How much time and effort do you spend thinking that maybe you might be incorrect and wrong about what you know about life and your role in it? Are you fulfilled in the life you are leading, and does it beg the question why is there so much discontent? Is there something that you believe is fundamentally wrong with the world but you can’t put your finger on it, or is it an issue that you believe you can do nothing since you are only one person?
I surmise that reflective people would agree that if the sum total of events that create a person’s life are siphoned, managed, and processed through their conscious perceptions (additionally at times their unconscious perceptions), and furthermore their intuitions, and ideas also share this evaluation, then these impressions could be ultimately channeled through the logic of their belief systems, about themselves and the world, thus deriving a world view inclusive of their persona’s ego. This world-view would include the known thoughts and feelings of others that we listen to, and those who influence us and our thinking. The phenomena of experience can indeed shape us over time and is a major reason for our questioning the meaning in our lives and the meaning of a life that we create. The sources of information we trust are only as effective as we allow them when they align with our thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
In the course of a person’s life, challenges to their ideas, beliefs, and feelings from others may result in a re-evaluation of their assessment of themselves. Life can be a challenge for many reasons, and even more so for those in the scrutiny of others depending on their place in the civic world.
One starts to question the foundation of their belief system when it is challenged by people who face you with a different view. People you know, people in your family or professional life that will often comment on their observations of your status in some way. Even more disturbing is when the unexpected counter-message that differs from your own beliefs is brought to you over a period of time and it seems to still be a surprise to you. For obvious reasons delusion, denial, and deceit among many other possibilities will disrupt a person if they are not ready for that contingency. This includes that an awareness of all perceptions of the events are known, or that each side of the experience is contemplated.
Other reasons for reaching this plane of thought is when the chronological and emotional maturity levels of an individual strikes us and makes us do things that try to remind us of a younger self, or alternatively tries to fill a void in the angst we are experiencing in some other way of acting out as a result from these feelings. A balancing maneuver to equalize the disturbance perhaps. The mid-life crisis as shown takes on many avenues in fruition. Other reasons for asking these philosophical questions earlier than in the mid-life cycle of an adult is that one may experience something that disrupts their world view, weather or not it is conscious or something that compels them from a subconscious directive. Something that makes them ponder more than what they now experience and suggests that they need something else to replace or supplement their condition as they see it. Maybe some experience that crushed their world view in some way, or someone who challenged them to be more than what they have become could be the impetus that makes them take some form of action to correct this discovery. The death of a close one, or family member, or some other catastrophic event that made them approach their lives from an entirely different perspective. For me many questions arose at a very early age when I began to search for a better possible life because of the family chaos that evoked trauma and suffering as I was growing up.
The awakening at an early part of my life was when I was exposed to the work of W. Somerset Maugham‘s 1944 novel which was then turned into the 1946 film The Razor’s Edge. The remake in 1984 would emerge and would lead me to the earlier works which I can say changed me from that day forward.
It was the first time that I identified with the main character Larry Durrell, finding an affinity that matched my own yearning passion. Weather the character is based on a real person or if it is purely a fictional character, the answer may never be truly be known for sure. (see the wanderling for further clarification).
“The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.”
-W. Somerset Maugham, THE RAZOR’S EDGE-
The learning of such a character was only an outlet in my realization that others too searched for answers they did not quite understand. Seeing this on film, and then reading the book made me more aware than ever before just how I was not alone in this mad quest for wanting more out of life. The stigma of not being able to fit in with others at times was largely due to my nature, my continual quest for answers as I watched others my age act to impress their peers, or act to attract attention from others. They acted in ways that led me to question why does this ego thing always interfere with our dealings in the world. The sociology in youth is a very powerful force upon the group if the mind is still not ready for the austerity of the undeveloped mind.
I do not claim that I have any benefit from this vantage point at this time simply because I realized I knew nothing and used my observation skills to learn what others had demonstrated to me. It was out of these times that I wandered and floated through my existence knowing that there was something more powerful for me to connect with, than just what some of my peers were exposing me to. I also learned that it is essential to take risks, to meet life head on, and not to be an armchair observer. One must take part, socialize and navigate the social realm, or they would quite possibly lose out on many lessons to be learned, and in extreme cases resort to becoming a recluse. I remember the term we used in relationships between men and women of my age during our adolescence. If we were stricken to being immature or had over-exacerbated ego’s, than we would treat each other in ways that would result in our identifying this treatment as playing “Games.”
The basic reason for game playing in relationships is to acquire something desired. Wanting an emotional or a tangible reward presents a reason to use covert tactics. Some games have become such a part of the personality that the gamer hardly realizes he or she is involved in a game of psychological cat and mouse. Most of these tactics seem to be ego related and combined with a lack of social skill it can make a risky combo. Even to this day I see adults continuing to “play” off of each other in many different types of relationships. What is sad is that many still do not know why they resort to such efforts, since it is all they know, or that they have not yet learned better methods for acquiring the desired object. The thought of rejection, or to protect the fragile ego may be a reason for such tactics, but the risk involved does have a price.
So again I ask, what moves you? What is there in life that eludes you and makes you want something more from it that you are not receiving? For as many people who ask these questions, there are also as many answers that will continue to evade some, and touch others. To be human is to answer and ask! To be human is to succeed and fail. To be human is to seek and succumb. The choice you make is the life you give the presence to. The meaning you assign is the reality you live. Which life will you choose?
One cannot fully comprehend why certain events happen in one’s life. The kind of life events that are not expected, not even predictable given the individual’s personal nature and demeanor. Life has a tendency to challenge people and poise them in situations that can forever change them, influence them, or depending on how they shepherd the occurrence, shape their belief’s and behaviors. If we sustain our self image by remembering events that happen to us in retelling these memories in a way that protects us from social stigma, and protects us from guilt; then the resulting information we conclude can be untrustworthy, and is an attribute we often employ. Self deception is a common element in our every day lives and is as prevalent in reflection to the owner of an untrained mind as is the perception of when an event happens. Therefore the truth of an event and the after thought of the event can be displaced equally under the lapse of retaining good perceptual skills or an accurate self image.
We do not always think rationally or act reasonably, and our memories often paint the picture with broad strokes on the canvas of our memories when we reflect on past events, leaving out many nuances that can completely change the meaning of the situations reflected upon. Differing responsibilities, opinions about fault and accountability often come to mind when we diffuse the event within our minds trying to make sense out of it, without placing shame or blame upon our own rendering of our behaviors. How many times do we actually correctly depict the events of a situation that has occurred in our lives without the distortion of the ego that pardon’s our misdeeds? What is the true dynamic behind the distortions of our memories? Is it a defense mechanism the psyche posits into a reality of it’s own creation?
I am not from a school of thought that totally dismisses the ego, nor one that teaches oneself to reject the ego altogether. I rather like to believe that it is only a starting point in “self” reflection, a pendulum of experience that one should consider before casting one’s analysis.
Children learn so rapidly because they are neither afraid of not knowing nor convinced that they already know what they don’t. Unlike most adults, in our defensiveness, we act as though we know, even when we know we don’t. When we love and except ourselves as we are, we engage in the vulnerable act of learning without the fear of looking foolish. We can profit from the knowledge and experience of others because we love ourselves enough to put our desire to grow ahead of defending our ignorance. The beginner’s mind applies not only to learning the new skills, activities, or information but to all we think we know about life. Many of us walk around about life. Many of us walk around with deeply ingrained beliefs that limit our experience. We think you can’t really trust people, or you can’t really do or have what you want in life. Of course, we can insist on these kinds of beliefs, select out supportive incidents from the past, and build cases for why they are so; but this only shuts the door on now experience. As only an empty cup can be filled, so only a heart emptied of the pride of what it thinks it knows can be open to new experience and receive the gifts of wisdom. When we embrace the humility to meet life head-on, whiteout the baggage of what we think we know, we make room for ourselves to grow.
“To know that you do not know is the best. To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease.”
“The trouble with most of us is that we know so much that Ain’t so.”
“The chief object of education is not to learn things but to unlearn things.”
-G. K. Chesterton-
“Real learning comes about when competitive spirit has ceased…This is true not only of competition with others, but competition with yourself.”
“He who can copy can do.”
-Leonardo Da Vinci-
“The great end of education is to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; to train it to the use of its own powers, rather than fill it with the accumulation of others.”
“Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.”
-William Butler Yeats-
“Everyone is ignorant, only in different subjects.”
“The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.”
“Learning is the very essence of humility.”
“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn…and change.”
“A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep or taste not the pierian spring.”
“Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I may remember. But involve me and I’ll understand.”
“When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.”
“The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart.”
“A man only learns in too ways, one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.”
“A man should never be ashamed to own he has been wrong. Which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”
“Much learning does not teach a man to have intelligence.”
“A person’s errors are his portals of discovery.”
“A man must have a certain amount of intelligent ignorance to get anywhere.”
“Its better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.”
“Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”
“Men are wise in proportion not to their experience, but in their capacity for experience.”
-George Bernard Shaw-
“In the beginner’s mind their are many possibilities, but in the experts, there are few.”
No greater enemy than fear
It hems us in, sucks the joy out of life, and leaves us with disgust for ourselves. Nothing of importance can be undertaken or achieved without facing, challenging, and finally mastering fear. If it takes great courage to attempt and accomplish things of real merit, it takes even more to be what we truly are.
Friedrich Nietzsche described a threefold process in the maturation of consciousness.
1) Camels – hoisted upon us the load of social conditioning, habit, and convention
2) Lions – roaring against societal “thou shalts”
3) The child – a fully human being, capable of spontaneously, intuitively, and competently responding to the world.
The courage of the lion is the courage to find your own path in life. It requires that you examine the conventions, ideals, and programs of society, as well as the habits and routines you have unconsciously accumulated, and determine or yourself what to accept and what to reject.
The measure of our courage is reflected in the vision of life we choose and in how much it takes for us to become discouraged. Too often we think of ourselves as weak candles that can be blown out by the slightest wind of frustration or disappointment. Better if….”I will become a bonfire an dare the world to put me out.”
“What a new face courage puts on everything.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-
“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”
“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”
“To see what is right and not do it is want of courage.”
“A man with outward courage dares to die. A man with inward courage dares to live.”
“No one knows what he can do until he tries.”
“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity, and courage.”
“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.”
“There’s nothing in the world so admired as a man who knows how to bear unhappiness with courage.”
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
“A warrior only takes care that his spirit is never broken.”
“Fortune and love befriend the bold.”
“It is difficulties that show what men are.”
“No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”
“Discontent is what of self reliance; it is infirmity of will.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-
“A man of courage is also full of faith.”
“Whatever you do or dream you can do – begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”
Buddhist noble eightfold path
“Thoughts” as Emerson put it, “rule the world” for the simple reason that thoughts determine feelings and actions. We can think ourselves into happiness or a deep depression. We can think ourselves into health or illness.
We can think ourselves into a narrow, limited world characterized by procrastination and paralysis, or we can think ourselves into a noble creative life and the actions that give it shape and substance. If we only take care of our thoughts, our feelings and actions will take care of themselves.
For better or worse, we give to others the fruits of our own thinking by the same token, we are influenced by the thinking of those with whom we associate. It certainly helps to make friends with people who have made friends with their own minds. Observe people who are chronically bored or depressed, and you will find they dwell on negative thoughts. Observe people who are consistently happy, creative, and productive, and you will find remarkable similarities in the quality of their thinking. By our thinking, we create our individual and collective experience of reality. Changing our thinking for the better improves the quality of our own lives, and in doing, uplifts all around us.
“Not he is great who can alter matter, but he who can alter my state of mind.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-
“For one who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends. But for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be his greatest enemy.”
“One comes to be of just such stuff as that on which the mind is set.”
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”
“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”
“As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
“The ills from which we are suffering have had their seat in the very foundation of human thought.”
-Teilhard De Chardin-
“A man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be.”
“All that is, is the result of what we have thought.”
“Men imagine that thought can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance.”
Things are not what they seem, including us. How happy can you be when you spend most of your time worrying about something that doesn’t even exist? Something = ego; the confused jumbled thoughts and desires we mistake for the self. Reality and the true perception of it lie beyond this narrow band of socially conditioned consciousness.
“Get Real” = Get out of ourselves, release the identification with ourselves as a thing apart. A part is in conflict with other parts; but the whole cannot be against itself.
In reality, there is no better, no worse, no difference. There is no loss or gain, nothing old or new. There is nothing to compare with anything else. Everything in the universe is the one same stuff, taking on various forms of disguises. The Zen realization of “emptiness” comes with the release of the identification with and attachment to forms including the physical form we call the body and the mental form we call the ego and mistake for the self.
The deeper realization is that form is emptiness; emptiness, form. In other words, the spiritual reality reality is manifest in the physicality of the world. As Jesus said in the gospel according to Thomas, “The Kingdom of Heaven is spread upon the earth and men do no see it.”
“Love is a living reality.”
“In the world of reality there is no self. There is no other-than-self.”
“Every man takes the limits of his field of vision for the limits of the world.”
“Attachment is the greatest fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.”
“He then learns that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the secrets of all minds.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-
“What is Reality? – Selflessness!”
“If you realize what the real problem is – losing yourself – you realize that this itself is the ultimate trial.”
“Everything passes and what remains of former times, what remains of life, is the spiritual. In everything we do, the claim of the absolute is unchanging.”
“The words of truth are always paradoxical.”
“All are but parts of one stupendous whole whose body nature is, and God the soul.”
“If the mind makes no discriminations, all things are as they really are.”
“God is infinite and his shadow is also infinite.”
“Compared to what we ought to be, we are half awake.”
“Ego-Soul is the seed of birth and death, and foolish people call it the true man.”
“The religious idea of God cannot do full duty for the metaphysical infinity.”
“First there is a mountain then there is no mountain, then there is.”
“Being and nonbeing create each other.”
“Do not cling to the notion of voidness but consider all things alike.”
“Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.”
-Vietnamese Buddhist Precept-
One of the great lessons of Zen is to take total responsibility for your own life. Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to believe, feel, and act as though the world owes us something. We complain that, as George Bernard Shaw put it, “The world will not devote itself to making us happy.” Zen says, “Why waste time and energy with regrets and whining? We have the gift of life and the opportunities of this moment.”
When we truly celebrate and do not regret our birth, we embrace the whole of our lives. All the suffering and disappointments in life, at the imperfections in ourselves and others have come from the fact that we have been born into this world. As the Taoist say, all things have mutually arisen. What we call the “bad” has arisen with what we call the “good”; what we call the “happy”, with the “sad”. Yet in truth, as the poet said, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” When we give up the habit of making mental comparisons, we release our psychological investment in what we like and dislike and say yes to life- total and complete.
“You must push yourself beyond your limits, all the time.”
“The difficulty in life is the choice.”
“It is not enough to be busy, So are the ants. The question is what are we busy about?”
-Henry David Thoreau-
“Let him who would move the world first move himself”
“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on it this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”
-George Bernard Shaw-
“The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.”
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
“Self-knowledge and self-improvement are very difficult for most people it usually needs great courage and long struggle.”
“Man is not the creature of circumstances. Circumstances are the creature of men.”
“The injuries we do and those we suffer are seldom weighed in the same scales.”
“To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.”
“let us not underestimate the privileges of the mediocre. As one climbs higher, life becomes even harder; the coldness increases, responsibility increases.”
“Things do not get better by being left alone.”
“This is a world of action, and not for moping and groaning in.”