wicked witch

Today we ask that you develop a healthy response to fear.

Develop a healthy response to fear.

Fear in of itself is not inherently problematic.  In animals, for example, a “startle response” is useful.  Animals are sensitive to predators and danger.  It is useful, in life, to be sensitive to predators and danger.

In humans, however, fear is something else entirely.

Unlike animals, humans have the capacity to imagine things that do not exist.  This is, of course, a great gift.  Humans are capable of dreaming things into material existence.  Imagining something, and creating it.  This is a marvelous power.  But in most humans, this power is misused.

Most humans use their capacity for imagination negatively.  They imagine bad things, frightening things.  Bad things that might happen in the future.  Bad things that have happened to other people, that they hear about in the news — all the bad things that happen in the world, played out on the mental stage.  Or else the imagination is spent reliving things that happened in the past. What people did to you, that they shouldn’t have done.  What you did, that you shouldn’t have done.

And so men dream up frightful things in their minds.  Animals cannot do this.  But men imagine frightening things, and feel very real physical fear in their bodies.  And this is not healthy.

While it useful to be sensitive to predators and threats that are real, it is not useful at all to feel terror around threats that are imaginary.

Fear requires a great deal of energy.  In nature, when an animal goes into “fight or flight,” an enormous amount of physical energy is used.  Afterwards, the animal must rest and recover, sleeping deeply to replenish his resources.

But to be afraid all the time — as so many humans are — this creates an intolerable strain on the body.  To always be afraid, to always be playing frightening scenarios in the mind, or reading frightening things online, or watching frightening news, or frightening TV shows and movies — this is like an animal who dwells in the state of “fight or flight” all the time.  Such an animal would rapidly become exhausted and show signs of mental disturbance.

That is exactly the state many humans experience: exhaustion, mental disturbance.  What is “anxiety” if not chronic fear?

So what is to be done about this?

Awareness is always the first step.  Check in with your body, and assess how much fear you are carrying right now.  Notice tension in the shoulders, tightness in the chest, throat, and stomach.  Notice the quality of your thoughts, how much fear is in your mental background chatter.  Do this without judgment.  Just observe the situation.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being complete relaxation, 10 being intense terror, where are you right now?  What number jumps to mind?

If the level is 5 or higher, just make a note.  Pay attention.  Track it at different points in your day.  How afraid are you?  How much fear are you carrying in your body?

If the number is consistently 5 or higher, some work is to be done.

Anyone in a state of chronic fear would benefit greatly from a “retreat” or some kind.  Time spent in nature, time away from electronic devices, quiet time that will allow the body’s adrenal system to relax.  Many stressed out humans, brought to a peaceful place, will simply sleep.  This is what their bodies need — just like animals sleep after a fright.

For many, a retreat is not practical.  But there are still steps that can be taken.  Limit time spent on electronic devices.  Limit exposure to frightening things in the media.  Limit exposure to stress-inducing TV and films, as much as you may enjoy them.  It is fine to enjoy a good drama, but if you are carrying around a high physical fear load, staying up late watching violent TV or playing video games is like pouring gasoline on a fire.  If you value your health, stop.  At least take a week off.  A week is not so much time.

Once the body unwinds a little, then you can begin the process of gently questioning and examining your fears.

This is like when a child is afraid of monsters under his bed, and a loving adult shines a flashlight and shows him that there is nothing there.

Write down a list of the things you fear.  If just writing them down brings up too much physical fear, cease the exercise.  Relax.  Go for a walk, do yoga, meditate.  Wait until you are calmer before trying again.

If you feel basically calm, then you can sit with your fears, and begin to question them.

Are your fears realistic?  How likely is it that these dreaded scenarios will actually occur?  You can assign numbers here, too — 1 being “Highly Unlikely,” 10 being “Definitely Will Happen.”

This is useful information.  It is useful to discover how probable or improbable your fears are.  When you know a fear is unlikely to happen, you can remind yourself of this when it arises.

Of course, some fears are realistic.  If you fear death — it is true that you will die someday, and this cannot be avoided.  Perhaps you fear the break-up of a relationship, and there are very real signs that this is happening.

Fears of this kind are good to face and acknowledge, rather than suppress.  Yes, you will die.  Sit with this awareness.  Yes, this dysfunctional relationship may need to end, or at least change.  Sit with this.  Instead of running from it or being in denial, sit with it.

Imagine watching these things happen not as yourself, the suffering character in a life drama, but rather as an impartial observer, a witness.  As if your life were a TV show, and you could sit back and watch it from the safety of a couch.  What might you see from this perspective, that the “character” cannot see?

If you watch characters in TV shows, you will see often that their fears tend to be self-fulfilling, because they are unconscious about them.  The controlling parent who tries to emotionally manipulate his child to ensure his love — of course the child comes to hate the parent.  The villainous character who tries to make himself safe by destroying his enemies — of course in the end he creates an enemy he cannot destroy, who destroys him.  These things are very predictable.

That is how it is with fear.  Suppressed fears have a way of showing up.  Fears that are kept in the dark turn into big scary monsters.  But fears that are brought out into the light of awareness tend to dissolve, like the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz” when water is poured on her.

In other words, the negative side of the human imagination creates terrors and monsters.  But humans also contain within their minds the power to master and dissolve their fears, by using the imagination positively.

It is completely possible for ordinary humans to overcome severe phobias and traumas by harnessing the positive aspects of the imagination.  No animal can do this.  But humans can.

And one way to do this is by imagining that you are stepping outside of your fearful situation, looking at it as an observer.  What would this observer tell you about the things you fear?

Imagine what your present day self might tell your child self or your adolescent self about the fears and hang-ups you had years ago.

Imagine what a calmer, wiser future version of yourself might tell you about your current fears and hang-ups.

That is the essence of developing a healthy response to fear.  You no longer simply react like a scared animal, fighting or running away.  As a human, you have the power to sit with your fears, to observe them, to shine the light of awareness on them.

When you do, you will discover what your imagination really is for.  You will dream good and beautiful things into existence, instead of being paralyzed by mental monsters.  Reclaim the gift of your imagination — and with it, your power.

omiya_hikawa_shrine_1-1

Today we ask that you have faith.

Have faith.

What does it mean to have faith?

Faith means that you believe reality is good.  You believe reality is good.

Most people do not believe reality is good.  They believe it is broken, defective, and corrupt.  Something must be wrong with reality.  That is why bad things happen.

Religious people believe that the world is profane.  Humans are here because they fell from the Garden of Eden due to their sinfulness.  The Earth is a bad place.  When you die, you will go somewhere better — or worse.  Or else you are here because you are unenlightened, stuck on the wheel of death and rebirth, suffering because of your bad karma from past lifetimes you cannot remember.

All of this is untrue.  These stories are man’s attempts to make sense out of life, but they are not true.

Atheists believe that the universe is cold, mindless and mechanistic.  Life on Earth is a random anomaly.  At death, consciousness is snuffed out.

This is also untrue.  It is also just a story, an attempt to make sense out of life.

Humans historically have believed many untrue things about reality.  They have believed in the god-like divinity of pharaohs and emperors.  They have believed in gods who lived in a mountain.  They have believed that sacrificing animals and humans to the gods will give you good fortune and make you get what you want.

When Europeans first came to the New World in their sailing ships, some native peoples believed they were gods.  It is easy to understand why they believed this.  But they were wrong.

Humans come up with stories and myths to make sense out of things they cannot understand with their minds.  While they believe these stories absolutely, the stories are false.  

Faith is not believing in a false story, or a myth.

Faith is acknowledging that you cannot understand the workings of reality with your conscious mind.  Your perception is too limited.  The mind will never grasp it, no matter how hard it tries.

But your heart can sense it.  And what the heart senses is good.

The goodness of a baby.  Of morning dew on grass.  The walk in the woods.  The sunset over the ocean.  These things are good.  The heart knows this.

When the mind is quiet and still, you remember this.  When you lose yourself in the moment.  When you are in a beautiful place, connected to nature.  When you are completely present with a beloved animal, or a small child — you remember.  You are there.

The mind that constantly races, with all its stories and judgments, hopes and fears — it is like a radio blaring harsh sounds.  It keeps changing stations, jumping from one idea to the next.  All you hear is a cacophony that jangles the nerves.  It sounds crazy.

But when the mind settles, the radio is turned off.  Suddenly you hear this beautiful, quiet music — like someone singing a lovely song, maybe outside or in another room.  Listening to that song makes you feel peaceful.  But with that loud radio on, you would never hear it.

So this is what reality is like.  Under all the mental noise, there is this beautiful music.  It is good music.  But you have to be very quiet in order to hear it.

Most humans have forgotten how to be quiet.  So they almost never hear the underlying music, the good music of the universe.  Instead, all they hear is that horrible loud radio station blaring in their ears all the time, every waking minute.

Imagine what it would be like if you woke up, and immediately plugged in earphones tuned to a news radio station broadcasting messages of doom and gloom, telling you all the horrible things going on in the world.  The station changes, and now it’s loud, nerve-jangling music.  The station changes, and now it’s another news station with people saying frightening things.  And this goes on and on, all day long, until you go to sleep.

A person in that situation would be anxious, depressed, angry, and in a very bad mood all the time.  That person might even get sick.

This is precisely the predicament most humans are in.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

You can take the earphones off.  And when you do, you will hear the quiet, beautiful music that is always playing.  The music you can’t normally hear, but is always there.

All you have to do is create a little quiet space in your life.  Time to let the mind settle down.  Time when you are not plugged into a computer, TV, or phone.  Time when you are not multitasking.  Time when you can simply be present.

Maybe it is a brief window of time to meditate.  Maybe you go for a walk outside, stopping to notice the trees, plants, sky, and the feeling of the ground under your feet.  Maybe you let yourself be fully present with a child or animal, without your mind racing about all the other things you have to deal with.

Then you will begin to hear the quiet song.

This song is the underlying truth, beneath all the untrue stories men invent to make sense of a reality they cannot understand with their minds.

You will never understand reality with your thinking mind.

But you can feel the goodness of reality when you are still, and quiet.

So if you are someone who has lost your faith, but wishes to find it again — true faith, not the false faith of believing in made-up stories and myths — just be still.  Be still.  Your faith will return.  Your heart knows what the mind cannot.  

When you slow down, reality reveals its essential goodness.

 

caveman

Today we ask you to do what is healthy.

Do what is healthy.

Most people reading this have a good sense of what is healthy, and what is not.

Being healthy means engaging in healthy behaviors.  Eating well, taking good care of your body, resting.  Doing things that are nourishing for you.  It also means avoiding unhealthy behaviors — not doing things that you know to be detrimental to your health.

Parents want to encourage their children to be healthy: to brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, and go to bed on time.  They also want to encourage their children to avoid unhealthy behaviors, like eating too much sugar or playing video games late into the night.

Of course, it is not so easy to encourage children to do these things.

And often it is even harder for a grown person to encourage himself to stay healthy and avoid unhealthy behaviors.

Why is it so hard to be healthy?  What is it about human nature that kicks and screams when you ask it to eat its vegetables and go to bed on time?

The human animal is easily prone to addictive behaviors.  Many of these behaviors were ones that were useful earlier in man’s evolutionary cycle, many thousands of years ago.

For most of human history, sugar was a scarce commodity.  People “ate their vegetables” because that was all there was to eat.  Sweet things like fruit were very useful sources of glucose, and there was no question of “gaining too much weight.”  People went to bed on time because after the sun went down, it was dark and there was not much to do.  The human nervous system is highly sensitive to stimuli, because it is on the alert for threats — predatory animals, raiders from enemy tribes.

So modern humans are equipped with caveman bodies that instinctively crave sweet food and are hypersensitive to stimuli.  But you now live in a world of cupcakes and iPads and video games.  And you cannot simply turn off the body’s instinctive craving for sugar and hypersensitivity around stimuli — even if the stimulus is just the pinging of a text message.

If you dropped a caveman into the modern world of cupcakes and smartphones, you can imagine how crazed he would be.  He would not be able to function.  That is the predicament many humans are in.  Is it any wonder that children and adults struggle with “attention deficit”?

So what is to be done?

First of all, if you understand that you are walking around in a caveman body, perhaps you can be less angry and judging toward yourself when you experience caveman cravings and responses to stimuli.  It is not because something is wrong with you, or because you are a bad person.  Your body is totally innocent.  It cannot help instinctively craving sweet things and being hypersensitive around stimuli.

Then it is really just a matter of being a good parent to your inner caveman.  It is up to you to consciously set boundaries and maintain healthy habits.

In Greek mythology, there is the story of Odysseus and the Island of the Sirens.  Odysseus knows that his ship will pass the Island of the Sirens, who sing an irresistible song that lures sailors to death and destruction.  So Odysseus orders his sailors to plug up their ears when they pass the Island.  However, as captain, he must leave his ears unplugged.  To deal with this, Odysseus ties himself to the mast of the ship, and tells his sailors that no matter how much he kicks, screams, or begs, they must not untie him until they are well past the Island.

Sure enough, as the ship passes the Island of the Sirens, Odysseus hears the irresistible song, and goes mad with desire.  If he weren’t tied to the mast, he would fling himself into the ocean and drown.  Luckily, he had the forethought to tie himself to the mast.  He survives because of his wisdom.

This is a good fable when it comes to staying healthy in a caveman body.

Everyone has their “siren songs” when it comes to unhealthy temptations and behaviors.  Many of these are genetic.  Most adults have a sense of what their “siren songs” are.

But the time to deal with these things is not when you are in the throes of craving and impulsive behavior.  The time to take action is when you are feeling relatively good, healthy, and calm.  That is when you have the wisdom and foresight to “tie yourself to the mast.”

So what does this mean?

For one thing, it means if you are exhausted, hungry, or in an agitated emotional state, you will always be more vulnerable to caveman urges.  Again, do not be judging toward yourself about this.  That is a waste of energy, and not useful.

Good plants cannot grow in unhealthy soil.  So the main thing to do in terms of cultivating healthy behavior is to look holistically, at the “ground” of your being.  Are you getting enough rest?  That is the first area to approach with all physical and mental health.  If you are exhausted, there is really no way for you to think clearly.  If you are exhausted, your body is more vulnerable to impulsive behavior, indulging in cravings, losing its temper, and of course falling prey to illness.

Most people understand that eating well and exercising is good for them.  But people do not really seem to understand that sleep and rest are absolutely essential for good health.  That is because modern society does not promote the value of sleep and rest — it is seen as “lazy.”

So really, before you look at any unhealthy pattern, look at your rest and sleep habits.  That is the “ground.”  If you are exhausted, you will always be at the mercy of your inner caveman.

Humans need at least eight hours of sleep at night to function optimally.  While it is possible for humans to go through short bouts of time in which they get less sleep, this creates a “sleep deficit” — which needs to be made up for.  That means active periods need to be followed by restful periods.  It means that if you go through an active period where you get less sleep, in order to keep your body and mind balanced, you must follow this with a period in which you sleep more than the minimum.

The simplest way to achieve better sleep is to minimize stimulation in the hours just prior to sleep, and to go to bed earlier.

Any parent knows that a child who is well-rested and fed nourishing food is far less prone to tantrums.  Adults are no different from children in this regard.  So this is the place to begin.

If you are well-rested and well-fed, then it a matter of observing, without judgment, the behaviors you wish to modify.  Again, the time to do this is not when you are in the grip of your unhealthy urges.  The time to do this is when you are feeling basically calm and good.

For example, if you did something that you regret, there is no point in thinking about it from a place of guilt and shame — that will only cloud your thinking.  You must wait until you have calmed down sufficiently to look at the matter with clarity.  Remember that you have a caveman body, and caveman urges.  Look at the circumstances surrounding the unhealthy behavior.  Were you tired and hungry?  Was there a specific trigger?  

By examining the unhealthy behavior with a clinical eye, you may get a better sense of how to avoid it in the future — how to tie yourself to the mast around this particular siren song.

Judgments about “good” and “bad” are really useless in these matters.  Humans can’t help having caveman bodies.  If you are realistic and accepting about this, you will go much further toward addressing unhealthy behaviors you wish to change.  Guilt will only make things worse.

jealousy

Today we ask you to let go of comparing yourself to other people.

Let go of comparing yourself with other people.

For many, this is like saying: “Let go of seeing the sky as blue.”  It is human nature to compare yourself with others, to see how you measure up against them, and to envy others for possessing what you perceive yourself to lack.

But comparison is a habit, and it can be dropped or certainly reduced like any habit.  And if you have any interest in finding peace in this life, releasing the compulsion to compare is a sure way to become more peaceful.

So let’s look at this.

The ego mind is always comparing itself.  Is this other person more successful than me?  Is this other person more attractive than me?  Is this other person smarter than me?  Is this other person more popular than me?  Is this other person more virtuous than me?  Is this other person better than me?  

That is the question: is the other person better than me, or am I better than the other person?

And if the ego mind decides that you are better than the other, you feel a puffed-up ego pride — that is, until you run up against someone who is better than you, as you inevitably will.

Ego minds are always making lists and rating things.  Who is the best?  Who is “Number One”?  And everyone strives for that coveted position, because it means they are better than the competition.  And second place and third place are okay — but, of course, not as good.

It is all very foolish.

It is like the tale of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”  The Emperor believes he is Number One, because he happens to be the Emperor, and so has a very puffed-up ego.  He surrounds himself with flatterers and people who affirm how wonderful he is.  So he becomes quite delusional, quite cut off from reality, and is talked into wearing a “royal wardrobe” that leaves him stark naked — though no one has the guts to tell him so.

There are many such people in the world, little petty emperors with puffed-up egos, spending money on foolish things because they can’t bear the thought of someone else possessing something they do not have.

This is the path of misery.  For in life, status is always transitory.  Everyone ages, everyone loses their dominance, there is always someone younger, smarter, and more attractive coming along to supplant you.  So if your sense of security and well-being is attached to status, to comparison with others, you are doomed to be unhappy.

That is why it is wise to break this habit.

In order to break a habit, you must first accept that the habit is destructive, that it is not good for you.

Many people do not understand that comparison to others is unhealthy, and breeds misery.  They believe that they need to be competitive in order to succeed in life.  They must always be sizing up the competition, and looking for ways to increase their rank.

And maybe they will achieve some sort of momentary success in doing so, it is true.  But they will find no peace in it.  The moment will pass all too quickly.

So if you are interested in peace, it would be good to consider living in another way.

What if you could go through life without comparing yourself to others?  What would that look like?

You would just be exploring what interests you, following what brings you delight.  What other people do has nothing to do with you.  You can appreciate what other people create, but you do not perceive them as “better” than you.  They do what they do, and you do what you do.  Sometimes you collaborate with others, and sometimes you do things on your own.  It is not about status or achievement.  It does not matter what other people think of you.  You are not doing what you do to win status in the world.  You are just doing what you do.

It really is possible to live in this way.  And it is a very peaceful way to live, not to mention a frame of mind that is highly conducive to creative expression.

The reason it seems difficult is because human society and culture tends to be dominated by ego-driven, status obsessed individuals, so people are conditioned from a very young age to think in those terms.  There is also a primal quality, as animals may compete with each other for dominant status, although they don’t go around comparing themselves to other animals and feeling depressed.  That said, animals do possess a sense of “fairness,” which is to say they can get agitated when they see another animal get a “treat” and they do not, for instance.  Obviously small children have the same tendency, getting upset if another child gets to play with a special toy and they do not.

So it a combination of human culture, and certain aspects of mammalian nature that breeds the urge to compare.

But one might argue that it is possible for a mature human adult to transcend the behavior of a two-year-old, no matter what his society may have to say about it.

The first thing to understand is that the comparison really is not healthy, even if it is “human nature” and “everyone else does it.”  There are many things that a lot of humans do habitually that aren’t good for anyone.

Once this is accepted, it is good to observe how often you find yourself comparing yourself to other people.  Just pay attention and note when it happens.  Label it “comparing.”  “There I go comparing again.”  Don’t judge yourself for doing it, just make a mental note.

As soon as you do this, you will have created some distance from the act of comparison.  That way the thoughts will have less power over you.  You will not believe them so completely.

Another thing to do is to really take a clear look at the person you are comparing yourself to.  Recognize that most humans have complicated lives and deal with problems.  Physical beauty, wealth, fame, achievements — these things by no means guarantee happiness.  In fact, very often these things create deep unhappiness, because of their transitory nature.  

Be honest with yourself: if you suddenly had the things you covet about other people’s lives, do you think it would give you lasting happiness?  If you switched places with them, do you really think it would solve all your problems?

The ego mind always reduces and objectifies things: “the pretty woman,” “the rich man,” “the famous athlete.”  But that is not all these people are.  Everyone is human, everyone has a soul, everyone deals with their own dramas.  When you compare yourself to someone, you are not really seeing that person as he or she is, but rather a made-up image in your mind, a projection.  You are comparing yourself to an imaginary person.

So try to remember this when you notice yourself comparing.  Remember that you cannot know this person’s inner life.

The wise path is just to focus on yourself, on become a healthier and more peaceful person.  The more at peace you are inside yourself, the less you will engage in the old habit of comparing yourself with others.  You may still fall into it from time to time, but it will not have the same charge for you.  You will not believe in it so much.

It is fine in this life to be second place, or third place, or fourth place, or no place at all.

It is when you are content in “no place” that you can see clearly.  You will know that the world’s little emperors are not wearing any clothes.

Finger wagging

Today we ask you to observe how much you are critical of yourself and others.

Observe how much you are critical of yourself and others.

Also observe how much other people are critical in general.  Observe how much criticism is in the world, in daily conversation, in the things you read and see.

There is a great deal of criticism out there.  Everyone is a critic.  There is a judging, negative voice in your head, and there are judging, negative voices out there in the world — criticizing, attacking, tearing apart, finding fault.

This creates an atmosphere that is essentially toxic and hostile to the healthy development of life — as if you were trying to function in a room filled with choking, corrosive smoke.

All this criticism doesn’t do anyone much good.

And yet the critical voice will tell you that it is absolutely necessary and useful.  How are you to achieve anything in this life, unless there is a critical voice to tell you where you are at fault and falling short?  How can you hope to improve yourself unless someone is pointing out what is wrong with you?  How are good people going to fix all the problems in the world without criticizing all the bad people who cause all the problems?  

Really this is very counterproductive.

Imagine going a single day without criticizing and negatively judging yourself and others.

Probably you would find this impossible to do, if you tried.

But if you could, you would find that this simple act would immediately improve your life, and improve the lives of those around you.

So if you are interested in improving things, it might be good to try letting go of the compulsion to criticize.

Usually the critical voice in your head will argue about this: “If I am not being critical, then I will be lazy and passive.  If I do not criticize others, they will also fall short.  It is necessary for me to be critical of my partner, my children, my family, my co-workers — otherwise they will keep doing things I don’t like.  Also, I need to complain and judge all those bad people in the world; otherwise, how will things ever change?”

In truth, nothing changes when people act as they have always acted.  And people have always been judging and critical.

But if you chose to do something radically different — like letting go of criticism — then you would actually notice a real change in your life.

This is not to say, let go of the ability to observe the world around you, or observe yourself.  It is not about wearing “rose-colored glasses” and being blind to what is.

There is a difference between clear-eyed observation, and judging criticism.

Observation is what happens when you try on a pair of shoes, and know that they do not fit you properly.

Criticism is what happens when you try on a pair of shoes, and because they do not fit you, you say: “These shoes are no good!” or “I am stupid for even trying on these shoes!” or “What kind of idiot made these horrible shoes?!”

Do you see the difference?

It is necessary to observe things, and feel whether or not they are a good fit for you, if they are harmonious with your energy.

If you are cooking a meal, you will want to observe if it tastes good to you.

If it does not taste good, don’t eat it.  But you don’t have to attack yourself over it.

Criticism has the energy of an attack.  Someone has done something wrong, someone is bad, someone really ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Observation just observes.  There is no attack with it.  If the shoe doesn’t fit, try another pair, or leave the store.  If the food doesn’t taste good, don’t force yourself to eat it.

So it is actually possible to go through life without attacking everything critically, and not be lazy, or a doormat, or let the whole world fall to pieces.

However, most humans are deeply conditioned to believe that critical attack directed toward the self and others is the only way to achieve goals, to get what you want, to fix problems, and to “save the world.”

But the world is not going to be saved by angry people.

Truly, this is is so.  The world is not going to be saved by angry people.

But what about the sense of outrage that motivates people toward seeking justice, righting wrongs, punishing wrongdoers, and helping the oppressed?

In general, action that arises from outrage causes harm as often as it leads to any good.  Many horrible things have been done by people who considered themselves heroic, righting wrongs, fighting justice, liberating the oppressed, and so on.  People who are often labeled as “terrorists” are, in their own minds, heroes seeking justice.  

That is why the world is not going to saved by angry people.

Generally speaking, if you are an anxious, angry, unhappy person, the wisest course is not to focus on fixing all the problems in the world, but rather on becoming more peaceful in your own existence.

And one sure way to do this is by letting go of the compulsion to criticize yourself and others.

Start by observing how much you do this now.  How much in a single day are you exposed to critical, attacking energy — in your mind, around other people, around voices in the media.

When you observe this behavior — observe, without judgment — you may be surprised at how much of your time is spent engaging in criticism, hearing other people criticize, or reading critical attacks.  And remember, “attack” is the key word.  Analytical observation is not the same as a judging attack.

Once you become conscious of how much critical attack energy is in your life, see if you can reduce it.  Just see if there is another approach you can take.  

As an experiment, try going through one day without critically judging other people.  See how long you can go.  That’s interesting in itself.  Notice how you feel, and how other people are around you, when you are less critical.  

Of course, criticizing yourself for being too critical negates the whole point of the experiment.

Just do it in a playful way.  And see what happens.

It is interesting to see what life feels like when you release the need to always criticize and judge everything.

Maybe it will feel so good that you will keep doing it.  And if you fall back into criticism, that is okay, too.

Awareness is everything.

you are not in control

Today we ask that you release your desire to control.

Release your desire to control.

This is a very difficult thing for humans.  

It is natural to wish to control reality and make it do what you want.  It is natural to wish to control other people and make them do what you want.  It is natural to believe that if only you could control things, you would be safe and happy.

But this is not true.

Your true happiness and your true safety lies in doing just the opposite: releasing, at last, your need to control.

Many of you know intellectually that it is not good to be a controlling sort of person.  Certainly you do not like it when someone else tries to be controlling with you.

And yet even very spiritually open-minded people are controlling.  In fact, spiritual pursuits are for many just another way of seeking control over reality.  They think that by meditating and learning about energy, they will become wizards, of sorts.  Of course, they will be good wizards!  They will use their magical spiritual powers for good!  But still, they desire control.  And that desire does not lead to good things.  

The desire for control always paves the way for darker impulses.  In this way many religions, even when they begin in a place of deep wisdom, over time grow corrupt.  It is because religious leaders seek control over men.

It could be said that if humans are here to learn any one thing, it is this: release the desire to control.  Let go, let go.

There is one story in the Bible that gets to the heart of this matter, and it is a story that people do not like.  It is the story of Job.  Most people think that this is a story about enduring suffering with faith, but this is not so.

At the beginning of the tale, Job is a fellow who thinks he is control over reality because he is very rich and fortunate.  He is a virtuous, charitable wealthy man, and pious in his religion.  He has taught his children also to be pious — although he fears that they are not pious enough.  In any case, he attributes his good fortune to his good deeds and upright morality.  He is a good person, therefore he deserves good fortune.  Most people believe as he does.

Then, as the story goes, one day Job loses everything: his fortune is lost, his family destroyed, and he is afflicted physically.  His “friends” tell him that surely he must have done something wrong in order to deserve this terrible fate.  God must be punishing him.  This, too, is what many people believe, even if they do not believe in God.  When something bad happens, people generally look for someone to blame.  Some might say that Job “attracted” his misfortune.  Others might say it is bad karma from another life.  

But Job cannot see that he has done anything to deserve this.  So he angrily confronts God: I am a good man, there must be a terrible error here.  God, you have made a mistake!

And then Job receives an answer: he is given a glimpse of the utter vastness of the universe, of things far beyond Job’s understanding.  Job falls down and admits that he knows nothing; he was wrong to question God’s will.  

This is the part of the story that many people do not like.  It seems like the anthropomorphic God of the story merely bullies Job into submission, into saying “Yes, God, you are right.”  And then in the end God gives Job back all his “stuff” — his fortune returns, he starts a new family.   

But this is not really what the story is saying.

What Job discovers in the depths of his despair is that he is not in control of anything, that he was never in control of anything.  In that moment he releases his desire to control — to control even God — and so becomes “enlightened,” in the Buddhist sense.  And so he enters into a place of deep peace.

Before Job experienced loss, he was successful — but he had no peace.  He believed that success was the product of his good behavior, and thus contingent on his continued good behavior.  He worried that his children were not pious enough.  That is how life is when you are trying to control everything.  There is never any peace, there is always worry.  So when Job learns that he is not in control, that he was never in control, there is a part of him that finally relaxes and knows peace; a part that has never known peace all his life.  He understands that no matter how “good” he may be, he cannot control reality.  He cannot prevent himself from experiencing change and loss.

So let’s look at this.

Many people believe, as the Job character does at the beginning of the story, that if you are a good, moral, hard-working person, then you will succeed in life.  If you are religious, you may be more focused on the “moral” part of the equation, according to the tenets of your religion.  If you are moral and God-fearing, then you will be safe, you will go to Heaven.  If you are non-religious, you may be more focused on the “hard work” part of the equation — if you work hard, you will achieve your worldly goals, and thus be rich, successful, and secure.  Some people on the spiritual path have their own version of this: if you clear all your energetic blockages, then you will be secure and fortunate, you will be able to “manifest” your desires.

But as comforting as these beliefs may be, often life does not seem to work that way.

Some people work very hard at things, and fail.  Some people are very pure and moral, and lose everything.  

Well, then: those people must be “doing it wrong.”

They must not be working hard enough.  Or even if they are working hard, they are not smart enough, they are not making the right decisions.  If they are religious, then maybe secretly they are sinful and immoral.  If they are on the spiritual path maybe they have energetic blockages or bad karma.

In any case, the story always is: the reason you cannot control reality is because there is something wrong with you.  Whatever you are doing, you are doing it the wrong way.  Maybe your parents are to blame, but still: if you are not in control, it means there is something wrong, and you must redouble your efforts.  You must work even harder, you must be even purer, you really need to clear out all those energetic blockages.

 But what if none of this is true.  What if it is a great lie.

What if, quite simply, you are not in control.  And nothing you do will you give you the control you so desperately crave.  No matter how hard you try, control will always elude you.  Because it is impossible.

What if the very thing you want most will happen only when you let go of trying to control everything?

Most people think this implies a kind of weak passivity.  If you are not working very hard to become a master of reality, then what are you?  A lazy person who sits around not trying to achieve anything.  A worthless person.

But this is not true.  It is a lie.

It is very possible to release the desire for control, while still being incredibly creative and active in the world.  In fact, releasing the controlling urge is what allows this creativity to bubble forth.  

Creativity comes from a place of relaxed awareness.  Not vegetative passivity, but a relaxed, peaceful state.

And the doorway to that relaxed, alert, creative place opens when you admit and acknowledge that you are not in control.  

It means no longer perceiving yourself as broken and defective when things don’t go your way.

It means acknowledging that yes, even if you work very hard at something, you may fail — and that is okay.  

You are not in control of reality.

And that other person over there, that homeless person, that person whose life you judge to be a mess — he is not in that place because he didn’t work hard enough or because there is something defective about him.

He can’t control reality either.

Any religion, belief system or guru who promises you that you can control reality if you just do all the right things is lying to you.  The guru may not know he is lying, but sooner or later he will discover this truth for himself.

There is no guru, alive or dead, who was ever in control of reality.

Reality cannot be controlled because — as Job perceived — it is far, far, bigger and far more intelligent than the little ego mind that wishes to control it.

Consider the vast scope of the universe, how grand and beyond comprehension the workings of the cosmos.

Now, do you really think you can control that?

You cannot.  it is not possible.

But please be assured that the universe, in all its vastness, is intelligent — intelligent beyond your current capacity to understand — and, more importantly, it is loving.  It is a loving reality that you dwell in, even if it hard to perceive this.  

In this intelligent, loving reality, you do not have to prove your worth.  Every baby born is infinitely precious, though he has achieved nothing.

In this intelligent, loving reality, there is nothing wrong with you, there is nothing defective about you, even if you have been brainwashed into believing that you are a failure according to your culture’s arbitrary standards.

When you finally stop trying to control everything, you will begin to perceive the intelligent, loving nature of reality.

And of course it is okay if you keep trying to control things.  It is a difficult habit to break.  Nothing is wrong with you because you still want to control things.

But if you desire peace, you may wish to observe the ways in which you seek and try to maintain control over reality.

Has it ever worked?  Have you ever truly been in control?

Really sit with this.

Understanding this will not give you control.  But it will give you peace.

connect with your heart

Today we ask you to connect with your heart.

Connect with your heart.

Most of you are aware that the heart is more than the organ that circulates blood through the body.

So what is the heart?

The heart is the center.  It is the center from which all things arise and to which all things return, just as the blood leaves the heart and returns.  It lies within, and can only be accessed by going inward.

The heart is full of life energy.  It is like a fountain, pouring forth, bubbling, creative, vibrant, joyful.

Love is of the heart, but it is not a possessive or clinging love.  It is unconditional.  It is closer to “joie de vivre.”  The dog running through the field, the child giggling in play — that is the love of an open heart.

In the human body, the heart lies between the head and the gut.  The head is the seat of the mind, the gut the seat of the emotions.  A healthy heart center regulates and balances these two poles.

But most humans are disconnected from their centers, from their hearts.  When this happens, either the head or the gut becomes dominant, often in an unhealthy way.

The head-dominant person usually suppresses his emotions, taking the archetypal “Jekyll and Hyde” pattern — the cold thinker with a submerged emotional pressure cooker always threatening to boil over.

The gut-dominant person in turn, is hostile toward the logical mind, believing that his feelings are his guide, which is often not strictly true.  Fear drives the gut-dominant person toward impulsive, compulsive action.   While the gut-dominant person may believe that his feelings are his guide, in fact he is often motivated by fearful thoughts that he tries to suppress.

Head-dominant people often pair up with gut-dominant people in relationships, and struggle with one another in predictable ways.

But this would not be the case in a human with a healthy heart center.   For the heart center is meant to regulate and balance the head and the gut.

So what does this mean?

A healthy heart is courageous, which is to say it is capable of transcending the emotional fear of the gut, and the mental fear of the mind.

Courage really just means trust.  The dog running through the field, the child squealing with laughter — these beings wholeheartedly trust reality, in that moment.  They are not caught up in neurotic, fearful thought patterns, nor are they driven by their impulsive emotional fears.  They are just at play.

Most humans might be called “heartbroken,” which is to say they no longer trust reality.  This loss may have occurred early in childhood, or later on.  But generally speaking, almost all humans, in the course of their conditioning, lose their ability to act from the heart.  Their hearts close down, and either the head or the gut dominates.

Why does this happen?  Because most human society and culture is not conducive to the health of the heart.  Humans are taught that being “realistic” means shutting down the heart center and listening to other voices: the voice of the head that claims to be rational and pragmatic even as it promotes a joyless life, and the voice of the gut, which claims that impulsive, defensive action will protect you from harm.

A heart-centered culture would cultivate a sense of joy, playfulness, and sacredness.  Sacredness without pious solemnity.  Life is beautiful, life is sacred, and humans are meant to enjoy it.

A heart-centered culture would also cultivate stillness, because stillness is necessary to go inward and connect with heart energy.  That is why meditative practices are so useful.  In meditation, mental thoughts and emotional impulses are observed, but not acted on.  Their energy is allowed to dissipate, usually by focusing on the breath.  Focusing on the breath automatically connects you to your heart center.

The heart is the seat of the soul, which is to say the part of the self that is timeless, immortal, and interconnected with all things.

The problem with a lot of religions is that concept of “God” is often exteriorized — presented as being somewhere outside.  And so people go searching for the God that is outside, searching for the Holy Grail.

But this energy lies within, inside, as close to you as your own heart.  That is where “God” dwells.  You are sacred, your body is sacred, life is sacred — and it is meant to be enjoyed.  Deep down every one of you knows this, because this truth is as fundamental as your DNA.  Your sacredness is a law of the universe.

Humans do not believe they are sacred, because they are usually taught the exact opposite: you are broken, you are defective, there is something wrong with you.  And this is the real cause of “heartbreak.”  A strong heart connection cannot withstand the relentless attack of a human mind conditioned to believe false things about reality; conditioned to believe in its own defectiveness.

The good news is: all hearts can be healed and mended.  No one ever truly loses his heart connection.  It never closes completely.  The inner door is always there.

All humans wind up going through that door when their physical bodies die.

But it is possible to re-open that door while you are still alive, in this place.

Right now, just be still, focus on your heart, and connect in your mind with someone or something that you love unconditionally, that you are deeply grateful for.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.  It could be a cup of coffee, or the comfort of your warm bed at night.  It could be a beloved pet, or a plant in the garden, or a tree.  Just connect with something that brings you complete joy, and feel that joyful, loving feeling permeate your body.

That is how you connect with your heart.

As you gain facility with connecting to your heart, use it to guide your actions.  As you contemplate a decision, check in with your heart.  See if you sense that peaceful, joyful, heart-centered feeling that you associate with something you love unconditionally.

It is very hard for most humans to trust their hearts, and yet the heart is the truest guide humans possess.  

Please note that the heart is different from the gut.  While heart and gut may be in accordance, sometimes the gut can be ruled by fear.  Notice if there is a compulsive or impulsive quality around the feeling.  The heart is steady and still, whereas the gut can be restless and churning; it cannot wait, it must do it now.  It is often wise to “sleep on” actions and decisions just to make sure they really are coming from the heart.  

 Really the best thing to do is to connect with your heart on a regular basis, by allowing yourself to feel unconditional love and gratitude even for small things.  The more your heart connection opens, the more trust and courage you will feel.

“God” is never outside of you.  Sacredness is not outside.  It is inside.  It is in your heart.

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