There’s a story I sometimes tell about a Zen master who used to have his followers begin each day with the ritual of 10,000 prostrations to the North, South, East, and West, which would pretty much take them to lunch time. Then they would repeat the ritual in the afternoon until dinner, and then one more time in the evening before retiring.
One day in a talk, the master told his students that “There is nothing you can do to become enlightened. Enlightenment is but a happy accident.“
A monk who had grown tired of doing all of this practice every day said to the master, “If enlightenment is just a happy accident, then why do you have us doing all of these practices?”
To which the Zen Master replied, “To become more accident prone.”
While full-blown enlightenment may or may not be on the table here, when it comes to experiencing a deeper dimension of life on an ongoing basis, practices and rituals seem to get in the way of simply getting quiet and looking inside for a deeper, more universal truth.
In fact, there are only two things I’ve found to be universally helpful:
1. Listen Differently
The advice on listening I was most often given throughout my early days of study in this field (and have most often shared with others since that time) was to “listen with nothing on my mind”. Variations on that advice include:
- Listen like you might listen to a piece of music
- Listen as if you’ve only come to keep the person next to you company
- Listen for a feeling
- Listen like a rock with ears
But what I’ve found more recently is that people who seem to struggle to “get” the principles are actually asking a different question than those of us who are sharing the principles are attempting to answer. We’re sharing the inside-out understanding as an answer to the question of how life works; they’re listening for an answer to the question “How shall I live?”
Here are some of the other differences between these two fundamentally different questions:
How life works
How shall I live?
So it is somewhat unsurprising, given what different questions we are asking, what different things we hear when we listen.
For example, imagine someone says to you “There is an intelligence behind life.”
If you are listening to answer the question “how shall I live?”, you will almost immediately jump ahead to the implications of that idea in your life. “If there is an intelligence behind life,” you might think to yourself, “then I need to find a way to tap into it more. Maybe I should do some intuition training, or see if I can find someone who’s got more access to that intelligence than I do and ask them for advice. And how do I know which thoughts are coming from the intelligence behind life and which ones are just my thinking? This is hard!”
Or someone suggests “Every human being is born with innate mental health and well-being,” and your mind begins to race not only through every apparent exception to that statement you can find, but also to questions like “How do I access it? Why don’t I experience it more? Why is my husband/wife/parent/child struggling so much if they have it?” and implications like “If every human being has innate mental health and well-being, I should be able to be happy all the time, and getting caught up in insecure thoughts and feelings is a sign of failure, or at least of weakness, laziness, and limited understanding. I need to try harder!”
Whereas if you’re listening for how life works and someone says to you “There is an intelligence behind life”, chancesare you’ll sense the truth of that. After all, most of us know that we don’t make the sun come up in the morning or the earth spin around on its axis. It makes you quieter instead of noisier – more humbled, awed, and grateful than confused.
If they say “Every human being has innate mental health and well-being”, there’s nothing you need to do about that. It’s just a possibility to sit with and see what comes through. And in that simplicity and quiet, chances are you’ll get some insights of your own into the nature of the human mind.
Now of course, if you’re reading this to figure out how best to live, I’ve just given you a prescription for you to take into your life, put to the test, and practice until you too can listen the “right” way, learn to have a “quiet mind”, and live in a “deeper feeling”.
But if not, you’ll likely recognize the simple fact of what I’m pointing to – some things are just true whether we believe them or not. And it turns out that seeing those truths for ourselves makes life simpler, gentler, and more fun to be a part of.
2. Stay in the conversation
When people would ask Syd Banks how to get this understanding for themselves, he was known to reply “Look in a direction and do nothing.” Which for me always begged the question, “If there’s nothing to do, why would I read books, listen to recordings, watch videos, hire a coach or go on trainings?”
The answer, as I now know, is simple:
Because there’s nothing to do, but there is something to see.
The three spiritual principles we are talking about are invisible to the eye (like the physical principles of electricity, gravity, and magnetism), but they are ever present and explain everything that happens in the human experience. We “see” them by looking away from that which is created (the “outside”) and towards what is doing the creating (the “inside”).
When you look inside, you start to see. When you listen with nothing already on your mind, you start to hear. What you see and hear is the deeper potential of all human beings. It is that which allows us to be “awesomer”.
And if you continue to look in this direction, what you see will set you free.