Standing on solid ground provides an inherent sense of security. We tend to take this for granted except perhaps for a few seconds after disembarking from a plan or a boat.
Just as our bodies find stability on solid ground, our minds seek their own form of stability. A primary way our minds attempt to achieve a sense of stability is through the cultivation of conscious and unconscious belief systems.
A belief is something a person accepts as true or real. Beliefs often come in clusters or constellations, which is why we often call them belief systems. Some belief systems are held as absolutes, as in the case of religious fundamentalists. Other belief systems are held more loosely but are still accepted as true or valid.
Belief systems can provide us with a sense of meaning in an apparently chaotic world. They give our minds something to stand on. Even if we’re only standing on something as unstable as a Frisbee soaring through the air, any stability feels better than no stability.
This helps explain why we tend to cling to our belief systems: they give us a sense of safety even if the belief isn’t true. A belief can help us feel grounded even if the belief ultimately prohibits our growth and development.
Transcending Belief Systems
Letting go of our cherished belief systems can be frightening because it means being willing to float in emptiness with nothing under our feet. The notion of emptiness isn’t too compelling when we cling to our belief systems. Resting in emptiness means sleeping with the unknown, trusting in forces beyond our understanding (hence, it has been called the unconscious).
Transcending our beliefs means setting aside the very foundation of our previous sense of existence, letting go of a false sense of security we once enjoyed. In so doing, we learn to accept inherent paradoxes and live with contradictions found within others, the world, and ourselves.
Courage is a prerequisite for the daring adventurer. But even more important than courage is the need to understand the true nature of our suffering and the role our belief systems tend to play in masking our suffering.
The price of holding onto old beliefs—even those that provide us with a false sense of security—is our freedom. Liberation only comes to those willing to challenge that which we hold most dear. It’s a wild adventure, definitely not for the faint of heart.
With clarity of heart and mind, we can examine what we believe to be true—even what our most esteemed teachers and guides have told us. Our perception of truth is always changing. A lesser truth will always be replaced by a greater truth; such is the evolution of Spirit.
If we’re courageous enough to challenge what we “know” to be true, we can set those beliefs aside that no longer support our development. We can be flexible and grow, or we can remain stagnant and wither away. The choice is always ours.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell observed that we can write from one of two spaces: intention or inspiration.
Intention requires conscious effort, a stepping forward into the writing process. Inspiration arises from letting go, a stepping back from the conscious, rational mind.
Both forms of writing are valid and useful, but inspirational writing is decidedly more rare. Inspiration requires a great deal of humility—a high degree of self-honesty, where we admit that we don’t have all the answers, that life is still a mystery to us, and that we are confused and ignorant about more things than we care to admit.
Inspiration and illumination also require periods of reverie, as creativity researchers have consistently found. Our culture, with its incessant drive to stay preoccupied both at work and at home ensures that few of us get to taste inspiration with any frequency.
Taming the Ox, Quieting the Mind
With the help of modern science—developmental and transpersonal research as well as neuroscience (I’m thinking in particular of the work of neuroscientist Richard Davidson)—the West is beginning to awaken to the value of meditation, conscious breathing, and mindfulness. These practices help us find greater inner stillness, soothing the mind’s endless chatter.
These practices, it turns out, have multiple benefits: reducing muscle tension, lowering our resting heart rate, improving concentration and memory, heightening our senses, enhancing our self-control, increasing our level of energy, and much more. The sum total of these benefits is greater awareness of ourselves and our environment. And this awareness helps us increase the probability of realizing our creative potential.
Thankfully, none of these practices require us to retreat from an active mode of living. They can be practiced a little bit each day. The more we learn to quiet our minds—to “tame the ox,” as it is described in the Zen Oxherding pictures—the more we open ourselves up to the light of illumination, the messages proceeding from the unconscious.
Only then do we have a chance of becoming whole, accessing and integrating reason and intuition, the conscious mind and the unconscious, the masculine and the feminine. Then we can operate from both intention and inspiration, fluidly shifting from one to the other depending on the needs of the moment.
♦ ♦ ♦
P.S. For those interested, Doctor of Truth: The Life of David R. Hawkins is available on Amazon.com for pre-order. The book is expected to ship out next week.
Those who have learned the Tao of Results—the way of realizing meaningful objectives—often find attainment effortless.
Effortless attainment occurs in the state of flow. Effortlessness is our natural state that unfolds when we remove the barriers to flow.
Desire is a primary barrier. It is the root of all suffering, Buddha said. The energy of desire pulls our attention out of the present. Flow can only be experienced in the present.
Desire implies lack. Abundance implies the absence of lack. We can’t have and lack simultaneously. As like goes to like, lack goes to lack; that is, scarcity tends to breed more scarcity. Therefore, if you desire a result, you may be energizing lack, not the result.
Striving toward results, therefore, isn’t the answer, but neither is complacency. Complacency arises from either apathy or pride. Sad is the soul who lives a complacent life.
What Buddha called the Way is found in the harmony of opposites. The Way is positioned between striving and complacency: One can have clarity of purpose, holding a result clearly in mind, while remaining detached from it.
There is no contradiction here: Identify what you want, but let go of wanting it. Disciplined thoughtful action, or desireless right action, is the Way.
Desire leads to suffering because the energy of desire doesn’t dissipate when the object of desire is attained. The desire simply shifts to a new object or to the fear of losing the object once attained. Those who haven’t achieved their desired results are skeptical of this truth. Many who have achieved their results have found this to be so.
Ultimately, some results you aim for will manifest. Others will not.
Some things that you think you want, you’ll later discover are not in your best interest.
Other things you think you don’t want you’ll later discover are best for you.
Accepting all possibilities brings one closer to wholeness.
Realizing both sides gives way to the Tao.
Learning, we might say, is the process of removing our resistance.
In performance terminology, the goal of learning is to reach unconscious competence, where an action is done effortlessly (and effectively) without conscious effort. We can call this the state of flow, being “in the zone,” or the released state.
Galileo noted that “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.” The peeling away of ignorance—of resistance—is the process of discovery, the art of learning.
Resistance is a consequence of the part of us that tries to control or change everything in its environment. When the self is trained to perform well, we call it conscious competence. But unconscious competence is a selfless state.
For most of us, it takes years of effort to reach the effortless and selfless state of unconscious competence. Few people, in fact, ever realize this potential outside of rare moments. But the adept in any field have learned how to eliminate their resistance on a continuous basis. Those who live in this space we call masters.
Learning still requires remembering and that we let go and surrender to the process—whether it’s playing sports, music, drawing, painting, writing, singing, strategizing, or anything else.
The more we surrender to the process—to allow the Way—the less resistance we create. And without resistance, learning becomes infinitely more enjoyable; it can become, in fact, effortless.
Patterns exist throughout nature. We see them in seasons and tides as well as in animal and human behavior.
Patterns are generally observed after the fact. To identify patterns in advance is the science and art of prediction. Predictions are probabilities or likelihoods, not absolutes. For instance, what is the likelihood that it will be sunny tomorrow? Or what is the chance (that is, probability) of rain?
In order to predict patterns in nature, we create models. Models are representations of what we are studying or trying to predict. The better a model corresponds to the reality it represents, the more its predictive power. Effective models enable us to peer into the future.
A sports coach’s playbook is a model. The playbook illustrates a series of positions, maneuvers, and scenarios that have—assuming the coach has done his homework—been tested to be successful in various situations. A well-engineered playbook can’t ensure victory, but it can provide a superior competitive advantage against even the toughest opponent.
Models are used in most fields. All sciences use models; in fact, models are the core element of the scientific method. Models are used in the natural sciences, mathematics, technology, psychology, and so on.
Modeling in Business
Even modern business is beginning to awaken to the power of prediction. Take, for example, a major retailer like Target. The task of Target’s chief executives is to responsibly and consistently steer their organization toward sustainable growth and profitability—no easy task in today’s competitive landscape.
Executives are often forced to guess what their customers want and hope that the market responds favorably to their offers. Millions of dollars are placed on these educated guesses every day in what might be called the world’s biggest casino: the commercial marketplace.
Of course, executives at major brands don’t simply guess what their customers want. To make informed decisions, large brands conduct consumer and market research: surveys, focus groups, and so on. Some businesses, however, have too little information about their customers while other organizations have too much, leading to a sea of confusing statistics and averages. In any case, to make sense of the data, businesses need effective models.
In BJ Bueno’s new book, Customers First, readers learn how any business can build an effective model around the lifeblood of every business: its best customers. If you’re an executive, a manager, or a small business owner, this book can help you stand out from the crowd by opening your eyes to a fresh approach to business.
The deadline was fast approaching for a book I had been working on for five years. But I was stuck. I couldn’t write anymore. I simply couldn’t complete it.
My conscious mind exerted itself as I deployed every technique I had learned, calling forth every ounce of self-discipline within me, but to no avail.
It’s a troubling experience for a writer, and it’s all too easy to beat yourself up about the matter, which I did. Perhaps it’s similar to a painter losing his inspiration to complete his canvas.
The problem feels pervasive, but it’s not. The “stuckness” is often a signal to merely step back—to let the unconscious go to work (or rather, play). Doing this, of course, takes courage and faith (especially when you’re on a deadline).
Although allowing one’s mental faculties to recede into the background is a very natural thing, for most of us adults, it’s a challenge. Learning how to drift into reverie and listen to the unconscious—something second-nature to a child—is difficult for most adults.
If we’re successful in letting go of wanting to change our stuckness, we discover that we are the source of our feeling stuck. We are in our own way, through the interference of a particular attitude, a limiting belief, or an inflexible position.
In stepping back, we open ourselves up, relaxing our position. Our perspective often changes as a consequence, redirecting the flow of creative psychic energy back into our work.
Finding Psychic Wholeness
If we’re intellectually-minded, this brings us to the question: why do we get in our own way in the first place?
From a Jungian perspective, we can say that it’s because we’re not integrated—that we lack psychic wholeness. What is psychic wholeness? A harmonizing of opposites: conscious and unconscious, rational and non-rational, masculine and feminine principles.
Numerous scholars including Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Ken Wilber demonstrate that, especially in Western civilization, we have been dominated by the masculine principle since classical antiquity (if not prior), reinforced by our Judeo-Christian mythology.
Simply put, we live in a hyper-rational world that doesn’t value the non-rational, the intangible, the feminine, the dream, the mystery, the miracle. We’ve suppressed instinctual forces, a divine power found in the natural world. We are cut off from this power, split into animal and spirit—an artificial dichotomy that must be healed if we are to realize psychic wholeness.
We praise the waking state of the conscious and undervalue the sleep and dream states of the unconscious. And yet many great teachings and teachers extol the virtues of the dream state: Lao Tzu, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Advaita Vedanta, Jungian psychology, and Tibetan Buddhism, to name a few.
Embracing the Artist Within
Our next questions are of greater practicality: What can we do about it? How can we tap into the feminine forces of the unconscious? Here, we can take our cue from the artist.
The true artist gives reverence to the unconscious by whatever name she might call it (and many call it “God”). This doesn’t make the artist idealistic, theistic, or naive; it makes her self-aware, for it is only after she can acknowledge the source of the creative impulse—something that lies outside of conscious awareness—that she is able to dip into this eternal wellspring as needed.
And so the artist allows her mind to wander, to relax her gaze, to become, in a sense, absent-minded. Externally, it can look like the artist isn’t working, and in a culture that prides itself on constant busyness, this poses yet another challenge: not only must the artist submit herself to mysterious inner forces; she must also deal with the expectations of the conventional outer world.
The conventional world judges the artist for her unusual behavior and what it takes for her poor work ethic. The artist faces critics of her lifestyle as well as critics of her creations. As a consequence, the artist’s path is in many ways a lonely one. We come to understand why there are so few genuine artists among us.
I believe, however, that to varying degrees, the artist exists within each of us. Left unchecked, though, life has a way of beating the artist into submission. Locating the artist within calls for an inner path of discovery, requiring us to say “yes” to our call to adventure. For acknowledging the artist within is merely the first step, courageous as it may be.
My apologies for the unannounced hiatus from this blog. When I published my last post in September 2011, I intended to take the rest of the year off to complete a project, resuming with new posts in January.
That’s the thing with momentum and inertia. Maintaining a weekly workout routine is one thing; getting started and developing that routine is a different matter. An object in motion tends to stay in motion; an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton. You are correct, but the Hindus have known this for thousands of years.
In Hindu philosophy there are three gunas or qualities of consciousness. Tamas represents inertia, darkness, or sloth. Rajas is activity, action or change. Sattva is the principle of purity or goodness.
In tamas, we tend to get stuck, lethargic, listless, and lazy. In rajas, we thrive on activity, motion, and busyness. And in a sattvic state, we are filled with freshness and positivity; are minds are steady and calm.
There’s good reason that we project a value judgment or ranking on these three qualities. In fact, they are generally represented in a hierarchy as in the Bhagavad-Gita. Purity seems to trump activity; activity trumps inertia. But all three gunas are part of life. All three qualities serve a vital function. We aren’t any one quality; in a manner of speaking, we possess all three.
And yet, it seems apparent that we have a tendency to identify with a single quality. Highly active people pride themselves on their rajasic efforts. Tamasic people do as little as possible—the iconic couch potatoes. And sattvic folks, too, can develop a pride in respect to their tranquil ways. Every quality of consciousness has its shadow, its opposite.
Integrating the Three Qualities of Consciousness
Integration requires us to transcend and include. Moving beyond the state of inertia, we include tamas. Transcending rajas to enter a sattvic state, we include rajas.
If we think that one quality of consciousness is better than another—that we should always be active instead of inert, for instance—then we have dissociated from a part of ourselves, for surely all three basic qualities are part of us. Each quality is necessary and vital in its own way.
At times, we desire to be active but we find ourselves in a state of inertia. Our conscious minds want us to push through the inertia to build momentum and energy. But sometimes the state of inertia is exactly where we’re supposed to be.
This tamasic or inert state is associated with darkness, and darkness is associated with the unconscious. The unconscious includes all that exists outside of our conscious awareness (as such, some call the unconscious “God”).
It has been said that the source of our creativity lies in the unconscious, which is why illumination often comes after a period of reverie or mindless wandering. When we’re in a state of constant motion, as most of us in modern life inherently are, it’s difficult to tap into the wellspring of the unconscious. During periods of rest—as in sleep—dreams allow our minds to access this non-rational realm.
There are times when we must push through inertia and times when it’s best to simply ride it out. Knowing how to proceed requires us to learn to stop, to be still, to pay attention, and to listen. Amidst endless distraction and constant busyness we miss the subtle signs the unconscious gives us on how best to proceed.
Whether in a period of economic uncertainty or not, there are certain kinds of people who are never short on opportunities. Whether getting promotions or attracting new business for their own enterprise, these souls seem to be impervious to setbacks (at least, in the long term).
These cherished souls, we might say, are irreplaceable. There are irreplaceable employees, employers, small business owners, vendors, suppliers, colleagues, and even customers.
Seven Qualities of Irreplaceable People
What are the qualities that make individuals so desirable that a company or client can’t do without them? What makes someone irreplaceable?
- Constantly acquire knowledge and refine their skills. They are committed to personal and professional growth; they understand that there is always more to learn and that every field is subject to constant change.
- Focus on creating value for their company or their clients. They thrive on finding new or better ways to contribute to those they serve.
- Find ways to solve problems. You’ll never hear an irreplaceable person say, “It can’t be done.” Instead they’ll say something like, “Let me think on that and get back to you.”
- Have high integrity and the attitude of willingness to serve. You’ll never see an irreplaceable person acting entitled or playing the role of a victim.
- Innovate. They constantly look for new ways of doing things. Steve Jobs developed a culture of innovation at Apple by insisting on daily innovation.
- Take responsibility for what happens—no matter whether they feel they are responsible or not. And therein lies their power and ability to foster growth.
- Adapt to change. As change is a constant in business as in life, irreplaceable people have a natural ability or willingness to bend like a willow instead of breaking like an oak.
Those who adopt this overall attitude never have to worry about their employment—at least, not for long. True creators attract opportunities because they are such valuable assets and tend to be in short supply.
But there’s an even better reason to adopt these seven qualities: They bring greater levels of fulfillment and meaning to your work. And that’s reason enough.
Last week we saw that when bad stuff strikes, the first step is to take responsibility. This week, let’s examine why this is so.
Why should we take responsibility for what happens to us whether we believe we were involved in manifesting the “bad” events or not?
Philosophically, you either believe that you’re at the affect of circumstance—that life is random chance and that God does indeed play dice—OR you come to believe that there is inherent order beyond our perception (although on rare occasion we may get a glimpse of it).
If you believe in the former (random chance) then you have little power—you are at the affect and there’s nothing you can do about it so don’t bother trying. If you believe in the latter (intrinsic order, divine justice) then you have power: the power to make changes, to grow, to let go of false belief systems, to adopt higher understandings.
One path brings fear and anxiety; the other brings acceptance. One path narrows our perceived choices; the other provides ever-growing possibilities for transformation.
Taking Full Responsibility
So what does it mean to take responsibility?
Realizing that we’re manifesting everything in our life (consciously or unconsciously)—attracting what we perceive to be desirable and undesirable—we now have the power to change. Taking full responsibility, we maximize our opportunities for growth. Every time we deny responsibility, projecting it outside of ourselves, we limit our growth.
This is true for every area of your life: You are where you are financially, for example, because of you—your resistance or lack thereof, the quality of your decisions, your level of education and creativity, and so on. You are where you are—professionally, in your relationships, emotionally, psychologically, physically, and so on—because of your own decisions. With the acceptance of this (and we all have an inherent resistance to it) comes a profound level of empowerment.
Responsibility in Action
As soon as an unpleasant event (the bad stuff) occurs, ask yourself: What am I doing to manifest or attract this? What within me is bringing about these events?
Note that these questions are not asked from a place of self-blame or guilt. Mistakes are par for the course and the primary mistake is almost always ignorance (and karma too). If we don’t continue to question—to find ways to development in multiple areas of life—we tend to remain in ignorance.
Then, having put forth these all-important questions, be patient. Stay quiet. Listen to your intuition. Pay attention to your dreams. Consult a mentor. Pray. The insights will come.
There’s little we can say with absolute certainty other than: stuff happens.
Stuff happens to all of us. Sometimes good, often times not so good. Trying to only have good stuff is a sure way to be miserable as the bad stuff will surely come—it’s a fact of life. As author Andy Andrews says, “We’re either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or heading for a crisis.”
So if we can accept that a unique blend of good stuff and bad stuff is intrinsic to life, what can we do to “smooth out” the ride so that the bad stuff doesn’t consume our attention? Put simply, what should we do when bad stuff happens?
We have two options when bad stuff strikes: we can blame others and play the role of victim OR we can take responsibility for the bad stuff.
The benefit to playing the victim role, as most of us know, is that we don’t have to consciously feel shame or guilt. Blaming others and therefore absolving ourselves, we neatly tuck away all those nasty, painful feelings that could be directed at ourselves. A martyr of circumstance, the world may be against us, but at least the bad stuff isn’t our fault.
Now to our second option: we take responsibility for the bad stuff. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean we become self-loathing, hurting our self-esteem; it simply means that we take ownership of what happens to us—whether we’re aware of what we did or not.
Four Steps to Transcending the Bad Stuff
That’s Step 1: Accept responsibility for the bad stuff. Step 2: Address the negative emotions arising around the bad stuff. There are numerous ways to discharge negative emotions: meditation, breathing exercises, releasing, EFT, and so on. After getting in an argument with a friend, don’t waste time trying to analyze the argument when you’re simmering with anger or upset. As we’ve said before, negative emotions hinder our executive function: we can’t operate rationally and access intuition when we’re subsumed with negative emotions.
Once we’ve discharged the negative emotion (through acceptance or letting it go), we’re ready for Step 3: Examine the experience for life lessons. What did the experience teach us? How might we act, behave, or think differently if the situation presented itself again? (If you skipped Step 2, this line of questioning will be fruitless.)
And, finally, Step 4: Let it go. Move on. Good stuff, bad stuff: Allow it to all be as it is. Let go of trying to change it. This stance brings peace and equanimity. It facilitates growth and maturation. There’s no value in carrying the memory of bad stuff around with you like luggage. Travel light and liberate your life adventure.