The Keys to The Kingdom: My Two Most Valuable Pieces of Life Advice

The older you get, the more you find yourself doubling down on what works.

And hopefully, if you’ve taken the difficult paths in life, you’ve discovered some truths of great value.

There’s a parable in the Thomas Gospel that I read this morning –

Sidenote: Before I continue, allow me to say that I love the Gospel of Thomas. As a decidedly anti-religious thinker who is opposed to all dogma and most institutional traditions, I don’t hold the bible up as much more than a great source of inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. That said, the Gospel of Thomas is not part of the bible; being a non-canonical text it would have been considered heresy: just the kind of thing I love, and, if you read it, you’ll see why. 

So this specific saying, attributed to Jesus, that awakened Buddha, is as follows:

And He said, "The Kingdom is like a wise fisherman who cast
his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish.
Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw
all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish
without difficulty. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."

In my own interpretation, the large fish represents what was called in Cloud Atlas, “The true-true”. The big truth. These two pieces of knowledge I am writing to share are my big truths – the large fish. And, having found them, I live by them, they sustain me, allowing me to throw back all the little truths. You could say these truths are my keys to the kingdom. They go beyond intelligence and open invisible doors, by virtue of their practical wisdom.

Terry Crews, in Timothy Ferris’s Tribe of Mentors, makes a poignant remark as to wisdom:

“There is a big difference between intelligence and wisdom. Many are fooled into thinking they are the same thing, but they are not. I’ve seen intelligent serial killers, but I’ve never seen a wise one. Intelligent humans beings have been given this trumped-up position in society where, just because they are intelligent, they are listened to, and I have found this extremely dangerous.”

That said, these two pieces of knowledge are wisdom – my big fish. The true-true.

1. The Navy Seals’ Big Four of Mental Toughness

At some point, the Navy Seal’s – arguably the world’s most elite special forces – had a problem. Only about 25% of trainees were passing BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition School).

So the powers that be brought in the country’s best minds – top university researchers – to figure out how to improve the pass-rate.

After a lot of time and money – presumably millions of dollars – the researchers came up with four techniques, which when used in conjunction, made a statistically significant difference in the pass rate.

These four techniques would come to be known as “The Big Four of Mental Toughness”.

I first wrote about them five years ago, but truth be told, I didn’t put them into serious conscious practice until this year.

In short, they are as follows:

1. Arousal Control (Breath)

Arousal Control is centered around a specific diaphragmatic breathing technique: 4-4-4. Four seconds inhale, four seconds hold, four seconds exhale.

The research backs it up. It makes a large physiological and psychological difference. In my own learning, I discovered that most people breath shallowly, letting their upper-chest rise and fall – however, until about age six, children naturally breath properly – their stomachs expanding on the inhale.

The problem with incorrect breathing is that it puts your body in a fight or flight mode. This, of course, is not good for your health or wellbeing.

YouTube offers a lot of great videos on proper breathing, and once you learn – and begin to practice – it not only becomes natural again, but it becomes one of the best tools in your toolkit. Suddenly, you are aware of when you’re not in a centered, calm place, and you consciously go beyond diaphragmatic breath, into the 4-4-4 technique. It’s the same feeling, the same benefits as yoga and meditation – on demand.

2. Self-Talk

There is no separating consciousness from reality, short of some of the classic psychedelics (LSD, Psilocybin, Mescaline) – but even then, those are not sustainable modes of consciousness. Life is something each of us has to experience in our own heads. Now, we may not be aware of it but we tend to have fairly disempowering inner-voices. Perhaps it is due to the saying that, “The way you talk to your children becomes their inner voice,” and we are each a product of generations of largely unconscious programming. Frankly, it’s not fun. Thankfully, we have self-talk available to us. Self-talk is the power to take your life back from the automatic, default mode of consciousness that so many of us have often destructively sought to escape. Self-talk is the power to move from the unconscious into the conscious. It’s the power to control your experience. I’d argue that’s the sum total of The Big Four [controlling your reality], but self-talk is a major part of it. In short, you want to empower yourself, you want to talk to yourself the same way you would a child. You want to emotionally support and optimistically encourage yourself. The conversation you have in your head is THE most important one in your life. What self-fulfilling prophecies are you creating with your self-talk? What reality are you choosing?

3. Mental Rehearsal 

This is one of my favorites among The Big Four, but I love them all. I just happen to have a fetish for the imagination. As Einstein said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” It’s true. Visualization is the top thing among human performance experts for a reason. It’s what all high performers, all olympians, all champions, all winners practice. Mental rehearsal is the act of imagining your tasks along with their desired outcomes, in as great of detail and depth as possible. For the Seals, this means no mission-critical task is completed without first envisioning it. The brain knows no difference. Unfortunately, most of our imaginations are either out of practice or neurotic – in that we use them to worry. And what a foolish, maladaptive thing. We have, each of us, at our disposal, the most incredible form of magic available to us. Again, like self-talk, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The watered down new-age version of mental rehearsal is “The Secret” or “The Law of Attraction”, and how many times have you heard these wonderfully compelling stories – Jim Carrey writing himself a 10 million dollar check when he was broke. This was mental-rehearsal. And when we can can believe it truly, magic happens; for all true magic deals with manipulation and control of the Will. If you look back on your own life, at your greatest successes, you believed in them – you mentally rehearsed them. I think this is one of the biggest differences between the successes and the failures in life. As 50 Cent once said, “I believe you can almost will things to happen.” Believe it when you see it and see it when you believe it, but you have to see it first. No one’s success comes as a true surprise to them. If you think it does, buy another lottery ticket.

4. Goal Setting

This one almost seems anticlimactic compared to the others, but it’s not at all.

When most of us think of goal-setting, we think of getting motivated about life for a night, writing down our dreams, then watching them flatline over the next six months to a year. When the Navy Seals think of goal-setting, they think of surviving their training till lunch time and the exact steps required to do so. Like the other three items in The Big Four, Goal Setting goes along with each item – and is only truly effective when practiced along with the others. I’ve found in my own goal setting practice that by focusing on what’s in front of me, I am able to progress toward what’s ahead. Every day, I have a list. I cross items off and I review it at night and write the next day’s list, and in the morning, I go over it almost first thing. Without goal-setting my mental rehearsal would be impotent and my self-talk would be purposeless. Further, my breathwork wouldn’t be nearly as peacefilled and centered without knowing exactly where I am and where I am going.

Go deeper into The Big Four of Mental Toughness, here.

2. Dopamine Restriction

This one might be even more valuable to me than The Big Four.

Without practicing what I term “Dopamine Restriction”, my life would be completely out of my own control – as was the case for too many years.

In short, dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation AND reward.

Everything pleasurable releases dopamine. Some things are quite powerful dopamine agonists… Nicotine. Alcohol. Cannabis.

The problem isn’t so much pleasure as its consequences.

It causes us to seek more pleasure, and in turn to feel less.

In one study, researchers gave heavy, longterm cannabis users methylphenidate (Ritalin) in order to measure their dopamine response. The control group, consisting of non-users of cannabis, was also given the same Ritalin dose.

The heavy cannabis users had such blunted dopamine receptors that the Ritalin – basically methamphetamine – hardly even registered a response in their brains. The researchers were so surprised that their first instinct was to check if the Ritalin they had administered was expired – it was not.

What this and other research has shown, is that the ability to illicit natural dopamine responses is greatly diminished in heavy cannabis users. It’s no different for any source of dopamine. The more we behave like lab-rats, pushing the levers in our brains to feel pleasure, the less pleasure we are able to feel – and the more we crave it.

But it goes deeper, is more tragic. Dopamine isn’t just pleasure (reward) but motivation.

So, if you’re like me, and smoked a half-ounce of potent cannabis a week, forget about even feeling alive. At that point, your brain is starved for dopamine, which, in my experience, leads to all sorts of additional pleasure seeking behaviors. For me this meant cigarettes (“But I smoke organic cigarettes,” I told myself), alcohol, masturbation – just to feel okay, not even good.

You may be thinking, that’s all good and well but I don’t smoke anything and I hardly drink. 

Okay, well, do you check the news? Reddit? Instagram? These things are no different.

One day, we’ll look back on our cell-phones like cigarettes. Not because they give us cancer, but because we are addicted to them – and in turn receive our dopamine from them.

In my philosophy of dopamine restriction, based on my own life experience, it’s not a moral issue. It’s a matter of sapping the life out of ourselves – the very pleasure and motivation that makes life worth living. With such potent readily available sources of dopamine at our fingertips, we are hitting the lever like rats in an experiment all day long. The true consequence of which isn’t so much the dampening of pleasure or the weakening of motivation, but the loss of drive – of natural drive for the HEALTHY things that we are supposed to get our dopamine from. We’re lobotomizing our human technology for fulfillment – we’re hacking our natural hardwiring in a way that’s absolutely maladaptive.

My evidence for this is the difference between then and now, between when I was desperate to feel “normal” and constantly pressing those levers with nicotine, THC, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, porn, news, reddit… I was fucking myself royally.

I’ve since quit every single thing on that list. And guess what, now that I’m not addicted to “pleasure” I’m pursing fulfillment again. My sleep is deep, dream-filled and divine. I wake rested. I feel balanced. I walk. I eat healthy. I drink water. I work out. And possibly the biggest benefit is that I have ninja-like focus. I engage in Deep Work for hours every single day. I write fiction every single morning. I write poetry every single evening. I read again. No more spending hours on YouTube. I’m simply no longer distracted. I am focused and productive. Also, I don’t have any more depression. It’s a lifestyle that’s completely pragmatic and healthy – well-adapted, you might say.

In short, my philosophy for dopamine restriction is based on avoiding all “false sources” of pleasure. This means I avoid anything that isn’t fulfilling, healthy, and empowering – despite how pleasurable it is.

The ascetics have known this wisdom for millennia. You could say it’s raised my consciousness to a much higher level. It’s the single best piece of understanding I’ve ever integrated into my life. Knowing the above, I simply can never return to the old un-jedi-like ways. I’d be fucking myself – sabotaging every bit of happiness and wellbeing I have. And, to drive the point home – I feel better than I have in years, probably better than I’ve ever felt.

3. Bonus: The Gut Brain Axis

Google ‘gut brain axis’ and you’ll come across a wealth of information.

In short, scientists are calling the gut brain axis the missing link in depression. This might be because 90% of the body’s serotonin and 50% of the body’s dopamine are produced in the gut.

It travels straight through the central nervous system to your brain.

Now, there’s a miracle here. It’s called probiotics.

Gut health is mental health – is wellbeing.

If you’re not actively investing in your gut microbiome, today is the day you’re going to start. You simply have too much to lose by failing to and too much to gain by starting.

I encourage you to do your own research – and then some – but based on mine, I recommend the following:

Avoid alcohol. This kills all the good bacteria in your gut and it takes weeks to recover (provided you go weeks without drinking). Also, avoid big corporate mouthwashes, which will inevitably make their way in trace amounts into your gut, killing all the good bacteria there.

Eat probiotics. Every single kind. I take probiotic pills. I take prebiotic pills. I eat yogurt. I drink Kevita probiotic drinks (I avoid traditional kombucha due to trace amounts of alcohol). I eat a handful of different yogurts – with multiple probiotic strains. I take a greens powder with a half-dozen probiotic strains. I eat expensive, all natural pickles and sauerkraut (Bubbies brand). I eat high-quality kimchi. I drink Kefir.

Eat a diverse range of foods. There are foods known as prebiotics. They help probiotics. Eat a wide range of natural foods. You want a diverse gut microbiome. And you want to eat natural, organic foods. Shitty pickles and processed foods and fast food, and all that garbage is going to negatively impact your gut microbiome.

In short, my diet is centered around my gut health. I also take various supplements and enjoy things that help me look better, such as organic chicken bone broth and grass-fed collagen protein. Also, buy grassfed milk and grassfed butter. It’s much easier on the cows stomachs than grains – they live better lives: just like you when you eat the right foods.

That said, that’s my true-true. The keys to my kingdom at thirty-three. My most valuable pieces of life-advice, and I feel blessed to know them and to finally live my truths – god knows it took a long time to find them.

Recap

To recap everything: study and practice The Big Four (Breath control, self-talk, mental-rehearsal, goal setting). Restrict and eliminate all unhealthy, unfulfilling, purposeless, disempowering sources of dopamine. Curate a healthy gut microbiome. Integrate these into your life and I think your likelihood of success, happiness, fulfillment, and wellbeing all go way up. They certainly have for me.

Go With The Flow: Trust It

Growing up, my dad often told me to, “Go with the flow.”

As with other things he said to me growing up, this only came to have meaning to me after he was gone (…the people we love have a way of gilding us like that, even after they are gone from our lives…).

My father’s advice of ‘Go with the flow’ is majorly resonating me at this dawn of this new year; you could say it’s dawning on me now. Exactly when it is supposed to; for this is the flow. Things happen for us in their proper course and time.

While this notion of going with the flow may strike some as new-agey, it really is an ancient idea that goes back at least to the Tao Te Ching, or ‘The Way’, wherein we are taught that:

The most submissive thing in the world can ride roughshod over the hardest thing in the world – that which is without substance entering that which has no crevices.

This is why I know the benefit of resorting to no action. The teaching that uses no words, the benefit of resorting to no action, these are beyond the understanding of all but a very few in the world.

Lao Tzu

This non-action is known as the principle of wu-wei, or non-doing.

From the wu-wei Wikipedia we read:

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way. The goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Lao Tzu, the attainment of this purely natural way of behaving, as when the planets revolve around the sun. The planets effortlessly do this revolving without any sort of control, force, or attempt to revolve themselves, thus engaging in effortless and spontaneous movement.

The Stoic philosophers, who were pantheistic and believed that the “divine spark” was in everything, held a similar view, in that nature ruled the world and that whatever happened was natural.

The Stoic Roman Emperor-General Marcus Aurelius, wrote in his Meditations:

Every instrument, tool, vessel, if it does that for which it has been made, is well, and yet he who made it is not there. But in the things which are held together by nature there is within and there abides in them the power which made them; wherefore, the more it is fit to reverence this power, and to think, that, if thou dost live and act according to its will, everything in thee is in conformity to intelligence. And thus also in the universe the things which belong to it are in conformity to intelligence.

In short, he’s telling us that there is an intelligence guiding things that we should revere, acting accordingly to its will.

Go with the flow.

And to the Stoic, anything else would be madness.

This is why they are stoic; nothing is disturbing their soul, which was seen as an “inner-citadel”.

Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”

— Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics were wise, in knowing what they could and could not control (Stoicism became the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), but they were neither fools nor new-age pollyannas. As Marcus Aurelius writes to himself:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

Go with the flow.

These words, of course, possess their own meaning for you.

For me, at the core of my personal mythology and center to my very being, there exists this deep and abiding “sense of destiny“. As if it is all going, and has always been going, according to some plan.

This plan does not mean I live in some ivory tower, free from pain. It means that the pain is part of the plan. As a programmer and sci-fi-minded person, I would say that my experiences have “programmed me” – perfectly.

The other option would be to believe that my experiences have been at random and that I wasn’t destined to write this, to be who I am at this moment in order to.

As Einstein said:

There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.

Or, as Jung put it:

Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.

Going with the flow is my eyes.

I lose my cellphone in my house before writing this: I’m not supposed to have it then. I walk around, stumble on an old journal in a box, and open it to a passage my soul needed to read tonight.

Whatever happens is supposed to happen. Maybe this is predetermined, my karma, I don’t know. I just know there is a flow to life – a plot if you will.

When you look back on your life, it looks as though it were a plot, but when you are into it, it’s a mess: just one surprise after another. Then, later, you see it was perfect.

— Schopenhauer

And the river of plot runs both ways: forwards and backwards.

As Jung writes in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

When I was working on the stone tablets, I became aware of the fateful links between me and my ancestors. I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family, which is passed on from parents to children. It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished.

So there is no resenting past, future, or present – this is not to say abandon yourself completely to wu-wei, but if you do, you are meant to.

Just as if you suffer some inner or outer situation willfully, and continue to, you are choosing to.

However, our pain usually ends up making sense – giving us meaning. It’s nonetheless difficult to endure, but I say aleap into trusting all of it. The pain too.

Leap into the wholeness of the flow. Release your assumptions about how things are supposed to be (Ego is the part of us that wants things to be or not to be a certain way).

Synchronistically, I’m listening to Van Morrison on shuffle via Alexa as I write this – he has a huge catalogue btw – and the song on now, he is singing:

On thing I’ve learned after all these years, you’re gong to save yourself a lot of tears….

You’ve got to roll with the punches. Man you’ve got to try and go with the flow.

We must. We really have no other choice when we think about it.

And I’m far from advocating passivity. I’m advocating receptivity.

This is a feminine principle. The Tao is feminine. Our western religions and ideas are very masculine. Our history is. But as we enter a new age, our thinking and our feeling can shift to a different state. One of allowing rather than controlling.

Jung writes in The Archetypes of The Collective Unconscious:

Emptiness is a great feminine secret. It is something absolutely alien to man; the chasm, the unplumbed depths, the yin.

The chasm; this is what Joe Campbell was telling us, same message:

A bit of advice
Given to a young Native American
At the time of his initiation:
As you go the way of life,
You will see a great chasm. Jump.
It is not as wide as you think.

We have to jump into the flow. You see, the chasm is not bottomless, waiting to spit us out: it’s waiting for us. We need only follow our bliss to find it.

Campbell again:

If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

And where there is bliss, there is flow. Where your flow is, there is your bliss. To borrow ‘flow’ from ‘go with the flow’ and apply it to the ‘flow-state’, we have a double meaning with a whole new level of depth.

My flow is in writing, reading, nature, exercising, dancing, singing, self-care, these are all flow spaces for me.

And while I wish I could exclusively apply myself to flow-activities, I’m not there yet. I still have obligations, spaces where I am having to push myself. But that’s flow too. It’s the yang to the yin. And we have to also direct the flow (of ENERGY).

We can’t just float lazily down the river of life. We are the authors of our stories. We have to swim against the tides too.

From Hamlet:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

We must oppose our troubles. Life takes will. Life takes work. But often we are suffering from troubles that are really our own children, in that we have borne them in our minds – yet, were we to go with the flow and focus our energies on the true causes and effects of our lives, we might find a lot more power available to us.

Flow is focus. It’s focusing on the things that matter and accepting the things that don’t.

While none of us are Gods yet in a truly omnipotent sense, our Wills are nonetheless capable of directing flow now.

In the 1903 Self-help classic, As A Man Thinketh, James Allen tells us:

You will be what you will to be;
Let failure find its false content
In that poor word, ‘environment,’
But spirit scorns it and is free.

It masters time, it conquers space;
It cows that boastful trickster, Chance,
And bids the tyrant Circumstance
Uncrown and fill a servant’s place.

The human Will, that force unseen,
The offspring of a deathless Soul,
Can hew a way to any goal,
Though walls of granite intervens.

Be not inpatient in delay,
But wait as one who understands,
When spirit rises and commands,
The gods are ready to obey.

So, I implore you to “wait as one who understands” flow.

And when your spirit is ready to rise and command, things will begin to happen.

I think the problem is that we often want certainty. This is masculine thinking.

We need a balance of certainty AND trust in the uncertain. What we are talking about when we talk of leaping into the chasm or going with the flow, is entering the LIMINAL space. This is the threshold, the gap between what is and what WILL be.

In every rite of passage and throughout magic, witchcraft, alchemy, and shamanism, the liminal space is an important aspect of the transformation. Vital because it requires a trust in the unknown. I think of the liminal space as the necessary unknown. If you have taken a entheogen, you have been in the liminal space. You’ve leapt.

But a mushroom trip won’t make our dreams come true. We need a deeper, longer dive into the unknown.

This is a new year. It is the unknown. We are at the dawn of our desires, goals, and hopes for the year.

To reach them, we must go into the unknown, we must go with the flow.

It will carry us there.

If we can only trust It. This is the leap.

All we need do is trust ourselves, the universe, life.

Isn’t that what 2019 should be about? Flowing.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the heartbeat of the universe.

— Joseph Campbell

Sour, Sweet, Salty

What can I say: I’m good. 

I used to write with another muse in mind – I used to live that way: constantly hoping to live up to some arbitrary measure; always insufficient for my estimations of myself, and always short of her’s. 

Only, today, now, I dissappoint no one; for this is who I am, and I am loved for it – by myself and by the one I love in turn. 

But it was not love that saved me, it was me – my desire for my own [love], which I earned, and which in turn earned me another’s. 

But this is not a love song; this is my life. 

The cowboy poet, finding his way home, dreaming of horses and a tree lined drive where I will lay me down beside the one I dream with. 

This is our fairytale. 

And we have fun in our happiness.

You see, neither of us pretend nor try to be anything we are not. In fact, I’d venture to say we like ourselves pretty damn genuinely. 

We’ve been reading Ricketts’ and Steinbeck’s prosaic and philosophy laden Log From The Sea of Cortez together lately, and in it Ed Ricketts describes a donkey whom he discovers doesn’t directly dislike him so much as he [the donkey] suffers from “…a sour eye for the world”. And so it is, most opinions of us – including our own – stem from our sour eye for the world, and thus we are condemned by the very thing which might free us: our perception. 

I think for a long time I felt that projection was always something that was inside out, meaning my perception of myself as something that reflected outward, but I don’t think so anymore. The donkey with the sour eye for the world has begged the question for me of whether the view of the self or the view of the world is a greater influence on ones perception – and I argue the latter, for it was only when I saw through the veil of perception that I was able to form a healthy inner reality (Or disposition if you will), and a true liking of myself. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to burn the world down and sow these wild oats from time to time, but greener pastures call. 

And I’ve come a long way from sowing the seeds of my own destruction – from seeing through that sour eye I once thought normal. 

But today I know that it takes a long time to become the one. 

And I’m not trying to escape who I am any longer. 

Took me thirty years to accept myself. 

Wish that were a joke but I fear some never do: stuck behind sour eyes, few seem to see the sweetness of life. 

And it is sweet. 

So don’t be so sour. 

For it’s all over one day. 

And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see that someday isn’t what it used to be.

And then, and only then, the sour will fade into the past, and the salty will be seen for what it is, and the sweet – oh the sweet – what it may be and what it is: only the heart knows these things. 

Just remember that sour eyes, as the sweet do, have a way of meeting. And even the sweetest eyes can become sour in the eyes of the beholder. So look neither without nor within, but in your own heart. And perhaps it is then, that we may finally see into the heart of another. 

Real Life Inspiration: Ed Ricketts

I heard an anecdote recently in relation to John Steinbeck (Prayerhand-6god-emoji) guy pal (And total bad ass) Ed Ricketts (Add another prayerhand-6god-emoji).

EFRicketts_42
Ricketts, photo taken aged 43 in 1939.

Ed Ricketts is a man whom I deeply admire. He was, like all the people I admire, a stark individual.

“His mind had no horizons,” as Steinbeck wrote of him, or rather, as “Doc”, the Ricketts inspired beer-loving bohemian science-philosopher who cut himself out of the granite-like sardine-packing population of “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches.”

Yeah, Ed Ricketts was a fucking cool guy.

Perhaps one of the coolest who ever lived. Ricketts is most definitely one of my “spiritual grandfathers”. In fact, he inspired another spiritual grandfather of mine: the great mythologist, Joseph Campbell.

Essentially Ed Ricketts = Star Wars.

And if you get that reference, you might actually be kind of cool too.

If you didn’t, hold on tight.

So, the anecdote with Ricketts is that he basically learned how to like himself through others. He got the idea that if other people could like Ed, then Ed could like Ed.

So he did.

And from the myriad legacy he left, we can only surmise that his comfort in his own skin made it very easy for others to like him. And I can surmise this, because I know the opposite to also be true: having experienced how discomfort in one’s skin ultimately manifests itself in ways that strangely serve to push others away.

I actually, as a treat, just found the Ricketts anecdote, which is from perhaps the man who knew best knew Ed: Steinbeck.

The story is quoted verbatim from the philosophy laden ‘The Log of The Sea of Cortez’, Steinbeck’s 1940 month long inward journey with Ed, then aged 44, to the Mexican sea of the same name:

Once Ed said to me, “For a very long time I didn’t like myself.” It was not said in self-pity but simply as an unfortunate fact. “It was a very difficult time,” he said, “and very painful. I did not like myself for a number of reasons, some of them valid and some of them pure fancy. I would hate to have to go back to that. Then gradually,” he said, “I discovered with surprise and pleasure that a number of people did like me. And I thought, if they can like me, why cannot I like myself? Just thinking it did not do it, but slowly I learned to like myself and then it was all right.” This was not said in self-love in its bad connotation but in self-knowledge. He meant literally that he had learned to accept and like the person “Ed” as he liked other people. It gave him a great advantage. Most people do not like themselves at all. They distrust themselves, put on masks and pomposities. They quarrel and boast and pretend and are jealous because they do not like themselves. But mostly they do not even know themselves well enough to form a true liking. They cannot see themselves well enough to form a true liking, and since we automatically fear and dislike strangers, we fear and dislike our stranger-selves.

So, Ed is helping me like myself in the very same way that I can like an admire my friends – only, I get to be less critical of myself now. haha

Sadly, Ed died too young. But he made sure to live before he did. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

You’ve really inspired me Ed.

Thank You.

This past weekend I was up in Monterey (Guest of a girl I have been trying to date), and seeing the life-sized versions of Ed’s lab and some of his things, just really made me feel blessed. I’m just grateful to have found people I can admire and look up to in the ways that they too once looked up to their own little ambitious and upstart part of themselves.

Because I really am. I’m looking up to things that feel true in myself.

And it’s really nice. It’s nice to finally be at home with myself, where there are no horizons.

horizons
“His mind had no horizons.”

Care of The Soul: A Recipe

I’ve been blessed, but this is gifted: I gave it to myself.

It’s a simple recipe, centuries old – timeless really:

I am on a blanket, under the stars, with a candlelit lantern, and a cup of homemade chai tea.

Mexican Blanket: $20.00
Chai Tea: $0.35
Stanley insulated thermos: $30.00
Lantern & candle: $4.50 (flea mkt)

Inner Peace: Priceless.

This is what life is about. Inner peace.

Inner peace is not something you are blessed with (I tried that recipe the first thirty years of my life). No, inner peace is a gift, it’s something you give yourself. And you must; it’s your G-d given right to be happy.

Do you think hapiness something other than inner peace? Pity you if you do, for I’ve already tried that recipe too.

On this blanket, writing this, the breeze playing with my face; I could do this everynight, and I practically do.

I’m grateful to Thomas Moore for connecting a lot of Jungian dots for me. His book, Care of The Soul, has been a great asset in my life. Prior, I had made progress towards consciously caring for my soul, but after his book found me, caring for my soul became my paramount duty. A duty that has given me deep and lasting fulfillment. As a matter of chance, I also happened to read Walden at the same time, which only added to my understanding of Moore’s work. Thoreau certainly cared for his soul with the dedication of a true master.

I am far from Walden Pond, but my view shares a watery reflection. And here, following Thoreau, I experience the simple beauty of life. (Although he might pass on the extravagance of my stevia sweeted tea).

This is how life is meant to be lived: simply and naturally. It is insane we confine ourselves within doors so resolutely. Those crazy misanthropes: the Eustace Conways, the Christopher McCandlesses; the Thoreaus, they are the normal ones. It’s the rest of the world, in their walled in castles; they are the very form of crazy, neurotic, anti-social type that they deem an outcast.

The outcast is merely a shadow figure, someone to pile the the scorn of their buried envy on. Don’t believe me? Buy a blanket, brew some tea, go drink it out of doors on a starry night and tell me otherwise. This is living.

Only, we’ve been sold a house with a living-room full of nice furniture so we can deposit ourselves repeatedly to stare into an electronic box until we die.

The American dream: sitting in your castle watching your box. I’m laughing but, I tell you, this stuff is stranger than fiction.

Yes, I am happy. And sure, I live in a box too. But mine is near the sea, my backyard the very form of nature and the place I deposit myself to stare out and look at the real world. Here I peacefully contemplate life, occassionally looking down into the box phone, I now type this on.

What amazes me, however, is that I’m the only one out here doing this. This despite the fact that behind me, thousands of residents in tall condominium buildings live, none ever opting for an evening spent in fresh air.

Not to say they never get out, but for me, I pretty much have to. It’s my black rock.

In the distance, the bleating siren of an ambulance reminds me that I’ll be living in LA again soon, apart from nature I enjoy at present.

It’s this bittersweet note that prompts me to walk home. On the way I see my neighbors having drinks with their friends in a house so brightly lit that I am disturbed by it’s synthetic luster.

Back in my castle, I lie in bed, the glow of my salt lamp maintaining some semblance of the organic, which I value so deeply.

Returning to my thoughts on LA, I am coming to see that I will need to find a place with either a rooftop terrace or a yard, for sitting on a blanket in LA, outdoors at ground level, is not reccomended. I love the city of angels for many reasons – it’s natural wonders aren’t among them. Sure there is Runyon and Santa Monica’s beaches, but neither offer me the sanctuary I have now; however, I do intend to recreate this sanctum using the recipe above. After all, this blanket is going to last for a long, long time.

On Religion as a Bridge to The Soul

“If the person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life, and insists on a certain program, you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off-center; he has aligned himself with a programmatic life, and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. And the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves.”

– Joseph Campbell


Reflecting, as I often do, I can today see how spiritually and psychologically unhealthy I was in a time now gone. How fortunate was I for the adversity that delivered me to a place dark enough to find hope.

I’m reminded of the Latin root of the word adversity: adverture; meaning: to turn towards. For it is only when we face what ails us that we may grow beyond it.

Adversity is not transcended or surmounted but moved through like a dark mountain pass. Denial, avoidance, repression, self-deception – these only ground us in the uncomfortable place, fating our gaze upon the mount; for whether we choose to recognize the splinter in our eye or not, it is there, showing itself in the myriad of complexes and ways a human being can choose to suffer and hate.

However, those dealt adversity often create problems rather than face what they feel they cannot; and often, the struggles a person faces are engendered as outlets for pains they find inadmissable – pains lost in the chasm between the mind and the spirit.

As a result of this gulf in the heart, man is cut him off from his inner world. Diagnosing the ills of the soul is then seen as a mental problem, addressable only through therapy or self-help. There do, however, exist other doctors for the soul, we just don’t believe in them anymore.

The priest and the church once provided a doorway to the inner world and the sanctum through which a man could live life connected to his soul through a higher power; however, the institution of religion is growingly dismissed as nothing more than a dogmatic farce, instituted to control the ignorant populous. Unfortunately, it happens to be an effective one.

The name of G-d has been wielded to enshroud evil in the name of good since biblical times, but the cost of blood spilled and enemies born under the auspices of religion has been the destruction of a bridge to the sacred for many. Unable to perceive the inherent good of something so historically detrimental to man, we’ve chosen rationality in favor of an evil we no longer wish to tolerate in the 21st century. And rightly so.

However, in recognizing the evils of religion in it’s ability to inspire ignorance – as seen in wars and the beliefs that so doggedly divide the human tribe – we are quick to dismiss it in its entirety. As a result of this turning away from G-d, we are shunning something, which, at the personal level, has enabled man to better face his inner battles since before the wheel.

It’s logical to buy into the intelligent argument posited by Carl Sagan that primitive humans invented Gods so we could explain the unexplainable, things which science has now given cause to (think lighting and famine); however, such an argument dismisses the value of intangibles like hope – the only thing a man with nothing left has.

Beyond hope, ritualistic tools such as prayer and worship of the sacred provide humans with an active and cathartic relationship with the soul, which we may call G-d.

How few of us dialogue with the inner world, which as modern psychology has discovered (the subconscious and unconscious) so greatly influences our thoughts and behaviors.

I’m merely thinking aloud here, sitting on the sand at night typing this on my phone, but on my own journey I’ve found spiritual health and as a result I am happier and more at peace than I’ve ever been. My adversities are no longer a cancer, setting wildfire to my life, but, rather, they are the weeds that show me the root issues I need to attend to in order to grow so that I might maintain wholeness in the face of the constant change of life.

Carl Jung believed that there was no neurosis that could not be cured by adopting a religious outlook on life. I too share this belief. And I worry that, regardless of its timeless effectiveness, this solution may be growing increasingly inaccessible as religion’s validity in the collective consciousness continues to decline.

I worry because I think that – again echoing Jung – man needs religion. At least, to achieve the unshakable inner peace I have today, I know I do.

I’m not advising you to look to religion for your soul to be saved, but I am asking that you consider the spiritual as a means of rescuing your soul from exile – for to live cut off from the soul is to live deaf to an inner voice that’s begging to be heard – often in the most painful and eventually effective of ways; however, some may have to wait until hope is all they have left.

It’s not by coincidence that I used to pray only when things got terribly bad or that things no longer get terribly bad. I ascribe this power to the soul as much as to a G-d. To me they are one in the same, the bridge leading to eachother.

A Walking Meditation: On Oneness, Overcoming Fear, and Mastering Perception

Meditating on the beach this morning and feeling my fearful heart beating in my chest, anxious and over-paced, just like all of us – I started thinking about what the hell I was so afraid of.

And so, I lie in the sand looking up and thinking about this, asking , how can my soul fly everyday – how can I feel grand and limitless, and connected to the universe and my dreams, and my power as the creator of my life – while still staying grounded? How can I resolve this paradox.

Like most all questions I consciously ask in the meditative state, an answer propagated itself within my mind quite automatically and without effort. That answer was that there is no ‘there’ (the universe) and ‘here’ (grounded), because “here” is a planet out in the universe. The center of the earth is as central to our position in the universe as the moon is, cosmically speaking. There is simply no difference on an energetic level; being grounded is about being grounded with yourself as one with the universe, for the here and there are one.

That might cause the uninitiated to roll their eyes. “One with the universe”. Yes: one-with-the-uni-verse. That’s something I’ve been reading about and looking into lately, this ‘concept’ of “oneness”, or, non-duality. And that’s actually what I thought of next in my meditation as I sat up and began to walk. Just this question of am I really one – a part of everything?

My first answer, looking towards the morning calm of the Pacific Ocean was, well, is a halibut one with the sea?

And then I looked down and saw a perfect white lone feather that had been cast off the plumage of a young bird. I picked the feather up and asked, well, is this feather one with the bird? To which came the immediate reply of  well, was I not too once one with my mother (in the womb)?

I almost laughed at that point because it was clear the feather had given me this beautiful symbolic metaphor for oneness with creation. Of course we all know that humans share the same genetic lineage, whether you are a creationist or a Christian, there is no arguing the ancestry of our DNA is shared, traceable to a common and once very small group.

However, I of course look like this, and you yourself look like that, and this thing called consciousness is a seemingly individuated process, which, along with the innately separatist concepts of religion, country, and creed, keeps each of us quite effectively marooned in the confines of our own minds. For we are not feathers, but conscious beings.

And so I thought of this [the idea that it’s consciousness that separates us] as I twirled the feather I had picked up in my fingers and watched as a woman walking a ridiculous looking dog down the boardwalk neared. As she passed by I smiled and remarked to her, “Beautiful animal” using the most genuinely sounding tone of voice I could muster. After she had passed completely I almost burst into side-splitting laughter at how silly the damn thing had looked.

But why had I told her “beautiful animal”? This was my next thought. Of course the answer wasn’t difficult to find; I cared about what she thought. Perhaps I was even afraid of what she thought of me.

This was my next inquiry: Why are we afraid of what people think?

We fear their judgement, I pondered; although, I quickly pivoted to the realization that it wasn’t really their judgement we feared, but our own judgement of what they thought of us. After all, we cannot enter into the mind of another. It’s our own judgement about what we believe they might think of us, which we fear. We’re scared of our own judgement based on the imaginations of what we think someone might possibly think of is. This is pathetic, I thought to myself.

Continuing on my walking meditation, I thought again of the idea that we have fearful hearts, only now the feeling had lifted. I declared aloud to myself “Truly, what in the god-damn-hell do you have to be afraid of?”

In that moment, I felt completely human, only without the anxiety of being human. Something in me had become clear and free. Here I was, a temporary living entity, standing on the surface of planet earth, having realized the absurdity of my nature – and the nature of all humans – as basically afraid of our perceptions about what the other members of our species might be thinking of us. God forbid we look and act in a manner not fitting with our evolved desire to FIT IN and be accepted for who we are.

From my walk.
From my walk.

Note: Like happiness and everything else we desire, it’s best created from the inside-out, and not the outside in; however, most of us never figure that out because we can’t escape our own judgement of ourselves, that which is called perception. So we cling so dearly to a self-worth that’s extremely dependent upon what we think of others. It’s no wonder that the harshest judges of others often have the lowest self-esteem. It’s also fucking retarded that we even care. I don’t want to care what anyone thinks. Fuck what anyone thinks. Do you think your heroes lived their lives confined in the same glass houses? No way. You can’t be authentic and fear your own perception.

Walking on now, from the sand, to the sidewalk back towards my home, I saw an overweight woman who had somehow managed to charm no small part of my sensibilities with the way she had clipped her dog leash around her waist for hands free dog walking.

And so, seeing this woman on the sidewalk at the end of the street, who was dutifully waiting for her dog, I thought about how I should progress. She had looked up, aware of my presence, and I was slowly walking in her direction, debating whether I should cross the street to do as humans sometimes do in wanting to avoid having to exchange pleasantries. But then I thought just walk by say something nice to her – this being somewhat funny, since I have recently become much more aware of my mode-of-being as someone who tries to please people in an attempt to make them happy – and I realized this. Finally, it was clear, I decided no – walk by and just project and intend loving-kindness towards her. That’s it. No judgement. Just loving-kindness.

So, like a true buddah, I neared her completely unselfconscious and feeling nothing but loving-kindness towards her. And that was it! I felt completely unselfconscious because I had not only zero judgment for her, but total loving kindness. In fact, we actually ended up talking! Her dog is named Otis, and I laughed when he jumped on me,  playfully saying “Jeeze, your dog’s an animal.” She was an incredibly nice woman.

Aside: Her energy reminded me of a late friend of my grandmother. A woman named Paula Sykes who also had been overweight as well, but was the coolest person I knew at 12 years old. She [Ms. Sykes as she was known] helped teach me kindness in befriending me – plus she had this quirky sense of taste that was just classic (I remember her having decoy hunting ducks on the bookshelves in her home). I wish I could remember what she had told me about them when I asked.

But I submit this to you – had I not created that reality? The unselfconscious and playful reality, and the simple beauty of my interaction with her – was that not a result of the conscious focus through which I had chosen to perceive the experience with? I had paid her my attention and my intention. Sure, she had turned out to be a kind woman, but perhaps the nervous glance she had given the strange looking guy down the street in the hombre poncho and sweats turned into a pleasant interaction because 5 million years of human evolution instilled within her an innate ability to sense my energy, the same way a DOG can read the energy of another animal and determine it’s hostility and it’s social position in a matter of seconds – the same way her dog read my energy. You’re telling me humans don’t feel that? Okay sure. Of course they do. We all know this. Except few of us ever realize that our fears – this thing called perception IS A FILTER.

In our homes, our lives, our “careers”, our perceptions are filtering all of our experiences. Like a tuning fork that vibrates with like frequency, or liquid finding it’s “level”, we are just a product of our perception. How long do you need to suffer before you realize this? You’re like the lower ranking animal in the pack – except you attribute this to circumstance, and luck, rather than mental freedom – freedom from the perceptions about who you are. These are the LIMITS and the ONLY limits.

If it’s not impossible, then it’s possible, but if you can’t perceive it as reality -you won’t.

Epilogue:

I arrived back at my apartment, and in surveying things I laughed and said aloud “Look at this provincial shit”. I just had a sense that my circumstance was not only a product of my past perception, but that no matter what the absolute worst case scenario in my life could be, absolutely nothing could strip me of the truth that I came to know on this walking meditation. The truth is that I am bigger than my body and my thoughts – and so are you.

P.S. Thought is perception and perception is reality. Listen to the following two songs. The people on the way up have figured these things out. Now it’s your turn.

 

Note: If the idea of a walking meditation seems silly to you, watch this video from Thich Nhat Hanh.

Finding True Jedi Wisdom in an Ancient Text: The Mind of Absolute Trust

Preface: I Guess I’m a Star Wars Geek

Having recently spent time reading Jospeph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, and The Power of Myth, I felt compelled to watch the first Star Wars trilogy last weekend (George Lucas used Campbell’s work as part of the blueprint for the Star Wars story). It was a genuine pleasure to enjoy these wonderful treasures of film-making and storytelling, and at twenty-nine years old I felt as deeply enthralled with the myth and metaphor of the Jedi as I intrinsically did as a child. (Fitting, as I have the words of Yoda: “There is no try” tattooed – tastefully – on me.)

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.

By Jin Zan (Own work) Via Wikimedia Commons
By Jin Zan (Own work) Via Wikimedia Commons

Introduction and Background

Which brings me to a 6th century Chinese poem known as The Mind of Absolute Trust, or The Inscription of Faith in Mind (Chinese: Xinxin Ming).

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 awakeningprofessing 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).

I’ve included three popular translations below, though like many known ancient works, a myriad of translations exist.

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.

Thank you to Sunday is For Lovers for turning me onto the Richard B. Clarke translation.


The Mind of Absolute Trust

Richard B. Clarke Translation

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
極大同小
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
no yesterday
no tomorrow
no today.


Stephen Mitchell 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 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,
no tomorrow,
no today.


Diving Deep into Unconditional Love through Psychedelics, Emotional Oneness, and The Four Immeasurables

I recently watched a video from Big Think featuring author, philosopher, neuroscientist, and rising mindfulness expert Sam 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.

Finding and Chasing Oneness

Having experienced this kind of self-transcendence and pure abundant love myself, I knew exactly what Sam Harris was describing. At some level it’s probably the greatest feeling I have ever felt. And it’s very easy to get caught up in the spiritual search to repeat this experience, because it’s easy to feel a sort of void without it. This [chasing oneness] is something spiritual teacher Matt Kahn speaks on in his video Emotional Oneness.

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.

Other videos from Matt Kahn that I have enjoyed are Finding Safety, and The Love Revolution.


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.

I tried to located the exact quote [from Deepak], and could not – but interestingly, I did learn that his awakening came from an early experience with LSD, and I did find the following, from Deepak:

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 

The True Impetus for this entry was when I began googling ‘love is wanting others to be happy‘.

I came across the Buddhist concept of Brahmavihara, or The Four Immeasurables (Not to be confused with The Four Noble Truths).

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:

  1. Loving-kindness: the hope that a person will be well; “the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy.”
  2. Compassion: the hope that a person’s sufferings will diminish; “the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”

The source wikipedia cites has much more information on the Four Immeasurables than included above, and obviously there’s much more to Buddhism than a few paragraphs, and I certainly do not claim to be an expert on Eastern Philosophy, but I am a firm believer in increasing your quality of life through the knowledge and timeless wisdom available via the study of ancient texts – as I have done with Stoic philosophy.

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.

Here’s part two of her talk on unconditional love.

Read this next: The Importance of Mindfulness and the Connection between Mindfulness and Meditation

These Require No Gifts of Circumstance

Inner peace – true wellbeing,
Is neither the feeling of thirst satisfied – nor satisfaction

It’s not the pursuit of desire,
Nor the attainment of what isn’t,
Nor the possession of what is

It’s merely the state of non-comparison:
To past or present,
To what you have had,
Or do not have,
Or to what anyone else may have

It’s neither found in detachment nor attachment;
But rather, it’s grounded in the knowing:
Who you are,
What you believe in,
And what you’re made of

These require no gifts of circumstance

Ground yourself and your happiness in these and you will be unshakable, unbendable, and unbroken

###

Note: This was adapted from this evening’s journal entry and is designed to remind you that it’s not the seeking or even the pleasure of attainment that will ever please you.

It’s Time to Climb Down off the Black Rock and Get Comfortable

I’ve been meditating on the same rocky outcrop each morning for the past month. Just north of this outcrop sits a tall lava-rock that lies out on a point, and – low tide permitting – I’ve been climbing up on top of it in the evenings and sitting there for sunset meditations.

These two spots have been cherished elements of my meditation practice and I’ve had beautiful experiences on each; however, I’ve abruptly stopped using both.

Why?

Something happened; I just came to the realization that I was this guy (albeit much better posture, and my rock is a lot cooler).

meditate

And what I mean when I say ‘I came to the realization that I was this guy’ is that I noticed my ego creeping in…

Pretty girls jogging by on the beach, and I felt cool up on my black rock. Shirtless, and contemplative – dare I say sexy…

And that’s cool, I mean – if you are living a life where meditation is more important than happy hour, and you are in prime physical shape, and you are aggrandizing yourself then you deserve to feel good about it, sure. You’re fostering a positive and healthy self-image, and that’s great.

But, what happens when those feelings of pride creep up into your meditation (or yoga) practice?

Suddenly you lose the state of flow. You lose your self-awareness of “I am” in exchange for self-conscious feelings of “These people think I am”. And that’s antithetical to meditation, that’s counterproductive to the objective of transcending the self.

So, in that moment (specifically the one where I noticed myself consciously appraising myself via the imagined approval of others – aka ‘that guy looks cool’ = “I look cool up here”), I suddenly realized sitting high on a rock where I looked the part of mr. meditative beau was not authentically me.

It was not serving my spiritual goals to be the guy on the black rock – as much as I love the song.

And don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-ego as some spiritual teachers would advocate (i.e., Eckhardt Tolle). I think confidence is an aspect of the soul. The soul is supposed to be unique and confident. The soul is inherently a bit of a rebel and a bad ass; soul is sexy.

But confidence is not ego. Confidence is a product of internal validation, and ego is a product of external validation. Ego is the you that your inner child projects in an effort to gain approval from others. So, up on the black rock, in that moment I sensed the insecure inner child within me feeling quite chuffed with himself – and I didn’t like that, because I don’t want my inner child using the ego to feel good.

So, in my noticing of an attractive female eyeing me, I was naturally taken into a state of ego, and it’s impossible to be fully present when you are experiencing yourself through that state, because it’s externally based. So if you’re meditating or doing yoga and ego creeps in, you lose your sense of internal orientation – you start judging yourself.

Confidence is a product of internal validation, and ego is a product of external validation.

I’m not into judging myself; I’m not 24 anymore. I’m 29 and I’m coming into my mature male masculine energy. As a result I’m not as interested as I once was in bringing that kind of attention to myself – particularly not while I’m trying to meditate on the internal world, which requires no external knowing. The inner world of meditation is about connecting to your inner intuition. It’s about connecting and listening to the inner voice within you that tells you to climb down from the black rock and go sit on the comfort of the sand.

And you know what, about 25 yards south of the black rock is the greatest little meditation spot – a rounded rock shaped like a bulbous piece of modern art furniture, complete with a deep depression, which fits my cross-legged lower body almost perfectly.

So, this morning I sat there and I got into one of the deepest, most beautiful meditative states I’ve had in nature.

And my inner intuition spoke to me and told me that so many of us are always chasing pleasure as a means to alleviate our discontent, and that so few of us are fulfilled, and that we just need to take the pleasures as they come, let go of the pain, and appreciate it all. And I heard my inner voice tell me how I didn’t need to be thirsty or hungry for those states of pleasure, because I could ground myself deeply through gratitude. And I felt incredible love, and my inner voice told me that I was love, because I create love, I produce love, and I attract love. And the universe told me that others can only mirror back to us the love we have within ourselves, and that I would never have to want for love again, because it is within me, and it grows when I become it, and I am love.

And that is what it feels like to transcend.

So, ask yourself, what black rocks am I sitting on in life? Where am I participating in the pageantry of vanity?

Maybe you’ve been trying to grow your hair long because you think other people would find it attractive and that’s a black rock. Maybe you have been pursuing someone’s approval and that’s a black rock. Don’t chase the states. Don’t be hungry. Don’t seek internal peace through external things. Detach from looking and feeling cool, and you’ll be the coolest motherfucker in the world.

Climb down off the black rock and get comfortable with yourself, with life, with others, and with your relationship to the world. The possibilities awaiting you will bring you closer to the truth in your heart than you could ever imagine.

Bonus: Matt Kahn on Emotional Oneness 

I implore you to watch the video below with an open mind and an open heart. Life changing stuff.

The Importance of Mindfulness and The Connection Between Mindfulness and Meditation

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. 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

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.

From an article on the study out of Yale:

“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.

Note: You should read Chade-Meng Tan’s book Search Inside Yourself, I will be!


Start Your Own Mindfulness Practice

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.

The Quick Mindful Check in

5 Min Mindfulness Check in

Guided Mindfulness Meditation Practice