Spiritual Shedding

An excerpt from the fictional tales of The Wandering Monk.

Running from distress,
we fall, spilling the poison.
Now fill with what’s good.

(in other words)
Many are not drawn to the spiritual life by way of a resplendent star lighting their path. Nay, many feel the hot flames licking their heels and thus run from the torment. But when fleeing, stumble, and are consumed by fire. Yet what burns is not the eternal essence within, but the toxicity that caused such pain. Now reborn from the ashes, free of confusion, look to the light, nourishing with wholesome rays.

Personal Brand

Why might we need a personal brand, an identity, a well-defined image of ourselves? Well, a mythology about life and more specifically about our own person keeps a lot of quandary at bay. If we walk around with preset definitions, we can quickly apply them to whatever life throws at us, plus a brand provides a target to aim at when striving for self-improvement. So in that vein, I will attempt to crystalize a personal brand.

For instance, I’ve witnessed people tell interesting and engaging stories about the life they live. But that’s not me. I’ve never noticed anyone respond with anything but boredom to one of my personal anecdotes. Abstract thoughts on the other hand, that’s a different story, people seem interested in those. And accordingly, I spend most of my time just thinking about life instead of actively participating. So part of my brand then, is focusing on concepts.

Throughout my life I’ve been provided with the perception that I’m “smart”. School, as well as people I encounter, tend to label me as such. And in my thoughts I typically identify as intelligent. Physically, I kinda give off a smart-guy vibe too. I’m short, thinnish, wear glasses, have a stern look to my face, utilize extensive vocabulary, and spend my time accumulating and analyzing data. In many ways I fit the portrait of this particular type of person and that’s what people seem to expect of me.

I’ve also noticed that I come across a lot better in written rather than verbal communication. For instance, my voice is kinda weak, I can’t think and talk at the same time, my face turns red, it’s just a mess. Whereas in writing, I tend to command attention, receiving at least some recognition for my abilities. With writing I can take time for ideas to formulate then craft my position and prose. Spoken words spill out of the mouth, oftentimes resulting in sticky messes with residues that aren’t easily cleaned. So my mouth is better shut as I let my fingers do the talking.

I seem to be sensitive, noticing unpleasant things to the point of upsetting myself and annoying those around me. But mine-shafts need canaries lest unseen toxicants overcome the entirety. Should I shun such a duty or embrace my status as an ever vigilant guardian? But it’s true that an overly sensitive alarm quickly becomes an ignored annoyance, so it must be tuned to those in need of hearing it. So for this aspect of my character, I must always take care to filter the noise and prepare an appropriate message.

Over the past few years, the message I seem to broadcast the most is: seek a pleasant perspective. In other words, the way in which we look at life affects our happiness and satisfaction. Early on, and throughout much of my life, I had a very negative outlook, I imagined the worst outcomes and focused on everything I didn’t like. I was anxious and miserable of course. But eventually I noticed that my perspective was pessimistic and illogical and causing me to dislike life — and since that realization, I’ve diligently watched over my thoughts, pruning the negative while promoting the positive. I now see life in a much brighter light.

And so today I see myself as a beacon. A messenger of hope to those so lost in darkness. Shining bright amidst shadows, I broadcast my message into the vast unknown, hopeful that others may find their way. It has been nearly four years and almost a thousand posts since I began transmitting by way of this website. I’ve even self-published a couple of books along the way. And although I received only a few dollars, I switched my declared profession to “Author” and utilized the industry classification code of “711510 – Independent artists, writers, and performers” on my latest tax form. The die is cast, I am a writer. Not a successful one, but what investment pays off immediately?

To further signal my commitment, I recently purchased the domain name WellCraftedWords.com and applied it to this blog. As always, thoughts will come and I’ll write them down — I have no grander plan than that. But to me, the world of thought is my home and I write of it fondly. A painter applies his vision to canvas, a writer applies his to paragraphs. And so, as a crafter of words I dedicate myself wholeheartedly to the trade, publishing my works for any and all to see. Sing, O muse, of the hero’s rage and its bitter curse inflicting chaos upon his companions….

Emotional Propellant

We’re urged by impulses into action. Oftentimes, the instigator is anxiety or annoyance. It seems unpleasant to be propelled by negativity, but that’s how it is.

What powers a rocket, but fiery fuel. An undirected blast is merely a destructive explosion, but if focused, a detonation sends a rocket into the desired direction.

When harnessed, unpleasant emotions become a source of propulsion. Why am I angry? Why am I scared? Because that is the fuel for pushing forward.

The problem is not fear or anger, but their proper application. Within a disciplined mind, these forces can be focused into power.

Old-time Religion

Many grow up within a stifling religious atmosphere and reject religion out of anger or protest. Many reject religion based on observation of adherents and their unappealing behavior or practices. Many view “God” through a pop-culture characterization (such as a Zeus-like man draped in white on a throne atop a bed of clouds), and find the concept bizarre and therefore reject religion.

If religion is so rejectable, why should it exist at all? What religion does is provide answers to unanswerable questions. Although these answers don’t represent absolute truth, we can believe them anyway in order to stop our minds from incessantly searching. If every time something troubling occurs, we search the world for why, we’d never move on, we’d be stuck in an endless loop of anxious inquiry. Religion simply provides the mind with a way to stop this loop by providing simplistic finite answers to potentially infinite questions.

So the problem is not religion itself, as it’s a useful tool for coping with life. The problem lies with the institutionalization of religion, when it’s formalized and incorporated into society. To be meaningful, religion cannot be forced upon people, it must be discovered from within, and applied personally. Another problem with institutionalization, is how it locks religion into a specific time and setting, with old-fashioned symbolism, not allowing it to progress with the age it’s in.

For instance, we might think of God as the force underlying existence. What created all this? God. Why is life the way it is? God. God can be a comforting idea, providing relief during a chaotic life. We might be relived to believe something is in charge, directing our lives in an ultimately positive way. Because we don’t understand the mechanism of existence, and because we simply want to get on with our day, we can end the debate in our head by accepting that “God did this for a good reason that will be appreciated in the long-term”.

What about worshipping God? Worshipping God is simply the appreciation of life. It’s a sentiment such as, “I’m thankful for existing in this realm rather than not existing in a void of nothingness.” Or, “Hey it looks like a lot of work went into creating this place, nice job!” It’s also having the courtesy not to denigrate life when things don’t go as expected. It’s viewing life as a gift given personally to us, something best accepted graciously, whether wanted or not.

Again, religion itself is not an evil force in the world, but merely a tool that can be misunderstood and misused. From early on I had rejected religion in its entirety, failing to perceive its underlying utility. It wasn’t until the stressors of life added up that I sought an end to the constant anxiety. I came to realize that a satisfied mind requires a pleasant interpretation of the world. In that way, religion is just a pre-packaged story we feed to our restlessly questioning mind so it can rest.

Awake at Night

Late at night when I’ve been sitting for a couple of hours, disconnected from daily living, I oftentimes develop a hyper-awareness. No earthly entanglements distracting the mind, just pure consciousness, no body within its surroundings, just drifting thought.

And in this state, I sense a wisdom I’m not privy to during other times. If I was concerned or confused about something, I’m no longer concerned or confused. In the form of thought or written word, separated from the physical, answers appear as if from within.

In the daytime, while engaged with daily tasks, my mind is befuddled by life. I’m drawn far away from this inner self, influenced by impulses, no longer the essence of understanding. So many times, as the day begins and draws me in, I forget the wisdom and tranquility I discovered in the solitude of the quiet night.

Moral Spectrum

If a thought or feeling comes from within, from the gut, then it must be right, right?

No, we need a standard by which to measure our ideas and feelings. It’s natural to get angry, to pick out differences, to be fearful and selfish. But it’s also natural to be forgiving, inclusive, heroic and caring. So when we are capable of drawing from both ends of the spectrum, we need to determine from which end we’re selecting.

For instance, I tend to dismiss feelings and ideas that are based around anger, aggression, anxiety, fear, selfishness, divisiveness, exclusion, and negativity. Whereas I tend to favor what’s based around acceptance, inclusion, forgiveness, patience, generosity, gentleness, compassion, cooperation, and sincerity. My character is not this, but this is what I strive for.

How does one know which side to pick from? When I hear descriptions of items on one side, I’m in awe, I’m impressed and inspired by it. Whereas when I hear about the other side, I find it distasteful, and if emulated, I’d be disappointed in myself. So essentially, I just pick out whatever I find uplifting from wherever I see it.

My character still gets angry and anxious and the like, but I don’t encourage those ideas and feelings within my thoughts anymore. I used to be unaware and just accepted whatever came into my mind, but this was unsatisfying because the topics tended toward the darker side and made for an unpleasant experience. So now my mind is less cluttered, more disciplined, and my experiences and moods are much improved.

Negative Attention

In a bowl of fruit, would you rather focus on the firm and juicy ones or those that are soft and rotting? And consider, would you rather focus on food as it begins the digestive process or when it comes out at the end? Also, would you rather focus on the living or the leaving part of existence? And, would you rather focus on the worst your imagination has to offer or what’s most pleasant?

Why would we ever focus on what we don’t like? Yet for some reason we often do. Nasty things come to our attention and we dwell on them. “What’s that smell? It’s horrible. Hey, anyone else smell this? Come over here. Disgusting right!? Oh I think I’m going to be sick.” It’s like reading books or watching videos you dislike, why would you do that?

Nowadays I don’t linger as long on the things that instigate irritation or frustration. Is this due to a simple realization, perhaps mental discipline, or maybe just experience — who knows. It’s an interesting question though: how much can we shape our focus? It’s clear that we don’t have total control as our mind constantly wanders wherever it wants.

But if we lack complete control, is it possible to have some? First, we’d need to stumble onto the idea that influencing our focus might be possible. Second, we’d need to practice keeping our mind focused. Third, we’d need the ability to discern pleasant topics from unpleasant ones. And fourth, we’d need to repeatedly remember all of this as life tries so hard to keep our attention occupied.

Stymied by Perception

Perceiving life as cruel and brutal can cause one to stop participating in the world. If existence is such a futile and hopeless experience, why bother doing anything at all. If the world’s activities are so harsh and vile, why contribute to the toxicity. This dilemma occurred to both Siddhartha and Arjuna.

In the Buddha’s origin story, he was so struck by the concepts of death and decay that he gave up on his active life, pursuing instead the life of an ascetic, renouncing worldly entanglements. But after many years of giving up on life, his perspective changed, he saw life in a new light.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna was so distraught over the impending violence, that he froze into a state of inaction. After God incarnate intervened, Arjuna overcame his immense distress, accepted his position in life, and no longer perceived his role as cruel killer, but as player in the spectacle of life.

The prescription for both being the same: live life as your nature dictates, all while maintaining a positive perspective. But as can be seen, it is not easy to have one’s perspective altered, it may take years of solitude or even an intervention from God himself. But in both cases, the world did not change, perception did.

End of Suffering

Just try to contemplate the ceaseless suffering that surrounds us — the rampant physical abuse, the exploitation of the weak, the crippling injustice, the heart-wrenching anguish, the drenching tears, and the agonizing pain — just try to maintain such thoughts in your mind and you’ll be driven mad. From this wicked perspective, existence becomes suffering incarnate.

The youngest, clinging on for dear life, ripped from home, but the savage creature cares not, as teeth pierce flesh, warm crimson flowing down the gullet, savoring the taste of death — or as we colloquially call it: eating a fresh strawberry. The world can be described in many ways, and one description is not necessarily more accurate than another, but certainly some are more pleasant to reflect upon.

Considering that we already ignore so much suffering, why should we acknowledge any of it? Does selective recognition not make us hypocrites? If we truly believe existence to be pervaded by misery, then how could we do anything enjoyable while others literally ache all around us? What kind of monsters would we be? What treat, what deliciousness, do we deserve while so many languish in our midst?

So our choice is this, either we perceive the world in a way that does not acknowledge suffering, or we see ourselves as fiends deliberately denying the distress of others. Caring only when convenient, is an untenable compromise, unsatisfying and illogical. We must recognize our powerlessness as individuals and not lament our inability to alleviate suffering, lest we bring sorrow upon ourselves.

Sharing Life

An otherwise unpleasant experience can become enjoyable when shared. And life certainly provides an endless stream of potentially unpleasant events. So depending on our connection to those around us, these events can become enjoyable bonding opportunities.

Unfortunately, we tend to severely limit our enjoyment by excluding people, often requiring specific individuals or types to be present in order to consider a situation enjoyable. But by increasing our willingness to accept all others as equal participants, we increase our likelihood for enjoyment.

When we’re of the mindset that we’re all in this together, then life improves. To accept the multitudes as partners on a shared journey, is to increase our joy. To close ourselves off, is to decrease everyone’s satisfaction, especially our own.

This is why we must give of all we have and then some. By treating all others as precious companions, by opening ourselves up, we increase our love and appreciation of life. Companionship, is what life boils down to. There really is no other point. We all have a good time, or none of us do.