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Choosing Sides & Making a Change


No revolution in outer things is possible without prior revolution in one’s inner way of being. Whatever change you aspire to in your affairs must be preceded by a change in heart, an active deepening and strengthening of your resolve to meet every event with equanimity, detachment, and innocent goodwill. When this spiritual poise is achieved within, magnificent things are possible without.” – From the I-Ching (Book of Changes), # 49

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MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.” – Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude,” Part Two, Chapter II

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Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes. Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can often become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.” – Henry Miller

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Open Hands
(written by Nietzsche; arranged & edited by me)

It seems to me
the rudest word,
the rudest letter
are still more benign,
more decent
than silence.

Those who run away
and or remain silent
are almost always
lacking in delicacy
and courtesy
of the heart.

Not to see many things,
not to hear many things,
not to permit many things
to come close—
the usual word
for this instinct of self-defense
is taste.
It commands us
not only to say No
when Yes would be “selfless,”
but also to say No
as rarely as possible—
to detach oneself,
to separate oneself
from anything
that would make it necessary
to keep saying No.

In all of these matters—
in the choice of nutrition, climate,
residence, recreation, relationships—
an instinct of self-preservation
of comfort and safety—
issues its commands.

When defensive expenditures,
be they ever so small
(our great expenses
are composed of
our most frequent small ones)
become the rule
and a habit,
they entail an extraordinary
and entirely superfluous
impoverishment.

Warding off,
not letting things come close,
involves an expenditure—
let nobody deceive himself about this—
energy wasted on negative ends.

Having quills is a waste,
when one can choose
not to have quills
but open hands.

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We Must Choose


We MUST Choose

This above all: to thine own self be true.” – Shakespeare, “Hamlet

Yes, but what part of thine own self to be true to?  What’s best in oneself?  Or what’s less—sometimes even much much less—than best in one’s self?

For human beings, there is a possibility of making a choice of influences; in other words, of passing from one influence to another.  It is impossible to become free from one influence without becoming subject to another.  All work on oneself consists in choosing the influence to which you wish to subject yourself, and then actually falling under the influence of or submitting wholly to this influence.” G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” pg. 25.

There’s no neutrality in life. 

There are only two possible states of being, two ways of orientating ourselves. 

One is complete submission to God or to God’s will or influence, the influence of the Tao, the Dharma, Truth, goodness, virtue, Love.

And the other is incomplete submission—or the refusal to truly submit ourselves—to anything, to any influence, beyond our own will—beyond our own narcissism and our own scattered disorganized impulses, desires, and feelings—a refusal which automatically opens the door to the forces of evil. 

Because at every moment we ultimately belong to either God or the devil, to good or evil, to one influence or the other.  Paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch around us and every split second of our lives is up for grabs, to be claimed by God or the devil, and to be claimed by us for either God or for the devil.” 

And to attempt to avoid this dilemma by trying to stand exactly halfway between the two—halfway between God and the devil, uncommitted to either—to either goodness or utter selfishness—is to risk being torn apart and split forever into two beings, to become a house divided, permanently at war with ourselves, vacillating forever between two influences, forever fighting ourselves, fighting within ourselves, and having that infighting spill out of us into the lives of those around us.  Because, ultimately, even trying to choose not to choose and to not align ourselves with one influence or the other is still to choose, it is still to choose not to submit to anything beyond the self, beyond one’s own will and wants.  

Christ expressed this paradox when he said: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).  

Yes, we are always free to choose, but ultimately we are free only in this sense: in the sense of choosing which influence, which form of enslavement, we ultimately will submit to: God’s or the self’s, God’s will and influence or ultimately nothing more than our own; what’s best and highest and noblest in us or a free-for-all where we give into and submit to any impulse or desire that occurs to us.  

We must choose: —One form of enslavement or the other. (the previous eight paragraphs were abridged and adapted and elaborated on from M. Scott Peck’s “Glimpses of The Devil,” pg. xvi)

And most people do not so much choose their form of enslavement as they just go along with what happens to them and what feels natural without questioning much, without really thinking much or examining themselves and searching out their own heart and mind and conscience and paying much consistent attention to themselves and what path they’re really on and why.

This is our fundamental choice in life and to make each day and at every moment—who and what to live for and why?  To live on the autopilot of emotions and impulses and desires and wants and pet ego-projects and whatever gets us through the day and anesthetizes us, numbs us, titillates us, distracts us, momentarily makes us drunk*; or to live more mindfully, more deliberately, with more grace and composure and perspective and order?  To live for ourselves and nothing greater or more than the self and our ego and aggrandizement and survival (narcissism); or to live for something more, something that transcends the self—some ideal, principle, path or way (Tao), some force or Spirit—God, Love, Truth? 

Again, there’s no neutrality in life. Every day, in every moment, and with every choice we make—of what to do with ourselves in that moment, with how to spend that moment—we are declaring our allegiance and we are doing something to ourselves . . .

 

“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.

“And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

“To be the one kind of creature is heaven: That is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

“To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.

“Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” – C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” pg. 87

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*There are thousands of wines
that can take over our minds.
Don’t think all highs are the same!
Drink from the jars of saints,
not from other jars.
Be a connoisseur,
taste with caution,
discriminate like a prince.
Any wine will get you high;
choose the purest,
one unadulterated with fear.
Drink a wine that moves your spirit.
– Rumi

The Comfort Zone


We all live within the comfort zone. It’s the arena of activities we have done often enough to feel comfortable doing again—all those once-difficult and fearful things that we now find easy and comfortable.

Imagine the comfort zone as a circle: inside the circle are those things we are comfortable doing, outside is everything else. The wall of the circle is not a wall of protection, it is a wall of fear, a wall of limitation. The illusion is that the wall keeps us from bad things and keeps bad things from us; the illusion is that we are wise enough to know which things will prove beneficial over the long-term and which things will not and weed them out accordingly. The truth is we will err on the side of caution and weed out too much, we will be over-cautious and weed out much that is beneficial and would operate for our benefit. When we do something new, something different, we push against the parameters of our comfort zone. If we do the new thing often enough, we overcome the fear, guilt, unworthiness, uneasiness, hurt feelings, and anger, and our comfort zone expands. If we back off and honor the limitation, our comfort zone shrinks. It’s a dynamic, living thing, always either expanding or contracting.

When our comfort zone expands in one area, it expands in other areas as well: when we succeed at something, we take that self-confidence and esteem with us into other endeavors. This is known as “positive transfer.” When we give in to our comfort zone, the zone contracts. For some, the comfort zone shrinks to the size of their apartment—they never leave home without anxiety. For a few, the comfort zone shrinks to a space smaller than their own body, these are people who in every aspect of their lives are paralyzed by fear and self-doubt and not being good enough. This is when the comfort zone has won its greatest victory. —That and suicide. The “it” some people refer to when they “just can’t take it anymore” is the need to constantly be confronting the comfort zone just to keep the fear at bay. Here is one of the great ironies of life: those who are doing what they want to do and are consciously expanding their comfort zone at every opportunity experience no more fear than people who are passively trying to keep life as comfortable as possible.

Fear is a part of life. Some people feel fear when they press against their comfort zone and make it larger. Other people feel fear when they even think they might do something that gets them even close to the ever-shrinking, in their case, boundary of their comfort zone. Both feel the same fear. In fact, people in shrinking comfort zones probably feel more fear. They not only feel fear, they feel the fear of feeling fear, and the fear of the fear of feeling fear, and on and on. The person who develops the habit of moving through fear when it appears, feels it only once—“a coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man dies but one.”

In the air conditioning trade, the “comfort zone” is the range of temperatures on the thermostat (usually around 72 degrees) in which neither heating nor air conditioning is needed. It’s also called the “dead zone.” That’s the result of honoring the comfort zone too much, too often—a sense of deadness, a feeling of being trapped in a life not of our desiring, doing things not of our choosing, spending time with people we don’t like.

This is my favorite method of expanding the comfort zone: learn to love it all.

(Peter McWilliams, adapted and modified from “Life 101“)

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