How do we gain true insight into ourselves, our relationships, and the situations we find ourselves in? Faced with the infinite number of responses available, how do we choose what to do? How do we take appropriate actions in our relationships with others - actions that allow everyone involved to have a deeper experience of health and well-being?"
These questions do have answers. There is an approach available to us that, if cultivated and practiced consistently, will inevitably lead us towards making choices that honor self, other, and whole in the highest and best way possible. I have been learning this approach for years and am still learning it... although perhaps 'remembering it' would be a more accurate description, because I have found that when I allow this approach to be my modus oprandis, in fact it feels quite natural. However, I did not grow up with it, and chances are you didn't either. To speak in generalities: contemporary western society is founded upon the antithesis of this approach. Thus, for those of us raised in the 'mainstream,' (for me, the middle-class American mainstream) it can be a long journey of remembering to return to this way of engagement. Additionally, it may be quite scary at first, because approaching our lives in the way I am about to describe means letting go of control ("But what if something bad happens?") and surrendering our desire to live life 'right.' ("But if I don't live life right, doesn't that mean I'll get it wrong?")
None of this is new. I am not going to say anything that hasn't been said before, over and over again, by the wisest among us in every era. I'm saying it for me just as much as I'm saying it for you: I'm saying it now because I'm learning how to live my life this way and I'm utterly dedicated to following this path. I'm saying it because I need to hear myself say it, I feel ready to say it via this blog because I'm practicing everything I'm about to 'preach.'
First of all: know that you don't know. Anytime we're confronted with a situation, whether it be one that we're witnessing from the outside or one that we're participating in, our minds will instantaneously do exactly what it is they are intended to do: they will reference all of our past experiences in order to try and make sense of what we're experiencing NOW. Our minds will then project then onto NOW, leading us to conclusions about our current experience that are primarily informed by our memories.
This wouldn't be so bad if the process went something like this:
"Ah-ha, I see that this person is telling me to leave and not come into work tomorrow. Hmm, I remember a time in my past when one of my former employers did the same thing. This person is saying that they're sorry, but they're not able to continue to employ me... that's very similar to what my former employer said as well."
That would be a very Spock-like analysis of the situation: just the facts. Unfortunately, what actually happens is something more like this:
"Fuck, I'm getting fired again! This always happens, I screwed up again, just like last time... I'm such a failure. I always mess things up."
"Is this one seriously firing me too?! What an asshole! Just because someone has enough money to be the boss, they think they're god almighty. Everyone in charge is such a jerk."
These are exaggerations, obviously, but you get the idea. The stories we tell ourselves about what's happening in our lives, for the most part, aren't real. They're mental projections arising from our past 'experiences.' Our past 'experiences' themselves were likewise not real, but mental projections arising from older past experiences.
We live in a world wherein the dominant paradigm is one of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong. As such, we come to view ourselves through that same paradigm. Of course we all have our own unique definitions of 'good' and 'bad,' but generally speaking most of us want to be 'good,' not 'bad.' I'm not speaking of a classical definition of 'good' here, as in: be nice to your neighbor, always brush your teeth, etc. For some of us those qualities may be part of what it means to have succeeded, but for others of us 'winning' at life may mean getting laid as much as possible, getting shitfaced on a regular basis, and knocking the other guys teeth out.
This dualistic framing of life, this cognitive valorization of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g into one of two categories (good or bad, essentially) may or may not be happening consciously. It depends on the individual. Every individual is dynamically phasing through varying degrees of self-awareness, and many individuals are not even aware that:
a. they are maintaining a dualistic perspective of life
b. what their personal definitions of 'winning' and 'losing' are within their dualistic perspective
c. that they are constantly seeking both to 'win' and not to 'lose'
(and most importantly)
d. that a non-dualistic perspective is even possible
Still with me?
So, back to our mental projections: our mental projections onto our current experience of NOW are what perpetuates our unique personal 'story' about our life. In most of stories, we cast both ourselves and others into the role of a 'winner' or a 'loser.' One or the other. I'm using 'winner' and 'loser' here as templates: there are an infinite number of forms these two archetypes assume in all of 'stories.' Think of words like fat vs. skinny, rich vs. poor, healthy vs. sick, smart vs. stupid.
Now go back up a few paragraphs, and re-read this line that I wrote:
"...Every individual is dynamically phasing through varying degrees of self-awareness, and many individuals are not even aware..."
You see? Even aware vs. unaware becomes another dualistic paradigm, another set of definitions we overlay onto our experience of life in order to determine whether we are 'winning' or 'losing,' and to help us figure out what we need to do in order to win.
NOW, still with me?
I've been laying the groundwork here, which is the conceptual equivalent of building a mental high-dive platform for us to then leap off of. I'm trying to articulate an conceptual framework which will allow us to proceed beyond it, into the space that exists beyond all of our judgments, beyond our need to judge. Beyond our fear of messing up or getting it wrong, beyond our attachment to winning or getting it right.
Let's revisit our original inquiry, which was:
"How do we gain true insight into ourselves, our relationships, and the situations we find ourselves in? Faced with the infinite number of responses available, how do we choose what to do? How do we take appropriate actions in our relationships with others - actions that allow everyone involved to have a deeper experience of health and well-being?"
And now, back to the first clue. Remember? First of all: know that you don't know.
Unless you're already living your life from a fully stabilized non-dualistic and story-free perspective, chances are good that many of the choices you're making about:
a. how to understand the circumstances and relationships of your life
and b. how to participate in the circumstances and relationships of your life
...chances are good that many of those choices are arising from the idea that there's a 'right way' and a 'wrong way.'
(PS. If you are already living your life from a fully stabilized non-dualistic and story-free perspective, email me. I want to hang out with you.)
Why are chances good? Because unless we train it to do otherwise, that's how the mind works.
That's worth repeating. Once again: unless we train it to do otherwise, that's how the mind works.
More specifically, that dualistic analysis is one way the mind can work. I don't know how our minds 'naturally' work - I suspect that our minds do not have a 'default' modus operandis, I suspect that they are plastic and malleable and the 'operating system' we end up with is primarily contingent upon the relational environment we were born into. The social/cultural (i.e. 'relational') environment of contemporary western society shapes our minds in such a way that most of us end up perceiving life as a win/lose scenario, whether we are aware of it or not. Fortunately for you, me, and everyone else, we ALL have the ability to CONSCIOUSLY re-program our minds.
That's worth repeating. Once again: we ALL have the ability to CONSCIOUSLY re-program our minds.
Why re-program our minds at all, why cultivate a non-dualistic paradigm? There are two answers to that question, the personal answer and the global collective answer.
On the level of the personal, I can only share my experience with you. I don't know where you are in your life, or what circumstances and relationships you find yourself in. I can only tell you that for me personally, at this point in my remembering, a non-dualistic paradigm is what I am growing into. In every, literally, EVERY moment I find myself evaluating my self, someone else, or a situation in terms of "That's good." or "That's bad." I feel a sense of dissatisfaction. I feel uneasy, and keenly aware that I am not experiencing the fullness of life in that moment. I am unable to shake off the knowing that I have taken something whole and complete and fragmented it, and as such I have cheapened and reduced my experience of it to something less than what it is. My highest, most joyful vision for my self is to experience life in it's fullness and to consistently participate in my circumstances and relationships in a way that allows everyone involved to have a deeper experience of health and well-being. So, that is my personal answer. Your personal answer may be very different, or perhaps you may feel that a dualistic understanding is working for you: you may feel that you are 'winning,' and not be interested in cultivating an entirely different understanding of life.
Which leads me to the answer on the level of the global collective. It's a simple answer: As long as someone is winning, someone else is losing.
That's worth repeating. Once again: As long as someone is winning, someone else is losing.
For many of on the planet at this time, this is our experience. We are either winning or losing. For those of us unwilling to turn away from the pain and suffering of others, this is intolerable. ANYBODY 'losing,' no matter who it is, is intolerable. Anybody living in poverty, anybody without living without access to the basic necessities of life, anybody prevented from having a voice in our collective decision-making process, anybody being physically, mentally, or emotionally brutalized affects us and motivates us to make a change. In order for our global human collective to truly outgrow this pain, that change must take place at the most fundamental level of our understanding. That change must take place in our consciousness, it must be a deep cleaning of the very lenses through which we gaze out onto our world.
How 'bout NOW... still with me?
Back to invitation # 1: know that you don't know.
If you think you already know, then chances are you have overlaid one of your 'stories' onto the present moment, which means you are not following invitation # 2:
Be present to what is.
That's it. Just be present. Don't analyze or come to any conclusions about it. If there is mind-talk at all, do your best to limit it to straightforward observations such as:
"I see this mother raising her voice with her child. The child is screaming, lying on the ground kicking his feet. The mother's face is red, she's bending over the child, pulling on his arm, trying to get him up on his feet and off of the sidewalk."
If you feel the arising of reactions, you can then endeavor to use the tool of your mind to observe and be present to those reactions as well. This is a deeper level of self-awareness, which entails witnessing your own individual reactions without identifying with them:
"I notice my self judging this woman. I notice all of the thoughts I am having about why she must be a bad parent. I notice that although I know nothing about her or her son, (in fact I do not even know that it is her son) I am coming to all sorts of conclusions about their relationship. I notice that my own ego has inflated - through my judging of her I have managed to convince my self that I would be a much better parent than she is."
If you are able to rest in this place of presence and observation, if you are able to practice this and cultivate using your mind in this way, eventually you may notice the arising of something in you which is qualitatively different than either of these two levels of analysis.
Abandon this line of thought for a moment, and let your mind drift into recollections of your live life. Remember a time you said: "I love you." and really, truly meant it? When you had to say it, when the impulse to say those words to that person swelled up from your chest through your throat and out of your mouth? Maybe it caught you by surprise, maybe you weren't expecting to say it at all. Maybe it wasn't the first time you felt that impulse, maybe you resisted and swallowed it down a few times before allowing yourself to speak.
Speaking those words, in that way, is the kind of action I am talking about. That is appropriate action, action that arises not from our mind, but from a greater non-dualistic knowing. That knowing allows us to be a channel for whatever thoughts, words, or actions would best serve the health and well-being of everyone involved right NOW.
We always have the ability to be such a channel, however that ability becomes clouded over and obscured by our mental projections. In order to reconnect to our own greater knowing, we must cultivate a quality of presence and self-awareness which is grounded in right NOW, as opposed to our past experiences.
Once again, we must: know that we don't know.
Building upon that, we must: be present to what is... both inside and outside of us.
As we rest in the truth that we don't know what action would be most appropriate, and as we simultaneously stay present to both our external and internal environments, we can learn to sense the subtle stirrings of our own greater knowing.
It is this process which moves us into utilizing the tool of our mind to it's fullest potential. The fullest potential of the mind is not to 'decide' what to do, but simply to observe and collect data.
That's definitely worth repeating. Once again: "The fullest potential of the mind is not to 'decide' what to do..."
We don't 'decide' what action would be appropriate, we don't 'conclude' what action would best serve the health and well-being of everyone involved. We allow ourselves to know.
WE ALLOW OURSELVES TO KNOW.
That impulse that (hopefully) we have all experienced, that impulse to say "I love you." is the arising of that knowing. It arises in that intimate space of romance, and not so often in the other spaces of our life, simply because the arising of that knowing into our conscious mind requires certain conditions. I have already articulated three of the most important of those conditions, and they are most certainly worth repeating. Here they are again:
1. Know that you don't know.
2. Be present to what is... both inside and outside of you.
3. Allow yourself to know.
As tricky as it can be to cultivate these first three conditions, there is a fourth condition that must be met in order for us to move beyond knowing into taking action. This fourth condition, for many of us, is even more nerve-wracking than the first three. This condition, of course, is to:
4. Allow yourself to act.
Remember that "I love you." impulse? Have you ever felt it, and then stifled it? Have you ever had the urge to step out onto the dancefloor at a party and then thought: "Nah, I'll look stupid." and sat back down instead? Moving into bigger territory: Have you ever had the urge to kiss a complete stranger, quit your job, or fly to another country and see what happens? I have felt all of these things in my life, and I have both resisted these urges and embraced them. My kiss with a total stranger stands out as one of the most memorable lip-lockings of my life, no idea who she was. I've quit many of my jobs based upon this knowing, simply by allowing my self to act, and every single time that choice has opened up space in my life for a more joyful opportunity to emerge. Not too long ago I flew to another country, wildly unprepared, and that choice has resulted in the greatest and most profound learning of my life - the ongoing, never-ending learning which is allowing me to write this blog right
Moving into even bigger territory: What about our relationships? What about our children, our families, our lovers, our friends? What about circumstances we are so intimately intertwined with that we feel like we might lose everything, so we most certainly don't want to risk making the wrong choice?
Ahem: we might what, everything? 'Lose' everything, huh?
Ahem: the what choice? Ah yes, the 'wrong' choice... there's that old paradigm, creeping in again.
I'm not saying this is easy, or that it's a transition we can make overnight. But it's possible. Trust me - it is absolutely, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt possible. For every single one of us.
Remember our four conditions:
1. Know that you don't know.
2. Be present to what is... both inside and outside of you.
3. Allow yourself to know.
4. Allow yourself to act.
In those situations where you feel as if you have everything to lose, condition number 1 may be the most difficult. It can be really, really hard to cultivate a beginner's mind when we are still processing fear-based belief systems which are insisting on things such as: "Don't fuck up, or else she'll leave you!" or: "I can't live without this person!"
But the only way out of that dualistic, win/lose paradigm, is, well... out of it. We've got to let it go, and trust that if we endeavor to allow ourselves to know, there will be something there.
It may take time, but there will be. As I said earlier, we are all dynamically phasing through varying degrees of self-awareness. Our ability to consciously engage in this process and take action grounded in our greater knowing will vary from day to day, hour to hour, and moment to moment. For most of us it's an entirely new operating system, and it takes getting used to.
In my own experience, it also takes a great deal of faith and trust. I cannot possibly count how many times I have had to remain in observer-mode, trusting that a knowing would arise, when parts of my mind were literally screaming at me "You fucking idiot, it's all going wrong - DO SOMETHING!"
Whenever I have been able to remain in witness mode and observe those screaming voices without identifying with them, at some later point (sometimes a much later point) I have always been able to take action arising from, if not a pure place of greater knowing, at least a place of equilibrium.
In other words: this process works. Call it what you will, give it whatever name you like, and by all means seek out as many different articulations of this process as you can in order to (quite literally) wrap your mind around it. Don't let it be 'mine,' make it your own, and apply it however you wish.
Whatever form it takes in your own life, do give it a go... because this is the way forward for our global human collective. The essence of this, of what I have done my best to articulate, is the essence of the path that has the potential to carry our world beyond it's tired and worn-out 'winners vs. losers' paradigm.
It's time for something new.
(Well, again, none of this is really 'new...')