Let’s go deeper into the root causes of human unhappiness. I came across this interview with Micheal Singer, the author of The Untethered Soul and The Surrender Experiment. I loved his answer to this question: How did meditation quiet the voice for you?
Here is his answer. He said, “When I first started to meditate, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just wanted to shut up that incessant chatter in my head. So I took the time each day to sit by myself in a meditation posture and use my will to either push away the thoughts or struggle to turn my attention onto something else – like a mantra or visualization. That created some quiet, but it didn’t last, and it was a struggle to get into a really quiet state. As I matured in my spiritual practices, I began to surrender inside, just like I was doing in my outer life. I just allowed whatever thoughts needed to arise, to arise, and simply tried to relax instead of engaging with them. No struggle, just deep relaxation – regardless of what the voice was saying. Over time, like magic, my awareness lost interest in the thoughts and ceased to become distracted by them. If I walk into a room with a television on, I can notice it is there, but I don’t have to actually watch it. Likewise, I can notice that the voice is saying something, but I don’t have to actually listen to it. That became my meditation: deeply relaxing and not engaging in anything the voice of the mind was saying. Over time, as I let go of the chattering mind, I began to fall into beautiful states within, like deep peace or waves of joy and love. This began happening both during meditation and during daily activities. Interestingly, when the inner state becomes beautiful, the voice of the mind has much less to say. It’s as though the vast majority of its talking was about how to be OK. If you are already OK, both the heart and the mind become still and melt into the beauty of the moment.”
Wow, just reflect on that last part – how to be OK – think about where your mind typically goes. I need to do this in order to be happy, or do that in order to get my life together, or to make this person proud...where does your mind typically go...If we are already OK, or WHOLE, then we melt into the beauty of the moment – we experience self-acceptance, which is essential in becoming stress-free because it leads us away from shame – the shame of not being good enough. And the truth is we are already whole, we are all born completely whole. We are all part of this infinite abundance. But, we learn the idea or belief of “not OK”, this incompleteness and separateness, where we feel as if we are lacking, or missing something… like there is this other “ideal self” that we must constantly try to become. This creates a gap between the authentic self and this “ideal self”. What are the feelings that come with that? Inadequacy, feeling lost (“Who am I?”, “What is my purpose?”, “What is life?!”), worried, fear, frustration, ashamed… are very stressful ways to live. Carol Dweck, the researcher in emotional development, conducted a study where she gave a class of third graders an unsolvable puzzle. The boys got angry, called the puzzle stupid, or just acted as if they didn’t care. The girls blamed themselves saying things like “I’m not smart enough.” Further studies show this pattern continues into adulthood – men turn shame into anger and lead to violence, women turn shame into more shame which leads to depression.
Awareness is key in breaking the patterns of blame and shame and realizing that you are OK. It is the process of accepting yourself, exactly as you are. Keep using the awareness tool, especially when you find yourself in patterns of shame and blame. The more often you use it, the better it works in creating a habit of peaceful awareness.
Let’s do another exercise, where we examine the attributes of a whole person so that you can apply them to your life.
Attributes of a Whole Person Exercise
You were born whole, but during your inevitable human experience and conditioning of the mind, you formed certain perceptions and beliefs that led you away from this truth. So just like you have done your whole life, you can now form new perspectives that help bring you back to who you really are. To help you achieve that happiness and peace that part of you has been trying to get back to for so long.
Write down these attributes on paper, mark the ones you already have and apply in your life, and highlight the ones that you want to strengthen:
Spontaneous, creative curious, and interested in learning, a good listener, open to your own experience of life, loving unconditionally, able to experience all of your feelings, undefended and self-accepting, courage to be imperfect, nonjudgmental with others, collaborative and democratic, open to other people’s ideas and points of view but not governed by them, able to forgive, a clear sense of purpose, living more completely in the moment, trusting your own judgment in finding your best available answer to any situation, able to give and receive appreciation and admiration, empathic and compassionate, capacity to retreat into the quiet of your own being.
Refer to this list as you continue your practice, noticing where you already apply some of these attributes, and where you would like to apply more of these attributes. Write down where and how you want to apply these in your life.
Join me in the next lesson for some wise words from the Dalai Lama and from the Monastics at Plum Village.