Redirect your attention

Each day take attention away from thoughts and things that feel bad and give attention to thoughts and things that feel good.

In time you will no longer have any bad feeling thoughts in your mind or things in your life.

In time the redirection of your attention won’t be from bad to good, but from good to better.

Always finding better feeling thoughts no matter what the circumstances or conditions around you, even the most unpleasant thought can be soothed and even the happiest thought can expand further.

In time your whole existence will be one of joyfully keeping up with the expanding happiness within you and around you.

Is happiness challenging?

Today is day 12 of my Happiness Challenge and I’m pleased to say that happiness is not feeling like a challenge anymore.

I’ve been training myself to feel better regardless of the circumstances, and I’m really glad to report that my focused effort is paying off.

I’m pleased to give credit to Esther Hicks and the Abraham teachings. I found them at the right time, letting go of my resistance and accepting that feeling good really is my goal in life.

Other teachings inspired me and gave me hope, but none of them were exactly right.

Of course it wasn’t about the teachings per se, but my own reluctance to accept the simple answer of feeling good.

In hindsight I was seeking Truth and insight and understanding because I thought these would help me feel good.

But I was so caught up in my intellectual seriousness and wanting to justify and explain myself that I couldn’t just feel good directly.

Now I look at all those teachings as…surplus. I don’t need them in order to feel good.

Maybe other people do need them, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way but in the sense that we all have different questions and hence desire different answers.

People could just as easily look at me and wonder why I’m making such a big deal about relaxing and feeling better.

Ultimately we can only live our own lives and no one else’s. I take pleasure in letting go of my efforts to explain myself and make my thoughts comprehensible to others.

I take pleasure in allowing my authentic feelings to develop and change without looking for consistency with others’ words and actions.

In the end other people can’t validate my own thoughts, feelings and desires, because they are mine. Validity was never truly the question.

That’s why my interests and passions have so frequently turned out to be marginal and obscure by others’ estimation.

I studied philosophy but I’m not really a philosopher. I learn a martial art but it’s rare and unusual. I love coffee but roast and brew my own.

Everything I do, I tend to take in a direction of my own utmost individual experience.

Because in the end it’s all about individual experience. That’s the vantage point life affords us.

We haven’t come into being only to quickly die and be reabsorbed back into some cosmic whole. God didn’t create us as individual points of consciousness only to have us immediately blend into one.

The point is simply to feel good, and enjoy the unfolding of this experience; and if you’re not enjoying it, the tools are available to help you remember how.

Happiness Challenge Day 11

Your attention is your most valuable resource.

This is Day 11 of a process designed to help me focus on feeling good.

I want to feel good all the time.

But I can’t keep score along the way. And I don’t want to go back and tell the story of where I came from and why I want to feel good.

At some point these justifications and explanations and score-keeping only serve to remind me of the past.

Why remind ourselves of the past? At first it might feel good to say “look how far I’ve come” but even a positive reminder still keeps that reference point alive in our minds.

I’m beginning to realise how valuable my attention is.

We can only focus on one thought at a time. Telling the story of how I used to feel might not be a bad thought, but aren’t there better-feeling thoughts I could be focusing on instead?

I’m getting better at picking thoughts that feel good. I’ve even drafted and redrafted this post because I keep wanting it to feel better and better. I have a tantalising sense that something far far greater is on its way.

So without keeping score, but maybe keeping track: at the end of day eleven I’m feeling very very good.

Learning to let go: lessons from a 1yo baby

Why do I feel relieved when my 1yo daughter goes down for a nap?

Why do I not reach for the same feeling of relief while she is awake?

Isn’t it just my own resistance?

The Dao of parenting…sleep deprivation edition

Parenting is really really demanding.

But it’s our own resistance that makes those demands difficult to meet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to preach here; last night was one of the most challenging I’ve had in a while, so I want to move forward on this subject.

It helps to see these challenges as bringing to attention our own pockets of resistance.

But don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t feel like that right now.

When things feel really tough it’s not the best time to reach for answers. At those times the best we can do is to find the barest positives like “at least we’re all still alive!”

Here comes some resolve!

But this morning I’m feeling a little more focused. I know last night was an unwanted experience. I know I didn’t reach for relief. I know I can do better and by doing better I mean feeling better.

So I intend to remember the things I learned and applied with our first child.

Our first child was a steep learning curve and there were tough times for sure. But I recall moments of real clarity and focus that I now think were even more powerful than I realised at the time.

Be like water

The Dao is often likened to water, because water flows without effort, never holds itself back, is content to take the lowest position, but in the grand scheme of things is unstoppable in its influence.

Interacting with an infant or young child, being like water means being sensitive and adaptable without contrivances or resistance.

After all, children want to be happy and feel good. We don’t make them happy, we merely provide the basic things they need.

Happiness comes naturally.

In Chinese this kind of nature is 自然 ziran and I love this word because it basically means “flows from oneself”.

So the happiness of a child flows from itself.

But that’s not how it feels. It feels like the little darling wants to scream and cry and be constantly dissatisfied.

How can happiness be natural when the kid is so often inconsolable?

Let go of resistance

It may not be obvious at first, but there is a natural flow and it is most likely our resistance to that flow that comes before the screaming and crying kick in.

We need to be sensitive and let go of our own demands and arbitrary deadlines and procedures. In effect, we need to be guided by the child.

But the guiding can’t start in the midst of a meltdown. Start when things are relatively easy.

She has to eat!

Here’s my first point of resistance. She has to eat, and it’s vital that she eat at this time because she needs to sleep at this other time, or else she’ll be overtired and the whole schedule will fall apart and she’ll probably get sick and we’ll all die horribly..

Okay that last part is exaggerated.

But notice that before she gets upset, I’m approaching her with a determination that she must eat a certain amount of food at a specific time or else everything will fall apart!

What if she’s not hungry?

What if she’s teething and it hurts to eat?

What happens if she doesn’t eat right now?

Have a little faith

If she doesn’t eat right now, she’ll eat later when she’s hungry.

If she doesn’t sleep right this minute, she’ll sleep later when she’s tired.

And guess what? Feeding her later and sleeping her later will be so much easier if I haven’t spent the past hour or so fighting with her to eat when she’s not hungry and sleep when she’s not tired!

A little bit of faith in nature is essential. And if you talk to anyone who’s had a few kids their faith is heavily seasoned by experience.

Speaking of nature as “flowing from oneself”, our 1yo hadn’t pooped for three whole days. But we knew from our first child (and yes we worried back then) that this is totally normal.

Make sure they have plenty of water, make sure their diet is good. Otherwise just sit back and wait because it will inevitably flow from themselves!

And when it comes, it will come abundantly….

But what about my schedule?

If your schedule works, then keep doing it. But if you’re finding that “nothing works!”, if you’re at the end of your tether, then consider no longer fighting, resisting, or struggling.

What I’m reminding myself is that when I let go of my preconceptions and resistance and have the intention to just flow naturally, I become more relaxed and more sensitive to what is going on.

I’m better able to read her moods and wants and needs and she seems to adapt to my greater ease and letting go of the struggle.

We create our reality

My problem is not that I’m forced to care for a difficult child single-handed. My problem is that I’ve let worries and cares and resistance accrue for a while and I’ve only gone looking for relief when I felt completely overwhelmed.

It’s taken time for me to acknowledge I want life to be different on this subject.

And then it took more time for me to know how I want it to be different, the kind of difference I’d like to see.

It’s not about the baby, it’s about me and my habits of reaching for better feelings, or digging more firmly into resistance.

So to come full circle – she’s asleep right now, not because I made an effort or was super patient, but because I felt suddenly inspired to leave the house and go for a walk with her.

She fell asleep about twenty minutes into the walk, but I hardly noticed because I was busy looking at the beautiful houses and trying to work out which house owned a tiny little driveway that I’d never noticed, tucked away between two other houses.

It turned out to be the rear entrance to a massive heritage estate, taking up about 4,000 sqm of land right in the midst of ordinary suburbia.

I’d never noticed it before, but isn’t that a wonderful omen? In the midst of “normalcy” we might stumble upon the path to something amazing and beautiful, so long as we are open to that experience!

Happiness Challenge Day 8

This morning I’m feeling uncharacteristically happy, and I love it.

I just got off the computer and found myself feeling like I’d just accomplished something wonderful, but couldn’t remember what it was.

Once upon a time I would have punctured that good mood immediately, worried I was losing my grip on reality.

“You can’t feel good without doing something to deserve it!

But actually I have done something: I’ve spent the last eight days challenging myself to make feeling good the rule, no exceptions.

And on the back of nearly two years of gradual work at feeling better, I’ve well and truly earned this feeling of ease, satisfaction, and accomplishment.

I’ve become so good at finding relief that last night we took the kids to a movie screening at the park, and I looked after them on my own for four hours, including feeding them and getting them to bed, so my wife could go to a local Symphony performance.

That might not sound like a big deal, but not so long ago I would have felt too tired, too stressed, or too anxious.

I would have asked my wife to choose between the movie or the symphony because both was “too much” for me to handle alone.

I’ve learned to actively find relief, knowing that this not only feels better right away, but also makes my future path easier.

So I’m relishing this good feeling right now, making hay while the sun shines, but also knowing the sun will always shine, and I love the rain just as much anyway!

Happiness Challenge Day 7

If you had the ability to teleport yourself to a beautiful deserted island in the blink of an eye, how often would you go there?

Would you go there all the time? Would you want to live there? Or would your normal life pull you away from this magical paradise?

We have the equivalent power to go to a feeling place that is just as much a beautiful paradise.

But we don’t.

Ironically, I think we are afraid of missing out.

When we look at our friends and family, our work, our communities, and our own projects and struggles, we simply cannot reconcile these things with an immediate experience of unconditional happiness.

We have grown up learning that life is not perfect, and feeling joy and love and well-being is the reward for accomplishing things.

If we were overflowing with well-being we would no longer fit our old lives.

So instead we inhibit the flow of well-being in our lives. With varying degrees of severity and intention we restrict how good we can feel.

We limit ourselves to the amount of good feeling we can “earn” or justify based on our circumstances.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact it only is this way because of our resistance to the well-being that otherwise seeps into every fibre of our existence.

That’s where I’m at on day seven of my Happiness Challenge. I’m learning to view overflowing well-being as natural, and therefore inevitable if I just stop whatever it is I’m doing to resist it.

The Way of abundance

The way I lost weight and the way I healed my autoimmune pain had a lot in common.

One of the commonalities was my underlying belief that health is natural. Our bodies naturally incline to a healthy weight. Our immune systems naturally protect the body rather than attacking it.

According to Daoism it is our interference in nature and our contrived efforts to control nature that end up causing illness and dysfunction.

So the whole time I was searching for the solution to these physical problems, I had great faith that my natural state of health would re-emerge if I stopped interfering.

And it did. I took away compulsive overeating, listened to my natural hunger, and my weight decreased naturally.

I stopped pushing myself and let go of various stressful thoughts, and my pain and inflammation went away.

What about life?

But when it came to the rest of life, that faith dissipated.

Why?

Partly because “nature” is easier to associate with the body than with society, economy, and meaning in life.

These “higher order” subjects are usually associated with the problem of human interference, rather than with the movement of the Way.

But it’s also partly because physical health is not under our direct control. It makes sense that our health would follow nature, but how can our career choices, income, daily interactions, or the flow of traffic?

False dichotomy

I didn’t give up on finding the Way in daily life, but because of this dichotomy between the human and the natural I concluded that finding the Way in everyday life was much harder and required more effort.

I was fixated on the problem of “ego” and the Daoist idea of being free from desires. I thought I had to attain a special spiritual state before I could find my Way.

It didn’t occur to me to equate living a good life with the natural health of my body.

Yet health and wealth are not so different. The Dao or Way that governs my physical body and draws it naturally to health is the same Way that guides my life into ease and abundance.

So by inference, what I require is faith that the Way wills abundance in my life just as it wills health in my body, and the only obstacle to both is my own interference.

I don’t need to attain a special spiritual state, just stop interfering in the natural flow and movement of the Way.

Health and wealth

Wealth is not just about money and property. The word itself actually means “well-being” and comes from the same root as “weal“.

In fact health isn’t just about the absence of illness and disease either. Health is wholeness and completeness, and by extension well-being also.

Daoism teaches that the Way nourishes and cares for all beings. Reminiscent of “Consider the lily” or the birds of the field, the mysterious power of the Way assures us of well-being.

How do we get out of our own way? How do we stop interfering with the wholeness and well-being that flow to us?

As I’ve been learning, the answer is twofold: first and most importantly, appreciate and savour the well-being that already flows to you, because in so doing, we tune into the source of that well-being and reaffirm its full availability to us.

I did this automatically with my health issues: recognising that the rest of my body functioned perfectly well; and even going so far as to recognise that being overweight was actually a healthy response to overeating, and that my autoimmune pain was a healthy reaction to internal stress and emotional tension.

The second part of aligning with our natural well-being is to recognise that it is our negative thoughts and ensuing emotions that interfere with this well-being.  The Way does not abandon us, we are the ones who deviate from its path.

In that sense, our negative feelings and the absence of well-being is an indicator that we are straying from the path. The gaps in our welfare and happiness are self-inflicted, if we stop entertaining them our natural well-being will quickly reassert itself in our experience.

Imagine, then, the streams of well-being flowing to you from the Way, the mysterious being that governs and nourishes all things, nourishing and guiding you into the wholeness and well-being you desire.

Remain in that stream, appreciate the goodness and relief and happiness it contains and let it carry you forward in grace.

When I found God

“There is no better advice on how to find God than to seek him where we left him: do now, when you cannot find God, what you did when last you had him, and then you will find him again.” – Meister Eckhart

I found God many years ago. He wasn’t hard to find, though it took me a while to realise that “He” was more like an “it”.

I found Him easily.

But doubts came even easier.

Why didn’t God talk to me or give me directions like in the bible or in some people’s accounts?

And how could I reconcile my experience with my parents’ demands that I go to church with them, even though I felt no real connection there?

Many of the books I read said how hard it was to do what I was doing. So maybe I wasn’t doing it after all?

More urgently, my life didn’t change. What value was there in my experience of God if the rest of my life still felt like a hopeless and crushing ordeal?

Finding the answers

I have answers to all my questions now.

I know now that other people’s opinions and experiences simply don’t matter unless I make them matter.

No one else can live my life for me. No one else will take responsibility for my happiness. So if my experience of God doesn’t match their personal spiritual or theological or philosophical view, that isn’t my problem.

After all, not a single person thinks they might have it wrong after meeting me, and nor should they. I don’t expect others to rethink their worldview just because I don’t agree with them.

All of these doubts and second-guessing are typical of my internal struggle between how I feel about things versus what other people think. (I’ve discussed it before in MBTI terms as the dominant-inferior dichotomy of the INFP.)

I spent many years rethinking my experience of God, hoping to find answers that would satisfy everyone.

I literally hoped to find the singular common truths underlying different religions, but I can see now that I also sought to bridge the gap between how I feel and what others seem to think.

Change of plans

I don’t need to do this anymore, because I know that it’s not possible and it’s not really what I desire.

All I ever wanted can be found in my own experience of God. Trying to answer others’ doubts and my own was really just giving voice to my fears and insecurities.

I don’t need that permission anymore, and it was never enough anyway.

Gaining momentum

My experience of God is the lodestone of all that is good and uplifting and joyful in life.

It’s the centre of my happiness because it is happiness itself.

The only reason it seemed insufficient in the past was that I kept looking at the world around me, at the things I didn’t like.

I didn’t practice enough the presence of God in my life and so it always remained marginal and “not enough”.

My practice of happiness, joy, and satisfaction could not gain momentum so long as I continually looked around to see if my frustration, misery and hopelessness were still there.

The good that came

I could have been happy much much earlier. I didn’t need so many years of struggle.

But it’s still okay. The struggle gave me a desire for clarity, for certainty, understanding.

My search brought me into touch with perspectives of God from vastly different religions and cultures.

And my experience of God deepened and expanded as I found it again and again under different guises: in the emptiness and insight of Buddhism, in the Holy Book of the Sikhs, in the poetry and ecstasy of the Sufis, in the nonduality of Vedanta, in the metaphysics and liturgy of Christianity, and in the mystery and flow of Daoism.

I found God again and again and eventually I also found out why those encounters had never seemed “enough”.

If you want to let go of doubt, you have to stop picking it up.

It’s up to us to decide what we focus on. We can’t fill our minds and hearts with troubles and fears and expect God to make them go away.

My Happiness Challenge has brought this out of me, because at last I’m finally determined to feel good and be as disciplined and as focused as feeling good requires.

Happiness Challenge Day 5

Trying instead of doing.

There’s a difference between trying to feel good and actually feeling good. There’s a big gap between feeling satisfaction and just telling yourself you’re satisfied.

It’s time to recalibrate.

I noticed a pain in my SI joint returning, which happens whenever I push myself to do something, whenever I think “I just have to do this from now on…”

Feeling good shouldn’t require any real effort, just persistent practice. But four days in, the feeling of effort and tension is telling me I’m “trying” rather than doing.

Actually feeling good

Course corrections like this are exciting because it means I’ve made enough progress to have something to correct!

I’ve done something different for the past five days, enough that I’m now wanting to refine my course and check where I’m heading.

But I’m heading somewhere! That’s actually exciting and a great affirmation.

In practice, what I’m doing to correct my course is to spend more time actually feeling good, rather than just thinking about it.

A practice

To actually feel good requires stepping back from normal activities. The kind of good feeling I’m after is visceral. It comes with a deep breath slowly released. It comes with a feeling of genuine physical relaxation and relief.

It comes with a change in focus away from my present reality and into a vague and general good feeling.

It comes with a sense of ease and letting go of complicated details and specifics.

And with it comes a desire for more, a sense of anticipation as if I’m close to some kind of great revolution or turning point in my life.

It comes with a sense of something vastly greater than myself, a spiritual Being that is pure and transcendent and increasingly within reach.

Making this transcendent yet immanent Being the centre of my reality is the goal, because it is within this Being that my greatest and unconditional happiness resides.

Happiness Challenge Day 4

Old spiritual hang ups.

Committing to feel good all the time has quickly shown me obstacles I’ve been putting in the way of happiness.

I used to think we have to choose between worldly happiness and spiritual happiness.

Lots of spiritual teachings claim that the world keeps us stuck in illusion, ignorant of the truth. Worldly happiness is presented as a false promise, whereas true happiness is spiritual.

But the dichotomy is false. We don’t have to choose, because all happiness, fulfilment and abundance come from the same source.

Spiritual gifts and material blessings are the same, grounded in our desire and the inspiration that asks for them, and the source that provides them to us.

Is it good to receive wisdom but bad to receive wealth? Is the desire for freedom a true expression of our innermost being, but the desire for a beautiful home is not?

I thought that the desire for anything material or worldly was some kind of trap that would keep me stuck in Maya, stuck in delusion, stuck in a fallen world.

Even though God promises us abundance, even though the Old Testament is full of all kinds of worldly prosperity, even though God swears he wouldn’t hand us a stone when we ask for bread.

What does it mean to want something, but also worry that having it would be bad? It means we are resisting our own desire, and fighting our own happiness.

My determination to feel good all the time is like setting out to clean house. All kinds of crazy junk appears and I find myself thinking “what on earth was I hanging onto this for?”

It feels good to let these things go.