The thirteenth-century Christian mystic Meister Ekhart described how in moments of inner quiet:
There exists only the present instant . . . a Now which always and without end is itself new. . . . There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.
In some senses, of course, we are always in the present. Our past we know from memories, but those memories are experienced in the present. Similarly, our future is something we imagine in the present. Whatever we may be thinking and doing we are doing it “now.” Even when we are totally wrapped up in thoughts about the past or the future, the thoughts themselves are happening “now.”
When we say we are not in the present we really mean that our attention is not in the “now.” It is looking back to the past or forward to the future. To return to the present is to return our attention to the here and now.
The mind that is attending to the present is a mind that is free from distracting self-talk about what has or has not happened or what might or might not happen..
And it is not just our internal dialogue about past or future that holds our attention away from the present. Self-talk about the present can be equally distracting.
Two Zen monks were paying a visit to some ancient hot springs. It was a clear night, the moon was full, the water was a perfect temperature. Gazing up at the sky one monk marvelled at the fact that for centuries people had visited this spot and enjoyed its beauty, many on full-moon nights just like this. The joy the two were now experiencing was not theirs alone, it was a joy shared across time. And so he sat, meditating on the timeless quality of their joy.
After a while the second monk responded: “Even better to enjoy it.”
The Peace Of Now
A mind in the present moment is free to experience “what is.” This does not imply that he or she no longer takes any notice of the past, nor fails to consider the future. There is still much to learn from the past, and there are still many ways we can influence the future and so improve the quality of our lives and the lives of others. The difference is that, once liberated from its state of trance, the mind no longer finds itself lost in fruitless concerns for these other times.
In the present there is no longer any need to derive our identity from our interactions with the world. How others see us does not alter our existence. This level of being needs no qualification or recognition. Nor can it be threatened. It will always be there whatever may happen.
Knowing our inner essence to be invulnerable, the mind is not caught up in concern. And a mind free from concern is a mind at peace.
Being able to experience reality as it is, undistorted by our hopes and fears, is often referred to as “enlightenment.” The word “light” in this term is usually thought of in the sense of illumination. A mind that is enlightened is said to be an “illumined” mind. It is a mind that has “seen the light,” or sees things in a new light.
The heaviest burdens in this life are not our physical burdens but our mental ones. We are weighed down by our concern for the past, and our worries about the future. This is the load we bear, the weariness that comes from our timefulness.
To en-lighten the mind is to relieve it of this load. An enlightened mind is a mind no longer weighed down by attachments; it is a mind that is free. Being free, it is a mind that is no longer so serious about things – it takes things more lightly. Could this be why enlightened people laugh and smile more than the rest of us do?
A Shift In Perception
From either perspective – that of illumination or that of lightening the load – the essence of enlightenment is a shift in perception. It is a shift from seeing the world through the eyes of concern, with all their embellishment, suppression, and interpretation, to seeing without judgment; seeing what is rather than what ought to be or might be.
In principle, we can make this shift of perception at any time we choose. Whenever we are caught up in trying to make the future the way we want it to be, we have the opportunity to look at things differently. Rather than wondering, “How can I get such-and-such so that I can be happy?” we could ask, “Even if I were to get what I want, would I then be at peace?” And, “If I do not get what I want, can I still be at peace?”
If there is a willingness to look at things differently the answers to these questions are nearly always “No” and “Yes.” Then, having let go of our anxiety about the future, our attention is again free to return to the here and now.
Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 26: The Banker)
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.”
26. The Banker
In the banker’s office at the village bank on the island of Allandon, the glassblower was just completing a loan application for renovations to his glass shop. He was about to sign when he noticed something peculiar about the final sentence.
“What’s this?” he asked as he read the final line: “Warning: late payments will not lead to prosecution.”
“Yes, what about it?”
“Well, it must be a typo. Surely you meant ‘…will lead to prosecution.’”
The banker smiled to himself for a moment. Then he said, “Do you want me to let you in on a little secret?”
“Sure,” said the glassblower.
“A while back many people were not making their monthly payments on time. They had every excuse in the book. So I had that line added to the bottom of the contract to prevent them from taking advantage of me. And so you’re right, it is a typo. The printer put in the ‘not’ by mistake.”
“Well, don’t you think you should change it right away?” asked the glassblower.
“Well, I was going to when it first came to my attention,” said the banker. “The first customer that saw the new contract pointed it out. But he thought it was my way of showing my trust in him. He promised that he wouldn’t let me down. I was too embarrassed to tell him it was a typo.”
“But then you didn’t change it.”
“I was planning to, but before I could get in touch with the printer, another customer also noticed it. She was amazed at the way I was willing to do business. She made quite a big fuss about it.”
“Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. What if the word got out that you were doing this?”
“Well, long story short—it did. She told a lot of people and suddenly they were coming to me, calling me ‘the trusting banker,’ and ‘the caring banker’. And certainly they would all be looking for that line in their contracts when they came to me for loans.”
“And so you were stuck.”
“You could say that—but I promised myself that I would fix it the next time someone was late with a payment.” After a slight pause the banker added, “That was twenty years ago.”
Whenever we want to ensure right action, whether it be in a business deal, teaching our kids, or holding a vision for humanity, we tend to automatically resort to discouraging wrong action. This is the persistent temptation we face living in a world of duality.
Proclaiming ‘Thou shalt not…’ followed by a threat of retribution has long purported to be what is required to maintain an orderly and harmonious community and world. The underlying assumption here is that there are universal ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ actions, an absolute code of what is good and what is evil. In many religious traditions, there exists a supreme Being who is the author and enforcer of an absolute code of moral conduct, the rules and commandments that we must follow in order to be saved. This supreme Being presides on our ‘day of judgment’ after our death, to determine if our cumulative actions in the world merit either eternal salvation or eternal damnation.
I’m not saying this state of affairs is impossible, but it has long puzzled me how an all-powerful and omniscient Being could ever find the motivation or desire to judge good acts from evil acts, since this Being is ultimately the source of all acts. The idea that this Being would somehow have a need for our obedience, or have any needs whatsoever in fact, doesn’t make any sense to me. It smacks of anthropomorphism—our tendency to give human attributes to something that is not human.
This ‘supreme Judger’ appears to me as a projection of our Ego Self onto the Being that I have called the Dao. When we come from the perspective of the Ego Self, then we tend to be deeply involved in matters of right and wrong, judgment and retribution. We are likely to believe that some among us are basically evil, not to be trusted, and if given the freedom to act from an inner compass will undoubtedly seek to harm others. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because in coming from an environment of mistrust and fear we continue to create mistrust and fear.
This perspective is only reinforced by the media, which sells copy and maintains ratings by clearly distinguishing the heroes from the villains in our society. It is easy to buy into it, as it can be comforting to know who the good people are and who the bad people are—especially since we consider ourselves to be on the side of good. And so naturally it appears more than obvious that we need to have some common form of morality to contain the potential damage coming from the bad guys.
The idea that we will be considered good if and only if we follow some universal code of moral responsibility towards others is very tempting, as it saves us the work of figuring out from the inside how we should act. But therein lies my firm objection, and why I take the opposite tack: I believe we have absolutely no moral responsibility to others. We do not ‘owe’ people respect, compassion, or charity. Of higher importance is that we actually feel that we have a choice.
Our true moral obligation, our path, our destiny, and also not coincidentally our greatest bliss, is to endeavor to find and be our true self. But this is not even a real obligation, it’s a choice we made that we have forgotten about, the choice to come into this world. If we owe other people anything it is to get to know ourselves better so that we can act from our connectedness while sharing the gift of our unique perspective. The closer we move to the center of our being, the more we become aligned with our freedom of choice, of real choice, not of choice based on compulsion or command. My experience of life has shown me that when I am free to act in accordance with my true self, my Dao Self, I act out of love. The love flows easily, and is genuine and empowering. When I am ‘loving’ as a result of some outwardly proscribed moral directive, the expression is always dry, stunted, and unenthusiastic.
What is morality but one person’s idea thrust upon another? No system of morality ever sponsored great love, compassion or true acceptance. All commands, orders, rules and imperatives come from the fear of the Ego Self. Even the greatest commandment of all, ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ loses its essential power if it is taken as a commandment rather than as a proposal freely offered to consider. Enlightened masters who spoke powerfully about love such as Jesus understood that real love is a natural expression of our true self. Throughout our history the tendency of humans has been to misinterpret this call to love as a ‘you must do this’ rather than a ‘try this on’. I don’t believe it has ever been the intention of the truly enlightened masters to have their offerings hardened into mandatory moral codes.
When we stand behind a moral code we can become righteous about our own moral superiority. From on high, it is easy to condemn and judge others for what we have determined are ‘evil’ acts. But this judgment and condemnation is actually the lynchpin of the entire problem. Someone might say, “I believe that everyone should respect each other,” but in saying so they might feel justified in closing the door to respecting people who do not respect them. And so the person who most desperately needs respect and love—the one who cannot in a given moment respect and love others—does not receive it, and we all get stuck. It is only when we are able to move closer to our Dao Self that we get in touch with our authentic desire to respect others, out of the pure joy of expansion and expression of love. This respect is afforded even when—especially when—the other has no respect for us, because this is where the respect is most pressingly needed.
Consider the possibility that right and wrong are never absolute, and in fact we are all continually making it up as we go along, to create dramatic effect in the unfolding of the play called human life. In the old Spaghetti Westerns, we could tell the good guys and the bad guys apart, since the good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the black hats. The difference in real life is that everybody thinks that they are the good guy. They really do. And do you know why they think so? Because they are. We are all good. Wars and fighting only occur between some good guys who have one idea of what is good and other good guys who have a different idea about what is good.
The sooner we see that good and evil is really a fabrication of the Ego Self, the sooner we will be able to take the next leap in consciousness, and come more fully from our Dao Self. When we do, we will gain an understanding that we are all fundamentally good, and when we are able to act authentically we can be trusted to exercise our free will in ways that will benefit others. It stands to reason: from the perspective of the Dao Self, we and others are the same. Coming from our Dao Self we would never harm the world because our Dao Self is the world.
No matter how ‘moral’ we consider ourselves to be, if we are still judging others for being less ‘moral’, then we are instantly pulled by our judgment out of the realm of our Dao Self and back into our Ego Self. For the time being, I think the best we can do to move things along is to realize that those who do ‘wrong’—that is to say, detrimental to others—are simply acting out of fear, and are unaware of their true nature. Rather than being condemned and castigated they need to be understood and accepted. The condemnation of evil should not be confused with the celebration of good. The emotional need to exact revenge by condemning people who have perpetrated crimes is the same as the emotional need behind the crime itself. We actually circulate divisive energy by overtly demonstrating our opposition to ignorance of self. And so to me, whenever I see on the news the hordes of people standing outside a prison, vilifying a man or woman who is to be executed for a heinous crime, I can only think that those people are projecting the very darkness that they are condemning.
The attempt to legitimize the separation of people as good and evil, worthy and unworthy is itself a denial of our unity and connectedness as human beings. As Khalil Gibran says,
Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, so the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf does not turn yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree, so the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden knowledge of you all.
When we come from a place of oneness, judgment is pointless. We are captured by the joyful feeling that we are all in this together. Eventually it is possible to see that all acts, those we call good and those we call evil, are really on a continuum of actions all motivated by the same basic human desire—the desire for unity. The low point of this continuum is total ignorance of who we are and the high point is fully embodied knowledge of our true nature—as One. The acts that emerge from a knowledge of self try to arrive at unity by embracing diversity. Acts of charity, humility, and compassion are obvious attempts to unite with others. The acts that emerge from an ignorance of self tend to try to arrive at unity by suppressing or destroying diversity. The need to conform is a good example. So is jealousy, which stems from the desire to be united with another. Even the act of genocide is founded on an attempt to unify one’s race or culture—by killing people who are different.
Easy now. Let’s not misunderstand what is being said here. The assertion that there is no absolute good and evil does not mean that we need to consider all acts as the same. When we let go of judgment we are still left with the power of discernment. We know an act of kindness has a significantly different effect from an act of violence. We know from experience that the kind of unity that the Ego Self seeks inevitably tears us farther apart. But if we as witnesses of such acts can frame them not as evil but rather as simply ignorant, then it helps us to maintain a vision of ourselves and the other as One. From there we can see that if people knew more about who they were and what they were doing that they would be seeking to unify not out of a fear of being alone but out of a love of being One.
Of course as individuals we are not there yet. We are all at various stages or levels of awareness of our true self. And that is all well and good. Being at one place on the continuum of awareness is no better than being at another. Being self-aware is not ‘better’ than being ignorant. It simply is what is. For each of us I believe a time will come in our evolution when we will realize that our diversity is our greatest gift. It is actually what makes any worthwhile experience possible. And the easiest way to achieve unity without rejecting diversity is to act with the belief that there is already a unity underneath our differences. This, in all its shades and nuances, is what it means to act out of love.
I am not saying we ought to act this way. There is no ‘should’ in love. Love flows naturally. So rather than enforcing moral standards, informing each other what is right and wrong, we are better off trying to be gentle and accepting, creating a space that is big enough to allow each person to think, speak, and act in accordance with what they believe is good. The new conversation honors your personal morality based on your unique set of values and experiences. It does not support a fixed and universal morality since this can actually serve to hide you from your true nature. After all, if you follow rules that oppose your desires, how will you ever learn about your true nature? How will you ever come to face your own ignorance? It is only in a space where we feel we are allowed to show our ignorance, our darkness, that we become capable of dissolving our ignorance and seeing who we truly are. And as we go forward we become more able to help others discover the same thing about themselves—not out of some moral imperative, but out of the joy of expressing and expanding ourselves into the world.
The new conversation is a call to heal our darkness together. There is no one we need to look to but ourselves. There is no guru, no expert, no savior, because all of us have darkness. All of us need healing. As imperfect beings we will create the space as best we can, a space without right and wrong. We only need to be authentic, and speak the truth of our desires. In an environment where we no longer feel the need to suppress our true desires in favor of the ‘right’ way to think, speak and act, we are likely to enjoy a far more empowering sense of ourselves as beings of pure love.
How To Deal With Society Pressuring You To Get Married
When I was younger, I would think about the concept of marriage and get overwhelmed with emotions: excitement for the potential to find my soulmate and to share my life with that person, fear of knowing that this may never happen, and panic in considering what legally binding myself to another person truly means. As a child, I simply assumed I’d get married, because that’s what society considers “normal.” As I got older, my perception changed and I started noticing that most of my peers shared one thing in common: All of them wanted to get married. This seemed backwards to me, as I couldn’t possibly know if I wanted to get married before I met someone I wanted to be with forever. Marriage has become a social norm; society expects you to get married and to do so before the age of 30 (sometimes even younger depending on what culture you’re from). This belief system puts significant pressure on couples, creating “the marriage trap.”
How Marriage Became a Social Norm
When it all boils down, marriage is a legal contract. By choosing to marry your partner, you are legally required to be committed to that individual and typically to share your assets. Contracts are usually made for a limited time period and designed with an “if you do this… then I will do this…” mentality. If your relationship is so strong that you know, deep down, that you will be with your partner for the rest of your life, then why should you require a binding contract to verify your bond?
According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of people in Western societies get married before the age of 50. A shocking 86% of young people in the U.S. believe that when they get married, it will be for life (literally, “until death do us part”). Many may view this number as high, but I perceive it to be surprisingly low. If you’re about to commit to being in a relationship for your entire life, shouldn’t you be 100% positive it will last forever? In Western societies, people between the ages of 25 and 35 are heavily pressured to get married and have kids. People seem to be more concerned about accomplishing this goal than they are about potentially marrying the wrong person. It’s no wonder approximately half of the married couples in the U.S. end up divorced.
What is the Marriage Trap?
If you’ve already decided that you will get married in the future, you’re willingly creating expectations about your present and/or future partner. You could currently be with the “right person,” but because you’ve constructed a timeline for your relationship (when and if you want to get married, have kids, etc.), you’re putting added stress on your partner and yourself. Society will also pressure you into marrying your partner after you’ve been together for a certain length of time. If you’re not married within that timeframe, people assume there’s something wrong with your relationship. The weight of all of these expectations can make couples feel like they’re approaching an ultimatum, forcing them to choose between getting married or breaking up. If you’ve felt these societal pressures or you’re struggling to decide whether or not to marry your partner, you may have been sucked into the marriage trap.
How People Typically Decide Whether or Not to Get Married:
- Allowing your partner to make the decision: the easiest way to avoid your feelings.
- Letting love guide you: If you’re referring to self love, then that’s perfect. However, if you’re assuming that your love for an individual will fix all of your problems, you have a problem.
- Fear: of losing that person if you decide you don’t want to get married, of what others will think of you if you don’t get married, or of eventually growing apart from your partner instead of together.
- Ego: Your ego says you need to get married because society tells you to do so, allowing societal pressures to force you into an unwanted relationship.
- Physical attraction: A strong sex drive doesn’t always equate to love.
- Intuition: Following your gut can often provide incredible insights; however, if you’re not self-aware it may be difficult for you to listen to guidance from your Higher Self.
- Brain: Your brain may convince you you’re in love with someone, when you’re actually in love with the idea of that person. Just because your partner checks off all of the appropriate “boxes” you used to theorize your ideal partner, doesn’t mean you’re in love with them either.
- Biological clock: It’s typically easier for women to conceive before the age of 40, so they’ll often have biological children with the wrong mate instead of adopting children or taking the risk of not having children with the right person.
- Comparing your partner to other people: One study found that our dating choices are “98% a response to market conditions and just 2% immutable desires. Proposals to date tall, short, fat, thin, professional, clerical, educated, educated, uneducated people are all more than nine-tenths governed by what’s on offer that night.” This essentially means that most people will choose a partner by comparing them to other potential partners instead of truly following their heart.
What We Can Learn From the Marriage Trap
One study found that being married is 20 times more important to a person’s well-being than their income and 13 times more important than owning a house. That same study found that marriage makes people happier than religion and money. Although marriage has the power to form a strong, loving bond between two people and provide them with happiness, I don’t think that’s the underlying message we should take from these studies.
I would argue that it’s simply love that’s making these people happy and that they can find that same love within themselves, even if they’re single. Ultimately, it all comes down to self-awareness and self-love. You need to know yourself and love yourself before you can fully love another. Once you develop more self-love and a deeper understanding of your fundamental needs as an individual and in a partner, you’ll be prepared to choose a life partner (if you even want one).
I’m not suggesting you should never get married, nor am I against monogamy. I’m simply saying you should avoid setting unrealistic expectations for yourself and others and that you need to look within instead of outwards before making “the marriage decision.” Many people view marriage and love as synonymous and they forget that they can fuel that same love within themselves; you don’t need to be married to be happy and feel love. However, more and more people are realizing this and choosing not to get married. This begs the question, are we meant to be with only one person for the rest of our lives? I don’t think there’s a clear answer to this question because it differs for every person. The only thing I believe to remain true is that regardless of whether you’re single or in a relationship, you have the ability to find everlasting love within yourself.
“The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
Inspired by: The Marriage Decision: Everything Forever or Nothing Ever Again on Wait But Why
5 Great Benefits Kids Can Get From Yoga
- The Facts:
Yoga has a number of mind and body benefits, and those benefits have also been seen in children.
- Reflect On:
Should schools be incorporating yoga programs into their curriculum?
Kermit the Frog has a wonderful song – “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” And kids love this song because they can relate. After all, it’s not easy being a kid today either. More and more is asked of them in school; they are hurried from one activity to the next; homework begins at much earlier grade levels now, and then there are all of the digital distractions that top off fully exhausting days and evenings.
It’s Beginning to Show in the Classroom
Teachers are frustrated because attention spans seem to be so short and because they have to be entertainers if they want to engage learning in their classrooms. Parents worry that their kids won’t pass the standardized state tests that often decide promotion to the next grade. So, they cart their kids to tutoring sessions, among all of the sports practices. Kids just don’t have any non-stimulated time, and that is a huge concern. This is where yoga comes in.
Yoga – the Balance Every Kid Needs
Amidst the flurry of activity, there should be time for all kids to turn off their devices and tune out their activities and school work. There should be time for non-competitive physical activity, for some quiet reflection, and for the opportunity to enhance their ability to focus.
These are the big benefits of yoga and this is what kids can get when they learn and practice it.
Become aware of their breathing and the connections between deep breathing and the body’s feel.
Techniques and games that foster this connection serve to improve focus, reduce stress, and actually cause the release of healthy hormones.
- Balance: Techniques that focus on balance do far more than just develop control over the physical body. They assist increases in attention in natural ways, rather than through medication, which doctors are so quick to prescribe. As kids focus on a balance pose, they also clear their minds, thinking only of what their bodies are doing.
- Kids have lots of natural flexibility – something that we adults lose as we grow older. Doing stretching exercises increases flexibility, a flexibility that forms in muscles and joints and allows them to “yield.” Football players who practice yoga, for example, have far fewer serious injuries because they have developed flexibility. If flexibility exercises can become habitual with kids, they will perform better in any sport.
- Focus and Awareness: A typical yoga exercise for young children is to have them close their eyes and focus on sitting just as a statue. They must become aware of all parts of their body in order to keep them still and stiff, and focus on keeping them that way. Then, when a short period of time is over, they are told to relax and just start laughing as hard as they can – a great release of energy and stress. They come to understand that they have control of their bodies and of their minds, and with this understanding comes confidence.
- Relaxation and Meditation: This may be the most important benefit of yoga for young children. The early exercises of tightening and then relaxing muscles, of holding poses and moving from one pose into another, all take the mind away from the “harried” nature of their lives and have a strong calming effect. Meditation on their mats can occur as they sit in a pose or lie flat. In both instances, children can be guided to place their thought on a single thing – maybe a favorite pet or color.
Gradually, additional visualization can be added to meditation. One small private school has an assembly each morning. Children are on mats and perform yoga poses and exercises to music. Then, the “quiet” time begins. As they sit on their mats, softer music is played and they are asked to think of one thing they want to accomplish that day and to see themselves doing it – a small activity that inspires.
Yoga for kids is all about developing habits of body and mind working together to create a more balanced lifestyle and develop great study habits. When these habits are instilled early, they tend to “stick” better.
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