Monday, May 12, 2008

Dancing In The Liquid Fire

I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I am a very disciplined person. This is actually pretty funny to me because I’ve never really considered myself to be so. But if I step back and take a look at myself from the outside, as much as that is possible, I guess it is fair to say that I am relatively disciplined. If this is indeed true, it’s worthwhile to look at the why behind whatever self-discipline that I may possess. It is not something that was forced or even necessarily taught to me (though in come cases it was). Really it is impossible to impose this kind of thing onto another person against their will for any length of time and even if you do, the unwilling participant will lack the necessary sincerity to get much use out of whatever discipline is in question.

Now with that being said it’s not to imply that I’ve never once tried to impose my opinions on how someone should live their life or what they should believe. There was a time period where I fell into this trap and it is indeed a trap because it’s nothing more than the ego creeping back in and trying to use anything it possibly can to make itself feel superior to someone else. This happens to all of us. It especially happens when one discovers something new that is wonderful to them or is introduced to some new idea or system that they resonate strongly with and perhaps have a genuine wish to share it with others with all the best intentions.

You cannot impose discipline on to another person because if that person is to derive any real benefit they have to discover the need and usefulness of it for themselves. It has to be their idea. I don’t think that I have personally ever been the sort to just believe something or go along with it because an authority of some sort told me I had to or that I should. I always asked “Why?” as far as I can remember except in those cases where the ‘why’ was obvious or because I had a certain respect for the person giving the information. I think this is one of the reasons I was drawn so strongly to Buddhism at one point because the Buddha essentially said ‘hey, don’t believe any of this stuff that I am telling you, go find out the truth of it for yourselves.’ That is a philosophy that I can respect.

I’m not Buddhist but at one time I sure thought I was. I also did some Bible thumping for about a three or four month period in my life. That’s pretty funny to think about now but I had my reasons. I’ll probably talk about that here at some point. I’m much more an advocate of direct experience than “faith” but I realize that faith plays an important role also and cannot be dismissed entirely.

Maybe it is true that I am a disciplined individual but we are all disciplined in some sense of the word. None of us are willing to press our hand against a red hot burner on the stove. Discipline? You’re probably saying “no Ben, that’s just common sense”. But it wasn’t common sense at some point along the way. Maybe you found out the hard way or maybe you believed your mommy or daddy when they warned you, but either way you eventually got the message. Really that sums up any ‘discipline’ that I have in my life. This may or may not be pertinent to the topic but incidentally I did just about literally blow up an entire kitchen before I was five years old…

I’m at a point where I feel like there is a lot of good in my life, a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be happy about. This is how life is, there are upswings and downswings. In a lot of ways I am enjoying an upswing at the moment, though ever conscious of the fact that things can and do change at a moment’s notice. I’m comfortable with that. It’s possible that some of the good that is appearing right now is the result of discipline on my part. The fact that I am comfortable with life’s ever changing nature is most definitely a result of discipline on my part. I should also add that I will never be able to take personal credit for so much of this good that is in my life. Much of it is the result of grace and something that I don’t fully comprehend but nonetheless, I try to cooperate with it. I acknowledge it constantly and give thanks constantly also. Call it “God” if you like but keep in mind that I’m not referring to any white-bearded sky daddy. That’s a concept that, like bed-wetting, I had to outgrow. (Sorry, it’s my blog and I get to be a smart ass here.)

I find life to be a beautiful, wondrous, and mysterious experience. I also cannot help but notice that it is an intensely precarious one too. It is this precariousness that inspires the ‘discipline’ that I have. Learning that the red hot stove burns your hand is a metaphorical way of stating something that actually occurs throughout ones entire life. The danger gets less obvious as we get older and hopefully smarter and also because certain things become taken for granted and accepted, as if there were just no other way. Sometimes this is true but often it is not. Again, there is no requirement to participate in something just because everyone else is, whether that be a way of thinking or way of eating or spending or whatever.

A human lifetime can be looked at as a purifying experience. Spiritually speaking, we might just be going through a giant celestial car wash right now. The mud is being wiped away, the obstacles – one by one – being removed. Some of those stains are in there pretty good, requiring a great deal of heat and pressure. This whole thing can be quite painful at times and exquisite at others.

I’m running out of time and words to get into the specifics but I’d like to try to do so in another post or two. I’ve had some people close to me say some very nice things to me lately about stuff that I didn’t realize was that obvious. I’m thinking that what they are referring to is in large part the result of self-discipline which in my case basically consists of the following things: meditation, exercise, dealing with money, diet, and some other stuff that I’d like to maybe talk more about next time.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Hold The Bling

You are the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not sure exactly what that means but it sounds good and there just may be some truth to it. It came to me, what can I say? Something has occurred to me for awhile now. It will sound self-righteous to talk about but better to sound self-righteous on your blog than some other places.

It seems to me that a lot of people have no idea how to be happy. Maybe that’s not the right way to say it… What I mean is not many people seem to know how to facilitate their own happiness. I don’t think it’s any secret that as the wealthiest nation on Earth we are also the most heavily medicated and depressed/discontent. Serious depression is really another issue but the kind of low-level unease and discontent that I am talking about is very obviously rampant but also completely unnecessary.

From what I can tell there is a very simple cause for our collective dis-ease and it can be easily understood by recognizing how unprofitable personal contentment is. Factor in the overwhelming amount of advertising that the average person is exposed to, taking into account the proven fact that television puts a person into a semi-hypnotic and very suggestible state, and the picture starts to become very clear. There is a multi-billion dollar industry whose sole intention is to foster discontent and want. There is a very precise science behind it. Most people are aware of political propaganda but even more pervasive in our culture is commercial propaganda. We could call it “The War Against Your Personal Sense Of Satisfaction” or maybe “The War On Happiness”. It’s pretty easy to be defeated when you don’t even know you are being attacked.

It has become very clear to me that most of the population is slaving away and devoting their precious time and energy to chase a dream that someone else has defined for them. We are told what to want with such frequency and tenacity that eventually most of us give in, even if only subconsciously. Life really becomes one big commercial unless you make a very deliberate effort to make it otherwise.

Somewhere along the way we bought into the notion that we are incomplete beings. The truth is that there is absolutely nothing that can be added to any one of us. We are already whole, no credit card necessary. Happiness is an internal affair. In my humble opinion western psychology and religion have let us down when it comes to the art of happiness and practical matters of living well. Even our God is taught to be “out there”. All of the things that we are supposed to want are external. But any one of us could discover at any moment that everything a person could ever want or need is already right there within them.

There is a war for our attention and the things we focus on and think about most often will become our living reality. Individually speaking, external conditions become a reflection of one’s internal state. As a result of living on a constant diet of advertising and peer pressure from others on the same diet, many of us are in a state of perpetual want. And all of the things that we are supposed to want (and buy) and are supposed to separate us from the crowd and be such exquisite expressions of our personal individuality and self-worth are things that everyone is buying or already has. Most of the coveted symbols of success can be attained by almost anyone as long as they are willing to make the monthly payments and hey, most people are. I’m really not sure what’s so wonderful about driving an expensive new car or carrying a $200 handbag when you can barely make your minimum credit card payment as it is and at the price of your own sanity and peace of mind, but what do I know? You look around and this is what you see.

To the modern mind this is a preposterous concept; that happiness has nothing to do with what one possesses. But anyone who turns off the tv for a few days and steps away from the mass marketing blitzkrieg and maybe takes a little time each morning to sit alone and just be with themselves and their mind that hasn’t yet had time to be stirred up by the onslaught of the day’s events and the usual broken record thought patterns…(deep breath)…anyone who begins to do this on a regular basis and makes a concerted effort to escape from the mass mind will quickly understand the utter un-importance of just about any ‘thing’ as it relates to their happiness and well-being.

Yes, there is such a thing as a mass mind and group-think and escaping from it can be a bit like untangling oneself from a giant spider web but it can be done. Maybe human size fly paper is a better analogy than a spider web. The point is that is anyone can do it with a little will power and a willingness to acknowledge being stuck in something that really isn’t very good for you. So what if everyone else is doing it.

Really…the best things in life are free. If I continue to write blog posts about subjects and sentiments that are important to me that is probably a phrase that I will say quite often. The best things in life are free. I’ve found this to be true in my own life and by observing the lives of others. It would seem to me that what would be worthwhile is to pursue being free as a person, free from whatever it is that binds you, starting with that pile of possessions that you already have but don’t need and more importantly that mountain of possessions that you think you want and all the associated stress and energy wasting that goes along with acquiring it. There’s physical clutter and mental clutter but the former is significantly easier to dispose of than the latter. The removal of both is necessary if any of us are to find what it is that we are looking for.

An authentic pursuit of happiness and well-being has nothing to do with the fashion or pharmaceutical industries despite the fact that they spend billions trying to convince you otherwise. What everyone really wants is genuine happiness and peace of mind which, unfortunately, are in direct conflict with the popular culture of hyper-consumerism. Don’t try to buy what you already have. It’s already right there. All of this other stuff is just blocking your view.