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.

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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.

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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.

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The Simple Smile (Part 2)

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I find it to be pretty amazing that something so powerful has been freely given to us by our creator. For so many of us, we have been strongly conditioned to believe that only the things that money can buy have value. Clearly, this is not true. While money allows us to access different things that serve to enrich our experience of life, it cannot buy the joy, peace and contentment, which communicate to the world through our smile that we are harmoniously integrated with the spiritual substance of our being.

Why so many people find it hard to smile is because they are stuck in their own head. Consumed with the past aspects of their lived experience, or focused on the events of the future, they are absent of mind and closed of heart, with the consequence that they cannot perceive the abundance richness that the spirit has infused life with. Everything that surrounds us is a potential source of joyful and conscious awakening, but before we can appreciate this reality, we have to learn to take ourselves and the events of our life less seriously. By this, I am not saying that we should stop caring about the things that mean the most to us, but that we should favour a gentle and light-hearted approach to life that allows us to appreciate its journey as we go along.

The overarching tension that poisons our daily experience of life largely arises from the belief that who we are and what we have in this moment is lacking, and that to be more, we must be continually striving to get more. Subscribing to this distorted paradigm, it is very hard to smile through the stress and strain that have us perpetually resisting against life.

I have encountered many people who are so anxious and uptight because of their ego-centred desire to get ahead in the world. Chasing after those things that money can buy, they take for granted the things in their life that money can’t buy. While there is nothing inherently wrong with achievement and the pursuit of excellence, when these things come at the expense of our ability to appreciate and engage with life, then we have a real problem. Being on the journey of growing into our potential, it is natural that we would enjoy the process.

Why then do people find it hard to express joy during the course of their days? Because they are not being in balance, and are functioning from the disempowered self that is the ego. Habitually forcing the issue, their life energy becomes scattered, as does the joy that is starved of the opportunity to express itself when we live this way. Fleeting in its coming, we experience a greater sense of suffering and loss upon its going.

For the better part of my twenties I knew this too well. Frequently asking myself the question, how can I get more of the things that I want?, I seldom if ever genuinely smiled because I was looking at my life from an impoverished perspective. It was only when I really started to evolve spiritually and mature in my worldview that I developed the capacity to smile for no other reason than I had life, and the opportunity each day to continually become more, just by being who I was created to be. This wisdom is so easy to lose sight of, and we resist against it so mightily.

In one of my previous works, I wrote about small things that make a big difference. Smiling is one of those things when it is an authentic expression of who we are, and the joy that we have to share. Not everyone has the alluring smile of a Jennifer Lawrence or George Clooney, but this doesn’t matter at all. When we heartily smile, we convey a beauty and warmth that is not visible when our face is contorted by vain worries and discontent. This beauty and warmth comes from the soul, the source of our very being that is always open and receptive to life because it is the embodiment of the life force within us.

When we live in harmony with the soul, we will meet life where it is. Flowing with the promptings of our spirit, we bring our best to the world and have a blast in the process. The most ‘successful’ people, in the truest sense of that word, are the most fulfilled people who have connected with the spiritual reservoir of abundance within themselves. Feeling their joy intensely with the intention to infuse the world with it, they give freely of their smiles.

Here, my mind turns to the spirited and adventurous entrepreneur, Richard Branson, who is perpetually smiling. Whenever I see him in the news, he is always sporting a grin that communicates to the world how much fun he is having with his life. While many may think that the smile came with the tremendous wealth that he has accumulated, the truth is that the smile and money both came because he was first engaged with his spirit, and committed to manifesting the calling that he was born with. True wealth comes to those who smile, laugh, love and serve with passion. Relax into a life that is aligned with spirit, and just as a smile is effortless in its expression, so will your contentment and flourishing be amidst the necessary doings of the physical world.

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The Simple Smile (Part 1)

A smile is the universal welcome. ~ Max Eastman

Each smile is a gift that one person gives to another, and when they are authentically expressed, they have a way of breaking down the defences of the fearful, stressed and suspicious, by bringing them into conscious contact with their essential nature. The spirit is joyous, carefree and grateful for the opportunity to just be. Living in its light, we find it easy to smile and laugh, not because life is without difficulty, but because our heart is open to being amazed and entertained by the spectacle that life is.

Modern life is not easy going, but we can choose to be. By making the decision to go with the flow of the life force as we encounter it, we add depth to our lived experience and find ourselves capable of connecting with a richer meaning and sense of contentment that ego based thinking and status quo living do not resonate with. When we are resisting against life, we find it very hard to smile. Stuck in the belief that life should present itself in ways that we find agreeable, our efforts consist of vain attempts at control and subsequent relief, when our resistance inevitably bumps up against life’s reality. To this end, the expressions on our faces tell a story of exasperation and bewilderment.

Continually seeking to go somewhere other than where we find ourselves, and feeling the pressure of not getting there fast enough, we cannot bring ourselves to stillness, being the space from which we can delight in our blessings and the natural world that surrounds us. Incapable of being at one with the true source of joy in our life, we ask to be amused and distracted by artificial agents. Holding onto the hope that these dalliances can build the bridge to our integrity, we remain separated from our spirit which teaches that with the present moment comes the ability to express joy in infinite amounts.

Having distanced ourselves from this wisdom, we allow the ego to take us over to the detriment of our well-being and happiness. Conditioned to participate in the rat race, we lose ourselves in the maze, not only of the world but also of the unconscious mind, which under the ego’s tutelage teaches that we cannot enjoy the journey because we have some better place to get to. Oriented towards the future, we see not the vast potential for joy that the present moment holds. This, we had no difficulty appreciating once upon a time, not because we didn’t have the demands of the world on our shoulders, but because we were authentically attuned to the voice of the spirit, and the experience of joy that it was continually calling us into.

As children, we had no difficulty in smiling at random. Living in the moment, it was the expression that came most naturally to us. Finding joy in whatever we were doing, we didn’t need to be invested in anything outside of ourselves because we were fully present in experiencing life as a new adventure. Innately appreciating the novelty of every new day, we couldn’t help but smile at the prospect of learning and growing through our involvement with life. Expressing our silent gratitude through our enthusiastic engagement, we didn’t have to use words to communicate how beautiful we found life to be. Conveyed by the joyful expression on our faces, this was the gift that we gave to those who witnessed our bliss, and attested to our humble wisdom.

Given the choice whether to smile or meet the world with a stone face, what would the conscious individual do? Concerned with elevating the condition of the world through their state of being, they would choose to smile. Our experience shows us that smiling is highly contagious and transformative in its effect. Like yawning, it holds an energy that we pass onto others who we come into contact with. From the metaphysical heart comes the joyous energy that gives birth to a smile and then laughter. Embodying this energy and then transmitting it, we can change the course of others days. What may have begun as a testing day, can quickly turn around because of the simple exposure to a cheerful smile.

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The Home of Peace

Each of us wants more peace in our life. The problem though is that we often look for it in all the wrong places. Believing for example that the perfect relationship or receiving a monetary windfall will cure our discontent and thus bring harmony to our being, we endow the elements of the external world with a healing power that they don’t possess in reality. Painting over our sorrows temporarily, these illusory remedies cannot hide for long the cracks in our spiritual foundation that prevent us from experiencing an enduring peace in the perpetual present moment.

The only peace that will fill our heart is that which results from aligning our being with spirit. Requiring an integral shift that is supported by daily practices that nourish this peace, such as meditation, visualisation and prayer, the onus is on us to restore balance in our lives, not on the world, that with its egocentricity, is incapable of pointing the way to tranquility.

By embracing this responsibility, we can effectively enter the still space that provides clarity on our identity and purpose. Being at home within ourselves after effecting this shift, we come to learn that our ego-based thought forms are the source of the emotions (fear, anxiety and anger, for example) which deprive us of peace. Giving ourselves distance from their inner workings, we empower ourselves in a way that minimises the deleterious impact that they have on our life. Better able to control their influence on our movements, we have a greater scope to actualise the dimensions of spirit that make for a peaceful world.

Called to be instruments of peace on this planet, we cannot serve this role while living to pursue the selfish objectives of the ego. Opposing peace by the conflict that it stimulates, we stand separated from others and the mutual aspiration to come together, when we are cajoled by the ego’s righteous voice, and act out its frightful fantasies. War, for example, is a larger scale manifestation of ego consciousness. Being the realm where we must fight and overcome an enemy, to strengthen an artificial identity and win the rewards that are validated by a like-minded society, this state of opposition is not conducive to peace at either the individual or collective levels. This more evolved existence can only be realised when we surrender ourselves to a broader knowing that in its wisdom will show us a way to navigate this drama.

Finding our peace by living through spirit, and reconciling the suffering that we have experienced in our life, we can powerfully assist others to do the same. With enough people taking up this responsibility to enrich the quality of their life, we can enrich the quality of all life. Bound together by the fabric of love that becomes visible when we start to view the world with spiritual eyes, this truth is not one that the mind alone can acquaint itself with. Cultivating this conscious awareness, we do not have to act impulsively in a way that is likely to bring harm to the world. Stopping to consult the spirit through stillness, and assessing our intentions against its wisdom, we will act in a way that makes us a potent instrument of peace in a fractured world.

Not straying into the realm of temptation as the ego would have us do, our peaceful and loving energy is not dissipated by engaging in fruitless endeavours. Harnessed rather in perpetuating the life of the spirit, we become invigorated and more capable of dealing with life’s challenges, when we have within a safe harbour that the ego’s fleet is incapable of attacking. This is the home of peace; the defenceless realm of strength.

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Wisdom without the Grey Hair

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“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” ~ Abraham Lincoln.

It was once said that wisdom comes with age, but I very much doubt that this is true. In my short time on this planet, I have encountered enough ignorant and egocentric people to understand that these two unflattering character traits do not discriminate on the basis of age, which after all is just a numerical label which fails to get at the heart of who we are, and what we are capable of expressing at any moment in time. Wisdom, in this respect, emerges from a realm that is deeper than the physical stage of life that we occupy. In essence, this source of wisdom is the spiritual basis of life, and by living in a way that aligns with spirit, we will be capable of embodying wisdom in tangible ways. Even children, who often do a better job of remaining true to their essence, can be great teachers of wisdom if we care to be receptive to their lessons.

Being inclined to believe that old age holds the answer to life’s problems, we assume that learning is automatic, when in actuality it is not. Learning is a choice and it will be something that we naturally gravitate to when we allow our innate curiosity to take hold. On this point, one of the prominent findings from my research was that individuals who are living their calling and aligned with their spirit in that process demonstrated the trait of continuous learning. An intrinsic part of life is the learning opportunities that it affords, but ultimately the decision of whether we learn or not is up to us.

Possessed of the free will to evolve and allow wisdom to move through us, it is not a given that we will choose to embody it at any time, let alone in old age. While it is nice to think that we grow more receptive to learning the older that we get, it is just not true. Often, the older people that we encounter are stubborn and rigid to the point where they find it difficult to entertain the possibility that someone who is younger in years is acquainted with a truth/truths that they have not encountered yet. Themselves victims of this ‘wisdom comes with age’ fallacy, it is the comforting position that they adopt under the direction of the frail ego, which prefers to believe that which affirms its own righteous identity, and not expose the agent to a learning situation that would require them to be truly vulnerable.

Learning requires great courage and humility (also qualities that my research found are emblematic of spirit), and if we don’t allow these virtues to guide our evolution, then we will find ourselves living in old age with the same mindset that we had in our younger years. For the mind to expand, it must be fed on a continual basis. Only by doing this do we ensure that our experience of the years ahead will be richer than those that we have already lived. Why a great many people get bored and disillusioned with life as they become older is because they have stopped growing, and as a consequence they are essentially living the same year over and over again.

This experience is much different from continuously learning on a day to day basis, which has the effect of compounding our personal growth. Like an interest amount that increases with every dollar that we add to our bank account, the quality of our life increases in proportion to the amount of learning that we agree to undertake. Whether it takes the form of education or new experiences, we strengthen our capacity for insight into the nature of the world, and ultimately ourselves, every time that we move to ask new questions of life.

It is when we are comfortable staring into the abyss of consciousness that wisdom comes alive. Presenting profound answers to the questions that we have asked with intentionality, it works alongside the gaining of knowledge to round out our understanding of life. Grey hairs or not, we will struggle to find all of the answers because our time in this world is just too short. Despite this reality, I still believe it to be a wonderful thing that in any moment, we can lose ourselves in the mystery of life and allow wisdom to come forth. A manifestation of our being in the here and now, it is not time that it needs to speak, but a heart that is open and willing to liberate the spirit that it houses.

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