a few months ago

What is real wealth?

My wife and I have historically had quite different views of regarding money.

When I was in my 20s, I worked as a freelance web developer and instructor. I was in the right place at the right time. My day rate was approximately the same as my average monthly income has been over the past five years.

I was so anxious at the time, I pissed away the money I made. As an example, I purchased several very expensive mattresses in succession, decided that they were somehow toxic, and I gave them away on craigslist.

That was my life. I was hemorrhaging money.

But not as fast as I was making it.

Money surplus gave me plenty of opportunity to continue to indulge my compulsive behaviors so as to avoid facing the underlying feelings and fears.

Anyway, strangely, even having gone through all that, I didn’t learn the lesson: money isn’t real wealth. Money doesn’t equal happiness. Money doesn’t give true security.

So over the past eight years that my wife and I have been together, I have continued to hold to the idea that if only I could make enough money, my family would be happier. I’ve often viewed money as the solution to most problems. And, conversely, I’ve seen a lack of money as the cause of many challenges in our lives.

My wife, on the other hand, has often advocated for reducing our expenditures. She has made strides toward developing self-sufficiency.

In theory, I have shared her ethic: sustainable, human scale, DIY. But when under stress (and I’m easily stressed), I have frequently fallen back on my old position: money is the answer.

The reason that I’m sharing this is not to suggest that money is good or money is bad or that capitalism is good or capitalism is bad or any such thing.

The reason is this: only recently did I realize on a much deeper level that the core insight regarding the directness of direct experience (which I have written about many times over the years) is applicable to most if not all domains of life.

Here’s what I mean, using money as an example. I recently realized – and yes, I know this is a remedial insight – that money is a terribly indirect strategy for happiness. Or love. Or okayness. Or security. Or any of the other things I have used money as a strategy for.

By virtue of being indirect, it is also inefficient. And furthermore, it is often completely hopeless and flawed. In other words, in most cases it will never work. Or, put another way, no amount of money will lead to true happiness or true love or true peace.

I know that should be obvious. And maybe most readers of this blog already know this. But for me, seeing how I had continued to silo off domains of life – spiritual, psychological, somatic, achievement, financial, health, etc. – is eye-opening.

The principal of directness seems to apply to all domains. And, in fact, all domains would seem to be one, not fundamentally distinct.

Again, most readers of this blog may have already realized this. And perhaps had you asked me this a few years ago, I would have been able to see that there is no meaningful distinction between these so-called domains of life. But somehow it hadn’t sunken in as deeply as it has recently.

This principal of directness is profound and powerful. And simple.

The principal is this: Whatever I desire is best available through the most direct route possible. In other words, the quickest route to happiness is to access happiness. The quickest route to peace is to access peace.

Mediators are not really necessary. At best, they are crutches. At worst, they lead to unnecessary suffering.

Here’s what I mean. Let me give you a practical example from my life.

I rent. And thus far in my experience as a renter, renting has meant heightened insecurity (the owners could sell or decide to stop renting) and diminished self-determination (the owners may not agree to all things that I wish to do).

I want greater security and greater self-determination. And furthermore, I have the underlying belief that if I have greater security and self-determination, I’ll have greater happiness.

The means by which I have sought to solve this puzzle is…acquire more money.

In other words, I have been acting under the belief that the way to greater happiness is to acquire more money. Which is indirect and inefficient. And, by the way, doomed to fail, ultimately. Not because more money can’t buy a property title. (Because it can.) But because that’s putting the cart before the horse.

If happiness is the aim, what is the most direct route? Obviously, go right for happiness!

What stands in the way of happiness? Nothing. Happiness, or we could call it contentment or okayness, is readily available. All I have to do is cease looking for it somewhere else, stop making it conditional.

Even at the next level up, however, this same principal applies, making this a very practical principal on many levels. Because once I directly access happiness, which is the ultimate aim, I am also free to explore the next level up – in this case wanting greater security and self-determination.

What is the most direct route to security? Obviously, the most direct route is to access security. And what about self-determination? Obviously, the most direct route is to access self-determination.

This is perhaps so obvious as to cause some people to role their eyes. But at least for me, the more I welcome the profundity of this simple truth, the more it blows my mind and puts me at ease.

What stands in the way of my access to security? Only my insistence in the reality of insecurity. To the degree that I play the victim, I am giving power to insecurity, which has no power on its own. The moment that I cease doing that, it is completely evident that security is the primary reality. It is already given.

Or, if I prefer, I can see it in the inverse. Let’s say that there is only insecurity. This is also a valid way to perceive it. After all, I can never have a guarantee that anything will last But when I fully let that in, I access the security of utter insecurity. In other words, I can be completely secure that there is no security.

This is not a mind game. It’s not just some psychological babble. What I’m suggesting is ways to perceive something and open up to a reality that is primary – that contains and precedes the apparent reality of belief. Belief – such as the belief that I need to do something (like make a bunch of money) in order to be happy or okay – is limiting and divisive and blinding. What I am proposing with these inquiries is to see through the blinding beliefs to what precedes the beliefs.

And, by the way, this principal of directness also applies to the next level up. The next level up in this example is “I need to make a bunch of money”. But we could more broadly call that abundance. Money is really just symbolic of abundance.

I can apply the principal at the level of abundance. What is the most direct route to abundance? Accessing abundance directly, of course. And what stands in the way of me accessing abundance? Nothing. Only my belief that I lack can cloud the present, inalienable reality of abundance.

After all, I have air, water, sensation, experience…all in abundance. And this is perfectly clear the moment I cease to insist that I lack abundance.

I see it again and again the more I look: trying to solve problems from the top-down – starting from the assumption of separation and a hostile reality – doesn’t work. But when I start from the bottom-up and directly access the primary reality…things are much better.

a few months ago

On goats, LSD, and unwanted feelings

My wife and I were having a disagreement about goats for the past couple of days. It wasn’t really about goats. But it involved goats.

This seems to be how things go in my life, and I assume the same is true in your life. We feel things. These things come up in relationship with others. So in an effort to communicate about them and figure things out so as to live harmoniously, we come up with stories.

But the stories are always around the actual matter. They don’t get to the heart of it.

Anyway, until we got to the heart of the matter, we were having this conflict that had to do about goats. And I was feeling frustrated and discouraged.

When I first got into the whole meditation, self-help, spiritual thing, I did it because I wanted to escape my unwanted feelings.

I didn’t realize it at the time, of course. And had you asked me, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage or the insight to be able to admit it. But in hindsight, it’s clear that I just wanted to escape stuff I didn’t like.

Like frustration, stuckness, discouragement. Plus anxiety, anger, fear, worry, obsessiveness, low self-esteem, etc.

When I was 19, a friend of mine loaned me a Ken Cohen qi gong meditation cassette tape. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again.

I listened to that tape. I think I’d probably burned some sage that I’d gotten at the new age bookstore first. Then I listened to the tape. Eyes closed. And I followed along with the guided meditations.

I had an experience that blew my mind. After some time…maybe half an hour of the guided meditation, I disappeared.

It was a bit like I had fallen asleep. Deep sleep. And maybe I did fall asleep. I guess that’s possible. And maybe I just made up a story upon waking that something else had happened.

But in a sense, it doesn’t matter because waking from deep sleep is kind of the same thing. Not there. But…but…but upon waking realizing that I was there. Just not the usual way I have identified as being this person, this collection of memories, this collection of ideas and beliefs. But still there. Still present so that upon waking I could say, “I was just in deep sleep” or, in this case, “I just had some far out, mind-blowing meditation experience.”

Anyway, I got hooked. Because that experience was so profoundly restful and such a paradigm shift for me.

And because I was convinced (though I wasn’t fully aware of this at the time) that if I could somehow attain that experience while simultaneously maintaining a sense of my habitual identity (i.e. still claiming that I am the source of my own experience as a separate person)…well…then I’d get rid of all the unpleasant, unwanted experiences/feelings.

I tried so many things to attain what I thought I wanted. I’ve listed them off plenty of times, but it’s fun, so I’ll list a few yet again: Rebirthing (i.e. hyperventilation), LSD, Transcendental Meditation, affirmative prayer, kirtan, Holosync (a very expensive binaural beats meditation program), sitting in satsang with every teacher I could find.

Sometimes I got a taste of that same goneness-but-present experience. But since I still had unpleasant/unwanted feelings that returned, I thought that something “hadn’t worked”. Because, after all, I assumed that when “it worked”, I wouldn’t have unwanted feelings anymore…ever.

For such a long, long time I chased after this fantasy. I wanted to get to continue to hold on to all my dysfunctional ideas of who I am, what I need, how important I am, how I’m right…and simultaneously be happy. And furthermore, I had this dysfunctional and deluded idea that happiness meant an absence of disharmony or conflict or unpleasantness.

Yesterday, as I was feeling frustrated and discouraged, I reflected on what it is that I really want. Not what I think I want – which is the absence of disharmony, conflict, and unpleasantness. Rather, what I really want.

As in, what actually is satisfying.

The answer to this question is at once completely surprising and completely expected.

What I really want is exactly what is happening.

Because life isn’t about acquisition. It’s not about winning. It’s not all about me, my ideas, my preferences, my wants, my hedonism, my impatience.

Life is about this present relationship. This is what truly satisfies.

All I have to do is say yes to it.

a few months ago

A misuse of power

When I was in college, I undertook a misguided fast. I started by only consuming water for a few days – perhaps three days – I don’t remember exactly. After that, I drank only freshly-pressed juices for what I believe must have been considerably more than a month.

I had already been surviving on primarily raw vegetables and fruit – with occasional cooked beans – for a year. So I was thin to start. But I grew considerably thinner during my fast.

My heart rate slowed to under 40 beats per minute.

I was exhausted by the smallest effort. I would have to pause between flights of stairs in order to regain enough strength to ascend another flight. My apartment was up two flights, and sometimes I had to pause a few times on the way up.

I was cold all the time. I was nervous. I was depressed.

Basically, I felt terrible.

If you’d asked anybody else – even a complete stranger who’d never seen me before – they would have diagnosed the problem right away…I was starving.

Once I finally got a little bit of sense back in me a month or two later, I recall walking past a building and catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I was shocked to see what looked like a walking skeleton staring back at me.

Because until that moment, I had no clue why I was feeling so awful.

I kept reading more books that told me about how filthy I was on the inside, how many dangerous toxins I had accumulated in my handful of years on Earth. How I needed to fast even more to purge myself of all those toxins.

I thought I had toxins in me that were causing my problems. It honestly had not occurred to me that I was responsible for bad choices that were directly producing my symptoms – that I was starving myself.

Even after I saw that reflection of the walking skeleton in the window and even after I started seeing a counselor for help with an eating disorder, I still didn’t fully believe that I was causing the problems with my choices. I still believed my mind and its distorted reality.

Given all that, you might think that once I finally gave up on that approach and I started eating adequate amounts of food and felt better that I would have seen through the delusion of my stories. At least the stories having to do with toxins and “curing” myself with food restriction.

But I didn’t. Not even close. I continued to eat in highly disordered ways, often returning to starving myself, for over another decade.

When I got sick with Lyme disease, I doubled down on my restrictive eating disorder. Because it gave me an excuse. I was afraid, and when afraid, I fell back on my old stories.

I had no idea that I was doing it.

I say that I had no idea that I was doing it. And that’s not completely true. What would be true is this: Out of habit, I completely ignored the wisdom that is always available that has nothing to do with conditioned thinking and reactivity. I identified as the conditioned thinking and reactivity, and therefore, as that identity, I was ignorant.

I could go on to cite dozens of other examples in which I behaved in similarly deluded fashion. How those bad and deluded choices harmed me and often other people.

But here’s the point: I didn’t understand what I was doing in any of those cases. I was so identified with my stories of me as a victim – I had deluded myself so greatly – that I didn’t understand that I was responsible. And that I was abdicating my responsibility.

I was misusing my one true power.

That one true power came out in all kinds of sideways and perverted ways. Suicidal ideation. Resentment. Vengefulness. Manipulation. Restriction. Abstention. Isolation. Compulsive research.

Because I wasn’t owning that one true power. I wasn’t telling the truth about it.

What is that one true power? It’s the power to recognize what the true order of things is. It is the power to discern between what is false and what is true.

And how do I do that? Just look relentlessly. Allow it all to flow as it does, and see that the person I thought I was never had any other power. I never had the power to stop it or control it or manipulate it. That as all merely delusion.

The truth stands on its own. It doesn’t need to be propped up by story.

I don’t need to tell a story to make it so. I just need to stop telling a story long enough to recognize it.

a few months ago

The Big Joke: It was me all along

In my life, I learned to think, not feel.

Oh, I still felt. I felt plenty. Lots of anger, fear, resentment, sadness, hurt. Sometimes excitement, enthusiasm, happiness.

But especially with the unwanted feelings, I learned to turn to thought. I learned to view the feelings as problems that I needed to try to solve.

Not only did I learn to think instead of feel, I learned to think like a victim – to blame, shame, hide, etc.

So it’s probably not surprising that my chaotic, disorganized, victim-based thinking that I used as a way to get rid of strong, unwanted feelings has resulted in a lot of bad behavior over the years.

When I was maybe 8 years old…maybe a little younger…I got so angry that I punched a hole in the picture window in the front of my house.

I once was so angry that I threw a chair through a wall in my bedroom.

I seem to recall punching a hole in a door.

Later, as a teenager and young adult, I realized that I couldn’t continue being so outwardly violent. So instead I turned that violence inward.

I was still angry, scared, confused, sad, hurt. And my strategy was still the same at the core: try to think my way out of the problem that I perceived my feelings to be.

But instead of throwing chairs through walls, I contemplated suicide. I starved myself. I had elaborate fantasies about how I would escape everything and everyone.

I had turned feelings into the enemy. And feelings won every time. I could never win. Not truly. Because I couldn’t outwit feelings. I couldn’t outrun them. I couldn’t hide from them.

Finally, I had to admit total defeat. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I finally waved the white flag. And even then, I actually had no idea how much more I would lose. I thought I had lost all the way. But I hadn’t even begun to truly lose. That was only the beginning.

So learning about feelings has been a long, difficult, confusing thing for me. Which is ironic because, as I’ll share, one of the qualities that I’ve discovered about feelings is that they are effortless. Having and feeling feelings doesn’t require skill.

What requires skill – at least in my experience – is learning how to stop over-complicating things.

Everybody is feeling feelings all the time. And in my experience, I don’t have to do anything more than that. I don’t have to label the feelings. (I don’t have to avoid labeling the feelings, either.) I don’t have to dig deep into the feelings. I don’t have to probe for hidden feelings. I don’t have to hold on to feelings. I don’t have to amplify feelings. I don’t have to diminish feelings. I don’t have to get over feelings. I don’t have to get past feelings. I don’t have to do anything.

In fact, the less I do, the better.

Because at least for me, old habits die hard. And I still hold out the crazy hope of winning. And by winning, I mean getting rid of feelings I don’t like and only having feelings I do like. Secretly, in the dark corners of my mind, I still view unwanted feelings as the enemy.

So anything I do, I am almost certainly going to do it with the intention and hope of getting rid of the unwanted feelings. I’m sneaky like that. I fool myself and think that I’m trying to allow feelings or welcome feelings, but actually, I’m trying to get rid of them.

Which leads to more thinking and more chaotic, disorganized thinking. And more violence. And that’s not how I want to live.

So the less I do, the better.

There may be much more evolved, better people than me. In fact, I fully expect that many, many people are much more evolved, better, more conscious, more awake, more generous, happier people than I am. And maybe for those people, there are things they can do that facilitate the flow of feelings and welcoming them and spreading love and joy into the world.

But for me, less is more. The less I do, the better. And maybe, if you find that you are a little like me, you’ll find this is true as well.

So I cannot pay attention to my thoughts, because those thoughts will tell me that I’ve got to do something. Figure something out. Understand something. Know what it is called and where it came from…so that I can fix it, get rid of it.

See? I’m sneaky. So I cannot pay attention to my thoughts if I want peace.

I release the tension in my head. And then there is only space and feeling.

If I do anything, I muck it all up. So I have to keep doing nothing.

And bit by bit, clarity dawns. The light rises up over the horizon. And in a flash, reality is fully illuminated.

There is only space and feeling…and light. And I cannot tell you what differentiates them. Because they seem to be undifferentiated in that moment. And the insanity and misery of having tried to get rid of the feeling gets illuminated and I see the big joke. Or “The Big Joke”.

Because it was me all along. The space and feeling and light. It was me all along. I’m not going to get rid of it because it’s me.

And it’s perfectly evident. I don’t have to search for it. Or understand it. Or grasp it.

It does not require skill to manifest this. It only requires great trust…or resignation…or both.

Because in doing nothing – making no effort, letting go of the tension, the armoring – I don’t acquire anything. I just lose what was never true to begin with. I lose the sense that I am this thing separate from my feelings and that my feelings are my enemy and that I need to think my way out of the pain and misery I feel.

And that is a miracle.

a few months ago

Bad feelings

For many years I used to wash my hands compulsively.

I wasn’t a “wash-em-till-they-bleed” sort. I didn’t scrub them bare because I didn’t have a germ phobia.

Instead, I “washed” my hands by rinsing them under running water. And I did it because I was trying to wash away the bad feelings.

I had bad feelings. And those bad feelings were everywhere in my body, but I felt them most strongly in my hands.

I was terrified to touch anything when I had those bad feelings in my hands because I didn’t want to contaminate anything with those bad feelings.

By grace, I discovered how to stop doing that. I learned how to let go of the inner tension that I used as an armor against the bad feelings. And by doing that, I stopped having the compulsion to wash my hands.

For years since, I have experienced almost no compulsions to wash my hands…except normal, presumably healthy compulsions to actually wash my hands for hygeinic purposes. When appropriate.

I still experience bad feelings, though. Not to the same degree. Not even close.

But when I am still and quiet, I recognize the same basic thing still at play. Something happens that provokes some fear or discomfort in me. And I still have the same kind of reflexive armoring – the inner tension, the compulsions to get rid of the bad feelings.

Much subtler, but still happening.

Perhaps that will always be the case. And to be honest, I am so grateful for the act of grace that has transformed my life and allowed me to be here today and write this and have a family and sometimes be happy…instead of obsessed with trying to get rid of overwhelming bad feelings all day long by way of compulsive hand washing…I am so grateful for that, that I can’t complain about anything, really.

I am deeply grateful.

Still, I see the same pattern playing out subtly. For example, if I feel frustrated or if I feel that I’m being judged unfairly by someone or if I feel hurt or sad or like a failure…I try to get rid of the feelings. I cling to inner tension because I still hold out hope that it will do something good for me.

And so I see the possibility of letting go even more.

I know from experience that is the way to true happiness. Not short term fixes. Not just getting rid of unwanted feelings. But a deeper okayness.

It’s tempting sometimes to fear letting go “too much”. All kinds of fears, reasons that I might need that inner tension to stay safe or to be a good person or whatever other thoughts I might have.

But ironically, holding on to the inner tension has the opposite effect. It doesn’t keep me safe – it isolates me. It doesn’t make me a good person – it makes me distant. It doesn’t make me likable – it makes me a fraudulent people pleaser. It doesn’t make me happy – it deadens me. It doesn’t make me social or dynamic – it makes me overwhelmed and insecure.

Every day I have many opportunities to practice what I know to be true. And every day I fail many times. A small voice in me encourages me to do what I know is the right thing – to make contact, to lend a hand, to open my heart, to give the time, to make space, to pause, to comfort, to have patience. Whether that is for my wife, my children, my parents, my neighbors, friends, strangers, or myself. I know what the right thing is in every moment.

And often, my fear and resistance get the better of me. I remain guarded. I cling to that inner tension. I don’t let go. I don’t open. I don’t act with humility and generosity and kindness.

But sometimes I do the right thing. Sometimes – and it’s many times every day – I open, I pause, I connect. I let go of the clinging. I let go of the armor. I let go of my way or the highway. I let go of my ideas of how things should be. I embrace the gift of this moment as it is. I open my eyes and see clearly.

It’s the hardest thing and the easiest thing. And it’s always the best thing. It is the one choice I get to make. And when I make that choice, my life is better, richer, happier.

Sometimes I get caught up in thinking that I have to do something big or be someone great. I sometimes think that I have to get everything right and never mess up.

But the truth is, all I am really asked to do is to show up fully right now. Bad feelings. Good feelings. Or any other kind of feelings. It doesn’t matter. And risk it all. Risk contamination. Risk failure. Risk humiliation. Risk not being enough.

Just show up fully. Just say yes. Just open now.

And that’s it. That’s all that is asked.

I cannot undo what has been done. I cannot guarantee what will happen. But I can show up fully now anyway. No matter what I’ve done. Or what you’ve done. Or what I fear might happen. No matter how much I hurt or how ashamed I feel or how flat or angry or sad or worried I might feel. No matter how good of a person or how bad of a person I might be…

All that is asked is to show up fully now.

And if I mess up? Well, there’s always now.

a few months ago

Illuminating the uncomfortable path

I sometimes think I would like it if my life was all easy.

But my life is not all easy. And I know that yours isn’t all easy either.

And I also know that this is a blessing that our lives aren’t all easy.

Not that I believe we should shun ease. Nor am I suggesting that ease is necessarily bad.

But it is a blessing that our lives aren’t all easy because that unease acts like pruning shears. It cuts away all that is untrue and unnecessary.

It forces me and you to look at what we’ve been carrying and what we’ve been believing and ask ourselves, “Is this true? Is it worth behaving as if it were true?”

It keeps us honest.

Honesty is complex. Because what is true in one moment may not be true in the next moment. So we cannot cling to ideas or memories or beliefs to guide us.

That’s why I need the unease. It is my guide. It tells me where I’m mistakenly clinging to something untrue.

Of course, my mind has tried to claim this as a strategy in order to gain some kind of control over life. It’s done it again and again. It thinks, “Unease is the way. I’ll produce unease and shun ease in order to have power, and power is what I want, therefore I’ll be happy when I choose to be uneasy.”

That doesn’t work, though. That’s just misery.

But fortunately, the second I wake up to my mistake, I am pruned – liberated of what is not true.

This isn’t what I think I want. Because I don’t get to be the winner in this scenario.

Often, what I wake up to is a mess. I wake up to the mistakes I’ve made. The pain I’ve caused myself and others.

That’s not fun.

But it’s honest. And honesty liberates me from what is untrue.

It doesn’t provide a magical solution to the problems I thought I had. It does shed light on things as they are. And then, if I’m humble enough to do so, I get to take steps along that illuminated path.

Get free blog updates by email:
x