It works only if you apply it

 

It works only if you apply it, and it doesn’t work if you do not apply it.

That’s how it is with most things. It’s pretty obvious.

If I have a shovel, it’s only useful if I put it to use.

It’s the same with any tool, including psychological and/or spiritual tools.

These are tools too. They only work to the extent we apply them.

Still, I notice clients sometimes appearing committed to change, and at the same time unwilling to actually put the tools to use in their life. There may be several reasons for this. Since I sometimes am that person, I’ll see what comes up for me:

Insufficient trust. Trust that the tool works. Trust that it will work for me. Trust that I can heal. Trust that it’s OK for me to heal. Lack of experience in going deep in one area, and see that the pain dissolves. This can also be a lack of trust in the facilitator, which may be justified or not.

Not having reached rock bottom in one area of life, sufficiently to see that what I am familiar with doesn’t work and realizing that something needs to change.

Insufficient skills. Lack of understanding and skill in how to apply it. (If I am the facilitator, then it’s my responsibility to help them learn this.)

Unexamined fears. Unexamined fear of facing scary sensations, images, and words. Unexamined fears of what it will mean to live without old hangups and painful stories and identities. Unexamined fears about not doing it right or well enough, or being judged.

Trust = pull. Rock bottom = push. Skills = ability. Fears = block.

With Natural Rest, Living Inquiries and TRE I would say there is a good chance they will work to the extent they are applied diligently over time and become a natural and mostly effortless part of daily life.

Addictions and reversals

 

This is a very simple tool for working with addictive tendencies of any sort, and it is found in Buddhism, modern psychology, and probably many other traditions.

When we are addicted to something, it is easy to only think about the desirable aspects of the experience. So why not turn it around?

Which aspects of what I am addicted to, and the experience it gives me, are neutral to me, or something I don’t like so much?

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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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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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Reversals

 

All of this may be obvious in general and for the stories we clearly recognize as stories, guides, pointers. Where it gets interesting and juicy is for the stories we still take as true, the ones creating friction and stress, the ones attention naturally is drawn to, the views we identify with, the basic assumptions we haven’t questions and explored yet.

Any story has a number of reversals, and each of these reversals also has validity. We can find specific examples of where each of those reversals are genuinely true for us. This is a reminder that no story has absolute validity, and it is also an invitation to explore ways to hold the limited validity of all reversals of any particular story. And then find the genuine validity in the reversals of those more embracing stories.

Any story also hinges on a number of assumptions, and each of these has valid reversals. The assumptions usually include the basic ones of space, time, objects, beings, a me, doer, observer and that these exists as real, separate, out there etc.

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Stories, clarity and Ground

 

Three layers…

First, the layer of stories, of whatever happens in the mental field helping us orient and function in the world.

The, a layer of inherent wisdom and intelligence, which uses experience, stories, intuition, kindness and so on in finding ways to act in the world.

And finally, Ground, the groundless Ground it is all happening as.

Whatever happens in the layer of stories can be taken as true or not. When it is taken as true, it tends to obscure take attention away from the layer of wisdom. We act on beliefs and fears, rather than the guidance from the layer of wisdom. And when stories are taken as tools only, there is clarity for the layer of wisdom to take over and use whatever it has available to it to set a course of action.

In the first case, there is often a sense of something being off, struggle and working – at least slightly – against situations. In the second case, there is often a sense of clarity, guidance and navigating and working with situations.

As with so much else, this can sound quite abstract and theoretical, a nice thought. But it can also be very much alive.

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Lies and truth

 

It is easy to misunderstand what is meant by lies and truth in the previous post.

A lie is what happens when I take a story, any story, as true. And I live a lie then, because I cannot help not acting on what I take as true.

So what is a truth?

It is the action that seems most clear and kind to me in any particular situation, when stories are recognized as stories only. Stories are recognized as having no truth to them, only practical value, and I chose one to act on because it seems the most clear and kind thing to do in the particular situation. It is very simple, but it takes some inquiry to get there. And there is always further to go – in inquiring into stories and finding more clear and kind ways of acting in the world.

Even when I chose a story to act on, and it seems the clear and kind thing to do in a particular situation, that too is a question.

And there is no reason why those actions shouldn’t look clear and kind in a conventional sense as well, in almost all cases. If they don’t, it is an invitation to look again, to see if there is another story there I take as true, making me act in ways that do not appear clear and kind to others.

How it appears to others is a good test, not because they are not caught up in stories as well because they are, but because sanity looks sane even in a conventional sense.

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Stories as true and not

 

In what ways are stories true and not? 

When we call them true, we often mean that…

  • Others agree. They match conventional views and consensus reality.
  • They match the data. Our stories about the data, that is. (Our stories of how the data fits together matches our stories of the data.) 
  • They seem to work. When we use them as guidelines for how to function in the world, they seem to work in a practical sense. At least well enough for our purposes, and for now. 
And here are some ways they are not true, first in a conventional sense…
  • Stories always come from limited experience
    • Our experience, individually and collective, is always limited, no matter how vast it seems in a conventional sense. We are always only scratching the surface. 
    • Our experience is finite within the infinite. 
  • The map is not the terrain
    • Maps are selective. We chose what is included and what is not. 
    • There is a difference in kind. Stories are mental field creations, and what they referer to is (apparently) not. 
  • Stories are always interpretations within a worldview
    • Other interpretations are possible within the same worldview. 
    • Other worldviews are possible, producing quite different interpretations. 
    • These interpretations can fit the data equally well, and be equally functional in a practical sense. 
  • Outside of what I can imagine
    • I have no idea what is beyond my limited experience. If I do, it is most likely wrong. 
    • Many of the interpretations within familiar worldviews are unfamiliar to me. 
    • Most interpretations within other worldviews are far outside of what I can imagine in advance.
    • There are innumerable interpretations and worldviews unfamiliar to me that fit the data equally well or better than anything I am familiar with, and may work equally well or better as practical guidelines. 
  • All happens within the mental field
    • Maps are mental field creations about other mental field creations. Interpretations (maps) of interpretations (data). And these interpretations happens within other interpretations (worldviews). 
  • Words split and what they refer to is not split
    • Reality is untouched by, beyond and includes all polarities.
    • Words, by their nature, split and exclude. (That is their job, and it is essential that they do so, but it is also good to notice.)

Your Money *and* Your Life

 

Several years ago, my wife and I decided to form a group using the Your Money or Your Life program. We met monthly for nine times, applying one of the nine steps each time, and sharing our experiences with each other.

It is another example of a well designed program that uses awareness as its main emphasis.

Here is the essence of it: Track your income and expenses. Evaluate whether the income/expenses in each category (which you set yourself) was worth the life energy spent, whether it is aligned with your values (for us, health, social justice, sustainability), and whether you would spend more or less in each category if you didn’t have to work for a living (frees your mind to look at it more clearly).

By bringing the money/life energy flow into awareness each month, it brings about a natural change in daily life. I remember how much money went into coffee shop bagels last month, and decide to eat before leaving the house. I see a book I would like to read in a bookstore, and decide to get it from the library instead. I notice that I can easily get just about all my clothes second hand, so continue doing that. I want to buy organic and local food as much as possible, so go to stores that makes it easy to do so. I realize how right it feels to donate money or support a young monk, so decide to continue doing that or do more of it.

And through that process, I notice more clearly when I try to meet certain needs through consumption when those needs are better met other ways. My needs may be for comfort, self esteem or approval, and I can find non-consumption ways to meet those, for instance in rewarding relationships with others.

The program helped us reduce expenses, align our buying habits with our values, and spend our time, energy and money in ways that are more meaningful and rewarding to us.

And it is the last two that are maybe most important. The sense that we live with a little more integrity. A little more aligned with how we would like to live. Moving in the direction of living more sustainably and with future generations in mind. And spending our time in ways that are more rewarding. We have learned to live well within our means, and find ways to meet our needs in ways that costs little or no money.

Of course, this is all directional, and it all changes with changing situations. Which is why we decided to take up this program again as a refresher, and also as a way to introduce more people to it.

And yes, it is called Your Money *or* Your Life, but really, it is Your Money *and* Your Life. You get to keep both. (But it is neccesary to do all nine steps of the program, and stay with it for a while, for the effects to take place. It is not sufficient to just read the book or do parts of it.)

What am I koan & tools for exploration

 

When I was at the zen center, my teacher gave me the “what am I” koan. I worked on it the usual Rinzai way, repeating it to myself with great intensity and otherwise not knowing what to do with it. It does fuel motivation and intention, which is very helpful, but it was also an exercise in spinning my wheels.

Along with giving someone the “what am I” koan, it is helpful to offer a few tools and pointers on how to use them…! After all, that is how we do it in any other area of life.

If I ask someone to dig a ditch, I show him or her the tool shed and where the shovels are, I’ll point out where the ditch is going, and if needed, I’ll give enough instructions to get the person started.

In the case of the “what am I” koan, there are – at least – two focal points for inquiry.

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Working with

 

In its essence it is simple: Whenever I am caught up in a belief, I often work against myself, life and situations. And whenever there is clarity, I tend to work with myself, life and situations.

And it is – as usual – infinitely complex in how it is expressed, including how it is expressed in different approaches to various areas of life.

Here is a brief list of approaches and tools I have found – and use regularly – that embody working with life: Feldenkrais, Breema, yoga (depending on instructor/tradition), tai chi, chi gong, The Work, Big Mind process, Clicker Training, and Total Immersion Swimming.

I keep noticing the shifts between beliefs/working against and clarity/working with throughout daily life. And this has also come up for me through swimming. Whenever I take up something new, I seek out approaches that work with life, and in swimming, a great approach is Total Immersion swimming.

It helps me swim the way I always knew I could, but haven’t been able to before now: Effortlessly. With ease. Simplicity. Elegance. Efficiency. As a sea mammal. (It is a process, as anything else, and I am just in the beginning of it, but there are already surprisingly quick and major shifts in that direction.)

It was the same with Breema. I knew there had to be a body-work approach out there that works with life rather than against it (which most seem to do), and I had actually given up looking when I found Breema – with its emphasis on no extra, body comfortable, doing it for oneself, giver and receiver both receiving, inviting in healing and maturing at all levels (physical, energetic, emotional, mind) and inviting in awakening as well.

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Flavors of tools not working

 

It seems that at some point, most people find that their usual psychological/spiritual tools don’t work anymore. 

And it seems – from my own very limited experience – that this can happen in at least two ways. 

One is when I engage with the tools, and there is no shift. It is life itself telling me that these tools have limited use, which is good to know. More importantly, it is an invitation to notice what I really am – already free from any states and shifts. That which any state and shift and any content of awareness happens within and as. 

The other is when whatever shift happens is seen clearly as not getting me what I really want. It may give a shift into a sense of ease, OKness with what is, a quiet joy and so on, but that is not what I really want. It is not satisfying anymore. Nothing is satisfying, apart from noticing myself as that which any shift and experience happens within and as. 

In this case, there is usually also a noticing of the whole dynamic of being caught up in wanting as coming from not noticing what I really am. There is an identification with wanting content of awareness to be different, and even if it this content shifts, it still doesn’t quite do it. There is still a sense of an I with an Other, a separate I within form, a sense of separation, of precariousness, of something missing.

And the very activity of engaging with wanting to change content of experience, for the sake of trying to find what I am missing, is a distraction from noticing what I already and really am. 

A closer look at meaning

 

This follows from the previous post…

  • Any sense of meaning happens within content of experience, within the world of form.
    • It is a guest, as anything else within content of experience. It lives its own life, coming and going on its own schedule.
  • Any sense of meaning comes from a story.
    • The basic story is that of an I with an Other, and this gives rise to the dynamic of experiencing meaning in (a) supporting and enhancing this separate I and those within its circle of us, and (b) for this separate I to find a sense of connection with itself and the wider world.
    • More generally, whenever I believe a story, there is a sense of meaning when I work at reducing the gap between my stories of what is and what should be.
  • What I really am, is always and already free from any meaning-inducing story and any sense of meaning.
    • I can explore this in several different ways, for instance through the sense fields. How does this sense of meaning, and the meaning-inducing story, appear in the sense fields? Where do I find it?
    • What I am, that which content of experience happens within, to and as, is free from meaning, yet fully allow any sense of meaning.
  • Any story is a guide for our human self for functioning in the world, and – possibly – noticing what it really is.
    • It gives a sense of direction and purpose.
    • It guides action in the world, or inquiry into what we really are.
  • Any meaning-inducing story is more or less appropriate to our human self and its situation.
    • First, does it actually give rise to a sense of meaning? Does it work?
    • And then, what practical consequences does it have for our human self, in the world and in its exploration to discover what it really is? Does it seem helpful?

Forms of prayer

 

Any tool is fair game, as long as it works and seems appropriate to the situation.

Many nondual folks are familiar with contemplative prayer, visualizations, heart prayer, Christ meditation and similar forms on prayer where a receptivity to and invitation in of the soul level is the main emphasis, possibly shifting into realized selflessness in glimpses or more thoroughly.

The more common forms of prayer, those where we ask about something specific, also have their place. They are a part of any comprehensive toolbox. They can be used as in Buddhism, to ask for awakening for the benefit of all beings. This sets a clear intention, which in turn helps reorganize and align our human self with this path and may even have effects beyond that.

And of course, prayers for the health and well-being of ourselves and others have their place. Again, they help realign ourselves with that intention. And it opens our heart. It opens for a sincere well-wishing for ourselves and others. And both of those spill over into our actions.

As with visualizations, these forms of prayer may (or may not) have an effect beyond how it works on us, in how the world shows up on its own.

In either case, the effect it has on us is more than enough reason to sometimes engage in them.

They set a clear intention for ourselves. They help realign us with that intention. They open our heart. They open for sincere well-wishing for ourselves and others.

And sometimes, especially in extreme situations, they may be comforting if that is what we need.

(And if not, if we are invited into being wholeheartedly with what is coming up and we use these forms of prayers as an escape, they – and anything else we do to try to escape – are likely to not work.)

Speaking up for (really) radical relativism

 

Some of the integral folks like to talk about the shortcomings of “radical relativism”.

But radical relativism, if it is radical enough, is the freedom to use stories in any way that seems appropriate. It is the freedom in seeing the limited value in any story and perspective, and then use whatever one(s) seem most appropriate in any given situation.

If it is a truly radical relativism, we see stories as just tools of practical value, so choose stories with more explanation power, that are more compassionate, more effective in getting things done, more elegant, and so on, and according to what is available to us based on our current insights, experiences and skills.

And the way we hold these stories also depend on the situation. Sometimes, it may seem more appropriate to hold them lightly, freely admitting that they are just tools and that other tools may be more useful in the situation.

Other times, and especially if peoples health and well-being is at stake, and we are up against folks who are in the grips of reactivity and blind beliefs, it may be more appropriate to hold our stories far more strongly. To do what is needed to protect individuals and society, meeting people in our actions and language where they are.

When we are clear, we are anything but door mats. And radical relativism can easily take a strong stand in the world, when needed.

The problem with making “radical relativism” sound suspicious and slightly sinister, as some of the strangely “anti green” folks in the integral world do, is that it may prevent us from going far enough. It may hold people back from going far enough through relativism into the truly radical relativism.

And then we just remain stuck in beliefs. We hold onto a story because we actually think it is true.

And that is just blindness.

Two ways of relating to stories

 

I took the time to read some integral blogs today, and found some of the usual comments about “radical relativism” which I am sure many would apply to The Work. It helped me differentiate something that is pretty obvious, and we all know, but it may be good to clarify it for ourselves as well.

There are two ways of relating to and working with stories.

One is inquiry, such as The Work. I find a belief, or actually any story would do, and investigate it using the four questions and the turnarounds. And in the turnarounds, I find the genuine truth for me in each of them, with at least three examples of how it is already true in my own life. These stories then are equal to me, in that I can find the truth in each of them, I see they are all stories, and I also notice the inherent neutrality of the situation behind the stories.

And all of this has one purpose: to invite in a release of identification with any of these stories. To see that each of them are tools of practical value only. To not get blindly caught up in them and the drama of right and wrong and identification with them.

The other way of relating to stories is as tools. Tools of practical value for this human self, living its life in the world. Here, of course, the stories are not equal. Although there is some truth in each one, and each one can be useful in a particular situation, some have more explanation power than others, some are more compassionate than others, some are more elegant and gets the work done more effectively than others. Which one is a better tool depends on the situation, and also on where I am and what is available to me in terms of insights, experience, skills and so on.

Together, there is a freedom from identification with stories, which helps us live our lives with more clarity, kindness and insight. And there is a freedom in which stories we use, for practical purposes.

In the first case, there is an equality of the stories. It has to be, if we are honest with ourselves, and if we are to invite identification to release out of the stories.

In the second case, there is clearly not an equality among the stories. Some are more appropriate than others in any given situation, and we choose the best we can based on what tools  are available to us currently.

As I said initially, this is pretty obvious. Anyone who has done The Work or similar inquiries knows this at some level, even if they have not clarified it for themselves in this way. Using stories as tools of practical value, whether we identify with them or not, is what we naturally do. We cannot help it.

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Why the law of attraction works

 

To me, it seems pretty obvious that the law of attraction works… at least as defined by (a) visualizing something I want, and (b) it arriving some of the time, significantly more often than if I didn’t visualize. I may have misgivings of how it is sometimes used (to get more stuff our beliefs tell us will make us happy, or to blame the victim), and some of the reasons given for how it works, but that doesn’t change the fact that it (sometimes) works.

At the very least, it works for the reasons outlined in all the research on self-fulfilling prophesies… In my own experience, it seems to work for some of the following reasons:

  • It clarifies my intentions at many levels. When I visualizing something, many levels of my being naturally align with it, including my views, emotions and behavior (at least to some extent, depending on how often and with how much details and felt-sense I visualize it).
  • For this reason, I am more alert to opportunities when they arise, and I am ready to act on them. I look for these opportunities, and I am ready and prepared to act (much like a basketball player visualizing getting the ball through the hoop, and then being more likely to do so on the court).
  • I also am more likely to place myself in situations where these opportunities are more likely to arise, and even to create them myself.
  • In general, I am more optimistic about having what I visualize in my life, which allows, invites and enhances the effects listed above.

As with anything else we do to bring something about, it is an invitation. The guest may or may not come, if it arrives it does so on its own schedule, inherent in its arrival is its leaving, and the guest(s) that arrive may brings some surprises as well.

To me, it seems lame (to put it crudely, and with some shadow stuff included) to blanketly state that the law of attraction doesn’t work, is a scam, and so on. It is fine to say it doesn’t get people the lasting happiness they seek (because it doesn’t), and it is fine to say that the reasons given for why it works are bogus (which they often seem to be), but to say that the law of attraction itself doesn’t work is as bogus as anything they try to put down.

For one, it discounts a good deal of solid research on self-fulfilling prophecies. It also, maybe less importantly since it is anecdotal evidence, discounts the experiences of innumerable folks who find it a useful, practical and effective tool.

Views and their reversals and shadows

 

I realize this could have been more clear in some of the previous posts…

Views all have their reversals, and they all have limited validity and a grain of truth in them. They are all relative truths.

When a view is believed in, taken as an absolute truth, that is when it creates shadows. I am this, not that. This is true, not that. I am right, you are not.

And a view is any abstraction. Any thought, image, identity, ideology, framework, map. Anything that helps us navigate in the world. Anything that is really a question, but can be taken as a statement. Anything that, when believed in, we use to box ourselves and Existence in with, saying that it is this way, and not that. Anything that, when believed in, makes it appear that we know how things not only are, but how they should be.

Seen as just innocent questions and relative truths, they are immensely useful in helping us orient and navigate in the world. Taken as statements and absolutes, we try to box the world in, and the world comes knocking on the door wanting to be let in. Which can be quite stressful if we don’t allow it to. It is a big world, and our box is small.