Choosing Consciousness over Criticism and Complaint (Part 2)

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The higher self, free of this desire to make the world conform to a set of expectations, offers no apology and no complaint. Finding life in the present moment, it is receptive to, and grateful for, all that it experiences. In the void created by its lack of expectations, comes the peace that fills the heart and brings calmness of mind. Contrast this to the ego, which perpetually wants more of that which it perceives will give it strength. Seeing itself as lacking these objects of worldly power, we are unconsciously led to complain about things that don’t matter very much to the higher self. It is thus no coincidence that most people complain about superficial things like money, possessions, physical appearance and the most routine behaviour of others.

Three primary drives of the ego are to obtain, control and devour. It wants to accumulate the fruits of its indulgence, and consume those to the exclusion of others, while attempting to control those who have these fruits in their possession. Providing further evidence of this is the situation where the ego struggles against those people who are resistant to the satiation of its desires. Being incapable of getting them to do what we want for our ego’s benefit, we condemn their opposition, while at the same time being ignorant of our own opposition to our spiritual nature.

If we are living in integrity with this higher dimension of being, we will not be driven by the primitive desires of the lower self. Contented and harmonious within ourselves, we will not need to criticize, condemn or complain. See here that these are different faces of the same dysfunction, being the separation from spirit. Mistakenly thinking that we are the ego, we voice its displeasure as if it is our own, but what we miss when we do this is an experience of the authentic self that is centred in clarity and abundance.

In a moment of conscious clarity, there is always enough of whatever you have before you. Whether it is a person, object or a landscape, there is nothing else that is needed in that experience in order to feel whole. Joined in love with that which is gazed upon, everything is perfect in the world, not because we are naïve or wishful, but because we are aware of the truth behind the lie. Shall we be in this moment and allow it to give of its gifts, or will we resist and make its offering a burden to carry?

By complaining about my marking duties, I was choosing to suffer rather than applying myself towards the task. Wishing the moment to be different, I desired to be stimulated or entertained in a way that marking could not provide. Finding that task to be ‘boring’, I did not want to serve the world but be subservient to my ego. Despite the fact that I was being paid to mark these papers, it was what I wanted to escape from because it did not promise the instant gratification that other more pleasurable activities would have delivered.

Wanting to surf the web or grab a snack from the staff room instead, I was tempted by the desire to procrastinate, which I indulged by stopping what I was doing to complain. Pining for some relief, I found it not in complaining, for that which I was resisting sat silently there waiting for me to gather the fortitude to do what I knew my duty to be. By complaining, I took the easy option and lost momentum in the process. Building towards completion before my concentration was broken, I squandered the opportunity to engage with that task, choosing instead to waste my energy by postponing the inevitable.

In the end, I wised up and just got on with it. Having a deadline to meet, it was an unlikely saviour, for it forced me to move past my resistance. Completing the task a mere half an hour before deadline, I had made things harder on myself than they needed to be. With less complaining and more diligence, I could have finished the task much earlier, and saved myself much in the way of stress that revolved around the question, was I going to finish my marking on time or not?


Choosing Consciousness over Criticism and Complaint (Part 1)

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When was the last time that you complained about something, anything? I know when mine was. Three hours ago, I had the first of many negative thoughts about not wanting to mark exam papers today. Hijacking my peace of mind, here I am in my office, feeling like a slave to this task which has consumed the last two days of my life. Question after question, answer after answer, and it all looks the same to me. In the midst of this monotony, I am tempted to lose my mind. When is it all going to end? Shortly I know, but I don’t want to have to wait. Besides, I am enjoying my moment of defiant respite, for it reinforces that I have better things to do with my life.

Just being a witness to this mental dance of mayhem, makes me laugh sometimes. After observing what was going on with these thoughts, I glanced at my daily calendar reminder, and the quote underneath it made perfect sense, for it appeared at just the right time. Simply it read, “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain”. What wisdom from Dale Carnegie, who brought us the classic text, How to Win Friends and Influence People. So straightforward in its message and yet so difficult to practice, or is it? It depends on where we are coming from within ourselves, I think.

For so many of us, complaining has become a way of life. We complain about work, the weather, our partners, kids, friends and siblings. We lament the state of the economy, our minor health issues and the wealth that we see others possessing, but don’t enjoy ourselves. Whatever is not working harmoniously in our life, we find a way to complain about, and when one considers that we can never have everything in balance all of the time, there is a lot of complaining going on. But where does this really get us? While we are there complaining in our own mind, or to others with whom we are interacting, the things that we are complaining about are not changing. Staying just as they are, it is we who perpetuate our own suffering by relating to the given circumstances in a resistant way.

With those circumstances that we don’t like, which are within our power to control, it would make more sense to initiate positive action than to continue complaining. Being able to influence the situation favourably, we can alleviate or even eradicate the negativity that animates the complaint if we really want to. The question then becomes do we really want to stop complaining, even if the things that we are complaining about fall outside of our scope of influence? This is a good question, and it is one that delivers a less than obvious answer.

In my experience, a lot of people gain a strong payoff from complaining, that allows them to feel in some way superior or justified in taking the position that they have. When we live from the ego, our paradigm becomes one of wounded entitlement. Looking at the world through this lens, we believe that it should deliver to us that which we want, and that because we have evidence of this not happening in the past, we have sufficient cause to whine that the branches of life have not bended to the force of our breath. Victim thinking in many ways reflects this. It cries out that the world has been cruel to me, and thus, I have no choice but to oppose it. But how accurate is this really? Is it not more about a dysfunctional paradigm, than the world being cold and hostile to the one who righteously believes that they are the centre of the universe?

Ultimately, all forms of whining, bitching and complaining are rooted in helplessness. Born of our ignorance to our innate spiritual power, these impotent acts that serve no constructive purpose in the world, are what lead to a regression in consciousness in the moment that they are practiced. By deluding ourselves into thinking that things should be different from how they appear, we lose precious territory on our evolutionary quest, but this we can’t discern with clarity because we have abdicated the most essential of responsibilities.

Acceptance is one of the highest forms of surrender. Allowing us to see the world as it is, and ourselves as an interconnected part of its functioning, the wisdom of its insights are valuable indeed. Understanding the world in this way, we leave alone the illusion that the world must somehow bend to our whim. Unblemished as it is in this wholeness, it is where we can move peacefully and prosperously, free of the egoic desire to make it conform to the shallow expectations of our petty self.


In All Seriousness (Part 2)

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In the context of our relationships, creating this space from the substance of thought forms becomes a valuable means of improving their quality and depth. To illustrate this with an example, have you ever gotten into an argument with someone you cared about and they said something that hurt you deeply? Maybe they labelled you in an unfair way or called your integrity into question. I think that at some time or another in our lives, we have all been there, and found it to be an unpleasant experience. But how long did what that person had to say linger with you? That would be determined by the weight that you gave to their words at the time they were uttered. The greater the weight that you gave to their words, the stronger the connection that you have drawn between who they are and the thoughts that have animated their words. But what of the deeper reality that more meaningfully characterises their behaviour? No doubt they are responsible for what comes out of their mouth, but beyond their words, isn’t there some other dimension of their being that is yearning for your ear?

Appearing on the surface to act viciously towards you, their motivation may have been preservation of an ideal or position that they perceived to be under threat. Feeling vulnerable in how the interaction was unfolding, they acted as they did in an attempt to protect themselves from your judgement or disappointment. With their purest intention being to find the common ground of understanding, they settled for something far less constructive because retaliation in response to the feeling of being rebuked has become their way of relating in such situations. Being a conditioned pattern of behaviour that they are unconscious of, it is something that you can relate to, for in your most susceptible moments, you have acted in similar ways when you felt threatened by someone opposing you.

Looking at our loved one’s behaviour from this new perspective, it becomes abundantly clear why we care about them so deeply. Sharing our vulnerabilities and shadow elements, their shortfalls are what we can appreciate and empathise with. Allowing ourselves to be conscious of this fibre that connects us, their harsh words do not cut as deeply any more. Not being reflective of the spirit that we know to be their essential light, forgiveness and love pour out of us like rain.

Extending this scenario a tad further, what if the substance of this insult was internally directed and spouted by your mind in monologue form? Upon hearing these negative words take shape, you would not need to take them to heart because in consciousness you would have an acute awareness of the ego’s proclivity for such action as a means of asserting control over you. Being centred within yourself, you would not need to become distressed or defensive in response to this artificial power play. This is the true power that we exercise when we become the still observer of the storm that brews in the undisciplined mind. In the eye of this storm, there is a silent calm that we call spirit. Surrendering ourselves to that space of higher consciousness, we will experience a rejuvenating peace and perspective that to an independent observer appears unreal amidst the turmoil that they see swirling all around us.

To provide you with a simple example, some time ago I was moving house and I forgot to bring something important that I had planned to take with me. With this mistake requiring me to do another round trip that was going to take three quarters of an hour, I found myself stuck in traffic having negative thoughts which expressed how much of an idiot I was to forget something so simple and make more work for myself.

After letting the voice of my ego mind say its piece, I couldn’t help but laugh at its offering. Having prepared myself for its reaction to this inconvenience, I knew that this wasn’t the time to beat myself up over this happening that had come and gone. Out of this more conscious response to the thoughts I was having, I felt a strong sense of peace, despite my mind’s initial unwillingness to relent. By choosing this course, I subdued its attack to the point that I moved past any semblance of negative feelings by the time that I returned home.

When do you find yourself taking your thoughts too seriously? In what areas of life do your negative thought patterns play themselves out? The grief that you allow these unhelpful thought forms to cause you, does not have to be. Entanglement, in this respect, is an unconscious choice that we have made. If we are to get serious about anything, it should be the work of disassociating ourselves from the thought forms of the ego that would have us remain ignorant to our inherent godliness. Establishing that foundation, a meaningful life that enriches the world can take form from the realm of being that is the very definition of truth and reality.


In All Seriousness (Part 1)

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Don’t take your thoughts too seriously. Being a lesson that I learned from Eckhart Tolle, the famed author of The Power of Now, it speaks of the need for greater perspective in dealing with these mental formations. Identifying so closely with these thought forms as a matter of habit, often they are all that we can perceive as we endeavour to construct our reality in the world. Blinded to the presence of a deeper spiritual reality in this process, we suffer, almost by default, through this disconnect. Not being attuned to our higher function that I describe as a calling, we retreat to a lesser life that is rigid, unfulfilling and tumultuous. Manifesting these unconscious and disempowered thoughts in our physical world, we essentially imprison our core self by being ignorant to the fact that who we are in our essence is far beyond what thought can capture.

As spiritual beings at our fundamental core, we are unlimited in our potentiality, and this capacity to embody and perpetuate life transcends definition. Being uncontainable when we give ourselves to this core dimension of life, the mind alone struggles to reconcile this truth with reality. Doing its best to make sense of the world amidst the clutter of our incongruence, it falls far short of understanding what the world needs, and how wisdom and integrity would guide our responsiveness. See here our modern dilemma.

Disconnected spiritually in our lives, we are prevented from seeing the world through the heart’s eyes. Acquainted only with the mind and its workings, it is what we have come to trust as the source of truth. Using it as the primary vehicle for navigating the world, the ego assumes the position of the driver. Relegated to the passenger’s seat of our life, we become stuck and disempowered. Feeling vulnerable, frightened and hopeless, our experience of life is one that is characterised by resistance and negativity.

Think of a time when you felt really dejected in life. Regardless of what the circumstances were surrounding the experience, I can guarantee that at the root of your discontent was a negative thought about yourself or the situation. In reflecting on my own experience of life, I have found it to be true that the situation is almost never as destructive as our response to it is. Whether that destructive response is given internal or external energy, the result is the same, and that is an experience of suffering for the self and the larger world.

Bound to the ego, our experience of life becomes dysfunctional. It is no wonder that people are abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs in record amounts. These people are looking for relief from the false identifications that they have with their thought forms. Wanting a respite from the torrent of chaos that this identification produces, the answer doesn’t lie in consuming external substances, for that is not where the problem is.

What something like anti-depressants promise, meditation and prayerful surrender deliver. Meditation is a valuable practice because it provides us with the perspective of the eternal witness that is unconstrained by the movements of the mind. Getting some distance from these thought forms, we can more clearly see the games that the mind plays, and this endows us with power. Providing present moment awareness, we can do a better job of controlling our thoughts, and are less susceptible to becoming a victim of them. For the person who endeavours to become more conscious in their life, this is a profound shift. The journey from puppet to master is a lifelong process, but in every respect the journey is worth it.

For me, one of the greatest benefits that I have found in meditation is the ability to challenge my thoughts. By cultivating the space to disassociate from these thought forms, I have come to learn what it means to not take your thoughts too seriously. When we are able to peek behind the curtain of thought, so to speak, we can decipher the meanings, motivations and habits that underlie so many of our patterns of thinking. Receiving these thought communications with a higher level clarity, we do not need to take them at face value if in their substance they convey a message that conflicts with a deeper reality that we have previously encountered.


Bribery of the Mind (Part 2)

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Each of us have blind spots that keep hidden those sabotaging elements, which can take a variety of forms. What to my friend was the release that nicotine and alcohol provided, may to you be the anonymity that comes with conformity. Wanting at the deepest level to live your calling, you may engage in defeating behaviours that prevent you from stepping up and standing out. Perhaps you feel undeserving of the success which would come from that journey, which leads you to settle for much less than you know in your heart you are worthy of receiving.

Another prominent payoff that I have observed in my own life and the lives of others, is doing too much for other people, or saying things that we don’t mean in order to gain their approval. Wanting to just be ourselves and have the world like us for who we are, we are reluctant however to show our true face, for fear that this vulnerability will bring about rejection. Learning early that a numbing comfort can be found in not risking ourselves, we play it small in our relationships that never really move beyond the superficial stages.

I have written before on intimacy and how it requires vulnerability to develop. If we are scared of being hurt in our relationships, we may try to remove ourselves from them, even though at a spiritual level we are receptive to the fruits of those connections, and willing to nourish them with our authentic gifts. Allowing this fear to get the best of us, we may find ourselves taking more from these other people than we give because this is easier work, and more rewarding for the ego. Causing an imbalance in these relationships, its effect will be harmful, and before long what we say that we didn’t want to happen will come to pass.

Unfortunately, a lot of relationships end this way. With love still being present in the moment of parting, what is lacking is the awareness of the sabotaging elements in our character, and the personal responsibility to reconcile these conflicts. Leaving the friction between the spirit and the segregated mind unaddressed, dysfunction will continue to manifest in various ways that will not always be palpable to us.

When we can learn to see these payoffs at work in our life and the lives of others, we cease to be as frustrated and hostile as we otherwise would have been when somebody doesn’t act as we would have expected them to. In reminiscing about my friend’s situation, I can remember that my first thought was that the behaviour he was engaging in was completely idiotic. Becoming acquainted with his payoff system in hindsight, that judgment and negative labelling subsided because I could see past the behaviour to the motivation behind it, and respond with empathy to the struggle that he was experiencing.

Yearning for something more meaningful in his life, he was just temporarily stuck, which is something that I could relate to from previous experience. Engaging in this destructive behaviour didn’t make him a bad or weak person. Having a light inside of him that yearned to overcome the limitations imposed by his dependence on these external substances, he had to surrender his chosen suffering before a breakthrough could be achieved. While he was bearing his own cross and defending his addiction, nothing could or would change for him.

It was only when he took the brave step of admitting to himself that he was navigating the terrain of his life with the wrong map that a more integral intention was revealed to guide him down an authentic path. Whether we say that this movement was inspired by grace or God, it doesn’t detract from the fact that intrinsically each of us has the ability to break free of our burdens and live a life that is aligned with love.

The essence of love is integrity that inspires a wholehearted movement towards joy, peace and fulfilment. Rather than bribe the mind with the temptations of ego, we must heal it of all the things that do not support and align with our life’s purpose. Shedding this dead psychological skin is challenging work, but such is the evolutionary process of life. True freedom exacts a cost, and that is the disillusionment of mind, and the payoffs that keep our spiritual light obscured from the world.


Bribery of the Mind (Part 1)

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Looking into our behavioural payoff system is some of the most interesting inner work that we will ever undertake. A payoff is an intrinsic or extrinsic motivating factor that guides our behaviour. Powerfully influencing our actions in ways that we may not always be conscious of, these payoffs serve both a protective function and more aspirational purposes, in having us move to further the objectives of the self that we believe ourselves to be. Being often in conflict with the truest desires of our heart, these payoffs can reveal the tension between the authentic journey towards fulfilment and the psychological conditioning that has us travel down paths which do not nurture our being. Frequently undermining our attempts to evolve towards our spiritual fullness, these payoff mechanisms are important teachers that we need to face up to, so that we may better understand who we essentially are, and know what integrity looks like in the context of our life.

The source of inspiration for this entry was a conversation that I had some time ago with a friend who works as a doctor in the emergency ward of a hospital. Asking him how his work was going at the time, he responded by telling me that it was very hectic and stressful because of the long shifts and the urgent nature of the procedures that he was required to perform on patients. Conveying this information with a tense and anxious look on his face, it was hard not to feel the burden of expectation that he carried. Weighing heavily on his shoulders, it was what he sought to mitigate through his habits of smoking and drinking.

Engaging in these habits daily, his dependence on nicotine and alcohol had become for him a crutch that temporarily calmed his nerves and comforted his anguished mind. Compromising his well-being and his personal and professional values, his abuse of these substances had brought him to a crossroads. Knowing since he started the behaviour that it could lead to a perilous destination, he nevertheless persisted to indulge in these habits because they allowed him to disassociate from the stress, and survive in a world that had taken him over. Despite his extensive education that had taught of the dangers of abusing these two hazardous substances, he had refused to correct his behaviour because in his mind the need to perform in his work was greater than the need to take care of himself.

Subscribing to the false belief that if he was to stop using these substances his work life would suffer, as would his ability to function in the other areas of his life, this was the barrier that until now had prevented him from evolving in his life. Admitting to himself the lie that had kept him locked in that destructive pattern, his balance of power began to shift in the direction of self-love and spiritual nurturing. No longer was he willing to sacrifice his well-being for his work. Coming to see this as counter-productive and not worth the risk of future illness or death, he vowed to take much better care of himself so that he could provide much better care to others.

Having adopted a new and more integrated belief around his well-being and work, he started to see positive change that not coincidently extended beyond these spheres into other areas of his life. Only after the pain of the old place became too much to bear, was he open to travelling down a different path. It often takes something drastic for people to want to make change in their lives. For the most part we live by the maxim that says, ‘if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it’. The problem comes when the foundational elements of our life are broken, and we fail to see that they are broken. For this reason, we must be attuned to the conditions of our life, and the thoughts and behaviours that we have contributed to bringing them about.

This same awareness we must direct towards examining our payoffs. What are you doing that is leading you down a path that you do not want to travel along? What hidden emotions are driving that behaviour, and preventing you from taking conscious control of your life? What distortions are you allowing to take root in your mind, which your experience of life does not validate? Considering these questions can start the process of reconciling our identity with the spiritual light of truth.


The Impaired Motorist

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While driving home from work last week, I experienced a humorous situation which presented me with a learning that is worth repeating here. Taking my normal route home on this afternoon, I came upon a silvery grey vehicle that was travelling towards me in the opposite direction. Blending into the shadowy gravel of the road, I found myself struggling to see it clearly as it approached from a distance. Immediately noticing that the driver did not have their headlights on, I thought it best to flash them with my high beams to alert them of their oversight.

Feeling like I had performed a civic duty of sorts, I came to a stop at a set of lights that had moments before turned red. Looking to my dashboard as an afterthought, I observed that my own headlights were not activated. Confused by this occurrence, I moved to turn them on and they readily worked. Wondering why they had not turned themselves on automatically as they were designed to do, it hit me like a ton of bricks that my headlights were not the problem.

Forgetful of the fact that I had on my dark tinted sunglasses, I laughed to myself at the joke being on me. Wryly taking them off my face, everything appeared as normal for that time in the afternoon. With my surroundings lightened by the receding sun’s rays, I looked around at all of the other cars on the road with their headlights turned off, and felt like a fool for acting so self-righteously.

Now attuned to my error, I came to appreciate its inherent value. Teaching of the virtues of awareness and humility, I learned a lesson that I needed to be taught at that time. Paying only the small price of private embarrassment, I was very grateful for having escaped the situation with my dignity largely intact. Still laughing about the episode when I pulled into the driveway at home, I knew that I had to write about it to unpack the broader meaning that I took from this happening.

So often in life, we react impulsively without thinking deeply about what we are faced with. Observing something that we perceive as disagreeable, we don’t even question the judgment that we have made. Blindly convinced of our own correctness, we readily move to assert our self-ordained superiority. Making ourselves heard in that process, the world knows where we stand. But what of the instances when we stand in the wrong spot? Here, it is crucial to create the space to self-access and regain a foothold in reality.

Like the tenuous position that I found myself in, we do not always get it right, despite our best attempts to make sense of the world. Being only human, we inevitably must admit to having blind spots that contribute to the mistakes that we make in the world. Presenting an opportunity for reflective growth, these fertile grounds of learning are rendered barren when we have not the humility to admit to our shortcomings, and correct our limited perceptions. Being able to admit to these shortcomings is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of personal strength. Only the strong can look honestly at their perceptions, and not have them tainted by the ego’s artificial light.

In a more natural light, we can see that so much of the world’s dysfunction is perpetuated by our stubborn insistence on asserting our righteous positions, irrespective of their effects on our immediate surroundings. Lacking in this fundamental awareness, we act as impaired motorists who have obscured the path forward through our own misunderstanding.

Hypocrisy is a curse that can be broken by integrated awareness. Allowing the light within to teach us about a deeper reality, our responsiveness to its movements become the gift that we bring to the world. There is no shame in having to fall back when the situation demands it. The hollow victory is one that entrenches us in our own ignorance, whereas the genuine triumph liberates the truth in us. When was the last time that you confessed, ‘I am wrong’. A selfless statement of humility, it is in the same breath a pathway to peace and freedom that the wise heart is never reluctant to travel down.