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Today we ask that you take baby steps.

Take baby steps.

What does this mean?

Many modern people live in a constant state of “overwhelm.” There is too much to do, and nothing seems to get done. People are running around all over the place, exhausted, and yet they do not seem to get anywhere. 

There are many factors at play: never before in history have people been so distracted, their attention divided and broken. At the same time, never before in history have people demanded and expected so much of themselves.

Basically, modern humans have a habit of biting off far more than they can reasonably chew. And this is causing a great deal of life indigestion. 

So what is the remedy for this?

As with many seemingly complex problems, the answer here is not all that complicated: Simplify. Do less. Focus.

Yet while many people understand in theory that it would be good to simplify their lives and be more focused, somehow this does not happen. 

That is because your culture promotes the idea that being very busy and overwhelmed means you are doing something right. It is the mark of a virtuous, hard-working, successful person.

Beyond that, the modern lifestyle of electronic devices breeds distraction, building the sense that there is far more out there than one can possibly take in: more information, more entertainment, more emails and texts, more social media updates than one can possibly keep up with, and so on.

So this is what is going on.

Getting things done is, in truth, not all that difficult.

There is a task you wish to accomplish. You break it down into steps. You perform the steps. The task is done.

If you wish to mail a package, for example, you must pack it appropriately, then deliver it to a place from which it can be shipped.

All tasks break down this way, into small, bite-sized steps.

The problem arises when you want to mail the package, but also you are thinking about twenty other things you have to do today, and you check your phone twenty times, and you start other tasks, and so the day passes and the package is not mailed, and you feel like a bad person, but you justify to the judge in your head how very very very busy you are…

It is okay if you do not have time to mail the package today. Getting things done requires you to be realistic about your time and limitations. What does not help is thinking that you should be doing more than you can reasonably do. 

And herein lies the real problem. Culturally, modern people are conditioned to believe that they should be capable of doing a great deal more than they can reasonably do. If people did not believe this, they would actually do more.

Is this clear? It is because people believe they should be doing more than they can reasonably do, that less gets done.

Imagine shouting at a toddler who is just taking his first baby steps: “You should be walking already! You are too slow! What is wrong with you?! You will not be able to compete against the other toddlers if you don’t hurry up!”

This would be insane. What’s more, it would effectively paralyze the toddler, delaying if not outright preventing the process of learning to walk.

Yet this is exactly what most people are doing to themselves all the time.

Everything in life requires “baby steps.” Everything is a process. When people lose sight of this, and become fixated on achieving results as quickly as possible, a kind of madness sets in — and very little gets done.

You cannot bully a toddler into walking faster (although some parents, in their mad competitiveness, actually try this).

Likewise, you cannot bully yourself into doing more than you can reasonably do.

So maybe the cultural image of the “Busy, Overwhelmed, Overworked Person” is not healthy. Maybe instead of agreeing with the idea that a good, hard-working person in this age must be exhausted and overwhelmed, one should question this.

If you saw a parent yelling at a toddler to walk faster, you would probably think “That is not good.” You would question it.

So question the ways you yell at yourself, or others, for taking “baby steps.”

No baby can simply get up and walk with assurance. There is always a learning process involved.

Beyond this, how well do you think a toddler would learn to walk if he were in a state of constant distraction — say, if he were plugged into a toddler smartphone? Obviously, this would slow everything down.

If you are experiencing overwhelm, please find ways to step away from your electronic devices. Pay attention to how often you check them, and make a conscious effort to do this less.

Give yourself the time, space and freedom to take baby steps — without yelling at yourself that you ought to be going faster, and doing more.

Imagine the relief you would feel if you stopped believing that you should do more than you can do.

With all that relief, things might get accomplished magically.

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Today we ask you to be true to yourself.

Be true to yourself.

Do what feels good, right, and harmonious to you.

This sounds like it shouldn’t be so hard, but for many people, this is harder than competing in an Olympic sport or climbing Mount Everest.

Why is it so difficult to be true to yourself?  To be true to your unique, individual nature?

There are many reasons for this.  Humans are social animals, interdependent on one another.  Children naturally seek out the approval of parents, teachers, and peers.  If parents, teacher, and peers continually tell them that they must be different from who they are and suppress their natures, they will generally do so.  It is a simple survival tactic.  Humans do what they must to survive.

But of course this particular survival tactic leads to no end of misery.  Suppressing your true self is like going through life with your dominant arm tied behind your back.  You are cut off from your strength.  You feel chronically frustrated.  Something is wrong here.  You lose feeling in the tied-up arm, but it still aches.  You sense it is there.

So it has ever been for homosexuals who felt shame around their natures and tried to live as heterosexuals.  So it has ever been for women who lived out traditional mother/wife roles when it was not their nature to do so.  So it is for people who spend their days doing things they have no real interest in, to please their families and fit into society.  

Historically, and in modern suppressive societies, people did these things because they wanted to physically survive and not be punished.  In modern, more tolerant societies, it is not so cut and dry — but people often still believe that they have no choice, that they must live inauthentically if they want to survive.

There is no judgment around any of this.  If you are a woman living in society dominated by a fundamentalist religion that requires you to cover your body and face in order to physically survive, you must do so — even if it goes against your nature.

However, many people living in modern, basically tolerant societies live in constricted ways, in jobs and relationships that are not harmonious for them.  Generally physical survival is not on the line in these situations.  But people believe it is — such as when people remain in disharmonious marriages for the sake of the children, or make major life choices to please their families.

This is not to say that you are a victim if your day-to-day work is not a “dream job,” or if you have not found your “soul mate,” and so on.  It is completely possible to engage in very mundane, humble work in a way that honors your True Self.  For example, if a mundane, humble job gives you the space and freedom to engage in creative expression that brings you joy, then that is in alignment.

However, if you are in a profession with a large salary and all the trappings that come with it, yet feel hopeless and suffocated — that is not in alignment.

So the question is: how can you be true to yourself?

First of all, you cannot be true to yourself if you don’t know who you are.  Once you know who you are, it is much easier.

Consider the case of the woman living in a religious society, who must cover her body and face.

Perhaps she is a true believer in the religion.  In that case, there is no conflict, because her actions are in alignment with her beliefs. 

On the other hand, she may believe that the religious law is suppressive.  She does not like dressing in this way.  However, she knows she must engage in the practice because she wishes to physically survive.  Here there is discomfort, but no conflict.  She knows who she is.  She knows that if she lived in a different place, she would not dress this way.  So she does what she must, for the time being.

The problem arises when the woman is conflicted.  She has been indoctrinated into the religious culture, and thinks she should believe in what she is doing, but something feels wrong.  She feels guilt and shame over having these doubts.  Covering her body and face makes her unhappy, but she doesn’t know why, and feels like a bad person because of it.  She does not know who she really is.  Her True Self is calling her to reject the religious doctrine, but this is frightening.

When you know who you are and what you are about, you do not suffer in this way.  You may be uncomfortable living in a society that is hostile to your self-expression.  But you do what you must.  You are like a spy for the Resistance working against the Nazis in World War II.  You do not believe in the dominant culture.  You wear a disguise in order to protect yourself, but you know what your mission is, you know where you come from.  You then may work in subtle ways to bring about change.  

In this way you are always seeking greater harmony, always moving toward greater freedom, even living in a suppressive environment.  If you make compromises along the way, it is always with the understanding that you are working toward that which is more harmonious with your True Self.

So that is what it means to be alignment with the True Self.  It means you feel no shame about who you are.  Perhaps you are a woman required by religious law to cover your body.  You do so without the belief that there is anything shameful about your body.  Perhaps you are a homosexual living in a culture that treats homosexuals with violence.  Of course you must hide who you are — but without any shame.  You are like a spy for the Resistance among the Nazis.  You are integrated, and acting from a place of power, even if to someone else’s eyes you do not appear powerful.

Therefore it is possible to be true to yourself even when living within a suppressive society.

It thus follows that it is possible to be true to yourself in a more open, tolerant society.

This simply means rejecting things that you have been taught by your families, peers, and cultures that make you feel ashamed about who you are and what feels good to you.  It does not mean that you need to have a violent confrontation with your family and culture. It just means deeply knowing, without shame, that their way is not your way.

Of course, that is a very challenging thing to do.

But it is much harder in the long term to live in out of alignment with your True Self, feeling shame about your nature, in a state of chronic misery.

So if you feel unhappy and constricted in your life, look to ways you might be out of alignment with your true self.  

In particular, look at beliefs that you may have picked up from your family, peers, and culture that make you feel ashamed about who you are, and ashamed of doing what feels right and good to you.

People in open, tolerant societies like to think they are progressive.  But in many ways they are just as intolerant as obviously suppressive societies.

Sometimes it is easier for a woman in a burka to feel more in alignment with herself than a woman in a business suit.  It all depends on knowing what you really are about in life.

Be true to yourself.  Do what is harmonious with your nature.  Even if you must make compromises, know what you do and why, and always work toward the greater good.

 

 

 

children playing

Today we ask you to relax and trust.

Relax and trust.

Most people live in a state of chronic tension and mistrust.  The world is a bad, dangerous place.  You must be on constant guard against threats and enemies.  The minute you relax, you are going to get hurt.  

People locked into this way of being think that it keeps them safe.  But really it just perpetuates the dangers people wish to avoid.  Tense, vigilant, defensive people tend to be impulsive and aggressive.  They do not think clearly, and do foolish, regrettable things.

Tense, vigilant people start wars.  They attack others without provocation.  They increase danger in the world.

That is why it is so important to cultivate a relaxed, trusting way of being.

Relaxed, trusting people create peace.

Tense, mistrustful people create wars.

This happens on a small, individual scale, and on a widespread, global scale.

Of course, relaxing and trusting is not always so easy.  In fact, relaxing and trusting is quite challenging.  For many, it’s much harder to relax and trust than to be tense and wary.

That is because most humans endure many traumatic experiences in their lives, and this breeds tension and mistrust.  People are like abused cats and dogs — growling and hissing at the world, because they have been treated unkindly.

Many people devote their lives to rehabilitating abused animals.  They treat animals with love and kindness, so that they can gradually relax and trust again.

It is much easier to rehabilitate a traumatized animal, than a traumatized human.

That is because abused cats and dogs do not sit around reliving bad experiences in their minds.  While they may become reactive around certain triggers, given enough time and care, most animals become more relaxed and trusting.  Animals do not hold on to their pasts.  They do not seek vengeance, or demand justice.

So part of learning to relax and trust means letting go of the past.  It means letting go of the need for vengeance, or justice.

While many people ardently believe that wrongdoers must be brought to justice, in general the human desire for vengeance and justice only perpetuates violence in this world.  People can hold on to their grievances and traumas for generations — something no animal can do!  There are people in this world still fighting wars that are centuries old.  Parents pass these historical traumas down to their children, teaching them to hate certain enemies, teaching them that the world is a hostile and dangerous place.

Going against this tide, teaching people to relax and trust — truly this is some of the greatest work any human can do in this world.

But how can people relax and trust, when the world is in fact cruel and dangerous?  That is the question.  Isn’t it wisdom to teach children to be on their guard against threats?  

Of course it is necessary to teach children not to stick their fingers in electrical sockets, or run out into the road in front of moving cars.  That is only intelligent.

But it is just as important to create a relaxed environment for children, in which they can learn and explore and feel safe.  Where they can trust the world around them.  Where they can trust people.  This is the essence of good parenting, and the most useful thing anyone can do for a child.

Children should be taught not to stick their fingers in electrical sockets — but they should not be taught that their world is hostile and dangerous.

But tense, vigilant parents have a way of raising tense, vigilant children.

So relaxing and trusting — it must begin with the individual.  You can’t teach others to relax if you can’t relax yourself.  It must begin with you.  You, and no one else.

Are you a person who can relax, and trust?

If not, why not?  What are all the things that are stopping you?  Usually people have a long list.

And it is fine to make a list.  It is even better to write down all the reasons you can’t relax and trust today.  

Because if you carefully examine your list of reasons, you may discover that they are not quite as true as you might believe.

Maybe you have a stressful, high pressure job.  You think you cannot relax because then you won’t get the work done.  Certainly you can’t trust other people.  Unless you stay on top of things, they will let you down.  Or you will fail their expectations and they’ll judge you.  

But wouldn’t cultivating some time and space today to relax your body and mind only help your job performance?  Perhaps if you had a more open, trusting attitude toward people they would feel more relaxed around you in turn, allowing better communication.  This doesn’t mean you should be a doormat.  But softening your wariness of others, giving people a chance, assuming they are innocent until proven guilty — isn’t it possible that this would only improve your work relationships?

There are few situations that can’t be improved by cultivating relaxation and trust.

Yes, there are times and places where people mean to do others harm.  There are criminals and crazy people in this world.  Some people cannot be trusted, it is true.

But most people can.  And it is important to remember that.

Some people are dangerous.  They are like electrical sockets.

But most people are basically good.

It is good to teach children to avoid electrical sockets.  But it is more important to create space for children to play freely in parks and playgrounds.  Adults should supervise, but it is good for children to play and explore and feel safe in the world.

Unfortunately, many children grow up to believe that the world is nothing but electrical sockets.

And many adults walk around in life like the world is nothing but electrical sockets.

Usually this is because they have been shocked a few times, or many times — and now all they can think about is how much they fear and hate electrical sockets.  

If you are like this, the remedy is to give yourself time and space to play and explore safely, like a child.

Seek out places where it is easy for you to relax.  Seek out people that you trust.

Spend as much as time as you can in those places, with those people.

Become a person other people can trust.

If enough people relaxed and trusted, and helped others to relax and trust — your whole world would heal.

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Today we ask you to cultivate healthy practices in your life.

Cultivate healthy practices.

What does this mean?

It just means creating space in your life to do healthy things as a regular practice, rather than a once-in-a-while, temporary, or “special” thing.

This means moving away from the need to pursue short term goals.  It is not about losing ten pounds; it is about eating well for the rest of your life.

That is what a practice is.  It is about creating rhythms in your life that continue indefinitely, as predictable as the seasons.  You just do it.  Sometimes a practice may be interrupted for a time.  But there is always a movement to return to the practice.  The rhythm is integrated into your system, and given enough space it will reassert itself.

Healthy practices usually require some conscious effort, especially at the outset.  This is what differentiates a healthy practice from an unhealthy habit.  Unhealthy habits are also repetitive, but they tend to be unconscious and compulsive.

So eating well requires some conscious effort, especially when it is a new practice.  Snacking on sugary processed food happens as an unconscious compulsion.

The good news about healthy practices is that they are not all that difficult to maintain, once you gain some momentum.  The more you do it, the easier it is to do.  It is like having a house plant.  When you first get a house plant, you have to make a conscious effort to remember to water it.  After a while, it becomes a habit.  That is, if you wish the plant to live.

The problem arises when people have short term goals.  That is not about creating a practice.  That is about upending your life: you are going to lose ten pounds in a month, and will make a big push to do so.  You are going to finish a novel by the end of the year, and will make a big push to do so.

When most people set goals or make resolutions, it is generally counterproductive.  It is like, someone decides that their home would be improved by a house plant.  They are so enthused about the idea that they go out and buy ten house plants.  For a little while they are very gung ho about all these new plants.  But it is not sustainable.  It is too much of a commitment, they lose interest, the plants die.

Someone would be much better off starting out with one plant.  That way, you can see what works for you, and it is not so overwhelming.  If the first plant dies, you can try again with another.  That is how you create a long term practice.

When you make a big push to do something, it can feel very exciting — especially if you meet the goal.  You did it!  You lost twenty pounds!  You ran a marathon!  You feel very special.

Practices are not about feeling special.  When you do something as part of a routine, it is, by definition, nothing special.  You eat well, you get some exercise, you go to bed early.  You meditate for twenty minutes three times a week.  You water the plant.  Nothing special going on here.

That is what makes practices sustainable over time.  The person who makes a big push to lose weight usually gains it back after the push is over.  The person who eats well as a habitual practice may experience gradual weight loss, but also may never appear “thin” — that may not be his particular body type.  However, he feels better overall.

Practices are all about moderation.  They are not about extremes, they are not about pushes, they are not about ego gratification.  They are about setting up habits that you can sustain for the rest of your life.

So today look at the things you do in your life that are practices.  

Also look at the ways you have made big pushes in the past, perhaps with mixed results in the long term.

If there are positive changes you would like to create in your life, how can you make them a practice?  How can you make these changes nothing special — as ordinary and routine as brushing your teeth, or walking the dog?

How can you move away from the “big push” model?  There are times and places in life when a “big push” is required — babies are, of course, born with a “big push.”  But big pushes should be rare, the exception rather than the rule.  If you are always making big pushes, you will exhaust yourself — and in the long term, accomplish far less than you think.

In nature, things unfold gradually, over time.  Watching a tree grow is not exciting, day to day.  Watching a baby learn to walk and talk is not exciting, day to day.  It is all very gradual.  Some days there are big breakthroughs, but they do not come from a “big push.” The changes come from the gradual accumulation of a steady practice.  Baby steps.  On one hand, these processes are nothing special.  On the other hand, they are miraculous.

One reason people prefer goal-oriented pushes over steady practices is because, when a goal is achieved, people feel like they “deserve” a reward.  There is a celebration when you meet a goal, especially if there was a lot of struggle involved.

On the other hand, since there is nothing special about a steady practice, why reward yourself for it?  You don’t pat yourself on the back for brushing your teeth and walking the dog.

But really, if you think about it, brushing your teeth and walking the dog — these things are important, and worthy of celebration.

So it is good to appreciate yourself for your steady practices.  Just as you cheer a toddler’s baby steps, even if he falls, even if walking is still months away — you must appreciate and cheer on your own baby steps.

It is as important to appreciate yourself for choosing the healthy meal over the sugar snack, as it is to applaud yourself for meeting the big deadline.  It is as important to cheer yourself on for taking a walk as it is to congratulate yourself for finishing a marathon.

If you do not applaud yourself for the little good things you do on a regular basis, you will be less motivated to do them.

Your culture is oriented toward celebrating big things.  You applaud the person who loses 100 pounds on a radical starvation diet.  You applaud your champion athletes and your billionaires.  But you do not know how to applaud the small good things people do.  You do not know how to create steady practices, only the roller coaster ride of big wins and inevitable failures.

That is why your culture is unbalanced, your lifestyles unsustainable.

Build stable, healthy practices into your daily lives.  They are nothing special and not exciting, and yet they are worthy of appreciation.  It is important to go for a walk, it is important to eat your vegetables.  It is nothing special — and yet the whole world benefits when ordinary people make healthy habits a part of their daily lives.

 

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Today we ask that you recognize the sacredness around you.

Recognize the sacredness around you.

What does this mean?

Many people walk through life “angry at God.”  They do so even when they are atheists, and do not believe in “God.”  Something is wrong with reality.  Something is wrong with life.

When you go around thinking “Something is wrong with life,” you will find plenty of evidence to support your belief.  Everywhere you look, you will see things that remind you that something is wrong with life.  All the fearful news of the world, all of the setbacks you experience in your day — something is wrong with life!  Something is wrong!

And you will be very unhappy.  For you are alive, but something is wrong with life itself.

Then you might become obsessed with fixing all the wrong things around life.  You will want to fix other people, and fix the world so that it reflects whatever you believe would be “right.”

If you go down that road, you will create a lot of problems.  If you are in a place of anger at the world, you will create a lot of problems.  Terrorists are angry people who want to fix the things they believe are wrong with the world.

There is another way to live.

Instead of fixating on all that is wrong, instead you celebrate all that is right with life.

You celebrate life’s beauty and sacredness.

You recognize that your presence here on this planet is a miracle.  You consider all that goes into allowing your body to function, the elaborate interplay of your organs and muscles and nervous system.  Every breath you take is miraculous.

Consider your beating heart.  Your eyes.  Your ears.  Your hands.  Your nose.  Your tongue.

Consider your brain.  Scientists have only a rudimentary grasp of its function, and in no way can replicate it.

Consider the miracle of every baby born, the creation of new physical life out of microscopic genetic material.  

Consider the trees and plants, the grass and flowers, consider the fruits of the earth that nourish you.

Consider the technology that surrounds you.  Not just your computers and phones, but your electric lights, your refrigerators.  Consider your ancestors who not long ago lived without these marvels.  Consider humans living in the world today without electricity or running water.

The kings and queens of old did not live nearly so well as most of you.

And all of these inventions were created by men and women.  Miracle after miracle.  All of this, all of this, is the stuff of life.  It arises from life.

Life arises out of nothingness.  Life arises in ancient oceans, it arises on dead worlds… and look what happens.

All this.  All this.

There is nothing wrong with life.  Even life forms that you might find ugly or repugnant are still utterly miraculous.

Can you recognize the beauty around you?

In earlier times, it was said that only young girls could see the legendary unicorn.  That myth reflected the awareness that someone very innocent and pure-hearted perceives reality differently than someone who is caught up in the ego-driven machinations of adulthood.  The child can see beauty that is hidden to the adult.  The child can see what is magical, and sacred.  The child can see unicorns.

But adults are perfectly capable of perceiving what is beautiful and sacred. Your artists have always been capable of such perception.  All your great artists and creators are attuned to beauty and sacredness, although many suffer because ecstatic states are fleeting, and day-to-day life can feel achingly removed from the sacred.

That is why the wise man trains his mind to perceive sacredness in the mundane and day-to-day.  He cultivates appreciation, even awe, at the changing of the diaper, the eating of the bowl of hot soup on a cold day, taking the dog for a walk.  With practice, everything becomes miraculous.

With practice, everything is a unicorn.

So today, look for a few unicorns.  See if you can catch them.  They are hiding in plain view.  In the laughter of a child, in the purring of a cat, in the warmth of your bed when you are weary.  They are in the hot running water of your shower, they are in the car or bus or train that transports you many miles in comfort.  They are in the trees and plants.  They are inside your body.

Unicorns are everywhere.

Today, try to spot just a few.

 

Unknown

Today we ask that you ease up on the pressure.

Ease up on the pressure.

Most people live out their days as if they were in a movie or TV show, where the stakes are high and the clock is ticking.  And yet most people are not dealing with spies, or political intrigue, or tense courtroom dramas.  Most people are just going to the office or the supermarket.  They are picking up their children from school, and paying bills.

Even so, they are tense and wound up, pulse pounding — as if they were on a mission of global importance, with villains out to get them.

That is because the human mind has a very poor sense of perspective, when it comes to dramas.  It does not matter what the scale of the drama is.  Talking to the customer service representative is as pressured as being interrogated by the police.  Everything is high stakes, even if it really is inconsequential.

This poor sense of perspective is easy to observe in small children, for whom getting the cookie or the toy can easily become a high stakes drama, worthy of screams, rage, and throwing yourself on the floor.  It is okay for toddlers to have a poor sense of perspective — they are just toddlers.  The problem arises then the parent also loses all sense of perspective and screams back at the toddler.  When this happens, the toddlers learn that grown-ups throw tantrums too, that tantrums are a valid way of asserting control.  So educated, the child grows into a tantrum-throwing adult.  Only instead of throwing tantrums over cookies and toys, he throws tantrums over traffic jams and taxes.

Ease up.  Ease up.  Put things in proper perspective.  It is fine to feel your emotions, and healthy to do so.  But when drama escalates in your mind, when the body feels stressed and tense, then it necessary to give yourself a “time out.”  Step away from the tantrum-inducing situation.  Focus on becoming calm, so that you can see things clearly.  

Generally speaking, whatever is going on is not a high stakes drama.  It is true that some situations are more dramatic than others — dealing with true emergencies, life-threatening events, and so on.  But such situations are not everyday and common, for most people.

Consider everyday, mundane situations around which you feel a great deal of stress and pressure.  How can you ease up on this pressure?  How can you put things in perspective, so that what is happening doesn’t feel like a life-threatening emergency?

This is done by gently questioning your beliefs about whatever is happening.  Usually in a drama, there is a strong attachment to things working out in a particular way.  You must meet the deadline.  You must win this person’s approval.  The meeting must go well.  You need this electronic device to work right now.  You need to hear back from this person right now.  And so on, and so on.  All these things people get very worked up about.

When you are feeling pressure in these situations, when you feel cranky and on the verge of a tantrum — take a step back.  At the very least, take ten slow, deep breaths.  Go for a walk, if you can.  Do whatever you can to calm down your physical body.  Maybe you just need a drink of water, or a bathroom break.  Create some space in which you can gather your wits.  Give yourself a “time out,” so that you can regain clarity before you send that text, or make the remark you will regret.

When you feel calmer, then ask yourself, is there any way to make this situation less stressful?  How can I ease up on the pressure?  How can this feel better?

Almost always when you invite the mind to be helpful in this way, an answer will appear.  There may be a barrage of arguments, at first: it can’t be any less stressful!  But if you give the mind some space the protesting will usually subside after a while, and you will perceive a less stressful path.

For example, let’s say you are playing a game — any kind of game.  It is meant to be fun, but it is not feeling fun.  It feels stressful and pressured.  Perhaps you wish to impress your opponent with your skill, but you are making many mistakes.  Perhaps you are a very competitive person, and losing triggers you.  Perhaps you are an athlete and winning or losing has real significance.  Perhaps you have bet money on the game.

So how can this be less pressured?  Well, quite simply, in this scenario, you must recognize that the world will not end if you lose the game.  This is true even for a professional athlete.  The world will not end if you lose the game. 

Once you really accept this, the game is less pressured.  It can be fun.  You are playing to play, not playing to win.  Ironically, you have a much greater chance of success in any game if you play from this position.  

This is true for almost all everyday stressful scenarios.  The world will not end if you do not get the thing you are attached to getting.  Just like the toddler’s world does not end if he does not get the toy or the candy.  This is the key to ending tantrums.  Relax.  The world is not going to end.

The more you clench and tighten up around things, the less likely it is for situations to work out well in any case.  This is obvious in romantic pursuits, where feelings of pressure dull desire.

So even if you live in a society that promotes the story that a high stress, pressured lifestyle is the only way to be successful — this does not mean you have to live that way.  Societies have promoted many crazy beliefs.  People have believed in witch burnings and slavery, genocide and the healthy properties of cigarettes.  Some people still believe in holy wars.

True freedom in this life lies in freedom from cultural conditioning.  Just because the people around you believe certain things and live in a certain way, does not mean you have to.

If everyone eased up on the pressure and put things in proper perspective, there would be no holy wars.  

birds

Today we ask you to stop worrying.

Stop worrying.

Most people don’t like to worry about things.  And yet if you suggest that they might feel better if they worried less, they would get defensive.

Worrying about things is necessary.  Only a very irresponsible person doesn’t worry about things.  And such a person will suffer for being so irresponsible, when bad things happen to him because he wasn’t worried.

That is the story.  It is important to worry about things, because then you take measures to stop bad things from happening.

But is this really true?

For the most part, worried people are miserable not because of anything that is actually happening to them in the present moment.  Nor do their worries truly protect them from future misfortune.

That is because it is impossible to predict the future.

Consider the person who worries all his life about saving up enough money to retire, then is diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Such things happen often.  There is no way to control the future.

That is not to say, people shouldn’t make plans for the future, or that people should behave irresponsibly or self-destructively because one can die at any time.

The question is, is it necessary to worry about things?  Does worry generate responsible behavior?

Consider the parent who worries about his child’s future.  This begins early on — he agonizes over getting the little child into good schools, so that someday the child can get into a good university and so on.  The child feels pressured and stressed by all this parental worry, causing the child to act out against the parent.  By the time adolescence arrives, the child engages in substance abuse — to relieve tension and also perhaps to meet academic pressures.  

So in that situation, it is apparent that worry is not useful.  It is actually destructive.

This is the case in the majority of situations.

Worry is a state of mind in which one experiences fear around imaginary future scenarios, around things that have not yet happened.  Sometimes the fears are based on past experiences: something bad happened in the past, you are worried it will happen again.  Other times they are based on fearful stories other people spread.  Your family and friends tell you that you should worried about this and that; the news tells you that you should be worried.  

The problem with this is that these imaginary fears produce very real stress and tension in the physical body.  And this stress in turn produces poor decision making, impulsive behavior, and physical and mental illness.

In short: worrying is bad for your health, and causes destructive behavior.

Therefore worrying is not responsible.  It is not the mark of a responsible person.  It is, quite simply, not good for you, and not good for the people around you — the same way addictive consumption of alcohol is not good for you or the people around you.  And worry is addictive.  Many people are heavily addicted to worrying — spending their days absorbing fearful news and imagining scenarios of doom.

A voice may argue: what about the proverbial story of the ant and the grasshopper?  In this story, the hard-working ant saves food for the winter, while the freewheeling grasshopper doesn’t save up and starves.  Surely it is because the ant worried about his future, and so saved for a rainy day and didn’t fritter away his resources.  The grasshopper didn’t worry, and met with disaster.  Surely worrying about the future generates positive behavior, like taking steps to conserve the environment, and so on.  

In nature, animals do not “worry” about anything.  They behave in intelligent ways — stockpiling food for the winter, migrating seasonally, and so on — but at no point does “worry” enter the picture.  Animals behave instinctively, which is to say that their complex patterns of migration are actually part of a higher intelligence that governs the natural world.

Humans can also access this higher intelligence, but many humans have cut themselves off from this good and powerful force because of their mental processes — including neurotic thought, and worry.  In other words, if birds and butterflies and whales were capable of experiencing stressful worry about their migratory patterns, they wouldn’t get anywhere.  

It is entirely possible to intelligently plan for future events without worrying.  For example, one can plan to take a trip somewhere, and make all the necessary arrangements, without experiencing the state of worry, or having fearful projections about things going wrong.  While many people do worry and experience a great deal of stress when they plan trips, worry and stress are not useful in this process, and in fact inhibit the ability to make good decisions and move efficiently.

It is also completely possible to engage in intelligent financial planning or environmental conservation without being dominated by fear, stress, and worry.  Anxiety actually leads to paralysis, not wise action.

That is to say, the more you worry, the less effective you are.

This is not to suggest that fears should be ignored, suppressed, or swallowed.  But the best way to deal with fears is to look at them from a calm, clear place, the way a parent shines a flashlight under a child’s bed to dispel the child’s fear of monsters.  It is poor parenting to tell a scared child to shut up about the monster under the bed and go to sleep.  That will, in fact, produce a worried, anxious child.

Therefore what “worry” really indicates is that some fear is running away with you, you are in the grip of the monster under the bed.  The thing to do is shine a light on it, which can only really happen when you calm down.

So when you are worried, the best course of action to take is to engage in calming activity — meditation, gentle exercise, going for a walk outdoors, listening to music, getting present with an animal or small child.  Only when you are calm will you be able to think clearly about the matter, and make intelligent plans if they are required.

Only when you are calm can you access the higher intelligence that governs the migrations of birds and butterflies, dolphins and whales.  That higher intelligence can tell you where to go — but only if you are quiet and calm enough to hear it.  

travel_light

Today we ask that you let go of needing things to happen in a certain way.

Let go of needing things to happen in a certain way.

Needing things to happen in a certain way is a recipe for misery and suffering.

The more a person is attached to life unfolding in a certain way, the more he suffers.

Imagine going on a trip to another country with a strong need for things to unfold in a certain way — the plane flight just so, everything going according to the schedule and itinerary, perfect weather, etc.  You can see that this is a foolish way to travel, and that such a person will probably wind up quite miserable.

Life itself is like a journey, a trip.  The more you need everything to be “just so” in order for you to be okay, the more unhappy you shall be.

Life has a way of wreaking havoc with one’s carefully laid plans and schemes.  Nothing goes according to the itinerary, and there are always unexpected storms and roadblocks.  

The good traveler is open to unforeseen twists and turns in the road.  While he may have a destination in mind, he is not really so attached to getting there in any particular way.  He is open to unexpected adventures.  Roadblocks, bad weather, delays — these are embraced as opportunities to stop places one would otherwise pass, to see things one would not otherwise see, to meet people one would not otherwise meet.

The good liver of life is like a good traveler.  He may have destinations in mind, but each day he is open to unexpected adventures that may detour him from the main road.  He does not expect his journey to unfold in a certain way, everything just so, everything going according to the schedule and itinerary.

Every day, from the moment you awaken to the moment you surrender to sleep, is its own journey.  If you desperately need the events in your day to be “just so,” if you demand that things unfold as you plan and expect them to, then you will be a miserable person today.

And that is how many people live life, of course.  Like travelers who complain about everything — the plane flight, the lodgings, the food, the weather, the delays.  Meanwhile the trip is happening, but they find no joy in it.

Here is a truth of the life experience: the more tightly you cling to expectations of how things should be, the more likely it is that things will go awry and defy your expectations.

In other words, the more you need something to happen in a certain way, the more fixed and rigid you are in your expectations, the more likely it is that life will not give you what you want.

Whereas if you are more open and loose in your desires — for example, if you simply wish to experience joy today, without being specific as to the how or what or why of it — then it is very likely that this wish will be fulfilled.  

Does this make sense? 

If a person says to the universe, I can only be happy if I get a red sports car, then that person is doomed.  Even if the person gets a red sports car, he will not be happy.

If a person says to the universe, I wish to feel joy today, and I am open to this coming from anywhere, I am open to surprises — this will come to pass.  It may be a very small thing, but it will come to pass.

That is what it means to let go of things happening in a certain way.

If someone says, I can only be happy in this life if I marry someone and have at least two children, a boy and a girl, and live in a nice house with nice things, then this person is doomed.  Even if he gets all of those things, he is doomed.

If someone says, I wish to experience joy in this life, and I am open to the unexpected — good energy will flow.

So that is why wise men say that attachment is the cause of suffering.  It is the attachment to projections of future outcomes, the desperate craving for things to happen in a certain way, that causes unnecessary suffering in life.

Be a good traveler on the road of life.  Travel light.  Be open to the unexpected.  Know that plans and itineraries will fall to pieces, anticipate detours and delays.  Don’t cringe from those experiences, for often that is where the juiciest part of the journey lies.

Let go, let go, let go.

dinosaur-04

Today we ask that you become more creative and flexible in the way you respond to stress.

Become more creative and flexible in the way you respond to stress.

Most humans are only capable of three responses to situations they find stressful, or threatening:

  1. Fight
  2. Flee
  3. Freeze

This is, of course, the well-known “fight or flight” response.  It is a very basic, primal response, no more advanced than what one finds in reptiles, fish, and invertebrates.  It is your dinosaur brain’s response to a threat.

When a perceived threat arises, you either fight, flee, or move into paralysis.

Many people have a habitual response to stress: they tend to be fighters, avoiders, or experience paralysis.

Of the three responses, “fight” usually feels like the most empowering.  Habitual fighters often appear to achieve success from the ego’s point of view, fighting and clawing their way to the top in a dog-eat-dog world.

But people who live in continual “fight” mode are miserable and exhausted.  Whatever success their fighting ways may bring them is fleeting, and they take little joy in it.  There is always a younger, faster, stronger fighter coming along to supplant them.  The old dog will get killed by the young dog.

It is impossible to enjoy life when you are stuck in fight/flight mode — no matter how rich or successful you may appear to be.  It is a joyless life.

It is also not a particularly intelligent way of living.  Animals in fight/flight mode are cut off from their higher brain function.  It is impossible to truly reason or think logically in that mode.  That is why otherwise intelligent people may do very foolish things while in the grip of an impulsive fight/flight response.

In order to respond with creativity and intelligence to situations, you must learn how to deactivate the fight/flight response at will.

Who do you trust more in a crisis?  Someone who appears to be calm and alert, or someone who behaves like a crazed animal?  There are far more effective responses to stressful situations than fight, flee, or freeze.

To access them, you must learn to calm yourself down before you take any impulsive action.  When you find yourself in fight/flee/freeze mode, the first thing to do is calm your body down.  Obviously if you are in the middle of a car accident or an earthquake, the adrenalized state may be useful.  But it is not useful in an office, a supermarket, or when you are on the phone trying to sort out a bill. 

Take slow, deep breaths.  Soothe your animal body.  Step outside.  Go for a walk.  Listen to calming music.  This will activate your higher brain function, so you can perceive you are not facing an actual survival threat because of that email or Facebook post or the thing your coworker said.

The most effective way to take action in this world is not by trying to force reality to do what you want through fighting and beating it into submission.  

The most effective form of creation in reality comes from cultivating a calm internal state and addressing matters on an energetic level, before you take any action in the external world.

This means that if you are experiencing conflict and drama around any issue, the thing to do is to find some time and space in which to get calm and meditate on the problem.  That doesn’t mean, think about it from an angry/threatened place and form your strategy/plan of attack.  It means, get very calm, breathe, hold the issue in your consciousness and then let go.

Just hold an intention to create healthier energy around this stressful situation.  Nothing more than that.  Ask to release any blocks or obstructions and increase good flow.

From this calm, quiet, open space, you will discover far more creative and intelligent approaches to dealing with problems than you would in the fight/flight mode.

You are humans.  You are not dinosaurs.  And while every one of you has an “Inner Dinosaur,” you are capable of far more fluid and beautiful responses than dinosaurs were.

You can address problems and dramas on an energetic level.  In your mythology, this is what wizards and Jedi Masters do.  These stories reflect a deep truth.  Every one of you is capable of a kind of wizardry.  This doesn’t mean you can magically control reality and gratify your ego.  But if you approach situations with an open heart and a desire to increase well-being for all, magic is possible.

Think about something in your life that causes you stress.  Something that makes you aggressive, something you want to run away from, something that makes you feel frozen and paralyzed.

Find ten minutes in your day to sit in quiet meditation around this issue with the simple intention of clearing the energy and bringing about healthy change.

Don’t try to figure out how to do this, or come up with a strategy.  Just be relaxed and open.  

Do this every day for a week, and you will perceive a subtle shift, even in your own thinking.

Such subtle shifts are far more powerful than “winning an argument” or “getting what you want.”

If you make a habit of approaching stressful situations on an energetic level, and moving away from acting out of fight/flight/freeze, gradually your life experience will improve.  It may not happen overnight, but it will happen.

“Fight or flight” did not really help the dinosaurs, in the end.  It is a very limited response.  You are capable of so much more.

rope

Today we ask you to trust, and let go.

Trust, and let go.

What does this mean?

Most people walk through life with a very tight grip on everything.  People are very tight and tense about things.  

They are tight about their jobs.  They are tight in their relationships.  They are tight with money.  Everything is a source of tightness and tension.  People walk around with clenched jaws and knotted shoulders, and no one gets good sleep.

It is an unpleasant way to live.

People believe that they are supposed to be tight about everything.  They must hold on tightly to their jobs, or they will lose them.  They must hold on tightly to the people they care about, or they will lose them.  They must hold on tightly to their money, or they will lose it.  They must hold on tightly to their diets, or they will get fat.

But really none of this is true.

In truth, no matter how tightly you cling to anything in this life, it will eventually slip through your fingers.  Everyone gets old, if they live long enough.  Everyone dies.  Spend time with the elderly, and you will see the futility of trying to hold on tightly to things.

If you are destined to lose everything, no matter how tightly you hold on to it, why not try letting go right now?

Just let go, and see what happens.

Let go.  Let go.

Look at the places in your life where you feel tight, where you are holding on very tightly.

And just consider what it would feel like to let go in those places.

How can you loosen your grip?  How can you relax out of that tight, tense feeling?

Usually a voice will protest that you have to be tight around these things.  For example, many people believe that if they were not tight and tense about work, they would be lazy and unproductive.

This is actually a completely false belief.  Tension blocks the flow of good energy.  Think about a pipe that is closed and constricted.  Such a pipe allows much less flow than a pipe that is open and loose.

So tense, tight people are in truth far less productive than people who are relaxed and at ease.

When people believe that if they relax, they will be lazy, usually this is because their bodies and nervous systems are utterly exhausted by their tension-filled lifestyle and in desperate need of rest.  So yes, in that case, relaxation would produce a kind of torpor — one that is necessary for the restoration of health to an exhausted body.  After resting, such a person would actually find that they had much more energy to do things.

Most modern people are in absolutely no danger of “relaxing too much.”

It is the same with relationships.  People think they need to hold on tightly to partners.  Parents think they need a tight grip on children.  In truth, the more you cling to any person, they more they will inevitably be driven away.  

If a tight grip is required to maintain a relationship, this is not a healthy relationship.  It is better to relax and let go.

No one likes to feel controlled and manipulated.  No one wants to be around someone who is tense all the time.

Let go.  Let go.

It is true that sometimes things collapse when you release your tight grip.  If this is the case, it means that structure wasn’t sound.

It is like trying to hold together a dam with many holes in it.  You use all this energy desperately trying to plug the holes, and water keeps pouring through anyway.  Sometimes it is better to allow the old rickety dam to collapse so that you can expend your energy building a new, sturdy dam.

That is why it is good to let go, even if at first it seems to create a bigger mess.  The mess was already there, it was already happening despite all your tense efforts to hold it in.  Once the mess it out in the open, you can actually do something about it.  You won’t be wasting all that energy trying to hold it in.

Let go.  Let go.  Trust that the world will not fall apart if you do.

Imagine the deep relief you would feel if you let go.  Whatever you are tight about is a burden.

So just observe the areas of tightness in your life.  Don’t judge yourself about it.  Just observe the things you feel tense and tight about.

Now imagine what it might feel like if you let go.  You don’t have to figure out how to let go, or what would specifically be involved.  Just imagine relaxing, and letting go.

Notice any resistance that arises, the voice that protests “But I can’t let go!”

Don’t push or force it.  There is no immediate action to take.

Just make a practice of observing tightness.  Where do you feel tight?  What makes you feel tight?

As you observe, ask the question: “How can I let go?”

Don’t try to answer the question or reason it through with your thinking mind.  Just open yourself to the idea that it might be possible to let go.  Feel a sense of trust around it.  Be open to seeing what happens.

From an outside perspective, most people look like they are clinging tightly to ropes, without realizing that the ground is not all that far below them.  They grasp and cling to the rope, hurting their bodies, fighting, struggling, and exhausting themselves.  But if they just let go, the ground would catch them.  Yes, they might fall and bruise themselves at first.  But far better to do that, than to cling in pain and misery to that horrible rope.

Let go.  Let go.  You will be okay.