The Neutral Mind

“Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless, like water.
You put water into a cup; it becomes the cup.
You put water into a teapot; it becomes the teapot.
You put it into a bottle; it becomes the bottle.
Now water can flow, or it can crash."
-Bruce Lee

Cluttered

I lie in bed and close my eyes. Everything is dark and quiet. The guardian of my mind, the watcher of my thoughts, lowers his awareness. The levee breaks. Wave upon wave of thoughts come as I ride the torrent of past actions and future hopes. I am in dangerous waters; the flow of time carries me beyond the shores of sleep. This is not where I want to be. I need sleep, yet all I have are my thoughts.

The restraint on my mind is my weakness. I know I am supposed to welcome my thoughts and then let them go. This is what I practice, but I am only a novice. Rather than let them go, I hold on to them. Rather than mastering my thoughts, I let them carry me away on the tide, tossing me wherever they go.

Empty

When your mind is crowded with thoughts and information about all the things you’ve learned and how you feel about them, there isn’t room for much else. You’ve given up access to new possibilities and points of view; you’ve limited yourself. In order to learn new information, we must first make room to let that information in.

Shannon Lee

Emptying my mind is the first and hardest step. Therefore, the practice of meditation is important. If there is anything I wish to accomplish through meditation, it is the ability to rule my mind. I want to be able to control my thoughts. On a basic level, it is so I can sleep at night. On an advanced level, it is to remove the clutter.

Emptying my mind is the purge process. It is the elimination of the unnecessary and irrelevant. It is the letting go of preconceived ideas that are preventing me from seeing the whole truth. The growth that I seek comes through the pruning of dead thoughts and the removing of the vines of misinformation which is choking my personal tree of knowledge. New growth needs the space and energy that can only come from the eradication of the old and useless.

Open

Make room for the possibility that maybe you don’t already know all of what you believe to be true—that what you believe is, in fact, a work in progress, capable of changing and evolving as you learn and grow.

Shannon Lee

Humanity is fractured by ideology.

  • Creativity vs. Evolution
  • Conservative vs. Liberal
  • Freedom vs. Control
  • Love vs. Hate

I can connect the dots of my own belief systems and be at peace that I am on the correct side of all the divisions. But what if I am wrong? What if I chose the wrong side? I can either close myself off and hunker down in my own dogmatic ignorance, or I can open my mind and welcome the possibility of discovering the real truth. Better to be shaken to my core than to live in a false fantasy.

There may even be a chance that my beliefs are not wrong. Maybe, they are just not fully developed. Fool would I be if I took a little learning and left it at that. I must cultivate the knowledge that I do have. I must be open to receiving more. Then, I may be able to grasp a greater understanding of the material. This is the path to wisdom.

Preconceptions

Because of our beliefs and our preferences, we walk around collecting the evidence of our experiences to bolster our beliefs. If I walk into a party with a sense of dread, then I am subconsciously looking for evidence of that dread to prove myself right.

Shannon Lee

We have all been there. We thought it was going to be bad and it turned out to be so. We are programmed to see only the things we are looking for. How much have we lost by following this programming? How much could we have gained if we went into the situation with a neutral mind?

To achieve the neutral mind, I must:

  • Unclutter the mind by releasing thoughts and beliefs that are unnecessary.
  • With an empty mind, allow it to open to new possibilities.
  • Eliminate preconceptions of what may come.

This is a practice. With time and consistency, mastery of the mind is possible.

Quoted material obtained from Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee by Shannon Lee.

What We May Be

Do you know what you are? Hopefully by this time, you have figured it out. You know your strengths and weaknesses. You understand the opportunities available to you and the potential threats that could endanger you.

It takes an honest assessment to find out who you are. Anything else could create a dangerous illusion that masks your true self. What you are is here in the present. It is an accumulation of all your past choices. It is not what you hope to be. What you are is the facts of your life right now.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

William Shakespeare

The future will be the accumulation of your choices going forward. They will be combined with past decisions to create the next version of you. What will be your next version?

Shakespeare said we don’t know what we may become. This is true. The potential and the opportunities are there. Yet only some will capitalize on them. Others will sit back and be passively led. Their hopes and dreams will be nothing more than fantasy. Their fortunes and misfortunes will be no more than a product of chance.

Today is a new beginning. If fortune favors us with a tomorrow, it will be the next beginning. Though tomorrow is not guaranteed, we must still plan for it. We must act on those plans today so that we can be at a better starting point tomorrow. If we can continually build upon the plans of each day, we can get closer to our true potential and discover what we may be.

Build the New

How much energy have I spent in reliving the past? It is a time locked in concrete and cannot be changed. All the “I wish I would have, could have, or should have” to no avail. What is done is done, yet so hard to be done with.

There are a few old computer programs I liked. They were familiar, therefore making it easier to use. But as technology improved, they became less appealing, buggier, and simply outdated. To keep those programs operating took more work and eventually the costs outweighed the benefits.

Like the computer programs, companies often struggle when they can’t adapt to the times. They held onto the old ways of doing business and got outpaced by their competitors. The “why fix it if it ain’t broke” mentality holds true, unless one is unaware that it is indeed broken.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates

Companies that can build the new stay relevant.

Computer programs that are technologically with the times will outperform the legacy programs of yesterday.

And then, there is us. If we are constantly fighting the old, we will continuously find ourselves in a losing battle. Would it not be better for us to concentrate on building the new?

Mind, body, and spirit. If what we did in the past is no longer serving us, we would be better off building a new way to do things. It takes observation and analysis to build self-awareness. This is review of the past, not dwelling in the past. We must look to the future and plan a deviation from previously failed actions. This is strategy, not fantasy. It is in the present moment that the changes are made. Work on building the new, not fighting the old.

Contemplating Seneca #104: Maintaining the Heat

Enlightenment. What does it mean and how do we get there? And if we find it, what happens next?

If we attain that which we desire, it will do us no good to sit back on our laurels and retire from the world. Enlightenment, like any other quest, should go beyond ourselves. If it does not help others, what is the purpose?

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

Zen Kōan (A Zen Story)

Chop wood and carry water. The only difficulty is in the labor. But as time passes and the labor is performed, the body and mind adapt. The process develops muscular endurance and strength. Muscle memory recognizes the actions needed and the nervous system improves. The body becomes efficient in the task. Reaching enlightenment does not change the scope of the work. The wood still needs to be chopped. The water must be carried.

The metal is heated to the highest temperature required for it to become malleable. If it is cooled, then the metal cannot be shaped. The solution is to keep the metal hot.

When one is heated to the highest degree, one must have continued heat to maintain the highest temperature.

-Seneca, Letter #109: On the Fellowship of Wise Men

The ideal scenario is that we came out of the previous year better than we started it. We developed habits (think of muscle memory) that served us. We adapted and adjusted to the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) that our external environment threw at us. Ideally, we are in prime form. Maybe, we have even found enlightenment along the way.

What do we do now?

We maintain the heat. It is our only choice. If we become comfortable and remove the heat, then we will become stiff and not be able to mold into our true shapes. Therefore, we must continue the work. We must perform the labor no matter how far we think we have come. Chop wood, carry water. Just like we did in previous days, so must we continue to do so today and into the future.

Protecting Our Holy of Holies

A person’s skin is an amazing organ. It helps to hold all the important stuff inside. It is a shield that protects the person from any unwanted stuff from getting in. Taking care of one’s skin is a no-brainer and not doing so causes a lot of pain and many adverse health conditions.

Did you know we have an invisible skin that protects our souls and spirits? This membrane is designed much like the body’s skin. It keeps the harmful stuff out and the good stuff in. we must protect it or else our hearts and minds will suffer. What is this invisible shield? It is our conscience.

Fear all that is not accepted by your conscience. -Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

We should fear the deleterious effects of the things we put in our bodies. If there is a chance that it would harm us, why would we allow it inside of us? If our bodies are temples, then our conscience is the doorway to the holy of holies. It would be unwise to desecrate that which we should hold most sacred.

Strength from Good Actions

Each repetition with that heavy weight reinforced the signal to my muscles—they must become stronger. Oh, the strength won’t come today. No, today is the sacrifice that precedes the gain in strength tomorrow. Or in my case, the strength that may come someday in the future. With strength training, there is no immediate gratification. There is only the next repetition, the preparation for the next building block to be added to the foundation.

Every time I do a good deed, my expectation isn’t for my own benefit. But for every good deed I do, I become stronger. My ability to perform more good deeds increases. Whether that good deed is for myself or for others, I get stronger. And when those deeds are directed toward others, they, the recipients, get stronger. The community gets stronger.

Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.

Plato

The beauty of strength training is that anybody can do it and reap the benefits. There is no prejudice. There is no exclusion for only a certain group of people. Everybody can train and become stronger. Strength goes beyond muscles, tendons, and bones. It is developed in our good actions. Each good action is another repetition promoting positive change and adding to another layer on top of the foundation.

Action breeds action. Inaction does the same. To become stronger, we must train.

Primal Union

Guard your senses.

Smelling something bad, my first instinct is to move away from the odor. If it is toxic, I could be in danger. Otherwise, it is just unpleasant. Our noses are a first line of defense that would be unwise to ignore.

If it smells bad, it is probably not a good idea to eat it. If it tastes bad, spitting it out would be preferable to swallowing it. Taste, like smell, is a protective measure designed for our safety.

Touch, like the other two senses, is a protective measure. The skin holds everything in and is designed to keep the unwanted out. Pain is a fantastic indicator of a break in the system.

That leaves hearing and sight. Over-exposure can cause irreparable damage. Like the other major senses, they send their signals to the brain. However, hearing and sight are gateways to the soul. If we do not guard what we hear and see, we can allow unwanted and potentially dangerous messages to penetrate our inner beings and expose us to subtle toxins.

Temper your sharpness.

If it is sharp, it is designed to penetrate and cut. It is a weapon that can hurt ourselves and others. Our weapons are our words and actions. Lacking discipline, our sharpness will leave pain in its wake.

Think of a swordsman. Any fool can pick up a sword without regard to the damage it can cause. But a master knows its power and will only use it in times of dire need.

Mask your brightness.

There is a great light within each of us. It is my pride that would cause me to shine my light on those unwilling to see it. If I become so bright, others will either turn away or attempt to dim it. They will only see and hear the things they choose.

I can attempt to mask my brightness with humility. Therefore, others can choose of their own accord whether to see my light.

Be at one with the earth.

To be at one with the earth is to live in harmony. The instrumentalist that cannot maintain harmony will not get the chair in the orchestra. The team member that sows discord will eventually get thrown out of the office. We are a part of this universe. We are a member of our community, a community that will live long after we are no more.

We are the catalysts for a better tomorrow. To be at one with this earth, we must be the stewards that ensure that work is done.

Guard your senses. Temper your sharpness. Mask your brightness. Be at one with the earth. This is primal union.

Lao Tzu

Primal Union

How do we achieve primal union? We must become the people we were intended to be. we cannot do this if we cannot guard our senses. If we cut and injure others, who would be willing to come close to us? If we think that shining the repulsive light of our pride on others will attract them to us, then we are mistaken. And if we cannot  be in harmony with the universe, then we will get greased like a squeaky wheel.

Lessons in History

A quick look back:

  • The Persians thought to rule the world.
  • Alexander the Great did the same.
  • The Romans, a few hundred years later, took up the mantle of world domination.
  • Genghis Khan wanted to claim the world as his. And if he could not do it, then maybe one of his many children could try when he was done.
  • A little guy with a big ego from France traipsed across Europe leaving countless dead in his wake.
  • A madman in Germany. We all know what he was about.

This list is not exhaustive and certainly not excusive to only them.

History Lesson: Throughout the ages, there has always been individuals that have wreaked havoc across the land motivated by power, money, and sex.

The greatest of the world dominators live on perpetually in the history books. But the timeline in between every one of them is littered with lesser men who tried to become like them. As it was back then, so it is now, and so it shall always be.

Chances are that you are not one of these megalomaniacs. And if you not one of them, then are most likely one of their targets.

What has changed?

It certainly isn’t the heart of the villain. But be not deceived, they are some of the greatest students of history. They have studied their predecessors and have learned from their mistakes. Well known super-villains will eventually come to ruin. The advance in technology over the last century makes it even harder to survive. Therefore, it is better to operate in the shadows than to promote your evil in the open.

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all lessons in history.

Aldous Huxley

What is the lesson? Is it to conceal your maneuvering towards world domination? No, this lesson is to identify those that would use us for their nefarious purposes. We must look within the shadows to see who is operating there. We all fear the direct assault, but that is not the most dangerous. They are often from the shadowspawn lurking behind the scenes. We must be wary of the wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

Emperor’s Log #20 ‘Tis the Season…for Patience

It is the time of year when friends and family gather around to celebrate the holidays. It is a time for joy. For some, it is also a time of stress. Last minute shopping, decorating, and cooking can take its toll. And then, there is that one family member (or maybe more) who is the proverbial thorn in the side. Or there is the co-worker at the Christmas party that draws the ire of all.

What can we do about the ones that get underneath our skins and are content to stay there throughout the holiday season? We can look to these words from Marcus Aurelius and use them to our advantage:

Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.

Meditations 5.33

Peace on earth or at least in the family gathering starts with us. We have our own standards to maintain. We have the discipline that has guided us through the years and up to this point. Moments like these is what we have been preparing for. The only ball we should be dropping is the red one to ring in the New Year. We do this by being strict with ourselves. We don’t get goaded into the opposing ideologies that separates loved ones and adds tension to the holiday meal. We hold the line as the sovereign rulers of our minds and bodies.

What do we not do? We don’t hold others to the incredibly high standards we have set for ourselves. No, for them we must be tolerant. When it comes to a “good” life, we can lead by example rather than try to force others into compliance. This is the high road we must seek and stay on.

And yet, these words are easier to write than to do. Too many times, I have cast judgment on others. Too many times when my heart should have been full of peace, love, and happiness, it had been resentful, bitter, and arrogant. It has been those times when the foundations of all my progress had crumbled. I didn’t hold the line. Instead, I only expected others to hold it.

The standards I have set for myself are my standards and mine alone. We all have our own paths to follow. Why should I expect others to follow mine?

I am convinced that my way is the right way. It is only out of love that I would hope others adopt my way of thinking. Yet, if I preach love but don’t show love, then love is truly not in my heart. If my words do not harmonize with my actions, then I am nothing more than a hypocrite. Therefore, I must hold to the words I preach. Love, compassion, and understanding. Tolerance with others; strict with myself.

Convince them if you can. And if not, remember: the capacity for patience was given to us for a reason.

Meditations 9.11

Patience. If differences arise during these festive gatherings, a healthy debate should be acceptable. But if it gets heated, we should remember our training and the purpose of the occasion in which we are gathered. Convince them if you can. Otherwise, be patient. Patience is a form of love we should express freely and abundantly.

May you have peace this holiday season. May it be merry and bright.

Within Oneself

Belief

I have a confession to make. I believe in myself. I believe I can achieve what I set out to do in life. This is my faith. I am an optimist when it comes to fulfilling my destiny. Better to be an optimist than a pessimist.

This does have a drawback. Sometimes I get so excited about my hopes for the future and how I intend to achieve it that I want to share with others. But as I learned in The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler, telling others what I intend to do before I do it, prematurely sends dopamine to the brain. Because I imagined it and told others, I have tricked my brain into thinking it has already been accomplished. This makes doing the work even harder as the brain has already gotten the “high” it was looking for.*

Do I need to tell others? No. I have a belief in myself. That is enough. Therefore, I must temper my excitement. I must let go of the egotistical desire for aplomb. I don’t need to convince others of my plans. Instead, I must execute the plans.

Contentment

What makes me happy? Am I a dog that derives happiness from the approval of others? Happiness is internal. Being designed for action, I am happiest when I perform the work I was created to do. If I squander away my time, if I do nothing or get “busy” doing that which is outside of my life’s purpose, then my happiness wanes. Isn’t this true for all of us?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do find joy in the success of others. If you are happy, then I am happy for you. But to be content with myself, I must do what God created me to do.

Acceptance

Approval is nice. So is acceptance. However, this also is internal. My conscience is intact. It knows what is right and wrong. If I violate it, it sends a message to the rest of my being that I am in a state of discord. If I repeatedly abuse my conscience and learn to dismiss its signal of disapproval, then I will nullify this beautiful tool designed for harmony. I am what I am. I am not what I am not. I can accept this. It is something I can work with. I hope the world can accept this. If not, then I apologize. For I cannot be anything other than what I am.

Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need other’s approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.

Lao Tzu

We must look inward to find our peace, our harmony, and our happiness. Others cannot provide this for us. It is a task we must achieve on our own.


*While Latham and Locke originally believed that making your goal public increased motivation, a series of additional studies by NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer showed that talking about a goal significantly lessens your chances of achieving it. By giving voice to an aim, you’re creating what’s called a “social reality,” and this has negative consequences for real reality. The act of telling someone about your goal gives you the feeling that the goal’s already been achieved. It releases the dopamine you’re supposed to get afterward, prematurely. -Art of Impossible, Steven Kotler