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.

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What’s the point?

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you have a wonderful year filled with much happiness and joy!

My advice for the new year is the following: don’t set new year’s resolutions.

There’s a very simple reason for this. What is the new year? It’s the Earth going around the Sun once more.

Now is that really a good motivator? Is it coming from an extrinsic motive or an intrinsic one? Which one do you think is more sustainable?

So if you’re serious about a resolution, you can keep that goal. But instead of it being based on a revolution of the Sun, find a more personal and intrinsic reason to pursue it.

For example, you want to lose weight, and 2017 is the year to do it. Great. Keep that goal in mind. Now try to find a reason for losing the weight. Do you want to be around when your kids grow up? That’s a true reason. Do you want to be able to go on adventures you never thought you could and truly experience life? Another good reason.

That’s my little pep talk on the new year. But in the same mood, I’m going to talk about what the hell is it that we’re aiming for anyway with all this personal growth?

Keep in mind that this is my idea of what growth looks like, yours could be different.

And I don’t think it is not what most people think of when they think of self-development. Most people think of only a couple of areas of life, most of which are pretty shallow. They think physical health, business skills and financial freedom, relationship skills, and a little mental fortitude.

I’m not saying these don’t have a place, I’m just saying that these are very externally-focused goals and will not bring about a deep change. Don’t get me wrong, I also study these topics. But the way I do it is mostly a means to a much deeper end.

Intrigued? Read on.

Part of this vision is a complete understanding, optimization and transcending of my self.

Lots of interpretations of that sentence, I know.

Some of the things that that includes is meditation, observing how I act, doubting my ego, doubting beliefs, becoming more natural, uncovering childhood events that explain how I act, and ultimately Enlightenment. Kind of an act of unwiring and rewiring.

This view incorporates both psychology from the West and spirituality from the East. Combining the best of both worlds to understand how we work.

The best part about this is that it’s a completely personal journey. Every man for himself. You can get the tools from other sources, but it’s not like a business book you can read and apply.

Another thing I’m aiming for is a deep understanding of reality and answering deep questions of Truth. For example: what comes first, consciousness or matter? What makes justification valid?

The more you understand how reality works, the more you will be able to appreciate it and stop living in your own little egoic world. It is the ultimate union of psychology and philosophy.

Being able to understand reality holistically means you can be at peace with it.

This all comes down to increasing your consciousness, which is your ability to see reality clearly.

High consciousness is:

⁃selfless and giving

⁃fearless and courageous

⁃not worried

⁃focused on direct experience over belief (which frees it from dogma)

⁃committed to truth and accuracy

⁃values learning and growing rather than tradition, free of culture

⁃intelligent machine

⁃creative

⁃spontaneous and organic, can find solutions on the fly

⁃takes 100% responsibility, especially for emotions

⁃humble

⁃big-picture thinking

⁃hyper-aware of back-firing

⁃characterized by indiscriminate love

 

So not a bad set of goals. Think how much better your life would be if you had all this.

Growing your consciousness fundamentally rests on six pillars:

1.Increase capacity to love

2.Increase capacity to feel happy independent of circumstances

3.Increase capacity to be intellectually open (entertain ideas and opinions that I am          unfamiliar with without getting emotional or defensive about them)

4.Increase capacity for self-governance

5.Increase capacity to face fear

6.Transcend selfish and protective motives

Now most of these are pretty broad, but you get the picture.

Another thing I think is important is life purpose. You need something to keep you grounded, and a way to impact the world in a positive way.

And this is where traditional topics of personal development come into play. You can’t be optimized on a bad diet. If you can’t manage a business well, how will you ever have time to do all this work? You may understand on an experiential level that you and your girlfriend are one, but you still need to know how to relate to them in their world. You have to learn the ins and outs of business in order for your life purpose to have an impact. Don’t discount the more basic, external sides of personal development.

I want to reiterate that you are completely on your own for this journey. Very few people ever consider, or even have a clue as to what this is all about. The good news is that so far it has made my life a whole lot richer in only about nine months. I can only imagine what this’ll turn into a few years down the line.

So if something here sparked your interest, good. Listen to that little voice.

Happy new year, and stay tuned for more!

How to DO Personal Development

How to DO Personal Development

This question had been bugging me for quite some time. A lot of people say they do personal development or self-help without actually doing any work.

And yes it does take work.

The thing is, most people just passively read a book, and assume they have grown.

But personal development is a lot more active than that.

To get results, it has to be.

So in this post, I’m going to give you MANY ways you can start DOING personal development, some of which I’m sure you’ve never thought of.

Ready to start?

Let’s go.

 

How to DO Personal Development:

1.Reading books

Classic. Books contain SO much great information. I’m sure you do this already, just know that acquiring the information without doing anything is the same as not knowing.
2. CDs, courses, and videos

Again in the acquiring information category, you can get a lot of information through the Internet that you won’t be able to get without going to expensive seminars. Which brings me to my next point:
3. Seminars and workshops

Personal development can seem very lonesome sometimes. Going to seminars gives you a support group for that as well as a lot of specialized information you can’t find anywhere else. Not even the Internet, sadly.
4. Taking and reviewing notes

Whenever I see something I find useful or interesting, I add it to my loooong list of PD notes on my computer. Going back over them is useful because it keeps it fresh in your mind and may remind you of something you’ve been neglecting in your growth.
5. Coaching

Not to be mistaken for therapy! Therapy aims to get people to baseline, coaching aims for success and moving way past the baseline. This can be useful for personal problems and tailors what you need to do for you. I’ll admit that I’ve never had a coach, so I won’t say more about that.
6. Journaling

Getting into the more active forms of PD, journaling is one of the best habits I’ve picked up this year. I love it because it acts as a second brain. I use it for brain dumps, answering questions, defining goals, and capturing those “aha!” moments. I also try to reread it often. It’s almost like you’re coaching yourself by getting you out of you own shoes.

Some great journaling questions are:

  • What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  • What’s the one thing I can stop doing or start doing that will have the greatest impact on my life?
  • What advice would I give someone else in my exact same situation?

 

7. Gratitude

This goes hand in hand with journaling. I love the feeling of gratitude, it’s an easy way to feel happier!

Here’s my favorite way to practice it, straight from Tony Robbins:
Sit straight up in a chair. Then pump your arms straight up and down while breathing energetically. This will help energize your body. Put both of your hands over your heart, and feel it beating. Breathe into it. One at a time, think of and enjoy 3 thing that you can be grateful for in this moment. They can be people in your life, a situation, a coincidence, a simple object near you, or anything else. Fill up with a feeling of gratitude!

You can also do this in conjunction with writing them down!

 

8. Meditation

This should have been first on the list.

This habit holds the most benefit for you. I’ll write a whole other post on the importance of meditation and specific techniques, but for now just know that this daily practice can change your life.
Can you believe we’re not even halfway through the list?!?

9. Affirmations and visualizations

Ah the great PD classics! These are very basic forms of personal development, and can be very useful for newbies in the area. Proper technique for doing these isn’t hard to find on the Internet.

One of my favorite visualizations is one aimed at self-acceptance. This can be found on Actualized.org on Youtube. Self-acceptance is always the one thing we forget to do while simultaneously improving ourselves. We are so focused on what aspects of ourselves we don’t want we forget to accept that we have them, and that they are us.
10. Psychological exercises

Whichever way you slice it, personal development IS psychology. Some good psychological exercises are psychodramas (playing out episodes of your past), or role-playing (acting out different roles to emphasize characteristics). Writing out past traumatic episodes can also be helpful.
11. Sentence stems

This is a fun way to get answers from yourself! How this works is you have a stem of a sentence and you have to write 6-10 endings for it without filtering.

Here are 2 examples from The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden:
“If I am willing to express 5% more of myself today ___.”
“When I suppress my thoughts and opinions ___.”

A few more good ones I like:
“In order to please my father, I had to be ___.”
“The biggest thing I fear about leaving my partner is ___.”
“One area in my life where I’m trying to go too fast is ___.”

Try to do each question or series of questions first thing in the morning over a few days to get as many varied answers as possible.

The beauty of this technique is that it is easily applicable to any situation and any new concept you learn about or any problem you may have. And it’s not hard to come up with new ones!
12. Take action, push your comfort zone

Sure, it’s easy to repeat “I am brave” in front of your mirror for 5 minutes a day. Don’t forget you actually have to go do the thing you’re afraid to do. Consistently pushing your comfort zone will be very beneficial in so many way: it increases confidence, lowers depression, and ultimately makes you feel alive!

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do the thing and you will have the power.”
13. Mindfulness

Just sitting there. Just being. You’ll notice when you start doing this you’ll feel more relaxed, more fulfilled, and have more emotional mastery.

Another reason to do this is to increase your awareness throughout the day. There are many notions in intermediate PD that you do throughout the day that you’re probably not even aware of, like criticizing, lying, judging, people-pleasing, and resisting reality. Even overeating comes from a low level of consciousness. Noticing when you do these and how they affect you is the first step in changing these habits.

This goes hand-in-hand with meditation. I also like to be mindful for example when doing chores or going for a walk.

Remember, Yin and Yang.
14. Taking a walk

Again on the Yin side, this can be very beneficial. Walking for 20 minutes a day increases your mood, your energy, releases stress, and gets your juices flowing for the day. I love to walk to a park not far from where I live and then journal.
15. Bioenergetics / Dynamic meditation

Let’s stick with the theme of the body. I recommend you check out my review of the Language of the Body by Alexander Lowen. Here’s a brief snapshot of what bioenergetics is: it’s a therapy consisting of releasing trapped energy in the body.

So basically let your body do whatever it wants to. Dynamic mediations by Osho also have the same effect.

Let whatever wants to come out come out. Anger, screaming, crying, laughter, hitting stuff. Yep, hitting a cushion is my version of an hour of therapy!

You will feel so much freer after a session of this, not to mention so much more grounded.

A few other exercises I like to do is opening my jaw as wide as possible and holding it, also the bow. The bow consists of putting your hands wither behind your head or above it, and leaning back and breathing. This will induce a shaking throughout your body. That’s a good thing! That’s your life force being freed!
16. Defining and refining values, vision and mission statement

Again back to the classical type of PD exercises! These kinds of exercises and finalized notions can be useful for grounding your work, especially if you’re just starting out.
17. Introspection

Again on the Yin side of things, introspection is a very important part of PD. Asking yourself what’s true for you, what do you want, reflecting on how you’re life is going, all these things can help release anxiety and clarify some things for you. Seriously, some of the deepest things I’ve discovered so far have come from just thinking about stuff!

I most love introspection on deep philosophical topics such as epistemology, metaphysics, and ultimately the nature of reality. Pondering these things can greatly benefit you in the long term (see below).

Another thing to ponder is the shortness of life. This is the only one you have! Think about that for a while to stay motivated and grateful for what you have.

Who knows what’ll hit you?
18. Theater (say what?)

Yep theater.

I’m sure you’ve never thought of theater as being a means of improving oneself.

I’m here to argue otherwise. Theater has started to become a big part of my life and those around me. For those who don’t know, I grew up in the world of theater (both of my parents are singers and actors), and I always noticed that actors have something the rest of us don’t. I was only just able to pinpoint what that was.

Authenticity.

My theory here is that after having tried on so many masks, actors know their own personality very well, they know what fits them. That’s the approach I’m coming at it from.

Also I’ve found that after doing a scene where maybe I play an angry character, I’m left feeling very clam and relaxed. Theater is cathartic in the same way dynamic mediation is.

The last point I’ll make about theater is confidence. Of course! You need to have confidence to go on stage! I’ve seen one friend of mine in particular go from a complete introvert, as in won’t open his mouth to save his life, to cracking jokes at rehearsals!

These three reasons are why I’m putting theater in this list of personal development work.

19. Life purpose work

This is a complicated subject, but an important one if you want to live an impactful, fulfilling life.

Life purpose = how do you become a benevolent force in the way that is most personal to you?

Finding it will take some time, no question about that. Some great ways are doing exercises in books, traveling, working different jobs, generally exposing yourself to more life has to offer, going wherever your interests lead you, and answering questions such as:

If you had 100 million dollars right now, and you had 2 months to use it however you want, what would you do after you’ve spent it all?
20. Questioning and doubting

Now we’re going really deep.

At the most advanced stages of PD, you have to be questioning everything. Ideologies, all beliefs, your identity, ego, thoughts, negative feelings, rationality, societal preferences, morals, knowledge, and the nature of reality itself.

This is where psychology and philosophy meet. You will discover that if you undertake an interest in this area, you will be much more fulfilled and lead a less petty life than most people do.

Also after doubting all these things for a few years, you ultimately come into touch with what you can trust. I recommend checking out Actualized.org’s video on this subject, it will explain it in more detail than I can go into here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypSinz7WB3I

This is an ongoing process for me, and keep in mind I’m not far along it by any means.
21. Enlightenment work

This is the most advanced PD work you can do as a human being, discovering your existential nature. This can be accomplished in multiple ways: Self-Inquiry, Strong Determination sits, mindfulness, and other ways, or a combination of these. Different things will work for different people at different times.

 

This brings me to the end of the list of ways to DO personal development. If you have any more, leave them in the comments!

I think it would do good to remind everyone (myself included) that personal development at its core is getting rid of neuroses. What are neuroses? They come in many different forms, but all of them are destructive and all of them are self-deceptive. Hopefully now you have LOTS of tools and different angles for working on yourself!

Also keep in mind that you are the only one who can do this work. You can do some of it, or all of it, or take some ways of working and not others depending on where you are in your journey.

Will it take work? Yes. Will it be worth it? More than you can imagine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stage: getting to “through me”

No, this isn’t your usual personal development book! You probably don’t think of Ralph Waldo Emerson as a self-help guru. 

But I think Ralph Waldo Emerson has a lot of wisdom to offer those who read his works.

For those who don’t know, Emerson was a writer in the middle of the 19th century. He is often cited as being part of the Transcendentalist movement. 

His essays are full of gold nuggets for personal development. He wrote essays on different topics such as self-reliance, friendship, heroism, character, and spirituality to name a few. 

Emerson offers some truly timeless advice. My favorite quote from him is “Do the thing and you will have the power.” This can be applied to anything you want to do. One of the examples he gives is “Love and you shall be loved,” but this could just as easily transfer to the realm of fitness, of work, or any number of things.

Do the thing and you will have the power. 

Do whatever it is that you’re afraid to do, and you will have that power. 

If you are afraid you can’t lift that weight, do it anyway. You can only grow.

If you’re afraid to ask that cute girl out, do it. You will have gained that power. 

Another nugget in his writing is the quote “Permanence is a word of degree.” And he’s right. 

Nothing is permanent.

This is an important fact to come to terms with for personal growth. Everything, from your relationships to your position at work, and eventually to your body and health, is temporary. If you want to grow, you must embrace this as a part of life. This way you’ll be able to handle change and loss much more easily.

I encourage you to take a look at everything in your life, or just in your surroundings, and ponder the fact that NONE of it will be around forever. Try to come to terms with this. 

One of the things I like about Emerson’s writing is that he bases a lot of his ideas on nature, and sees nature as the highest power. I feel, at least at this stage of my development, that this is very true. We are objects of nature, not apart from it. Everything we do is governed by the laws of nature. For example the law of polarity (always 2 sides to everything), or of impermanence. 

A few things to watch out for, though, while reading Emerson. He writes like they did 150 years ago. That is to say, very eloquently. Which can be quite beautiful, but can be hard to understand at times. He also says “man” a lot, but if you want you can replace it with “person.”

All in all, I found this read to be quite useful and refreshing. 
Favorite quote:

“Each man is a channel through which Heaven floweth.”

The Verdict:

Emerson isn’t a personal development guru per se, but a lot of his principles can be applied to life in general, and lay the groundwork for many personal development ideas.