The Happiness Threshold

I was taking the dishes out of the dishwasher yesterday, and putting them away in our cupboards when I suddenly stopped. Before that moment befell me I had been performing this chore while in my mind I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, which was to go into my office and continue writing my book. Writing my book was fun, while doing dishes was merely a chore that I had to get out of the way. Then liminality happened. There is the observation of a body using a towel to wipe a cup dry and place it on a shelf, all of this taking place within awareness, and I am the awareness. Simultaneously there is a me within the awareness recognizing this event with a kind of “torn” feeling inside, which I can’t accurately describe. Maybe “dualism” is the appropriate word… For the purpose of this article, I use the word “liminality” to describe the direct experience of existence in two distinct, but not separate realms. You recognize that you are a non-physical being, unattached to thought, sense and feeling, while at the same time living your life as if you were a limited physical being, confined within the realm of time and space. I call it “walking between two worlds”, and it can be both exciting and challenging, because it brings you face to face with the moment. An example of this is what happened while I continued to take care of my kitchen chore. After much back and forth between the distractions of my thoughts and the intent to simply be still, my attention was brought into the moment, and there awaited the awesome beauty of ‘being’. This moment has everything I could possibly want. This moment is absolutely perfect. Whether the body is sitting outside, watching a beautiful sunset, spending time with wife and children, lying sick in bed with the flu, or putting away dishes, the moment remains unaltered. In the moment I come to know true happiness. Throughout my life, I had heard that you can be happy no matter what your personal circumstances. Rich or poor, strong or weak, winning or losing…, nothing can stop you from being happy. In the past when I thought about that statement, I always assumed that happiness was a positive emotion that you could choose to have, no matter what influences were in your life. Now I know that it is neither positive, nor a feeling or emotion, but rather that Happiness is a state of being. I experience this when I stop and acknowledge that I exist now. I am. I look at my surroundings and see everything without expectation. I look at every aspect of my life as it appears in the moment. I don’t look at what should be here, or what should be happening. I don’t think about what I should be doing, or even what I could be doing. The should thoughts are there, floating through the sky of the mind, but I’m not engaged with them. I watch life present itself as it is, and something almost magical happens. I feel free. The burden of shoulds is lifted and I am free of concerns about the future and regrets about the past. And I am I, yet not I. Initially, at the liminal threshold, the world seems flat, empty, and even a little mundane, and I believe something should enter this perception to make me happy. But that ‘should’ fades into the background, along with all the other mental chatter. Another opinion arises, telling me that this is just an ordinary moment – not a GREAT moment in my life. But I hear my heart reminding me that great and ordinary, better and worse, good and bad etc, are all personal evaluations based on my needs. What I see and experience in this moment is neutral. It is what it is. In that awareness, an experience of playfulness seems to enter. Sometimes I find myself smiling, even chuckling a little bit at the obvious perfection of simply existing. And a pleasant feeling fills me, as I recognize that I am truly happy. Then I return to my kitchen chore, and reach for a plate while marvelling at this eternal ritual of liminality. Perhaps you have lived through this ritual many times yourself, standing at the threshold where you recognize your humanity while simultaneously being the awareness that is not human, but rather the pure consciousness that contains your human experience. Perhaps this defies conventional wisdom, but in the moment it seems that you can experience heaven on earth — and earth in heaven, while recognizing that you are neither in heaven or on earth, but rather heaven and earth are in You.

The Lesson of the Goat

In a movie I once saw many years ago, there was a scene where a man was running across a bridge that was collapsing. Every time the man took a step, the stone beneath his feet would give way, so he had to quickly step onto the next stone, which also would fall away. And so he ran across the bridge, getting just enough weight on the stone to allow him to reach for the next, before the solid object dissolved under his foot. I was mesmerized by how lightly he ran, and suddenly felt that I was being given an important lesson. The stone bridge was the world, that begins to dissolve as soon as it’s created, so there is no sense in putting too much weight or importance on any given experience, for it will surely pass. The man in the movie represented my essential being, intuitively guiding my every step, reminding me to experience and release each moment in time. Don’t hang on to the last minute and don’t put the weight of expectation onto the next, for only consciousness is stable in my otherwise unstable existence. As I walked home from the movie, thinking about that scene, it reminded me of another image — that of a mountain goat, nimbly climbing up a vertical rock face, it’s hooves using the tiniest hold to stand on. What would appear to the human eye to be a thin crack in the rock would be a ledge for the goat’s hoof to put its weight on. Goats do not have a very impressive appearance, but their movements up a rock face are amazingly elegant, graceful, and fluid. A rock climber, using special equipment, would take hours to reach the same point a goat would reach in minutes, but for the goat, the climb would be almost effortless. Thinking of these two images – the man skipping over the falling bridge, and the goat’s effortless climb – led me to an understanding about how I had been living my life. I would set a goal for myself, and then exert a great deal of personal effort to reach it, not recognizing that the stress of personal effort was almost completely unnecessary. I eventually learned that it was possible to simply relax and watch events unfold through and around me. Sometimes I noticed that I seemed to be moving more slowly, and at other times even seemed to be inactive, but that was because I was acting more from intuition, simply waiting and watching until I could see the opportunities that my busier personality would probably have missed. In Truth, you are an Ineffable Being, submitting Yourself to a human experience defined by the limitations of time and space. If you recognize that the previous statement is true, you have the opportunity to relax, and release the stress of trying to do something, and instead experience the lightness of being in flow. As you grow in awareness of who You really are, the personal drive to accomplish by “doing”, or “trying” is supplanted by the preference to express the genius of your essence in your actions, and rely on your intuition to guide those actions, rather than your more laborious and inefficient thought processes. Remember that goals do not last. It is great to reach the top of a mountain, but it is not your final destination. When you realize that there is more to experience beyond that mountain top, goals become less important to you, and experiencing the effortless flow of the journey takes on greater meaning. May the steps you take through your life be as nimble and effortless as a mountain goat’s, as light as a feather, and constantly filled with wonder and surprise.

Living A Life Beyond Belief

One of the greatest myths ever spread throughout the world concerns the influence of beliefs in our lives. The myth is that beliefs affect our destiny and determine what happens to us, and that our beliefs and thoughts create our life direction. People even suggest that our beliefs actually create our reality, so if we want to change our lives we have to change our beliefs. This usually means substituting negative, pessimistic beliefs for positive, optimistic ones. In fact, beliefs are merely a replacement for knowing. When we forgot who we really are and submitted ourselves to the directions of the human mind, beliefs were born. As such they are limited in their nature and limiting in their effects on us. Even the most empowering belief is still a weak replacement for knowing who we are and what our purpose is. For many years in my work as a counsellor and group leader, I would encourage people to confront their beliefs about themselves and the world and to face the experience that created those beliefs. I suggested that most or all of our beliefs come from our childhood, and that our negative beliefs emerged from painful experiences that we did not resolve at the time. I made a few mistakes when I delivered this model and I would like to correct one of them now. The mistake was to suggest that we only needed to transform our negative beliefs, and, if we could not discover the Truth by doing so, at least we could experience more happiness with positive beliefs. The fact is that all beliefs – negative or positive – blind us to who we really are. So although positive beliefs are more comfortable, they do not bring us closer to the actual experience of who we are and what our purpose is. Believing in God does not give anyone a direct experience of God’s existence. In fact there are many stories of people who were atheists, who had incredible, transcendent experiences of an awesome power that they did not believe existed. There are also instances of people who fervently believed in God and had ecstatic experiences that later turned out to be psychotic episodes or hallucinations. I am stating these examples to make a point, and not to suggest that there is or is not a God. The point is that beliefs and thoughts are not in any way connected to Truth. The fact is we don’t need beliefs in our lives. What we really want is certainty; a certainty that can only come from knowing the Truth. We want to know unequivocally who we are and what our true potential is. So how do we do that? Interestingly enough, the process of actually remembering begins differently for each individual. For me it started when I was driving in my car one afternoon and I began to feel a deep tiredness. I was alone in the car, but I spoke out loud, saying, “I’m just so tired of being afraid.” For another man I know, it began when he faced financial ruin for the fifth or sixth time in his life and he said angrily, “I am not going through this again!” Naturally many people have spoken those same words and nothing in their lives changed, so the magic ingredient is not in the words; it seems more likely that it is a conscious connection with a heartfelt desire. For those who have experienced it – and some of you are reading this article right now – the beginning of the awakening process was initiated in individually unique ways, but no matter what form it took in the outside world, in all of us a spark was lit that changed our lives in less than a moment. For me it ended a forty year search for “Truth” that began when I was fourteen years old. I am no longer a seeker of Truth; I am a finder. I find it in my pain and in my limitations. I find it when I recognize the illusionary nature of the world and everything I thought was real. I experience the Truth whenever I penetrate a thick cloud of doubt, fear, pain, guilt or shame, and feel my light shining brighter than any sun. And I experience it in appreciation. I can appreciate who I really am; and I can also appreciate how I completely fooled myself in the forgetting stage and convinced myself that I was utterly small and powerless. Then I can appreciate how I woke myself up in the dream, and began to learn how to fly on the wings of freedom. Perhaps what I have shared in this article will give you an introduction to the amazing power of the remembering process, for helping you unlock the secrets of your soul. Your sense of direction, your unique gifts, and your propensity for happiness will increase noticeably when you understand and apply the magic of remembering in every aspect of your life. If you have already experienced that magical moment of awakening, I join with you in the celebration of shattering the glass ceiling that so many of us have come up against in spite of our most sincere efforts. Once that illusionary ceiling is shattered you can experience the freedom to do exactly what you want to do in your life with the certainty that you will be materially and spiritually supported every step of the way.

Resolving Dilemmas

Dilemmas are commonplace experiences in people’s lives, and are generally dealt with in a similar manner by all of us. We look at the situation as a problem to be solved and consider the two primary options available to us. (Note: sometimes there seem to be more than just two options from which to choose, but the dynamics and effective response apply regardless.) Typically each of the options hold satisfactory possibilities but unsatisfactory side effects as well. The artist who wants to quit a job that offers great pay, but little in the way of creative opportunities is faced with an obvious dilemma: keep your financially secure job but feel emotionally dissatisfied, or follow your emotionally rewarding creative impulses but risk financial instability. The person who wants to leave an emotionally barren partnership for a more “loving” relationship, must decide whether  it’s worth it to leave a happy, harmonious family situation. Any dilemma with an emotional component — which most dilemmas include — is always difficult to resolve, and people can find themselves stuck in them for years! The stuckness is usually caused by the individual’s fear of making the “wrong choice”, one which will diminish, or even ruin” their enjoyment of the road they chose to travel. However, like all human problems, dilemmas were not created to be solved or figured out, but rather exist as an opportunity to help us grow up emotionally and spiritually. This growth (or expansion in acceptance, awareness and appreciation) is initiated by the individual who sees that trust is their best and only true option. Trusting life can be most difficult experience for. It starts with trusting your heart when confronted by an emotionally charged dilemma. Engaging your mind to figure out an answer, or thinking that one of the two possibilities IS the right answer, keeps you far away from the voice of your heart. Acknowledging that you don’t know what is best, and being willing to accept either possibility – or neither – puts you in a position of receptivity to your heart’s voice. It’s as loud as your readiness to hear it. The least effective response is wrestling with the story and trying to figure out how to control what happens next. That enhances the stress of anxiety and doubt, which create a loud static noise that deafens you to your intuition. Also, anxiety and doubt are frankly no fun at all. Let me emphasize this point: Trust = fun and ease. Anxiety and doubt = no fun at all, and struggle. The idea that you personally can control the outcome of any dilemma is an extremely stressful proposition, as it carries with it the fear that you might make the wrong choice, which would impact you for the rest of your life. What a torment! Therefore, since dilemmas do not exist to put you in the position of making any choice, much less a wrong one, you don’t have to torment yourself the next time one occurs in your life. Relax. Trust. Wait. There is a much greater opportunity available than the chance to figure out the “right” answer. There is a significant opportunity to grow in wisdom, joy, and ease.

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The Importance of a Compass

It started out as an exciting idea: Peter and I would take a bus into the interior and get off in a national park. From there we would follow an old fur traders trail back down to the coast.  I had come across a hand-drawn map with the trail marked, and did some reading about the path, feeling confident that I would be able to find it in the park and traverse its length to the university grounds where the trail ended.  The path we would follow was about 100 miles long, and we gave ourselves a week to complete the trek. Peter and I were in our twenties,  both fit and healthy, and itching to get out of the city, to walk through a wilderness that few people got the chance to see. It was perfect –  what could go wrong? Well, lack of adequate orienteering experience, for one thing. Also, carrying overpacked knapsacks, wearing bad socks, and relying on an unreliable map might create a few difficulties, and turn my original idea into something more like… … only with hiking gear on. Nevertheless, off we went. We jumped off the bus close to the spot indicated on the map, headed straight into the woods, and in little time had located the trail. By the end of the first day, we had set up camp atop Mount Frosty, and it was then that we realized we forgot to bring enough water. There were no creeks nearby, it was getting dark, and we had to get a fire going and the tent set up. I don’t remember what we ate that night, but it seemed that dry ramen or egg noodles figured prominently in the menu. We went to bed thirsty, certain that we would find water in the morning. Water found us the next day in the form of a wet snowfall, so we hurriedly collected our stuff and headed into the fog, which shows you the level of experience Peter and I shared. It would be a while before we realized two things: you should not travel in thick fog, and you should always take an inventory of your supplies before leaving the campsite. Consequently, we had left our binoculars, a few cooking pots, and various utensils buried in the snow back atop Mount Frosty. By the time the fog had thinned out and the snow tapered off to rain, we were looking at the old fur-traders path that was now under a foot or more of water. It was at that point that Peter opined, “We should have brought a compass.” Referring to the map, we figured we could just follow a nearby creek that paralleled the trail, and pick it up again further on. An hour later we were hanging onto roots and vines on the side of a cliff, looking down fifty feet at the rushing water below and fifty feet up at the edge of the cliff. The more we struggled on, the further we got from both the top and the bottom of the precipice, and the greater the danger we faced of losing our hold. Our only hope was to start climbing up, a very difficult feat with 60 pounds each on our backs. We made it, but now we were truly lost. The map said that the river led to Ross Lake, but the lake was miles from our trail, and there was no guarantee that we would find the trail again. It was getting dark and we were tired, but once we reached the top of the cliff we found another problem – we were on the side of a very steep mountain. It took us hours to find anything close to a level spot, so I ended up sleeping while sitting upright on a steep slope. Rain, mosquitoes and noseeums (which are basically winged teeth) plagued me, and whenever I dozed of, I was in danger of falling sideways and rolling down the hill. We arose the next morning to face a thick forest and thicker underbrush, and Peter again musing about the fact that neither of us thought to bring a compass. The thorny underbrush snagged at our clothing, making forward movement difficult and a little bloody, but we pushed on throughout the day, figuring that as long as we headed downhill we would eventually end up somewhere! The map had sketched out where the lake was, and indicated that it was southwest of where we had started out, but a) we didn’t know where we were now, and b) we were not sure where southwest was since the thick forest canopy virtually blocked out the sun. We had also lost track of where the river was. Peter spent the afternoon being royally pissed off at the underbrush… …while I entered a state of panic, as I felt the greenery closing in on me. We had been wandering through the forest for a couple of days. My feet were blistered from wearing socks not designed for hiking, the backpack straps were digging mercilessly into my shoulders, and I seriously considered the possibility that we would never get out of those goddamned woods, when I suddenly reached my hand into my back pocket, and discovered that I hadn’t forgotten to bring the compass after all! Before the sun had set on that third day of our journey, we arrived on a small dirt track that led us to Ross Lake. To this vey day, when I feel overwhelmed by a problem or lost in my life, and cannot see a way through, I remember that time and remind myself that I always have a compass inside that can guide me through.

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Judgment

If I see life, the world, myself, and others without judgment, there is no good or bad, and everything seems and feels more peaceful in and around me. Judgment not only reinforces the blindness of belief, but also reinforces my rejection of what is. Rejection is suffering. If I am rejecting something, I will suffer. If I judge what I am rejecting, I will strengthen my attachment to suffering. I have never known a way to ‘let go’ of judgment, but have noticed judgement spontaneously falling away, when I notice my rejection and turn toward acceptance. If you know of a direction in life that is not an expression of either acceptance or rejection, please let me know. At this point in my life there seems to be a pattern that I fall into compulsively. An example of this pattern goes like this: Something “undesirable” happens. Upon observing or experiencing what happens, I feel uncomfortable. I don’t like how I feel, so I reject what is happening, pushing away from the situation mentally and emotionally — and physically if possible. I decide that there is something wrong in the situation and intellectually seek to justify my judgment. As soon as I can identify what is wrong, I righteously defend my judgmental point of view through blame, criticism, and a desire to punish. I will hold onto my righteous position forever until the situation goes away I become aware of how much I am suffering under the righteousness and judgment. However, sometimes I will continue to suffer, well aware that my heart is urging me toward another direction.   Regarding point “c”, I become aware that I’m rejecting what is, by the suffering I am experiencing, and when this occurs it seems that I can also become aware of the potential to relax and accept what is. Sometimes acceptance seems slow in coming, while at other times, it flows into me more naturally. I have raged against the suffering in my life because, in my ignorance I didn’t realize the rage perpetuated the suffering. I thought my anger was giving me a superior position from which I could better control the situation, as well as my feelings and emotions. The fact that my anger seemed to have no power over what was happening never stopped me from resorting to it time after time. If I try to understand life and the experiences it provides through the filter of good and bad, right and wrong, I imagine that I will continue to struggle in my suffering. Then I will get angry at some ‘creator’ or external force that made me this way, and find some refuge in my righteousness, which is really just another kind of anger and judgment. I know it is frustrating to recognize this, because when I am caught up in my suffering, my need to be right becomes even more obsessive and compulsive. At those times it is hard to let life present itself without any expectations. but when I do relax and see without judgment, the voice of my heart guides me through to a peace beyond all understanding.

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Acceptance — The Road Less Travelled

Life becomes a much simpler journey when you realize that there are only two directions to take at any given moment, a fact that is often more apparent when you are confronted by a problem or crisis. One direction is rejection and the other is acceptance. People who appear to be involved in unconscious living tend to consistently opt for rejection, while those who seem to be waking up or growing up emotionally lean toward acceptance.

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Devil or Angel

There is an interesting story in Buddhism about “The Dweller on the Threshold.” In spite of the various ways it was described, I was given the impression that this Dweller is one vicious and ugly critter whose job it is to test the sincerity of the spiritual seeker.

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What is Awakening? Part 2

In my experience, waking up seems to begin with awareness of a “presence” in your life. Your physical world does not change, but the way you see it does. You might look at an object with your eyes, and register its solid appearance, but you are aware of the presence behind or beyond that appearance. Or perhaps you will be entertaining a belief in your mind and suddenly be aware of the presence beyond that belief, rendering the belief to be insubstantial, even meaningless. As the belief dissolves, awareness of the presence grows and you begin to realize that the presence is the awareness itself, and the awareness is You! Whereas before it would seem to you that you were looking out at the world from within your body, in the awakening stage, the body – and the very world itself – are now experienced as being inside the awareness; inside You. At this point a wonderful little awareness game takes place.

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Awakening

It must have been on a television program that I first witnessed someone being placed into a hypnotic trance. I don’t remember why the man was being hypnotized, whether it was simply an act or whether I was watching a documentary. What I do recall was the subject being guided to close his eyes and relax as deeply as possible. He was then asked a number of questions, to which he replied in a drowsy voice. Once the hypnotist was finished with his inquiries, he spoke the following words to the subject: “Now I am going to count to three and as I do so you will begin to awaken from your trance. When I reach the number three you will open your eyes feeling relaxed and refreshed.” At the number three, the subject opened his eyes, blinked a little, and then smiled.

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Chicken Poop for the Soul

A few years back I was leading a workshop in Malaysia, and sharing a story with the group about a farmer who had a bald spot on his head. Every day while he toiled in the chicken coop the perspiration made his scalp itch, so he would stop to scratch and rub his scalp. One day he looked in his mirror and noticed that his hair was growing back. He came to the conclusion that this was due to the fact that when he scratched his head he was inadvertently rubbing in chicken poop, which must have some miraculous hair-restoration properties.

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The Wasp of Knowledge

 When it comes to teaching lessons, life doesn’t seem interested in my schedule. I was twenty-one years old and coming home from my job as an office clerk. As soon as I walked through the doorway of the house I was sharing with two friends, I saw the wasp circling the ceiling light in the living room. And the wasp saw me.

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Abundance — Busting the Myth

For a long time in my life I had wrestled with the idea of “abundance.” Maybe it was because of the mixed messages that I gave myself about the meaning of the word. I was a member of what at the time was called “The New Age Community,” which seemed to be a large number of people involved in an attempt at integrating psychology, spirituality, mythology, natural healing, esoterica, the laws of manifestation and, for some reason, crystals.

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Monkeying Around in the Moment

As I get older, perhaps a little bit of wisdom trickles into me and I can perceive life from a different perspective. When I was younger, I would try to look into the future, searching for signs and messages to prepare me for what awaited me in the New Year. If I saw what I thought was a sign, I would assign specific meanings to the challenges that the omen predicted, in order to help me see a greater purpose unfolding in my life. I even decided that the first movie I saw in the New Year would represent the greatest experience that I would be given, and the second movie I saw would represent the greatest challenge I would face. Then I examined the astrological influences, and read the prophecies of other teachers and masters. All of these things I did simply to prepare myself and my workshop participants for what would come in the future.

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Believe It or Not

Some people need something to believe in. Others need to know.  Imagine that there are two women arguing about African bushmen. One says that she read about the bushmen and the fact that they don’t hunt when it’s raining, while the other woman argues that her husband visited a tribe who in fact went hunting, rain or shine. The first woman thinks that the husband did not visit the particular tribe to which she was referring, whereas the second woman insists that hunting practices are the same throughout all the tribes of bush people.