the power of stories

Today we ask that you look at the human attachment to drama.

Humans love drama and stories.  It is a defining trait of mankind.  The instinctive love of myths and stories arises early in childhood.  Stories are the foundation of the world religions — archetypal myths played out in seasonal cycles, passed down through the generations.  This has been going on since humans gained the capacity to speak and tell stories.

Stories are extremely powerful.  Truly, they are the most powerful thing in the human reality.  They are more powerful than your greatest scientific achievements, they are more powerful than your most destructive weapons.

Stories can be beneficial, or harmful.  But it is important to acknowledge their power.

This is because stories, myths, and dramas define people’s perception of reality itself.

Think of someone who is very different from you, someone whose beliefs clash with yours.  Perhaps someone with a very different political or religious orientation.

What is the difference, really, between this person and you?

They believe different stories about reality.

When it comes to religion and politics, it is very likely that they grew up being told very different stories than the ones you were told.  And they believe them.

People can and do change their stories and beliefs, but this is extremely difficult for most humans.

This is because people’s identities are rooted in the stories they believe.  Questioning those stories means questioning their very identity — something that most people are not able or willing to do, because this feels deeply threatening.

Consider: how did Adolph Hitler trigger so much destruction in the world?

Hitler was an extremely persuasive storyteller.  His stories were lies, but people believed them.

Without his storytelling ability, Hitler could not have done very much harm at all.  

So you see, stories can be quite dangerous, when they are used to sow hatred and violence.

The Middle East is an area of deep conflict in your world.  It has been so for a very long time.  This is because of the stories believed by the people who live there.  If those people knew nothing of those stories, do you think there would be nearly as much violence?

Humans communicate through storytelling.  When you speak to people, or read what they say online, or listen to people on television — always, you are being told a story.

Sometimes you are conscious that the stories that you take in are fictional, because it is obvious.  You are watching a made-up drama on TV or in the movies.  You are reading a book.

But often people have a very hard time distinguishing “fiction” from “fact.”  And of course even stories people know to be fiction can powerfully influence people.  

All these stories you are told take on a kind of life inside your mind.  They become the basis for an internal voice — a voice that is, by its very nature, dramatic.

It processes everything you experience in terms of stories and narratives.  It labels people as allies and enemies.  It projects possible futures that are quite fictional — since they haven’t happened anywhere outside your mind — but they will seem very real to you.  In this mental story, you are the protagonist in an endless personal drama.  Usually you are engaged in some sort of struggle, because that is what the characters in all stories do.  Characters in stories struggle with external adversity and internal weakness.

This dramatic voice in your head can make a big drama out of anything, no matter how trivial.  It can make a big drama out of going shopping or paying a bill.  Everything is fodder for drama, to this voice.

So just look at this.

Look at the stories other people tell you, that you believe.

Look at the stories the voice in your head tells you, that you believe.

Are these stories really true?  Are you sure? 

Is believing these stories healthy for you?

Do the stories give you a sense of well-being, a sense of a loving order in the universe?

Or do the stories make you feel crazed, stressed, and victimized?  Do they arouse resentment of other people?  Do they arouse dissatisfaction with your life situation?  Do they make you feel like you live in a hostile reality, where you are constantly threatened and struggling?

Just pay attention.  This is not about judgment, just about observation.

Just notice how you feel after being exposed to stories — whether they are stories told to you by people you know, or strangers you have never met online, in books and magazines, on TV and in movies.  

Do the stories increase your sense of well-being?  Do they make you feel healthy and empowered?  Do you learn and grow as a person from them?  Or do they make you frightened and tense?  Do they make you feel like a helpless victim?

Remember, stories are extremely powerful.  So just learn to pay attention to the stories you are told, the stories you tell yourself, and the underlying messages in those stories.

If a story make you feel tense in your body and arouses a sense of misery and victimhood in your mind — perhaps you should not believe it.  Perhaps you should stop listening to that storyteller.

Drama can be wonderful, but in general people are addicted to it, and take in far more drama than they can process in a healthy way.

Drama is like chocolate.  A small amount of high quality chocolate is there to be savored, and enjoyed.

But a large amount of chocolate, especially when it is of poor quality, will only sicken you.

So be discerning about the stories you take in.  Eat only the good stuff — and don’t overeat.

 

sisyphus

Today we ask that you examine the belief that “Life is a struggle.”

This belief is so widespread, so universal, that it really is not questioned.  Religious people believe it.  Atheists believe it.  People in different cultures all around the world believe it.

So it must be true.

Everywhere, humans find evidence for this belief.  In the “Darwinian” natural world, where animals struggle to survive and procreate.  In their own lives.  Life is a struggle.  It does not matter if you are a monkey or a man, if you are rich or poor.  Ask a rich man about his life, and he will tell you all about his struggles.  Ask a poor man, and you will hear the same.  Struggle is the basis of all human drama, of every story ever written.

So it must be true, then, that life is a struggle.

But you know, animals do not have this story.  Even the animals in the nature documentaries — the gazelle eaten by the cheetah, the endangered species threatened by man, the Antarctic penguin who must raise his chicks in the icy darkness.  None of these creatures go around thinking “Life is a struggle.”

It is the human who looks at the penguin and creates a narrative about how hard it is.  The penguin is not thinking “Oh, this is so hard.”  The penguin is just doing what a penguin does, and doesn’t have a story about it.

The penguin isn’t wishing he could live in a warmer climate where it would be so nice and easy.  The penguin doesn’t see himself as a victim of circumstance.

Only humans do this.

Therefore, the belief that “Life is a struggle” is a construct of the human mind.  It has no independent existence outside the human mind.

Animals do not believe it.  Babies do not believe it, even if they are hungry, tired, or uncomfortable.  A baby just cries.  It is the parent of the crying baby who believes that life is a struggle.

A corollary to the belief that “Life is a struggle” is the belief that “Struggle is virtuous.”

The hero of any myth is someone who struggles, and it is always a virtuous struggle.  The more someone struggles, the more they are perceived as virtuous.

Humans perceive the penguin who struggles to raise his chicks in the Antarctic winter as having a certain nobility.

The penguin knows nothing of this.  He does not think he is “noble.”  He is just doing what a penguin does.

However, if humans believe that struggle is virtuous, then this incentivizes and validates the experience of struggle.

Humans are usually suspicious and judgmental about anyone who isn’t struggling enough, in their opinion.  Such a person is lazy, or lucky.  Either way, there is something ignoble about it.

People wear their struggles as a source of pride.  Yes, they are overworked and exhausted.  Yes, parenting children is terribly hard, a daily struggle.  Yes, they have doggedly worked their way up from poverty.  Yes, they don’t have time to sleep.  Yes, they are sick — who wouldn’t get sick from all that hard work, exhaustion, and misery.

But if you suggest that there might be another way to live, one that doesn’t involve so much struggle — just watch the offense, the outrage!  How dare you!   Who do you think you are!

Sure, maybe life is easy for you, but you know nothing of their struggles.  Clearly you are not a good person — not the way they are.  You must be a very selfish, lazy person if you think that maybe they don’t need to be struggling as much as they do.

So just take a look at this.  What is going on here?

This is not to say that life is not challenging.  Life is challenging.  People can and do experience extreme adversity, and there is no question that this can trigger enormous growth.

But extreme adversity in of itself does not always better people’s characters or make them more virtuous.  Sometimes all it does is lock people into a victim identity, a trauma identity, where they feel so brutalized by the cruelty of existence that they sink into despair and bitterness.

Struggle does not always make people virtuous.  Sometimes it just makes them physically and mentally ill.

Consider war veterans.  Prior to the wars of the later twentieth century, going to war as as soldier was generally considered ennobling, a sign of manly virtue — the struggle that would make a man out of you.  Now it is understood that in many cases it causes profound mental and physical illness, without necessarily ennobling anyone.

So just look at this.

Maybe struggle, in of itself, is not virtuous.  Maybe it would be healthy to stop associating struggle with virtue.

On a deeper level, maybe life itself is not a struggle.

Life is life.  Some days it is challenging, other days less so.  The penguins make through the winter, and frolic in the ocean during the summer.

Some days you are sick, others you are well.  Life has rhythms and tides.

But if you believe that life is a struggle, and struggle is virtuous — one thing is certain.

You will be creating struggle and drama in your life where it might not otherwise exist.

No penguin is capable of making life harder than it is at any given moment.  But humans make life harder for themselves all the time, because of their stories and beliefs.

So just look at this.

And if you can, begin to question the beliefs that “Life is a struggle,” and “Struggle is virtuous.”

This doesn’t mean you won’t face challenge and adversity.

But if you perceive it differently — that is everything.

 

recharge your battery

Today we ask that you focus on being receptive.

Throughout your reality, there exists a dualistic rhythm in which all things move from “active” states to “passive,” or “receptive” states.

Night follows day.  The tide moves in and out.  You inhale and exhale.  You wake and sleep.  Fall and winter follow spring and summer.  Everywhere you look in nature, you will see this simple rhythm.

Expand, contract.  Grow, rest.  Move, be still.

Unfortunately, many modern humans have fallen out of this rhythm.  Society strongly favors the “active” mode of being.  Humans are encouraged and expected to be continuously active, to be busy all the time, and to sleep minimally.  Caffeine and pharmaceutical drugs assist in the drive toward continuous activity.

But you cannot go against the most fundamental pattern of nature without causing damage.

Human bodies are not adapted to a lifestyle of constant activity.  Nothing in nature is.  To do so places an intolerable strain on the body, over time.  The result is endemic illness, both physical and mental.  The modern pharmaceutical industry works to ameliorate these symptoms, but drugs can only do so much.  Societies that promote constant activity bear a great burden of human illness.

A culture of continuous growth, activity, and consumption also, of course, places a terrible strain on natural resources and the environment — the great looming crisis of the modern era.

What can be done about this?

In order to be healthy and balanced, all living things require periods of rest and receptivity.  There is no exception to this rule.  Even machines cannot be operated continuously without damage.  Even computers must be put to “sleep” or shut off when not in use.

It does not matter what your society has to say about “laziness”, or how continuous activity is lauded as a sign of a good work ethic and virtue.

Many things in human history have been praised as virtuous.  Soldiers were praised for massacres, for killing and enslaving enemies.  Christians were praised for killing infidels, burning witches, and generally torturing and persecuting the innocent as a part of their faith.  Just because your culture says that something is virtuous, does not make it so.  

Just because your culture lauds the caffeine-drinking insomniac workaholic as virtuous, does not make it so.  

When you watch television or movies from the past, you will see doctors smoking cigarettes, men demeaning and objectifying women, and appalling racial stereotypes.  Some of these behaviors will seem laughable, others offensive. How could people not know better?

In those time periods, those were simply the cultural norms.  People were taught that smoking cigarettes, misogyny, and racism were normal.  Some questioned this, but most believed that anything their culture promoted must be good.  

In the future, people will look back at this time, and they will also wonder why people did not know better.  They will focus in particular on the level of disease in your society — cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stress-related illness, mental illness.  The extreme dependence on pharmaceutical drugs will be questioned.  They will see clearly the connection between these illnesses, and a culture of constant activity and consumption.  They will also be incredulous at the disregard for the environment, but this goes hand in hand with a culture that is out of sync with the rhythms of the natural world.

How can you change this, right now, in your daily life?

How can you promote healthy balance for yourself?

It is simple.  Activity must be followed by rest, as surely as the night follows the day.

Watch animals.  They rest.  They sleep.  They instinctively understand that it is good for them.

Pay attention to the rhythms and cycles of the year.  Some times are naturally more active, others are naturally more passive and receptive.  There is a time to plant, a time to reap, and a time to let the field lay fallow.

If you feel burned out and overwhelmed, if you cannot sleep at night and suffer from anxiety, if you are always burning the candle at both ends but still feel like you can never do enough or keep up — this is not good, no matter what your society has to say about it.

You cannot listen to your culture.  Historically, human cultural norms have supported grossly destructive behavior.  

You must instead listen to the voice inside.

That voice can only be accessed when you are quiet, still, and receptive.

If you are constantly active, there is no space, no stillness, for that voice to be heard.

And that is the greatest misfortune of a life of constant activity and distraction.  It is why many people feel lost and anxious.

Constant activity robs you of the richness and joy of life.  It means you never stop to smell the roses, to enjoy the sunrise, or notice how very good it is to eat a simple meal.

Constant activity even robs childhood of its joys, leading to children who are as anxious, overwhelmed and distracted as their parents.  Mostly this is due to a lack of the simple pleasure of unstructured time, which used to be a sacred refuge of childhood.  It is also due to a lack of sleep and rest.  Overstimulated, over-scheduled children often do not rest and sleep well.

More than anything, constant activity robs you of the ability to hear your heart, and your spirit.  And without that internal compass, you will feel lost.

Please slow down.  Let active periods be followed by truly restful periods — and that does not happen in front of your TV, computer, or phone.  Turn off the devices, and let yourself rest.

Even machines need to recharge their batteries.  So do you.

 

desert

Today we ask that you consider the “conditions,” or “climate,” when contemplating an action.

Many people experience drama in life because they feel that their efforts are not working out, or that they are failing in some way.  Life is perceived as a struggle, and they may believe that there is something wrong or defective about them.  

Often, however, it is really a matter of “conditions,” or “climate.”

What does this mean?

If you are a gardener, you are aware that conditions are essential when it comes to planting.  You must take into consideration the climate you live in, and the season of the year.

You would not plant an orchid in the desert and expect it to flourish.

You would not plant a cactus in a rainforest and expect it to flourish.

If an orchid dies in the desert, you do not think there is anything wrong with the orchid.  The orchid was planted in a location where it could not flourish.

Yet in life, people are very confused about this.

They plant their seeds in conditions that are not conducive, then feel devastated when nothing grows.  They blame the seed for being broken, when in face the seed is perfectly healthy and good.  It is just not the right climate or season for that seed to grow.

For example, many people feel very crushed when a creative work is “rejected.”  Rejection may even cause them to give up their creative endeavors.  

But often all rejection means is that you tried to plant your seed in soil that was not conducive.  It is not personal.  You just need to plant the seed elsewhere, in a better climate or season.

This is true with most things people wish to create, or “manifest.”  They focus all their attention on the seed, but ignore the conditions.  Then when the seed doesn’t sprout, they say the universe is cruel and that nothing ever works out for them.

So if you are someone who wishes to create, it is very use to consider the conditions.  Look at the climate.

If you are sensitive to the climate, you will discover that it is entirely impossible to improve the climate for a particular planting.  This is like constructing a greenhouse in the desert.  If you want to plant orchids in the desert, it is possible.  But first you must build a greenhouse.

“Building a greenhouse,” in this scenario, means focusing on your internal conditions.

People are usually very focused on what is external.  

But if you cultivate your internal conditions, external conditions become much less of a factor.

For example, if you are very exhausted and rundown, it is difficult to create anything in a sustained way.  Your own interior climate is not conducive.

If you allow yourself to rest, and increase your health and vitality, you are improving your internal conditions.  You are building a greenhouse inside yourself.

You may then still deal with challenging external conditions, but if you are very healthy inside, you will usually have better discernment about what to do.

For example, perhaps you know someone who is very desperate to get married, but always seems to date the wrong people.

This person has a valid creative desire — to find a loving relationship — but is oblivious to the external conditions, i.e. the incompatible partners this person habitually pursues.

If this person turned inward to cultivate interior health — in this case, greater self-love — this would be like building a greenhouse.

Then the person could more easily discern that he has been casting his seeds into dry soil.  He would seek different, more conducive external conditions for a loving relationship.

Therefore, when contemplating an action, it is wise to consider the conditions.  What is the current climate?

If you realize the climate is not conducive, that doesn’t mean you should give up.  Look inward.  How can you improve your interior climate?  How can you build a greenhouse for your desires — perhaps to keep them alive until they can be planted in a better season?

Once you do that, usually you will approach the exterior climate in a different way.  You will become more aware and discerning.  You will no longer waste as much energy trying to force orchids to grow in the desert.  And you will not be so devastated when your seeds fail to grow.  You simply know that it is necessary to plant in a better place or season.  There is nothing wrong with the seed.  The seed is perfectly sound.  You just need to find the right climate, and the first place to focus your attention is inside.

Life is then not so much of a struggle.  Planting orchids in the desert is a struggle, yes.  But with the right seed, and the right climate, it can actually be quite easy to grow new things.

 

Child listening

Today we ask that you listen.

Listen.

To listen, you must be calm and still.

Many people do not know how to listen.  That is because they do not know how to be calm and still.

As a result, humans have great difficulty communicating with each other.  That is because communication requires good listening.  If people can’t listen to each other, how can communication occur?

What happens then is that people are conditioned to scream and shout in order to be heard.  Since no one is listening, you must scream and shout.  How else will you attract the attention of busy, distracted people who don’t listen?

Of course, when people are screamed at, they become defensive.  They usually shut down even more.  They are more likely to scream back at you than actually listen to you.  Or else they will ignore you.

Wars are started in this way.  Most human drama arises in this way.

To be a good listener, you must first learn how to listen to yourself.

If you cannot listen to yourself, how can you listen to anyone else?

To listen to yourself, you must be calm and still.

What is going on with you?  What is your body telling you?  Are you tense?  Are you tired?  Are you sick?  Can you listen to what your body is saying to you?

What is your inner guidance telling you?  All of you have inner guidance.  It is like an internal compass that always points to the North Star.  Your inner guidance will point you toward the light.  But only if you are able to hear it.  To do that, you must be very calm and still.  Most people do not have enough stillness in their life to access their inner guidance.

That is why it is good to cultivate time and space in your life to be calm and still.  Even if you can just find a few minutes a day to cultivate calmness and stillness, that can make a huge difference.

It is the beginning of really learning how to listen to yourself.

If you learn how to listen to yourself, you will discover that you no longer have the same need for other people to hear you.  You will not feel the same need to scream and shout in order to be heard.  You will not need to share your drama with everyone on Twitter in the hope that someone out there will listen.

If you are a good listener to yourself, you will no longer feel like you are not being heard.  That is because you are being heard — by you.

This, in turn, will make you a good listener to others.  It will make you a good communicator.

If the world had enough good listeners and communicators, most conflict would be resolved.  Truly, this is so.

It all begins with listening.

So listen.  Listen.

relax

Today we ask that you value relaxation.

Relax.  It is good for you.  Really, it is the best thing for you.

It is strange, but many humans do not know how to relax.  They are incapable of letting themselves deeply unwind.

For many, relaxation is something they regard with suspicion.  It is a sign of virtue to be constantly productive.  Relaxation just means you are lazy.

On a deeper, level people fear that something bad will happen to them the moment they relax.  This is called hypervigilance.  It is a belief that the minute you fully drop your guard and unwind, something terrible will happen.

For most people, this belief is not fully conscious.  But if you’re a person who must constantly be busy and active, if you are restless, and sleep poorly at night, this is a sign of hypervigilance.  There is a part of you that cannot relax fully because it believes something bad will happen you do.

Beliefs that workaholism is a sign of virtue and that relaxation is lazy are really very insane.

If people could relax deeply, a staggering amount of physical and mental health issues would be “cured.”

The human body requires frequent periods of deep rest and relaxation.

You simply cannot experience true mental and physical health unless you allow your body and mind to fully relax on a regular basis.

If you truly understood the connection between the inability to relax and physical and mental illness, you would not take this advice lightly.

Relaxation is absolutely essential to your well-being.  It is not a luxury to be indulged in on rare occasion.  It is as essential to your health as exercise, and a good diet.

This means that even if you exercise and eat well, you will not experience real health unless you also incorporate deep rest and relaxation into your lifestyle.

You can take expensive supplements, eat pure organic food, go to the gym, and do rigorous yoga — but if you cannot relax, you will still experience physical and mental health issues.

We cannot overstate this.

Many people view relaxation as unproductive.  They even resent the basic human need for sleep, seeing it as unproductive, valueless time.  No wonder they do not sleep well!

If people relaxed more, the pharmaceutical industry would be in serious trouble.

So how do you relax?

First of all, acknowledge the value of relaxation.  

Examine your beliefs about what constitutes a good work ethic, and what you consider “lazy.”

And then look at ways you can cultivate more true “down time” into your life.

“Down time” does not happen when you are watching TV, sitting in front of a computer, or checking your phone.  

“Down time” does happen when you meditate, take a nap, cuddle with an animal or young child, or go for a walk outdoors.  Not a rigorous jog, but a walk — where you are present enough to notice the trees and the sky, and hear the birds sing.  

“Down time” happens when you stop and smell the roses.  When your mind is quiet, and you can just be.

This should not only happen when you are on vacation once or twice a year.

For true health, “down time” needs to happen every day.

You may need to schedule down time into your calendar.  

Can you give yourself even twenty minutes a day of quiet, meditative time?  Can you schedule yourself a nap time, as you would for a child you loved and cared for?  

Even just taking a daily twenty minute nap would create a radical health improvement for many people.

Please do not underestimate the value of relaxation.  It is as essential to your well-being as the nutrients in the food you eat.

And if you cannot relax, examine your beliefs around relaxation.  Are they really true?

one thing at a time

Today we ask that you do one thing at a time.

Do one thing at a time.

If you have issues with productivity, feeling overwhelmed, or burned out — do one thing at a time.

In the modern world, there is this thing called multi-tasking, which is a very ridiculous idea that productive humans are supposed to do many things all at once.

Trying to do things all at once just means things get done poorly and inefficiently — or not at all.  It is not an intelligent way of doing things.

Many of you may have experienced what it is like to talk to someone on the phone when they are distracted by what is on their computer or phone, or by some other activity.  The person cannot really focus on what you are saying.  It is hard to communicate clearly, and you do not feel listened to.  You cannot have a good conversation this way.

It is like this with everything.  You cannot do many things at the same time with any sort of clear focus, or attention.

If you believe multi-tasking makes you more productive, this is simply not true.

If you really want to be effective and accomplish things, learn to do one thing at a time, and one thing only, with real focus.

If you are working on a project, do that.  Do not also check your phone every two minutes.  

If you are cooking a meal, do that.

If you are caring for a child, do that.

Just do what you are doing with your full attention.

If you want to spend time looking at social media or browsing the internet, then do that.  But just do that.  Set aside a specific time to do that.  Set a timer.  Give yourself fifteen minutes of just doing that, and nothing else.

The voice in your head may argue that you do not have enough time in the day to get things done without multi-tasking, but this is an illusion.  It is not true.

If you do things one at a time, with your full attention, you will accomplish far more than you think is possible.

This really works.

Notice your level of distraction, how your mind flits from task to task, thought to thought.

A distracted person is like a fluttering butterfly, blown this way and that in a breeze.  There is not much power there.

A focused person is solid, and present.  Like a rock, you are there, fully.  No breeze can blow you about.  There is a huge amount of power there.

If you are someone who believes there is never enough time in the day, if you feel constantly overwhelmed — then do this.

Do one thing at a time, and do it with your full attention.

This includes taking breaks, and resting.  If you are resting, really rest.  If you are stimulating your mind, you are not actually resting.  You are still busy doing something.  When you rest, rest.  

Try it.  What do you have to lose?

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