You are the master of your own reality. Maybe you just don't know it yet.
Life is like going to college. We go there to be challenged and walloped in the mouth – to suffer relentlessly. We must constantly fight against inertia so that we may learn, grow, and evolve.
It's also a lot like lifting weights. We pick up a dumbbell and lift it up. While doing so, we actively FIGHT against gravity. That is the only way our muscles can develop – through struggle.
We go through this life having to contend with different experiences – some of which will be painful while others are pleasant. We want to note how we grow through painful, no-good, harrowing experiences. That is the stuff of life.
pain = growth
You will have to go through IMMENSE amounts of pain. We all do. What you don't have to do is suffer.
There is a short parable I like that explains this:
The Buddhists say that any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. Being struck by an arrow is painful. Being struck by a second arrow is even more painful.
The Buddha explained:
“In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”
So if the 1st arrow is inevitable, let's be aware of staying clear of the second one.
So how can we handle this? I have come across 5 pillars/practices that have helped me personally with this. (Credit to Raj Gorsia for introducing these to me)
PILLAR #1: ALIVENESS
This pillar represents the animating force in our universe.
Some may call it lifeforce.
I call it ALIVENESS.
Understanding how to generate these forces (at will) will be vital to handling the pain/pleasures of life.
2 main ways of generating more aliveness:
- Breathing Exercises
I recommend doing both!
When we breathe deeply, in a controlled fashion, we start a fire in our body. This fire spreads to every cell in our bodies, washing them with a very subtle and powerful sense of well-being. This fire, which will heat your body up, is what PROTECTS you. It is what makes you RESILIENT. It is what allows you to do HARD THINGS.
Breathing Exercise (The Dragons Breath)
Here is a short exercise to help you ignite this fire!
I want you to imagine that you're a fire-breathing dragon.
- Take a deep breath through your nose. (This should be a mighty breath. You may flex your neck muscles to help you get air in). Make sure you use your belly for breathing, not your chest.
- Then, like a dragon, deeply breathe OUT (of your nose); imagine fire is coming out of your nose. You want to suck your stomach in when you breathe out. Force the air like an angry bull that powerfully blows air out of its nose.
Go through this cycle for 15-20 breaths.
At the end of the cycle, take a deep breath in. Start with your belly -> chest -> then head. Hold for 5 seconds. Then slowly breathe out. And hold for as long as possible with no air in your lungs.
Repeat 2 more times for a total of 3 rounds.
You should feel your body temperature increase, possibly sweat, but you've created more aliveness.
PILLAR #2: SILENCE
I have written extensively about this pillar before. This is everything that is not your mind—the place between each breath—the silence behind every thought.
It isn't easy to accurately describe this because there isn't a word that can easily encapsulate that which comes before words.
It's the paper behind all writing.
Words that might help:
This exercise is, in principle, easy. In reality, it is hard. Sorry.
The outcome of this practice is to remind you of NOT-MIND (everything that is not accessible by your mind). This will allow you to untangle your identification with the mind and allow you to rest in expansion.
Here are the steps:
- Stretch (I recommend the Mahamudra stretch) – we want our body to feel relaxed
- Sit (cross-legged or on a chair – with back straight)
- Breathe (slow down your breathing – a ratio of 1:2 is good!)
- Close your eyes and plug your ears (remove sensory stimuli)
- Ask yourself, "Am I Aware?" – follow the mind as it goes back
- Stay where your mind dissolves for as long as you can.
- Repeat step 1 when you inevitably get distracted by thoughts.
You can do this exercise as a supplement to your daily meditation practice.
The goal is to get acquainted with silence. To pay attention to the background of our experience. To taste the nectar of peace and bask in its infinite vastness. Covering ourselves with the blanket of space, its warm, warm embrace.
PILLAR #3: THE HEART
Contains both Pillar #1 (aliveness) and #2 (silence).
It is the container of our experience. And frankly, a rather beautiful entity.
I am not talking about the organ. I am talking about that touchy, feely thing where emotions come up.
To master the heart is to master true well-being. It is the gateway to higher and higher states. And ultimately, it will be your final resting place.
This exercise will open your heart straight up.
Here are the steps:
- Imagine or look at an adorable baby (or puppy/kitten) sitting in front of you.
- In your heart, go, "AWWWWW! SO CUTE." – really let that good feeling come up. Evoke that feeling.
- Hold that feeling in your heart space for as long as you can.
That feeling of loving well-being is what we want to encourage. It has a certain lightness to it. You may feel a certain warmth, possibly a tiny smile forming. Encourage those feelings to increase in strength – you do this by purposefully holding those feelings in your conscious awareness – you become mindful of them.
You may also try a "loving-kindness" meditation if cute babies aren't your thing.
PILLAR #4: LETTING GO
Letting go of what?
Your identities, judgements, mind, and general control freak mentality.
This concept has become needlessly confusing. For example, imagine you're closely gripping a pen in your hand. That thing is not leaving your hand. Imagine you would like to let go of the pen, but you're not sure how. So instead, you look all around, google "how to let go," and mindlessly search for some magical answer.
Finally, a friend comes along, who knows how to let go, comes over, grabs your hand, unfurls your sweaty fingers, and the pen ultimately drops. They remind you that it was always in your power to let go of the pen; you've just overlooked it.
It isn't easy to let go of identities, stories, and judgements because they don't exist in our outside world. They exist in the inside world. This means we have no FEEDBACK as to whether or not our efforts have succeeded.
This would be equivalent to letting go of the pencil but not being able to feel the pencil in your hand or see it. How would you know if it was let go of?
This is our challenge. The feedback that we need DOES exist; it's just very subtle.
- Build Energy (Pillar #1) – Dragons Breath
- Evoke Your Heart (Pillar #3) – Cute Baby Meditation
- Evoke feeling/identity/story/judgement
- Hold this feeling/identity/story/judgement in your heart space – your heart should feel like "AWWW!" (Feel both the negative thing and the positive heart emotion at the same time)
- Repeat steps 2-4 until the feeling/.../judgement leaves your awareness.
Feelings/identities/stories/judgements are like small pieces of debris in the river of your heart. They block the flow. We increase the river's flow when we do the cute baby meditation. We increase the flow so much that the debris has no choice but to become dislodged. Then it all floats away. Never to be seen again.
The feedback is the feeling of lightness and well-being. It finally removes itself from your consciousness. The best feedback is the absence of that object's existence on the inside.
All that's left is the natural flow of your heart.
PILLAR #5: CREATION
Humans create things.
We create stories. Buildings. Computers. Relationships.
It's all an act of creation!
However, we can doubt our ability to create. This self-doubt is what causes the most suffering, in my opinion. If we had no self-doubt, we'd do and learn the things we wanted to do and learn—end of the story.
But... Things aren't so simple. Our creative powers are often blocked by emotional baggage. Those awful stories we can sometimes hold in our hearts make it challenging to bring beautiful creations into the world.
I wish there were a pill that made it all go away forever, but fortunately, there isn't.
This is our job. To work with these energies. To work with ourselves so we can create what we want in the most harmonious way possible.
- Build Energy (Pillar #1) – Dragons Breath
- Acquire Silence (Pillar #2) – Awareness Cycling
- Open Heart (Pillar #3) – Cute Baby Meditation
- Feel what you truly want (you can add visualizations too)
- Take 1 tiny action that gets you closer to step 4.
The first 3 steps are things we have already worked with.
Step 4 is where we "collapse the wave function" and evoke what we want to happen, specifically, how we want to feel.
For example: After opening my heart, I close my eyes and imagine how it might feel to have accomplished a specific task or achieve a goal. I focus on bringing HOW IT FEELS to my conscious awareness. The visualization is just an aid to that end – it in itself doesn't matter – feelings matter.
After steeping in those feelings, I ask myself:
"What would be the tiniest action I would need to make to get to where I want to be?"
It can be super, duper tiny. Nothing big. Something straightforward. And execute. Just do it! Get after it. If you scope it correctly, it shouldn't be a problem. Afterwards, if you feel called to, you can continue building on that momentum by doing more things, but without pressure.
And just like that, you'll be creating! Without the baggage!
With these 5 pillars, you should have everything you need to handle that second arrow. Have fun with these pillars, experiment and try different things out.
You won't regret it.