Trinity: Investigating a New Life Structure

Print This Post Print This Post May 27, 2009 on 9:26 pm | In Awareness, Balance, Consciousness, Creativity, Energy, Failure, Fear, Fulfillment, Integrity, Intent, Love, Power, Purpose, Spiritual, Toltec, Truth | Comments Off on Trinity: Investigating a New Life Structure
Trinity

Trinity

Over the past few months I have been examining and experimenting with the underlying structure of my life.  This investigation took on a new urgency and came to the forefront of my personal development efforts as the result of a ceremony I took part in on Maui, and I have truly been surprised by the depth of the revelations that this investigation has brought to me.  That ceremony involved the creation of an energetic structure very similar to the structure illustrated above – three nested triangular rings, each with a specific function within the structure.  Explaining the entire structure would take me much more than a single article, and in addition I am still working to understand the relationships that form the overall structure; as a result, this article will focus only on the structure of one of the triangular rings (specifically the outer ring) and how this structure has impacted my life.  That outer ring was comprised of three people (including me), each of which embodied one of the elements of the overall structure.  By using this structure as a model for my own life and working to balance the elements within that structure I have made some major shifts both in how I view and how I live my life. 

Since the entire concept of a “life structure” may be a bit fuzzy at the moment, let me begin by describing my previous “default” life structure, which was almost entirely the product of cultural conditioning.  Perhaps by coincidence, but much more likely by design, this life structure also consists of a trinity of life modes.  As I describe this model I think what I mean by the term “life structure” will become much clearer. 

I refer to my previous life structure as the “Success” Structure, and it was comprised of the following three elements: Doing, Getting, and Having.  The basic premises of this life structure are:

  • The goal of life is to by happy
  • In order to be happy you need to be successful
  • Being successful essentially means earning lots of money, but tangentially also includes having status and respect within the general community
  • Doing: You earn money by achieving specific goals in terms of career advancement, which generally entails progressing into positions of increasing responsibility and authority
  • Getting: Earning lots of money in turn allows you to purchase things (houses, cars, boats, champagne) and experiences (vacations, cruises, lessons) that will make you happy
  • Having:In order to remain happy you need maintain the possessions that you have and continue to acquire new things and experiences to fuel your continued growth

I’m sure as you read this you are thinking “How could anyone subscribed to a belief system this shallow?”  Of course, when I was living within this model I would not have articulated this structure as I just did, and I would undoubtedly have denied that this structure defined my life.  In terms of intellect and theory I have never subscribed to this philosophy.  But in terms of how I actually lived . . . I was caught hook, line, and sinker.  And if some of you take an honest look at your own lives – in terms of what you actually do, not what you say you do, or what you mean to do – I think you will find that it is quite easy to slip into a structure that keeps you playing at the shallow end of the pool.

This structure could have just as easily been termed the “Consumer” model of reality, as consumerism – that mighty engine of the world economy – to a large extent supports this model through a vast array of social and cultural assumptions and practices.  Indeed, I have found that it takes amazing vigilance to keep this model from insinuating its way into our lives.  Not only overt advertising, but more insidiously unconscious assumptions such as the need to “earn” value or worth through success and achievement, the equivalence of success and monetary wealth, the linkage between wealth and happiness, the desirability of social status and public admiration, creep in and color our perceptions in ways that are often difficult to detect, but profound in their influence on our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.  In talking with friends and associates, it is clear that the foundational idea that one must do something of value in order to obtain worth, in order to merit love, is a very pervasive assumption that underlies many of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

The above analysis notwithstanding, I don’t want to paint the picture that this structure above is inherently bad or evil.  Indeed, even after becoming aware of this structure operating in my life, there are many valuable outcomes that I have enjoyed as a result of embracing (albeit unconsciously) this particular worldview.  Champagne, for example, is something that I truly do love!  Seriously, though, the predisposition of this life structure towards Doing – physical activity – is a very positive feature of this approach to life.  No, the “problem” with this structure in my case is not that it is inherently bad or evil; rather it is that this structure is incomplete – lacking in vital elements that allow one to move beyond so-called “success” and “happiness” into the more expansive realms of fulfillment and joy.  Moreover, the core principles that correspond to these three modes of living leave a lot to be desired in terms of capturing the full spectrum of human possibility, given that we are much more than consumers and exchangers of resources:

  • Doing                   Core Principle: Power
  • Getting                Core Principle: Acquisition
  • Having                 Core Principle: Possession

The incompleteness of this structure is what leads to the malaise of the achiever – that nagging sense of “is this all there is?”  That subtle but ever present yearning for a deeper, more expansive meaning to life beyond the mere acquisition and enjoyment of possessions and experiences.  It was precisely that yearning that eventually led me to pursue a spiritual path in an effort to find meaning beyond the confines of my material existence.

The new life structure that I have been experimenting with over the past few months is what I refer to as the “Fulfillment” Structure, which also comprised of  three elements: Being, Doing, and Connecting.  Although this structure shares the common element of Doing, the replacement of Getting and Having with Being and Connecting has a profound impact on the life choices one makes from within this new structure.  Moreover, the core principles that correspond to these elements result in a much different dynamic within which activity occurs – one that is focused more on the “spiritual” values of intrinsic worth and sharing rather than the material values of acquiring and possessing.  Those core principles form the foundation of my new life structure:

  • Being                Core Principle: Truth
  • Doing                Core Principle: Power
  • Connecting        Core Principle: Love

The basic premises of this Fulfillment Life Structure are:

  • There is no specific pre-defined goal to life, in the sense of something to be achieved or some state to be attained.  Rather, our purpose is something that we create.
  • Fulfillment is essentially our natural state – not something to strive for or to achieve.  By balancing the elements that form this life structure that fulfillment is revealed as ever-present. 
  • Being:I am intrinsically valuable and worthy – this is my natural state; there is no need to “earn” love as I am naturally loving and lovable.  At my core I am a manifestation of the Divine, and most (actually all) of the suffering and drama in my life are the result of my failing to recognize this identity.
  • Doing: Once my survival needs have been met, my doing is based on the creative desire to manifest that which I have imagined by bringing it into reality.  This type of doing is done for the intrinsic joy of bringing that which I desire into being, and not as a means to an end.  Although my doing may result in accumulating wealth, that wealth does nothing to increase or decrease my intrinsic value – which is a given.  All that wealth does is provide me with a means to bring more of what I have imagined and desired into being, provided I allow that wealth to flow into and out of my life.
  • Connecting: Connecting with others, my self, and the Divine is my ultimate joy and play – amplifying my experience of life by allowing me to see reflections of my own nature in others while simultaneously amplifying their experience of life by sharing my nature with them.  In this sharing both aspects are enhanced and enlivened, with the resultant outcome being much more than the sum of the individual elements.  In its ultimate expression connecting it is the recognition of the unity of self and other – the reality that there is no other, that we are all simply facets of a divine, inseparable whole.

In experimenting with this life structure I have found a number beneficial outcomes in terms of practical, everyday issues.  First and foremost is a massive reduction in worry, stress, and anxiety.  Because this model operates from the assumption that I am already whole, worthy, valuable, lovable, and divine – in other words that I have already arrived, that there is nothing for me to prove or achieve in order to merit the blessings I experience – there are not many issues for concern so long as my physical well-being is intact.  And even in cases where my physical well-being is compromised (tired or sick), a few moment’s reflection reveals that although there is a desire to restore my level of energy and well-being there is no need for additional stress or frustration which would only serve to further compromise my state.

An even more noticeable change is in the motivation for my doing.  In the Success or Consumer Structure the motivation for much of my doing was based on fear – fear of failure, fear of being found to be inadequate, fear of not living up to my potential, and a whole host of other concerns associated with the underlying assumption that I am not intrinsically whole and worthy.  In the Fulfillment Structure the motivation for Doing is always love – a desire to move towards or realize a desired state of affairs rather than a moving away from an undesirable state of affairs.  In psychological terms the Fulfillment Structure uses the carrot of joy and delight rather than the stick of  fear and control.  The sense of flow that results from this new structure is a pleasure that fills increasingly larger portions of my day.  Ironically, by focusing less on Doing, and spending more time Being (sitting, meditating, day dreaming, resting) and Connecting (in person, by phone or email, through prayer and intuitive perception) my Doing has actually become much more focused and effective.  It turns out that I spent a lot of my time Doing worrying and fretting rather than actually accomplishing anything, and my not-doing has helped to reduce this wasted effort dramatically.

I still have a long way to go in fully exploring this new structure, and indeed I feel I am really just seeing the surface manifestations of a much deeper and fuller structure.  But even that surface glimpse is extremely enticing and exhilarating!  What’s more, this new structure fits in beautifully with the Toltec teachings I have been working with over the past few years.  I am certain that it is not a coincidence that the elements of the Fulfillment Structure also correspond to the three Toltec Masteries:

  • Being                Truth             Mastery of Awareness
  • Doing                Power            Mastery of Transformation
  • Connecting        Love              Mastery of Intent

The Art of Dying

Print This Post Print This Post May 22, 2009 on 3:04 pm | In Awareness, Consciousness, Death, Spiritual, Toltec, Wisdom | Comments Off on The Art of Dying

Death as an Advisor

Death as an Advisor

“Like everyone else you want to learn the way to win, but never accept the way to lose.  To accept defeat, to learn to die, is to be liberated from it.  So when tomorrow comes you must free your ambitious mind and learn the art of dying.”

– Bruce Lee, The Way of the Intercepting Fist, Longstreet TV Series

Of the many practices I have undertaken during the course of my spiritual apprenticeship, the practice of death ceremonies seems to be the least understandable to my friends and family.  Granted that “least understandable” is a relative term in my case, as I can hardly claim that many of my friends or family exactly resonate with some of my other “extreme” practices such as firewalking or sweat lodges, but they definitely give me blank stares when I explain that I am going through a deliberate process of contemplating and preparing for my death.  And yet is this really an “extreme” practice?

One thing certainly is clear: everyone reading this (including me) will die eventually.  Eventually – therein lies the rub!  We typically do not know precisely the date and time of our death, but the fact of our death is unassailable.  Even if we have a firm belief in eternal life, there is no denying the process of dying.  As much as we cover it up with euphemisms and relegate it to “some day”, the fact is that deep down we all know that our life span on earth is limited.  But the fact that the precise timing of our death is uncertain allows most of us to live most of the time as if we were immortal – as if there is always “plenty of time.”

I believe that deep down we all know that this sense of “plenty of time” is wrong.  Although we do not come into this world with a fixed expiration date, all that we truly ever have is this moment – there is no guarantee of a future moment for any of us.   And even though we do not know how much time we may have, we do know that statistically today will be the final day of life for over 150,000 people on this planet.

So what would change in your life if you were somehow able to know your “expiration date”?  What if you found out that you only had a few months left to live? A few weeks? A few days? In what ways would your life change?

For many people this scenario is not an academic exercise but rather a stark reality that they must contend with, typically without any warning. A routine visit to a doctor for a seemingly minor complaint uncovers the presence of a terminal disease that places a fairly certain time limit on the remainder of their life. Of course for most of us, this scenario would be a nightmare – something we would pray we could wake up from.

With this scenario as a backdrop, I’d like to examine a process that many shamanic spiritual traditions, including my own, utilize to allow practitioners to live through the scenario of their own death vicariously through ceremony. Let’s explore the notion of inviting Death into our life.

The Toltec tradition which I have been learning over the past few years places a strong emphasis on the fact of our mortality – our death. Indeed, in this tradition Death is personified as an Advisor, a guide that helps the initiate to discriminate and prioritize what is important in life and what is not. In addition, Death is an Advisor in the sense that it separates what is enduring from what is transient, the vital from the trivial. With the presence of Death always near us we are encouraged to really open our eyes, our ears, all of our senses, and most importantly our heart. All too soon that marvelous organ will beat its last beat, but while we still have the precious gift of life Death encourages to break out of our routines, our sense numbing habits, and become fully present to this moment. 

Death teaches us that one of our most powerful abilities as humans – the ability to learn and adapt – is also a tremendous stumbling block that can rob us of the beauty, vitality, and awe of fully living in the present moment.  Habituation, a key component of learning, is the faculty that allows us to perceive and perform actions without overt conscious involvement, and is a large part of learning any new skill.  For example, think back to when you first learned to drive.  If you were anything like me at first this task seemed overwhelming.  So many things to have to keep track of at the same time: the road in front of you, traffic behind you, pedestrians on the sidewalk, the steering wheel, the gas pedal and the brake, the gear shift and the clutch, the speedometer, the RPM indicator, the sound of the engine, the warning lights, and on and on and on!  Looking back it was a minor miracle that we were able to pick up such a complex skill set in a relatively short period of time – yet that is precisely what happened.  Through rehearsal and continued practice we gradually “learned” each of these skills to the extent that they became unconscious habits, and the only involvement of our “higher” consciousness was focused on where we were going and the traffic around us.  Indeed, because so many of the skills were habituated we added additional tasks to our drive time: talking on our cell phone, eating a fast food meal, drinking coffee, putting on makeup, and so on.

Because habituation removes activity from our conscious focus, it allows us to perform numerous tasks simultaneously.  But precisely because those tasks are performed unconsciously they are vastly diminished in terms of the depth and scope of the experience.  It’s no secret that multi-tasking drivers – those that talk on the phone or read their Blackberry email – are much less present with the experience of driving, and therefore less likely to respond effectively to hazards.  But more to the point of this discussion, going through life on autopilot robs you of life itself – the experience of life fades into the background and the foreground is filled with nothing but our own incessant mental chatter which is in turn almost always focused on a fiction – the past or the future – and not the here and now. 

This same phenomenon of habituation is at work in all of our experiences – our perceptions, our thinking, our emotions, and our relationships. Through repetition and rehearsal we become habituated to the people, places, and things around us, and gradually become less and less conscious of their reality.  We respond to our world in rehearsed, patterned ways – assuming that the world will continue to function as it always has, and that there is not need to actively engage with it since we already “know” how it operates.  Sadly, this is the way many of us live our lives, and it usually takes a severe shock to awaken us from this somnambulistic lifestyle.  This is where the presence of Death as an Advisor can truly shine, for Death excels at providing us with just the awakening that we need.

Death cuts through habituation like a sabre.  And therein lies the Beauty of Death.  Death reminds us that all that we have is this moment, and that whether we are fully conscious or not, nothing – including all of those things that we have taken for granted – really belongs to us.  It is all ephemeral in the presence of Death.  Death reminds us that our only hope for capturing the essence and expanse of eternity is to explore and embrace the full depth of this precious moment – right now. 

As you read this you are standing at the doorway to the Infinite.  All you need to open that doorway is to fully open your awareness and consciousness to this moment – never to be repeated or experienced again.  Ironically, Death gives us the amazing gift of renewal: by inviting us to see and feel and experience everything as if this is the last time you will experience it, Death deepens and renews our experience of what is here and now, and allows us to truly experience the world around us, perhaps for the very first time.  Death gives us the gift of truth, and brings us back to reality.  Of course, reality never left – we did, when we mentally checked out and allowed our habituated programming to take over.

So why do I practice the art of dying?  Because I never want to take for granted the miracles all around me – the smell of freshly mown grass; the taste and texture of a ripe, succulent grape; the softness of my daughter’s hair; the strong but gentle embrace of my wife; the glory and mystery of a sunrise; the painful beauty of knowing that all of this will pass – but that for this one magical moment it truly is mine.  And that is enough. 

And the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot ; Four Quartets 

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