Writing your life: handling contrast

I’m learning to handle contrast (unwanted experience) better, and it reminds me of my writing experiences.

In the past I didn’t handle contrast very well. I was like a writer who recoils at his own clumsy self-expression and gives up on it immediately.

I’m becoming more like an experienced writer who knows that not every idea will work, and who doesn’t expect a first draft to be perfect. A writer who doesn’t give up just because the words don’t yet flow effortlessly into their final form.

But where I’m heading is the kind of mature writer who knows that it is never going to be “complete”, because the very act of writing expands my skill, heightens my expectations and refines my judgement.

Isn’t that why early drafts look bad? By the time we’ve finished the draft we are a better writer than before, and we see more room for improvement. Our ideas are more developed and nuanced, so we find better ways to phrase it. And sometimes we’re just done with a story or idea and we want something fresh and new.

Why is there contrast?

This applies to contrast in our lives too. Contrast will always be part of life because we will never stop expanding and growing.

But it’s up to us whether we think of contrast as a catastrophe, a reflection of our failings and a reason to give up like the writer who excoriates himself for a dissatisfying first attempt.

Or if we instead start to view contrast as part of the process, and even a sign of growth, expansion and development.

Contrast is inevitable because we are always moving forward, always deepening our expectations and refining our preferences.

Must contrast be painful?

It’s our thoughts about contrast that make contrast painful. If you think unwanted feelings and experiences mean you’ve failed, you’ve f***ed up, you took a wrong turn, you don’t deserve better, you’re a bad person, then of course you will feel terrible when contrast comes.

If you are afraid of contrast, afraid of the unwanted in life, then your experience is going to be uncomfortable, like a would-be writer who doesn’t ever want to reread or edit his own work.

This all-or-nothing attitude makes contrast painful. It is itself a form of contrast, reflected in the rigidity and fear and anxiety that governs your world.

And yet it is liberating to know that contrast is not even bad. Unwanted experiences are not truly unwanted, they are part of the dynamic, how the whole of reality works.

Because you could not form new preferences without releasing old ones. You could not refine your desires without your unrefined desire being discarded. You could not expand without your prior existence seeming too small.

But that doesn’t mean you have to hate and bemoan where you are/were. Instead appreciate how it has fed and informed your expansion. And see if you can at least not freak out when contrast happens again!

The Matrix 20 years later: a personal reflection

I rewatched The Matrix this past weekend, and it brought back a lot of memories and old perspectives on life.

My wife and I were both surprised at how many lines of dialogue I knew by heart. I must have watched it a lot back then. My brother reminded me: there wasn’t much else around, right? And yeah that’s true.

But for me The Matrix came along just as I was getting intently into my spiritual search. I’d read de Mello’s Awareness and was primed for anything that spoke of a deeper meaning to life, promising enlightenment and realisation.

I’d even started learning kung fu around that time, again looking for anything that promised mystery or just more to life.

Searching for freedom

When I saw The Matrix I thought “these people get it!” I was so excited and took it as evidence that I was on the right track – that there was a track.

But it also matched my bleak experience of “ordinary” life. I felt trapped, uninspired, and already weary of the reality I found myself in.

Enlightenment promised a way out. I took Neo’s death and rebirth experience at the climax of the film as a spiritual allegory. He transcended the Matrix, saw through the illusion, pierced the veil of Maya, and was liberated.

I wanted whatever it was that the sages, mystics, and saints spoke of in such glowing terms as surpassing anything reality had to offer.

But in my search I took as foundational my awareness of insufficiency, of lack. I took as my starting point the very words “there’s something wrong with this reality” and tried repeatedly to piece together the answer to that problem.

Reality isn’t broken

I depreciated reality on the understanding that it wasn’t real, and with faith that I could find the truth and the freedom truth would bring.

I took for granted that I was a soul mired in illusion, and I clung to that sense of frustration and imprisonment, inner tension battling against a world of empty appearances that somehow held sway in me.

I kept struggling to overcome, to see through the superficial and find the treasure within. I really believed that all my problems would be solved. I was taking the direct path, looking for the ultimate answers in life.

Projecting inadequacy

But the whole time my desire for greater meaning and purpose and enlightenment was clouded by my sense of personal inadequacy.

I felt like a loser, I couldn’t point to any outstanding qualities in myself, and I also felt alienated from friends and family and broader society.

Being different and having no words or concepts to explain how and why, I thought I could just leave the world behind and find my place in whatever final truth enlightenment would reveal.

The answer to my inadequacies was that reality itself was at fault. My lack of good qualities didn’t matter because life was an illusion anyway. The only quality that mattered was spiritual, and I could excel at that because everyone else was neglecting it, or so it seemed.

You create your reality

But now I’m approaching a different view of life and reality. I’m learning that I create my reality, and my thoughts or beliefs determine how much of my desired reality I allow.

In that context, feeling inadequate already, I interpreted spiritual teachings in a way that shifted the inadequacy onto reality itself. And yet I was unable to shift any further. Reality remained inadequate and over time my hopefulness dimmed and my own inadequacy returned.

I felt like I was on an important and meaningful path…yet had nothing to show for it.

In Abraham-Hicks terms I was treating enlightenment as an action pathway, a course of action I hoped would make me feel better. That’s not how it works. For twenty years it hasn’t worked. I’ve just been kicking the can down the road.

What do you want?

But my spiritual search wasn’t totally uninspired. I was genuinely drawn to a deeper understanding of life, reality, meaning and happiness.

But even though I immersed myself in spiritual teachings I was still caught in the same false premise as everyone else: give me what I want, and then I’ll be happy.

I wanted purpose, meaning, a secure identity, freedom, belonging, and clarity. I thought chasing enlightenment would give me all these and more. But the A-H prescription is simpler: find the feeling place of these desires, and you’re already there. No more action, no more resistance, no more kicking the can down the road, blaming yourself and then others and then reality and then yourself again.

Just find the feeling place. Align yourself with those feelings and enjoy what follows.

Pushing against boredom

Our old habit is to push against things we don’t like. But pushing against something just increases our resistance, and since we are already creating our reality, increased resistance means more of what we don’t like.

Last night I went to bed feeling irritable, angry and in physical pain, struggling to work out why and find relief.

It wasn’t until this morning that I felt good enough to see the bigger picture.

After dinner I’d been feeling bored, and my wife wanted to use my computer to watch a movie.

I was already feeling bored, and in addition I felt like I wasn’t free to use the computer myself. So now I felt bored and powerless.

I looked for something else to do, but couldn’t find anything. I started to feel annoyed at myself for not having more interesting options.

An old physical pain started to return, and I decided to go for a run. But between the pain and the cold outside I felt too dismal to continue.

Coming back home I was angry and frustrated, irritated and powerless. To make matters worse, I believed I shouldn’t feel this way, and it was up to me to overcome or solve these bad feelings.

But by now I was pushing so hard against all these unwanted things, and these old patterns of thought had a lot of momentum. Boredom, frustration, powerlessness and anger, going right back to childhood.

Go to sleep

Sleep was the best way to get some relief. But this unwanted experience was also valuable contrast. It showed me very clearly a residual pocket of resistance, and in the light of day I can see how it started and how it got worse and worse by pushing against the unwanted.

Pushing against things doesn’t work. I tried to push against boredom, focusing on how unwanted it felt, and soon every aspect of my experience felt unwanted and infuriating.

Boredom is very close to contentment. If I could relax and look for things to feel good about, the boredom would dissipate in my ease and relief.

That’s how we create our reality after all. I thought I was bored because there was nothing to do, but it’s the other way around: I couldn’t find anything to do because I was already feeling bored. And I was already feeling bored because I’d looked to my circumstances to entertain me and make me feel good.

The lesson is clear: if I feel bored I find everything boring. If I feel satisfied I discover satisfying things. If I feel excited I will find exciting things. And if I feel inspired I will draw inspiration into my experience.

The only variable is momentum – if I’ve spent a lot of time in negative emotions then it will take longer for positive ones to bear fruit. If you’re really good at feeling bored, inspiration will take a bit longer to learn.

Do others need to change?

I’ve been so convinced of my need for spiritual transformation, yet early on I believed we all have this need.

Some spiritual teachings are elitist. They look down on the “great unwashed”, the masses of people who live their lives mired in delusion and governed by sin and passion.

I tried not to think I was special but I struggled to reconcile my strong desire for spiritual change with the disinterest of those around me.

Does everyone need to change? Am I special for realising it? Or are we called to different things in life?

As I grew older I began to see myself as especially needful of spiritual change, as if I was worse off than everyone else and hence more desperate to fix myself.

Judge not lest ye be judged

Anxious to not offend, I concluded that others could live without the spiritual change I needed. But for those closest to me, my expectations remained high.

I’m beginning to see that the inverse of “judge not” is also true: in judging myself as needful of change, I believed others – those closest to me and most receptive – needed to change too.

I’ve ended up seeing some people in my life as works in progress, and wishing they would try harder to improve themselves, just as I am doing.

I’ve taken for granted that they need to heed the same call, listen to the same teachings, commit to the same processes.

But I’ve been wrong about me, so I’m wrong about them too. If I’m perfect as I am then they’re perfect as they are. If I’m in my element (and just need to remember) then they are in their element too.

If all I need is my own love and acceptance then that is all they require to be perfect in my eyes.

And just like that, reality changes. I am able now to see something beautiful that was always there. I am able to appreciate the perfection I was already living in.

To appreciate the people closest to you, you must appreciate yourself first. Stop judging yourself and you can stop judging others too.

Inspiration, expectation, validation

The feeling I’ve been writing about and calling inspiration is everything I’ve ever wanted to feel, and therefore the reason for every manifestation I’ve ever desired, every preference I’ve ever formed in response to life’s circumstances.

Feeling inspired is so nice. And to make it complete, it’s time to start expecting life to reflect this inspired feeling in me.

Expectation means knowing and believing that manifest reality must respond to my alignment with God, my inner being.

And it has. Last night things just unfolded so smoothly and easily. My timing was perfect, small things happened that I really enjoyed and appreciated.

These changes match my expectation that by feeling good I’m allowing God’s blessings and graces to flow into my experience more than before. Or better yet: feeling inspired is the sign that I’m allowing these blessings to flow, and everything else must follow.

Best of all, these manifestations validate the good feeling inside me. They complete my expectation that my alignment – indicated by how I feel – is everything in my reality. They demonstrate to my own satisfaction that this is indeed how it works, I do create my reality and my feelings are guidance as to my alignment with Source, and with everything I desire.

At the same time, this beautiful unfolding of inspiration into expectation, and the validation of life’s response is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m inspired because I’ve finally realised that’s how I want to feel and I’ve let go of obstacles to feeling it.

I expect life to change to reflect my inspiration, and having the expectation is what allows me to receive those changes.

And looking forward to validation is what allows me to recognise the validation pouring in. None of this can happen to a hostile observer. None of this can come into to “prove” against our convictions to the contrary.

Allowing inspiration, allowing expectation, and allowing validation; it’s a virtuous circle.

It’s not about answers

I spent years trying to make it. I spent years trying to find the answers. I had these feelings, I knew inspiration, but I thought the feeling and the inspiration were about what you then do with them.

Wrong way around, completely.

It’s all about the feeling and it’s all about the inspiration. Actions and answers and ideas can flow from that source, but don’t leave the source for any reason.

I thought I needed something to show for myself. But showing is about other people. I can’t share a feeling with you, and I don’t have to. A feeling is just for me. I’m the one who feels it, and that’s where putting myself first and caring about how I feel converge.

Every time I felt this good I’d look for the take-away. But there is no take-away when I’m here to stay. There’s nothing to take away because you’re not meant to leave. It’s not a brief reprieve of pleasure, delight, and satisfaction, it’s not a holiday, it’s where you live.

Welcome home, again. Try to stay this time. Don’t flee for any reason. You love it here, I promise.

Inspiration, emergencies and ease

Yesterday I was feeding someone’s pets while the owners were away, when I heard a cry for help.

I looked over the fence and saw a crumpled figure lying on the ground in a neighbouring yard.

I called out to her, and then ran around the block to get to her house. She was elderly, living with her husband who suffers dementia.

The husband opened the gate for me. I went to the woman. She was lucid, but very cold from lying on the ground for so long.

I got her a blanket and some pillows and called an ambulance, then waiting with her until a relative and the ambulance arrived.

The whole event unfolded automatically from the moment I heard the cry for help until the paramedics told me I could go.

Like a couple of other emergency situations I’ve been in, it’s as if the situation itself calls forth a response and there’s not really any need for effort or struggle or deliberation.

Inspiration

Lately I’ve been thinking about moving to live in the city centre. The idea came to me without any work on my part. I wasn’t looking for it, it just came up.

And since then I’ve felt really excited and inspired by the thought of living there.

Like the emergency, I don’t have to do anything. There’s no struggle. It’s as if inspiration is acting on me in the same way that the emergency situation called a response out of me.

Ease

If emergencies unfold so easily and inspiration is so effortless, why should any part of life feel difficult?

Inspiration feels so good: can we cultivate it and allow it to flow more in life?

Can we stop getting bogged down in the wastelands between inspiration and emergency?

Why does everyday life have to be a grind when the very good and the very bad are both effortless?

I take comfort from the ease that flows in emergencies, and I’m inspired by the effortlessness of inspiration.

Letting go 10: Insecurity

I sometimes get hit by feelings of insecurity, and I’d like to change that. So in this post I’ll go through some of the Abraham-Hicks teachings options to shift the insecurity.

1. Distraction

I can stay off the subject of insecurity and just focus on something that feels better.

2. Change my thoughts

I can look at my thoughts relating to insecurity and try to soften them. For example: instead of feeling insecure, i can start by framing it as not feeling as secure as I’d like. Even small shifts like this make the subject easier and softer to work with.

3. Times I do feel secure

I can think of times that I do feel secure and use those as a kind of touchstone. For example: I feel secure when I have a reason or purpose to justify my presence. So maybe I could look at my overall reason or purpose for existing?

4. Visualisation

I can imagine what I would act and feel and think like if I felt completely secure. If I can imagine it, I can practice it. And with practice it can become normal for me.

What these four methods show is that there are multiple ways to shift how we feel on a subject. Some methods might appeal to us more than others, but there’s no single way.

At the same time what they all have in common is to feel better. The goal is to feel better and the method is to feel better.

Insecurity is one expression of resistance. If we release our resistance, we naturally feel better.

Complications

But be mindful of complications. On an issue like insecurity we can get caught up thinking we need to justify ourselves; the process of shifting our thoughts can inadvertently become an “effort” that seeks to earn our security.

That’s how people get stuck in these and other teachings, as processes designed to help us feel better become burdens that reinforce a sense of unworthiness and struggle.

So don’t do that.

It shouldn’t be a struggle, and it should feel less bad immediately.

Let’s do it right now

My Achilles’ heel is in searching for deeper wisdom and spiritual insight to give me more value and control over my life. So with that in mind, I need to be mindful of when the processes are helping me feel better and when they’re just feeding this action pathway.

The proof is in how it feels: it should feel immediately better.

So if I persist with method 3 and look for my reason or purpose for existing, it should be an affirming and positive reason, not a bleak or unfeeling one.

In fact that’s probably why I feel insecure: I’ve accepted already that my reason for existing has nothing to do with happiness or meaning or fulfilment. I’ve taken it a priori as an impartial and detached universe.

The answer is therefore to feel better about my reason for existing, and to acknowledge that my reason for existing must be one that feels good.

After all, there are any number of possible reasons for existence that we can choose from. My old belief that existence (and God) was detached and remote and cold probably just suited how I felt generally back then.

So in conclusion, I feel insecure at times because I’ve believed my existence has no real reason, purpose, or justification beyond what I myself can scrape together.

It’s an old belief from when my whole worldview was more bleak and depressing. But I can see it now with the perspective of recent years and a commitment to happiness.

I think my purpose for existing is to enjoy my life in the unique circumstances and experiences of my individual being. That means happiness is the point of my life, and, like every other being in creation, I don’t need any further justification beyond the fact of my existence right here and now.

Letting go 09: when spiritual struggle is an obstacle

My fascination with solving problems and searching for deep and meaningful answers has been the central theme of my life for more than twenty years.

This is my personal form of assertion: an attempt to take control of my life after concluding that life itself could not be trusted to bring me happiness.

I embraced this struggle via forms of mysticism that encouraged my negative view of life. With a deeply melancholic perspective I believed there was nothing worth striving for, nothing worth attaining, nothing that could bring lasting happiness in this lifetime.

Except to transcend it all; to find a state of being the mystics spoke of, where reality was transformed as the individual became united with the ultimate reality, the ground of all being.

Spiritual cynicism

You know the Socratic injunction that “wisest is he who knows his wisdom is worth nothing”? That’s supposed to be an insight earned through experience, not something to memorise and move on. It’s not wise to be a kid who parrots nuggets of philosophical wisdom.

But that was me. I took onboard a slew of sayings and aphorisms. I read the books they came from. I immersed myself in spiritual texts and tried to see the world through the eyes of these enlightened teachers, saints, and sages.

But this whole effort was an epic work of assertion. I was no different from a kid who thinks he can be president or a kid who wants to be a billionaire.

The only difference is that I thought spiritual enlightenment was going to be more powerful, more desirable, and more enduring than those “worldly” aims.

My struggle resembled a strange, entirely introspective version of the kind of person who chases after “get rich quick” schemes. Get enlightened quick, I guess.

But I never found myself willing to practice or pick a pathway or a discipline. I just wanted to work it all out myself using all the available resources.

And I’m not entirely wrong

And yeah, I’m not entirely wrong. I’ve seen in other areas of life like Kung Fu a similar struggle to master or attain an answer to my questions.

The answer eventually came. I just made it more of a struggle than it needed to be. A lot more.

Desperation doesn’t yield results. If we want answers we have to be in the right mode to receive them.

My spiritual quest is therefore two things. It’s an actual path of learning, experience, and progress; and it’s a massive assertion of control as well. It’s my attempt to force reality to comply with my wishes. It’s a hammer I use to feel like I’m shaping my life the way I want it to be.

That second part just doesn’t work at all.

And it arises out of fear. It’s an action-pathway I took to assuage feelings of misalignment, hopelessness and powerlessness. It’s something I crafted to give me a sense of being more than the dismal world I saw around me, to be more than the disappointing self I seemed to be.

Reconciliation

I can give up the spiritual struggle, and profound thoughts and wisdom will probably still appeal to me.

I’ll probably still be someone who cares about meaning and purpose and existence.

What I want to stop doing is using my spiritual search as the answer to negative feelings of fear and insecurity. Because it isn’t an answer, just a course of action, an assertion of control that hinges on an outcome.

Those negative feelings need to be acknowledged and faced on their own terms, not silenced and avoided with vague promises of enlightenment and transformation.

Owning up to feelings of envy and jealousy, inferiority and shame, insecurity and fear can be really tough. But letting them fester in the background doesn’t nullify them either.

And with the Abraham-Hicks teachings I’ve learned that these feelings aren’t bad: they’re guidance showing me that my thoughts, my vibration, is out of alignment with God/inner being.

That’s actually a good thing. Our negative feelings mean we’re looking at things in the wrong way.

In the past two and a half years I’ve practiced many tools for changing how I feel. I didn’t have these tools when I was younger. It makes sense that I would seize on the ideal of enlightenment to try to overcome those bad feelings.

But now I have the strength and the skills to face them directly and soothe them. I can accomplish real vibrational change instead of looking for escape.

Letting go 08: making the emotional connection

Before my diet I only felt bad about being overweight when I caught a glimpse of my reflection.

Then I would feel bad, but the rest of the time it wasn’t really on my mind.

And eating? Eating was one of my great pleasures in life. I never felt bad about that!

Joining the dots

It wasn’t until I embarked on my search for a final answer to losing weight that I realised this didn’t add up.

How could I be happy about the way I ate but unhappy about my physical appearance, which was a direct consequence of the way I ate?

This is what led me to see that my body was merely reflecting something about my behaviour. I just hadn’t joined the dots or made that connection before.

I mean the emotional connection: it’s obvious that people diet to lose weight, and over-eating causes weight gain. What I mean by joining the dots is seeing the connection between feeling so bad about my weight, but feeling so good about eating.

Either I shouldn’t feel so bad about my weight, or I shouldn’t feel so good about eating. Something had to give in this emotional dynamic.

The hidden connection

When I feel bad about my circumstances in life, there must be something prior – something I enjoy or feel good about – that sets me up for that suffering.

The painful part of these circumstances is their unwantedness. It’s painful to notice conditions that are not the way I want them to be.

What is it that sets me up for this fall? What is it that feels good at the time, but leads me into situations that feel bad? What is it that feels enjoyable but shouldn’t if I could see the bigger picture?

Assertion

I’m going to call it “assertion” for now. It’s an inner assertion of control, wanting, grasping, or conditionality within me.

It’s as though I’ve put forward a claim or a demand on reality to be a certain way, and this leaves me sensitive to every contrary circumstance and change.

This is the part that doesn’t feel bad, yet sets me up to feel bad.

It’s not about desire or inspiration. Desire is implicit in our very experience of life. Desire is preference. Desire informs our personality and shapes our existence and our whole sense of wanted and unwanted.

Assertion is different. Assertion feels important in the same way that having a stake in something feels important. Assertion is like getting involved because you don’t trust others to do it right.

But like anything we do, it stems from a thought. Here the thought is negative and resistant. It’s the thought that I need to speak up or I’ll be overlooked. It’s the thought that things don’t work out for me so I need to get involved. It’s the thought that I can’t trust or rely on life to go well.

It’s the thought that by sticking my oar in I can steer this whole thing in a better direction.

False premise

These thoughts hinge on a false premise that uninspired effort and action will improve my life and make me feel better.

It’s a change in mode from inspiration, enjoyment and ease, to worry, control, and struggle.

That’s why unwanted circumstances feel like failure or loss. They push against this invisible force I’ve set up within myself, this effort of trying to assert my will on the world.

The big picture

We would all prefer life to unfold with ease. Inner assertion is, like over-eating was, an attempt to feel better that only succeeds in temporary escape by kicking the can down the road a little.

The attitude of taking things into my own hands feels temporarily empowering. But it comes at a cost of trust and faith in the goodness of God and the universe.

If I could trust instead, I wouldn’t need this assertion and control; and since assertion and control don’t work anyway, all I’m giving up is an illusion.

After all, if everything is working toward my good, then what sense does it make to say that some circumstances are wanted and some are unwanted?

That’s why the Abraham-Hicks teachings say that everything has both a wanted and unwanted aspect, depending on where we focus.

Refusing this dynamic

I think the way forward for me is to become aware of whatever lack of trust or faith moves me to assertion and control in the first place; just as I learned to become aware of the negative feelings that used to motivate my escape into over-eating.

All it takes is to decline the false promise of escape, and the whole dynamic will start to lose momentum and wind down.

Let go of the urge to control, and the frustration of unwanted conditions will go too. Stop endorsing the underlying thought of negativity and dissatisfaction, and trust and faith will return.