Thursday, October 10, 2013

9 Mind-Bending Epiphanies That Turned My World Upside-Down

Photo by h.koppdelaney
By: David
Over the years I’ve learned dozens of little tricks and insights for making life more fulfilling. They’ve added up to a significant improvement in the ease and quality of my day-to-day life. But the major breakthroughs have come from a handful of insights that completely rocked my world and redefined reality forever.

The world now seems to be a completely different one than the one I lived in about ten years ago, when I started looking into the mechanics of quality of life. It wasn’t the world (and its people) that changed really, it was how I thought of it.

Maybe you’ve had some of  the same insights. Or maybe you’re about to.


1. You are not your mind.

The first time I heard somebody say that,  I didn’t like the sound of it one bit. What else could I be? I had taken for granted that the mental chatter in my head was the central “me” that all the experiences in my life were happening to.
I see quite clearly now that life is nothing but passing experiences, and my thoughts are just one more category of things I experience. Thoughts are no more fundamental than smells, sights and sounds. Like any experience, they arise in my awareness, they have a certain texture, and then they give way to something else.
If you can observe your thoughts just like you can observe other objects, who’s doing the observing? Don’t answer too quickly. This question, and its unspeakable answer, are at the center of all the great religions and spiritual traditions.

2. Life unfolds only in moments.

Of course! I once called this the most important thing I ever learned. Nobody has ever experienced anything that wasn’t part of a single moment unfolding. That means life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now. Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to solve my entire life — battling problems that weren’t actually happening. Anyone can summon the resolve to deal with a single, present moment, as long as they are truly aware that it’s their only point of contact with life, and therefore there is nothing else one can do that can possibly be useful. Nobody can deal with the past or future, because, both only exist as thoughts, in the present. But we can kill ourselves trying.

3. Quality of life is determined by how you deal with your moments, not which moments happen and which don’t.

I now consider this truth to be Happiness 101, but it’s amazing how tempting it still is to grasp at control of every circumstance to try to make sure I get exactly what I want. To encounter an undesirable situation and work with it willingly is the mark of a wise and happy person. Imagine getting a flat tire, falling ill at a bad time, or knocking something over and breaking it — and suffering nothing from it. There is nothing to fear if you agree with yourself to deal willingly with adversity whenever it does show up. That is how to make life better. The typical, low-leverage method is to hope that you eventually accumulate power over your circumstances so that you can get what you want more often. There’s an excellent line in a Modest Mouse song, celebrating this side-effect of wisdom: As life gets longer, awful feels softer.

4. Most of life is imaginary.

Human beings have a habit of compulsive thinking that is so pervasive that we lose sight of the fact that we are nearly always thinking. Most of what we interact with is not the world itself, but our beliefs about it, our expectations of it, and our personal interests in it. We have a very difficult time observing something without confusing it with the thoughts we have about it, and so the bulk of what we experience in life is imaginary things. As Mark Twain said: “I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The best treatment I’ve found? Cultivating mindfulness.

5. Human beings have evolved to suffer, and we are better at suffering than anything else.

Yikes. It doesn’t sound like a very liberating discovery. I used to believe that if I was suffering it meant that there was something wrong with me — that I was doing life “wrong.” Suffering is completely human and completely normal, and there is a very good reason for its existence. Life’s persistent background hum of “this isn’t quite okay, I need to improve this,” coupled with occasional intense flashes of horror and adrenaline are what kept human beings alive for millions of years. This urge to change or escape the present moment drives nearly all of our behavior. It’s a simple and ruthless survival mechanism which works exceedingly well for keeping us alive, but it has a horrific side effect: human beings suffer greatly by their very nature. This, for me, redefined every one of life’s problems as some tendril of the human condition. As grim as it sounds, this insight is liberating because it means: 1) that suffering does not necessarily mean my life is going wrong, 2) that the ball is always in my court, so the degree to which I suffer is ultimately up to me, and 3) that all problems have the same cause and the same solution.

6. Emotions exist to make us biased.

This discovery was a complete 180 from my old understanding of emotions. I used to think my emotions were reliable indicators of the state of my life — of whether I’m on the right track or not. Your passing emotional states can’t be trusted for measuring your self-worth or your position in life, but they are great at teaching you what it is you can’t let go of. The trouble is that emotions make us both more biased and more forceful at the same time. Another survival mechanism with nasty side-effects.

7. All people operate from the same two motivations: to fulfill their desires and to escape their suffering.

Learning this allowed me to finally make sense of how people can hurt each other so badly. The best explanation I had before this was that some people are just bad. What a cop-out. No matter what kind of behavior other people exhibit, they are acting in the most effective way they are capable of (at that moment) to fulfill a desire or to relieve their suffering. These are motives we can all understand; we only vary in method, and the methods each of us has at our disposal depend on our upbringing and our experiences in life, as well as our state of consciousness. Some methods are skillful and helpful to others, others are unskillful and destructive, and almost all destructive behavior is unconscious. So there is no good and evil, only smart and dumb (or wise and foolish.) Understanding this completely shook my long-held notions of morality and justice.

8. Beliefs are nothing to be proud of.

Believing something is not an accomplishment. I grew up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they’re really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because “strength of belief” is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego. Listen to any “die-hard” conservative or liberal talk about their deepest beliefs and you are listening to somebody who will never hear what you say on any matter that matters to them — unless you believe the same. It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what the die-hards are chasing. Wherever there is a belief, there is a closed door. Take on the beliefs that stand up to your most honest, humble scrutiny, and never be afraid to lose them.

9. Objectivity is subjective.

Life is a subjective experience and that cannot be escaped. Every experience I have comes through my own, personal, unsharable viewpoint. There can be no peer reviews of my direct experience, no real corroboration. This has some major implications for how I live my life. The most immediate one is that I realize I must trust my own personal experience, because nobody else has this angle, and I only have this angle. Another is that I feel more wonder for the world around me, knowing that any “objective” understanding I claim to have of the world is built entirely from scratch, by me. What I do build depends on the books I’ve read, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had. It means I will never see the world quite like anyone else, which means I will never live in quite the same world as anyone else — and therefore I mustn’t let outside observers be the authority on who I am or what life is really like for me. Subjectivity is primary experience — it is real life, and objectivity is something each of us builds on top of it in our minds, privately, in order to explain it all. This truth has world-shattering implications for the roles of religion and science in the lives of those who grasp it.
***
What have you discovered that turned your world upside down?

40 comments:

  1. I've discovered that everything is exactly what it is and that words will never do reality justice. Language is no more then human's attempt to describe that which is ultimately infinite and impossible to sum up through language. With language come's an inherent bias. The truth is the present moment. And none of us will ever know everything there is to know about that let alone break it down and describe it in mere vocal chord vibrations.

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    1. Yaaaaaa, Let's get caught up in another philosophical/linguistics/syntax/context debate.
      Round and round the arguments/logic go, where it stops? no one knows.

      Love the ideas presented in this article, but in a world where there a nexus of infinite causes for every outcome, how do we really know anything?

      All we can do is try to, like you said, "limit suffering & fulfill desire" by reading this article. :)

      PS: I hate philosophy
      PSS: My pain was totally limited a wee bit by reading this, thanks for writing it.

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    2. That is why modern analytical philosophy is a complete failure. It deals with argument and logic and not with real life. You won't find the concepts from this article in modern philosophy since they have gone in a completely different direction. I think this quote from Plato's Republic Book 6 is very relevant.

      "Nevertheless, I do not wonder that the many refuse to believe; for they have never seen that of which we are now speaking realised; they have seen only a conventional imitation of philosophy, consisting of words artificially brought together, not like these of ours having a natural unity."

      http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.7.vi.html

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  3. It took me 40 years of travelling up blind alleys to get it. And in the end It had nothing to do with my trying desperately to get it. All the effort, the rules, the paths, the belonging, made no difference and yet maybe that absurd effort was rewarded with Grace. In the end it was Grace. It came in a really unexpected moment and when mind reasserted its overbearing presence (as it so often does) and the bliss quietly retreated for a while, overshadowed by Mind, it could not rob me of the experience.

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    1. Through Grace, we learn that what we were trying to do for so long simply can't be done. But you can't find that out until you try really hard to do it, for a long time. Then you give up, and it can arise. This is what the Taoists called wu wei, usually translated as "non-doing." Well non-done, Malcolm.

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    2. Malcolm this is beautiful. It is amazing what happens when we quiet the mind.

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  4. I've discovered the more I see the less I know ..and that if the above was a hand book given to every student we would evolve without the pain attached...

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  5. Thank you SO much for this article. It articulates what has been happening to me the last couple of years in a way that I have been unable to. Beautiful!

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  6. All true and well stated! I will say that emotions can be the voice of intuition if we purify them of their wounds from the past. Just like the mind can be a good tool if we break it's habit of constant associative thinking.

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  7. Thank you for posting this. I must add this parable

    When a raindrop hits a puddle, from above, its ripples make a perfect circle. From various angles these ripples form different ellipses. No two vantage points of this event are exactly the same, neither are wrong either. Both in truth, are correct.

    If we look at life as the ripples from the raindrop, we all experience the same event, but how we relate to it varies from person to person, same as the different ellipses from different perspectives.

    Make sense?

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  8. I had a major bad-trip experience during an acid trip which turned out to be one of the best things of my life. It forced me to see that I cannot control the world around me and only after accepting this was I allowed back into "the real world" only now a life-lesson richer

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  9. I have this habit of looking up towards the sky when moments of quiet happens and hear myself say "I have much to learn,..I am not ready to leave, I ask for guidance so I can share......

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  10. #7 helps me understand addiction better

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  12. It sad how we do not value the simplest things in life. Religion for us is more of an escape than guidance. We are busy exploiting others with any information we can get handy. A step forward proves to be two backwards when we look at the overall well being of humanity. We live in the world of right and wrong with no respect for others' opinions and beliefs. We forget that beliefs can change.

    Thank you for sharing this insight. Thank you for all the comments. There is much learning here.

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  13. I'm very appreciative of this writing and teaching. So much understanding I have been learning over the past 8-10 years and yet there is so much more I am to learn. #8 blew my mind, I've never thought of that before. I am inspired about the comments and teachings you all have offered also. Thank you. Life is beautiful. Love is All.

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  14. Beliefs consolidate what fashions the worst and best of our selves. Change is beautiful, change is everything, nothing is certain, nothing is promised, finding answers can sometimes be the problem and having a problem can sometimes be the answer. Love is life, and life is hate, and life is broken promises, and life is beauty, life is daunting on endeavors we chase, life is a chance to explore the possibilities. Live and let go. There's always so much more. It gets better, but only if you want it to.

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  15. never really seen with that eyebeam that we all desperately want to clear
    all our pain n questions, is home here or near? more near than my heart
    beats, or lungs breathe, or heart seethes everytime it bleeds from loves spells
    unrelieved. hopelessly i heartached and waked and baked, loved to fornicate
    hoping and wishing and praying for something to level the pangs....and let it not
    be my bearings. but once i let go, once i was told, everything i hold onto
    is the reason im weighted down too, i understood - live and let go. there's always so
    much more.

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  16. thank you for posting this, really interesting read

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  17. I have discovered pankakes... when eaten on a nice summer day before it gets too warm out... on the beach at my table near the slowly rolling tide... with a nice umbrella and grade A amber maple syrup... slathered in butter... with a fresh hot cup of espresso coffee...

    Can shift my sense of what life is for, and what it's worth. :)

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  18. Great post. My biggest epiphany that has given me strength to achieve things that I might not have before, is the understanding that all of our legal, traditional, and environmental norms have been established by everyday human beings just like you and I. All of the amazing feats of art, athletics, and innovation have been achieved by mere mortals who have been able to reach the highest levels through the virtues of focus, determination, and passion. This understanding has allowed me to empower myself and others around me by recognizing that the people that we admire and hold as idols, are the same as all of us, and therefore, we have the same potential to reach their levels of excellence.

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    1. I forgot to mention that, with this perspective, you start to realize that our social paradigms like the monetary system, government structure, educational system, etc., have all been created and maintained by humans with the same character flaws as all of us. This means that everyone's voice is just as important in shaping the way that these systems improve and evolve, and we shouldn't shun or attack those in power now, but help them to transition to a state of broader social involvement so that every class and type of person is represented by the new policies and discussions.

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  19. I really resonated with your epiphanies, thank you for sharing, David! I do these consciousness tools and exercises and courses that I think you'd really adore: http://avatarintro.com/en/avatar-info-hour.html

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  20. 2. Life unfolds only in moments.
    Of course! I once called this the most important thing I ever learned. Nobody has ever experienced anything that wasn’t part of a single moment unfolding. That means life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now. Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to solve my entire life — battling problems that weren’t actually happening. Anyone can summon the resolve to deal with a single, present moment, as long as they are truly aware that it’s their only point of contact with life, and therefore there is nothing else one can do that can possibly be useful. Nobody can deal with the past or future, because, both only exist as thoughts, in the present. But we can kill ourselves trying.



    Hey I like most of your points there especially the points about human beings and the innate suffering and how suffering is inevitable.

    I do not however like "Nobody can deal with the past or future, because, both only exist as thoughts, in the present"

    This is bullocks.The future does exist outside of our mind. Unfortunately. If it was a thought you could simply change your mind and thus change reality. Realistically, Im pretty sure you plan for the future, no one has the freedom from the future. Only children live completly in the moment and thats why parents are so important to their well being. Parents see the future as more than a thought and therefore, are able to take care of a child. Actually thinking about the future is the thing that makes humans unique. We plan, we actualize and we enjoy the moments when our plans come to fruition. Do you eat healthy? I bet your the type that does or at-least attempts to. Eating healthy is a ritual that is based on the future repercussions of eating unhealthy. When a child eats, he does not think about the consequences. Without parents idealizing the future for them, children would eat themselves into cavities and obesity. Many parents neglect their children and this neglect comes from children LIVING WITH NO REGARD OR RESPECT FOR THE FUTURE. I am not sure if you meant this but AWESOME POST. THANKS

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  21. Love is your own. I used to think my love was like a little present made of light that I could silently pass to people and they would value it. I used to be sad that I never had gifts like that from other people and I assumed it was because I was unlovable.

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  22. Great article! The only thing I would challenge is your use of "smart and dumb" or "wise and foolish" to describe behavior. These are merely judgments placed on the behavior in hindsight or foresight. In the moment, a behavior just is; neither good nor bad. For the purpose of communicating the idea though, it may be best to describe it on a continuum (ie. helpful and less helpful) rather than suggesting two polar opposites. Many times, we may experience or see a behavior as seemingly 'positive' and 'negative' simultaneously.

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  23. My biggest epiphany? Hmmm, probably to be thankful, for in giving thanks we give an opportunity to recognize and realize we are not alone in this big bad world, and no matter how bad it may seem... there are Good things in our lives. To focus on our potential rather than our pain, to unlock our destiny rather than repay our history

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  24. You will always serve what you are, which can be changed by perception and by choice. See more, be more. Serve more, be more.

    It's not a new idea; it's more or less the Stoic idea of oikeiosis. And curiously, by expanding the idea of self to include all, you eliminate self in a way that is comparable to the Buddhist idea of anatta.

    Namaste friends.

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  25. Man this is some hippy privileged bullshit.

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    1. Thank you!! :D Glad I'm not the only one who thinks so. I'm sick of every fucking article like this' comments being like 'Wow, so deep!' I'm like -_- ffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuu

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  26. Recently, I discovered inversion and it definitely turned my life upside down...happily, it also relieved pressure in my spine.

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  27. wow... you just regurgitated what the dalai llama and other wise folks have been spitting for eons..

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  28. This is amazing. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you.

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  29. Most beautiful and profound. I embrace these truths and go now to chop wood and carry water. :-)

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  30. And... this is a load of bullshit from someone who has attempted to find 'the meaning of it all' when in the end, I'm sorry, but the goal of my life is not actually a goal. I'm put on this earth to die. In the meanwhile, I want to be alive. That's fucking it, bro. Fucking Buddhism, okay, and I know, I'm a religion major, it's a load of crap for the most part. You only suffer because you choose to suffer. Objectivity is not subjectivity, that's the dumbest thing I've ever fucking read. Dude. Shut up, get a job, live a life, and die. That's it. To quote my deliciously mind-expanded friend: ''Être Buddhiste, c'est un prétexte a ne rien faire.'' Get up from your fucking ass and get to fucking work. You are an animal. You are nothing but an animal. Stop thinking, okay, and get to fucking work.

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    1. I hope you receive all the negative reactions you're looking for and they make you really happy!

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  31. The best thing I ever learned was to 'empty my cup' whenever approaching new knowledge.

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  32. ''where r no bad or good , where is only dumb and smart'' :DD where is only one problem with that Dum thinks he's smart cuz probobly , he lives in a buble of brainwashed world ,most of the people who dont work for a living..or interact only with someone who think same ...

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