Monday, June 30, 2008


More and more these days, you hear the terms "spirituality" and "spiritual growth" as well as "personal development." They can be taken to mean all sorts of things, and I could probably spend a few posts just going over that. In fact, Ken Wilber has devoted the better part of several BOOKS to the subject in an attempt to cover off all of the possible definitions.

To me, the better question is, "Why do you pursue your vision of spirituality, if you do?"

Motive and intent are everything when talking about the results, after all, and there are a lot of pitfalls out there associated with these things. I am defining a "pitfall" as a path that leads towards strengthening your ego rather than becoming disidentified with it. So, here are some of them:

Thrills, chills, and frills: Many people who pursue so-called spiritual practices are actually in search of fun or thrills. Are you one of them? Ever hope that eventually if you stuck with a teacher long enough, you would get the tittilating bits? The scary stories? The dire warnings? The admission to the Secret Society? Maybe you have even been given some of these things by a book, group, or teacher? Isn't it exciting? I've been there too!

Though it is indeed waaay cool, seeking thrills is not going to get you very far. In fact, pursuing spiritual evolution for these reasons is a barrier to real development. Whenever you wear out the novelty, you will move on, often before you actually get someplace. In martial arts, we used to tell students that they won't really learn anything deep with an exercise until that first wave of boredom hits.


Because getting past that first wave of boredom is a lesson in dealing with the ego. The ego is what gets bored, not your true self, and learning to deal with the ego is a path to true development, rather than listening to it and moving onto the next thrill.

To be right: Some folks pursue spirituality so they can find the "ultimate truth". While this is a noble reason to start out, in theory, the pitfall often occurs when they think they have found this so-called truth. The finding is not the pitfall. The clinging is.

Whenever you cling to something, in this case an ideal, you are identifying with it. Whenever you believe that something is absolutely correct, and that everyone else is wrong or in some way inferior to you because they do not believe that way, you are in the grip of the ego. One of the ego's funnest desires is to be right and to make others wrong. This can be done with any subject, let alone the subject of spirituality.

If you believe you are in a spiritual practice that demonizes others or somehow paints others as being one thing or another, and you ascribe to that practice, take a good look at what is going on.

To get "fixed": All of us have emotional baggage or issues that we would rather not have. These could also be mental forms that we are unable to get rid of. In the Present moment, these things are actually not that hard to assuage. It's getting to the Present moment that is tough, and this baggage can directly inhibit one's ability to do that, especially if someone identifies with that baggage as themselves. Have you ever thought, "I wish I could be fixed."?

Some people pursue development to get fixed. They believe that the practice itself can fix them. Again, this is a noble and valid reason for starting. Also, once again, it's not the fixing that is the problem, it is the clinging.

If you think you want to be "fixed", ask yourself something. Do you want to have true peace and tranquility in your life, or do you crave the drama of "getting fixed?" Many people who claim to want peace are just normal people: i.e. they idenfity with the ego which craves emotional pain to strengthen itself. The key to avoiding this pitfall is to be able to step back from that craving and observe it. It is what it is.

There are more pitfalls, of course, but they all really are about the same thing: If you are completely identified with your ego, you will be fooled as to what is going on. Your ego is a master at that.

However! You need to start someplace. A lot of people take those first steps for the wrong reasons, and wind up on the right path eventually.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Here's The Point

Ever curious about "the point" to existence? Here's a cute one:

Part 1:

and Part 2:

Now go and take some aspirin.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Analogy time!

Spiritual practices are like ladders. Ladders are great for leaning against houses to climb into second floor windows. The effective ones allow you to reach those windows, which are realizations of Oneness, and a disidentification with your ego and other non-Real things. However, ladders can have problems.

Some ladders simply don't lead to the second floor window... they might be too short. Some ladders are old and rickety and won't support your weight as you climb.

There's also a big assumption here! The assumption is that you know how to recognize ladders!

Truly, most people don't know how. As humanity awakens, more and more will know how, but at this point, the majority still does not. That's generally why it's helpful to have a guide or teacher, i.e. someone who knows how to recognize ladders. Some teachers can just point them out and say, "Ok, climb." (Meanwhile, that teacher is either praying that you don't fall, or just doesn't care.) Some teachers can hold the ladder for you and push your butt up the thing. Other teachers can climb the ladder above you, grab you by the wrist and TAKE you up the ladder. So there's different levels of teachers too, as you can see.

By the way, this analogy is straight out of the book "Learning How to Learn" by Idries Shah.

Most of the world's major religions were originally ladders. Any one of them can still be a ladder for those that recognize how to find the ladder amongst all the other crap that is leaning against the house. In fact, all of those religions have fairly famous people that managed to climb into the window. Judaism has many, including Reb Schneerson, the last L'Bavitcher Rebbie. Catholicism had Joseph Campbell, Mother Teresa, and others. Islam had Idries Shah, who was arguably more acquainted with the stuff inside the window than any of those previously mentioned just now. Other religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. have many current examples too.

Most ladders aren't organized religions. You can use an organized religion as a ladder if you know how, or you can choose not to. Either way, the point I'm making here is that the whole "game" is about using a ladder to climb into a window. As long as the ladder gets the job done, and as long as you have knowledge or supervision in climbing that ladder, that's good enough.

With this analogy, you can also see some of the pitfalls:

"My ladder is better than your ladder" is a common one that often goes along with,

"I AM this ladder! Climb it NOW! I keel you!" (Remember the post about the Plumber?)

Some people just search for ladders and never find them.

Some people find ladders and study them with their intellect, never actually climbing them.

Some people search for ladders and find them, but instead of climbing them, they move on, because they like the act of searching for ladders more than climbing them.

That goes hand in hand with people who identify with "I AM a searcher of ladders! Where are they? Woe is me."

Some people say, "This ladder worked for my ancestors. Therefore it will work for me." They then may or may not find out about broken ladders afterwards. I don't know if it's true, but Draja used to tell me that spiritual systems, like religions, generally become too corrupt for the masses to use after about pi (3.1415...) human lifetimes. After that time, one generally needs to dig for the material, or know someone who can dig for them and show it to them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Don't be a tool

In his book "The Simple Feeling of Being", Ken Wilber quotes someone as saying that anything you cannot experience while in a deep dreamless sleep is not Real. If you read back a few posts, this makes sense. Experiencing Oneness is basically what we do when we are in a deep dreamless sleep at night. Oneness is the basis of Reality.

I take this a step further. Anything that you DO experience when you are NOT in a deep dreamless sleep is a tool. Your emotions are tools. Your mind is a tool. Your ego is a tool. All of these things are tools to get you through existence. Don't become enamored with your tools and forget that you are the user, not the tool.

I can only illustrate this with a ridiculous skit between a Plumber and a Teacher:

Plumber: *holds up a wrench* This wrench is awesome! It does everything! There's nothing this wrench can't do! I AM this wrench! I can fix anything! Just watch me!

Teacher: Dude, you're a Plumber.

Plumber: What? Nonsense. I'm a wrench. You some kinda idiot?

Teacher: You aren't a wrench. You just think you are one, but you are really a Plumber holding a wrench.

Plumber: Blasphemy! Man, you are so deluded. There's no Plumber. There's just me: this wrench. I can do anything, fix anything, be anything I want. Sure, there are other wrenches out there, and I like some of them, but I'm the best wrench.

Teacher: Trust me. I used to think I was an opaque projector, but then I realized my mistake. You are not a wrench.

Plumber: Get outta here. You're an opaque projector? I hate those things. They think they're such good wrenches.

Teacher: *sighs* Listen, not only are you a Plumber, but you are a part of a larger organization of Plumbers, called a Guild. That Guild is in turn contained by and part of a larger Society, which is in turn contained by a World, a Galaxy, a Universe. Your wrench is a vehicle by which you, and your guild, fix pipes for Society, which ultimately benefits the Universe, if you think about it.

Plumber: You are a raving lunatic! I am a wrench and there's nothing you can tell me to change that! Now you better leave before I bust you one!

Need I say more?

Don't be a tool. The world is full of tools these days.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Execute Program? (Y/N)

Last night I went to sit shiva for one of my friends who passed away. "Sitting shiva" is a traditional Jewish event where people go to the dead person's house after the funeral to visit the family and comfort them. In ultra-traditional circles, they do this every night until interrupted by the Sabbath. In modern times, the first night is the biggest one where everyone comes and eats and talks.

Anyway, while I was there last night I had a great reminder about paying attention. I caught myself running a program that I had a hard time stopping.

What is a program you ask? Programs are what we run during our daily routine. For example, you have a program to brush your teeth and shower in the morning, as well as a driving to work program, or a cooking dinner program. Every day there are things that you do for your routine, without thinking. You are simply going through the motions, as they say. You may also have some more complicated programs running.

When you enter a new situation, such as getting a new job, or having a baby, or moving to a new home, you might notice your programs because they are getting messed up. Change is an easy way to show you what you've been doing without thinking.

Do not get me wrong. Programs are not a bad thing! They are quite useful. While it is good to be mindful, nobody can be mindful 100% of the time, and it is often good to run a program to finish a task that must be done, because programs can enable you to do a task efficiently and adeptly sometimes.

However, programs have limitations, and in times when they are limited, you need to be aware of it.

So, back to the sitting shiva part....

Those who really know me, and there are few, realize that I am actually an introvert. However, most people whom I encounter these days would never know it. They're seeing my "meeting people outside my household" program, which portrays me as outgoing, extroverted, and at certain times, intense. I got this program relatively recently from being involved in the Marketing profession over the last 4 years. In that work you need to be "On", i.e. not afraid to go out there and do things, and meet people. It's a necessary program I must run for my job, to be good at it and excel.

However.... in a funeral environment, it's not such a good thing. Do you see where this is going?

I'm no idiot. I realize that in these environments you need to be low-key. I realize that consciously that is. However, the program runs despite that.

Several times last night I walked up to people I haven't seen in a while and flashed them a big grin while sticking out my hand saying, "Hi!! Good to see you! How are you doing?"

I realized my mistake the first time when the person scowled at me and said, "How do you think I'm doing? I'm doing awful."

Ouch. Can't say I blamed them. My program. My fault.

Ah well, we live in the moment, and that passed, until I did it again.... and at least one more time after that. Each time I would catch myself just as the words left my mouth, and not before. Then I'd kick myself mentally as the person winced at me.

Gotta love programs. There's only one way around them, really. Paying attention. To stop a program you need to take three steps:

1) Become aware you have it.
2) Be able to pay attention to it as it is happening so you can observe it.
3) Once you can observe it, attempt to take control of it, at first while it is happening, then gradually try to grab control BEFORE it runs.

With any luck, I won't have to do any of these steps at a shiva call any time soon, but there you go.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What do I do??

True story:

One of my father's teachers is himself a direct student of the Dalai Lama. In fact, when the Dalai Lama comes to the US, he often stays with this guy... I'll call him Sensei Seijaku.

One day, Sensei Seijaku and the Dalai Lama were walking together somewhere in the US, and this lady ran up to the Dalai Lama and fell at his feet crying. She was an older American woman, and she started to give a long accounting of the problems she was having in her life. They were very complicated problems! There were issues with her kids, her husband, her kids' marriages, you name it, and as she went on and on, the Dalai Lama listened to her compassionately.

Finally, as she began to wind down, she asked, "What do I do???"

The Dalai Lama gently helped her to stand up. He dusted her off. And in pretty good English he said, "I don't know!" as he shrugged his shoulders at her.

No one knows how to solve your problems... not even the Dalai Lama. However, if you think that the object of Life is to solve your problems, then you are missing the point!

It's not about not having problems. It's about how you deal with them.

Even if you had a way to successfully tackle each problem that you came across, and won at it, your life would still contain problems.

So far, I've dished out a lot of advice here, but I haven't said much about what one could DO to live a better life. For reasons I've stated before, I'm a little leary of doing this, because not all advice would apply to everyone. However, I will attempt to give out some extremely basic ideas and things you could do to start, if you are an average Westerner living in the early 21st century:

1) Pay Attention - I've talked about this before. Read some previous posts.

2) Pay your bills - Maslo's hierarchy of needs is a neat little scheme. Look it up. It says that you cannot tend to your higher needs unless your lower needs are met. First get safe from physical danger. Then get your physical needs met (food, warmth, sex, sleep) while also getting your financial needs met. Unless you are a monk living in a monastery, you cannot evolve spiritually unless you've got a J-O-B.

3) Don't do drugs - Just say no! But seriously, if you are addicted to drugs like marijuana or heavier, you need to stop doing that before you can get anywhere. Drugs are good for altering your State of consciousness but not your Stage of development. My aim has always been about Stages, not States.

4) Be able to stick to a routine - This can be hard for me, but it's important. On the same day that Draja taught me about Beliefs, he also gave me an assignment: relax for 20 minutes every day. By this he meant that for 20 minutes I had to do deep relaxation, as per the way he taught me that day, and I had to do it every day without fail for a year. In fact, i didn't see him for a year after that. I'm not telling you to relax for 20 minutes every day, but I am mentioning that you should have a routine that you force yourself to stick to as best you can. For example, get up every day at the same time and go to sleep at the same time every night. Try to eat at the same time every day. I'm not telling you to go on any funky liberal granola head diets. I'm just saying you should master sleeping and eating! It's not as easy as you might think but it will do loads for your spiritual development. Namely, it will make you more mindful.

There are some more basics, but start with those if you're interested. I didn't make them up, but rather they are a compilation of a few different teachers. The last one I attribute more to David Reynolds' book "Constructive Living".

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cosmic can of RAID

A quick interlude here.... This week, there have been four people, unrelated to each other but all related to me in some way, that have passed away. When it rains, it pours.

I thought I'd take this time not only to pay respect to those who passed, and to show and express my sadness for them, but also to remember what death really is.

Death is a realization.

When most people think of death, they think of some scenario where they are whisked away to a far away land of clouds and light, where they get to see their old relatives and pets.... or maybe a different sort of land of green fields and glorious warfare... or some type of harem... you get the idea. Others may just think that when you die, you die. The only thing on the other side is deep dark oblivion.

This ties very strongly into Beliefs and Identity! Everyone has beliefs about death, and in the early stages of death, you do in fact go into your beliefs! People have come back from these stages of death and described exactly that. If you think that after you die, for example, you go see Jesus, well, then guess who you're gonna meet as you're in that stage.

One time I was walking through an old battlefield from the Revolutionary War with one of my teachers, and right near that site was a graveyard we also passed. As I was talking to my teacher, I noticed that many of the spirits of the dead soldiers from the war were still lying on the ground, wounded, and that many of the spirits in the cemetery were were still lying in their coffins. I pointed that out to my teacher who nodded.

I asked, "What are they all doing there? Why don't they get up?"

He answered, "They're waiting for The Ressurection from the Bible. They don't believe they CAN get up....and they'll do that forever."

Beliefs can really screw you.

Identity, however, plays the biggest part in death. All these things I described just now are done by people who identify with their bodies, minds, and egos as themselves. They think that they are those things, and their identification with the Oneness of everything is weak to nil.

When you die, those things die. Your body goes, obviously. Your mind goes, i.e. your conscious thoughts. Your ego... caput. Gone. Those things that people most identify with all die. They may or may not hang around a bit after the physical body has passed, but that's the subject of other posts. Eventually, they dissolve completely.

What's left after that is the REAL you. This part of you was never born and will never die. It exists beyond time, so any discussion of when it came into being and when it will cease is irrelevant. Those words are time words.

People who identify with that Real part know that they will never die! As Tolle puts it, "you have to die before you die and realize there is no death." That means that you have to understand that things like body, mind, and ego all come and go, but they are not you. You have to "die" to your identification with them, and instead arise to identifying with the Real you. When you do that, you realize that death is irrelevant... a silly concept even.

That's why I say that death is a realization, because if you die well, meaning when you die you conciously understand that it is only the body, mind, and ego that are dying and they are not You, then you realize that you are not dying. You aren't really doing anything.

Here's to all my friends and relatives that have recently passed. I pray that their realization was complete.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


About a year after Draja and I had that conversation about paying attention, I took a stab at my very own Lesson 2: Beliefs.

Let's think about reality for a minute (lower case "r"). This reality is different for everybody. Read any psychological study on the subject of memory or recollection. People can recall the same event in completely different ways. Not only that, but memories can be fabricated. If someone insists to you that you were at an event, and you were not, but they keep insisting over a period of time, one thing that can happen is you might create a memory of being there. Have you ever had encounters with people that displayed either of these phenomena? Maybe even done it yourself?

What's the truth, then?

The truth is whatever each person believes. Your beliefs make your reality. The things you believe happened, or the things you believe you can do are true.... for you.

Before going on, let's make an important distinction here. I'm not talking about willy nilly beliefs, like "oh, yeah I believe that." I'm talking about hard core beliefs that you feel to your very insides. Don't go up to your roof and say "I believe I can fly!" and then jump off and wonder why you broke your legs! If you truly believed you could fly down to your very core, then you would.... but just saying it ain't gonna do it.

Ok, so what can we do with this?

Tada! If you can change your beliefs, you can change your reality! That's the magic of it.

Some beliefs are harder to change than others. When you are born, you make certain "agreements" with the Universe about certain things... solid things are solid.... birds fly... people need machines to fly... liquid things are not solid unless you impact them while falling from 30,000 ft, then they're kinda solid... and so on. These are basic things that you need to survive in this existence (or not). Changing these beliefs can be done, but it would take a looooong time, and a loooot of work, and it would probably be a waste of time in the end. I certainly haven't done this, and if given a chance to do it, I'd pass.

However, some beliefs are much easier to change, and more beneficial too! Instead of trying to be like Nathan Petrelli from an episode of Heroes, how about working on your self-esteem? Or perhaps your outlook on life? Or your ability to excel at school or work? Or your ability to make friends?

These beliefs aren't a snap to change, in every case, but they certainly can be changed with a little work. By changing them, you can change your reality. You can feel better about yourself. You can be happier in general. You can get that A grade or that promotion. You can find a special someone.

I want to point out something else too. Everything I've told you in this blog is based on my beliefs. I'm showing you my realities when talking about this stuff. That's why you have to take it for what it is.

The sum total of all your beliefs is called your Belief System. Sometimes things can happen that unravel it. Sometimes it can be strengthened. For me, I generally like to tweak it as needed when going through life. If I must, I try to be a chameleon in a belief sense, for certain things, like religion, for instance... changing beliefs to suit the need at the moment, because remember after all, as Idries Shah said, "Truth has no form." (That's Truth with a capital "T".)

Your beliefs shape your perception of Truth and Reality, which creates your personal reality. That's a tool, so use it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Learning how to learn

"Learning how to learn" is actually the title of a pivotal book by Idries Shah, that I have read a couple times. If you ever get the chance, check this book out. It will throw you for some loops.

People take learning for granted. They assume that anyone can learn anything, at any time. I'm talking about all learning, spiritual, academic, anything.

Not true.

In order to learn something, conditions must be right. The conditions are Time, Place, Teacher, People. Memorize those!

A lot of teachings are time-specific. They must be given in a certain time period (hour, day, month, year, decade, century...etc) , and even while the learner is doing a certain activity during that time. Sometimes, sitting alone in a dark room reading a book is not the best way to learn the specific concept you are looking at right then. Who knows? A given teaching might have been designed, for example, for maximum effect while riding horseback on an armored Clydesdale that's charging a line of spearmen in the 14th Century. If you meet those conditions, great! You'll learn a lot. If you happen to experience the teaching outside of those conditions, you may not get squat.

I sort of touched on this above. Time is not the only important thing. So is location. Some teachings are best given in a school. Some are best at home. Some are best in other places, like mountaintops, or roller skating rinks.

Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner, BUT most of the time, learning under those circumstances is "accidental", i.e. driven by the universe itself beating you about the head. For concentrated and deliberate transmission of a teaching, there must be a competent teacher that knows what he or she is doing. These kinds of Teachers (capital "T") are specific types of people, tailored to teach the things they know best. Whether they know it or not, these people are able to transmit something called "baraka" or "bracha", depending on whether you want to use the arabic or hebrew spelling of the word.

Baraka is an abstract concept. Picture it like a liquid that a teacher posseses in a certain subject. Because that person knows how, they are able to give you some of that liquid. When you get baraka, you learn the subject more fully and innately. Here's an example:

It's common knowledge to those who know me, that I am not very handy. I can barely screw in a lightbulb. One summer, when I was living and training with Draja, he decided that we were going to work on remodelling his house. Naturally, I was not thrilled about that because it would mean I would have to actually use a hammer and other tools to break down and put up walls, install electrical fixtures, and other things.

It didn't take long, for Draja to realize my ineptitude while watching me trying to hammer in a simple nail, and missing half the time. I was a brown belt in karate at the time, but still a noob when it came to being able to hit a nail on the head. I wound up bending the crap out of half a box of them.... not getting a single one in.

Draja graciously tried to explain to me how to do it, but with no success. Then, as our subject of conversation switched to the topic of baraka, he came over to me and made me stop swinging. He picked up the hammer, and without speaking, he hammered in a nail with one swipe. Then another one with two swipes. Then another.

After that he handed me the hammer and a nail, and told me to do what he did. Apprehensively, I set the nail to the board and swung. The nail went all the way in on the first shot. Baraka.

The people in your presence at the time of learning matter. Ever have a nice conversation going on, and then someone walks in that totally destroys the atmosphere? The same thing goes with learning. Each person that is present during a teaching contributes to whether or not that teaching can be transmitted. Every person in a room contributes to the vibe in that room. Think about this and you may feel it intuitively. If the wrong people are there, you will not learn. Maybe, at times you must be alone to learn. That can happen too.

Overall, from this, you should realize something else. Not every teaching is for anyone. Something that benefits your friend may not benefit you, and in fact may harm you. If we train a kindergarden teacher to have hair trigger reflexes that snap the neck of anyone who touches him, there's going to be a problem. If we teach a marine how to recite poetry for the entire 16 weeks of boot camp, and he never gets to learn how to be a soldier, there's going to be problems.

Also, teachings can outlive their usefullness. If I know how to knit, weave, tend sheep, and tan hides, but I live in modern day New York City and I don't know how to take the subway, use an ATM, and hail a taxi, I am not going to have an easy time living in New York in 2008.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Alright, let's see some ID, pal.

So, naturally, things always are always more complicated in the world, and I have oversimplified things when talking about paying attention. In a practical sense, just doing the things I described in earlier posts will get you farther along if you are an average person. When I teach people, especially my karate students and physicians who wind up in my lectures on science, I tend to oversimplify on purpose. If you can get someone working with a simple model of something, it becomes much easier to teach them to add little bits to that model, until little by little the model is real. Never mind that the initial model is a bit of a lie!

In this case, paying attention is certainly no lie, but it is a tool for painting a larger picture. In fact, I already mentioned the larger picture, i.e. the Oneness of all that there is, the interrelation of all things. The Dalai Lama likes to point out the interdependence, rather than the independence, of all things. That's the larger picture.

When you pay attention for a long period of time, intermittently for years maybe, you can begin to catch glimpses of this larger picture. When you do that, you begin to realize something: You aren't what you think you are.

Let's work backwards. In Reality (capital "R"), we are all One. That Oneness takes pieces of itself and expresses them as things. That's how you come about, essentially.

Now look at yourself. You're probably saying, "This is crap. There's no way I am anything other than a person in a body with all kinds of problems, issues, vices, and virtues. It's just Me in here, and nothing else!"

If you are thinking anything like that, notice it! You are doing what's called identifying with your body, mind, and emotions.... the things you think of as yourself. It's not "bad" or "wrong". (I hate those words.) It just is what it is. It's what you're doing. Human beings all do it.

The "goal" of paying attention, if it can be called a goal, is to eventually be able to identify more and more with the One, and not with the meat that you think of as you.

The world and everything in it are expressions of the One. They are the movie playing on the screen. The Real You, is the One. In this case, it's like the audience and the movie theater, and the space within the movie theater where the movie is playing.

Standing up and saying, "I am ME. I am a physical body that does stuff, and that is the real ME." is just as silly as a projection of Clint Eastwood on a movie screen insisting to the audience that he is real, and that if they think otherwise, they ought to try and make his day (as he points his projected gun at them.)

Idries Shah, a great Sufi teacher who wrote most of his works in the 60's, 70's, and 80's, passed down a great Sufi saying: Be in the world, not of it.

This is a fabulous proverb!! It means, be here now in the present moment, but don't identify with it. Be in it, but all the while, remember what you really are: the One. Don't forget that and suddenly become "of it", which is a fancy term for "becoming wrapped up in it".

This is where the Buddhists get their principle of detachment. Detachment doesn't mean you should not care about things. You can care about things with all your heart and soul, and you can even be attached to them emotionally. However, as you do so, realize what is really going on: a piece of the One is doing that to a piece of the One.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hey! Pay attention!

So as I mentioned before, since we are all part of a whole, and the only difference between each of us is the level at which we pay attention to our connection with the Oneness of all things, the concept of paying attention becomes pretty important!

Want to know how to start increasing your awareness and happiness? Pay attention. What do I mean by that? Ok, here's a story.

When I was 12 years old, my father took me to a teacher. We'll call him Draja Mickaharic (yes that one), though that's not his real name.

Draja sat me down and said, "Josh, it's time to begin your training."

"In what?", I asked.

"In life.", he answered.

"But I'm just a child," I pleaded, "don't I have some time before I have to do any of this spiritual stuff?"

Draja shook his head, "I don't teach children. For you, it's time to start learning. So I have an exercise for you."

I relented and looked up at him, expecting.

He went on, "I want you to pay attention."

I kept waiting, and after staring a him for what felt like a couple minutes, I asked, "Ok, I'm paying attention, what's the assignment?"

He smiled at me and then said seriously, "That is the assignment. Paying attention."

At that moment, I thought, "Oh, well I guess this spiritual stuff is a snap then!" However, I would not have said that to his face, so I pressed him further out loud, "Pay attention to what?"

"Pay attention to everything. How are you standing or sitting? How is your breathing? Is it correct? Who is around you? What are they carrying? What are they holding? How does the air smell? I want you to pay attention to all of it. People walk around in life like they are asleep. They don't see or know anything about what is around them. You need to wake up."

I nodded, as if he was telling me how to walk or how to eat with a spoon. (And he actually was telling me how to breath right after that in the conversation, so I wasn't too far off.) At last, when I could break in, I said to him (and I still laugh at myself for this), "So what is this lesson supposed to do for me?"

He smiled and nodded at me and said, "It will do a lot! But you may not know what it will do for another 20 years, or so. So, do you understand what your assignment is?"

Slightly disappointed, I nodded my assent.

He nodded back and said, "Great, I'll see you in a year!"

Now, 20 years later, after a zillion other lessons, and a zillion other trials and stories that I could tell, I know what the lesson was supposed to do for me: Everything.

It's the only lesson I ever needed. The rest is just commentary.

So, pay attention!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Spiritual Development

So keep that in mind that there really is no race to some finish line. We are all divine beings, or rather all part of the same divine being. Knowing that might change your perspective.

What do you think enlightenment is then? There's a good story about this told by the Sufis, I believe:

Once there was a dervish seeking enlightenment, and he found a very spiritual man walking on the road. The walking man was carrying a big sack on his back and he was hunched over from the weight.

The dervish said to the man, "What does enlightenment feel like?"

Without saying a word, the man took the sack off his back and set it on the ground. He stood up straight and tall and stretched out his back and smiled happily.

Understanding the message, the dervish smiled back and said, "What comes after that?"

The old man picked up the sack, hunched over, and started walking on once more.

In other words, after enlightenment, you get right back to your life and do whatever needs to be done in that moment, and every moment thereafter. In fact, you might experience some feeling of enlightenment many times in your life, and you might notice that it always wears off. That's ok! It's normal. You might also never experience it. That's ok too, so long as you are doing what needs to be done in your life.

I once had a teacher who always had people coming to him with stories about dreams they have had, and things they have felt. They would describe these wonderful experiences of altered consciousness and other things, and I always used to crack up at his answer, which was, "Don't worry. It will go away."

The vast majority of your life will be spent in some state other than a feeling of enlightenment. So which do you think you should concentrate on more: feeling enlightened, or making the rest of your daily experiences more bearable and pleasant?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Excuse me, sir. Are you qualified for this position?

If all goes well in this blog, I will be putting out a lot of information on what I have learned about personal development in general. So who am I to do that?

Well, this would be a good time to use a Karate analogy. If we're talking about "Spiritual Karate", I would say that I am nowhere near a black belt. However, if you have ever gone into any martial arts class, you might have noticed that black belts do not do all the teaching. It doesn't take a black belt to teach a white belt! All it takes to teach a white belt is someone who is not a white belt. So there you have it. Karateka, read on!

Everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner. That means that anyone can teach you something, even the grocery store clerk on a rainy Sunday night. Similarly, anyone can learn something if the conditions are right.

How do you tell how "evolved" or how "advanced" someone is?

Here is where I want to end the analogy. In fact, I want to blow it completely out of the water, by saying the the entire concept of evolution/advancement is hogwash. Pretty provocative statement, eh? Not really!

In Reality, we are all One. The way our consciousness is laid out makes us perceive that we are many different people running around, but in actuality, on the highest levels, we are all one big thing. (More on that later on, or just read about Buddhist philosophy.) The ONLY spiritual difference between you, me, and the Dalai Lama of Tibet are that some of us Pay Attention to that Oneness more than others. Even Ken Wilber says that you cannot possibly avoid the One that is here. All you can do is decide whether or not to pay attention to it in this moment.

So, you see, there is no ladder to climb, no goal to strive for. We're all already there. The One is already there. However, paying attention is not so easy for some. There are things you can do to learn how to pay attention, and to be in the moment, and those things will enable you to detect this Oneness.

Those specific things are the subject of other posts, but for now at least pay attention in the conventional sense. What are you doing? How is your posture? Are you breathing correctly? Does anything hurt?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Be normal!

You can read a lot of "self help" books and find a lot of whacky things among the pages. Also, you can read certain books and change your life, for the better. The books that have some kernel of "truth" to them all have one thing in common: they all say the same thing. Sure, they all say it in different ways with different wrappers and different flavorful coatings, but they all say the same thing. There's a reason for that! Things that reflect Reality (with a capital "R") ring true.

There's nothing I can say or write that has not been written before, for that reason. I have no profound message to give out to everyone, but I have a useful theme for giving out the same Realistic info: Be normal!

Being normal is pretty important to me, so important, in fact, that I named this blog after that phrase. What do I mean by it?

Personal development, spirituality, individual growth... whatever you would like to call it... is something I have been doing all my life. (I'm 32.) I've read a lot of books, worked with a lot of teachers, and learned a lot of whacky shit in my short time on the earth so far. But one of the messages that has been so important to me is that no matter what you know, no matter how "evolved" you think you are, no matter how happy-happy-joy-joy you envision yourself to be, at the end of the day you still have to brush your teeth!!

If you are so freaky, fancy, flaky, and fru-fru that you cannot do your laundry, clean your house, pay your bills, make a good living, and take care of your dependents, then you've got nothing. A lot of great books on spirituality forget to mention that part. They jump right to the entertainment, and leave out the nitty gritty details about keeping your house in order. Pun intended.

So you want to grow spiritually? Great! Be normal, first. Take care of your basic life needs. Then take off like a rocket, and continue to be normal.

More later!