The Transcendent Mystery
See things as they are, observe things as they are, and let everything go as it goes.
Be gently present, touch everything lightly or not at all, as you are a part of everything already.
Meddling in every situation is unnecessary. Every event has its perfect place in time.
Every being is enough in their own way.
There are no problems. There are just things the way they are.
Why should we believe anything different? All around us, every day, the world assaults us. Thousands of different thoughts, beliefs and ideologies bombard us, seeking to tear us away from our own simple truth. It’s not necessary to have all these complicated ideologies. What is true is readily apparent from observing things in their natural state.
The truth is, there’s nothing you need to do. There’s nothing you need to be. There’s nowhere you need to go. Everything, as it is right now, is perfect.
You may say, “But things aren’t the way I want them to be. I want a better relationship, better career, more money, better health.” But the fact is, that’s not how things are, so that’s not how things are meant to be right now. Everything happens in its own perfect time.
Things change, they always do. Nothing ever stays the same for long. The fact is, we often aren’t in control of those outcomes. Whether you find a better relationship, a better career, and more money, is more a matter of chance than anything else. And although there are things you can do to improve your health, so many diseases are found to be caused by defective genes, and that’s something you can’t control.
Reality may not be the way you wish it was, but it’s still reality. Wishing it were different is like hitting your head against a brick wall. No matter how many times you try to knock down that wall, the wall doesn’t budge, and all you’ve done is hurt yourself. It’s smarter to realize that the wall exists, and you can’t change that.
So, see things as they are, and let everything go as it goes. There isn’t one certain way that things have to be. There is no one right way.
What I’ve said so far should actually be enough. There’s really nothing else left to say. But there are always those who don’t believe these simple truths. They are searching for exceptions, situations where I’ve missed the mark, where things are more complicated and therefore these simple truths don’t apply. Those situations don’t exist.
What exists is our attempt to justify why we’re right by making up excuses. We make up a story that we believe to be true about our reality, but it’s just that, a story. There’s no objectivity to our stories. They are constructed to make us feel better about why we’re doing what we’re doing. But if we question those stories, they turn out to not be true at all.
Where do we get our stories? From our past. From what we were told by our parents, siblings, friends, ministers, or teachers. All our lives we are taught that those who are older than us and in positions of authority are the ones we should listen to. They know better than we do, supposedly. But in reality, they are only repeating their own stories and passing them off as truth. You have the right to exist independent of those stories. If you want to live by a story, realize that you have the right to make up your own story. It would be just as legitimate as theirs.
If you want to live by your own story, that’s fine. Just so long as you realize that any story you construct for yourselves is just that. It’s not reality. Just as the stories of your parents, teachers and friends are not reality, any story you make up will not be reality either. It’s what we tell ourselves to help us get through the day. To help things make sense for us.
But isn’t there someplace inside you where you have a burning desire for what really IS REALITY? If all the stories we tell ourselves aren’t true, then what IS true?
What is true is what is happening in this present moment, right before our eyes. But we even have trouble seeing that clearly without superimposing a story over it. Because as soon as it happens, it’s in the past, and we start trying to label and explain it. And that’s when the suffering begins.
When something happens, just accept it as it is. Period.
In science, it is well known that even the simple act of observing something can cause it to change. The minute we label something, we’ve diminished it.
What is the name of this object? Most of us would agree this is called a cup. A cup holds liquid, is for drinking out of. But is it?
Give me some empirical evidence that this is, in fact, a cup.
Now, going and looking it up in an encyclopedia with a picture in it, pointing to that as proof, is not satisfactory. Just because some people have agreed to call this a cup, does that mean it’s true? Should we always just believe what other people tell us is true?
What proof do we have that this is a cup, except for somebody’s opinion?
There is no proof.
If I asked you to prove to me what the temperature of water is, you could get a container of water and put a thermometer in it, read the temperature and in some sense, that might be able to be considered “proof” of what the temperature of the water is.
What experiment can you perform to prove that this is, in fact, a cup?
You can’t do it. Because labels aren’t empirical evidence.
Let’s say you were an alien, and you just arrived on this planet. You know nothing about our language, our culture, or society. You look at this object, and what would you think it is, just by looking at it? You might think it’s a receptacle to hold pencils. You might think about turning several of them upside down and using them to stack on top of each other like building blocks. You might think about painting them different colors and hanging them up like party decorations, like paper lanterns on a string. You might use them for sorting objects for storage. And yes, you might think of using it to drink out of, if the aliens on your planet actually drink liquid. If the aliens on your planet don’t drink liquid, you might not think of that as a legitimate use for the item.
But you definitely wouldn’t have a name for an item that you just saw for the first time. And your idea of what it could be used for wouldn’t be limited by pre-conceived cultural notions. You would be approaching the item without any story attached to it. You’d be free to make up your own story. And there would be no proof you are wrong.
As soon as I have labeled this as a cup, I have diminished it. I have limited what it can be used for. I have attached a story to it that keeps me from seeing it as anything else but a cup.
This is what we do with the events of our lives. We label them, and after that, we seem to be unable to detach ourselves from the story that goes along with that label. And that’s where our suffering comes from.
You and your spouse are getting ready for bed. There is an alarm clock on your souse’s side of the bed. You casually say to your spouse, “I’ve got to get up an extra hour early in the morning because I have a meeting before work.” You both continue getting ready for bed, get in bed, and go to sleep. The next morning, the alarm wakes you up at the same time it always does, and you are furious with your spouse. “Why didn’t you set the alarm for an hour earlier than normal? I told you I needed to get up an hour earlier. Now I am late for my meeting.” Your spouse says, “You didn’t ask me to re-set the alarm.” And she goes about getting ready for her day. You are thinking in your mind, “How could she not know that’s what I wanted? She doesn’t care about my job. She doesn’t care if I’m successful or not. She doesn’t care if I look incompetent at work. She was only thinking of herself. And she doesn’t even seem concerned now, or apologetic, or sorry. She shouldn’t treat me this way.”
So let’s question this stressful thought. “She shouldn’t treat me this way.” Is it true?
There are a lot of untrue thoughts swirling around in this scenario. In this story, you have labeled yourself as the victim, and your spouse is responsible for all your troubles. She should have known what you meant, even though you didn’t say it. You have labeled her actions as uncaring and selfish. You have made yourself right and her wrong.
And now you are angry at her, stewing about how this could have been avoided, feeling embarrassed about walking into your meeting late, feeling like you have to make up some excuse to tell your boss about why you’re late because you’re too embarrassed to admit it was your own assumption that she was going to set the clock that caused the problem. You’re feeling stressed.
But it’s your thoughts that are stressing you, not the situation.
Because there are a lot of other untrue thoughts. Like, it’s a terrible thing that I was late to the meeting. I shouldn’t admit that it was my fault. I should feel embarrassed about making a mistake. It would be a bad thing to lose my job because of this. My wife should have known what I needed. None of those are true.
We have labeled making mistakes as a bad thing. We’ve labeled losing our jobs as a bad thing. We’ve labeled being misunderstood as a bad thing. We’ve labeled our spouses actions as a bad thing.
In reality, these things aren’t bad. They are just things being the way they are. They are neutral events. We have superimposed a label on them that is arbitrary.
There are no bad people and there are no bad things.
Mistakes happen, misunderstandings happen, and things don’t always turn out the way we want. These aren’t bad things. They’re just things. They just happen.
Nothing bad happened in this situation. Just as in the example of the cup, this is a neutral event, neither good nor bad. But then YOU come in and give it a label. You make up a story about it, and that’s what you choose to believe. Except your story isn’t true.
Your life won’t be ruined because someone made a mistake, had a misunderstanding or lost a job. Life will go on.
In this present moment, you are fine. There’s no tragedy. The floor you are standing on is holding you up. You are breathing air. The future is ahead of you with many possibilities. Nothing that has happened to you in the past really matters. The mistakes and misunderstandings don’t matter. Even losing your job doesn’t matter. There are other jobs.
We panic over the least little things in life, because we believe our stories are true.
So let’s go back to our original truths.
See things as they are, observe things as they are, and let everything go as it goes.
So you are late for your meeting. That’s reality. Now do you want to beat your head against a wall that isn’t going to move? What good will that do? You’ll only feel worse. I personally would rather feel good. I don’t want to suffer. So, to stop suffering you simply change your mind about how you label this event.
How about not labeling the event at all?
How about not making value judgments at all?
How about not taking a side? No one’s right and no one’s wrong.
Things are the way they are, and that’s okay.
Now other people may not see it that way, but you can. You don’t have to take responsibility for other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions. Just yours.
Your boss may be stressed because you’re late, but you don’t have to be.
Because no matter what happens as a result of that, everything’s okay.
And besides, the reality is, it’s over and done with, you can’t change it, so do what you have to do to be happy in the situation. My experience has been, the only way for me to be happy is to be fluid instead of rigid. To be open instead of closed. To leave this behind and go on to the next thing without care.
Without care. So I was late, oh well.
Give yourself permission not to label this event as bad. I’m not telling you it shouldn’t enter your mind. I’m telling you not to label it as significant. I’m not saying don’t try to be on time to work. But once something has happened, it does you no good to label it as significant. It does you no good to dwell on it, and rehearse over and over how bad it was. If it’s in the past, it’s insignificant. Only what you’re doing in this present moment right now is significant.
Ultimately, reality always has its way. Things are they way they are. Why not accept that? Don’t panic about the way things are. If you were removed from the situation, everything would go on okay. So, is the situation really the problem? Your thoughts are the problem.
There is nothing that can happen that isn’t okay, despite what you believe.
Right now, you are racking up lists in your mind of things that aren’t okay. Death, cancer, homelessness, starvation, war. In your mind, those things aren’t okay.
Except they are.
How do we know they should exist? Because they do.
Nothing exists that doesn’t have a reason to exist.
We live in a cause-and-effect universe. Nothing exists without a cause. People don’t make decisions without a reason. You may not agree with the reason, but they have a reason.
If you felt your life was threatened, your home was being taken, or your autonomy was being threatened, you’d probably fight to defend yourself. That’s why people make war.
If your children were starving, you’d probably starve yourself to feed them. You’d make a priority decision. When whole groups of people are starving, somebody has made a priority decision.
When you have a tumor, your body has made a decision that sequestering the toxins in your body inside a tumor is safer than letting them circulate in your blood stream. That’s why people get cancer.
When someone has a choice between eating and paying rent, they’ll probably choose to eat. That’s why people choose homelessness.
These are logical, rational choices. Whether you agree with them or not is immaterial. There are good reasons that these things exist.
The whole reasoning behind natural selection is, traits persist throughout generations because they give an organism a biological advantage. Traits that don’t give the organism a biological advantage eventually die out.
So, everything that exists has a good reason to exist. If something exists, that’s reality. And reality is okay.
It’s our wishes and expectations and fantasies about reality that make us suffer.
If we for some reason think that death is a bad thing, we will seek to avoid it. Except it’s not bad. It’s natural and necessary.
We live in a universe governed by the scientific laws of homeostasis, where everything exists in relative balance. This balance is naturally maintained. For instance, in an ecosystem, a wolf eats a deer. This is how it’s meant to be. Now, if there’s a drought, and there isn’t enough food to support the entire deer population, some deer will die. There won’t be enough deer to continue to feed the wolves, so the wolf population goes down. This is what happens in a normal ecosystem. This is homeostasis.
In human ecosystems, there are also checks and balances that keep the human population under control. Some of those events are war, starvation, disease, and acts of personal violence. One of the reasons we have a so-called “population explosion” is not because people are having too many babies or because our planet can’t support all these human lives. In fact, the UN Population Division data has shown that population growth peaked in the 1960’s and has been steadily declining ever since(1). It’s because we have tried to remove all the checks and balances. We have tried to eliminate disease and death through improved medical treatment, sanitation and good personal hygiene, avoiding bacteria by washing our hands and food safety, and we decry all forms of violence. When we remove all the checks and balances, of course our population is going to balloon out of control. Death is necessary to keep our civilization alive, though this seems like the ultimate irony.
Ultimately, whether you agree with this or not, death is reality. Trying to escape it is futile. Fearing it takes away your life before you’ve even died.
When I die, I will be participating in an ancient and profound ritual in which my body returns to the earth. That is special and wonderful. I do not fear it, nor seek to avoid it.
So, it follows that I don’t label death as a bad thing, nor seek to avoid anything that might cause it, nor mourn the deaths of others. I don’t fear being gunned down in the street or catching some disease, and I’m not afraid of those things. I don’t seek out chances to end my life, but I’m not avoiding them either.
Everything goes as it goes.
The bottom line always is, in any situation, it’s going to happen anyway. Don’t beat your head against the wall. If it’s going to happen anyway, you have two choices. To suffer because of your thoughts about it, or to choose thoughts about it that don’t make you suffer. It’s up to you.
If for some reason I think I am not supposed to get sick, then I will rail against any disease. If for some reason I think I’m supposed to be entitled to always have three meals a day, I’ll think I’m somehow deprived if I only have one. If I somehow think I’m entitled to have a fancy house and two cars, I’ll feel like a failure if I don’t have those things.
Except the idea that I am entitled to those things is not reality. It’s nice if I have them, but I don’t expect to have them, I can live just fine without them.
Really, I can. And so can you.
When you recognize this, you’ll stop fearing losing those things. There is a sense of great freedom when you divorce yourself from the idea that these things are necessary to your happiness.
Why do you think the tiny house movement is currently flourishing? Because people are realizing that all the things they thought they wanted aren’t making them happy. They’d rather opt for the personal freedom that comes from having less.
The only thing I need to be happy is my thoughts. I have ground to stand on and air to breathe. My basic need is met, no matter where I go, no matter what happens. There are still lakes and streams where water is free. There are public water fountains everywhere. There are shade trees to sit under. All is good.
Being late to your meeting at work isn’t the end of the world. No need to stress about it. Even if you lose your job, there are many opportunities to make money in many creative ways. You’ll be all right. There are also many opportunities to live without any money at all, and that’s okay too.
Maybe your fear is what people will think of you. There are people who will be disappointed in you. So what? You’re not living your life for them. If you are, you’re causing your own stress.
It’s not my business what anyone else thinks of me. If someone else is disappointed in me, it’s their issue, not mine. I don’t care if they’re disappointed. I’m not living to please them.
My one wish is to live unconstrained. Unhindered by other people’s expectations. I am not interested in following social norms. I will follow norms that are necessary to keep me out of jail. But I’m not interested in meeting anyone’s expectations. Parents, teachers, ministers, friends, social groups – what they want me to do doesn’t matter.
You may wonder if this alienates me from others. On the contrary. It’s how you treat others that determines whether they like you or not. If my parent, teacher or friend criticizes me in some way, I can just say thank you for your concern and go on. I don’t have to make their criticism a bad thing. I don’t have to argue with them or try to prove them wrong. I just go on loving them and living my life. Their criticism doesn’t make me uncomfortable.
I don’t suffer from stress. I enjoy every minute of every day, no matter what I’m experiencing. I don’t worry about what’s happening in the world. Everything goes as it goes, and that’s okay.
Now back to our original principles.
Everything is going the way it goes, and that’s okay.
Be gently present, touch everything lightly or not at all, as you are a part of everything already. What does that mean?
The world has a natural flow. It’s going the way it’s supposed to go. Observe dispassionately. You’re already part of everything, there’s nothing you need to do.
Meddling in every event is unnecessary.
Stop labeling everything. Just sit and watch. Let everything be the way it is. You are already part of everything, getting further involved isn’t necessary.
The world is a mirror of you. What you see around you is a reflection of what is already within you. You are projecting your own thoughts and beliefs onto the world around you. You make everything around you worse by getting involved because you think you have to fix everything. If you believe death is a bad thing, then you will look around you at someone dying and think, oh isn’t that terrible. If someone says what you believe to be an unkind word to you, you think, how terrible, because you believe people shouldn’t treat you that way. But death isn’t bad, and people have a right to their feelings about you, even if you disagree with them. But you are seeing those things as bad because of a belief you have superimposed over the situation.
Everything that exists has a right to exist. Everything that happens has a right to happen. I don’t need to comment on everything, pass judgment on everything or get involved in everything. I can simply observe things as they happen, keep my hands off, and let it be. I am a part of everything, and a part of everything is in me. I am already a part of everything without ever having to comment or get involved.
Many people say, this is just apathy. On the contrary. I’m not saying I don’t care about what’s going on around me. But I recognize it’s not necessarily the right thing for me to try and fix it. When we interfere in the natural progression of the world as it’s trying to restore homeostasis, that can actually be counterproductive.
Sometimes people say, “Well, if I take this attitude, I would just sit and do nothing all the time.” Well, if that’s what you want to do, I’m all for it. But what this way of thinking actually does is free you to act on your truth, instead of acting on somebody else’s. For instance, if I’m out buying myself some lunch and I see a hungry person, I might feel like buying them some too, so I do. But that doesn’t mean I need to try and coerce all the power structures of the world to give people more food. The person who feels the need should act on their feeling. It’s not a realistic expectation to expect others to live by my truth. I’m responsible for my own actions, not anybody else’s.
Someone else might say, “I’m not giving that homeless person anything, they need to get a job.” Once again, not my place to have that expectation. I’m not responsible for whether the homeless person gets a job. I felt like sharing my food, so I did. No expectations. By the same token, if I don’t feel like sharing it, that’s okay too. Everything goes as it goes.
I’m touching the situation lightly. Not coercing anyone, having no expectations. Going with the flow. Accepting that everything’s always right. It’s always wonderful.
You may say, “If I don’t need to get involved, then why give the hungry person food?” Do what you do only if you can do it without feeling coerced. If you are doing it out of some idea that it’s your duty, that’s a wrong motivation. If you feel constrained by society’s rules, that’s not a good reason. Do it because it flows naturally out of your feeling in the situation. Do it only if you are touching it lightly. If it feels difficult or gives you any stress, then don’t do it. Because we know that stressful thoughts are untrue thoughts.
Always question your thoughts. If you feel any stress about doing a particular thing, it’s not the right thing to do. Stress only happens because you have cognitive dissonance. Because what you think and believe is in conflict with the way things really are. Feeling stressed is an indicator that you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing.
When you have a stressful thought, use your imagination for a moment, and try to imagine what you could do that would give you the biggest feeing of relief. Your emotions exist to guide you to do what’s right for you.
Back to the situation with you, your spouse, and being late for your meeting. Feeling stressed is an indicator that you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. So, let’s identify all the stressful thoughts in this scenario.
Thinking that your spouse should have set the clock makes you feel stressed because you think they should have known better and this shows that they really didn’t care about your needs. If that is an unpleasant thought, it’s not true.
Thinking about losing your job makes you stressed. Why? Because there is an underlying belief that this would be a bad thing. That’s not true either. There’s no possible way you could know whether it’s a bad thing or not. If you didn’t have that job, you might find something a lot better to do.
Thinking that being late makes you look bad might also make you feel stressed. But only because you have an underlying belief that what other people think of you really matters. This thought is also not true.
So, you see, everything you are thinking and believing in this situation is not true. That’s why you’re feeling uncomfortable. Your unconscious mind KNOWS these things aren’t true, and yet consciously you are trying to act is if they are. No wonder you’re stressed.
What if you just let everything be the way it is. Simple enough. No trying to manipulate the situation. No trying to get others to do what you want. No trying to manage all the different balls in the air. No expecting other people to read your mind. No trying to blame yourself or others. No one is wrong. The situation is not wrong. Only your thoughts about it are not serving you.
You might think, “Well, if I don’t try to manage everything, people will all just do what they want.”
This is just as it should be.
Whether it “should” be that way or not, this is just the way things are. People always do what they want.
You know from experience that people don’t like to be told what to do. Certainly, you don’t. People don’t like to get advice, be told they’re making a mistake, or that they’re going to ruin their lives. When you’ve tried to correct people in the past, how has that gone for you? It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because you’re not supposed to be doing it. People learn best from experience. Since they’re not going to believe you anyway when you try to tell them what you think they should do, why bother telling them? It’s better if they learn from experience.
“But I want to keep them from having to learn the hard way, you might say.”
Except that’s the only way to learn.
So, if you don’t let them work it out themselves, they’ll never learn. You will deprive them of an important educational experience by trying to fix everything for them.
But you say, “Some of these mistakes could have life or death consequences.”
Yes, they could. And that’s okay.
You know that old saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Well, the answer is NO, you’re not. No one gave you that responsibility. You’ve accepted a responsibility that isn’t yours, which makes you feel stressed. The idea that I’m my brother’s keeper, that idea makes me feel stressed, because there’s no way I can ever keep everyone else from making mistakes. That’s how I know this belief is wrong.
The thought of being released from being responsible for everyone else should feel like a huge relief to you. Go ahead, think about it. What would it feel like to know you don’t have to be responsible? You don’t have to be the one with all the right answers? That should feel very stress relieving.
That’s how you know it’s what you should do.
See how this works? It’s simple.
I’ve been using these principles most of my life, and now, at age 59, I can tell you, I am happy all day, every day, no matter what my circumstances. Because I have realized that the random thoughts that pass through my head aren’t reality. And if I believe them, I’ll suffer.
The transcendent mystery is that everything is exactly as it should be, all the time.
How do you know that people are supposed to eat mashed potatoes?
Because they do.
How do you know that people are not supposed to eat rocks?
Because they don’t.
It’s that simple.
Things that aren’t supposed to happen don’t happen because they’re not possible.
There is always a way to look at things so that you don’t suffer.
A man comes up to me on the street, points a gun at me and says give me all your money. I say to him, no, I won’t let you take my money. That would be a crime, But I will freely give you all my money, because you obviously need it. No one would rob someone else unless they were in dire straits. I want you to have every dollar. And is there anything else I can do to help you? Can I buy you dinner? Do you need a ride somewhere? Is there something else you need help with? How about just sitting down to talk over a cup of coffee?
By choosing not to believe the thought that being robbed is a bad thing, or that this person is a bad person, I don’t feel stressed and I’m able to calmly deal with the situation. I’m also able to approach the situation without occupying the role of victim.
“But I can’t give him all my money,” you might say. “Then I won’t be able to pay my rent.” Well, you don’t know for sure you won’t be able to. You never know what will transpire to take care of that situation. And anyway, you can freely give it and feel good, or let him take it and feel bad. You’re the one who gets to decide if this is a tragedy or not.
If you believe it is a tragedy, then you’re going to feel bad. You’re going to feel forced, coerced, violated, imposed upon, victimized. That doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good because it isn’t true. Nobody can harm you but yourself. Only your own thoughts can cause you stress. You have a belief that you are entitled to that money, that it’s yours, nobody else should have it. So, when someone wants to take it, you feel stressed. But it’s not true that you’re entitled to it. The person who’s entitled to it is the person that needs it the most. In this particular moment, that may not be you.
“But I don’t want to share with everybody else. What’s mine is mine. You said nobody is ever wrong. Well, I want my stuff, and that’s not wrong.”
True, it’s not wrong, but it’s just not reality. The reality is, someone’s going to take your money, and you’ll feel bad, or you can freely give it, and feel good. Why not choose thoughts that make you feel good?
Remember, reality is a hard taskmaster. You don’t get to choose what reality is. You only get to choose how you react. You can believe all day long that you want that stuff. And all day long, reality will deny it to you. And you keep hitting your head against that brick wall, over and over. Don’t you want to stop suffering?
It’s not a matter of what’s right. It’s a matter of what’s real. You cannot change reality. And as long as you keep trying to change it, you will suffer.
As much as you want reality to be different, it’s not. Period. When you change your mind, and stop labeling reality as bad, you will stop feeling negatively about those things.
Once I was trying to fix my washer. Something was wrong with it and the water wasn’t emptying correctly. It wasn’t well lit in the laundry room. I pulled out my washer to look behind it and I saw this long, black thing behind the washer. A snake! I was so alarmed. I screamed and ran to the other side of the room. I looked for something to hit the snake with. I finally found a crowbar. I crept up to the washer slowly, shaking and quivering. I decided I couldn’t see well enough to take aim accurately, so picked up a flashlight. When I shined the flashlight behind the washer, guess what? It wasn’t a snake at all. It was just the long black hose that connects the washer to the water drain. I had never looked back there before, so I didn’t realize that’s what the hose looked like. It looked so much like a snake! But when I shined the light on it and saw it for what it was, after that I could never see it as a snake again. Even if at a later time when I saw the hose again, I would never again be able to believe it was a snake.
When you truly see reality for what it is, you’ll never see things the same way again.
That’s the transcendent mystery.
Right now, you’re seeing reality as a snake. Everything’s bad, nothing’s the way it should be, everything’s stressful. You may say, I can never see all life events as good and right. Keep working on it, because when you do, nothing will ever be stressful again. It will be impossible to feel stressed once you see just how truly right everything is. When you stop trying to control a reality you cannot and will not ever be able to control, everything will be okay.
It’s wonderfully freeing, this unhindered feeling of not being constrained. Realizing that you cannot be harmed by anything except your own thoughts.
Your beliefs create your world.
“If my beliefs create reality, then I should be able to create more money, better health, a more fulfilling relationship,” you say.
I did not say your beliefs create reality. Reality does what it wants. You create your world by creating a story that you believe. You are in control of that story, but not reality. You can either create a story that’s not stressful or create one that is.
Today there is a big “create your own reality” craze. Change your thoughts and you’ll change your life. There is some truth to that. But not in the way it’s being represented. You can’t change your thoughts and suddenly get everything you want. But you can change your thoughts so that everything you’ve got makes you happy.
In my world, everything happens just as it should. I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen because whatever happens is okay. I’m not responsible for what other people think or do. I’m especially not responsible for what they think of me. I’m not trying to please anyone. What you think of me is irrelevant. So, I’m never worried about how I might look to you. And that makes things a whole lot easier.
I’m writing this book because it pleases me to do so. Because I feel I have something important to say. When I started writing it, I was trying to decide on the best format. I was thinking well, maybe if I write it this way it would be pleasing to this group of people, or if I write it that way, it might be more understandable to that group over there. And then I said no. I’m not writing this to please you, although it is my wish that it does help you. It only has to please me, only has to make sense to me. It’s meeting my need. And I stopped worrying about how to write it or what it might look like to you. That’s irrelevant.
If you read this and judge it to be imperfect, well frankly, that’s your issue, not mine. Because what we see is a projection of what’s in our unconscious. If you are a person who believes imperfection is everywhere, that’s what you’re going to project onto everyone and everything around you.
I believe that everything that happens is happening exactly when and where it should. And that’s what I project onto everyone and everything around me. So, there’s no stress, no worry, no trying to change reality. There’s just living and loving and letting things be the way they are. And it’s wonderful.
Can you see that when you judge something to be imperfect, you are putting a label on a neutral event? Just like naming the cup. By naming it, you limit what it can be. So, don’t label. Don’t make things right or wrong. Don’t make people good or bad. Things are not anybody’s fault. Remain in a neutral position.
Practice remaining neutral. Go about your day and instead of labeling events, simply observe them without judgment. “Oh, that man pulled into the parking spot I was getting ready to park in. Isn’t that interesting?” Instead of, “That creep got my parking spot.” Well, it wasn’t your spot, and he wasn’t a creep. Just a person pulling into a parking spot. Labeling the spot as yours is assigning it a value that only existed in your mind. Not in reality. “Oh, my spouse isn’t happy with me and wants to leave. I can see that. That’s okay.” Instead of, “I’m going to die without you.” Or “You owe me more than that.” Well, you aren’t going to die, and nobody owes you anything. That’s reality.
We somehow think there’s something wrong with remaining neutral and not labeling. Why do we have to assign a value judgment to everything and everyone? It serves no useful purpose, except to give us an erroneous sense of our own importance,
I recently had a conversation with someone who wanted to write a message to his brothers and sisters on Facebook. He doesn’t believe in a god (for the record, neither do I) and he wanted to write to his brothers and sisters explaining why religion is harmful. I said, why? You’ve already had this conversation over the years and you know how it will be received, so why bring it up again? The only possible reason would be that you have to be right. Well, that’s exactly how they feel too. If both of you have to be right, no progress will ever be made. And why do you need to change them? Just be happy with your own beliefs and let them be happy with theirs. He said yes, but god is not reality. I said true, but their beliefs are their reality. They must discover for themselves that their story is not true. You can’t do that for them, it’s not your task. Taking on a task that is not yours only causes you stress and suffering.
Remaining fluid rather than rigid is so important. Visualize the events of your life as water flowing in a stream. It looks like something you can touch. But you put your hand down into the stream and the drops of water that have joined together to make the stream flow through your fingers effortlessly. This is how you can approach the events of your life. You touch them lightly as they flow through without impeding their progress. Because ultimately, you can’t, even if you tried. Can you hold back the stream with your hand? Everything just flows on. Your stress comes from believing that you have a chance, any chance at all, to hold back the stream.
When you are experiencing stress, realize that you are trying to hold back the stream. You have tried to label an event, and you have attached to the story around that event. As long as you try to hold onto that label, it’s like you are being carried downstream through dangerous waters because you refuse to let go of a log that’s carrying you toward the edge of a cliff. You were sitting in shallow water, letting the water flow past you. But you became afraid, and so grabbed onto a log that was floating past. As long as you remain attached, you will be carried to your death. But let go of the label that’s dragging you. Let the water flow past you. Hold everything lightly, or not at all.
Every being is enough in their own way.
Why do we persist at having expectations of others and ourselves that are unrealistic?
In our evolutionary past, we thought that our safety and security depended on being able to predict others’ behavior. We thought that if we could guess what others were going to do, we could avoid disaster. To a certain extent that was true. But as humans, we have a habit of jumping to conclusions. We have a habit of basing our conclusions about others on our ourselves. It’s called projection. We believe that if we think or do something, others must think or do the same thing, or have the same motivation. That belief is often wrong. It helps us quickly size up a situation and make an instant decision. And in dangerous situations, this ability might make sense. But in our normal day-to-day lives, it wreaks havoc on our relationships.
The golden rule is a perfect example of projection. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This teaching assumes that we all want the same things. We make the assumption that if we want something to be a certain way, that’s how everyone should want it. For example, if you go to a party, you might like people you don’t know to approach you and make conversation. But a person with social anxiety does NOT want that. But you, seeing someone standing alone, go up and try to talk to them, and they quickly excuse themselves because they aren’t comfortable. Then you might judge them to be cold and unfriendly, or even stuck up, because you are projecting your idea of what people should want onto others. Or, perhaps you believe that all people should want gainful employment, so if someone doesn’t work, you judge them to be lazy, because you are projecting your world view onto everyone else. You think they should want work, so you offer to help them find a job, not realizing they don’t want the same things you want. You should not necessarily do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Projection also causes us to see others through our own rose colored glasses, so to speak. We make all kinds of attributions to other people that are possibly not warranted.
Let’s go back to our original example, when you got mad at your spouse for not setting the alarm clock. So, you knew you needed to be at work on time the next day, and from your past experience, you knew that your spouse is usually the one that sets the alarm clock. You predicted that if you told him/her that you needed to get up earlier, he/she would take it upon him/herself to set the clock. Except you don’t realize that your spouse has made a conscious choice in his/her life to let other people solve their own problems and not make assumptions. So, it never occurred to your spouse that you were assuming that he/she would set the clock. Your spouse thought, and rightly so, that if you wanted the clock changed, you would set it yourself, or at least verbally state your desire for her to set it.
In addition, you have very high expectations of yourself. It disappoints you when you don’t perform the way you think you should. So, when your spouse doesn’t perform the way you think he/she should, you project that disappointment onto him/her.
Except the disappointment is really your own disappointment in yourself. It has nothing to do with your spouse. Yet your spouse gets the brunt of your displeasure directed at him/her.
Now, seeing how hard it is for you to predict the behavior of just the one person you live with, how much harder is it to constantly, all day long, try to predict the behavior of all other humans you come in contact with? It’s impossible. You will constantly be disappointed. Unless you treat each event as a neutral event, with no right or wrong, and unless you realize that no matter what happens, it’s okay.
Every being is enough in their own way, including you.
Realize that when you are unhappy with another person, with what they’ve said or done, you’re projecting your own disappointment with yourself onto them. It’s not fair to them. They have no idea what you’re doing.
But more importantly, there’s no reason to be disappointed with yourself. Because you are also enough, just the way you are.
That means your boss’s expectation that you’re going to be on time to work, well, that’s a little unrealistic. He can ask you to be on time, but he should realize that sometimes people are going to be late because circumstances happen to prevent it. But, since you can’t control what your boss does, all you can do is control your reaction to it. Realize beforehand that he might be upset, and be okay with that. Don’t try to make him wrong and you right, or him right and you wrong. It’s just the way things are. You’re late. Of course, it’s good to try and not be late. But that’s over and done with. Remember, the past is insignificant.
Go to work. Do your best. If it makes your boss feel better, apologize. But don’t be disappointed in yourself. Things don’t always go according to planned. Things are the way they are, and that’s okay. People are going to get upset at you from time to time, and that’s okay too. Do your best to make things as good as they can be, and that’s good enough.
I know you want people to cut you some slack in life, right? You want people to understand you, make allowances for you, treat you with compassion, kindness and empathy. Why wouldn’t you try to do the same for them as well?
You’ll be much more able to cut others some slack if you cut yourself some first.
Everyone is okay just the way they are.
That means, all the things you think you’d like to change about your spouse, or child, or mother, or friend, well, those things don’t really need to change. What other people do in their lives is not your business. No one should be expected to change to please you.
After all, you don’t really want to change, right? Then why would you expect others to?
It’s really so simple.
Everything goes as it goes. Things are they way they are. People do what they do. You don’t need to change that.
Have you stopped to think that one of the reasons people do so much acting out is because of unrealistic expectations placed on them by the rest of the world? And they are, for some reason, unable to ignore those expectations and just be themselves?
I know, I know. You have trouble accepting people as they are because you feel they’ve hurt you. Well, back to our example about the alarm clock. Your spouse didn’t really do anything to hurt you. It was your own thoughts and beliefs hurting you. It was this story you’ve been believing that’s been hurting you. Once you see the story for what it is, like the snake, you’ll never be able to feel hurt by that person again.
You have the power to make everything in your life all right again, by changing the story you believe about your life. By changing the labels. Or by not using labels are all.
It’s your choice. I’m not telling you that you have to do this. But wouldn’t you rather not suffer? If your story is making you suffer, why would you still cling to it?
Always take a neutral position. Remain fluid and flexible, not rigid.
The tree that can bend will not be broken by the wind.
Similarly, the more you insist on things being a certain way, the more you will suffer. Reality always has its way, and you can’t change that.
Reality is the only god. Reality is always in control. And yet, because you have the ability to change your story, you have the ability to withstand any reality. Fighting against it only harms you.
You have the ability to feel better about life. You have the ability to make a choice that gives you relief. Are you feeling depressed and anxious? Close your eyes and sit quietly. Turn inward. If you could do absolutely anything to make yourself feel better, what would it be? And you can’t say I’d make my spouse act this way or that way, or make my boss give me a better job or make there be no war. The choice you make to change something that will make you feel better has to be something YOU can do, not something you expect others to do.
So again, what could you do to give yourself a feeling of relief? Let’s go back again to our alarm clock example. What choices do you have to make so you’ll feel better?
You probably feel negatively toward your spouse, toward your employer, and toward yourself. You probably want to avoid your spouse and your job. Unfortunately, you can’t avoid yourself, but people do try by staying busy and avoiding spending time deeply considering their own part in their own unhappiness. Addiction is one of the ways people avoid themselves. Even if you’re not actually addicted, you can still use, alcohol, drugs, food, television, video games, shopping, sex, cleaning the house, or any other activity to distract you from having to acknowledge your own part in your unhappiness.
So, you can skip town, avoid your spouse, call in sick to work, quit your job altogether, and go get drunk. Those are all legitimate options. And they might give you a feeling of relief in the short term. But my guess is, you don’t want to make those permanent solutions. Try them for a while. See if it helps. You might actually find that you feel relieved to be alone, relieved to not have to go to that job you hated, and relieved to be out from under the expectations of others. You might find someone else to be with, or you might find other things to do that are more nurturing to you. You might find that you no longer care about the expectations of others.
If you still feel bad, how else could you change your thinking? Perhaps you don’t want to leave your spouse. Then the only way to deal with differences between you and your spouse it not to label the differences as bad. To realize your spouse has a right to live their life the way they want and changing them isn’t your job. Perhaps you realize you need to take responsibility for taking care of yourself and don’t expect your spouse to do it. Perhaps you still feel you don’t want to go into work when your boss expects you to, but you realize he has a right to ask you to do that. So, you decide on a daily basis if you want to go there or not and let the chips fall where they may. Remember, everything goes as it goes, and that’s okay. Losing your job is okay. Whether you leave your spouse or stay, leave your job or stay, it doesn’t matter either way. Because whichever way it works out, that’s the way it was supposed to be.
If you were meant to be with your spouse, you’ll find a way to adjust your thinking. If not, then it wasn’t meant to be. Don’t judge one option as better than the other. There is no better or worse, just reality. If you like your job, but just don’t like the expectations of your boss, you’ll find a way to adjust your thinking, or else it wasn’t meant to be. There’s no right or wrong to it, just you doing what gives you a feeling of relief.
How about just taking some time to be alone with yourself? Being alone is actually a very nurturing experience. If you’re not willing to be alone with yourself, ask yourself why. Could it be that you might be forced to actually look at and acknowledge that you are your own problem and not anyone else? What’s wrong with admitting that? It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It means you’re human. No one’s blaming you for being human.
Maybe you do feel blamed by others. Once again, could this be you projecting your own inadequate feelings onto others? Is it really true that others have blamed you? Have they said so? If not, how do you know? It might just be your assumption that they’re blaming you. Let’s say that someone took an XACT-o knife and cut that thought out of your mind so you couldn’t think it. Who would you be then?
I once contracted a very serious medical condition and ended up hospitalized, sedated and on a ventilator. My heart stopped twice and I was resuscitated twice. I eventually got better, woke up, and was released from the hospital. But I have no memory of anything that happened. My memory stops the day I went into the hospital and starts again the day I got out. It’s like someone cut those memories out of my brain.
So, what if someone did that with the thought you’re having? The thought that others blame you for something. What if that thought was not available for you to think? If you couldn’t think that thought, how would you behave? Maybe you feel blamed by your spouse because you yelled at him/her, or blamed by your boss for being late, or you blame yourself because you didn’t set the alarm clock yourself. What if you couldn’t think those thoughts?
You’d probably just go on with your life.
So, it’s not the situation that’s causing you problems, it’s your thoughts.
And you can drop those thoughts as easily as you took them up.
Or to be more precise, those thoughts will drop you, as soon as you recognize that they’re not real. Just like the snake.
What if someone has actually told you that they blame you? You still have the option of labeling their opinion as insignificant. They have a right to believe anything they want, but that doesn’t mean you are responsible for it. They also have the option of labeling whatever they blame you for as insignificant, but they are choosing to make it an issue and believe it is significant. They have they same option you do to take responsibility for their happiness. So let them. Walk away from the situation and get a feeling of relief from knowing you don’t have to change their mind, and you don’t have to perform according to their expectations. It’s your life.
For me, I get a feeling of relief when I realize that I’m not responsible for the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of others. I’m not responsible for making sure everything always goes the way it’s supposed to. I’m not responsible for reality, just for what I think and believe about it. I get a feeling of relief when I realize that if something isn’t working for me, I have the right to make changes to my life. Not changes to other people, just changes to the things that I can control.
There are no problems, just things the way they are.
If you really believed that, you’d have absolutely no stress.
Why can’t you believe that?
Because you’ve been taught (programmed) that everything is a problem to be solved. That you shouldn’t accept things the way they are. That you have to try and change everything for what you (or someone else) perceives is the better way.
Is there really a better way?
If there WAS a better way, things would be that way. Because there is homeostasis in our universe. It’s just like when I asked you why people don’t eat rocks. They don’t because it’s not a better way.
Why is there war? Because at the present time, there’s not a better way. Someday there may be. But right now, there’s not.
You say, yes there is. People could talk about their problems instead of fight.
Obviously, if that was a better way, that’s what people would do. But at the present time, in our present circumstances, it doesn’t seem to be better. Idealistically, we THINK it’s better. But in reality, it’s not. If it was, it would be happening.
But you say “No, no, people don’t always do what is best.” Yes, they do. Always.
Every person is always doing their best all the time. You may not think they are. But as soon as you make that judgment, you’re in somebody else’s business. You don’t have the right to decide what’s best for someone else.
If someone doesn’t want to be a part of war, they should leave the place where the war is. Don’t participate. But don’t tell someone else what they should or shouldn’t be doing.
You’re not your brother’s keeper.
But you may say, “If those of us who don’t believe in war don’t stand up to those that do, then those who do believe in it will just enslave the whole world.”
Maybe they would. But that would be part of an evolution to a better tomorrow.
We are always evolving. Evolution does not take place backwards. Nobody ever de-evolves. You don’t have to worry that the world is going to fall into ruin. Remember, the principle of natural selection says that only those traits that help the species survive get passed on. So whatever direction we are heading, it is necessary. You may not understand right now why it’s necessary, but it is.
Evolution is often messy and painful. Progress is never easy.
Everybody sitting down and talking would be too easy. It seems to you that this would be the enlightened, evolved thing to do. But if it was, it would be happening.
When the warmakers see that it’s to their advantage, it will happen. And not a moment before.
So, the same things apply to you in your life. When you see that your stress and suffering are caused by your own thoughts, you’ll have no incentive to keep believing them. Oh, you may still have those thoughts. They may still, from time to time, float through your mind. You can’t stop that. But just because the thoughts present themselves, that doesn’t mean you have to believe them. Realize that your mind is always playing this movie in your head, and it’s just that, a movie. Do you believe that every movie you see is real? No, of course, you know that it’s just a story. As soon as you realize that your thoughts are just a story, a story you can choose to believe or not, then you have the power to dismiss those thoughts. In fact, the thoughts become like raindrops that hit your raincoat and slide off without getting you wet. They just don’t affect you anymore.
Because this evolution happens in different ways and at different times for everyone, you can’t have the expectation that others should be doing this on your time schedule. No standard that you set for yourself should ever be held up as a standard for everyone. You don’t know what that person is going to have to experience before they are ready to accept those truths. In fact, they may never accept them. So, if you are waiting for someone else to change before you’re going to be happy, well, you can see how futile that is.
Everyone is always doing their best all the time. Which means, you don’t need to correct them or change them. No one can do better until they’re ready.
People are always trying to prevent disaster. Except sometimes disaster is necessary for change to happen. In our evolutionary past, there have been many cataclysmic events. The dinosaurs roamed the earth for years. Then some disaster happened that brought their lives to an end, and other species were able to evolve and rise up. Perhaps human beings would never have evolved unless the dinosaurs and their environment came to an end. We mourn when people and civilizations and species become extinct. But unless we allow things to collapse, we’ll never know what greater civilization might rise up in its place. We mustn’t be afraid to let things go as they go.
So let’s cut to the chase and tackle some of the big questions.
Is there a God?
Should you be trying to do what God expects of you?
What DOES God expect of you?
There are so many ways to approach this problem.
Let’s suppose for a moment that you DO want to try and do what God expects of you. How do you know what that is?
Since God does not come down and speak to everyone with a booming voice from the sky, how do you know what he/she wants? Especially when there are so many churches that claim to be speaking for God, and they all teach something different.
Some teach you are sinning if you dance. Others have dance as a part of their worship.
Some teach you are sinning if you drink alcohol. Others drink alcohol freely.
Some teach that you are sinning if you have more than one wife. Others say you can have as many as you want.
And the list goes on and on.
Some say, “Yes, God does speak to us all, in our hearts.” Some believe the Holy Spirit inhabits each person and bears witness to what God wants us to do.
But if we believe this, it is illogical. Because many good intentioned people believe God has spoken to them, but their beliefs are totally different from yours. If God was speaking to them all, he wouldn’t tell one person it’s a sin to dance and tell another one it’s perfectly okay. He’d tell everyone the same thing.
You would think that if there was a God, he/she would have done a better job of making sure that everyone knew what he/she expected. We really cannot rely on the church or other human beings, for that matter, to tell us accurately what God wants of us, because they can’t agree on anything.
That leaves it up to the individual to decide for themselves.
If everyone is free to decide for themselves, which is as it should be, then you are free to decide there is a god or there is not.
The idea that there is some perfect standard we are all supposed to try and attain and if we don’t attain it, we are not acceptable, is ludicrous. We’ve already established through our previous discussion that everyone is always doing their best all the time, and that’s the best they can do. To expect more makes no sense at all.
The whole idea that we need to sacrifice something like bulls or goats, or a man in Jesus’ case, to absolve us of our sins is magical thinking and is very primitive in nature. This is what our cave man ancestors used to believe. The idea that blood has some kind of magical power to transform us is quite a pagan idea. Our ancient ancestors realized there were things in the world they couldn’t control, and instead of accepting that they couldn’t control those things, they tried to maintain some control by sacrificing to the gods.
The purpose of this book is to learn to accept reality. To realize that reality is not a bad thing, that there is no one right way, and that we don’t need to change people to make them live up to some impossible standard.
We don’t need absolution.
It follows then that there is no standard we need to live up to.
It’s okay that we don’t all agree. To expect us all to agree would be like expecting children to think and behave like adults. It’s not possible. We are all on different places along the path, different stages of development. No good parent expects their child to have adult thought processes and reasoning. Why would we expect that of each other? We are all at different evolutionary milestones.
If there were a god, and he/she were all-knowing, he/she would know that expecting everyone to adhere to the same standards is not fair and equitable. This would be like a parent with three children of differing ages expecting them all to be capable of the same things. If your ten-year-old throws food against the wall, some consequences might be in order. But expecting your one-year-old to understand that this is not acceptable would be unfair. You wouldn’t provide the same consequences for both of them.
And yet, this is what our supposed god does. If you don’t accept his ways, you are lost, despite the fact that you don’t understand the reason for his ways. You must jump through hoops to prove you are acceptable to him, and those hoops include things that are not consistent with reality, such as believing blood has some magical power.
Why should we need a sacrifice to absolve us when we do something “wrong”? Shouldn’t saying we’re sorry be enough? Why do we have to “prove” our love? No good parent would make his child provide evidence of his love. No good parent would lock his child out of the house. But if we don’t do what is acceptable to God, he/she will lock us out of heaven for all eternity. That’s not the kind of parent I want to be. That’s not the kind of god I will ever believe in.
There is ample evidence that human beings created gods that served their own purposes. But as I said previously, you have the right to make up any story for your life that you want. If you want to make up a god as part of that story, I certainly can’t stop you. But at least make one that is loving and kind and makes sense. Not the jealous, vengeful, authoritarian god portrayed by most religions today.
If you must believe in a god, religion or church, the only one I can recommend is the Unitarian Universalist Church. Because there you will be allowed to make your own choices and follow your own path without coercion. Even atheists are welcome there.
As an interesting side note, I recently read an article in which Pope Francis stated that even atheists will go to heaven, if they are good, kind people and live a good life.(2) So, my question then is, what is the need for a Savior? If God has the ability to bend the rules to let in people who don’t even believe in him, what does that say about the rules to begin with? And how unfair is that to people who strived all their lives to live by those rules because they believed they couldn’t get in unless they did? If you can disregard the rules and still go to heaven, the rules are unnecessary.
Rules are like the label we put on the cup. Remember the cup from our previous illustration? Rules are used to label people as good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable. This is not a constructive thing to do and is certainly not loving or kind. Just as the label placed on the cup limits our conception of what it can be, labeling people forces us to see them in categories that are not appropriate. There is no such thing as a bad person. Even Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, because he didn’t believe these labels had meaning.
This is usually where people start to object. They say, we need rules. If there were no rules, people would go around doing whatever they want. Precisely. That’s as it should be.
You might say, “Well, we need rules to keep people from killing each other, stealing, etc.”
Except they don’t. Rules don’t prevent anything. We’ve already got those rules, and how’s that working out? We have prisons filled with people who broke the rules. Rules and punishment don’t deter anyone from doing anything.
I’ve often heard it said, locks aren’t there to keep out criminals. Criminals will find a way to get into your house if they want to badly enough. Locks are there to keep honest people honest. I would submit that if you need a lock to keep you out of other people’s houses, you’re not an honest person to begin with.
If there’s anything our social experiment has proved, it’s that having rules doesn’t make people behave better.
I once heard Byron Katie say that she doesn’t live by rules because she doesn’t need them. I would have to agree. I don’t follow the speed limit because I fear getting a ticket. I follow it because it makes me safer. There have been times that I have exceeded the speed limit in an emergency because my safety demanded it in that situation. Most rules aren’t flexible. So, I don’t live by them.
I recently bought dinner for a homeless girl. We talked about her situation as we ate. She was looking for a job. I have a family member that works for Walmart and thought maybe I might suggest to him to put in a good word for her there. But she told me she was banned for life from Walmart for stealing food.
She knew about the local soup kitchen, but they only serve lunch. She knew about the local food pantries, but she didn’t have anywhere to store food or cook for that matter. She got food stamps, but when you have to buy convenience food, food stamps don’t go a long way. You always run out before the end of the month. Begging wasn’t beneath her, she had done that too. But sometimes there was simply no other option but to steal.
In this situation, I might have done exactly the same thing. When rules are inflexible.
If nobody’s wrong, and no matter what happens, everything’s okay, what do we do about people who commit crimes against others? Just let them go free?
I would have to say that from my perspective, there ARE no crimes. I don’t have the right to impose my standards of right and wrong on someone else.
“Yes, you say, but they have imposed their will on you by committing some crime against you.”
Perhaps so, but I can’t change another person, I can only change myself. If you spend your life trying to change other people, you will be sorely disappointed. And if you think that sending someone to prison is going to change them for the better, you should check out recidivism statistics from the Department of Corrections.
I would have to say that if some sort of action felt necessary, I would prefer the use of restorative justice rather than revenge or retribution-based justice.
The key idea of restorative justice is that “crime causes harm and justice should focus on repairing that harm.” (3)
But I’d like to go further than that. Crime is caused by harm. A person experiences harm and responds with crime as a way to protect himself from further harm.
So, our job is therefore to help a person feel safe so that he doesn’t feel the need to commit crime. How do we do that? This topic could be the subject of its own book. I’ll not attempt to cover all the ways this could be accomplished.
“In the Babemba tribe in Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he/she is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the “accused” individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy is recounted. All his/her positive attributes, good deeds, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. The tribal ceremony often lasts several days.
The tribe recognizes that the correction for non-integrous behavior is not punishment but love and the remembrance of identity. They believe a friend, coach, or teacher, is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it. They are not fooled by the mistakes you have made or the dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.” (3)
You might say, “Well, that won’t necessarily protect you from any harm he might still choose to do” No, but if you have a healthy understanding that everything that happens is okay, you won’t be bothered by what he may or may not do.
We could start preventing this harm first by making sure all prospective parents receive parenting education. It’s a sad commentary on our society that you have to study a manual and pass a test to get a driver’s license, but you don’t have to get any training at all in order to raise a child. This is perhaps the most important task we have to complete as human beings, and yet childhood is where the seeds of criminal behavior are sown. The way children are treated in their families, peer groups, schools and churches are where they learn to feel the humiliation and shame that drive their defensive behavior.
Second, we could make sure children get training in how to deal with painful feelings. This is also something we are never taught. Most of us who learned it did so accidentally, or by seeking out such information out of desperation to find change in our lives. This should be the basis of early childhood education, not reading and writing. Actual school work can come later.
Restorative justice should be the basis of all human relationships, and should be modeled in the family, school, church, and government. Children should know from experience that even when they make mistakes, their inherent worth and dignity will be affirmed, and their vulnerability will not be exploited.
Even as we provide this wonderful education at every level of our society, we must be prepared for the fact that every person is autonomous and can’t be forced to accept this way as best. Therefore, we should not have the expectation that everyone will follow this wonderful way. Back to our original discussion at the beginning of this book. We don’t have the right to force our values on anyone or expect others to agree with us. We must accept people as they are, whether we are comfortable with their choices or not.
If you keep working on yourself and your own emotional hang-ups, you can eventually get to the point where you are not bothered by the behavior of others. It then becomes much easier to be an affirming presence in the lives of others.
“If nobody’s ever wrong and everything’s okay the way it is, then why do anything? Doesn’t this encourage apathy?”
On the contrary. What most of us spend our lives doing is living the life someone else told us we should live. When we are released from the need to please others, when we no longer worry about the expectations of others, we are free to pursue our true lives, the lives we really want. And no one has the right to tell you what kind of life that is. Sitting under a tree all day long and meditating is just as valuable as working at a nine to five job. You get to choose. Few people choose to spend their lives doing nothing. But if you did, that’s okay. Why is it that certain people feel they need to make sure you live a certain way? Why do some people seem to have a vested interest in getting you to stop doing nothing? What business is it of theirs?
Keep your nose in your own business and out of other people’s. It’s none of your business what other people choose to do with their lives. As long as you are happy in yours, that’s all that matters. Unless the only thing that will make you happy is telling other people what to do.
I have had some people point out that in the act of writing this book, I am telling people what to do. On the contrary, I affirm your right to do what you want. This book is presented as information only. If whatever it is you are doing in your life is not satisfying, and you’re looking for something else, this information can help you. If you’re happy the way you are, that’s great. But my guess is, if you were happy the way you are, you wouldn’t be searching for something else.
Most people do experience periods of stress and suffering. I only wish to let people know that you don’t have to suffer. It’s not necessary, and there is a way to minimize the amount of suffering you experience. By letting go of your attachment to beliefs that are causing your suffering, you can be free.
Your suffering isn’t caused by the events of your life, no matter how terrible you think they are.
If that terrible thing hadn’t happened to you, you’d find something else to be stressed about. That’s what we do as humans. The past is over, it can no longer harm us. But we insist on dragging it along with us.
We can’t seem to accept that it’s okay to be committed to our own happiness. Being committed to your own happiness doesn’t mean you have to be an ass to everyone else. But you also shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to be happy, and about making choices designed to increase your happiness. You can make the choice not to give significance to your past.
I get up in the morning, and I do what I want to do. I try to choose what I’m going to do based on whether or not it will increase my happiness. Sometimes that means I do nothing. Sometimes it means I take a homeless girl to dinner. Sometimes it means I clean the house. Sometimes it means I visit a sick friend. None of these is more “right” than the other. I don’t do anything because I feel it’s my “duty.” There is no such thing as duty. Duty is an obligation forced upon you by someone else. Ask yourself what will make you feel good right now and do that.
And honestly, there are times when I don’t feel anything is necessary. I am constantly questioning whether or not I have started to accept a belief that is untrue. Usually if I’m feeling stressed, I’m experiencing that cognitive dissonance that tells me I’m believing an untrue thought. So I drop whatever belief is making me stressed. Even if it’s a tried and true belief that our society holds dear. There are no sacred thoughts or beliefs.
Should we protest against injustice? Or should we let things go on as they are, since everything that happens is okay?
I can’t pretend to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. For myself, I don’t see much value in protesting. People don’t change their minds because of other people yelling at them that they’re wrong. That just makes them more defensive. People change their minds because of personal experiences.
Like the person who is against being gay, until they make friends with a gay person without knowing they’re gay. Then when they find out, they are surprised by what a nice, decent person he/she is. And they change their mind about what being gay means.
Every day I watch some news. Some on cable, some on Facebook, some in print. And honestly, looking at these news sources is the only way I have of knowing about some of these current events. All those things in the news, they are not part of my daily life. I don’t experience them. Honestly, if there was no television or computers, I’d go on living my life every day, never knowing about any of this. And I’d be happy.
Which just goes to show that none of these things can affect my happiness if I don’t let them. I don’t find myself being troubled about current events anymore. Because honestly, there’s isn’t much I can do about any of it. I do vote, because that’s something I can do. If there’s a way for me to personally interact with someone that CAN actually do something, I think that’s the best way. But to me, marching around in a crowd with angry signs and yelling angry words is not a “personal” interaction, and only makes people dig in their heels to oppose you.
When you’ve done everything you can do, you can feel satisfied with that. Remember that reality always wins. You don’t control reality. It’s not your job to fix everything. You can’t. You don’t have to feel guilty about that.
It’s every person’s responsibility to learn to be happy with their own life. As we’ve learned, it’s not our circumstances that make us unhappy, it’s our beliefs about our circumstances. In that context, it doesn’t matter what happens in the world. We can still be happy. If someone isn’t happy with their life, it’s their responsibility to adjust their thinking so they CAN be happy. If you can’t be happy under difficult circumstances, you’ll never be happy when things are “right” because you’ll always find a reason to stress out about something.
I have learned that I can be happy under any circumstances.
“I bet you haven’t ever had anything bad happen to you, or else you couldn’t say you’re happy all the time.”
Let me describe my life to you, lest you believe this is true.
In 2005, my mother passed away from the side effects of cancer treatment. This was a premature death that happened because she was pretty much screwed by the medical system.
In 2007, I separated from and divorced my first husband.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, with both kidney damage and eye damage due to being undiagnosed for 15 years. This is what happens when you have no insurance.
In 2011 I divorced my 2nd husband.
In 2012 my grandmother died from total failure on the part of the medical system to understand her problem. She basically died from starvation and an overdose of medication. She didn’t have to die when she did.
Also, in 2012 I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease with sciatica. There can be a lot of pain associated with this condition. As a result, I had to stop working at a traditional “job”.
Since that time, my health has progressively declined. When I found out I had chronic kidney disease, I was in stage 3 of a 5-stage model that ends in total renal failure and dialysis. I am now in stage 4.
In 2015 I suffered severe pancreatitis and sepsis and nearly died. I coded twice and was resuscitated twice.
Between 2016 and the present, my current husband had three brain surgeries to remove a brain tumor and 30 days of radiation treatments. At one point he was totally blind and couldn’t care for himself.
My ability to be physically active continues to decrease as my degenerative disc disease and chronic kidney disease progress.
I cannot work at a regular job due to my physical problems and am on disability.
The place where my husband and I live is a housing project for people over 62 years of age. I am only 59. So, if something happens to my husband, I will be homeless because they won’t let me stay here if I’m not 62.
However, none of this is distressing to me. No matter what happens, I know everything will always be all right. Even being homeless would not be tragic. I’m prepared for it should it happen.
When I was about eight to ten years old, this thought planted itself firmly in my mind as if it had been placed there from some outside source. As a student of human behavior and brain functionality, I believe it was a thought that rose up from within my unconscious mind to protect me. I had a pretty dysfunctional family, and our minds do what they have to do to provide a firm, stable footing upon which to build a life. I needed to believe that life always turns out for the best, and so far, it always has.
How can experiencing divorce, death, unemployment and physical impairment be for the best? Everything is always for the best. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t keep happening.
We should always approach life as if it’s our teacher. Instead of moaning about what’s wrong, how can I learn something from it? How does it reveal to me something I didn’t know about myself?
Until I began to have all these physical problems, I didn’t realize how very profoundly stress affects our daily lives. I’d always felt that stressful situations really didn’t affect me. Now that my physical health is less stable, changes in stress level very definitely can be seen and felt in my body and mind. The only reason I didn’t notice the changes before was that my body was strong and these changes were easily absorbed and adjusted for. Now that my body is no longer able to easily adjust to them it’s quite apparent when stress is affecting me.
Even relatively minor stressful thoughts produce a noticeable physical affect on my body. They are especially evident in my digestive tract. When my body is dumping cortisol and/or adrenalin and other catecholamines into my blood stream because of stress, my digestive tract responds first by causing feelings of discomfort and digestive irregularity of different sorts. That’s my first indicator that I’m feeling real emotional distress. I then have to adjust my thinking to alleviate the stress.
In a way, this is a great gift. Because if I hadn’t experienced this reaction to stress, I might never have learned how we are all literally killing ourselves by the way we react to the events of our lives. We let stress rule our lives by attaching too much importance to how things turn out. We’re not fluid and flexible, we’re rigid in the way we approach everything.
How many of you experience irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, backaches, joint pain, insomnia, lowered resistance to infectious disease, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and more? These things are all ways our bodies have of trying to get our attention, to let us know we are not handling stress in a healthy way.
Accepting the transcendent mystery in our lives means accepting that these things have a purpose and when we no longer need them, they will disappear.
The events of our lives always propel us on to seek and find our highest good.
What is “our highest good?”
The particulars will be different for each person. But in general, taking life easy, accepting reality, not living to please others, and not stressing over whatever happens in our lives, because everything’s always for our good.
For you, that might mean quitting your high stress job and adopting a slower, less results-oriented lifestyle. It might mean ending a relationship. It might mean moving to a part of the country where it’s cheaper to live. It might mean engaging in activities that give you joy. It might mean going back to school. It might mean living in a tent somewhere or building a tiny house. It might mean selling everything you have so you can travel. It might mean you just sit somewhere everyday and breathe. It might mean you free the people in your life to go on and live theirs without the need to please you.
It might mean that a certain circumstance of your life propels you to discover your true calling.
It might mean you decide, finally, to live a life that is unconstrained and unhindered.
I highly recommend it.
I have learned that there is nothing that can happen that would be a tragedy.
I am not attached to any person, place or thing in my life. So, if they go away, that’s what was meant to be and I don’t stress about it.
Now, lest you think I don’t love or care about those in my life, you are wrong. But we have very strange ideas about what love is. Love is NOT following the people in your life around and cleaning up after them, making sure they do the right things, trying to prevent them from being unhappy or making “wrong” choices. Love is not giving them advice, making them feel like they have to please you, making sure they do what you want or expect. That’s not love, that’s a prison.
Loving someone is letting them know you are there for them if they want you to be, but not forcing them to be what you expect. Love is radical, unconditional acceptance. Love is also freedom from restraint. You are not loving someone if you try to make them conform to your idea of how to live. Love is being with someone you enjoy and reveling in their presence. That’s it. It’s enjoying them right now, this moment, not expecting them to be around forever, not expecting them to take care of you. Not expecting anything except the moment of joy you share right now.
When I wake up in the morning with my husband, I don’t take for granted that he’ll be there tomorrow. I enjoy him right now, this very morning. Then I go on to enjoy all the other things that are part of my day, because they may not be around tomorrow either. I fill myself up with all the good things life has to offer me today. And so, it really doesn’t matter if they’re around tomorrow or not. I’m well aware that he might not wake up tomorrow, and I’m fully prepared for that. I won’t mourn, I won’t grieve, I won’t be sorry. Because we enjoy each other fully every single day. There’s no way I could cram more of life into the minutes I have. So, I have no regrets, no matter what happens.
What if I thought he’d found another woman? I’d be okay with that. Really. No reason to grieve about that. I’ve had many wonderful moments with him, and if that’s what will make him happy, I’m all for it. Because I’m happy every moment of every day, whether he’s in it or not.
What if something happened to my children? I love them with all my heart, but if they were gone, it wouldn’t be much different than it is now. One of my sons I never get to see. The other I see about once a week. But during the times I don’t see them, it’s pretty much the same as if they were dead. I know that may sound strange to you. But think about it. When I’m not with them, they are a memory, part of the movie I play in my mind. Whether they are actually alive or not, the movie that plays in my head is the same. I think of them, I cherish the memories of them, I feel love for them. It doesn’t matter if they are physically in this world or not. I still feel the same.
We torture ourselves with thoughts of death. Death is not nearly as bad as we think it is.
We treat death as if we are a person who’s getting ready to go on a diet. We say, “Monday I’m going on a diet, so I better eat as much as I want now because I know I’m going to be deprived after this.” So, you stuff yourself. What good does that do you after you start on the diet? None at all, it’s just a psychological thing. If you think you’re going to be deprived, you want to stock up on what you’ll be missing.
Except, after you’re dead, you won’t know you’re deprived. So, what was the point of stocking up? And if you’re the one left behind after someone else dies, you still have the memories of what you stocked up on. How is that different from the memories you would have anyway?
When I am away from my son, I think of him and I smile. When he dies, I’ll think of him and I’ll smile. It’s all the same. Death won’t change that. My thoughts of him are a movie that plays in my head and comforts me, whether he’s alive or not. I can accept the comfort of these memories. Or I can mourn because there won’t be any more. But what point is there to this practice? It serves no useful purpose.
I often think of friends I knew in high school and what we used to do together. Thinking of those memories makes me smile. But I don’t sit around and mourn because I’m never going to see those people again. If I don’t do that for someone who’s still alive, why should I do that for someone who has died? It’s because we somehow see death as tragic, unnecessary, and painful. It doesn’t have to be approached that way.
Lots of things are painful. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t happen.
For some reason, we think love is some kind of feeling of “I can’t live without you.” It’s pretty tragic if that’s what we have to feel in order to be “in love.” That’s a desperate feeling. It’s like we somehow think we’re going to be deprived in the future, and we’re already mourning this deprivation. Except I’m never deprived. If I spend the afternoon with you and I really enjoy it and I have very warm feelings toward you, I don’t have to pin all my hopes on you as if without you I’m never going to have any more warm feelings. That’s almost using a person like you would a drug. It’s an addiction. I can’t live without you. I need another fix.
If the so-called “love” you feel for this person is the only thing in your life that gives you those warm feelings, my advice is to get a life. Every day of your life should be filled with warm feelings for everyone and everything you encounter. The only reason you feel so “desperate” to be with this person you love is because you aren’t encountering those warm feelings at any other time and under any other circumstance. So, you think you can’t live without this person.
I often call this kind of love that “oogly-googly” feeling. That feeling of euphoria which is created in your body by oxytocin and dopamine. That’s what people mean when they talk about being “in love.” They become desperate to hang onto the thing that they think gives them this high. Like a person who feels desperate to continue ingesting a drug that gives them a high. In this situation, oxytocin and dopamine are the drugs, and you think it’s the person you love giving you this high. But it’s not. You are giving yourself this high by the thoughts you believe about this person. Your thoughts form the basis for everything you feel. And by changing your thoughts, you can change the way you feel in any situation. You can get that euphoria anytime you want.
What this means is, if you lose that person, you don’t have to feel desperate or unhappy. You can have this euphoria any time, any day, whenever you want.
How can I express to you what it is like to be “in love” with life? When you’re in love with life, you’re not desperate for one particular person, place of thing, because EVERYTHING in your life gives you those warm feelings. The same rush of adrenalin I feel when I hear my husband say “I love you” is the same rush of adrenalin I feel when I walk out into the beautiful sunshine. It’s the same rush of adrenalin I feel when I accomplish a goal I had set for today. The pride I feel in his love is the same as the pride I feel for myself when I realize I’m a bright, intelligent, fun person. I feel good about myself, and that’s a rush. I feel good about myself no matter how others feel about me. I walk out into my day with a smile on my face and feel a rush of love for the paper boy that delivers my paper. Not just appreciation for what he does for me, but real love. I also feel love for that person who cuts me off in traffic or says something rude to me. Sure, there may be a momentary knee-jerk reaction of irritation, but it’s short-lived because I remind myself that this person is a mirror for me, and I don’t want my mirror to reflect negative feelings. I feel good! Therefore, everyone around me benefits from it, and I learn a lesson from the rude person. I learn that no one has the power to make me unhappy. So, I feel a rush of love for the jerk.
If some person, place, or thing in my life goes away, there are a million other things there to fill the space. How could I ever be lonely, sad or bored? Why would I ever mourn the loss of one thing, when there are so many others to fill their place? My life is a constant trek from one satisfying, fulfilling experience to the next.
When someone in my life is gone, I will honor them by remembering them fondly. But I will not mourn, because mourning isn’t for the other person, it’s for the mourner. I never feel sorry for myself. It’s not possible for me. I’m not honoring the other person by carrying on, sobbing, acting crazy, withdrawing, becoming psychotic, or any other manifestation of grief. I’m not honoring them and I’m not helping myself.
Remember our illustration of beating your head against a wall? Mourning is like that. You won’t change reality, and you only hurt yourself. Life leaves you no choice but to go on and fill your time with other things that make you happy. If you choose to mourn, that’s self-inflicted harm.
When my mother and grandmother died, I got up the next morning and did the same things I do every day. I went on with my life. I never cried, mourned or grieved, and I haven’t until this day. That’s because there’s no point to it. Death is a part of an ancient cycle of life which we are privileged to participate in. There are certain landmark events which we are all take part in. Birth, graduation, marriage, birth of a child, and death. These are the events we acknowledge and pay tribute to. But the day after a marriage, a birth or a graduation, we don’t get up and mourn that our former life is over. We get up and go on with our new lives. We have to do the same thing with death.
Now of course, you don’t “have” to do anything. You can choose to mourn. But once again, does that feel good? Then why do it?
Feel the love you have for that person who is gone. Did they love you? Feel that love in your heart. It still feels good. Don’t negate those good feelings by mourning and grieving.
Do whatever you have to do. If you must spend a few minutes feeling this sense of loss, go ahead. But then realize nothing is really lost and go on. Everything’s okay, and you are okay. And don’t feel guilty about that.
You may feel this is a very cold way of being. I don’t really care. You might say, if you really loved someone you would mourn when they are gone. The difference between you and me is, you are feeling bad and I am happy all the time. You spend a lot of time mourning, grieving, experiencing painful feelings and stress. The proof is in the pudding. My way brings me happiness, your way brings you pain. I accept the need for people to die, and the need for circumstances to change. I accept that it’s good, and as a result, I am happy. If I was experiencing any kind of stress or unhappiness because of this way of life, I would tell you. I simply don’t experience those things very often. And it’s a wonderful gift.
As human beings, we can’t stand the idea that other people don’t like us.
Because we feel that if someone doesn’t like us, that’s a reflection on our character. But it isn’t necessarily. Just because you’ve made a choice that someone else doesn’t like, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you, or your choice. It also doesn’t mean you need to try and persuade others that you are right. That’s not your task. Other people’s opinions are not your business.
Our first inclination is to jump to conclusions and make judgments about everything. But how about living in neutral, not labeling, not judging.
Let’s say your son didn’t do his homework. There’s a part of you that wants to label this as a bad thing. But it isn’t. It’s a neutral event. It is reality being the way it is. It’s his business, not yours. Making sure his homework gets done is not your task.
The famed psychologist Alfred Adler had a concept called separation of tasks. He said that it’s the main business of adulthood that we learn to do this separation of tasks. This involves recognizing what are our tasks and what tasks belong to others. Your son’s homework is his task, not yours. Your task is to provide learning opportunities, his task is to utilize them or not utilize them. It is his task to live with the consequences of not doing homework. It is your task to allow him to learn those lessons. It is not your task to keep him from making mistakes. You don’t even know if it would be a mistake or not. Not doing the homework, and the consequences of that, will inevitably lead him to some important lessons. It’s your task to stay out of the way of other people learning their own lessons. How do we know this is the right thing to do? Because trying to get kids to do homework causes a lot of stress for both parents and children. And what do we know about stressful thoughts? Stressful thoughts are untrue thoughts. If thinking about how to make your son do his homework is stressful, then it’s not your task. And the thought “I must get my son to do his homework” is an untrue thought.
It’s that simple. Your emotions will tell you if you’re trying to do someone else’s task. Stress comes from the cognitive dissonance created when the conscious mind is trying to get you to do something that your unconscious mind knows isn’t your task. The thought, “I have to get my son to do his homework” causes you stress or worry, therefore you know it’s an untrue thought.
Also, thoughts like “I have to keep my son from ruining his life” and “I have to teach my son discipline” cause stress. They are difficult and we usually don’t do a very good job at them. Getting any person to try and do something they see no value in is usually futile, and causes a lot of strained feelings. You don’t seem to be very effective at getting across those things, even if you try. You might force him in the short term to do his homework, but this doesn’t mean he’s learning the lesson you want him to learn. You want him to love learning. But the lesson he is learning is that people bigger than you have a right to force you to do things you don’t want to do. He has to learn to value those things on his own, through the consequences of his own actions.
I homeschooled both my sons, but I didn’t force them to participate. They had books and a program where they sent in completed assignments to a testing center and would get a grade. They finished two of the four years of high school, and then quit to get jobs. I encouraged them to go back and finish, but they weren’t interested. Finally, at age 29, one of my sons decided on his own to get a GED. I was proud that he finally saw the value of that education, on his own, without my coercion. But my other son’s choice not to finish is equally valuable. He is working and happy. That’s all that matters. It never entered my mind to care about what other people would think about this decision.
“But if my son flunks out, I will be thought of as a bad parent.” So what? Your son’s wellbeing is less important to you than your image? What other people think of you is not your business. Making other people think well of you is not your task. Other people’s thoughts are irrelevant. Your son’s choice to not do his homework is not good or bad, it’s a neutral event. Don’t label it or assign a value to it. Don’t judge your son as being wrong.
“But I want him to grow up to get a good job,” you say. Well, that’s his task. He has to figure it out. You are depriving him of a valuable learning experience when you try to fix everything for him. Maybe he’ll flunk out, get a job, and go back later and get a GED. Who knows, but he’ll figure it out.
Every life is valuable and perfect, no matter how it’s lived.
Some people don’t know how to get this feeling, the feeling of being in love with life, whatever it brings. I remember 1974, John Denver’s Sunshine on My Shoulders was hitting the top 40. That year I was 14, awake, aware, curious, and trying to find my way. I remember hearing my school playing that song on the radio in the school halls at lunch. “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me cry,” and it did. It was an encouragement to express your feelings, and to enjoy them. Then Rocky Mountain High, “Might say he found a key to every door.” Which is what every teenager is looking for, to find their way. Then Summer. “Rejoicing in the differences, there’s no one just like me. But as different as we are, we’re still the same. And oh, I love the life within me. I feel a part of everything I see. And oh, I love the life around me. A part of everything is here in me.” (4) And that’s how I have felt ever since. I am not separate from the world; I am an integral part of everything that happens. I am one with it all, and it’s all good.
There’s a special feeling that comes from knowing everything’s all right. That you’re in your proper place in the universe, that you’re okay just the way you are. That no one has the power to make you unhappy. It’s intoxicating, it’s fabulous. It’s life-giving and life-affirming.
Even death is life-affirming, because our deaths feed the universe. Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it just changes form. The molecules of my body will break down and be released into the never-ending cycle of re-creation. The energy of my body will pass into the soil, my body will decompose and join the other raw materials in the earth. And it will be taken up to feed a plant, which will be taken up to feed an animal, which will be eaten by a human and become part of someone else’s body. And I will live again. Or the dust of my body will be blown into a cloud and circle the earth, becoming part of the heavens. What could be more poetic? Some story about pearly gates and streets of gold, which obviously don’t exist, can’t compare to the grandeur of this, which is real.
I find nothing about life scary or undesirable. Therefore, there’s nothing that could happen to me that is a tragedy. The only thing that can harm me are my own thoughts, if I let them.
The more time you spend in nature, the less afraid you will be. You come to see your place in the vast scheme of things, and then those petty words that someone says to you seem so insignificant. That guy that cut you off and took your parking space just doesn’t seem important. It puts everything in perspective. We stress about so many things that just aren’t worth the worry. Like homework.
Meditation is a great way to practice being neutral, maintaining a non-judgmental stance and allowing life to flow past you unimpeded. When we meditate, we get still and quiet, but we don’t try to empty our mind of all thoughts, mostly because it’s impossible. Thoughts are always going to pass through your mind. You’ll hear a dog barking outside the window, or you’ll get an itch you need to scratch. There are always going to be distractions in life. But we don’t have to react to them.
So, you’re sitting there, eyes closed, body and mind relaxed, breathing in and out slowly and calmly. And the thought comes to mind, “What am I going to make for dinner?” Immediately, if you’re like most people, you are irritated with yourself for taking up this thought and not remaining in an uncluttered mind. This isn’t constructive. Rather than making a judgment that you were meditating ineffectively or were doing it wrong somehow, just quickly acknowledge the thought, and let it go. Let it flow on like a river passing you. Instead of being irritated with yourself, be accepting. This is a neutral event. This is reality being the way it is. You don’t have to change it.
You settle back down into calm silence again. You’re doing fine for a while, then a dog barks outside your window and distracts you. Instead of getting irritated because your concentration has been broken, you notice the barking, and let it flow past you. No need to give it any further attention, and no need to berate yourself. It is what it is. Just go with the flow.
By practicing this way of noticing but not judging, this way of acknowledging without the need to act, you train yourself not to stress about things. You train yourself that everything that happens doesn’t require commentary by you, nor does it require action on your part.
So, when that guy cuts you off in traffic, you notice, but there’s no need to respond. No need to be angry, yell at him, or be irritated. It is what it is. Just let it flow on.
And when your son won’t do his homework, you notice, but there’s no need to respond. No need to be angry, yell at him, threaten him, or be irritated. It is what it is. Just let it flow past you. You might let him know that you are available if he needs help. No need to respond further.
When your spouse forgets to set the alarm clock, and you wake up realizing you’re going to be late, you notice the time, but there’s no need to respond. No need to be angry or irritated, no need to worry about what might happen, because everything that happens is okay. It is a neutral event. Let it flow past you without worry. No need to do anything different than you would normally do. Go on to work with a smile on your face, and don’t sweat it.
Your wife tells you she is not happy in your relationship and wants a divorce. You hear her, but no need to be angry or irritated. No need to make waves. It’s a neutral event. No need to make her wrong and you right. Tell her you want her to be happy and wish her well. Let everything flow on just as it should. It’s reality doing what it does. Changing her mind is not your task. Your task is to find other things to make you happy. No blame, no shame. No need to treat this as a tragedy.
Your task is not to fix everything.
You might say, “I have needs, and this person has promised to meet those needs.” That’s not a good thing to make people promise. It’s not their task to meet your needs. It’s your task to meet your own needs.
Your task is always to focus on meeting your own needs.
Sometimes people say, “That’s just self-centered.”
My response is, which of these scenarios is more self-centered. I have a need, and I go out and find a way to meet it. Or, I have a need, and I expect everyone else around me to meet that need. I am the center of the universe and I expect everyone else to revolve around me and my needs. It would be less self-centered if you just took care of your need yourself.
But we have been trained that self-sacrifice is more virtuous than meeting our own needs. This is unfortunate. All this does is cause us to take on other people’s tasks for them, or expect other people to take on tasks that we should be doing ourselves.
A common response to this is “Yes, but sometimes people need help. Shouldn’t we be a society that wants to help each other?” Only if that help doesn’t interfere with that person accomplishing their own tasks.
If a man falls down and breaks his leg, under most circumstances helping him get to the hospital is not interfering with him completing his own tasks. However, if a man falls down out in the wilderness while hiking, and nobody else is around, it’s still his task to take care of his own need. No one else is able to. So, he has to figure out a way. Maybe he will walk on it even though he is in pain. Maybe he will crawl. Maybe he will yell for help. If he’s able to meet that need in one circumstance, he should be able to meet in other circumstances. So, if he’s fallen on the street and nobody stops to help him, it’s still his task to take care of himself. No judgment or blame against those who didn’t stop.
Now, we would hope that someone would find themselves in a position to stop and help, but if they don’t, let nature take its course. It’s still a neutral event. It’s still his task and nobody else’s.
Let’s take the example of government assistance. As a people, we have decided to provide assistance for those who don’t have enough money for food. There are two sides to look at this from. On the one hand, it’s an individual’s task to provide for himself. And there are many ways to do this. I could name ten ways right off the top of my head that you can use to provide food for yourself if you don’t have enough. Ways that don’t involve taking government assistance. In the circles I grew up in, I can honestly say that I never knew there was such a thing as government assistance, and so it never crossed my mind to apply for such assistance. So, I found ways to meet my own need. It’s possible to do.
And on the one hand, when we try to fix everything for people, we deprive them of the ability to work out solutions to their own problems and complete their own tasks. On the other hand, if other solutions they have tried have been unsuccessful, seeking out government assistance could be viewed as just another solution they sought out, and could be viewed as them still completing their own tasks.
Then there’s another perspective. Where did we get the idea that we are entitled to three meals a day? We can live perfectly well on one. If some people don’t have three meals a day, they think they are deprived. Also, not having food is a neutral event. It should not be labeled as good or bad. It’s just reality being the way it is. And as with all other events, if we’ve searched for food and can’t find it, then let nature take its course. Go with the flow. It won’t stay that way forever, as things always change. If you don’t have food for today, it’s okay. It’s not a tragedy. No matter how things turn out, everything’s okay.
I realize this perspective might not be acceptable to some of you. But if you’ve tried to find food and can’t get it, well, you have to cope with it some way. And believing everything’s going to be all right is still less stressful than other thought patterns. Remember when I said I had thought about being homeless, I was prepared for it and it was okay with me? I feel the same way about food. If I ever can’t find food, I’m okay with that.
Now, you have to work it out in your own mind so there’s no stress. All three options are open to you. You can try my top ten ways of getting food, you can apply for assistance, and if you don’t get it, you can still be okay with it.
From the other perspective, I could say that providing for your need is not my task, and that is correct.
I understand that many of you are not yet comfortable with letting nature take its course. But in the long run, you have no choice because reality does what it does without asking you, and you can’t save the whole world.
While this is off the subject of this book, I will include them anyway. Because I know if I don’t, someone is going to ask.
Ways to find food or make money to find food:
- Bartering – trade your goods or services for a meal, including selling your baked goods.
- Give lessons – piano lessons, tutoring, whatever your skill is.
- Amazon Mechanical Turk – www.mturk.com – perform tasks online for Amazon, work from home, or from the library’s free computer access.
- Rev.com – https://www.rev.com/ – provide fast, quality services of transcription, captioning and foreign subtitles.
- Curb painting – some stencils and spray paint, and you can paint house numbers on curbs for $5 to $10 per house.
- Sell on Ebay. Or have a garage sale.
- Self-publish your book on Amazon for free. Sell it on Amazon, Facebook, and Ebay.
- Freelance writing – https://www.freelancewriting.com/
- Teaching English Online – https://www.vipkidteachers.com/?fbclid=IwAR3Cuik5uo7J0-1XVdaMcIYE5NKYBmG7-oqhl_vQLDI_PWT8X1-Bx-2slN4
- Workmarket – https://www.workmarket.com/worker
Actually, I recommend you do all these methods at the same time. That’s what I used to do.
One great way to market your products/skills is through Facebook. Find a buy, sell, trade group in your area. (They’re everywhere). I picked up ten new piano students in one day through these groups. You can also get free stuff that people want to give away from these groups, fix it up and sell it. I got a set of really great solid wood kitchen chairs, given away for free by someone who was moving and just wanted to get rid of them. Repainted them and sold them on another site.
If your need is immediate, I’d say curb painting, bartering, or giving lessons are your best bet. With Mechanical Turk, the money you make today can be deposited in your checking account tomorrow. The other ways take time, but they do work. I’ve done them all.
Whatever your need is, don’t stress about it. Remember, everything is okay just the way it is.
You may say, but I’m not okay with having nothing to eat. Then I’d say you need to sit down, close your eyes, get still and quiet, go inside yourself, breathe deeply, and check in with yourself on your well being. Right now, at this present moment, are you okay? Get in touch with that deep sense of well being that is lurking just beneath the surface. The idea that there’s something wrong is floating on the surface. But when you check in, deep inside, there is well being. You have air to breathe, you have a place to sit. Nobody’s harming you. You are not about to starve in the next five minutes. In this present moment, you are not suffering. You are okay. Being hungry is not suffering. The only suffering you are having is from the thoughts you are thinking that are alarming you.
If you live in this present moment, you will always be okay. It’s when you worry about the future or the past that you suffer. It’s your thoughts that make you suffer.
You never know what will transpire in the future, and we’re not very good at predicting such things. You absolutely cannot know that you won’t have anything to eat tomorrow.
When you go deep inside yourself through meditation, you are able to contact that peace, that well being. And it’s okay that thoughts still pass through your mind while meditating. Just let them flow on and gently direct your attention back to that quiet place inside. That place belongs to you, no one can take it from you. No matter what is going on outside you, you have this place to retreat to. This gentle, quiet, peaceful place where there is well being.
So what is reality?
Remember the cup? That item that most people agree is to be called a cup, and that most people agree is for drinking out of? We’ve already established this as a story, not truth.
There are literally thousands of things that we should be questioning the truth of. Things that, for most people, don’t exist independent of the story about them. But they should.
How about these?
These are all neutral events. But when you read them, you will probably have an almost visceral reaction to at least one of them. The more of a reaction you have, the more you know that you have created a story around those events which isn’t true.
“People should provide for themselves by working for an employer.
People should provide for themselves by working.
People should provide for themselves.
There’s nothing people should be forced to do.”
The less restrictive the statement, the more uncomfortable you probably became. The question is, why? Why do you care what other people choose to do? It has nothing to do with you.
“Society has decided the way that is best and people should follow it.
Society has decided people should follow.
People should follow their own way.
There should be no rules to follow.”
“People can’t be trusted to know what’s best for them.
People can’t be trusted.
People should welcome guidance from others.
People should follow their own hearts.”
So if you’re one of those people that has a visceral reaction to one or more of these statements, then you are not treating them as neutral events. You have a story that you believe, and you are pushing your story as the right one. Except there is no right one.
You can believe all day long that yours is the right one, but this is only going to cause you stress.
“But society will go to hell in a hand basket if I don’t care, if I don’t try to do something.”
But that’s going to happen anyway. Because people always do what they want. And you can’t prevent that, and shouldn’t. There are important lessons for people to learn from those experiences.
You can’t and won’t be happy as long as you believe you have to manage other people’s lives.
Actually, you can’t and won’t be happy as long as you believe you must manage anything, including your own life. Because the vast majority of what is going to happen in your life is outside your control. You can’t manage it at all.
But you’ll convince yourself that you can and that will make for a very stressful life. Because when it becomes obvious that you can’t, you’ll feel frustrated, angry, resentful, and you’ll start to make up all kinds of excuses and blame other people for the fact that your life is stressful. Except no one is to blame. It’s just reality being the way it is.
It’s so refreshing to let all that go. To realize that all your previous beliefs were just a story. To realize you don’t have to fix anything, don’t have to be right about anything. You don’t have to care what others think of you or want of you. Everything’s right just the way it is.
Question everything, no matter how long you have believed it or how supposedly sacred it is. Question society’s most foundational beliefs. Question the simplest of ideas.
I was sitting in the laundry room of my apartment building, waiting for my laundry to wash and dry. It was the end of the month, and I had just put my last two dollars into the machines. Suddenly, more than anything, I wanted a Coke. But I wouldn’t have any more money for at least three days. I’m sitting there, trying to figure out how to get 75 cents for the soda machine, and miserable the whole time because I can just taste that Coke.
Then I realized that I was the one who was making myself miserable. So I started to think of what I COULD have. I could go down to my apartment and make some iced tea. I could be happy with the way things are. And I could do that same thing in every situation.
So I go through this scenario a hundred times a day. Questioning my thoughts, making adjustments, and relieving stress.
In the above scenario, there was a choice between wanting something that is not available or choosing to be happy with what is. But what about a situation where you have two choices, both available and possible, and you’re trying to make the choice that is best? How do you decide then?
Let’s say we’re talking about food choices. You have a choice between chocolate cake and salad. And there’s this tug of war going on. The tug of the chocolate cake is strong, but there is stress because your supposed “better judgment” is trying to pull you in the opposite direction.
First of all, whatever choice you make in that moment is okay. So stop berating yourself. It’s unlikely that eating one piece of chocolate cake is going to kill you, even if you’re diabetic. So that one choice in that one moment is not the issue.
Why do you like the chocolate cake? What is the experience of eating the chocolate cake like?
People have described eating chocolate cake to me in these ways:
“It has a strong flavor. It makes my taste buds come alive.”
“It makes me feel satisfied.”
“It makes me feel like everything is all right.”
“It makes a boring day suddenly special.”
“I feel this sense of contentment wash over me.”
“It makes me feel like I’ve done something special for myself.”
The one thing nobody said was “It dispels my hunger.”
Forgive me, but all these statements sound like what you’re actually looking for is a transcendent experience. You want something that makes you feel alive, satisfied, content, special. And the cake is something that is readily available and can accomplish this quickly. But the experience is also over as quickly as it started.
What if you could walk around with this transcendent feeling all the time? Would you still feel such a strong need for the cake?
Sometimes you only have a few minutes, and you think you don’t have time to sit and meditate for an hour so you can get to a transcendent state. But think about it. Do you deserve an hour of bliss, or only a few minutes?
Because I believe in the transcendent mystery, because I walk around in this state of transcendence all the time, I very rarely ever eat chocolate cake. If I want to, I do. I’m not in the business of denying myself what I want. It’s just that, I realize I don’t need the cake to feel that transcendence. And I rather like the powerful feeling of knowing I don’t have to rely on any substance to bring me to transcendence.
If I’m in the middle of working on something and all of a sudden I think of cake, I recognize this as an emotional need, not a physical need. I recognize that my unconscious is trying to tell me that I need an opportunity to fill myself with meaning, or elevate myself above the mundane. So I stop what I’m doing and fill this need. I may do it through withdrawing to a quiet place and meditating. I may go out into nature and listen to nature sounds. I may go out and find a beautiful leaf from a tree and spend an hour closely examining it. I may listen to some beautiful music. I may sit in a hot tub with the bubbles massaging my body. I try to do something that doesn’t involve words. I try to use the half of my brain that is creative rather than analytical. And that is usually quite satisfying.
You must be willing to meet these needs when they arise, even if it’s inconvenient. If you’re at work, maybe you hide in the file room for an hour so you can meditate. Or maybe you find some excuse to do an errand. If nothing else, you can sit at your desk and carefully examine an object. Pick up a rock or a leaf or a feather that was on the ground as you walked into your workplace. Or if nothing else is available, spend an hour examining the precision with which a paper clip is made, or the beautiful lines of the teacup sitting on your desk. The point of the exercise is to stop doing what you’re doing, which obviously isn’t meeting your needs for meaning, and find meaning in whatever is available.
What meaning is there in a paper clip? Every object, every sound, every person, every task has meaning. We live in a world where we are expected to multitask. It’s considered an important job skill. But sometimes, you just need to give single-minded attention to one thing. Anything. And find the meaning in it.
As I look at the paper clip, I first notice it’s color. It’s smooth, silver exterior. The coolness of the metal, the lightness of its weight. Its seeming small, insignificant quality. I drop it on the desk. It makes a slight clatter, but dropping it doesn’t harm it. I stare at it until some other quality presents itself. I close my eyes and meditate on its image. I think about how many paper clips there are in this building, and if we didn’t have them, what would our world be like? Obviously, paper clips weren’t invented until paper was invented. So they fill a need which we created. We can only use them one at a time. It does no good to have a bunch of them at once. I see a bunch of them in the paper clip holder, waiting for their turn to be useful. Serving no purpose until then. How many people feel like these paper clips, just sort of hanging around, hoping someone will pluck them out of obscurity and into meaningfulness? Your respect for the paper clip grows. No longer do you just toss them into the waste basket with paper that has outlived it’s usefulness. In fact, you don’t toss out the paper either. You put the paper in the recycle bin, and retrieve the paper clips from the trash so they can be used again, because even the smallest, most insignificant thing has importance.
Though you may feel small and insignificant, you also have importance. Think of all the things you do that no one ever sees or cares about. No matter how others treat you, you are aware of your importance. You start to notice things that people in your office do that no one notices or acknowledges. And you might even start to acknowledge them “Carol, I really appreciated how fast you got those copies made. It was a big help to me.” Now expand your thinking. Visualize how many paper clips there are in the whole world, how many of them are ignored or overlooked. And yet, they were manufactured with a purpose in mind.
You have a purpose. It’s yours to determine. Even if no one sees you, you have meaning. You have a place in this homeostasis of our universe.
One of your purposes has to be to bring meaning to your life on a daily, maybe even hourly, basis. Transcendence is available in every moment, if you take the time to cultivate it. Without it, you’ll be dependent on the chocolate cake the rest of your life.
After your meditation on the paper clip, how do you feel? You feel somehow different, even if you can’t describe it or understand it yet. So do you feel able to go on without the chocolate cake, or do you need more transcendent experiences? What you do next depends on your answer.
Follow this wherever it leads. You might go back to work with a buoyancy you didn’t have before. Or you might long for more time to meditate on something else. Follow your feelings. Be willing to put your needs first.
The chocolate cake is not a need, unless you truly don’t have time for anything else and need a pick me up. I would suggest doing whatever you have to do to make time. But ultimately, if you choose to eat the cake, do so with your eyes wide open. Make the cake your next object of meditation.
If you finish the first meditation and still don’t have the satisfaction you need, you’re not going to get it from the cake either. Your life is trying to point out to you where you need changes. Changes that involve deeper meaning. What will you need to do to get the amount of meaning that you crave? And don’t say more money, a better relationship or a different career, because those things are irrelevant to meaning. At some point you may make changes in those areas, But the kind of meaning we’re talking about doesn’t come from a person, place or thing. It comes from inside you. And that’s where you need to go to find it.
Find meaning in whatever is available. Let’s explore this a little more.
Ultimately, you can only find meaning within yourself. But you can use the things around you, which you come in contact with every day, as pointers or signposts to guide you toward this meaning.
Let’s go back to the concept of separation of tasks. When each person does their own tasks and refrains from taking on the tasks of others, they are able to keep their psyche uncluttered by things that don’t concern them. They are then able to focus on those things that help them find meaning.
Let’s go back to your son and his homework. What should your goal be as a parent? To produce a child who is healthy and happy should be your highest goal. You are there to provide support for your son as he discovers what is important to him, and who he wants to be. It is not your job to tell him what to be, or how to get there, unless he asks for your help. It is not your job to prevent him from making mistakes.
No two human beings will find meaning in the same things. If your goal is for your son to “follow in your footsteps,” this will only produce unhappiness unless he freely chooses this for himself. So trying to get him to find value in the same things you find value in is unwise. Trying to do this is a perfect example of you taking on someone else’s task. Your religion, your profession, your values, can be lived in front of him as an example, but he should not be forced to accept them as his own. You should live your life authentically and allow him to live his authentically.
So through his own actions, he will discover what has value and meaning for him, and he will move towards achieving those goals. He might not achieve them in the same way you would. And that’s okay, because the transcendent mystery is, everything’s always okay.
You may protest, saying “But there are certain things I don’t want my son to do.” My question is, why? Why do you have a vested interest in seeing him do one thing over another? It sounds as if you are living vicariously through your son. Your statement belies the fact that you don’t yet believe in the separation of tasks, or the principles that every person is enough in his own way and every event has it’s perfect place in time.
Assuming you don’t yet believe in those things, let’s just talk about reality. Reality is that when you try to force people to do things they don’t see value in, you will not be successful, and you will create a strained relationship between you and your son. If you have a strained relationship, he will not want to come to you seeking advice when he needs it. He will not pay attention to your good example. If he feels you don’t respect him, why should he respect you?
You should not be respected just because you are the parent. Most parents are on a power trip. They want children to acknowledge that they are in charge. And they want to punish their children when they don’t acknowledge this fact. The idea that you are in charge once again indicates you are not practicing the separation of tasks.
So you may ask, how do I keep my child safe? What if he makes a decision that could be dangerous?
When he is two years old, you will hold his hand when he crosses the street. At some point he will pull away from you to walk on his own. You will allow this, but still walk beside him. Eventually you will let him cross on his own and you’ll know that you have showed him a good example of how to cross the street. There’s nothing else you can do. If you notice that at two he is demanding to walk alone but he has not demonstrated that he can pay attention to all the possible dangers, then simply don’t put him in the position of having to cross the street. If you are going to a store, park on the same side of the street as the store so crossing the street will not be an issue. If you can’t find a parking place on the same side, you will probably be tempted to ignore your child’s needs and park across the street anyway, forcing him to hold your hand even though you know it’s not what he wants. “What will it hurt,” you say to yourself? “He needs to learn to obey me, even when he doesn’t understand why.”
No, that’s not true.
If the leaders of our country propose a particular policy, and you are against it, do you want them to demand you accept this policy, even if you are against it? Do you want them to say “just trust us, even if you don’t understand why”? No, you would want them to listen to your objections. And you wouldn’t want to be forced.
The lessons of democracy and mutual respect begin with the simple lessons of childhood. So respect your child’s autonomy.
Besides, his inability to pay attention to all the possible dangers is a developmental problem which will be solved as he passes into the next stages of development. It’s not something you can teach, by and large. It’s a matter of perception.
One must realize that even if you do the best job you can do as a parent, the reality is that something can still happen to your child. You can’t blame yourself for that. It’s best to make peace right now with that fact. As we spoke about in the beginning of this book, you are not in charge of reality. Reality does whatever it wants. You can either adopt thoughts about reality that make you suffer, or adopt thoughts that don’t make you suffer. If I believe that everything that happens is part of the homeostasis of our universe, I might be surprised when unexpected events happen, but not devastated.
When each person does their own tasks and refrains from taking on the tasks of others, they are able to keep their psyche uncluttered by things that don’t concern them. They are then able to focus on those things that help them find meaning. As a parent, you can focus on things that aren’t your task, and you can end up stressed, tired, and unfulfilled. Let your children clean up their own messes, decide whether or not to do their own homework, or anything else in their lives. Now you can pursue things that bring you meaning.
What if your children are literally the only things in your life, and you have nothing else to focus on? Then your task is to get a life. You can’t make another person be your whole life. Not a child, not a romantic partner, not an employer. No one thing can be your only focus.
This same logic applies to all world events.
All world events, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are also part of the homeostasis of our universe. You may be concerned with conditions in another part of the world and want to help. But there are some questions you should ask yourself first.
First, do those people want help?
Remember our talk about the golden rule? Just because you think someone should want different circumstances, doesn’t mean they do. And you don’t have the right to force your way of life on people who don’t want it. People have their own tasks to complete and maybe they don’t want your help.
Second, what can you do?
Realistically, there are some problems you can’t help with from where you are and with the resources you have available. Let’s say you want to help a town in Africa where people are starving. So you donate some money to give them food. That’s okay in the short term, but how about teaching them some food growing techniques so they can support themselves over time? Maybe you don’t have these skills, but you could pay someone else who does. So you find someone and send them there. And you find out that the problems are much more massive that just the current farming conditions. You find out that part of the problem is this country’s corrupt government. And you, not being a citizen of that country, don’t have any standing with that government. They have no obligation to listen to you. The citizens of that country are the ones that have to initiate and sustain these changes. It’s their task.
Third, what should you do?
Each and every person has the responsibility to make the life they want. Even those in difficult circumstances. If they ask for help, we can provide it as long as it doesn’t interfere with them completing their own tasks. But we must use the same logic as we did with our child. Doing everything for them deprives them of lessons they need to learn.
As far as I’m concerned, every person in every country should be given a basic guaranteed income so we all have our basic needs met. But the reality is that we’re not that evolved yet. So each person still has to figure this out for themselves.
If each person was given a basic guaranteed income, our psyches would be freed from having to focus on mundane things, and we would be free to pursue what we’re passionate about. We’d be able to spend time thinking great thoughts instead of trying to figure out how to survive. And who knows what great things we could accomplish.
The good news is, even if you don’t have all the things you want, you can still love your life and experience transcendence. Happiness does enot have to depend on your circumstances, if you recognize that reality is okay just the way it is, and you are acceptable just the way you are. We can either wait for our circumstances to become ideal, which probably isn’t going to happen, or we can be happy now. This goes for everyone, no matter where they live, and no matter what their circumstances.
You can either live your life as a victim, or you can live your life in transcendence. It’s your choice.
Remember the statement we made at the beginning of this book? What is true is readily apparent from observing things in their natural state.
Life always shows us what’s true. But it’s difficult for us to see what’s true because we superimpose a story over reality. Then all we can see is our story.
Our minds have a very important quality which is a by-product of human evolution. The conscious mind consists of two parts. One is the self that acts, the other is the observer that watches the self. When you meditate, or cultivate mindfulness, or separate your story from reality, you are using the observer mind. You are able to see that not all your thoughts, beliefs and actions are in line with reality.
If you’d rather cling to your story even though it’s painful, you have to ask yourself why.
According to esteemed psychologist Alfred Adler, we are goal-oriented, and we do whatever we do because it helps us reach a goal, even if that goal is unrecognized by us. Let’s say you’ve experienced abusive behavior from someone else. As a result, you can’t leave your home. You have panic attacks, keep reliving your abuse, Now, what possible goal could you be trying to reach by choosing this behavior?
Here’s where you might say, “I don’t choose panic attacks, I can’t control them. I can’t stop thoughts of my abuse from coming into my mind.”
No, you can’t, but you CAN stop attaching importance to those thoughts. This story scares you because you believe it. But it’s just a story. It’s not reality.
Here you might say, “It’s not just a story, it really happened.”
Yes, and what did we say about events that are in the past? Whatever is in the past has no significance. It’s not happening now, so it’s not significant. You are the one attaching a label to that event and giving it value. Simply don’t label anything in the past as significant.
I know you are clinging to this past event because it feels significant, but that’s just part of your story as well. Here’s where meditation practice can help you observe the thoughts without judgment and let them flow past you unimpeded. You learn to observe what the mind is doing, but attach no value to it. And you learn that observing the thoughts cannot harm you. The thoughts start to lose their significance and no longer alarm you.
Also, there is the possibility that you don’t want to let go of how important this traumatic event makes you feel. It’s almost like a badge of honor that you wear. You want someone else to acknowledge you’ve been through something, and the thought of assigning no value to the event is like giving up a treasured part of yourself. You want someone to acknowledge it’s important. YOU are important, but the event is not. As long as you cling to your story, you are diminishing your own importance, and allowing the event to take center stage.
But you’ve experienced something, and you shake your fist at the world and say, “Something happened to me, and it’s significant, and it makes me feel significant.”
You don’t need this event to give you significance. How do you feel about allowing a negative event to define you? You were already special and important before the event. Who would you be without this event? You would just be another person who never experienced anything.
Why are you fighting so hard to cling to this event? Why does the thought of calling it insignificant bother you? I’m not saying you are insignificant, or your feelings are insignificant. The event itself is insignificant.
What is true is readily apparent from observing things in their natural state. Look around you. Despite what you believe about this event that happened, and despite what you feel about it, everything is okay. The sun rises and sets every day. You have air to breathe and water to drink. Nothing is harming you at this present moment. You have many opportunities ahead of you. Life goes on. Everything is okay.
Can you see it? Everything is okay. No matter how terrible you insist things are, you can look around you and see it’s not true. Open your eyes. What you believe is not reality. There is no unhappiness. There is just your belief that there is. When you stop believing in unhappiness, you won’t have it anymore.
Even in the face of unpleasant circumstances, we can still remain peaceful and happy by using the observer mind, questioning our thoughts, and remaining neutral. When we take a side, we are contributing to our own unhappiness by insisting on labeling ourselves as right and someone else as wrong. Circumstances are rarely so black and white.
We as individuals take far too much interest in what other people are doing, and not enough interest in understanding our own motivations. If every time we make a judgment about what someone else should or should not be doing we instead would sit down and contemplate why we feel the need to make this judgment, there would be a lot fewer problems in the world, and a lot less unhappiness.
Great example of Adler’s separation of tasks today. I parked at a 7-11. All the spaces in front were taken, so I pulled down to the end of the row of cars and parked next to the last one. Sitting there in the car for just a few short minutes. There was not technically a parking spot marked there, but there was no where else to park. A man pulled around me, slowed, down, and proceeded to hurl a few choice words at me about why I was not supposed to park there. I said “okay” and made no effort to move. He hurls some more choice words and finally pulls around me. I wave and yell “have a nice day” as he races away.
Now, in this situation my tasks were to park my car and to be kind to people who are acting rude and annoying. I’m sure he felt I was being annoying too, but he obviously had issues with being inconvenienced and with treating others with kindness. In this situation, my being there gave him the opportunity to work on those issues. His task was to work on them or not work on them, but it required no response on my part. It’s not my job to please him, and not my job to expect him to please me. And not my job to solve his problem for him.
God is reality. Reality is the way things are, right now, in this moment. The past is not reality, it’s over and done with. The future is not reality, it hasn’t happened yet. The only possible reality is the way things are right now. That’s all that’s relevant.
Right now, in this moment, you have no problems. The chair you are sitting on is holding you up. There is air to breathe. If you are thirsty, there are water fountains around where water is free and readily available. You are in no danger. You have no problems. Your problems only come when you project what may happen in the future.
But the future never gets here, because when it does, it becomes the present. And the present is always okay.
4. Taylor, Mike; Denver, John; Kniss, Dick. 1975, An Evening with John Denver, RCA Records.
Back to Site Menu