Epictetus (50–135 CE) was born as a slave in Hierapolis, Phrygia. After Emperor Nero’s death, he eventually gained his freedom and taught Stoic philosophy in Rome for close to 25 years. Emperor Domitian, who feared the dissenting influence of philosophers, banished Epictetus from his home. He traveled to Nicopolis in the northwest of Greece and developed his own school, teaching in exile until his death. His ideas impacted historical figures such as Emperor Hadrian and Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Although Epictetus never wrote down his teachings, his disciple Arrian, who was a famous historian, recorded what he had said.
Epictetus’s main works are the Discourses and the Enchiridion.
Sharon Lebell has interpreted his timeless philosophy in “A Manual for Living.” She is the author of such inspiring works as “The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness” and “The Music of Silence: Entering the Sacred Space of Monastic Experience.”
Lessons of Epictetus:
1.) Some things are in your control and other things are not. Some of the things in your control are your opinions, aspirations, desires, aversions, and actions. These things are under your influence to a certain degree. Some of the things that are not in your control are the body you are born with, who your parents are, and your status.
Once you have learned what is in your control, don’t concern yourself with what is not in your control. Your death, for example, is not in your control, but your attitude toward the idea of death is in your control. Your response to your fleeting time on earth, to the death of a family member and friend, to how you communicate with those who are grieving, is in your control.
2.) Events are as they are. Your interpretation of different events is what gives them meaning, value, and significance. If you’re undisciplined, you will divide your experiences into rigid categories of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false.
Your judgements create heaven and hell.
3.) What matters is what you can do with what you are given. Look for opportunities in every obstacle you encounter and respond in an appropriate manner. You may need patience for adversity, self-restraint for lust, humility for criticism, compassion for the suffering of others.
4.) You cannot be expected to give what you do not have, whether that is money, power, time, or skills. If you can help, do so without any expectations. If you can become powerful and rich and famous while still maintaining your integrity, then do so.
At the same time, you will be challenged throughout your life. To preserve your integrity, to make the right moral choices, you may need to let go of a certain level of comfort, status, and money. You may even be ridiculed or persecuted for holding onto what you value as true and ethical. When you focus on what you can do with what you have, you will live harmoniously. When you neglect what is in your control and resist what is natural, you’ll never be at peace.
5.) Events are impersonal — neither good nor bad. They will unfold as they do, despite all your wishes and expectations. Undisciplined people will look for signs that reinforce their beliefs, prejudices and opinions, while disciplined people will adapt to nature and act from their own moral principles.
Events will reveal their hidden lessons to you when you are humble enough to receive them. You must remain open and honest, while not sticking to the rigidity of your own conclusions.
6.)Wise people do not blame others or beat up on themselves. They look inside themselves for useful answers.
It is easy to label the universe in black-and-white categories, judging events as successful and unsuccessful, right and wrong, good and bad. It is far more courageous to look within yourself — examining your motives, intentions, desires, and aversions — while deciding on what action is the best one to take in each situation. Always ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do?” Then do it.
7.) Think about the purpose behind your speech. Many people express any passing thought that enters into their minds without concerning themselves with the consequences of their words. Unchecked speech can run away from you. You can fall into unthinking habits that disrespect yourself and others.
Speech is neither good nor bad but people often talk to each other in a careless manner. It’s seductive to prattle on about nothing, to chat about trivial matters, to gossip about another person when they are not nearby, to laugh at someone else’s misfortunes rather than laughing with them. Speaking in this way degrades you as a person and strains your relationships. It is better to remain silent than to indulge in harmful speech. You become what you focus on.
8.) Life is too short for you to indulge in mindless consumption. Be aware of what you absorb, whether it’s from a TV show, songs on the radio, political speeches, or arguments. Discover what nourishes you, what enhances your well-being, rather than what feeds your ignorance, greed, and anger.
When you don’t choose for yourself, someone else will choose for you. And they always have their own agenda.
9.) You are influenced by the communities you are in. Without realizing it, you’ll adopt their values, opinions, aspirations, and habits. You’ll learn how they interpret the world. Be careful about the people you are around, even if they are kind, talk about wanting to improve themselves, and desire to know you more. They may not be a healthy influence on you due to their ignorance, destructive behavior, and prejudices. Seek out those who uplift you, who make you a better person, not those who diminish you.
10.) Do not feel compelled to justify yourself. Let your worthy deeds speak for themselves. You cannot control what others think about you, but you can control the development of your character.
— An absent husband and father, who occasionally burst with warmth and tenderness toward those closest to him, even though he was often wryly detached in his life.
After cheating on his first wife, Mileva Marić, he eventually convinced her to divorce him in exchange for half of his Nobel Prize winnings. He desired to marry his cousin Elsa, who he became romantically involved with during his first marriage. In his second marriage, he still had relationships with other women. Despite Einstein’s infidelity, Albert and Elsa shared a deep bond together, raising two stepchildren as their own. Elsa supported his scientific work, nursed him back to health, guarded him against intrusions, shared the glamor of his celebrity, and moved with him to the United States.
— A brilliantly intuitive theoretical physicist who developed the theories of general and special relativity, which led to radically new understandings of matter, energy, space and time.
— A visual thinker known for his famous thought-experiments.
— A revolutionary scientist early in his career, but a conservative later in his career.
He defended epistemological realism and often attacked the findings of quantum mechanics. He believed in an underlying reality, one that followed elegantly predictable laws, but was unknown to theoretical understanding. He failed to find a Grand Unified Theory.
— A loner, rebel, and non-conformist.
— A playful man with a childlike curiosity.
— A gifted violinist.
— A slacker in his youth.
— A patent clerk.
— An absentminded intellectual who focused so intently on the ideas that stimulated his imagination that every other concern was blocked out.
— An aloof man who delved into scientific ideas to escape from the emotional turmoil of his life.
— A German-Jewish secular humanist.
While Einstein was proud of his Jewish heritage, especially during periods of rampant antisemitism, he wrote that he was free from attachments to nationality, class, state, religion, and so on. Einstein considered himself to be a human being first. He stated that even though he was dimly aware of the laws of physics, he was too limited in his knowledge to believe or not believe in a God. He honored the mystery of the universe above all.
— A disorganized teacher who often improvised his lectures.
— A democratic socialist who denounced the atomic bomb, war, class inequality, racism, militarism, nationalism, and authoritarianism.
— An international celebrity who loved to complain about his status, but secretly enjoyed the attention.
— A German-Swiss-American citizen who criticized fascistic ideas, whether in the form of Nazism or McCarthyism.
He was considered to be a national security threat, and a Communist sympathizer, by some officials in the American government.
Some of Einstein’s Contributions to Science:
— Light is made up of small packets of energy called photons. Photons can behave both like particles and like waves, depending on what experiments are used to measure them.
— E = mc², which expresses that energy is equal to mass times the speed of light in a vacuum squared. From this formula, particles are shown to have rest, kinetic, and potential energy. Mass and energy are not separate entities, but can change into each other. Additionally, any change in an object’s energy changes its mass and any change in an object’s mass changes its energy. Knowledge of the inseparable relationship between mass and energy led scientists to develop nuclear energy, and to eventually build the atomic bomb.
— Motion in time is relative to the position and velocity of the observer, while light is constant and the laws of the universe are the same. Time itself is not absolute, but dependent on how fast an object travels, what direction that object travels in, and where it is relative to the mass and the position of other objects around it.
— Space and time are not separate entities, but rather, are interwoven in four dimensions (three dimensions for space and one dimension for time). Mass causes spacetime to curve, and the more massive an object is, the more curvature there is. Gravity is no longer a mere force in the Newtonian sense, but causes a warping of spacetime. Spacetime is not flat, but curved. Light (or photons) travels along a curved path.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953, less than a decade after WWII. During this period, there were book burnings and banned books and a Great Purge. There were blacklists and mass propaganda mediums and censorship and imprisonments and executions. There were fears of an impending nuclear war. The annihilation of all humanity in a mushroom cloud.
Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 after expanding themes from two of his short stories and one novella. He finished his first draft in only nine days. Since his novel’s original publication, a number of schools have censored, redacted, and banned his work.
In Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag is a fireman who exists in a dystopian future. Rather than putting out fires, he burns books. People in his society are consumed with vapid entertainment, distracted from critical thinking and wonder, alienated and lost and alone, unable to express themselves, unable to speak to each other meaningfully.
They don’t sense the miracle of life in a blooming flower, in a breath, in each other.
They lumber around with seashell radios embedded in their earwax. They consume life from inside a prism (or prison) of screens. Then when they are tired (they are tired all day), they swallow a sleep of pills, drifting into dreamlessness. They are force-fed the regurgitated information of the State. There isn’t any time to think, to sit in silence, to contemplate the flowers and trees and clouds. To be alive, meditating on the world in quiet, is not a consideration. They gaze at an amnesia of images, barren within.
Montag is at first like the Others, lifeless, married to a wife who doesn’t love him, brash in his opinions, stinking of kerosene and ignorance. Then he meets a curious teenager. Her name is Clarisse McClellan and she is unique and alive and radiating out through her youth. She sparks an awakening in Montag.
She shows him that there is more to reality than in his mechanized worldview. There is a mystery that he cannot grasp. In his realization that life is more, more than consumption, more than subservience, more than a routine until death, he desires to awaken others.
Knowledge is a fire that “illuminates away the darkness of ignorance.” It catches in the hearts of those who dare to learn. Montag is a fireman who burns books to snuff out the fires within others. Books are dangerous. They are dangerous to those who wish to control, who wish to suppress certain ideas from coming to light. When people are capable of critical thinking, they will question and consider new ideas. They will rebel against what is unjust. Their fires will expand from inside them, reaching others. They will seek their own unique meanings. They will take action.
Those who control a population, who manipulate to secure their power, money, and status, always want more for themselves, while feeling insecure about losing what they have stolen. They fear uprisings that burn for the truth. To maintain their power and control, they will distract, censor, and divide. They will use violence when they can, but if the people internalize the values of the system, then the oppressors will not need physical violence all the time.
As George Orwell said, “All tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but once the fraud is exposed, they must rely exclusively on force.”
People in Montag’s society are taught to be obedient. They desire what they are conditioned to desire. They are given the slimmest choices for personal freedom and believe that they are free. Life feels like it is free to the enslaved when they do not know any other way to be. For those who know of more but do nothing, who remain silent at times of injustice, suffer in cowardice. They could have helped, but didn’t.
Montag is reborn like the salamander of his firetrucks. In folklore, salamanders make their homes in the flames without being consumed. Montag once lived from inner darkness. Now he lives through his own glow, aware for the first time.
Many members of his society confuse their darkness for light. Their souls have withered away so much that they are only flesh on skeletons. They do not want to be freed because they desire the comfort of their ignorance. They live automatically, unable to think, to choose how they will authentically be. They do not want to challenge themselves to learn because they fear what is unknown. They fear their own inferiority in comparison to those who are educated. Beyond all their petty dramas, an entire universe stretches infinitely over them. Knowledge is their insignificance.
They huddle together in hate because they are numb to the suffering within themselves. These people plug themselves into the dominator system, addicted to the violence of the media. They’re conditioned to passively accept themselves as separate creatures with egotistical wants. They don’t realize that they live in a community, except through their shared consumption of technological entertainment, a hidden form of mass indoctrination. There’s no unity, compassion, or caring between them anymore, because any humane organization is a threat to the system. There is only a city of lost people.
In Fahrenheit 451, love is a commercial product, happiness is sold as a pill. People are not only watched, but want to be watched, under constant surveillance. Clouds choke over the black butterflies of dreams. Dissidents are silenced until their language is felt dimly but not spoken. Never spoken. Once the flames are all put out, there is absence.
Haruki Murakami doesn’t run because he’s competitive. He runs only to run, improving himself every day, at longer distances.
He recognizes his own age when he runs, slowing down years after his prime. As he pushes on, he passes scenic landscapes in different countries, seeing the steam of his breath in an Autumn park, feeling the flutter of his heartbeat, listening to the slow beat of jazz.
Running helps him to be alone, which is natural for him. Being alone is necessary for his mental and physical well-being.
As he runs, he accepts the clouds of his thoughts. Ideas float by in an endless sky, drifting in and out of awareness. Mostly, he runs in a void, unconscious of any inner chatter.
Murakami deeply absorbs the people and places in his life. Physical exertion allows him, just like in his writing, to process his joy and sorrow.
He never suspected that he would become a famous novelist. At first, he made more money from owning a jazz bar than from writing, but then he chose to sell his business to write fully. After concentrating only on writing, he worked for several hours every day, sacrificing his health.
After he ran for a while, he quit smoking cigarettes and eating junk food. He didn’t like long-distance running at first, but enjoyed the process once he could control how he ran. Running every day helped him to become better at time management, healthy eating, and losing weight. He shed bad habits while gaining more of an appreciation for self-discipline.
Murakami has run for over twenty years, starting at the age of thirty three, and considers the beginning of his running practice to be when he became a real novelist.
Running marathons has humbled him over his career. Whenever he would train too little, or think too highly of his skills, he would suffer his consequences alone.
Running can be scary and nerve wracking. It can be tough in the rain and snow and cold and heat. It can be tiring and long and painful. But then there are mornings of sun and moments of flow and high adrenaline.
Running, as well as writing, depends not only on the people who engage in those activities, but on the dynamic conditions that influence each person.
For Murakami, a novelist needs three main qualities to be successful at their craft: talent, focus, and endurance. He believes that writers are born with a certain amount of talent, which will eventually leave them, as they age and lose their energy. But a writer can compensate for a lot of their weaknesses with supreme focus.
As a writer writes, they become more skilled at concentrating on their task. To write daily is to build up one’s writing muscles, just as a runner develops their muscular endurance through running.
A novelist needs to have enough energy to write, not just for weeks, but for years. For them to be able to write for that long, they need to write often.
People are born with different levels of innate abilities as well. These abilities can be stretched overtime, but some people naturally have more ability than others. Murakami believes that people need to accept their strengths, as well as their limitations, and progress from there.
Through his maturation as a running novelist, he has learned that everyone moves at their own pace and time. He doesn’t write or run (or do anything) to prove himself to others, but rather, participates for the sake of the activity.
Through his artistic work, he inadvertently benefits his running. Through his running, he inadvertently benefits his writing.
He compares writing a novel to climbing a mountain. Eventually, his lungs will shrink, his legs will give out, but he still pushes himself farther up the steepest slopes, until hopefully, reaching the top. Every novel is a mountain.
After running mile after mile, he still steps forward. While he may not be the fastest runner, he will continue his journey, over and over, on and on, silently and alone, until he cannot go anymore.
Love in modern capitalistic societies is often treated shallowly. People are seen as commodities to be used. Each person has a specific package of qualities, which when depending on the value-judgements of others, make them appear as favorable or unfavorable.
They perceive other perspective members of their groups as objects to be possessed, but not as actual human beings.
Once a potential match is made on the market of personality, an individual will enter into an arrangement where they’ll hope to gain some sort of benefit. If their expectations are not fulfilled, then they’ll no longer see the point in giving their “love” to the other person.
People market themselves based on their attractiveness, popularity, status, financial security, and whatever other sets of traits are trending at the time. Opinions change as to what is acceptable. The masses will adapt themselves to what is in favor and promote themselves for future success.
Many people in materialistic societies become infatuated and then mistake their infatuation for love. The intensity of their initial intimacy soon becomes antagonism and boredom, especially once the mirage of passion is gone. As they enter into their relationships with expectations of having perfect partners and ideal mates, they are often led to more failures than successes.
2. Alienation and False Unity
As people grow and become more aware of themselves as individuals, they eventually sense their separateness from others as well. This alienation makes them feel anxious, fearful in their loneliness, and confused about what the purpose of their existence is. They seek out a meaningful direction for their lives that can transcend their loneliness and cosmic insignificance.
People seek to transcend their anxiety of separateness through drugs, orgasms, and conformity to the practices and values of a group.
In many totalitarian societies, conformity is forced on the general population through fear, imprisonment, torture, execution, starvation, and repressive controls in the media. In democratic societies, mass propaganda, political corruption, and expensive marketing is often used to manipulate the masses into servitude.
Many members of capitalistic societies feel that they’re non-conformists, even though their opinions are strikingly similar to the opinions of the rest of their group. They all go to the same schools, work at the same jobs, read the same books, watch the same movies, and share the same favorable ideas with each other.
They have been indoctrinated into certain social, religious, and political groups from the time of their birth, not realizing that their desires have been carefully molded. They genuinely believe in what they do, and who they are, but they don’t realize that if they believed in something different, they wouldn’t have their preferred status.
Conformity is not true unity, but rather, a relinquishing of one’s free thought to the shackles of group rule. In conformity, one seeks an illusion of security while fearing exclusion.
Any unity formed through only sex and drugs is a pseudo sense of unity. Those who seek the highs of either will become attached to expectations of more and more pleasure, which will diminish overtime, after having been temporarily gained.
3. Immature Love and Mature Love
When one person submits to another to escape from their feeling of alienation, they’ve surrendered their integrity for dependence.
They have given up their boundaries to be exploited by the other. Just as that person enters into a masochistic relationship, the one who they’ve come to depend upon is dependent on them as well. The sadist is attached to the masochist just as much as the masochist is attached to the sadist.
In mature love, people unite while still maintaining their integrity. In immature love, people form false-unions in a passive relationship based on mutual exploitation.
Love is active and growing. It is ultimately done in the spirit of giving. To give is not to give away one’s principles or dignity. It is not to forgo one’s values either.
Those who are raised in modern industrial society often expect to receive because they have given. To give without getting anything for their effort makes them feel impoverished. They may even give out of a mistaken belief in sacrifice, and out of a grim obligation to the group, rather than from any sense of joy.
When a person is giving, they are showing what is alive within themselves. They’re genuinely expressing who they are. A giving person cares for the world with active interest, not passive narcissism.
They help other people to grow rather than forcing them to become carbon copies of themselves. They respect the individuality in other people, while also feeling responsible for their own well-being.
Respect is built on the foundation of freedom, not dependence. Only with freedom can there be authentic love.
With love comes acceptance. One learns to accept each unique person as they are, and not judge them.
It’s impossible to know anyone fully, to penetrate into their deepest hearts, but even in the uncertainty between people, there’s appreciation in intimacy, in being together, in learning about each other.
In the act of love, one not only learns about others, but about oneself. The mature person is humble about their incapacity to know the secrets of life, while being in awe of all its mystery.
They’re committed to caring for the world, but don’t cling onto the world greedily. To love is to let go as much as it is to care, to accept as much as it is to change, to grow as much as it is to know the limitations of knowing.
4. Sex and Love
Sexual intimacy can be a manifestation of love. At its height, two selves merge into one, immersed in the present. During sex, one forgets oneself temporarily in a bliss of togetherness.
When the masculine and feminine are distorted in a relationship, then those in that relationship overcompensate for their insecurities. They exploit though lies and manipulations and force. The masculine descends into sadism while the feminine falls back into masochism.
5. Development into Adulthood
While inside the womb, the fetus is entirely dependent on its mother for survival. Then when that baby is born, he or she depends on their mother (or guardian) for milk and warmth and shelter and water and food. As the baby develops into a toddler and child and teenager and so on, they learn of their separateness from other people and things.
During their early development, they’re unconditionally loved by their mother or guardian simply for existing. They receive love for being alive, not necessarily for anything that they have done.
The child, at first, passively accepts love for being who they are. It is only later in their development that they consider giving back.
When a person matures out of their old habits of childish egocentricity, they learn to love in another way. They learn the freedom of independence in newfound knowledge.
As they grow, they figure out how to walk and talk and dress themselves and share and laugh at jokes and write and on and on. They learn the way of the world and how to act properly in that world to be successful. They gain acceptance from others based on what they do and how they think. They fear the absence of warmth that comes from not being accepted.
Mature parents care for their children while also teaching those children how to be independent from them. They do not drag their children down into a state of perpetual dependency.
If parents are successful in their roles, then their children will have internalized their lessons, growing into unique people, engaging their lives with competence and confidence. Parents have to make sure that they are not transferring their own anxieties and prejudices onto their kids. Everything that they think and say and do will influence their children’s development.
6. Brotherly Love
Love is an orientation toward life. To love one person while neglecting the rest of humanity is only an inflated egotism of two.
To truly love one person is to love all of life.
There is no exclusiveness in love, but rather, a deep oneness with all that is.
To love is to love everyone, even those who are helpless, weak, and poor. One gives without thinking of giving and helps only to help. People are neither judged as superior nor inferior. They are viewed only as equals, worthy of affection and dignity.
In western culture, love is often seen as a spontaneous grip of intense feeling, or a clinging devotion to the life of another.
Love is not merely a feeling, but an expression, a commitment, and a promise. Feelings come and go. Love is as much an acceptance of oneself as that of another.
Self-love is not narcissism either. Those who cannot love themselves cannot love others.
The selfish person only desires more for themselves while never being satisfied with what they have or who they are. They take without any consideration for others. Those who are selfish are insecure and devoid of any creative purpose, lacking the capacity to enjoy anything for long.
To love oneself is to love others and vice versa. There’s no true difference between the two.
7. Mythological Symbolism
Matriarchal religions usually emphasize the equality of all life coexisting together. Patriarchal religions are often dominated by hierarchical structures.
In mythology, the mother-figure is one of unconditional love and interdependence, whereas the father-figure is one of justice and truth. There are often hidden mother-figures in patriarchal religions and hidden father-figures in matriarchal religions. An acceptance of these symbols, and their prevalence, depends on the conditions within a given society.
In the deepest mystical parts of religion, God is nameless, or cannot be named, because God is infinite, and there’s no way to contain what is infinite.
Many people view the idea of God as that of a helping father. They expect that God should give them what they desire, such as a partner, a happy life, enlightenment, bliss in the afterlife, a job, and so on. They perceive their religion through a childish dependency instead of though a mature love.
When people realize their ignorance, and no longer assume that they know the truth about all of life, then they become wise in the knowledge of knowing that they don’t know.
Symbols are useful but limited tools that represent aspects of life, while never being life in itself. The ultimate mystery cannot be named. It cannot be described with any accuracy. Models of reality are not reality. Some religions try to define reality, others try to define through claiming what reality is not, while others deny both the denial and the definition. Meanwhile reality, in all its endless mystery, escapes the grasp of intellectualization.
In western religions, love often comes in the form of belief and faith. In eastern religions, love often comes through a feeling of oneness with all that is.
Interwoven in most of these mythological systems are the stages of development in all of humanity, from worshiping a mother protector to obeying a father authority to being fully one with a namelessness that transcends the ego.
8. Modern Capitalistic Societies
Contemporary capitalistic societies place the idea of love in the market. People are conditioned to be productive members of the systems that they are embedded in. They are taught to obey those in power and to play acceptable roles in the social machine. Most people in western societies are alienated from their work, from their communities, and mostly from nature.
These people feel alone while longing for unity. They fill their desperate alienation with the consumption of books, movies, music, cigarettes, phones, religions, and other people, as if these were disposable products.
Everything is a refuge, a distraction, from underlying feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and fear. People are judged by how they can satisfy each other while they don’t really know each other.
Modern western societies often encourage infantile forms of love though mediums such as movies, romance novels, and magazines. Consumers are taught to chase after abstractions of love, to idolize their partners, and to depend on rituals of manipulative seduction to win over attractive mates.
All too often, many people transfer the dependencies of their childhoods onto their partners. They see their mates as another form of their parents or other authority figures. They expect to gain security and love and care and so on, usually until they grow bored, or their partner fails to fulfill their unrealistic expectations.
They live in the past and future, never the present, projecting all their problems onto others. Often they avoid real conflicts with their partners, and settle instead for petty dramas, because they fear being alone more than anything.
Individuals often sacrifice their integrity for apathy in conformity. They no longer seek truth, but rather, copy others for success in the market of personality.
Their lives are routines in a system where they must comply. They wake up to work from 9–5, marry, raise 2.5 children, listen to the radio hits, surf the web, post on social media, and consume, consume, consume in a state of idleness.
In order to learn how to love, people need solitude. No television, no phone, nothing but themselves. If people cannot be alone, then they will never know the vitality of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations. They’ll never learn how to listen to their inner voices.
Mature people take care of themselves. They are aware of unhealthy people and unhealthy environments and avoid those situations when they can. They listen more than they speak. When they do listen, they absorb what is being said from a place of deep openness, rather than waiting to respond.
They are fully present in what they do, whether they’re eating a bowl of rice or driving a car or sitting in a waiting room.
When people deeply concentrate as a habit, they learn to be sensitive to the changes within themselves and others. They’re not tense, but alert, not worried with doubts, but open to what may come.
10. Transcendence in Love
As people learn to love, they gradually transcend their narcissistic orientations. Rather than thinking only of themselves, they’re sensitive to the inner-worlds of others.
Those who love are humble. They strive for objectivity in every situation, while knowing how much they don’t know.
Love comes not only from each individual’s independence but from their deep trust in who they are, despite what anyone else thinks or says or does. They are faithful, not merely to their opinions, but to their dignity as human beings. They’re present, open to the world, while never betraying their inner worth.
Love can permeate every aspect of life. It is ever bountiful, passing from neighbors to strangers.
As people trust in themselves, they learn to see the value in serving others. They do not find love in any system or group, but only in themselves, and in each other.
“No-Drama Discipline” breaks down discipline from a holistic perspective rather than from an attitude of strict punishment. Based in neuroscience, Daniel J. Siegal, a clinical psychologist and UCLA professor, and Tina Payne Bryson, a psychotherapist and founder of “The Center for Connection,” examine the healthiest ways to discipline children, so they can grow into mature adults.
Whenever a child misbehaves, we need to learn about why that child is misbehaving. Rather than blaming the child, we can look at what caused their actions and how they reacted. It is easy to become frustrated and angry, taking a child’s behavior personally. Rather than acting from our own punitive habits, however, we should pause and reflect.
(1) What made the child feel that way?
(2) What are the reasons for his or her actions?
(3) What lesson can we give based on what happened?
The goal of discipline is not to punish or give a consequence to bad behavior. As caregivers and teachers and parents, we want to teach a lesson. We want our children to be caring, loving, responsible, self-controlled, and compassionate human beings.
Whenever a child does something we do not like, that is a chance for us to teach them a specific message — about honesty, caring, responsibility, bravery, and so on. But how can we best communicate our lesson in an effective way?
To be effective, we need to understand our child’s age and developmental stage. We cannot expect children to act like little adults. Not even adults will be perfect all the time. We must also understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to discipline. Children are unique and may not respond to a specific technique. Even the same child may react differently based on their mood and the given circumstances.
Children generally don’t act out because they are cruel, sadistic, or want to aggravate us. They usually misbehave because they haven’t learned how to properly regulate their emotions and desires and impulses.
We can guide a child through their struggles, helping them connect their feelings to their behavior. Instead of reacting with a harsh punishment, it is important for us to attune to the child’s needs, to see the situation from their eyes, to listen with compassion, and to look for deeper causes. What is the meaning behind the thrown object, the meltdown in the grocery store, the teasing on the playground?
“It’s easy to forget that our children are just that — children — and to expect behavior beyond their developmental capacity.”
As caregivers, parents, and teachers, we need to be a calm presence in our children’s lives. Rather than sending a child into isolation (time-out) for a long period of time, which abandons the child when he or she is already out of control, it is necessary to guide a child back from their strong emotions, teaching them to regulate themselves.
We need to set boundaries. We need to let the child know — with calmness and consistency — what is acceptable and what is not. Even a well-regulated child will test our rules. Trying to lecture, or explain, such boundaries is not ideal when a child is distraught.
“We need to help develop our children’s upstairs brain — along with all of the skills it makes possible — and while doing so, we may need to act as an external upstairs brain along the way, working with them and helping them make decisions they’re not quite capable yet of making for themselves.”
What we do repeatedly shapes our children’s brains. Our responses to them, whether we yell when they break a toy or embrace them when they are sad, builds their internal architecture.
How they feel about themselves, how they communicate with their peers, how they handle challenges later in life, develops through our interactions with them, when they behave and misbehave. We are training them from our engagement, from our attitude toward their actions, from our language, day after day after day.
“When we discipline with threats — whether explicitly through our words or implicitly through scary nonverbals like our tone, posture, and facial expressions — we activate the defensive circuits of our child’s reactive reptilian downstairs brain. We call this ‘poking the lizard,’ and we don’t recommend it because it almost always leads to escalating emotions, for both parent and child.”
We can engage a child’s higher brain, helping them to calm down and to be more reflective about who they are. Through connecting with them when they’re sad, upset, and not listening, we can establish a nurturing presence. Even when we help children label their emotions, their higher brain activates and their lower brain is soothed.
Children are not computers who will follow our commands all the time. They are constantly changing, developing people. We can consistently communicate with them that we care, that we will support them even when they make mistakes, that we are there for them. When they are distressed, we don’t need to react harshly and punish them. We can establish that we are always there for them, despite their actions, leading them toward integration.
We want our children’s upstairs brains to grow.
“One way to think about it is that we’re helping our kids develop the ability to shift between the different aspects of what’s called the autonomic nervous system. One part of the autonomic nervous system is the sympathetic branch, which you can think of as the ‘accelerator’ of the system. Like a gas pedal, it causes us to react with gusto to impulses and situations, as it primes the body for action. The other part is the parasympathetic branch, which serves as the ‘brakes’ of the system and allows us to stop and regulate ourselves and our impulses. Keeping the accelerator and the brakes in balance is key for emotional regulation, so when we help children develop the capacity to control themselves even when they’re upset, we’re helping them learn to balance these two branches of the autonomic nervous system.”
“Purely in terms of brain functioning, sometimes an activated accelerator (which might result in a child’s inappropriate and impulsive action) followed by the sudden application of brakes (in the form of parental limit setting) leads to a nervous system response that may cause the child to stop and feel a sense of shame. When this happens, the physiologic manifestation might result in avoiding eye contact, feeling a heaviness in her chest, and possibly experiencing a sinking feeling in her stomach. Parents might describe this by saying she ‘feels bad about what she’s done.’ This initial awareness of having crossed a line is extremely healthy, and it’s evidence of a child’s developing upstairs brain. Some scientists suggest that limit setting that creates a ‘healthy sense of shame’ leads to an internal compass to guide future behavior. It means she’s beginning to acquire a conscience, or an inner voice, along with an understanding of morality and self-control. Over time, as her parents repeatedly help her recognize the moments when she needs to put on the brakes, her behavior begins to change. It’s more than simply learning that a particular action is bad, or that her parents don’t like what she’s done, so she’d better avoid that action or she’ll get in trouble. More occurs within this child than just learning the rules of good vs. bad or acceptable vs. unacceptable. Rather, her brain actually changes, and her nervous system gets wired to tell her what ‘feels right,’ which modifies her future behavior. New experiences wire new connections among her neurons, and the changes in the circuitry of her brain fundamentally and positively alter the way she interacts with her world. The way her parents help this process along is by lovingly and empathically teaching her which behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t. That’s why it’s essential that we set limits and that our children internalize ‘no’ when necessary, particularly in the early years, when the regulatory circuits of the brain are wiring up. By helping them understand the rules and limits in their respective environments, we help build their conscience.”
We don’t need to embarrass children or scream at them. That message teaches children to be reactive, to be scared of those who are supposed to care for them, confusing their need for a secure attachment with a threat. Whenever a child is misbehaving, that is an opportunity for a child to learn a lesson. Their behavior shows where they are developmentally, what they need to work on, and what specific skills they should practice.
When a child misbehaves but isn’t attuned to, their emotions may escalate. We can connect with the child, and redirect them, before their behavior becomes destructive.
“Through connection, we can soothe their internal storm, help them calm down, and assist them in making better decisions. When they feel our love and acceptance, when they ‘feel felt’ by us, even when they know we don’t like their actions (or they don’t like ours), they can begin to regain control and allow their upstairs brains to engage again.”
“Imagine the last time you felt really sad or angry or upset. How would it have felt if someone you love told you, ‘You need to calm down,’ or ‘It’s not that big a deal?’ Or what if you were told to ‘go be by yourself until you’re calm and ready to be nice and happy?’ These responses would feel awful, wouldn’t they? Yet these are the kinds of things we tell our kids all the time. When we do, we actually increase their internal distress, leading to more acting out, not less. These responses accomplish the opposite of connection, effectively amplifying negative states.
Connection, on the other hand, calms, allowing children to begin to regain control of their emotions and bodies. It allows them to ‘feel felt,’ and this empathy soothes the sense of isolation or being misunderstood that arises with the reactivity of their downstairs brain and the whole nervous system: heart pounding, lungs rapidly breathing, muscles tightening, and intestines churning. Those reactive states are uncomfortable, and they can become intensified with further demands and disconnection. With connection, however, kids can make more thoughtful choices and handle themselves better. What connection does, essentially, is to integrate the brain. Here’s how it works. The brain, as we’ve said, is complex. (That’s the third Brain C.) It’s made up of many parts, all of which have different jobs to do. The upstairs brain, the downstairs brain. The left side and the right side. There are memory centers and pain regions. Along with all the systems and circuitry of the brain, these parts of our brain have their own responsibilities, their own jobs to do. When they work together as a coordinated whole, the brain becomes integrated. Its many parts can perform as a team, accomplishing more and being more effective than they could working on their own.
So that’s what connection does. It moves children away from the banks and back into the flow, where they experience an internal sense of balance and feel happier and more stable. Then they can hear what we need to tell them, and they can make better decisions. When we connect with a child who feels overwhelmed and chaotic, we help move her away from that bank and into the center of the river, where she can feel more balanced and in control. When we connect with a child who’s stuck in a rigid frame of mind, unable to consider alternative perspectives, we help him integrate so that he can loosen his unyielding grip on a situation and become more flexible and adaptive. In both cases, connection creates an integrated state of mind, and the opportunity for learning.”
When a child is so overwhelmed that they cannot listen, it is not time to teach them a lesson. It is only time to connect, to be there with them, to care, to be empathetic and loving. Only after they have calmed down can they be taught.
At the same time, we should never spoil a child. There must be clear expectations and boundaries to follow. A child’s every fleeting desire should not be satisfied indiscriminately. Connection with children is about giving them what they need, not what they desire. Indulging children, lavishing them with rewards, protecting them from all their struggles and pains, teaches them to be entitled overtime. What a child needs is love and attention. They need to learn to be happy with what they have, to grapple with difficult challenges, and to master themselves.
“Ultimately, then, kids need us to set boundaries and communicate our expectations. But the key here is that all discipline should begin by nurturing our children and attuning to their internal world, allowing them to know that they are seen, heard, and loved by their parents — even when they’ve done something wrong. When children feel seen, safe, and soothed, they feel secure and they thrive. This is how we can value our children’s minds while helping to shape and structure their behavior. We can help guide a behavioral change, teach a new skill, and impart an important way of approaching a problem, all while valuing a child’s mind beneath the behavior. This is how we discipline, how we teach, while nurturing a child’s sense of self and sense of connection to us. Then they’ll interact with the world around them based on these beliefs and with these social and emotional skills, because their brains will be wired to expect that their needs will be met and that they are unconditionally loved.”
Children’s feelings need to be validated. When their feelings are not accepted, when they are minimized, belittled, and criticized, they will become reactive instead of reflective.
When we tell children to stop feeling upset or else (“don’t talk to me until you’ve calmed down”), children are really being told that they are not loved until they act in a specific way. If they don’t act in the approved way, then they will see themselves as unworthy.
We can acknowledge a child’s storm of emotions without approving of their misbehavior. We can help the child identify what they are feeling, guiding them away from their reactivity. Firstly, though, we must be there for the child, letting them know that their misbehavior isn’t necessarily a judgement of their worth.
When a child is having a tantrum, they will not listen to an adult lecture about what they did wrong. They will feel attacked. Their cortisol will rise, their heart will beat faster, and adrenaline will flood their bodies. They will learn to tune the adult out. Even when the adult is explaining the rules logically, a child will not emotionally be able to listen. They’ll feel hurt, angry, disappointed, and so on, reacting through their lower brains. An upset child is on sensory overload. They need us to listen deeply to them rather than argue, scold, or lecture. We must give children enough time and space, so they can feel comfortable enough to express how they feel.
Then we can reflect back what the child told us. This shows children that they are understood and helps to defuse a charged situation. When a child feels listened to, validated for how they feel, even if their behavior is not accepted, they will respond more openly.
Once children feel receptive, they can then learn the appropriate ways to deal with their emotions. Helping children through their difficult periods — whether from nodding and listening to their struggles, to identifying what they feel and why and what they can do to change — engages their higher thinking functions and deactivates their reactive brains.
We can be more adaptive with how we engage our children, approaching our discipline from an open, compassionate perspective, rather than a punitive one.
Children need a lot of help to grow. Their brains are changing, developing, at different stages. They are highly vulnerable to their environments and need consistent boundaries. They need love and acceptance. They need to not be judged for who they are, but rather, feel they can come to us for safety and security and guidance.
Discipline is not a lecture, a punishment, or a consequence.
It is an opportunity for us to learn, connect, and communicate together.
“Mindfulness requires letting go of judgement, returning to an awareness of the breath and the body, and bringing your full attention to what is in you and around you. This helps you notice whether the thought you just produced is healthy or unhealthy, compassionate or unkind.”
When we breathe mindfully, we communicate. We know we’re breathing in, breathing out. In this awareness, we are in tune with our body-mind, with feelings and thoughts, with the environment.
“Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.”
When we’re mindful, we’re free. When we’re consumed with anger, anxiety, and fear, we’re trapped. Instead of holding on to our storylines, and avoiding the present, we can release our suffering and return home, again and again.
A lot of our thinking comes from dwelling on the past, controlling the future, imagining scenarios that have never happened. We worry so much. We worry about ourselves, about what other people think of us, about meaning, about money, about everything that we can. We get caught in our ideas, talking, talking, talking, thinking, thinking, thinking. Distracting ourselves with constant amusements and dramas.
Instead of realizing that our perceptions are only perceptions, we mistake them for reality.
When we mindfully breathe, we can return to where we are.
“It’s enjoyable to breathe in, to breathe out; it’s enjoyable to sit, to walk, to eat breakfast, to take a shower, to clean the bathroom, to work in the vegetable garden. When we stop talking and thinking and listen mindfully to ourselves, one thing we will notice is our greater capacity and opportunities for joy.”
Mindfulness lets us open up to our fear, our pain, our sorrow, our love. We don’t run away from life. We become aware of life, nurturing the present, letting go of what causes us to suffer.
We are no longer afraid to be with ourselves.
“We can just continue to follow our in-breath and our out-breath. We don’t tell our fear to go away; we recognize it. We don’t tell our anger to go away; we acknowledge it. These feelings are like a small child tugging at our sleeves. Pick them up and hold them tenderly. Acknowledging our feelings without judging them or pushing them away, embracing them with mindfulness, is an act of homecoming.”
When we know our own suffering, then we can learn to see the suffering of the world. Exploitation, discrimination, racism, poverty, homelessness, war, and so on, cause a lot of suffering to us and those around us. We cannot help others until we look at our own sorrow and fear, pain and anxiety, depression and anger.
We need to listen deeply to ourselves. Only then can we release our burdens. Only then can we stop the destructive patterns that we’ve inherited from our ancestors, from our parents, from our past.
“If a lotus is to grow, it needs to be rooted in the mud. Compassion is born from understanding suffering. We all should learn to embrace our own suffering, to listen to it deeply, and to have a deep look into its nature. In doing so, we allow the energy of love and compassion to be born.”
To be effective at communication, we need to know ourselves. Then we can practice mindfulness, deep listening, and loving speech. Other people may complain, insult us, manipulate, whine, and judge. When we listen deeply with compassion, we can look at people as they are, and not be stirred up emotionally. We can love them without judging them, care about them without giving in to anger and resentment.
As we listen, our purpose is to help others to suffer less. We want ourselves to suffer less too. Instead of judging and blaming, we can be mindfully aware.
When we are not mindful, we will not see our own suffering. Then we will make everyone around us suffer as well. We may believe that we know the people around us, such as our family members and friends and colleagues, but maybe we have never truly listened to them. Maybe we’ve never truly listened to ourselves.
We must be skillful with how we communicate. Do we use words of kindness, compassion, and truth, working to reduce another person’s pain and anxiety? Are we gentle or harsh in our tones? As we begin to understand more about ourselves, we can understand others. We can listen and speak kindly and choose the right words for the right situation.
We can use peaceful language instead of abusing, condemning, judging. We don’t need to exaggerate. We don’t need to speak one way to one person and another way to another person, attempting to manipulate. Our truth can be gentle, consistent, and loving.
Not everyone has the same perception or understanding. When we talk, we can adapt ourselves to each person, learning about how they think and feel. Not everyone will be receptive to the same stories, the same messages, and the same knowledge.
Our speech should be used for well-being and healing. When our speech causes ill-being and suffering, then that is wrong speech. We can make those around us feel loved through our presence, through our gentleness and care.
As we look into ourselves, we know that we’re not perfect. We have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. We feel pain and joy and compassion and fear and anger and on and on, just like everyone else.
We don’t have to judge ourselves as bad, because we have positive qualities too, but we don’t have to swell with pride either, because we make mistakes too. No one sees us for who we are in totality. They are only partly right. We don’t see everyone else for who they are in totality either. People may have many experiences, feelings, and thoughts that we will never be aware of.
When we feel angry, we neither need to act nor suppress our anger. Anger may have a sense of urgency to it, but when we act, we often escalate the situation.
Rather than falling into the same habitual patterns, we can treat our anger with tenderness. We can embrace our energy and breathe and let go. Even a small pause can be beneficial.
We can ask ourselves whenever a thought arises, “Is that thought right? Are we really sure?” Instead of committing to a wrong perception, we can slow down and question our certainty.
Unless we can communicate mindfully with ourselves, we cannot improve the quality of our relationships. With mindfulness of suffering, compassion arises. When we see the suffering in others, we want to help. We cannot force others to become who we want them to be, but we can change ourselves.
When we are compassionate to ourselves, our desire to help our communities grows.
Our love grows.
Our lives are interwoven. We are dependent on each other for survival and well-being. If our communities can listen to each other, communicating with loving-kindness and non-judgmental awareness, we can systematically change our civilization.
We are often caught in a dualistic trap of desire, aversion, and ignorance. We make judgements about life, categorizing events as good or bad, pleasurable or painful, right or wrong, moral or immoral.
We desire what seems attractive and pleasurable, while we avoid or resist suffering, pain, distress, confusion, uncertainty, and hurt.
Then we ignore what doesn’t stimulate us, what seems uninteresting and boring. In many cases, we ignore what is too hard and painful to accept. Distracting our minds from what is.
Through tonglen practice, we can change our relationship to desire and aversion and ignorance.
Rather than being averse to pain, clinging to comfort, or ignoring what we don’t like, we can be mindful of ourselves, of all the energy in our bodies, without judgement, without attachment.
We can work with our suffering through being present. Instead of categorizing experience as good and bad, right and wrong, pleasurable and painful, we can simply be with what is.
When we drop our storylines, we can become friends with our pain and not cling to fleeting pleasures.
Then we can transform ourselves from our awareness of a changing, nuanced life.
We can inhale our suffering and exhale our joy. As we breathe, we can wish others to feel our joy and to not feel our suffering.
Rather than hiding from our sorrow and pain, we can directly engage with it—not in following the storylines of our sorrow and pain, or in justifying why we feel or think in a given way, but in seeing the energy behind everything.
When we look into ourselves with honesty and compassion, we can extend our view to others.
It is so easy to believe that we are the only ones who feel anger and pain, fear and depression, and so on, but we are not alone. Other people feel like us too.
Rather than reinforcing old habitual patterns of alienation and isolation, we can remind ourselves that we are all human and dependent on each other.
When we feel sadness, we can connect to the sadness of others, when we feel happy, we can connect to the happiness of others.
Our lives are the perfect material for our compassion. The more we focus on our patience, the more we realize how impatient we are. The more we focus on our anger, the more we discover how often we become angry. Every moment is a teacher, helping us to become better humans.
When we breathe in, we can imagine ourselves inhaling thickness, darkness, heat, heaviness, claustrophobia, or pain.
When we breathe out, we can release all that dark energy, transforming it into cool, bright light.
We can take in what is hard and let it go.
We can use our friends, our family, our troublesome associates, anyone, as material for our practice.
When we suffer, we can wish for others to not suffer as we are suffering. When we feel happiness, we can wish for others to feel happiness as we do. Through our practice, we can compassionately connect to all of life.
From “taking and sending,” we can awaken our compassion.
Instead of hiding from our suffering, we can learn to embrace it. We can visualize ourselves taking in pain, then sending out tenderness and care.
We can take in what is dark and send out the light. Through this daily practice, we will soon find that the distinction between what is given and what is taken, the inner and outer, life and death, good and evil, blurs.
Whenever I read a Kurt Vonnegut book, I imagine a fun uncle sitting next to me at a family reunion, telling me a story of his life.
He sips from a glass of beer and foam drips down his mustache. Then he sighs and pats his belly and wanders through old stories, stories I have heard before, but never tire of.
I tell him a joke I overheard on the radio.
Uncle Kurt smiles and wrinkles crease on his forehead. His cheeks flush from hours of drinking and joking and chitchatting and meeting cousins.
In his watery eyes, I sense something else, however. Sadness maybe. Disappointment in us as a species. We could have been so much more.
I’ve read this book about thirty times. Once I pulled it off a shelf at a house party, once I read it on a road trip to Indiana, once I flipped through it in a school library.
Why do I keep returning to it?
Maybe because it’s funny. Not so much in a slap-my-knee, wheeze with shocks of laughter, kind of funny. His books are funny in a raw and naked way. In an absurd, endearingly hopeless way.
He reminds us that we’re all humans and we’re all silly. And sometimes we do cruel things to each other when we should’ve been loving and kind.
Life would be so much simpler if we weren’t complicating it all the time.
Laughter can be a healthy defense mechanism to fear and anxiety and trauma.
Vonnegut used humor to deal with the tragedies of his life. He understood the shadow-side of humanity so well that he revered ordinary people who were saints. He wanted a world where humans treated each other with kindness, a world of love for the simple joys of each day.
In our short, fleeting existences, where we often feel so confused and lost and alone, we can respond to tragedies with dignity. We can decide to be humane as we are pulled along by circumstances we can’t control.
We take ourselves so seriously. We blind ourselves in our greed lust, in our desire for more (resources, power, money, and status), that we forget our interwoven humanity.
We forget to care for our communities, for ourselves, for the plants and animals and water and air.
We ignore our planet, our beautiful planet, because we are addicts to fossil fuel. We drop devastating bombs instead of being compassionate toward each other. We murder each other for resources and poison our environment.
One day, we will lose everything because we were too power hungry and stupid and greedy, when we should have been kind.
You’re not just a separate creature that lives “in” this universe for a fleeting time. You’re not merely a “part” of this universe, apart from the indescribable processes of life and death. You are this universe. Interwoven in the cosmos.
Without spacetime, without the evolutionary line of your ancestors to you, without the soil, rivers, and wind, without the sun and flowers and rain, you would not be here. They are in you.
You do not exist as a single identity, or ego, separate from everything and everyone else. Your existence is changing, transforming in its infinite relationships, right now.
With sensitivity, you can watch interdependent relationships unfold.
They are nuanced and spontaneous, arising, passing, arising, passing.
You are like a wave, calming and crashing and sparkling with light on shadows, until merging back to an endless sea.
There is no sensitivity in ideas of the past. The past is dead and you confuse yourself by carrying around its bones. Your mind is often dulled of its aliveness because it is dominated by the past.
When you lose your sensitivity, you grind out your days with unthinking habits like overeating, smoking, dwelling on your mistakes, worrying, and so on.
You must intimately know this moment. How can you know this moment when you’re filled with opinions, judgements, and values?
When you are judging, concerned with right and wrong, agreeing, disagreeing, comparing, and so on, you’re focused on a fixed interpretation of life. Instead of seeing clearly, you are projecting, distorting, manipulating reality.
The moment that you think you know who you are, you are limited by your view of yourself, and are no longer learning.
It is hard to learn, to see clearly, to be fully alive, because you have been conditioned from language, education, culture, art, politics, religion, family, custom, past experiences. You have been trained to respond in conditioned ways, to think robotically.
Most of us don’t realize we’re conditioned until there is a great disturbance in our lives. Whether from political or economic hardships, in our families or professions, through our relationships with others and within ourselves, we become disturbed.
What can we do? Can we live with so much suffering and confusion and uncertainty?
A lot of people avoid dealing with their sorrows, their sufferings, their fears of what is uncertain. They join a new group, subscribe to an ideology, shout at others, take drugs, gamble, check their social media accounts, or watch TV. They distract themselves all day with amusements.
Instead of being present with their fears and uncertainties and anxieties, they hide from them, avoid them, numb themselves from them. Their fears won’t go away, but they have desensitized themselves so much that they don’t feel alive anymore.
You must be totally aware to understand. Often you are one type of person at the office and another with friends. You talk differently to yourself than you do with your coworkers. You act out so many different roles every day.
You divide your consciousness and create conflict with those divisions, blocking out one part of yourself for another, aware of one aspect of existence and not another.
When you do try to understand yourself, you categorize and analyze and examine, spending weeks and months and years on petty personal dramas. But still, you are no further along to enlightenment.
If you could just be aware for a moment, sensitive to all of life, to trees and wind and birds and rivers and the beating of your heart, to inner and outer energies changing without division, without any purpose or method or conclusion, then you will see immediately who you are.
You can know life more deeply without the need to compare deep to shallow, right to wrong, good to bad.
All too often, you cannot see what is, what exists beyond all symbols, because you’re trapped in conditioned states of thinking, comparing, judging, and deciding.
You narrowly perceive, trained into a rigid way of being after a lifetime of chasing after pleasure, and avoiding pain, and fearing what you don’t understand.
Can you be here without trying to be elsewhere? With choiceless awareness, you can begin to see the totality of life. There is nothing to get and no reward, except for what is happening. If you can truly be without any expectation, letting what comes come until it passes away, then you will know joy.
When you seek out pleasure, to repeat an experience of the past, you will soon know pain. Pain is the shadow of pleasure. One follows the other.
When you have what you want, you often wish to hold onto it forever and fear losing it. If someone has what you don’t have, and you want what they have, then you eventually become envious and bitter.
By clinging to your memories of pleasure, you’re in conflict with yourself. Your desire to keep something or someone, to appear in a favorable way, to not lose what you already have, eventually leads you into suffering.
To be present is to no longer be afraid of losing what you desire. You are not afraid when you are just watching yourself be. At the back of your mind, however, you think about the past and future. You are scared of losing your job, your status, your kids, your health, your life. Can you watch all these fears without trying to justify them?
Do the words, images, and associations to past memories disturb you so much? Look behind the symbols at the undercurrent of energy. What is actually happening to you in reality and what is only thought, feeling, and memory?
Thoughts are not realities. For example, you may have gotten sick a few years ago. Now that you are well, you fear becoming sick again.
Your resistance to sickness is a thought, not what is happening within your body at the moment. At the moment, you are fine. Instead of being aware of how you are and tending to yourself with compassion and joy, you get lost in fears about losing your health. There is a conflict between what you think and what is. You ignore what is and dwell on ideas, which are fixed symbols. The more you think, the more you suffer about non-realities that are no longer there or not there in the future, blocking yourself to all of life.
Can you look at fear without dissecting it? Can you see fear without having to control or analyze it, without having to summon courage, without directing your mind to specific things that you are afraid of? Directly look at fear without making it intellectual. Know fear without hiding, rationalizing, trying to take it apart.
You are not apart from fear. There is no fear and then you, an observer of fear. There is only, when you notice subtly enough, fear, which is you.
Then your awareness of fear — without you trying to conclude or explain what fear is — dissolves it.
Fear is not fear alone. Fear interrelates with anxiety, hatred, jealousy, violence, and many similar states.
How can a person find peace in a world writhing with war, class conflict, murder, starvation, with many forms of injustice, perpetuated throughout the centuries?
Violence doesn’t merely stop at the events. that surround you but it is within you as well.
Violence is not just to maim or kill another person. It is a harsh word, jealousy over a friend’s accomplishments, discrimination, obeying an authority out of fear.
When you divide yourself from others and refuse to see the humanity in them, you’re being violent. All too often, you separate yourself through belief and thought. You see yourself as superior, inferior, or both. You blame and judge, rather than being present, listening deeply, and learning.
If you want to transcend violence, you cannot deny, hide, or distract from the violence within. You must be intimately aware of your anger and sadness and jealousy and anxiety and fear, neither justifying nor condemning these states.
All too often, you strive for ideals of non-violence. You tell yourself that you must be peaceful rather than violent, calm rather than angry, and so on. You think about the best ideological systems to obey to become a better person and blame others for failing to follow along.
You create dualities of good and bad, right and wrong, judging and forming opinions.
You try to be better daily. You prepare so much to be a good person because you have been taught to compare, analyze, judge, and think about every situation.
Yet there is no trying. There is only what is peaceful and what is not peaceful. Many holy books have been filled with words about non-violence for centuries and people are still angry, jealous, greedy, hateful, and so on.
When you claim that you believe in the ideals of peace, but are not peaceful within or in relationship to the world, you’re acting hypocritically.
When you separate, when you condemn others while justifying your righteousness, you’re trapped. You have not learned how to see what is.
Most people are not actually with each other. They form ideas and then act on the nuanced relationships between those ideas. They live on images, on symbols, rather than being with someone in the present. The more they cling to ideas, the more they live in a universe of abstraction.
You must be able to see totally. It is one thing to intellectually understand, to examine yourself under an analysis of symbols, but is quite another thing to completely see, to be aware of what happens within you.
You are never free until you can see what you depend on, what causes you to suffer, what brings you joy, without trying to hide or deny these things within yourself. From relationship — to yourself, to the group, to society, to all of life interconnected in the universe — you can be aware.