For my introductory post I have begun with a list of ten principles which I have found particularly influential on my journey of self development. The ideas here are presented in a list format for the sake of brevity, as I do have a tendency to be a bit verbose. These are thoughts or in some instances quotes which have assisted in shifting my perspective, or which have brought clarity to a situation. It is not however a rigid charter of behavior, or code of ethics. There is a fantastic bit of dialogue from the film “Dogma” in which two characters are discussing the purpose of belief, which I feel is fitting.
“Rufus: Christ said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.”
“Bethany: Having beliefs isn’t good?”
“Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier.”
I think that little bit of conversation holds the essence of what I would like the share with you.You have a code of ethics you live by, and upon discovering that I am living by a different set of values you begin to encounter internal friction or angst. Afterall are we not all the heros of our own story? Everyone you meet believes they are absolutely doing the right things. You may encounter all kinds of interesting reactions within yourself when confronted with differences in belief. Perhaps you become angry and combative. Or maybe you feel fearful and defensive. Perhaps you make an outward gesture of acceptance of this person with the different idea, but within your mind you slap a label on them. All of these things are a reality you have created, your emotions and thoughts coloring in the blank spots.So I ask that you approach this collection of thoughts with an open mind. No one has carved this onto stone tablets. These are not beliefs. These are ideas.
Everyone you meet has something to teach you.
Emerson said it in a slightly different way:
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”
Embrace the opportunities to get to know people. Each person has skills and insights you have not come to just yet on your journey. Clever people tend to fall into a mental trap of believing there are the smartest person in the room and therefore stop engaging with those around them. This leads you to stop absorbing information and pretty soon you will not be the cleverest one in the room.
The “Self” is an Illusion.
It is natural to develop a sense of self. That sense of where “we” end and the universe begins is an important process as we try to navigate through a world with a multitude of stimuli. Unfortunately that process tends to get away from us and we all begin to see ourselves as islands in a vast sea of alone. The idea that there is a “self” is an elaborate story we crafted for ourselves.I had an experience in my early twenties in which I became aware that the capital “I” I perceived myself to be was not true. That which I identified as “me” was simply a collection of belief, assumptions, memories. But none of it was me.After being terrified of what I was experiencing I realized that this moment was an opportunity. This is what non attachment felt like and I was given a few moments of forgetting everything I believed. I refer to this as my ego death. The capital “I” perspective is an illusion, a story in which we cast our self as a hero. Ego death is not some permanent state I have achieved, it is something that comes and goes, and sometimes I am still telling myself stories about myself. But it is a reminder to remain aware. I encourage you to experiment for one day and notice when you begin telling yourself those stories about about yourself. Bring your attention to those moments, let them pass, and carry on to the next moment with awareness.
Live in the moment.
I know, I know it is the most cliché thing one could say here. Everyone seems to say this. At some point I realized that each day, each moment I have the choice about who I am becoming. If I want to become a doctor or a circus clown the only thing standing in my way is myself. Past events may have guided you to this moment but it is NOT the sum of you. I can put down the baggage I have carried with me from that past and leave it right here. That is my choice. Every single moment is an opportunity to create the exactly future I want. Invest in the future version of you; create that kind of authentic and actualized life you want with your actions. Not tomorrow. Not after breakfast. Right now.
You can create the life you want through visualization.
The mind is a powerful thing. There are studies which suggest thoughts we have for extended periods of time rewire the neural pathways of the brain, effectively changing how we perceive things. ( Colotla, Victor A.; Bach-y-Rita, Paul (2002). “Shepherd Ivory Franz: His contributions to neuropsychology and rehabilitation”) Anyone who has experienced a bought with depression can relate to this. When you are in the doldrums of depression it feels as though the world has always been and will always be that way. And there is evidence to suggest if we do not use certain neural pathways they can deteriorate. So if we do not practice awareness, or non judgment or being happy, the brain can forget how. Now I am not talking about “The Secret” or refering to “The 48 Laws of Power”. I am referring to an actual practice of goal setting and follow through. Visualization of the goals you have set your sites on is a fantastic beginning.
Labels Separate Us.
Beliefs and labels are the dividers we shove in between “us” and “them”. Sure labels are an easy way to compartmentalize, and came about as a way to organize the world. But this is another one of the ways our minds warp concepts into something that stifles growth. In order to seek truth and freedom it is important to start taking down these beliefs. Beliefs or assumptions about religion, love, family, and self. Question everything you believe is “supposed” to be a certain way. As you begin to deconstruct the ideas it is easier to see the connection between people who previously seemed vastly different than you. I am not any of the various labels I paste on myself in order to describe my proclivities. I am a human being. And the differences between you and me are very small compared to the similarities.
No matter where you go, there you are.
This is an idea my father suggested to me during a partciularly stressful time in my life. I had an intense desire to pack up my things and leave when a situation became overwhelming. Have you ever noticed yourself repeating the same cycles, dating the same types of people, getting caught up in the same feelings? Your environment may change, your hairstyle and clothing may change, but you are the constant factor in the equation. Unless you practice awareness, and make adjustments to the things that are destructive in your life, you will find much of life to be a rerun of an episode you do not particularly enjoy. If you learn the lesson of a given cycle you don’t have to repeat it, you know the solution and you do not get sucked into the external drama. Be aware of patterns you notice in your behavior and begin to adjust your thoughts and actions to produce a different and desirable outcome.
Everything you need is already inside of you.
There was no fall from paradise, no expulsion from Eden, there is no Magrathea. One of the fallacies I have encountered in my study philosophy is the idea that humanity is on some heroic quest to return home. We take cues from literature such as Homer’s “Odyssey” and Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”; the idea that we have been sent away from some great love or understanding and our job is to return home. I must disagree. We are already home. The quest for understanding is an internal one. Every tool you need to create an authentic life is inside of you. There is nothing wrong with seeking advice or assistance in understanding or accessing those tools, but understand that those outside forces are not more powerful than you. You are the authority on your life, I cannot presume to know your life better than you. It is entirely up to you to accept responsibility for your life and make the changes you want to create balance.
The cause of suffering is desire/craving and ignorance.
This is the second of the Four Noble Truths put forward by Buddha in his teachings. He suggests that all things are temporary and clinging to them is what causes the suffering we experience in the world. I have struggled with this concept on and off again, fearing that if I became attached to people or my own existence, or if I desired something it was hindering my progress. But I do not believe that is what this truth is implying. It is a reminder. Suffering is a symptom of these irrational sorts of behaviors, so if you find yourself suffering examine what you are clinging to. This does not mean we should pull away from the world, or not express love for others, or become hermits.I interpret to mean we should take a moment to examine the why behind the feeling.
The opposition of love is not hate, it is apathy.
I am not talking about romantic love. I am talking about compassion. I perceive the currency of the universe to be compassion and understanding, and taking action to see beyond the capital “I”. And the corrosive force in the world isn’t hatred, or ignorance, it is apathy. To do nothing with yourself is a travesty. One of the worst things I have ever heard comes from an episode of the show “Derek” created by Ricky Gervais. A character who shows no real ambition or direction remarks:
“I am not a failure because I failed. I am a failure because I did not try.”
This resonated with me immensely as one who has been paralyzed by fear of failure to the point of non action. This is your life and you have the ability in each moment to change the direction if you want. Do not let apathy eat into your motivation.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” –Albert Einstein
Curiosity is one of the most fascinating parts of the mind. It is this brilliant piece of us which allows us to create, explore and grow exponentially. The most influential people I have encountered in my life seem to have a natural curiosity about the world which encourages them to ask unconventional questions and more importantly come to unconventional conclusions. The practice of finding things which interest you and asking the right questions, of pushing yourself beyond your mental comfort zone is one of the most beneficial skills one can develop. I encourage you to investigate the things you are genuinely curious about, use those curiosities to find that which fills your with purpose. Begin in small ways if this seems intimidating. Dedicate half an hour a day to researching something that tugs at your curiosity and after a week of this practice examine how your perspective is different. As you practice, diversify your research; examine ideas which are contrary to your perspective. Most importantly; enjoy the process. That is the point after all.