The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.– Rabindranath Tagore
You don’t have to be someone to be of infinite worth. To be bestows infinite worth upon you.– Adyashanti, The Inherent Meaning in Being
This can sound like a well-meaning platitude, but it’s far more than that.
One the one hand, the idea of value comes from culture and what’s seen as having value varies between culture and over time. Assigning value to something has a function, and it can be helpful to examine how we assign value and if there is another way of doing it that makes more sense.
At an ordinary human level, we all agree that babies have infinite worth. Growing up, many of us are taught that our value comes through our actions and that erodes our sense of having infinite value just by being. This is a means of control and it creates a lot of suffering and judgment of ourselves and others.
So why not recover the sense of infinite value of each human being? This can easily co-exist with accountability, responsibility for our own life and so on. Seeing the infinite value in each of us, independent of personal characteristics and roles, provides a sense of basic worth that allows for a more healthy life and a more healthy society.
In our western culture, we see nature as a commodity and having value from the value it has to us – and this is often limited to short-term commercial value. This leads to destruction of ecosystems, eradication of whole species, and systematic abuse of non-human beings. Not valuing all life threatens all life, including our own.
Why wouldn’t all life have infinite value? Why not see all life as having infinite value? This would lead to a more careful approach in how we relate to and make use of nature and non-human beings. We would be far more concerned about their welfare. It doesn’t mean we can’t eat or live or grow food but we would do it with more concern for the lives we are impacting and we would look for ways to make up for it and support a more thriving Earth.
When we take a big picture and deep time view, we see that the universe has unfolded from energy to matter to suns to solar systems to this living planet and all that’s currently part of this living planet. We are all expressions of the universe exploring itself and bringing itself into consciousness. We are all expressions of this living planet and ways for it to bring itself into consciousness. As this, we and all life has infinite worth just by being as we are.
In a more immediate sense, independent of assigning value to anything, we are capacity for the world as it appears to us. This human self, all other beings, and everything happens within and as what I am. In this oneness, ideas of value is not needed in order to live with reverence for life.
How can we explore this in our own life? How can we deepen into this and live more from it? In a sense, this whole website is about just this. We can identify and examine beliefs. We can explore how our minds creates its experience of value and lack of it, and see through it. We can engage in Practices to Reconnect. We can use heart-centered practices to find a more loving relationship with ourselves, others, and all life. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can discover that this human self, others, and the world happen within and as what we are. And we can explore how to live from that in our life.
To oppose something is to maintain it. … You must go somewhere else; you must have another goal; then you walk a different road– Ursula Le Guin
This is true in ourselves and in the world.
Sometimes, it is important to oppose something in order to avoid harm. These are what Joanna Macy call holding actions. But in general, if all we do is opposing something, it tends to be maintained and even grow stronger.
It’s important to create, envision, and live what we want to see more of – in our own life and in the world.
And it’s also important to question our more deeply held assumptions and find another way of looking at ourselves and the world that’s more aligned with reality and more life centered.
It also helps to understand where the problems come from and how they are created. In our world, it’s often systemic problems, world views, and trauma. And behind that, fear. In ourselves, it’s often the same.
Happiness may look entirely different from the way you imagine it.– Byron Katie
We have ideas of how a happy life looks. We have ideas about what life situations we need to be happy. Perhaps it’s health, money, a loving relationship or something else.
And yet, life may surprise us.
We may find ourselves in a very different situation than we imagined and find happiness there. We may live in a different place than we imagined. Do different type of work. Be in a relationship with someone we didn’t imagine. And find that we are very happy in that situation.
We may also find that happiness is less dependent on specific circumstances than we thoughts. We may find ourselves with an illness and perhaps without money or a partner. And still find happiness. We may find happiness in situations we imagined would be terrible and didn’t want at all, and perhaps still wish were different.
How is that possible? It’s possible through questioning our stressful beliefs about what is and what should be. Through questioning our stressful beliefs about anything in our life. And through questioning our most basic assumptions about ourselves and life.
Sometimes, this questioning is a natural and organic process and happens as part of our life. Sometimes, we can fuel it a bit through more structured inquiry and perhaps with the assistance of others who know the process.
The Work of Byron Katie is one way to do this.
If you want to improve the world, start by making people feel safer.– Stephen Porges
What happens when we feel unsafe? We go into survival mode and tend to think mostly about ourselves or a small circle of family and friends. It may fuel us vs. them thinking, blame, radicalism, and even violence.
What happens when people feel safer? In general, we relax, can function better, and have a larger circle of concern. It tends to encourage we-thinking and a bigger picture view.
What are some things that will help people feel safer?
What can we do at a social level? A good start may be universal healthcare. Good social safety nets. Trauma informed teachers, doctors, and parents. Reduced economic inequality. Reduced poverty.
And what can we do as individuals, for ourselves? A good start is to explore how to be a safe place for the parts of us that don’t feel safe. Give love to the parts of us that feel unloved or unlovable. Listen to the parts that has not been listened to. Be there for the parts we have run away from.
You are the recipient, not the creator, of experiences– Adyashanti
Everything happens on its own. And then there may be a thought saying “I did that”.
This is an ongoing exploration and noticing for me.
Within stories, I see that everything – including feelings, thoughts, actions, identification and so on – has innumerable causes. I take one thing, find a cause, and can find one more, and one more. Everything that happens is a local expression of movements within the whole. Everything that happens has causes stretching back to the beginning of the universe (if there is one) and to the greatest extent of the universe.
In immediacy, I notice a thought happen, an emotion happen, an action happen. They happen within and as awakeness. (The normal awakeness everyone experiences.) They happen on their own.
I may also notice a thought saying “I did it” and a sensation that seems connected with it. And that happens on its own too.
I can pay attention to one sense field at a time – physical sensations, sounds, sight, smell, taste, thought – and notice how things appear in each one. They appear and vanish without a trace. (Apart from perhaps reflected in thought.)
With Living Inquiries (based on traditional Buddhist inquiry), I explore identities – the thinker, the doer, the observer, and so on.
With The Work of Byron Katie, I can explore thoughts – I did that, I am the one creating this feeling, I am the one creating this thought, I am the one who created this action.
I can also explore the thought that “everything happens on its own” and see what I find. Is there something in me that want to hold onto the thought? Rehearse it? That get more attached to the thought than noticing what it refers to? Does that thought too happen on its own?
Our minds aren’t conditioned to recognize the clearly obvious.– Adyashanti
What are some of the obvious things Adya may refer to?
One is what we are. We are that which our experience happens within and as. It’s obvious. It can’t be any other way. It’s part of our daily experience. And yet, for most of us, our mind doesn’t recognize it. Or if it does, it dismisses it as not important – as something weird, outside of how society tells us it is, and perhaps not practical. (It may be a bit weird and outside of how others tells us it is, but recognizing it and taking it seriously can profoundly transform our perception, life, and how we relate to ourselves and the world.)
Another obvious thing is that our thoughts don’t tell us the truth. They are questions about the world. They may be practically useful as a guide. And yet, they do not hold any final or absolute or complete truth. Reality is always different from and more than our thoughts about it. And that goes for our “big” thoughts about who we are and how the world is (“I am ultimately a human being in the world”), and the “smaller” thoughts in daily life (“she doesn’t like me”, “he shouldn’t have cut me off in traffic”).
Enlightenment is being able to simultaneously experience unity and individuality without experiencing any conflict.– Adyashanti, Mt. Madonna Silent Retreat February 2019
Yes, this fits my experience as well. I notice I balk a bit at the word enlightenment because of it’s baggage and the associations some have about it. But it is appropriate in some situations and it’s also appropriate in that there is a sense of illumination – metaphorically because reality is illuminated and literally since the energy system tends to light up within an awakening and experiencing light may be a side-effect of the initial awakening.
And there are many ways to talk about the unity and individuality. When oneness notices itself, it also notices itself as this unique individual human being functioning in the world. It notices this human self as local and temporary part of itself.
When there is no experience of conflict between oneness and who we are, it’s because there are – generally speaking – no identifications as one or the other preventing the mind from fluidly noticing itself as both and both as one. It may be that there actually are identifications here but they are more in the background or dormant, or it may be that they have been seen through or have worn out.
I suspect I know why Adya felt he needed to address this topic. Sometimes, we can experience a conflict between the two, between who and what we are. And that always comes from identifications as one or the other, and ideas that they are somehow separate or in conflict with each other. That too can be part of the process. The wrestling helps us get more familiar with the dynamics of being both oneness and a human being in the world.
Although I have rarely experienced a conflict between what and who I am, I have gone through a few phases in this dynamic of being oneness and a human being in the world.
In the initial awakening phase – which didn’t feel like an awakening at all – “I” was absorbed into a witness. I was fifteen and what I experienced myself to be was absorbed into witnessing – witnessing all content of experience equally, whether it was the outer world or this human self or what happened within this human self. This happened without any forewarning and felt like something had gone terribly wrong. I visited several doctors and specialists to try to figure out what was going on. The whole world, including this human self, felt very far away.
After a year in this weird state, a more full blown oneness revealed itself. Again, it happened suddenly and without any forewarning. All without exception was revealed as God. This human self was revealed as a local part of God and any identification as this human self was revealed as the play of God. The ultimate and real identity of everything, including this guy here, was the divine. Everything is part of the oneness.
There was a long honeymoon phase, followed by a phase where my attention went mostly to sustainability and social justice work (informed by oneness), and the last several years have been a process of deeper work for aligning more parts of my human self more consciously with the oneness. Parts of me that were still living in separation consciousness have come to the surface so they can realign, wake up in their own way, and be included in my human self and the oneness more consciously.
When I look back, I see that each of these phases have lasted about a decade. I sometimes feel my process is very slow, but it’s all not only guided by the divine, but it is part of the divine, and it is the divine.
Note: It’s sometimes fun to write about something from different angles. When I say “it’s guided by the divine” it’s the divine as second or third person. When I say it’s “part of the divine” it’s closer to oneness and it highlights that the divine is far more than this speck of a human self. And when I say it IS the divine, that’s accurate as well. Each one gives a slightly different angle to it and together they create a more rich and full image.
As soon as you move out of truth, you feel it, kinesthetically; you feel it in your body when you’ve disconnected.– Adyashanti, Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic, chapter 6
One of my current favorite ways of exploring this is the “I can if I want” test.
I can […] if I want, and I want. I can […[ if I want, and I don’t want.
Say each one to yourself and see how your body responds. Does it tense? Does it relax? (Tension is a “no”, relaxation and relief is a “yes”.)
In the last few days, I have had a slight dilemma on whether to use antibiotics or not. I try to avoid it as much as possible, but I have had an infection over several days that didn’t get better. So I said to myself I can take antibiotics if I want, and I want and noticed how my body responded, and then checked I can take antibiotics if I want, and I don’t want. The first one felt like a relief in my body, and the second tension and stress. So I went with my body, got the antibiotics, took it and it felt like a relief. (Of course, my doctor’s advice is primary in this case, but he had left it open for me to decide so I did.)
This is obviously a much bigger topic. It’s not just about everyday or life decisions. It’s also – and perhaps mainly – about the stories we tell ourselves and how we take them. Whenever we tell ourselves an untrue story – a stressful or painful story – our body tenses up. And when we find what’s truer for us, our body relaxes and it’s a relief.
And yes, I know that can sound a bit naive. Most of us would say that some true stories are stressful. And yet, this is what I have found over and over through – for instance – inquiry. The more true stories and interpretations feel like a relief. Something falls into place. My body can relax.
I have written a lot about this in other articles so I won’t go into it much here. But I’ll say that one relief-giving insight is that no story reflects an absolute or final truth. I can hold all of them lightly, as a question. And there is always some validity in the reversals of any story, and seeing that is also a relief. And we have to discover this for ourselves, by examining one specific stressful story at a time.
Why does the body respond in this way? My take on it is that somewhere, we always know when we tell ourselves something not (entirely) true, and when we take it as more true and final than it is, and that is reflected in the body. Our mind tenses up, and so does the body.
We know what we tell ourselves is not true in the way we tell it to ourselves, the seamless whole of our mind-body tenses up, and that’s a sign we are telling an untruth to ourselves and an invitation to find what’s genuinely more true for us.
Gertrude Stein found late in life that she had read every great book, or nearly every one. She began to fear there was nothing left for her to read. Then a neighbor of hers in the French countryside died, and she bought his library, which contained many mediocre books. Stein discovered that she enjoyed reading bad books as much as she did masterpieces.Sparrow in My Book Life, Sun Magazine May 2019
I suspect this is a common part of maturing. It certainly has been for me (although I don’t consider myself that mature!). I was much more concerned with high and low, good and bad and so on in my teens and twenties. Now, I am happy to find enjoyment, insights, and value anywhere – whatever labels people may give it.
It’s a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.Aldous Huxley
I think this is what it boils down to for most of us, perhaps especially as we get more life experience. Sometimes, the question is how, and that’s really what this website is about.
You think you want your plan. You don’t. You want what is. – Byron KatieByron Katie, saying it as it is since 1986. Why do we want what is? One answer is that we get so much out of what is, often more than we would get out what we think we want, and what specifically that is depends on the specific situation. The more basic answer is because we are what everything is. Our identity is the same. Read More
When you free yourself, you free us.
– Byron Katie
In the context of The Work of Byron Katie: When I free myself from a particular belief, I free others from me perceiving, acting, and living from that belief.
Belief here means taking a story, any story, as solid, true, and final. When we do so, we inevitably create suffering for ourselves, and we tend to become a nuisance to others. Most of us have learned – from parents and culture – to do so, and undoing it takes time. It’s an ongoing process, one belief at a time.
Also, these beliefs operate at different levels. Some, we may take as real and final in our conscious view and we may not be motivated to question them until life clearly and painfully pushes up against these beliefs. In other cases, our conscious view may be quite different from a deeper belief that still color our perceptions, actions, and life. And there are combinations of these. Read More
Evil is – psychologically speaking – terribly real. It is a fatal mistake to diminish its power and reality even merely metaphysically.
– Carl Jung, Letters Vol. I, Pages 539-541.
Evil is real, psychologically speaking. It’s what happens when we react to our own pain by lashing out instead of meeting it with kindness, patience, and curiosity. That lashing out can be very damaging to ourselves and those around us. And when it’s acted on by political leaders, it can harm a whole society. Trump is an unfortunate current example of this. I assume he is reacting to his own pain in the way he behaves, and those who enthusiastically support him do the same. Adyashanti talks about this in the discussion on Judas in Resurrecting Jesus.
Note: I am not sure why three pages are listed in the Jung reference, and the second part of the quote does seem a bit mangled.
One should be willing to make mistakes cheerfully. The most perfect analysis cannot prevent error.
– Carl Jung, 1925 Seminar, Page 13
That’s certainly been my experience. And one way to find more peace with this, and perhaps even clarity, is to examine my fears and beliefs about my own mistakes.
This quote also reminds me that however much I admire and love Jung “should” statements still seem a bit old-fashioned and less helpful. I tend to prefer cause and effect statements, perhaps with clear and practical pointers. Even if they are brief.