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6 Ways To Go Beyond Programmed Conditioning & Change Your Life

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Okay, right off the bat: The choice of title was lofty. I can’t tell you how to go beyond your conditioning, because to completely do so is probably impossible. Whether we identify with or rebel against our roots, those roots are what influenced our earliest conception of reality and will forever be a part of us.

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thinkingFurthermore, to believe with conviction that one has transcended their conditioning—as if it’s some fixed point you can surpass with enough wisdom and vigilance—is to condemn oneself to introspective stagnation. If you ever think you’re a finished product and that you’ve got nothing more to learn about yourself, you’ll stop looking as closely for undiscovered backwoods [or back alleys, if that’s more your schtick] in your psyche, and stop questioning your beliefs and actions. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt; you’ll take your whole lifetime to figure out.

We are each composites of our subjective experiences, after all. There is no “neutral” upbringing; none of us were raised in a cultural vacuum. The opportunity cost is every other possible time, place, body and family we could’ve been born into and shaped by instead.

So complete objectivity and self-awareness may not be a possible limit for anyone to breach. Does that mean the attempt is useless? Absolutely not. It’s all about the journey. As poet Robert Browning wrote:

A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

I’d always regarded myself as a pretty free-thinking individual—it wasn’t until I was completely removed from everything I knew that I realized how much my social identity had shaped me, and how my environment molded my incontrovertible [or so I thought at the time] convictions about the world. Learning for the first time that many of my beliefs about the world and myself were subjective—malleable and optional—opened me up both to a newfound spectrum of possibility, and a newfound humility, in navigating the world. Free-thinking isn’t a personality trait—it’s a never-ending process.

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So here it is: as non-partisan and universal a take on methodical introspection and prescribed self-experimentation as this little girl can muster, divided into six parts, none of which require you to spend money, share my views of the world, or reinvent your lifestyle.

The only testimony for these tips I can give is my own—in recent years I’ve developed a healthier relationship with myself—both forgiving and stern, have dispelled much of the formless anger I used to cling to when my life didn’t feel quite right, am prescribing myself a completely customized life rather than one shaped by the norms of my time, and am finally hopeful of managing the depression I’ve long denied being enslaved by.

1. DECONSTRUCT YOUR VALUES
First, some analysis. This may seem tedious or annoying, but it’s worth it. Consider:

  • Topical issues you feel strongly about one way or another, be it venture capitalism, religion, astrology, veganism, manners, psychiatry, social media, patriotism, parenting, push-up bras, censorship, party drugs, human nature, social responsibility…whatever gets you somehow
  • People and groups that you harbor strong feelings toward, from disgust to hopeless fascination
  • “Givens”—principles you think are self-evident, or universal to existence, reality, society, morality, rather than matters of opinion
  • Things that gross you out, annoy you, or make you uncomfortable on a basic, even irrational level: open-mouthed chewing, polyamory, spiders, girls with armpit hair, people who speak in Ebonics—anything that offends or embarrasses you

Dig down to the roots of your beliefs. Ask yourself why and why not—repeatedly. Ask where your attitudes first came from—you weren’t born with them. Take nothing for granted and explain yourself to a blank slate. Note any resistance or frustration on your part, and ask where it’s coming from.

devilsadvocatePlay devil’s advocate and antagonize your views with an equal and opposite force. Push yourself to flesh out perspectives you would normally find reprehensible. Remember that arguing a side in the privacy of your own mind doesn’t mean you have to agree with it at the end of the day—no matter how well you manage to argue it.

Consider which of your beliefs have changed over time, and what prompted the change. Even more so, consider which of your beliefs have stayed consistent—question those hardest. Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as the tendency of people to “favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses”—to the extent of blocking out opposing evidence. Try to catch yourself rationalizing your way out of confronting emotional or conditioned reactions, answering difficult questions, or admitting a gap in your knowledge or logic. Notice when your arguments sound shaky or extreme. Be ruthless and thorough. Deliberately search for cognitive dissonance, and keep asking why like a two-year-old until your head explodes.

2. REPROGRAM YOUR INFLUENCES

We all have a tendency to look at media and news sources that confirm our own attitudes—so make a conscious effort to diversify what information you’re exposed to, even if it frustrates you at first.

This doesn’t have to be dramatic—just small substitutions here and there.

  • If you read Richard Dawkins, follow up with some of C.S. Lewis’ short theological writings [he was regarded as a “skeptical Christian”]
  • Browse news articles and podcasts with a different political slant than your own, or ones from networks in other countries
  • Explore philosophical schools of thought—even if it’s just on Wikipedia
  • Explore history and anthropology to see how value systems have changed over time and place—even if it just means watching the odd documentary or TV show on science or culture when you’re stuck home with a cold [my most recent sick-in-bed favorite was Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown]

In America, we’re often plagued with an assumption that we already know enough about what the rest of the world is like and won’t benefit from further investigation, caricaturizing other cultures with what little we do know, or think we know, about them. Assume ignorance on your part; be a sponge.

Look at how others conceptualize or value things like success, sexuality, philanthropy, natural laws and science, and how the citizens of other developed countries feel about their social and political systems—not just at how you feel about them. Remember that you can be receptive to things, and even accept them, without liking them. If you previously had no interest in such things, this may be a forced effort at first—but over time you may develop more curiosity about history, anthropology, political theory, science, pop culture, mysticism, or philosophy.

3. CONNECT WITH THE ALIENS

It’s natural to put certain walls up against people we don’t relate to, to stereotype and dismiss them as dumb or crazy rather than investing our candor: in an era where we come in contact with tens or even hundreds of thousands of people in a lifetime, compartmentalizing people is valuable, and helps us make educated guesses in new situations to avoid wasting time or starting conflicts.

However, with exposure to so many people, and with the increasingly flexible and isolated lifestyles afforded by modern life [frequent career changes, working from home, urban living, and—of course—escaping to the Internet], it’s become much easier to avoid anyone who irritates or confuses us, and to seek out only those who will validate our opinions with their agreement, at the risk of potentially harmful stubbornness.

Wordspy.com defines cyberbalkanization as “the division of the Internet into narrowly focused groups of like-minded individuals who dislike or have little patience for outsiders.”

We do this in person, too—tuning out or even dehumanizing those we perceive as belonging to a stereotype we find alienating: rednecks, bros, New Agers…again, this sort of filter can keep our interactions efficient, even safe.

But look, if all you do is preach to the choir, you’re condemning yourself to intellectual atrophication. How lazy is it to discuss one’s beliefs only with those predisposed to agree? It’s a cushion.

speech

In every camp, there are extremists—and they’re often the loudest members. Just because someone is an extremist or bad at defending their beliefs doesn’t necessarily mean the belief itself is invalid— just as the ability to logically and persuasively present a case doesn’t mean it’s right [ask any Speech and Debate kid]. Ability to argue is a reflection of an individual.

Keep in mind that, within that same camp, there are probably also reasonable people who are probably not that different from you.

Try and find some of them. If you can find people with radically different backgrounds, lifestyles and values whom you can respect, or even relate to, they can challenge you to think and grow in ways your more like-minded friends might never be able to. Having an open discourse with someone completely unlike ourselves—or holding radically different viewpoints—can expose us to our shadow aspects [a la Jungian psychology: the parts of ourselves that we, ourselves, find hardest to see, instead projecting them onto others] and prejudices we didn’t realize we had.

And in general, make a conscious effort to consider what is being said, separately from who’s saying it. Discipline yourself to judge ideas on their own merit—regardless of whether they came from a friend, your mother, an co-worker you can’t stand, someone you look up to, a guy in a Hugo Boss suit, or a bum with “Stupid” tattooed on his forehead [hey, I’ve met him].

4. UNPLUG YOURSELF

You don’t have to meditate or become a hermit, but cultivate periods of passive observation and silence.

  • If you commute, turn off your phone or radio and leave your book at home next time. Even better, do this on your next long stint in a car, bus, or airplane—sit with yourself for a couple hours of more
  • Ditch the GPS and try to find new places the old-fashioned way, paying closer attention to your surroundings
  • Sans-headphones and cell phone, make time to wander aimlessly around familiar neighborhoods, or a part of town you’ve never bothered to walk through. It doesn’t need to be anywhere exciting—the key here isn’t excitement, but observational solitude. Make no plans or expectations, but oblige any whims and see where they take you

Instead of creating your own reality, which we are all doing constantly, give yourself time to be receptive—to observe the world around you, as well as your thoughts and reactions to it. Adapt to what’s around you, instead of forcing what’s around you to adapt to you.

5. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

newGo somewhere that freaks you out—even if it’s just the other side of town, or some local establishment you never would’ve dreamed of visiting. Do something that freaks you out—even if it’s just dressing differently or not wearing makeup. Casually reach out to that old friend you’ve thought about lately, even if it feels socially awkward or you’re not sure what to say.

Try a few things, by yourself, that are completely alien and somewhat uncomfortable to you, whether that means exploring soap-making, ecstatic dance, ghost towns, churches, ecovillages, bookstores or hiking trails. If something makes you cringe—but doesn’t completely go against your principles or put your life at risk—and you can sample it in a day, do it.

When you can, plan to go on a trip somewhere new—not necessarily far, or for long, just somewhere unfamiliar—and don’t cushion yourself with plans or money. Allot a small budget—just enough to keep you safe and get you home—but won’t allow you to default to the same old hotel rooms, local friends or relatives, restaurants, or shopping. Be a participant, rather than a tourist. Open yourself up to impulse and coincidence—with no plans in the way, you won’t have any reason to decline good opportunities as they come up.

6. INTERROGATIVE INTROSPECTION

This might be the hardest part—once we become too comfortable seeing ourselves in a certain light, as being this-or-that sort of person, we’re more prone to overlooking evidence to the contrary, which in turn makes us prone to blind spots in our self-perception [circling back once again to confirmation bias and the shadow aspect of Jungian psychology]. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “to define is to limit.”

guesswhoThe 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is a great example of this: a couple, believing themselves to be very progressive San Franciscans, learn their daughter’s fiancé is black [but otherwise completely perfect by their standards]—and are confronted with racial prejudices they didn’t even realize they were harboring [and so on].

Think of what kind of person you are—according to yourself. How do you define yourself—by your social identity, interests, or personality traits? Do you live up to your own standards? How do you think you come across to others? If you met yourself, what would you think? Is there anything about yourself that you don’t like—and, if so, why not? Can you change it? Should you? If there are traits you can’t stand about other people—see if you can find them in yourself, if you look hard. Are there lies you tell yourself, things you gloss over?

What do you want most in life? Do you have those things? If so, are you happy? If not, can you do anything about it? Whatever you seek in your own life—the pursuit of knowledge, discipline, pleasure, wealth, love, enlightenment, influence, or service, ask yourself why you seek it. What do you stand to gain by attaining it—and what would come next, if you did? If you believe in seeking truth over happiness [or vice versa]—ask why that is, and whether it makes you a better, happier person by your own definition.

While I’m not encouraging self-deception, it can be argued that Virtue and Meaning are subjective and, therefore, personal choices. If your life doesn’t feel quite right, maybe you’re holding onto a paradigm or value system that isn’t helping you. Maybe you don’t need or want what you think you do—maybe you once did, but don’t anymore. Maybe disenfranchisement, even depression, are partially symptoms to a larger core issue.

The point of all this isn’t necessarily to change you in some particular way—or even at all. The trick is to leave no stone unturned, to push your imagination and critical thinking as far as they’ll go, to make no unexamined assumptions about who we are, or take for granted our beliefs of life’s workings. Our minds, our worlds, are inherently subjective. After all, how many times have you looked back on something you’d done in the past and thought, “Damn, I didn’t know anything back then”?

———————————————————
ABOUT THE WRITER
A committed bonne vivante bearing scatological proclivities, Bumpkin Wolfgang quit a cushy office job in favor of running off to the mountains, where she spent six months building trails and digging cat holes at 13,000 feet. The experience irretrievably addled her brains, and she’s since been on an unstructured pilgrimage to nowhere in particular, which has led her to work as a ski instructor, massage therapist, freelance model, golf cart mechanic, and so on. She believes in candor, experimentation, and catharsis, and generally enjoys this whole Being Alive Thing. Her table manners border on obscene. You can reach Bumpkin via email [debonairdirtbag@gmail.com] or peruse her blog [http://debonairdirtbag.blogspot.com].

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Consciousness

Scientists Discover That The Heart & Brain Respond To Future Events – Before They Happen

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Multiple experiments have shown strong evidence for precognition in several different ways. One of them comes in the form of activity within the heart and the brain responding to events before they even happen.

  • Reflect On:

    Do we have extra human capacities we are unaware of? Perhaps we can learn them, develop them, and use them for good. Perhaps when the human race is ready, we will start learning more.

Is precognition real? There are many examples suggesting that yes, it is. The remote viewing program conducted by the CIA in conjunction with Stanford University was a good example of that.  After its declassification in 1995, or at least partial declassification, the Department of Defense and those involved revealed an exceptionally high success rate:

To summarize, over the years, the back-and-forth criticism of protocols, refinement of methods, and successful replication of this type of remote viewing in independent laboratories has yielded considerable scientific evidence for the reality of the (remote viewing) phenomenon. Adding to the strength of these results was the discovery that a growing number of individuals could be found to demonstrate high-quality remote viewing, often to their own surprise… The development of this capability at SRI has evolved to the point where visiting CIA personnel with no previous exposure to such concepts have performed well under controlled laboratory conditions. (source)

The kicker? Part of remote viewing involves peering into future events as well as events that happened in the past.

It’s not only within the Department of Defense that we find this stuff, but a lot of science is emerging on this subject as well.

For example, a study (meta analysis) published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience titled “Predicting the unpredictable: critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity” examined a number of experiments regarding this phenomenon that were conducted by several different laboratories. These experiments indicate that the human body can actually detect randomly delivered stimuli that occur 1-10 seconds in advance. In other words, the human body seems to know of an event and reacts to the event before it has occurred. What occurs in the human body before these events are physiological changes that are measured regarding the cardiopulmonary, the skin, and the nervous system.

A few years ago, the chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Dr. Dean Radin, visited the scientists over at HearthMath Institute and shared the results of one of his studies. Radin is also one of multiple scientists who authored the paper above. These studies, as mentioned above, tracked the autonomic nervous system, physiological changes, etc.

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Scientists at HeartMath Institute (HMI) added more protocols, which included measuring participants’ brain waves (EEG), their hearts’ electrical activity (ECG), and their heart rate variability (HRV).

As HMI explains:

Twenty-six adults experienced in using HeartMath techniques and who could sustain a heart-coherent state completed two rounds of study protocols approximately two weeks apart. Half of the participants completed the protocols after they intentionally achieved a heart-coherent state for 10 minutes. The other half completed the same procedures without first achieving heart coherence. Then they reversed the process for the second round of monitoring, with the first group not becoming heart-coherent before completing the protocols and the second group becoming heart-coherent before. The point was to test whether heart coherence affected the results of the experiment.

Participants were told the study’s purpose was to test stress reactions and were unaware of its actual purpose. (This practice meets institutional-review-board standards.) Each participant sat at a computer and was instructed to click a mouse when ready to begin.

The screen stayed blank for six seconds. The participant’s physiological data was recorded by a special software program, and then, one by one, a series of 45 pictures was displayed on the screen. Each picture, displayed for 3 seconds, evoked either a strong emotional reaction or a calm state. After each picture, the screen went blank for 10 seconds. Participants repeated this process for all 45 pictures, 30 of which were known to evoke a calm response and 15 a strong emotional response.

The Results

The results of the experiment were fascinating to say the least. The participants’ brains and hearts responded to information about the emotional quality of the pictures before the computer flashed them (random selection). This means that the heart and brain were both responding to future events. The results indicated that the responses happened, on average, 4.8 seconds before the computer selected the pictures.

How mind-altering is that?

Even more profound, perhaps, was data showing the heart received information before the brain. “It is first registered from the heart,” Rollin McCraty Ph.D. explained, “then up to the brain (emotional and pre-frontal cortex), where we can logically relate what we are intuiting, then finally down to the gut (or where something stirs).”

Another significant study (meta-analysis) that was published in Journal of Parapsychology by Charles Honorton and Diane C. Ferrari in 1989 examined a number of studies that were published between 1935 and 1987. The studies involved individuals’ attempts to predict “the identity of target stimuli selected randomly over intervals ranging from several hundred million seconds to one year following the individuals responses.” These authors investigated over 300 studies conducted by over 60 authors, using approximately 2 million individual trials by more than 50,000 people. (source)

It concluded that their analysis of precognition experiments “confirms the existence of a small but highly significant precognition effect. The effect appears to be repeatable; significant outcomes are reported by 40 investigators using a variety of methodological paradigms and subject populations. The precognition effect is not merely an unexplained departure from a theoretical chance baseline, but rather is an effect that covaries with factors known to influence more familiar aspects of human performance.” (source)

The Takeaway

“There seems to be a deep concern that the whole field will be tarnished by studying a phenomenon that is tainted by its association with superstition, spiritualism and magic. Protecting against this possibility sometimes seems more important than encouraging scientific exploration or protecting academic freedom. But this may be changing.”
 Cassandra Vieten, PhD and President/CEO at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (source)

We are living in a day and age where new information and evidence are constantly emerging, challenging what we once thought was real or what we think we know about ourselves as human beings.  It’s best to keep an open mind. Perhaps there are aspects of ourselves and our consciousness that have yet to be discovered. Perhaps if we learn and grow from these studies, they can help us better ourselves and others.

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Consciousness

Full Moon In Aries: Change & Renewal

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We are having a Full Moon in Aries which will be exact on October 13th at 9:08pm Universal Time. It will appear the fullest that night for the majority of the world, and on the night of the 12th for those in Hawaii.

This is the peak of the Lunar cycle which began two weeks prior with a New Moon in Libra. The energies of it build up as the Moon increases its light and are strongest in the days before and after. However, it will still be a part of the backdrop over the following two weeks.

Full Moon’s are a period in which we feel a push-pull between two opposing signs, in this case being the Moon in Aries and Sun in Libra. It can reflect either a conflict or integration of both signs.

We can feel this opposition happening individually within us and/or we can also experience it play out around us with some people (or circumstances) expressing the Libra side and others expressing the Aries side. In some cases, Full Moon’s can also reflect/trigger some sort of release or change.

Aries is a fire sign ruled by Mars. It is about individual needs, action, moving forward, pioneering, independence, self-identity, self-orientation, and leadership. It is bold, courageous, and instinctual, yet it can also be aggressive, impulsive, impatient, selfish, and hot-tempered.

Libra is an Air sign ruled by Venus. It is about relating, relationships, partnerships, codependency, consideration, harmony, balance, fairness, art, creativity, and beauty. It is sociable, diplomatic, and intellectual, yet it can also be indecisive, passive aggressive, vain, and even judgemental.

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Full Moon Square Pluto and Trine Jupiter

The Full Moon is in a tight square with Pluto which is near Saturn and the South Node in Capricorn. This can trigger the energy of the previous Lunar Eclipse which had strong themes of purging, letting go, as well as the potential for rebirth and transformation. It may reflect things from the past that need to be resolved or concluded.

The area of life in which this may occur depends on how it was interacting with your natal chart. It could be connected to Capricorn themes such as ambitions, career, control, management, social status, financial areas or potential structures in our lives.

This can also reflect issues pertaining to fears, obsessions, compulsive behavior, shadows, dark drives, manipulation, desires, deeply repressed feelings, jealousy, the underworld, and destruction. Conflicts around power and power struggles may also play out which may be connected to Aries-Libra themes mentioned above. Pluto may increase the potential of intensity and Saturn can reflect obstacles.

Although this configuration can be challenging, this Full Moon is also in a trine with Jupiter in Sagittarius which brings some positive and hopeful energy to it as well. This aspect can be good for expansiveness, exploration, and learning. Themes around morals, faith, beliefs, and perspectives may be a part of the equation. It can be good for addressing issues by looking at the big picture and incorporating a higher understanding.

Mercury In Pre-Retrograde Shadow Period, Sextile Saturn, Pluto and Trine Neptune

Mercury in Scorpio will be going retrograde on October 31st and has begun its pre-retrograde shadow period on October 11th/12th. Some of the developments or thoughts that are occurring now and over the coming weeks will go through a process in November in which there could be adjustments, new realizations, and overall some sort of re-calibration to set things up for the following months or even beyond that. I will be writing a separate article on this retrograde, you can join my mailing list here to ensure that you receive it.

Mercury is in a sextile with Saturn in Capricorn which is strongest during the Full Moon and the following day. This is good for any type of mental effort and using our mind in a realistic, practical, tangible, or essential way. Communications with others can feel solidifying, productive, or have themes around responsibility and commitment.

Mercury is also in a trine with Neptune in Pisces which peaks on October 15th/16th. Our thoughts, communications, or activities can be idealistic, imaginative, inspired, spiritual, creative, compassionate, or sensitive. This can heighten intuition and we can be more tuned in to symbolism. It can also be good for doing anything involving visual media.

Mercury is in a sextile with Pluto in Capricorn which is strongest October 19th/20th. This can reflect wanting to understand or communicate things on a deeper level. We can be more focused, penetrating, strategic, persuasive, and compulsive. In some cases it can also be good for getting a point across to facilitate some sort of change,

Venus and Mars In Each Other’s Signs

Mars (the ruler of the Aries Full Moon) is in Libra which is ruled by Venus while Venus is in Scorpio which is traditionally ruled Mars. Generally these planets are considered to be challenged when in these signs on their own, however, in this case they are assisting each other in what is referred to as a ‘mutual reception’.

The midpoint of both Venus and Mars are aligned with the Sun/Moon opposition, as well as in aspect with Pluto. Considering all of this, it helps to alleviate any of the potential conflict between the Aries-Libra opposition and can also help to unify both sides of the polarity.

In the day prior to this Full Moon, Venus was in an opposition to Uranus which could have reflected some changes, insights, disruptions, or surprises around Venus ruled areas such as relationships, money, pleasures, or values. Following this, it is than moving towards a sextile to Saturn which peaks from October 19th-20th. This can bring a more stabilizing, mature, realistic, and supportive energy around relations or finances.

Things To Consider During This Period

How can you approach individual needs while also being considerate of others? What changes do you need to make to help you grow and expand? What is going on beneath the surface? Are any of the potential challenges happening in your life connected to something that you need to release or transform? How do you feel about everything when you take a step back and look at it from a higher perspective? What is the big picture and how can you incorporate your understandings to help you proceed or resolve any difficulties?

These are just some examples of what could come up during this period; however, there may be other variations of this energy playing out. If you wish to do any sort of intentional release connected to what has come up at this Full Moon, it is best to do so anytime after the peak when as wanes over the following two weeks. The exact moment of this Full Moon is on October 13th at 9:08pm Universal Time. You can click here to see what that is in your time zone.

Follow me on INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK, and YOUTUBE for more astrology related content.

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Looking for astrological insight into what is going on in your life? Or perhaps looking to better understand your life and its potentials? Get a personalized astrology reading with Carmen (author of this article) specific to you based on your exact birth date, time, and location. Click here for more information or to order. 

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Consciousness

Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 8: The Apple Tree)

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The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

8. The Apple Tree

Every autumn the same argument between the two orchard owners rang through the valley on the island of Allandon. Both claimed rights to the fruits of an apple tree whose roots laid on one’s land but whose trunk leaned drastically into the other’s property. They made their case to a seed planter who worked for both of them.

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“It is on my property that the tree is rooted in the ground,” said the one. “Clearly the fruits belong to me. Is it not so?”

“He is free to pick all the apples he wants,” replied the other, “as long as he keeps his two feet on his land.”

“You know that is not possible. The tree leans over your property.”

“And so the tree, by its growth, has decided that I should have its fruit. What do you say, planter?”

“Come with me,” the seed planter said. He led them up the great mountain in the center of the island, keeping quiet as they continued to bicker. When they reached a lookout point near the top of the mountain, the seed planter spoke to them.

“Now look out onto your vast properties,” he said. “Where is the apple tree?”

“I can’t make out the tree from here,” said the one.

“It’s too small,” echoed the other.

“Exactly,” the seed planter said. “Now perhaps we can talk about this dispute.”

Einstein once said that problems cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them. And yet in our lives we continue to try to do just that: whenever we see something showing up in the world that doesn’t suit us, we immediately try to change the world until it conforms to how we think it should be. But the problem itself does not originate in the outer world—it originates in our inner world where we first interpreted a thing or event as a ‘problem’. Even if we are successful in changing the external world to our liking at a given moment, it will not be long before the same ‘problem’ arises in a different form. This is like the arcade game where you hammer a mole back into its hole and another mole immediately pops up from a different hole ad infinitum. Instead of rushing to change the outer world, lasting solutions to our problems come from our ability to change our inner world by shifting to a higher level of consciousness.

This is not to say that we should never act in the world. It means that it is helpful to step back to take a better look at these ‘problems’ rather than reacting to them. In a society that still puts a premium on doing, the shift we are looking for brings into balance our propensity to act with our ability to reflect. For in reflection our problems can be re-viewed as opportunities, and the actions we take can become the product of choice rather than compulsion, if in fact we conclude that we need to act at all.

All so-called problems are rooted in the limited vision of our Ego Self. Since the Ego Self makes us feel alone, vulnerable, and separate from the abundance of the universe, we tend to be more focused on what we lack than what we have. So we continue to experience not having enough, even if we have more than enough to live happily. It is said that the richest people are not those with the most money, but rather those who most keenly appreciate what they have. So when wealthy corporate executives ruin their lives by breaking laws and going to jail for stealing money from their companies and employees, it naturally begs the question: What would it take to satisfy these millionaires? Certainly no particular ‘thing’ in this world. There is never enough wealth in the world to satisfy those who are solely following the voice of their Ego Self, since it only sees what is missing and cannot stop asking for “more, more, more!”

For a long time I lived my life from this place of scarcity and lack, where an unexpected expense like a parking ticket or a tax reassessment would send me into a fury. I felt that every penny leaving my hand was lost forever, and I really had to stay ready to fight for what I believed was mine. But now I see this is where all the trouble starts. When we are so singularly focused on what is ‘mine’ and what is ‘yours’, there is no wonder that disputes, arguments, wars occur.

Cultivating gratitude for all that we have can go a long way towards easing this kind of conflict. It becomes easier to defuse our self-centeredness when we consider how lucky we actually are, and acknowledge how other people are not as fortunate as us. Over the past few years I have received several reminders of this in my email inbox, like this one that exhorts us to appreciate the things we often take for granted:

We forget how fortunate we really are.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who won’t survive the week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation you are ahead of 20 million people around the world.

If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world.

If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you can read this message, you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read anything at all. If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.

This kind of message is powerful, and can certainly get us thinking about what we can be thankful for in our lives. I know when I read it I was quite moved by it. When I am willing to take a look at those less fortunate, to really consider what life would be like in their shoes, I cannot help but see my own life in a more positive light. This is the duality of life at play, how we can be touched more keenly by something when we contrast it with its opposite. Do we not most appreciate food when we are most hungry? Do we not revel in the spring after a long winter? Are we not most grateful for our health after a prolonged sickness? Just ask someone who has recently survived cancer if they are happier to be alive than they used to be.

Fine. But we don’t have to be dependent on deprivation or illness to jolt us into gratitude and the feeling of being fully alive. Besides that, I know from my own experience of these phenomena that once things return to normal I start to take things for granted again. And even if I tried to recapture the feeling, the effect would diminish. I learned about this when I was young. The more my mother would tell us to think of the starving children in Africa whenever we would complain that she didn’t make a cheese sauce for our broccoli, the less it really moved us. It may have kept us quiet, but if anything we felt more guilt than gratitude, and it didn’t really help us enjoy our cheese-less broccoli.

Authentic gratitude brings with it a joy that makes us feel connected to each other and to the world. Gratitude based on contrast and comparison rarely has staying power because at a deep level it actually strengthens the Ego Self mindset of division and inequality. It is no wonder that in the face of our disproportionate wealth and opportunity in the world, the message contends that ‘the majority can [truly give thanks], but most do not.’ It is not that we don’t want to hold up our heads with a smile and truly be thankful, it is that our Ego Self cannot see beyond itself. We become restless and start searching for more of what it thinks is missing.

It is only in challenging our Western Ego-Self perspective that we can awaken to a more permanent appreciation of our lives. Chief Seattle gives us a clue as to the character of such gratitude, one that does not focus on the disparities between us but rather what all humans share: life itself and the bounties that it freely offers. When he gives thanks for ‘every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect,’ his gratitude is founded not on have and have-not but on the wholeness of human experience and a celebration of who we are, in the highest and most abundant image that we could have of ourselves.

The holistic wisdom of the East has already begun to penetrate into the fabric of our society. But for many of us who have tasted from its cup, those precious moments of connectedness it brings are hard to maintain, because of our own heritage. We remain hesitant to fully surrender control to a collective sense of self because we take pride in who we are as individuals, and how we have defined our lives. We do not avoid the urge to compare, inherent in a material life, but we seek to no longer be controlled by it. And so we move to and fro, sometimes in fits and starts, between where we have come from and where we think we are going. The ebb and flow of our emerging consciousness is the challenge of our times. And it is the mandate of the new conversation.

The space of the new conversation emulates our connectedness with one another. And so it is not a conversation grounded in debate and comparison, evaluation and judgment. Rather it focuses on building trust, fostering openness and deepening awareness. Our journey of consciousness is not seen as a race or a competition, but rather a shared adventure. It does not measure success or failure, nor concern itself with who is more or less evolved than another. It recognizes that in the circle of life we have all been at times up and down, ahead and behind, and where we are in the moment is precisely where we need to be.

To truly participate in the new conversation is to honor that we are each moving at our own pace and in our own way. It is to recognize that consciousness grows in rhythms, like waves rising and receding on the beach. It is to pledge not only to cheer each other on when we rush forward, but also to break each other’s fall when we tumble backwards.

The rewards of such a venture are not to be understated. Fueled by our shared strength and courage we can make our way up the slope of consciousness, to reach a place where the solution to every problem that exists in our world is in plain view. From this place we can see the forest for the trees, and gain a panoramic sense that we are all one. For it is only in the truth of our unity that we will finally rest in the awareness that we truly have no quarrel with each other. As an old Native American saying goes, ‘No tree is so foolish as to have its branches fight amongst themselves’.

Our work together in the new conversation, like that of climbers whose fates and lives are strung together by ropes and pulleys, will bring us closer to the source of a sustainable gratitude: the incomparable view from the mountaintop of our vast abundance and magnificence.

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