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KNOW THYSELF – Blog Post #7

KNOW THYSELF

Throughout the 5,000 years of Earth’s recorded history, there is one piece of advice that was consistently taught by our species’ greatest philosophers and sages. In 1400 B.C., this advice was inscribed on the walls of Egypt’s Luxor Temple; in 700 B.C., it was etched above the temple entrance to Greece’s Oracle of Delphi; it was infused in the teachings of Socrates and Plato; it featured prominently in the Hindu texts of ancient India and in the teachings of Confucius from early Imperial China; and later, it was echoed yet again in the writings of William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and even Benjamin Franklin. This advice, quite simply, is to know yourself.

     The reason this wisdom refuses to leave humanity alone is that life, with all its perceived complexities, can be boiled down to this one endeavor. Any crisis, any difficulty, and any suffering you experience is a direct result of you not knowing your true self. When you don’t yet understand and know yourself, your perception of what’s real, what’s true, and what’s important in life become fabrications of a confused mind. To be fair, most of us are born into a confusing environment that can be experienced as a powerful river of fear, expectation, insecurity, and shallowness. But when we metaphorically lift our head out of the river’s water, we begin to see just how far astray the current has taken us while we weren’t paying attention… just floating along like so many others. This awakened perspective illustrates how - in this day and age - one must be counter-culture just to be mentally (and physically) healthy.  

     The way forward - and the answer to how one can “Know Thyself” - is summed up in the beautiful simplicity of a simple question:  Why do I feel what I feel? During life’s trials, instead of playing the victim, your honest answer to this repeated question incinerates your ego, de-cloaks your insecurities, and takes you straight to the core of who you are. It does this by revealing the false beliefs about yourself and about life that keep you from experiencing your true self. Answering this question will show how your fears control you, how negativity shackles you, how your need for validation from others enslaves you, and how your self-centeredness suffocates you. Conversely, during life’s magic moments, answering this question will show you how simple happiness is and what little it requires, how empowered you’ll feel when you live your truth unapologetically, how invigorating it is to be courageous, and how true joy comes from being in loving service to others.    

     This quest to know yourself will ultimately reveal that you are love itself. And the more you choose to act from love, the more of your limitless self will you experience. Everything you need to be happy, everything you need to be fulfilled, and everything you need to feel complete is already within you… you just don’t know it yet.

     Knowing yourself is not an achievement, it’s a realization; it’s not a creation, it’s a discovery. Who you are, who you’ve always been, and who you’ve yet to become is encoded in your soul - not in the temporary rental equipment you call your body. There is purpose and meaning buried deep within each one of us. But until we make an effort to reflect and to spend some time pausing the raging river we’ve let our lives become, this river’s current will continue to carry us away to a place that isn’t us. We are pure joy, unconditional love, and timeless truth. And whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’ve all come here to know ourselves as that… and to be it.   

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Depression’s Maze of Mirrors – Blog Post #6

Depression’s Maze of Mirrors

     In my hometown, there was once a tourist attraction called, The Mystery Fun House. One of its many chambers was a dimly lit mirror maze built with serpentine, mirrored walls. In the maze, inevitably you’d get turned around and completely lose any perception of where you were or how to get out. Because of the opposing mirrors, you couldn’t trust your eyes; and because of the way sound bounced off the mirrored walls, you couldn’t trust your ears. Even worse, the endless reflections made it impossible for your mind to create a map of where you’d been or how you’d progressed. There was a trick, however, to beat the maze. All you had to do upon entering it was stay in contact with one of the walls. Because all the walls in the maze were connected - including the one next to the exit - if you felt your way through the maze, you’d get out easily.

     Chronic depression is a torturous mirror maze for many people. External circumstances, relationships, societal norms, and even mass media can cause us to lose sight of what’s important in life or what’s true about ourselves. Our mind begins to believe the distorted and warped reflections of our environment. And without stopping to question our thoughts, these distortions appear more and more real. Unaware that this world of delusion is being created by us, we begin shadowboxing with a head full of lies.

     Just like an actual maze of mirrors, it’s difficult to think ourselves out of depression. In order to feel our way out, we must shut down the mistaken perspective from which our negative self-talk is coming. To do this, don’t think… feel. You can think your way into despair, or you can feel your way into gratitude. You can think that all hope is lost, or you can feel that love and connectedness are all around you. You can think yourself into the stressful perspective that the world is on your shoulders, or you can feel the guidance and support of a presence that is much bigger than you alone. And you can have fearful thoughts of loss, or you can feel yourself embracing change. To navigate these choices and these voices, remember that thought-based lies forcefully scream at you, but feeling-based wisdom gently whispers to you. Hearing this whispered wisdom cannot be done without quieting your mind. Making time to maintain balance and sanity through things like meditation, exercise, or being in nature is extremely helpful.   

     It’s important to pause here and recognize that far too many chronically depressed souls opt for suicide. Yet nothing is escaped or destroyed with suicide. Who we are is something indestructible, and our soul’s path to unimaginable happiness is unavoidable. Suicide represents a frustrated pause on that path, not an ending. It’s similar to tripping the “tilt” sensor on an old pinball machine while shaking it to manipulate where the ball goes. Suicide’s metaphorical shaking of life’s machine trips the “tilt” sensor, ending that particular turn. But what happens next, of course, is that a new ball emerges for another turn… and another… and another… unconditionally and unendingly. We are not our minds, we are not our bodies, and we are not our problems. We are something far greater than that, and we’ll keep playing this mysterious, blindfolded game of life until we grow beyond our delusions to discover the truth.  

         It is not the intention of this post to discount an individual’s predisposition toward depression. We’re all “wired” in different ways. But don’t be too quick to think that enduring happiness is out of reach because of your genetic “wiring.” Thinking so is believing a lie and shortchanging your full potential. There is nothing in the human experience - physical or mental - that cannot be overridden by spiritual awakening. Who and what you really are is truly that powerful. All it takes to access that power is a bit of humility, a sliver of openness, and a dash of optimism. There’s always something unexpectedly new and wonderful to be discovered in your life. When you are earnestly open to that possibility, the wonderfully unexpected… will find you.

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The Illusion of Chance – Blog Post #5

The Illusion of Chance

     The Universal language of mathematics is truly beautiful. Transcending culture and spoken word, the elegant logic of math is one of the most powerful tools on Earth. It plays a critical role in our evolution, enabling us to understand the physical world around us. Statisticians and scientists build forecast models that detect nearly invisible patterns in things like weather, biology, and even world events. But as effective as math and science have become in answering the question of *if* something will happen, these tools fall painfully short of answering the big question of *why* something happens. It’s the *why* that gives meaning to life… and whether we’re conscious of if or not, meaning is what we are all after.

     In the aftermath of a significant life event, there exists a temptation to answer the question of why with concepts like randomness, luck, or chance. We default to these so quickly because the mind cannot see beyond an event it doesn’t understand. This is where science, math, and even logic run out of steam. To behold a bigger picture, we need a much more powerful instrument. Feeling is that instrument.

     Fortunately, the instrument of feeling isn’t something we need to acquire, engineer, or compute. That instrument - which unlocks the secrets of life itself - is within us… and it’s more powerful than any supercomputer could hope to be. Like a radio station’s broadcast, life is broadcasting answers to our deepest questions 24/7. To hear those answers, we must discard our default, victim mindset and be open and humble enough to hear answers through our feelings. When we do, we’ll connect to the truth that life is a custom-tailored teaching machine, and it cannot show up in any way that doesn’t serve the overall benefit of our soul as well as our soul’s never-ending journey.

     Going to dramatic extremes can be helpful when contemplating any idea… so let’s talk plane crashes. How can chance not play a role in the loss of 200 people in a plane crash? Well… let’s rewind a bit. How can 200 people with 200 different life circumstances all meet in one place with the same destination in mind? To a Neanderthal, 200 people cramming into a tube with wings and then rocketing off to who knows where would look ridiculous. Our evolved perspective, though, sees nothing strange about 200 different people - each for their own reasons - being coordinated on the same flight at the same time to one common destination. It happens every day. But only from a much higher perspective – the spiritual perspective of feeling – can we see nothing ridiculous or random about 200 different souls, having lived out their lives’ intention and purpose, choosing (usually without their minds being consciously aware) to depart this particular incarnation all at once in a plane crash. For those left back on the “ground” who have not yet felt their way to that lofty perspective of unfathomable coordination, a plane crashing with their loved one aboard would be excruciatingly painful and confusing.

     To most “rational” people, being at peace immediately after someone you love dies in a plane crash would sound cold, heartless, and nonsensical. But try explaining a smart phone to a “rational” person from the 5th Century B.C. “Rational” is obviously something that evolves over time. And as more time passes, more of the boundless power and resources of our individual souls is revealed to us… through feeling. We begin to feel how our superconscious self, or soul, aligns us with both people and circumstances that are best suited for our growth and evolution… even and especially when our minds cannot reconcile what is happening. And yes, that includes circumstances surrounding both our birth and death... as well as which after-death life adventure we’re ready for next.

     The further you feel into the concept of chance being an illusion, the more you’ll become aware of the limitless power and greater agenda of your own soul. This awareness will inevitably disassemble negative concepts like victim, tragedy, and even murder. Greater awareness, knowledge, and wisdom, though, can only be found in the undiscovered; the graceful logic of math and science have taught us that. But logic, as it turns out, is the beginning of wisdom… not the end.

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The Power of Free Will – Blog Post #4

The Power of Free Will

     Free will is defined as, the power to act without fate as a constraint. It can be argued that most animals do not have free will (or at least the contemplative free will that humans experience). Animals’ reactions to their environment are based, for the most part, on Darwinian survival instincts. This isn’t to say that animals are incapable of love. Anyone who’s looked deeply into the eyes of a dog, for example, can feel something beyond the dog’s survival instincts. But with respect to choosing one’s destiny, the free will of a dog falls short and is overridden by both internal and external forces (like those of the almighty doggie treat). And although we humans have our own internal and external forces to contend with (like those of the almighty hot, glazed donut), what distinguishes us from our animal kin is an aspect of self-awareness that draws us toward personal growth and conscious evolution.

     It’s important to recognize that we, like all animals, have fight or flight survival instincts as well as need-fulfillment programs within us. These, however, can rob us of our free will. As long as we have unhealthy, unexamined desires that we’ve set on autopilot and fears that we choose to run from without confronting, we will at times be a slave to our inner animal. Without taking control of that animal, the potential exists for us to eat, drink, drug, or stress ourselves to death. In seeing this, we have a choice to evolve… but that evolution doesn’t come for free. The choice to climb toward a higher experience is a choice to leave a lower experience behind. And it’s here that our free will really shines. This involves trading short-term gratification for long-term benefit. That choice - and the realization of its benefits - is what separates us from the mouse who uncontrollably rushes to the mouse trap that’s loaded with cheese. When we spot the trap, we increase our capacity to choose; and when we increase our capacity, we increase our power.

     The tipping point of accessing the power of free will is self-analysis. Focusing on how, in the past, we’ve let our inner animal lead us astray is key. Examining that dynamic… learning from it… seeing how and why we acted unconsciously, we’re then able to set ourselves up for success the next time we encounter a similar, tempting force. The willpower it takes to exercise free will and make a higher choice isn’t won in the moment of choosing; it’s won in the homework of self-reflection that’s done before the moment even arrives.

     At times, this can feel like a futile endeavor. Taking command of one’s unhealthy cravings and limiting fears is a journey rife with failure. But despite repeated failures, the choice to keep trying is the choice that makes your free will endure. All you can do is the best you know how to do. And when that falls short, you begin the next day with a new and improved, ‘best you can do.’ Every time you fall - as long as you don’t give up - you get up stronger and that much closer to sustained success.

     Start small. Pick an undesired habit, and study it. Make it your focus. Ask why you do it. Don’t settle for the topical, pleasure-centered reason; rather, drill down to the real reason... the subconscious reason. And don’t stop drilling until you get an answer that rocks your world. When you throw yourself at this effort in such a way, life will rise to meet you, and help will come to you in so many subtle and unexpected ways.

     It is said that fortune favors the bold. You must be bold to engage the endeavor of knowing yourself, seeing your unconscious acts, and countering your unhealthy habits. But there is no greater fortune than the freedom gained from your ever-expanding free will… and your free will is the spark that ignites the engine of your personal evolution.

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The Perfection Paradox – Blog Post #3

The Perfection Paradox

     “Perfect” is a word we rarely use seriously about ourselves. Like meticulous mechanics, there’s usually something about our lives that we want to tweak, change, improve, add, or remove. Just when we think we’ve got the perfect balance or set of circumstances, life steps in and prompts us to shift into maintenance, upgrade, or repair mode. There are parts of this process that are quite natural and life-enhancing. Other parts, however, can become obsessive and life-eroding. Two realizations about perfection are necessary to keep us on the healthy side of the concept. The first is that there’s inherent perfection in all of us… right here… right now… as we are. The second is that the unfolding journey of life is what’s perfect… not any apparent destination. It’s easy to get caught, however, in a state of anxiety when we look at life - or at ourselves - and see a picture that isn’t the way we want it to be.

     A photograph is a frozen moment in time. It’s a capture of one small piece of a larger scene that’s unfolding… going somewhere… becoming something. The captured photograph, though, is perfect - just as a captured part of anyone’s process at any given moment is perfect. At the age of 1, burying your face into your food at the dinner table and using mashed potatoes as hair product is wonderfully perfect. Carrying that public dining ritual into your adulthood, however, may present some difficulties. As this example illustrates, perfection is an ever-present state; and paradoxically, it is ever-changing. When we try to stay in the frozen photographs of the past - not letting go of one perfect moment to welcome an evolution of perfect moments - we cause trouble for ourselves. Attachment to past perfections will cloud our view of the perfection that’s evolving all around us and within us. Life teaches us - sometimes painfully - that perfection will not be contained. It will not stay frozen in time. It isn’t something you can box up and stow away. Perfection is a flow that you must learn to live within. And the more unattached to the past you become, the more perceivable and accessible life’s inherent perfection will be to you.

     The ever-present perfection of life has its source in love, which is the only perfect force in life. And despite temporary illusions to the contrary, love’s perfection is within everyone and everything… without exception. Dark times and dark circumstances appear dark to an innocently ignorant perspective that can’t see beyond its small view of its own little world. Nightfall is not the end of the sun; it’s a phenomenon that makes beautiful sunrises possible. This is as true for a solar system’s rotating planets as it is for us. Darkness is not a sustainable state in the Universe, nor is it sustainable in our own lives. When we are open and humble, darkness teaches us, motivates us, and even guides us in ways that are invisible to a mind that is stuck in victimhood. We must be ever-vigilant, though, because the mind is an imperfect instrument of perception - especially when we use it to examine ourselves. The mind can be deceived by appearances and jump to incorrect conclusions - all the while unaware of its own delusional biases and perceived limitations which have been subconsciously adopted over the course of our lives.

     When we reach for a perfect self or a perfect life, we’re just reaching for something we’ve already got. And when we quiet our mind’s chatter, we’ll begin to feel an internal and external perfection that transcends thought and even logic. Once we discover and accept that perfection within us - and that we’re perfect in this moment, exactly as we are - we allow our perfect nature to evolve… blossoming even more… shining even brighter… frame… by frame… by frame.

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The Absolute Paradox – Blog Post #2

The Absolute Paradox

     There’s an ancient and cleverly self-contradicting, Buddhist saying that goes something like this: “Enlightenment can be summed up in two words: Not Always So.” This playful adage implies that we should use caution before casually using words like… only, every, always, and never. But if – as the ancient Buddhist sages imply – there are no absolutes, then how are we to orient ourselves on the vast and often confusing ocean of life? Is there no “true north” to be found?

     As we gaze up at the night sky, nearly every star in the heavens appears to be in motion due to the Earth’s rotation; every star, that is, except one: Polaris (a.k.a., The North Star). Because our planet’s axis points directly at it, Polaris stays fixed and unmoving – regardless of where you happen to be viewing it. However, from the perspective of a ship at sea being tossed around by winds, waves, and currents, Polaris will appear to move; but of course, the ship’s motion is what gives this appearance. In that metaphor, Polaris represents unassailable truth, and the ship represents our constantly moving minds.

     Every waking hour, we are pushed and pulled by what appears to us as truth. These appearances, however, are filtered through the very biased and imperfect instrument of our mind’s perception as well as the mind’s interpretations about life. How then, in the throes of life, can we keep our gaze fixed (and much less, find) what is reliably unmoving and constant? Two words: intuitive feeling. Truth has a feel to it. Sure, it can also make logical sense… but inevitably, higher truths – when first glimpsed – will confuse and disorient the mind’s limited perspective. Truth is not something we can cook up in a lab. It can’t be created, it can only be discovered. And it’s with the navigational sextant of our intuitive feelings that we’ll make that discovery. The compass of the mind is well-intentioned. But if a compass passes by a large, metallic object (i.e., metaphorical cravings and fears), the instrument goes wild and – as a result – leads you wildly off course. The mind and the compass are both useful instruments. Knowing their limitations and how they can be influenced, though, is the key to safe and effective navigation.

     As we become more in-tune with what feels true about ourselves and about life, we begin to sight immutable truths. For example, spiritual evolution will eventually take us to a vista where we’ll see that love is the highest response to any stimulus. Full stop. When our ego has been thoroughly consumed by our own core essence of love, this principle becomes as obvious and incontrovertible as saying that Mt. Everest is the highest mountain on Earth. But that kind of crystal clarity rarely happens without experimentation; and it is through experimentation that we discover what’s functional and sustainable. Our preconceived notions about what we think is true can then be replaced by what we feel is true. And how is it that we can hold onto this feeling? One word: humility. Humility attracts truth like a magnet… and humility is accessed by surrendering the machinations of the mind to a flowing openness of the heart. It is this openness that keeps the mind teachable and makes the mind aware of its own delusions and misperceptions.

     When we fully engage the process of feeling for truth rather than thinking for truth, perhaps we will discover unmoving, “North Star” absolutes… in particular, with regard to the power of love. It’s worth noting, however, that in 13,000 years, a slight precession of the Earth’s tilt will result in our planet having a new North Star… the star Vega. And while the ancient Buddhist saying, “not always so” is applicable to astronomy, is it also applicable to the timeless principles of love?
Perhaps not.

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Welcome – Blog Post #1

     Welcome to this ongoing blog about topics in the book, A Glossary of Life – Deeper Meaning Behind Our Common Words. As I stated in the introduction of the book, none of this material is being offered to tell you what to think, but rather, to prompt you to think. This is an invitation to engage controversial concepts about life, death, and truth… and to hold those concepts up to the light of your own experience. To do this authentically, a degree of openness (along with equal parts courage and humility) is required. Openness is really just a willingness to be wrong… to see further than you’ve seen before… to welcome new insights that elevate your perspective. But higher perspectives of the spiritual kind are only genuine when they are felt as true… not just thought of as true.

     Whether discovery is scientific or spiritual, it can never be obtained for free. Surrendering old perspectives and once-treasured beliefs is the fee for progress, growth, and further enlightenment. Life itself is engineered in a way that urges us to explore the unknown. We are each gifted with a creative spark that wants to know and experience itself as more. And with that experience comes the thrill and fulfillment of unraveling the mysteries of life. This thrill, however, never ends because mystery is an inexhaustible force of life; and the unraveling of one mystery immediately leads to another… and another… and another…

     Along this never-ending expedition of discovery - if we’re not careful - our accomplishments can cause us to slide into an arrogant mindset that believes we have it all figured out. Thankfully - about 2,400 years ago - the Greek philosopher, Socrates was thoughtful enough to offer future generations a profound insight when he said, “If I am wise, it is because I know that I do not know.” Embracing the noble humility of his words, I look forward to engaging your questions and comments. May we learn from each other… and may that learning never cease.

Cheers,

-manny

( Post comments and ask questions on social media and email links at: www.authormannygarcia.com )