Thoughts on my hobbies: parkour and theater

This is less of a lesson and more of a brain vomit for myself. I need to get these ideas out on paper. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some gems in here.

The first hobby I’ll discuss is parkour. I did parkour for three years, but sadly I have to stop this year because I’m too busy with school.

The main challenge with parkour isn’t the physical or technical aspect of it (at least for me). It was the mental part of it. One classic example is a two-foot jump: if you have a two-foot jump on flat ground, it’s no problem, but then take that exact same distance and put it as story or two up, and suddenly it’s not the same jump anymore!

There are really two main ways to combat this fear, which comes up a lot:

One way is to get physically charged up and then attack it with everything you’ve got.

Another, more subtle, but not unrelated way is to wait for a tiny window of opportunity where your fear melts away, and you feel capable of doing it. It’s a tiny interval, maybe half a second, but that’s when the jump MUST be taken.

The thing that DOES NOT work for combatting fear is rationalizing it away. You can tell yourself “I can do this, I’ve done harder stuff before…” but the fear will still be there. Talk is cheap. The best way in that situation is to just relax, and wait for the opening.

Another lesson related to fear is that once you’ve started a move, COMMIT to it. My worst falls were always when I bailed halfway through.

The second main lesson I’ve learned is that concentration is critical. Some situations like balancing on a bar are so precarious that one second of inattention can be enough to make you lose your balance. And this is definitely a developable skill through concentration on the breath for example.

My other hobby is theater. Musical theater and also straight theater. Most of this stuff applies more to straight theater and less to musical theater.

I’ve never heard of personal development people talk about theater, nor of the two being put in relation with one another. So I’ll share my thoughts on the subject.

I think that theater and personal development are intimately linked.

Because what do you do in PD? You develop then transcend your ego, who you think you are, your character.

What theater allows you to do is break out of these roles you play and lose yourself in another story. It’s quite cathartic to play someone else, to forget who you are for a while. It feels like play!

Theater is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. And isn’t that what we do in “real life?”

At a deep level, acting allows you to see that who you think you are is ultimately bullshit. You can be whoever you want to be! I think that playing a bunch of characters allows you to feel more comfortable in your own skin.

One superficial benefit of theater is that you develop a lot of confidence in yourself and the ability to present yourself to others, because performing on stage takes a lot of guts if you’re not used to it. Also, if you play a confident character, it will force you to act confident, and you seeing that possibility for yourself will translate to more confidence offstage. And finally, it’s a safe place to try new stuff.

But it doesn’t stop there! Another amazing thing that theater has done for multiple people in my current group of close friends is it has allowed them to break out of their shells. I had one friend who was introverted to the point of just saying hello and that was it for the rest of the day. Now, after some time doing theater, he is way past that! I’ve had so many fascinating conversations with him. I’m not quite sure how that works at a psychological level, I just know it does, if you’re willing to give it a try.

Another point is about being vulnerable. If you can be true and vulnerable on stage, I think that sets you up really well for interacting with others in real life. And your communication skills, presentation skills, and comedic timing will all go through the roof!

And talk about being quick on your feet! You never know what’s gonna happen on stage, every night is different. I’ve had the experience of having a prop (in this case, a plastic flower) break in my hand during a performance as I was giving it to the girl. Luckily, I was playing Gaston, and the girl was Belle, so I just gave her the headless flower stem. It worked even better than having the flower whole! Rolling with the seeming punches is part of the game. And if you do improv, you get REALLY good at this.

Not only that, but every time you say the lines is going to be different depending on the night, your mood, or the moods of everyone else around you. It’s not so much an analytical process that you’re aware of, but after a while you get a sense of “this is how I say this line most truthfully right now.”

And at some point, when you’re really on fire, you just disappear into the scene. It doesn’t feel like an actor playing a character, you forget yourself totally and it feels like you’re truly in that situation, and the lines and actions just flow. I’ve had this happen a few times for a few seconds in the scene, and it was a superb feeling! I guess you could call it a flow state, but it felt more magical than that. Again, really subtle and not something you get right away.

On stage, one also needs a lot of awareness, and especially self-awareness. You need to know what you’re body’s doing, what you’re feeling, what you’re partner’s saying, how your line are coming out of your mouth, and what effect they’re having on the audience. You need to process a lot of stuff at once, again not consciously formed in your mind, but you must be able to pick up the subtleties of scene. You also develop mindfulness over your emotions. You might think that the lines and the actions are the only things that matter on stage, but the emotions, or where the lines and actions are coming from, are paramount.

All these things I believe can be translated into personal development: the self-awareness, the flowing with the situation, the transformation it can have on your character, or just having fun. 😉  Some of the best times of my life have been during theater, both onstage, and off.

Hopefully you found this post useful. I urge you to try both or one of these hobbies out, you won’t regret it. And if you found this helpful, please share! We need this theater-personal development idea to spread.

The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts

This is my first book by Alan Watts. And it didn’t disappoint.

The subtitle of this book is “On the taboo against knowing who you are.” Which is an appropriate name for it.

What’s the taboo he’s talking about? Non-duality!

This book is a great introduction to non-duality from a rather academic standpoint. More on that later.

Basically, what this book shows you is that we live in a black-and-white world: the world of duality. Good/bad, left/right, male/female, me/you… The list goes on.

Thus, because we feel separate from the world, thinking we are little egos inside our heads, we are able to inflict massive harm on the world. Look at global warming. If there is an “outside world”, then that outside world has to be “conquered.” That’s a very Western attitude, of man vs. nature.

Another result of thinking I’m an ego is the creation of in-groups and out-groups. This is the case of every religion, sect, political party, even science. If everyone thinks they’re right, they’re willing to harm others to prove their point. Which leads to war, genocide, hostility, racial tensions, etc…

So, Watts presents the universal notion of God, aka the Universe, Reality, Truth, the Self. You know how the story goes. And guess what, you’re IT!

Of course, he emphasizes that you can’t understand this intellectually nor see or feel God. It’s above all the experience.

The main part of the book talks about duality, and particularly how opposites are dependent on each other. There can be no “left” without “right”.

But we most often play the game of Black-versus-White. We think that white has to triumph over black, forgetting to acknowledge that neither can exist without the other. If this is the case, neither can win. It’s impossible. In this way, it is all just a cosmic game. A game we’ve taken way too seriously. As Watts, says, it’s “as crazy as trying to keep the mountains and get rid of the valleys.”

Another point he makes is the complete paradox that society gives its citizens: “Be yourself, but play a consistent and acceptable role.” Or put another way “Control yourself and be natural,” or “Try to be sincere.” This is the double-bind societal game. No wonder most teenagers these days are confused, and most people in general frustrated. So now we go about fulfilling self-contradictory goals.

One thing that I kind of disagree with Watts about is what to do after having come into contact with this information. He says that trying to become egoless is just another egoic act. It reaffirms itself all the time. Which is true ONLY AFTER you’ve had an awakening. Once you see your true nature, THEN you know that getting rid of an ego is egoic. But the initial seeking and seeing is paramount.

Yes, seeking your true nature through spirituality is ultimately egoic. But you must do that in order to know who you truly are. Then you will see that trying to get rid of your ego is a) egoic and b) impossible because your ego simply doesn’t exist in the first place.

This part comes in the last part of the book. I highly recommend it, and if you’ve had an awakening, you know exactly what he’s talking about, that spiritual exercises for Enlightenment are egoic in nature. That’s ultimately true, but don’t forget that they’re necessary in order to know the Self in the first place.

I said earlier that this book is pretty academic, and it is. There aren’t any exercises or anything like that in here. But it’s very relatable and will give you a great conceptual understanding of this big illusion we live in.

Watts also has a few interesting parts about philosophy, namely his famous “prickly” and “gooey” philosophers.

By the way, you can get a free PDF of this book here:

https://terebess.hu/english/AlanWatts-On%20The%20Taboo%20Against%20Knowing%20Who%20You%20Are.pdf

The Verdict:

Great far-reaching book for a secular introduction to non-duality and philosophy.

Favorite quote:

For enjoyment is an art and a skill for which we have little talent or energy.

How you rob yourself of happiness

A while ago I wrote about all the habits that people do that are really detrimental to growth (check it out here). These are the foundational habits that you need to change in order to address the real reasons you’re unhappy.

These are the deeper things we do that rob us of happiness. And often, we don’t even realize we’re doing these.

  1. Judging

Yeah, who’s not guilty of this?

Be honest with yourself: you’ve judged everything and everyone you’ve ever met. Including yourself.

These are all simply your ego’s projections onto these things in order to make it feel separate and special.

But all judgments come back to bite you in the butt.

Take this example: you see someone who’s rich and judge wealth negatively. “Oh, he just got lucky, wealth doesn’t bring happiness, being rich isn’t necessary…”

Now you have just partaken in your own demise: you can now never become rich because that would be HYPOCRITICAL of you.

Another simple example: you judge someone as fat. Well, great, now you have NO CHOICE but to work out and eat right because now you fear becoming that which you judged.

Of course, I say “you” judge, but really it’s your mind putting labels on everything. You actually have very little control over it.

  1. Beating yourself up

Again, everyone has done this at some point. But simply no good comes from it.

Has beating yourself up ever helped a situation? No.

The better option is to accept whatever happened as what happened. Better yet, accept it as what happened because it couldn’t have been any other way.

Acceptance has a magical power when you start to tap into it. Life flows so much more easily.

If you make a mistake, don’t worry about it! Laugh at it! See the funny in life! Even the most advanced spiritual masters mess up sometimes.

The good news is, as your consciousness grows, you will blame yourself and others less and less, and start becoming more and more accepting.

  1. “Shoulding”

“Shoulding” is any time you tell yourself “should” in your mind.

“She shouldn’t have left me.” “I should be better at this.” “I shouldn’t be doing this.” “He shouldn’t have said that.” Even “he shouldn’t have been elected.”  😉

Should statements are simply your mind resisting reality.

And we all know, when we resist reality, what do we get? Suffering.

That’s right, Trump getting elected isn’t causing your suffering, YOUR RESISTANCE TO IT is.

So become more conscious of these should statements. They can come in many forms, not just should: “I would have been better in that part…” All part of the same story.

One of the best antidotes to should statements are questions:

  • Do I know for certain that I shouldn’t be doing this / that I should be more advanced…?
  • How do I know this isn’t the best thing that has happened to me?
  • How do I know this isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to be?
  • Can I find any evidence to back up this statement in reality?

Once you start to intellectually challenge should statements, you have to start to FEEL that they are untrue in order for them to start to permanently evaporate. This is a bit more subtle and something I haven’t mastered yet.

The problem with all these neuroses is that they’re very subtle. We’re not aware we’re doing them when in fact we are.

This is where meditation becomes so critical. You get more perspective and awareness on your thoughts, and are able to jump in and question them.

Question all of these neuroses: “Is this judgment absolutely true?” “Do I know that I wasn’t supposed to do that?” “How do I know this error won’t turn into a success?” “Apart from my opinion, can I find any proof to this thought?”

Finally, try to FEEL that these thoughts are untrue. This is ultimately what will keep them from recurrently coming up.

Remember, this is a process, a long one. Don’t expect to be rid of these neuroses overnight.

Another tip: start becoming interested in Truth with a capital T. The Absolute Truth. This will also transform your mind because you won’t be so distracted with petty judgments and such.

So jump in. Trust me, this stuff will transform your life.

The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell

Who knew all the ancients had similar myths and stories?

Apparently, Joseph Campbell.

The Power of Myth is a nice book that discusses all the parallels that exist between the myths of many different cultures throughout the world. It’s quite a fascinating read if you’re into stories, culture or religion / spirituality.

What’s surprising is that so many cultures have similar myths and motifs in these myths. Those folks knew some stuff about the human psyche.

One important aspect of the book is how new life is made. Campbell states that “Somebody has to die in order for life to emerge,” and this has been common to most cultures throughout history: human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, sacrificing oneself for one’s children… you get the idea.

Basically, it’s a fact of growth that something has to die first. In PD, one could say this means dying to your old self: forget who you were yesterday, that’s not you now.

Another thing that some of you might be familiar with is the motif of the Hero’s Journey.

Here it is in a nutshell:

  1. Starts by being seen in ordinary existence.
  2. Presented with call to action, opportunity.
  3. Rejection of the call.
  4. Forced to accept call because it is imposed upon him.
  5. Ventures into unknown territory, faces threshold guardian (first obstacle).
  6. If fails, goes to find mentor (=hero from past generation).
  7. Returns to fight threshold guardians.
  8. Faces more guardians until final boss which guards Holy Grail.
  9. Enters the belly of the whale: has to face himself, rethink his approach, look at his inner demons.
  10. When he gets Holy Grail, there is a 180 degree reversal of understanding of grail -> journey was not about the grail but about the development required to reach the grail -> finds peace and happiness in who he has become => journey to FIND himself.
  11. Tribe cannot comprehend his lessons because have not gone on journey.
  12. Hero retires as mentor.

How to be a hero 101 😉

This is the journey that all the great heroes throughout history and culture have taken: Jesus, Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins… the list goes on.

Campbell defines a hero as “someone who has given her life to something bigger than oneself.” He even argues that motherhood can be seen as a heroic act, because in the past it was essentially devoting one’s life to one’s children, and sometimes even dying in the act of giving birth.

The interpretation I like is that the Hero’s Journey is really just a metaphor for Enlightenment. This is the Hero’s Journey we’re all called to go on in the end. That’s what giving our lives over to something bigger than ourselves is truly about.

Most people don’t realize that all these stories of heroes are really just metaphors for Enlightenment (which is what religion is). But that’s ultimately what it’s about.

Campbell says that all spiritual masters have undertaken this Hero’s Journey.

He also says that for you to have a Hero’s Journey of you own, they must “follow your bliss,” which I like as a substitute for Life Purpose. Find what best “fosters the flowering of your humanity.”

But don’t get distracted by the sexy life purpose journey: the real one is still Oneness.

Another point that is important in any journey: the TRIALS on a metaphorical Hero’s Journey and REVELATIONS on a spiritual Hero’s Journey both contribute to the raising of the hero’s consciousness. Muy importante.

At some point in any journey, you will need to descend into the belly of the whale, a notion that I really like. It’s that dark psychological place into which a hero MUST descend.

That’s where the real growth happens. Go the the very root of the thing.

Ok, enough with the Hero’s Journey. Campbell also discusses the universal notion of love, which he distinguishes into 3 types:

Eros = lust

Agape = spiritual love

Amor = romantic love

I love those names! Sounds so much better than simply “love.”

He also reminds us that compassion literally means “suffering with.” Being compassionate means voluntarily participating the the sorrows of the world.

Hopefully, he points out in the case of the Bodhisattva, you complete your Hero’s Journey to Enlightenment and then come back and live with and help the rest of the world. That’s what a Bodhisattva is.

Lastly, about the book itself: I really enjoyed it. It’s in the form of a dialogue between Campbell and a journalist named Bill Moyers, who is actually a pretty smart guy in the book. It’s a really pleasant read, and full of cultural juice.

Favorite quote:

“The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy.”

The Verdict:

And excellent read for understanding the origins of myth and the universally-known truths of the human psyche.

Books you shouldn’t waste your time with

Here are a few books that I’ve read that really don’t bring much to the table in terms of Self-Actualization.

So I’ll keep this short and sweet.

 

  1. The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt

I haven’t actually read this one, but I know from a few book summaries what this book discusses: how to be happy.

It says happiness comes from having a goal and striving to attain that goal.

That may be helpful advice for some people, but it’s not what happiness actually is. Maybe in our materialistic Western culture, but that’s definitely not the case in just about every spiritual tradition around the world.

Seriously, when has that strategy ever worked for you?

True happiness = reality – expectations.

The trick is embodying this principle 😉

 

2. Follow Your Calling, Alexander Teetz

This is a little-known book about life purpose. It has everything you can think of on a mental plane: values, goals, strengths, the whole sh’bang.

But it has no mention of intuition, or of the limits of just thinking about what your Life Purpose could be, rather than going out and DOING something to find it.

 

3. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution, P.D. Ouspensky

The kind of psychology that Ouspensky talks about in his work is the “psychology of man’s possible evolution,” as opposed to traditional psychology.

We must understand that Ouspensky was one of the first to write about spirituality and non-duality in the West.

And that’s exactly what it feels like. Almost like he’s still trying to figure it out, and presenting it in a very structured way. It feels like a college thesis.

He does give an interesting definition of psychology: the study of lies.

Not a dumb remark when you think about it. It could mean the lies we tell ourselves, our own self-deceptions, and the lies we tell others.

Ouspensky argues that psychology is actually an ancient practice, as old as philosophy, and that present-day psycho-analysis isn’t really true psychology. One of the reasons is because it denies the existence of consciousness.

However, I don’t think it’s a very helpful book on the how-to of spirituality. Just a lot of theory in a strangely-worded way. Not super helpful.

 

4. Gut Feelings, Gerd Gigerenzer

Just…no.

It’s not really a book about gut feelings, but how our minds make split-second decisions like catching a baseball.

 

5. The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander

Very unoriginal. No new gems.

Meditation: the #1 Habit for Personal Growth

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: meditation is the one greatest practice you can have in order to grow yourself.

For those of you already doing it, great. The rest, get started.

There are TONS of reasons to meditate, some spiritual, some health-related, and some just benefits that anyone would want.

  1. Less stress
  2. Increased levels of happiness: it’s a direct consequence from the first benefit.
  3. Scientifically proven to increase productivity and creativity
  4. Scientifically proven to improve brain function and health
  5. Better sleep
  6. More access to feelings and intuitions
  7. Distinction between thinking and awareness: this is HUGE. Too many people live life in their heads, and try to change themselves through THOUGHT. This doesn’t work. You have to become more MINDFUL in your everyday life. Meditation will assist you in this.
  8. Getting rid of addictions as a result of being more mindful
  9. Less dependent on thought, are more able to be critical of your thoughts
  10. Slowing down thought process, will be less likely to be inundated with negative thoughts and emotions.
  11. Able to be happy by doing absolutely nothing
  12. Allowing what is
  13. Better able to do deep work (contemplation, Self-Inquiry…)
  14. Enlightenment

If that didn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

What is meditation anyway? There are literally hundreds of ways to meditate. What’s the real essence of meditation.

It can be defined in lots of ways, but basically it’s:
–   relaxation of the mind

  • letting go
  • surrendering
  • letting go of control
  • (slowly) dissolving the ego
  • seeing there is no meditator
  • distinguishing between awareness and thinking
  • what is
  • allowing what is

All these things basically point to one thing: surrendering control, which is the whole point of spirituality.

What’s the best meditation technique? You can try out multiple ones over the course of a few weeks and see what you like, but I strongly recommend the Do Nothing technique.

It’s simple: you do nothing. Just let go of control and relax.

Here’s a guided meditation from actualized.org that works SUPER well. It is a good one to get started with because it is very peaceful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LscnZCzdak&t=1204s

Personally, I started meditating over a year ago (not with that guided meditation). I know everyone says that meditation is all about blissing out and being peaceful.

Do not be deceived.

The first year or so will be hard. You’ll be confused, you’ll wanna quit, you won’t be seeing any results from it.

That’s OK. Just stick with it.

It was really only recently (in the last few months) that meditation has become a real joy for me, where I can sit and expect to get at least of few moments of peace and relaxation.

So there you have it. Start today. Even if it’s only 20 minutes a day. Everyone has 20 minutes in their day. Then bump it up.

I’d like to finish with a great quote from Marcus Aurelius that drives home the importance of meditation:

“Failure to observe what is in the mind of another has seldom made a man unhappy; but those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.”

– Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Even outside of a religious context like Buddhism where meditation is central, ancient sages still recognized the importance it held.

Big Mind, Big Heart, Dennis Genpo Merzel

This is a very original spiritual book.

In this book, Zen Master Dennis Merzel combines two teachings: Zen Buddhism and Voice Dialogue Therapy, from traditional psychology. He does this in order to effectively help us pass through the “gateless gate.”

Voice dialogue is where the therapist asks to speak to one “part” or “personality” of the patient, usually fear, the damaged one, the victim… He lets that part of him express itself so that you can accept it.

Here, Merzel takes Voice Dialogue therapy and uses it to speak to the “voices” of the non-dual: the Way, Big Mind, Big Heart… He allows each voice to say what it has to say.

Now, this seems like a rather ridiculous way to practice spirituality. But it seems to work for most people.

In the version I bought, the book came with a CD. One of the tracks is a recording of him performing the Big Mind method on the interviewer, and she immediately recognized what she was. If you listen along and do what he says, it works.
The book is divided into four parts: one where he discusses the method. He says that if you try to find the voice he asks for, it won’t work. You have to let it surface. As soon as you try, it’s over.

The next three parts all deal with different aspects of the psyche: the first with the dual mind, dealing with voices like Fear, the Damaged One, Desire. The next deals with the non-dual mind: Big Mind, Big Heart, Integrated Free-Functioning Human Being… Finally he deals with integrating the dual and non-dual minds, because this is where a lot of people tend to get stuck: they hang out in the non-dual and don’t hold anything from the dual world as having any significance. This part speaks to Supreme Wisdom, Intention, and Zazen Mind to name a few.

He also gives tips for how to meditate: exactly how to sit, etc. And the meditation that comes on the CD is ver nice: it consists simply in asking to let the Non-Seeking Non-Grasping Mind present itself.

It works. You can try it right now. (Watch out: don’t seek or grasp the Non-Seeking Non-Grasping Mind!)

I’ve started to use this in my regular meditation practice if my mind is particularly noisy.

So the big question: does this process at all work?

I’ve concluded (for myself anyway) that it will let you realize what you are through asking to speak to Big Mind. And that is great because it allows the masses (us) to bypass years of spiritual seeking.

BUT. I don’t think this process works well for clearing up. Clearing up is the process that happens after the initial awakening that “clears up” all your neuroses and allows you to embody what you’ve realized.

The best resource I’ve found for post-awakening work is Adyashanti’s “The End of Your World” (book review coming soon!)

But Big Mind Big Heart is an interesting read, and iI did find it helpful in that it addresses all aspects of awakening and the spiritual process: what you are, compassion, mindful interaction…

Favorite quote:

“We have many words to try to grasp the ungraspable, because grasping obviously requires two things – that which is being grasped and one who is going the grasping – and reality is no two, not dual. It’s not graspable.”

The Verdict:

Definitely a new breakthrough way to look at and practice spirituality. I’m still not convinced it is useful for clearing up.