It’s a game…08!

In the Abraham-Hicks teaching it’s the vibration of our thoughts relative to the vibration of our inner being (God) that determines our feelings and manifest reality.

That’s why I’m running with this idea that happiness is a vibrational game.

Our inner being is always a match to the fulfilment of our desires. Our inner being is like the expanded version of our physical being, and we would be in alignment right now if we would only keep up with our desires rather than resisting them.

One thing I’m discovering is that alignment works on many levels. It’s reflexive and meta-cognitive, in the sense that I can have resistance or alignment about the subjects of resistance and alignment.

Or to make it much simpler: it doesn’t matter if you are resisting because you think “my desires are really unrealistic” or because you think “finding alignment is really difficult”. Resistance is resistance no matter what the subject, it feels bad and brings you more bad-feeling experiences.

Learning lessons

Early on in my search for meaning, I accepted the ideas that we are here in this life to “learn lessons” of a moral or spiritual nature, and that these lessons derived from a kind of moral order at work in the universe.

For me this translates into an expectation of having to face harsh truths for my own good. It’s an outlook that presumes an external moral framework much like the painful character growth in narrative fiction.

So even as I accept that I create my reality and my inner being is a match to my desires, and vibrational alignment will be reflected in the feelings I feel and the life that unfolds for me, at the same time part of me insists that it will also include tough and unwanted moral lessons that are both necessary and beneficial.

It’s an old spiritual trope that we have to embrace pain and fear and death in order to receive happiness and life and joy.

Suspicious beliefs

But I’m suspicious of these thoughts. They match a little too precisely some negative childhood experiences and attitudes I developed to make sense of unhappiness and fear.

It’s an attitude that doesn’t really serve me. And since it feels bad to me, that’s my indication that it’s out of alignment with my inner being.

There is no lesson that must be learned or sacrifice that must be made or hard personal change that must be undertaken to justify having what I desire in life.

Whoever told me that I had to earn external validation before I could have what I wanted was just suiting themselves.

I don’t need moral lessons. It’s not a moral game, it’s a vibrational game. And the thought that I have to pay a price or earn a reward or prove my worth or become worthy of my desires is resistance.

Because the whole point of our desires is that we want to feel good. What preconditions are there on feeling good? Only that we focus on things that feel good to us. Nothing else.

I don’t need anyone else’s permission to feel good; not God’s, not my family’s, not my friends, not authorities and not some vague moral principles either. Feeling good is intrinsic and it arises from our alignment with God, our inner being, unconditional grace and love.

Hold that thought! A vibrational shift

I wanted to share an example of vibrational shift because it’s good practice for me and might help some readers to see how I do it (but you do what works for you).

I’ve noticed a feeling of struggle, daily grind at home. I feel like there’s nothing really exciting for me or the kids to do, but plenty of unwanted tasks that have to get done.

I’m self-aware enough to know that I’ve had this attitude since I was a kid. It’s a great example of creating my reality consistently despite significant changes in my circumstances.

So instead of trying to change my circumstances, let me change how I feel, by changing my vibration.

I like to do this by finding the best-feeling thoughts available to me, and writing them out while I appreciate the feeling:

I love knowing that this is a vibrational game. I love knowing that my inner being adores where I am right now. I love knowing that all my desires are already fulfilled in vibrational reality. I love knowing that I am coming into alignment with that vibrational reality.

That’s all in A-H terms, but you can do the same in religious terms, or simply in basic emotional terms:

I love the feeling of freedom. I love the feeling of appreciation. I love feeling loved and appreciated. I love feeling ease and flow. I love knowing that everything is taken care of. I love knowing that everything is okay. I love knowing that I’m on the right path.

It’s entirely up to you what words or thoughts or ideas are most efficacious.

If I spend ten minutes focusing on these thoughts as I write them out, I feel different and that means I have successfully changed my vibrational focus.

I feel good and I acknowledge that I’m now broadcasting this much better-feeling vibration.

That’s all it takes. If we do that often enough and try to remain in that good-feeling place consistently, then life will be completely different.

The moment you stop the exercise you may find your old vibration reassert itself as you face “reality” again. But it’s actually you switching back to your old vibration that causes the negative feelings to return.

What does it take to stop the old vibration returning? Practice of the new vibration, awareness of when you’ve gone back to the old vibration, and not beating yourself up when that happens.

Just like learning to ride a bike, falling off is an inevitable part of becoming proficient.

Just like learning to play piano or touch-type – mistakes are just part of tuning yourself in to playing or typing perfectly. If you beat yourself up for every mistake you just slow down the learning process. Recognise the mistake and move in the direction you want to go.

Feel better, and when you feel worse just recognise that you’ve let your vibration slide. Write out your really good feeling thoughts and enjoy the feeling of those higher vibrations, with the intent to go deeper and stay longer each time.

For this subject of daily life feeling like a struggle, that tells me what I don’t want, and I can thereby use my exercise to focus in the direction of what I do want. This is called “pivoting”, as you find the opposite of the bad-feeling vibration.

Life is meant to be easy. Life is meant to be effortless. Everything works out for me. There’s no struggle or effort required. Ideas and inspiration spontaneously occur to me. Things just seem to work out. Things just seem to take care of themselves. There’s nothing that needs my urgent attention. There’s nothing that needs me to push or cajole it.

I create my reality. Everything comes together in response to my vibration. Everything is working out according to universal forces. Everything is a match to my vibration.

Life is easy. Life flows without struggle or effort. Life is a downstream ride. I allow things to take care of themselves. I allow things to work themselves out. I allow ease and joy into my experience. I allow love and happiness into my experience. I allow life to surprise and delight me. I allow life to enchant and satisfy me.

It’s a vibrational game!

Practicing happiness 02

Systematic happiness

We tend to focus on happiness via outcomes and circumstances, getting things the way we want them.

But it’s much better to approach happiness as systematic instead, practicing feeling better consistently and continuously regardless of the circumstances.

Sometimes we even value specific outcomes more than feeling better. In my own search for happiness I’ve found that I tend to put so much value on finding “the answer” that I forget to feel better, and can end up struggling and striving instead.

But ironically when I practice feeling better systematically, answers just come to me anyway without any struggle.

So just practice feeling better and over time you’ll see that nothing else is as effective or consistent in finding happiness.

The excitement of contrast

Contrast refers to anything unwanted in your experience.

According to the Abraham-Hicks teaching, contrast is an essential feature of our physical experience. We welcome it because contrast provides a basis for new desires to evolve, and desires are the essence of new creation.

But at first it’s hard to see it this way. We don’t welcome unwanted conditions, instead we long for them to vanish.

As we become more and more aligned with our own inner being, the part of us that is always united with God, we get better and better at handling contrast.

We begin to appreciate that the “fly in the ointment”, the one thing that’s ruining an otherwise perfect experience is actually the path or thread calling us on into bigger and better things.

And when we are aligned enough to see it that way, then instead of the wanted and the unwanted, life is about the wanted and “what’s next?” Satisfied with what is, and eager for what is coming.

There’s a delightful moment that keeps recurring for me, where I feel an old issue, problem or struggle coming up, but all of a sudden I realise it’s not a problem or a struggle, it’s contrast!

I know how to deal with contrast!

Deal with it by looking for the wanted, the desire that springs from it. Follow the thread of the joy latent in sorrow, the ease called forth by struggle, and the hope implicit in despair.

Ask yourself “since I know very clearly that I don’t want this, what is it that I do want?” and then start focusing in that direction.

Then you will find that the experience of contrast is truly exciting and thrilling, because an encounter with the unwanted is the doorway to all we desire.

Writing for fun, profit…and a desperate need for approval?

So i wrote an article and it was picked up by my editor, which means success! Money! Well done!

And today my wife mentioned that it’s May 4th tomorrow: Star Wars Day, and I immediately thought I could write another article and repeat that feeling of success and income and achievement.

Except that the moment I started it felt like a dry uphill battle. And then I started feeling physically uncomfortable and I started feeling some pain.

Okay. Let’s stop. This is pretty clear feedback.

For a number of years I’ve wanted some kind of formula for success – a task or work I can throw myself into and be applauded and rewarded for it.

But when I try, when I think “this is it!” bad things happen.

I really should just admit that I’m acting out of something negative. But it’s so enticing! I can just imagine this being the start of a whole series of great articles that build and build and bring me success and pride and please the people around me too.

I’ll be fitting in, finding my place, pleasing my superiors and placating those who’ve worried about me.

I’ll finally have an answer for the people who’ve demanded to know “what are you doing with your life?”

This is pretty cool contrast

I really don’t want writing to put me in physical pain, and I know there’s an issue here that would really benefit from my focus.

And I suspect the issue is: thinking that I must do something to win approval.

I’m actually really well accustomed to not feeling approved of, so much so that I sometimes leap at the chance to help people important to me.

But that’s still operating under the false premise that I require other people’s approval in order to feel good. I might have given up on it, but I still feel the weight of that premise.

All good feeling comes from within

Back to basics: it’s not our circumstances that make us feel good or bad, it’s the thoughts we focus on and their relative degree of alignment with our inner being, our “God’s eye view”.

Thinking that I need other people’s approval feels bad because it is not true and it is resistant to the love and appreciation that already flows to me from within.

My impulse to write another article was an attempt to use action to change my circumstances so I could feel better. That never works.

But that doesn’t mean I should resign myself once more to living without approval.

Feeling comes first

The only reason I wanted approval in the first place was because I thought I would feel good if I had it, and I believed I would get it if I found some work I could take pride in and earn money from.

Let’s go positive with this.

How would it feel to have approval of all the important people in my life?

It would actually feel really good.

But here’s the thing: In the moment I imagined that approval and felt that good feeling, I was simply allowing a good feeling to flow from within me.

That good feeling was always accessible within me. I just disallowed it because I thought I actually needed others to provide it.

In that sense does the feeling of “approval” ever come from others? No. It always comes from within us. It is our own allowing of approval to flow.

Happiness Day 17

When s*** hits the fan.

I focus on feeling good. I make headway, my mood rises, I appreciate subtle and obvious changes around me.

And then something unwanted shows up. A bad mood hits me from “out of nowhere”, or an issue arises that sparks bad feelings and inner turmoil.

But over time I adapt and adjust and the conflict is resolved and…looking back, I’m changed by it.

I’m growing by facing these unwanted things and allowing the wanted instead.

And though at first it was dire and stomach-churning and dramatic and full of fear, over time and with practice the process has gotten easier.

Abraham describes it as “learning to handle contrast better”.

Not only can we learn to allow better-feeling thoughts on contrast-rich subjects, but we can also allow greater ease and comfort in the process.

We can even get to the point of appreciating contrast because it inspires the expansion and growth that is the whole point of our life here.

Let it be easy!

At first I wanted to make rapid, powerful changes to my mood and my life.

But people who have done this advise against it. Don’t be in a hurry, take it easy.

The whole point of life is to enjoy the journey. And while we might tell ourselves we are ready to go straight from utterly depressed to profoundly joyful in an instant, there’s actually a desperation and a denial of enjoyment in that pledge.

The harder you push, the more it hurts, not least because you’re used to feeling bad and so your efforts to “try harder” tend to be instinctively geared to more pain and struggle.

“Feel good” really is too easy an answer for most of us. It takes time to accept that there’s no benefit to pushing and no merit to hurting along the way.

So let it be easy! Don’t worry! The path of greatest ease is the path of least resistance and of most allowing.

There’s no rush. Don’t make it an uphill climb; the point after all is to learn how to feel better, and you can’t struggle to make that happen, earn it through suffering, or make it come faster by gritting your teeth in bitterness.

Fear of getting it wrong

I’m continuing to clarify my understanding of the process.

So to start with, let’s assume you’re unhappy with aspects of your life. Initially you think you are unhappy (feeling) because of these unwanted aspects of your experience (reality). This itself is a thought.

Then you encounter some positive-thinking material, which claims that in fact you’re misunderstanding cause and effect. The material claims that it is the direction of your focus that is causing you to have particular thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

“Direction of your focus” is admittedly vague, because it’s describing something that is prior to thought, feeling, and experience, and is (I suspect) something that does not of itself have recognisable qualities or attributes apart from its effects.

It’s a little like consciousness. You know you are conscious because of the objects and experiences that you are conscious of. The eye cannot see itself, the knife cannot cut itself.

The material I’m using (Esther Hicks/’Abraham’) suggests that we can and should assess our point of focus on the basis of the ensuing feelings. In other words, if our aim is to feel better, then we should focus on thoughts (or the energy prior to thought) that causes us to feel better.

I’ve outlined elsewhere why I think this is a reasonable thing to do, even to the extent of downplaying the “realism” of our thoughts in favour of how good we feel.

The problem is that we tend not to focus in a way that feels good. Even when we read this material and agree with it, we still find ourselves feeling bad, focusing on things that make us feel bad, and then all too often feeling worse because we’ve “failed”.

The emotional quality of thoughts

Our thoughts aren’t merely descriptive, they are also emotionally salient.

Two people might think “life is a struggle”, but one feels bad about the thought while the other feels excited and motivated.

Likewise, I can think “my feelings are my own fault/responsibility” and feel demoralised by it, or feel empowered by it.

So although “false” beliefs can have negative effects, so can “true” ones. Cynical and depressed people can easily wedge themselves between seemingly unassailable truths about the world, and the path out of that cul-de-sac might look like self-deception or delusion.

Sometimes these issues arise in philosophy…like if a coach tells an athlete “you can do it!” when he thinks they can’t do it, but suspects that the encouragement will motivate the athlete to perform better…this kind of scenario isn’t really captured in a simple binary of true/false.

A question of focus

Going back to the process in question:

The suggestion is that we’re mistaken about cause and effect. The suggestion is that our point of focus determines the thoughts we have, their emotional quality (our feelings) and our subsequent reality.

Personally, I’ve always approached religious/spiritual systems through the lens of “what am I doing wrong?” Yet ironically the implication is that this negative focus keeps me stuck exactly where I have been stuck, on the impression that I must be doing something wrong, with the corresponding effects of this negative focus.

Typically the teachers of this material advise that it’s not necessary to fully understand how these things work, but in my case I’m inspired by the thought of understanding the mechanisms at play.

That said, the same principles apply to my attempts to understand it: focus on the negative, on how little I understand and the sense of struggle….or focus on how much I’ve already understood, how enjoyable it is to work it out and put it into practice, and how exciting it is to still have puzzles to solve.

You can’t get it wrong

Which brings me to the principle or observation that “you can’t get it wrong”, which is especially pertinent to me given my focus on “the problem” and “what am I doing wrong?”

You can’t get it wrong, because cause and effect is driven by your focus. You get to choose what you focus on, so if you are experiencing struggle and strife, that is entirely the product of your focus. You’re getting exactly what you’re focusing on.

That doesn’t sound very comforting to me, and likely not to you either. But there’s a little more to it.

Struggle and strife and other forms of negative experience build within you a more powerful desire for the opposite. So even if you continue to focus negatively, you aren’t “failing” or “losing”, you’re experiencing a stark contrast that adds to a proportionately powerful desire for something much better.

In a metaphysical context where true harm is impossible, there’s not anything to be afraid of ultimately.

There’s not a single spiritual system worth its salt that invokes fear as an ultimate motivator or death or evil as a metaphysically powerful entity. Existence itself is divine, so what are we afraid of?

Of course “getting it wrong” might be a particular sore point for me and not for you. Different experiences produce different desires, but there will be an analog in there somewhere. Maybe it’s “losing control” or “failing” or “being useless”.

Redefining the problem

If we go back to the start and refrain “let’s assume you’re unhappy with aspects of your life”, we’re now in a slightly better position to see that there’s nothing wrong with that.

Nothing wrong with being unhappy?

That sounds paradoxical, and maybe it is. Maybe the paradox will resolve itself such that you’re no longer unhappy because you’re now realising that everything is perfect and there’s no failure here.

Or maybe you’ll “forget” the paradox and go back to being unhappy in your focus for a while longer.

You might even decide “yes! I have to resolve the paradox!” and throw yourself into a state of unsatisfying struggle.

Ultimately, the direction is positive. Whether you’re going negative and building up your desire for something more, or you’ve had enough already and are changing direction, the ultimate end is a positive one.

When you grapple with a problem

In the previous post on sickness and pride I suggested that we should view our frustration with the common cold as pointing to the deeper problem of our pride, or the illusion of a self that is in control.

This false sense of control and the often accompanying sense of frustration is everywhere in life. But it is usually at its worst when we face obstacles and challenges, when we are struggling and feel like life is not unfolding as we’d like it to.

That’s why suffering has special value in religious traditions – when things are going well for us our pride and illusion of self are unassailable. It takes inevitable suffering and disappointment to reveal the sharp edges of these faults.

So we can treat all problems as we may treat the cold: recognise the struggle, the sense of control, and the frustration as illusory. The impression of a self at the center of these feelings is just an impression, not an actual self, so our suffering and struggle can become perfect reminders that we are in the grip of delusion and pride.

A moment of change occurs, in which we see through the illusion, if only briefly.

With this change comes the recognition that it was not brought about through “my” efforts, because the me who feels responsible for those efforts has temporarily vanished.

When it vanishes, so do the problems and the struggles that hitherto seemed so distressing.

I think this is the secret to the Daoist concept of wu wei – acting without acting:

The way never acts, yet nothing is left undone.
Should lords and princes be able to hold fast to it,
The myriad creatures will be transformed of their own accord.
After they are transformed, should desire raise its head,
I shall press it down with the weight of the nameless uncarved block.
The nameless uncarved block
Is but freedom from desire,
And if I cease to desire and remain still,
The empire will be at peace of its own accord.

Acting without acting is another way of saying that the illusion of a self who is in control becomes transparent.

The illusion of a self who is in control is like thinking that you can manipulate the weather with your thoughts. If you really believed that, your life would be full of pointless struggle and frustration, illusory successes and inevitable failures.

But then there’s the paradox once more: that whether you believe it or not is also something not under the control of an illusory self.

Nonetheless, this insight can unfold throughout your life. Maybe it happens suddenly for some. For me it is unfolding slowly, one area of life at a time as I seem to remember or realise that it is applicable in this aspect of life or in that struggle also.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy vs spiritual event-horizon

Matthew asked about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in relation to my recent posts on acceptance.

I heard about ACT roughly two years ago, as an emerging alternative to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Here an article about ACT helpfully describes the differences between CBT, psychotherapy, and ACT:

Imagine the situation for the client who says, “I feel so anxious about going out on a date. I’m so afraid that I won’t have anything to say, or that I’ll say something really dumb.” Through the use of CBT techniques we, as counsellors, could help the client dispute the negative beliefs that she is a poor conversationalist or a boring date, replacing her anxious thoughts with positive, affirming ones, such as that she is interesting, good at conversation, or a worthy social companion.

Through longer, psychotherapeutic processes, we could help her to discover the experiences in her past (probably early childhood) which created the sense of her as socially inept. Psychotherapy takes a long time, however, and even when the effect of past history on present experience becomes known, there is still the “war of words” as the various voices within her – the critical ones and the affirming ones – clamour for attention.

The ACT principle of expansion/acceptance works differently. It would ask the client to imagine that she is about to go out on a date. She would then be instructed to scan her body, observing where she felt the anxiety most intensely. Let’s say that she reports that she experiences a huge lump in her throat. She might be then asked to observe the sensation of the lump as if she were a scientist who had never seen anything like it before: to notice the shape, weight, vibration, temperature, pulsation, and other aspects of it. She would be invited to breathe into the lump, making room for it, allowing it to be there (even though we would be highly empathetic in understanding that she did not like it or want it there!).

There’s more to ACT than just the acceptance component, but from descriptions such as those above I suspect it is aiming at the same kind of practice I’ve described as acceptance.

I haven’t undergone ACT, so I’m not in a position to recommend it, or criticise it. But I wonder how it manages the paradox of acceptance and change. On a therapeutic level, ACT must promise certain beneficial outcomes for its patients. In my experience, such promises are the biggest obstacle to practicing acceptance.

I tried acceptance and mindfulness techniques in the past, but with the benefit of hindsight I can see that those efforts were fixated on change rather than acceptance. The net result was that despite repeated efforts to ‘accept’ reality, I was still motivated by the desire for change, for a different reality. For example, the article above states:

By opening up and allowing them [unpleasant thoughts and feelings] to come and go without struggling with them, running from them, or giving them undue attention, we find that they bother us much less. They also move on more quickly, instead of hanging around and bothering us

This is precisely the kind of promise I would have clung to in the past, and attempts to ‘accept’ in such a way would be rendered fruitless by the underlying desire for change.

Perhaps this is a personal quirk, or I may be an extreme case. Or maybe an astute ACT therapist would recognise the contradiction in my efforts.

I can only speak for my own experience, and in that case the therapeutic aspect of acceptance seems accidental. The more significant motive for accepting my reality is simply that there is nothing else I can do about it.

Going a little deeper, I am my reality and my reality is me. Somehow, my reality has begun to shift in a way that is best described as acceptance. And the more I accept my reality, the more evident it becomes that nothing has really changed except my reaction to it.

Take the simplest example: people often tell me that I think too much, and in the beginning I struggled to think less. Later I struggled to understand the causes of my overthinking. Later still I tried to justify my overthinking in some terms that would be meaningful to normal people (‘underthinkers’?).

Now, as this acceptance thing slowly takes root in my mind, I’m gradually realising I can simply say “yes, I overthink everything.” I can accept it, without that acceptance implying any obligation to change, any further shame or humiliation, any loss of self.

Of course, if I’d sought that outcome in the beginning I’d have turned it into a struggle.