“Shouldn’t you be doing something?”

Insights are coming in a flurry now.

Sitting at the computer I notice what’s always been there, the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder, a reflection of my own inner sense of shirking my duties.

“Have to” means you owe something. Do I owe anyone anything? I prefer to look at my life in terms of the things I would like, love, and enjoy doing.

The same action can be performed with love or with obligation. Which would you prefer?

The mystics tell us that every particle of creation is vibrating with divine joy and love, not with obligation, burden, and IOU.

What should I be doing, if not enjoying life? What could be more pressing than love, joy, and appreciation?

I have this old pattern of resistance, this thought that someone has demands of me and they aren’t going to be happy with me unless I fulfil them, and even then they won’t be truly satisfied, just temporarily appeased.

But if I’m honest (and there is no such person) I can see that I found some direction, some certainty, and some consolation in letting others tell me what to do.

I came to rely on others for my direction and purpose. That way I didn’t have to work out my own preferences and desires. I could hide behind other people: parents, siblings, friends, and follow their lead.

I could be a non-person who just fitted in with others and received praise for adapting and not resisting.

I didn’t really know how to do my own thing, and I didn’t understand how others were so sure of their preferences. It made sense to give way and it felt good just to follow.

But that’s a shitty way to live your life, and as people grow and variegate and specialise you realise you can’t follow them all.

However daunting it might be to work out what you want, it only takes intention, focus and practice.

And the fear of being criticised, of owning things that might make you stand out and attract unhelpful advice…well isn’t it better to focus instead on the pleasure and enjoyment of following your genuine desires?

Not knowing what you want is not a virtue or a skill. Being insensitive to your own preferences is not the same as being adaptable. Others won’t thank you for fitting in with their plans, they’ll just assume you’re where you want to be anyway.

So why not be there? Work out where you want to be and stop hiding behind other people’s plans and momentum as if they define the limits of your world.

Happiness Day 27

Being specific in your desires.

I’ve wanted my life to change but I’ve had only a very general idea of what that might look like.

General is good.

When you’re feeling bad you don’t want to get into specifics. Go from bad feeling specifics to bad feeling generalities. From there it’s easier to feel better and slowly get to the point of feeling good generally.

But I’ve been gradually more aware that my lack of specifics on certain subjects is indicative of where I’m at.

According to the Abraham-Hicks teachings we don’t need to get specific to get what we want. God knows all our desires and needs.

But as we get closer to being a match to those desires we will naturally find ourselves contemplating the specifics.

What are your dreams?

I spent a lot of time crushing my own dreams, in the mistaken belief that dreams are a cause of suffering because life never lives up to them.

I thought I was doing the right thing, but I actually dampened down my own inspiration and enthusiasm for life.

And naturally I was not as happy as I wanted to be.

My wife would often ask me what I like, and I’d shrug because I had spent years earnestly trying to be devoid of preferences as a way of becoming immune to suffering (didn’t work!).

Rediscovering the details

There’s a kind of rehabilitation to it, the work of rediscovering the details of your dreams and desires and rescuing them from “what does it matter?” and other cynical thoughts.

What makes this process exciting is the knowledge that these details already exist for you, and that rediscovering them is really about tuning into that aspect of yourself and your reality.

You can’t get it wrong. There’s no danger of making mistakes and choosing the wrong thing, because your preferences are already there.

For me this is especially pointed when I think about a new house, because to my mind there are so many varying styles and details of architecture and location that I appreciate, I feel like I could find the good in anything.

But finding good in anything is not the same as knowing what you most want. In fact it’s not even close!

Happiness Day 13

Chasing your shadow.

Today I’ve been caught up in the parallels between my approach to weight loss, and my current efforts to improve my life by feeling better.

I like my weight-loss approach because it cut out all my uncertainty and confusion, but also took me deep into my own motivations and feelings around eating.

I like it because it took something that was simply a struggle and showed me the cross-purposes in my own mind, hidden behind self-deception.

Most of all I liked it because it worked. That’s why I’m applying the same process and intensity to my goal of feeling better.

Reality is a shadow

Chasing your shadow means mistaking the effect for the cause, the symptom for the underlying disease. In the context of weight loss I learned to stop focusing on being overweight as an undesirable state, because it was really just the symptom or effect.

The real issue was my relationship with food. I even went so far as to say that being overweight was a healthy physical response to unhealthy eating habits.

I viewed my weight as always good, always a clear indicator of my relationship with food.

What was undesirable was not my weight but my approach to eating.

Reality is like your body weight

By analogy my experience of life is always a clear indicator of my relationship with God, my inner being, the spirit within me.

Because God is always reaching out to us. Our inner being is always pouring love and appreciation into us. And this spiritual reality would colour and infuse our whole existence and physical reality if we stopped turning away from it and clinging to unwanted things.

I’ve seen it today in my own mind: I may be feeling peace and happiness and appreciation, but then I reach for thoughts of worry and deadlines and “I need to get the kids dressed in the next twenty minutes or we’ll be late!”

What do I get out of it?

My relationship with food changed when I realised I didn’t like being overweight, but part of me quietly, determinedly, wanted to eat as an escape and distraction from unpleasant feelings.

Losing weight was always a struggle because I was wanting contradictory things and hiding the conflict from myself.

So by inference there must be something I want to get from feeling bad. I must want to focus on bad feeling thoughts even while I’m trying to focus on good feeling thoughts.

Why?

Well perhaps it’s because feeling bad, worried, and stressed gives the illusion of safety.

Feeling crappy all the time might be draining, but it’s much better than walking unawares into danger.

At least, in any given moment it’s much much better to feel worried and vigilant than to be caught by surprise and feel the sudden shock and terror or hurt or panic at being accused, threatened, ridiculed, or tricked by others.

In other words, thoughts that feel bad might help us approach situations with caution and self-protective guardedness.

But as a long term strategy the cost is too great. And since we create our reality it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If I imagine letting go of that guardedness and protective cynicism I do indeed feel afraid of something worse. Better to get hit when you’re expecting it than to go down to a sucker-punch.

But it’s much much worse to go through life flinching at every imagined blow.

I think the way forward is to face the fear of being open and unsuspecting of harm, and not seek to avoid that fear by dampening my happiness.

It might be intimidating at first but it will also be a huge relief to own the fear directly rather than taking so many demoralising efforts to avoid it.

The promise of feeling good

A key concept from the Abraham Hicks material is “the vortex”. The vortex is a spiritual reality that is the fulfilment of all our desires, and is arrived at through alignment with our inner being.

The Abraham perspective is that we are all extensions of God and have come into this physical reality for the purpose of expansion.

Expansion occurs when we meet an unwanted condition. In that moment, we automatically launch a desire for the opposite of that unwanted condition, and our inner being – the part of us that is an extension of God – expands to match that desire.

Our physical self serves to orient us and let us sift through the experience of contrast, the opportunity for desires to be launched, and enjoyment of the expansion that follows.

This process of expansion happens in all of life, but the internet has made it all the more obvious as peoples’ desires for all manner of product, service, information, and interpersonal connection have been met.

We can see it in technology, hobbies and interests, political and community groups, and many other areas.

As a child I used to love knights and castles but there was nothing around to foster my interest besides a couple of books and the occasional documentary on TV.

But in just the last decade interest in all forms of historical recreationism has exploded. YouTube channels and online forums are dedicated to Historical European Martial Arts, with swordsmiths and armourers springing up all over the world to meet the demand for historically accurate or wildly fanciful gear.

It’s amazing and exciting, and it’s only a single tiny branch of all the available subject areas and interests and hobbies a person might want to pursue.

And it was driven by people like me who wanted to play with swords as a kid, and who kept up to speed with their desire long enough to become experts in a new field and share their discoveries and insights with others.

I get so excited when I think about all these fields expanding further and further, and our increased ability as individuals to pick and choose and work out what we want and where we want to be.

It feels as if the gap between desire and manifestation of that desire in reality is getting smaller and smaller. Not so many years ago we were learning about unmanned drones in use by the US military, and now drones are so cheap and easily available for anyone to fly just for the fun of it.

I got one for my son last Christmas, and while it was fun to play with for a bit, I got more satisfaction at lining up with the desire than playing with it.

And almost immediately I started to think of all the improvements in technology I want for it: better battery technology would be amazing. AI and programmable flight for the drones would be even more fun. Imagine a drone that can self-correct against the wind and hold itself stationary. It probably already exists, I just haven’t gone looking for it yet.

I’ve seen videos of cutting edge drone technology, and it’s wonderful to know that these things will quickly enter the market and spawn a host of variations and cheaper models and other innovations.

Manifestations like these are best viewed as reflections of our inner expansion. If we keep up with our desires, we will see the changes.

Most of us instead make the mistake of clinging to the desired changes and feeling bad that they have not yet materialised. We could choose to look critically at recreationists, or at consumer technology and see how they fall short of our desires.

The negative emotion we experience when we focus on lack is the very feeling of discord or friction between ourselves and our inner being.

In the Abraham Hicks material we are encouraged to begin viewing our feelings not as reactions to our circumstances, but as direct feedback on our degree of alignment with our own inner being and desires.

If we are keeping up with our desires and the expansion of our inner being, then we will feel joy, appreciation, satisfaction, ease, eagerness, and enthusiasm.

If we don’t keep up we will experience anything from boredom and pessimism, all the way down to powerlessness and fear.

It is within our power to choose what we will focus on, in order to simply feel better. I’ve been working at just feeling “better” for over a year as I got my head around these teachings.

Recently I’ve been able to feel genuinely good, as if everything unwanted or negative in my experience had ceased to be, or had never been there in the first place.

My aligned, positive, good-feeling thoughts have gained more momentum, and I’ve let go of many points of resistance and struggle that had me divided and out of alignment.

So I feel that the promise of the Abraham Hicks material has been vindicated for me. I’ve worked at changing my focus in better-feeling directions, and finally arrived at a place where I can, in Abraham terminology, get into the vortex easily on at least one or two subjects.

In other words, I can now choose to feel genuine feelings of joy, ease, relief, appreciation, satisfaction, eagerness, and enthusiasm, without waiting for changes in my external conditions.

That’s by no means the end of it. I can see myself getting addicted to feeling good, and there are many more subjects, both old and new, where I am eager to get myself into alignment.

“If you want to make God laugh…”

I really hate the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”.

Maybe it’s a melancholic thing, but like the idea that “God is testing you”, I feel it places thoroughly unlikable anthropomorphic qualities on what is, for me, sacred.

“God is laughing at you while you’re doing your best” is how I take it. And by implication, the person who kindly shares this nugget of wisdom is taking some vicarious pleasure in God’s wry view of your struggles.

And as for “God is testing you”, try: “God isn’t sure about you, so he’s giving you an arbitrary kick in the guts just to see how you take it.”

Nope.

Some people might get a kick out of that (I’m told some Cholerics love to feel they’re rising to a challenge) but for a melancholic, arbitrary changes in the game do not go down so well.

If God is testing me, then he’s always testing me. If God is blessing me, then he’s always blessing me.

For some people the path is straight and narrow, and for others the burden has to be light and the way easy.

But that’s not really what this post is about. Plans, yes. Theology, no.

We’ll leave that topic with the observation that the original Yiddish is more succinct, and more importantly it rhymes:

Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht

Which apparently means “man thinks, God laughs”.

Why does God laugh? Better to ask why we need to be told that God laughs.

We need to be told, because we often find that our plans go awry, and our thoughts betray us.

Since I’m working on “positive thinking” at the moment, I thought I’d take a closer look at the relationship between desires and conditions, and how the former makes us feel good, while the latter makes us feel bad.

Desires make you feel good, conditions make you feel bad.

I’ve been following a forum where people are discussing positive thinking material, and what often happens is that people join up with a desire that they want fulfilled, something they describe as a deep yearning and source of joy, yet at the same time an obvious source of misery.

What’s going on in these people (and in most of us) is that they’ve identified something they want, desire, or prefer, and this naturally makes them feel good at the thought of it.

But we tend not to stop there. We tend to include in that desire or preference other conditions. We set conditions in part because we think “this is how the world works”, but moreso because the conditions tend to deflate and diminish our desire until it matches how we already feel.

For example, if I’m miserable living in a small house, I’d understandably have a corresponding positive desire for a bigger house to live in.

This desire is a good thing, and it should be a source of inspiration, hopefulness, and enjoyment. I can feel good thinking about a bigger house even though my house is still small.

However, since I’m already feeling miserable in my small house, this implies I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on things that make me feel bad.

Maybe I spend ten or so minutes each day shaking my head in frustration at lack of space, or thinking in disappointment of all the things I can’t do due to space constraints.

It’s not easy to practice feeling frustrated and disappointed, and then practice feeling inspiration, hope and enjoyment.

That’s why I’ll most likely view my desire for a bigger house through the lens of my negative thoughts and feelings about my current circumstances.

Instead of feeling good about the thing I desire – a bigger house – I’ll find a way to feel bad about it. I’ll turn it into “the bigger house I can’t afford”, or “the bigger house I need right now” or “the bigger house in the right suburb”.

It might seem like I’m being realistic in my desires, or more specific, but in fact I’m adding conditions to what I desire in order to make me feel worse about it; in order to resist it.

Thinking about a bigger house feels good, because it is a naturally arising desire or preference brought about in response to my present situation.

Thinking about the associated conditions feels bad, and is in fact totally unnecessary.

How to separate desires from conditions

The way to separate desires or preferences from the conditions we impose on them is to work out what you really want and why you want it.

It’s amazing how far we can delude ourselves about what we really want.

According to the positive thinking material, we only ever want anything because we think it will make us feel better. So as a reductionist answer we could say that all we really want is to feel better, and if setting conditions makes us feel worse, we should stop doing that.

But we can also use this “feeling better” idea to understand what aspects of our desired outcomes are real, and what aspects are false conditions we’ve imposed.

So for example, what is it about a bigger house that will make me feel better?

Is it really just about space?

Unlikely, because even in our very small house we haven’t made efficient use of the available space!

In fact there are a number of little themes tied in to it.

Feelings of ease, of being settled, of having “made it”, of having something to show for oneself, of being more hospitable, of being able to explore various skills and hobbies, of having more beautiful surroundings to relax in, of being able to build fun things…

So the actual desire is not as straightforward as it seemed. It seems that only a fraction of it is about a house per se, and much more of it is about how I see myself or how others might see me.

Why your current situation is ‘perfect’

Ironically, the desire for a house turned out to be partly a genuine desire, and partly a condition set for other, unrelated, desires.

For example, I might want to be more hospitable, but being a disorganised person living in a small house means I’ll either have to do a lot of tidying every time people come over, or learn not to care about having a messy house.

More directly, is there really any reason I can’t feel “settled” now, regardless of the size of our house? Why does “settled” mean “unmoving”? Plenty of people move house numerous times in their lives and it never stops them feeling “settled”.

The same goes for feeling at ease, feeling like I’ve “made it” (what does that even mean to me?), and feeling like I have something to show for myself.

The truth is that these are things you can feel already. They’re actually not related to objective outcomes like home-ownership. They’re subjective, and we decide for ourselves the conditions we put on them.

And the irony is that if you don’t let yourself feel any accomplishment at your minor achievements, you’ll probably never let yourself achieve something “major” by your own estimation.

If you reject here and now subjective feelings of ease, being settled, or feeling comfortable with your own choices and accomplishments, then you will definitely sabotage any attempts to really “earn” those feelings.

Because the feelings can’t be earned. They come easily and naturally for people who aren’t hung up about them…just like the other things that come easily and naturally to you, the things you likely take for granted even though others struggle with them.

The truth is that your current situation is ‘perfect’, because it matches how you feel about yourself already.

The conditions you set upon your desires are ways of stopping you from achieving them…you make your desires “impossible” or “unlikely” or “out of reach” because you’ve already decided that the corresponding good feelings are out of reach for you.

So work out what you really want, and why you want it. Look at how you really want to feel, and see that you can feel most – if not all – of it right now, without regard for the conditions you tried to set for feeling good.

Self-will gets in the Way

“People often say, “We have goodwill.” Theirs is not God’s will, though; they want to have their own way and dictate to God to do so and so. That is not goodwill. We must find out from God what his will is. Broadly speaking, what God wills is that we should give up willing…

There is no making of a proper man without surrender of the will. In fact, unless we give up our will without reserve, we cannot work with God at all. But suppose it came about that we did give up our own will altogether and had the heart to rid ourselves of every single thing inside and out for God, then we would have accomplished everything, and not before.  Of such people few are to be found. Knowingly or unknowingly they want something definite, some experience of higher things. They are set on this condition or that boon. It is nothing whatever but self-will. Abandon to God altogether your self and all things without any qualms as to what he will do with his own…

There is no true and perfect will until, entering wholly into God’s will, a man has no will of his own.”

Meister Eckhart

It’s been a long time since I read any of Eckhart, but I opened him today to this section and it reminded me immediately of my recent reading of Wang Bi’s commentary on the Daodejing or Laozi:

An attitude [corresponding to] the capacity of the hollow is the only means to follow the Way.
Hollow means empty. Only having taken being empty as [one’s] capacity will one then be able to act in accordance with the Way.

That’s just one line, but if I quote more of it I’ll never get to bed tonight.  The Way is “empty” yet it guides and nourishes things according to their nature. For humans to return to the Way, we should likewise empty ourselves and be without contrived action; then we will act in accordance with our nature.

The difficulty of this is hard to overstate, but is most evident when, as Eckhart notes, we set ourselves on particular conditions, paying lip-service to the Way or the divine Will, whilst clinging nonetheless to our own will.

There needs to be an element of trust that in abandoning self-will and the outcomes or ideals we covet, we are in fact abandoning obstacles to the fulfillment of our nature.  Sometimes the goals we have in mind are simply wrong for us – they will not bring the satisfaction they seem to promise. But even when the goals are good, noble, and true, we still miss out on the higher goal of surrender.

I suspect this might be the meaning of “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Likewise “the man of highest virtue never acts, yet nothing is left undone.”

But that can mean embracing the reality of circumstances that seem to deny your deepest hopes and dreams; worse – it means dragging your deepest hopes and dreams into the light of a faith that will feel too cold and too harsh for the delicate fantasies of your self-will.

There are undoubtedly consolations to be had after the fact, but this is beside the point; the point is that no matter how good and alluring our dreams and desires may be, if we cannot abandon them for the sake of the divine will, the Way, then we are merely clinging to burdens of our own creation.