I am quite hesitant to confide the following to my webpages. It seems pretentious to add a semblance of wisdom to all that has already been written on the approach to holistic living. Yet, I have been asked numerous times to tell by what precepts I am led.
For more than half a century I am a student of the art of living now. I have tried to benefit from various wisdom traditions, from Theosophy onward. In absorbing the best that they had to offer and disregarding what did not appeal to me, or proved to be of little use, I have come to an approach to life that I like to share with you.
Outlook and philosophy of life influenced by age
Like everyone else I have gone through various stages of life from adolescent to older age in the course of the years. Each period of life marked by a different outlook.
The teener looks at life quite differently from the grown up, or elderly person. The future is yet to unfold to him. He/she is carried by ideals and attracted to persons to model him/herself after, because they appeal to him/her.
The youngster has yet to explore the boundaries of his powers and abilities. The adolescent is propelled by strong inner drives which may lead him/her to extremes that family and society does not often appreciate. Without experience and frame of reference more often than not he/she will loose sight of reality resulting in disappointment in self, others and ideals.
Old age on the other hand confronts one with one’s frailties and the finiteness of existence, paving the way for a reflective attitude and evaluation of the experiences in one’s life. These constitute a formidable frame of reference henceforth making up for the lack of physical strength. The limitations that come with an older age may be made up by more wisdom, forgiveness, and above all a deeper inner life – being in closer touch with one’s spiritual nature.
Having gone through these stages I have reached the following personal precepts in order of importance:
1. In tune with the Infinite I am not attracted to organized religion. Yet I have learnt the value of taking Jesus’ first commandment (I should have liked the word advice here!) to heart: Love God with all your being (S.Matthew 22:37). To love means to me: tuning in to and channeling love. Divine love, as extolled by St.Paul in I.Corinthians Ch. 13 – love that does not seek itself.
This is easier said than done. Love is a divine power that goes far beyond man himself and cannot be commanded. One can only pray to God to be given the grace of being able to love Him, oneself, or another person.
By prayer I mean entering in a state of inner communication. God to me is not the tyranical figure of the Old Testament, but the Soul, the ‘I’ of manifested and non-manifested existence, outside space, time and dimensions, more than we can comprehend in our wildest fantasies, yet closer to us than anything we know, because we are part of It. That God cannot be touched by blasphemy and all abuse of man.
In practice this means to me trying to tune in to the Infinite when waking up and/or before falling asleep.
2. Love your neighbour
The second commandment is to love one’s neighbour like oneself. This assumes that we are able to love ourselves with all its imperfections in an equal measure as our fellowmen. Let there be no mistake about self-love, most of what we see of it is usually disguised self-disgust.
To treat the human self – a wonderful piece of work – with love, patience and respect does not come so natural to man as it may seem. Self-knowledge reveals besides its wonderful capacities, the frailties and incompleteness of human nature. To accept the fractured self in spite of all these weaknesses with compassion and understanding, paves the way for development. In being accepted for what it is and praised for its achievements, the self is more willing to cooperate and perform.
The body and its organs also seem to have a consciousness of their own influencing our state of mind. In sickness directing attention to organs fosters support and energy for them leading to recovery.
It is better to give than to receive’. This is not a moralistic precept but a law of nature. By opening oneself to another one will step out of oneself and become a channel of forces of benefit to the other person. This makes for growth. True giving is a token that evens out boundaries dividing individuals. It is a quality implanted in man’s nature. Sharing is an act of recognition that we all are part of the same family of man.
4. Tuning in
Be alert to the creativity of the moment. Consider time as a string of creative moments. Awareness cultivates tuning in to the creative possibilities dormant in the now. If one is consciouss of this a chance encounter may take on a different meaning. One may unknowingly make a remark that is significant to the other person, or ‘perchance’ the conversation may lead to a subject that needs attention and clarification. The simplest tasks and activities may be used to tune in. Combing one’s hair, or walking down the street, if done in tune, takes on creative aspects. A day may take on a different meaning if it is preceded by a short tuning in after waking up.
Be aware of what takes place in or outside yourself. It is the first step in the direction of change. Man can hardly change himself, if it were only for reason that he cannot see for himself objectively what really needs to be done. He will be tempted to tinker on his second worst habit, but never touch the principal weakness.
Be aware of the mind that always tends to project its contents on the outside world. It may be an object, a person, or a group. The most pernicious way is to find in others one’s own short-comings. Projection is a barrier to change. Woe to the people in history who became scapegoats of projected public discontent. In short: the projecting mind needs constant attention.
Change of one’s state of being will come when one is acutely aware of what is going on inside and outside. But without judgement as that involves the intellect and arouses emotions which block a clear view. Thus dispassionate awareness leads to change. I realize that this is quite a difficult subject, so I shall leave it at this.
Be part of the creative process going on all around you in nature. It feels great to develop dormant qualities. You need not create a great work of art – your daily life presents opportunities continuously and this is what constitutes your approach to holistic living. Activity you are engaged in may be either routine, or undertaken in a creative sense. Daily routines as dressing, polishing one’s teeth, preparing one’s food, if undertaken in thoughtfulness and devotion may take on quite different aspects.
So is office work. Possibly boring, but hopefully with opportunities. And if not, why not make changes so that they present themselves ? Work with matter, one’s own nature, contact with one’s fellowman, all may be done off-hand without giving it a thought, or in full awareness of what is happening.
Unfortunately human nature tends to inertia. That should be recognized, but not disciplined. There should be spontana•ty left. One’s nature should not be drilled, but rather coaxed into cošperativeness. Important is that you remember how great you felt in times of creativity. If and when they do, make a mental note of them to give you faith and activate you at times that you have lost inspiration.
7. On the chattering monkey mind
The mind dissipates a tremendous amount of energy on pursuing thought associations and reliving memories continuously. In Buddhism it is called the ‘chattering monkey mind’. It never stops. Themes are repeated over and over again without any solution presenting itself. I have known older people who could still become outraged by the memory of some minor incident which occurred almost half a century ago. In all this time they had never been able to put it out of their minds. To the contrary, they strengthened the incident by constantly thinking of it.
The worst is reflecting on an problem when waking up in the middle of the night. Instincts are nearer the surface then. Emotional drastic solutions present themselves. On waking up in the morning, more often than not, all nocturnal resolutions seem far away and are seldomly followed. Lesson: when one wakes up at night don’t give in to mental acrobatics. Relax, let awareness descend from the head into the body. Try to contact all parts. It may lead to ‘centering’ – a harmonious blend of bodily consciousness.
8. Look for hidden possibilities in your fellow man
Endeavour to see the hidden possibilities dormant in a person rather than the superficial personality driven by its instinctive psychological mechanisms. In fact be on guard against those. Misplaced trust will not benefit any one. Assertiveness may clear the air in relationships but only if done in love. Otherwise it may hurt and led to emotional outbursts in which reproaches are being made, possibly not meant at all, but not easily forgotten.
Friendships, are all important in life, but they should be cultivated like a flower. This applies specially to one’s life-partner. In all cases friendship depends on the love one can give to the other. Differences in character and taste need to be bridged, a compromise reached in mutual respect.
On the other hand be careful in your choice of friends. You might easily become their victim, object of their projections, infected by their ideas. Many a so-called friendship is based on how one can profit from the other. The acquaintance may be merely used as a means of introduction to a social circle of influential people. Other friendships may be clung on to for warmth, to flee from one’s isolation, to find a willing ear, to borrow things/money, to lean on, etc. But if a friendship has no other basis it becomes shallow as it is based on dependence and serves as a crutch.It should not be a one-way street, unless the relationship is consciously sustained for other reasons as an act of compassion. Insight in human character makes for true friendships. It means that one should know how the other person functions so that disappointments may be avoided. Only if one is prepared to accept the other for what he/she is and show some form of appreciation will it find lasting response in the other. So often one projects an image of the ideal person on to the other, expecting responses not in line with his/her character.
Thus good friendships can be made if one has also something to offer, be willing to listen to the other instead of using his presence to vent opinions not of interest to the other. Everybody capable of forgetting himself, if only for a brief moment, can be a good friend, mean something to the other. If there is a true rapport one may say things unknowingly which are important to the other.
True friendships are beyond time. One does not need to see each other often. The thread may be picked up instantaneously, even after many years.
Be flexible in your approach to living. Be prepared to accept that the human mind is incapable of comprehending the full dimensions of truth. Truth in one set of circumstances may be different when considered from another level. Be prepared to accept that a so-called mystery may have either a simple explanation, or one quite beyond our understanding.
Mental study in books does not lead to wisdom. It always needs to be chastened by experience. In fact too much study strengthens the intellect, giving it a dominant position leading to imbalance. Wisdom arises in a harmonius blend of all parts of being.
Intuitive grasp, opening one’s mind to inspiration and creative play with ideas have always been hallmarks of genius. Yet these qualities cannot be manipulated by man’s intellect.
11. The purpose of life
In behaviourist psychology thinking about the purpose of life was considered a sign of mental disorder. It seems an incomprehensible judgment over what is considered by many as a token of intelligence. In some cases the old psychological school may have been right, though. To accept life as it comes is a gift we have to cherish. Those who have gone through a depression – a dark night of the soul – will fully understand what joy in life means. In a state of despair or depression one will try to fill the emptiness, caused by a lack of life instinct, by searching with for an acceptable explanation and a good reason to go on living. Unfortunately the intellect at such moments will not be able to provide one. Chronic states of depression should be taken seriously – one should not consider it a failure to take recourse to anti-depressants as the cause may be somatic.
Admittedly, the mind is in need of some form of philosophy. Especially when one harbours a completely outdated orthodox view from childhood. Many are burdened by a trauma because of instilled fears for imaginary sins. In such cases a greater view of life comes as a blessing.
But there is a limit. Pondering may become morbid. Some major mysteries cannot be solved by the mind. The reason for suffering in the world is one of them and may better be left alone until one has grown to a state of consciousness in which questioning disappears.
It is very hard to give ready-made advice and solutions on this subject. Blessed are those who have a happy sex-life in an harmonious marriage. Tragically, in modern society this is seldom the case. In former prudish communities socially acceptable manners were enforced to harnish sex drive and stimulate partnerships. Moreover reference to sex was taboo so as not to stimulate it.
This had its pros and cons. However, we are now taken up in a society that is geared to sexual stimulation. Advertisements, magazines, pop music, video clips: one is bombarded constantly with images of happy, go lucky, young people who can get everything they desire (often by models who are at their wits end!).
The result is a constant gnawing feeling of not benefitting to the full extent of sexual liberation – dissatisfaction with the state of one’s loneliness as compared to the seemingly congenial friendships held up as an example in the media. Above all it rubs in a feeling of not belonging. Matters are worsened if one makes a problem out of all this. There may be a sensible solution, but because one is too keyed up one lacks the openness to attract a possible friend or partner.
Sex is a primordial drive that should not be underrated. If suppressed it may seek expression in all forms and (ugly) ways. Yet if libido is re-directed it may become the motor behind transcendance. Such path implies walking on a razor’s edge.
Do not under- nor overestimate yourself. Circumstances may impel one to loose self-respect. Being the slave of a person, habit, depressive mood, a drug, or otherwise, may result in self-hate.
Never forget that everyone is unique, although individual qualities may be shrouded and never had a chance to develop. Do not despair. The lower one sinks, the nearer is salvation. The first step is the intent of willing to change. It helps to become fully aware of one’s state of being. Next comes visualizing/projecting in the mind’s eye an image of the state one desires to change into. This may set into motion unconsciously healing forces and a process of purification. As the body has the power to heal wounds, so has the mind the same power if tapped in sincerity and faith.
Prayer may evoke a true force from the deepest layers of oneself. Such prayer is not merely a repetition of meaningless words but entering in a true state of seeking to contact the Self beyond the self. If prayer is answered one may enter in a state of Grace leading to recovery of body, mind, or circumstances.
A crisis may effect a catharsis. Yet one must bear in mind that one’s depleted condition may have a somatic component. Taking medication may be better than to succumb to the ailment.
14. The social approach
Do not cut social ties, yet do not clutter life with meaningless social obligations. These are the two extremes one can hover in between. Contact with kindred spirits is better than isolation. One should not underestimate the value of communicating with others. People’s reactions act as a mirror, reflecting one’s own personality. With unerring exactness reactions will show how one’s bearing and words register.
It does not necessarily mean that one should change one’s behaviour to suit the taste of other people. The result would be that one were steered by outer considerations, instead of from within oneself, leading to loss of self-respect.
Communicating means also entering the world of the person one is in contact with. Otherwise it will be difficult to understand the meaning of what is being comminicated. To lend an ear without lapsing in a discourse about one’s own convictions and miseries may mean a sacrifice to some, though. In conversation one should apply terms that are understandable within the framework of the other person. (I wonder whether I am doing so in this paper?!)
Lack of social involvement may also be the result of one’s failure to develop social contacts. Attending cultural, artistic, or spiritual events might help. One may even go so far as to place oneself an ad to invite readers to form a group on a subject near to one’s heart. I did so several times, making friends with people of all walks of life all over the world. This makes your approach to living really worthwhile.
Becoming a member of a spiritual group to one’s liking is another means. There are advantages and dangers as explained in my paper: On the psychology of spiritual movements (click).
Another way to make social contacts is through hobbies. Yet, not everyone is given to these. There are many ways to pass one’s time in arts, sports, tinkering, handicraft, computering, studying etc. It may lead to development of creative qualities in painting, photography, music making, or writing. Many pastimes are an excellent excuse for outdoor activities. (Read what I have to say about collecting as hobby by clicking here). Although it may seem silly to some, hobbies are a great way to keep mind and body constructively engaged, if pursued in good measure.
15. Patterns of thought
It is good to bear in mind that it is for a human being almost impossible to free himself of the frame of thinking developed through upbringing, friends, society, and numerous other factors. If one could only look back on one’s way of thought a century hence one would be surprised of one’s present idiosyncrasies.
When reading of great figures in history one is always struck by the strange dated notions they had simultaneously with brilliant insights in other subjects. One tends to forget that all great prophets were a product of their time and upbringing however much they towered above it in another sense. Man’s development seems always bound to limitations set by the human mind. Buddha could not have preached the same tidings as Jesus Christ and the latter would not have propounded the same truth as Muhamad. They were all part of the way of thinking of their particular era.
It is only natural that we should harbour escapist tendencies. Modern society exerts heavy pressures on us which we should like to run away from. However, the escape may demand a higher toll than the irritation we wish to get rid of. It may be in drugs, booze, over-eating and the many other addictions that make us forget temporarily the world we are living in.
Evading issues may come also in a less obnoxious form. How many of us are not dreaming of withdrawing in a cottage against a hillside with a splendid view, far from the complexity and demands of society? Escapism takes on so many forms. It may be quite harmless if one is aware of its nature. If its excrescences are not checked, it may cause us to do foolish things, or make us fall into habits which we shall have to pay a heavy penalty for ultimately.
17. The ‘I’ and its system
Nature functions in systems. They are all around us: in the weather (El Ni–o), in beautiful configurations as in fractals (crystals), but also in the body. The brain functions in systems – in stabilized circuits, so do the organs. All these systems are interrelated. On top is the controller – the ‘I’. It has the illusion that it is the master of his body. Yet he/she has no inkling of the systems that make up his/her organism. That in fact he lives by grace of them. Only in extraordinary situations, like feeling ill, his attention is drawn to one of them not operating well. When one system collapses others are affected as well. Nature will seek another equilibrium – a second best.
The smart ‘I’ can influence certain of his systems with attention, awareness and visualization, as mentioned above. If a mood takes hold of him he/she may focus attention to it, feeling acutely how he is being affected and by doing so influences the system to perform as it should.
Wordly systems affect man as well: office/household routine. But spiritualy he may also be linked to a system, even without knowing so.
18. Money and possessions
People often have an odd relationship with money. Not surprisingly because it is the cause of many an evil. But in that case it has not been handled well.
Money to a person may mean freedom and power. Freedom to do as one feels the need to. If one has a strained relationship with money it implies that one casts doubt on one’s own capabilities to organize, or to constrain greed.
Money may give wider scope to one’s development, creativity, free from financial worries and limitations. It requires self-confidence, though, and a sense of responsibility. To demonstrate dominance over the attraction of money means to be able to save it, not convert it immediately in possessions. It has become ingrained in modern life and facilitated by the tax system, to spend more than one earns, to live on credit. This means a loss of freedom because one’s debt comes first.
A credit balance in the bank means liberty to move as one feels. The person who saves is free. Money does not burn a hole in his pocket, he is prepared to scale down his expenses to save a little, invest properly. He should not become stingy, though. If his love for a fat bank balance gains so much the upper hand that he/she becomes a miser unable to help another person in need, the scale is tipped. The result is an accumulation of possessions that clutter existence instead of enriching it. Money flows to a person who shows being detached in his spending and saving it – a good steward.
19. Good intentions should not be trumpeted around
It is a well-known fact that people who blasoon around the marvelous plot of a book they intend to write will never get around to start working on it. They dissipate all their creative energy in sharing it with others. Everyone will have met a smoker who intends to give up his pernicious habit next week, or who has stopped indeed and now boasts his feat around. Such promises forebode failure and are soon forgotten.
Do not create expectations in your bearing in public. Your endeavour to impress may turn against you. One’s supposedly fine qualities be better not trumpeted around lest they be put to the test. Showing off may become self-destructive. Being modest has the advantage of not evoking resistance detremental to one’s objectives. Many an enlightened man presented himself to the world as a sort of clown. So he could subtly inject his wisdom without his public being aware of it.
The lesson to be learnt is that if one has made a first step on a path of change it is better to work unobtrusively until one has arrived at one’s goal safely. Discrete silence breeds energy and creativity. I have come to the end of my good advice on an approach to holistic living. Having written it down obliges me too to live up to it. Anyhow, I hope that you will try to bring some of it in practice. Not because someone else says so, but because you experience it to be of benefit.