I wake up at the same time every day to practice mindfulness. Come 5 o’clock, I’m up and at ’em. I drink some coffee, have a chat with my brother James and then we meditate for 20 minutes. We don’t always end up meditating, some days we just talk until it’s time for one of us to get going. But for the most part, we try to practice 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation every single morning. Since we started doing this we have both noticed the benefits. Most noteworthy, it feels like having a superpower.
I used to be a slave to my emotions. Due to my own detrimental behaviors, I wasn’t paying attention. Consequently, I was reactive, easily frustrated and generally depressed. Having outsourced all the decisions in my life to the whims of the hurricane of thoughts careening through my mind, I had created quite a mess for myself. I spent 5 or 6 days a week out of town and on average I worked 70 hours per week. Feeling no sense of purpose, meaning or direction, I resorted to distracting myself with my work, alcohol, and gambling. I smoked cigarettes and chewed tobacco daily. I ignored my own physical and mental health. Furthermore, I ignored the way I treated others.
Before I started practicing daily mindfulness meditation, I hadn’t thought much about consciousness. As a result, I assumed that I was the one thinking all of my own thoughts. I hadn’t even considered the idea that the thoughts in my head weren’t mine. In fact, when I first heard about this idea it sounded like some crazy hippy bulls**t. I dismissed anything about meditation, mindfulness or mysticism as phony or charlatan. Furthermore, I dismissed anything that I could categorize as spiritual. I considered my religious upbringing to be completely grounded in lies. I was bitter, nihilistic and unhappy. Everything that happened to me was the result of processes that I had no control over. Certainly, a rational thinker, such as I considered myself to be, had no reason to intellectually explore spirituality or books like the bible.
Enter: Religious Texts
Societies attempt to form a collective opinion on texts like the bible. The collective opinion is growingly considering these texts to be irrelevant. There is a debate about the necessity of these texts. Figures like Sam Harris, consider these texts to be dangerous, divisive works that lead to violence and oppressive practices. One can make a strong argument for the validity of these claims. However, some figures tend to disagree. Dr. Jordan B. Peterson argues that the stories in these texts are archetypal. A work of fiction can have deep and profound metaphorical truths even though it isn’t literally true. Dr. Peterson claims that books like the Bible have deep and profound truths that are not only useful but perhaps necessary. That is if the reader can remove their biases and other unfounded pre-conceived notions about the texts.
Dr. Peterson has an excellent lectures series on the psychological significance of the bible. This was very influential in shaping the way I viewed spiritual texts. As a result, I shifted from viewing them as useless tools of religion and began to examine them as stories. This enabled me to begin finding the truth in the metaphors. Consequently, I began searching for deeper truths in a wide variety of spiritual texts and practices, while simultaneously removing the flawed filters of religion. What I came to realize was that spirituality and religion are two very different things.
The Reality of Spirituality
Spirituality and Religion are not naturally linked. Religion is a power structure created by man in order to control the money, voting power, and minds of its followers. Religions claim to have the ultimate truth while also claiming all others to be false. As a result, every religion seeks to monopolize spirituality. Religion recognizes spirituality exists in potential in every human being. As a consequence, religion guts spirituality and shapes it into a tool that can be used to control people and how they live their lives. Above all, spirituality is unique to every individual, and like all areas of life, it must be cultivated by the individual. Furthermore, any individual can do this rationally and scientifically without having to make any leaps of faith. Read: Waking Up by Sam Harris. This book is a fantastic guide on how to do this.
The Nature of Thoughts
Your thoughts are not your own. Surprise. You can begin to realize this through mindfulness meditation. Consequently, you can begin to filter out the thoughts that are detrimental to your subjective experience. While people refer to these thoughts as negative self-talk, I would argue that this is not self-talk, rather it is self-listening. Furthermore, these negative thoughts are no more than an illusion. Similarly, positive thoughts too, are an illusion. Therefore, the thoughts we think are really just the thoughts we listen to. James Allen wrote a book in 1903 called As a Man Thinketh in which he refers to the mind as a garden. In this garden of the mind, he likens thoughts unto seeds. As a result, the garden of your mind is a consequence of the seeds of thought that you cultivate. Finally, daily mindfulness meditation allows you to continually ground yourself in the moment we refer to as now. It is an exercise in examining your thoughts so that you may cultivate the proper ones. In the same way that one must exercise the muscles in one’s body to avoid atrophy, so must one exercise the mind. Similarly, the increase in ability one sees in daily life from the exercise of one’s body, can also be seen through the exercise of one’s Mind. Through mindfulness practice, one can properly cultivate thoughts applicable to what James Allen Refers to as “happy and beautiful issues.”
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