Category Archives: Psychology and Relationships Posts

38 Life Lessons from Leo Babauta

Usually when I post articles, I like it to be something original, but today I just want  to send you to Leo Babauta’s website, Zen Habits. I’ve been a fan of Leo’s for quite cartoonsome time. Leo is an extreme minimalist (as you can easily tell from the design of his site). Most of his posts involve simplifying your life. Today’s post contains his 30 life lessons – to celebrate his 38th birthday. One of the best lists I’ve seen. Here are a few favorites:

2. Possessions are worse than worthless — they’re harmful. They add no value to your life, and cost you everything. Not just the money required to buy them, but the time and money spent shopping for them, maintaining them, worrying about them, insuring them, fixing them, etc.

20. A good walk cures most problems. Want to lose weight and get fit? Walk. Want to enjoy life but spend less? Walk. Want to cure stress and clear your head? Walk. Want to meditate and live in the moment? Walk. Having trouble with a life or work problem? Walk, and your head gets clear.

27. Create. The world is full of distractions, but very few are as important as creating. In my job as a writer, there is nothing that comes close to being as crucial as creating. In my life, creating is one of the few things that has given me meaning. When it’s time to work, clear away all else and create.

34. No one knows what they’re doing as parents. We’re all faking it, and hoping we’re getting it right. Some people obsess about the details, and miss out on the fun. I just try not to mess them up too much, to show them they’re loved, to enjoy the moments I can with them, to show them life is fun, and stay out of the way of them becoming the amazing people they’re going to become. That they already are.

Go to Leo’s site for the full list.

The Secret: The Power by Rhonda Byrnes

FuturePower

The Secret: The Power by Rhonda Byrne. I had previously reviewed wildly popular book “The Secret” by this author. I gave a mixed review of that book, in which I noted that a book on how to get anything you want can send an entirely wrong message to someone in the grip of powerful ego drives.

The newer book hit me wrong right out of the gate. It was only as I continued to read (in this case, listen) that I started to appreciate what the author was actually saying.

I’ll give away the “secret” of the book by saying that the “power” mentioned is Love. A wonderful message. However, in proving that everything in the world is created and obtained through love, Rhonda equates a fervent desire for a pair of designer shoes with “love” for those shoes. Unfortunately, spiritual teachers such as the Buddha identify desire as the root of all suffering.

The Power

Support PathsToKnowledge. Click on the image to see this book in our Amazon store.

As the book went along, however, I realized that Rhonda means something different by “desire” than the Buddha means. What she’s actually suggesting is not a desperate longing for material things, but an awe, appreciation and gratitude for material things. This puts her program on an entirely different (and spiritually helpful) footing. For example, she shares a remarkable point of view for dealing with envy. Rather than having negative feelings about good things coming to other people, we are to consider this as a sign that we are on the same “frequency” as these good things, and that the universe is presenting them to us to enjoy, love, and HAVE if we wish. By this rationale, we should be as happy and grateful for someone else having good things as we would if he had them ourselves.

I found this a unique approach. While perhaps not as pure as being grateful for other’s good fortune because we are spiritually one with them, it’s a good start. And there is much to praise in the book. It’s well written, easy to follow, full of helpful quotations and excellent summaries. It encourages us to practice love, gratitude and positivity in every situation – and that can’t be bad. I found that simply listening to the book on audio while commuting improved my entire day.

The audio version, by the way, has lots of interesting music, sound effects, and Rhonda’s own unique voice. I found these helpful and engaging, but it’s easy to see how some people might find them distracting. Such people might prefer the book instead of the audio.

The original point I made in my review of The Secret still applies here I think. You have to begin with a good perspective on who you are and what your purpose is to avoid being sucked into an ego trap. As Jesus put it:

So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matt 6:31-33, NET)

In a sense, however, the Power is much better on this point. An approach of cultivating love and gratitude is already a long way along the road of seeking the Kingdom than simply trying to practice the “law of attraction”. I think this book rounds out and corrects some of the potential problems with the first, and I’d recommend it over the Secret.

Having a Relationship with Yourself

mirror Steve Pavlina, on his popular blog, is conducting an experiment in which is assumes that ALL aspects of his own reality, including the other people with whom he relates, are actually his own creations. From this perspective, everyone – your friends, your spouse, your boss – are actually aspects of your own being.

On the surface, this may seem like a silly and narcissistic idea. Surely the cosmos doesn’t revolve around me. Surely other people are rich and complex beings with far more to do than simply reflect hidden aspects of my personality back at me. After doing some experimentation, however, I find this perspective uniquely powerful. The thing to remember, however, is that is just that – a perspective. No perspective is absolute Truth. If we stop obsessing about whether the model of a self-created reality is totally true and explains everything – we may find that it is a very helpful perspective indeed.

For one thing, conflicts become meaningless. Normally a disagreement or criticism might put my ego on the defensive. But what the person disagreeing with me or criticizing me is simply an aspect of myself, that I need to listen to and reconcile myself with? It’s pointless to become defensive with yourself. Further, even a chance encounter on the street or in the line at the supermarket now assumes importance and meaning. What is that rude person in line in front of me trying to tell me about myself? What can I learn about myself by engaging a stranger in conversation? What aspect of myself does each person represent?

And, of course, the reason this perspective works well is that there IS a lot of truth in it. Spiritually, we all share one highest Self. We are all aspects of one consciousness, which is God. And it is also true that each of us represses aspects of ourselves (the Jungian “shadow”) that we can only see by projecting them outward onto others. Whenever we become angry or impatient with someone else or annoyed with their personality – it’s always useful to fully discover what hidden aspects of ourselves this personality may represent. At first it seems completely impossible to us that the violent person or the timid person or the intolerant person who annoys us represents ourselves. We feel no sense of identification with these qualities. But that’s the point. As we do more and more work the shadow aspects of our personality, we will recognize our hidden qualities to an increasing degree.

One way to work with these aspects  is using what Joe Vitale describes as the Hawaiian kahuna  technique called “ho ‘oponopono”. In brief this consists of mentally saying, to the people or situations that trouble us (including aspects of ourselves) “I’m sorry” and “I love you”. Over and over. I can vouch that this method has literally miraculous powers. Joe describes a psychologist who used this method to heal an entire group of criminally insane patients – without ever actually SEEING them! All by assuming that they were actually expressions of his own inner nature in need of healing.

Try your own experiment and approach some of your more difficult relationships with this perspective. I believe you’ll find it very helpful.

Get Rid of Goals

happy I’ve noticed a synchronicity lately with regard to the idea of “goals”. At the very time when I’m feeling some personal frustration at not meeting some of my important goals – two of my favorite bloggers, Steve Pavlina and Leo Babauta, are posting about the idea of reducing the importance of goals in our life.

Leo, in his Zen Habits blog, writes that the problem with goals is that they may force us to work on things we aren’t really passionate about.

Goals as a system are set up for failure. Even when you do things exactly right, it’s not ideal. Here’s why: you are extremely limited in your actions. When you don’t feel like doing something, you have to force yourself to do it. Your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory. You have to follow the plan, even when you’re passionate about something else.

The ideal life, according to Leo, is one in which we follow our inspiration and passion at each moment. This is the kind of life that produces truly great results. Coincidentally (or not), Steve Pavlina has been trying an experiment in which he tries to follow his inspiration and passion in each moment. In the past, if a flash of inspiration came to him, he would write it down for later planning and scheduling. Now (or at least for the next few weeks of the experiment) he just DOES it.

When an inspired idea comes to me, I act on it almost immediately. I know that I have about a 48-hour window — maximum — to write and publish that idea. Otherwise the energy is gone. Trying to create that same content later is possible, but it’s much more difficult and takes a lot longer.

The experience is like catching a wave. I might wake up one morning and get an idea for a new article, and I know I need to grab my laptop immediately and let it flow through me. In those situations I can write nearly as fast as I can type, without having to pause to think.

This is an interesting tie-in to something Eckhart Tolle said in A New Earth. If you do something – even the simplest thing – in complete harmony with your higher self (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) then what you do will improve the entire spirit of the planet – even if what you’re doing is sitting on a mat watching the birds fly by. On the other hand, if you try to do something wonderful, and it is NOT in complete harmony with your higher self, then – no matter how externally wonderful it may seem – you are harming yourself and everyone on the planet. You are bringing an energy of disharmony into the world, and ultimately, that energy is negative and will have negative effects. When we work from the higher self, we are a conduit for the Spirit into the world:

For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13 WEB)

Some degree of planning or scheduling is probably useful in a world where everything runs by the clock and people are expected to produce on schedule. But perhaps we overdo it. I’m going to reconsider the importance of goals in the larger scheme of things.

Of course, this can be risky. As Steve Pavlina puts it:

Dealing with the unpredictability of what’s going to happen next is extremely unsettling. In order to make it through this, I have to let go of trying to control anything. I have to let go and trust

Which is what faith is all about. It’s not about clinging tenaciously to a dogma. It’s about trusting that Spirit will see you through.

Meditating While Driving

driving Like many people, I never seem to have the time I’d like for meditating and spiritual development. I’d like to begin each day with spiritual practice, but sometimes I’m running late and don’t get to it. Since I have a long commute, I’ve sometimes tried to listen to meditation tapes while driving, but this can be dangerous. Wayne Dyer’s Japa meditation CD, for example, had me in such an altered state that the physical world I was driving through lost importance – which is not a good state for driving.

This morning I tried something different – adapting mindfulness or walking meditation to driving. This seemed like a good match, since it actually makes you MORE aware of your surroundings. Rather than going within, your focus is on being fully present in the situation.

The technique is very simple. Start driving. Turn off your radio or music. Focus entirely on the sense impressions of driving. Be fully present in the experience of driving your car, and don’t focus on any inner dialog or thoughts. If you become aware that you are thinking about something other than the experience of driving, gently return your focus to the road in front of you. Don’t judge yourself for your thoughts, but keep returning your focus to the road, the car and your driving.

Naturally, you should continue to check your mirrors, watch your blind spots and follow good driving practice. In fact you should be more intently aware of your surroundings than usual. Be aware of the road and your surroundings with the same calm intensity of a cat watching a mouse hole. This is probably a better technique to practice on a routine drive, like a commute, than when you are trying to find a new location, although it would probably work with any kind of driving.

No two meditations are alike, and no two meditators are alike – so don’t judge your own experiences. What you experience is what you experience, and it’s fine. But here are a few observations on my own meditation this morning. First of all, it was a bit tiring. Being mindful in a complex situation like driving can be slightly overwhelming. The trick was to relax and be aware of all the experiences in general, rather than trying to shift a laser focus of awareness between all the various things going on.

I also discovered that I have a habit of giving myself verbal mental directions while I’m driving, telling myself where to turn and when to shift. That was a bit odd. But at times during the meditation I felt a wonderful sense of joy. Life seemed so good. Happiness was staring me in the face, waiting for me to shut up long enough to notice it. During these times, I had the odd sensation that I was driving on a route I had never seen before. I actually wondered for a moment if I was lost. The truth is, I suppose, that I had NOT seen it before – not really SEEN it. In fact, the day before this experiment, I had one of those frequent experiences of arriving at a particular turn on my route and being unable to remember how I had arrived, because my driving was on autopilot while I was lost in thought.

The experiment seemed like a success to me. At the very least, I think it won’t hurt my driving at all. It may improve it. Give driving meditation a try and let me know how it works for you.

Inception – a Review

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream – Edgar Allan Poe

inception-poster-2010 So I went to see Inception last night with most of the family. First a general review. It was an excellent and entertaining movie. It combined espionage, science fiction  and action with mind-bending psychological and metaphysical elements. I don’t generally go out of my way to see a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, but he seems to be getting better.

But my reason for commenting here is because of the use of the dream metaphor. Just as a warning, my commentary below may be considered a spoiler by some, so you may want to see the movie first.

The movie involves shared dreaming, dreams-within-dreams, and the strange phenomena that in dreams, we are often unaware that we are dreaming, and confuse dreaming with real life. As the characters struggle to avoid becoming lost in their multi-layered dreams and strive to wake up, a natural question arises – what if the waking world is actually yet another layer of dream, from which we need to awaken? In the film, this speculation is immediately and forcefully dismissed as pathological. But the director knows that he has planted a seed of doubt in our minds, and he subtly toys with that doubt right up to the end of the movie. Seeds of doubt are another theme that runs throughout the movie.

In fact, dreaming and waking have been used in various spiritual traditions for thousands of years as a metaphor for ordinary consciousness and enlightenment. In fact, the name “Buddha” translates as “the awakened one”.  In the Gnostic “Hymn of the Pearl” from the Acts of Thomas, the son of a King is sent on a mission to retrieve a treasure, but falls asleep and forgets who he is. His father sends a letter to remind him:

Awake and arise from your sleep,
and hear the words of our letter.
Remember that you are a son of kings,
consider the slavery you are serving.

Unenlightened consciousness is indeed very much like dreaming. We become entranced with the little details of our lives and the stories unfolding around us. We forget and become unconscious to a larger context around us. We forget our connection to our highest self and become attached to the particulars. Many enlightened teachers have confirmed that the process of enlightenment is like waking up from a deep and not very nice dream.

It’s interesting that several spiritual and psychological schools and techniques use dream work, dream journaling and lucid dreaming as tools for self-development. Ken Wilber suggests that dream work is one of the few resources we have for accessing our shadow aspects – which are normally invisible to the conscious mind.

Like the dream engineers in Inception, we need to become better architects of the dream world in order to become more conscious in the waking world – and ultimately – awake to the larger world of spirit.

The Joy of Being Wrong

surprise I was browsing around this morning and ran into a rather grim article over at the Boston Globe titled How Facts Backfire. It highlights psychological research which uncovers the interesting pattern that when people are deeply committed to a particular opinion, showing them facts that prove them conclusively wrong doesn’t change their opinion. It actually makes it stronger.

This bias also works on the positive side of course. We’ll gladly accept “facts” that confirm our opinions.

There is a substantial body of psychological research showing that people tend to interpret information with an eye toward reinforcing their preexisting views. If we believe something about the world, we are more likely to passively accept as truth any information that confirms our beliefs, and actively dismiss information that doesn’t. This is known as “motivated reasoning.” Whether or not the consistent information is accurate, we might accept it as fact, as confirmation of our beliefs. This makes us more confident in said beliefs, and even less likely to entertain facts that contradict them.

Jumping to conclusions is actually a mental shortcut that served us well in survival situations. It can be unhealthy to stop and ponder whether this particular lion, unlike the last one you met, might in fact be friendly. Doubt and hesitation are unwelcome when decisive action is needed.

But this survival instinct can backfire, and it can be used against us to manipulate us by our leaders, our culture, and even our religions. Research shows that the stronger and more deeply held our opinions, the less likely we are to be swayed by any facts. And while we have no problem seeing this tendency in people who agree with us, the trick is to see it in ourselves.

The best defense against this and other cognitive biases is to be aware of them and to

 seriously ask ourselves, especially with regard to our dearest opinions, to which of them we might be falling victim.  I find it very helpful to make myself clearly and honestly adopt the motto, “I might be wrong”.

Many of my most transformative and wonderful experiences in life have been the result of discovering I was wrong about something. I’ve gotten to the point where I actually relish the th

rill of uncovering some new opinion or aspect of myself where false ideas are lurking. To find them opens us up to new experiences and new learning. Learn to embrace them.

As for convincing the unwilling of their errors, the article in the Globe is less than optimistic. As Von Schiller put it, “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain”. Lord Acton was a bit kinder, and put it like this:

“There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.”

The Globe article tends to agree. While occasionally a brutal assault of facts will change an entrenched opinion, the only thing that seemed to work well in changing wrong opinions was an overall increase in the opinion-holder’s self esteem. This makes perfect sense, as when we become identified with our opinions, they become part of our ego structure. To lose an opinion to which we’ve become attached is to lose a part of ourselves. Only if we have a strong self-worth are we comfortable risking that kind of danger.

At the bottom of it all, the primary negative emotion in this and so many other things is fear. Our little ego’s fear of being further diminished by having the ideas it associates with damaged. By identifying, instead, with our higher selves, we learn to trust. We feel safe opening ourselves up to change, because we have faith that our true selves will survive that change. We develop an attitude of love and acceptance toward the universe, and, as the writer of First John says, perfect love casts out fear.

There is Nothing Wrong With You for Teens – Cheri Huber

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There Is Nothing Wrong With You for Teens – I picked this one up at the library thinking it looked like interesting reading for my teenagers. Apparently it is a teen version of an earlier adult book Cheri wrote. I immediately loved the book, and so did my kids.

Cheri comes from a Zen perspective. She’s the founder and primary teacher at several Zen centers, and her many books are full of Zen techniques and teachings. This, to my mind, is all to the good, as Zen is full of excellent practical psychology.

The book is typeset in a friendly, informal typeface that makes it look like someone’s personal journal. I found this immediately engaging. Using her experience with hundreds of teens in workshops and retreats, Cheri dives right into their problems with penetrating insight.

In particular, this book is about teens liberating themselves from the self-hatred that all of us struggle with at times, but with which teens have particular difficulty. Cheri’s writing radiates total compassion and acceptance. I wish every troubled teen could have Cheri right by their side helping them see their true nature. With this book, they can.

I would highly recommend this book as a gift for any teen, particularly one with self-worth issues (which includes many of them). I intend to look into some of Cheri’s other books based on the wonderful job she did on this one.

Hardwiring Happiness – Srikumar Rao

A wonderful talk on happiness by a very clear and lucid presenter who is completely new to me, Srikumar Rao. I’m certainly going to check out more of his material. I ran into this on Ted.org, but the video there was of lower quality so I’ve linked back here to the original. This was apparently from a conference in Denmark, so don’t worry about the foreign language graphics at the beginning, the talk itself is in English.

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