective levels, I’d say it’s clear that they aren’t — then we need to make a new and radical shift in the way we’re living. We need to start following our own rules, the rules of the heart.

I will conclude with one of my favourite passages from the Tao Te Ching, for it succinctly sums up everything I’ve been endeavouring to say:

“When the greatness of the Tao is present,

right action arises from one’s own heart.

When the greatness of the Tao is absent,

action comes from the rules

of “kindness and justice”.

If you need rules to be kind and just,

this is a sure sign that virtue is absent.”

 

 

The Future

“I used to think about the future and then it became the present, so I thought about it quite often then and then it was in the past, so I didn’t think about it that much.” Father Ted

One of the things that has frequently tripped me up over the years is the notion of future. It’s easy to get lost in it and for concerns and insecurities about the future to overwhelm us, causing untold stress and turmoil. In fact, when it comes to mindstuff, the ‘future’ can be like a gaping black hole, ravenous, all-consuming and virtually impossible to escape.

The ego loves its security and in a world where security is ultimately an illusion (after all, anything at any moment could compromise your sense of security), that can be something of a problem. The future is the great unknown and that is something that utterly terrifies the ego!

To minimise this sense of unease we adopt all kinds of strategies for trying to control circumstances and outcomes as much as possible. Again, going back to what I wrote previously about control, that can only work to a limited extent. We can pursue the things that we think will bring us fortune and security and we may even succeed; but even when we do, it’s rarely enough to dispel our fears and insecurity. This is because our insecurity is a structural component of the ego.

In a sense, our insecurity over the future is a legitimate concern, because we really don’t know what the future holds. Bad things can and frequently do happen. I think it’s likely our fear of the future/unknown is a survival mechanism that’s developed to protect us from potential harm by always keeping us on our toes. Yet in our modern world, where our immediate physical survival isn’t usually an issue, this survival mechanism has become a stress mechanism.

In this media-dominated information age, it’s virtually impossible to escape the news and the news is rarely good. We don’t just leave it at that though. We take what’s happening and project it into an imagined future, playing out all kinds of horrific scenarios in our minds. Sometimes it’s necessary to project ahead in this way as it allows us to make prudent choices that avert unnecessary catastrophe. If I’m walking along a train track and a train appears in the distance, it’s prudent that I project into the future and realise that if I don’t step aside, I’ll get squished.

There are times when this is a useful practise and times when it becomes highly dysfunctional. For we tend to get lost in our imaginings, creating entire alternate realities in our minds. We forget that it’s just fantasy and actually believe that what we’re imagining is real. I believe it’s this tendency that creates much of our anxiety and fear over the future.

Two things have helped me to deal with this. The first is the recognition that the future is actually an illusion of the mind; and so, for that matter, is the past. The only thing that actually exists is the present moment and that present moment NEVER ENDS. In spite of this concept we have of past, present and future, there’s never an instance where the present becomes the past, or becomes the future. It’s a continuing, unbroken, unfragmented whole.

The present moment just IS — and it always will be. Of course the CONTENT of the present moment is always changing and it is from this that we’ve derived the notions of ‘past’ and ‘future’. But past and future don’t actually exist. However hard you were to look, you could never actually find them because the only place they exist is in the mind; the past as memories and the future as imagination, expectation or anticipation.

What a terrible mess we get ourselves in over something that exists nowhere other than our own minds! However long we wait, the future will never arrive. All we have is this moment, this timeless, eternal moment, the form of which is continuously shifting and changing.

The second thing that’s helped me deal with this structural insecurity is the recognition that I’m not what I think I am. Along with the concept of time, another core human assumption is that we are our bodies. I’m not going to go too deeply into this for now and I’ll assume that if you’re reading this you’ve already got some sense that what you are is something more than just a bag of bones, tissues and liquids.

But even when, on a conceptual level, we know that we are something deeper than the surface-level appearance, it takes a while for us to fully embody and integrate that realisation. In other words, we usually still act and react as though we are just our bodies. And because we know that ultimately our body is going to die, we have a fundamental insecurity that underlies every second of our existence, whether we’re aware of it or not. I’d even go so far as to say that the root of our fear of the future is fear of the termination of the body.

But when the realisation that we are something far transcendent of form takes root not just in our head, but in our heart and our gut, this underlying existential insecurity begins to loosen its grip. When we truly know with the entirety of our being that we are eternal and deathless, then we cease to fear the inevitable dissolution of our form. Our bodies change throughout the course of our lives and the content of our minds and psyche changes from moment to moment. But this timeless awareness that we are remains unchanged.

If you’ve ever explored and moved into this primal awareness, you’ll notice that it at its core is a deep and expansive acceptance. It doesn’t hold life to ransom and it doesn’t have demands or like and dislikes or even goals and directives. It just allows life to be as it is. It remains open, untouched and untouchable.

Knowing what we are and questioning the content of our minds lead us to a deeper and infinitely more secure state of being. Life still happens around us and at times it’s distressing and grim, but when we’ve removed some of our investment of ‘selfhood’ from what is ultimately transient and insubstantial, we experience far greater freedom than ever before.

The need to desperately control the future lessens. We come to see the primary importance of living well in the present moment. We can surrender to a greater intelligence, of which we are an inextricable part, and allow that intelligence to guide us rather than our fears and doubts.

When we surrender to the flow of life, we come to see that that no matter what the ‘future’ (or, rather, the forthcoming configuration of the eternal present) holds, we will be fine. That which we are is ultimately untouchable. Whether our future contains fortune or misfortune, we will be fine. We will always be fine.

When we’ve let go of our insecurities, our attachments and our desperate need to control life, we’ve let go of the very obstructions that make life difficult in the first place. And when we do encounter life’s inevitable challenges, we deal with them with greater ease and grace, always returning to our innate sense of balance and wellbeing.

I believe that when we’re in this Tao-centred state of being, connected with the flow of life and the truth of what we are, then life is often kinder and gentler. Moreover, our state of being has a positive effect on those around us and the world at large.

So why worry about the future when we can instead move our attention inward and allow life to guide us? We can flow gently and smoothly with the current of life and be led exactly where we need to be.

Maybe life really CAN be that simple? Even if I’m wrong, what a way to live!

Control

I’ve been using the Sedona Method technique of emotional releasing for a while now and I’ve found it immensely helpful. It’s the simplest, easiest way I’ve yet come across for releasing negative emotions. What’s especially interesting is that whenever you feel bad, you are urged to trace the emotion back to one of four underlying WANTS: wanting control, wanting approval, wanting security or wanting to be separate.

I’ve found it amazing that just about every negative emotion can be traced to a basic sense of wanting control. It seems to me that at a core, fundamental level, human beings (or more specifically, human egos) are control-freaks. However subtly or overtly this manifests itself, we’re in the business of wanting control just about everything, just about all the time.

I suppose from the moment we’re born we learn that to get our needs met we have to try to control our environment and those around us. When we’re hungry or uncomfortable or have a poopy nappy, we don’t hesitate to make our discomfort known — and the louder the better. This in itself is a basic means of control, because we quickly learn that crying gets us what we need. The art of control is thus learned at a very young age and as we grow up, it continues to develop in an infinite number of ways. Life, and other people, are seen as things that we have to control in order to get our needs met and in order to be happy.

It’s not until we stop and think about it that we realise the countless ways in which we try to control our environment, our lives and other people. Sometimes the ways in which we desire to control things are quite obvious, whereas other times they are so subtle as to be imperceptible. But, make no mistake, it’s going on all the time!

From the moment we wake up in the morning (which is normally controlled with the aid of our alarm clock), we enter each situation in our daily lives with an agenda. We want to do and achieve certain things and we want situations, meetings and transactions to go a certain way, so we invest a great deal of effort to ensure that’s what happens. We want people to treat us a certain way, so we spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to control them and influence how they respond to us.

If we look closely enough, we can see how we try to control virtually aspect of our lives: from our bodies, health, appearance, diet and sleep patterns to our activities, jobs and careers and our relationships, social standing and the opinions of other people. What is the average human life if not an exercise in extreme control-freakery?

Now I suppose you could argue that it’s necessary to try to control such things, otherwise our lives would spiral out of control and implode in a catastrophe of chaos and disorder. That’s the way the ego sees it and that’s how it justifies its pathological need to try and micro-manage the universe.

But I’ve come to see that control is ultimately an illusion.

It’s a fiction the mind gets hooked into, a mode of functioning that underlies every nuance of its operating software. It fails to see that its perpetual attempts to control are akin to a hamster running in a wheel. No matter how much energy and effort it invests in trying to control every aspect of life, it’s not going to get you that far.

Because just how much can we actually control in life? Honestly?

I’d argue that ultimately there’s very little we really have control over. As valiantly as we might try, we can’t control other people – at least not completely, and not all the time. Aside from ensuring we give it the proper fuel, rest and exercise it needs, we don’t control our bodies; our bodies do what they do and they’re inevitably going to get grow old and die. We don’t have much, if any, control over our environment and culture, or the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

And here’s the thing: the more we try to control anything, the more we suffer.

We suffer when we don’t get what we want. And we often suffer just as much when we do get what we want. Perhaps this is because we’ve created so much tension and resistance in ourselves that we’re unable to relax enough to enjoy the fruits of our labours. In any case, the mind is rarely satisfied with what it’s got and is immediately ready to fixate on its next object of conquest. It’s a vicious cycle. The more we control, the more we’re dissatisfied and the more we suffer.

Yet letting go of control is a truly heinous notion to most people. The thought of being out of control is unthinkable and is tantamount to a kind of death (and it is a kind of death in a way; death of the ego!). Yet if we take an honest look at the ways in which we try to control life, the ultimate futility of our efforts, and the way it causes us pain, we might find the courage to adopt a totally radical and quite revolutionary approach: letting go of our control over life.

What I’ve discovered is that the moment I let go of wanting to control anything, I feel free and at peace. I believe letting go of the need to control is one of the greatest keys to freedom and peace of mind. Paradoxically, when I know that I’m not in control of life, I feel at one with life and things just seem to flow; no stress, no worry, no resistance!

Whenever I feel bad, or whenever things have become sticky and messy, it’s usually attributable to trying to impose control on things. This has happened with my physical health. The more I’ve tried to improve my health, the more determined I’ve been to get better and the more regimented I’ve been with my diet, supplements, and so forth, the worse I’ve actually become. I can only assume it’s because the more we struggle with things, the more tension and resistance we create within us. This tends to close us down, cutting us off from the innate flow of life, whereas when we relinquish the need to control, it releases tension and promotes lightness, ease and flow.

I invite everyone to experiment with letting go of their need to control life. If something’s been causing you pain or suffering, it’s a sure sign that instead of trying to exert more control over the situation, you need to do the opposite and practise letting go. It’s so simple yet miraculous in the way it shifts our energy and reconnects us with our innate sense of wellbeing and flow. At the very least, whether the situation changes or not, you’ll experience a deep sense of relief, release and inner peace. But don’t take my word for it – try it for yourself!

When we let go of our attempts to control life, life takes over: and life can do things infinitely better than our precious little egos ever could. It’s as though a deeper intelligence springs into action and gets things back into balance again. When we’re no longer creating obstructions (and our obstructions almost always originate in the mind), things naturally settle themselves and come into harmony. This can be seen in nature. As long as there are no obstructions, a lake remains placid and still, for that is its nature. Our attempts to control creates waves in the water, shattering the calm and stirring up all kinds of muck and debris. Pretty soon the water is choppy and muddy, as a result of our desperation to impose our will. Just letting go is enough to allow the water to naturally balance and settle itself. There’s nothing we need to do. Why not let go of control as much as you possibly can and allow life to flow? You might be amazed at the results.

“Let go of your hold on life and allow life to simply flow around and through you.” John C Parkin

Ahhhhhh. The sense of relief is amazing!

Life Strips us down

On a couple of occasions I’ve seen the Dalai Lama quoted as saying that the purpose of life is to be happy. On the surface this seems like a somewhat superficial statement, but of course there’s a lot more to it than that. I’m sure if he was to elaborate on that, he might explain that in order to achieve any stable and lasting sense of happiness, we must first transcend the ordinary state of human consciousness, which keeps us locked in perpetual bondage.

The predominant state of human consciousness is what Buddhists call ‘samsara’ and is a vicious cycle of craving, grasping and suffering, all the while being lost in layers upon layers of mind-created illusion. The hallmark of samsara – which is the software that just about everyone on the planet is operating from – is suffering. It’s a divisive, fragmented and distorted state of consciousness, in which awareness temporarily fixated upon and loses itself in form.

This isn’t to say that samsara is somehow ‘wrong’, or that it shouldn’t be. It is. Maybe it’s a necessary evolutionary stage for the unfolding of consciousness. What happens with the average human being is that consciousness arises in form and then loses itself in a thick treacly soup of mind-stuff; concepts, beliefs, ideas and delusion. That’s not the end of the journey though.

I believe there’s an in-built mechanism by which, at some point, consciousness transcends the limitations of samsara and awakens out of all false identifications and begins to become aware of itself again. Instead of seeing life through a screen of mind-made concepts, the barriers of belief and false identification begin to crumble and we begin to see and experience life simply as it is. When this happens there’s a great purging and stripping away. It’s not that something is added to ourselves, it’s not that we learn or become anything new. It’s more that on a mental and emotional level, layer after layer of sediment is scoured and dislodged and for the first time we can see reality clearly.

To be free of the dense conditioning of mind is the great liberation and a true flowering of human consciousness. Freed of the accumulation of thoughts and beliefs, conditioning and prejudice, likes and dislikes, expectations and interpretations, life is simply experienced as it is, and separation is supplanted by a realisation of the great oneness of all life. This process of awakening has been described in different ways and called by different names by many different people and cultures. It’s something that fascinates me and I am convinced that this unfolding is ultimately a natural part of the evolution of consciousness. It’s still very rare in this world, which is so coarse, dense and heavy, for everything about our society is designed to keep the rigid structures of mind and ego firmly cemented in place.

The importance of this process of awakening cannot be underemphasised and I believe that life actually wants it to happen. Alas, the human mind is so deeply entrenched in the delusion of separation and false identification, that we dig our heels in the mud and are generally resistant to the natural flowering of consciousness. We don’t make it easy for ourselves at all. Even people that have a degree of spiritual awareness and have embarked on a quest for enlightenment tend to block the process by continuing to cling to beliefs and mind-stuff, looking for things to add to themselves rather than surrendering and allowing all that is untrue to be stripped away from them.

Authentic spiritual awakening is not a process of accumulation and addition; I think it’s quite the opposite. It’s a matter of subtraction and elimination, in which all that is untrue must be peeled away like layers of an onion until we eventually reach the very core. It’s a process of loss in many ways and it’s not as comfortable and pleasant as we might like. It’s relatively easy to substitute one doctrine or belief system for another. But it takes a lot more courage to be willing to let go of ALL beliefs, all concepts, all interpretations until we are stripped to the core of what we are. Then we stand naked and unmasked, as vulnerable and raw as a newborn child, yet liberated and unfettered by the chains of mind. Something beautiful is born; something that was there all along, but just buried under layer upon layer of sediment.

Just as it’s the destiny of most plants to eventually flower, I believe the same is true for us. Life doesn’t necessarily bring us what will make us superficially happy, but it brings us the circumstances and situations that will eventually enable us to flower. So all the shit that’s happening around you is simply fertiliser! Life wants the rose to bloom and all the right conditions and circumstances conspire to allow it to happen. Similarly, life wants us to awaken, to transcend the limitations of our current operating software and to realise the totality of what we are. It wants us to strip away all that’s untrue and it sends us the necessary conditions, circumstances and challenges that will facilitate this process.

Most people are highly resistant, of course. We have a sense of self, a notion of who we think we are, and entire lifetimes are spent maintaining, upholding and strengthening this ultimately fictitious entity. Whenever life tries to strip that identity away from us, we resist and we suffer. Ultimately life is going to get its own way, whether we like it or not. No matter how much we struggle against the inevitable, eventually our form identity will die and the illusion will be forcibly ended, at least for a while.

Death is a kind of Ctrl+alt+del. But the sages invite us to perform a ctrl+alt+del while we’re still alive; to allow life to strip away all the layers of accumulated mind-stuff, to peel away all that is false and illusory. Ultimately it’s going to happen. No dream can last indefinitely; eventually the dream ends and the dreamer again regains self-awareness. Life is continually trying to nudge us awake, to enable us to become self-aware during the dream.

Why do we resist so much? We’ve been told that the only way to true peace and happiness is to awaken fully and transcend samsara. Why do we so rigidly cling onto our false little dream? Perhaps it requires a great leap of faith. That’s the challenge we face. We can either keep resisting and holding on to a fading dream or we can cooperate with the unfolding of consciousness within us. We can allow life to strip away all that is false. That which is Real, that which is truly what we are, can obviously never be taken from us, so no matter how much is pruned away and no matter how much we seem to lose, we can never lose ourselves.

Perhaps that’s what self realisation is; realising That which can never be taken from us, which alone is real. Only the Real can bring us happiness — and I truly believe that whether we choose to cooperate or not, life is leading us toward that. Whatever is happening in your life, you can be sure the message is something like this: wake up, wake up. You’ve been in bud for so long. Now it’s time to bloom. Let go and allow it to happen.