Sunday, May 17, 2015


Have you ever noticed how most of our attempts to change fail? Have you ever asked yourself why this is the case?

We read self-help books, we attend self-improvement courses, we join a yoga or pilates group, we learn to meditate. We have the best of intentions and for a while we seem happier in ourselves but sooner or later something unexpected or unpleasant happens and, wham, we are back to our old selves again---with the emphasis on ‘old selves.’ Yes, all too often any change in us is temporary and skin-deep. This is not surprising. After all, do we not live in a world of makeovers and quick fixes?

Here are a couple of Eastern stories or anecdotes that you might find helpful. I certainly find them illuminative and instructive.

Here’s the first one. A pupil asks his teacher, ‘And how does real change come about?’ Now, if someone asks me a ‘how’ question I usually reply, ‘Don’t ask “how,” for you are asking for a method or technique. Methods and techniques are conditioning, and we need to be de-conditioned.’ Anyway, this teacher was not put off by the pupil’s question.

So, the pupil wanted to know how ‘real change’ comes about. Here’s the teacher’s answer. ‘Through awareness.’ That’s right, we change through awareness. Not through changing our religion, our beliefs, our politics, our appearance, our clothes, or anything else. Through awareness.

‘And what does one do to become aware,’ asked the pupil. (Now, that’s a damn good way of asking the question. This time the pupil didn’t say, ‘How do I become aware?’ That would probably have been too much for the teacher.)

Now, listen to the teacher’s reply. ‘What does one do, when one is asleep, to wake from sleep?’ was his reply.

Here’s another little anecdote on the same point.

‘What is my self, O teacher?’ asked a pupil. The teacher replied, ‘For that you have to learn what is known as “the secret act”.’

‘What is the secret act?’ asked the pupil. ‘This,’ said the teacher, as he closed his eyes and then opened them.

All we succeed by most of our efforts at self-improvement is a change in our behaviour, and even that is usually short-lived. That’s right, our behaviour changes but not ourselves, that is, the person that each one of us is. Real, deep and lasting change only occurs through awareness, that is, self-observation. As I’ve often said---it’s not an original idea of mine---enlightenment means waking up. Yes, waking up. To ourselves, other people, and our world.

Whenever you are choicelessly aware and accepting of life unfolding from one moment to the next, you are in an enlightened state of consciousness. Whenever you resist and oppose what is, whenever you judge others or events, you are anything but enlightened. It’s as simple as that.

Don’t change your ‘self,’ or rather the many ‘selves’ that exist in your mind---for example, the angry self, the frightened self, the anxious self, and so on---but instead learn to change the person that you are. In order to change the person that you are, you must increase in self-knowledge. The latter comes, not from reading books, however helpful they may be, but from self-observation, that is, awareness.

Simply watch and observe your thoughts and feelings as well as your reactions to events with passive detachment, that is, dispassionately. You will learn plenty from so doing. You will see at work all the false selves which you have taken to be the ‘real you,’ that is the person that you are. You may see the ‘frightened self,’ which has arisen in your mind perhaps as a result of overly protective parents. You may see the ‘angry self,’ which perhaps is the result of an ‘egocentric, narcissistic and self-absorbed self’ which insists always on getting its own way and which demands the attention of others at all times.

All these false selves have given you an acquired, invented ‘identity,’ but it is a false identity, that is, an imaginary ‘I.’ These false selves are the result of past thinking and conditioning, but they are persistent little critters that want to hang onto their fake existence. Know this---no matter how persistent and powerful these selves may appear to be, they are only self-images in your mind. Yet there is often strong feeling associated with them such that they can lead us terribly astray.

The ‘real you’ is something altogether different. It is the mind-body complex that we call a person. You are much, much more than those hundreds of little, false selves---all those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’---with which you identify, in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real you,’ that is, the person that you are. Only the latter is ontologically real.

Personal freedom and transformation come when you ‘get real,’ that is, when you learn to think, feel, act and live from your personhood as a person among persons. The ‘secret’ is to get your mind off your many false ‘selves’ and rise above them. This, you must do, if you are ever to get real, but you must watch and, for a while, endure your false selves. Yes, endure them. Watch and follow them to their end. Suffer and endure their disturbance until it ends---and most assuredly it will. In time, you will come to see, know and understand where you have gone astray, and with self-knowledge, insight and understanding real psychological change will come naturally to you, as surely as night follows day. Listen to these wonderful words from the American spiritual teacher Vernon Howard: 'The quality of self-insight is the quality of the life.'

Now, close your eyes and open them. That’s the secret act. Literally and metaphorically speaking.



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