Looks like we’re living in interesting times.
The financial markets are in a tizzy, people are losing jobs and homes, and there’s a pivotal election coming up on top of all that.
Hey, just yesterday, even I got hit by a couple of nasty surprises, and lord knows I was pretty bummed out for a little while.
I also know that what happened to me was pretty small in comparison to the hardships that some people out there have been experiencing.
Some of you may have lost your home or entire community to natural disaster. Some of you may have had years of savings (seemingly) lost in a blink of an eye. Some of you may have lost a job while having a family to support.
If that sounds like you, then read on. Because I have some encouraging words for you.
Now I’m the furthest thing from a financial expert, so I’m not going to give you any pointers in that arena.
What I can tell you is how to use your mind in a way such that you are happier, healthier and more effective as a human being. Because that’s the foundation from which everything else can work.
We’re going to start with principles, and then go to practices. Ready? Go.
First off, I’d like to remind you that, as a human being, you are the most privileged creature on the planet. Why? Because you are allowed to think independently of circumstance.
If guys out there can think about baseball to distract themselves in delicate situations and women can think of Brad Pitt, then that means pretty much everyone has the capability to redirect their attention regardless of circumstance.
The key is to harness that ability in a productive way when the mind becomes preoccupied with something seemingly important. Financial troubles hit the survival part of your brain, and so you start to take it way seriously.
However, this is largely an illusion. Most of us here in the world’s affluent countries are not going to have problems with survival. You WILL make it, pretty much 100% of the time. Maybe not as comfortably as before, but you’ll make it.
Some of you may have ‘lost’ money in the markets, or in your 401(k) accounts. Let me ask you this: where was that money before the crisis hit?
In the air somewhere. Cyberspace, if you want to call it that.
Where is it now? Same place. Maybe your mental picture of it has diminished, but that was just a mental picture anyway — an illusion, if you will.
This is what the Buddhists talk about when they say the world is an illusion. You know when you wake up from an incredibly vivid dream, and you say, “Where did it all go?”
Well, the ancient masters said that some day, we will wake up in the same way from this existence. And, in a way, this market crisis has been a bit of a wake-up call. People now see that so much of what was happening was froth upon the froth. Symbols of symbols of symbols of reality.
Now that’s all well and good, but if you just lost a big wad of cash, that may not be what you want to hear. I hear ya, and I’m in the same boat. Bills are pretty damn real, and they need to be paid. And the feeling of threat and loss is real, regardless of what the Buddha said.
And I’m here to give you real empowerment. So you can start to feel good. Because when you feel good, you can do good. And do well. And spread the good feeling to everyone else, so they can also do good and do well.
Because, remember: regardless of what’s happening out there, you can feel however you want *inside*. There’s no cable from the outside world plugging directly into the back of your head dictating how you’re supposed to feel. Ever.
Dr Viktor Frankl chose to focus on the beauty in life even in the midst of a concentration camp. Not only did he survive the experience, unlike many of his peers, but he also emerged victorious — and lived to be 92, making major contributions to psychiatry until his death in 1997.
What will you be doing fifty years from now?
Remember this: the things that really matter in life are things that cannot be taken away from you. Your knowledge. Your skills. Your love for friends and family. No literal or figurative gust can blow those away. These are your real treasures, so remember them.
Okay, enough beating that dead horse. Let’s get down to some practices:
1) Change your perspective.
It’s incredibly easy to get stuck in our own ‘reality tunnels’ as the radical philosopher Robert Anton Wilson used to call it.
“Oh no — I just had $500,000 wiped out from my stock portfolio!”
Well, let’s play a game of ‘Would you rather’, shall we?
Would you rather lose money on stocks, or have your limbs hacked off with machetes in Darfur?
Would you rather have your mortgage foreclosed, or have Russian tanks rolling over your home in South Ossetia?
Would you rather have difficulty paying your kid’s school tuition, or maim him so he’d be better at begging on the streets of Mumbai?
Because there are people in all of those latter situations — and I’m guessing you’re not one of them.
Would you rather have to cancel your health insurance, or have terminal malaria with no access to medications in Uganda?
Time to count your blessings. As bad a shape as you think you may be in, there are millions worse off than you.
2) Be the source.
One of the great things about times like these is that you’re not alone. Millions of people have been affected by the same circumstances.
Now a large proportion of them will allow themselves to be buffeted by events, blown away to and fro. They will check the news obsessively, looking for a glimmer of hope or further signs of doom.
But that’s not you. Because you know that one of the best ways to cheer yourself up is to go cheer someone else up who needs it even more than you.
You will be that small fraction of people who say, “Y’know, I’m going to be the person who spreads the positive vibes. I’m going to be the good news everyone else is looking for. I am going to be their answered prayer.”
The reason this works is that it takes you out of your head — internal focus — and gives you an external focus. This is exactly what we tell you to do in ‘The Tao of Dating’ when you want to have a successful date. It just works better.
In this way, you have manufactured good news and good feelings for yourself. And for everyone around you. Neat trick.
You don’t have to be a Pollyanna about it (= unreasonably optimistic, for our European readers) for it to work. Just your solid presence, an encouraging word here and there works. “Y’know, whatever happens, I just want you to know that I really believe in your abilities.” That’s all it takes.
And yes, I really do believe in your abilities. It really does work.
3) Avoid the news.
The sage Nisargadatta talked about the difference between ‘honey consciousness’ and ‘water consciousness’.
It goes something like this: if you tap a cup of water, the water will shake and become agitated. A cup of honey, on the other hand, won’t budge. It would take a lot of jostling to get the honey to be perturbed at all.
One thing to do to cultivate honey consciousness is deliberately to avoid the jostling. News media is designed to perturb you and make you feel like crap: “If it bleeds, it leads.”
In my seminars, I have an exercise where I ask people to name 3 things they heard through the news that resulted in them taking real action. Most people can’t come up with one — in their whole lifetime. And yet they still listen to and read the news. Hmmm.
So avoid TV, newspapers and internet news entirely if you can help it. The market’s been down before, it’s been up before, and it’ll be down and up again. If it’s not news you can act on, it’s just nuisance. Toss it out of your life.
4) Change your brain chemistry through yoga and exercise.
Yesterday, I was feeling pretty bummed about a bunch of things. I went to yoga class, and 90 minutes later felt bulletproof. My consciousness felt expanded, my heart was wide open, my perspective had enlarged, and I just felt a zillion times better.
If you already do yoga, go to class regularly. The more vigorous the class, the better. If you don’t do yoga, consider taking it up.
If you simply won’t take yoga no matter how much I harp on it, go running instead. Vigorous sustained physical acitivity will just make you feel better about your world.
5) Meditate regularly.
Equanimity is a muscle. You strengthen it through working it out, and you work it out through meditation. I especially like the loving-kindness meditation. Really, really powerful stuff.
The more you do this, the calmer your mind will be, and the more you can practice non-attachment to things, circumstances, comfort, people, and all the other stuff that can get us into trouble.
6) Take the long view.
In ‘The Tao of Dating for Men,’ I talk about practicing ‘enlightened self-interest’. It means what’s good for you in the long run tends to be the better course of action for you and those around you, pretty much always.
Similarly, a long-term perspective on the events of the day will keep you in good stead. Where will you be in 10 years? In 20? Every big wave has little wavelets on it, so focus on the big wave and ride that. You’ll be just fine in 2018. And 2028. And all of this will seem like an amusing little story. Really.
7) Anchor yourself in the now.
Take stock of where you are right now. If you’re reading this paragraph, that means that you probably don’t have a blocked airway, you’re breathing, and your heart’s beating without any profuse bodily bleeding. Those are the ABC’s of med school (airway, breathing, circulation), and they constitute the only real emergencies.
That means right now, in this instant of time, this tiny sliver that we call now, you’re okay. There is no real problem. Right? Think about that again. Verification complete? Excellent.
Now extend that feeling over time. Are you okay the next second? Pretty much. And the next? Yup. Let’s string some seconds together and make minutes out of them. Not so hard. Let’s stick some minutes together and make hours out of them. Then days, months, years.
There are no problems in the now. There is only pure being, pure consciousness — if you allow it to emerge. Operating from there, you can tackle your challenges with power, grace and equanimity. For more on this whole ‘now’ idea, I highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s now-classic ‘The Power of Now.’ Do it, like, now.
8) Accept the wisdom of uncertainty.
Has there ever been a time when everything was perfect? Will there ever be? Heck no! Uncertainty is the order of the day. Deal with it. Here’s what our good friend Lao Tzu has to say about all this in the Tao Te Ching:
“Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.
The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.
There is a time for being ahead,
A time for being behind;
A time for being in motion,
A time for being at rest;
A time for being vigorous,
A time for being exhausted;
A time for being safe,
A time for being in danger.”
The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.”
My definition of pain is ‘wishing the world to be different than it is.’ Are you inflicting needless pain on yourself? Well, stop it already, ’cause it’s making me sad.
Incidentally, everything I just told you about is good for your dating life, too. Funny how that works.
So go ahead and go for a run, take a yoga class, meditate, cheer someone up, smile and spread that smile like it’s happy virus. Everyone will thank you for it.
The power really is within you,