In the spiritual life should you follow your heart, or follow your head?

Since the spiritual realm lies beyond the mind – and many people even argue that the mind is the enemy of spirituality – should we assume that all our emotional impulses come from an inspired source, and should be followed? Or do all these impulses need to be passed through the mind before they are to be followed? Or is there an even higher principle we can apply that transcends both?

This is actually a very simple matter, but it tends to cause much unnecessary confusion. After all, following our heart at all times appears to open us up to dangerous emotional caprices – and subjecting every motion of the heart to the cold rationality of the mind would surely cut us off from all the inspirations of the higher spiritual faculties. So how do we decide when to follow our heart, and when to follow our head? The Hawkins scale of consciousness gives us the answers.

Negative emotions like shame, guilt, grief, fear, desire, anger and pride are all very low in consciousness, and fall below the crucial threshold of 200 that distinguishes ‘power’ from ‘force’. On the other hand, rational intellectual enquiry calibrates at 400, making it vastly superior in consciousness to these negative feelings. In effect, this means that all negative emotions should be rationally examined, to the extent that this is possible. On the intellectual level, we cannot always talk ourselves out of a negative emotion with reason, but it pays to examine the feeling and determine whether it actually has a rational basis.

For example, shame is essentially an emotion that tells us ‘you are bad’. A person who accepts this feeling uncritically as evidence that they are bad is likely to suffer from poor self-worth, and all the problems that come along with it. Giving in to the feeling without any rational analysis of it is essentially agreeing that you are bad. A rational response to the feeling of shame would go something like “I did some bad things in the past, and I will ensure I do not repeat those mistakes. But I am a perfect child of God with inherent self-worth. These feelings do not in any way represent my true self.”

Anger, fear and suspicion are all emotions that can play major havoc with our lives, especially in relationships. For example, one person in the relationship may fear being abandoned by the other; perhaps due to having been abandoned in the past. This feeling, if unchecked by reason, is likely to lead to possessive behaviour, suspicion, and ultimately to the very abandonment they feared in the first place.

Not all emotions are irrational, however. If the person in this example rationally considers their feelings and finds solid evidence that the other person is uncommitted to them, then ending the relationship may be a reasonable option. Our emotions, good and bad, are all there to tell us something, after all. The only problem is that they don’t always tell us what we need to know at the time, because we often feel old emotions in new situations due to stuck emotions and resonances. We may be in an objectively great relationship, but the fact of being in a relationship may have a certain resonance that brings up old negative emotions from past experiences, which we then blame on our current partner.

Anger can be justified sometimes, too. For example, feeling anger at a grave injustice is known in Christian theology as righteous anger. The classic example of righteous anger is Christ’s overturning of the merchants’ tables in the temple. Ultimately Christ taught love and forgiveness as the highest principles, but there were certain circumstances where swift action against an injustice was called for. But we must use our rational faculty and be certain that what we are feeling is truly righteous anger, and not mere self righteousness.  Spoiler alert: it is almost always the latter.

As helpful as the intellectual faculty can be, we should not stop at rationally analysing our emotions. There is an even higher principle than the mind, which begins at level 500 on the Hawkins scale – the level of Love. The vast majority of people spend their lives in the bottom half of the scale, and comparatively very few ever make it past the level of Reason. But even though it is rare for people to move their entire consciousness past 500, most people still use the principle of love in their lives, either by expressing love for other people, or through an appreciation of the concept of universal love.

True love is not the same as infatuation, nor attraction, nor like. Indeed, you can love a person without even liking them – though one should probably not get into a relationship with such a person. But rather than being a feeling, true love is the beginning of the direct experience of the goodness of the Universal Spirit, either by direct contemplation of the Spirit, or by appreciating the positive qualities of the Spirit reflected in another person. Very often this experience is accompanied by tangible positive feelings in the heart, but it does not have to be. As we open ourselves up to a deeper and deeper experience of the goodness of the Spirit, we move beyond the mere human understanding of love into the higher divine experiences of it, designated by Hawkins as Joy (calibrated at 540), Peace (600) and Enlightenment (700+).

When we experience true love or any of the states beyond it, the feeling does not need to be analysed. It is above reason, and analysing it with the mind can only weaken or destroy it. But even if we are not permanently in a high spiritual state, we can still evoke the power of these states to deal with negative emotions or any other problems in our life whatsoever. How? It’s simple – cease worrying and refer the problem to God.

This is the principle that makes Emmet Fox’s The Golden Key so powerful. Don’t think about the problem – think about God instead. By raising our consciousness above the base fears we feel about a problem, to the higher divine principles of God – we raise our consciousness on that particular matter to a higher state even than reason. Even if we only experience a faint grasp of a true spiritual knowing – or to say it another way, if we have faith; if we believe in the true spiritual principles without yet having experienced them directly and palpably – this is enough to get results.

Bring God to all your problems; bring love into all your relationships – these principles are higher than your fears and shame. These principles are higher even than the clearest reasoning in the world could ever be. You will discover that there is no knot in the world that can’t be untied if God is put on the case, and no relationship that cannot be redeemed at least in some way by bringing faith and love to the table.

It cannot be said often enough that a successful relationship must be based on true love, rather than infatuation or mere sexual attraction. But too many people give up on relationships where true love exists, simply because they go through a period of boredom or conflict. In his wonderful book on the Sermon on the Mount, Emmet Fox laments this defeatist approach, reiterates Christ’s statements against divorce, and then writes:

As none of us is perfect, and the complainant is certain to have his or her own faults no less than the delinquent, he or she should endeavor, if it can possibly be done, to make the present marriage a success by persistently knowing the Spiritual Truth about both parties. If the aggrieved partner will steadfastly see the Christ Truth about the other one, then, in nearly every case a happy solution will be the outcome. I have known a number of instances where marriages which were on the point of being dissolved were saved in this way with the most satisfactory results. One woman said, after a few months of handling her problem spiritually, ‘The man I was going to divorce has disappeared; and the man whom I married has come back. We are perfectly happy again.’”

As Fox implies, there are some cases where separation may be necessary – such as physical abuse or similar. But these marriages were unlikely to be based on true love in the first place. And it’s wise to remember that even these relationships could theoretically be redeemed, with enough faith.

So to return to the original question – should we follow the heart, or follow the head? If our heart is leading us to experience negative emotions, then we should follow our head and subject those emotions to reason. Then once the problem is clearer, we should invoke the higher principles of the heart by bringing faith and love to the situation.

So do we really need the mind at all? There is a place for both of them, but the more our consciousness expands, the more we will turn straight to the spirit. The intellectual phase, after all, is just that – a phase in the spiritual journey. We cannot become enlightened spiritual beings without it, but as we grow in the spiritual life, true spiritual knowing begins to take the place of intellectual knowledge.

But please do not underestimate the importance of the intellectual phase in the meantime. Whenever you turn to the Spirit, it is best to know exactly what your problem is, and the mind will help in understanding this. For example, if you are feeling shame, or the tangible expression of the belief that you are bad, it is better to contemplate God and say ‘please help me to understand that my true nature is the same as yours’ rather than to say ‘please let some of your goodness rub off onto my filth.’ Or if you unfairly suspect a partner of being uncommitted, it is better to contemplate God and say ‘please let me see all these wonderful divine qualities in my husband’ than to essentially say ‘please let me somehow see past all his lies and deception to the divine being he is obscuring with all his terrible behaviour.’

The mind and the higher heart principles both play an important role in our spiritual development. But as for the lower heart principles, or negative emotions – all of these calibrate below Hawkins’ crucial level of 200. The lower principle must always be subject to the higher.

The best explanation of how the Law of Attraction actually works

Every spiritual school seems to have its own explanation of how the Law of Attraction actually works. Many of these are confusing and contradictory, and yet – as we shall see – many of them still work, because they correctly make use of certain principles, even though they seem to be mostly unaware of what those principles actually are.

I am here offering an explanation of the Law of Attraction that appears to tie all these schools of thought together, and cast a new light on things that will help us to understand the Law of Attraction in a different way. My primary source is, as usual, Thomas Troward – although I will also rely heavily on personal experience to extrapolate Troward’s teachings. I will begin by quoting from a remarkable chapter of Troward’s Edinburgh Lectures, where he delves into the two main aspects of the human mind – the subconscious and the conscious, or as he here calls them, the subjective and the objective.

From The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science, lecture 4:

A long series of careful experiments by highly trained observers, some of them men of worldwide reputation, has fully established certain remarkable differences between the action of the subjective and that of the objective mind which may be briefly stated as follows:

The subjective [subconscious] mind is only able to reason deductively, and not inductively, while the objective mind can do both. Deductive reasoning is the pure syllogism which shows why a third proposition must necessarily result if two others are assumed, but which does not help us to determine whether the two initial statements are true or not. To determine this is the province of inductive reasoning, which draws its conclusions from the observation of a series of facts…”

Innumerable experiments on persons in the hypnotic state have shown that the subjective mind is utterly incapable of making the selection and comparison which are necessary to the inductive process, but will accept any suggestion – however false – but having once accepted any suggestion, it is strictly logical in deducing the proper conclusions from it, and works out every suggestion to the minutest fraction of the results which flow from it. As a consequence of this it follows that the subjective mind is entirely under the control of the objective [conscious] mind. With the utmost fidelity it reproduces and works out to its final consequences whatever the objective mind impressed upon it; and the facts of hypnotism show that ideas can be impressed upon the subjective mind by the objective mind of another as well as by that of its own individuality…”

Under the control of the practised hypnotist the very personality of the subject becomes changed for the time being; he believes himself to be whatever the operator tells him he is: he is a swimmer breasting the waves, a bird flying in the air, a soldier in the tumult of battle, an Indian stealthily tracking his victim: in short, for the time being, he identifies himself with any personality that is impressed upon him by the will of the operator, and acts the part with inimitable accuracy.”

In summary, the conscious or objective mind possesses the faculty of inductive reasoning – or observing facts and determining truth from falsehood – while the subconscious or subjective mind only reasons deductively, which is the faculty of calculating what consequences follow when certain initial facts are assumed.

The subconscious mind is essentially our connection to the Universal, undifferentiated mind, or the mind of God. God does not deal in truths or falsehoods; God simply creates. If God decides that something is true, then it becomes true, and our subconscious minds operate in the same way. Hence, if the conscious mind is put to sleep via hypnotism and a sufficiently skilled hypnotist impresses a certain suggestion upon it, then the subconscious accepts that suggestion and works out the logical consequences of it. The subconscious mind does not evaluate the truth or falsehood of the suggestion; it simply responds by working out the conclusions that follow if the suggestion is true.

The subconscious mind has no ideas about itself and no concept of limitation. It conceives of itself as being precisely what is conveyed to it by external suggestion; typically the external suggestion of our conscious mind – this is how all visualisation and self-suggestion works. To take a common example, if you visualise yourself as a millionaire and feel the truth of it so palpably that it becomes real to you, then you are programming the subconscious mind just like the hypnotist who convinces his subject that he is a bird flying in the air. Once the subconscious has accepted the suggestion of the visualisation, it will manifest as a physical reality, provided that no stronger contrary suggestion is impressed upon the subconscious to undermine the initial suggestion.

And here is where most people fail in programming their subconscious. They allow external circumstances to program the subconscious with contrary suggestions to their visualisation. We see the destructive effects of contrary suggestions in the hypnosis example – when the hypnotised subject returns to his normal state, his conscious mind resumes its observation of facts, finds that the subject’s body is not covered in feathers, and the hypnotic spell quickly wears off due to the stronger contrary suggestion received from the observation of the senses and reasoning of the conscious mind. Similarly, if the would-be millionaire awakes from his visualisation and then proceeds pinching every penny as he previously did, his actions are impressing the idea of lack upon the subconscious. If he instead begins to spend as though money were no object then he is acting consistently with his visualisation. But if he spends in this way for a few weeks, fails to see results, and then panics, then he has undone all his good work and may in fact end up further back than where he started from, as his panic will form a powerful suggestion of lack that the subconscious will respond to.

Hence, most people simply do not have the consciousness required to successfully carry out such a spectacular manifestation, and so the Law of Attraction becomes like all other too-good-to-be-true schemes like foreign currency trading. In theory, it holds an easy solution to all of our problems. In reality, its tremendous simplicity can be supremely complicated to grasp.

But then, the Law of Attraction was never meant to be the saleable commodity it has become. Its enticing promises have invited exploitation from opportunists, who have often stripped out every other teaching of the spiritual life and focused solely on the promise of riches. But it was never meant to be taken out of the context of our wider spiritual development. It’s not a magical formula for getting stuff; rather the ability to use it is the natural consequence of an increase in spiritual understanding.

Yes, Christ said “ask and ye shall receive” – but he also said “seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all other things shall be added unto you”. Not only will our spiritual powers naturally unfold as a result of our increased knowledge of the Universal Spirit, but our desires will begin falling into order, and we will discover that the legitimate use for all spiritual laws is doing good for others and evolving our souls. This does not mean we cannot ask for particular favours, monetary or otherwise – but they should fit into the grand scheme of our spiritual development, and not simply be directed towards creating a comfortable, luxurious life. And as our spiritual development unfolds, our consciousness increases – and in this higher state of consciousness, things tend to come to us without us even needing to ask.

With that said, we are certainly entitled to use our spiritual powers, provided that the end goal of our efforts is in conformity with the will of universal love. In Chapter 5 of the Edinburgh Lectures, Troward offers a suggestion as to how to overcome the negating effects of existing circumstances that we encountered earlier. He encourages us to reflect that there is a spiritual prototype of our completed goal that already exists on the metaphysical plane. As spirit has no concept of time, it follows that the spiritual prototype of our visualisation must exist as an already accomplished fact, here and now. By focusing on the existence of this spiritual prototype as an already accomplished fact, we are taking our attention away from external appearances and secondary causes, and focusing instead on first cause. By reversing our mode of thinking in this way and focusing on the originating principle rather than the secondary results that flow from it, our world will begin to change – just as a change in a shadow inevitably follows upon a change to the object that casts it. We need to view the spiritual world, where we are truly rich in every way, as the real world, and the physical world the mere reflection of it.

And despite the insistence of many Law of Attraction teachers, it is not strictly necessary to visualise anything. The advantages of visualising are that – if palpably felt – it conveys the truth of the visualised outcome very powerfully to the subconscious mind, and also helps us to get very clear with exactly what we are trying to manifest. But for those who struggle with visualising, it is possible to obtain results purely through the power of belief, as long as we hold fast to the belief and do not plant a contrary suggestion in our subconscious by entertaining doubts or acting as though the belief were not true. Explicitly religious people typically do not visualise; but many successfully manifest favours simply by their belief in the power of prayer. Christ said “Believing ye shall receive”, not “After visualising, ye shall receive”. In the end, belief is the funnel through which everything flows. Believe that an outcome will occur, and you are powerfully programming your subconscious to expect it. Believe that your methods are faulty, or you’re not skilled enough at them, or you took a crucial misstep, and you’re programming your subconscious for failure. Hence certain Law of Attraction teachers who prescribe specific methods as being absolutely necessary to the creative process sometimes set up unhelpful negative expectations in the minds of those who find their methods difficult to replicate.

Furthermore, many of the different schools seem to directly contradict each other on certain points. Most notably is the question of whether we should continue thinking about a goal after we have visualised it, or whether we should simply set the intention and then let it go. And here it is helpful to understand the principles behind the teaching, in order to decide which method is going to be most suitable for you.

Generally speaking, if you are good at visualising and able to form a vivid, believable, lifelike picture of your goal fulfilled, then you should visualise it once and then drop the matter. Your vivid mental picture will deeply impress upon your subconscious mind, and it will immediately go to work to bring the vision into physical manifestation. You should await the results with calm and confident expectancy; anything else that you add to it from that point onward is only likely to retard its progress. If you do use any other technique to keep your mind on track, such as Troward’s suggestion mentioned earlier, it should only be to chase away doubts, rather than to speed up the process or increase its effectiveness.

If you are unable to form vivid mental pictures, then your subconscious may require some additional programming. It will act upon whatever is impressed upon it the most vividly, and so if you are unable to do this with a mental picture, you can do it with frequent reminders of the goal, such as palm cards with your goals written them in present tense, or some other form of regular affirmations. The only drawback with this method is that you must be able to evoke the feeling of the wish fulfilled on cue – at least to some extent – and avoid any negativity concerning that subject. For example, it may be relatively easy to indulge in positive feelings concerning a romantic relationship; but for most people who don’t yet have such a relationship, this will also stir up feelings of loneliness and discouragement. It is also very important to avoid any sense of trying to hurry the speed of the manifestation by the use of these methods. The end game is to convince the subconscious that the goal has already been fulfilled by vividly conveying to it the feeling of the goal fulfilled. If we attempt to hurry it in any way then we are only impressing it with our own impatience. This is why, despite their potential, so many people find affirmations to be useless or even counterproductive.

My recommended method for those who cannot vividly visualise (and also for those who can – along with continuing their visualisation methods) is to use the principles of Emmett Fox’s The Golden Key. It’s a mere brief pamphlet – shorter than this article even – but its power has been proven by the thousands that have used it over the decades since it was first published.

The formula is simple: don’t think about the problem, but instead think about God. So if you are trying to manifest a relationship, rather than visualising your own perfect relationship, just know that it is all in God’s hands, and then meditate frequently on God’s love without any specific reference to your own loneliness, and without any specific expectations. Rather, maintain a confident expectancy in the ability and willingness of God to bring you all good things. If you are trying to manifest wealth, instead of visualising yourself swimming through a tank full of money, meditate frequently on the infinite abundance of God, and expect all good things to come to you. If you are trying to advance spiritually, meditate frequently on the infinite wisdom, goodness and intelligence of God, and know that all these things will come to you.

Fox prescribes this as a remedy for dissolving any difficulty, but it can be used as a means of attaining goals, too. If you feel the need to stick scrupulously to Fox’s original formula, then simply phrase the goal as a difficulty and ‘golden key’ it. If you are trying to manifest a relationship, ‘golden key’ your loneliness. If you are trying to manifest money, ‘golden key’ your lack. If you are trying to advance spiritually, ‘golden key’ your spiritual stagnation.  If you need further instructions on how to think about God, read Fox’s The Seven Main Aspects of God.

The beauty of Fox’s technique is that it works directly with belief in absolute spiritual principles, rather than concerning itself with evoking feelings or changing existing circumstances.  See, often by thinking about goals that are yet to be fulfilled, we activate old programming, old negative expectations, and past negative emotions. This is what Law of Attraction teacher Esther Hicks calls ‘blocked pipes’ – it’s negative energetic residue that can sabotage our attempts to feel positive about our goals. It’s much easier to program our subconscious to expect all manner of good things to come from the Universal Spirit, than to program ourselves for very specific things – especially when we have many blocked pipes. By powerfully affirming our belief in spiritual principles, we are raising our vibration and denying any additional energy to our existing unfavourable circumstances.

Don’t get me wrong – visualising and affirmations work well for many people. But Fox’s techniques work for everyone, when persisted in.  At the end of the day, we don’t even require a technique at all. Christ made the whole matter incredibly simple – according to him, it is all a matter of asking and believing:

Therefore I say unto you, all things whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive and they shall come unto you.” Mark 11:24.

Radical trust: an easy alternative to radical gratitude

I highly recommend the practice of radical gratitude, or being supremely thankful for absolutely everything in our lives, big and small, pleasant and unpleasant. The only problem with it is, it tends to have a steep learning curve. No matter how many times you hear that “the more thankful you are, the more you will have to be thankful for”, it’s difficult to go beyond words and produce a feeling of gratitude when you are deeply dissatisfied with the current state of your life.

And so I’m suggesting something easier: a radical trust list. Instead of a list of all the things in your life you’re thankful for, it’s a list of all the things that could have gone wrong, but didn’t. Why should this be any easier than a radical gratitude list? Allow me to back up for a moment and explain.

One of the persistent misconceptions about conscious creation, or the “law of attraction”, is that every thought that flits through our mind will bring about a corresponding external manifestation in our lives.  Some teachers realise from experience that this is an error, and so they teach that every thought experienced with feeling will bring about a corresponding manifestation in our lives. This too is an error.  These are often the same teachers who contradict themselves by telling you that you can’t manifest a particular outcome without getting into a high vibrational state first, or without following a particular precise visualisation ritual. Why do we need to follow these precise instructions if every thought manifests a physical outcome anyway?

No, we only manifest things that we deeply, subconsciously believe in. That’s why most people can’t manifest a billion dollars on their kitchen table regardless of how vividly they imagine it, and why, mercifully, that one fleeting image of horrible tragedy that floats into your mind in a moment of undisciplined thinking is equally unlikely to produce a corresponding physical result.

Deliberately produced feeling can be a spectacularly powerful way of inducing the required belief to bring about a physical manifestation, for sure, but it is the belief that does the work, not the feeling. Visualisation also helps to deeply ingrain the belief as well as fine tuning the precise details of exactly what we are expecting to produce.

Some people may object to this principle by pointing out that we do not always get what we expect. Indeed, the very word “unexpected” would be completely redundant if exactly what we expected came true all the time. The reason why our expectations and our experience suffer from discrepancies is because our subconscious beliefs do not always gel perfectly with what we consciously expect from moment to moment. For example, I may bump into a long lost childhood friend at the grocer’s tomorrow. That would be an entirely unexpected and surprising encounter. However, my deeply rooted belief is that such encounters are possible and in fact are likely to happen from time to time. Hence, my true expectation would be fulfilled, even though the specific encounter was unexpected.  No doubt I will write more on this topic in the future, but for the moment I highly recommend The Magic of Believing by Claude Bristol, which is basically the bible of this particular topic. It is easy to come across online, and not challenging to read.

Although I struggled greatly with negative thinking and expectations throughout much of my life, producing many unpleasant results along the way; one of my very deeply held subconscious beliefs was always that no genuine disasters would ever come my way. Things might not always be the way that I wanted them, but basically everything would work out OK in the end. This pattern has held true from the most trivial matters to the most grave. At the most trivial end, in my mid-teens I saved up all my allowance for months to buy a second-hand computer with a 66 megahertz processor and 16 megabytes of RAM. When I went to pick it up, I was given a free upgrade to 24 megabytes of RAM. The machine served me well and was capable of undertaking all my silly high school projects, but I recall thinking some months after buying it that a 16 megabyte machine would have been next to useless for my purposes. Spending all my savings on a useless computer and having no way to undertake all my silly projects would have been a subjective disaster indeed, to my fifteen year old self. And thus it didn’t happen.

At the gravest end, I’ve missed being run over by a car by a matter of split-seconds. I’ve missed colliding with a deer on the highway by the same margin. I’ve reversed into a BMW and left it miraculously undamaged.

When I review the potential disasters of my life and note the eventual outcomes, I see that this belief has come true 100% of the time, with no exceptions. Only once did it ever seem to fail me – and that was in my mid-30s when my fiancee split with me. A year or two later I realised that the real disaster would have been if we had gone through with the marriage. The law came faithfully true, just as always.

In my experience, most people hold this belief. It’s the remnants of a deep faith; the fragments of the knowledge of our true nature, which reasserts itself as a little voice of confidence in times of crisis. A subconscious whisper of “don’t worry, it probably won’t happen.”

Even perennial worriers can hold this belief, and that explains why usually even the most anxious people never manifest the things they are afraid of. They may cause themselves unnecessary stress, but they will not bring these things to pass unless they truly, deeply expect them to happen. Worries alone do not produce the negative energy required to bring these fears about, any more than imagining counting out vast wads of cash will make you rich. What causes them to come about is the deep subconscious expectation of their fulfillment. Most people lack the expectation of miraculous gifts coming to them, but fortunately most people also lack the belief in major disasters.

Hence if a radical gratitude list is not yet within your grasp, or even if it is, consider making a radical trust list full of all the potential disasters that never came to pass. Keep adding to it as more and more disasters get miraculously averted. Reflect upon it frequently, and day by day your trust in divine protection will increase. If, like me, you find that disasters simply don’t happen to you, then very soon you’ll be able to laugh in the face of all threatened danger. As your trust in divine providence grows, you’ll find your confidence expanding beyond the bounds of disaster-avoidance and into more proactively positive areas.

And you may just realise how much you have to be thankful for, too.

The simple way to keep your ego in check through observation

Like many tremendously powerful exercises, this one is deceptively simple. However, if I could only recommend one beginner’s exercise for self improvement and setting one on the spiritual path… Well, that would be impossible. But if I had a top ten then this exercise would be on it – perhaps even in the top five. It’s so simple that anyone can apply it into their lives straight away – the only conceivable difficulties are in remembering to apply it – in which case you may need to set some form of reminder for the first few days, if you’re prone to forgetfulness – and being tempted to doubt its effectiveness. If you fall into the latter camp, all I can suggest is to please try it diligently for a couple of days – that’s all the convincing you’ll need.

The exercise

As you go about your day, all you need to do is become aware every time you spot your ego reacting to a situation, and observe what is happening without judging it. When your ego worries in response to some seemingly bad news, observe it. When your ego judges someone else’s appearance, observe it. When the ego gets angry at someone else’s silly opinion and wants to tell them all the reasons they’re wrong, observe it. When your ego wants to take control of all your future goals and figure out exactly how to accomplish them, instead of trusting in the wisdom of infinite intelligence – observe it and surrender the problem to the universe.

Note that sometimes there may not appear to have been any trigger to cause the ego to flare up. You simply may have followed a random train of thought that led you into having a fully-blown argument in your head, or you may have unwillingly indulged in fear, or self-aggrandisement or whatever.

Here is a brief list of some of the observations you may make:

“My ego is worrying because it feels that it is unsafe.”

“My ego is trying to make itself special because it feels inadequate.”

“My ego is trying to convince someone else that they’re wrong and it’s right, in order to feel in control, because it feels like it does not have sufficient control over its own life.”

“My ego is judging someone else as ugly, in order to feel superior, because it feels unloved.”

Again, don’t judge the ego’s reaction, just observe what is happening – judging is one of the major functions of the ego, so if you allow yourself to judge your ego, you’ve actually allowed the ego to slip back into your mind through the back door. Devilish cunning sometimes, these egos!

If the above observations sound too judgemental to you, or if you’re not yet familiar enough with the ego’s motivations to know exactly what is happening, then just become aware that the ego is reacting, without going into any further detail. In any case, don’t even tell it to stop – you’ll find that most of the time, just by becoming aware that you’re engaged in an unproductive mental pattern, the thoughts will stop by themselves.

What effects can you expect?

The first effect you may notice is an acute awareness of just how much your ego tends to judge, criticise, argue, complain and worry. As you begin to detach from its shenanigans, you may feel some resentment – as though you were babysitting a troublesome child around the clock. Again, try not to react to it or judge it – simply observe. As you continue your nonjudgmental observation, you will become more and more aware of the pure existence – the “I AM”ness that exists beyond the ego. You will no longer identify so strongly with the ego, but will see it for what it is – an artificial construction of the mind that exists independently of our true infinite nature.

As you begin to progress in this habit of detaching from the ego and living in a state of awareness and being, you may also find that you’ll become more aware of your thoughts in general, and not waste mental energy giving attention to things you don’t wish to attract into your life. Naturally, this has tremendous benefits of its own – benefits that will become very quickly obvious if you’re able to keep your mental slate clean for a reasonable period of time – say, a week or two. Learning to let go of all fear and developing the habit of trusting in the providence of the universe will help to create a powerful, positive state of expectancy, which is much more in line with your ultimate happiness and success than the ego’s state of fear and limitation.

In addition, becoming more aware of your thoughts also enables you to live more deeply in the present moment, as becoming aware of our thoughts naturally tends to make us aware that much of what passes through our minds is simply needless mental chatter. The process for quietening the mind is very similar and closely linked to the ego observation process – when you become aware of thoughts that don’t serve you in any way, simply observe them without judging. The more aware you become of them, the more they will tend to stop.

Why does it work so effectively?

For the very simple reason that what we give our attention to grows. Although it may seem like this exercise is actually giving attention to the ego by taking note of its judgements, what we’re really doing is moving into the space of “being” – that place where there are no judgements; where criticisms and complaints are not required and the all-encompassing sufficiency of existence reigns supreme. By differentiating ourselves from that part of us that judges and complains – the ego – we’re stepping into our true selves, witnessing the ego and differentiating ourselves from it. And by doing this, we’re giving energy to our true state of being.

And again, we don’t want to judge our ego’s reaction, but the more we observe it ceaselessly complaining, judging, arguing and attempting to assert its superiority, the more we realise just how incompatible it is with that tranquil state of being. We realise the state of being is perfectly sufficient, and all that an unrestrained ego can do is add clamour and discord on top of it.

Ask this one simple question to find your life’s true purpose

I think most people in the world, and almost certainly anyone who would be reading this kind of blog would be at least vaguely aware that they came into this world with a purpose. There’s a reason why we’re here; it’s not random and meaningless. There is something we came here to do. Yet despite this realisation, it’s amazing how little thought people tend to give it. Often it’s a vague idea rattling around in the back of our mind, rather than the all-consuming quest it perhaps ought to be.

When you finally do give it the thought and the attention it deserves, your life can really make a U-turn and start heading in a much better direction just by getting clear on precisely what you’re here for. So here’s a really simple question to help determine your life’s true purpose, which I first heard from the self-help guru Tony Litster. If you made all the money in the world – billions upon billions so that there was nothing on earth you want that’s beyond your means, and you received all the recognition and accolades it was possible to receive – so, you became the world’s most famous person. You won Oscars, Grammys, Nobel Prizes, BAFTAs, Tonys, Logies, you hit the winning runs for England in the World Cup and became the first person on Mars – if you achieved all of that, then what would you do with your life?

OK, that was my own rather more colourful rendition of Tony’s question. At any rate, if you made all the money it was possible to make, and gained all the fame and recognition it was possible to gain, then what next?

Good question, isn’t it? Once we take our baser desires and our ego out of the equation, then we’re left with something a bit deeper, something that really gives us greater meaning than the ego can ever provide. And that’s what we’re looking for here – a purpose based meaning to our life, rather than an ego based meaning. So if you came up with something like “I’d sit on the beach all day”, or “I’d party all night”, you might want to try and think in slightly deeper terms about it to see what actually gives you true meaning beyond comfort and physical indulgence. Indulging yourself constantly is fun for a while, but it’s always a dangerous path to go down. It’s a path of diminishing returns where you tend to become hungrier and hungrier for more indulgence as you get bored of the things that you’ve already got. The higher road avoids that trap and focuses on the things that will give our soul satisfaction, not just our body.

Many of you who just asked yourselves the above question will know instantly what you really wish you were doing. Others may have to think about it for a while and even ask for some answers. If you’re in the latter category, ask persistently and eventually it cannot fail to come to you. You did not come here with no purpose, and it stands to reason that such a purpose must be discernible. Once you’re clear on your purpose, then ask yourself the further question: if you’re not fulfilling it, why not? If this is truly your life’s purpose, then this is the one thing you’re here to do, right? So why aren’t you doing it?

This second question has a tendency to infuriate people, as though I were suggesting that fulfillment of purpose is just a click of the fingers away. Of course that isn’t the case – but again, we know we came here with a purpose. We know that purpose must be discernible, and we know it must be possible. Any one of these three being untrue would make our entire sojourn on this planet supremely pointless. But it would be equally pointless to come here with a life purpose that’s too easy to fulfill. There must be certain challenges involved in fulfilling the purpose, or we wouldn’t learn and evolve from it. The trouble is, most people shrink from their purpose before they’ve even faced the first challenge – simply knowing that challenges are there makes them give up the fight before they’ve begun.

The other excuse your ego might throw up in your face is that there’s no money in your life’s purpose. In which case I’d ask you again, did you really come here with a life’s purpose that’s impossible to fulfill? You might have to get thinking and you might have to ask for some answers and some inspiration, but if it really is your life’s purpose, then it’s simply impossible that there won’t be a way. The people who succeed in their purpose are the people who go searching for answers, and who forge a path for themselves. The people who fail are the ones who give up when the path is not immediately obvious or easy to access. But if you go through life following only the path of least resistance, you’re going to end up living a fairly unengaging life, and not one that’s filled with a tremendous amount of purpose. Worse still, if this purpose is essential to your spiritual evolution then you might have to come back here again to give it another try.

It gets cited so often that it sounds like a cliche and fails to move us, but the lesson of Edison’s light globe is still potent. Edison made something like 900 attempts to invent the light globe before he finally succeed. And when he was later asked about the process he said that after each aborted attempt, he didn’t feel like he’d failed – he just felt like he’d discovered one more way not to invent the light globe. The Edisons of the world are the people who succeed – the people who will not take no for answer.

On the other hand, I don’t think it pays to romanticise failure and struggle either. Some videos and motivational speakers love to do that – they make out that you have to live out a thankless struggle and overcome a seemingly endless series of failures before you finally succeed. It doesn’t have to be like that, either – it’s just a case of being persistent, never giving up, having the end clearly pictured in your mind and being confident that you will succeed eventually. If you have your true life’s purpose in mind and you do all of those things persistently, you cannot possibly fail – remember that and keep it clearly in your mind.

Remember too that in this period of history, we have unprecedented opportunities available to us – opportunities for wealth or achievement or experience that very, very few of us had access to in days past. One major reason why so many people fail to make use of these opportunities is that we also have unprecedented levels of distraction, and it’s much easier to just take the path of least resistance and live a life of ease and comfort. How many people spend virtually all their free time by distracting themselves? Whether it’s through TV, Netflix, alcohol, video games, porn or YouTube – if all your free time is being poured down these drains of distraction – nay, addiction in many cases – what sort of a life can you expect to live? Probably a reasonably comfortable and easy one, but also one that’s probably lacking any real purpose or direction. I know that’s the kind of life that I was living for many years – but once I actually asked the question about my life’s purpose and really understood that I’m here to fulfill that, not just to indulge myself, it was a huge, huge wake-up call. Perhaps it will be a major fork in the road for you, too.

In 10, 20 or 30 years time you might look back at today and mark it as being the day that you began to live on purpose instead of just living for comfort and ease. I hope so, because you don’t want to look back on your life in 30 years time and say “where did all the years go? And what have I got to show for it?” I had that kind of revelation myself, mercifully in my 30s. But it was hard to comprehend where the past ten years had gone, and why I had achieved virtually nothing in such a significant chunk of my life. It wasn’t nice, believe me. But whatever age you are, there’s still time to turn it around. Ask the question, and get clear on what you’re aiming towards. Write it down. Refer to it often. Visualise it.

Once you’re clear on your purpose you may then need to break through your mind’s resistance. When all your excuses show up, write them all down and then answer them rationally. When your brain says “it’s too hard!” You answer “nothing good comes cheaply, but we can do it.” When your brain says “there’s no money in that” you say “there is money, we just have to find it”. When your brain says “I’m too old” you say “better late than never!” When your brain says “That’s for other, lucky people, not us – let’s just get drunk and watch TV, it’s so much easier” – visualise where that attitude will get you in 10, 20 or 30 years time – then visualise what putting in a small amount of purpose-based effort now could do for you in that same amount of time.

Whatever the objections are, write them all down and answer them with truth. If you don’t have all the answers yet, think about it and ask for answers. Ask for inspiration. Then take action, believe, be confident and never give up. If it really is your purpose, you can’t possibly fail. Don’t delay – let this be the day your true life quest begins.

The amazing simple mindfulness hack that actually works

As well as being tremendously beneficial to our mental health, mindfulness is also one of the most powerful spiritual practices we can take up. In addition to improving mood and clarity of thought, mindfulness can also raise our vibration and lead to ego death and profound spiritual enlightenment. The classic book on the spiritual aspect of mindfulness is Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. At the beginning of the book, Tolle describes his own experience of “waking up”, as though from a deep sleep, and finding that the world was vivid, exciting and deeply joyful – as though he was looking at everything for the first time.

The only trouble is, for many people it’s much easier in theory than in practice. Attempting to make this a habit can be quite a frustrating experience when we realise how full of thoughts our heads really are. Minimising multitasking and distractions and making a persistent effort to fully absorb ourselves in whatever activity we are engaged in is a first step towards cultivating the habit. But the modern world is full of distractions, and many of us find that our brains simply refuse to concentrate, no matter how hard we try. So here’s an incredibly simple technique that can get you started on this wonderful habit immediately, with minimal effort.

The technique

Before I get to the fun part, I need to discuss willingness, because nothing else will work without it. We need to be willing to put aside our endless stream of thoughts about the past and future when they arise. This is a big part of the battle, because being absorbed in our thoughts can be tremendously satisfying, in a way – why else would we do it? Making the commitment to switch our thoughts off even when we want to continue can be difficult at first, especially if we are prone to deep feelings of regret, remorse or sadness about the past. We need to have a conscious willingness to stop such trains of thought as they arise, or they will simply continue and we will quickly become absorbed in them. If we are absorbed in the past, we can simply choose to make peace with it and put it aside. On the other hand, if we are anxious or excited about the future we can make a decision to trust in a higher power and then put the thoughts aside until we can set aside an appropriate moment to make whatever plans we need to make. In other words, leave the past alone and let our thoughts about the future be limited to specific times when we are engaged in formal planning.

Unfortunately, nature abhors a vacuum and so when we attempt to silence the mind, most people find they can only manage a few moments before their thoughts return and they lose all sense of the present moment. The way to overcome this in the beginning is to use our thoughts to make us fully aware of the present, rather than trying to stop them altogether.

You can do this by describing everything that you’re seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling while you’re out and about. If you’re walking through a park you could simply say “green and red leaves, green grass with patches of yellow and a few fallen leaves. Birds tweeting, a gentle breeze on my face, the faint smell of pine.” You can freely repeat yourself, and describe in as little or as much detail as you like, provided you don’t get too absorbed in the details and lose your sense of presence. On the other hand, it’s good to pay a little extra attention compared to what you might normally, or you could find yourself mindlessly rattling off the names of things without truly absorbing yourself in their presence.

If you feel anxious that you might forget about something important that pops into your mind, you can carry around a reporter’s notebook to take down anything you feel is important. However, please don’t be tempted to use your phone for this purpose. An important part of the process of developing full awareness is weaning ourselves off distracting technology. You don’t have to throw your phone away, but don’t needlessly give yourself an extra reason to play with it.

You can also use this when you’re around the house, or engaged in any activity where your mind would normally wander. If you’re cooking, you can describe the kitchen bench, and the colour, texture and smell of whatever ingredients you’re chopping up. If you’re doing the washing, describe the feel of the fabric and the colours and patterns of your clothes. The more you remember to practise this technique, the more your mind will revert to it instead of wandering into endless streams of thoughts.

Remember, this is a stepping stone to full mindfulness. It’s the easiest way to unlearn the habit of letting your mind wander aimlessly through the past and into the future. The more you practice it, the more you’ll find yourself naturally tuning in to and observing the present moment, and the easier it will be to develop those periods of full awareness in between thoughts. Of course, the ultimate goal is to let go of the mental commentary altogether and simply be aware of your surroundings without the use of words. But you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to achieve this when you use this intermediary step. Everything in life works so much better when we go with the flow instead of fighting against it. So use the power of your mind as a tool to promote awareness, instead of creating resistance by ordering it to shut up.

Turn off the news and turn on your life

One of the most commonly held dangerous beliefs in modern society is the idea that it’s important to have a source of news in your life, whether it be the TV, radio, newspapers or the internet. However, recent events have made it clearer than ever that filling your head with some corporate entity’s idea of what the news is, is not only unnecessary – it is actually damaging to our spiritual life.

The news is presently filled with nothing but negativity and fearmongering. Needless to say, filling one’s head with a constant stream of this is incredibly draining. But as soon as the TV goes off, silence still reigns. Outside, the birds still sing and the sun still shines. People are not dropping dead in the streets. Life goes on. Never was there a clearer indication that what we fill our heads with – whether be our thoughts, or the material we consume that fuels our thoughts – is what determines our reality.

Even during less chaotic periods, there is very little offered by mainstream news sources that contributes in any way to the betterment of our lives. No-one should feel the slightest pang of guilt for not wishing to keep abreast of all the latest car crashes, murders, political squabbles and celebrity gossip. It’s tremendously sad for the victims of such misfortunes, but it is no concern of anyone’s except those directly involved. We have no obligation to concern themselves about these matters, and there is no benefit in doing so. It is not our responsibility to take on the grief of complete strangers. Even if some compassionate instinct compels us to do so, it will have no positive effect on the victims whatsoever.

Our responsibility as humans is to look after ourselves, our friends and family and our local community – in that order. Of course, the responsibility we hold towards our family is very similar in importance to that which we hold towards ourselves, so we should never put ourselves first in a selfish way. But putting ourselves first in a responsible way to ensure our own stability helps to ensure that we can adequately fulfill our duties to our family members.

The idea that we have a duty to be informed about the misfortunes of all others everywhere on the planet is an invention of the modern globalised world, and the mass media that helped to create such a society. The world carried on just fine for millennia using word of mouth as its only news service. Anything that’s absolutely crucial for you to know will still reach you by this method even now. If nobody comes to tell you, you probably don’t need to know.

It’s even more absurd when the news reports on atrocities or misfortunes occurring in far distant countries. A small number of folks may consider it part of their life’s work to better the conditions of those living in other countries. They are to be praised for their compassionate decision, but the vast majority of people do not share this life purpose. Furthermore, such a calling requires action – simply watching foreign atrocities and misfortunes on the TV news and taking on others’ grief serves no purpose to anyone. Again, no-one should feel guilty for refusing to burden themselves with the sufferings of those to whom they have no direct responsibility. Of course we can pray for them, or direct positive energy towards them – or whatever we feel inclined to do. But then we should simply trust in a higher power and detach ourselves from the situation. We should also remember – whilst not allowing it to stifle our compassion – that people in these situations chose to incarnate here and to experience certain things, even sufferings, in order to learn particular lessons and evolve their souls.

Disconnecting from the news can be a difficult process in the beginning, if you are accustomed to keeping abreast of things. Curiosity may get the better of you and you may find yourself taking a quick peek at the headlines online, or looking at the front page of the newspaper if you see it in a shop or a cafe. But if you persist with it, the curiosity will pass. Having less noise in your mind will make it clearer and calmer, and you’ll quickly find that you’re no worse off by not filling your head with a constant stream of negativity.

Once you’ve emotionally disconnected, you may also find that you need to make some other changes to avoid being unintentionally exposed. Certain websites you’re accustomed to visit – for example, the login page on your webmail account, or the default start page on your internet browser – may display news headlines. You may be exposed to the radio on buses or in shops. You can take some steps to avoid these too, such as changing your start page or – if you really want to get serious about it – taking noise cancelling headphones with you if you’re likely to go somewhere where the news will be on. You may not wish to walk around with headphones on all the time, as this can make it difficult to be fully present in the moment, but having nature sounds or even music available to block out the news break is quite OK.

Of course, it’s difficult to avoid all exposure all the time, and we shouldn’t be too obsessive about it, nor should we be anxious if we do find ourselves exposed to the news on occasions. But if you try at a bare minimum to avoid all intentional exposure for a few weeks, you’ll wonder why on earth you ever filled your head with such drivel in the first place. The troubles of the wider world will fade away and you’ll be much more able to focus on the real world – that is, the world you live in. Yourself, your friends, your family and your community.

Yes, your external world will become smaller; but your spiritual world will become larger. Try it and see.

Just 5 minutes a day to stop judging others – the simple exercise

Before I dive into my simple five minute technique to banish judgment from your mind, let’s take a brief moment to get clear on why you would want to do this. I assume most readers would consider this task to be self-evidently worthwhile, however it’s helpful to be specific about the benefits in order to foster motivation and persistence. It can be easy to fall away from a practice when you’re not clear on precisely why you’re doing it in the first place – so let’s get that straight right from the beginning! The three chief benefits of banishing judgment are:

1. It helps to develop intuitive abilities

Humans naturally have the ability to sense and perceive energy, in many of its different forms. We all have experience with this in one form or another, although for most people it manifests in subtle and unconscious ways, such as a vague sense of unease – a “gut feeling”; or a “hunch” that we should take a particular course of action.

Everyone is capable of taking these abilities to the next level and gaining a more profound, consciously intuitive understanding of the world. However, the first step to developing this is to work on silencing the ego mind, since the ego mind is inclined to judge and rationalise. When the ego-mind is in control, subtle energetic clues tend to get drowned out.

For example, if you’re attempting to intuitively discern how a person is feeling, the ego-mind will attempt to analyse external clues like facial expression and the tone of a person’s conversation. These often give useful clues, but they can also be highly misleading, as most people have learnt to “put on their best face” and hide their true feelings in order to peaceably get along in the world. If the ego-mind has already formed a firm judgment, for example “this person is smiling, therefore he must be happy”, then the ability to tune in and feel the other person’s energy is lost, or severely hampered.

But a person with finally tuned intuitive skills is able to see through this by simply picking up on the other person’s energy and directly feeling what they are feeling. By staying neutral and free from the ego’s judgments, the seasoned intuitive can tune in to anything – be it a business proposal, a potential relationship, a self-development course or whatever. The intuitive can then feel its energy and determine whether it resonates with them. This gives us a far more profound understanding than can ever be obtained by the ego-mind’s attempts to rationally muddle through all the details.

2. It helps to raise your vibration

Judgments are dense energy – they are low vibrational. This means it’s much harder to ascend to higher levels of consciousness when your mind is accustomed to constant judging of other people or circumstances. The judgmental ego-mind is always comparing others against some indeterminate, arbitrary standard and deciding whether or not the person measures up. To the non-judgmental person, all souls are satisfactory – including one’s own soul. The unkind or irrational behaviours of others do not perturb the soul who has transcended judgment, for he sees the beauty of the eternal formless behind the unkindness, and the machinations of another soul’s ego have no power to disrupt his peace as long as no judgment is made of them.

So many of us have heads full of judgment as we face the world. We’ve been indulging the peanut gallery between our ears for so long that it feels it needs to offer an opinion on everyone it meets. Thus we get subjected to a constant stream of comments like “Wow, he looks unfortunate”, “Gee, she really needs to go on a diet”, “That guy looks like he’s got a high opinion of himself”, “Boy, no idea what she was thinking with that outfit”, “That guy’s obviously rich, I bet he’s less honest than I am”, and so on.

But the soul that has transcended judgment can look anyone straight in the eyes and see nothing but another perfect, beautiful soul arising from the same eternal source as himself. The soul that has mastered this practice of non-judgment has raised their consciousness into the realm of 500+ on the Hawkins scale of consciousness, or “love and above”. Here there is no room for judgment of others, but only love for one’s self and all mankind.

Raising your vibration is the most tangible gauge of spiritual progress. So when we talk about raising your vibration, we’re really talking about the most important work we can do for ourselves on this planet.

3. It makes you less reactive

The ego-mind is forever seeking the path of comfort and least resistance, and so whenever circumstances arise to spoil this pipe-dream of comfort and ease, the ego judges them as unsatisfactory, and suffering arises as the result of this judgment.

A soul whose ego reigns supreme will see every inconvenience as an attack on its own comfort and react accordingly. Whether it’s missing the train, being held up in traffic – even for a few brief moments, machines that don’t work or having to queue to use an ATM, the reactive, judging mind sees it all as intolerable. Souls who repeatedly indulge this sense that all inconvenience is unacceptable usually end up developing a sense of persecution or even accursedness – which, of course, brings with it more inconvenience and bad luck.

By learning to avoid judgments of other people, we eventually learn to avoid judging circumstances as well. While the ego-mind resents a few extra moments of boredom waiting in traffic, the soul without judgment realises that this is an inevitable part of the human experience, and that it only becomes burdensome when the mind labels it as such. The unjudging soul trusts that he will arrive at his destination on time regardless of any disruptions – or if he does not, it does not matter. The people he is meeting will forgive him – and if they do not, it does not matter. The shop he is heading to will still be open – if it is not, it does not matter. All is well regardless of what external circumstances might appear to indicate.

By ceasing to judge external circumstances, we cease to react to them. By ceasing to react to them, they cease to have any control over us. The man who does not judge always gets what he wants, because he always wants what he gets. Not only is this shift in perspective massively profound in its own right, but a nonreactive soul also tends to attract more favourable circumstances due to its optimistic, nonplussed mindset.

The exercise

I’ll first share with you the original exercise, which is taken from Stuart Wilde’s book on intuition, then my own 21st century twist on it.

Stuart recommends finding a public place with a steady stream of pedestrian traffic through it – so perhaps a busy city street, a park, or a shopping centre. While being as subtle as you can, observe the faces of the people that come towards you. As you do this, your task is simply to take a good look at the faces of the people that pass, and have no opinion on them. As soon as you hear your mind begin to offer an opinion, you simply silence it. If you choose, you can thank your ego for its opinion but advise it that it is not required – or you can simply ignore it. Be careful not to become angry with yourself if a judgment pops into your head – simply remain calm, clear your mind of the thought and wait for the next person. Judging yourself for having a judgment is, of course, simply another form of judgment – and a sneaky way that the ego tries to creep back into your mind through the back door. The ego has no place in this exercise.

You can smile at the people coming by if you care to, but remember that the purpose of the exercise is to avoid all judgment – so even positive or neutral judgments should be avoided. Judging that a person is very old, for example, is not really a negative judgment per se, but it’s still the result of the ego feeling the need to “size up” everyone it comes across. Positive judgments need to be avoided also – judging that someone is beautiful is equally hampering to the exercise as judging that they are ugly.

Don’t be tempted to think that this exercise is too simple to be effective. All you’re really doing is establishing the habit of not reacting when you see a face. With a bit of practise this will spill over from the exercise into your daily life and become second nature. The only ways you can really go wrong with this exercise are to fail to pay proper attention to each person’s face, or to overthink matters. You do want to get a good, thorough look at the person (while maintaining subtlety of course – don’t go cutting eyeholes in a newspaper or anything), and flitting carelessly between one face and another will not establish the habit as strongly as if you pay full attention to each face. On the other hand, don’t be tempted to wonder if you’re doing it correctly or if there’s some special knack you haven’t quite grasped yet. We’re simply paying full attention to each person’s face and then not reacting to it – that’s it. If you’re doing that, you’re doing the exercise correctly. It will take some time and patience to become good at it, but you’re on the right track.

The 21st century update

Stuart Wilde recommends performing the above exercise for 20 – 30 minutes whenever convenient to do so. However, many of us would find it difficult to dedicate that kind of time to such a seemingly airy activity. My preferred variation is simply to dedicate 5 – 10 minutes a day looking through a stream of headshots on the internet. This can be done with any stream of photos, but it works best if there is a good cross-section of both genders, different races, different ages and different levels of physical attractiveness. As a man, I would not pick a stream full of exclusively attractive women, for example. Nor should you pick a stream where you’re likely to see any sort of scanty clothing – as that’s not the purpose of the exercise and it will only distract you.

A photorealistic image of a man
This person truly does not exist. I know, right?

I personally recommend This Person Does not Exist – it’s a stream of photorealistic computer-generated faces with a good cross section. And yes, they really are computer generated – although if I hadn’t told you, most of them could pass for real photos. The site’s actual purpose is simply to show off the technology – it’s not designed with this exercise in mind, but it works extremely well regardless. You have to be prepared to deal with some grotesque image errors, but by and large the results are amazing.

Dedicate just five minutes a day to flicking through the images and not reacting to them, and within a couple of weeks you’ll be amazed how the habit carries over into the real world. Just be careful not to do your practise in public, unless you want people to think you’re on a really weird version of Tinder.

A warrior only acts or responds; a fool reacts

It’s barely an exaggeration to say that I used to be one of the most reactive people in the world. I recall with partial amusement and partial horror an incident that occurred one Sunday morning while I was driving through a busy city road. A taxi had stopped in the middle of one of the lanes in order to wait for some passengers outside a hotel. I couldn’t change lanes because of the traffic, so I had no option but to wait – delaying my oh-so-important Sunday by – oh god knows, potentially a full thirty seconds. A minute even! Naturally this was unacceptable to my ego-mind, which decided it might be a constructive course of action to lean on the car horn and toot at the taxi in the hopes that it would forget about its passengers and move out of the way. Amazingly, it didn’t – so in order to save face, my ego continued leaning on the horn until it ran out of air, emitting a high-pitched squeal and then falling silent.

My entire life was one reaction after another – whether it was to late trains, irritating people, machinery not working, or even something as simple as brushing my hair against a low hanging tree branch and disrupting my hairstyle. Of course, my frustration and occasional tantrums served no purpose, and only created extra suffering for me. What I ought to have done was learn to practise complete surrender to everything that came my way.

When I began to incorporate this kind of surrender into my life, late trains became opportunities to focus on work for a few extra minutes, since being confined in a train station was a good opportunity to work without distraction or temptation to move around. Irritating people became potentially serendipitous encounters, which might lead to the forming of some important business or personal relationship, whether with the irritator himself or an acquaintance of his. Faulty machinery became an opportunity to reconsider my approach to a task, and determine if there was a better way to move forward – or perhaps whether I should abandon the task altogether. And even good ol’ brushes against tree branches? Well, lacking any obvious advantages, they simply became another good way to hone my surrender skills.

I’m not going to tell you that every single irritation that comes my way now has profound meaning. Sometimes an irritating person at the bus stop is simply that – they don’t always introduce me to multimillionaire uncles who want to go into partnership with me. Sometimes when my train is cancelled, I don’t meet my future wife on the next one. Sometimes when friends cancel plans at the last minute, I actually end up spending the night bored and alone instead of discovering the alchemical formula for turning ash into gold.

But there’s no doubt that synchronicities increase in proportion to the extent that we surrender and accept the things that come our way. And if there’s nothing to be gained from the inconvenience, sometimes the cancelled train will magically reinstate itself. The machinery will spontaneously unbreak itself. The irritating stranger will get called away by someone even more irritating than themselves.  Approach life with the assumption that all inconveniences are either “meant to be” or they will mysteriously dissolve, and watch how often your assumption comes true – it won’t always happen, but very often it will.

And on the purely natural level, it’s nice to not make a complete fool of yourself every time a taxi blocks your way.

 

N.B. The title of this post is a reference to Dan Millman’s classic spiritual novel, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.