Watching Ourselves

Lying, exaggerating, smoking, cheating, late-night snacking… it’s funny how we’re able to do certain things while simultaneously convincing ourselves that we’re not doing them. It’s simple, Judge… we just tell ourselves we aren’t!

Did you ever notice it… there you are, hiding in the corner, doing something you know you shouldn’t. You might get caught (which is probably half the fun), and yet, just in case… you’ve got every excuse in the book lined up.

I notice myself doing this with cigarettes. I might ask for one at the end of the evening, but I quickly tell everyone within earshot that this isn’t me, it’s just a rare thing, etc. etc. I get to smoke, yet somehow get to maintain my innocence at the same time. But alas, the truth has a pesky way of sneaking out.

What usually happens is that a certain pressure builds up… and we start calling out others for that same behavior. Cheating spouses give themselves away by accusing their partners, liars accuse everyone else of lying, these days journalists who call out others for their “offensive tweets” often get fired later for the same offence. We tend to think that these hypocritical scenarios are rare, or ironic, but in fact… they’re normal.

We all do it. (All. Of. Us.) We earnestly proclaim our innocence ’til the bitter end… until either 1) we get caught, which brings a certain level of extra shame upon our heads, especially if we’ve vehemently judged others, or 2) we simply admit our behavior – the one we’re doing right in front of our own eyes! – to ourselves. It’s that simple.

Then the game is over. Half the juice was in fooling others… and by proxy, ourselves. How long can we go on, worried about whether others will discover our little secrets? We eventually do tire of covering our tracks over and over again, don’t we? And playing the victim. And judging others. All this confusion arrives together… it’s a package deal.

So… if we want to live in the Light, without secrets, without judgements… the answer is simple: we have to admit it to quit it. Otherwise, the show must go on.

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This reminds me of an illustrative story: there was a disciple of the great Indian master Paramhansa Yogananda who used to smoke around the back of the building. He claimed it was to not bother anyone. Yogananda declared that it didn’t bother him, and that the man could smoke as much as he liked, as long as he did it within Yogananda’s sight. The man smoked in front of the master a few times, then quit on his own.

The message is clear: if you behave in a way that you don’t approve of… and you yourself begin consciously watching your actions … you will eventually stop. (The unconsciousness and the self-judgement are what kept the cycle going!)

Outside voices mimic inside voices

We all have an inner voice – inherited from our childhood – which can be very discouraging. Many of us were made to believe, for whatever reason, that we were unworthy of love. As we grow older, we continue to believe it’s true… but because it’s hidden so deeply in our unconscious, it’s hard to believe this voice is actually inside us. So we project it onto the “outside,” into others’ voices… then we imagine ourselves unfairly criticized by them.

But wait a minute. Isn’t it uncanny how similar these “outside” criticisms are to what we put up with as children? Others are saying this really mean stuff… and for some reason we keep believing it. When will it ever stop?

It’s almost like we have to hear both voices together (theirs and our inner voice) to get a double-dose… the one which takes the abuse to an unbearable level. This incites us at long last to the real rebellion. We wonder how so many people could know our soft spots (how could they all be in on the joke?)… until we finally look within… the one place we never looked before.

Only after we’ve seen what our own inner voice has been doing to us, how it ruins most of our relationships – especially the one we have with ourselves – do we investigate whether or not what it says is really true. And we discover – amazingly! – that it never was. We were always worthy of love, dadgummit, no matter what others said!

Of course, the moment we stop believing these hurtful inner voices… all the outside voices stop, too. Funny how that works, eh?

We realize that all this time we were simply ventriloquists: we only had to think it for them to say it.

“People will treat you the exact way you treat yourself. So be good to you. Take time for yourself. Rest. Play. Shower yourself with affection, support, and gifts.” — Iyanla Vanzant

(So… let’s start thinking better thoughts about ourselves now, ok?)

What “We” Offer is Not Enough

Here we are, all of us, trying to lure people into our little spider webs. We hold out money, looks, fame, fortune… anything we think will attract a mate. “Who wants some of this good stuff?,” we coo.

But hmm, if we need someone else to join us in our webs, well… obviously what we’ve acquired isn’t enough for us, by ourselves, for our souls. Otherwise, why would we be using these things as bait? I may be rich, we think, but that’s not enough to make me feel loved. So why would we imagine that these things would be good enough for anyone else? Unless we’re kidding ourselves… or trolling for suckers….

Wouldn’t we be better served looking to attract people who see far beyond our honey traps? People who aren’t satisfied with our measely little “gifts”… who expect more from us than what we currently have to offer? In short, someone who sees more in us, who expects more from us… who pushes us to expand ourselves… to find our hidden gems within?

Because — and you know this — what we really have to offer others (if we’re curious enough to dig deeper) is waaaaay beyond what we believe we have to offer. Something we never discover… until the day we drop these feeble old strategies… and aim for more elusive game.

Don’t settle for shallow waters, friends. You’ll only catch other egos there, other honey traps. Your true worth is much, much greater… able to attract galaxies and universes.

Your heart is the true bait. Your inner self is the biggest prize. Go deep, catch it!

Finding the time

For a while, we believe that work defines us. No matter how busy we are, we tell ourselves, “it’s all going to be worth it.”

We applaud our busy-ness, don’t we? We think we’re better than those other “lazy so-and-sos!” We’re proud of ourselves, dangit. But for all our hard work, in reality… we’re only winning a minor league trophy. To tell the truth, we’re not only not heading anywhere… we’re actually escaping from something much more important, something we need to be working on instead:

Ourselves.

Busy-ness is the most socially acceptable way we use to avoid ourselves… it’s no wonder so many of us choose it. If we used this as an excuse in high school and college, as in… “I’m too busy to have a social life”… we’re probably still using it in our daily lives. I used to think being a workaholic was a good thing… until I saw how sad it made my poor, poor heart….

Because — let’s make no mistake — if I’m too busy to spend time with myself, to enjoy my own interests, my own presence… I’m too busy to do that for anyone else, either. I’m not really ready for a meaningful relationship. Because we can only give to others what we give to ourselves, and some of us are being horrible misers. And I’m not talking about small-time gifts here… spa days and new haircuts. I’m talking about TIME and INTEREST spent with yourself… not with your job, your “progress.” I’m talking about not asking others to do for you what you should be doing for yourself: approving of yourself… for being who and how you are!

Oh beautiful soul!

So… if I write and call you, and all you talk to me about is how busy you are… good luck! If you can’t make free time for yourself… if you won’t defend your right to enjoy your life, to take the time to enjoy your self, your confusion, your silent lostness, your aliveness… that means — oh dearest one — you’re definitely too busy… for me.

Choosing Nudity

Whenever we see personal qualities that we reject in ourselves, that we believe don’t belong to us – especially bad ones – we must put them outside of ourselves. Where do we put ’em? Why, we hang them on others!

So we say, Mom is “controlling” (which implies I am not). Or Dad is “stubborn,” my Uncle is “mercurial,” my boss is “incompetent.” They are that way — but (thank goodness, haha) — I am not.

Often we give out traumas to people. Being too heavy for us to handle, we put these ugly clothes onto someone else. We make others evil and dangerous… which allows us to be “the good one”… “the pure, naked one”… without having to deal with our inner troubles.

We are only fooling ourselves. The ugly clothes are still there… waiting for us.

Sooner or later, we tire of this game… of avoiding our inner work… of pretending that “others” are “the problem.” We tire of running around, throwing these ugly clothes onto others… always having to seek out new coat hangers, always giving our power away. We see how useless and tiresome it is. It’s like we’ve been living out of our car for years, with all these ugly coats and sweaters we don’t know where to put.

So we try something new… we try wearing these clothes – these undesirable qualities – ourselves. That’s the only way we can ever get rid of them… by owning them.

We own our controlling part, our stubbornness, our mercurial incompetence. We all have these traits… why did we think we were so special? We used others as Placeholders… as walking coat hangers. How unfair of us!

Only after we’ve worn the clothes for a bit — and realize that the clothes aren’t so ugly after all — can we finally get rid of them. They’re so heavy and burdensome, no wonder no one wanted to wear them!

And when we take them off… that’s when we finally get to rediscover our original purity. You know, the one we pretended to have before. Now it’s not such heavy work… in fact, it’s as “light-as-a-feather.”

We chose nudity. And we finally allow others to choose it, too.

If you love me, you will NOT protect me

We often think, “If you really love me, you will protect me from my fears.”

So… we look for someone with money (to protect us from our fear of poverty).
We look for someone who’s exciting (to protect us from our fear of boredom).
We look for someone loyal (to protect us from our fear of abandonment).
We look for someone to put us on a pedestal (to protect us from our fear of not being worthy).

So why is it that the very person we thought would protect us from our fears… often ends up being the very one that exposes them? Why are they the very ones who bring us poverty, boredom, abandonment, or insecurity?

Because that’s also what love is. We just didn’t know.

We’re certain that we couldn’t survive another heartbreak, say, or another separation. But these may be exactly what we need to experience in order to overcome that fear… the antidote, so to speak. I just discovered how great my fear of being ignored was… by having to get the silent treatment over and over again… until I fully understood that it wouldn’t kill me. That it isn’t that big of a deal if someone doesn’t respond. My fear was totally disproportionate to the actuality of the event (I always imagined it was because I had done something wrong!)… but I had to learn that it wasn’t necessarily my fault by living it over and over again… until I understood.

We have these crazy, infantile fears, all in our heads. How else besides repetition could we ever discover that they aren’t real? I know that sounds harsh. But there simply is no other way to see our blind spots.

Maybe it would be more proper to say, “If you really love me, you will not protect me from my fears. You will expose me to them.” Then we begin to see our lives differently… and receive a wonderful, unexpected blessing:

We’ll finally be able to look upon even our greatest “enemies”… the people that shook us up the most… with gratitude and love.

From Pain to Gain

It sure does seem like the Universe likes to give us a heavy slap down every now and then. Things look soooo good, then suddenly – usually the moment we open our hearts – they turn sour. We’re left disappointed and sad. Does the Universe hate us? Or is It trying to teach us something?

I heard the phrase “necessary disappointment” for the first time yesterday… and it struck a chord. Why would we need to be disappointed? What possible purpose could it serve? Well, to stop all of our “magical thinking.”

“Remember That Not Getting What You Want Is Sometimes a Wonderful Stroke of Luck” –Dalai Lama

You see, all of us believe we can change the world around us: the people, the way they think, the amount of money we have (or don’t). We constantly tell ourselves that the world is counting on us to change it. And in a way that’s correct, in another that’s totally incorrect. It’s the second one that needs to be deflated.

You see, it’s not really within our power to make other people change, to make that girl or guy call us, to make our boss promote us, to make our parents understand us. It simply isn’t. Yet we persist in thinking: “It depends on me, on my efforts.” That’s the kind of wishful thinking that’s always going to be disappointing… the one the Universe is trying to teach us not to do. Sometimes in a harsh way.

Instead, once we accept that we really cannot change the outside world… somehow we discover that we have a much greater power, one we haven’t tapped into… and the one we really want: the power to change how we feel about what happens in the world. Wouldn’t you prefer to be indifferent to how things go… or do you still need to be caught up in the illusion? Because the only way we really change the world… is by not being so dependant on how things go. We can be happy with things as they are. We can simply relax… let things go the way they want to… and discover that we never really wanted that responsibility anyway. We invented it all… Oh, little ego of mine!

So… “disappointed today, stronger tomorrow” is the way we should look at these hand slaps. We should be grateful for them. We’re learning the limits of our personal power. We’re learning that disappointment won’t kill us… but that it can in many ways be avoided by us not getting so excited about things that haven’t happened yet. Trust me, every time you’ve been disappointed, a greater power than your flimsy ego is being awakened inside you. As Eckhart Tolle writes:

“The ego says, ‘I shouldn’t have to suffer,’ and that thought makes you suffer so much more. The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering… before you can transcend it.”

Getting better at not-doing

I used to think that if I didn’t plan things, they wouldn’t get done. Now I feel that if I do plan them, they won’t get done. What happened? I started rebelling against my ego.

I simply got tired of listening to that inner voice, you know, the one that tells you that something’s always missing… that tells you that you have to try harder, that you’re not “doing enough”… that steals your present moment by always telling you what have to do, or what you’ll do next. Surprisingly, I’ve found that – even without that voice – everything gets done all the same… just without the stress… without the self-flagellation.

I watch myself now as I go to the gym. I don’t think “I want to go to the gym” or “I don’t want to go to the gym.” I just go… or I don’t. I don’t think that I should go, I don’t even know why I do go. I don’t need an excuse, or a reason. I just go… or I don’t. The same with my graphic design work; it just happens. I remember a client who came to my office to work on a project together. At a certain point, he said, “I like to watch you work.” I responded, “I do too.” I simply don’t feel like “I” am doing it. My hand move the mouse around, my heart shows me the way, and right before my eyes (voila!) the work gets done. It does itself… naturally. Was “I” just in the way? It sure does looks like it; what used to take hours now takes minutes. So what happened?

Somehow, I just began to let it all happen… I relax and watch it… I allow it to run its course. I neither push to do it faster… nor berate myself for not doing it. I just wait until it does itself. It’s like having total trust in your instincts. It’s like the zen saying: “When effort is needed, effort will come.” Weird, eh? We’ve always thought we needed to effort things to get them done!

I can see this in many things now, how uncomplicated they’ve become. On playing guitar, I’ve become like Zorba: “I can only play when I desire to, not through obligation.” The same happens with this blog: I can only write it when I feel an inner urging. I don’t know why I do it, or want something to happen because of it. It just happens… like trees blooming in spring or the sun coming up in the morning. The ego always wanted to take “credit” for what was naturally happening all by itself… isn’t that a hoot?

Perhaps what I’m discovering is that – contrary to what the ego would have us believe – we actually do things from an inner impulse… and not because some critical inner voice tells us to do them. If we listen to that impulse when it happens – and not try to force it – it has a flow, a spontaneity and a humility that our impatient egos never respected… and would never allow.

It’s like we become co-creators of our lives, instead of the “bosses.” And that’s a beautiful way to live… in the sense that we admit that everything we do – in that state of grace – is done by The Universe itself… and is therefore miraculous.

Truly, we don’t need our egos to babysit us anymore!

Once we see these deeds as not “ours”… but “the Universe’s”… we get to watch them unfold with amazement. Who knew that – together –we were capable of such beautiful actions?

All for Nothing!

Once upon a time there was a young man who sought enlightenment. People in his village suggested that he visit a hermit who lived on a nearby mountain… so the youth set out on his quest.

He navigated his way through a dark forest, swam across a raging river, and hiked up a steep mountain… until he finally arrived at the hermit’s dwelling. He announced to the wisened old man that he wished to know the meaning of life and had come to study with him. The hermit responded, “If you can answer my one question, you may stay.” “OK,” said the youth, “what is your question?” The old man replied, “There is a goose in a bottle. How do you get the goose out of the bottle?”

The youth asked, “Can the goose fit through the opening in the bottle?” “No,” answered the hermit. “May I cut the bottle open?” “No.” “May I break the bottle?” “No.” Discouraged, the youth told the hermit that he would like to retire to the woods to ponder over the question further.

The next day, the youth asked, “Can I heat the bottle to stretch out the mouth of the bottle?” “No.” “Can I kill the goose and pull it through the neck of the bottle?” “No, the goose must be alive.” Once more, the youth returned to the woods to think it over.

The following day, the youth asked his final question, “Perhaps the goose lays an egg and I pull that out of the bottle?” “No.” Sadly, the youth declared, “Then I have failed your test. I will return home.” He set off back down the mountain. A while later, however, mad with curiosity, he returned to the hermit. “Could you please tell me the secret? How do you get the goose out of the bottle?”

The hermit smiled at him, and said, “You want the goose out of the bottle? OK, the goose is out of the bottle.”

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I liked to share this story in my business seminars… and the more often I did, the longer the pause I left afterwards. It really is a fantastic story to illustrate how dissatisfied our minds are at the hermit’s answer. What in the world did he mean?

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Well… in reality there was no bottle, there was no goose. They were just mental ideas, without physical materiality. Our minds want there to be a problem, want there to be a solution… that’s why we are so disappointed with this story. What do you mean – says the mind – after all the trouble I’ve gone to, looking for an answer, that there is no problem? Are you saying that my analytical reasoning was all for nothing?

And that, I believe, is the great lesson of this story: that many of the questions we pose to ourselves, especially metaphysical ones, simply don’t have answers. They just leave our minds annoyed and confused. This frustration is actually very useful; it’s what eventually helps us seek relief from the mind’s inability to grasp reality, to define it, to know it. Exasperation pushes us to go past the mind… not for answers, but for a return to tranquility. We see how easily our minds can be trapped in cul-de-sacs, in disappointing circular reasoning, which pushes us to seek other methods… higher levels of intuition. It is in the letting go of these unanswerable questions that we begin to seek a more heart-centered way of life… here in the present… where imaginary gooses and bottles no longer confound us and imprison us.

Once we reach this liberated position, we can finally hear the hermit’s answer and think, “Of course! How silly I was!”

(In this vein, I always like to think that the youth eventually did find enlightenment on his way back down the mountain… or maybe many years later… like in my case!)

Nothing Lasts Forever!

Every “thing” is temporary. It comes and goes. It has a shelf life.

But “Nothing”… Nothing doesn’t change. There it is, solid and eternal, more real and enduring than anything we can see, taste or touch.

Think of it like this: if a building falls, what happens to the air that was in the rooms? Does it disappear… or does it remain? Does it even move… or does it stay where it was? Where does empty space go?

So if we’re looking for “something” that lasts, why don’t we choose the only thing that does: “Nothing”? Because our minds weren’t made to notice it. Our minds only register what changes… not what doesn’t.

So aligning with “Nothing” requires a revolt against our minds’ innate (and obstinate) insistence on trying to make “Somethings” last forever: our homes, our lives, our egos.

We need to feel this “Nothing” in a new way, an intuitive way. We need to unlimit ourselves from the mind… to see beyond the physical. Only our hearts can do this.

When we get our first taste of Nothingness, it feels boring. That’s why most of us only take in a bit at a time… like on the weekends, or on vacation. It seems to change us in ways we can’t understand… it makes us more open to Nothing… and that’s scary for the mind.

We begin to discover that “Nothing” is also inside us, between the cells, between the molecules, between the synapses. It’s the part of us that recognizes — and adores! — this immortal and unchanging Nothingness. It’s the part of us that will sustain and survive, no matter what Life throws our way.

Then one day, we notice that the “Nothing” is becoming more solid — more present — than the “Somethings.” It seems to become FULL, not just empty but alive with everything that changes… and everything that doesn’t. It becomes solid… and safe.

That’s the day we jump over from the world of “things” to the world of “No things.” “Nothing” lasts forever, so… let’s hang out there!