When I was in my early twenties, I had my mind on money and money on my mind. I believed that once I reached a certain amount of annual income, I would feel a certain way. For me, that number was $500,000. $500,000 = happiness. I had tied my future happiness and joy to seeing that number on my tax return.
Well, at 27 years old, I had, in fact, netted $500,000 that year (and had to tell anyone who would listen). I remember the conversation with my mom like it was yesterday. In a very cocky, hubris way, I told my mom that I had made $500,000. Her reply? “Oh, that’s great, honey.” And then she turned around to continue putting out appetizers for our family holiday party. That was it. No one was praising me. No one was kissing my feet and telling me how amazing I was. No one really cared. In my head, I had created a specific story, a specific expectation, of what would happen and how my life would look once I hit that income goal.
For me, it was money. For others it might be a relationship, a new job , a pair of shoes, a vacation, kids, or a car. That day in the kitchen with my mom shattered my expectations and rocked my world. For the first time in my adult life, I realized that there was more to life than the material. There was a deeper truth that I needed to explore. At that moment, I didn’t know exactly what that was or where it was going to lead me, but I knew that I had to find out. That’s when my inward spiritual journey began.
And ten years later, it’s still going. After that day, I started making small changes to my life (very, very small changes). Mostly, I now had a new awareness that things – money, cars, relationships, etc. – would never fill an emotional void or give me a certain feeling. Every year now brings a new level of awareness and a new appreciation for what I have.
As I started to make massive changes inside, my outside world started changing too. The things that were important to me years ago, are no longer important (example: I went from a flashy cherry red Porsche to a basic gray Ford F150). I don’t even have to consciously resist the cars or things anymore. The inner disturbance that would have once told me, I need that car to prove my worth or to make me happy, just doesn’t exist any more. The desire for material items and external validation is no longer there. Okay, okay, I’m by no means perfect here. It’s not that I don’t desire those things. But those external/material things no longer define who I am. They don’t hold the same meaning they used to. And those inner disturbances that used to occur every minute, have now dwindled to a few times a day. That is spiritual growth. That is the inner journey.
If I was able to get to this place, then so can you. One of the coolest experiences you’ll ever have is when something that used to disturb you inside, no longer does. Again, it’s not like trying to resist chocolate cake where you have to use all your willpower and energy to push it away, it’s a feeling of just not wanting the cake in the first place.
This spiritual journey starts with a simple question that can be incredibly difficult to answer:
What do you really want?
Think about it for a minute, what do you really want? No judgement. I’m not here to tell you that what you want is right or wrong from a spiritual (or even non-spiritual) perspective. I am simply asking a deeper question. Yeah, stuff is going to come to the surface fast – a beach house, a Ferrari, more money, a tropical vacation, fame… you’re human, I get it (many of those things are still on my list too). Those things are fun and you shouldn’t feel bad about them. But keep asking yourself WHY you want those things. That’s when you start to scratch the surface of what it is that you really want. That’s when you start to seek (and find) clarity and a deeper truth.
So, how does someone find that clarity and deeper truth? I don’t have all the answers, but I am on a journey to discover them. That’s what I want to explore in this blog. I need to get my thoughts down on paper to really process this spiritual awakening. This blog post is more for me, then for you. So, thank you.
Alright, here goes. Imagine that the next time you walk outside, you see God and he has the ability to give you whatever is on the top of your list. Let’s say on the top of your list is the perfect relationship – someone who loves you unconditionally, does everything for you, gives you everything you want, etc. So God says that he will give you this perfect person, who obeys your every command, follows you everywhere, and is the perfect companion. But the caveat is this – you can have this perfect partner, but you will feel hollow inside, you will not have joy, and you will actually be frustrated with this person every minute. Would you still want that person? Probably not.
Are you really looking for a “perfect” person? I don’t think so. What you’re really looking for is joy, happiness, inspiration, excitement, and love. You already have all of this inside of you, if you can let go of your identity, expectations, and the material world. Nothing external will give you what you really want. Yeah, sure, when you get that new car you’re going to feel excitement, pride, and joy. But how long does that really last? A day? A couple of weeks? It’s eventually going to fade and you’re going to be on to the next thing in order to get that hit of happiness. Why do we need our external life to exactly match our expectations in order to feel joy, love, and happiness. And why does joy and happiness fade in the first place?
Here’s another example as it relates to money. Suppose there is a lottery ticket that just hit $500 million in earnings and the winning ticket came from your town sometime over the last 30 days. Instantly, you start to open up, feeling a rush of energy and excitement and start searching everywhere for that lottery ticket. You devote time and energy into finding this and are on a bit of a high while doing it. You opened up. Let’s take it a step further and say you found that lottery ticket that you bought two weeks ago and as you look at the winning numbers and then at your ticket you notice the first two numbers match and this sense of intense joy and excitement and enthusiasm starts to flow through you from deep inside like never before….then you look again and the next numbers don’t match and that intense high went to a deep low. Just. Like. That. Was it the actual number or piece of paper that triggered that feeling? No. It was you opening up your heart because what you expected or wanted to happen started to match and exceed your expectations, therefore you opened up and did not close your heart. The minute the numbers changed, you closed your heart blocking the flow of energy.
If you shut all the shades in the house, there is no room for the sun to enter even though it’s shining brightly. In seeking the deeper truth you realize that you must remove the shades and throw them in the trash, never having the option or ability to close them again. That’s spiritual growth. Spirituality isn’t about getting something, it’s about getting rid of everything to make room for unconditional joy.
The car, the money, the perfect relationship are not wrong. It’s not wrong to have these things, or even to want these things. In fact they can all be unbelievable experiences in life. It’s when we base our happiness on the external world unfolding in exactly the way we want it to that causes suffering. Well, it’s when it doesn’t unfold the way we want it to that’s the problem. Therefore, the cause of suffering is preference. I know it’s a paradoxical concept. It doesn’t mean you renounce life. Not at all. If you want a Ferrari, great, just understand you must first be okay inside and then anything you do externally will be filled of joy and love and excitement.
One of the reasons we continue to close our heart is because once we experience one thing, we store it. This is called Samskara’s (a stored energy impression). Buddhists also call this clinging. We cling to positive experiences and push away negative experiences and store all these positive and negative energy impressions. It’s like holding up a piece of plywood against 60 MPH winds. We don’t want the experience to come in and we use our will to keep it away. Cling or push. Anytime we cling or push we store energy. The more stored energy patterns we have inside the more the world needs to unfold a certain way for us to be unconditional happy.
What we really want is to be okay inside. I mean it’s so silly that something we have no control over (for example someone driving 10 MPH below the speed limit) causes so much frustration and negative energy. It doesn’t mean we don’t act in the present. It just means we get to a place where these situations don’t cause disturbance inside. Then at the next moment we pass or take a different route. It doesn’t mean we don’t take massive action, the action you take must be clean. Do you think the person in front of you is upset because they are driving slow? No. Only you are affected. Stop it. Just stop it.
As with most things, the first step is awareness. You need to be aware that you are indirectly trying to just be okay inside by finding something externally that matches your stored energy, Samskara’s. If it does, you’re okay, if it doesn’t you’re not okay and most of the time you’re not okay inside. You may fake it but you really aren’t okay. You then are rewarded for thinking that if I can go and manipulate the external world to match how I need it to be in order to be okay I can be okay for a few minutes or days. So then you give your mind an impossible task to go and do that.
How many times in your life have you told yourself, that once I get to that job, or that relationship, or that vacation or that car or that house, that you will be okay, just to realize that you’re not? This is the pattern of our lives…Well, unconditional joy, happiness and excitement are not hard to get if we are willing to let go of trying to always get what we want. Suffering is caused by preference. If the first step is awareness, then the second step is letting go of your preferences.
Last week on vacation I was reading the Third Patriarch of Zen, which people say is the deepest of spiritual teachings. The first few lines gives you all that you need…
“The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.”
But what about preferences? Your likes, your dislikes? The things you want and the things you don’t? The question I would ask is, how is that working for you now? Are you constantly okay? If what we really want is joy, excitement, energy, and passion then let’s start by testing out the waters. We don’t need to get to a state (today) that causes us to not have preferences. Keep them. Let’s just start by learning to let go of things that are zero sum. Meaning, the outcomes have no positive impact in our lives. Like getting angry at the weather. There is nothing we can do about it, so getting angry is a zero sum game. Start there. When that frustration for that person driving slowly bubbles up, learn to separate yourself from it. I am not asking you to go open up without direction, but what we can do is start by learning to surrender to the moments so that we don’t close our hearts and minds. Don’t expect someone else to open you, don’t expect an event to open you, start with not wanting to close. When you feel the closure start to happen, let it pass. Let it go. Create the objective space you need to watch the energy pass through you. You do this naturally with tons of things. Look around you. The tree that is in front of you right now or in the window, did it piss you off? No, you let it pass through you. It didn’t cause any positive or negative reaction. You didn’t close it off. You know how to do this.
Let’s start cleaning up inside so that we can have the courage to face some of the deepest pain and remain open. When this happens, you have found what you have been searching for… unconditional state of well being.
So, what do you really want?