Yesterday, I was reading a great article on one of my favorite websites – the Farnam Street Blog. The article, entitled “Mentally Owning a Book“, highlights how reading can be one of the key ways we learn new things.
And while it’s easy to pick a book up and turn the pages, it’s harder to actually understand and apply the lessons. To address this conundrum, the article breaks down a few points that will help you get the most out of reading after you finish a book, and will transform you into an engaged, skeptical, learned reader who doesn’t just own books physically, but mentally (another similar, quite helpful article from Farnam Street is “How to Read a Book“).
So why am I so enchanted with articles that teach you how to get more knowledge and understanding from what you read? Simply put: reading is, bar none, my top method for not only keeping myself up-to-date with the latest research in exercise science, biohacking, fitness, nutrition, anti-aging and beyond, but also for discovering the best ways to nourish and grow my mind, body and spirit.
Because of this, as I've written about in the past, I read well over 200 physical, hard-copy books each year, often posting many of my most helpful underlined sections, folded pages and snapshots to my Snapchat. But (especially when I travel and don't want to carry heavy books) I also digest books and articles voraciously on my Kindle Paperwhite, and when doing so, make heavy use of the “highlight” function on the Kindle.
And in today's article, I'm going to fill you in on what I consider to be the most important highlighted sections from four life-changing books I recently read – books that may not have much to do with getting a six-pack abs or biohacking your afternoon tea, but books that have indeed absolutely transformed the way I now approach everything from illness and injury, to relationships and sex, to internal and external emotions, to my use of digital technology, to mindfulness and enjoying the moment, and beyond.
Enjoy my highlights, leave your questions, comments and feedback below, and be sure to pay attention to the summary of this article, where I fill you in on the best methods I currently use to discover new books, stay up-to-date with the most cutting-edge information in my industry, and get through a huge amount of reading material quickly and efficiently.
Oh yeah, one last thing: the very first book I discuss (Letting Go) has a veritable ton of highlighted material. The rest aren't quite as long. Just make it through that first one, baby.
I'll admit it… When I first heard about this book and popped it open I feared it would just be chock-full of complete woo-woo, ethereal mumbo-jumbo.
Instead, I was shocked.
This book (as you can probably guess based on the fact that I've highlighted over 60 of the most powerful sections I discovered below) turned out to be one of the most groundbreaking, life-transforming, thought-provoking books I have ever read. I took away so many actionable lessons that I even hired someone from the website “Etsy” to create a custom leather bracelet for me that says “Surrender.” so that I can continue to remember and put into action everything I learned.
The Amazon description of Letting Go is as follows:
“Letting Go describes a simple and effective means by which to let go of the obstacles to Enlightenment and become free of negativity. During the many decades of the author’s clinical psychiatric practice, the primary aim was to seek the most effective ways to relieve human suffering in all of its many forms. The inner mechanism of surrender was found to be of great practical benefit and is described in this book.
Dr. Hawkins’s previous books focused on advanced states of awareness and Enlightenment. Over the years, thousands of students had asked for a practical technique by which to remove the inner blocks to happiness, love, joy, success, health, and, ultimately, Enlightenment. This book provides a mechanism for letting go of those blocks.
The mechanism of surrender that Dr. Hawkins describes can be done in the midst of everyday life. The book is equally useful for all dimensions of human life: physical health, creativity, financial success, emotional healing, vocational fulfillment, relationships, sexuality, and spiritual growth.
It is an invaluable resource for all professionals who work in the areas of mental health, psychology, medicine, self-help, addiction recovery, and spiritual development.”
My Highlights From “Letting Go”:
“Well,” you say, “there have to be some experts who have the answers.” When upset, you go to a doctor or psychiatrist, an analyst, a social worker, or an astrologer. You take up religion, get philosophy, take the Erhard Seminars Training (est), tap yourself with EFT. You get your chakras balanced, try some reflexology, go for ear acupuncture, do iridology, get healed with lights and crystals. You meditate, chant a mantra, drink green tea, try the Pentecostals, breathe in fire, and speak in tongues. You get centered, learn NLP, try actualizations, work on visualizations, study psychology, join a Jungian group.
You get Rolfed, try psychedelics, get a psychic reading, jog, jazzercise, have colonics, get into nutrition and aerobics, hang upside down, wear psychic jewelry. Get more insight, bio-feedback, Gestalt therapy. You see your homeopath, chiropractor, naturopath. You try kinesiology, discover your Enneagram type, get your meridians balanced, join a consciousness-raising group, take tranquilizers. You get some hormone shots, try cell salts, have your minerals balanced, pray, implore, and beseech. You learn astral projection. Become a vegetarian. Eat only cabbage. Try macrobiotics, go organic, eat no GMO.
Meet up with Native American medicine men, do a sweat lodge. Try Chinese herbs, moxicombustion, shiatsu, acupressure, feng shui. You go to India. Find a new guru. Take off your clothes. Swim in the Ganges. Stare at the sun. Shave your head. Eat with your fingers, get really messy, shower in cold water. Sing tribal chants. Relive past lives. Try hypnotic regression. Scream a primal scream. Punch pillows. Get Feldenkraised. Join a marriage encounter group. Go to Unity.
Write affirmations. Make a vision board. Get re-birthed. Cast the I Ching. Do the Tarot cards. Study Zen. Take more courses and workshops. Read lots of books. Do transactional analysis. Get yoga lessons. Get into the occult. Study magic. Work with a kahuna. Take a shamanic journey. Sit under a pyramid. Read Nostradamus. Prepare for the worst. Go on a retreat. Try fasting. Take amino acids. Get a negative ion generator. Join a mystery school. Learn a secret handshake. Try toning. Try color therapy. Try subliminal tapes.
Take brain enzymes, antidepressants, flower remedies. Go to health spas. Cook with exotic ingredients. Look into strange fermented oddities from faraway places. Go to Tibet. Hunt up holy men. Hold hands in a circle and get high. Renounce sex and going to the movies. Wear some yellow robes. Join a cult. Try the endless varieties of psychotherapy. Take wonder drugs. Subscribe to lots of journals. Try the Pritikin diet. Eat just grapefruit. Get your palm read. Think New Age thought. Improve the ecology. Save the planet. Get an aura reading. Carry a crystal. Get a Hindu sidereal astrological interpretation. Visit a transmedium. Go for sex therapy. Try Tantric sex. Get blessed by Baba Somebody. Join an anonymous group. Travel to Lourdes. Soak in the hot springs. Join Arica. Wear therapeutic sandals. Get grounded. Get more prana and breathe out that stale black negativity. Try golden needle acupuncture. Check out snake gallbladders. Try chakra breathing. Get your aura cleaned. Meditate in Cheops, the great pyramid in Egypt.
People are terrified of facing themselves. They dread even a moment of aloneness. Thus the constant frantic activities: the endless socializing, talking, texting, reading, music playing, working, traveling, sightseeing, shopping, overeating, gambling, movie-going, pill-taking, drug-using, and cocktail-partying.
Many of the foregoing mechanisms of escape are faulty, stressful, and ineffective. Each of them requires increasing amounts of energy in and of itself. Enormous amounts of energy are required to keep down the growing pressure of the suppressed and repressed feelings. There is a progressive loss of awareness and an arrest of growth. There is a loss of creativity, energy, and real interest in others. There is a halting of spiritual growth and eventually the development of physical and emotional illness, disease, aging, and premature death. The projection of these repressed feelings results in the social problems, disorders, and the increase of selfishness and callousness characteristic of our present society. Most of all, the effect is the inability to truly love and trust another person, which results in emotional isolation and self-hatred.
Because all living things are connected on vibrational energy levels, our basic emotional state is picked up and reacted to by all life forms around us. It is well known that animals can instantly read a person’s basic emotional state. There are experiments demonstrating that even the growth of bacteria is affected by human emotions, and that plants register measurable reactions to our emotional state.
To be surrendered means to have no strong emotion about a thing: “It’s okay if it happens, and it’s okay if it doesn’t.” When we are free, there is a letting go of attachments. We can enjoy a thing, but we don’t need it for our happiness. There is progressive diminishing of dependence on anything or anyone outside of ourselves. These principles are in accord with the basic teaching of the Buddha to avoid attachment to worldly phenomena, as well as the basic teaching of Jesus Christ to “be in the world but not of it.”
Another block that may occur is the fear that if we let go of a desire for something, we won’t get it. It is often beneficial to look at some commonly held beliefs and let go of them right in the beginning, such as:
(1) We only deserve things through hard work, struggle, sacrifice, and effort;
(2) Suffering is beneficial and good for us;
(3) We don’t get anything for nothing;
(4) Things that are very simple aren’t worth much. Letting go of some of these psychological barriers to the technique itself will allow an enjoyment of its effortlessness and ease.
There is a simple way to become conscious of the underlying emotional goal behind any activity through use of the question, “What for?” With each answer, “What for?” is asked again and again until the basic feeling is uncovered. An example would be the following. A man wants a new Cadillac. His mind gives all the logical reasons but logic doesn’t really explain it. So he asks himself, “What do I want the Cadillac for?”
“Well,” he says, “it is to achieve status, recognition, respect, and solid citizen success status.” Again: “What do I want status for?” “Respect and approval from others,” he might say, “and to ensure that respect.” Again: “What do I want respect and approval for?” “To have the feeling of security.” Again: “What do I want security for?” “To feel happy.”
The continual question, “What for?,” reveals that basically there are feelings of insecurity, unhappiness, and lack of fulfillment. Every activity or desire will reveal that the basic goal is to achieve a certain feeling. There are no other goals than to overcome fear and achieve happiness. Emotions are connected with what we believe will ensure our survival, not with what actually will. Emotions themselves are actually the cause of the basic fear that drives everyone to seek security constantly.
It is said that most people spend their lives regretting the past and fearing the future; therefore, they are unable to experience joy in the present.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Take, for example, a man who had not spoken to his brother for twenty-three years. Neither of them could remember what the incident was about; it had been long forgotten. But they were in the habit of not speaking, and so for twenty-three years they paid the price of missing each other’s company, affection, togetherness in family matters, and all the shared experiences and love they could have had. When the man learned about the mechanism of surrender, he began to let go of his feelings about his brother. Suddenly, he broke out in tears of grief, realizing all that had been lost over the years. By forgiving his brother, he triggered a similar response in the brother, and the two were reunited.
Feelings of apathy about the letting go technique itself may appear as resistances. These may take the form of attitudes and thoughts such as: “It won’t work anyway”; “What’s the difference?”; “I’m not ready for this yet”; “I can’t feel”; “I’m too busy”; “I’m tired of letting go”; “I’m too overwhelmed”; “I forgot”; “I’m too depressed”; “I’m too sleepy.” The way out of apathy is to remind ourselves of our intention, which is to get higher and freer, to become more effective and happy, and to let go of the resistance to the technique itself.
Once we have experienced this progression up the scale of emotions in any one particular area, we now begin to realize that it can be done in other areas of limitation in our lives. Behind all of the “I can’ts” are merely “I won’ts.” The “I won’ts” mean “I am afraid to” or “I am ashamed to” or “I have too much pride to try, for fear I might fail.” Behind that is anger at ourselves and circumstances engendered by pride. Acknowledging and letting go of these feelings brings us up to courage and, with that, finally acceptance and an inner peacefulness, at least as it regards the area which has been surmounted.
This process is applicable in all negative situations. It enables us to change the context by which we perceive our current situation. It enables us to give it a new and different meaning. It lifts us up from being the helpless victim to the conscious chooser. In the example given, it doesn’t mean that we have to rush out and buy a birthday gift. But it does mean that we are now aware that we are in our current position out of choice. We have total freedom, with greater latitude of action and choice. This is a much higher state of consciousness than the helpless victim who is trapped by a past resentment.
God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
We could take the same protective actions out of love rather than out of fear. Can we not care for our bodies because we appreciate and value them, rather than out of fear of disease and dying? Can we not be of service to others in our life out of love, rather than out of fear of losing them? Can we not be polite and courteous to strangers because we care for our fellow human beings, rather than because we fear losing their good opinion of us? Can we not do a good job because we care about the quality of our performance and we care about our fellow workers? Can we not perform our job well because we care about the recipients of our services, rather than just the fear of losing our jobs or pursuing our own ambition? Can we not accomplish more by cooperation, rather than by fearful competition? Can we not drive carefully because we have a high regard for ourselves and care for our welfare and those who love us, rather than because we fear an accident? On a spiritual level, isn’t it more effective if, out of compassion and identification with our fellow human beings, we care for them, rather than trying to love them out of fear of God’s punishment if we don’t?
Let’s compare the arduous lower consciousness way of achieving goals with a higher state of consciousness in which we have acknowledged and let go of the desire, and are in a freer state. In a freer state, that which is chosen manifests in our life effortlessly. We surrender the emotion of desire and, instead, merely choose the goal, picture it lovingly, and allow it to happen because we see that it is already ours. Why is it already ours? In a lower state of consciousness, the universe is seen as negative and denying, frustrating, and reluctant. It is like a bad, stingy parent. In a higher state of consciousness, our experience of the universe changes. It now becomes like a giving, loving, unconditionally approving parent who wants us to have everything we want, and it is ours for the asking. This is creating a different context. It is giving the universe a different meaning.
The way to become that exciting person whom people want to know is very easy. We simply picture the kind of person we want to be and surrender all the negative feelings and blocks that prevent us from being that. What happens, then, is that all we need to have and to do will automatically fall into place. This is because, in contrast to having and doing, the level of being has the most power and energy. When it is given priority, it automatically integrates and organizes one’s activities. This mechanism is evidenced in the common experience, “What we hold in mind tends to manifest.”
The way to offset this anger is to acknowledge and relinquish the pride, surrender our desire for the pleasure of self-pity and, instead, view our efforts on behalf of others as gifts. We can experience the joy of being generous with others as its own reward.
By this simple mechanism of acknowledgment, it is possible, within a matter of days, to transform all of one’s relationships in a rather dramatic way. This acknowledgment does not have to go on in the outer world but can take place within oneself. As we examine our relationships, we can ask ourselves, “What have I failed to acknowledge in those with whom I have daily contact?”
Instead of feeling pride about our thoughts, what is wrong with just loving them? Why not just love a certain concept because of its beauty, because of its inspirational quality, or because of its serviceability? If we view our thoughts that way, we no longer need the pride of being “right.” If we hold the same view of our likes and dislikes, we are no longer prone to argumentativeness. For instance, if we love the music of a certain composer, we no longer need to defend it. We might hope that our companion would also love it but, if not, the worst that we can feel is mild disappointment at not being able to share something that we personally value and enjoy. If we try this, we will find that people no longer attack our likes and dislikes and concepts. Instead of defensiveness, what they are getting from us now is appreciation. They understand that we appreciate certain things, and that is why we think the way we do. But they will no longer criticize or attack us. The worst we will get is perhaps a kidding or a quizzical attitude. Where pride is absent, attack is also absent.
Carl Jung said that the healthy personality is equally balanced between work, play, love, and an aspect of personality called spirituality, which we could also define as the search for meaning and value.
In the state of acceptance, there is the feeling that nothing needs to be changed. Everything is perfect and beautiful the way it is. The world is to be enjoyed. There is compassion for others and for all living things. In this state we are automatically nurturing and supportive of others without any feeling of sacrifice. Because of the inner security and feeling of abundance, there is generosity and ease of giving, with no expectation of return or record keeping, such as, “Here’s what I am doing for you.” When we are in a state of acceptance, we love our friends instead of being critical, and we are willing to love them in spite of their limitations, which we willingly overlook. In acceptance, there is a decreased preoccupation with “doingness,” a growing focus on the quality of beingness itself, and the perfection of our own inner capacity for caring and lovingness.
In the state of love, we wake up every morning and give thanks for another day of life, and we seek to make life better for everyone around us. Because of the presence of love, things go better; the eggs get fried better; the ducky gets saved; the kitty gets fed; and the doggie is adopted from the pound and brought home. We share our love with everything around us, all forms of life: kitties, doggies, other people, all living things. Yes, even the villains. If it is our job to watch over the captured villain, we seek to make his life tolerable. We say, “I’m sorry that I have to hold a gun to your head, but that’s my job.” We try to be as gracious and generous as we can be, without exception.
By continual surrender, we experience the state of unconditional love (calibrates at 540), which is rare and occurs in only .04% of the population. This energy is miraculous, inclusive, nonselective, transformative, unlimited, effortless, radiant, devotional, saintly, diffuse, merciful, and selfless. It is characterized by inner joy, faith, ecstasy, patience, compassion, persistence, essence, beauty, synchronicity, perfection, surrender, rapture, vision, and openness. We relinquish seeing the personal self as a causal agent. Everything happens effortlessly by synchronicity.
Out of humility, all opinions about others are surrendered. In a certain way, nobody can help being other than what they are. Love knows this truth and takes no position. Love augments the positive about others rather than their defects. It focuses on life’s goodness in all of its expressions. Unconditional love is a love that doesn’t expect anything from others. When we have become loving, we have no limitations or demands on others that they should be a certain way in order to be loved. We love them no matter how they are. Even if they are obnoxious! We feel sorry for the criminals that they saw a life of crime as their best option. When love is unconditional, there’s no attachment, expectation, hidden agenda, or bookkeeping of who gives what to whom. Our love is unconditional for whatever we are and whatever they are. It is given without requirements. No strings are attached. We don’t expect anything back when giving. We have surrendered all conscious and unconscious expectations of the other person.
With the experience of inner peace comes great strength. An energy field of total peace is unassailable. The person who has found inner peace can no longer be intimidated, controlled, manipulated, or programmed. In this state, we are invulnerable to the threats of the world and have, therefore, mastered earthly life. When the state of peace has become established, ordinary human suffering is no longer possible because the very basis of that vulnerability has been totally relinquished.
We can observe that the external stress factors are merely the straws that eventually break the camel’s back. The main stress load is what we carry around with us all the time. The psychological programming in our society is so extensive that, for most people, even relaxing and enjoying a vacation is a problem. (Guilt says we “should” be doing something else.) There is disappointment when immediate relaxation does not occur. There is restlessness and the endless pursuit of “fun” activities to avoid the pain of facing our own inner self. Most busy executives begin to secretly look forward to getting back to work while they are on vacation. They may outwardly grumble about their heavy workload, but when they return to the accustomed routine, they feel normal again.
Cortisol also has an anesthetic effect; therefore, during the letdown period of low-cortisol production, weekenders may notice physical symptoms that were ignored during the excitement of the work week, and they may complain of many aches and pains over the weekend that weren’t experienced while at work.
The overall balance of the body’s acupuncture energy system is regulated by the activity of the thymus gland. The bio-energy system is intimately connected to the body’s immune system via the thymus gland. Chronic stress weakens the body’s immune system, suppresses the thymus gland, and throws the bioenergy system out of balance. Strengthening the thymus gland or taking thymus supplements rebalances the bio-energy system. An extensive explanation of this is found in the books Behavioral Kinesiology and Life Energy by John Diamond, M.D.
As we have seen, stress proneness and vulnerability are directly related to our general level of emotional functioning. The higher we are on the scale of consciousness, the less we respond with stressful reaction. We can take a simple incident from everyday life and illustrate the differences in reactivity. Let’s say, for example, that we have parked our car and, just as we get out, the car parked in front of us backs up into our car with a thud. Our bumper and the front of the fender are dented. Here is what the different levels of consciousness might sound like:
Shame: “How embarrassing. I’m such a lousy driver. I can’t even park a car. I’ll never amount to anything.”
Guilt: “I had it coming. How stupid I am! I should have done a better job of parking.”
Apathy: “What’s the use? Things like this always happen to me. I probably won’t collect on the insurance anyway. There’s no use talking to the guy. He’ll just sue me. Life stinks.”
Grief: “Now the car is ruined. It will never be the same. Life is grim. I will probably lose a bundle on this one.”
Fear: “This guy is probably furious. I’m afraid he’ll hit me. I’m afraid to talk back to him. He’ll probably sue me. I’ll probably never get the car fixed right again. Car repair people always rip me off. The insurance company will probably get out of this one, and I’ll be the one left holding the bag.”
Desire: “I can make a bundle on this one. I think I will hold my neck and fake a whiplash. My brother-in-law is a lawyer. We’ll sue the pants off this idiot. I’ll get a settlement on the highest estimate and get it fixed at a cheaper place.”
Anger: “The damned idiot! I think I’ll teach this guy a lesson. He deserves a good punch in the nose. I’ll sue his pants off and make him suffer. My blood is boiling. I feel shaky with rage. I could kill the bastard!”
Pride: “Look where you’re going, you fool! Oh God! The world is full of such bumbling idiots! How dare he damage my new car! Who the hell does he think he is? He’s probably got cheap insurance; thank God mine is the best.”
Courage: “Oh, well, we’ve both got insurance. I’ll take down the data and handle it okay. A nuisance but I can handle it. I’ll talk to the driver and get it settled out of court.”
Neutrality: “These things happen in life. You can’t drive 20,000 miles a year without an occasional fender bender.”
Willingness: “How can I help the guy calm down? He doesn’t need to feel upset about it. We’ll just exchange the necessary insurance information and be okay with each other.”
Acceptance: “It could have been worse. At least nobody’s hurt. It’s only money anyway. The insurance company will take care of it. I suppose the guy’s upset. That’s only natural. Such things just can’t be helped. Thank God I’m not running this universe. It’s only a minor nuisance.”
Reason: “Let’s be practical here. I’d like to take care of it as quickly as possible so I can get on with the day’s activities. What’s the most efficient way to resolve our problem?”
Love: “I hope the guy isn’t upset. I’ll calm him down. (Says to the other driver), ‘Relax. It’s all okay. We’ve both got insurance. I know how it is. It happened to me just the same way. It was a minor dent and we got it fixed in a day. Don’t worry—we won’t report it if you don’t want to. We can probably deduct it and avoid a raise in the insurance premium. There’s nothing to be upset about.’” (Reassures the upset driver, putting an arm on his shoulder in fellow human camaraderie.)
Peace: “Well, isn’t that fortuitous? I was going to have the rattle in the bumper fixed, anyway, and the fender already had a little dent. So now I’ll get it fixed for nothing. ‘Say, aren’t you George’s brother-in-law? You’re just the guy I wanted to see. I have some great business that I think you can handle for me. We’ll both benefit. You look like the right person to research it for us.”
Without a change of consciousness, there is no real reduction of stress.
In the uncommon case of persistent illness that is not cleared by the surrender of negative thoughts and feelings, unknown factors such as karmic proclivities may be operating. In such cases, we surrender the desire to change or control our experience of life, and we await further inner discovery about the source and significance of the illness. Surrender at great depth is complete when a person has let go of needing or wanting a physical healing to occur. A state of peace about the situation is reached when all three aspects of illness—physical, mental, and spiritual—have been addressed and the final outcome or wished-for recovery has been surrendered. Peace comes with total inner surrender to what is.
Let’s take the example of a young woman with a lot of natural musical talent who was spending most of her time at a boring job, which she felt she had to stick to for financial reasons. What she really liked to do was play musical instruments when she was alone at home. It was something that she did strictly for personal enjoyment. Because of the lack of self-confidence, she seldom played for other people, even close friends. After she began to let go of her inner limitations—all of the low-energy feelings that were blocking her expression—her abilities and confidence grew so rapidly that she began to play in front of public gatherings. Her talent was well received, and a busy musical career ensued. She made a professional recording that was sufficiently successful that she could cut back to working part time, and she began to pour more time and energy into what was now a blossoming career that brought her great joy and satisfaction. Although she had known nothing about business, she now started her own musical business and, within a year, was distributing the recordings nationally, then in Europe. To her delight, she found that she was very successful by doing what she liked to do best. Her increasing vitality and happiness were apparent to everyone, and success spread to other areas of her life.
The average person is preoccupied with the body, its functioning, performance, appearance, and survival. The average mind is beleaguered with worries, fears of sickness, suffering, disease, and death; therefore, the mind sets about defending the body in a great variety of ways. This leads to over-attention to diet, weight, exercise, and the health of the environment. With such inner tension, by the end of the day the average person frequently feels like a victim: drained, empty, and exhausted.
Be aware of how much energy is drained by this constant preoccupation with the body. Our mind has been continuously programmed with a countless variety of belief systems about the body: what it needs, what will be good for it, and its infinite number of vulnerabilities. This leads to constant preoccupations with all kinds of health preventive measures, including health food fads, the endless reading of labels for potentially poisonous ingredients, the fear of being near someone smoking a cigarette, the fear of dusts and pollens and all of the supposed contaminants of the environment. There is an obsession with offsetting all of these “dangers” by various countermeasures.
As we begin letting go of all these fears, cancelling the belief systems and reaffirming that our true Self is Infinite and not subject to limitations, we move into a higher state of health, wellness, and vital energy. A helpful way to phrase it to ourselves is, “I am an Infinite Being, not subject to ____________.” We put into the blank space whatever disease or substance that the mind has been programmed to see as a possible “danger” for us. After letting go of the endless variety of bodily fears, concerns and belief systems, physical illnesses begin to resolve automatically. There is an increase in the feeling of aliveness and personal freedom. In the state of total surrender, the body is barely perceived at all. It is only peripherally in awareness, and there is no preoccupation with it. It functions effortlessly, smoothly, and with very little attention.
This is a very important shift of consciousness because now the preoccupation is not with the body and defending it. The focus of attention now shifts to the mind, which is where the greater power lies. As we shift our thoughts, feelings and perceptions, we begin to notice that the body follows suit. We recognize that people are not really responding to our body at all but to our inner attitudes, our energy state, and our level of awareness. One day it dawns on us that everyone and everything in the world are responding to our level of consciousness, our intention, and to the inner feeling we have about them. We register the magnetism of saintly people such as Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and Mahatma Gandhi. We see that they are beloved not because of their physical appearance, but because of the inner radiance of love and peace they emanate. The shift of focus from the physical level to the level of consciousness begins to bring rapid results.
As was said earlier, there may be uncommon cases in which illness or infirmity continues unabated due to unknown factors, such as karmic proclivities. Continual surrender brings healing at the level of inner being so that, even while the body appears to suffer limitation and others may see it as “tragic,” the person is at peace and radiates an inner well-being that uplifts others. Through surrender at great depth, such persons have let go of self-pity, guilt, and resistance to life circumstances. They have transcended the view that their illness is a barrier to personal happiness and see it as a vehicle of blessing to others. In recent years, public examples of this phenomenon have included the late Pope John Paul II, who approached his unremitting Parkinson’s disease as a spiritual opportunity to become one with, and even to take on, the suffering of others.
Let’s say that, behind the desire for money, we discover that one of our goals is to be respected and valued. In that discovery, we have just found out that it isn’t money itself that we are interested in; rather, it is our self-respect and a feeling of inner worth. We see that money was just a tool to achieve something else and that, as a matter of fact, it isn’t money that we want at all but the self-respect and esteem we thought it would bring us.
When we are in a surrendered state, we are free from that inner smallness, insecurity, and low self-esteem. Then, money becomes merely a tool to achieve our goals in the world. We have an inner security, knowing that there will always be sufficient abundance. We will always get what we need when we need it, because we have an inner feeling of completion, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Money, then, becomes a source of pleasure rather than a source of anxiety.
Because of attachments, dependencies, and inner smallness, we may feel weak and limited. The guilty intolerance of our inner thoughts and feelings are projected onto the world, making the world look like a fearful place. Because these fears are held in mind, fearful events and experiences are literally brought into our life experience. Fear results in chronic anger and makes us prone to attack and to inner emotional chaos. Pain and suffering occur, with periodic despair and proneness to emotional upset. The ego-mind, which sees everyone as separate, is envious of anyone else who appears happier, more successful, or with a better relationship, a better body, or better connections. Soon, because of a lack of inner clarity about goals, there is confusion leading to self-pity, envy, and further resentment. Self-condemnation gets endlessly projected onto the world, taking the form of condemnation from others, which increases further the guilt and feeling of smallness. For some of us, the only escape is through grandiosity, intolerance, bigotry, arrogance, and anger, which take the form of cruelty, over-bearingness, brutality, and insensitivity to the feelings of others. Often the insensitivity comes with self-excuses, such as: “I am an upfront person who speaks my mind,” or “I am the frank type; you always know where you stand with me.” These comments are a cover-up for insensitivity, which might be better described as gauche. The low self-esteem results in criticism of self and others, constant competition and comparison, analyzing, contempt, intellectualization, doubt, and fantasies of revenge. When all of those mechanisms fail, there is the recurrence of apathy and feelings of hopelessness and victimization. In such a state, we become progressively alienated because there is so much of ourselves that we must hide. Our behavior leads to isolation from others and an imbalance due to over-valuation of the areas of life that do seem to work.
Because of this inner chaos, the average person must of necessity stay unconscious at all times. It is interesting to watch the means that the mind has invented to accomplish this end. We watch as a person gets up in the morning and flips on the radio or the television to immediately get the mind off the self and its mental chatter. Despite the extra amusement, thoughts and feelings tend to arise until the mind becomes preoccupied with the projects of the day, work, and various schemes of accomplishment or pleasure. It starts the preoccupation with the body—all of the brushing, washing, perfuming, powdering, deodorizing and carefully selecting the clothes for the day. The choosing of clothes brings up all the schedules of the day, its busyness with activities that have all been crowded into the day: the endless appointments, phone calls, errands, social engagements, home responsibilities, and emails. On the way to work or the day’s activities, there is the chatting with companions, listening to the car radio, making the cell phone calls, sending text-messages, and reading the morning newspaper on the subway. Once at the destination, there follows the preoccupation with the external events of the day: the business, the deals, the bargains, the arrangements, the worries, the manipulations, the endless search for power, the quest for “strokes,” and the ever-present fear of survival. All of this is motivated by the desire to somehow derive meaning and security, and to increase our self-esteem and ensure our self-worth by whatever means.
The franticness of the struggle is not really realized until we are suddenly forced to discontinue it by some external event. Then, we are confronted with the internal emptiness. This calls for the incessant ingestion of novels, magazines, television, and websites. Or, the emptiness is avoided by the constant going to parties, escaping through drugs, numbing out with a few drinks, watching movies, and pursuing other amusements. We tend to do just about anything to avoid facing that feeling of inner emptiness.
There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, in and of themselves. What we want to examine is only the state of consciousness, the state of awareness, and the manner in which the activities are perceived, pursued, and experienced. In a state of inner freedom, these same events and experiences take on a totally different significance. The identical activities can stem from an inner sense of happiness, self-worth, and completeness. The same goals can be fulfilled through the realization of our inner achievement rather than competition with others. Relationships become sharing and loving rather than jealous, competitive, and driven by the seeking of “strokes” and approval. When we are free of negative drives, we enjoy gratifying relationships because we love people, not because we are attached to them. We can allow the other person to be free, not subject to jealousy and threat. We are not the victims of manipulation by others because we have already found an inner fulfillment.
What does life become when one continuously surrenders? What is possible? In the surrendered state, we are independent of the outer world as a source of satisfaction because the source of happiness has been found within us. Happiness is shared with others so that, in relationships, the surrendered person is supportive, sympathetic, encouraging, patient, and tolerant. There is an effortless appreciation of the worth and values of others and a consideration for their feelings. Power struggles, being “right,” and proving our point have been relinquished. There is an automatic nonjudgmental attitude and the supporting of others to grow, learn, experience, and fulfill their own potentialities. There is an easy-going, nurturing acceptance of others. We feel relaxed, vibrant, and full of energy. Life events flow automatically and effortlessly. We no longer respond from a motive of sacrifice or “giving up” something for others; instead, we see ourselves as being of loving service to others and the world. Life events are seen as opportunities rather than challenges. The personality is gentle and open with a willingness to let go and surrender nonstop because of the unfolding and ongoing inner process of continuous revelation.
As the process unfolds, we feel an inner transformation. This leads to a consistent feeling of gratitude, pleasure, and certainty about our goals. There is a living in the present rather than a preoccupation with the past or the future. There is a trusting defenselessness because the power that was projected onto the world has been re-owned. There is an inner feeling of strength and invulnerability leading to an inner serenity. At first, there is the identification, “I am the body.” As the mechanism of surrender continues, it becomes quite obvious that, “I am the mind that experiences the body, not the body.” As more feelings and belief systems are surrendered, there eventually comes the awareness, “I am not the mind either, but that which witnesses and experiences the mind, emotions, and body.” Through inner observation, there is the realization of something that remains constant and the same, no matter what goes on in the external world or with the body, emotions, or mind. With this awareness comes a state of total freedom. The inner Self has been discovered. The silent state of Awareness that underlies all movement, activity, sound, feeling, and thought is discovered to be a timeless dimension of peace. Once identified with this Awareness, we are no longer at the effect of the world, the body, or the mind, and with this Awareness come an inner calmness, stillness, and a profound sense of inner peace. We realize that this is what we were always seeking but didn’t know it, because we had gotten lost in the maze. We had mistakenly equated ourselves with the outer phenomena of our hectic life—the body and its experiences, the obligations, the jobs, the titles, the activities, the problems, and the feelings. But now we realize that we are the timeless space in which the phenomena are happening. We are not the flickering images playing out their drama on the movie screen, but the screen itself.
Looking at the feelings on the level of interpersonal relationships, we now discover another law of consciousness. Our feelings and thoughts always have an effect on other persons and affect our relationships, whether these thoughts or feelings are verbalized, expressed, or not. We will not, at this point, go into the discussion of the mechanics of exactly how this comes about, but it is currently an area of research of modern advanced quantum physics, especially that area concerned with high energy subatomic particles and their relationship to thoughts and thought forms.
When we are in lower energy state such as anger, hate, violence, guilt, jealousy or any other negative feelings, we are psychically vulnerable to the other person. In contrast, forgiveness, gratitude, and loving-kindness have a much higher energy vibration and much greater power. When we shift out of a lower to a higher energy pattern, we create a protective shield on the energetic level, as it were, and we can no longer be psychically vulnerable to that other person. When we are in a state of anger, for instance, we are vulnerable to the energy depletion brought about by the other person’s counter-anger. Paradoxically, if we really want to affect other people, then we ought to really love them. Then, their anger at us will boomerang back upon them with no effect upon us! This was the wisdom of the Buddha’s statement in the Dhammapada, “Hate is not conquered by hate. Hate is conquered by love. This is an eternal law.”
If we are still holding the fantasy that other people do not know our thoughts and feelings, just notice that dogs quickly do! Do we really think that the human psyche is inferior to that of a dog? If a dog can quickly read our total inner attitude, we can be sure that the intuition of people around us is picking up the same vibration.
To most people, men especially, sexual excitation and orgasmic pleasure are primarily a genital sensation. As one gets freer, the locale of the orgasm begins to expand and spread to the whole pelvis and abdomen, the legs and arms, and eventually the whole body. Often, after this accomplishment, there is a plateau that follows, and then suddenly and unexpectedly the orgasmic location expands beyond the body, as though the space around the body was having the orgasm instead of the person. Ultimately, there is no limitation of the orgasm. It seems to expand into infinity and be experienced from no particular center or locale. It is as if there is no individual person present. The orgasm is experiencing itself.
The second state, which is higher than inertia, is that of being “energetic.” The emotions underlying this state are those of desire, anger, and pride. The nature of these feelings is to interfere less with concentration than the previous lower state because some positive thoughts are allowed to flow through and mix with the negative feelings. This is the state of the “go-getter.” Although things are accomplished, there is unevenness of performance because of the mixture of positive and negative thoughts and ideas. Negative feelings such as ambition, desire, or “proving oneself” tend to drive the “go-getter,” and at times the decision-making is compulsive or impulsive. Characteristic of this level of consciousness is personal self-gain as the primary motivating factor. Therefore, many of the decisions are unsustainable because they are based on a win-lose situation rather than on a win-win situation. A win-win decision would have occurred had the feelings and welfare of the other persons involved in the situation been taken into account. Using language relating to the body’s energy centers, we say that people on this level are motivated by their “solar plexus” (third chakra). This means that they seek to attain success and to master the world. But they are self-centered and driven by personal motives, with little concern for the welfare of others or of the world in general. Because their decisions benefit primarily themselves, their success is limited to personal gain. Any benefit to the world is purely secondary and the results, therefore, fall far short of greatness. The third and highest level is the peaceful state, based upon the feelings of courage, acceptance, and love. Because these feelings are purely positive and non-disturbing by their very nature, they allow us to concentrate completely on the situation and observe all of the relevant details. Because of an inner state of peace, inspiration brings forth ideas that solve the problem. In this state, the mind is free of worry, and its ability to communicate and concentrate is unimpeded. From this state come solutions to problems that are placed in a win-win context; because everyone benefits, everyone lends their energy to the project and success is shared by all. This approach not infrequently leads to greatness. It characterizes the noble projects that bring about far-reaching improvements in our society. On this level we discover that when everyone’s needs in a situation are met, our own needs are fulfilled automatically. The unimpeded creative mind will work out a solution where everyone gains and no one loses.
Key steps to healing an illness or injury from within:
• A thought is a “thing.” It has energy and form.
• The mind with its thoughts and feelings controls the body; therefore, to heal the body, thoughts and feelings need to be changed.
• What is held in mind tends to express itself through the body.
• The body is not the real self; it is like a puppet controlled by the mind.
• Beliefs that are unconscious can manifest as illness, even though there is no memory of the underlying beliefs.
• An illness tends to result from suppressed and repressed negative emotions, plus a thought that gives it a specific form (i.e., consciously or unconsciously, one particular illness is chosen rather than another).
• Thoughts are caused by suppressed and repressed feelings. When a feeling is let go, thousands or even millions of thoughts that were activated by that feeling disappear.
• Although a specific belief can be cancelled and energy to it can be refused, it is generally a waste of time to try to change thinking itself.
• We surrender a feeling by allowing it be there without condemning, judging, or resisting it. We simply look at it, observe it, and allow it to be felt without trying to modify it. With the willingness to relinquish a feeling, it will run out in due time.
• A strong feeling may recur, which means there is more of it to be recognized and surrendered.
• In order to surrender a feeling, sometimes it is necessary to start by relinquishing the feeling that is there about the particular emotion (e.g., guilt that “I shouldn’t have this feeling”).
• In order to relinquish a feeling, sometimes it is necessary to acknowledge and let go of the underlying payoff of it (e.g., the “thrill” of anger and the “juice” of sympathy from being a helpless victim).
• Feelings are not the real self. Whereas feelings are programs that come and go, the real inner Self always stays the same; therefore, it is necessary to stop identifying transient feelings as yourself.
• Ignore thoughts. They are merely endless rationalizations of inner feelings.
• No matter what is going on in life, keep the steadfast intention to surrender negative feelings as they arise.
• Make a decision that freedom is more desirable than having a negative feeling.
• Choose to surrender negative feelings rather than express them.
• Surrender resistance to and skepticism about positive feelings.
• Relinquish negative feelings but share positive ones.
• Notice that letting go is accompanied by a subtle, overall lighter feeling within yourself.
• Relinquishing a desire does not mean that you won’t get what you want. It merely clears the way for it to happen.
• Get it by “osmosis.” Put yourself in the aura of those who have what you want.
• “Like goes to like.” Associate with people who are using the same or similar motivation and who have the intention to expand their consciousness and to heal.
• Be aware that your inner state is known and transmitted. The people around you will intuit what you are feeling and thinking, even if you don’t verbalize it.
• Persistence pays off. Some symptoms or illnesses may disappear promptly; others may take months or years if the condition is very chronic.
• Let go of resisting the technique. Start the day with it. At the end of the day, take time out to relinquish any negative feelings left over from the day’s activities.
• You are only subject to what you hold in mind. You are only subject to a negative thought or belief if you consciously or unconsciously say that it applies to you.
• Stop giving the physical disorder a name; do not label it. A label is a whole program.
Surrender what is actually felt, which are the sensations themselves. We cannot feel a disease. A disease is an abstract concept held in the mind. We cannot, for instance, feel “asthma.” It is helpful to ask, “What am I actually feeling?” Simply observe the physical sensations, such as, “Tightness in the chest, wheezing, a cough.”
By constantly surrendering, it is possible to arrive at an extremely silent state of mind. This can be accomplished as one goes about one’s daily activities, thus greatly expanding the capacity to meditate. Most meditative techniques are limited to a specified number of minutes or hours during the day. It is possible by constant surrender to reach high states of consciousness.
The obsession to drink is a drivenness, a compulsion due to an attachment. This can be weakened and lessened by the process of surrendering. Drinking is also an escape from the pain of negative feelings; therefore, letting go of negative feelings decreases the psychological need for escape in that particular form. This applies to other drugs as well, which are all attempts to replace a lower feeling with a higher feeling.
It is common for parents to have to let go of expectations of their children. What’s it like for an expert musician to have a child with no musical skill or inclination? Expectations are subtle pressures on the other person, who will then unconsciously resist. In parenting, you want to relinquish expectations and personal favoritisms.
When you surrender to the process of aging as simply part of the human condition, you come to peace with it. You become more loving and appreciative of other people’s love and care for you. The more loving you become, you see that everybody is trying to be helpful to you. And it is loving to allow them to be helpful to you. People think, “Oh, I’m being selfish if I allow somebody to be helpful to my life.” Actually, it’s being generous. Generosity is the willingness to share your life with others. It’s a gift to people to allow them to love you.
It is very good to start the day by surrendering your thoughts and feelings about your expectations, to picture the way you would like it to go, and to let go of all negative thoughts that would interfere with the day going in that way. Then, at the end of the day, sit down and surrender anything that came up during the course of the day that you overlooked or didn’t have time to pay attention to. This is called “cleaning up,” and most people find that they sleep better.
Instead of viewing this as something in the future, own it now. Enlightenment is not something that occurs in the future, after 50 years of sitting cross-legged and saying “OM.” It is right here, in this instant. The reason you’re not experiencing this state of total peace and timelessness is because it is being resisted. It is being resisted because you are trying to control the moment. If you let go of trying to control your experience of the moment, and if you constantly surrender it like a tone of music, then you live on the crest of this exact always-ness. Experience arises like a note of music. The minute you hear a note, it’s already passing away. The instant you’ve heard it, it’s already dissolving. So every single moment is dissolving as it arises. Let go of anticipating the next moment, trying to control it, trying to hang on to the moment that has just passed. Let go clinging to what has just occurred. Let go trying to control what you think is about to occur. Then you live in an infinite space of non-time and non-event. There is an infinite peace beyond description. And you are home.
This book was recommended to me by a close friend as a way to repair relationships in my life and to become a less judgmental and more transparent, honest and trustworthy man. Similar to the book above, I figured it would be another trip down woo-woo lane and once again I was proven wrong. The four questions that I learned to ask in this book have already proved to be invaluable.
My friend highly recommended to me that I listen to the Audible version but I found that reading the book on Kindle worked just fine for me, and actually gave me a very good grasp on how to complete the exercises in the book, which is something I recommend you do.
The Amazon description of Loving What Is is as follows:
“Out of nowhere, like a breeze in a marketplace crowded with advice, comes Byron Katie and “The Work.” In the midst of a normal life, Katie became increasingly depressed, and over a ten-year period sank further into rage, despair, and thoughts of suicide. Then one morning, she woke up in a state of absolute joy, filled with the realization of how her own suffering had ended. The freedom of that realization has never left her, and now in Loving What Is you can discover the same freedom through The Work.
The Work is simply four questions that, when applied to a specific problem, enable you to see what is troubling you in an entirely different light. As Katie says, “It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.” Contrary to popular belief, trying to let go of a painful thought never works; instead, once we have done The Work, the thought lets go of us. At that point, we can truly love what is, just as it is.
Loving What Is will show you step-by-step, through clear and vivid examples, exactly how to use this revolutionary process for yourself. You’ll see people do The Work with Katie on a broad range of human problems, from a wife ready to leave her husband because he wants more sex, to a Manhattan worker paralyzed by fear of terrorism, to a woman suffering over a death in her family. Many people have discovered The Work’s power to solve problems; in addition, they say that through The Work they experience a sense of lasting peace and find the clarity and energy to act, even in situations that had previously seemed impossible.
If you continue to do The Work, you may discover, as many people have, that the questioning flows into every aspect of your life, effortlessly undoing the stressful thoughts that keep you from experiencing peace. Loving What Is offers everything you need to learn and live this remarkable process, and to find happiness as what Katie calls “a lover of reality.””
My Highlights From “Loving What Is”:
Mary: I want my husband not to be needy, not to be dependent on me, to be more successful, to not want to have sex with me, to get in shape, to get a life outside of me and the children, and to be more powerful. Those are just a few.
Katie: Let’s turn that whole statement around.
Mary: I want me not to be needy. I want me not to be dependent on him. I want me to be more successful. I want me to want to have sex with him. I want me to get in shape. I want me to get a life outside of him and the children. I want me to be more powerful.
Katie: Sweetheart, “If your husband approves of what you say and what you do, then there is harmony in your home”—is that true? Does it work? Is there harmony in your home?
Katie: You trade your integrity for harmony in the home. It doesn’t work. Spare yourself from seeking love, approval, or appreciation—from anyone. And watch what happens in reality, just for fun. Read your statement again.
The next time you’re feeling stress or discomfort, ask yourself whose business you’re in mentally, and you may burst out laughing!
1. In this situation, who angers, confuses, saddens, or disappoints you, and why? (Remember: Be harsh, childish, and petty.) I don’t like (I am angry at, or saddened, frightened, confused, etc., by) (name) because ____.
2. In this situation, how do you want them to change? What do you want them to do? I want (name) to ____.
3. In this situation, what advice would you offer them? (Name) should (shouldn’t) ____.
4. In order for you to be happy in this situation, what do you need them to think, say, feel, or do? (Pretend it’s your birthday and you can have anything you want. Go for it!) I need (name) to ____.
5. What do you think of them in this situation? Make a list. (Don’t be rational or kind.) (Name) is ____.
6. What is it about this situation that you don’t ever want to experience again? I don’t ever want.
Take the time now to give yourself a taste of The Work. Look at the first statement that you have written on your Worksheet. Now ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
What we need to do unfolds before us, always — doing the dishes, paying the bills, picking up the children’s socks, brushing our teeth. We never receive more than we can handle, and there is always just one thing to do. Whether you have ten dollars or ten million dollars, life never gets more difficult than that.
The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (MIT Press) by Adam Gazzaley, Larry D. Rosen
I'm always on the lookout for books that help to give me a healthy perspective on everything from email management to the constructive versus the destructive use of smart phones to using modern technology while staying true to our ancestral roots. This book is definitely one of the best I've read lately on the subject.
The Amazon description of The Distracted Mind is as follows:
“Most of us will freely admit that we are obsessed with our devices. We pride ourselves on our ability to multitask — read work email, reply to a text, check Facebook, watch a video clip. Talk on the phone, send a text, drive a car. Enjoy family dinner with a glowing smartphone next to our plates. We can do it all, 24/7! Never mind the errors in the email, the near-miss on the road, and the unheard conversation at the table. In The Distracted Mind, Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen — a neuroscientist and a psychologist — explain why our brains aren't built for multitasking, and suggest better ways to live in a high-tech world without giving up our modern technology.
The authors explain that our brains are limited in their ability to pay attention. We don't really multitask but rather switch rapidly between tasks. Distractions and interruptions, often technology-related — referred to by the authors as “interference” — collide with our goal-setting abilities. We want to finish this paper/spreadsheet/sentence, but our phone signals an incoming message and we drop everything. Even without an alert, we decide that we “must” check in on social media immediately.
Gazzaley and Rosen offer practical strategies, backed by science, to fight distraction. We can change our brains with meditation, video games, and physical exercise; we can change our behavior by planning our accessibility and recognizing our anxiety about being out of touch even briefly. They don't suggest that we give up our devices, but that we use them in a more balanced way.”
My Highlights From “The Distracted Mind”:
There is also a very large body of research on the cognitive benefits of physical exercise in older adults. A landmark meta-analysis of exercise interventions published in 2003 showed that there was an overall cognitive benefit of physical exercise in older adults, with the largest effects being in the domain of cognitive control. Interestingly, they also found that positive results were greater for groups engaging in combined strength and aerobic training, compared to those who did aerobic training alone. Although some studies have yielded less convincing results, the general finding of improved cognitive control in older adults has been supported by a more recent review paper and another meta-analysis. They both show benefits for older adults across all aspects of cognitive control: working memory, attention, and goal management.
You can also listen to music, particularly songs you enjoy, as an easy way to increase your mood while focusing on a single task, as well as improve cognitive task performance. Listening to familiar music also has been shown to reduce stress in medical and dental patients while at the same time increasing the efficiency of the medical professionals.
If necessary, you can allow emergency calls using the techniques described earlier such as Essential Calls or Selective Silence, or the Do Not Disturb function coupled with the Allow Calls.
Just prior to the Runga “digital detox” yoga retreat I attended in Costa Rica, my friend and former podcast guest Joe Distefano recommended The Antidote as a good book to gain perspective on why Stoicism and minimalism can be such powerful transformative forces in our lives. The book did not disappoint, and pairs perfectly with the other three in this post.
The Amazon description of The Antidote is as follows:
“Self-help books don't seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth―even if you can get it―doesn't necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life, and work often bring as much stress as joy. We can't even agree on what “happiness” means. So are we engaged in a futile pursuit? Or are we just going about it the wrong way?
Looking both east and west, in bulletins from the past and from far afield, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual group of people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it's our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty―the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is the intelligent person's guide to understanding the much-misunderstood idea of happiness.”
My Highlights From “The Antidote”:
‘Whenever you grow attached to something,’ writes Epictetus, ‘do not act as though it were one of those things that cannot be taken away, but as though it were something like a jar or a crystal goblet … if you kiss your child, your brother, your friend . . remind yourself that you love a mortal, something not your own; it has been given to you for the present, not inseparably nor forever, but like a fig, or a bunch of grapes, at a fixed season of the year.’ Each time you kiss your child goodnight, he contends, you should specifically consider the possibility that she might die tomorrow. This is jarring advice that might strike any parent as horrifying, but Epictetus is adamant: the practice will make you love her all the more, while simultaneously reducing the shock should that awful eventuality ever come to pass.
From Barry Magid’s Buddhist–Freudian point of view, then, most people who thought they were ‘seeking happiness’ were really running away from things of which they were barely aware. Meditation, the way he described it, was a way to stop running. You sat still, and watched your thoughts and emotions and desires and aversions come and go, and you resisted the urge to try to flee from them, to fix them, or to cling to them. You practised non-attachment, in other words. Whatever came up, negative or positive, you stayed present and observed it. It wasn’t about escaping into ecstasy – or even into calmness, as the word is normally understood; and it certainly wasn’t about positive thinking. It was about the significantly greater challenge of declining to do any of that.
The routines of almost all famous writers, from Charles Darwin to John Grisham, similarly emphasize specific starting times, or number of hours worked, or words written. Such rituals provide a structure to work in, whether or not the feeling of motivation or inspiration happens to be present. They let people work alongside negative or positive emotions, instead of getting distracted by the effort of cultivating only positive ones. ‘Inspiration is for amateurs,’ the artist Chuck Close once memorably observed. ‘The rest of us just show up and get to work.’
‘People … think that they should always like what they do, and that their lives should be trouble-free,’ Morita wrote. ‘Consequently, their mental energy is wasted by their impossible attempts to avoid feelings of displeasure or boredom.’
Interpreted sufficiently broadly, setting goals and carrying out plans to achieve them is how many of us spend most of our waking hours. Whether or not we use the word ‘goals’, we’re forever making plans based upon desired outcomes. ‘Consider any individual at any period of his life,’ wrote the great French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘and you will always find him preoccupied with fresh plans to increase his comfort.’ Tocqueville’s use of the word ‘comfort’ should not distract us here; we are, of course, capable of setting far grander and more selfless goals than that. But the deeper truth remains: many of us are perpetually preoccupied with plans. It is precisely this preoccupation that the followers of the ‘negative path’ to happiness call into question – because it turns out that setting and then chasing after goals can often backfire in horrible ways. There is a good case to be made that many of us, and many of the organisations for which we work, would do better to spend less time on goalsetting, and, more generally, to focus with less intensity on planning for how we would like the future to turn out.
During one course he taught, Chris Kayes recalled, ‘an executive came up to me at the end of a session and told me his goal had been to become a millionaire by the age of forty. That’s something you hear all the time in business schools. And he’d done it – he was forty-two, so he was right on target. But he was also divorced and had health problems. And his kids didn’t talk to him anymore.’ Another student had been furiously training for a marathon when he first met her. She succeeded in her goal – but at the cost of severe injuries and several weeks spent housebound.
Shapiro did, in fact, start out as an all-American achiever, committed to his goal of becoming a highly paid management consultant. His punishing hours destroyed his marriage. ‘I’m not sure if my goals drove me to work the crazy hours I did,’ he later wondered, ‘or if I used my goals as an excuse to avoid issues in my personal life.’ He tried to dig himself out of such crises by means of even more goals (at one point, he recalled, he had a five-year plan to become ‘a leader in the innovation space’). But none of these plans changed his life. What made the difference, in the end, was a conversation with a friend who told him he spent too much energy thinking about his future. He should think of himself more ‘like a frog’, she said. Shapiro was wondering whether to feel insulted when she explained: ‘You should sun yourself on a lily-pad until you get bored; then, when the time is right, you should jump to a new lily-pad and hang out there for a while. Continue this over and over, moving in whatever direction feels right.’ The imagery of sunbathing on lily-pads should not be taken to imply laziness.
Shapiro’s friend’s point was entirely compatible with his hard-charging, achievement-hungry personality; it simply promised to channel it more healthily. In fact, it promised to help him achieve more, by permitting him to enjoy his work in the present, rather than postponing his happiness to a point five years in the future – whereupon, in any case, he would surely just replace his current five-year plan with another.
He seduces them with anecdotes about the effectiveness of operating goallessly, such as the tale of the Formula One pit crew with which he worked, whose members were told that they would no longer be assessed on the basis of speed targets; they would be rated on style instead. Instructed to focus on acting ‘smoothly’, rather than on beating their current record time, they wound up performing faster.
‘See what happens’, indeed, might be the motto of this entire approach to working and living, and it is a hard-headed message, not a woolly one. ‘The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning,’ argued the social psychologist Erich Fromm. ‘Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.’ Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities – for success, for happiness, for really living – are waiting.
Why can the ego never bring happiness? Tolle’s argument here echoes the Stoics, who concluded that our judgments about the world are the source of our distress. But he takes things further, suggesting that these judgments, along with all our other thoughts, are what we take ourselves to be. We’re not only distressed by our thoughts; we imagine that we are those thoughts. The ego that results from this identification has a life of its own. It sustains itself through dissatisfaction – through the friction it creates against the present moment, by opposing itself to what’s happening, and by constantly projecting into the future, so that happiness is always some other time, never now. The ego, Tolle likes to say, thrives on drama, because compulsive thinking can sink its teeth into drama. The ego also thrives on focusing on the future, since it’s much easier to think compulsively about the future than about the present. (It’s really quite tricky, when you try it, to think compulsively about right now.) If all this is correct, we have inadvertently sentenced ourselves to unhappiness. Compulsive thinking is what we take to be the core of our being – and yet compulsive thinking relies on our feeling dissatisfied.
The way out of this trap is not to stop thinking – thinking, Tolle agrees, is exceedingly useful – but to disidentify from thoughts: to stop taking your thoughts to be you, to realise, in the words of The Power of Now, that ‘you are not your mind’. We should start using the mind as a tool, he argues, instead of letting the mind use us, which is the normal state of affairs. When Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am,’ he had not discovered ‘the most fundamental truth’, Tolle insists; instead, he had given expression to ‘the most basic error’. What Tolle claimed had happened to him with such force that night in his bedsit was precisely a disidentification from thinking. At the time, he had just graduated with a first-class master’s degree in languages and history, and was preparing for a doctorate. ‘I’d done well because I was motivated by fear of not being good enough,’ he remembered. ‘So I worked very hard.’ He saw himself as an intellectual in the making, and was ‘convinced that all the answers to the dilemmas of human existence could be found through the intellect – that is, by thinking’. But his intellectual labours weren’t making him happy – and this realisation made him feel even worse. ‘I lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety,’ he wrote. Gradually, and then not so gradually, the anxiety was ratcheting up and up.
Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.’
[Life] is a dance, and when you are dancing, you are not intent on getting somewhere. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance.
Simple exercise: imagine you are eighty years old – assuming you’re not eighty already, that is; if you are, you’ll have to pick an older age – and then complete the sentences ‘I wish I’d spent more time on…’ and ‘I wish I’d spent less time on…’.
And the end result of all of this? The chief benefit of ‘openture’, Paul Pearsall claimed, is not certitude or even calm or comfort as we normally think of them, but rather the ‘strange, excited comfort [of] being presented with, and grappling with, the tremendous mysteries life offers’. Ultimately, what defines the ‘cult of optimism’ and the culture of positive thinking – even in its most mystically tinged, New Age forms – is that it abhors a mystery. It seeks to make things certain, to make happiness permanent and final. And yet this kind of happiness – even if you do manage to achieve it – is shallow and unsatisfying. The greatest benefit of negative capability—the true power of negative thinking—is that it lets the mystery back in.
Summary (& How I Read 217 Books A Year In Less Than 20 Minutes A Day)…
Let's face it:
I realize that not everyone is a “speed reader” like I am, but at the same time, you must realize that reading is a muscle and the more that you use that muscle the better and more efficient reader will become. Be sure to scroll back up to the introduction for this article where I link to a couple helpful articles from the Farnam Street Blog that will teach you how to become a better reader.
Below are the links to each of the books I recommend above. Please don't feel the pressure to “bang these all out” in just a few days, but definitely have them on your reading list for 2017.
- Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender
- Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
- The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (MIT Press)
- The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
Finally…I have one last big tip for you.
I accomplish my hyperproductive digestion of information through the use of services, websites, journals, newsletters and digests that disseminate information into readily accessible bite-size pieces that allow me to cut through the clutter and quickly get to the main summaries, takeaways and actionable items from all the content.
In addition, I stay up to date with health, medical and science news via the Stone Hearth Newsletters, exercise, supplement and nutrition research via the Examine Research Digest, and, for general life knowledge, and for staying up-to-date with the best recently published books and articles from around the web, the Farnham Street blog I have already mentioned.
But when it comes to my top recommended resource for getting through the world's best books FAST, there is nothing that I recommend more highly than a website called “Optimize“.
What is Optimize?
It's simple, really. They read every one of the best books (primarily focusing on health, wealth, self-improvement, neuroscience, fitness, business, nutrition, lifestyle and philosophy) and then summarize these books in easy-to-digest, 20 minute audio .mp3's or very short 5-6 page .pdf's with the biggest ideas, summaries and most important takeaways.
So in less than 6 months, I easily made it through the 400+ books on their site, often while I was hoisting dumbbells, walking in the sunshine, or driving in my car. And you can too.
A few of my favorite books that I'd recommend you start with include:
–Unsubscribe (really good for eliminating email clutter forever)
–Deep Work (a must-listen if you want to create incredible creations fast)
–The Seventh Sense (perfect for allowing your brain to survive in a modern era)
–Smartcuts (how hackers, innovators, and icons accelerate success)
–Make Your Mark (how to build a life that impacts the world forever)
Anyways, there are obviously plenty more books at Optimize, but it all comes down to this: you get more wisdom in less time. So there. I just spilled one of my biggest success secrets. And now you can use it too. You can click here to get into Optimize now for…brace yourself…the shocking sticker price of 10 bucks a month.
Actually, I talked to the nice folks at Optimize and they're even knocking a buck a month off if you use code “BEN”. So for less than the price of a couple fancy lattes you get full access to being able to get through the best books on the face of the planet in less than 20 minutes, and you have the option of reading the .pdf summary or listening to the audio version.
Enjoy (and remember, you get the white glove treatment from Optimize if you click here and use code BEN),
P.S. I'll throw one other book out there that I think is a must-read: “Iconoclast“, in which a neuroscientist reveals how you can change the way you think forever and completely rewire your brain.
Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback about reading books or any of the books I've recommended above? Leave your comments below and I will reply!
Also published on Medium.