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Learning to be Detached

I was recently having a discussion with a good friend of mine. He mentioned that people who have had trauma and have learned to detach to protect themselves would make great Buddhists. They may have spent their lives not attaching to things because things or events had hurt them in the past. A trauma survivor may have learned to “turn off” from arguing or painful situations.

First, let’s forget Buddhism and just talk about healthy detachment, which is what this person meant. Secondly, let’s explore what detachment is and is not. Healthy detachment actually has a lot of attachment in it, it’s just what we are attached to that counts.

A detached person can shield themselves from pain and other things attachment leads to. So isn’t detachment what some of the great traditions are teaching? Shouldn’t we all not care about good and bad and learn to fully detach from the material world, etc.? In actuality, detaching at a certain point can be very detrimental to us. But true healthy detachment isn’t the same as trauma induced detachment. True detachment is involved and aware. We are always somewhere, attached at some level to something, so we need to learn what attachment and detachment are.

Moments arise, and they just keep arising. We are capable of accepting part of what is going on: a conversation, a bus coming at us, snow falling, whatever. A healthy brain functions in a state of deletion. There are always billions of things occurring while the present moment creates itself. So that healthy brain chooses what to attach, or pay attention, to in any moment. The thing is, we don’t only have all that’s actually going on in an objective sense to choose to attach to or be a part of, we also have our thoughts.

We can leave being associated, or attached to this moment and go to an imaginary future, or a remembered past. A dysfunctional brain tends toward not being able to manage these attachments. Someone who has been severely traumatized may have a hard time choosing the things it attaches its brain to in a way that society would deem appropriate.

That said, many people who have been abused may learn the ability to detach from an abusive parent. They use their mind to manage a situation and separate from pain. But detaching from what is is not a blanket good or evolved thing to do. In fact, as necessary as that might be in situations of overwhelm, I’d suggest that it’s much more healthy to stay attached to what is going on, and continually widen our capability to attach to more and more of what is going on.

So if I’m saying we should attach to what’s going on, why is the talk called Learning to be Detached? Because it’s actually the opposite of what a trauma survivor might learn to do. We want to attach to what is, and detach from our own desires, expectations, and delusions. We want to learn to be more and more OK with what is, with this moment.

A healthy happy person is in the moment, meaning attached to what is, they are not however attached to how it’s supposed to be. This talk is not selling blind acceptance, and we should move toward our goals, but it is important to not be consumed by them. Accomplishing goals relies on attachment and discernment. In contrast, an unhealthy detachment is just disconnected. No attachment to things that can hurt us, but no attachment to things that bring joy either. No connection with isness.

So the difference is in what we are attached to. We should try to be aware and attached to what is. If we’re attached to a certain outcome, we’re beginning to detach from what is. If we’re completely disconnected, and not interacting with anything that is, then we’re deeply unhealthy. But in contrast, if we detach from unhealthy attachments, which are usually our own beliefs and agendas, then we are tending toward being more awake.

Show song: Satisfied Mind by Jeff Buckley

Dive In or Drop It

This talk is inspired by the question: In meditation, do we dive into frustration when it arises or do we drop it? I use this question to do an overview of meditation, and then answer at the end.

Meditation is really about state management. We are trying to foster a better state of mind. To do that, we try to become aware of all that we are. What we are ends up being thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. The investigation of these aspects of our self ends up being our spiritual experience. Many of us begin to meditate to deal with Busy Mind. To quell Busy Mind we try to separate thoughts from emotions and physical experience. That is the practice of meditation.

To become aware of all these aspects of our self we use mindfulness, which is placing the mind on an anchor and leaving it. We fail repeatedly so that we can foster awareness. Where is our mind? What is it doing? As we try to leave it somewhere, it wanders. As we become more aware of that wandering, we wake up more and more. This practice allows our mind the ability to still.

So during this training, and in life, do I dive into frustration, or drop it? What is the real practice here? Well, we actually do both. We dive into the feeling of frustration, the emotion and physical sensation, but we drop the thought of frustration. This allows us to become less attached to our thoughts. That lack of attachment allows us to foster stillness and ultimately gives us more control of our minds. For beginning meditators, the most immediate benefit is combating Busy Mind. As you meditate more and more, the benefits go all the way down.

A New Kind of Judgement

There are two types of judgement or choice, and it is a mistake to make either of them bad. In this talk I will describe the two kinds of choice, introducing a new kind of judgement.

Many people in the spiritual community condemn judgement. They’ve had experiences where they saw the freedom in not judging a situation and so judgement becomes a bad thing (which really is just another judgement). In this talk I hope to clarify that judgement is important at all levels of spirituality, but that there are fundamentally two types of judgement for two types of levels or experiences.

When we judge something and condemn it, it doesn’t feel very spiritual. Most of the world is doing this most of the time. I’ll call this the level of “betterment”. We judge between good and bad and are always wanting the better of the situation. Very normal, and again, where most of the world resonates.

When we discern, or judge, to not attach to a situation, we are potentially coming from (or moving to) a non-dual or what many people think is a very spiritual place. Both of these actions use judgment. One is on the level of betterment, and one is on the level of non-duality or spirituality. This non-dual judgment is the new kind of judgment. It is the development of awareness.

What most of us are trying to accomplish in meditation, or learning our own minds, is an appreciation of what is. A non-comparative experience of is-ness. No good, no bad, just is-ness, or stillness. That type of experience is often called non-dual, and we try to experience it during meditation, and since meditation has a spiritual stigma surrounding it, we tend to equate spirituality with non-dual states of mind.

The more normal experience is on the level of betterment. The level where I prefer this smell to that smell, this feeling to that feeling, this person to that person. The first talk I did was on beliefs, and how beliefs are born from opinions. Well the level of betterment is the dance of comparing what we believe we are, with our situation; and striving toward the better aspects of that situation. An important point in this talk, and all my talks is to remember that we have the tendency to solidify our beliefs, but that it might serve us to soften our beliefs about who we are so there’s less “us” for phenomenon to bump into. This is not unhealthy dissociation, it is being aware of our ability to judge things in many different ways. I’ll discuss more on beliefs later.

I’m going to define a couple other words right now: relative and absolute. Relative is the dance between two or more things, and absolute is oneness (or potentially nothingness, but that’s another conversation). If I am comparing something to something else, or even something to myself, I am in a relativistic good-bad frame of mind. If there is no comparison, and there is only experience of what is, then I am in a non-dual, or what we might call a spiritual state of mind.

So the concept for this talk is this: if we use judgment to support a good or bad belief, or a betterment belief, meaning a qualitative stance on things, then we are not acting in a traditional spiritual fashion, but we are acting on a betterment fashion. On the other hand, If we are using judgment to choose a not belief based, not good or bad comparison, but our choice is to choose non-comparison itself; then we’re acting deeply spiritual, or deeply non-dual. That ability would be the new kind of judgement. The decision to drop comparison.

Many people are dancing in this space without much context at this point. They learn about the non-dual state of mind, and all of a sudden duality or the betterment level is bad. But, we’re not supposed to always act spiritual, or non-dual. To think about it differently, this entire life is spiritual, but many people take spiritual to mean non-dual experience only. You might start to feel that we can bring the term spiritual to both levels: non-dual and betterment; if we see that awareness or discernment are involved throughout. My betterment decisions become more spiritually based when I have the non-dual experience available to me.

The betterment level is where we can lose weight. It’s where we make more money. It’s where we can actually affect change in our lives, and other peoples lives. It’s not a bad place. We want to get better at dealing with the betterment level because it is a part of life. We just don’t want to remain lost in the betterment level only. We need both in our toolkit. If we don’t have any ability to just “be”, to just feel the situation, to move our solidified center of self out of the way, then we don’t have as many tools. The non-dual experiential side allows us to see the beauty in whatever comes up. Without that we don’t have the freedom side of things. So one is the work (betterment), and one is the freedom (non-dual experience). Most of us are just stuck in the work.

So this is a discussion on judgement, on good and bad, on beliefs, and on how all this stuff arises. The belief part is the me that comes up against the decision. The me that feels the pressure of the situation. So many teachings teach that we need to authentically feel our feelings, and I completely agree. But not many teachings mention that our feelings are relative to who we think we are, and what’s going on in the situation.

If you step on my foot, there will most probably be physical pain, but most people assume there will be tons of healthy anger there as well, and there certainly might be. However, the levels of anger depend completely on my perception of the event. If I believe you meant to do it, there will potentially be lots of anger. If I have compassion for your frustrated situation, there will potentially be less anger. If I believe it was completely an accident, there is the potential for very little anger if at any comes up at all. So the anger is not absolute, it is relative to who I believe I am and you are in that situation.

Most of us walk around with a solidified self that can’t have it’s foot stepped on. Most teachings would say that we need to include the healthy anger that comes up with all these situations. But that assumes a static unmovable self. The ability to move self, or choose (which is a new kind of judgement) what we want to attach to or believe in, allows us a deep freedom and is acting on the non-dual side of things. Learning this level of judgment allows us to have more options when that conflict arises. I can change the me that is in the situation. Fully dropping the me is to fully drop the relativistic quality of the situation (feel the feelings, choose to drop the judgement). Having these options in our toolkit is the building of awareness. Awareness is what I have called discernment in the past. It is the comparison and knowledge of where we are.

So we use the tension of the betterment level to achieve, and we use the freedom of the non-dual level to grow spiritually. The two kinds of decisions we have available to us are on two very different levels, but both are really necessary.

So normal judging is between relative things and is on the level of betterment. Judging (or choosing to experience) the level of absolute is non-dual and a new kind of judgment for most people. When we are stuck without the new kind of judgement, without the discernment of awareness, we are stuck in the betterment side of things only. That is generally a reactive and not very full experience of life. Once we learn these other tools that we have available to us, it allows us to navigate and improve within the betterment level, and it also offers the entire spectrum of non-dual experience as well.

The Pleasure Pain Treadmill

Basic ideas:

  • Seeing that good and bad, or pleasure and pain are in all things.
  • We can use pain to promote change.
  • Ultimately, we can get off the treadmill of pain and pleasure.

Our desire to avoid pain and experience pleasure tends to push us around if we are not paying attention. When we use introspection to learn about the mind we see that we all try to avoid pain and move toward pleasure in everything we do. This is a huge thing to understand fully.

Pain tells us something is wrong, but we tend to overreact and begin to avoid all pain and discomfort. This creates a treadmill of pain and pleasure. Where we are constantly trying to manage our states of mind by moving away from pain and toward pleasure.

We can deal with this three ways:

  • Do nothing.
    • How does this hurt us? Well, if we’re unconscious of it we end up not being very durable. We end up running from any and all pain we see. We might think we deserve no pain, and so whenever it comes up, we feel like we’re cursed or unlucky.
  • Secondly we can learn to use pain effectively.
    • Think of someone who’s life situation is fine, versus someone who is in pain. The person in pain is motivated to change. The person who is fine, may want to change, but will often not go through the bother or work to change because there is really no motivation to do so. This is the first way to use pain effectively. Become aware of it.
    • We can also use pain for gain. This is a way to develop in a worldly sense. It can help us do things like lose weight, or perform better at sports, and evolve spiritually or behaviorally. We can learn to associate pain to things we’d like to change, rather than where they happen to fall. Examples of this might be associating pain with being out of shape, or associating pain to not meditating.
  • Lastly, we can get off the treadmill of pain and pleasure.
    • Pain is inherent in all things. The duality of being shows us that there is both good and bad in all things. Good and bad are facets or opinions of things and situations. So it is unwise to try to always get the “good.” It just won’t work. Seeing this truth is a huge teaching.
    • Learning to accept pain as a part of the experience is a great teaching of meditation. Pain/pleasure treadmill response is the normal human response to being. What would an exceptional response look like? How can we achieve that state? Meditation is one way.
    • We place ourselves in an accepting mode, and train that response to stimuli. Boredom and frustration, and even physical pain can come up during meditation. It is training to learn about the nature of our relationship to pain and pleasure, and ultimately have the ability to get off that treadmill.
    • We learn to stay through different painful events and not judge them. That lack of judging gives us a different, and better, experience of both pain and pleasure. Then we are off the treadmill.

Learning about this allows us to wake up to the understanding that this is how we’re built. We also learn that we can use pain to grow. And lastly, we learn that not fearing pain or being attached to pleasure allows us a deep freedom. Those experiences are a part of the oneness of being. We can learn to relate to them differently.

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Bring It Back To The Breath

In this show I promise not to be too deep. Today I spend a few moments fostering presence with you. I open with a couple of conscious breaths, then onto examples of, and reasons for, bringing your focus back to your breath. I end mentioning that in regard to any learning, we deeply need to apply what we learn. Learning alone isn’t enough. Without application, it’s just spin.

Fostering presence will be the next evolution of man. Join in that evolution by bringing your attention back to your breath.

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Are We Stuck In Time

In this talk I describe why we seem to be stuck in time, and what an enlightened mind might look like.

If we have the fundamental understanding that there is only this moment; meaning we cannot leave it to go elsewhere, or more specifically that time is a construct of thought, we can start to understand that we need to relate differently to this moment.

None of us would argue that time doesn’t exist. It just may not exist as we think it does. We can’t go to the future, and we can’t go to the past. There is change, but we are always here. The inner desire for a better future is where our unhappiness comes from. We need to learn to stay.

Any expression of enlightenment is an expression of timelessness. There is no wanting for the future. No struggle, or need for anything more than what is. Any expression of enlightenment also is an expression of abundance. Most of us walk around feeling as though we need: We want that car, that spouse, that job, more money, etc. But every expression of enlightenment comes from a place of not want, not need.

If we can learn to drop time when we see our own dissatisfaction arising we will grow immensely.

These two expressions, timelessness and abundance, are related. To learn about dropping time is to learn about dropping wants.

The freedom from time, and want is learnable. We can practice it. That practice doesn’t have to be hard. Just learn to bring it back to your breath.

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Ending Addiction For Good

We’re going to discuss what addiction is, and then talk about how we can come to terms with it and what can we do to stop it.  To do this, I’ll talk about addiction, in broad terms.  Then we’ll do a quick exercise that might help you find what your addictions are.  This could be considered an addiction “workshop”, albeit a very short one.  Then we’re going to discuss the different quality of being that allows for better choices.  That state of mind, one of presence, can help us end addiction.

What is addiction?  Addiction lives on the pleasure pain level of being.  So there will be lots of references to good and bad in this podcast.  What are the different addictions?  Drugs and drinking and smoking, of course, but also watching TV, shopping, eating sugary foods, and working out. Some of these are obviously better for you than others.  Some are manageable, and some aren’t.  Ultimately, addiction can end up really ruining a person, but it’s ugliness doesn’t have to wait for that extreme.  All forms of addiction stem from a choice in attention.

I talk about the unhappiness that becomes so big that we end up choosing to drink or drug because we can’t face the pain.  The problem with this is that the problems grow.  We’re Pavlovian, and want to move toward pleasure.  So it is a slippery slope to not become addicted on some level.  It’s important to watch how we manage our lives.

What happens when we’re addicted?  While responsibilities are piling up, they become completely unmanageable.  We need the courage to face that, and it’s very hard to do.  We usually aren’t motivated enough unless there is enough pain.

How do we stop addiction?  What is the different quality of being that allows for change?  I mention the conscious use of pain, and also the use of being awake.  Those two things will allow us to quit our addictions.

Pain is the reason we change or stop.  It may seem odd that pain may also be the reason we started.  That makes sense when we realize that in the beginning, the thing that makes us feel good hadn’t become painful yet.  So how painful is your addiction?  Can we make our pain unacceptable before it truly becomes unbearable?  That would be like getting free from addiction early.

So here’s how to stop.  You must go into the feeling of the addiction.  When you are faced with that moment of choice, which you’ve just become aware of, how do you make a different choice?  You feel into the feeling of conflict.  You breathe into it.  In that moment you give yourself enough space to make a different decision.  If you choose poorly, just gather data and don’t beat yourself up.  Becoming aware allows us to see the moments.  Those moments, when we see them, we have the power to get free.   We can’t face all our problems at once, we need to face them one at a time.  So this is a constant vigil.  This conflict and the needed attention to it will soften over time.

In conclusion, we need to realize the pain addiction is causing us, and that needs to become greater than the pleasure it gives us.

Doing It In The Now

It seems many people want to get the idea of what enlightenment looks like.  We’re all trying to “figure it out.”  I get many emails discussing understanding these ideas.  This podcast is about doing them instead.

The “Now” has become very trendy.  So let’s not get lost in ideas about it.  We even have great philosophical minds telling us we don’t have time to be in the now, which is a bit ridiculous.  What I think they are saying is that we shouldn’t be trendy about the Now.

Because we can play with words and ideas and labels at this level we should see that we will never “figure it out.”  Rather we should look at the desire that we have to figure it out.  The idea of how to do this is less important than doing it.  Our minds want to become experts, and so we look at all the possibilities of “getting lost” so that we can be sure that we will win “when those things show up.”  But that state of mind is already lost.  The waiting, thinking, planning mind is exactly the mind we are trying to put down.

Someone comes across the idea of being at peace.  And they are listening to these podcasts, and trying to meditate.  And they realize they are not at peace.  The mind that is trying to get to peace is lost in time.  The mind that wants to “DO” peace is the mind that puts down expectations.  This may feel very unnatural to us.  We want to figure it out instead.

So when we “DO” peace, when we allow for peace of mind by coming to this moment, whatever it is, we are doing it “all the time”.  Because we start to realize that now is all there is.

The important concept is this: getting to this moment “is the end of it”, EVEN if we leave this moment.  Sounds like a cop out, and is hard to get your mind around, but it’s the truth.

So let’s look at the actuality of living in the Now.  We don’t care if we can do it permanently, because that is another idea.  We just want to do it now.  When we come to the Now in this moment (whenever that is), we realize that this moment is always here.  So that is all we have to do.  The mind will kick up again and say things like “You won’t be able to do that in the future.”  And that may even knock us off a bit, but seeing that once we DO come back, there is no tally of how long we’ve been gone.  So doing it now IS doing it forever.  Because the illusion is the mind that creates a future that doesn’t exist.

So doing it in the now is as simple as coming to what you are, your breath, this moment, the sounds, the fears, the whatever, without worrying if you can do it again later.  If you’re doing it now, you’re doing it forever.

Referenced: Pema Chodron, Eckhart Tolle

How Committed Are You?

Making any kind of change is very difficult when we aren’t truly committed to it. So what is commitment and how do we find it?

I see people use meditation and become spiritual all the time to feel better when they are sad. But they often drop the practice once things get better. Finding commitment is hard to do, but we don’t want to get caught in the common loop of: being in pain, working to escape it, forgetting we were in pain. We can’t really escape pain fully until we learn to stay committed to change through all seasons.

Can you practice stillness when the world is good too? Can you “sacrifice” to try to stay awake at all times? This is not meant to imply that being awake isn’t fun. It’s only meant to show that commitment is necessary for lasting change.

How can we stay committed? We can use anchors. We can surround ourselves with books and podcasts and ideas that support our goals. We can commit to practicing meditation. But what is the thing underneath? It might just be our pain itself. Finding your reason to stay committed is really important. What happened to you that got you started down this road? What pain happened to you? Make a point of holding on to that.

People often mention that we can’t change other people. I disagree. We are all connected and intertwined. A change from you affects me. So if there is learning, if there is change, then we can point to something. We can find the “ah ha!” we can turn on a light switch for people.

In this talk, the light switch is the idea that being committed makes change easy. Finding commitment can be hard, but once we find it quitting smoking, eating differently, losing weight, meditation, all become simple. So what’s your reason to stay committed? Make that an “ah ha!” for you. Create new grooves of thought. Be awake to your pain. Change.

How to Stop Worrying

Worry has become an epidemic.  We seem to almost always have a background sense of worry.  Worry means to feel uneasy or concerned about something; to be troubled; to cause to feel anxious, or distressed.

All worry is the same thing and we need to learn what it really is: An irrational habit of imagining a future that often doesn’t come. We ruin this moment when we worry.  We think we’re helping ourselves by planning for the worst, but it’s a very negative, and unhealthy way to live.

We can see that worry is useless.  Once we see it’s uselessness, why would we ever let it affect us again?  The next time we are deep within a situation, we tend lose perspective.  We think that the new situation is the most important situation ever.  “If I don’t get this work done, my boss will be upset.”  Often our fears are not even true, but even if they are, it often doesn’t matter as much as we think.  We end up being irrational about the consequences.

Does your worrying about something help the situation?  I bet you work better, faster, and more accurately when you’re calm or in the zone.  Worry tends to lead to mistakes.  So it’s a very illogical place that we find ourselves:  1) we’ve created a small situation (not an earthquake tsunami, but rather filing papers!) to worry about.  2) We’ve chosen a less effective state of mind to deal with whatever “problem” exists.  This is a horrible habit and a huge error for humans.

Examples of worry include things like our safety (staying away from strangers), humiliation (work projects, being bad at something we have to do), etc.  When the thing worried about actually happens, the event itself is often no big deal.  Yet beforehand we act like the world will end.

The fix:  Learn to bring your attention back to your breath.  First realize you’re worrying, then drop it.  The practice of meditation helps learn to drop the situation.  There is no use in holding on to worry.  Worry is ALWAYS IN THE FUTURE.  It can’t exist here.  So bring your attention here to drop it.