“Desiderata” is a 1927 poem by American writer Max Ehrmann. Largely unknown in the author’s lifetime, its use in devotional and spoken-word recordings in 1971 and 1972 called it to the attention of the world.
Fear and Love are the main drivers for all human behaviour, and this fact is accurate for every person that has ever lived, but we differ greatly in how we believe to best achieve this.
We all have a mix of conservative and liberal views, we are positioned along a continuum which as liberal values at one end, and conservative views at the other. We appear along this continuum at different points from one another and also from ourselves with reference to different subjects, topics at at different time and in different situations.
I lean towards stability and responsibility in some situations while favoring innovation and a more carefree attitude in others. I feel reassured by politicians and celebrities that I am familiar with, and that I trust (there aren’t many of those to be honest), but also embrace change and uncertainty at times.
Conservative values come from beliefs that resist CHANGE, and carry the narrative that change equals uncertainty, risk, threat, and/or danger. Those with Conservative values that feel under threat crave the reassurance of something and someone familiar.
Research shows that people who identify as having liberal values often display conservative tendencies when they feel threatened, and those that classify themselves as conservatives display liberal tendencies when they feel less inhibited.
I was recently researching Simon Baron-Cohen’s hypothesis Empathising-Systemising theory, which suggests that people may be classified on the basis of their scores along two dimensions: empathising and systemising.
It supposedly measures a person’s strength of interest in empathy (the ability to identify and understand the thoughts and feelings of others and to respond to these with appropriate emotions) and a person’s strength of interest in systems (in terms of the drive to analyse or construct them).
Well I consider systemising to be a conservatively based trait. The need to take things apart and figure out how they work, and to organise processes into routines, that are easy to understand and follow, I hypothesis, come from a desire to make us feel less threatened by our environment and more in control of our destiny.
Empathising could also be considered fear based trait, but its an alternative strategy to achieve the same thing as systemising, but in a more inclusive way. It could also be perceived as a way to spiritually connect with others, to get outside of ourselves. Empathisers figure that understanding others makes them less vulnerable to the world. It’s the same desire as the conservative, but employs a completely different strategy to achieve it.
Now let’s consider the diffusion of innovation bell. This attempts to explain why some people embrace innovation quicker than others. At one end of the scale you have the Early Adaptors and at the other, Laggards.
So why do Laggards resist change, because they crave the status quo, they like to keep things the same, because they fear change, which is a conservative trait. On the other hand Early Adapters focus on the new thing because it brings with it opportunities rather than risk and danger, which is a liberal trait.
So while you might consider yourself coming from a more conservative or liberal mindset, the underlying desire for pleasure and need to avoid pain are the same in everyone. We are more similar than we are different. We love and fear in the same way, but our beliefs shape our strategies for navigating the world so that we avoid pain and find pleasure.
We should embrace different views because they open our minds, and give us ideas for alternative strategies for achieving the same goals.
“Power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts.”
It’s an interesting statement but is it accurate?
If you think about human nature we all have a tendency to gravitate towards inflating our sense of self, and avoiding situations that devalue it.
Evidence of this is all around us in everyday life. Arguments are engaged in to uphold ones sense of self. For instance, think about the reasons why you last argued, were you protecting something important to you? Something you’d invested yourself in. When you prefix “my…” to anything, such as“my idea”, “my thoughts”, “my opinion”, “my possessions”, “my kids” you make it part of your self-worth.
The mind believes, the more you HAVE the more you ARE, but the flip side of having more and being more, is that you also have more to lose.
When individuals gain more money, more power, more stature, it becomes more difficult to face loosing it, and so self interest and self preservation become even more important.
Those in power have more to lose by rocking the boat, by fighting again the very system they are benefiting from, so what do they do, they fight to preserve the status quo, because it serves them and after all, we are all designed to protect ourselves, it’s our survival instinct doing it’s job.
If you understand this trait of human nature, you come to realise that anyone in power is open to corruption, and is not going to drive through change that could potentially put them at risk.
You can’t defy human nature, we are what we are, but you can manage it, so that society is better for it, and so that those in power, serve society rather than themselves.
So how do we, the ordinary people, deal with the fact that people are self serving and power only increases this instinct?
Well, we start to actually hold politicians, businesses and powerful individuals to account, we make sure they deliver on the promises they benefited on the back of, and if they don’t they should know they have a great deal to lose.
I was recently talking to someone who was struggling to come to terms with a friend of hers leaving to join the army. The back story is that her best friend of 17 years had been living with an ex for 6 months due to financial constraints, and as a way out had decided to join the army and leave for 4 years with possible deployment oversees.
Apparently she would never have done this if she wasn’t stuck in this bad living situation, but has now become excited at the prospect of new beginnings.
The person I was talking to, let’s call her Elaine for the purposes of this post, was feeling angry and sad about her friend leaving, especially because she’d be leaving to potentially be part of a conflict and could find herself in great danger.
Although Elaine was being outwardly supportive of her friend, she was dreading her departure, and the thought of potentially losing their close friendship and had a lot of anger which was directed at her friends ex for putting her in this situation.
Elaine had a couple serious “are you sure?” conversations with her friend who had indicated that she was sure of her decision, and it being what she wanted.
If Elaine’s friend stays she will continue to work at her solid full time job, and will only have to keep living with her ex for another two months.
I told her the bottom line was she should let go of her attachment to their friendship and accept the situation as is, which involves both letting go, and surrendering to the present reality.
She shouldn’t resist the feelings she has. Instead examine her fear of loss by looking into it.
Bringing awareness to her story telling, by asking how much of it is speculation driven by fear, which is all of it, in reality. I told Elaine to be aware of this, and the fact that none of these thoughts are real, they are story telling embellishments out of control.
The truth is her friend is happy to go, so she should be happy for her. None of us know what the future holds, her friend could stay and get hit by a bus, and then Elaine would be thinking she should have let her friend go into the army after all, instead of talking her out of it. You can make stories up to either back her friends departure or for staying.
I advised Elaine to let go of the fear that is telling her that her friend is safer here rather than there. It’s her friends journey and she needs to go where she needs to go. We all have our own journey to travel.
We are all protective of those we love, we want them to be safe and secure, and when they are not with us we believe the danger is greater or that we may be left without them. This is of course a possibility, but we can drive ourselves crazy by running with these stories.
Loss is indeed part of life, all things are transient. Change is continuous and wishing for it not to be, does little to change the reality.
We should be grateful for the blessings we have, as they are happening, for the relationships, the places and the things we get to experience, in the moment we experience them. Instead of being completely absorbed by wanting, and chasing after more or better in the future, which many of us do, and are preoccupied with doing, only to realising what we had, but didn’t truly appreciate when we had them to enjoy. Nothing lasts forever, everything has it’s time and is subject to change, continually.
Accept the fact that change is part of life, be grateful for your blessings right now, and get used to the idea that the future is uncertain, but focus much more on the opportunities it can present, rather than the danger, and risk that it may or may not pose.
The best solution is not to over think, but instead feel life in the moment it unfolds, in the present moment. Thinking is imagination, speculation, with no foundation in reality. It’s the creative story teller inside you, driven by fear. Love is now, fear is focused in the future. Appreciate all you have now. It’s fine to work towards a future goal, but prioritise NOW, and all that is in your now, because it might not be there tomorrow.
ENLIGHTENMENT comes from separation of AWARENESS and I INVESTED THOUGHT, particularly rigid thought forms such as BELIEFS. This realisation brings space to all situations, a gap to observe thought, but not be inside and part of thought.
It is impossible to go back fully to old thought habits once this shift takes place.
Thereafter the difficulty is dealiing with a society that is largely blind to this perspective and that continues to struggle along unconsciously, WANTING, ATTACHING and SEPARATING from it’s environment, seemingly insanely fighting over scarce resources, and desperately trying to be something different, better or somewhere else.
But that feeling too gets easier when you let go of EXPECTATIONS which after all are just thoughts.
It’s easy to forget, or fall asleep in some lazy moments and you risk becoming once again reactionary to your thinking, this is where some discipline and effort may be required.
It’s also tempting to try to over complicate enlightenment, because it seems too easy a process, to remove pain and suffering, but it is this easy if you remove your sense of self from your thoughts.
See the importance of the moments as they unfold, keep from wishing for the next moment to come or dwelling on your past.
Feel connected to and one with life itself.
Allow joy to flow into what you do, or at least accept the things you can’t enjoy as you do them.
Enthuse with all that is, right and wrong, front and back, up and down, black and white, for everything has it’s place, in the rich tapestry of life.
LIFE is about experiencing the good and bad moments, riding them like a wave, rather than fighting with all your might against them, being in those moments as experiencing energy, and following your bliss, wherever it takes you.
We all love interesting stories, it seems to be built into our DNA, our ancestors told them through the use of fables and parables. I particularly like parables, designed to teach us something morally or spiritually. I like the story of the $20, which is modern setting for a timeless lesson. Hope you enjoy the story of the $20 bill…
I recently came across a question in a discussion group, which went..
“Attachments and expectations are the main reason for suffering and disappointment, It’s easy to say let go of attachments but how in ‘real’ life can we be without attachments and emotions, I mean not everybody can leave our loved ones in the midnight and go to a forest and just meditate under a tree, come on lets be practical, so my question is how to be like Buddha in this modern age?”
This is an interesting question, and one I’ve contemplated myself many times. The question misses something though. There is another element that is required for suffering to take place. As well as EXPECTATIONS and ATTACHMENTS you need PERCEPTION OF REALITY. These are all elements of what is known in spirituality circles as “THE PAIN GAP”, otherwise known as the EQUATION OF EMOTIONS. If we can change our perceptions, which are conditioned into us by the society we grow up in, we can break the pain gap. Our perceptions come from our beliefs and values, which are built on assumptions and inferences rather than facts and evidence. If you don’t believe me, question yourself about your own beliefs and values, where are they from, what are they based on?
As well as dealing with our perceptions of reality, we can work on reducing or removing our EXPECTATIONS for any given situation, whilst reducing or removing our ATTACHMENTS.
Rather than holding any EXPECTATIONS, we should instead embrace a sense of appreciation. Nothing in life is promised, so being grateful is a much healthy psychological position to take.
ATTACHMENTS are, by their very nature, impermanent. The life that you live, the house that you live in, the car that you drive, the relationships that you share, are all destined to end one day. Accepting this fact, while enjoying them while they last is much more pain free than refusing to accept the reality of the situation. Surrendering to WHAT IS, is the sensible thing to do.
If any one of these elements is resolved, PERCEPTION OF REALITY, EXPECTATIONS, or ATTACHMENTS, we can reduce or remove the pain gap (otherwise known as the equation of emotion), which will reduce or remove suffering from our lives.
However ultimately we should aim to do as Thrangu Rinpoche advises in Pointing Out the Dharmakaya.
“We cannot get rid of suffering by saying, “I will not suffer.” We cannot eliminate attachment by saying, “I will not be attached to anything,” nor eliminate aggression by saying, “I will never become angry.” Yet, we do want to get rid of suffering and the disturbing emotions that are the immediate cause of suffering.
The only way to eliminate suffering is to actually recognize the experience of a self as a misconception, which we do by proving directly to ourselves that there is no such personal self. We must actually realize this. Once we do, then automatically the misconception of a self and our fixation on that self will disappear. Only by directly experiencing selflessness can we end the process of confused projection.”
In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to get swept along with the emotion of circumstance. Sometimes there may be good days, other times, bad. Debts might be piling up in one corner of life, relationship problems in another, an upcoming holiday to look forward to elsewhere, which gives us a sense of hope.
We might feel we are finally getting somewhere, only to find the next moment pulls us back a dozen steps, like a frustrating game of snakes and ladders.
Society has conditioned us to be restless, we have been taught to strive for more if we want to be more. We are shown what could be, if we work hard enough and do what needs to be done, particularly in the accumulation of wealth and status.
If we’re lucky to climb a few rungs towards success, we might feel some sense of achievement, at least for a short while, but underneath it all there is usually a sense of “is this it?”
Well the pursuit of achievement is a fools errand, if you’re looking for fulfilment. You see achievement is conditional, it depends on something outside of yourself happening. Fulfilment is not at the end of this road, you will never find it beyond achievement or success, it’s somewhere else entirely, it’s inside you.
Jim Carrey, wearing his philosophy hat said “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
Something I discovered a while ago was to learn to look at life through fresh eyes, to strip away all the BS, and focus on the really important things, the things that matter, and what are they you may ask? Well a truly enlightened person would say, there isn’t anything that really matters, because everything you can engage or interact with is part of “form” which is by it’s very nature, fleeting and impermanent.
The house you live in, might be legally owned by you, but in reality, it’s not yours, it will pass to someone else at some point in the future, whether you like it or not. Same with the car in the driveway, and all of your possessions.
Even the relationships you currently enjoy, will pass over one day.
You can accumulate all the wealth in the world, a billion dollars if you like, but one day, that too will be gone from your possession, you can’t take it from this life. You can’t take any form beyond death.
In reality, you own nothing of form, and that shouldn’t really be a troubling thought, because, form doesn’t matter, in the great scheme of things, it just isn’t important. It’s within the realms of achievement.
So if achievement and the pursuit of form is a fools errand, what should we be focused on, what should we spend our attention on, where will we find fulfilment?
Well, EVERYTHING ELSE, is the answer, and what is everything else, when you take away FORM, which is the physical world? Eckhart Tolle would answer… THE FORMLESS. The formless that allows form to be, after all, without space, the planets could not orbit, without the observer of form, form could not be.
Space, the formless is not something you can see or touch, that is the problem for many, they only believe what they can see, touch and prove, everything else is seen as fantasy.
At the same time, we are happy to be completely controlled, directed and driven by THOUGHT, we “think” more than we do anything else. We incessantly talk to ourselves in our heads, reliving past glories, re-running past arguments, projecting future scenarios, telling ourselves stories of this and that. We use thoughts to work things out, to make sense of things, and to find answers. Yet thoughts can’t be touched or seen in the material world, yet they exist without doubt. But thought are not formless in the sense that, we should be focusing our attention on them, in fact, we should be spending less time than we do in thought, particularly emotionally driven thought that we invest in, with our sense of self.
We should use thought, and not be used by it. It’s a kind of form focused formless ability that we have, but it’s not who we are. Thought is in fact a barrier to finding who or what we really are. Take BELIEFS, which are really just rigid thought patterns; we hold onto them, defend them, fight for them, even kill for them. They are our beliefs and they matter to us. In reality most beliefs are built on assumptions and inferences, rather than evidence and fact. Go through your beliefs, write them down, then ask yourself where they come from, what are they based on? Show me the evidence of your convictions.
Beyond THOUGHT and beyond FORM is where we should be focusing attention, it’s the space and formless that flows through us, and everything else in the world, this is where fulfilment can be found, it’s in us, everyone of us. We are connected by the space between objects, between planets. It weaves its way through and around all form, allowing all form to be, we are that space, we exist in it, we are part of it, we experience it through CONSCIOUSNESS, which is attention in the moment. You can find it when you rise above thought and above form or at least the thought of form.
From consciousness, you can enjoy form, play with form, appreciate form, but are not burdened by being tethered to it.
From consciousness you can use thought to navigate the world of form, but are not used by it. There is a big difference.
In the realm of consciousness, fear does not exist, because fear is part of thought, and part of form. If the real you is formless, what have you got to fear?
So in the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to get swept along with the emotion of circumstance. Sometimes there may be good days, other times, bad. Debts might be piling up in one corner of life, relationship problems in another, an upcoming holiday to look forward to elsewhere, which gives us a sense of hope. But none of that really matters does it?