Life is full of stuff. Responsibilities, problems even entertainment of modern life can feel like a fire hose sometimes. It is easy to get swept up by it all. Relationships, bills, school, work.. we have all been there and know what stretching yourself thin to make ends meet feels like. Stress can kill. We only get one ticket on this ride of life so any tools to help avoid stress can be life savers.
[Optimism is overrated]
The half-filled glass is an old, tired cliche and yet can be a useful prop if we start over. Instead of considering the amount of water in the glass and its relation to your attitude, there is a better lesson about stress that is so obvious and yet so easily hidden.
Using a raised and stretched arm, hold the half-filled glass up and ask how much does it weigh? The absolute value doesn’t actually matter here, instead the weight is relative to how long one holds it up. A few moments is effortless. A few minutes and your arm may start to stress and muscles burn. After a few hours and you would have muscle tremors and serious cramps.
This experience is not unlike how we deal with life and stress. A thought weighs nothing but hold it long enough and it will gain mass and become too much to bare. Think about some responsibility, problem or worry for a short time and it isn’t so bad. Obsess over it at three in the morning instead of sleeping and it will fill your life with pain and misery.
The obvious answer which you may have already thought of is “put the glass down”, but that is easier said than done. Instead a more realistic approach is to develop a way to lessen the impact of the weight. Make a thought weightless again. Intrusive, repetitive thoughts and worry is the bane of the modern world. Sometimes it is extremely hard to control and in some of the worst cases, cause one to become paralyzed.
The first astronauts who made it to orbit in the 1960s reported the sight of Earth from orbit and then later during the missions to the Moon, seeing the entire Earth in a single window was mind shattering. The impact was so profound, the change in perspective threw them out of their normal mind streams and thoughts, and allowed them to reevaluate the scope of their lives, how they saw themselves, relation to others, and the Earth as a whole Mother.
Their worries and worldly possessions all melted away. They seemed almost ridiculous from this height, like meeting God. Billions of people were now bacteria. Everything you ever came in contact with your whole life was smaller than a postage stamp and not more than a tiny dark spot to the eye, if at all. Continents fly past under them like painted lines on a road, the black ink and rest of known existence to their backs. The deep and light blue hues of the oceans, the green, brown and grays of the land. All of it held together under a thin wrapper of air. They all could not believe how thin our atmosphere is when seen from space. How unbelievably vulnerable we all are, flying through space together on this floating rock with no way to steer or avoid anything in our path. Spaceship Earth was coined during that time for just this reason.
Can you imagine yourself there? Traveling at 30,000 miles per hour. A Sunset and rise every 90 mins. What that must of felt like to be that far from all of humanity, to see ourselves in such a new scale. It is as if a single cell blasting off of your arm and floating in front of you to see the whole body it is part of. They must of felt like they were looking through God’s eyes.
Indeed, the first published photograph of Earth from orbit kicked off the environmental movement en masse. You didn’t have to visit space to impart some of the same emotions and change in perspective.
Could something like this experience exist elsewhere? A change in perspective be found without reaching space? Yes, in fact it can be with you all the time. Much like how we know less about the oceans than we do space, we know less about our true selves than we do each other.
In fact, you can have this spiritual experience at any time by becoming an internal astronaut and creating some space between the thinker and the know-er. You are the know-er, your mind is the thinker. This fact and insight lies at the heart of Far Eastern religion. Humans have known for thousands of years that there is a way to watch your mind tumble under you.
[The Know-er and the Thinker]
When you hear a noise, who is listening? You are not your thoughts just like you are not the sound that enters your ears. You are the life force behind them, the deeper still self listening that hears them and is timeless. Your thoughts, ideologies, loves and hates are all transient, they change over time, but under all this is the light of of a deeper self that is connected to God and the entirety of the universe.
This idea has been studied for thousands of years that goes back to the dawn of culture. In modern days we have now found simple distilled ways to approach these same insights. One of them that has entered the popular media is Mindfulness. A simple way to find yourself is by watching the mind as it works, thinking for you, notice how after each thought, an emotion follows. Much like Egyptian mythology, every god has a dual nature, a two sided coin. The other side of the dreamer is the thinker. When you are asleep, the dreamer is in control, when you are awake, the thinker is running. Daydream? Thinker!
An even better analogy is the breather. The breather is just like the thinker. Think about breathing, and the breather hands it over to you. You breathe. Trail off in thought and the breather happily takes over for you without missing a beat. Seamless. The same goes for the thinker. Notice to work on a math problem takes a lot of energy? That is you taking over the thinker! You don’t have to do math, but it is a sharp example. There are two states we can be in, input or output. Any form of creation, is output, any form of information (movies, internet, study, etc..) is input. Are you thinking when you are watching a movie? input or output? Ha, input.. you are not really thinking, you are in “input mode”.
The normal moment to moment process of the mind is one where we perceive, deduce and then internalize the outside world. Our emotions cement the result of our senses and thinking using our understanding of the world and history as we know it. Two people seeing the same scene may have completely different reactions and resulting emotions given their perceptions based on their personal history. The key here is after each thought, it is emotions that make a lasting impression of our perception into our bodies. The body believes what the mind thinks, feelings are that communication between the two and with enough emotion you can be scarred for life.
You think in your mind and feel the emotions in your body. The mind and body connection is one of two speeds. The mind is real-time, it is taking in raw data and providing neurotransmitter signals to produce certain chemicals that then flood into the body which produce emotions we then feel everywhere at once. The body stores these emotions day to day as a long term memory. How you feel when you wake up can color your whole day.
After being flooded with a particular emotion for long periods of time, your body will remember this and kinda get stuck. Watch a horror movie alone late at night. Even though you know it is not real your body still believes what you have been thinking about for the last two hours. Lying alone in the dark trying to fall asleep after, you body is still filled with fear, you find it hard to fall asleep. This is just a movie but still has a large impact. This is why it can be very hard to break out of depression. Even though your real time thoughts may have shifted to better happier things (a birthday party, found money, love) you may still feel bad in your body. You still feel heavy.
Under the wrong control you can be flooding the body with bad emotions causing great pain, stress and ultimately sickness, even if most of what you are thinking about is in the future or past (doesn’t really exist). Worrying about past events or future ones is not unlike the movie. These things although may have really happened or will, are not at the present moment. We are creating them by thinking about them, we make them real and the body feels them just the same.
[The Journey into you]
Most who attempt any path to enlightenment will start with meditation. In reality, it is a fools errand as it is widely known and taught in the West. Instead of trying the impossible: sitting alone in a room, trying desperately to stop thinking. Most will fall asleep or just go through cycles of concentration and varying off into some though, then back to concentration. This is the way of brute force and even the masters of 20 years still compete this cycle over and over. It works for some but I found it tedious and the exact opposite of “relaxing”..
Hold the image of an astronaut floating in orbit outside the Space Shuttle with the world under him. Here you are the astronaut, and the world below you is your mind, cataloging and thinking away like a tireless worker. It is there for you, it is filled with everything you have come in contact with and learned. Even the questions you don’t have answers to, it is all there waiting for you to use it. All the bad that is in the world is in there too. You need this so you can avoid murder, death and harm.
This is the problem, if we don’t realize that our minds have a job to do, that is always collecting everything around us, forming opinions, judgments, predictions.. these are critical for survival, but we get caught up in all this stuff. We think we are all these things, we form attachments and identify with our material objects, social constructs and jobs. When any of these things change, we find great pain. We must shift our identity back to what we really are, our true nature before we were born and had names for things, a timeless presence. The Human mind is the greatest achievement of God and the natural world. The pinnacle of adaptation and evolution. But we must see it for what it is and avoid being swept up by everything it tells us. It can lie to us and hurt us with bad thoughts about ourselves. I can’t count how many times I knew something to be true that just wasn’t so. All the wasted time and emotion, tricked again.
Instead of meditation, mindfulness is the opposite approach to the same path. Instead of fighting the mind, become the know-er, step back and watch and listen to your mind under you. Create some space between you and your mind. The mind is a wonderful tool but as it collects everything it comes in contact with, it becomes a garbage bin. Not in he bad sense of the word, without a garbage bin in your kitchen, your home would become unclean quickly. No a garbage bin is very useful, but here you want to sleep in it, that is the problem. You can’t live there.
Instead, by realizing the deeper truth that your true self lies under your thoughts and emotions, a timeless soul that is part of the one great consciousness of God and the universe. By connecting to this power and depth, your mind can go along being very helpful collecting everything about the world, but by allowing your thoughts, and emotions come and go without having to take every one of them seriously, you can live a life with less stress.
Before your parents had you, what was your true nature? Who are you? the things your parents gave you? the house you lived in? the school and lessons you learned? The job you work? The spouse, marriage and children of your family?
You are a wet robot machine created over millions of years of evolution that uses trillions of parts to function. The universe has fucked itself senseless to make you. YOU are the deep presence, down under the emotions and thoughts. You are the one that feels, hears and acts. You can steer your thoughts like a river when you have the strength, but they will always be there coming like an endless flow as the mind is very helpful and ready to serve you for survival.
Become the know-er within. Realize you are the commander of this great robot wet machine the universe through your parents has given you. Can you peek out from within, look through your eyes by sitting inside the master control room like a captain in a master commander chair in the bridge of a great ship? That’s you!
Your mind is your faithful servant that is constantly absorbing everything it hears, sees, touches and smells. Your emotions are fired after these experiences as an instant way to distill the exact effect these things are having to you.
I think Bruce Lee said it best: