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This is an excerpt from the book One Grain of Sand, a work now in progress.

In a sense you’re everything, but where is the you beneath social roles? Who is the you that is there when no one else is there to influence it? Who is the you that dreams when the body is asleep? You can’t get that answer from anyone but you, and you’ll have to crack the crust and dive into the mantle before you find your core. How to start digging, you ask? Don’t fret. It’s a matter of achieving consistency, not complexity.

We have a tendency to make things too complicated. All you really need is silence, solitude, and sticktuitiveness. The spectrum of human imagination is huge. Depending on who you are the idea of sacred space may conjure up visions of anything from the cathedral to the charnel house, but there isn’t a right answer. You’ll know what you need when you find it or build it from scratch. The beauty of creating a “temporary autonomous zone” in your mind is that you can do so whenever and wherever you like. Will you do it in the rain? Will you do it on a train?

Just find a safe place to sit down at a time when you can concentrate. Get comfortable, and close your eyes. You may feel silly at first, because the simplicity of this approach seems absurd in a world where everything is portrayed as having to be complex and contrived. People spend decades and fortunes trying to achieve “enlightenment” because they can’t believe how simple it really is to change your perspective a little, which is enough to work from. We think we have to suffer to grow and so we get busy suffering as much as we can so we can “earn” self-love and inner growth. That’s us working for The Con.

I’ve got other meditations ready for you a bit later on, ranging from gradual empathy stretching to a visual/auditory exercise so complex you won’t be able to do anything else. For now, we have to break you in. Sit down, shut up, and get still. Really try to get past the habit of getting caught in the current of frenetic thoughts and feel your body. Concentrate on its weight, but try not to slouch. This is the hardest part for me. I’ll give you a tip I was given. Imagine your spine being straightened by an invisible cord that yanks you up when you bend too much. (There’s a theory floating around that Jacob’s Ladder to Heaven was a metaphor for an aligned set of vertebrae.) Give it a go. If you’re having trouble, take a moment and look at your hand, concentrating on feeling the life within it. Extend this until you can feel it anywhere you direct your attention. Now close your eyes and focus on the feeling of air going through your nostrils. If you can’t, switch to feeling your muscles moving that air in and out. Go back and forth as you need to.

Now here comes the part you can laugh at, but it works anyway. We’ll do a basic “you are here” visualization. Imagine a white hot ball of light in the center of your chest. Let it build in intensity, and then imagine that it is shooting a beam of light through the top of your head to an infinite height and extending down through your core to an infinite depth. Feel that column and straighten up so it’s not interrupted. Now do the same thing to the left and to the right, infinite in both directions. Finally, do the same from forward to back. You’re now squarely in the center of a triple axis, grounded.

This visualization will take all your concentration to maintain at first, so it wipes away all the gnats of stray thought while you sharpen your focus. Because you need to concentrate, it’s best to try this in private until it feels natural. Through practice you can do this anywhere, any time. In time you won’t need the security of the familiar. You can do this anywhere, alone or in a crowd, and no one needs to know. When you feel that grounding, just think or say “I am here.” Do nothing else for as long as you can. Keep doing it until you can feel it. Elevators are pretty good for this. Traffic jams. Checkout lines. Waiting rooms. Operating tables while you wait for the anesthesia to kick in. Bus stations. You’ll have your own list. Any time you can, keep saying or thinking “I am here.” When you don’t even have to consciously shift your attention, you’re well on your way. Eventually, you can drop “here,” and just repeat “I am.”

When we say “I am ____” and fill the blank with some role or quality we’ve associated with through habit, we define ourselves in ways that can also limit us. To say “I am” is to acknowledge the primal truth and identify with something impossible to define or limit: The Great Mystery of consciousness. “I am” is that feeling you have in the fleeting moments between waking from sleep and having your ego load your personality programs and call your attention to the day’s agenda. The goal of holding on to “I am” is not to keep your ego from doing this, because your responsibilities deserve the love of your attention. The goal is to be able at any time, in any place, in any situation to call yourself back to the center of the awareness that lies behind ego and in contact with the larger body consciousness itself, the hub of the wheel in which we all are spokes. When that conduit is open, whether you call it God or something else or nothing at all, you have access to your true power, and no circumstance can restrict you unless you allow it.

Now a point of clarification. It may seem from the language I use to describe identity that I’m against it. That would be absurd. Just as we trust clocks but know there is no time outside the mind, we need to use identity as a point of reference. I’m not condemning ego/identity outright or the shapes it takes, which we call personalities. This is just how it works for us. If we understand the clockwork, we avoid becoming slaves to it. I think it wise to consider the ways in which identifying too closely with the part of ourselves that is tied up in acquisition and defense can restrict the potential for well-rounded experience and minimal conflict while we’re visiting. In other words, as you seek peace, wouldn’t it be good to know how much you are in your own way?

Achievement, unlocked

This is an excerpt from One Grain of Sand, a book I am writing at this moment and hope to present to you in full quite soon.

We are nudged at every phase of life into roles we weren’t meant to play, and those who resist are treated as problems to be solved. You can see it for yourself if you read between the lines of the cultural narrative.  Most of us live like so many ants, toiling in endless cycles and seeing only splinters of that labor’s fruit as the rest is siphoned into distant chambers beyond our access. We will dig into the occulted realms of the Control Grid later, but it is the less important piece of the puzzle. Putting blame on some shadowy “Them” is not crazy, but it is lazy. There are such things afoot, but most of what happens in our lives happens because of our thoughts, words, and deeds. In the end, until we choose to operate beyond the spell of the hive mind, we are complicit in our suffering. We are the architects of our private little leper colonies. We make the bricks, and we build the walls. We can also wield the sledgehammers and light the fires.

 Once our minds are hijacked by stress cycles, the lining of our nerves wear away like rocks on the beach. In the eventual depression that follows, we can get in our own way in two big ways: checking out of reality and projecting delusion onto it. Either way, we’re navigating an inner reflection of the Hologram and deepening our tracks in the trench of habit instead of engaging with reality.  This is how vicious cycles develop; Stress wears out the hardware, and then the software glitches out and makes the hardware do strange things. We operate as if our distortions were the territory and not a broken map. If our actions are challenged by others, we may defend them regardless of what makes sense. All the while we get further and further away from where the juice and freedom of life is: direct honest experience.

 We’re living in an age of relative ease, at least for some, but there’s a catch. The brain is an amazing machine, but it developed in a very different world and biological progress happens at a glacial crawl compared to the cheetah sprint of technological development. There’s some bickering among archaeologists, but by current estimates we’ve been roughly the same physical beings for at least a hundred thousand years. Agriculture has only been around about ten thousand. We’ve only been industrialized a few hundred. We’ve only been online for twenty. We began to integrate technology into our bodies on a wide scale about a decade ago. It’s impossible to know where all this is going, but it’s getting there fast. Life is accelerating at a speed that just keeps ratcheting up, and this does not happen without effect.

 Human life spans are short, so we forget that things haven’t always been the way they are for us. We have to give ourselves a bit of a break when it’s all too much and we can’t keep up. Self-punishment is an easy trap to fall into, but it doesn’t solve any problems. In fact it just adds one more layer of stress. Under the strain of modern life, the brain goes into autopilot to  conserve energy and reduce the shock of sensory overload. People tend to stick to what once worked, even past the point or relevance. Some habits are pushed on us from outside through religious indoctrination and other forms of social control, and others we create to cope with what may well be future shock.

These self-generated traps are the ones that do the most damage. You’ll only take so much abuse from others, but there’s often no limit to what you’ll take from yourself. These habits become so familiar through repetition that they seem like extensions of our will, but most of the time they begin as coping mechanisms and mutate out of control. The habits we identify as “just how we do things” are not necessarily correct, just well-worn. Repeat a lie enough times and it will become accepted as if it were a long-standing truth.

For verification on that, you can ask almost any politician, but for now, just ask yourself. Look back and see if the way you’ve done things for years has its roots in a past trauma or obstacle that is now long gone. If so, you’re free to seek the help you need to heal, move on and try things differently. Otherwise you will live like a ghost, repeating the trauma and the role of victim forever. First responders deal with emergencies, deliver people into triage or shelter, and then move on. The fire truck leaves when the fire is out.

I’ll use myself as an example. Like you, and everyone, I contain contradictions. My particular flavor of anxiety is like a broken microscope. I tend to exhibit a spooky calm in a crisis, yet I have a tendency to fret about trivial issues, which seem enormous to me. This leads to procrastination, which compounds the problem by given the problems time to grow in until they approach their hallucinated proportions. By getting kicked around enough by stress to start fighting back against my own nonsense I have learned that the answer is simple. At the beginning stages of stress accumulation, step in and take care of what you can as close to immediately as possible. Oh, there’s a new cheat code to add to the ones we discussed earlier: T’COIN: Take Care of It Now. It’s better to spend the time in the present than to guarantee greater hassle for yourself in the future.

I can’t say what your experience is like, but I think it’s fair to assume that for people like you and I, there are days when doing our duty can be terribly exhausting. This is not an excuse for inaction, simply a truth to be aware of and worked around. Again, I can’t speak for you, but when I’m depressed, my body can require a lot of energy to get through a to-do list. It’s always worth it, but I understand the struggle and I’d like to help you get past the looping thoughts and subsequent behaviors that can keep us all small and sad, but only if we give them permission.

I’m betting you can relate to an experience that I have had many times. Let’s say you’re home for the day and you’re feeling zombified. Between chores or phone calls or episodes of something questionable on Netflix, you lumber into the kitchen, muttering and dazed with hunger. To the outside observer, you are one of the walking dead. Your mind holds one thought: “Snaaaaaaaaacks!” Your shambling gait is stopped cold when your eyes meet an uncomfortable truth. The sink is still full from the last time you had a proper meal because you were too tired or forlorn to deal with them at the time.

 Bad zombie. No snack for you.

 This is not everyone’s experience. Who you are and how you’re feeling determine how you respond to this situation. This is another example of how your perception and bias create your reality. If you can see clearly, what you’re looking at is a brief period of scrubbing and putting away. If you’re in the grip of the Curse, you see an Herculean ordeal. The dishes seem endless, towering over the sink, marinating in bilge water and attracting flies. They become symbolic of your entire life and the echo chamber switches on until you feel completely overwhelmed by something that only requires a little of your attention. You can’t muster the juice to dive in, and feeling defeated, you stumble toward the pantry looking for comfort food.

 A lot of people don’t have this problem. They just do the dishes when they’re done and the problem goes away. This kind of obstacle makes no sense at all to them. The good news is you can become one of those people even with years of inertia in the way.  There was a time when I would leave the dishes long enough to invite frogs to lay eggs. Now I know something’s wrong if I take more than an hour to deal with it. Stage magicians refer to this kind of thing as a “tell,” and they know how a trick works by noticing them. By watching myself, I notice the tricks of my mind as they manifest in my behavior. With focus,  I can then make an informed choice and modify my actions to steer away from the dead-end repetition of the past.

 Here is the truth, as annoying as it may be: things do get easier through practice, and only through practice. The opposite of habit is novelty, which breaks you out of stagnation. When you introduce a new activity, it may be exciting or frightening depending on your temperament. The first time you do anything is mysterious, perhaps downright awkward. There is such a thing as beginner’s luck, but that tends to land on those who were already invested in success. Hesitation is understandable in those first few steps of a thousand mile journey, but you soon find that one foot fits in front of the other just fine.

 The tired old jingle of your dying bad habit is soon displaced by the rhythm of a new practice, which itself becomes habit in time. The difference between good and bad habits comes not from morality but from experience. The habits that serve you will charge your batteries and create momentum and opportunity. Those you slog through out of obligation or self-punishment will drain you like a starving mosquito. There is a period of resistance and frustration that lasts until you’ve logged enough practice to gain traction. Like the first shoots in a germinating seed, you’ve got to push through.  Give a new habit at least 72 hours. Three days in a row, and then 3 weeks. Eventually you’ll stop counting and it will just be who you are now.