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Work on the “Self” first, goals are secondary – Chap 26

Woman stretching at gym.

Work on the “Self” first, goals are secondary.

New Years is just around the corner. It is a time when people pledge new resolutions. Lofty goals of self-improvement are set and like so many of us, they have been forgotten by March. I found a way that helped me to stay on the goal path until the achievement has been made. Your first resolution should be to work on your “self”.

Before you can work on your goals and strategies, you must lay the foundation for success through self-discipline. The first discipline that you must commit to is to cultivate your “self” first. Chapter 26, Sovereignty.

This uncommon insight was given to me early on by my Tao mentor, and I have found it to be one of the most important first strategies to cultivate. Goals without willpower and self-discipline are just good intentions. The chances of not finishing are much higher without them. You know the old proverb about the road to hell as being paved with good intentions.

What does “work on the self first” mean? It means to learn to control the wild ego part of the spirit that is the epitome of self-satisfaction and desire. The discipline in maintaining full management and control over emotions, desire, and distraction so that you can avoid the pitfalls and temptations that lead to failure.

Ego-goals are well intended but almost always fail. Every January, many people state a new resolution to accomplish a personal goal. Weight loss is a very common one, and we all know that the failure rate is very high. We lose our momentum towards the weight loss goal when we:

Cheat

Lose the will to continue

become distracted (forget or don’t pay attention to what we are doing)

Lie to ourselves

set the goal for the wrong reasons

and most importantly, when we lose our battle with desire

Only if you are mindful of your emotions, feelings, choices, and actions can you wisely navigate life to accomplish long-term goals. Goal achievement lies somewhere in the future. The steps you take to reach that point in your destiny are made right here and right now. That moment of choice is the point whether you remain true to your higher self or fail at self-discipline. You must have virtuous clarity in picking your strategies and goals otherwise you will serving the ego’s path of desire. How to work on the self begins with meditation and mindfulness. A good teacher can help you begin to be aware of the ego’s effect on your choices and actions through mindfulness. Being aware of your intentions and choices are mandatory to have the willpower and discipline to not make those working choices.

These are excerpts from the book. For this and more Tao wisdom please consider getting a copy here:

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Simplicity

…If you look at a list of antonyms for virtue you will see words like dishonesty, evil, and, imperfection. Practicing these traits will end in ruin. All virtue has inherent power. You can see the inherent power in simplicity.[1]

The root of the word simplicity is simple. The term “simple” can be defined as easy, clear, uncluttered, and, natural.

Simplicity is a virtue because of its altruistic nature (selfless action). Those who are aware of the ego’s desire for details and complexity know how it can hide cunning and trickery. If you look up the antonyms for simplicity you will see complexity, difficulty, and complication.

End sagacity; abandon knowledge

The people benefit a hundred times

End benevolence; abandon righteousness

The people return to piety and charity

End cunning; discard profit

Bandits and thieves no longer exist

These three things are superficial and insufficient

Thus this teaching has its place;

Show plainness; [hold to simplicity]

Reduce selfishness; decrease desires.

Chapter 19 of the Tao Te Ching

The complement to simplicity is honesty. Those who are honest with themselves and others feel no need to make things anything other than easy, clear, straightforward or natural. Telling the truth keeps things simple. Lying is complicated because of the difficulty in keeping the details straight. The more the lie is defended, the more complex it becomes. Often it will evolve into something indefensible, and it will become painfully apparent that the truth would have been much simpler.

Another complement of simplicity would be conservation. The vanity of ego can be the source of non-useful expenditures of resources. Complexity leads to difficulty and complication, which ultimately leads to stress and worry. Stress and worry generate a need to cope which drains your energy and resources…” Excerpt from Chapter 21, Simplicity (Section Two – A study of Virtue)

[1] See chapter 16, True Courage, subsection Inherent Power

About the photo: What better symbol for simplicity than a moment watching the sunrise? Just simply be present with the moment as the natural beauty unfolds. Just observe, witness, and appreciate being alive.

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Karma the great executioner

karma the great executioner

 

People do not fear death

How can they be threatened with death?

If people are made to constantly fear death

Then those who act unlawfully

I can capture and kill them

Who would dare?

There exists a master executioner that kills

If we substitute for the master executioner to kill

It is like substituting for the great carpenter to cut

Those who substitute for the great carpenter to cut

It is rare that they do not hurt their own hands

Chapter 74, Tao Te Ching

The philosophy of Karma has the same principle found in physics. Results are always preceded by an action that produced it. In Taoism, both play a significant role in understanding how the Tao is reflected in the spiritual and physical realm. An even simpler way to put it is, “what comes around goes around.” Alternatively, you may have heard “what you put out into the world comes back to you stronger or bigger.”

Choice and Destiny

“If you want to know your past,

look at your present conditions.

If you want to know your future,

look at your actions today.”

Chinese Proverb- Unknown

Choosing is an action, and the result or effect is destiny. In any given moment you plant the seeds of your future. Inner intentions drive the choices you make, so it is important to be aware of these moments. By reflecting on your past, you can gain insight into the circumstances you realize in the present. These conditions, whether right or bad, are the result of earlier choices. Or they may be the result of someone else’s choice. So, you can see how important the action of choosing is. Not only is it guaranteed to affect your future, but it may, and often does, influence the future of others.

It is essential that you understand the following points:

  • Karma does not play favorites.
  • No one can escape Karmas influence or the destiny they create.
  • Seeds are planted to grow a garden. What you plant now is what you will reap later (the garden is a metaphor for your life).
  • Choices create destiny. What you choose now creates the circumstances of your future (or the future of someone else). The results may come sooner or later.

… No one escapes the effect of karma. When and where the convergence happens is unknown and unpredictable. It may return very soon, or it may not catch up to you until another lifetime. You can run, but you cannot hide.

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Be Honest With Your “self”

Self Honesty Opens The Door To The True Path

 

The Strategy: Be honest with yourself. Take ownership of your life, where you are, and how you got there. To change your life from one of struggle into one of success requires and honest and accurate self assessment. Pay attention to the voice of ego.

Its Application: Being honest with anyone, whether it is yourself or others is only possible when we transcend the influence of the ego mind. Free from the opinion of others, practicing acceptance of how things really are, admitting fault and mistakes is the true self turning adversity into wisdom. The true self learns from experience. The ego sticks to ignorance.

 

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 71

To know that you do not know is the highest

To not know but think you now is flawed

 

Only when one realizes fault as fault

Can one be without fault

 

The sages are without fault

Because they recognize fault as fault

That is why they are without fault. 

Self honesty opens the door to self exploration. If we cannot be honest about our ignorance and mistakes, we cannot become free of them. The ego being vain and insecure must pretend to be the highest and most adept, especially when it is not the case. When are able to free ourselves from the ego and return to the true self, we can admit that we don’t know. In that admission we open the door to wisdom and allow ourselves to see wisdom.

Ignorance is repeating the same behaviors and experiencing the same suffering while at the same time refusing to change or let go. Wisdom is the higher understanding of acceptance of not knowing yet seeking realization and being willing to change. If ignorance is a prison for the spirit, ego is the gatekeeper. When we admit our lack of adherence and understanding, we become humble. Humility is the very powerful virtue that releases us from the clinging to ignorance. 

If we view fault as an unsavory or unsatisfactory feature, then through self honesty we can admit our faults. Humility is the power to admit faults so that we can overcome them. Think of some area of your behavior where you have fault and notice any resistance to accepting that in fact it is there. If you can successfully see and admit your fault, you are seeing life as the true self.

Being honest with ourselves also includes not being too hard on ourselves. The important aspect is see things as they really are. We are called to become at one with the underlying reality. If we are with fault we recognize this. If we are not at fault, we can recognize this as well.  Self assessment must be grounded in truth.

In each moment, in each now, we have choices to make which shape our destiny. This means in each moment we are choosing either the path of ignorance or the path of harmony. We can create our own suffering or we can create our own fulfillment. It begins with admitting when you do not know and when we have fault. Knowing comes through wisdom, and harmony is realized when we accept when we do not know and when we have fault. This is done through self awareness and alignment with the Tao. 

Not being honest is living in an illusion that is generated by the ego. Thus one can begin to understand that the true path cannot be found and maintained if we are blinded by illusion and non-truth. Ignorance and illusion are both perspectives of the ego. The true path can only be seen through eyes of honesty and virtue. It awaits us all and will magically rise before us when we enter into wisdom. This is the true path, the way.

 

Strategy Number 30: Be Independent From The Good Or Bad Opinion Of Others

Become Independent From the Good or Bad Opinion Of Others

The Strategy: Free yourself from the influence of what other people think of you.
Its Application: Sovereignty of self is true power. This is especially true when we can become free from the opinion of others. The true self follows the moderate path of wisdom and virtue. The ego is either striving for acceptance and the good opinion from others or it is striving to avoid the bad opinion from others. Either way, this striving influences the decisions and choices that create one’s destiny. The Tao cultivator works on being free from this ego trait and through virtue (such as the three treasures) will find and keep harmony and balance in a successful life.

Non Virtuous Trait: Dependence on the good opinion of others

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 13

Favor and Disgrace make one fearful
The greatest misfortune is the self
What does “favor and disgrace make one fearful” mean ?
Favor is high, disgrace is low
Having it makes one fearful
Losing it makes one fearful
This is “favor and disgrace makes one fearful”

What does “the greatest misfortune is the the self” mean?
The reason I have great misfortune
Is that I have the self
If I have the self
What misfortune do I have

So one who values the self as the world
Can be given the world
One who loves the self as the world
Can be entrusted with the world</blockquote>

So many of us frivolously use up a lot of energy on the worry of what others are going to think about us. The description “frivolously” is used because this such a self indulgence. This Self of course meaning the ego. When we allow our self esteem to rest on the foundation of what others think we set ourselves up for a lose/lose result. Either way we become dependent on an illusion that cannot be sustained. Those of us whose happiness is placed on what others think will always be disappointed. The ego mind can be become trapped between the seeking the good opinion of others or trying desperately to avoid the bad opinion of others.

The ego is very sensitive to criticism. So that any negative opinion becomes a kind of false truth that can be used to manipulate someone who is living a life dominated by the ego self. For the ego mind, self worth is based on what others think. This will be experienced as “misfortune” and suffering. If we have based our ego self esteem on the good opinion of others, we worry about losing it. If we have not yet gained the good opinion of others, we strive to obtain it. Striving leads to misdirection of destiny and suffering.

Striving is distracted action for ego results. It is a waste of energy thus it is a waste of our most precious resource. Wu Wei is the virtue to follow. Wu Wei is unattached action or action without striving. Dependence upon the good or bad opinion of others sets us up for striving. The Tao cultivator upholds dignity by holding to constancy. Constancy of the true self is the maintaining the balance between spiritual and physical. By following virtue and wisdom, the true self avoids the traps of the ego self and choices are altruistic. The Tao cultivators is upheld in the community because of wisdom and dignity and it happens effortlessly.

Yet we do not have cast out our ego self. It is a part of who we are. As Tao cultivators we seek balance which raises harmony. When we are self aware, that is when we are aware of the ego feelings of seeking that good or bad opinion we can step back, let this striving go and be actualized as the higher self. When we are mindful of ego and observe a state of worry over what the opinion of others might be, we can let go and return to the independence of the true self. In balance we can be aware of those opinion yet not be dominated by them. It can be useful to have a good opinion from others yet, we cannot allow ego place a prerequisite for happiness, fulfillment and self worth on them.

As Tao cultivators we stay connected to others, we are aware of those opinions for what they are worth but not controlled by them. As leaders in our community, we are aware of what other feel and think about us but we would not foreclose what we know to be moral and right. There is a balance to be found in regulating the ego mind and the value we place on what others think. Returning to spirit, we free ourselves of dependency on the good or bad opinion of others.

The Power Of Acceptance – Strategy Number Six

Acceptance
angry sunset

 

The Strategy: To practice accepting life as it happens. Stop resisting reality. Be humble, patient and seek wisdom for deliberate action.

Its Application. In each moment we can become aware of how we are reacting to the things that happen to us in life. Opposite of reaction is acceptance. Accepting things as they are we no longer waste energy on that which just is. We can align with the wisdom of the Tao and overcome obstacles with much less effort.

 

Chapter 22

 

Yield and remain whole
Bend and remain straight
Be low and become filled
Be worn out and become renewed
Have Little and receive
Have much and be confused
Therefore the sages hold to the one as an example for the world
Without flaunting themselves, and so are seen clearly
Without presuming themselves, and so are distinguished
Without praising themselves, and so have merit
Without boasting about themselves, and so are lasting.
Because they do not content, the world cannot contend with them
What the ancients called “the one who yields and remains whole”
Were they speaking empty words?
Sincerely becoming whole, and returning to oneself.

Yielding is surrendering to acceptance. Resistance is opposing the reality of life in a given moment. Yielding is surrendering the egoic stance and allowing courage of the true self to remain firm. Ignorance is resisting the underlying reality and taking a set of details personally.

 

So here you are facing some obstacle in your life. The unrealistic ego expects everything to go its way. In that instant, in that now, when you are faced with the obstacle or problem, you have a choice. You can allow the ego to react which is not really a choice or you as the true self you can choose an action.  You can choose to accept and yield or you can choose to resist and move against the flow of the underlying reality. Action is a product of a the self-aware choice. In another chapter, we will discuss Wu Wei which is the action of not striving. Action does not necessarily have to be a “doing” thing, your action may be to hold off and seek wisdom. Ego is enslaved to ignorance and reaction, and the True Self takes a measured action according to wisdom and virtue. The outcome of this reacting or striving can be very self-destructive.

 

Ignorant reaction is one where ego is making the decisions. The decisions are usually based on an emotional state that can often not be based in reality. Fear about what may happen, worry about some distant point in the future, Ego usually has a distorted view of the facts and therefore choices made within this perspective can be flawed. Since cause and effect (karma) is always present, your choice will become part of the new reality.

 

The alternative is to be present as the true self, be unified with the Tao and to choose from the perspective of wisdom. In that first instant, you can transcend the ego reaction and discern what may be unfolding. In this orthogonal perspective you may realize a whole host of possible choices or alternatives. By choosing to accept and yield where possible, we can remain whole and not lose virtue to ignorance. By not resisting we can bend and remain straight instead of breaking. When we spend a lot of energy resisting the flow of life as it is, we become tired, yet when we yield and remain soft, we conserve energy and renew.

 

Chapter 71 (accept when you do not know, accept when you are at fault)

To know that you do not know is the highest
To not know but think that you know is flawed
Only when one recognized fault as a fault
Can one be without fault
The Sages are without fault
Because they recognize the fault as a fault
That is why they are without fault.

 

This wisdom is practical and should be easy to implement. Yet if you are grounded in ego, accepting that you do not know or that you are at fault is almost impossible. Not accepting these realities is to just continue on with the illusion of self-deception. Only when we accept that we do not know can we begin to seek the understanding that leads to knowing. Only when we realize and admit that we are at fault can we begin to correct the fault. Otherwise we just continue the path of ignorance, which is the reality of not knowing and being at fault. This is a huge waste of time and energy (Qi) and only results in the false destiny. The Tao cultivator stays on the true path by the acceptance of knowing that they do not know and accepting fault as fault. Only then can they resume the true path.

 

Other areas of acceptance that can help us return to the true path are:

 

accepting that we may never know the great mysteries

accepting that we have not hit the mark (failure)

accepting that we have setbacks (a lapse back into ego)

accepting that the details of life are constantly changing, nothing remains the same, that there is impermanence to all things

accepting that we are not right (correct and at fault)

accepting that we are attached to something.

accepting the present moment as it is

By not being overtaken by distraction and ignorance, we can “hold to the one”.  We can hold to that authentic path of the true self. In this way, by not making the mistakes of ignorance, the Tao cultivator is recognized by their wisdom. Without flaunting, their example endures and their virtue is seen clearly. By not getting caught up in self promotion (ego) they are distinguished and are given high merit. By remaining virtuous and in alignment with divinity, they last.

 

Reacting to other people, circumstances and situations with ignorance is a form of resistance known as contention. When we react to someone in a negative way we are contending. Contention is to struggle with, to grapple with, and to oppose. This is resistance which creates friction. Friction uses up a lot of energy resulting in depletion. So when we contend, we may as well expect the to also to meet contention. This is a stagnation in ignorance where there is no winner. In relationships there are always going to be opposing views. Yet, the Tao cultivator can accept that there is an opposing view without agreeing with and still without contention.

 

Yielding for the Tao Cultivator does not mean that we give up what we know to be the path to wisdom. The Tao cultivator remains above the reaction of resistance and contention and flows like water around the obstacle. By remaining in wisdom, the Tao cultivator seeks the myriad of possible solutions by remaining free of taking things personally and holding to the one. If we use the metaphor of life being like a series of cards to be played (a card game), inevitably, we will receive a hand that is not productive. The ego will freak out, the true self is patient and will transcend emotion and consider the best strategy to continue forward.

 

Cause and effect are seeds that get planted in each moment we face a fork in the road of life. This is how our destiny is formed. The Tao cultivator, is ever-present of holding to the one, their destiny, they do not let the ego control the process. Mindfulness is the paying attention to this process and holding to the one. The Tao cultivator follows the wisdom of the Tao as if their life depends on it. Because what is life but our spiritual self experiencing reality in the physical realm and each moment holds the seeds of the future.

 

If yielding and acceptance seem like a weakness, this is the ego view. The moment one can realize, even for an instant, the freedom, the power to let go and accept and yield, virtue has risen. This is the power of the Tao.