I am quite hesitant to confide the following to my webpages. It seems pretentious to add a semblance of wisdom to all that has already been written on the subject. Yet, I have been asked numerous times to tell by what precepts I am led.
For more than half a century I am a student of the art of living now. I have tried to benefit from various wisdom traditions. By absorbing the best that they had to offer and disregarding what did not appeal to me, or proved to be of little use, I have come to an approach to life that I like to share with you.
The following are the subjects I have touched upon:
- Outlook and philosophy of life influenced by age
- In tune with the Infinite
- Love your neighbour
- Tuning in
- On the chattering monkey mind
- Look for hidden potentiality in your fellowman
- The purpose of life
- The social approach
- Patterns of thought
- The "I" and its systems
- Money and possessions
- Good intentions should not be trumpeted around
Outlook and philosophy of life influenced by ageLike everyone else I have gone through various stages of life from adolescent to older age in the course of the years. Each period of life marked by a different outlook.
The teener looks at life quite differently from the grown up, or elderly person. The future is yet to unfold to him. He/she is carried by ideals and attracted to persons to model him/herself after, because they appeal to him/her.
The youngster has yet to explore the boundaries of his powers and abilities. The adolescent is propelled by strong inner drives which may lead him/her to extremes that family and society does not often appreciate. Without experience and frame of reference more often than not he/she will loose sight of reality resulting in disappointment in self, others and ideals.
Old age on the other hand confronts one with one's frailties and the finiteness of existence, paving the way for a reflective attitude and evaluation of the experiences in one's life. Henceforth the lack of physical strength is compensated by a formidable frame of reference, more wisdom, forgiveness, and above all a deeper inner life - being in closer touch with one's spiritual nature.
Having gone through these stages I have reached the following personal precepts in order of importance:
This is easier said than done. Love is a divine power that goes far beyond man himself and cannot be commanded. One can only pray to enter into harmony with the Divine, or to love oneself, or another person.
By prayer I mean entering in a state of inner communication. God to me is not the tyranical figure of the Old Testament, but the Soul, the ' I ' of manifested and non-manifested existence, outside space, time and dimensions, more than we can comprehend in our wildest fantasies, yet closer to us than anything we know, because we are part of the Divine.
ThÓt God cannot be touched by blasphemy and all abuse of man.
In practice this means to me trying to tune in to the Infinite when waking up and/or before falling asleep.
To treat the human self - a wonderful 'piece of work' - with love, patience and respect does not come so natural to man. Self-knowledge reveals besides its wonderful capacities, the frailties and incompleteness of human nature. To accept the fractured self, in spite of all these weaknesses, with compassion and understanding, paves the way for development. In being accepted for what it is and praised for its achievements, the self is more willing to cooperate and perform.
True giving is a token that evens out boundaries dividing individuals. It is a quality implanted in man's nature. Sharing is an act of recognition that we all are part of the same family of man.
Be aware of the mind that always tends to project its contents on the outside world. It may be an object, a person, or a group. The most pernicious way is to find in others one's own short-comings. Projection is a barrier to change.
Woe to the people in history who became scapegoats of projected public discontent.
In short: the projecting mind needs constant attention.
Change of one's state of being will come when one is acutely aware of what is going on inside and outside, but without judgement as that involves the intellect and arouses emotions which block a clear view. Thus dispassionate awareness leads to change.
Be part of the creative process going on all around you in nature. It feels great to develop dormant qualities. You need not create a great work of art - your daily life presents opportunities continuously.
Activity you are engaged in may be either routine, or undertaken in a creative sense. Daily routines as dressing, polishing one's teeth, preparing one's food, if undertaken in thoughtfulness and devotion may take on quite different aspects.
Office work may be boring, but possibly with hidden opportunities. And if not, why not make a change so that it does not hamper your growth?
Work with matter, one's own nature, contact with one's fellowman, all may be done off-hand without giving it a thought, or in full awareness of what is happening.
Unfortunately human nature tends to inertia. That should be recognized, but not disciplined. There should be spontana´ty left. One's nature should not be drilled, but rather coaxed into co÷perativeness.
Important is that you remember how great you felt in times of creativity. Make a mental note of such moments to give you faith and activate you at times that you have lost inspiration.
The worst is reflecting on a problem when waking up in the middle of the night. Instincts are nearer to the surface then. Emotional drastic solutions present themselves. On waking up in the morning, more often than not, all nocturnal resolutions seem far away and are seldomly followed. Lesson: when waking up at night don't give in to mental acrobatics. Relax, let awareness descend from the head into the body. Try to contact all parts. It may lead to 'centering' - a harmonious blend of bodily consciousness.
On the other hand be careful in your choice of friends. You might easily become their victim, object of their projections, infected by their ideas. Many a so-called friendship is based on how one can profit from the other. The acquaintance may be merely used as a means of introduction to a social circle of influential people. Other friendships may be clung on to for warmth, to flee from one's isolation, to find a willing ear, to borrow things/money, to lean on, etc. But if a friendship has no other basis it becomes shallow as it is, based on dependence and serves as a crutch. It should not be a one-way street, unless the relationship is consciously sustained for other reasons as an act of compassion.
Insight in human character makes for true friendships. It means that one should know how the other person functions so that disappointments may be avoided. Only if one is prepared to accept the other for what he/she is and show some form of appreciation will a lasting response grow. So often one projects an image of the ideal person on to the other, expecting responses not in line with his/her character.
Thus good friendships can be made if one has also something to offer, be willing to listen to the other instead of using his/her presence to vent opinions he/she is not interested in. Everybody capable of forgetting himself, if only for a brief moment, can be a good friend, mean something to the other. If there is a true rapport one may say things unknowingly which are important to the other.
True friendships are beyond time. One does not need to see each other often. The thread may be picked up instantaneously, even after many years.
Mental study in books does not lead to wisdom. It always needs to be chastened by experience. In fact too much study strengthens the intellect, giving it a dominant position leading to imbalance. Wisdom arises in a harmonius blend of all parts of being.
Intuitive grasp, opening one's mind to inspiration and creative play with ideas have always been hallmarks of genius. Yet these qualities cannot be manipulated by man's intellect.
In behaviourist psychology thinking about the purpose of life was considered a sign of mental disorder. It seems an incomprehensible judgment over what is considered by many as a token of intelligence.
In some cases the old psychological school may have been right, though. To accept life as it comes is a gift we have to cherish. Those who have gone through a depression - a dark night of the soul - will fully understand what absence of joy in life means.
In a state of despair or depression one will try to fill the emptiness, caused by a lack of life instinct, by searching for an acceptable explanation and a good reason to go on living. Unfortunately the intellect at such moments will not be able to provide one.
Chronic states of depression should be taken seriously - one should not consider it a failure to take recourse to anti-depressants as the cause may be somatic.
Admittedly, the mind is in need of some form of philosophy. Especially when one harbours a completely outdated orthodox view from childhood. Many are burdened by a trauma because of instilled fears for imaginary sins. In such cases a greater view of life comes as a blessing.
There is a limit, however. Pondering may become morbid. Some major mysteries cannot be solved by the mind. The reason for suffering in the world is one of them and may better be left alone until one has grown to a state of consciousness in which questioning disappears.
We may learn a lesson from animals which are free from such deliberations. All species are instilled with a life instinct that drives them on. They have no security, do not know how they will survive from one moment to the next, yet accept life as it comes without hesitation and qualms. Alas, such dedication is exceptional for man. His mind stands in his way.
This had its pros and cons. However, we are now taken up in a society that is geared to sexual stimulation. Advertisements, magazines, pop music, video clips: one is bombarded constantly with images of happy, go lucky, young people who can get everything they desire (often by models who are at their wits end!).
The result is a constant gnawing feeling of not benefitting to the full extent of sexual liberation - dissatisfaction with the state of one's loneliness as compared to the seemingly congenial friendships held up as an example in the media. Above all it rubs in a feeling of not belonging.
Matters are worsened if one makes a problem out of all this. There may be a sensible solution, but because one is too keyed up one lacks the openness to attract a possible friend or partner.
Sex is a primordial drive that should not be underrated. If suppressed it may seek expression in all forms and (ugly) ways. Yet if libido is re-directed it may become the motor behind transcendance.
Such path implies walking on a razor's edge.
Never forget that everyone is unique, although individual qualities may be shrouded and never had a chance to develop. Do not despair. The lower one sinks, the nearer is salvation. The first step is the intent of willing to change. It helps to become fully aware of one's state of being. Next comes visualizing/projecting in the mind's eye an image of the state one desires to change into. This may set into motion unconsciously healing forces and a process of purification. As the body has the power to heal wounds, so has the mind the same power if tapped in sincerity and faith.
Prayer may evoke a true force from the deepest layers of oneself. Such prayer is not merely a repetition of meaningless words but entering in a true state of seeking to contact the Self beyond the self. If prayer is answered one may enter in a state of Grace leading to recovery of body, mind, or circumstances.
A crisis may lead to a catharsis. Yet one must bear in mind that one's depleted condition may have a somatic component. Taking medication may be better than to succumb to the ailment.
Communicating means entering into the world of the person one is in contact with. Otherwise it will be difficult to understand the meaning of what is being communicated. To lend an ear without lapsing in a discourse about one's own convictions and miseries may mean a sacrifice to some, though. In conversation one should apply terms that are understandable within the framework of the other person. (I wonder whether I am doing so in this paper?!)
Lack of social involvement may also be the result of one's failure to develop social contacts. Attending cultural, artistic, or spiritual events might help. One may even go so far as to place oneself an ad to invite readers to form a group on a subject near to one's heart. I did so several times, making friends with people of all walks of life all over the world. (When I wrote this fifteen years ago Facebook and other means of internet contact had not been developed as yet !)
Becoming a member of a spiritual group to one's liking is another means. There are advantages and dangers as explained in my paper: On the psychology of spiritual movements (click).
Another way to make social contacts is through hobbies. Yet, not everyone is given to these. There are many ways to pass one's time in arts, sports, tinkering, handicraft, computering, studying etc. It may lead to development of creative qualities in painting, photography, music making, or writing. Many pastimes are an excellent excuse for outdoor activities.
(Read what I have to say about collecting as a hobby by clicking here). Although it may seem silly to some, hobbies are a great way to keep mind and body constructively engaged, if pursued in good measure.
When reading of great figures in history one is always struck by the strange dated notions they had simultaneously with brilliant insights in other subjects . One tends to forget that all great prophets were a product of their time and upbringing however much they towered above it in another sense.
Man's development seems always bound to limitations set by the human mind. Buddha could not have preached the same tidings as Jesus Christ and the latter would not have propounded the same truth as Muhamad. They were all part of the way of thinking and culture of their particular era.
Evading issues may come also in a less obnoxious form. How many of us are not dreaming of withdrawing in a cottage against a hillside with a splendid view, far from the complexity and demands of society? Escapism takes on so many forms. It may be quite harmless if one is aware of its nature. If its excrescences are not checked, it may cause us to do foolish things, or make us fall into habits which we shall have to pay a heavy penalty for ultimately.
The smart ' I ' can influence certain of his systems with attention, awareness and visualization, as mentioned above. If a mood takes hold of him he/she may focus attention to it, feeling acutely how he is being affected and by doing so evokes powers of healing and harmony.
Wordly systems affect man as well: office/household routine. But spiritually he may also be linked to a system, even without him knowing so.
Money to a person may mean freedom and power. Freedom to do as one feels the need to.
If one has a strained relationship with money it implies that one casts doubt on one's own capabilities to organize, or to constrain greed.
Money may give wider scope to one's development, creativity, free from financial worries and limitations. It requires self-confidence, though, and a sense of responsibility.
To demonstrate dominance over the attraction of money means to be able to save it instead of converting it immediately in possessions. It has become ingrained in modern life and facilitated by the tax system, to spend more than one earns, to live on credit. This means a loss of freedom because one's debt blocks the way. The present economic crisis has shown the value of saving for bad times.
A credit balance in the bank means liberty to move as one feels. The person who saves is free. Money does not burn a hole in his pocket, he is prepared to scale down his expenses to save a little, invest properly.
He should not become stingy, though. If his love for a fat bank balance gains so much the upper hand that he/she becomes a miser unable to help another person in need, the scale is tipped. The result is an accumulation of possessions that clutter existence instead of enriching it.
Money flows to a person who shows being detached in his spending and saving it - a good steward.
Do not create expectations in your bearing in public. Your endeavour to impress may turn against you. One's supposedly fine qualities better be not trumpeted around lest they be put to the test. Showing off may become self-destructive.
Being modest has the advantage of not evoking resistance detremental to one's objectives. Many an enlightened man presented himself to the world as a sort of clown. So he could subtly inject his wisdom without his public being aware of it.
The lesson to be learnt is that if one has made a first step on a path of change it is better to work unobtrusively until one has arrived at one's goal safely. Discrete silence breeds energy and creativity.
Created: 24 October 1997, revised 19 August 2020
(Photo: Zen novice, and text © Michael Rogge)