I am the happiest man alive – or, at least, I aspire to be. My restlessness, my stressors, my impatience, my work – the machine of automatic process by which man is conscripted to live and work in this society – all of these pale in the face of death, which, I concede, is the final result of life.
As Henry Miller wrote in Tropic of Capricorn:
Take a good look at me. Now tell me, do you think I’m the sort of fellow who gives a fuck what happens once he’s dead?
And rightly so; for this is my heaven, right here.
But a distinction must be made: I was not always diamond hard on the inside. This blog – my life – is a testiment to that.
I have learned how to be a true Stoic, to see what lies beyond my control; again, quoting Henry Miller:
I soon found out you couldn’t change the world. The best you can do is learn to live with it.
But in learning to live with it, you change your world, your perspective broadens, your prejudices die off.
Where I am now, at 31 and change, I have learned to live with it [the world] via the acceptance of personal responsibility. I – and only I – am responsible for how I feel, what I do.
I fear this (and much of my writing here) all sounds very pollyannish, very self-congratulatory, very smug. And fuck it if it does; although, I am very much inclined to state that no man is immune to the human condition entirely. I’m a Homosapien; I have foibles, which, if left to their own devices – that is to say lived unconsciously – would ruin me; however, that’s not how my story goes. At 31, I’d much rather feel nothing at all than pain (A sharp departure from the shadow days of my late twenties, when I was hellbent on burning my world down – a world I didn’t see fit to live in).
I am begged by the muse to answer a question here, and the question is one I have heard other fortunate souls ask: why me? Meaning, instead of falling in love with Sarah, instead of many of the good things that have happened for me (All my loves included), why didn’t life just fuck me, ruin me?
I don’t know: I suppose it did; I just don’t see life that way anymore; instead of seeing a tragedy, I see a golden goose. Sure, shit sucked – I have felt the twisting pains of heartache – but I no longer feel I know what heartbreak is.
As I have said before, every woman I ever loved has loved me.
Why lead all roads back to love – what else? I find nothing save the ability of my soul to weather anything – to endure – to make an ecstasy of solitude; all else is waiting.
The bounds of my love, however, are merely shores I have yet to tread upon. I’ve only now, in my eyes, become what may be called a good friend, a good son, a good brother, a good uncle – a good person, which is to say nothing of morality and everything of generosity.
I have covered this – and wish to cover it no more – but I will:
I wasn’t always this whole.
Again, I am not one for morality. Save me your reproaches. As the newest beau of my muse, Henry Miller, wrote:
I had no more need of God than He had of me, and if there were one, I often said to myself, I would meet Him calmly and spit in His face.
I am of the basic belief that humans are no more than a goddamned species of mammal. The great tragedy of life then is, that in the advancement of life, the most advanced species on earth is also its most base.
Slavery, Abuse, Rape, Murder, Torture, Oppression: the human is master of these crimes. We are inherently base because we are a bunch of fucking mammals with egos.
And in being human, I wish no more than to transcend the petty, the ugly, the banal; for it is very difficult to be human and not feel like a piece of shit.
Real life, which is to say life amongst the human race – shit – good luck buddy. Because even if you are happy, it is only becacuse you are not in a North Korean prison camp eating rats.
Why the world is like this? I don’t know. I’d like to say that humans will continue evolving, that we will overcome the darkness of our own age, but I also fear the inroads to the soul are dying – that man is exchanging knowledge for truth.
Facts are stubborn things, sure; however, despite myriad human progresses, I am increasingly inclined to view society as a machine that will eventually – given the dangers of AI, genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics – eat man.
Not all progress is forward.
There are, within futurist circles, those who would happily see Homosapiens go extinct, and frankly, aside from the hardwired preservation of my own mortality, I can hardly disagree. We are the single most oppressive, harmful form of life on earth. More suffering can be attributed to man than can be engendered to any God. But I suppose this is merely the unfolding of evolution. I just wish we saw our place in the universe more honestly.
We are a species with hopes and dreams. But we are a species nonetheless and not the children of Gods; we are the children of men and woman, as flawed as any ever were.
I am stretching my mental legs, thinking aloud, as I always do here, but it is late and I am tired. So, allow me to wrap up.
Life is a road, and we are born in a lane amongst many. Our lives are spent largely ignoring our passions, lost in petty pursuits, chasing trivialities at the cost of our grandeur, our splendor.
Society asks that you participate in exchange for acceptance, which is a catch-22 of the highest sense. You are made to exchange happiness for comfort, time for money. But that’s all there is fundamentally: time.
You are born then you die. Humans, sadly, however, choose to spend their lives pretty fucking stupidly. Put simply, the metrics by which we measure our wellbeing are not doing our being well.
Great food and nice homes. A nice car. Clothes. Is that all you want out of life?
Do you not wish to live in flow? Would you not rather enjoy peak state as a circumstance rather than a luxury?
That conception of you, your very values, these are products not of the self but of society.
And there is only one way to change society, which is to say the collective values of humans, and that is via art; for only art has the power to create change in others, in ourselves. It is the mirror; the place where we form our heroes, where we catch the conscience of the king, as Hamlet did.
Art, I feel, is then the royal road to life as the Buddhists see it: the purpose of life being the reduction of suffering.
Art can be anything.
To quote Malcolm Gladwell, ‘art is using your humanity to create change in other people.’ Only, via capitalism, via governments, via the leveraging of labor, we enjoy our comforts instead.
I had to write this tonight because I am feeling really, really smart.
Like, I’m getting good at life.
But beyond stating the obvious, something lighthearted has been a long time coming – to myself and my writing. Yeah, that winter of 2014 took a long time to thaw – but, thank the 6 god, spring is here motherfuckers (Samuel L. Jackson voice).
If there was such thing as an apology letter – please understand that Iwrite my exes Poems – then this is the antithesis of it. But I am not here to flex my ego; although, it’s not an entirely bad idea; you see, like any hyper self-aware and intelligent man with a hint of integrity, by my late twenties, my ego had become my arch nemesis – a foe whom I avowed to avenge my misery on.
And let me tell you, there is nothing like a major break up, followed by self-administered entheogenic therapy, to kill the ego. I mean, I murdered that motherfucker (Lawrence Black voice).
In the wake of my ego, I became obsessed with my own humility, which, ironically, is actually a terrible case of narcissism in itself – albeit a more unconscious one. But in my desire to become uber-humble, I became infinitely small. Dreams, ideas, feelings – everything – was atrophied. In hindsight, I cannot believe what I had become – and in honesty, it wasn’t the winter of 2014 that froze my soul like Winterfell, it was the winter of 2009.
But today, I am a long way from Seattle, and for the first time: glad.
Defeats are the one thing we will become anything in order to escape. And I did, I became the picture of defeat; in my effort to hide, I hid in plain sight from myself.
I smile because my ego has finally emerged from my shadow. From the dark night of the soul, to the aftermath and through the entire Jungian alchemical process, I have been through the Heroes Journey.
Welcome home Lawrence Black.
In my twenties I was a lot of things I wasn’t. But I see now that I also wasn’t a lot of the things I was. Yes, I have been reading lots of Zen literature (I recommend D.T. Suzuki to the uninitiated – Watts is for space cowboys).
I have also been reading the Upanishads, “Which contain some of the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism.” – to save you a google search.
And – like everything else in my life has and always will – these texts have come to me at exactly the right time. Yes: this Western boy’s mind is starting to tilt heavily on an Eastern axis.
However, I am not writing this to espouse my evolved views, but – holy fuck – let me tell you, there is no better way to shake off the weight of Christian guilt in the collective unconscious than to read some shit written way before that shit was even a fucking thing (Sam Jackson voice).
I am constantly reminded today that a man’s beliefs are only his theories. Well, I got theories too bitch! (Law Black voice).
But returning to the Upanishads, they have shown me an entirely new way of thinking, of being, and of living a “spiritual life”, which is to say: a life in which one feels themselves worthy of having their own theories.
As Steve Jobs – a spiritual guy himself – said:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
And, as I recently quoted, I don’t want to be a product of my environment, I want my environment to be a product of me.
But those words from a movie – they really didn’t resonate with me the first time I watched The Departed – they really didn’t mean anything until I came to understand that Steve Jobs’ words held so much more weight than their logical and aesthetic appeal. It is only now that I see just how trapped I was by other people’s thinking – my own included.
But, let me tell you, I was wrong. Whoops. Sorry life. Sorry Lawrence that I fucked up the last four years of your life (Save for Shannon, who is the greatest woman I have ever dated – love you Bunny).
But yeah: I was oh so wrong – but it’s all good. It was my path. Love your fate, as I always say. And I am not mad at all now that I see what a salty motherfucker I was (Kenny Fucking Powers’ voice).
And like the Upanishads, this re-emergence of the ego (As spoofed excellently by Kenny Fucking Powers.) has arrived at the right time in my life.
And to thank, I have Brahman and Atman, as well as Ayn Rand’s Anthem and Marie Louise Von Franz’s writing on the function and value of the ego.
One sometimes feels that the unconscious is leading the way in accordance with a secret design… this creatively active aspect of the psychic nucleus can come into play only when the ego gets rid of all purposive and wishful aims and tries to get to a deeper, more basic form of existence. The ego must be able to listen attentively and to give itself, without any further design or purpose, to that inner urge toward growth. – M.L.V.F.
These three things – the concept of the Self as taught by the Upanishads, Ayn Rand’s heroic picture of the ego in Anthem, and Jung protege Marie Louise Von Franz’s understandings on the role of ego in individuation – have given me an far greater, more absolute understanding of my ego, and myself, than I have ever possessed (Well, excepting before I knew what my ego was and I again then had a healthy one). But this is now.
I was a fragile creature playing strong from 25 through 30, living in a glass castle, naked and afraid, but no longer – and I am not sorry that the emperor has finally seen his reflection; I just wish someone would have told me what a terrified little asshole I was.
I know, I didn’t listen.
But hey, I just gotta laugh at it now.
And to really flex my ego like a human being with my DNA at this point in space and time should: I really feel whole; I feel complete. I will even go so far as to say that I have reached what Jung called individuation.
To quote C.G. Jung:
To find out what is truly individual in ourselves, profound reflection is needed; and suddenly we realize how uncommonly difficult the discovery of individuality in fact is.
Yes. All that dying I did down in the rabbit hole I spent the last five years of my life in (Save for some of the rare moments when I was actually happy, thanks in large part to B.S.W) paid off.
Note to Jung fans: like the synchronicity with the Kenny Powers’ soundbites in that song? (See prev link dickhead).
P.S. As Jung wrote: “Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.” And now that my ego has joined the living again – joined to a healthy and cleansed soul – I have eyes. And I see the beautiful young girl who adores me, and I see my success this month, and I see myself happy – every single day.
In conclusion: I am no longer just an asshole – now I am a reborn one. In my defense, it is so much better to be an asshole than to be miserable.
To thine own self be true.
p.p.s., I recall a dialogue between therapist number one and I (Back in the pre-Seattle days, when I picked therapists based on their looks), in which I said to her that I believed myself to be ‘slightly narcissistic’, to which she replied, “Yes Lawrence, all highly successful people are.”
Maybe, maybe not, but I would rather be a happy narcissist than a fucking dickhead.
30-year Tibetan Buddhist Nun (and total bad ass) Robina Courtin delivered a talk at Google in 2008 that’s chock-full of immensely refreshing, yet completely uncommon advice on happiness, neurosis, and “being your own therapist”.
Powerful, powerful stuff.
Uncommon Advice on Happiness from Rebina Courtin’s 2008 Talk at Google: Be Your Own Therapist
Overview from Youtube:
We spend our lives being seduced by the outside world, believing without question that happiness and suffering come from “out there.” In reality, Buddhist teachings explain that they come from the way we perceive and interpret things, not the things themselves.
This deeply held misconception is at the root of our dissatisfaction, self-doubt, anger, depression, anxiety, and the rest. But our minds can change. By becoming deeply familiar with the workings of our own cognitive processes through introspection and learning to deconstruct them – truly, being our own therapists – we can loosen the grip of these neuroses and grow our marvelous potential for contentment, clarity, and courage, which are at the core of our being.
Note: Typically when I watch a talk, or read a book, I am thrilled if I can walk away with one really good idea to put into my toolkit; however, at 29 years old, the following quote is perhaps the best single piece of advice I’ve heard on happiness in the last five years. It’s the psychology of happiness in a single sentence.
“Happiness is – it’s really simple, it’s what you get when you give up the neurosis.” Robina Courtin
The rest of the entry contains a WEALTH of additional wisdom from the same talk, expanding on this idea.
Giving up Neurosis to Find Happiness
“The extent of which we are caught up in any given moment in low self-esteem, depression, anger, jealousy, you name it… The extent to which we’re caught up in those is the extent of which we suffer.
The extent of which we are not caught up in those and therefore the extent which we’re involved in kind of, you know, connecting with others, empathy, being harmonious, forgiving…T he extent of which they’re prevalent in our minds at any given moment is the extent to which we are happy.
It’s an incredibly simple little recipe in Buddhist terms. We (most people) think it [happiness] is what you get when you get what you want. He [The Buddah] says it’s what you get when you give up the neurosis – so the technique is learning to know your mind, being your own therapist.”
Don’t Think About Calming Your Mind, Think About Steadying it’s Focus
“A calm mind can be a busy mind. And if you think about it, what causes the problems isn’t a busy mind, it’s when the–the busy mind is caught up in fear about yourself and worry of what people think about you, am I good enough, am I too fat, am I too thin and depression and jealous and anxiety and all the rest. That’s the stuff that causes the misery. If you’re full of thoughts about being useful to others all day and being content with yourself, well, please go for it, you know. You don’t have a problem, believe me.”
On Using the Full Brilliant Power of Your Mind to Your Advantage
“Don’t try to hold yourself back. Love the fact that you’ve got a brilliant mind, that you’re a real thinker – this is the technique, this is the tool that you can use to be your own therapist, to use this cognitive process to deconstruct your own stuff. Okay, alongside that intelligence, you need some, you know integrity, you need humility, you need the wish to look at yourself, you need the will to want to, the ability–and the wish to want to go beyond blame and hurt that alongside this intelligence, that’s a marvelous packaging I tell you. That’s the stuff that we need. Intelligence on its own is a disaster. You can still be in an infantile at the age of 90 even if you’re a genius, you know?”
On Anger, Jealousy, Fear, and Attachment
“Lack of emotional intelligence is what we have when we have anger, and jealousy and fear, and attachment because these are totally self-centered, unhappy, miserable states of mind.”
Facing Self-Knowledge With Courage and Self-Compassion Rather Than Low Self-Esteem and Self-Loathing
“It’s a question of knowing yourself well – taking responsibility, but on the basis of the fact that you can change – not, “Oh, I’m so guilty, I’m so bad”. Not that at all, which is a knee-jerk reaction we tend to have when we point out problems in ourselves. That’s not the attitude here. It’s a courageous attitude. It’s just, “Okay, I am jealous, I get depressed, I am this, I am that, what a drag, it’s breaking my heart.” You’ve got to have compassion for yourself really, which is a brand new idea for us. We love to hate ourselves.”
The Importance of Identifying with Your Positive Potential
“The more strongly you can kind of identify with your positive potential, the more you have the courage, don’t you, to see the things that are holding you back. But the crucial one for me is we take one thing from this room: I can change. It sounds so simple, it’s almost embarrassing but you check the major level at which we suffer when things are going bad, we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is why we despair.”
Mindfulness as Kind of Cognitive Behavioral Tool
“We can mold our minds, our thoughts and feelings into any shape we like, you know and this is the thing here. The level of which I’m discussing here, the level of practice based upon these really marvelous techniques where you can learn to focus your mind, you then use the skill of–of this–really a process of cognitive therapy and I’m really not kidding. Buddha is a master of cognitive therapies. You learn more and more clearly, literally to hear the millions of voices inside there that now are racing like I said out of control all day everyday.”
The Neurotic “I” – Neuroticism as a Product of our Sense of Self and Self-Centeredness
“The basis of the neurotic voices, the fearful ones, the angry ones, the jealous, the depression is a neurotic sense of self of”I.” You think about it, even if Monica and I are sitting, having a very friendly conversation, I’m listening to her and she is listening to me and I crack [her jokes]–you know I laugh at her jokes and she laughs at mine. You think about this carefully when it’s very easygoing, there’s no real vivid sense of “I” this, “I am listening to Monica” – you’re kind of connected to her. There’s a sense of interdependence, isn’t there? There’s a sense of “we.” Now you watch what happens when you start to argue, that “we” is cut in half right there. The unhappy “I” is kind of quiet like a sleeping lion, and there’s a sense of connected to otherness. But then when that’s cut, you kind of revert back into yourself and the “I” rises loudly and you’re panicking and your heart’s beating and the blood’s racing and ‘she did this’ and ‘I said that’, ‘it’s not fair’, ‘poor me’ this – that’s the voice – the “I”, the neurotic “I,” behind all the unhappy states of mind – that’s their character.”
The Neurotic Voices are Not at The Core of Your Being, They Can be Changed
“So even to think ‘wow, that’s interesting, maybe it’s possible, maybe what Buddha says is possible, that they’re not at the core of my being [the neurotic voices], that I can learn to look into these and deconstruct them and hear the voices and unpack them and slowly, cognitively change myself.’ This is the process I’m talking about here. “
A Question About Materialism and Happiness: The Distinction Between The Thing and Your Interpretation of It
Note: This might be the magnum opus of the lessons here. An attendee asks an assumptive question about the best way to live in order to be happy and the reply is just not at all what you would assume.
Question: “So since it’s pretty pointless to pursue a job and the girlfriend and the dollars and the car, would the most practical thing for us to be, is to just take care of a little bit of shelter and food and spend all the rest of the time in contemplation?”
Answer: “How revolting. I couldn’t stand a life like that. No, you’ve gone ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong with millions of dollars and jobs and girlfriends and gorgeous things, no, no you’re chucking the baby out of the bath water. You went too far, you became kind of nihilistic. No, that’s not the point. You can have your cake and eat it too sweetheart, and I’m really serious here. The Buddha makes this enormous distinction between the thing itself and your interpretation of it, and what he is describing here–the problem is our interpretation of the girlfriend, of the money – if you put all your eggs in those baskets, believing primordially that having them equals happiness, he says that’s when you will be disappointed, because you just got the wrong recipe. So he doesn’t say give them up, he says change your way of interpreting them.
Happiness is dependent upon you changing, getting rid of your neurotic attachment, getting rid of all your craving for people to love you, getting –I mean I am talking of the neurotic side here–rid of the craving for people to approve of you, to think you’re fantastic, for the dollars in the bank – the neurotic dependence on that stuff is what I am talking about, not the stuff itself. …So that’s not the answer, we’re in this world of abundance and money and things and color and shapes and music and sounds, it’s kind of a sophisticated view. The first level is maybe you back away for a while, while you go into retreat mode, you know. But eventually with skill, you’re going to have your cake and eat it too. It’s giving up the neurotic attitude towards the things, not the things themselves. That’s a major, major point. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Watch the full Talk Below
Note: I really enjoyed Robina Courtin’s demeanor – she seems like a definite non-people pleaser, which I mean as a compliment; although I did cringe at a few of the things she said, but watching this was a reminder that spirituality does not have to strip you of your confidence nor your personality and that decreasing your suffering can empower you to live the highest manifestation of both.
The following was a comment I posted on a thread in the Stoicism group I am in on facebook. I wanted to add it here as it relates to my own personal ethos on life, from an increasingly Buddhist perspective.
In my very limited (but growing) understanding of Buddhist teachings, I feel that The Buddha was a master of perspective. I feel like Buddhism compliments Stoicism very well; through Stoicism I gain understanding, through Buddhism I gain perspective. Definitely something I would love to see a dedicated thread on in the future. And regarding positive thought, I am inclined to agree with you, especially when examining the Stoic practice of negative visualization (imagining loss, ex: preparing for bad traffic in LA). The older I get the less I subscribe to new age positive thinking, instead favoring wisdom. There’s certainly a point at which mere positivity becomes an almost weakness, disconnecting you from the true reality of things. If there’s a lesson to be learned from positivity, I think it’s “don’t be neurotic”.
But beyond merely feeling captivated by the Jedi characters and their use of the force, I truly seek to embody a similarly elite level of self-discipline, mastery and heightened spiritual awareness in my own, very real life.
So, what’s a real life Jedi to do? Simple, study the trill (true+real) wisdom of the ancients, which no doubt inspired quotes like the following.
According to Wikipedia, the poem has been much beloved by Zen practitioners for over a thousand years, and applies Taoist terminology to the Buddhist context of awakening – professing the need to take pleasant and unpleasant life experiences with a sense of equanimity and broadly speaking, deals with the principles and practice of non-duality – that is, with the application of nonduality and the results of its practice.
Note: While I am not yet acquainted with the full depth and color of the text, I am already taken by the clear and poignant richness of it’s wisdom, which shines through from the first read. As someone who believes spirituality is about practices as much or more than experiences, I immediately knew this was a work I needed to integrate into my daily routine – hence, why I am publishing this: I am going to read this each morning – part of my training as a Jedi – plus, it’s very soothing and aligning. Having gone relatively deep on my spiritual journey thus far, I intuitively knew as soon as I came across this (whilst researching nondualism) that it was fated for me to internalize and call forth this wisdom as part of my daily waking consciousness – ahem, I mean to say that my inner Yoda told me this was part of my path to becoming a Jedi Knight : )
The source of the text is attributed to Chien-chih Seng Ts’an (modern Western spelling: Jianzhi Sengcan), the Third Patriarch of Chan (Zen) Buddhism; however, much like the Tao Te Ching, it’s authorship is not definitive; although, I quite enjoyed the story that when Seng Ts’an approached his teacher, Dazu Huike , and requested be accepted under his tutelage, Huike exclaimed: “You are riddled with leprosy, and yet you come to me?”, to which Seng Ts’an replied, “Well, maybe my body is sick. But the internal heart-mind of a diseased one is still the same as the internal heart-mind of a whole man; how, then, is my heart different from your heart-mind?” Impressed with this insight, Huike took him on as a student.
Whether Seng Ts’an authored the work or not is a relatively moot point today – the miracle isn’t in the poem’s author, but in it’s message, which is so everlasting and timeless that it’s still applicable 2,500 years later. I love not relying on new age booksellers to tell me how to live. I prefer going straight to the source and integrating true ancient wisdom directly into my modern life. This to me is a true honor and one of the great privileges of applying a touch of intellectualism to my spirituality. I get genuinely excited about things like this.
It’s important to note that the poem’s original text was not divided into stanzas. This was something I was worried about as the translations below have been taken from various non-copyrighted sources, and as such I was unsure of their fidelity to the translator’s original structure; however, given that the lines were grouped into stanzas in modern times, I might as well decide on my own where they should go (tongue in cheek).
Note: Grab a PDF (for those non-internet situations) of the three translations here.
Eventually, I will likely gravitate towards one specific translation, as I have found with the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, but for now I’m inclined to prefer the Clarke translation; although, comparing translations certainly helps you better elucidate your own interpretation of the intended meaning.
Enjoy my dear reader, I hope this profits your soul on the path to Jedi Knighthood as it does mine. Together, we will both learn to use The Force (or The Source).
P.S. – I look forward to again writing on this subject [The Mind of Absolute Trust] at some point in the future.
至道無難 The Great Way is not difficult
唯嫌揀擇 for those who have no preferences.
但莫憎愛 When love and hate are both absent
洞然明白 everything becomes clear and undisguised.
毫釐有差 Make the smallest distinction, however
天地懸隔 and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
欲得現前 If you wish to see the truth
莫存順逆 then hold no opinions for or against anything.
違順相爭 To set up what you like against what you dislike
是爲心病 is the disease of the mind.
不識玄旨 When the deep meaning of things is not understood
徒勞念靜 the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
圓同太虚 The Way is perfect like vast space
無欠無餘 where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
良由取捨 Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
所以不如 that we do not see the true nature of things.
莫逐有縁 Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
勿住空忍 nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
一種平懷 Be serene in the oneness of things
泯然自盡 and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.
止動歸止 When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity
止更彌動 your very effort fills you with activity.
唯滯兩邊 As long as you remain in one extreme or the other
寧知一種 you will never know Oneness.
一種不通 Those who do not live in the single Way
兩處失功 fail in both activity and passivity,
遣有沒有 assertion and denial. To deny the reality of things
從空背空 to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality.
多言多慮 The more you talk and think about it,
轉不相應 the further astray you wander from the truth.
絶言絶慮 Stop talking and thinking,
無處不通 and there is nothing you will not be able to know.
歸根得旨 To return to the root is to find the meaning,
隨照失宗 but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.
須臾返照 At the moment of inner enlightenment
勝卻前空 there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.
前空轉變 The changes that appear to occur in the empty world
皆由妄見 we call real only because of our ignorance.
不用求眞 Do not search for the truth;
唯須息見 only cease to cherish opinions.
二見不住 Do not remain in the dualistic state
慎莫追尋 avoid such pursuits carefully.
纔有是非 If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong,
紛然失心 the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.
二由一有 Although all dualities come from the One,
一亦莫守 do not be attached even to this One.
一心不生 When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way,
萬法無咎 nothing in the world can offend,
無咎無法 and when a thing can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way.
不生不心 When no discriminating thoughts arise, the old mind ceases to exist.
能隨境滅 When thought objects vanish, the thinking-subject vanishes,
境逐能沈 as when the mind vanishes, objects vanish.
境由能境 Things are objects because of the subject (mind);
能由境能 the mind (subject) is such because of things (object).
欲知兩段 Understand the relativity of these two
元是一空 and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.
一空同兩 In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable
齊含萬象 and each contains in itself the whole world.
不見精麁 If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine
寧有偏黨 you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.
大道體寛 To live in the Great Way
無易無難 is neither easy nor difficult,
小見狐疑 but those with limited views
轉急轉遲 and fearful and irresolute: the faster they hurry, the slower they go,
執之失度 and clinging (attachment) cannot be limited;
必入邪路 even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.
放之自然 Just let things be in their own way
體無去住 and there will be neither coming nor going.
任性合道 Obey the nature of things (your own nature),
逍遙絶惱 and you will walk freely and undisturbed.
繋念乖眞 When thought is in bondage the truth is hidden,
昏沈不好 for everything is murky and unclear,
不好勞神 and the burdensome practice of judging brings annoyance and weariness.
何用疏親 What benefit can be derived from distinctions and separations?
欲取一乘 If you wish to move in the One Way
勿惡六塵 do not dislike even the world of senses and ideas.
六塵不惡 Indeed, to accept them fully
還同正覺 is identical with true Enlightenment.
智者無爲 The wise man strives to no goals
愚人自縛 but the foolish man fetters himself.
法無異法 This is one Dharma, not many: distinctions arise
妄自愛著 from the clinging needs of the ignorant.
將心用心 To seek Mind with the (discriminating) mind
豈非大錯 is the greatest of all mistakes.
迷生寂亂 Rest and unrest derive from illusion;
悟無好惡 with enlightenment there is no liking and disliking.
一切二邊 All dualities come from
妄自斟酌 ignorant inference.
夢幻虚華 They are like dreams of flowers in the air:
何勞把捉 foolish to try to grasp them.
得失是非 Gain and loss, right and wrong:
一時放卻 such thoughts must finally be abolished at once.
眼若不睡 If the eye never sleeps,
諸夢自除 all dreams will naturally cease.
心若不異 If the mind makes no discriminations,
萬法一如 the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence.
一如體玄 To understand the mystery of this One-essence
兀爾忘虚 is to be release from all entanglements.
萬法齊觀 When all things are seen equally
歸復自然 the timeless Self-essence is reached.
泯其所以 No comparisons or analogies are possible
不可方比 in this causeless, relationless state.
止動無動 Consider movement stationary and the stationary in motion,
動止無止 both movement and rest disappear.
兩既不成 When such dualities cease to exist
一何有爾 Oneness itself cannot exist.
究竟窮極 To this ultimate finality
不存軌則 no law or description applies.
契心平等 For the unified mind in accord with the Way
所作倶息 all self-centered straining ceases.
狐疑盡淨 Doubts and irresolution’s vanish
正信調直 and life in true faith is possible.
一切不留 With a single stroke we are freed from bondage;
無可記憶 nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
虚明自照 All is empty , clear, self-illuminating,
不勞心力 with no exertion of the mind’s power.
非思量處 Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination
識情難測 are of no value.
眞如法界 In this world of Suchness
無他無自 there is neither self nor other-than-self
要急相應 To come directly into harmony with this reality
唯言不二 just simply say when doubt arises, ‘Not two.’
不二皆同 In this ‘no two’ nothing is separate,
無不包容 nothing excluded.
十方智者 No matter when or where,
皆入此宗 enlightenment means entering this truth.
宗非促延 And this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space;
一念萬年 in it a single thought is ten thousand years.
無在不在 Emptiness here, Emptiness there,
十方目前 but the infinite universe stands always before your eyes.
極小同大 Infinitely large and infinitely small;
忘絶境界 no difference, for definitions have vanished
不見邊表 and no boundaries are seen.
有即是無 So too with Being
無即是有 and non-Being.
若不如此 Don’t waste time in doubts and arguments
必不相守 that have nothing to do with this.
一即一切 One thing, all things:
一切即一 move among and intermingle, without distinction.
但能如是 To live in this realization
何慮不畢 is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.
信心不二 To live in this faith is the road to non-duality,
不二信心 Because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.
言語道斷 Words! The Way is beyond language,
非去來今 for in it there is
The great way isn’t difficult for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion, and everything will be perfectly clear.
When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction, heaven and earth are set apart.
If you want to realize the truth, don’t be for or against.
The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind.
Not grasping the deeper meaning, you just trouble your minds serenity.
As vast as infinite space, it is perfect and lacks nothing.
But because you select and reject, you can’t perceive its true nature.
Don’t get entangled in the world; don’t lose yourself in emptiness.
Be at peace in the oneness of things, and all errors will disappear by themselves.
If you don’t live the Tao, you fall into assertion or denial.
Asserting that the world is real, you are blind to its deeper reality;
denying that the world is real, you are blind to the selflessness of all things.
The more you think about these matters, the farther you are from the truth.
Step aside from all thinking, and there is nowhere you can’t go.
Returning to the root, you find the meaning;
chasing appearances, you lose their source.
At the moment of profound insight, you transcend both appearance and emptiness.
Don’t keep searching for the truth; just let go of your opinions.
For the mind in harmony with the Tao, all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt, you can trust the universe completely.
All at once you are free, with nothing left to hold on to.
All is empty, brilliant, perfect in its own being.
In the world of things as they are, there is no self, no non self.
If you want to describe its essence, the best you can say is “Not-two.”
In this “Not-two” nothing is separate, and nothing in the world is excluded.
The enlightened of all times and places have entered into this truth.
In it there is no gain or loss; one instant is ten thousand years.
There is no here, no there; infinity is right before your eyes.
The tiny is as large as the vast when objective boundaries have vanished;
the vast is as small as the tiny when you don’t have external limits.
Being is an aspect of non-being; non-being is no different from being.
Until you understand this truth, you won’t see anything clearly.
One is all; all are one. When you realize this, what reason for holiness or wisdom?
The mind of absolute trust is beyond all thought, all striving,
is perfectly at peace, for in it there is no yesterday, no today, no tomorrow.
Robert F. Olson Translation
The Great Way isn’t difficult
for those who are unattached to their preferences.
Let go of longing and aversion,
and everything will be perfectly clear.
When you cling to a hairbreadth of distinction, heaven and earth are set apart.
If you want to realize the truth,
don’t be for or against.
The struggle between good and evil
is the primal disease of the mind.
Not grasping the deeper meaning,
you just trouble your mind’s serenity.
As vast as infinite space,
it is perfect and lacks nothing.
But because you select and reject,
you can’t perceive its true nature.
Don’t get entangled in the world;
don’t lose yourself in emptiness.
Be at peace in the oneness of things,
and all errors will disappear by themselves.
If you don’t live the Tao,
you fall into assertion or denial.
Asserting that the world is real,
you are blind to its deeper reality;
denying that the world is real,
you are blind to the selflessness of all things.
The more you think about these matters,
the farther you are from the truth.
Step aside from all thinking,
and there is nowhere you can’t go.
Returning to the root, you find the meaning; chasing appearances, you lose their source.
At the moment of profound insight,
you transcend both appearance and emptiness.
Don’t keep searching for the truth;
just let go of your opinions.
For the mind in harmony with the Tao,
all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt,
you can trust the universe completely.
All at once you are free,
with nothing left to hold on to.
All is empty, brilliant,
perfect in its own being.
In the world of things as they are,
there is no self, no non-self.
If you want to describe its essence,
the best you can say is “Not-two.”
For the mind in harmony with the Tao,
all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt,
you can trust the universe completely.
In this “Not-two” nothing is separate,
and nothing in the world is excluded.
The enlightened of all times and places
have entered into this truth.
In it there is no gain or loss;
one instant is ten thousand years.
There is no here, no there;
infinity is right before your eyes.
The tiny is as large as the vast when objective boundaries have vanished;
the vast is as small as the tiny,
when you don’t have external limits.
Being is an aspect of non-being;
non-being is no different from being.
Until you understand this truth,
you won’t see anything clearly.
One is all; all are one. When
you realize this, what reason for holiness or wisdom?
The mind of absolute trust
is beyond all thought, all striving,
is perfectly at peace; for in it
there is no yesterday,
I recently watched a video from Big Think featuring author, philosopher, neuroscientist, and rising mindfulness expertSam Harris. In the video he discusses an experience he had at age 18 while on MDMA, and what caught my ear was that his account is perhaps one of the most perfect descriptions of unconditional love I have ever heard.
You can hear it from the 4:20 mark in the embedded video below.
Sam Harris on a transcendent experience of unconditional love:
And what was revelatory about it was that it was an experience of absolute sobriety. It was not – there was no druggy component to it. We just became clearer and clearer and clearer in our thinking and feeling. And the crucial component of this was a loss of any feeling of self-concern. I was no longer looking at myself through my friend’s eyes. I was no longer worried about what he was thinking about me. I was no longer subtly correcting course based on changes I saw in how he was perceiving what I was saying. It was a whole veneer of fear frankly that I didn’t know was there that got stripped away. And there was just kind of naked awareness of the present moment and what came into that void was a very clear understanding that I loved him, that I – here I was, you know, 18 or 19 and I was not in the habit of, you know, thinking about how much I loved the men in my life. And here’s one of my best friends and I just realized with a, you know, it sounds absolutely pedestrian to say it but I realized that I wanted him to be happy in a way that was just – it was like, you know, a lightning bolt. And the – what was truly revolutionary about this insight was that the feeling that came crashing down to that point was just, you know, boundless love for one of my best friends and absolutely no egoic self-concern, no possibility for feeling envy, for feeling any kind of petty emotion that separated myself from him. But then I realized in the next moment that I would feel this way for anyone who walked through the door. There was nothing contingent on our relationship about this feeling. It was not a – it was not justified by my friendship with him. This was the way I felt for every other conscious being. So this is the way I would feel for the postman if he walked through the door. And that suddenly opened my mind to the possibility of being like Jesus, whoever he was.
Matt Kahn’s approach to the spiritual journey is about bringing the mind and the heart back into alignment for an internal realization of oneness for an inside out approach to oneness with others. This is achieved by reconnecting to your inner child, or as Matt Kahn calls it – “the innocence of your consciousness” and “the guardian of your soul”. Matt Kahn’s idea here is that until you give the attention to your innocence that your ego demands, it “won’t allow the things that you’re here to create and experience in your life to be recognized in your present moment reality”.
Matt Kahn on taking a heart-centered spiritual journey in Emotional Oneness:
So someone could say the most beautiful words, “all is one”, and if they’re not in the ‘all is one experience’, I would say “that’s not true” – and people would go “what is he talking about? All isn’t one?” No, all is one – when you’re in that space. And so, what I want to teach you is what’s the doorway that brings you into the space of the experience that you’re hungry for. Because when you’re in the space, the joy is: what your freed of is the hunger. The oneness doesn’t satisfy your hunger – you become satisfied by becoming freed of your hunger. So by chasing oneness you don’t get freed of your hunger, you just become hungrier.
…Emotional oneness is internal alignment; your mind and your heart are soul mates, and emotional oneness is when the soulmates of mind and heart have reunited in holy matrimony. And when that is disproportionate or imbalanced, your mind seems to be in the way of your heart, or your mind and heart are saying two different things – it’s almost like your mind and heart seem to be competing for attention – and you seem to be in the middle of this battlefield. Or you’re the one trying to keep your mind silent so you can focus on your heart, or you’re trying to ease the fearful heart, because of how noisy the mind’s being – and you’re in the middle of a battlefield, a spiritual battlefield, and it’s all because the mind at the heart are not on the same page.
So what brings the mind and the heart into holy matrimony – what reunites the mind and the heart as sacred soulmates is you deepening the relationship with your own innocence, your own inner child. In a lot of spiritual traditions the focus is on “understanding, unraveling, overcoming, transcending – the ego”. And ego gets a real bad wrap; in fact, in some spiritual traditions if you have confidence people think you have an ego – confidence is actually an aspect of your soul.
And when you take the heart-centered journey you realize ego is just a character, an inflated character that your inner child concocts as a way of getting the attention from others it didn’t feel it gained from the past. So ego is an attention seeking device on the psychological level that the inner child employs, and if you’re trying to unravel your ego – destroy it and get away from it, you’re sending messages of abandonment, resistance – isolation – to your inner child, and then your inner child has to get even darker to get your attention, saying – “I’m not going to be loved by them, but they’re never going to ignore me” – then the inner child becomes what’s called ‘the shadow’.
…Because it doesn’t matter if you’ve heard somebody say “We’re all one” and you just repeat that, what matters is if you have gone deep enough to extinguish the hunger. Cause once you extinguish the hunger then you can feel the one that you are, not just know the one that you are, or repeat the one that you are.
Note: Having spent ample money on therapists, I found massive value from Matt Kahn’s teachings in Emotional Oneness and I highly urge you to set aside a FULL Hour to watch the video. It’s something I watch every week. It always helps bring me into alignment. Keep in mind, this is a live talk and not scripted – and sometimes Matt Kahn says things that make me laugh or even shake my head, i.e., some of his more new agey, cosmic / starseed prophecy type stuff, but he delivers therapeutic and self-compassion oriented teachings that provide me with a deep sense of inner security, similar to how I feel after a really great therapy session.
So having found this experience of unconditional love that Sam Harris described, and having begun to work to consciously reconnect to my inner innocence and cultivate an internal sense of emotional oneness as Matt Kahn teaches, I’ve become far better at getting out of my own way and experiencing oneness with others. And this is important to me. My highest spiritual value is “Unconditional love and heart-centered living”. My affirmation for this value is: You are unconditional love for self and others at all times and live a heart centered life.
As anyone on this same journey of unconditional love knows, embodying this value requires dedicated, conscious effort on many levels – from meditating and maintaining your health, to being mindful of the conversation happening in your own head.
Unconditional Love is Not Exclusive to the Psychedelic Experience
It’s easy to think that it would be great if I could just be an enlightened trust fund baby and take pure MDMA whenever I needed to reconnect to that deep sense of oneness, but that’s not a viable option – for anyone. And although Sam Harris states that his experience with MDMA was ‘indispensable early in his inquiry’, even he knows not to dismiss the dangers.
Returning to the content of the Big Think video in the beginning of this entry, Sam Harris references his own pursuit to recreate this original experience through meditation and spiritual study abroad, and he also acknowledges that this experience is possible without MDMA:
And it prompted me to seek to have this experience in other ways, you know, for many, many years. I spent years studying meditation in various contexts, mostly in India, Nepal. And, you know, I can say you can have this experience without MDMA. It’s not, MDMA isn’t the only way to have it. And the truth is virtually any experience you can have with psychedelics you can have without psychedelics because all psychedelics do is modulate the existing neurochemistry of the brain. They’re not doing something that the brain can’t do on its own. You’re just playing with neurotransmitters or mimicking neurotransmitters. I have had the same experience to more or less a similar degree just through meditation. But it’s clear to me that I would never have suspected that such an experience was possible but for my experimenting with MDMA in the beginning.
I appreciate that he does not dismiss the value of MDMA as an initial catalyst for his journey, but had he not believed this experience were possible through natural means – he very well may have gone on to become another burnout who eventually took too many drugs and had too many bad trips, eventually abandoning his spiritual journey altogether. Thankfully this was not the case, but I have encountered numerous anecdotal stories from people for whom this was the case. I can think of nothing more of a nightmare to me than losing my spiritual identity – this is in essence, my connection to my intuitive self.
Psychedelics are a Key to The Door Guarding the Path, Not The Path Itself
I’m glad Sam recorded the original video for Big Think, because it’s difficult to be “pro psychedelics”, while maintaining a rational and grounded perspective. Unfortunately, their illegal nature has prevented mental health professionals and university researchers from establishing a safe and well studied framework for facilitating these experiences. In my eyes the psychedelic experience is merely one key that opens the door to the self, but it [the psychedelic experience] is not the path itself.
Long before I ever ingested a psychedelic in a spiritual context I had read something from Deepak Chopra that essentially said ‘the same experiences are available through meditation’. So, for me I inherently understood this could be attained through natural means.
If your only experience of spiritual unity has come through hallucinogens, you are more inclined to think you need them in order to have that experience, instead of recognizing that higher states of consciousness are your natural developmental birthright and can be awakened through the meditation practices.
Having heard this at an early age gave me the foundation to respect psychedelics as agents of change and not ways of being.
Psychedelics vs. Meditation
Edit: 11/3/2014: Terrence McKenna on Meditation vs. Psychadelics
Just came across this video clip with Terrence McKenna discussing meditation vs. Psychedelics. I tend to take the view that McKenna was more of a psychedelic lover than a spirituality lover, simply based on the impression I get that McKenna was not very self-aware, but nonetheless this short clip does provide an additional perspective on the matter. Particularly of note is McKennas assertion in the beginning of they video that the key difference between meditation and psychedelics is that with meditation you don’t hallucinate.
Anyone who has taken LSD knows that it’s an intense experience – one that will invariably provide you with a dramatically different perspective on life. Asserting that the same thing is available without taking LSD seems a major stretch; although, I would say it is not – sure, you aren’t going to be blown away by the glowing colors of Pandora’s user interface like you would on LSD, but you can go deep below the self and into your own unconscious awareness without the use of psychedelics. And this is where the real magic happens – what people call ‘connecting to source’ or ‘higher consciousness’. It should also be noted that my meditation practice is still in it’s relative infancy, and someone like Deepak Chopra or Sam Harris has far more experience traversing the meditative plane than I do, so when they say the same thing is available, they may likely have had deeper experiences within their minds than I have yet had with mine.
Note: If I have one complaint about the new age community it’s that those who seem to have abused psychedelics as a path to spirituality dilute both the meaning of spirituality, and the purpose of psychedelics. For me, spirituality is about optimizing my mental health, rather than jeopardizing it. I keep in mind the fact that Steve Jobs did LSD, but he most certainly did not abuse it, nor center his life around it; however, he did delve deep into Zen principles, but according to an article on Jobs’ spirituality: “he didn’t stay long enough to get the Buddhist part, the compassion part, the sensitivity part”.
Keeping it Simple: It’s About Spiritual Practices, Not Spiritual Experiences
I want to continue to mature spiritually; however, I know that it’s important to keep the path simple – and that’s why I’m writing this. It can be very difficult to distill the spiritual path into something that’s simple, yet effective – something that doesn’t rob you of the other aspects of your identity. To me this is the danger of those like Eckhart Tolle who advocate a very hard line approach to “enlightenment” that can lead followers to dive head first into full on dissociation from who they are.
I enjoy some of Tolle’s ideas, but I do not place others on pedestals, nor do I subscribe to the cult of personality. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy those like Sam Harris who promote a kind of psycho-spiritual approach to spirituality. which melds ancient truths with modern neuroscience and psychology.
To me, the spiritual path is about spiritual practices, not spiritual experiences.
So, when I heard Sam Harris define unconditional love for his friend as ‘wanting him to be happy’, something made me want to look deeper into this simple phrase.
The Four Immeasurables Meditation referenced in the video above is available for free, if you join as a guest of GoBeyond.org (I have no affiliationn with this organization.)
The Four Immeasurables from Wikipedia:
Loving-kindness: the hope that a person will be well; “the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy.”
Compassion: the hope that a person’s sufferings will diminish; “the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.”
Empathetic joy: joy in the accomplishments of a person—oneself or another; sympathetic joy; “the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings.”
Equanimity: learning to accept loss and gain, good-repute and ill-repute, praise and censure, sorrow and happiness all with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others. Equanimity is “not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal. It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind—not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness or agitation.”
While it’s too early to offer an educated opinion on The Four Immeasurables, I immediately love that these tenets are not only a powerful set of paradigms for relieving suffering, but also a set of very healthy, humanistic principles for living gently. It blows my mind that at 29 years of age I have never been exposed to this. This is precisely the information our society should be teaching the next generation – lord knows I could use it.
However, even without exposure to The Four Immeasurables beforehand, I already had a preexisting understanding and appreciation for these virtues individually as a result of my interest in mindfulness and my own inquisition into my soul and the soul of the world.
Putting it All Together
I’ve covered a lot in this entry – and please keep in mind that 7Saturdays is very much a personal, non-commercial blog, and as such is a living record of my own journey through life.
Ultimately, my spirituality is central to my identity – but I am not a spiritual teacher; although, these entries are designed to profit you too, my dear reader.
At the end of the day, I truly want to embody unconditional love – and I know that it doesn’t come from taking drugs, or watching hours of spiritual videos, but living in a way that’s harmonious with my own nature, and the nature of the world.
I’m a heart warrior and an idealist, and that means I will always hold dear to the principles of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. While these are among a myriad of virtues I value, unlike many of the other virtues I desire to embody, I know these things come from within. Unconditional love, and oneness, and connection is what you are, and provided you have been blessed with good mental health, these things are all naturally in your nature, whether you know it yet or not.
Being born into the complex world of modern society is not conducive to unconditional love, but it’s not prohibitive either. You just have to dive a bit deeper to find it.
Bonus: Tara Brach on Unconditional Love
Psychologist and Buddhist meditation expert Tara Brach gives a compassionate and wisdom-rich talk unconditional love.
If I would have tried to conjure up an impression of mindfulness in my head a couple years ago I would have imagined an affluent woman in her sixties, drinking tea and looking out over her oceanfront view, with a warm and contented look on her face.
Today, I’ve come to know better. Mindfulness isn’t some far off, esoteric destination only available to those who meditate and live on a higher plane. No, mindfulness is simply the practice of observing yourself and consciously focusing on your emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
Wikipedia defines mindfulness as the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditational practices…
Now, the interesting thing about this [this definition] is that I personally came to understand and know mindfulness not as a result of study, but as a result of practicing meditation. And when I began meditating, I did not even know this was going to happen. I wanted inner peace. And meditation helped me connect to that – but more importantly, I became aware that there was something within me more still than my thoughts, and I became aware of what it felt like to transcend that [my thoughts and feelings].
As a result, I became more self-aware. I realized when my feelings were making me feel poorly. I began to automatically notice on walks when I wasn’t being attentive to myself – when I was out of touch with the present moment. And I would focus on my breath, and I would return to that stillness. And I would feel better. I felt better because I could stop identifying with whatever I was thinking or feeling, and I could check back in with myself, with the eternal part of my soul that’s always present and connected – whether my mind is or not.
Mind you (pardon the pun), I’ve never read a book on mindfulness. And I have a lot of work to do to improve on this practice – namely, I need to not only practice the awareness of my body, thoughts, and feelings – but I need to consciously choose to practice the intentional non-judgement, and acceptance of these sensations – because for me personally, I typically go straight into self-talk, and other cognitive behavioral practices so that I can “optimize” how I feel. And while I don’t think this is a terrible thing to do, I think the act of acceptance and non-judgmental awareness will help me let go of some of these [less positive] feelings with greater ease.
So, this morning I wanted to look into mindfulness and I watched handful of videos, the best of which I have included below for you, my dear reader.
Sam Harris: Mindfulness is Powerful
This is an important video to watch, because aside from Sam Harris describing the purpose and value of mindfulness, he asserts that mindfulness should not be viewed as a religious experience, but rather as a bridge we can use to close the gap that exists between science and spirituality. I think disconnecting meditation from Buddhism makes it more approachable and less seemingly unobtainable. The power to transcend ourselves is truly within us all.
…the sense of self that we all carry around from day to day is an illusion. And cutting through that illusion I think is actually more important than stress reduction or any of the other conventional benefits that are accurately ascribed to mindfulness.
The enemy of mindfulness and really of any meditation practice is being lost in thought, is to be thinking without knowing that you’re thinking. Now the problem is not thoughts themselves. We need to think. We need to think to do almost anything that makes us human – to reason, to plan, to have social relationships, to do science. Thinking is indispensable to us but most of us spend every moment of our waking lives thinking without knowing that we’re thinking. And this automaticity is a kind of scrim thrown over at the present moment through which we view everything. And it’s distorting of our lives. It’s distorting of our emotions. It engineers our unhappiness in every moment because most of what we think is quite unpleasant. We’re judging ourselves, we’re judging others, we’re worrying about the future, we’re regretting the past, we’re at war with our experience in subtle or coarse ways. And much of this self-talk is unpleasant and diminishing our happiness in every moment. And so meditation is a tool for cutting through that.
Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain’s Default Mode with Meditation
Dead on. Selected quotes and citations follow:
There was a study out of Harvard that showed that short, daily doses of meditation can literally grow the grey matter areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness. and compassion and shrink the grey matter associated with stress.
There was also a study out of Yale that looked at what’s called the default mode network of the brain, it’s a connected series of brain regions that are active during most of our waking hours, when we’re doing that thing that human beings do all the time, which is obsessing about ourselves, thinking about the past, thinking about the future, doing anything but being focused on what’s happening right now. Meditators not only turn off the default mode network of their brain while they’re meditating but even when they’re not meditating. In other words, meditators are setting a new default mode. And what’s that default mode? They’re focused on what’s happening right now.
“Meditation’s ability to help people stay in the moment has been part of philosophical and contemplative practices for thousands of years,” Brewer said. “Conversely, the hallmarks of many forms of mental illness is a preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, a condition meditation seems to affect. This gives us some nice cues as to the neural mechanisms of how it might be working clinically.”
And finally, Dan Harris’ closing words on happiness as a controllable choice:
The common assumption that we have – and it may be subconscious – is that our happiness really depends on external factors: how was our childhood, have we won the lottery recently, did we marry well, did we marry at all – but in fact, meditation suggests that happiness is actually a skill, something you can train, just as you train your body in the gym – it’s a self-generated thing, and that’s a really radical notion. It doesn’t mean that external circumstances aren’t going to impact your happiness – it doesn’t mean that you are not going to be subject to the vagaries of an impermanent, entropic universe – it just means you are going to be able to navigate this with a little more ease.
Chade-Meng Tan, on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence: 5 Lessons
If you want to learn more in depth on mindfulness, I suggest watching this full talk, but Cade-Meng Tan, delivered to an audience at Google, but at least watch from 24:12 to 31:50
If you do not wish to watch those seven minutes, here are my five takeaways from that portion of Chade-Meng Tan’s talk.
The Ability to Turn Emotions Off
There are a couple of very useful things, and they’re so useful that the degree of self-awareness that you can gain can create profound changes in your life. The first example is that if you’re able to perceive an emotion the moment it is arising, that gives you the power to turn it off if you want to. It gives you choice. Therefore, you have a choice of, “Hmm, I feel anger rising. Should I be angry or should I be not?” You can choose. I mean, there are situations where I chose to be angry, and because I was getting ripped off [to be purposefully assertive]. I figured the best reaction is to put that out to other people. And the situations where you’re “Nah, I don’t want to be angry, especially since she’s my boss. Let’s turn it off.” So you have a choice. The first thing, already, this is life-changing. If you have to ability to turn off anger. Already, it changes your life.
How Self-Awareness and Emotional Awareness Translates into Self-Knowledge, and Opportunity
Another example is that if you have a lot of strong self-awareness, emotional awareness, the emotional awareness translates into self-assessment. You get to know yourself a bit better. You get to know your resources. This is what I’m good at, this is what I’m bad at. These are my strengths, these are my weaknesses. This is what I really like to do, this is what makes me happy, and so on. And the effect of that is that once you are able to figure out, quote on quote your “deepest values and motivations”, then you know what opportunities to look out for. If you did not have the insight, the opportunity would just come and go. However, because you had the insight, you catch the opportunity when it’s there. Therefore, you’re always successful. And then people will think you’re very lucky. I mean, you’re lucky, but at the same time, you’re there to catch your opportunities and you’re able to catch opportunities because you have deep knowledge of self.
Making the Shift from Existential to Experiential
There’s a third one, which is even more profound, which is this: if you experience an emotion, we like to think that our emotions are existential experiences. What does that mean? We like to think the emotion itself, is us. And it reflects in the language that you use. For example, we say, “I am angry. I am sad. I am happy.” So the emotion becomes me. I become the emotion. However, as the power of your mind, the sharpness of mind, your resolution, your vividness becomes stronger over time. You discover something about a process of emotion and then you read an emotion in a very subtle way that has a profound change in your life. And that profound change is this: is going from existential to experiential, which means going from “I am angry” to “I’m experiencing anger. I’m experiencing happiness, or sadness, or whatever.” What does that change? Now it changes from “I am this, this is me” to “My mind is like a sky.” Then emotions are the clouds occupying the mind, but they’re not the mind. So that’s a powerful shift.
Separating Emotion into a Physiological Experience – Changing Your Perception
But wait, it gets better. The way it gets better, which is – there is another step you can go. As your attention becomes even more refined, you discover something else, beyond being experiential. You discover that the process of emotion, the experience of emotion is physiological. You experience emotions in the body. Every emotion has a bodily correlate. And then you discover something. You discover that painful emotions are not that different from painful feelings in the body. For example, I hurt my hand. Ow! And then I know this is pain, I know this is unpleasant, but the pain is not me. It is a sensation in my body. Having that perception changes everything. Because it’s not me, I can do things about it. I can take Tylenol. I can massage. I can put in ice. Or I can ignore it. Or I can experience it mindfully. Or I can just eat ice cream and forget all about it. And so on. There are things I can do because this experience is not me.
Using Mindfulness to Practice the Habit [intention] of Loving Kindness
The first habit that is very conducive to being socially skillful is the habit of kindness, or loving-kindness. That is a habit of looking at any human being, anyone you’ve never met before. Looking at any human being, my first thought is, “I want this person to be happy.” I want this person to be happy: that’s just it. Already, you can imagine if you have that mental habit coming effortlessly, it changes everything. You go into a meeting room; you look at everybody, you think, “I want all these people to be happy.” It reflects unconsciously in your body, your face, your language, your tone of voice, your facial expression. Because it reflects unconsciously, it’s picked up unconsciously by the other person. Their feeling, their perception is, “I like this person. I don’t know why. This Meng guy, I really like him. Maybe it’s his good looks. I don’t know.” [laughter] But it’s not just the good looks, it’s because I’m wishing for this person to be happy. I want Tara to be happy, and Tara can sense it unconsciously. In a situation like meetings and so on, if you have that mental habit all the time, people want to work with you. Then you find yourself becoming successful. You’re not clear why. But it’s this; it’s just simple things like that.
The following three videos will allow you to practice what mindfulness feels like. Start with the first and build up to the third. As you learn what this feels like, you’ll be able to do each without a video guide; although, I am still a big fan of practicing guided meditation on a regular basis.