Thursday, 21 February 2013
Welcome one and all to my blog about self-improvement! My hope for this blog is that it provides stimulation and new angles of self-reflection for those who feel the urge to become more than they are.
Not that I'm suggesting you need to change yourself in any way. I'm sure you're lovely just as you are... but seriously though, who doesn't want to be better than they are? It doesn't matter if you are a Nobel Laureate or the CEO of a multinational corporation. Reaching your potential as a human being has little to do with individual achievements and far more to do with sustainable growth and improvement in all areas of one's life. Now, what in the hell does that mean I hear you ask? Are my big house and beautiful family not enough for you? NO! They are great, don't get me wrong. They just aren't the pinnacle. They are a part of the bigger whole.
Life is not a race to the finishing line - and neither should it be measured on end goals. It is the journey itself that is to be celebrated. Every second that we continue along our individual paths of linear existence we are involved in a process of glorious self-creation. Or at least, it should be glorious. In reality many people, not understanding the potential power that they have over the form and direction of their destiny, allow life to happen to them. They exist as passive participants in their own lives.
This is not anyone's fault. I lived in this manner for a long time and it took external influences to clear my mind of the misconceptions which I had about myself and the Universe I inhabit.
The fact of the matter is, while we should be taught independence of thought and be trained in the skills we need to be self-realizing people when we are growing up, the education systems of Western civilisations just don't take this into account. The more cynical amongst us would no doubt argue that this situation arose intentionally. It seems sometimes that we are trained to obey. The urge to question authority and buck the trend is weaned out of us at an early age. At the very least, the consumerist structure of our capitalist culture seems designed to distract us from doing anything that has any real depth of meaning.
The purpose of this blog, however, is not to gripe about the failures of civilized society. Complaining does not achieve anything. It is important to recognize faults when they are there - but rather than sit and moan, I propose to do something about it.
So, to the matter at hand... Each individual is born with roughly equivalent potential in all fields. There are undoubtedly some genetic factors at work when it comes to identifying things in life that one is particularly good at. The other factors are, however, entirely environmental. The climate, the location, and the socio-political structures of the society one finds oneself in the midst of stand as the greatest inhibiting or encouraging factors in our quest for personal development. It does not have to be that way.
The key factor in successful self-creation is choice. I am not referring to the paralyzing array of consumer choices that the capitalist machine offers it's denizens. I am referring to choice of place, choice of company and choice of action.
You see, in the end the task we have set ourselves is actually very simple in its solutions. There is nothing in the external world (in most cases) which is truly a barrier to us achieving our dreams. The real barriers are inside us. They are the negative thoughts that whisper in the back of your mind that your ambition is unrealistic, or unrealizable. They are the internal critics and naysayers of the mental landscape. What is shocking for many people to realize is that those voices do not come from them. They are strains of negative thought that have been handed down like some filthy heirloom that nobody wants but everybody has.
Dawkins first posited the idea of the 'meme' with his smash-hit populist science book The Selfish Gene. The basic explanation of this idea (itself a meme in its own right) is that ideas behave in many ways like living organisms. They spread like viruses, replicate and reproduce in self organizing systems. Belief systems which are comprised of many interacting and mutually supporting ideas could be considered conceptually analogous to more complicated multicellular organisms.
All memes (negative or otherwise) spread like viruses from one mind to another via the medium of language. Where people fall down, is by accepting the false impression that thoughts create to the effect that the thinker identifies his essence with the thoughts. What is it that you think of as 'I'? Is your mind your thoughts? What is the essence of you? How to answer this question...?
Answer me this one first: When you stop thinking do you stop existing? This is a strange thing to consider, no doubt. Unless you are a practitioner of meditative practices, it is likely that there are few moments in your day to day life that you would consider to be free of thinking. The appearance of there being no silence is an illusion however. There are moments of silence in between the mental chatter that occur many times during your day. You only fail to notice this because you are not trained to spot it when it occurs. Eckhart Tolle explains this more eloquently and clearly than I, so I shall paraphrase briefly. He points to the gap between thoughts. The small space that exists after one thought has reached its conclusion and before another leaps in where it has left off. He points to those moments when one is fully paying attention to the words of another, or something else externally perceived. In those moments of attention our thoughts are at peace. Silence reigns internally and in that silence is where we find our true selves. It is the being which has the thoughts which is you, not the thoughts themselves. What we really are is found in that state of pure being that might be termed 'attentive awareness'.
So if 'I' am the one who has the thoughts and not the thoughts themselves what does this mean for me? How is this relevant to my struggle to develop myself and reach full potential?
When you remember that you are not the same thing as your thoughts, you soon recall that your beliefs are subject to your choices. You can choose to believe something or not to. That negative thought you inherited from your practically minded parents that told you 'Don't study fine art! Most artists struggle to make it big... why should you be any different?'
That thought can be cast aside - you do not want it and you don't need to hold on to it because you know that it is not yours. Self doubt and the fear of failure that such thoughts create are the leading causes of failure in themselves. So when that thought occurs, recognize that it has occurred but give it no more than that. Do not follow that thought as is so often our habit - chasing the rabbit down the hole by building complex imaginary scenarios in our head. We waste so much time and energy upsetting ourselves by imagining things in the future that have not happened and in all likelihood won't, and remembering in detail bad things in the past which we have no power to change. This willful self-punishment serves no purpose!
This is how depression and anxiety are defined. Depression is fixation on negative things in the past. Anxiety is fixation on negative things that have yet to happen. Neither object of worry and fear is real. The only events that are real are those which exist in the now. Enlightened men from many different spiritual traditions have told us this again and again in one way or another. Why are we not taught this at school? It is a shame, but with the pressure being put on schools by the culture in which they exist, to produce educated children with high exam results, they in turn put pressure on their pupils saying things like: 'Think about your future! You had better study hard... your entire life ahead of you might depend on how well you do!!'
How could this do anything but drill anxiety into the minds of those poor unwitting students?
So then, we find ourselves suddenly in command of our inner selves. Or at least, we are mostly in command. Habits of thought, like habits of any kind, are difficult to give up. Being aware that we have choices with regards to our mental activities is just the first stage. Actively thinking in new positive ways is the next...
I'll leave you hanging with that thought for now, but I hope I have caught your attention. If my style of thought and word meets with your approval, you can also find me on Hubpages at: http://danbarfield.hubpages.com/
Thanks for reading :)