Thursday, March 12, 2020

FIVE IDEAS THAT CAN REALLY CHANGE YOUR LIFE

‘You are terrible, but happily for you, you are not you.’ Vernon Howard.

Words have power—for better or for worse—and ideas have even greater power. An idea that expresses an eternal, metaphysical truth is the most powerful thing in the world. 

Here are five empowering ideas that have made a huge difference in my life. They have lifted me out of the depths of despair.

1.   You are be-ing

Life is pure be-ing-ness actualized. Life forever gives of itself to itself so as to create more life in one form or another. The tree of life is be-ing-ness, or Be-ing, itself. I AM-ness. Oneness. It is the impersonal principle of life that is forever becoming personal as you and me and all other persons and things.

Life is the one formless, source-less, essence-less, unlimited, unsearchable, self-existent, self-knowing, self-giving, absolute, omnipresent, indestructible, and abundant self-existence that forever takes form—incarnating as you, me, and everything—but which is never even for a moment absorbed by the innumerable objects of its self-expression. 

The omnipresence of life forever manifests itself as the eternal now by means of an endless process or renewal of the present moment. Each moment is a ‘centre’, for want of a better word, of life's own consciousness. Forms of life constantly change. No form is permanent. Indeed, every form will pass away in time, but the essence of life is formless and eternal. It never passes away. Yes, the life that takes shape in one form or another can never be destroyed. You are life itselfa unique individualization and expression of life. 

Yes, you are part of life’s self-expression, and life cannot other than be. You are be-ing and you are also be-coming. Indeed, you are always in a state of becoming because change is the essence of be-ing-ness. This means that you are constantly changing whether for better or for worse. Once you fully understand this metaphysical truth, you are ready to take charge of your life.

2.   You are consciousness

Life is consciousness. We are life itself—an integral part of life’s self-expression. Each one of us is an inlet and an outlet of consciousness. 

The materialist view that asserts that the mind and the brain are one and the same—the so-called mind-brain identity theory—is not supported by recent discoveries in neuroscience and quantum physics as respects the nature of reality. Those discoveries tend to show that the mind and the brain are not co-extensive or identical, and that mind or consciousness is the creator and governor of so-called matter. 

Because you are be-ing, be-coming and consciousness, you have the powers of thought and observation. There is a time to think and, yes, a time to simply observe … choicelessly. Listen to these words of J. Krishnamurti, pictured right:

I wonder if you have ever walked along a crowded street, or a lonely road, and just looked at things without thought? There is a state of observation without the interference of thought. Though you are aware of everything about you, and you recognize the person, the mountain, the tree, or the oncoming car, yet the mind is not functioning in the usual pattern of thought. I don't know if this has ever happened to you. Do try it sometime when you are driving or walking. Just look without thought; observe without the reaction which breeds thought. 

There will always be a time for rational, critical thought, analysis, judgement and interpretation but if you do these things every second of the day, you will end up with analysis paralysis. Learn the art of choiceless awareness. Look. Observe. Be attentive. Be aware. That is what mindfulness is all about.

3.  You are what you think

No, I am not contradicting myself. As I have said, we need to think. This is the first verse of the Dhammapada according to one famous English translation: ‘Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.’ The same idea is expressed in the Hebrew Bible: ‘Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts’ (Prov 4:23); ‘For as a person thinks in their heart, so are they’ (Prov 23:7).

As we are consciousness, we must watch your thoughts. Are our thoughts positive or negative? Positive thinking has its detractors these days but I have never seen any benefits in negative thinking. Positive thinking is good for the mind and the body. Positive thinking releases life-affirming, healing chemicals into the brain and the body. Negative thinking releases life-destroying, malignant chemicals into the brain and the body. It’s clear which one is better for us. Of course, we must be realistic thinkers. We need to always see things-as-they-really-are. The true positive thinker is a realistic thinker who sees things-as-they-really-are but at the same time refuses to be deflected, let alone overwhelmed or defeated, by that which is negative. The true positive thinker never dwells on those things.

So, in the words of Plato, ‘Take charge of your thoughts; you can do what you will with them.’

4.  You cannot change yourself

The ‘I’ of you cannot change the ‘me’ of you. One of my all-time favourite spiritual teachers Alan Watts, pictured left, has this to say in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity about the wrong way to embark upon self-improvement:

I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces. There must be a good ‘I’ who is going to improve the bad ‘me.’ ‘I,’ who has the best intentions, will go to work on wayward ‘me,’ and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently ‘I’ will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make ‘me’ behave so badly.

The reason the good ‘I’ can’t change the bad ‘I’ is because they are one and the same and they exist only as self-images in our mind. Yes, all the 'I's' and 'me's' in your mind are little 'selves' that brought about by thought. These 'selves' have no separate, independent reality in and of themselves. They appear to be 'solid,' 'fixed,' and 'permanent,' but they are not. They are the product of thought which divides itself. You have hundreds of little 'selves' within you. None of them are the real you—that is, the person that you are. The person that you are is a mind-body complex in respect of which both physical characteristics and states of consciousness can be ascribed. Only the person is ontologically real. 'Selves' come and go; they wax and wane. They have no power and have no separate and independent existence from the person that you are.

You, the person that you are, can change. First, you, the person, must want to change. Secondly, you, the person, must do what is necessary and appropriate to change. The power to change is within, but it is always a ‘power-not-oneself’. Self has no power. Self cannot change self. The ‘I’ of you can never change the ‘me’ of you. Never forget that. Never.

Vernon Howard, a great spiritual author, wrote:

While there is no you who can rescue you, there can be an impartial awareness of the rescuing process. The rescue is complete when the awareness is complete.

What is this 'rescuing process' alluded to by Howard? It is none other than the process of choiceless awareness from one moment to the next, undertaken by the person that you are. Howard wrote:

You can begin to catch your false behaviour by asking the question ‘Who said that?’ and you will catch false personality being pleasant, sarcastic, and so on. As often as you can, you will interrupt yourself and say ‘Who said that?’ and if it is negativ
e in any way at all, that is the invented self speaking in your name. 

All your little, false selves purport to speak in your name. Give them no power over you. They have no power in and of themselves. You give them power only when you believe them to be real. Don't do that!

5.   Acceptance is the answer to all your problems

‘On the acknowledgement of what is there is the cessation of all conflict,’ said Krishnamurti. Yes, acceptance—that is, acknowledging what is—is the answer to all your problems. Now, I am not saying that we should simply give in. No, not at all. However, before we can change we must first accept the reality of what is. Alcoholics cannot recover from their disease until they first accept that they are alcoholics. There’s more, though. Krishnamurti has stated a metaphysical truth of supreme importance, namely, that once we acknowledge what is, conflict in the form of resistance and the like comes to an immediate end. We must surrender in order to gain victory. Never forget that.

There are many other empowering ideas that can change your life. Many of these I have explored and discussed in other posts over the years—ideas such as the law of indirectness (don't attempt to put a thought or problem out of your mind directly but rather let the problem slip from the sphere of conscious analysis’), the principle of non-resistance (what you resist, persists), truth is a pathless land (we are always in direct and immediate contact with truth, so there is no separation or distance between us and truth), and truth is a moment-to-moment experience (truth is dynamic, not static).

I love empowering ideas. As Victor Hugo said, ‘Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.’

All power to you!


Note. The substance of this post first appeared on September 2, 2016 as 'Five Empowering Ideas That Can Change Your Life Forever'. Some new material has been added while some material in the original post has been omitted.


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Monday, December 23, 2019

THE BIRTH OF THE CHRIST CHILD


‘Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God. Those who do not love do not know God; for God is love.’ 1 Jn 4:7-8.

What are we to make of the story of the birth of the Christ child?

The Nativity Story is so much more than a supposedly literal account of the birth of Jesus. The story is a myth in the truest and most sublime sense of that word. It speaks of the reality of a spiritual—that is, a non-material—event that we all can experience, Christian and non-Christian alike.

What event, you may ask? Well, it’s this—the birth of the Christ child within our ‘hearts’, that is, our minds, the latter symbolized by the Virgin Mary. You see, we all need to wake up, surrender, and be born anew. The message of the Buddha, in two English words, is this—wake up. The message of the prophet Muhammad, in one English word, is this—surrender. The message of Jesus, in five English words, is this—you must be born anew. The point is this—we must change in a very radical and profound way. Furthermore, this change must go far beyond what is ordinarily understood as self-improvement.


Each one of us must undergo a Copernican revolution—that is, a deep, inner psychological revolution, transformation, and mutation—in the way we think, act, and live. We must surrender, let go, and die to self, indeed die to the very idea that there is a separate, independent, permanent self at the core of our being, in order that a new sense of being—metaphorically and symbolically, a new-born baby—may be born in our psyche.

Now, most of what I’ve said above is rank heresy to fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. That does not worry me at all. Indeed, I draw great comfort and pleasure from the fact. You see, I am proud to be a heretic. A heretic is one who chooses, and who chooses to think differently and be different. We need more heretics in the world—more people who are prepared to think and live differently. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that only a heretic can change our damaged, troubled and threatened world. And only a heretic, who is prepared to surrender and throw out of the window all their past thinking and conditioning on matters religious and non-religious, can wake up and change the world for the better. And despite what some would have you believe, only you can make the decision to wake up and be born anew. 

May we all wake up this Christmas.





Tuesday, November 26, 2019

DON’T LET YOUR PAST HOLD YOU BACK!


Is your past, or something in your past, holding you back? Do you keep revisiting the past or some incident in the past to such an extent that it’s preventing you from living fully in the now? 

Listen to these wise words from the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti, pictured right and below:

We are the result of the past. Our thought is founded upon yesterday, and many thousand yesterdays. We are the result of time, and our responses, our present attitudes, are the cumulative effect of many thousand moments, incidents and experiences. So the past is, for the majority of us, the present, which is a fact, which cannot be denied. You, your thoughts, your actions, your responses, are the result of the past. 

So, how can we be free of the past? Of course, as I’ve said many times, we should never ask ‘how’, because then we are asking for a method or technique. Methods and techniques are forms of conditioning, which is the past. The past cannot free us from the past. But what exactly is the past? Here is Krishnamurti once again:

… What do we mean by the past? … We mean, surely, the accumulated experiences, the accumulated responses, memories, traditions, knowledge, the subconscious storehouse of innumerable thoughts, feelings, influences and responses, With that background, it is not possible to understand reality, because reality must be of no time: it is timeless. So, one cannot understand the timeless with a mind which is the outcome of time. The questioner wants to know if it is possible to free the mind, or for the mind, which is the result of time, to cease to be, immediately; or must one go through a long series of examinations and analyses, and so free the mind from its background. You see the difficulty in the question.

Self-analysis tends to fail because the ‘analysing self’ is just another manifestation of self—that is, one of the hundreds of little selves (the ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ in our mind). How can the self analyse the self, or one of the many other selves within us? No effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own introspection and mental machinations. Let’s say that a thought of anger arises in your mind. The part of your mind which analyses the anger is part of the anger. There is simply no way, by that means, to free yourself from the background. True psychological transformation can only arise when one is entirely free of the background (the ‘mental furniture’). Look and observe. Be aware—choicelessly. Don’t analyse or interpret. Just look, observe and see things as they are—both the things outside of us as well as the contents of our own mind. The insight you gain will change you forever—that is, if you want such change in your life.

The good news is that you can be totally free of the past at any moment. It’s entirely up to you. No one else can do this for you. Yes, there can indeed be that ‘total revolution’ or ‘psychological mutation’ of which Krishnamurti often spoke. We can instantaneously liberate ourselves from the past and from past conditioning including beliefs and misbeliefs of all kinds if we refuse to analyse or dissect the content of our consciousness (the ‘background’ or ‘mental furniture’) and simply see things as they really are, without judgment or evaluation.


In what follows, Krishnamurti describes, much better than I could ever hope to do, the essential features of a mind that is ‘mindful’ (or, to use his word, 'tranquil'):

Now, to put it very simply, when you want to understand something, what is the state of your mind? When you want to understand your child, when you want to understand somebody, something that someone is saying, what is the state of your mind? You are not analysing, criticizing, judging what the other is saying; you are listening, are you not? Your mind is in a state where the thought process is not active, but is very alert. Yes? And that alertness is not of time, is it? You are merely being alert, passively receptive, and yet fully aware; and it is only in this state that there is understanding. Surely, when the mind is agitated, questioning, worrying, dissecting, analysing, there is no understanding. And when there is the intensity to understand, the mind is obviously tranquil.

So, this is what you can choose to do—if you really want to be free, forever, and instantaneously, from the bondage of the past. Watch, almost with disinterest, whatever happens, as if it were happening to someone else. Let there be no comment, judgment or attempt to change anything. Note the presence of any unhealthy, painful thoughts, emotions or memories, but give them no power or attention. Don’t suppress or deny them. Don’t resist them, for whatever you resist, persists. Simply observe … choicelessly … and then let go. And let it be.

Acknowledgment is made, and gratitude is expressed, to the Krishnamurti Foundation of America,
Ojai, California, USA. Krishnamurti Excerpts: Benares 2nd Public Talk, 23 January 1949.


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Monday, October 7, 2019

MARCEL PROUST AND THE ART OF MINDFULNESS

‘The true journey of discovery consists not in seeking
new landscapes but in having fresh eyes.’ Marcel Proust.

Ever since I studied French in high school I have loved the writings of Marcel Proust, pictured below. However, I have never found his books easy to understand, even in English. Be that as it may, there is so much to discover in his writings. After all, Proust was the first writer to explore in depth the nature of the human mind and the depths of consciousness. No high metaphysician, he reminds us that ordinarily it is in the little things of life that we find what is truly important. There is something extraordinary not just behind, but also in, the ordinary stuff of life—and for that we should be truly grateful.

When one think of Proust, what usually first comes to mind is his magnum opus, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; earlier rendered as Remembrance of Things Past), which was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. This vast autobiographical and psychological novel, lacking in logical construction just like life which is certainly not a logical sequence of events, has been described as 'an extraordinarily penetrating study of human psychology. ... No other French novelist before Proust had explored the world of the mind with such subtlety, or analysed with greater insight the influence of our subconscious thoughts and feelings on our character and our behaviour' (J Robinson and A Martin, France Today: Background to a Modern Civilisation, Sydney: Novak, 1964, pp 140-1).


For Proust, and for us, time is perhaps our greatest enemy. We are all subject to time from the very beginning of our lives to their end and so much is lost through the changes wrought by the unstoppable march of time. Memories fail over time. We return to a place—a place which, say, we once loved as a child—only to find that it is no longer the same place. Most if not all of the pleasure associated with the place has gone, and much of that is due to the passage of time. Over time, we manufacture innumerable 'false selves''I's and 'me'sin the form of our likes, dislikes, attachments and aversions. All these selves have no permanent, fixed identity. They are all transient and ever-changing. Time, in conjunction with the notion of the illusory self, is a major theme of In Search of Time. Here is the final sentence of the novel:

If at least, time enough were allotted to me to accomplish my work, I would not fail to mark it with the seal of Time, the idea of which imposed itself upon me with so much force today, and I would therein describe men, if need be, as monsters occupying a place in Time infinitely more important than the contrary, prolonged immeasurably since, simultaneously touching widely separated years and the distant periods they have lived through—between which so many days have ranged themselves—they stand like giants immersed in Time.

Now, can the problem of time be overcome? Well, time can be transcended. How? Through mindfulness, that's one way. If we can see things-as-they-really are, we are no longer bound by time. We then experience the eternal now. Those familiar with Proust—and even some who aren’t—will know of the following oft-quoted experience from early in Part One (‘Combray’) of the first volume of In Search of Time, titled Swann’s Way. The subject-matter recounted is the first episode concerning the madeleine (a tea-cake or bun)—the first so-called 'madeleine moment'. There is a second 'madeleine moment' which is recounted in the final moment of the novel. Anyway, the first 'madeleine moment' is described thus:

I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature. Where did it come from? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?


I cannot stress this enough. Mindfulness is not a ‘method’ or ‘technique’. If anyone says that you must use some so-called ‘method’ or ‘technique’ in order to practice mindfulness—that is, to live mindfully—tell that person to get lost (or words to that effect). There is no method or technique’ for seeing things as they really are. In order to see things as they really are all you need to do is remove the obstacles to seeing things-as-they-really-are. Then we can truly 'seize' and 'apprehend' the moment, something that Proust sought to do.

Seeing things-as they-really-are. That is what the Pāli word vipassanā ('insight meditation' or mindfulness) means. The word is composed of two parts—namely, vi, meaning ‘in various ways’, and passanā, meaning seeing. So, vipassanā means ‘seeing in various ways’ as well as seeing things-as-they really-are. Proust refers to this as ‘having fresh eyes’, which is the very same thing. For Proust, and for us, we tend to experience life episodically. A present experience often brings into play involuntary memory, when something encountered in everyday life evokes recollections of the past without there being any conscious effort on our part. As readers of Proust will know, the theme of involuntary memory is all throughout the French writer's text. For Proust, it is the preeminent way of 'defeating' time. In the section on Proust in Eight Centuries of French Literature: From the Chanson de Roland to Sartre, edited by R F Bradley and R B Michell (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1951), we read: '...using spontaneous or involuntary memory as an instrument, Proust evokes the sensations, emotions, dreams, and experiences that lie dormant in the subconscious mind' (p 555). All these Proust seeks to understand.

Now, returning to the episode of the madeleine, and without wishing to be overly analytical, the writer (that is, the narrator of the novel) recounts the following:

First, he raises to his lips a spoonful of the tea in which he had soaked a morsel of the cake.

Secondly, no sooner does the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touch his palate than a shiver runs through him.

Thirdly, he stops, ‘intent upon the extraordinary thing that [is] happening to [him]’.

Fourthly, an exquisite pleasure invades his senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.

Fifthly, the vicissitudes of life thereupon become indifferent to him, for the new sensation has the effect of filling him with a ‘precious essence’. This essence is not in him. It is him. In other words, he is one with the content of the experience, both inner and outer.

There is more to the episode of the madeleine but let's leave it there. Now, for Proust and for us, something tends to get in the way of seeing and experiencing things-as-they-really-are. What is that? Well, it is pretty obvious. We stop. Yes, we stop—and we start analysing, judging, comparing, and so forth. Then the newness and freshness of the experience dies on us. In order to penetrate the core of reality, the illusory ‘I’ of us, the so-called ‘perceiving self’ needs to disappear. Krishnamurti wrote:

When you look at a flower, when you just see it, at that moment is there an entity who sees? Or is there only seeing? Seeing the flower makes you say [i.e. think], ‘How nice it is! I want it.’ So the ‘I’ comes into being through desire, fear, ambition [all thought], which follow in the wake of seeing. It is these that create the ‘I’ and the ‘I’ is non-existent without them.

In truth, there are only the following three ‘relational’ elements in order for a stimulus to be perceived: first, the sense-object (or simply the object in question); secondly, a sense organ; and thirdly, attention or consciousness. It is more-or-less the same with our thoughts and thinking, except we have no sense-object and sense-organ involved as such. 

Now, in order for there to be an immediacy and directness about our moment-to-moment experience of life, those three occurrences need to occur more-or-less simultaneously---that is, no separation. If those three events are not simultaneously experienced---and that will happen if we engage in thinking, analysis, comparison, interpretation, or judgment in connection with the object in question (be it external or internal)---then the chances are that what will be experienced will be nothing but ... the past! Yes, the reality of the immediate experience will subside. Indeed, it will die! Any consciousness of it will be in the form of an after-thought or memory, as we glance back to re-experience, and (sadly, yes) evaluate, a past experience.

Back to Proust. Another memorable encounter in the first volume of In Search of Time is that concerning the hawthorn hedge and flowers. The incident is also recounted in Part One of the first volume:

… I found the whole path throbbing with the fragrance of hawthorn-blossom. … But it was in vain that I lingered beside the hawthorns—breathing in their invisible and unchanging odour, trying to fix it in my mind (which did not know what to do with it), losing it, recapturing it, absorbing myself in the rhythm which disposed the flowers here and there with a youthful light-heartedness and at intervals as unexpected as certain intervals in music …

And then I returned to the hawthorns, and stood before them as one stands before those masterpieces which, one imagines, one will be better able to ‘take in’ when one has looked away for a moment at something else; but in vain did I make a screen with my hands, the better to concentrate upon the flowers, the feeling they aroused in me remained obscure and vague, struggling and failing to free itself, to float across and become one with them. They themselves offered me no enlightenment, and I could not call upon any other flowers to satisfy this mysterious longing. And then, inspiring me with that rapture which we feel on seeing a work by our favourite painter quite different from those we already know, or, better still, when we are shown a painting of which we have hitherto seen no more than a pencilled sketch, or when a piece of music which we have heard only on the piano appears to us later clothed in all the colours of the orchestra, my grandfather called me to him, and, pointing to the Tansonville hedge, said to me: ‘You’re fond of hawthorns; just look at this pink one—isn’t it lovely?’

And it was indeed a hawthorn, but one whose blossom was pink, and lovelier even than the white. ...


Proust/the narrator recounts that as a young boy he found the whole path throbbing with the fragrance of hawthorn-blossom. What a wonderful experience! But look what happens. He breathes in the invisible and unchanging odour of the hawthorn flowers and tries to ‘fix it in [his] mind (which did not know what to do with it)’. Ugh. He then loses the directness and immediacy of the experience, then briefly recaptures it, and so on. The young boy receives some unexpected help from his grandfather, who says, ‘You are fond of hawthorns; just look at this pink one; isn’t it pretty?’ That, my friends, is the essence of mindfulness. If we can just look and see, that is, observe without judgment, analysis or interpretation, we come to see the ‘formlessness of things’.

Ordinarily, the conditioned, undisciplined mind wants to attach itself to something, that is, some object or thought. It is wants to grab hold of something. Actually, our mind is pure consciousness in its pure, unconditioned state, so that when we truly observe there is no observing self, there is simply awareness—pure unadulterated awareness. Is this direct and immediate experience possible? Yes, indeed, but it takes practice. That’s where the practice of mindfulness comes in handy. We need to learn to give our full attention to the ever-fleeting present moment by removing the hindrances or obstructions to our so doing.

Begin now. There is no time like the present. When you look, just look. When you hear, just hear. When you smell, just smell. When you taste, just taste. When you touch, just touch. Avoid the temptation to grab hold of something, that is, attach your mind to something. In truth, your mind can never attach itself to the present. If you try, you will always end up losing direct and immediate contact with the present moment as it unfolds ceaselessly into the next present moment and the next and the one after that.

I will finish with these words of Proust. ‘My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.’ A new way of seeing. That is what mindfulness is all about.


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