Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Changing how I look at happiness

If "happiness" isn't a useful word to you, try another one (fulfillment, bliss, joy, ...).

I feel it's important that I change my perspective on it.

I usually think of it as something I'll get, by doing or achieving the right things. I may not think of it this way consciously, but that's fundamentally how I treat it. I think most people do.

If I'm feeling spiritual, then maybe I'll get it by achieving the right meditation states. But it amounts to the same thing.

But what if joy is something that you do, not something that you get? When you achieve the right things (according to whatever standard you've set up for yourself), you do joy. It doesn't come from some magic fairy, or some part of your brain that's outside your control.

If you find the word "do" too striving, perhaps the word "allow" is sufficiently soft. But either way, it's not some outside force that lets it in.

But this doesn't go far enough. Okay, so joy is something that I can "allow." What if I don't feel worthy of it? Then I may not allow it. If I look closely, it's because I feel that I don't deserve it. So then maybe meditation subtly becomes the process of earning joy.

Now another twist: joy isn't something that I deserve or earn. It's a responsibility. A sacred duty.

Perhaps for some, turning it into a "duty" makes it feel oppressive, like a chore. For me, I link it to the Bodhisattva Vow I took some years ago. That was one of the most emotional moments of my life. It was the feeling that I'm devoting my life to the most meaningful purpose, with witnesses. In the same way that parenthood may be a duty but is also (I'm told) the most sublime of joys, the duty of being happy can be viewed as the greatest gift I could bestow myself and the world.

How could it be a gift to the world? One simple reason is that I get more done when I'm joyful, and I'm also kinder. True joy is never selfish. An even more direct reason is that everyone wants to be joyful, so why not be a role model?

I intend to really internalize that.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. -- Marianne Williamson 

Another explanation of nonduality

First, a definition: when I use the word "sound," I'm referring to a particular kind of experience. Snap your fingers and listen. What you hear is a sound. Now, imagine that a tree once fell in a forest when nobody was around. Whether or not it actually produced a sound is a matter for philosophers. But unless you actually heard something just now (which okay maybe you did if you have a good imagination...), I'm not calling that a "sound" for our purposes. Maybe you want to call it an "abstract sound" or a "theoretical sound" or something, but make a clear distinction between that and things you actually hear. So here "sound" refers to a particular kind of experience, not some abstraction.

We say that we "hear a sound." There are two things: hearing and the sound. More generally, we say that we "experience an experience." The word "experience" is both a verb and a noun, reflecting how we think of perception.

But notice that there's no such thing as "hearing" in the abstract -- that is, hearing without a sound. Whenever you hear, you hear a sound. Similarly, there's no such thing as a "sound" in the abstract (recalling our definition above). The category of experience we call "sound" requires hearing for its very definition. Spend some time with this in your own experience. Try to find an instance of sound that isn't heard, or an instance of hearing that doesn't involve a sound. You can't.

This may seem mundane, but it's not. According to the nondual traditions (which exist both in the east and in Abrahamic mystical traditions), the very reason we suffer (i.e., feel anything less than completely satisfied with and fulfilled by existence) is that we mentally split an intrinsically undivided and indivisible reality into two parts: the subject (I, doing the experiencing) and the object (the world being experienced). As a result, we believe ourselves to be fundamentally isolated, like a man on an island whose communication with the outside world is limited to bottles floating back and forth. You may think "I don't feel isolated!", but if you have a sense of being "in here" while the world is "out there," then indeed you do feel that way, whether it consciously bothers you or not.

When we're really engaged, like in the state of flow, that imagined isolation can drop away. But even in flow, unless we have a remarkably high degree of awareness, we can subtly miss out on the wonder of what's occurring. That's why hours pass like seconds in that state. If you lived your life in that kind of state, maybe the next five decades would pass in minutes.

The second difficulty is that we conceive of flow as a particular kind of state, which by definition we can enter but must inevitably leave. Sometimes people describe Zen in this way.

But Zen isn't a particular experience or state. It's a realization: that the world wasn't actually divided until we inserted that woeful division ourselves. In fact, it could never actually be divided at all. That was all just a funny dream we invented, a little game we played with ourselves so that we could have the joy of rediscovering the astonishing and ravishing truth of existence.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The cart before the horse

Note: the following post is not spoken from firsthand experience. It's an attempt to summarize an idea I find intriguing. In some sense, it's the most amazing idea in the world. That's also why it's so hard to take seriously.

Imagine being truly happy. Or perhaps a better word is "fulfilled." Try to remember a moment when you were perfectly carefree, not a worry on your mind. Perhaps a moment when you had just completed some important project and felt on top of the world, like all burdens had been dropped and nothing could get you down.

Is that how you feel in your daily life now? If not, I want you to try the following exercise. Complete the following sentence in as many ways as possible:

How could I be completely fulfilled, when...

Some examples might be:
  • when I haven't found my partner in life?
  • when I'm in so much debt?
  • when I still have this crippling back pain?
  • when there's so much suffering in the world?
    • ... so many starving kids in Africa?
    • ... so many calves in veal crates?
    • ...
  • when I'm not enlightened?

If life is going generally fine and you don't have any overt examples like the above, there must still be moments during the day when you're implicitly completing the sentence:
  • when my partner promised to do X but still failed to.
  • when I promised myself I wouldn't waste the weekend, and I watched the whole last season of GoT.
If there's any moment in any day where you're anything but completely fulfilled, you have something to write down.

Finished? Really, do the exercise.

Now I want you to imagine being a person who's completely fulfilled despite all the things you wrote down. What would that person be like?

Paradoxically, it might be easier to imagine being happy despite not having the "big things" than to imagine being happy despite the small annoyances.

For example, someone who's happy despite not having a life partner seems wise, whereas someone who's happy despite his partner's unreliability just sounds like a bozo. Or at least, that's what I tell myself every time I get "lovingly annoyed" when I perceive my partner as unreliable. What kind of chump would take that lying down?

But I digress.

It should be obvious from a moment's thought that happiness is a choice. We choose to be unhappy about our partner because we believe that to do otherwise would be foolish.

So far this is probably all obvious. So let me ramp it up a bit. (This is where things get weeeiiirrdd...)

If we choose to be happy, our outer circumstances have no choice but to adapt accordingly.

If I'm happy despite my partner's unreliability, one of ~three things will happen:
  • I will realize that this relationship is not a good fit and move on.
  • I will realize that the matter is too trivial to be upset about and we will genuinely laugh it off. 
  • My partner will be inspired by my love and overcome her unreliability.
I don't even have to know in advance which of those choices will end up being the "right" one. In fact, if I do pretend to know in advance, I just slow down the whole process, because I subtly make my happiness contingent on that outcome. Remember, to say that happiness is a choice is to say that it is not contingent on anything -- i.e., it is unconditional.

Nothing weird yet. The first two bullets involve me changing my own attitude -- hardly supernatural. The third bullet just requires someone who loves me to change her behavior. In fact, just the sheer possibility of this third option -- the one where I don't have to adapt -- makes the happiness choice easier.

If it's "scientifically impossible" that my happiness could have an objective effect on physical reality (either because the target is too far away in spacetime, or the effect is too large, or whatever), then I'm left with only the first two kinds of choices. And sometimes it's just not enough for me to learn to be okay with things. It's just not inspiring enough, and so I don't make the happiness choice.

I'll stop short of suggesting outright that there are no actual physical limits (because then you'd stop reading -- though I might break it down in a future post), but I can suggest that you obliterate all such "limiting beliefs" as you notice them.

This may be a bit hard to do, since they form the very base of your perception of the world -- whether you know it or not. You probably also feel that if you release this most reasonable of assumptions, your brain will turn to mush and you'll become another crystal-toting starry-eyed New Ager. If that's the case, go take some science classes and stay sharp with your maths and reasoning (though my advice would be to distinguish the practical aspects from the fundamentally mechanistic worldview it tends to elicit in the incautious).

But if you've ever had the sneaky suspicion that this world is more wondrous and mysterious than your everyday perception tells you, then this is the place to start digging. Choose happiness, and continue to uncover marvels as deep as you dare to dig. From what I'm told, the plot just keeps thickening.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

One ground, two paths

From an interview with Dzogchen master Anam Thubten:
There is a verse in one of the spiritual songs: “There is only one ground (the dharmadhatu or source or underlying truth of all things), only two paths and only two fruitions.” This is one of my favorite verses, because it says there are not three paths, only two paths, the path of awareness and the path of unawareness. Every moment we either choose to be on the path of awareness or on the path of non-awareness. So in each moment we are enlightened or not. When we really contemplate this verse, it shocks our minds. It is easy for many practitioners to think that even though they are not actually residing in awareness that somehow so long as they are doing the various practices they are making some kind of progress according to some invisible scale or record—because they are doing all the right practices they are going in the right direction. When you contemplate this teaching, it shocks your mind because you realize you are making the enlightenment choice in every moment.
There's another interesting way to look at this "one ground, two paths" idea. For this post to make any sense, you'll first have to agree with this axiom:
  • All you've ever wanted, in any moment -- ever -- is to be happy.
If you don't like the word "happy," choose another one. But you first have to see that what you ultimately want is for things to be fine; for life to be well; to feel okay; etc. It could even be that you thrive on turmoil, and if so, turmoil is your path... to happiness.

What's much harder to see is that in every moment, we have a choice: to be happy, or to be unhappy. And this choice is free, in the sense of being unconstrained by physical reality. You may think this is obvious (everyone's heard of poor people who are still happy), but when taken literally it has two profound corollaries:
  1. It is unconstrained by past moments. There's no "lag effect" whereby our choice in the "last moment" bleeds over into this one, so that our unhappiness yesterday, or even a moment ago, prevents happiness now. 
  2. It is unconstrained by neurology. Your neurotransmitters cannot be to blame (though believing so can certainly relieve a certain kind of pressure we sometimes unduly place on ourselves).
Of course, there's no reason to take the above seriously, since it seems to contradict what we've learned from science. I don't believe it actually does, but this post is meant to be practical instead of metaphysical, so let's look instead at how this choice actually plays out in real life.

You're sitting there and there's an alarm going off. Some thoughtless person has failed to notice it for some time, and it's becoming ever-more annoying. In any instant, before the annoyance has a chance to form, we discover two options:
  1. Choose unhappiness. This seems reasonable: I'm annoyed by the alarm, and my annoyance is what will enable me to fix the problem, thereby resulting in the happiness I seek.
  2. Choose happiness. This sounds stupid: I'll just end up being a dopey doormat or bum who doesn't make stuff happen. That sounds like a pretty unhappy outcome.
In short: I believe that by choosing happiness, I'll be unhappy, and that by choosing unhappiness, I'll (eventually, possibly even real soon!) be happy. Duh, I choose the second one.

But of course, the next moment comes around, I'm faced with essentially the same choice (though the details will have changed a tad bit), and because the same delusion is still in operation, I do it again.

And this is most of us do in every moment of every day, from cradle to grave. Instead of facing this intrinsic delusion head-on, we take a rain check and push away the only thing we've ever wanted.

Maybe you feel that the example is a strawman. Of course I can choose to be happy in the face of something so trivial, but what about real problems?

I maintain that the situation is always exactly the same. As long as you deep down believe that unhappiness can be the cause of happiness, you'll push away the only thing you've ever wanted.

I cannot prove any of this to you, but I can suggest that you consider it very seriously indeed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


"A powerful way to unveil the primordial ground of being is to ask yourself, "Who am I?" ... The ground of awareness is the essence and source of your being" -- Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche

"If you enquire 'Who am I?' the mind will return to its source (or where it issued from)." -- Ramana Maharshi

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Gratitude and miracles

Suppose you have a little kerfuffle with your spouse over some issue. You think she's not going to use the new XYZ, and she insists she is. You feel it will go to waste, but she promises she won't let it.

Six months later you discover you were right: the XYZ sits unused on the shelf. Some possible reactions:

1) Resentment. "Why am I with that kind of person?"

2) Resigned acceptance. "It sucks, but I might as well not poison myself with resentment."

3) Forgiveness. "I forgive her for her flaws."

4) Gratitude. "I'm so happy she's exactly the way she is!"

These are increasingly healthy attitudes. Number four is of course the hardest, and may even sound strange and counterintuitive if you've never given it an honest shot.

If you have given it a try, you might discover interesting things happening. Maybe your spouse picks up on your love, and this actually changes her. How wonderful!

But there's still a surprising amount of subtlety here. For example: given my expectations about how the world works, I know there are limits on how much my gratitude can accomplish. For example, it can only change her if it influences my behavior in some way that she can detect. My smile, or tone of voice, or pheromones, or whatever. There has to be some physical mechanism. That's just how the world works.

But what if I don't have any deep-seated expectations about how much my gratitude can accomplish? No requirement that it must work via some discoverable mechanism? What if I one day decided to drop that requirement? And what if the result were -- somehow -- to open up a level of love that was not accessible when I placed subtle subconscious limits on it?

Well that just sounds crazy.

But what if?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sam Harris on MDMA

Harris, Sam (2014-09-09). Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (p. 5). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

A few years after my first painful encounter with solitude, in the winter of 1987, I took the drug 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as Ecstasy, and my sense of the human mind’s potential shifted profoundly. Although MDMA would become ubiquitous at dance clubs and “raves” in the 1990s, at that time I didn’t know anyone of my generation who had tried it. One evening , a few months before my twentieth birthday, a close friend and I decided to take the drug.

The setting of our experiment bore little resemblance to the conditions of Dionysian abandon under which MDMA is now often consumed. We were alone in a house, seated across from each other on opposite ends of a couch, and engaged in quiet conversation as the chemical worked its way into our heads. Unlike other drugs with which we were by then familiar (marijuana and alcohol), MDMA produced no feeling of distortion in our senses. Our minds seemed completely clear. 

In the midst of this ordinariness, however, I was suddenly struck by the knowledge that I loved my friend. This shouldn’t have surprised me— he was, after all, one of my best friends. However, at that age I was not in the habit of dwelling on how much I loved the men in my life. Now I could feel that I loved him, and this feeling had ethical implications that suddenly seemed as profound as they now sound pedestrian on the page: I wanted him to be happy. 

That conviction came crashing down with such force that something seemed to give way inside me. In fact, the insight appeared to restructure my mind. My capacity for envy, for instance— the sense of being diminished by the happiness or success of another person— seemed like a symptom of mental illness that had vanished without a trace. I could no more have felt envy at that moment than I could have wanted to poke out my own eyes. What did I care if my friend was better looking or a better athlete than I was? If I could have bestowed those gifts on him, I would have. Truly wanting him to be happy made his happiness my own.

A certain euphoria was creeping into these reflections, perhaps, but the general feeling remained one of absolute sobriety— and of moral and emotional clarity unlike any I had ever known. It would not be too strong to say that I felt sane for the first time in my life. And yet the change in my consciousness seemed entirely straightforward. I was simply talking to my friend—about what, I don’t recall— and realized that I had ceased to be concerned about myself. I was no longer anxious, self-critical, guarded by irony, in competition, avoiding embarrassment, ruminating about the past and future, or making any other gesture of thought or attention that separated me from him. I was no longer watching myself through another person’s eyes.

And then came the insight that irrevocably transformed my sense of how good human life could be. I was feeling boundless love for one of my best friends, and I suddenly realized that if a stranger had walked through the door at that moment, he or she would have been fully included in this love. Love was at bottom impersonal— and deeper than any personal history could justify. Indeed, a transactional form of love— I love you because . . . —now made no sense at all.

The interesting thing about this final shift in perspective was that it was not driven by any change in the way I felt. I was not overwhelmed by a new feeling of love . The insight had more the character of a geometric proof: It was as if, having glimpsed the properties of one set of parallel lines, I suddenly understood what must be common to them all.

The moment I could find a voice with which to speak, I discovered that this epiphany about the universality of love could be readily communicated. My friend got the point at once: All I had to do was ask him how he would feel in the presence of a total stranger at that moment, and the same door opened in his mind. It was simply obvious that love, compassion, and joy in the joy of others extended without limit. The experience was not of love growing but of its being no longer obscured. Love was— as advertised by mystics and crackpots through the ages— a state of being. How had we not seen this before? And how could we overlook it ever again?

It would take me many years to put this experience into context. Until that moment, I had viewed organized religion as merely a monument to the ignorance and superstition of our ancestors. But I now knew that Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and the other saints and sages of history had not all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds. I still considered the world’s religions to be mere intellectual ruins, maintained at enormous economic and social cost, but I now understood that important psychological truths could be found in the rubble.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why these characteristics?

Why are they associated with spirituality?
  • Reverence
  • Awe
  • Humility
  • Wonder
  • Gratitude

Because they are what one instinctively feels in the presence (or recognition) of the ultimate wonder of wonders, the sheer fact of existence or experience.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Parallels, again

Jean Klein: The point of sitting in meditation is only to find the meditator. The more you look, the more you will be convinced that he cannot be found...

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche: Repeatedly you hear, 'recognize mind essence; attain stability in that'. What this really means is that we should repeatedly look into what thinks. We should recognize the absence or emptiness of this thinker over and over again, until finally the power of deluded thinking weakens, until it is totally gone without a trace. At that point, what remains to prevent the state of enlightenment?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

On giving up the search

Let's start with an axiom: the primary thing everyone wants is to be happy.

Maybe "happy" isn't the most precise word, but everyone wants to feel content, satisfied, complete, okay, not troubled, whatever. That is the primary and ultimate drive. If we don't agree on this point, the rest of the post won't make a lot of sense.

Second: the mind is a seeking mechanism.

That is, the mind's main purpose in life is finding ways to fulfill the primary drive. Being a mind and all, it does this through conceptual mechanisms: calculating, predicting, estimating, etc.

Sometimes it comes up with short-term solutions: eat this delicious cake, get this fantastic massage, etc. This is a local optimization strategy. Other times, it has to do a bit more work and strategize. It comes up with an eight year plan to get a degree, thanks to which it will get this job, based on which it will achieve this income, at which point it will buy this house.

If all goes exactly according to plan (which I'm sure I don't have to tell you is rare), there comes a time where mind says "whew, got it." The seeking stops for a moment and all is well. Then, of course, it notices that the blinds don't exactly match the wallpaper, and it's off to the races again to earn its keep.

What it refuses to acknowledge is an equivalence so simple and obvious that it must be lying when it says it doesn't understand or agree:

Happiness = Any pause in seeking happiness

The happiness felt when the house was acquired was a result of, or identical to, the temporary gap in which the mind stopped scheming ways in which to get happiness later. How's that for a conflict of interest? The mind's only job is to put itself out of a job. Don't say the universe doesn't have a wild sense of humor.

One way to see this firsthand is to put the mind under a microscope for long periods of time. Like a microbiologist might watch her protozoan specimen carefully for hours on end to precisely understand its behavioral patterns, it's possible to watch the mind contort itself in all sorts of fascinating ways to pretend to bring its stated project closer to the end.

When the mind suspects you're getting too close to the truth, maybe it decides to play along:

Hmm... maybe I could just be happy with what I already have....

Le sigh. But of course this is disingenuous. Have you ever heard of someone realizing happiness by accepting this obvious truth? Of course not. The game is rigged. A simple refutation is always waiting in the wings.

...but then I'd be a pretty useless human being. I'd probably just sit on the couch in my undies eating Cheetos all day.

Being happy with what we have is not how our hominid ancestors pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and got on with creating the awesome civilization we have today.

And with that bit of logic, the knot is tied: the seeking mechanism is necessary after all, and the mind retains its rightful place as Arbiter of Happiness.

But maybe doubts still surface from time to time.

Wait a minute. Might it be possible to feel grateful for and fulfilled by what I have now, and still be a productive member of society?

There's really only one way to answer that question: try it and see.

But how do I try it? You haven't given me any instructions!

Actually, if you've been following carefully, I have. You drop the seeking. You drop the mind. Utterly and completely. Doing it halfway is like jumping halfway out of an airplane.

You can spend years, decades meditating, but you'll never get one bit better at dropping it. What you may get, however, is tired of pretending that you can't. That you need more instructions, more time.

A great master once told me:

You don't need to prepare to drop it. You don't even need to know how to drop it. You just drop it. Spontaneously. Like this: aahhhh (head tilted back, tongue out, staring at the sky).

Didn't work right away? Welcome to the club. But at least now you can rest knowing that you've been told the answer.

(Okay, maybe "rest" isn't the right word to describe what happens once you realize with utter certainty that all your scheming plans are doomed to failure. But hey, maybe you can pretend you never read this. That's worked for billions of other people, after all.)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Some insights on gratitude and "being okay"

Listen til "I'm okay": A Patient Speaks. Also see this segment.

I think many of us take pride in holding ourselves to such high standards that we beat ourselves up in the process. We don't cut ourselves any slack. There's this sense that if I'm not getting on my case, I'll just... degenerate. I'll turn into one of those societal leeches.

But it turns out that when I'm really, truly, deeply okay, I perform much better, not worse. And we're so rarely completely okay, that it's hard to believe this. How could I keep my standards high and be completely accepting of the way I am? That's paradoxical, so it must be impossible. It's not.

The second problem is that I may not know how to love myself. There are no manuals for this sort of thing (actually there are, and they're great). So instead I just let this gnawing take place continually in the background, until one day it manifests as an anxiety disorder.

Maybe I'm thinking "speak for yourself. I don't beat myself up." But is it really true? Have you spent enough time carefully looking at your innermost thoughts to really know this? Remember, there's a strong incentive for you not to discover this. I have a hell of a lot of practice, and I'm still surprised to find myself thinking things like "man, Aditya, you've spent years meditating... how is it that you still give in to temptations like eating chips?" There are still a million subtle reasons I have for not feeling unconditionally loved.

If I wouldn't say it out loud to someone I love dearly, I have no business saying it silently to myself. It doesn't become any more okay just because it's targeted to myself.

See also Radical Gratitude.

Radical Gratitude

Below is a cut-and-paste from an interview with David Godman, biographer of Ramana Maharshi.


We all think that we are in charge of our lives, that we are responsible for our well-being and the well-being of our dependents. We might acknowledge at a theoretical level that God is in charge of the world, that God does everything, but that doesn’t stop us planning and scheming and doing. Sometimes, we find something we can’t control – a child may be dying of leukemia despite the best medical treatment – so we turn to God and ask for divine intervention. This is not surrender; it’s just more doing. It’s seeking an extra resource when all the traditional ones have failed. 

Surrender is different. It’s acknowledging that God runs the world every minute of every day, that He is not just an extra resource, a deus ex machina that one turns to in times of need. Surrender is not asking that things be different; it is acceptance and gratitude for things being the way they are. It’s not a grit-your-teeth stoicism either; it’s the experience of joy in God’s dispensation, whatever it might be. 

About twenty years ago I read a Christian book entitled Thank You God. Its basic thesis was that one should continuously thank God for the way things are right now, not petition Him for things to be different. That means thanking Him for all the terrible things that are going on in your life, not just thanking Him for the good stuff that is coming your way. And this should not just be at the verbal level. One needs to keep saying ‘Thank you, God’ to oneself until one actually feels a glow of gratitude. When this happens, there are remarkable and unexpected consequences. Let me give you an example. 

There was a woman featured in this book whose husband was an alcoholic. She had organised prayer meetings at her local church in which everyone had prayed to God, asking Him to stop this man from drinking. Nothing happened. Then this woman heard about ‘Thank you, God’. She thought, ‘Well. Nothing else has worked. Let me try this.’ She started saying, ‘Thank you God for making my husband an alcoholic,’ and she kept on saying it until she actually began to feel gratitude inside. Shortly afterwards, her husband stopped drinking of his own accord and never touched alcohol again. 

This is surrender. It’s not saying, ‘Excuse me God, but I know better than You, so would You please make this happen’. It’s acknowledging, ‘The world is the way You want it to be, and I thank You for it’.

When this happens in your life, seemingly miraculous things start happening around you. The power of your own surrender, your own gratitude, actually changes the things around you. When I first read about this, I thought, ‘This is weird, but it just might work. Let me try it.’ At that point in my life, I had been having problems with four or five people whom I was trying to do business with. Despite daily reminders, they were not doing things they had promised to do. I sat down and started saying ‘Thank you Mr X for not doing this job. Thank you Mr Y for trying to cheat me on that last deal we did,’ and so on. I did this for a couple of hours until I finally did feel a strong sense of gratitude towards these people. When their image came up in my mind, I didn’t remember all the frustrations I had experienced in dealing with them. I just had an image of them in my mind towards which I felt gratitude and acceptance.

The next morning, when I went to work, all of these people were waiting for me. Usually, I had to go hunting for them in order to listen to their latest excuse. All of them were smiling, and all of them had done the jobs I had been pestering them for days to do. It was an astonishing testimonial to the power of loving acceptance. Like everyone else, I am still stuck in the world of doing-doing-doing, but when all my misguided doings have produced an intractable mess, I try to drop my belief that ‘I’ have to do something to solve this problem, and start thanking God for the mess I have made for myself. A few minutes of this is usually enough to resolve the thorniest of problems. 

When I was sixteen, I took a gliding course. The first time I was given the controls, the glider was wobbling all over the place because I was reacting, or I should say overreacting, to every minor fluctuation of the machine. Finally, the instructor took the controls away from me and said ‘Watch this’. He put the glider on a level flight, put the controls in the central position and then let go of them. The glider flew itself, with no wobbles at all, with no one’s hands on the controls. All my effects were just interfering with the glider’s natural ability to fly itself. That’s how life is for all of us. We persist in thinking that we have to ‘do’ things, but all our doings merely create problems. 

I am not claiming that I have learned to take my hand off the controls of life and let God pilot my life for me, but I do remember all this, with wry amusement, when problems (all self-inflicted, of course) suddenly appear.