Book: The How of Happiness

 

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I am reading The How of Happiness, and it seems to be an excellent book. Practical, simple, science-based and effective. I especially appreciate the emphasis on finding practices that fits ones own circumstances and interests (chapter 3), and the pointers on why the preactices work and advice on how to go about the practices (chapter 10).

The author has a column in Psychology Today, and here is a video interview with the author.

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If everybody knew

 

The recent Tiger Woods story is a reminder of a simple pointer:

Would I do what I am doing if everyone knew about it? What would I do differently if everyone would know it?

In our digital and highly connected age, it is very possible that everyone will know, and that gives an added reality to the question.

Here is another take on those questions: When I am alone, do I behave as I would if others were here?  How would it be to act as if others were here? When I am with others, do I feel and act as free as I do when I am alone? How would it be to feel and act with the freedom that is here when I am alone?

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Letting go of techniques

 

I have spent the last few years exploring different techniques, and now it seems time to leave the more elaborate tools – for a while, at least – and go back to simplicity.

Much of that is what I have written about regularly here….

Allowing and being with experience, as it is, with kindness and heart. Noticing resistance to experience, and impulses to hold onto it, and allow that too with heart and kindness. Noticing any content of experience – including pain, resistance, impulses, a sense of doer, a sense of observer – and allow it all as it is, with kindness.

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A more level-headed approach II

 

As the previous “level-headed” post was quite unfair and one-sided, I thought I would be a little more inclusive here. It is also more interesting to me.

If we make the distinction between who and what we are, we get three ways to meet our human and spiritual longings.

We can meet all human and spiritual longings with spirituality tools. We can meet them with psychological tools. Or we can meet them at their own levels.

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Opening up or closing down

 

Again, it can seem obvious:

How I receive life opens it up for me, or closes it down.

And that is true for spiritual practices and traditions as well.

When they are taken as questions and an invitation for exploration, they may open up the world.

For instance, precepts can be a wonderful opportunity for exploration.

What happens when I encounter the precept? When I try to follow it? When I can’t follow it? Do I notice the symptoms of triggered beliefs? What do I find when I investigate those beliefs?

What are some of the layers I find when I work with a precept? What are some of the ways I can understand and apply it in daily life? How does this change over time?

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The gift of advaita

 

There are lots of tools out there to invite in healing, maturing and even awakening, and they can all be very helpful.

But it is also good to notice that what we seek is already here, and that is the gift of Advaita.

That is what Advaita – more than any other tradition – reminds us of. It gives us a reminder of how simple it is, and an invitation to notice here now.

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Common sense use of tools

 

When we use tools in daily life, we use a good deal of common sense.

If a particular tool works for a specific task, we continue using it.

If it doesn’t seem to work, we explore alternatives – often with help from someone who is more familiar with it than we are. We may find another way of using the same tool, or we may try another tool and see if that works better.

And the same is a good approach to how we use tools for healing, maturing and awakening.

If it doesn’t seem to work, it doesn’t make sense to continue using it the same way – or with more effort! – and expect a different result.

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The Way of Selflessness

 

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The Way of Selflessness is just out, and I can highly recommend it.

Written by Joel Morwood, the spiritual director of the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon, it is the product of 20 years of working with students and studying the mystical core of the different traditions, all from within a clear and genuine awakening. It is practical, span the traditions, and gives pointers for what you may encounter at different points on the path.

If you take the main practices and teachings of mystics from the main traditions and boil it down, as you would if you boil an ox down to a bullion cube, you will get something like this.

For all its strengths, it may have a few drawbacks as well.

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Science and spirituality

 

LIFE EINSTEIN

There is a huge amount of possible relationships between science and spirituality.

The most obvious one in our science-based culture is to explore spirituality through science. For instance, we can explore the effects of different practices. How do they show up in how people experience and live their lives? What bodily changes correlate with practices, regular long-term practice, different states, and a genuine Ground awakening? How does it show up in the structure and activity of the brain, the nervous system, endocrine system, muscles and so on? Also, we can explore the science of spiritual practices on their own terms. What works and how? What are the dynamics and mechanisms behind practices from the different traditions? How similar are the ones that appear quite similar?

We can also explore science through spirituality, especially and most productively from within reality awake to itself. For instance, how do current models and views in science correspond to reality as it appears to a mystic? How can they be rephrased so they are better aligned while still staying true to current science?

Equally interesting is how we can use current stories from science as fodder for practices.

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Practices and talks as distractions

 

Anything can be used as a distraction, a way to escape noticing what we really are – that which already allows experience as it is.

And that includes anything that we label spiritual, such as talks and practices.

I may listen to a spiritual talk while going for a walk or before falling asleep at night, and notice a slight compulsion to do so. A slight resistance to allow experience as it is. Listening to a talk becomes an escape from noticing what is here in experience, including physical pain or certain emotions or images surfacing.

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Practices emerging

 

Practices often emerge naturally from where we are, as response to a situation or as medicine for a particular condition.

For me, these are often practices I am already familiar with. Other times, I may have heard about them but not practiced them before. And sometimes, these may be practices I cannot remember having practiced or heard about before, although they are (most likely) found in one or more traditions.

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All awake to itself

 

I am attending an intensive for the type of bodywork I am doing. The bodywork itself is a laboratory for practice and exploration, for self-inquiry, and it is a wonderful practice in many ways. Deep, nourishing and soulful. 

But one thing is left out, and it is a crucial step – and also quite obvious when we see it. 

With its emphasis on mindfulness of the “me” only (the human self and its identities and dynamics), an identification as first the doer (shifting into observing) and then the observer may easily become “invisible”. If it is habitually there anyway, it may not be strengthened, but there is also not a direct invitation to bring it to attention and notice it. The sense of “I” may continue to lurk outside of attention. 

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Any practice has elements of inquiry, devotion, integrity and service

 

Any practice has elements of inquiry, devotion, integrity and service.

It can be an expression of love for reality (God, Buddha Mind). It can be an expression of curiosity: what happens if…? It can be an expression of integrity, a sincere intention to live more aligned with reality. And it can be an expression of service, of realigning this human life so it better can be of service to the larger whole.

So there is fertile ground for exploration here. Any of those four is a practice in itself, and it includes elements of each of the other ones. What is the devotion component of inquiry? What is the integrity component of service? What is the service component of devotion? What do I find in my own experience?

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Ways to work with the dark night

 

I am no expert on how to work with or relate to the dark nights, but here are some things that seem helpful to me….

First, all of the usual practices can be helpful, whatever they may be. Ethics. Work in the world. Relationships. Inquire into beliefs. (Including those about the dark night.) Allowing experience as it is, as if it would never change. Be with experience, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way, with kindness. Be with emotions, with heart and kindness, allowing them to unfold and change as they want. Tong len. Rejoicing in others happiness. Jesus prayer. And so on.

And one that is especially helpful for me now is to explore how the dark night appears in each sense field. How does it appear, whatever it may be? (Despair, aridity, grief etc.) Is it content of experience, as any other experience? And then also notice the doer and observer of this inquiry. How does the doer + observer appear in each sense field? Are they content of experience as any other content of experience?

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I am somebody who…

 

Here is a shadow-quickie.

I notice an aversion/attraction to somebody/thing in daily life, find the specific quality that brings it up, and then tell myself:

I am somebody who …

I am somebody who is a loser. I am somebody who is loud. I am somebody who is inconsiderate. I am somebody who is insane. I am somebody who is ugly. I am somebody who is angry. (Aversions.) I am somebody who has elegance. I am somebody who is smart. I am somebody who is clear. I am somebody who is friendly. (Attractions.)

I find at least three specific examples of how it is true in my own life. Times when I lived those qualities.

And I then take time to feel it. To let it sink in, get a bodily felt sense of being somebody who has those qualities. Taking time to allow my self image to reorganize to include this too, in a real and genuine way.

If I need to, I can do the same with the reversals of those qualities. In that way, I find both here now, and there is a freedom from both.

This simple practice probably works best if I have experience with projection work already, for instance from The Work.

The effects are often quite noticeable. From being caught up in aversions and attractions, and not immediately finding it in myself, there is a shift.

The world becomes a mirror, what is out there is also right here now. Tension melts. A sense of separation melts. There is a sense of fullness and wholeness. A sense of coming home. Of being complete here now. Spaciousness in all directions. I experience myself differently.

And then appreciation for those qualities, because they so clearly are part of the wholeness of who I am. Recognizing them here now, and feeling them here now, is the gateway into finding that wholeness. There is an allowing of them, an appreciation for them, a kindness towards the qualities and those expressing them (all of us including myself), even a love for them.

So I see these qualities right here, through specific examples of how they are expressed in my life. I take time to feel them here now, allowing my self-image to reorganize to include them. And from here, there is a sense of wholeness and gratitude for the qualities and the process.

Let Your will be done

 

What are some of the ways of working with let Your will be done?

In general, it makes sense to do what needs to be done in a conventional sense. Acting in ways that seem appropriate to whatever situation we are in, with whatever kindness and insight is available to us.

And within this, nurture an attitude or orientation of let Your will be done, and also notice that it is already so.

I can use it as a prayer, in a sincere and heartfelt way.

And I can take it as a pointer, a starting point for inquiry, and maybe notice that it is already so. God’s will is already done, in everything that happens, including that which I take as initiated by a doer here.

I can notice that through the headless experiments or the Big Mind process.

I can inquire into causality, finding infinite causes to everything that seems initiated by a doer, leaving the doer as nothing at all.

I can explore the sense of a doer as it appears in the sense fields, maybe finding it as a gestalt made up of sensations and images. And finding only a story saying that this gestalt initiates anything.

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Don’t work

 

Practices work in a limited sense, inviting in shifts within content of experience, and also in what we take as what we are.

They are an invitation and nothing more, so they don’t work if we expect something more.

Sometimes, they may not work at all, they don’t give me the effect I wanted or expected, and this is an opportunity for coming to terms with what is, and that “I” – the sense of separate I – cannot “do” anything. It is humbling, and really an invitation for beliefs and identities around wanting things to be different to wear off, and the same with a sense of a doer. (Because these are imagined in the first place.)

The next one is where I am now, so there isn’t that much perspective or familiarity with it yet. It is one that may emerge further into the path, as an inevitable and lived experience. As with all of these, if is made into a belief it gets weird. And if it is triggered by stories (teachings) and not arrived at organically, it also gets a little weird. The value of mentioning this one is to have an idea of what to expect, and for those who already in it to see that it is normal. Otherwise, it is not important.

Practices have served me well for a long time, and I may continue to have a great deal of appreciation for them. But at some point, even if they continue to work in the usual sense, they don’t work.

They may invite in shifts within content of experience, and even in identification, but none of those touches what I am and everything is. And that is where this process is going, shifting identification into that which is not touched by any practice.

Also, this is a process of wearing off of all beliefs and identifications, so there is an acute realization of the irony of an “I” doing a practice to allow that illusory “I” to wear off. There is a sense of having painted oneself in a corner, with nowhere to go.

Practices have their time and place, and they are still valuable in a limited sense – maybe especially in allowing my human self to continue healing and maturing. I may still continue to use them, because what else is there to do, but the hope for what they can do is not there as before.

There is a very healthy disillusionment here.

It is a beautiful place to be, in many ways. There is still appreciation for practices and what they do, a wearing off of hope for what they can do in this situation, and a recognition that the grittiness of life itself wears off remaining beliefs and identifications.

So to summarize, practices work in a limited sense, in inviting a shift in content of experience or what we take ourselves to be. They don’t work if we expect them to be anything more than an invitation. They may not work at all, which is an invitation for us to notice that everything lives its own life, on its own schedule. And they may work as before, but now don’t “do it” since what is left is a wearing out of the last identifications as an “I” and a doer, and that process lives its own life and happens (at least partly) through the grittiness of daily life.

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Choice from more clarity

 

Something else that seems basic when we are more familiar with the terrain, but may be less so in the very beginning…

All of what I write about here – allowing experience, inquiry, gratitude, empathy and so on – is for myself. There is more clarity and invites identification to shift out of stories and identities. 

And that release of identification allows for a wider range of stories that I can use as temporary guides for action.

I more easily recognize stories as temporary guides for action. And there is more freedom to use whatever experience, insight, knowledge and kindness is available to me in chosing a story to use as a temporary guide for action in any particular situation.

It may look like yin kindness. Receptive. Empathy. Allowing. 

Or it may look more like yang kindness. Cutting. Strict. Clear boundaries. 

(To the extent there is a release of identification, there is a freedom in chosing among these stories. Which means that there is often a mix… there may be some release of identification with some stories, yet still identification with other stories.)

Then there is the receptivity in watching for feedback. Learning. Modifying. 

I can look for where I am still caught up in beliefs. And I look for ways to act that is a little more skillful in different situations.

Waking up out of stories

 

When we notice – quite clearly – what we are, there is a waking up out of stories

There is a waking up out of the story of I. A doer. Observer. Thinker. An I with an other. A center with periphery. An inside and an outside. 

And with it is a waking up of any other story as well, including the stories of maps, models, religions, spirituality and practices.

We see that what we – already and always – are, cannot be touch by any of those stories. They can be very helpful in a purely practical sense, for this human self to function in the world and explore who it is and what it really is.

But they are also, quite literally, imaginary. They are creations of the mental field, overlaid on pure perception. And reality cannot be touched by any of them. Not in a conventional sense. And not in the context of all as God.

Each story has a temporary and practical value only. 

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Relating to thoughts

 

Some ways of relating to thoughts independent of their source (myself or others) or their content…

I can believe it. Take it as true. Identify with it. Create an identity from it. Prop it up. Defend it. Deny the truth in its reversals. Deny its own limited truth.

I can explore it in the sense fields. How does it appear in the sense fields? How does a mental field overlay combine with the other sense fields to create a gestalt? What happens when it is taken as true? What happens when it is noticed as a gestalt? (I often find that it appears as solid and real when it is taken as true, and that I notice it as emptiness/awakeness itself when it is recognized as a gestalt, but that can change next time I look.)

I can explore it as a question. What happens if I take the story as an innocent question about the world? What happens if I take it as a statement, or as a true view?

I can turn it around to the speaker, and then myself. Any advice is (also) for ourselves. When others speak, and I recognize it as advice for him/herself, it becomes more congruent. And when I turn it around to myself, I find it here too.

I can notice the belief and inquire into it. Do I know it is true? What happens when I take it as true? Who would I be if it was not taken as true? What are the truths in its reversals? What is more true for me than the initial belief?

I can notice the fear behind it and meet that fear. Can I find fear behind the impulse to make a story into a belief? What happens when I meet it? Welcome it, as it is?

And to the extent identification is released out of a story, it is recognized as a tool. It becomes a tool for my human self to orient and function in the world. A story can appear more or less appropriate for any one situation. And as any tool, any story has some things it is good at. (If only to deflate the appearance of absolute truth in its reversal.)

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Simple and juicy

 

If many of the topics here seem simple, universal and life 101, it is because they are…! It is when I explore them for myself that they become juicy, sometimes reveal a great deal of detail, and can invite in some quite noticeable shifts.

Thought may say some variation of that is obvious: It is too general and universal. It makes you look naive. There is too much repetition here. Why not explore something that is more interesting at a thought level?

But I still keep coming back to it, for what is revealed when it is explored with some sincerity and receptivity.

As a thought itself, what I write here has little or no value. But as a pointer for exploration of what is alive here now, it is quite different.

And that is how it is with any thought, whether it (appears to) come from myself or someone else, and independent of its content.

As a thought itself, it is just a thought. As a belief – something to take as true or reject as false – it creates stress. As a question – explored with some sincerity and receptivity – it may have a great deal of value.

Travelers and explorers

 

There are many ways of relating to the path of growing and/or waking up.

We may be travelers with a destination in mind, and use maps, guides and the provided vehicles on our way.

We may want explore in a more open ended way, using maps, guides and any vehicle we come across for parts of the journey but not always.

We may be tourists and visitors.

Or we may do each of these at different times.

All are God exploring itself in as many ways as possible.

And all have their gifts and (apparent) drawbacks.

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What leads up to awakening

 

Some of the things that seem to often precede awakening…

  • Nothing at all. It comes out of the blue. The person may have no interest in religion or spirituality, and have done no spiritual practice. Although for many, there may be a great deal of psychological stress and a sense of being at the end of the rope before the shift, as happened with Byron Katie, Eckhart Tolle, and even me. (I was an atheist at the time of the initial awakening.) There is a ripeness there somewhere, in terms of being ready to give it all up – all identifications, all hope.
  • Intention. A clear and refined intention to know God, to know truth, to wake up. This may go along with practice and prayer or not.
  • Trying hard and failing. Trying hard to awaken through a range of practices, and thoroughly failing. Exhausting all possibilities.
  • Practice. Engaging in a range of practices that invite in a thinning of the veils. The “distance” between what is here and awakening gets smaller, although the final shift doesn’t happen through practice.
  • Shaktipat. An energy transfer that invites in awakening, such as diksha.

And finally grace. Grace is always what invites in the shift to awakening. Whatever a separate I can seem to do is not enough. It can prepare the ground, but that is all. As Baker Roshi said, awakening is an accident and practice makes us accident prone.

Also, is there really a “leading up to” awakening? The awakening is an awakening out of the stories of time and causality, and also the story of awakening not being here already. From here, there is no leading up to it, although there is also the freedom to use those stories as skillful means.

Projections and the path

 

One of the best tools to have in one’s toolbox is ways to work with projections, and that is equally true for how we relate to our path.

In general, if I notice I am caught up in stories about something out there – in the future, past or others – I can find it right here.

I can find the stories here now, obviously, and also whatever they seem to refer to.

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How do I relate to life?

 

As I relate to my human self, I relate to the wider world.

Or, I relate to life the same way whether it comes up in my human self or the wider world.

I can meet my own anger by picking up its energy and using it in a constructive way. I can allow and be with the experience of anger. Welcome it and allow it to be seen. Felt. Loved. As it is. For what it is. Even if it would always be here.

And the more familiar I am with this, the more this way of relating to it is available to me when I meet anger in others.

Also, how do I relate to apparently opposing energies or viewpoints? Do I automatically glom on to one and reject the other? Do I defend one? Try to make it appear right and the other wrong? Or can I hold both and see what comes out of it? Relate to them with curiosity and receptivity? Gentle and firm? Find the validity in each, and how they can both be facilitated within the same field?

The more I am familiar with it in myself, the more it is available to me when it comes up in the wider world.

This is just one of the many ways work on myself is – in a direct and immediate way – work in the world.

Orientations helpful for practice

 

A few things I find helpful in doing any form of practice…

I set the motivation of doing it for the benefit of all beings. This invites in a shift of receptivity and an open heart, a more stable attention, a wider embrace (including an embrace of all of me), and of living from the effects of practice in daily life.

I clarify my responsibility. I am responsible for how I relate to whatever comes up and how to live from it, and that is it. Whatever else happens is life’s business.

(The good news is that if I have an expected outcome for the practice in mind, the effects are immediate. The practice feel stale, forced and uncomfortable. Feedback is a blessing.)

I remind myself that I really don’t know anything. I don’t know what will happen ahead of time. I don’t know what is really happening as it happens. I don’t even know why I am doing what I am doing. I may – and will – have stories about all of these, but have no clue about what is really going on. This invites in receptivity, interest and curiosity. It is always fresh. New. A mystery.

Ways of doing demon practice

 

There are five simple steps to feeding demons, and as I have explored it for myself, I have found a few tweaks that seem to work a little better for me…

When I shift into the role of the demon, I take some time to move and sound like it, to get a better feel for it. How does it feel to live as the demon? (I may just imagine it if I am in a public place!)

I also don’t discriminate in terms of how it should look. If it is a worm or rock or pond, that is fine with me. I can equally well dialog with them as with a being with arms and legs and a mouth.

Before feeding the demon, I find it helpful to ask if it would like to be fed. If it says no, I will just stop there and come back to it later. (Hasn’t happened yet.) It feels more respectful, and takes away the sense of “force feeding” that comes when feeding without asking first. In short, it helps me work with the dynamics of the process instead of against what is happening.

While feeding, I sometimes switch from being the nectar feeding the demon to the role of the demon being feed. It helps me feel it from the inside, the sense of being deeply nurtured to complete satisfaction.

In dialoging with the ally, I use different words. Mainly, I ask how it can help my human self in daily life, and how my human self can access it.

In general, it seems to work best to have the attitude of doing it for the sake of the demon. Here is a demon suffering, and I am in a position to feed it what it needs, so I do it for its sake. More specifically, I take responsibility for how I relate to the demon and how I live from the shift that happens when it is fed, and that is it. What happens otherwise is, luckily, life’s business – not mine. (There isn’t really such a division, but it is helpful to see it that way here.)

And finally, using the word “demon” sometimes seems a little too dramatic. I find it helpful to use the word disturber instead, and work with it the same way. Find where in the body I experience it. How it moves. What sounds it makes. What it looks like. And so on.

Lying-down meditation

 

I am familiar with sitting meditation from my time at the Zen center, and also before and after that time. I have done quite a bit of moving meditation through tai chi and chi gong, and now Breema. And recently, it has been lying down meditation that has drawn my interest. It seems that each one has its own benefits.

Sitting practice, in my experience, is great for finding a very stable attention, shifting into samadhi, and for very detailed and specific inquiries into the dynamics of what is happening. I also find that it is easy for me to be a little tense and sometimes try a little too hard.

Moving meditation is great for shifting into Big Mind and see everything happening as Big Mind itself. The movements of this body and whatever is happening in the wider world happens within and as Big Mind. In some ways, the more this body moves, the easier it is to find myself as that which everything happens within and as, as that which is is free from, allows and manifests as movement.

Moving meditation is also helpful since it can be done any time in daily life, for instance while walking, making food, showering, typing at the computer or whatever else I am doing.

Lying-down meditation is great for letting go of effort and trying. I can find a deeply relaxed and stable attention. I can do inquiries in a relaxed way. And I can find myself as what I am in a relaxed way. The drawback is, of course, that it is easy to drift off into sleep, but I can notice even that as happening within and as what I am, and pick up where I left when I shift out of sleep again.

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Feeding Your Demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict

 

I have read about half of Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict by Tsultrim Allione, and am as impressed by the book as I am by the practice. It is beautifully written, simple, insightful and always very practical and helpful.

The five steps of the practice itself is outlined at her Kapala Training website.

How would I feel?

 

In the feeding your demons practice, we identify and take the role of a demon, find what we – as the demon – need (usually love, acceptance, safety), ask ourselves how we would feel after getting what we need, and then feed a nectar composed of just that to the demon.

This is something that can be done throughout daily life as well, in a shortened form.

I notice a craving, compulsion or desire and then ask myself how would I feel if I got that?

Then, is it true it is not already here? (An invitation to notice it here now, as is.)

And finally, if it seems helpful, I can give it to myself. I can give myself that love, acceptance, safety or whatever else it is the desire sought.

Following this I am free to seek it out – or not – in the outer world as well, although now less from a compulsive place and more from a relaxed clarity.