Learn a simple method that will rid you of the root cause of your dissatisfaction with life and the yearning for peace and fulfillment that is never fully satisfied.
We offer an extremely simple method that will rid you of the root cause of your dissatisfaction with life, and the painful yearning for peace and fulfillment that seems never to be fully satisfied.
Our method is the result of eighteen years of experience working with people all over the world who have seen their relationship with their own lives change dramatically for the better.
We will give you two different approaches. We suggest that you try both. They will produce the same result. Both begin with a movement of attention inward. Anyone can do this. Once you make that movement, an exciting period of discovery begins, in which you learn to take control of the way you view and relate to your life. The first approach we call Direct Look; the second one we call Childhood Memory.
We happened upon this act of attention independently, during our own separate spiritual crises. We were married in June of 1999. For the sixteen years that we have been together, the goal of all our efforts has been to understand what happened to us and to find a way to bring it to anyone who is tired of feeling that life as a human being is flawed, and probably not worth the price of admission. The feeling that gave rise to the old saw that life sucks, and then you die.
We promise that if you will just try to do what we suggest here, you will succeed, and your relationship with your own life will change forever. This process will never end for as long as you live. You will continue to grow in sanity, clarity and effectiveness in your relationship to the circumstances of your life. You will find an ever-deepening satisfaction and a clearer understanding of what it really means to be human.
For most people, after this movement of attention is made, there follows a period of confusion and psychological difficulty. There is plenty of help available on our website and plenty of people in our discussion forums that will be able to help you put what is happening to you in context, and guide you in developing your own understanding and your skill at navigating this entirely new relationship with life.We wish you great good luck and we are always available to you.
Looking is what we do naturally when we focus our attention on anything present in our consciousness. You can notice that right now, for example, your attention is focused mostly on this text, more or less ignoring everything else.
First, move the focus of your attention away from this text for a moment and place it on the feel of your breath as it moves in and out of your body through your nose.
Focus on the sensation it causes as it passes across the flesh of your nostrils on the way out. You may find it easier to do this with your eyes closed.
Take a minute now to try this for yourself, and then return here and continue reading.
You can see from what you just did that it is relatively easy to direct your attention and focus it on any sensation you choose.
Now, in the same way that you directed your attention to your breath, move the focus of attention inward, looking for the faint sensation of what it feels like to be you. What you would call "me."What you are looking for here is the simple me-ness of you. Not the thoughts that pass through you, or the emotions that play within you, or the sensations that rise and fall within you, or any ideas about your nature that you have heard or read about. You are merely that which is always here. Everything else—thought, emotion, sensation—comes and goes in you.
To begin, just sit back and relax for a moment. Close your eyes and watch your breath for a little while. There is nothing special about it. Just rest your attention on the feel of your breath as it comes into and goes out of your body. Close your eyes. Breathe in... Breathe out... Focus your attention on the sensation of the air coming in and out of your nose. Do this for about one minute. Now try to bring to mind a memory of an event from your childhood. It does not need to be anything special. For John, it was the memory of coming out of an afternoon matinee on a hot summer day in New Jersey, when he was eight years old.
Just relax, and wait for a memory to appear. When a vivid memory appears, check to see whether you are remembering it as if you were watching a movie and seeing yourself as a character in the movie as the memory unfolds in your mind. If you are, try now to go inside the scene, within the memory itself, to get the subjective feel of it.
Now, as the memory unfolds, see if you can get the subjective feel of your experience at the time. Sink into it. For instance, try to feel the air temperature on your skin: does it feel hot or cold? What is the light like? Is it dark or is there plenty of light? Can you smell a particular scent? Can you feel the texture of an object when you touch it? Do you hear any sounds? Try to have the feel of that experience as you did then. Do not worry if you cannot seem to feel the memory in this manner. Maybe you can try a different memory, or consider the direct look.
As soon as you get that subjective memory in mind and sink into the feel of it, try to see if you can feel what it felt like to be you then, experiencing it all.
Now, move your attention one more time—this time to what it feels like to be you now.
That's all there is to it, and it is much easier to do than it was to describe.
Nothing more needs to be done now. This simple act of inward looking automatically dissolves the background of anxiety, distrust and dissatisfaction that is the experience of life for most of us.
There is no need to try to stay there, or rest in yourself there. The moment of looking is very brief—so brief that you will hardly notice it.
You can do this simple act of looking at yourself in whatever manner works for you, whenever it occurs to you to do so.
That is all there is to what we call looking at yourself and you only have to do it once. You may find yourself repeating the act for a while, and that's okay. The act will repeat itself for as long as it is needed and then it will just disappear.
In time, your relationship with your life will change. Things that used to drive you crazy will not have the same effect on you anymore. Patterns of neurotic behavior and self-destructive reactions will be replaced by more positive, non-destructive ones.
The distance between you and your life will disappear and a new kind of intimacy with your life will begin slowly to emerge.
Too simple, too good to be true? It might seem so, but thousands of people all over the world have already experienced the power of this simple act to transform their relationship with life from one of alienation, distrust and fear to the full, natural immersion in its endless wonder.
The root cause of all psychological misery and all resistance to life is the fearful and suspicious environment in which the mind and its psychology take shape, which produces a fundamental alienation from the experience of life itself. This is what we refer to as the fear of life, which is a sort of psychological autoimmune disease that we believe strikes almost all of us in reaction to a fearful experience very early in life, long before we are conscious of ourselves as individual persons, and long before we even learn that we have a mind. This fear of life is an unseen assumption that life is inherently dangerous and profoundly untrustworthy, and it is upon this invisible foundation of fear and distrust that our minds develop over time.
The act that we call looking at yourself actually disintegrates almost instantaneously that diseased environment of suspicion and alienation and makes way for a regeneration of the mind and the disintegration of its diseased psychological mechanisms.
We believe that this happens because that first conscious taste of our actual nature—what it feels like to be you, what you would call "me"—silently and completely invalidates the founding premise of the fearful environment and causes it to instantly vanish. And when that happens, the diseased psychological mechanisms begin to fall away, and new, fresh ways of experiencing life fully and engaging with it intelligently begin to take shape.
The purpose of our work is to bring this simple act of directing attention to the feeling of "me" and its consequences to everybody who is tired of feeling that their life isn't worth living, tired of feeling that they are trapped in a world that they don't understand and can't deal with; tired of feeling that there is something missing; tired of feeling that the way to be effective in life is to be found among the many failures we have already come upon throughout all the years that we have been suffering from this wretched disease of fearfulness, anxiety, and alienation from life itself.
This fear of life we speak of is not the circumstantial fear that catches fire in the presence of a perception of immediate physical danger. The fear of life we speak of is a faint background hum of neurotic fearfulness, anxiety, and distrust of life; a sense that there is something wrong with me or my life that can neither be fixed nor washed away. We cannot stress too much the fact that the fear of life itself is hidden from experience and can almost never be experienced directly because it exists below the level of consciousness. Until the fear itself is gone and the damage it has caused is neutralized, it is almost impossible for anyone to understand that the fear of life is the only problem that spoils human life.
The problem that causes the psychological misery you experience is the cloud of damaged aspects of personality that have come into being stained with the underlying assumption that life is not to be trusted. For most of us, that includes the great majority of the content and habits of understanding that make up our minds. And although that process is easy to accomplish, it can be at least as difficult to recover from as a heart transplant.
When we speak of mind, we mean a mostly mechanical apparatus that uses memory, thought, and intelligence to reveal to us the present nature of our experience of our lives, our understanding of that experience, and our understanding of what we can do about it.
Most of us have never known a mind not conditioned by fear, and we suffer from the unexamined assumption that "the mind is me." And it is precisely this assumption that "I am my mind" that has given rise to the hatred of mind that is a hallmark of some spiritual and self-help practices.
But my mind is not me. My mind is an apparatus consisting of psychological mechanisms that define and color my experience of life. My mind depends upon learned habits of thought and judgment that arise according to life circumstances and are seen through the lens of the mind's eye. And for most of us who have been born into fear, the mind's eye is warped and distorted by the underlying assumption that life is to be feared above all else.
So, you have done the act of inward looking. You have seen the problem, and the solution to the problem, and it would seem as if that should be the end of it. But it won't be long before you find yourself in the midst of what seems to be an all-out war waged by your mind against the dangerous idea that nothing is really wrong other than the false notion that life is inherently dangerous and untrustworthy. The foot soldiers of this mental war are those blind and ignorant psychological mechanisms that have been fighting against natural life from the very beginning.
Once the act of looking has been accomplished and the period of unexpected ease of being that often follows has evaporated, what you are left with is a mind free of the fear but still full of diseased psychological habits of relationship to yourself and your life that have formed in compliance with the assumption that life is not to be trusted.
And there you are, in recovery, seemingly back in the war, but now the war has become more ferocious than ever. Negative and self-destructive behaviors that you thought you had gotten free of in the past start reappearing, stronger than ever. Those things about yourself that you thought you had finally gotten under control suddenly start popping up again, seemingly on fire with a vengeful determination to drown you in pain and confusion. The soldiers of fear have begun to adopt a take-no-prisoners, total war stance. What can you do now?
You could curse the misery, curse the day you did the looking, and wish you could go back to your life before the looking, when the misery seemed to be under control. You can even just wait it out and do nothing. That is what Carla and I did, since we had no guidance to get us through our own recovery. It took us many years of psychological pain and confusion until the day came when we noticed that the war had fizzled out. This is why we tell people that all you need to do is look once, and the process will unfold on its own. But you can do much better than we did.
The conversations in our discussion forums are bringing clarity and confidence to our understanding of the recovery from this disease that has brought humanity to the edge of extinction. The courage and willingness of forum members to write about their experience as the recovery unfolds and about what they have found to be the most effective ways to work with it are showing us all how to use the period of recovery to develop skillful self-reliance rather than simply endure it until it passes.
Self-reliance turns out to be the most deeply satisfying relationship with life that you can imagine. The method for developing this radical self-reliance is very simple. It turns out that only thing we really have any control over is to what we choose to attend. We have nothing to say about the nature of the thoughts and emotions that appear in our mind. This might sound strange, but if you examine the issue directly for a moment, you will quickly see the truth of it.
The experience of your thoughts, the experience of your body, of the warmth of the sun on your skin, of your concerns about your health, and everything else present in your mind must be already present for you to have the experience of it. It is clearly absurd to think that you can do anything about what is already present other than simply notice it. The entire universe of your life in this moment must already be here for you to notice it at all.
During the recovery period, the absurd, lifelong mechanisms for dealing with a seemingly threatening life become meaningless. The underlying cause, the fear of life, is gone, but replacing the armies of fear with new, authentic psychological mechanisms born and raised in a clear mind takes time. During this period, all the old soldiers of fear are still available and ready to fight against sanity. There is nothing to do about this other than begin to decide for yourself what is worthy of your attention and what is not. It turns out that merely putting your attention on something energizes it and, conversely, ignoring it starves it of energy. Another thing to keep in mind about the recovery is its similarity to birth—full of sound and fury, but forgotten when it finishes.
Keeping a diary during the recovery period can be a very useful tool. Writing down the changes in your psychology as you notice them might make it easier for you to notice your progress.
People often ask if psychotherapy can help accelerate the recovery. The problem with psychotherapy is its focus on reforming or eliminating specific mental problems. It concerns itself with bringing attention to bear on the sickened processes in one way or another, with the purpose of reforming them, eliminating them, or replacing them. Such approaches can help the troubled mind find considerable palliative relief from the misery of specific neurotic psychological mechanisms, but the mind suffering from the effects of the generalized fearfulness we call the fear of life is more than a conglomeration of neuroses. It appeared and developed in a context that assumes that life is fearful and threatening to one's very existence. In the psychotherapeutic approach, when one set of neuroses departs, new ones arise to take their place, and the new neurotic defenses are always more efficient at masquerading as harmless and actually necessary. Putting attention directly on those psychological mechanisms in a therapeutic context may actually energize them and train them to change form and shift places to evade extermination.
We are convinced that while recovering from the effects of the fear, attending to analysis or any other psychological habit of relationship to arising experience would likely just prolong it. During this time, the very best that can be done is to exercise and become skillful in your authority over your attention, and the best way to do that is with the practice of self-directed attention. I cannot stress this enough. The goal of this practice is to make it possible for you to be able to see what choices are available to you in life and decide for yourself in the moment what is worthwhile, what is harmful, and what is of no consequence.
The primary purpose of the practice of directed attention that we propose is not to provide relief from the specific issues to which it declines to attend, although relief is welcome. The purpose of this practice is to allow you to take authority over the only thing you can actually control, and its effect is the dawn of full self-reliant sanity and satisfaction with the life you have.Diverting your attention to seek relief from specific trauma-induced neuroses will not stop the process of renewal that is already underway in your mind. We can attest to that from our own experience of many years in recovery, completely ignorant of the process that was already underway to clear our minds of the effects of the fear. But you can learn from our experience and the experience of all who have come before you. If you put all your eggs in the basket of gaining self-reliant authority over your attention, we promise you that the length and misery of the recovery will be greatly diminished, and you will never regret it.
Our purpose with this exercise is to cultivate the most useful skill that will help you develop self-reliance during the difficult period that follows the collapse of the context of fear.
Keep in mind that the context of fear controlled the development of every aspect and psychological mechanism of your mind.
The most effective way to develop self-reliance is the training of your ability to focus attention at will. This exercise will strengthen your ability to focus attention on a single object, ignoring everything else, as a means to develop a natural skillfulness in the intelligent use of this power.
Do this exercise for about ten minutes at a time. Set an alarm clock so you will know when the time is over.
There is no need to pay any particular attention to your posture. All that is required is that you sit comfortably enough to be able to remain seated for ten minutes in a row. Your eyes can be open or closed.
We use the breath in this exercise because breathing is something that happens on its own, and does not require your conscious attention for it to continue.
Sit down quietly and begin paying attention to your breath as it goes in and out of your body. Make no attempt or effort to control or monitor the way the breathing is happening. Just watch the sensation of the breath as it passes through your nostrils on its way in and out of the body. You will notice that the sensation is cool as it passes through the nostrils coming into the body and warm on its way out of the body. It is that feeling, that sensation in your nostrils that you will pay attention to and focus on.
Try to create a tight focus on the sensation of the breath coming in and out of the nose. With every outbreath, count mentally: one, two, three, four, etc. The first outbreath is one, the second outbreath is two, and so forth.
Should it happen that during the counting you find that your attention has been distracted and you are paying attention to something other than the sensation of your breath—a physical sensation, a train of thought, a sound, an itch, or something crossing your field of vision—simply say to yourself silently, inwardly: Distracted. Then move your attention back to the breath and start counting again from one. If you get to ten, start over again from one.
Do this for ten minutes, once a day. In the beginning, you will probably not be able to count beyond two or three. Do not be discouraged. Keep trying, do not give up. Even if you stop at two or three and start over every time, the work is being done. Remember, the goal of this exercise is not to get to a point where you can count to high numbers. The goal is to develop and strengthen your capacity to notice to what you are paying attention and to exercise your ability to move your attention away from that object and direct it where you want it to go. Do this exercise as you would lift weights or do push-ups to develop and strengthen your muscles.
If you find yourself counting up to very high numbers without being distracted, pay closer attention. It can be very easy to get on automatic pilot and keep counting even though your attention is divided.
To benefit fully from this exercise, you must first look at yourself. Follow the instructions here and look at yourself right now.
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