Keeping up with alignment

In my previous post I wrote:

At the heart of the Abraham Hicks material is the observation that whatever we desire, we desire it because we think we will feel better when we have it. But it is not having things that makes us feel better, it is alignment with our own inner being, God’s presence within us.

I wanted to follow this idea in a slightly different direction.

We desire things in this world because we think having them will make us feel better.

But what actually makes us feel better is having thoughts that are aligned with our inner being.

So does our inner being think that having what we desire will make us feel better?

Not the right question?

I think the answer is that this is not quite the right question.

Abraham teaches that whenever we encounter something unwanted, we launch a desire. In that moment our inner being expands to become that newly launched desire.

For example, if I’m hungry but there’s nothing to eat in the fridge then my noticing of that unwanted condition launches a desire for food, based on my thought that I will feel better if that condition arises.

But in that moment my inner being already expands into that better feeling. My inner being already feels like it’s eating delicious food and feeling satisfaction and enjoyment.

I, however, still have a choice of whether to go with my inner being and share that feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction, or keep thinking about the condition of the empty fridge which leaves me feeling dissatisfied and disappointed.

That dissatisfaction and disappointment exists because in the moment I noticed the empty fridge my desire was launched and my inner being went with it, but I did not.

That’s the whole point!

You might be thinking “but the fridge really is empty…” and that may be true for now…or it may not. I might have missed something!

We are encouraged to be realistic and look at what is really there in front of us.

But something else that is really here in front of us is our ability to feel good right now without waiting for the condition to change.

Is it unrealistic to feel satisfaction and enjoyment when we have the power and the desire to do so?

Isn’t it a real ability to feel good without waiting for external conditions to change?

If imagining food can feel just as good as actually eating food (sometimes better!) then it’s an entirely realistic option.

This is how you create your reality

Quite apart from what is in the fridge, there is a world of difference between the me who feels disappointed that there’s nothing to eat, and the me who feels enjoyment and satisfaction by keeping up with my inner being as it expands into the desire.

My observation is that small children are happy because they haven’t yet learned to focus so tenaciously on unwanted things. I was reminded of this yesterday when I was discussing birthday cakes with my son. I baked his cake last year and tried to make it look like a Minecraft sword.

I was heartily disappointed with the outcome, but he loved it, and when I mentioned it yesterday his eyes lit up and, oblivious to my negativity, he praised it with enthusiasm.

He hadn’t learned to compare it to the professional designs online and criticise the wobbly edges or the dull colour of the icing. He went with his inner being on that one.

Jesus said “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

I’ve looked for good interpretations or explanations of that line. The best explanation I’ve found is the one described above, thanks to the Abraham Hicks material.

We are meant to go with our inner being. We are meant to feel good. We are meant to create a better-feeling reality.

And in our focus on unwanted conditions we have no idea what is possible. Whether you look at it on the level of psychology and expectations or on the level of miracles and providence, what we think, believe, and subsequently feel is of greatest importance in the conditions of the world that follow.

So to answer the question…

In the spirit of expansion and ever-more-answers: no, our inner being does not think that feeling better will come from having what we desire.

Not that it would disagree, but that the question would not occur because our inner being always feels good, and it knows that we can feel good too the moment we join its good-feeling perspective.

I like to think of the inner being as a dear friend or loved one who is always feeling good, and when you’re with them you feel good too. So long as you stay with that beloved person you are happy.

But there’s a problem: this friend of yours is always racing ahead joyfully into every opportunity that comes along, whereas you tend to grow cautious and resistant at unfamiliar situations. You want to stop and weigh the pros and cons and give yourself time to think about it.

When you do that, you’ve forgotten that you are happiest when you are together with your friend, and really nothing else matters.

You would be happier to forget your worries and just stay with your friend wherever they go, rather than dithering and delaying and always lagging behind.

That’s the kind of relationship we have with our inner being. We have a desire for some new condition, and our inner being races ahead into appreciation of that condition. But we hold back, thinking we need the condition before we can feel appreciation and joy and all those good feelings.

So, no, our inner being doesn’t join us in thinking that the conditions we desire will make us feel better, because our inner being always feels good, it always immediately expands to embrace our desires, and it never shares our misguided and ill-feeling attention to what is unwanted or missing from our experience.

Therefore, we can find alignment with our inner being on this subject if we stop looking to our conditions to make us feel better. Our desires will keep arising, and our inner being will keep expanding; it’s up to us to keep up with it, staying aligned with that wellspring of love, joy, and appreciation.

The Emotional Guidance Scale

One of the most useful tools in the Abraham Hicks material is the EGS or Emotional Guidance Scale.

The idea is that our emotions provide guidance as to how well aligned our thoughts are with the perspective of our inner being.

In Christian terms, if we accept that God is love and God’s providence rules all things, then we will find love, peace, and joy growing within us as we embrace God’s loving will in our lives.

The EGS

In the Abraham Hicks system, our emotions exist on a scale or spectrum from despair, depression, fear, at the bottom, to joy, love, and appreciation at the top.

So far so good, but what makes the EGS especially valuable is that it plots other points in unexpected ways.

For example, insecurity is one step higher than fear and depression. Jealousy is another step higher, hatred or rage is above that.

If you worked your way up the scale starting at fear, you might go through hatred, revenge, anger, blame, worry, doubt, disappointment, all the way up to boredom, before arriving at the tipping point of contentment.

This is significant because many of us have been taught that these negative emotions are bad or wrong. We often find ourselves feeling fear, but resisting the shift into jealousy, hatred, anger, or blame even though they are higher up the scale.

That’s not to say that blame is a good place to be, but it’s a much better place than hatred or depression. Blaming others when you are depressed feels like relief.

But too often we get to something like anger and immediately shut it down, telling ourselves that anger is wrong, that it’s better to be depressed than angry.

Of course you’re not meant to go out and act on your jealousy, anger, revenge, or hatred any more than you should act on your fear and depression.

It’s enough to recognise that these unpleasant emotions are nonetheless a step in the right direction. Allow yourself to feel anger if that brings relief, and know that it’s not permanent.

Working with the EGS

We can use the EGS to identify where we are on any given subject, and then find thoughts that feel like relief, noticing how that relief takes us up the scale towards the more aligned emotions.

For example, if you feel depressed and powerless on the subject of not having a job, it’s because your thoughts on this subject are out of alignment with the providential, loving perspective of your inner being.

You might be thinking something like “I’ll never amount to anything” while your inner being is thinking something like “everything is working out perfectly”.

But it’s not easy to go from thinking “I’m useless” every day for twenty years to then thinking “everything is perfect” consistently.

That’s a big leap and not easy to maintain.

Instead you might go just one step higher to a thought like “I have no idea what I’m going to do”.

It’s not a happy thought, but it’s a little better than “I’ll never amount to anything” because at least it admits uncertainty. So it might feel like insecurity rather than depression or despair.

With practice it’s possible to work up the scale quite quickly, though I have no idea how long it takes other people.

Our next thought that brings relief might be jealousy at all those people out there who have found their calling or easily arrived at enjoyable, fulfilling, or lucrative careers.

Don’t shoot down the jealousy. Accept it as a source of relief, of feeling “less bad” and then see if you can find another thought that brings further relief.

It won’t necessarily be hatred/rage, nor revenge. It’s okay to naturally skip some emotions.

Anger might be the next point of relief. You might find relief and energy in angry thoughts at the economy, the education system, your past choices. You might angrily think “this sucks, I hate this situation” and although it’s not a good feeling it’s already much better than insecurity or despair.

Blame

It feels good to blame others, but we’re frequently told it’s unhealthy and fruitless.

Well it is if we never move on from blame, but too often people never pass through blame on their own. They get to blame and then tell themselves (or are emphatically told) “stop blaming other people for your choices, take responsibility for your own life!”

But if you find some relief in blame, then blame your heart out. You could blame the economy for taking away your job or not offering more prospects. You can blame your education for not preparing you for the current workforce. You could blame your parents for undermining your youthful passions and hobbies. You could blame the government, blame your country, blame your third grade teacher, blame your family for holding you back.

Problems only arise when people act on blame, or when they refuse to take the next emotional step towards relief.

We’ve all met people who like to tell everyone about their blame. They blame their ex, their boss, their parents, their more-successful siblings and so on.

The problem isn’t the blame, the problem is that they refuse to move on.

What comes after blame?

It might be worry. Some people recount that after wallowing in blame for a while they realised that blaming others wasn’t making their life any better. Maybe they went into worry?

Or maybe we can move from blame into doubt? Doubting that it really was other people’s fault, doubting that we really know what made our life turn out the way it did, doubt that blaming people is getting you anywhere.

Again, moving from blame into doubt might seem counter-intuitive because blame offers certainty whereas doubt sounds very uncertain.

But that uncertainty is also more open to possibilities, less fixed in telling the same old story about how your evil step-sister screwed you out of your inheritance and that’s where your life took a wrong turn.

Or maybe even doubt that things are as bad as you thought. Maybe you meet people or hear of others in your exact circumstances who’ve made things work, or perhaps you notice that you have more to be thankful for than you first considered.

Follow relief, not the scale

In my opinion it’s not the best approach to try to feel everything on the scale. The whole point of the scale is to help us recognise that relief is taking us somewhere, and that is up the scale. It’s to reassure us that anger or jealousy or blame are not permanent locations but just a section of the path to appreciation and joy and feeling genuinely good.

If we keep looking for thoughts that bring relief we will eventually find ourselves closing the gap between how we see the world and the providential, loving perspective of our inner being.

At the heart of the Abraham Hicks material is the observation that whatever we desire, we desire it because we think we will feel better when we have it. But it is not having things that makes us feel better, it is alignment with our own inner being, God’s presence within us.

Yet life is not static, it is expanding. Our desires expand, and the perspective of our inner being expands with it. To stay in alignment is not an act of standing still or clinging to a single definitive answer.

If we find the answer, life will give us a new question. Alignment is therefore dynamic, and keeping up with it is the nature of the work.

Looking back at my own life, I thought alignment was static. I thought there was a single unchanging answer that I needed to find, and I grew despondent and discouraged as each time I found the answer turned out to be insufficient or temporary.

It’s like wanting to own the most powerful gaming computer available. You could do all your research, write down the specs, but if you wait too long before ordering it’ll no longer be cutting edge.

Our happiness is cutting edge, or leading edge in Abraham Hicks jargon. We have to keep up with it, and it’s said that the real satisfaction and joy lies precisely in the keeping up.

Alignment is a moving target, but hitting a moving target is more fun and more satisfying than hitting the same old target again and again.

 

Are you living your purpose?

I used to long to find my purpose in life.

I imagined it as a place I was meant to be, a career I was meant to follow, an ideal or a teaching or talent that would bring me fulfilment in life if I just poured my whole self into it.

I thought I had found it in being a “problem-solver” of the intellectual kind. But however great it seemed at first, thinking for a living eventually grew old.

I wasn’t fulfilled by mastering complex ethical problems, and as my job in ethics came to an end I began to feel increasingly devoid of purpose and even prospects.

My grand spiritual quest was in stasis, my PhD ran into a brick wall, and the books I wrote didn’t provide the sense of purpose, direction, or income I’d hoped for.

The four temperaments taught me that ideals and meaning and therefore purpose in life were fundamental to my sense of self and my worldview. Yet thanks to my deeply pessimistic and world-weary outlook, I regarded these things as unreal.

Getting into positive thinking via the Abraham Hicks material has helped me enormously. But it only just occurred to me that I’ve still been looking at the world through the filter of my past disenchantment and despair of any real meaning or purpose.

What is purpose?

The real reason we want purpose is because we think it will feel good when we have it.

Try to analyse purpose and it loses its mystery.

Purpose is, after all, just an intention or a goal. It’s what you pro-pose or put forth.

But melancholics won’t be content with an arbitrary goal or a self-generated intention.

By our very temperament, we desire something greater and more powerful than ourselves, and that means something inherently mysterious.

That’s why all my attempted goals and paths lost their appeal as soon as I considered trying to make some kind of career out of them: what I sought was, by definition, to reduce them to predictable, repeatable and therefore non-mysterious processes or outcomes.

Mysterious power

And yet there was something I had encountered however briefly in my years of searching. I came upon it while trying to emulate the “acting without acting” of the Daoist canon. I think I hit upon it by accident and succeeded because there were no instructions, no real method, just a description and a feeling.

What I had was best described as a “mysterious power”, a product of faith, feeling, and intuition that I allowed intermittently to flow.

I found it again last night, trying to put my baby daughter to sleep.

I remembered the sense of ease, the feeling of alignment, the certainty (faith) that it would work because (mystery) I was aligning myself with this great power that creates, guides, and nourishes all things.

The feeling is most like those dreams where you discover you can fly just by focusing in a particular way with a kind of expectation and gentle certainty that allows you to find invisible footholds in the air, or simply levitate as easily as drawing in a deep breath.

It’s the feeling you get when you change ever so slightly the angle or focus with which you regard a familiar scene like your own living room. Everything changes and you suddenly appreciate it in a whole new light with a feeling of clarity and buoyancy like a gust of wind has filled the room and stirred everything in it.

Or like a lens suddenly coming into focus, and everything is sharp and crisp and you feel your control over that act of focusing, while everything else is securely in the flow of that mysterious power.

I never knew what to call it, and I tended to lose it in the past as soon as I ran into cold hard thoughts about “reality”.

But last night I allowed it to come to the fore, and with it came a shift in perspective. I wasn’t exhaustedly trying to get my daughter to sleep so my wife and I could relax, instead I was lovingly helping her to sleep so she could rest and refresh and grow.

With this mysterious power guiding me, buoying me and uplifting me I felt not only that I had the energy and the patience I needed, but also the sensitivity and the guidance to find the easiest and best path forward.

Better yet, that by staying in this feeling of power I was already on the right path, and everything else was coming together to make it work out perfectly.

Is purpose right for melancholics?

Whatever this thing is that I find fulfilling, it doesn’t match the idea of purpose. It’s much more like a way of being than an external goal – yet it is satisfying in the way that I always imagined an explicit purpose or direction would be.

It suits the melancholic longing for authenticity, meaning and the ideal.

So maybe that’s the purpose of life for a melancholic: to find authenticity, meaning, and the ideal; not for the sake of accomplishing other tasks, but as the goal in and of itself.

I’ve said before that being a melancholic is a bit like living in a fog. You can hear everything going on around you, but you can’t really see where you are going. This can lead to worry and anxiety, but it is also what makes us desire the ideal – because the ideal is always right no matter what is going on around you.

And when you know how to act, how to be, then you can at last be authentically yourself.

The Thinking trap for INFPs (Melancholic-Phlegmatic)

As a child and teenager I wasn’t obviously good at anything. But I enjoyed reading and occasionally I had good insights or creative solutions to problems that arose within the home.

So at some point I was marked out as “intelligent” by my parents and some teachers, and that became part of my self-perception.

By High School I had internalised the message that I was intelligent but lazy, and needed to apply myself more.

But even then I knew that my intellect was somehow different to others who excelled at maths and physics. They seemed a lot more hard-headed and mentally quick.

My intelligence felt weird, with idiosyncratic peaks and troughs of ability.

Being a problem-solver

I studied philosophy at university – the ultimate generalist discipline – and my subsequent work in bioethics cemented my self-image as someone good at solving problems or “making sense” of complicated or confusing issues.

Along the way I cultivated all kinds of interesting and unusual topics, because I believed that my greatest attribute and value as a person lay in my thoughts and ideas: the way my mind worked.

Thinking too much

Yet all this time I’ve been a compulsive thinker. I think constantly, composing thoughts and opinions on all kinds of subjects day in, day out.

With strangers and acquaintances I’m reserved and reticent to speak, but with close friends and family I talk almost incessantly.

For me, this way of speaking is a learned behaviour. I taught myself to verbalise my incessant thinking process, and for many years my personality was comprised mostly of my “interesting topics” thought out-loud to others.

INFPs aren’t Thinkers

I remember visiting China years ago and being unable to communicate with all the new people I met. I felt terrible, like a non-person, because all my value was tied up in the content of my “interesting” thoughts and ideas.

In recent years I’ve come to accept that INFPs aren’t really “Thinkers” after all. I might be good with words and have some creative ideas…my whole outlook on life might be intriguing and different, but this is quite different from the standard model and expectations of an intellectual or a Thinker.

This wouldn’t really matter, except that I took to heart these expectations and in my own way I tried to push my intellect to the fore.

Do I think constantly because I enjoy it, or because I believe it’s my greatest value and best quality?

Honestly it’s the latter. If I stop thinking…I start to feel like a nobody. If I don’t communicate my thoughts, I start to feel very very ordinary.

But the irony is that the people closest to me don’t really value me for my ideas; they’re more likely to be annoyed by my incessant sharing of my thoughts.

And when people do find value in what I’ve written it feels completely normal and straightforward, and I feel happy for them.

In other words, I’ve greatly outlived the usefulness and gratification that once came from being told “You have great ideas!” or the sense of identity that came from being told I was intelligent and should apply myself.

A more authentic self

I would like to put away my thinking, problem-solving, and interesting-idea hats. I’m tired of wearing them, and I don’t need them anyway.

I never used to talk that much, back when I was happiest. And my friends never looked to me for ideas or points-of-view.

And even when good ideas come and they are appreciated, it’s easy and cannot be forced. Like the augur reading omens or the seer having visions, it’s just there. Not a process but a perception.

So don’t be lured into the thinking trap, fellow INFPs. Our value doesn’t lie in trying to imitate our INTP cousins. Whatever insights we have are eclectic and unpredictable, not the careful analysis of introverted Thinking, but the broad strokes of introverted Feeling.

It’s like the difference between a surgeon and a shaman, but no one will offer you a career pathway to being a shaman.

What do we look like when we stop trying to imitate other temperaments? That’s the question we can only answer for ourselves, not by thinking, but by allowing it to happen.

In hindsight, the ideas and subjects I gravitated towards weren’t “interesting” to me, but meaningful, and it’s this strong but ineffable sense of meaning that lies at the heart of the INFPs authentic self.

Choosing how we feel

Having the attitude that “everything is perfect exactly as it is” feels good.

For melancholics in particular it may be an expression of providence: the knowledge that all things are working towards the good.

If all things are working towards the good, and we know it, then it follows that everything is perfect exactly as it is.

Not perfect in the sense that it is complete, but perfect in the sense that we are where we are meant to be, everything is as it is meant to be.

This isn’t a question of judgement or assessment, it’s about attitude and feeling.

If you have the attitude of recognising everything is perfect as it is, then you will feel that everything is perfect as it is.

And by contrast, if you don’t feel good, you must be thinking or believing that not everything is perfect.

We see this reflected in the story of the fall of man. Genesis tells us of everything God created “and God saw that it was good”.

Everything was good, and the first humans lived in paradise, right up until the moment they accepted the serpent’s contention that things were not perfect after all.

The first humans heeded the serpent’s doubt, and that was the cause of their fall.

False beliefs as choice

If we don’t feel good, then we must not be thinking that all is perfect as it is.

For years I sought to identify such thoughts and correct them. Talk myself out of my fears and worries and doubts.

But although it can be helpful to change such beliefs, it isn’t necessary to convince ourselves that they are false, or to try to work out the truth.

Otherwise there is potentially no end to all the little beliefs that would need correcting.

Instead we can view these bad-feeling thoughts not as the cause of our unhappiness but as reflections or elaborations of a bad-feeling focus.

For example, a depressed person can come up with many negative thoughts that match the feeling of depression and hopelessness.

These thoughts aren’t necessarily stored up in our heads, rather we uncover or create more and more of them to match our depressed focus.

Sometimes changing a belief or thought changes our focus as well, but it’s not always the most effective way to feel better.

By contrast a change in focus will always cause us to feel better (or worse depending on what we focus on).

It is possible to recognise that when we don’t feel good, we are harbouring an attitude of doubt or fear instead of an attitude that everything is perfect.

With practice we can actually change our focus from a bad feeling state to a good feeling one, without having to argue with or analyse or reprogram our thoughts.

Before thought

In the Abraham Hicks material, thought and “vibration” are used interchangably. They might just as well have used the word “spirit” but that it is too loaded with preconceptions.

Our verbalised thoughts and beliefs are expressions or elaborations of the “vibration” we are focused on. We translate this vibration into thought, and it is further reflected in our feelings and then our external circumstances.

An analogy from the Abraham Hicks material is that of a radio dial that controls the frequency our radio is tuned to. If you change the frequency (vibration) you receive different signals (thoughts).

Learning to control our focus in this way is superior to trying to argue with ourselves or debate our thoughts in hopes of shifting that dial. You could petition a classical station to play more jazz, but it’s more effective just to turn the dial until you find a station where jazz is already playing.

Choosing to feel good

I initially struggled with the idea of ignoring things that feel bad, or getting off difficult subjects.

My negative feelings were heavy and persistent, so I assumed I needed something equally firm and concrete to dislodge them.

But feeling good is light and easy. You don’t need to dislodge or destroy bad feelings, just stop focusing on them and they’ll dissipate.

I’m coming around to the idea that I don’t need to prove to myself (or others) that everything is perfect as it is, because this attitude just feels really really good.

I don’t need to logically or even illogically convince myself that fears and doubts are unwarranted, because I’ve gradually accepted through experience that it feels much better to feel good than to feel bad, and it seems that I can choose to focus in ways that feel good rather than feeling bad.

So whatever issue seems to conflict with “everything is perfect exactly as it is” can be deactivated. I can simply focus back on perfection and ease in the same way that I can relax a tense muscle.

We are the ones who determine the contents of our own minds by virtue of what we focus upon. For most of us this is only a theoretical control, but with practice it can become actual.

The ideal is to be able to feel good, find relief, soothe ourselves by choosing where we focus, and thereby create a happier and more fulfilling reality for ourselves and become part of a happier and more fulfilling reality for others.

Everything is perfect as it is

The mystics attest that everything is perfect as it is.

As a teenager I accepted this and sought to arrive at the same perspective – to experience everything as already perfect.

But I could never seem to maintain that experience of perfection, and in my efforts to regain it and hold it for longer I inadvertently accepted a new premise:

Everything is perfect as it is, if only I could realise it.

Realising the perfection of everything became, paradoxically, a personal imperfection I struggled to overcome.

In the Abraham Hicks material, it is advised that we adopt an attitude of appreciation towards “what is”, to accept that where we are right now is exactly where we are meant to be.

This can seem hard to stomach when we don’t like aspects of our present reality. But the whole point is that our focus, our expectations and our attitude create our reality, so the best thing we can do to improve reality is accept it and appreciate it as it is.

But the caveat is that there’s only one reason why we seek to improve reality in the first place: because we believe we will feel better.

Insisting that circumstances change before we can feel better is putting the cart before the horse. But so is insisting that nothing change until I feel better.

Not only did I make “realising perfection” an unattainable desire that embodied all the imperfection in my reality, but I implicitly insisted that nothing at all could improve or should improve until I achieved that desire.

I told myself there was no point doing anything, because anything I could do was irrelevant and deluded without my goal of “realising perfection”.

Realising perfection, the very thing that was supposed to eliminate imperfection and struggle, became the narrow focus of all imperfection and struggle.

I wanted to be enlightened, and I determined that life itself was meaningless and irrelevant unless and until I accomplished that spiritual goal.

So what now?

Well, everything is perfect as it is, is an attitude rather than an accomplishment. It’s not a “realisation” to be gained by sufficient understanding (even though I understand it now). Instead it is an attitude to adopt that makes life feel better…as though everything actually were perfect.

Because the perfection of everything includes not only external things and other people, it includes my own self.

As I sought to “realise” perfection before, I continued to view myself as imperfect. But if I view myself – and everything else – as perfect, then…that’s perfect!

Revisiting ‘Awareness’ by Anthony De Mello

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.

Awareness – Anthony De Mello

I’ve decided to revisit the book that got me started on my spiritual journey twenty years ago: Awareness by Anthony De Mello S.J.

Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful. Waking up is unpleasant, you know. You are nice and comfortable in bed. It’s irritating to be woken up.

What struck me immediately is how negative it is. The focus is consistently on how asleep we all are, how resistant we are to waking up, and how we cling to our precious illusions and attachments.

Do you think you help people because you are in love with them? Well, I’ve got news for you. You are never in love with anyone. You’re only in love with your prejudiced and hopeful idea of that person….

“How could you let me down when I trusted you so much”? you say to someone. Did you really trust them? You never trusted anyone. Come off it! That’s part of society’s brainwashing. You never trust anyone. You only trust your judgment about that person. So what are you complaining about?

The fact is that you don’t like to say, “My judgment was lousy”. That’s not very flattering to you, is it? So you prefer to say, “How could you have let me down”? So there it is: People don’t really want to grow up, people don’t really want to change, people don’t really want to be happy.

The whole book is an onslaught of treasures like these.

While De Mello works toward valid principles like unconditional happiness, he frames them in a very negative context.

He justifies this negativity as being more truthful, more honest, and therefore not truly negative. He depicts negativity and “disillusionment” as the pathway to a spiritually superior happiness.

What I took from it as a teenager was that if I wanted “true” happiness, I should discard all the things that gave me relief, comfort, and security since these were illusory and only kept me asleep.

Instead I should seek out the negativity, suffering, and unhappiness within me, because it was through suffering I would finally be motivated to “wake up”, and these points of discomfort were the key to identifying my attachments and delusions.

Anytime you have a negative feeling toward anyone, you’re living in an illusion. There’s something seriously wrong with you.

You’re not seeing reality. Something inside of you has to change. But what do we generally do when we have a negative feeling? “He is to blame, she is to blame. She’s got to change”.

No! The world’s all right. The one who has to change is YOU.

What I took from passages like these is that I was to blame for my negative feelings, that there was nothing wrong with anyone else, rather there was something wrong with me.

Lately I’ve been reading and listening to the Abraham material by Esther Hicks, and while it shares similar principles of unconditional happiness and personal responsibility, the emphasis and framing is very different.

Abraham would never state that “there is something seriously wrong with you”, nor imply that we should transfer blame of others to blame of ourselves.

Yet De Mello’s whole program explicitly focused on digging into negativity:

Put this program into action, a thousand times: (a) identify the negative feelings in you; (b) understand that they are in you, not in the world, not in external reality; (c) do not see them as an essential part of “I”; these things come and go; (d) understand that when you change, everything changes.

Do I do anything to change myself? I’ve got a big surprise for you, lots of good news! You don’t have to do anything. The more you do, the worse it gets. All you have to do is understand.

I applied this program in my own life in response to the negative feelings in me. I became obsessed with understanding, trusting that “all you have to do is understand”.

Where did that get me?

Twenty years later I am exhausted from trying to understand. I never ran out of negative feelings, because the more I looked, the more I found. I understood them over and over again. I filled journals with them. I diligently took responsibility for them, and then tried not to identify with them.

I understood so much that I began to suspect there was something wrong with my search for understanding…and then I tried to understand that problem as well!

Contrast this with the Abraham approach. Do you need to understand? No. All you have to do is feel better. And the only reason you wanted to understand in the first place was that you thought you would feel better when you understood.

Instead of rejecting relief and happiness as “illusory”, I would have been better served to seek out as much relief and happiness as I could find.

What went wrong?

What went wrong? Should I blame De Mello for how I interpreted and internalised his words for twenty years of my life?

In fairness, he was long dead when I read his book, and the book itself was a posthumous publication based on transcripts of his retreats. As a writer myself I don’t think it’s fair to judge him for material that he may only ever have intended to deliver in person, in a controlled environment, perhaps tailoring his message to his audience.

I still think his focus on suffering and negativity is unhelpful. Abraham instead presents suffering and negativity as “contrast” which inspires and refines our desires, as opposed to De Mello’s insistence that we suffer because we are asleep in our illusions and keep bumping into objective reality.

I can also see now that De Mello’s approach is a very choleric one, and totally unsuited to a melancholic. Cholerics are much more inclined to challenge, confront, and test people, because their own sense of self-worth is typically strong and resilient.

For this same reason, spiritual writings by cholerics are often strongly focused on humility and letting go of pride. It makes sense to tell proud, self-satisfied people that they shouldn’t rest on their laurels and must take responsibility for their own feelings.

But a melancholic-phlegmatic tends to already be full of self-criticism, inadequacy, and fear of faults. Melancholics require encouragement in trusting themselves and their authentic feelings. They do not thrive under pressure nor “rise to the challenge” in response to being tested.

Was it really wrong?

In Abraham terms I’ve experienced a lot of contrast by focusing so strongly on things that felt bad. But another Abraham principle is that you can’t get it wrong, and you can’t get it done.

Even apparent mistakes like mine have to be seen in the context of my life at that point in time, and it is obvious to me that I gravitated toward De Mello’s book at that time and interpreted it in that way because it was a perfect match to how I was already feeling.

I was already depressed, anxious, and cynical. It felt a little better to find what seemed like a deeper meaning behind my suffering.

So even on that level I could have read De Mello’s book and focused only on the uplifting and inspiring parts.

My experience of De Mello’s book was a perfect match for me at that time, just as my now vastly improved thoughts and feelings have brought me to this unplanned but perfectly timed reappraisal of the book.

And in Abraham terms the suffering I’ve experienced has only added to the strength of my desire for its opposite – my desire for the real meaning, freedom, enjoyment and connectedness.

With the Abraham material I finally understand that there is no dichotomy of true and false happiness. All emotion exists on a scale from depression and despair up to appreciation, love and joy.

There is no sense in avoiding or depreciating the slightest bit of relief, and no sense in glamourising or seeking out the slightest bit of suffering.

There is no need to seek out negativity, and there is no virtue in being disillusioned.

We are meant to be happy, we are meant to enjoy life, and that includes my relief at finding that I no longer want an experience characterised by disillusionment, suffering, and the kind of desperate existential spirituality I was drawn to all those years ago.

Life is here to be enjoyed

Life is here to be enjoyed, I am here to enjoy life.

That is such a difficult thing for me to write.

I know it sounds strange, but I’ve spent more than twenty years explicitly thinking that enjoyment is a superficial distraction from the real meaning of life.

With a childhood in which enjoyment was scarce and a temperament prone to sensitivity and idealism, I accepted at face value that “enjoying life” was something that other people did, and to the detriment of finding meaning or purpose.

I looked critically at mainstream sanguine and choleric expressions of enjoyment, and let these stand for “enjoying life” and “having fun”. It didn’t occur to me that I might find my own forms of fun and enjoyment in life.

And anyway, there was a slew of mystics, sages and saints to reassure me that enjoyment and fun were vain, pointless adventures that would leave me empty and full of regrets.

Religious deprogramming

There’s a familiar trope of people who rebel against their childhood religious indoctrination, and need to search out for themselves valid and fulfilling beliefs about life, happiness, and their own identity and value.

I’m doing that now, but the terrain I’m covering is a little more varied and eclectic due to my own early search for deeper meaning and purpose.

I can’t remember all the books I read, and my mistaken beliefs are an amalgamation of many different sources, because I adhered to no single creed or set of teachings.

For example, I’ve gone back and reread parts of Awareness by Anthony de Mello, and I can see how I took that text and interpreted it in my own way, oblivious to my own idiosyncrasies or those of the author.

Yesterday I reread a little about Bede Griffiths, and reading between the lines, the guy had a difficult life and his own fair share of problems. Would the answers that he found really be appropriate for me, two generations later, in completely different circumstances of life?

Just now I’ve taken a quick look back at the writings of Jiddu Krishnamurti, and I can see immediately that his work is decidedly not for me. Wrong temperament, maybe even the wrong teaching, and something that clearly contributed to my sense of needing to battle against an internal enemy, whether it be called Ego or Thought.

In recent years I’ve come to respect my desire to arrive at my own conclusions and my reluctance to invest in anyone else’s point of view. But it was not always the case, and I feel it’s now time to let go of these authorities I discovered and appointed for myself.

Perhaps in a sweeping clean of my past willingness to believe, I can say that: only what speaks to me is of value to me. It doesn’t matter that a person is a saint or a sage or a seer; their inscrutable or obscure insights are their own and not mine, and it’s for me to test them and apply them, not take them on faith and try to force myself to fit.

Do I deserve to enjoy life?

At the heart of this is a question of whether I myself deserve to enjoy life, or whether I must instead change myself, become better, be transformed. Transformation is what I sought in the writings of these mystics. But no matter how hard I tried to change myself, all I found was more and more dissatisfaction with my life, my self, and the whole of reality.

When I looked for answers I hoped those answers would show me the way out, out of unhappiness and suffering, out of the mundane world, out of my mundane self.

And in part that simply reflected the confusion and unhappiness of my early life, but it also reflected a sense that I wasn’t good enough as I was, did not deserve to enjoy life or be happy.

When I think about how we create our own reality through the filter of our thoughts and expectations and feelings, I can see how fitting it was that “enjoyment” looked crass and empty to me, and the things I would have truly enjoyed seemed too distant or ethereal or unachievable.

And my memories of feeling deeply insecure and unworthy when good things did happen completes the picture.

Because there were always good things there, I just didn’t think I deserved to have them, and feeling undeserving I sought to change myself to become worthy of the freedom, love and happiness I wanted.

That is why my prayers went unanswered – I was praying to not be me. Or I prayed to be rid of unwanted conditions, all the while clinging to the thoughts and feelings that exacerbated and created those conditions.

Feeling better is unconditional

Lately I’ve discovered that I do not need conditions to change in order for me to feel better.

That includes the internal conditions I have set such stock in: solving problems, finding answers, understanding, engaging with negative emotions, making progress.

I don’t need to do any of that to feel better, because feeling better is intrinsic to our nature. It is only the conditions we set upon it that keep us from naturally feeling better.

So when I ask whether I deserve to enjoy life, I think the question must be flawed, because feeling better is unconditional and enjoying life is something that flows naturally from feeling better.

If I can naturally feel better simply by not placing any conditions on it, then what is the relevance of desert? Why do I have to deserve to feel better, in addition to simply being able to feel better?

It’s actually exciting to know that enjoying life will flow naturally from feeling better, which in turn flows naturally from not placing conditions on it.

And feeling excited about life is a very good place to be!

Rethinking a spiritual quest

I had a pretty unhappy childhood, but found refuge and escape in fantasy books.

After a while I realised all my friends were growing up, and I was left still wishing I could escape into one of the fantasy worlds from my novels.

I hid my interest in fantasy stories for fear of being ridiculed, and did my best to fit in, all the time wishing there was more to life than the mundane world I saw around me.

Eventually I discovered mysticism, through the writings of a Jesuit named Anthony De Mello. I followed up all the quotations and references in his books, searching for more traces of the “Golden String” described by the Christian monk and interpreter of Hindu and Buddhist teaching, Bede Griffiths.

In the world’s religious and spiritual traditions I found a cast of real characters who most closely resembled the sorcerers, wizards, and adventurers of my fantasy novels. The sages, saints, shamans, and seers had found the pinnacle of meaning in life, many of them even exhibiting mysterious and supernatural powers.

I plunged into every text I could find, interpreting it to the best of my ability.

I was convinced that the suffering in my life, the mundanity I sought to escape, was a manifestation of the universal suffering and dissatisfaction attested by the world’s religions. My problem was a universal problem.

What I got right was that there is a source of divine, transcendent love, goodness, truth, and light within us and accessible to us.

What I got right was that depending on external circumstances for our happiness was like building a house upon the sand.

But what I got wrong was my conclusion that all of life, the whole material world, was therefore a shipwreck or a pit of fire, something wholly negative and insubstantial and best to just escape from.

I depreciated and devalued every scrap of happiness and meaning in life, thinking that if I rejected the world with enough totality I would have only the truth left to support me.

That didn’t work out too well.

The net effect was that I continued to live a relatively “normal” life, but accentuated and concentrated my sense that ordinary life was devoid of meaning and full of unhappiness.

I conflated my personal unhappiness with the spiritual teaching that life is suffering.

Looking back, I would have been better off focusing on whatever made me feel better, softening the self-critical and anxious thoughts that led me to abandon my interests.

Instead I developed the strong belief that I must urgently find “the answer” that would help me transcend the world of suffering and turmoil and find the peace and happiness I was searching for.

Teenagers probably shouldn’t be reading about “dying to self” and “letting go of the ego”. In a formative stage of life it is too easy for spiritual teachings to be conflated with adaptive and maladaptive coping mechanisms, and there’s a danger that legitimately powerful teachings become familiar and lose their impact when we are not ready to receive them.

It reminds me of this Koan from the Gateless Gate:

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

Or another line that I can’t recall the origin of: If the world sends people to hell, Buddhism can save them. But if Buddhism sends people to hell, what will save them?

But the biggest weakness of my spiritual quest is that it didn’t bring me to happiness. Instead of liberating me from harmful beliefs it reinforced them, and I delved deeper into depression and anxiety, convinced that the solution lay in closer embrace of the problem.

I want to start rethinking aspects of this quest. Appreciating the things I got right in light of the things I got wrong. It’s been long enough that my attempt to find a solution has itself become a part of the problem, an obstacle rather than a source of relief.

For one thing, why assume that the world is intrinsically unsatisfying on the basis of a teenager’s experience and worldview?

Why assume that my negative experiences are the final word on so-called “mundane” life?

I would be happier if life were going better for me; that’s not a weakness or a failing, that’s just normal.

How do I reconcile this normal attitude with the deeper truth that happiness comes from within?

Thus spake Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson is in Australia, and my editor asked if I could explain the psychology professor’s global appeal:

Jordan Peterson is much more than an impassioned participant in the PC cause célèbre, and those who went looking for more information on the humble professor who sounds not unlike a Canadian Kermit the Frog soon uncovered a wealth of content…

Peterson turned out to be a charismatic and impassioned lecturer drawing upon his expertise in psychology, his ambitious yet idiosyncratic ambit in mythology, literature, religion and philosophy, and undoubtedly his many years of clinical therapeutic work to exhort his students and viewers to take responsibility for the meaning in their own lives.

https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/thus-spake-jordan-peterson

There’s always more to be said, but I’m particularly glad my Nietzsche and Kermit intuitions bore fruit!