Caged

 

Lion

Most of us walk around feeling like a shadow of ourselves. Brief moments of total freedom give us a glimpse into our true nature. These momentary blips of supreme confidence combined with childlike enthusiasm show us that buried deep down lies a higher self. Usually it lasts no longer than a few days, and then we ache with our entire being to return to that place.

It would be easier if this state of zeal, devoid of all inhibitions, was just an imaginary finish line intended as a marker to strive for, but since we all have experienced it, we know what we are capable of. This makes it that much more frustrating when we return to our normal experience of the world. It is not as if we are deluding ourselves. The state I am describing is one of enhanced effectiveness, driven by passion and conviction. Our best self. So why can’t we dwell there?

Most of us let others define who we are. Since we aren’t sure, we let anyone with a confident demeanor tell us what we can and can’t do. Parents, teachers, “cool kids”, bosses, religious leaders, celebrities, etc.. all played a big role in shaping your own understanding of YOU. You would be amazed if you could reach into your mind and pull out all the self- limiting beliefs placed there by outside sources who put them there under the guise of protecting you, but in reality were justifying their own fears and failures by holding you back. How could you ever know what you are truly capable of when on your shoulders lies all the cowardice and consternation of every negative person you encountered throughout your life? You have been repeating their stories for years thinking they were your own. So when the lion within pokes his head out and gives you a glimpse of what lies underneath all the bullshit, its no surprise you expend vasts amounts of energy trying to find him again. We can’t stop there, though. We have to free him.

The List:

  1. You will never walk through life with total confidence in yourself while letting another person define you. My next post will deal with this concept in depth, but even a short summation should be clear enough. If you let another person, group, or ideology tell you who you are and what you are capable of then your destiny is always in their hands. It is tempting to outsource our decisions. Putting all responsibility in the hands of another allows us to absolve ourselves from any blame or regret if things go wrong. But this comes at a hefty price. We lose respect for ourselves, never reach our potential, and live a life of fear. You have to summon the courage to start living life on your own terms, regardless of how scary that may seem at first.
  2. Re-write your story. “I’m not good at math.” I’m not good with people.” We all carry around our own versions of these self limiting beliefs. Despite the fact that in most cases we can’t even trace them back to where they started. Almost all of these stories that we continually tell ourselves are complete lies. The only thing that makes them true is that we believe them and then act them out. Whatever your own brand of self-defeat is, when those old tapes start to play in your head, I challenge you to say NO your doubt, and replace it with a narrative of I CAN.
  3. Tell fear to FUCK OFF. Throughout our daily life, we all get presented with challenges. Not the get to work on time, or eat the salad instead of pizza kind of challenges, but tests of our courage. These are strict tests. You either pass or you fail. The teacher is an unforgiving hardass, as well. She is your deepest insecurities. Scared of social interaction? That’s your teacher. Afraid to mess up while others are watching so you avoid contributing? Then that’s your teacher. Whatever your personal fears are, that’s the arena that you must fight in. You’ll know when you are being tested. Each day when you know what you should do, and that voice in your head starts to come up with reasons why you shouldn’t, then the test has begun. I encourage you to start passing these tests. Despite your reservations, tell fear to go fuck itself. Today I grow!
  4. Resist domination. As you begin to grow and come into your own, others will sense a change in you and unconsciously try to bring you down. These people are often referred to as haters. They will try to discourage you. They will tell you all kinds of reasons why you can’t. They will tell others how foolish and arrogant you are. Have compassion for these people. Their bitterness has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with themselves. But what you cannot do is let their hateful mutterings dishearten you. Every attempt to limit you is an attempt to goad you back toward your cage. Shake, shimmy, or straight run over those who would hold you back, but stay on course!

3 ways the Sword of Gryffindor Can Help You Get Your Life Back on Track

Sword of Gryff

“It only takes in that which makes it stronger!” – Hermione Granger

I won’t complicate this. Often times in life we find ourselves lost, unsure of what to do. Times of turmoil cast us into a tempest of doubt. Our minds bounce back and forth between a multitude of potential decisions, each seemingly more likely to end in despair than the last. With our minds completely clouded with fear, we make impulsive decisions. In all but the luckiest of times, this leads to poor outcomes, further lowering our self-confidence, and sending us down a path of failures, that if never corrected, we might very well walk our entire lives. Yes, things can go that badly.

There are ways to escape this cycle. Swami Vivekanda puts it well.

“The best guide in life is strength. In religion, as in everything else, discard everything that weakens you, have nothing to do with it.”

Simple advice, but rarely understood, and even more rarely followed. Here are a few ways that you can apply it to your own life.

The List:

  1. Food. This is the most important of all. We all think we eat healthy, but it is often the case that between our occasional kale salads, our days are peppered with meals and snacks that we know to be unhealthy. A little sugar here, a little dairy there. We rationalize each meal in the moment, as if it were some rare exception, but when we take stock of our long term eating habits, the picture is clear. The only place that we actually have a healthy diet is in our own minds. Your food is your energy. You will never know what you are capable of until you have committed to a truly healthy diet for an extended period of time. With a healthy diet comes a clear mind and strong body. When is the last time you felt great? Every time you go to the grocery store or a restaurant, at that crucial time when you are fighting a mental battle with yourself, just ask this question “Does this make me stronger?”
  2. Entertainment. Ideally, you should only devote a small amount of time to entertainment. It is a luxury to be enjoyed when you have exhausted your energy being productive. But since so many of us head straight to the couch the moment we have met our OBLIGATIONS, it is crucial that you develop a habit of only taking in quality input. It’s just like food. If you let garbage in, you will put garbage out. Your mind is much more malleable than you realize. If you watch overly dramatic reality TV, you will slowly begin to see and create drama in your own life. If you read a mind expanding book, or watch a challenging documentary, your worldview will shift in a positive direction. Your mind is a canvas, and both good and bad people are chomping at the bits to paint their own version of reality on it. But its YOUR canvas. You can CHOOSE whose art to be receptive to, or you can choose to paint it yourself. Just stay aware that someone is always painting.
  3. People. This one will be the most challenging. It’s difficult, but not painful, to say goodbye to greasy food and bad television. Letting go of toxic people takes courage, especially if these people are bound to you by blood. I am not talking about those friends and family who annoy you. I am talking about people who actively hold you back. When you take a step forward, they say or do something to discourage you. You must remember this is not personal. They are attempting to bring you down because they never found the strength to lift themselves up. Have compassion, but create distance all the same. You don’t have to write them a letter or create a scene, but remove them from your consciousness. If they want to complain to you, don’t listen. If they want you to engage in some destructive activity, don’t do it. If this person has played a significant role in your life, you will find yourself tempted to reach out to them. Don’t do it. Each time you say no to something that weakens you, you’ll get stronger. Only take in those things that add to your life and before long momentum will carry you the rest of the way.

 

Earning Your Serenity

Exhausted.jpg

We all desire a tranquil mind. There are many techniques one can employ to achieve this goal. Mindfulness, Yoga, Prayers etc.. are among the most common tactics. Many times though, our best efforts fail, and we are left with a racing mind and anxious body.

Many will tell you that the problem lies in the fact that no matter how hard you try, you are still TRYING. The name escapes me, but one of the great spiritual teachers ever to grace the universe said “Do or do not, there is no try.” One could easily misconstrue this to assume the key to peace lies in a lack of effort. This is not the case. Often times, you owe your anxiety to exactly the opposite.

After pushing one of his students so far that he actually implored him to die before quitting, Bruce Lee was approached by him afterwards.

“Why would you say that?” he asked.

“Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”

Every time we deny a call from our heart of hearts, we lose a little respect for ourselves. It does not matter how effectively you rationalize it, when you succumb to fear and say no to your true potential, you are unknowingly setting yourself up for misery. Everyone knows the feeling of satisfaction when you did exactly what you FELT you needed to do. These are the calls you must answer.

The List:

  1. Answer YOUR calls. There are things you know you should do because they are a step towards your best self. Most of the time you WANT to do these things. Sure, there can be some initial apprehension at doing something difficult, but that feeling is easily distinguished from the dread of doing something that you feel OBLIGATED to do. These are often associated with a job. Rent has to be paid, but with a little mental gymnastics, any task can be re-framed to serve your purpose.
  2. Create a Vision. You don’t need to have your life planned out, but we all have some concept of our best selves bouncing around in our head. Deconstruct the components of that person, and create a plan to get there. Most of us desire love, health, happiness, and productivity. Search your feelings. We all intuitively know the ingredients to a fulfilling life.
  3. Feeling over Thinking. As mentioned earlier, your mind will find ways to rationalize a lack of effort. True progress is scary. When you sense fear, give it awareness. Feel it. And then take another step forward. If it becomes unclear on what action should be taken, rely on your intuition.
  4. Make dying easy. Mark Twain said, “The fear of death follows from a fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Push yourself. Follow your bliss. Earn your serenity.

The Point of the Present Moment

Milky Way

“I have met a lot of Zen Masters in my life; all of them cats.” Eckhart Tolle

It is easy to forget that our ancestors were naturally enlightened. It is only when our minds evolved to a certain point that we were able to conceptualize the past and future. Before then, the entire planet was populated with unwitting Buddha’s. Some might argue that we were no more than savage beasts, but the thought of something being “better” only exists when there is a species able to think it, and no matter how hard one tries, comparison will always be a subjective endeavor.

There is a huge misconception that spirituality means going backwards. You see many people trying to “get back to their roots”. The key word here is “trying”. There is nothing inherently spiritual about beating on drums in a park, or dancing around a fire. Both of these things can bring your consciousness back into the body, but if someone is doing them just because they are “spiritual”, it doesn’t matter how hard he pounds away, he will not be able to enjoy the experience. Likewise, if someone is giving their full attention to cleaning the kitchen, not only will their kitchen be efficiently cleaned, but he or she is likely to enjoy the experience, and even grow from it.

Your mind evolved to be powerful and complex to help you survive, not to make you happy. The present moment is so rich and full- infinitely so. The point of all your yoga, meditation, etc.. is to be able to push away the past and future when you desire, and fully immerse yourself in it.

The List:

  1. Bring awareness to unawareness. When you find yourself in an anxious state, instead of grasping at something external in hopes of centering yourself, look inward. Bring your attention to your feelings. Notice how your mind tells you that once you have _____ , then you will be okay. If you continue to observe this process, eventually your mind will settle, and you can freely move forward.
  2. Its always the present. Don’t let yourself get caught up with “being here now”. If you walk around constantly admonishing yourself for not being present, then you have missed the point. Whether you are sad, happy, angry, or enthused, its always now. Remember that and bring your attention to feeling. You can’t think yourself out of thinking. Don’t suppress your anger or even worse turn it inwards toward yourself. Bring your attention to it and feel it completely. Everything else will take care of itself.

 

Catching Up

Lion and Cub

Maybe it was a book, a lecture, or a combination of similar things. Whatever it was, you have a new understanding; you are dedicated to making the present moment the focus of your life. Good riddance, needless suffering!

But wait, if I am so enlightened, why does my significant other still frustrate me so much, and why am I so anxious about the uncertain future? Buddha wouldn’t worry about his bills, and he certainly wouldn’t lose his temper over bad traffic.

Thoughts like these are very common among those just starting off on their journey to consciousness, and before long can have them wondering if they are just fooling themselves with this whole Zen thing. What is forgotten, or perhaps not realized, is that with the exception of a few, most of us take the long path to enlightenment.

The reason for this is that your mind has been constantly trained since you were born, and undoing years and years of destructive thought patterns isn’t as simple as just having a realization. This, however, doesn’t imply that your realization isn’t profoundly true.

The List:

1. Your mind needs time to catch up to your new outlook on life. The reason, despite your epiphany, that you still get frustrated in a traffic jam, is because you have trained your mind to do so. Years and years of reacting negatively to something completely out of your control doesn’t limit your suffering to that particular moment, but reinforces your mind to react the same way in the future. It will take constant mindfulness to stay present in these moments, and you are certainly going to succumb to unconsciousness at times, but given enough time and effort, you will soon find your response to these “unpleasant” situations is one of understanding.

2. Slow down. The simple act of taking your time is a very natural form of meditation. By putting your entire focus on the task at hand your mind will slowly being to settle down. If you do this enough that it becomes a habit, you will notice that in situations that used to trigger anger and frustration, you remain calm and present. In fact, you will probably find it humorous that you used to get upset so easily.

3. Be kind to your mind. As your awareness grows, you will likely notice when you begin to react negatively to an external situation. Don’t punish yourself for not acting “zen like”. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, just let yourself be frustrated. Resisting it will just bury it down deep within you, making you anxious, until it inevitably surfaces in some type of outburst. Instead, consciously observe and feel the frustration in your body. Accept it. Don’t get angry at yourself for reacting this way, but meet these thoughts and emotions with understanding; know that they are nothing more than the result of poor training.

If you want to know peace, it is imperative that you are kind to yourself; particularly inside your own head. Don’t let your mind trick you into holding yourself accountable for thoughts and emotions that are rooted in your unconscious past. Do your best to stay preset. Your mind will catch up in time.

Opinions

Autumn

Imagine for a moment that your mind is a black hole of sorts. Energy, in the form of information, flowing through space and time, passes over the event-horizon of your consciousness, and seemingly cements itself within the constructs of your mind. It soon becomes obvious the vast majority of information we encounter is not done so voluntarily, and even when we do actively seek out information, the desire to do so stems from that same place of indirectly gathered knowledge. Following this line of thought quickly blurs the line separating the observer and the observed.

The point of this thought exercise is to show you that your mind is a very structured tool; a structured tool that is capable of holding infinite varieties of information, which can manifest in an infinite variety of opinions. The ego, always looking for a way to define itself, manufactures these opinions, and will go to almost any length to defend them. This can be easily observed in many modern day sports fans. A game intended to offer harmless entertainment soon escalates into an all-out riot when THEIR team loses.

Ideas are powerful. They are the predecessor to almost all action and their practicality cannot be denied. However, if you allow your ego to take this unbiased information and derive a sense of self from it, you will find yourself facing a much more real black hole; one that despite the number and variety of opinions you try to fill it with, will remain empty until the day you die.

The List:

1. Experiment with not voicing your opinion. Next time you are in a social setting and everyone is giving their opinions on some trivial topic, make an effort to just hold yours in and observe your thoughts. It’s likely you have your own opinions on the subject and you might even feel a little frustrated at not voicing them. Don’t give in, and you will soon feel this dissipate and be replaced with a sense of peace and awareness. You will also find yourself far more engaged in the present moment, and if there is a high quality to the conversation, you might enjoy actually listening for a change, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak. This, of course, does not imply that when faced with important situations you should remain silent, but is just a simple exercise to aid you in observing your own attachment to opinions.

2. Modern psychology. It has now come to the attention of scientists that your mind doesn’t actually have any interest in finding the truth. In fact, it will flat out ignore it given the chance. Studies have shown that instead of being rational, you are much more interested in reinforcing your current beliefs. When presented with 9 facts disproving one of your opinions, your mind only needs one fact reinforcing it to justify the dismissal of the others. If you have a tendency to cling to your opinions make an attempt to observe this in action.

3. “Yet our opinions have no permanence; like Autumn and Winter, they gradually pass away.” – Chuang Tzu. Think of how many times in your life you have been convinced that your current viewpoint was an accurate description of the world. Then circumstances changed, along with it your opinions, and you found yourself with a new philosophy to live by. The point is, people are not fixed things- they are processes. The seemingly trivial act of watching a television program will leave you a different person than you were prior to viewing it. One thing is for sure though, if you find yourself in one of those “finally figured it out” moments, don’t get to comfortable, because the leaves will fall off that tree soon enough.

Expectations

Supernova

It is often said that if you are without expectations, you will be free from disappointment. It seems true enough at face value; don’t go to a restaurant expecting a perfect meal, and your likely not to be upset when you get served a mediocre dish. It doesn’t stop with sub par food though. If you have an ideal of how things are supposed to go, it’s impossible not to have a negative reaction when life inevitably follows it’s own course. Consider for a moment just how mad this really is. You, one single point of reference in an unimaginably big universe, have expectations on how events should unfold. Not only do you have a plan for the cosmos, but you’re willing to bet on it, and what do you wager? Your peace and sanity. The most baffling part of all lies in the fact that if you somehow win this sucker’s bet, if the entire universe bends to your will, you won’t even be happy. In fact, you won’t even be satisfied. Why? Because you expected it.

The List:

1. Approach life from a place of gratitude. How often do you take a moment to reflect on just how amazing and absurd it is that you exist? Your origins can be traced directly back to the explosion of a star. Everything that has happened before and since, through an incomprehensibly long chain of events, has led to this present moment; has led to you. Try to recall this the next time you are served cold soup.

2. Watch the bumper cars. One effective way to stay conscious is to observe the unconsciousness of others. Don’t let your ego turn this into “look how much more enlightened I am”. but use it as a tool to discover your own destructive tendencies. Next time you are in a crowded setting take a good look at the interactions of those around you. It won’t take long before your gaze falls upon some type of frustration, and many times this frustration results in conflict. Everyone is carrying around loads of expectations, and like a group of children in bumper cars, the continuous crash of these expectations is inevitable.

3. Subconscious expectations. Learning to guard against the expectations of a perfect meal, or smooth visit to the DMV are perfectly achievable goals, but the majority of our expectations are stored deep within our mind, out of reach of our conscious attention.

Most everyone feels a deep level of compassion when seeing a young person on their death bed , but at the same time, almost all of us unconsciously believe it could never happen to us. An expecting woman might know the statistics, but nevertheless is hit like a ton of bricks when her child is born with down syndrome. We all have ideas of what is normal, and what is normal comes to be what we expect, but life will rarely give you what you think you “deserve”. In these trying moments, you certainly won’t give a second thought to what your expectations were, and how this relates to your spiritual development, but given time, stillness and perspective will slowly come back into your life, and once again present, you will see the truth and beauty of it all.