Happiness isn’t the lack of negative emotions

I recently bought a house that’s about 30 min. outside of the city. Yesterday I was driving to my regular yoga class and had a bit more time to think about things during the drive. All of a sudden I realized there was a tension inside of me. I had no idea where it originated, but I had this thought

“I need to get rid of this tension so I can get back to being in a peaceful state.”

But then I thought to myself, there’s probably a better way to approach feelings like this. That instead of trying to get rid of the uneasiness, I could instead use that as the raw material to create that positive state I was looking for. That a positive frame of mind isn’t won by the absence of negativity, but by being able to work with whatever feelings come up.

This seems to be so much more empowering. Previously it had all been about avoiding uncomfortable situations. That this was the way to happiness. But more and more I’m seeing now that true happiness is the confidence that whatever arises I can use it to create whatever I want.

 

I read a book all about this change in approach that I’d highly recommend. One of my favorites.

On Becoming an Alchemist: A Guide for the Modern Magician

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Non-localized nature of our thoughts

My favorite yoga class is Monday evenings. It’s taught by a super expressive gay guy who loves playing cheesy pop music (couple spice girls tracks last class….), which creates a pretty humorous contrast with yoga which can tend to be overly serious. But what I noticed last class was that I was able to separate myself from the music and really focus in on my experience. The music became something external that was no longer distracting, or really even influencing me. I was kind of in a bubble.

That night when I was meditating the same thing happened with my thoughts. It occurred to me that our thoughts are really non-local. We hear them in our heads, but is this necessarily true? I was at a meditation seminar a couple years ago and the guy running it was asking us where in our bodies we felt like our presence resided. Like if your arm got chopped off, would that affect your presence? Would it be reduced? If you got a heart transplant would that change it? The general consensus was that our presence was somewhere in our chest, but it’s really impossible to pin down.

I think the same thing goes for our thoughts. We’ve become accustomed to “hearing” them in our heads, but I think this is just a learned behavior. I think we can shift them around if we focus on it.

Which is what started naturally happening as I was meditating. It felt like I was sinking down into a well, and my thoughts were staying up on the surface. Like they were above me looking down and trying to talk to me, trying to stretch down their tentacles to hook into me. But as long as they were disconnected like that, they didn’t have near the influence they usually did. It was a very peaceful state.

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I just read “The Love Languages” by Gary Chapman which talks about the different ways we give and receive love. Words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. We each have a primary one and if we don’t receive love in this form our “love tank” isn’t filled. Like for me it’s physical touch. Everyone in the world could be telling me how awesome I was, but if I don’t have that human contact (even just a light touch) it won’t really fill me up.

One of the things he covers is the way we talk to our spouses. Demanding language, trying to coerce each other into doing things is not an expression of love. All you can do is make requests in a loving way and then step back and see what happens.

I realized that once I separated my thoughts I could personify them, making it much easier to see their attitude towards me.. and it was very demanding. My thoughts weren’t making requests, they wanted what they wanted immediately. There was no consideration for my feeling, I was merely the object to execute their desire. Like a husband coming home and yelling at his wife for not having dinner ready. She’s just there to cook for him. A robot you can have sex with.

I saw that when these thoughts are inside me it leads to a pretty horrible existence. It’s like having that demanding husband INSIDE you. Which tricks you into thinking that YOU are the one actually making the request. We believe we ARE our thoughts. How clever… How hopelessly obedient we are…

But not anymore. I’ve established a sense of self that’s independent of my thoughts. I’ll listen to their input, but I’ll only do what I want. What is best for me. And the key here is to not hate your thoughts. They aren’t villainous.

In that book he told a story of a troubled marriage. The husband was incredibly demanding of his wife and she was on the verge of leaving him. She was trying to get him to counseling, but he refused. He said she was the only one with a problem. So the therapist recommended she treat him as Jesus would. Love him despite how she treated her. She was out of options so decided to take on this challenge. And after a couple weeks, he started changing. He felt that love coming from her and naturally started reciprocating it.

I think I’m going to take the same approach to my thoughts. To just extend gratefulness and love towards them. Last night as I did this I went into a huge expanded state and felt this immense, powerful white light radiating out from me. Without my thoughts there to damper it, it’s like that was my natural state of being. And I think if this is the diet I keep feeding my thoughts, they will eventually turn around and mirror this. I will actually have them as an ally. A friend. A partner.

I don’t care what your thoughts are, what do they look like?

I think we spend an over abundance of time concerning ourselves with our thoughts. We’re told how powerful they are, and how they manifest what we see, so we better control them, right? We don’t want any negative thoughts coming in. Only positive stuff!!!

But it seems like the only thing controlling your thoughts does is drive you a little crazy. And actually, I think it can be much more serious than that. We’ve all seen people that are imprisoned by their thoughts. How compulsive and ridgid they are. I think this can lead to serious autoimmune diseases. And also to things like hoarding and OCD.

I was watching pawn stars the other day and saw someone trying to sell them an iron lung. I knew of iron lungs, but had never seen one. It made me think about how awful an existence that must have been. I spent like an hour planning out how I would have killed myself if I was trapped in one. It’s hard to imagine a more horrendous experience.

iron lung

But it occurred to me that this is exactly what most of us do to ourselves. We use our thoughts to build up an iron lung that we keep ourselves trapped in. To protect ourselves from the world. To not let people really see us. Touch us. Hear us. We just barely let ourselves breathe, which is actually true.

And this is so ingrained that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We don’t realize there’s another option.

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I think there are two keys to unlocking us from this prison.

1. It’s necessary to separate your self from your thoughts. You are perfectly capable of functioning without them. Think of professional athletes, racecar drivers. They aren’t thinking and yet they do incredible things.

2. We’ve been trained to verbalize everything. Like when we are reading we sound out each word in our heads. This isn’t necessary. You can just scan over the words and your brain registers it just the same. Verbalizing your experience grinds everything to a halt. What we are can be so much more nimble and responsive than this. Instead try looking at things energetically. Instead of a thought just being a word you hear in your head, what does it feel like? What does it look like? Where does that energy sit in your body?

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After I got some distance from my thoughts and started paying more attention to their energetic structure, I first noticed that most of the time it felt like I was trapped inside a prison. Like I couldn’t breathe. Like I had a straitjacket on. But in seeing this I could gradually shift their structure to where my thoughts were more of a cloud. Something that I could choose to ignore and push aside. They became much less important. Much less appealing. I’d much rather sit in my body without them. This is actually enjoyable. I have room to breathe. To let things flow in and out. I can see things clearly. It’s peaceful.

I can still pull down that bubble and engage my thoughts when I need to do something analytical, but most of the time they aren’t necessary. I can just let them do their thing out there in the cloud, I don’t really need to pay attention to it.

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If you’re trapped in an iron lung, thinking positive thoughts is going to be an uphill battle. You might get a couple here or there, but you’re trapped in a fucking prison. Think about that for a second. How incredibly difficult it would be to be happy in a situation like that. You’d have to be some sort of zen master. I’d fucking lose it if I couldn’t move my body more than a couple inches.

But what if instead you’re lying in a field somewhere feeling the breeze blow through your hair, soaking in the sun. You’re going to be pretty happy without exerting a lot of effort. You can just get out of your way and let everything be.

So if you find yourself trapped in a prison, don’t try to think happy thoughts… GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!

The-Shawshank-Redemption-Script

So you think I’m an asshole? Yeah… you’re probably right…

So good…

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Chapter 8, section V. The Undivided Will of the Sonship, paragraph 5:

“Whenever fear intrudes anywhere along the road to peace, it is because the ego has attempted to join the journey with us and cannot do so. Sensing defeat and angered by it, the ego regards itself as rejected and becomes retaliative. You are invulnerable to its retaliation because I am with you. On this journey you have chosen me as your companion instead of the ego. Do not attempt to hold onto both, or you will try to go in different directions and will lose the way.”

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Wow… That’s pretty ruthless. To basically say you have to abandon the ego. This brings up all sorts of unpleasant feelings. The ego usually masquerades as a helpless child, so initially it makes you seem like an unholy asshole for abandoning it. For even thinking of abandoning it. What kind of heartless creature would leave behind a child? One who needed its help? Who was desperately reaching out, crying, beaten, tormented by life? Could you possibly live with yourself if you turned your back on this?

This is obviously a trap, but it’s a damn good one. I think in a lot of ways this is a good illustration that to follow a lot of this course stuff, you could legitimately be called an asshole when being judged by the normal standards of society.

And I think the trick is that you have to be okay with this. To be okay with living outside what most people consider to be decent. To not conform to what is “right”. To be an outsider in this insane society.

And the greatest ally in maintaining this position is the Holy Spirit, and the perspective it brings into this. Like I quoted above, this is a journey to peace, to truth. You can’t bring illusion with you, it must be abandoned. But these things have no real substance. You aren’t actually abandoning anything. It’s just an illusion. The guilt that comes with this is just a trick to get you to turn around. It’s perfectly okay to feel happy as a result of this abandonment, as bizarre as this might sound when viewed through the lens of what society normally thinks…

I’ll quote one more passage which is from paragraph 6. It’s hard to describe how badass reading this makes me feel (which I’ve done probably 20 times now).

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“Never accord the ego the power to interfere with the journey. It has none, because the journey is the way to what is true. Leave all illusions behind, and reach beyond all attempts of the ego to hold you back. I go before you because I am beyond the ego. Reach, therefore, for my hand because you want to transcend the ego. My strength will never be wanting, and if you choose to share it you will do so. I give it willingly and gladly, because I need you as much as you need me.”

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Awwwwwwwwwww yeahhhhhhhhhhhh, I love that!

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…

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…

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/