Find a Better Day

More freedom. More peace. More joy. More gratification. More of what we are truly after. How do we find it? And how do we find it more often?

It is a worthy ponderance because once when we uncover the path to a better day, we are empowered to shape the world around us. The world becomes a playground built solely for our enjoyment.

Before we explore a few paths to a better day, it might help to understand what a better day truly is. In other words, what is the “better” we’re looking to get out of our day? A few great minds left us some valuable insights.

Joseph Campbell — a famous mythology expert — believes a better day is one where we are simply “raptured with being” all day, every day. Eckhart Tolle — a modern spiritual teacher — believes a better day is one where we bring consciousness to the world. Buddhists believe a better day is one with no suffering (which produces a state we cannot cloak in words). In Matthew 22:37 Jesus says a better day is one where you “love the lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

If we experience these ideas with an open mind we’ll find that they all point the same place. The same state. In other words, a better day is one filled with an infinite supply of peace, love, and joy.

Getting there is elusive, however, because we’re faced with an innumerable amount of traps in our daily lives. One of which is conventional wisdom around how to live a better day.

Why Traditional Answer’s Fail

Notice how none of the ideas above mention anything external like, “be more productive,” “make more money,” “own more stuff,” or “be the most fashionable.” Yet, if we are left to our own devices to answer the question, “How do I live a better day?” our initial impulse drives us to something external. The greatest minds of all time understand that more doing does not equal more life. It’s quite the opposite actually. More doing takes us away from the depth of life that exists around us.

Take drinking tea for example. I love tea. Every morning I enjoy a cup of black tea from the Yunnan Province of China. It’s delicious in a way that only good tea can be. Though I erroneously try, its flavors cannot be put into words.

But how do we pick up the nuances? How does the same cup of tea go from an ordinary experience to a better experience?

We don’t get more out of our tea by moving our tongue faster or taking stronger whiffs. We don’t gulp it down harder or slurp it louder. We do the opposite. We do less. We think less. We categorize less. We name less. We let the tea naturally fall over our tongue. We let it sit on our taste buds while it makes unspeakable connections with our gustatory cortex. We sit with stillness until the nuances of the experience naturally emerge.

We wake up to the life of our experience when we find the moment and do less.

What if the answer to the question, “How do we live a better day?” is to not answer the question? Much of our thought is waste. Wasteful thought hides the essence of life and syphons useful energy. Being consumed with wasteful thought is like barreling down a pitch-black, neverending, narrow, curvy, backwoods highway. It’s easy to get lost, it doesn’t lead to anywhere, and the longer we follow it the more tense we get.

Luckily there is a way out of the woods.

Siddhartha’s Flower Sermon

Siddhartha’s famous flower sermon exemplifies how “non-doing” opens our mind to the beautiful nuances that surround us.

Siddhartha sat down next to a pond for his daily sermon. With his disciples gathered around he silently uprooted a full-bloom lotus from the water bank beside him.

He said nothing. He motioned nothing. For several minutes Siddhartha simply gazed at the lotus. He closely inspected every element of its being with a satisfied look on his face.

(Only one of Siddhartha’s disciples, Mahakasyapa, understood the sermon. Mahakasyapa became the Buddha’s predecessor and the flower sermon served as the foundation of Zen Buddhism.)

There is much debate about the meaning of the sermon, which isn’t surprising because it isn’t meant to be understood intellectually. If we step into experience, however, the lesson becomes clear.

The following is a photo from a friend (and subscriber), Alex W. Take a few moments and enjoy the photo with less doing.

aweis.flower

How quickly did your mind produce thoughts? Questions. To-dos. Labels. Judgments These all pop into mind fairly quickly. Did you latch on to a thought and get taken down a backwoods highway?

The experience makes two things clear. First is how the vibrant nuances of life come to life when we find stillness in the present. The subtle shadows cast from the cactus needles pop. The red flower preaches the unmanifested beauty that exists in everything.

Second is the true nature of the mind. The untamed mind continually produces thought no matter what our intention is. There are infinite opportunities to get drawn down the pitch-black backwoods highway to nowhere. We don’t need to get in the car, though. Thought is impermanent and thought does not end. Knowing this lets each wasteful thought float away.

Every thought presents itself as the most important thought there is. The reality is, our thoughts and desires are temporary. They come and go. Some come more often than others, but they all come and go.

When we are deceived by the illusion that our thoughts and desires are permanent, conflict grows inside us (i.e. I want $1 billion, but don’t have $1 billion. Conflict! I want to do something that matters, but what I’m doing does not matter. Conflict!). Freedom from this conflict comes from the acceptance that thoughts and desires are impermanent. The truth is our mind is quite funny. We should not take our thoughts too seriously.

Life is Our Art

I recently watched a documentary on world-famous artist Gerhard Richter. In it he says “my favorite pieces of art are the ones I do not understand.” This struck me because a highly regarded artist is saying…great art cannot be put into words (though many try to in order to justify their enjoyment). To me this also says, a great life cannot be put into words. We see indications of this in the statements of Campbell, Tolle, Jesus, Buddhists, and Siddhartha’s flower sermon. A better day is an experience.

How to Find a Better Day

I don’t want to present the illusion that an all encompassing explanation can be delivered in a few short paragraphs. Deep understanding through experience, however, can be gathered in a few brief moments. It is simpler than some might believe. Find stillness and notice the currents of our being.

Once we are fully conscious, we are free to play with the conditions of life to create anything. The next issue of the Get Elevation newsletter will build on this understanding when we explore dependent origination, and how focusing on and accumulating the right conditions creates a better life.
Talk soon,
Kev

The Tao Te Ching Chapter 2 — And How Understanding Zebra Poop, van Gogh, and the Seven Deadly Sins Can Help Us Experience Ultimate Freedom

I spent the last couple weeks pondering and applying chapter 2 of the Tao Te Ching and thought you might enjoy it. I found that it’s lesson is relevant to most life situations because it exposes the limitations that keep us from doing what we were put here to do.

The Tao Te Ching is the sacred text of Taoism. Its simplistic, straight forward message makes it relevant to people of all ideological positions, including Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and even Quantum Physicists. Though the specifics are debated, Lao-tzu, (580-500 B.C.) is thought to be the author of the text. He was an ancient Chinese poet and philosopher, and believed to be a contemporary of Confucius.

Chapter 2 of Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching is an introduction to the reality of judgement.

It serves as a succinct roadmap to a life filled with unshakeable peace, love, and joy. People that see life’s ultimate success as something far greater than material wealth will appreciate its insight.

The message comes in two main parts. The first part explains where “bad,” “ugly,” or “evil” things come from, and why these are ingrained in our everyday life. The second part of chapter 2 shows us how we can free our self from the limitations of bad/ugly/evil things and find a life filled with peace, love and joy.

From a place of peace, love, and joy — according to Lao-Tzu — we are free to experience unstoppable success.

*The Tao Te Ching Chapter 2, In Full:
+When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
+When it knows good as good, evil arises
+Thus being and non-being produce each other
+Difficult and easy bring about each other
+Long and short reveal each other
+High and low support each other
+Music and voice harmonize each other
+Front and back follow each other
+Therefore the sages:
+Manage the work of detached actions
+Conduct the teaching of no words
+They work with myriad things but do not control
+They create but do not possess
+They act but do not presume
+They succeed but do not dwell on success
+It is because they do not dwell on success
+That it never goes away

I spent some time with each line, and lived with the passage. The following are some thoughts and insights from that experience.

+When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
Without beauty, ugliness does not exist. The portion of this line that sticks out is “knows beauty AS beauty.” In other words, the existence of beauty does not create ugliness, but the label of beauty does.

+When it knows good as good, evil arises.
Further emphasis on the “knows” element. Good does not create evil, but knowing good as good does.

I played around with Christianity’s seven deadly sins — the epitome of evil — to see if Lao-tzu’s logic holds true. If it does, then the seven deadly sins would be the product of calling something good.

The seven-deadly sins are:

  1. Lust
  2. Gluttony
  3. Greed
  4. Sloth
  5. Wrath
  6. Envy
  7. Pride

Would any of these evils exist if we did not first call something good?

  1. Lust comes from calling a man or woman beautiful.
  2. Gluttony comes from calling food delicious.
  3. Greed comes from calling wealth desirable.
  4. Sloth comes from calling leisure comfortable.
  5. Wrath comes from calling an outcome (that did not happen) best.
  6. Envy comes from calling someone’s life better.
  7. Pride comes from calling our self great.

This is a simplified look, but it seems that calling something good is a step toward one of the seven deadly sins. Therefore, judgement should be held accountable for at least a portion of our pain and suffering.

+Thus being and nonbeing produce each other
I watched a PBS Nature documentary on Zebras this week. I learned that Zebras eat grass. Their excrement, however, helps grow grass. I was intrigued.

So they eat grass but grow grass??

Does the grass ever go away?? Let’s take a look at the cycle.

The grass is being grass, then it becomes food. Being to nonbeing.

After it is food, it becomes feces — which the Zebra drops. The feces then fertilize the soil, which becomes grass. Nonbeing to being.

Cycles like this exist all around us. The more we notice them, the closer we get to ultimate success.

+Difficult and easy bring about each other
+Long and short reveal each other.
+High and low support each other
+Music and voice harmonize each other
+Front and back follow each other

What if there was no front? What if there was no high? Eliminating these concepts, and overcoming their natural limitations, opens the door to peace, love, and joy.

What is so great about peace? Peace provides us with an infinite well of power to do great things. Check out the work of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Siddhartha, Nelson Mandela, or Jesus for evidence.

Living in judgement-free peace free’s us from the influence of external things like the people around us or the media that bombards us. Living in judgement-free peace makes it far more likely we’ll stay the course and pursue our purpose without apology. The reason is, what we do is no longer right or wrong, it just is.

The remainder of chapter 2 shows us how to get there.

+Therefore the sages:
A sage is similar to a mystic, buddha, guru, or saint. They are enlightened individuals that live at the highest level of consciousness. By saying, “this is what the sages do,” Lao-tzu is essentially saying “this is what everyone should do.”

+Manage the work of detached actions
+Conduct the teaching of no words
+They work with myriad things but do not control
+They create but do not possess

They create but do not possess because they understand that what they make is not theirs.

This is a difficult truth for Americans to understand, mainly because we live in an individualistic culture that champions personal achievement. We reward people for their individual accolades and accomplishments. We also ridicule people for their failures and frustrations. The reality is, however, none of these things belong to any individual.

No one possesses anything. Sages live this truth.

Even the brilliance behind a masterpiece like Starry Nights does not belong to van Gogh.

starrynights

The eleven stars in the sky. They are not van Gogh’s. He spent years as a man of the church. His father was a minister, and he studied to become one himself. It is believed that the eleven stars were inspired by Genesis 37:9:

“And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.”

What about other elements of the painting? Would van Gogh know what a serene small town looks like at night if he never lived in Brussels (pictured below)……

brussels

or Antwerp (pictured below)……

antwerp

or Nuenen (pictured below)?

nuenen

His experience is the painting. Who owns the experience? Perhaps it belongs to every element of his experience, and all the elements that brought those elements into existence, and all the elements that brought those elements into existence…and onward. In other words, it belongs to no one or no thing.
His artistic ability was not his, either. His mother was an artist. She shared her passion and inspired him at an early age. It is also well documented that van Gogh studied alongside other skillful impressionists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Pissarro. Certainly those interactions and experiences shaped his abilities.

Then who possesses the brilliance? According to Lao-tzu, no one.

When we look deeply at all the things that went into bringing van Gogh’s work to life, we start to see that his work is not his (in the most beautiful sense). It is the work of all that he experienced. Without those experiences the work would not exist, and those experiences are the product everything. Therefore the work belongs to no one or no thing.

Part of us wants to believe that van Gogh’s genius is his. Perhaps it’s because we want to believe we also have a special quality that could win us praise and recognition. This is mostly the product of our ego, and its tendency to erroneously convince us that we are independent beings. This position does not stand up to a deep investigation of reality.

The “create but do not possess” approach provides freedom to create. Our work is no longer ours. It is simply the product of everything, which makes the work a beautiful truth. Nothing more. Nothing less.

(There could be a whole piece on how our creations are not ours, why the illusion that they are actually holds us back, and what we can do to overcome it. But let’s just ponder it for now.)

+They act but do not presume
This is my favorite line. Spend some time with it.

+They succeed but do not dwell on success
+It is because they do not dwell on success
+That it never goes away

Lao-tzu finishes strong with the promise that, if we do what the sages do, we will experience eternal peace, love, and joy. While it does seem bold, living the message provides evidence of its truth.

There is no way to conclude chapter 2 of the Tao Te Ching. There is no way to sum it up in a few swift sentences. So I won’t even try. The more time I spend with it, however, the better it gets.

Each line is worth a ponder. Experience it and enjoy it.

Talk soon,
Kev

(*Translation of the Tao Te Ching from Taoism.net)

The Unconscious Business

Unconscious owners own unconscious businesses. Symptoms of an unconscious owner include stress, anxiety, and anger. Sometimes even sadness. Sleepless nights and a racing mind are reliable signs, as well.

An unconscious business IS the owner’s self-image. Their business is them. In reality it’s just a facade that hides the true self. Most owner’s, however, are unaware that the true self exists. They might deny it, or even mock it. They are too focused on external things to consider the notion that there might be greater depths within.

The real shame is, looking within bring unstoppable power to surpass any and all material goals.
[Read more…]

The Truth (Moment #1)

A 28 year old man — mentally drained and physically out of shape — knocks on my door.

I open up and welcome him into my modest victorian home with a genuine smile and humble nod.

Kenton was referred to me by a friend after expressing his dissatisfaction with life and inability to find the thing that truly makes him happy.

He’s stressed, anxious, and unable to sleep on a nightly basis, and it shows. Half-moon bags sink heavily under his eyes. The pressure of life is wrecking his body, straining his relationships, and disrupting his mind. He is seven years into adulthood and things are not unfolding the way he envisioned.

Sitting on the far side of my seven-foot brown couch, Kenton starts in on why he’s here.
[Read more…]