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Big Things From Little Changes or How to Have a True “Identity Shift”

Why is it so hard to make big changes in our lives? We all seem to want things to be different than they are. We’d like to lose weight, make more money, be more organized, eat better. In this talk I point out a couple of ways to help bring lasting change.

One of the ideas many people hold is that we change once. People often feel we’ll make one large switch, and then things will be different. I’ll go on a diet for a little while and THEN I’ll be the way I want. I’ll learn a new investment technique and THEN I’ll be wealthy. I’ll clean my whole house and THEN I’ll be organized. But in reality those changes rarely stick. To make changes stick we need at least two understandings.

First we need to realize that it is not one big change. It is a commitment to little choices over time that affect our lives in the long run. It’s not one diet, it’s choosing different foods over and over again. It’s not working out for two months for beach season, it’s committing to being healthy and fit going forward. And while these things may sound big and difficult, they are actually only done right now, and in small ways. Big change comes from little choices over time, not one big switch.

The other understanding we can use to make big change is to align our values with our goals. A diet is something we do temporarily. It isn’t who we want to be long term. Instead, learn to think of yourself as a healthy person, or even better, an athlete. Once you change your mindset like that, supporting that idea of yourself makes all your food choices easy. It becomes a way of life rather than a temporary fix. Rather than seeing yourself as a disorganized person who needs to be organized. See yourself as a deeply organized person. Instead of seeing yourself as a month to month pay-check person, see yourself as an investor.

By aligning our values with our goals, and realizing that it’s little changes instead of one big switch, we can make massive change in our lives, and those changes can last. These little changes lead to a total, transformative “Identity Shift.”

Song: The Changeling by The Doors

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

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 Pressure We Create

We create pressure in our lives unconsciously that can end up making us very unhappy.  Some of these pressures are deeper and some are more superficial.  One person creates a “have to” situation with accomplishments he/she wants to create at work.  Someone else on a daily basis sets up to-do after to-do and then feels bad for what they didn’t accomplish rather than good about what they did accomplish.  Jobs can be self created pressure.  So can houses, cars, and salaries.

We often aren’t able to appreciate our success once it comes, because it tends to move.  I’ve been with successful people and watched them accomplish goals, and rather than enjoy the accomplishment, they immediately and unconsciously create new goals.

So what pressure are you creating?  This talk points out that we can spend time working on, or watching, what pressures we create for ourselves.  The exercise we could do would be to learn to find your self created limits, or pressures.  Once you see what yours are, you may choose to soften them, or you may not.  It’s nice to learn that you can lose your job  You can move.  Your life could be different.  The other side of that is the fact that a conscious goal is a powerful one.  We can choose to work harder for our pressures if we really want to hold onto them.

External pressure is often actually created by us, and thus is internal pressure.  Watch when pressure is created in your life and see if it’s really external pressure.  An interesting point is how unconscious these things become.  We sit and think “Of course I have to do these things…”  It’s good to realize that we can live in the smaller house.  We can drive a cheaper car.  The kids can go to public school.  But they also may not have to.  Becoming aware of our pressures allows us to support them or put them down as necessary.  It’s up to us.

Expectation vs. Experience

Important thought:  The gap between our experience and our expectation is our unhappiness.

Experience is what’s happening to us.  Expectation is what we’d like to happen to us.  How many people do you know who live in a state of almost constant disappointment over their life situation?  They are simply comparing what they experience to what the expect, and leaving a huge gap between the two.

There is a freedom away from this type of mind if we want to find it.  It takes a different mind set.  It will help if we can see the pain this behavior creates.

Which can we control, experience or expectation?  Movies and TV often imply that we can control the world, or should be able to.  Science implies that control or prediction should be our greatest goal.

An awake person realizes that we can control, or at least deal with the expectation part of this better than the experience part of this.  That realization is huge.

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.

From Form to Feeling

What is the definition of form?  I’m not sure I’ve seen as many different definitions for a word before.  On dictionary.com there are twelve different definitions before moving into forming and other variations of the word.  So what I’ll do is try to tell you how I mean it here…

In the total of experience, if we were to leave that as one thing, there would be no forms.  Forms then arise out of that oneness.  These forms are the things that we separate out, like people, cars, and trees.

So far, they seem to be separate “things” but I want to take that further.  They can also be ideas, and anything else we can name and feel separate from.  They can be a job.  A job has no physical form, but it has an idea form.  Anything that is not us and can be named can be called a form for the purposes of this talk.

A feeling is the experience of a situation, the form is the idea of the situation.  Another way to think of it is that forms seem external to us, and feeling seems internal to us.  All forms are in the thought realm.  Something becomes a form when we give value to a separate entity, giving it a name, etc.

Feeling is open and receptive; it is listening.  Form is naming, or talking.

Two points to make today:

  • There is a literal practice of bringing our attention from the form realm to the experience of feeling realm.
  • When we’re not doing that practice, we become very attached and sad unnecessarily.

We get lost in the idea, or form, of something.  We stick to it past it’s usefulness:

  • salaries – why do we stay in a job when we are unhappy?
  • cars – why do we think they’re beautiful?  What about them do we find beautiful?

“Attached to the idea about something” is how most of us live, but that’s not what we really want.  We want to feel good.  When I believe that money will do that for me I make money my entire focus.  That’s the error.  How many people do you know that are doing jobs they hate because they think they need money?  Do they really know how much money they need?  Have they spent any time trying to figure out where their happiness really comes from?  Wouldn’t that be a better use of their time?

One example of stopping the identification with form can be seen while playing sports.  We can begin to realize that playing a sport is done for the fun of it, not the score of it.  When we get mad at ourselves for scoring a certain way in a game, we’re stuck in the form world.

Another example is when we look at an expensive car and like it, but don’t know why.  We could say we are a little lost in the form world then.  Do we like how pretty it is?  The power in connotes?  Do we know what we like about it?

The fundamental shift is bringing our attention away from forms, beliefs, values, to the feeling of situations, and dancing between those two states.  Ultimately. we could realize that the feeling of a situation is what we really want.

Somewhere we’ve gotten lost in the idea of things instead of the feeling of the moment.

The Paradox of Change

A talk about impermanence.

Mentioned that pain comes when we try to hold on to things that can’t be held onto: relationships, jobs, hopes.  In holding onto those ideas, we are not free to appreciate the true quality of being.  We aren’t able to appreciate that everything is change.  We try to create a ground where there isn’t one.

Because everything is change, because everything is impermanent, time becomes obvious.  Of course we can work in time.  Stillness isn’t as obvious.  Understanding stillness will be the next evolutionary step for humans.

Mentioned the saying “what can be seen dies, and what can’t be seen is eternal.”  The eternal part is the quality of change that is underneath all forms, the energy of isness.  What can be seen is all the forms: landscape, bodies, things – they all change, they all die.  When we identify with “change” – or the energy underneath the forms – we identify with our own eternal being.  Again, eternal isn’t an endless amount of time, it is the absence of time.

I talk about how stillness *is* motion, and a time based mind is stuck.  This is the paradox of change.  You would think a time based mind has motion and a still mind is stuck, but that isn’t the case.

A still person stays with the motion of change – the change within this moment.  A stuck person stays with events in history.  Identifying with the experience of change is what being still means.  Getting stuck on events as they go by is living in time.  Staying in this moment is the appreciation of “change” and staying in a time based mind is not moving with what is.  That’s why we can say stillness is motion (or the appreciation of it), and time based minds are stuck (in past events and hopes of the future).

The Beauty of an Itch

In this talk we widened the definition of an itch to include not only physical itches, but also emotional and mental bothers as well.

How can an itch be beautiful? We described actually enjoying an itch. Diving into the feeling without judgment allows us to experience itches in a different way. Energy then actually becomes literally beautiful.

Another way to see the beauty in an itch is to realize that they are the largest anchor there is. We use bothers, and itches as reminders to bring our attention back to the moment, back to our breath.

We don’t want to be itch free, we want to be itch proof. The itches don’t stop coming, so being itch free is unrealistic. But we can learn to be itch proof. We can be strong, and fearless. We can learn to sit through bothers.

Itches actually become the beauty of life. To start, we need to become aware of what we sit through now and what we run from. We need to become honest with ourselves about what moves us around.

Itch/scratch is the iconic representation of pleasure and pain. The immediate urge to “scratch,” or the rushed push to fix a “problem” is one of our most limiting qualities. The itch is a bother and we want it gone. That very behavior, in its many facets, is our core problem.

We need to learn to become awake when things bother or itch us. Introduction to anchors was one easy way of staying connected, but the biggest anchor is the itch itself. We should learn to deal with itches, bothers, and problems rather than run from them.

We can and should scratch an itch when our attention should be elsewhere, like a conversation. Just try to be mindful when we do. But while we should be kind with ourselves, we can also be honest and realize that as we are bothered to scratch we are at times asleep. We can learn, “Oh, maybe I should have watched that itch for a bit. Maybe I could have learned from that.” We will see as we become more honest with ourselves that we are at different times more asleep than we thought.

Show music: Consolidated Mojo by Billy Boy Arnold

Mindfulness Awareness Disconnect

Beginning to define awareness, mindfulness and disconnected states of being.

The desire to become aware is really the first fundamental shift (there may be more shifts later, but this is the first profound one). So what is awareness? How do we use mindfulness within awareness? And what is disconnect?

An example from Anthony Robbins: We don’t want money, we want to be happy, we want the feeling money gives us. You are disconnected when details like this aren’t clear. We need to be aware when we are not happy. More importantly, we need to become aware of what will make us happy. Mindful meditation is one way to develop these skills.

Busy mind is an example of being disconnected. Getting caught in a belief system of the news, or chasing money at the expense of peace or happiness is being disconnected.

Mindfulness is one pointed. It is being able to leave your mind on something and keep it there. So when we meditate, we are making an effort to develop mindfulness of our breath. But mindfulness is not all there is, awareness is the awakened state that we also want to cultivate.

Awareness is the watcher in the back, without judgment We watch ourselves and allow it all to be. So it is not only the quality of watching, it is the quality of forgiveness. It is the quality of understanding. This is the beginning of wisdom. We start to watch our thoughts and emotions and we stop judging them. This allows us to open to a freedom of being. We don’t have to be as critical as we are. Our inner dialog has gotten out of control.

Why is it unwise to get attached? As everything is made of change, when we try to hold on to things, events, feelings, etc. we will constantly be disappointed.

Referenced: Tony Robbins