What if our efforts to be more present and conscious were actually making us less so?
What if this very action was actually putting us in conflict with our own basic nature?
What if instead of trying to make our selves quiet and sedated we were better served to become more engaged and more judgmental and critical?
One thing I see quite frequently is that we as modern people misunderstand the major point of various spiritual teachings such as mindfulness, compassion, and detachment. Because we are raised with in a modern culture that conditions us to largely think and behave in standardized ways, we approach things of other cultures as if they ought to function as replacements or upgrades for our pre-existing standardization.
A huge problem is that we are usually unaware that we are standardized and probably just seeking another standard to replace or support our existing standard. This is incredibly arrogant, entitled, and also disrespectful to the tradition that a person may be trying to study, whether that be Yoga, Buddhism, or Taoism. Out of this arrogance we often perceive teachings as if they are some kind of fixed rule (such as a commandment or law), that we should or ought to follow because it will somehow make us a better person and provide us some gain of spiritual gain.
This is basically just another outlet for desire, achievement, and striving to be better or good enough.
The fact is that we are missing the point that such teachings function more as offerings for creating awareness about the natural condition we find ourselves in as it actually is. In this way, the point of receiving such teachings is for us to generate a kind of spontaneous insight response.
They are not offered as logical formulas or hard rules, but instead as something that, like us, is alive, dynamic, and adaptable.
These kinds of teaching can hopefully make us more intelligent and less deluded by our own stupidity and denial of our natural condition. For example, it’s not really that you ought to be detached because it’s “good for you,” in reality, it’s more that you can’t actually be attached or detached to anything based on the natural conditions of all phenomena found in this world. Detachment in modern times just usually manifests as a person repressing themselves, stagnating their Liver Qi, and constructing a boat load of delusion around their identity.
This is fine if that’s what we want to do, but in reality it is just more ignorance of our natural condition as it actually is.
Taking it a bit deeper, let’s look at three false beliefs that most of us spend a lot of our life buying into and thus wasting a great deal of time and energy.
- That our nature and the nature of the mind is stillness.
- That time actually exists.
- That we each have a permanent and independent abiding self.
These foundations make it quite easy to get weighed down and hypnotized by confusing the feeling of sedation and/or concentration with spirituality. Obviously having a way to feel more calm and relaxed and incredibility useful, especially in our overly stressful modern world. Of course the ability to concentrate and focus your attention on one thing at a time is useful skill to cultivate. The real issue is that both of these things are simply what they are and have little to do with being present or spiritual growth.
The irony here is that if we were actually present with our real situation(s), then these things would be easily obvious to us. But the more we believe that we ought to be present, the less we actually are.
This whole endeavor is a very clever game of self-deception that we play with ourselves and other people.
One major piece of the self deception game is that we often aren’t even clear on what we mean by the terms we are using and what we actually hope to achieve by the practice we are doing. If you asked 10 people what being present meant, you would get 10 different answers. I bet that even if we asked ourselves this question regularly, our answers would constantly fluctuate based on the sliding scale of our emotional experience and subsequent levels of self-worth.
How successful can we really be in trying to practice something which already exists and always has under a pretense that you aren’t even clear on what it is in combination with little understanding of where it came from, why it’s important, and where it’s really heading?
What I mean is that there is nothing you can do to be present because the present is all there is and all there ever will be and that all the striving and mental struggle is merely a level of fog that you are choosing to be caught up in. The point Im making is hilariously obvious but it’s often hard to wrap our heads around because we believe that somehow our mind or spirit is separate from our bodies and subsequently that our thoughts and feelings have some real kind of significance.
How much significance do we put into a fart or a burp or the sound of a stomach gurgling? Hopefully very little because we understand that these are by products of this natural function of our organism called digestion. In the same way, our thoughts and feelings are largely by products of the natural function of our organism called being alive.
The highest thought and the lowest thought both carry the same significance, which very little. However based on our conditioning and the clever games we play with ourselves we tend to prefer some over others and attached exaggerated and elevated ideas to certain special categories. We take our favorite feelings, positive and negative, and then tie them in a knot with our favorite stories about them and then we think that’s really who and what we are. So what we tend to call spirituality is merely the new element of self-improvement and self elevation on top of our acquired biases.
Which implies that all of our desire and efforts to minimize or diminish self, actually just reinforce and strengthen our original ideas that we are supposedly trying to get away from, thus the deep and entertaining game of self-deception.
I want to be clear in that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of this and that there’s really nothing we ought to or should be doing. Im more so just trying to add a bit of clarity and an alternative viewpoint by pointing out what is easily observable by anyone who chooses to look, but I really don’t care if they choose to or not. To each their own.
I feel that it’s silly to tell people let go of their thoughts through trying to not have them when they’d probably be better off learning how to think more clearly and efficiently. It makes more sense to use this amazing tool we have called the mind by following it’s natural course and learning to understand it for what it is. Because it really makes no sense to fight against the natural tendency of who and what we really are, meaning everything in life is basically in chaos/constant movement all of the time as this is usually what characterizes something as being alive versus dead.
It can be naive and even harmful to bombard people with propaganda and false promises of not thinking, quieting the mind, and just being in the moment. Peddling the illusion of life being all love and light and that we just need to think positive thoughts and everything will be fine. It’s deep stupidity to assume the solution to all of our problems is to just open to heart and be from the open heart space.
These things are really not helpful because they aren’t getting anyone in touch with what their actual situation is and how and why they might be creating their own suffering and diminishing their own self by motivated by their own unexamined illusions, biases, and preferences. This often just keeps us stupid and operating at the periphery of our experience, rather than being actively engaged.
In actual practice all of these things would typical be called denial, repression, and self deception, which I would suggest is the opposite direction of positivity, love, light, and growth. One could even venture so far as to say that much of the time these kinds of practices are merely dressed up and self elevated addictions to endorphins, kind of like the famous runners high.
I think that learning how to think more clearly through being more critical, about the right things, is far more useful than the typical empty statements and exaggerated claims found in the majority of modern spirituality. By “right” things, I mean our individual cultural programming—the habitual stories we keep telling ourselves about ourselves, as well power institutions—whether those be governmental, religious, or spiritual.
This might be far more useful than wasting our energy on such ideas as being good enough, worthy enough, attractive enough, spiritual enough, conscious enough, and generally wasting our life worrying about what others might think of us.
Some benefits and things we could cultivate through being more engaged, more judgmental, and more critical might be:
- Gaining more insight and wisdom from daily life experience
- Extracting the lessons from past experiences and moving on
- Getting in touch with the actual dynamics and processes which sit behind habitual or reactive thought patterns
- Learning more quickly from their mistakes
- Learning more from the mistakes of others
- Deeper ability to cut through the malaise of their own illusion
- Setting healthier and more clear boundaries
- Being able to say a firm No when it’s appropriate
- Learn to use what resources they have in a much more efficient and effective manner
Author: Brandon Gilbert
Editor: Renée Picard