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.

don't be ashamed of yourself

Today we ask that you release your shame around “doing the wrong thing.”

Release your shame around “doing the wrong thing.”

Sometimes it is said that “Money is the root of all evil.”  But it is much truer to say that “Shame is the root of all evil.”

This may sound wrong.  Isn’t shame what keeps people moral?  Don’t we teach our children to feel shame in order to prevent wrongdoing?

This is perhaps the greatest misconception of all: that shaming ourselves and other people breeds morality.

In truth it does the opposite: shame breeds physical and mental illness, and leads directly to acts of human perversity and violence on a grand scale.

If you examine the majority of violent and criminal acts, at the root of these acts is some sort of shame.

Societies with high rates of violence and suicide are always heavily shame-oriented.

What is “shame”?

First of all, it is a learned phenomenon.  Babies are not born with a sense of shame.  It is something they pick up from the people around them — often while they are still pre-verbal.

Shame is the belief that you are bad, broken, or defective — either because you have done something wrong, or because there is something fundamentally wrong with you.

Often this feeling is so unbearable that the human ego responds to it by lashing out at other people, shaming and blaming them: “It’s not my fault, it’s his!”

And therein lies the root of much human violence: “It’s not my fault, it’s his!”

The Biblical myth of Cain and Abel captures it neatly: Cain feels existential shame because his brother Abel is praised and preferred over him.  If Abel is better, there must be something wrong with Cain.  He finds this feeling so unbearable that he kills his brother.

Much criminal behavior is rooted in such energy.  Most wars are started in this way.

Shame is everywhere.  It is like the air humans breathe.  Men and women are told how they should look, how much they should weigh, what clothes they should wear, what their partners should look like, how much money they should earn, how their children should do in school.  If they do not live up to these standards, they are taught that they should feel shame.

Since no one can live up to these standards, everyone feels ashamed.

It could be said that shame is the human condition.

Even “spiritually evolved” people are ashamed.  They do not meditate enough.  Their diet is not pure enough.  Perhaps they have bad karma from another lifetime.

This leads to all kinds of insane behavior.

Consider the problem:

Humans are taught that they ought to be perfect.  If they fall short of perfection, they should feel bad about themselves; they should feel ashamed.

Some pursue physical perfection, others pursue perfection through achievement, others through the acquisition of wealth, others by being perfect parents, others try to attain moral perfection according to their religion.

When they inevitably fall short, they feel ashamed.  And this feeling makes them angry and unhappy.  So — they attack other people, trying to make themselves feel better by pointing out the worthlessness of others.

It is all very crazy.

Some would say that it is important to teach shame because it is the basis of the social order.  Things would devolve into anarchy if it weren’t for shame.

This is partially true.  Often it is shame that keeps corrupt societies and systems going.  Slave-owning American Southerners believed that black people were intrinsically inferior; their children were taught that treating blacks as equals was shameful.  This kept their society going.  Germans in World War II were taught that feeling compassion for Jews, homosexuals  and other “undesirables” was shameful.  Hitler was trying to create a perfect society, you see.

As for morality: it is entirely possible to teach children not to behave destructively toward themselves or others without teaching them that they are “bad boys” or “bad girls.”  It is entirely possible to model healthy behavior for children, and not teach them that they are broken and defective if they do not meet certain standards according to their particular culture.

It is entirely possible to set boundaries and say “no” without shaming someone.

But what about “remorse”?  What about feeling bad when you have wronged someone?  Isn’t that feeling necessary?

The quality of compassion in humans arises naturally when people release destructive habits — including shame.  The more peaceful you are, the less likely you are to harm or attack others.  When compassion arises, it is natural to wish to acknowledge or make amends to those one has harmed in the past.  But this is different from what people normally associate with shameful remorse.  There is no sense of brokenness, defectiveness, or wrongness around this feeling.

Compassion for others cannot arise without compassion for the self.  When someone carries around a lot of shame, usually that person is also very judging and blaming toward others.  Humans treat others at they treat themselves, you see.  Outward attacks always indicate inward attacks.

True compassion arises without attacking yourself inwardly.  It can involve clear-eyed observation of your behavior — seeing, perhaps, that you behaved destructively toward another because you were not in your right mind.  But clear-eyed observation of behavior is not the same as shame.

This is very challenging for humans to understand, because human society is so deeply rooted in shame.  A culture that is not based in shame may seem very alien to most humans — almost “inhuman.”

But it is very possible to live this way.

For example, take someone who wishes to lose weight.

Most people do this from a place of shame.  They are ashamed that they are overweight.  They attack themselves, and fear that others will attack and judge them.  They believe that something is wrong with them: either they are bad because they eat too much, or something is defective with their genes.

What if it were possible to approach one’s physical appearance without shame?  What would this look like?

It would look like the desire to be healthier.  A person just wants to feel good in his body, and do what is healthy for his body.  There is no shame here, just a clear-eyed observation of what feels good and healthy for the body, and what does not.

Someone who carries the simple desire to create greater health in his body will, over time, naturally adopt healthier habits.  Weight loss may occur as a result of this, but there is no shame here.  Rather, action is coming from a place of self-love.

Who do you think will be more successful at maintaining a healthy body weight?  Someone who is full of shame and self-loathing?  Or someone who loves himself and wants to be healthy?

This is true of all things — including morality and “knowing the difference between right and wrong.”  Who is more likely to treat his fellow man with kindness and compassion?  Someone who is full of shame and self-loathing?  Or someone who loves himself?

Herein lies the great fallacy of shame-based morality.

Teaching people that they ought to be ashamed of themselves when they do something wrong, according to their culture’s standards, does not make people more moral.

If it did, you would not have so many supposedly pious religious people committing so many destructive acts toward other humans.

Shame does not make people more moral.  It just makes them hate themselves, and in turn hate others.

Rather than focusing on what is right and wrong, good and bad — focus instead on what is healthy for you.  Ask, “Is this behavior healthy for me?  Is what I’m doing right now healthy?”  Try to observe the situation clearly, without listening to the internal voice of judgment, shame, and self-attack.

Do what is healthy, and you will naturally create greater well-being for yourself and others.  Shame has nothing to do with it.

distracted-brains_-_red_light

Today we ask that you minimize distraction.

Minimize distraction.

Modern humans exist in a reality defined by constant distraction.  Never in history have humans been so distracted.

Consider the majority of human history.  Until recently, in the greater scheme of things, humans did not have access to electricity.

Think about this.  No electricity.  Your days are defined by the rising and setting sun, by the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon.  At night you see by candlelight, by torch, by fire.

Your entertainment is restricted to what can be performed by other humans in your presence: storytelling, playacting, theater, music.  Or else you read what’s written on paper — or, earlier, what’s on clay, or what’s on the walls.

Imagine what it would be like if you were plunged into a world without computers, phones, and televisions.  Without cars and subways and planes.  Without electric light.  Messages must be written on paper, sent by messenger — on horseback, by boat.  

Most modern people would go into withdrawal — for of course modern devices and distractions are not only convenient, they are highly addictive.  The silence would be overwhelming, threatening.

But after a while people would feel more peaceful and relaxed.  Modern life, with all its toys and distractions, its bright screens and chiming noises and instant messages, is very hard on the human nervous system.  Remember that the human nervous system evolved in a world without electricity.

The human nervous system is a finely tuned instrument, exquisitely sensitive to stimuli.  Modern devices and distractions have a way of “blowing out” the human nervous system — the way your hearing is blown out after sitting through a loud rock concert.  Imagine if your whole life was spent at a loud rock concert.  Your hearing would be dulled, damaged.  You’d go deaf.

That is the predicament many modern humans are in.  Because external stimuli is so loud, so blaring — human nervous systems have essentially “gone deaf.”  This is both painful — like the ringing in the ears after a loud rock concert — and desensitizing.

The answer is simple, yet difficult for many people to implement.

Minimize distraction.  Reduce external stimulation.

In an ideal world, all people would spend time in “retreat” every year.  Just as health-oriented individuals sometimes go on a fast or juice diet to give their digestive systems a rest, people would go on a fast from electronic devices to give their nervous systems a rest.  People might go to the woods, or the countryside.  No phones, no computers, no televisions. Minimal distraction.  Many mental and physical issues would be healed in this way.

For many, this is not practical.  Yet it is important to be aware that a life of constant distraction and stimulation takes a toll on one’s health and well-being.

There are some simple steps one can take.

It is good to spend time outdoors, with electronic devices shut off, or at least silenced.  It is good to take time every day to see the sky and the trees.

It is good to carve out distraction-free time.  Some people have reclaimed the Biblical concept of the Sabbath, instituting a day of rest from the burden of constant distraction, turning off electronic devices for the duration of the day.  This is very wise.

Some people make their meal times or dinner tables free from electronic devices, reclaiming the time for basic human connection and conversation.

Parents are wise to make their time with their children distraction-free, especially if they work and are often away their children.  But even a stay-at-home parent would be wise to minimize electronic distraction when in the presence of a child.

It is good to put boundaries around distraction.  To set a timer when you surf the internet or look at social media.  To place healthy filters around what you take into your consciousness, and when.

Imagine two laboratory rats tasked with finding a piece of cheese hidden in a maze.

One rat just has to find the cheese.

The other rat has to find the cheese, but also has loud noises blaring in its ears, and bright lights flashed in its eyes.

Which rat do you think finds the cheese?  And which rat is more stressed out?  

So: if you wish to accomplish your goals, and reduce stress — do whatever you can to minimize distraction.  

don't do things because you should

Today we ask that you release the compulsion to do things because you “should.”

Don’t do things because you think you “should.”

When you do things half-heartedly, out of a sense of obligation or guilt, when you do things with fear as your primary motivation — you are acting from a place of “should.”

Many people live their whole lives this way.  They do everything because they believe they “should.”

If you want to be unhappy and frustrated, living from “should” is the most direct way to go about it.

The world is full of people who will tell you what you “should” do.  Parents, teachers, bosses, peers, religious officials, pundits, people on the internet and TV.  Everyone is going to tell you what you “should” do.

In general, when someone tells you what you “should” do, it is wise to take a good, long, clear look at that person.

Is this a happy, fulfilled person who is telling you what to do?  Is this person living in a way that you find inspiring?

Usually happy, fulfilled, inspiring people aren’t the kind of people who are going to lecture you on what you “should” do with your life.  Such people understand that all beings must be free to make their own choices.

Usually the loudest “should” voices come from people who are unfulfilled.  Usually it is the most miserable people who are going to give you advice about what you “should” be doing.

Please remember that life is precious, and briefer than you think.  Many times it takes a brush with life-threatening illness in order for people to drop their “shoulds.”

Why not take a look at your “shoulds” without the prompt of a major illness?

What are you doing in life from a place of “should”?

Most often the “shoulds” overlap with those parts of your life in which you experience the most unhappiness and conflict.

Many people stay in relationships because they believe they “should.”  But if you don’t love — or even like — the person you are with, how does that benefit anyone?  Your partner would potentially be much happier in a genuinely loving relationship, not stuck with someone who remains in the bond out of “should.”

Many people stay in jobs they do not like out of “should.”  Such people don’t really help anyone, for they are not effective workers.  A company full of employees who genuinely want to be working there is obviously a far more productive company than one full of half-hearted employees who go to work only because they “should.”

Often people object that if no one did things out of obligation and “should,” then society would break down.  No one would do anything.  Everyone would be lazy, and sit on the couch all day doing nothing.

But this is a lie.

The fantasy of “sitting on the couch doing nothing” goes hand in hand with living a life of “shoulds.”

People who actually want to be doing what they are doing are highly motivated.  While everyone needs downtime, people who want to be doing what they do have no problem getting off the couch.  They find their work fulfilling.

You see, living a life of “should” is like being a slave.

Slaves are people who, by definition, don’t want to be doing what they are doing.  But they are trapped.  Everything they do lacks motivation.  They want only to escape — to rest, to sleep, to drown their troubles in drink or drugs or entertainment.  All slaves have been like this since antiquity.  The slaves of Egypt and Rome were like this.

When you live life from a place of “should,” it does not matter if you drive a nice car or live in a nice house.  It does not matter if your children attend a nice school.  You are a slave, like all the slaves of human history.  There have been countless slaves who dwelled in gilded cages — this is so commonplace as to be a cliche.

Slaves in ancient Rome were allowed to cut loose once a year at the Saturnalia Festival, where they drank and debauched themselves like college students on “spring break.”  This yearly “vacation” from slavery made them more complacent slaves, as their masters well understood.

A modern slave is someone who dreads the alarm clock, who wearily slogs through his days, who constantly dreams of escape, who drowns his troubles in drink or substance abuse, who feels always frustrated and exhausted.  Who lives, always, from “should.”

People argue that if they didn’t live this way, their lives would fall apart.  Bills wouldn’t be paid.  They would wind up on the street.

Often this isn’t really true.

It is one thing to remain in an unsatisfying job because it is temporary, because it is a step on the path to something more fulfilling.

It is another to remain in an unsatisfying job — or series of jobs — until you retire, always complaining, but never taking action.

One person is free.  The other a slave.

In general, what keeps modern slaves enslaved is the fear of going against their culture, their tribe, their family, their society.  The human fear of becoming an outcast runs so deep that it is strong enough to keep countless people stuck in miserable lives.

Consider adolescents, who are so preoccupied with being socially accepted by their peers that they do all kinds of things they don’t really want to do.

Most people never outgrow that phase.  They are still in “high school” — still so preoccupied with social acceptance and status-seeking that they spend their whole lives doing things they don’t really want to do.

The mark of a true grown-up is that he does what he does from a place of true desire, true intention.  When he makes a compromise, it is with the understanding that what he does serves his greater purpose in the long run.

There are very few true adults in this world.

So look at your life.  See if what you do comes from a place of “should.”  Notice the places in which you feel trapped and enslaved.  Are you taking action to liberate yourself, or are you complacent and complaining?

Are you free?  Or are you a slave?

Do not listen to people who tell you what you “should” do.   A loving parent instructs a teenaged son or daughter not to cave into peer pressure and do things he doesn’t want to do because he thinks he “should.”  Yet how many adults are capable of this?

Follow your heart.  Follow your soul.  That way lies freedom.

apple

Today we ask that you focus on what is conducive to your health.

Focus on what is conducive to your health.

What does this mean?

Most of you who are open to reading this message have a basic sense of what is healthy for you, and what is not.

You know what kinds of foods are healthy.  You know that it is good for you to exercise your body, and so forth.

You know the difference between an apple and “junk food.”

What is “junk food”?  It is food that lacks nutritive value, often involves chemical processing,  and contains unhealthy sugars and fats.  While its flavors may satisfy an addictive craving — and it may offer a cheap, quick fix — usually it does not sit particularly well in your body.  If your lifestyle involves a great deal of “junk food” consumption, your physical health will deteriorate.  You will gain weight, and be prone to diseases.

This is how you know that junk food is not conducive to your health.  Because it makes you sick.

In general it is not all that hard to determine what is unhealthy.  Usually the pattern is similar to junk food: while the unhealthy behavior or substance may satisfy a craving and offer a quick fix, repeated indulgence deteriorates your health.

Conversely, healthy behaviors and substances increase your health.  They make your mind and body healthier.  You feel better — not a quick fix, necessarily, but a lasting improvement, often one that occurs gradually.  Over time, you may even find that your habits change: you now crave apples more than candy bars.

And by the way, it is okay to have the occasional candy bar.  It’s just when you are eating candy bars every day, that the problems arise.  

Just as there are healthy and unhealthy foods and substances, there are healthy and unhealthy behaviors.

A healthy person is someone who generally does things that are harmonious for his well-being, and the well-being of others.

A healthy person tends to increase feelings of well-being — for himself, and others.

An unhealthy person tends to increase feelings of disharmony and dis-ease — for himself, and others.

In stories, heroes are generally individuals who increase harmony and well-being in the world, while villains are those who increase disharmony and dis-ease.  

That is how you can tell the difference.

Obviously there are a great deal of disharmony-increasing people and situations in your reality.

And the existence of those people and situations tends to be very upsetting for those of you who wish to increase health and well-being in the world.

However, focusing your attention and energy on disharmonious people and situations is, generally speaking, unhealthy for you.

For example: you are going about your business, and suddenly someone says something very rude to you.

Now your whole day is ruined.  You brood over this rude person, and what he said.

Doing this is an unhealthy habit.  It’s like eating junk food.  It may satisfy a craving — which is to get back at this rude person, to imagine all the remarks you might have made.

But the more you do this, the worse you will feel.

Likewise, when you spend all day brooding over distressing, fear-inducing news, you are not helping anyone or anything.  You are only increasing dis-ease.

You may say, “Well, I need to stay informed.”  But in truth, any information that you truly need to hear will find its way to you.  

However, stewing in a morass of fear-inducing news just puts you in a foul mood, making you more prone to lash out at your loved ones and those around you.  

So no one is being helped, and you are only increasing disharmony in the world.

That is why this behavior is unhealthy — like eating junk food.

If you really want to increase well-being in the world, you must learn to wrest your attention away from all the disharmonious people and the things they do that you don’t like — before you sink into a foul mood over it.  

You do that by choosing to focus your attention on that which increases your feelings of well-being.  Go for a walk, and look at the trees and the sky.  Cuddle an animal.  Meditate, do yoga, ride a bike, go for a swim.  Do something that is genuinely helpful for yourself or someone else.  Express appreciation for something good in your life.  That is the equivalent of “eating an apple.”

That is what it means to focus on what is conducive to your health.

Indulging in black feelings about this or that person, or this or that situation, really is like eating junk food.  It is okay to do once in a while, if you must — but do it every day, and you’ll get sick.

So if you are someone who wants to be healthy, and tries to maintain healthy habits — keep this in mind.

Everything you take in is “food.”

What you take in through your mouth, you digest in your intestines.  What you take in through your eyes and ears, you digest in your mind.

So eat good food, if you want to be healthy.  

Focus your attention on what is conducive to your health.

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