Think for yourself

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” – Buddha

It occurred to me while meditating on this wise counsel that we as a race have failed terribly on these points. This happens as much in secular living as it does in the psittacine rituals of the various world religions.

One of the more dramatic examples of this can be seen in the frequent repetition of the “Lord’s Prayer” by Christians around the world. While I certainly don’t fault and indeed respect their diligent reverence, I do have to wonder how many of them have read the context in which this prayer was set in the Biblical record. Both Matthew and Luke wrote about this prayer, though it is perhaps important to note that Luke was a disciple of Paul, not Jesus.

The context in which Jesus’ example of a properly framed prayer was recorded in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew as being:

[7] But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
[8] Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
[9] After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…

“Use not vain repetitions,” He said, yet how many billions of times has that prayer been uttered automatically in just about every language spoken on earth over the last two thousand years? Not to pick on religions, the same could be said about science, culture, government and every other field of human activity. Original thought has given way to mechanical repetition. Fidelity to the spirit of the laws of being has given way to a bullheaded devotion to the letter of man’s interpretation of those laws.

It’s easy to talk about mankind in a general sense or in relation to the hindsight time affords, but what about you, here and now? On what basis do you believe in what you believe in? Do you constantly apply analysis to your observations? Do you consistently move beyond recognition into actualization and thereby live up to the highest and finest standard of which you are aware? Or do you content yourself with accepting uncritically the beliefs of others so that you will fit in or so that you don’t have to face feelings of inadequacy that keep you from stepping up and out?

The greater part of my life has been devoted to encouraging others to think for themselves that they might be free of the lemming state that keeps mankind bound in repetitive mediocrity. There is a risk in this, of course, for whenever someone is inspired but then fails to move all the way through into his own, he tends to blame and accuse the original source of his inspiration for the misery and darkness he now feels. Nevertheless, it is a risk I am willing to take. The benefit to mankind of even one person thus inspirited makes all the contempt and obloquy you will inevitably endure unquestionably worthwhile.

The biggest obstacle I’ve found is not in inspiring others, or in being inspired myself. Neither is the chief impediment for most in observing or analyzing. The stumbling block I’ve found to be most prevalent comes in relation to accepting and living up to those beliefs that you discover, recognize and have acknowledged as being consistent with the good and benefit of all.

There is a false and fleeting comfort which comes from blindly accepting the beliefs of others without thinking them through yourself. The mindless approach to living is a narcotic that can be hard to get away from as virtually everyone around you is likely addicted to it as well. That said, remember this: you may fit in, but a certain part of you – the deepest, most important and meaningful part of you – will constantly remind you that you have settled and sold yourself short. And that, dear soul, is no way to spend the precious days of your life.

A New Standard

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.“- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The moment you become mesmerized by your circumstances is the moment you become powerless in relation to them. Every person on earth is possessed of a vast internal resource, an inexhaustible source of power, that is tapped most efficiently by the spile of character and moral fibre. That power is capable of both overcoming anything that comes your way and releasing you from anything that has already gone under the bridge of your experience.

Life is eternal. The forms it animates are temporal and as such, to life there is no death. If your identity is lodged at the level of the animated form – your body, mind and heart – your sense of mortality will haunt you and compel you in subtle yet powerful ways. If, on the other hand, you take the steps necessary to come to terms with your true identity, that is, the particular focus of life that you are, you will be free of the burden of mortality.

That freedom does not imply license. Immortality does not mean as many mistakenly assume that “you get to do it over anyway so why try?” In fact, when seen in the proper light that freedom should inspire an even greater sense of responsibility for living a meaningful and generative life. In essence, you will be ignited by the fire of immortality. Previous judgments about the nature of your circumstances will give way to a new vision, one that emphasizes openings over limitations, starting points over obstacles.

The fact that you only have so long to live will constrain to a new standard, one that sits between and above the typical responses of capitulation at one extreme and hedonism on the other. Implicit in this new standard of living is the equal treatment of responsibility and privilege. Moreover, this new standard obviates the need for both self-abnegation and self-promotion. It is the healthy, happy and fulfilling median.

What is happening in the world around you is of little import when you live radiantly. To get there, habits of reflexive thinking and reflective living must be broken and replaced with new habits that emphasize thinking and living from the inside-out, that is, originally and proactively.

If you spend your entire life reacting to the world around you, you will be ridden hard and put up wet. If, on the other hand, you awaken to the reality of life and just as importantly, to the reality of you, you will be freed from the shackles of merely existing and liberated to live life as it was meant to be lived!

Creating Destiny

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

Thinking that you are a victim is enough to make you one, regardless of the straw you drew in life. You are not a victim of your circumstances, neither are you an impotent pawn of some generally loving but occasionally wrathful or perhaps ambivalent God. We all must make our way in the world and the idea that someone owes you a living is a childish notion.

If you wish to mature gracefully, you must learn to put childish things away. In this case, you must grow out of the needy, self-centered state that is naturally a part of childhood and grow into a generative state of being that is characterized by radiance and self-control.

My Best Teachers

If you treat an individual…as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

One of the greatest privileges in life is that of teaching, coaching, mentoring or leading others in any setting or of any age. To do so requires an unusual combination of skills, chief among them are the ability to radiate a certain quality of knowledge or even wisdom and the willingness to be at rest in yourself while occasionally making others feel uncomfortable by your radiant presence.

Looking back, my best teachers were those who made me feel the most uncomfortable, challenged and capable of reaching that which was beyond my reach at the time. Their very presence compelled my finest expression – in thought, word and action – no matter how I was feeling or they were feeling at the time. They were empathetic and understanding without being sympathetic and subject to my limitations, both real and perceived.

Another common denominator to this rare and distinguished group was (and is!) the ability to help me navigate from where I was to where they knew I could be. Just writing this makes me realize that they believed in me more than I believed in myself at certain critical points. This is the very essence of an effective teacher, mentor and leader.

You cannot give what you don’t have and the wonderful thing about teaching, mentoring and leading is that you find yourself face-to-face with yourself as you are presently configured. You realize very quickly what you have and can therefore deliver and what you don’t and must therefore develop in yourself if you are to continue to provide guidance in that area. Luckily those whom you are guiding are typically consumed with their own process to the point that they do not see you addressing your own deficiencies, especially if you do not draw unnecessary attention to your process.

A great teacher will humbly admit that he is continually learning from his students and from the process of teaching and sharing, without losing his authority. A great teacher is, in this sense, a great student first and a great teacher second. Put otherwise, the way a teacher relates to the learning process will tend to condition the way his students relate to the learning process.

It’s a beautiful process when you think about it. It’s not so much the circle of life, where facts and information are recycled from generation to generation, but the spiral of life, where the ongoing revelation of wisdom is encouraged. This is the catalyst that transforms the human experience from history repeating itself to moving from glory unto glory.


The Courage to Face Ingratitude XVI

That which often seems to us to be ingratitude, may be merely our own ignorance of the subtle phases of human nature. Sometimes a man’s heart is so full of thankfulness that he cannot speak, and in the very intensity of his appreciation, mere words seem to him paltry, petty, and inadequate, and the depth of the eloquence of his silence is misunderstood. Sometimes the consciousness of his inability to repay, develops a strange pride—genuine gratitude it may be, though unwise in its lack of expression—a determination to say nothing, until the opportunity for which he is waiting to enable him to make his gratitude an actuality. There are countless instances in which true gratitude has all the semblance of the basest ingratitude, as certain harmless plants are made by Nature to resemble poison-ivy.” ~ William George Jordan

If there is one lesson I’ve learned over the years it is this: appearances can be deceiving. This is, among other factors, one of the reasons why it is imprudent to impose rash and harsh judgments on the world around you. Your mind is a powerful tool. Used rightly, it is a tool of rational thinking that can help you navigate the smoke and mirrors of the world; used incorrectly it is a mechanism of rationalization that can confuse you and give a false impression of the world around you.

I remember the first time I heard the injunction: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” A teenager at the time, the concept intrigued me as the capacity for and the exercise of judgment seemed to be what we, as human beings, were wired for. Everything around me gave evidence of the importance and the necessity of judgment.

A few chapters later – in the book and in life – I came across the corollary to the above-mentioned concept which clarified my confusion about the first injunction. Perhaps you’ve seen it too: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

What is righteous judgment?

Righteous judgment is the ability to see a situation as it is, to see straight to the heart of the matter without prejudice or misconception. Righteous judgment is unhurried and unclouded judgment. In a word, righteous judgment is the ability to discern clearly, without the interference of a troubled heart or the machinations of a mind short-circuited by rationalization.

Discernment is an important quality of effective living, and the difference between judgment and discernment is largely a matter of timing and emotional content. Those who judge tend to jump to conclusions. They react to their initial impressions after squaring them to their prejudices, rather than letting the matter reveal itself for what it truly is. They trust their “gut feelings” more than their minds and hearts and they are willing to win some and lose some on that basis.

Those who learn to discern, however, remember that their gut is for digestion, rather than thinking. They have learned from previous experiences that jumping to concussions, as a friend of mine likes to say, is never better than taking the time to analyze carefully. They also know that you are not likely to see clearly if your heart is troubled. Far too many important life decisions are made through the lens of a troubled heart and we have the world that we have because of that flawed approach to living.

Whether you are religiously inclined or not, these principles can serve you well if you learn to apply them in your living.

The Guardian of True Liberty

The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” ~ James Madison

Seeing the images and videos of the various manifestations of rebellion known as the “Arab Spring” brings me back to the year of my high school graduation, 1989, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. As each piece of  the Wall was pulled to the ground by a people who had finally broken free of paralyzing fear, human dignity was restored.

The same appears to be true with the current uprisings, in a land held largely in suspended animation by dictators in a time of unprecedented growth and development virtually everywhere else in the world. Fortunately for those people whose freedoms had been curtailed for decades, the occasionally annoying hyper-connectivity of our present era afforded them with a view of how limited they had been, giving credence to Thomas Jefferson’s statement: “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

Tyranny does not allow for the full development of potential of its people. Tyranny discourages thinking, demands conformity and slowly squeezes the hope, dreams and life out of its subjects. I did not read this in a book, I saw it with my own eyes while touring nations decimated by tyranny in my youth. It is a dreadful system of government, indeed.

Do not be mistaken. Tyranny can, and has repeatedly throughout history, be born from democracy. Unless continual effort is made to keep government just and limited, the baser elements present in human consciousness eventually rear their ugly head. More often than not tyranny comes on the heels of a resurgence of fear. Fear is a powerful motivator and any citizen or representative of government is wise to look carefully behind the curtain whenever fear is fomented on a large scale. Remember the wise words of James Madison: “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.

I am keenly interested to see how the changes in the Middle East will contribute to human progress on our remarkable planet. The cultural patterns in the Middle East are as fascinating as they are diverse and the people of those ancient lands have enormous potential to add value to the world for which we are collectively responsible.

Time will tell.

Time Alone

“One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

A new acquaintance asked me if I meditated regularly and I replied in the affirmative, with the caveat that I did not “meditate” in the traditional sense of the word. I explained that I thought best during or shortly after engaging in activities that command my full conscious attention and that in general my clearest thoughts seem to come on the heels of action.

He then asked if I had a similar relationship with silence.

What an excellent question!

I answered again in the affirmative not realizing that I would have the opportunity to back up my words at dinner later that evening while eating alone in Manhattan. If you’ve never eaten alone, it’s quite a treat. The relative silence that comes in the absence of conversation with a dinner partner is a time for reflection, observation and enjoyment.

Spending time alone with your thoughts is an excellent exercise. If you can get past the self-consciousness that tends to come from dining alone, for instance, you enter into a creative field quite unlike the dynamic established in a group situation. As with any creative process, there must be both a creative impulse and a creative field. The creative field provides the womb for original thoughts and creative, artistic expression.

The mind is a remarkable instrument and it pays to explore its various capacities as frequently as time permits.

When you are alone, you more have time to reflect, meditate and to make the acquaintance of your inner thoughts. That said, meditating in silence can initially be quite a challenging proposition. Our minds tend to zip around from thought to thought, like bees on apple blossoms on a warm spring day. It takes practice to follow a thread of thought from an initially high and abstract perch all the way to the ground.

If you don’t believe me or haven’t yet had the experience, find a quiet place and try it. It is well worth the effort!