In buddhism and other spiritual practices the student is taught non-attachment to physical objects and event outcomes alike. There is no “good” or “bad” and the student must learn to avoid getting caught up in judgements, comparisons and other opinions that might cause her to assume a certain point of view on a subject.
The following story about The Enlightened Man illustrates these concepts beautifully. A series of events unfolds in the Enlightened Man’s life that many around him label as “good” or “bad”, yet the man refuses to form attachment to either of these viewpoints, instead preferring to leave himself open to whatever may come.
A wise man won an expensive car in a lottery. His family and friends were very happy for him and came to celebrate. ”Isn’t is great!” they said. ”You are so lucky.” The man smiled and said, “Maybe.”
For a few weeks he enjoyed driving the new car. Then one day a drunk driver crashed into his new car at an intersection and he ended up in the hospital, with multiple injuries. His family and friends came to see him and said, “That was really unfortunate.” Again the wise man smiled and said, “Maybe.”
While he was still in the hospital, one night there was a landslide and his house fell into the sea. Again his friends came the next day and said, “Weren’t you lucky to have been here in the hospital.”
And the wise man said, “Maybe…”
The story of the Enlightened Man is one of several such lessons in non-attachment. The expensive car he won in the lottery comes with its own responsibilities and attachments—you need to get the car insured, maintenance the engine and working parts and find space for it in your garage!
It seems that everything comes with strings attached—such is the nature of life. In Zen, Buddhism, Christianity and even Yoga it is taught that the path to Enlightenment, Christ or the Kingdom of God involves metaphorically “cutting the cords” that tie you to the physical world.
Certainly we are meant to enjoy this physical existence through our five senses. We are meant to taste fine food and drink, to inhale the sweetness of the forest and mountain air, to feel the sensation of delicate fabrics on our skin or the embrace of a loved one. These things are a vital part of the story of our physical existence here in this world. But we are not meant to get “entangled” in them, yearning for the acquisition of physical objects or feeling empty without them.
We are meant to be filled with the supreme joy of life.
Around 3000 B.C. a scholar named Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras—197 succinct phrases that could be handed down verbally to teach the meaning and purpose of Yoga. The purpose of Yoga was, and always has been, to achieve and “enlightenment” or “awakening”. This is a moment in a person’s life when the veil is lifted from their eyes and they are able to see, for the first time, everything they had gotten “wrong”.
Perhaps they had gone through life ruled by their emotions—everything they witnessed angered them or caused them unnecessary worry. For some it was a life spent focused on the pursuit of money, power or physical objects. For others still it had been a life spent moving from one pursuit to the next, never experiencing gratitude for what they already possessed.
At the moment of awakening this person does not necessarily cease being or doing as they had before that moment. Quite often a lot of momentum had been built up until that moment, and momentum is not easily stopped. What the awakening does signify, however, is that the person will never get angry or anxious again without having awareness of it in the moment it is happening. They will be able to look at themselves as if from a viewpoint outside of their body and think “my God, look how angry I am!”
From that moment forward it is awareness that gains momentum in the person’s life, not further attachment. The veil is lifted, and the “light” of enlightenment shines upon life so it can be viewed without distortion or shadow.
As St. Paul said, “that which is exposed to light becomes light itself.”
In this statement St. Paul refers to the light of consciousness or awareness. If you become aware of something “negative” or “bad” within yourself, however, do not fear. Do not sit in judgement of yourself or succumb to the weight of your imperfections, for this awareness signifies the beginning of the transformation within yourself.
The beginning of transformation feels as much a blessing as a curse sometimes, for you can never from that moment forward experience the emotions, object or event outcome attachments that you once did without profound awareness. It is similar to when someone points out a mannerism of speech that you possess—maybe you say “you know” or “like” a little too frequently when speaking. You seem to be forever aware of your speech pattern from the moment it is pointed out to you!
This defining moment in life brings both joy and pain. Enlightenment is a great gift that is bestowed upon those in need, but much is asked of that person the gift has been given. For the gift of enlightenment means that person has been asked to transcend and rise above the petty squabbles that seem to define human existence at this time.
A difficult project of personal transformation lies ahead, one that requires many tools to complete. One such tool is the ability to perform “imaginative storytelling” in your head to develop an understanding of why life’s events unfold the way they do. Mastery of this tool can lead to less “pain of entanglement”, allowing you to detach emotionally and physically from the pain of those around you.
This detachment will ultimately help you serve them better, unlike feeling their pain right along with them which will only keep them stuck where they are at. Two people feeling the same emotion will only intensify that emotion, allowing it to persist much longer than it would with only one person experiencing it. Consider this simple form of “spiritual mathematics” the next time a dear friend or family member is going through a tough time.
A truck driver lost his job when his license was suspended indefinitely. It could be years before he could drive again. He could no longer afford to pay child support to his ex-wife for their 2 children. The truck driver was devastated. He had secretly hoped to get back together with his ex-wife one day, and felt that this failure would seal his fate and make the reunion impossible.
A phone call to the ex-wife revealed her “true colors” and did, in fact, close the door once and for all on any reunion between the two, but not in the way the truck driver thought it would. Rather, the phone call showed the truck driver the wickedness in his ex-wife’s heart and made him realize he had no interest in getting back together with her at all!
A few years later the truck driver would regain his license, win full custody of his 2 children and go on to meet his soulmate. The weeks of pain he suffered during the loss of his license was insignificant to the years of joy that he gained from the series of events that unfolded.
Imaginative storytelling asks you to become the author of an alternate storyline. Do you remember the books you read as a child that presented you with a situation and then allowed you to proceed how you wanted by turning to a certain page?
Imaginative storytelling is just like that, except you’re doing it with real people rather than characters in a book. You’re being asked to imagine your son losing his job turning out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. You’re being asked to imagine yourself overcoming a current physical or emotional struggle in a powerfully transformative way. You’re being asked to imagine the current state of economics or politics in your country as a stepping stone to a better and brighter future for all who live there.
Imaginative storytelling is done in 3 easy steps:
We all have our hang-ups that prevent us from seeing the beauty of the current situation and creating and shaping the alternative storyline that leads to a highly desirable outcome. Below is a list of barriers to could prevent you from successfully engaging in imaginative storytelling. Be on the lookout for these and other barriers, because they are likely blocking you from experiencing as much joy in life as you could be!
These are the barriers that must be laid aside for the purposes of imaginative storytelling. They will block you from being able to engage that parts of your mind that are required to form imaginary (yet entirely possible) outcomes for yourself and the human race.
When you disagree with any idea, action or belief that you’re not able to accept or allow in this is the same as rejecting it. How many events in life have you disagreed with and in doing so rejected what they had to teach you? How much have you limited your ability to experience the joy of living with this behavior?
Change is the only constant thing in life, and it won’t always take place under your control the way you want it to. Change won’t always occur within your comfort zone. There are times when change will seem “forced” on you. You must not resist in these moments! To resist is to miss what life is trying to teach you.
Highly competitive people find little joy in life because someone else has to lose for them to win. Do your little victories through action, thought or words against your opponents leave you feeling truly fulfilled, or is your ego trying to compensate for the hollow feeling these “victories” leave you with?
Those who don’t trust others usually don’t themselves or a higher power and go through life waiting for the other shoe to drop. They question everything and eventually the only things they trust are death and taxes. Has skepticism ever brought you anything positive in your life? Surely it may at times serve to protect you from pain, but does it enhance pleasure in any way?
ALWAYS, NEVER, EVERYBODY, NOBODY
Keep score throughout your day and see how many times you use these words out loud or to yourself in your head. There are the words of defeat, condemnation, paranoia, isolation and depression.
There are things that happen in life that are out of your control, but there were 147 actions that led up to that event that were completely in your control. Take responsibility for what you’ve done. If you can’t take ownership of your actions what can you take ownership of?
And for heaven’s sake STOP trying to take ownership of other people! There’s this thing called “free will”, and everyone has the right to it, not just you. Let others live their life and make their own decisions. Influence them positively when you can, send them “good vibrations” and wish them the best regardless of your disagreement with their decisions. It’s their life, after all.
And don’t pretend to wish them well while secretly wishing they will fail for egoic gratification so you can be “right”, yearning for the day when they will crawl back to you with shoulder slumped, head hung low to say “you were right”. Aspire to more in your life than the downfall of others. Their downfalls don’t raise you up any more than being “right” can make you happy.
RIGHT & WRONG, GOOD & BAD
How often are you labeling events as “good” or “bad” throughout the day? How much unhappiness are you causing yourself in the process of labeling things “bad”? Once you realize that you can make anything that happens “good” or “positive” by the way you look at it you will simultaneously acknowledge the power within you to shape your own destiny.
“There is no good or bad, our thoughts make it so.” – William Shakespeare
Well said, sir.
BEAUTY VS. UGLINESS
If there were one purpose of living it would be to experience the beauty that life has to offer–period. Any time you are rejecting life through disagreement, distrust or any of the above sources of unhappiness you are finding that aspect of life to be ugly. There is no part of life that is ugly–it’s up to you to see the beauty in everything that happens
Remember that you’re human! Life is about the journey to higher consciousness, and like most journeys it begins with a single footstep. Your goal is to make marginal improvements in your thought patterns over time that lead you to greater happiness.
We’d love to hear your thoughts…