In Yourself and In Others: Beware of The Spiritual Ego!

In Yourself and In Others: Beware of The Spiritual Ego!

One of the important rituals of spiritual practice is to understand the ego state and go beyond it. But one of the pitfalls of this practice is that many people end up thinking they have moved away from their ego only to find that they have substituted their ego with a new one….the spiritual ego.

This spiritual ego can create a new way of seeing and portraying itself. This ego can see itself as superior or more enlightened than others. The ego motivates the person to be in the presence of other spiritual like-minded folks. This reinforces and acknowledges the ego’s way of thinking.

The mind still seeks pleasure but it now adds a new goal. It seeks having mystical or spiritual experiences that reinforces the idea that it is special. The mind is still not satisfied with these experiences. It continues to seek new techniques and methods to reach higher states of being.

After revelations or peak experiences, the spiritual ego believes it has things to teach others. “If you follow what I believe and teach”…. you will also live more fully and be very special.

If the spiritual ego developed because of a specific practice of meditation or yoga or through the teachings of the Buddha or a Guru, the spiritual ego will highly recommend this teacher and path as the Way to Enlightenment.   When questioned, the spiritual ego will offer what was recited by more evolved authors, teachers or masters, as a way to substantiate the Truth.

How do I know this? Because this is what happened to me during my spiritual journey! In the later stages of my quest to achieve oneness, I developed a spiritual ego.

It was my belief that I knew so much more than others about what we are and why we are here on this planet.   I put in countless hours of meditation, devoured a library of spiritual books, devoted myself to multiple Gurus and had experienced out of body and mind altering moments.

I falsely thought I was well on my way to enlightenment and I wanted to share it with everyone that would listen (http://howardshiffman.com/2017/11/13/what-i-learned-seeking-enlightenment/). But actually my spiritual ego was seeking applause. And my mind was fooling itself.

And therein is the problem. I was still using my mind and its thoughts and just did not realize that “what we are”, can never be known by the mind. The mind can only know what you are not.

I realized, during a peak experience, that enlightenment is just a concept made up by the mind to describe the indescribable. Seeking to go beyond ego was beyond the mind. We can’t use the mind to go beyond the mind.

Today I recognize that I still have an ego, the regular kind and the spiritual variety and probably always will.

However, I now recognize after years of witnessing my thoughts that I am indeed not what the mind thinks.   I am beyond my thoughts and memories and cannot be anything that I conceive or perceive. I am not special in contrast to others that do not seek a spiritual awakening.

We are all connected to something much More than we realize whether we seek to know it or not.

I share my experience of the spiritual ego with you in the hope that you will begin (if you have not already) to recognize this spiritual ego phenomenon both in yourself and in others.

Be aware of this mind/ego tendency and observe it from your own experience. Be cautious who you follow and what they teach. Accept it or reject it as you see fit. The Truth resides in you.

I welcome your responses to this post. For more, see my posts at http://www.HowardShiffman.com

 

 

 

What I learned Seeking Enlightenment

What I learned Seeking Enlightenment

I heard about “enlightenment” when I was 21 years old and my life was never the same. I felt an innate desire to attain a state of being that would take away my pain and suffering and give me eternal bliss. I became a seeker.

I had just graduated college and won the draft lottery. The government was going to send me to Vietnam. How I avoided going to the jungles of Southeast Asia can be told another time. But this was an important event in my life because it was a major impetus for questioning everything that I had been taught about our American culture and its values.

I started my journey to enlightenment with transcendental meditation and for the first time in my life I recognized that my mind could actually become quiet. Like a lot of young people during the early 1970’s I was dabbling in counter-culture activities like drugs, free love, rock concerts and philosophical discussions geared to tear down what we thought we knew about our world.

I was rebelling and redefining myself. I had long hair, a motorcycle, wore the uniform of the hippy culture and began to develop a spiritual practice. I turned my back on the corporate world, attained an advanced degree and dedicated my career to helping youth and families.

I thought I was on a path to self-discovery. After all, I was consuming spiritual books, reciting ancient mantras, following a spiritual master and attending lectures about out of mind and body experiences.

Through the years I married, had children and advanced in my career. In the perceptions of others, I appeared to be a normal upstanding citizen of our world. But internally, although my community activities had changed, I never stopped seeking enlightenment. I was dedicated to mediation, but the form of that practice was now driven by Kriya Yoga taught by Paramahansa Yogananda.

Through the years my seeking was reinforced by intense but short lived magnificent glimpses and experiences into the true nature of who we really are. But not all of these experiences were blissful. Some experiences brought me to a state of deep fear as my mind was not going to easily relinquish its grasp of reality.

Having a “peak” experience is truly wonderful but coming back to the mind’s reality is downright dark and depressing. I remember reading a book by Jack Kornfield that describes this. It was titled, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”.

These experiences eventually brought me to a new practice of exploring my mind and learning how it keeps me from seeing the truth of who we really are. I gave up the need to find enlightenment and was determined to watch my mind. My meditation even changed and I no longer sat for hours to quiet my mind. Now I was determined to watch how it kept me from being who I really am. In essence my practice changed from seeking enlightenment to seeking the seeker of enlightenment.

Eventually, as my mind relinquished its grip, I truly “realized” that enlightenment is a “concept” that is created by the mind and is part of the illusion we call life. Anything that is conceivable or perceivable in the mind is not who we are. We are beyond all thoughts, memories, ideas or concepts.

The mind is the seeker but it can never know what we are and never bring us to the state of being that the concept enlightenment portrays.   But it can help us to look at what we are not. And when we realize what we are not, this takes us to back to our true being. And that true being is beyond the concept of enlightenment, beyond the mind and body and beyond consciousness itself.

I would love to hear from you.  Please leave a comment and let me know if you liked this post.  Visit my site at HowardShiffman.com

 

Love Is Not What You Think!

Love Is Not What You Think!

The mind knows nothing about Love. All information the mind receives regarding love is false. What the mind knows has been taught by our culture, words read and thoughts shared by other minds. And to make things worse… what our mind knows about love is wrong information. Love in its truest sense is not what you experience in the mind, it is not an action, and it does not have to be learned and practiced. Love is beyond the mind and your thoughts. It is your essence.

From the beginning of time, humans have experienced feelings that the mind has struggled to define. These feelings are derived from physical sensations experienced by being in a body with a highly sensitive nervous system. In addition, the mind produces thoughts about what it knows and offers its best interpretation of that information and perceptual experiences that it has recorded and stored in its memory cells.

All bodies have biological needs that center-around physical survival and procreation. Science and research will tell us that we are a coupling and relationship-oriented species. To procreate we must have an opposite gender partner or at least their egg or sperm to accomplish this. We have chemical attractors that come into play in attracting a mate. Most mothers have an innate drive to raise their young to survive when they grow up. And fathers can either, stay around and participate in the family, or not. In many cases the maternal drive is automatic and programmed into the biological organism. This is all at least true until the mind comes into the picture.

The mind, on the other hand, sees the body as separate and as a result creates needs and desires that mimic the culture and society’s values and morals. The mind stores all experiences and these memories can be seen as positive, negative, traumatic and or complex. The mind with all of what it has learned attaches to people and things in order to feel safe, experience pleasure and avoid suffering. The mind believes it must possess and control. It is never satisfied and wants more of what is pleasurable and less of what it sees as painful.

The mind craves a feeling of connectedness. The mind of one person will form a relationship with another mind and body not only to fulfil the need for survival and procreation but for additional “psychological” or emotional reasons. Reasons engulf areas such as companionship, economic fulfilment, status, convenience and sexual pleasure. I am not judging these areas as bad as this is the way most human minds operate and it helps the separate body to feel pleasure and avoid suffering.

So how did the word “love” get so popular? This word has been used by cultures all over the world, coupled with strongly held cultural values and teachings, to connote a description of something “magical” that happens to all of us in regard to personal relationships. Overall, this word is meant to help us to understand a common experience of why we are coupled, how we feel about our mate, our children or our friends. However, what has happened through the centuries is that the word love has become a generic way to describe a plethora of physical and emotional sensations and perceptions. We use the word love to show appreciation for getting what we want, to attract a mate, to explain why we stay in a relationship and as an opposite to the word hate.

I believe that love is a word that is extremely overused and completely misunderstood. The word love is attached to anything that makes the mind feel pleasure.

Now the truth of the matter is that Love with a capital “L” is not any of these mind things I have described. Love that comes from the mind is most often about attachment, seeking of personal pleasure, wanting to feel safe secure and cared for, a rationale for remaining in a relationship, and a sense of duty and or responsibility to our children, friends and blood relatives.

The truth about Love is that it is actually a state of Being not a state of mind. It is who we are in every present moment. When we transcend the small self, Love comes into the light. We recognize that we are Love beyond the mind and body and being that Love we are one with everything. We see the Love shining all around us in this state of Being. At that present moment all is as it should be!

Having that state of Being, even for a fleeting moment, changes your everyday mind and body bound life. The mind learns that all is Love and then the mind will offer you higher level thoughts. This recognition will change the way you view life and the mind will naturally display more loving-kindness and compassion.

How can I recognize this Love that I am?  No amount of mind exercise or formulas will bring you to this state of Being. However, the recognition that you are not the mind and body will begin to plant the seeds that can yield the fruit. This recognition is gained by watching your mind and its musings. Thoughts must be negated including the mind’s thoughts about your separateness.

Like an apple that falls from the tree when it is ripe, Love will dawn upon you when you are ready to transcend the mind created illusion we call life.

I welcome your comments and dialogue on this subject so feel free to post a response or inquire about the information offered. Blessings & Love

Seek Pleasure and Avoid Suffering: The Mind’s Trap

Seek Pleasure and Avoid Suffering: The Mind’s Trap

Pleasure and SufferingThere are several important concepts that I feel compelled to mention in order for you to understand how and why the mind seeks emotional pleasure and avoids painful feelings.

First and foremost is the concept that the mind records all of our experiences. In doing this it also analyzes through comparison of past experiences and/or learned values and beliefs, what experiences or situations felt good or bad or what our culture taught the mind is desirable or undesirable. In order to know what is pleasurable the mind must have an opposite experience to compare….what is not pleasurable. The mind lives in a world of duality.

Next is the concept that the mind always produces thoughts about the past or future. The mind has no thoughts about the present moment (view my post on The Present Moment is Unthinkable). The mind decides what was pleasurable in the past and the mind projects and anticipates that the same experience can or cannot be pleasurable in the future. The mind is not capable of knowing “truth” and makes assumptions given the data it holds in memory. It gives you its best guess.

In addition we should recognize that the mind does a better job in technical functioning areas rather than in the emotional functioning arena. The mind’s memories can consistently help the body to find its way home but the mind lacks the ability to provide us with consistent feelings of happiness or satisfaction. In a simplistic sense, the primitive mind is always seeking ways to protect the organism from danger and keep it alive and reproducing, while the more evolved portions of the mind work tirelessly to try and keep us satisfied, happy and provide us with a feeling that we belong.

Lastly, I offer the truth that we are not the body or the mind but beyond both. When I use the words “us, I, me, you or mine” in my writing I do this for convenience and common “human” communication. There is no separate me, self or us and if you perceive this to be true, this whole conversation about the mind and its pursuit of happiness and avoidance of pain comes into the light.

Utilizing these basic concepts we can now discuss how the mind gets trapped in its thinking. The mind and its motives are based on the principles of pleasure and fear of suffering. First let’s look at pleasure.

The mind seeks pleasure in a plethora of ways. We strive to feel self-important and successful according to the values and beliefs taught to us or to the values and beliefs we hold sacred. We look back on our actions and evaluate how well we performed. We are concerned about how much we have accomplished and we want to feel proud about our economic position in society and the type of important position or function we perform.

In addition we anticipate a feeling of pleasure in the future from our projection that our successes will continue to be satisfactory as life progresses. It is not important if these things we think in the past or future are acceptable to society, but they must be in some way acceptable to the mind operating in your body.

It should also be mentioned that we seek physical pleasure in the form of sexual satisfaction, we care about how the body appears to others and compares to the standards of our given culture and we gain pleasure through satisfactory physical exertion and accomplishment. When the mind feels pleasure our actions are evaluated by our minds and others as; happy, optimistic, positive, light and jubilant.

I can go on about pleasure but I believe at this point your mind will agree that we seek pleasure in numerous ways and this is the mind’s main emotional goal.

Suffering, which is the opposite side of the pleasure principle, is something that our minds are determined to limit and if possible, avoid. I use the word suffering instead of pain because pain is something that the body experiences. Suffering is caused by the minds analysis of circumstances and cultural values and beliefs not achieved. The mind then refuses to accept what is actually happening at the present moment. Emotional suffering can include the feeling of loneliness, loss, inability to obtain what the mind sees as pleasurable and so much more.

The mind is afraid of what it does not know and even sometimes what it does know. It dreads the unknown future and all that it might hold. It also fears the known facts of life such as the belief that no one can live forever and life is not permanent. Since the mind’s thoughts prompt our actions, suffering in the mind is displayed by the body and our demeanor exudes unhappiness, sadness, low or dark energy and verbal admissions of hopelessness.

Now it is the time to discuss the trap that is caused by the seeking of pleasure. Having experienced pleasure, our minds want this feeling to continue. The mind wants the future to hold the same satisfaction that it evaluated in the past. Because the mind cannot assure that the future will hold anything pleasurable it begins to experience fear.

The emotional feeling of fear is not something that just happens to the mind but rather it is always an anticipation (a thought of the mind) of something bad happening in the future that it does not see as pleasurable. This feeling of fear is prompted by the memory of things learned or experienced and can include past losses, traumatic experiences, physical injury, inability to know what will happen in the future and of course the anticipation of death and its accompanying suffering and annihilation of the self.

To further explain the trap we can look at how the mind attaches to things that are pleasurable. This attachment can be to the continuation of the self, money, family members, friends, a career, a belief or value or anything tangible or psychological that it holds to be important. The mind wants to hold onto these pleasurable attachments and keep them flowing but at the same time fears their loss or lack of continuation. So, with pleasure and attachment comes its opposite, suffering.

To simplify these concepts consider this…. thoughts produced by the mind, which is an analysis and response of memory involving both emotional and physical events, are recorded by your brain cells. The mind holds these memories and wants to re-experience what feels pleasurable and avoid what it knows or doesn’t know about the suffering possible in the future. The underlying trap is that the mind cannot give you assurance of continuation or continuity of pleasure and this causes the mind to feel fear. Fear in turn, causes suffering.

So why is this important to recognize? The answers to this question centers around the activity of awareness. By being aware of how the mind seeks pleasure and avoids suffering we can better understand the choices we are making and why the mind is driving us to take certain actions.

The more you recognize the functioning of the mind in this area, the more your mind will cease to automatically drive you in these directions. There will be a natural pause in your thoughts and this can give the mind an opportunity to reconsider the action it is prompting you to take. It will begin to question itself.

In essence, bringing awareness to this seeking and avoiding will educate your mind that it does not need to drive you with its old learned criteria of what is pleasurable and what is not. In addition, eventually the mind can learn that its seeking of pleasure is geared to alleviate a feeling it has of emotional emptiness. As an example, you open the refrigerator multiple times an evening not because you are really hungry but because you are feeling and seeking an emotional need for comfort.

Going back to the beginning of this post and reviewing the concepts that I presented might now give you some additional context and understanding about your mind’s need to seek pleasure and avoid suffering. Here are a few things that I suggest you can do to gain awareness:

  • Watch your behavior closely and learn what the mind is seeking and avoiding
  • Don’t judge the mind’s choices but rather take note of how it drives your actions
  • Take note of the specific areas that the mind is consistently seeking. Question why the mind is prompting you to take these actions
  • Observe others to learn what they seek and avoid
  • Choose one behavior you have that is “pleasure seeking” and explore how this eventually causes you to suffer

When you become aware you are seeking pleasure or avoiding doing something that causes you a level of suffering, immediately stop and notice what thoughts arise. This interruption will stop the pattern and give you an opportunity to evaluate your actions. In the beginning, the mind will fight this and if your awareness is sharp and you are persistent, you will see how the mind continues to move your actions in the direction toward the fulfillment of that pleasure.

Ultimately with a successful understanding and awareness of the mind’s abilities and limitations coupled with a non-verbal recognition that the mind or the body is not who you are, your true Self will come into the light! And that light is beyond pleasure, pain and suffering.

The Present Moment is Unthinkable

The Present Moment is Unthinkable

 

Do you recognize that your thoughts are always about the past or the future? It is easy for you to think about this important statement as your mind is wired to recall things that already happened. If you have not damaged your brain, memory is not usually a difficult task.

All of our dialogue and conversations with our self and others involve things that have already happened or our anticipation of what the future may hold. It may include relating events, ideas, thoughts and feelings that you have experienced. But the important fact here is that these things happened in the past. When we plan our actions, have thoughts about how life may unfold or have apprehension or fear about our ability to succeed or even continue to live, our mind is in an anticipatory or future mode.

Let’s now examine how our mind produces thoughts about the present moment. No matter how hard you try to do this you will fail. Why is this? It is because your mind does not have this capacity. When you are in the present moment there are no thoughts. You can perceive something but not think it. Close your eyes and ask yourself the following question, “what is happening now at this very moment”? Now wait for an answer to come in the form of a thought. In that split second, your mind is quiet. There is no thought. But, in most cases (unless you have practiced a “presence” technique such as meditation and have trained the mind to remain still) it will immediately resume producing thoughts about the past or future.

Let’s take another example. You are outside and the sun is about to fall below the mountains. The light of the sun as it disappears reveals a brilliant orange hue. You perceive this occurrence in nature and you are now…. in the present moment. You have no thoughts. Your mind is silent. You are “one” with the perception. Now, all of a sudden, and this can be a split second later, your mind is activated and a thought arises that says, “Wow, this is so beautiful”. At this moment you are no longer in “presence” but rather in the past. Your mind has registered the experience and is now categorizing it against what it has learned about beauty and ugliness. You turn to someone next to you and say, “this is so beautiful”. What you should really say is this was so beautiful. Because now you are no longer “one” with your perception, not in the present moment, but rather your mind has taken over and is relating an experience that happened in the past. At this point your mind which is always seeking pleasure and avoiding pain will likely say, “I would love to see this again and perhaps tomorrow we shall return to this very spot to view this magnificent event”. You are now anticipating the future. And, seeking more pleasure (which we can talk about in another future post)…..ops… there I go thinking about the future!

So, “Why is it important for you to know that the mind operates in the past and future and is not capable of thinking about the present”? Of primary importance is the fact that you are not your mind. You are beyond your thinking. You are the present moment that is one with everything and everyone. To fully experience this earthly life we must recognize that the past is no longer and the future does not exist. The only reality is the present. The past and future are held in memory. And memory, good or bad, does a great job in keeping you from perceiving the present moment.

Memory coupled with time also gives us a sense of the “self” that is separate and temporary and will eventually die. These thoughts cause us fear, suffering and loneliness.

I want to be clear that despite the lack of capacity of the mind to focus on the present moment, there is indeed a role that it plays during our time on the planet. The minds ability to remember and plan ahead is important for earthly functions and overall economic purposes. It has an important function such as helping you to know the way home, or how to work your computer, how to avoid possible dangers and any number of work-related technical tasks needed to function on this plane of existence. However it is important to realize that our mind is a tool and has its limitations. We must realize that it cannot bring us to a place of deep love, peace or connectedness.

Living from a place beyond the mind in the present moment with no attachment to what was or will be is the reality and truth that we all must realize. Living in this place is our true nature and we are at home there. But you may ask if this is possible? Can we really live in the present and still put food on the table? How would this work? What would this look like? Here are a few important benefits and realizations that might help us to answer these questions:

  • You can live more in the present than you think you can. With observation of how this occurs and making opportunities to practice, your mind will stay silent longer giving you relief from its musings about the past and present
  • Living from a place of presence more often will allow you to be more spontaneous and alive and will rejuvenate your energy. You will make better and more creative decisions
  • Being present leads to a deeper realization of love and connectedness and in this state you will operate with a more empathic and open hearted attitude in your daily living
  • Being present during an important work situation or during a crucial conversation with others will allow you to deeply listen without quickly evaluating or making judgments. This will make you more objective and successful at work and with others
  • Learning how your mind quickly anticipates the future by looking at its past experiences will give you valuable information as to why you feel stress and sometimes make poor decisions
  • Not taking the minds thoughts, which is always made up of old (past) information, as the truth will motivate you to stay more in the present which is the only place truth resides

Letting go of the idea that “you are your thoughts” is incredibly liberating and will help you get closer to the perception of what your true being is. You are not your mind and its thoughts. You are the ever-present. And the present moment is unthinkable!

 

 

 

The Lost Innocence of Childhood

The Lost Innocence of Childhood

 

When did I become a person, separate and distinct? When did I start to have desires and a need to be happy? When did I become fearful and experience feelings of insecurity? When did loneliness arrive in my life? When did my aggression and feelings of competitiveness come about?  And when did I start comparing myself to others and feeling good or bad about who and what I am?

So many questions and truly only one truthful answer. All this came about during my early childhood, when my developing mind was taught that life is all about being what our culture demands we be, despite what I was truly experiencing. These teachings ended my innocence and gradually propelled me into being a conforming member of my parent’s world. In essence my family and society taught my mind to adopt the beliefs, values, thoughts, hopes and desires of my culture.

I remember being a young child where every day seemed like an eternity. Time did not really exist and in fact I was totally unaware of any need for time.   Everything I perceived was new and I accepted all of it without a thought. I had a sense of wonder. I was interested in knowing more about this world I arrived in. I asked tons of questions and never doubted I would receive truthful answers. I had no real needs except a biological desire to eat and frolic. I was part of everything and everyone. I felt love in its purest form. It wasn’t something I had to cultivate or seek. It just was. My childhood was not unusual and I experienced hunger, the pain of being injured, and physically ill. But the psychological feelings of being adequate or inadequate, suffering, desire, seeking satisfaction, rejection and anger only surfaced as I assimilated and played-out the teachings of my culture.

Sure, throughout the years I modified or attempted to change these things that I was taught but the concrete foundation of what I learned was the underpinning of my life and these truths remained for many years as the only truth of my existence. I learned that this is the way things are supposed to be. This is the world as our elders teach us. If you want to fit in than you accept these things. However, despite this acceptance of reality I always had a intuitive feeling that something wasn’t right with these teachings.  I was determined to find the truth of my existence and along the way I experienced a different reality.

Here are 12 realized truths that I have experienced during my journey.  I will be writing about these areas and much more in future posts:

  1. We are born egoless and truly connected to everything
  2. Childhood innocence is forgotten when you become a separate self
  3. The mind is an interesting tool that we know very little about and we have little control over what it thinks
  4. Our mind has no capacity to define what we are. It really has no idea
  5. The education we receive from our culture is geared for us to survive and thrive in our world but not questioning these teachings is akin to allowing yourself to be brainwashed
  6. Memory can help or hinder our experiences and falsely confirms we are a person in time and space
  7. The mind lives in the past and anticipates the future. It knows nothing about the present
  8. Time is an illusion. It doesn’t really exist
  9. You can focus your attention on “what you are not” which will help you to realize you are beyond the body/self.
  10. Suffering is in the mind and comes from not accepting “what is”. This is different than physical pain which belongs to the body
  11. Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is a prominent theme in our lives and our mind is consumed with it
  12. Fear is mind based and is always of the unknown and this includes the fear of dying

It has taken me thousands of hours of spiritual study and meditation, multiple spiritual teachers and the passing of many loved ones to come close to a realization of “what I am not”.  I now realize that I am not what I think I am….. and definitely not what I was taught to believe. This has in turn brought me closer to my original childhood innocence.