Fixed Opinions

I’ve been thinking a lot about certainty vs uncertainty. It seems most of us have fixed opinions about most things and spend a lot of time further entrenching these positions. The most glaring example of this is any kind of political discussion. The extremity of this struck me while reading a facebook thread on Bernie Sanders. There was no actual discussion happening. Each side was just trying to murder the other using information bullets. Like a game of dodgeball.

Dodgeball

I’ve observed this in myself in the imaginary dialogues I have with people. My favorite is to argue with a strict materialist atheist. I spend a lot of time thinking up ways to justify my position against them in an irrefutable manner.

This sets the stage for an Aha moment I had last night while reading an interesting book about how to shift around our mindset. The passage I was reading was a thought exercise of adopting a rotating set of belief systems. Like for a month you strictly believe in monotheism, the next month polytheism, the next month atheism. The goal being to dislodge the fixed patterns we have in our minds and to see the world in a less dualistic manner.

This is so interesting to me and shows me a glimpse into a way of thinking without fixed opinions. The mind becomes like a free-flowing river instead of a stagnant bog. But then it occurred to me that this stagnant bog serves a very specific purpose. It gives the ego something to hold onto. I think it actively encourages us to entrench ourselves into our opinions and spin our wheels in unwinnable arguments. The more we do this the more imagined stability we have for it to cling to. And it doesn’t matter which side of the argument we’re on. The ego could care less about the content of the belief, it’s all about the process of entrenchment.

bog

But imagine for a second what our lives could be like without all this. And not just our opinions about politics, but people as well. What if we didn’t have these rigid opinions about our parents? Spouse? Kids? Dog? What if we allowed these relationships to be a free-flowing experience instead? I feel much more authenticity and enjoyment in this direction.

And I’m not saying the ideal is to go to the extreme of having no fixed opinions, but at least leaning more in that direction. Which means taking a huge step out of the norm because our society is heavily structured for the opposite.

So maybe next time you’re having a political “discussion” just start asking yourself, is this bringing me happiness? How does having this fixed opinion really effect me? Is it absolutely necessary for me to have a strong opinion about this? Why?

And then just for a split second try to imagine what it would be like if you didn’t hold onto that belief so tightly.

fast-flowing-river

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Terminator

Something big shifted for me last night, and it’s always interesting to me to look back and see the mini shifts that have led up to this large one.

1. My friend Deborah helped me set up my home garden a couple weekends ago. This was the first time I had really gotten my hands dirty like this in a couple years. Which seems totally crazy to me, because it’s something I really enjoy. But living in an apartment, it can be difficult to find situations to really get back into the earth.

garden

I think what this signified to me was the willingness and enthusiasm in getting dirty. Everything doesn’t have to be nice and neat all the time. Self-contained in its nice little box, organized, put away. This is not how nature works.

2. I listened to an amazing TED talk about stress. The idea is that stress is only harmful to you if you believe it’s harmful. If you don’t believe this, stress can actually be immensely beneficial. It’s your body’s way of revving itself up to take on a challenge. You can use this alert energy to move forward into whatever situation you find yourself in.

How to Make Stress Your Friend

So it’s this idea that everything that’s happening within us is actually okay. It can all be used to benefit us. I very much put things into “good” and “bad” buckets, and if I deemed something as not serving me my only response was to try to get rid of it. Now I can take a step back and see the larger picture, and how these uncomfortable feelings can actually serve me.

3. I had an amazing day where I saw my value in a huge variety of situations. It started off seeing my value as a friend, then as a business partner, then on a radio show, then as a counselor, and finally as an energy healer. Each situation was totally perfect and by the end of the day I felt so complete. Self-assured. The feeling I had was like being made out of bronze. Negativity had no way of latching onto me. There weren’t any soft pockets of self-doubt that allowed it entrance. There was no sense of lack.

The image of being bronze encapsulated that, but it wasn’t totally right because it seemed too static. But it was close…

So those are some of the experiences that helped set the stage for what happened last night.

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I was meditating before bed like I always do, and I entered this weird mental state. Almost like I was sinking down into my subconscious. My thoughts were kind of drifting around thinking things that make no logical sense. In usual waking consciousness my thoughts are very orderly. But here, it’s almost like they were in a pre-conscious state so it was much rawer, primal.

And this is where I noticed something interesting happen. I could see how I like to keep things very structured in my mind. Organized. Everything has its place, and I like to keep them separate from each other. This keeps things clean and I believe this helps me think clearly.

But this structure started to collapse a little bit. The boundaries between my different thought systems started to break down and overlap. At first I had these old habits come in trying to keep everything in place, but then I was like “Why am I doing this? What’s it going to hurt if these boundaries come down?”. So I continued to observe this happening, watching everything merge together, and it’s like I was pouring all of these separate parts of myself into a big bowl and mixing it all up. There was some fear here that this was me going crazy. How would I think clearly if everything was mixed up like this? How would I access things quickly in this big mess? It’s like I thought this was going to make me stupid.

But then as it continued I realized something amazing was happening. These tools that I had kept separate meant that they were in a largely static state. They were very powerful when I first started using them, but as I continued to grow and evolve they would loose their effectiveness. So I was always on a hunt for new tools to replace them. But with everything mixed together, all of these separate tools were coming together to create something much more powerful than any tool could be by itself. They could all borrow from each other. So in a trying situation I wouldn’t reach in for a specific tool, I would let this pool form into the perfect tool for that situation. It’s a total flip. instead of trying to make a dynamic world fit a static tool, I now had a dynamic tool that could perfectly interface with any situation. It’s not about finding the right tool, it’s about creating it.

The image I got was of the metal Terminator who could change himself into any form. It wasn’t like the old Terminator who had to use static tools (guns), the newer one could create whatever tool needed. He was completely dynamic.

1295431320-Terminator2_liquid_metal

It’s so cool to me to see how the past few weeks have led up to this.

It’s a breaking down of the static, rigid structure.

It’s seeing that every experience, every emotion can enrich this pool of potential. I don’t have to evaluate something on its potential as an isolated entity. Everything I experience adds value when it can interact with everything else. So that fear, anxiety, worry…. I no longer have to push it away. I can pull it in and use it to feed that pool, I can use it to enrich who I am.

And finally it’s that image of being bronzed. Except it’s not static. It’s constantly shifting, evolving, forming itself to be whatever is needed in the current moment. Especially if that’s a lethal killing machine… I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty 😉

Split mind and “minor” miracles

This is a perfect example of how unique and valuable the course is. I originally read this a month ago, and did get quite a lot out of it, but I reread this passage in a study group this morning and had a completely different understanding. That’s why you can never really be done reading this book. After only a month this little idea has changed so much. And this book is like 1,000 pages long…

The course often talks about a split mind. On one side we have the ego, and on the other side we have our spirit. This naturally produces a lot of friction, as these two sides seem to be in direct opposition to each other.

This is a fundamental concept that is talked about in pretty much every spiritual system, and it seems like everyone has a different solution. Some say to eradicate the ego, that ego death is the ultimate goal. Some say you have to retrain the ego. Force it to produce different, loving thoughts. Others say this split is irreconcilable. That it has to be accepted for what it is and lived with.

I’ve tried all of these, but ultimately they did very little to help. They actually probably did more damage than anything else. I realize now that self attack is never a solution, which was my approach to the ego for some time.

The course lays out why trying to resolve this split on your own is a lost cause.

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Chapter 4, section 1 “Right Teaching and Right Learning”, paragraph 2:
“Nothing can reach spirit from the ego, and nothing can reach the ego from spirit. Spirit can neither strengthen the ego nor reduce the conflict within it. Your self and God’s Self are in opposition. They are fundamentally irreconcilable, because spirit cannot perceive in the ego cannot know. They are therefore not in communication and can never be in communication”

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These two minds live in completely different worlds. There is no frame of reference for either one. You can’t teach the ego anything.

The course poses a different solution.

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“If you are willing to renounce the role of guardian of your thought system and open it to me, I will correct it very gently and lead you back to God.”

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Hmmm, that’s a new one. I don’t fight the ego, I don’t try to change it, I let the divine take care of that. Another burden dropped. And this is actually something I’ve been witnessing within myself for years. Where I will start having a very ego-based thought loop start, then all of a sudden I get this completely different thought dropped in that breaks that loop and brings me out of it. It’s like a friend is reminding me “hey, you don’t have to do this, let me lift you up out of here before you get sunk in too deeply”.

Sometimes I go right back into the loop, but most of the time I smile seeing how silly it was. I’d always kind of thought this was dumb luck, or just a random coincidence. But now I see this was the divine reaching down and helping me out. This intervention has happened to me a couple times today, and afterwards there has been immense gratitude and appreciation that wells up within me. It’s such a validation that the divine is connected to me, helping me out in my day to day existence. On the surface it might not appear to be some huge miracle where I am walking on water, or emerging from an accident unscathed, but to me these gentle reminders are just as special.

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“And gratitude to God becomes the way in which He is remembered, for love cannot be far behind a grateful heart and a thankful mind.”

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This is so cool to me. For the course to explain something that is already happening. So I can consciously direct it. Put more energy towards it and see the results.

It feels like so many solutions that other spiritual systems propose are creating something out of nothing. It’s like you’re almost going against your nature. Fighting upstream. Trying to force these changes. I’d much rather just tap into something that’s already happening. Especially something that allows me to relax. Drop burdens and responsibilities instead of adding more. The more I can offload onto the divine the better… I’m tired of fighting upstream…

All aboard!

Every Tuesday evening I hold a course in miracles study group in my apartment. This past Tuesday as we were having a discussion I had a very acute awareness that I was splitting my mind. One part was present, engaged in the conversation, while the other was trying to figure out what each person was thinking. How they were feeling. Analyzing the dynamics between everyone.

After watching this for a bit I realized it was totally unnecessary, and that I had the power control whether this happened. That I could instead pull this back and be fully present with these people. This really allowed me to see everyone. Not as some mental fabrication that I constructed, but who they actually were. They really started coming to life, and I really started to enjoy myself.

Since then I’ve been constantly playing with this idea of a split. Watching myself as it happens. Seeing how it makes me feel, and then bringing it back home. When I am able to bring that split back and consolidate myself, I feel like a different person. A person I have seen flashes of over the years, but it’s never been consistent. And I realized tonight that this split represents a transition. A passing of the torch. A death and a birth.

Growing up, I built my identity based on isolation and video games. It was rigid, nervous, static, “safe”. It was like wearing a thick hoodie that I was hiding within. Trying to make sure no one could see me.

kinoninja3

I feel this identity is very much represented in that split. Whenever I see the split happening, I feel this identity in my body. How uncomfortable it is. How rigid and compulsive it’s thoughts are. How it’s trying to categorize everyone into little boxes so it can “understand” them. So it knows how to behave to evade any real interaction. So it knows how to avoid being seen.

When I pull this split back, there is a new identity taking hold. Instead of this restrictive, rigid winter jacket, it’s more like a lightweight jacket. Something both casual yet a little dressy. Easy to move in. It makes me feel confident, loose, clearheaded, calm.

carey-mulligan-ryan-gosling-drive-feeding-ducks-03

This new identity has been building its strength for a while now, and is ready to take over. It doesn’t need that old structure anymore. It’s still fighting to hold on, but we can all see that it’s over. It’s time has passed. That there is a new life waiting for me now. Joy and happiness to be had right here. Dangling at my fingertips. Things that were completely unknown to me with that old identity, but that I am now ready for. Especially now that I have this slick new jacket that I can really move around in.

It feels now like I’m saying goodbye. Not angrily, or like I’m in a huge rush. The train is slowly pulling out of the station and this old self is still running beside me, waving, trying to catch my attention. I’m smiling and waving back, knowing that the train will soon pull out of the station, pick up speed, and that I’ll never see him again.

I’m not sure where this train is headed, but that doesn’t concern me. It just feels good to be moving again, windows down, wind whipping through my hair, getting to see the countryside and interact with some new people. I’ve made some wonderful friends already, and we’ve barely just left 🙂

trains-round-up_20682_600x450

I’m kind of an asshole…

Chapter 5, section 5 “The Ego’s Use of Guilt”, paragraph 2, sentence 3:

“What is truly blessed is incapable of giving rise to guilt, and must give rise to joy. This makes it invulnerable to the ego because its peace is unassailable.”

I really liked the idea of a peace that is unassailable. Wouldn’t that be nice? Not to have to worry about being attacked all the time? I’ve written about this earlier in regards to schizophrenia, where I have this feeling that someone can annihilate me. Attack me at the deepest level.

So this kind of set the stage for the following:

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“If the ego is the symbol of the separation, it is also the symbol of guilt. Guilt is more than merely not of God. It is the symbol of attack on God.”

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Oh man…. I had never looked at it this way before. As an attack. But I think it’s totally appropriate.

In high school I was on the golf team, and there was a ladder system to where every week you would challenge the person above you to work your way up the ladder. One week during a challenge I was in charge of the scorecard, and towards the end of the round I erased one of my earlier scores and dropped it down by a stroke. The dude caught me and called me out, but I ended up winning anyway so it kind of got dropped.

But this is something that has left a deep wound in me. Whenever my thoughts drift to golf, they undoubtedly hit on this incident and I ruthlessly tear myself up for it. I’m trying to separate myself from that action. That I am not that person. I am something better apart from them. That I will punish myself harsher than anyone else ever would, so that I might be acceptable in their eyes. It’s like “You don’t have to punish me! I’ve already taken care of that 100 times over! You can approve of me now, right?…… Right?”

This all set the stage for the following, which really hit me:

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“The guiltless mind cannot suffer. Being sane, the mind heals the body because it has been healed. The sane mind cannot conceive of illness because it cannot conceive of attacking anyone or anything.”

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So……. this is huge for me. I’ve been dealing with chronic pain for 5 years now. Every day. It’s totally changed my life. In many ways for the good, but I’m so fucking tired of it. I feel I’ve learned the lessons and am ready to move on. To not have to constantly deal with this.

And in reading these passages, I realize that I have had a very victim mentality with this. It’s like I was at the whim of my body. Unable to control this pain. It was doing it to me. Poor me, right? BUT… I think what was actually happening here is I’m attacking myself. And wow, that is not fun to think about. To go from being this innocent victim worthy of sympathy, to being the kind of person who is so viciously attacking himself that it manifests physically and persists for 5 years…. That’s quite a shift. But I think it’s the absolute truth. It’s like I force myself down into this little ball, and whenever I reached out trying to express myself, I would ruthlessly attack myself until I shrunk back and hid again.

While getting a massage a few months ago I had this image of my inner child trapped in my right forearm (which is the main source of my chronic pain). He had built himself a fort out of Legos and completely walled himself off inside it. He wanted nothing to do with me because all I ever did was attack him. This little innocent kid, and I would just ruthlessly assault him. Now that I think about it it’s like “Well no shit, of course all this is going to lead to illness, emotionally, mentally, physically…” But my ego likes to cleverly disguise this so it can be the “good guy” somehow.

So that’s pretty fucking depressing right? Admitting that I’ve been enthusiastically beating up a little kid all these years? But what often happens with the course, is that it shows you both how twisted you can be and then the moment after it liberates you from it. So right after I had all those dark thoughts I realized “Well… what am I really attacking here?” And the answer is nothing. I’m wrapped up in this ego illusion, and whenever that is the case nothing I do is real. So I’ve been attacking myself for years, but there’s nothing to really atone for. I can drop it in an instant because none of it was real. The ego doesn’t like that because it wants to perpetuate the cycle because it feeds on it, but I think it’s entirely possible to see this for what it is and let it all go.

And I feel much more in charge when I realize that my illness is a result of my own doings. It means I have the power to release it. I’m not a victim here.

I’m seeing a pattern that goes something like this.

Step 1: Admit I’m an asshole who does some pretty twisted stuff.

Step 2: See that I’m not really an asshole, that I’m really free and have done no wrong.

I think a lot of people would rather skip step 1 and just emerge in this space of being innocent and holy, but I don’t think this really works. Or at least it doesn’t for me…

monster movies and ego bags

I saw Pacific Rim tonight, and it was pretty god-awful. Acting was horrible, just horrible. The visuals were okay, but overall just a pretty stale experience. But irregardless of that, it still accomplished what I was hoping it would. Movies are a way to forget about myself for a couple hours. I’m not trapped in my usual thought systems. It’s one of the few times I’m really free. Or… at least not actively engaged in one of my ego illusions.

After I walk out of the theater something interesting happens. I’m in this odd state where I’m totally present. When I get in my car and drive home it’s a totally different experience. I’m so connected with my car in a way that I never usually am.

And eventually, I get to watch my ego systems come back online. I get to watch the ways in which they try to trap me. This usually leads to some pretty significant insights, and tonight was no exception.

I got this very clear picture of my ego. It is a master story weaver. And it’s story is contained within this bag.

small bag
Whenever I look at someone, especially someone who really troubles me, the ego holds that bag up to my face. As I look into it, I can see this story unfolding, and I usually jump right in. Latching onto this story and letting the ego pull me in and wrap me up inside of it. At this point I no longer see the person. The only thing I can see is this story. The ego’s illusions.

Once the ego has trapped me, it does everything in its power to keep me in that story. To feed off me.

The course does a really good job of training you how to disentangle yourself, and back out of this bag. The ego fights with everything it has to prevent this. The last post I made is a perfect illustration. As I started to realize that this bag, this story wasn’t real, the ego attacked me with a different story. One of loneliness. Trying to pull me back inside.

Now that I’ve started to spend more time outside of this bag, I’m getting a taste of a different reality. I think this is what the course refers to as the Holy Spirit. If we were fish, it’s like the water that we swim in. It’s everywhere, underlying everything. We just can’t see it when we’re caught in those bags. And I think people can sense when others are connected with it, but I think we are misguided in our pursuit of it. We see it as being “over there”, like that person has a hold on it. So we flock to gurus, priests, whomever, and ask them to show us. But what we don’t see is that we all have the same access. The water they are swimming in is the same that we are. We just need to pull ourselves out of that bag, and it’s only a matter of time before we naturally realize this ourselves.

This realization puts some of what I read a while ago into a new light. Actually, it’s putting almost everything I’ve read into a new light, so I’ll just highlight a few things.

Chapter 4, section 1 “right teaching and right learning”, paragraph 8, sentence 5

“You are part of reality, which stands unchanged beyond the reach of your ego but within easy reach of spirit. When you are afraid, be still and know that God is real”.

Yup. There is a reality that exists outside of that bag, and the ego can’t touch it. And the way to access it is to be still, see that the story is an illusion, and slowly back out of the bag to embrace what is real… God.

“God is inevitable, and you cannot avoid him any more than he can avoid you.”

This is what I’ve seen. If you dissolve that bag, your reunification with God is inevitable.

“The ego is afraid of the spirit’s joy, because once you have experienced it you will withdraw all protection from the ego, and become totally without investment in fear.”

Yuppppp. Once you’re out of that bag, it becomes a lot less appealing to go back in it. Especially after you’ve tasted the divine.

“Leave it behind! Do not listen to it and do not preserve it. Release yourself and release others.”

When I’m able to look at someone while residing in this holy space, outside of the ego’s bag, there is nothing but pure joy and love. It doesn’t matter who it is. My heart opens for all. And for those that I’ve resented, hated, it’s like I’m seeing them for the first time.

where the rubber meets the road

I realized tonight that an essential aspect of any system is how well it interacts with the real world. That a healthy system cannot be isolated to the mind, untested from fires of relationship.

I spend soooooo much time establishing these belief systems, and then use them as the foundation on which I base who I am. Since they are such an important part of ME, I need to hide them when around others. I’ll just comfortably drift through interactions with others, never really saying anything important, never really engaging, never really exposing what I truly believe. This might leave those systems brittle and untested, but at least there is a semblance of stability there.

This all changed a few months ago while working on a very intense project with a group of people. I was essentially forced to get these systems out into the open and see how well they meshed with others. Surprisingly, it went pretty well. It turns out all of this knowledge that I’ve built over the past 7 years really came in handy. But there were some glaring weaknesses. There were a few key conflicts that really made me step back and reevaluate large parts of these systems. Which was a very humbling process.

A very vulnerable process. I had to let go of that foundation that I had been clinging to for so long. To kind of float in this unknown space, disconnected from what I had known. But this allowed that system to break apart and readjust itself based on these conflicts. To learn from them. To take that experience and use it to make that system more dynamic. Flexible. Able to fit into more scenarios and mesh with more people.

The process lasted for a few months, which I think reached some sort of conclusion tonight with me realizing all this. Looking back, the system that I had before this project happened was very untested. I was very unsure as to its stability. It was appropriate for the specifics of how my mind works, but would break down when interacting with others. Or in scenarios I was unfamiliar with.

Now, it’s so much different. It’s not something that I’m clinging to. It’s not my foundation anymore. It’s more of a tool now. Something I can draw upon to understand a situation. To figure out how to relate to someone.

And it’s no longer something that I’m afraid of exposing to others. It’s been tested. I know how strong it is. And now that it’s been broken apart and reformed, it’s not as rigid as it once was. It’s come back together, but in a very fluid manner. So now it’s much easier to expand and reorganize this very quickly based on what’s happening. So it doesn’t take months of contemplation to try to rebuild it, it happens in the moment, on-the-fly. There is still that feeling of vulnerability. Like I’ve temporarily lost my foundation when I’m shifting it around. But I’ve become much more comfortable in that scenario. And it’s almost like I have a different foundation to pull from.

My foundation is now deep within my core. The divine. The system is now just a way to translate this so that others may see it easier. A way for this divine to interact in the physical world. Yeah… It’s a direct extension of the divine. Ideally. As long as it’s flexible and I’m not relying on it to establish who I am.

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I almost forgot to mention this… The whole “getting your systems out into the open and interacting with others” is one reason I’m so glad there are a lot of discussion groups set up in Austin for a course in miracles. I’ve attended a few of these, and am about to start my own (with the help of a good friend 🙂 ), and they have been so instrumental in my understanding.

If you’re in the Austin area, and free Tuesday evenings, consider yourself invited:

http://www.meetup.com/A-Course-in-Miracles-Tuesday-evening-study-group/