Finding integrated meaning in our lives

Posts tagged ‘spiritual path’


Aldous Huxley once said, “It’s rather embarrassing to have given one’s entire life to pondering the human predicament and to find that in the end one has little more to say than, ‘Try to be a little kinder.'”  Huxley was being characteristically humble, but there was really no reason to be embarrassed about it.  After a lifetime spent searching for the ultimate meaning of life, perhaps he had stumbled upon it without even recognizing it for what it was.

For Aldous Huxley, kindness was the last word on the human condition

This blog is called Love and Harmony and it’s based on the notion that these are the ultimate sources of meaning in our life.  But what about all those times when you’re not in touch with a sense of unconditional love, and you’re feeling positively disharmonious?  What to do then?  That’s where kindness comes in.  It’s something that is always available to us if we choose it, and exercising it will always bring us closer to those states of love and harmony that can provide enduring happiness.

The very word “kind” offers hints of its true depth of meaning.  It derives, like the word “kin,” from the Old English word gecynde, and it originally meant “natural, native, innate, with the feeling of relatives for each other.”  Kindness means acting to someone else as if they’re a member of your family, someone you care about, someone with whom you share a home.  It means recognizing that ultimately all humans are part of the same family, and we all share the same home on this earth.

We share with fruit flies – and all other creatures – the experience of being alive together on this earth

In fact, we can go beyond humans, and extend that kindness to all life, recognizing that we share over 90% of our DNA with all other mammals and 44% with fruit flies.  We come from the same common origins, and we all share the experience of being alive together on this earth.  We all share the same appetite for life, the same sense of purpose, and we can all feel a deep sense of what it means to be that other creature.  That’s what kindness really recognizes.

Intention permits you to be kind to your self.

But kindness doesn’t just refer to how we can be to others.  It actually begins with how we can be to ourselves.  Our society, however, unfortunately teaches us the opposite.  It teaches us to push ourselves to breaking point, to judge ourselves harshly, to hold ourselves up to standards that we can’t attain.  And when we’re unkind to ourselves, that sets the stage for us to be unkind to others, too.  How can we overcome that harshness to ourselves that we’re taught from our infancy?  That’s where intention comes in.  As discussed in previous posts, intention is the beginning of the spiritual path.  And once we’ve truly set an intention for ourselves, this enables kindness to enter into the picture the next time we judge ourselves harshly for not being the person we think we should be.

Here’s how it goes.  Let’s say there’s a part of my self that I’m continually judging harshly.  Say I get scared of social gatherings.  I know I should go to them, but then my fear of them either stops me, or causes me to act in ways that I then regret.  Usually, I judge myself badly when this happens.  I tell myself I’m a failure and feel emotional pain within me.  Now suppose I’ve set a true intention to overcome that fear.  Suppose I’ve begun seeing a therapist, or perhaps I’ve started a course in meditation.  The next time something goes wrong in a social situation and I feel that harsh judgment arise, I can now say to myself: “I recognize that this is a difficult situation for myself, and I’m doing something about it.  I’m doing the very best I can for myself about this situation, so there’s no reason to judge myself harshly.”  Now, with your true intention in place, you can give yourself permission to be kind to yourself instead.  You can possibly say to yourself “I won’t go to that stressful gathering because I don’t need to prove anything to myself.”  Or perhaps you might say “I’ll go but if I act in a way I later regret, I won’t punish myself for it, I’ll just be kind to myself.”  Every time that judging voice arises in you, you can answer with another voice, a voice of kindness that says, “I’ve set my intention, I’m moving in the right direction, and I can love and respect myself for that.”  In this way, intention doesn’t just permit you to be kind to yourself, it permits you to be kind to every part of yourself, even those parts that don’t seem kind themselves.

Love integrates; kindness lubricates

Kindness lubricates consciousness the way oil lubricates a car engine

You can think of kindness as a sort of lubricant of consciousness.  Consider a car engine purring along.  There are dozens of parts, all connecting with each other, and when they’re properly lubricated, they smoothly interact without causing any harm.  Imagine, though, your car engine had no oil.  Each metal part would strike the other and cause friction.  Sparks would fly.  In no time at all, your engine would break down.  Now, let’s consider our consciousness like that car engine, where each of the parts are the different voices, values and drives within us.  It’s love that integrates all those parts and enables them to work together.  But it’s kindness that lubricates them.  Even if two different voices within you seem to be in conflict, they can still be kind to each other.  They can recognize that each voice represents different needs in the mind-body organism that is you, and with that lubricant of kindness, they can allow each other a place in consciousness without sparks having to fly.

When the pathways of consciousness are lubricated by kindness, the transitions between them can occur harmoniously and without resistance.

If you are kind to yourself at all times, you will begin to love your self

Once you learn to be kind to yourself at all times, then those parts of you that are usually hidden away, those deep, dark places in you that have been banished from consciousness, will begin to realize that they can emerge a little.

When you’re kind to yourself at all times, those parts of yourself that are used to hiding away will begin to trust that they can come out and be cared for.

They will begin to trust you.  They are so used to being judged harshly, to being told how vile they are, that they stay skulking away, like little rodents, in the basement of your consciousness.  But if you continually offer kindness to all parts of your self, they will begin to reveal your self to you.  And it’s only through noticing, understanding, accepting and embracing all the different parts of you that you will ever get to truly love your self in an unconditional manner.

Intention permits kindness.  Kindness leads to trust.  Trust encourages all the different parts of your self to reveal themselves to you.

Unconditional kindness to your self can unlock the containers holding your deepest fears.

Intention, kindness and trust will lead you to love your entire self.

[Next post: Kindness: the 70% solution]

Intention: a journey without a destination

Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a wilderness about to set off on a journey.  If you have a destination and you’re lucky enough to have a compass and a map, then you get started, and what’s uppermost in your mind is where you plan to go.  If you find yourself in difficult terrain, your primary concern is how to get through it as quickly as possible, or even how to avoid it entirely.  When you get to a high point, you will look out towards your destination with your binoculars to see if you can make it out over at the horizon.  Wherever you are on your journey, your primary focus is on your destination, and only secondarily on where you happen to be right now.

Intention sets a direction to your journey without giving you a destination

Now, go back in your mind to standing in the middle of that wilderness.  Only this time, you have no destination.  But you do have a direction.  You turn your body to face that particular direction, and you start walking.  Now, your attitude to the difficult terrain is different.  Since there’s no destination, you’re not in such a hurry.  You take your steps more carefully.  You might even begin to appreciate the landscape and realize that the terrain isn’t so difficult after all.  You get to a high point, and pause to enjoy the view all around you.  You begin to realize that every step of the path, no matter how difficult or tricky it appears, has value all of its own.  Each time you turn a corner, you can marvel at what you see and what you hear.  And because you chose your direction to begin with, you can also feel that every step is worthwhile.  Each step takes you in that direction.  So you can stop trying so hard.  No matter which step you take, it’s the right one.  There’s no hurry.  There’s no frustration.  There is only the view from the current step, and you know that a different view, a different moment on the path, will arise with the next step.

This setting of direction without an ultimate goal is the true meaning of intention.  As I described in the previous post, setting a goal is equivalent to wanting something, wanted to arrive at a certain place, which immediately causes you to experience your journey in a different way.  But intention isn’t about goal-setting or about wanting.  It’s about shifting your direction and then letting yourself go forward at your own natural pace.

Set your intention… then stop trying

Which leads to an important implication about intention.  Once you have set your intention, you can stop trying.  In fact – now this might be a difficult one to swallow so take a deep breath – once you’ve set your intention, the very best thing you can do for yourself is to stop trying.  Because trying is like focusing all your attention on that destination – you will miss most of the value of your journey because you’re never satisfied where you are right now.  In fact, it’s when you stop trying, when you become totally and completely satisfied with the particular place you are in your journey at this moment in time that – magically – you are already at your destination.  You are exactly where you wanted to be, but thought you could never get there.  Once you have set your intention and you’ve really stopped trying, each step on that spiritual path is its own destination.

Once you’ve set your intention, you can stop trying so hard to arrive at a destination, and enjoy the view on your journey

You already are who you truly intend to be.

This is the most wonderful and liberating thing about intention: you already are who you truly intend to be.  All you need to do is to realize it.  To truly realize it through the entire structure of your being.  To realize that you can actually choose to be who you really are.  Which means shedding those constructs within you that have been blocking you from being your true, lovable self.  To understand how this is the case, you need to remember that your intention arose originally from that warmly comforting sense of goodness you glimpsed, at some point in your life, deep within your being.  It’s a sense you once had that everything was all right, that love is all around you.  Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to have experienced that frequently in your life.  Or maybe you haven’t felt it since you were a little child, and were being held in your mother’s arms.  But it’s there, deep within you, and ultimately it’s your intention to get back to that place of love, and to bask in its warmth more consistently.

Intention is the realization that you can choose to be who you already are deep inside your self

The reason I can say that with such conviction is that ultimately, we all have the same intention, even though we might all express it differently.  Our ultimate intention is to be at peace with ourselves.  To love ourselves.  To love ourselves unconditionally.  For many people, that intention seems so far out there that they’re willing to settle for lesser intentions.  “My intention is to stop getting on my own case for not being good enough,” one person might say.  “My intention is to overcome my anger,” another person might say.  Or “My intention is to have more courage to be who I am.”  But ultimately, we all have the same intention of loving ourselves, all the parts of ourselves, even those parts that seem unlovable.  To live in the glow of that inner light that we once glimpsed at some time past, and that we would like to have shining within us all the time.

Intention invites you to connect with that inner light already within you

Here’s the thing: that inner light is already within you.  All you need to do is to shed the various layers that block it and cause it to be so rarely seen.  And when you try so hard to be someone you’re not, all you are really doing is laying down more blockages that prevent your own inner light from shining out.

But all this is not to say that it’s OK to be complacent about yourself, to ignore your spiritual path altogether, to maintain your conditioned responses to things and tell yourself “I’m already there so there’s nothing I need to do.”  When you do this, you’re just lying to yourself.  You might be pretending to have intention, but you’re not really trying to find that inner light.  It’s as though you’re in that wilderness, and rather than step forward into your chosen direction, you keep walking in place, stepping in your own footsteps again and again.  That’s an understandable thing to do if you’re scared to go forward into the unknown.  At least if you step in your own footsteps, they will seem comforting and safe to you.  But you will never discover the possibilities in your life, you will never get to experience the full potential of the path your human existence has made available to you.

You can look inside yourself and know if you have true intention.  If you do, you will find that you begin to do things differently in your life.  They may not be huge things at first, because your life is probably already filled with previous commitments, and it’s difficult to turn it around overnight.  But you will suddenly decide to take one night a week and do that thing you were thinking about but never quite got around to it.  A meditation or yoga class, perhaps.  Or is it a dance class or a writer’s workshop?  Something that feels to you like it’s offering you more of your own light.  And it might not seem radical or revolutionary, but it’s a step.  A step in the right direction.  It’s your intention.

Intention permits you to be kind to every part of yourself

Imagine a circle that’s not completely closed.  That’s a bit like how we view ourselves.  We might love parts of ourselves, but then there are those other parts that we can’t stand – those are like the open part of the circle.  If we could only change those other parts, then the circle would be closed.  Then, we could love ourselves completely.  Intention is like a dotted line that closes the circle.  It may not yet be a fully unbroken line, but it has set down a track, and the rest of the line can be drawn in as time goes along.

Intention is like a dotted line closing the circle of your true self

And having that intention offers a wonderful gift to you.  It gives you a reason now to be kind to yourself.  The next time you start going through that cycle in your head that says: “I’m so screwed up.  I hate myself because I’m always so [fill in the blank],” another, kinder voice can answer back: “Actually, you know what, you’re not so screwed up after all.  Your intention is really good.  You’re doing what you can for your self.  If you still have conditioned behavior, that’s OK, because your intention is to overcome it and to truly love yourself for who you are.”

And with intention, you can now allow some kindness for yourself along with all that self-criticism  And you can rest with that, and begin a cycle of kindness within your being.  And nothing is more important for happiness within you than that kindness.  Which is going to be the subject of my next blog post.

[Next post: Kindness]

Intention: first step on the spiritual path

I walked aimlessly into a bookstore in Central London.  I was dazed, punch-drunk from what had been happening to me.  The company I had built had already crashed and burned a couple of years earlier.  Now, the person I had devoted my life to, whose love had been the core, underlying meaning of my existence, had turned into someone unrecognizable.  The love that had been the foundation of my entire value system had disintegrated on me, and that value system had come crashing down like a shattered bell jar.

But for some strange reason, I wasn’t feeling as bad as I should have been.  There was a sense of freedom arising in me, a hazy beacon of potential liberation glimmering through the fog.  I just wasn’t sure where it was pointing to.  I looked around the bookstore, dazzled by the countless books about everything in the universe, and I let my feet lead me where they wanted.  I found myself in a section of the bookstore I’d never frequented before – the Spirituality section.  Before too long, I was at the cash register, walking out with books on yoga and meditation – subjects about which I knew virtually nothing.  I had no idea at the time, but this moment was the beginning of an entirely new direction in my life – a direction that has brought me to who I truly am, to a place of love for my self and for others.  As I look back on that moment roughly seven years ago, I am profoundly grateful to that person who pulled those books off the shelf.  He knew they contained something important within them.  But he just wasn’t sure what it was.  That was the seed of my intention.  The beginning of the spiritual path that I have been traveling on ever since, with ever increasing joy.

Intention is the beginning of your spiritual path

Intention plays a crucial role in anyone’s spiritual path.  In fact, I would say that in some ways it’s the most important part of the entire path, because it’s the beginning of it.  You’ve stepped through the entrance gate to your spiritual path when your want turns into intention.

The spiritual path begins when want turns into intention

Everybody wants stuff for themselves.  People might want to feel secure, loved or powerful.  They might want to get rid of their self-hatred about aspects of themselves.  They might feel these things, but that doesn’t put them on a spiritual path.  Many people spend their entire lifetime wishing they were different, all the way to their dying breath.  But they never intended to be different.  The thing is, wishing you were different from who you are should not be confused with intending to be different.  In fact, the difference between the two is so extreme, that in some ways wanting is the opposite of intending.  When you want to be something, then by definition you are not whatever it is you want to be.  A want is the lack of something.  If I want to be happy, that is because I’m not happy right now.  If I was already happy, then I wouldn’t want it.

But intention is different from all that.  Intention begins with a recognition, no matter how faint, of something within you that feels good, even if it’s only for a moment.  There’s something deep inside, only a glimmer perhaps, but something that emanates a feeling of warmth, love and goodness within you.  It’s an unforgettable moment, because it feels so good.  You may not remember the specifics of the moment, but you remember the felt sensation.  You remember that, for that moment, you felt good about yourself.  For that moment, you loved your self.  And when you form an intention for your self, it is ultimately an intention to feel that experience again, to feel it on a more consistent basis.  You may not verbalize your intention in that way, but that’s ultimately want you want.

Intention begins with the realization that you can choose who to be.

That recognition of something so good within yourself is only the precursor of intention.  The moment intention arises within you is the moment that you recognize that you can actually choose who you will be.  You can actually choose to become someone who feels that goodness more of the time, perhaps even all of the time.  At that moment of intention, a voice arises in you that says “I intend to feel more of that goodness I recognize in myself.”  And now you are setting out on a path.  A journey to become who you already are, deep inside your self.  A journey that involves shedding the layers of conditioned behaviors and responses that have grown around you, and that have blocked you from recognizing your true self, from feeling that connection and love with your inner being.

Intention arises from the realization that you can choose who you will become

There’s something about journeys, though, that needs a little more discussion.  Most journeys that we take in our day-to-day existence have destinations.  And the goal of the journey is to get to that destination, usually as quickly and directly as possible.  And when you set out with that goal, the journey can become quite miserable if you get blocked from achieving it.  We all know the misery of being stuck in traffic on the freeway when we need to get somewhere by a particular time.  And we all know the frustration we feel when we take a wrong turn and get lost because we’re trying to get to some place we’ve never been before.  When you begin your spiritual journey with intention, it might seem that it’s similar to beginning a journey with a destination, but that’s actually not the case.  And one of the causes of suffering that many people experience is precisely because they think they have a destination on their spiritual path, and therefore get frustrated when they never seem to be getting any closer to that destination, or even feel that they got lost on the way.

So how can you be on a spiritual path if it doesn’t have a destination?  That’s what we’ll explore in the next post.

[Next post – Intention: a journey without a destination]

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