I’m a dummy. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I don’t like things that are complex and complicated. “K.I.S.S.” is my motto: Keep It Simple Stupid. Whatever I’ve been interested in, whether it’s getting my book published, raising a well-adjusted son, playing better golf or even growing spiritually, I want a roadmap that is easy to understand and even easier to apply.
That’s why I’ve always been drawn to the “Dummies” book series. There’s one for almost everything. For example, there’s Getting Your Book Published for Dummies, Windows 7 for Dummies, Quickbooks for Dummies, and so on. I love these books because they make complicated subjects easy to understand.
Interestingly, there is no Enlightenment for Dummies book. That’s tragic because millions of people, me included, are interested in enlightenment and looking for clear direction. Although there are many books that describe the spiritual journey to freedom, they’re usually very long and complicated. There’s not much for us K.I.S.S. people. What is needed is a spiritual roadmap for “dummies,” one that is easy to understand and even easier to apply.
The good news is that there is such a roadmap and it’s so easy to follow, even a caveman could do it. I want to share three simple and straightforward questions that, if earnestly contemplated and diligently applied, will allow anyone to recognize their true spiritual nature and experience a happiness that is untouchable by circumstance.
Before we dive into question one, you should know that if you merely read these questions, they will no more change your life, or enlighten you, than reading a golf book would make you a professional golfer. You must seriously engage and live with the questions allowing each of them to become your personal mantra from moment to moment. Second, they must be done in order. Like an onion being pealed layer by layer, these questions begin on the surface, and then go deeper and deeper, until finally you discover the supreme reality of who you are. Just as a baby is not born one day and able to do ballet the next, so most people’s awakening occurs over time. Now, with that said, here are the questions.
1. What are you up to?
This question begins on the very surface of our lives, at the doing level, by asking us to pay attention to our actions and the motives that drive them. This question asks you to turn your attention inward and ask, “What am I up to in this moment? What’s driving me right now? Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I acting like this, reacting like this, interacting like this?” This is not about being harsh or judgmental toward yourself, it’s just about being curious about your motives and what you’re up to.
Let me give you a very practical example of how I practice this in my life. Every time I prepare to post something on Facebook or comment on someone else’s post, I ask myself, “Roy, what are you up to?” Why? Because I know, from experience, that if I’m asleep to my particular personality pattern (a.k.a. Ego!), if I’m not paying attention and asking myself what I’m up to, I’ll post something or make a comment that is competitively motivated. I will challenge or disagree with someone’s post, all in an attempt to make myself look good. Needless to say, I’m not proud of that, but it is what happens if I’m spiritually asleep and fail to ask, “What are you up to?”
The same thing has (and is) happening to you in every area of your life—if you’re not living with the mantra, “What am I up to?” Your personality, or ego, is motivating your actions and reactions. Of course, your personality may be different than mine, for there are nine different personalities or ego types. (We’ll talk about this in a minute.) So while I can be competitive, you might be critical, envious, manipulative, or domineering when you’re not paying attention to what you’re up to.
So, the first layer of the onion to be pealed on the path to enlightenment is to understand our personality/ego structure and the way it expresses itself in our lives. For if we’re blind to its motives, we will experience drama, conflict and suffering with everyone and everything in life.
So what are YOU up to?
• Is your helpfulness and service to others actually an attempt to get other’s approval and love? Why are you really so nice?
• Is your optimistic and always “up” attitude actually your way of not facing painful issues? What is your happy face hiding? What are you not facing?
• When you drink or party, is it really because you “just like to have a good time with friends,” or are you simply medicating the ever-present anxiety and loneliness you feel? What are you up to when you order another drink?
• Is your devotion to a person, an organization or a particular belief system masking a deep sense of feeling unprotected, afraid and insecure? What’s the real reason you’re so devoted?
• Is your take-charge and take-no-prisoners attitude really an attempt at avoiding your underlying feelings of vulnerability and weakness? Why do you really seek positions of leadership?
• Is your peaceful, easy-going manner just an act designed to avoid conflict, fit in and stay close to others? What are you up to when you’re always being so agreeable?
• It is true that your intense work ethic stems from loving what you do, as you say it does, or is it driven by a desire to prove your value and worthiness to the world? What’s the real goal of your career?
I define enlightenment as Seeing Yourself Clearly. In my view, the question, “What are you up to?” is a great way to begin the quest for recognizing your Original Face, as the Buddhists like to say. Each personality/ego has a particular set of motives, assumptions and fixations. The first step on the path to enlightenment is to become deeply aware of your particular personality pattern. I have found that the very best tool available in the world today to help you do that, to “Know Thyself,” as the ancient Greeks used to say, is a personality tool called, The Enneagram (pronounced “any-a-gram”).
The Enneagram is a profoundly accurate and powerful spiritual growth tool. It is far superior to the Myers-Briggs and the DISC. There’s no comparison. It not only describes the nine basic personality types, but it also describes each type’s motives, assumptions, dark side, and best of all, it outlines a path of growth for each type.
Let me make a very bold statement. Every single serious spiritual seeker should not only know their type, but become a student of the Enneagram as a whole. It is an indispensible part of the journey to enlightenment. For more information, I would encourage you to read Don Riso and Russ Hudson’s book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram. I would also encourage you to visit these two excellent and informative websites: www.enneagraminstitute.com and www.enneagramworldwide.com.
If your awakening is a priority for you, then not only should you become a student of the Enneagram, you should make, “What are you up to?” a mantra that you live with consistently. Silently utter it to yourself before every conversation or activity you engage in. You’ll be amazed at what’s revealed.
2. What’s here now?
After a time—and it might be months, and possibly years—of living with the mantra, “What are you up to?”, you will become so familiar with your self (small “s”), that you will begin to feel bored. In other words, navel-gazing will eventually get old because there won’t be anything new to discover about your self. Contrary to most new age thought, which is usually nothing more than spiritualized narcissism, we aren’t difficult to understand nor are we all that interesting.
When this boredom sets in, it signals that you’re ready for the next question, which is, “What’s here now?” If the first question began on the surface level of doing, this one takes us deeper, into the level of feeling. “What are you up to?” challenged us to function better by examining our egos. “What’s here now?” allows us to feel better by examining our experience. This question opens us, not only to a deeper feeling of inner peace, but it also gives us a small glimpse into our true spiritual identity.
“What’s here now?” means this: What are you actually experiencing, right now, in this present moment? If you stop reading for a minute and ask yourself that—now, you’ll notice that immediately all thinking stops. The mind’s preoccupation with past memories and future stories quiets, and we instantly begin feeling the present reality.
This question invites you to be like a radar screen in an air traffic control tower. You effortlessly scan your bodymind, and notice any and all “blips” that appear on the “screen.” In other words, you become the witness or the observer of whatever is occurring in the present moment.
As you scan the bodymind as the witnessing presence, you’ll notice pictures, sounds or sensations (or any combination of them). A “picture” is either something you physically see, or something you’re visualizing. Sounds are the same. You can actually hear something, like an audible voice, or you can “hear” thoughts, what’s known as the voice in the head. A sensation is simply a physical feeling in the body—tightness, tingling or throbbing, for example.
Let me give you an example of how this works. Not long ago, I was driving home after speaking at a conference and I asked, “What’s here now?” I immediately noticed a pressing down sensation above my eyebrows. As I continued witnessing the present moment, I noticed a “sound,” the voice in my head, trying to figure out what the sensations meant. Instantly, a big story formed. I labeled myself sad and the sadness was because my career was out of alignment! Wow.
Did I choose or cause any of this? Did I choose to make my eyebrows feel heavy? No! The sensation came on its own. Did I choose to create some big scary story? No! It just popped into my head. This kind of thing happens hundreds of times a day. Sensations, pictures and sounds are arising all the time—when you’re washing dishes, talking to your boss, getting dressed, eating dinner or driving a car—and then your mind tries to figure out what it all means, which, in turn, leads to a big scary story.
What does any of this have to do with enlightenment, you ask? Well, everything. When you notice sensations, pictures and/or sounds and the stories the mind creates in reaction to them, you have two choices. One leads to peace, the other leads to suffering. Back to my example.
Initially, I chose suffering. How? Easy. While I didn’t choose the sensation itself or the story the mind created about it, I did, however, choose to believe the story and then allow myself to get lost in it. In other words, I took the story to be true! I believed my mind. Since I believed it, I then got lost in worry about the future and what I was going to do. I felt confused and scared and then actually felt sick to my stomach. In other words, I got my panties all up in a bunch because I believed the story the mind told about why I felt a simple pressing down sensation over my eyebrows! (Go ahead and laugh.)
There was, however, another choice to be made. I could have remained as the witnessing presence of the entire drama, noticing the sensation and the story, yet not believing it or taking it seriously. I did not have to listen to or believe the mind’s interpretation. It was just a sensation to be welcomed, felt and allowed to run its course. If crying occurred, so be it. If the sensation intensified or weakened, so be it. If the mind tells stories, I don’t have to listen, they can simply be witnessed and released.
Here’s the “aha” moment of enlightenment. It’s recognizing this: I am the witness, not what’s being witnessed. I’m not the sensation, nor am I the story about it. I am that which is aware of the sensation and the story, yet I, as the witness, remain unaffected by it. That is the first glimpse of enlightenment: recognizing that you are the seer, not what’s seen. You are the hearer, not what’s heard. You are the feeler, not what’s felt. When you tune into the present moment by asking, “What’s here now?”, you realize that everything that is arising is occurring in, or on, that which you are. If that’s confusing, think of it this way.
In a movie theater, images appear on the screen. The screen never changes nor is it affected by whatever kind of movie is showing, whether it’s a horror movie or a romantic comedy. “Images” come and go, but the screen remains unaffected. You, as the witness, are the “screen” and the “images” (pictures, sensations, sounds, stories, events, circumstances, etc.) are what appears in or on you, but you remain unaffected by the “movie.”
“But what if your career was out of alignment, Roy? Should you ignore those thoughts?” In a word—yes. I’ve found that if some change or shift is needed, it will reveal itself in a deep, quiet knowingness. And it will arise, not in an atmosphere of worry, fear and anxiety but as a peaceful, effortless knowing of what, when and how to move in a new direction.
There is much more to be said on the subject of the witness and how to let go of mind created suffering. I would invite you to investigate the Sedona Method at www.sedona.com.
3. Who am I–NOT?
If we have diligently lived with and practiced the mantras, “What are you up to?” and “What’s here now?”, we will have let go of identifying ourselves exclusively as Ego and as Experience. We are That which is aware of those things, yet remain unaffected by them. We are simply the screen on, or in which, Ego and Experience appear. With that understanding, we are now ready to fully recognize Essence.
Authentic spiritual teachers, mystics and sages have a bizarre way of helping a person discover Essence, their true spiritual identity. They espouse an approach that is completely counter-intuitive. Instead of asking you to find out who you are, they ask you to investigate who you’re not. In other words, your true spiritual identity is discovered by a process of elimination. In Sanskrit this is called, Neti, Neti, (not this, not that)—or—“Who am I—NOT?”
This question invites us to interrogate, one by one, through meditation and contemplation, every picture, sensation, sound or story; every thought, emotion, role or experience, and simply ask, “Am I that?” Am I any of those things? Am I my name? My story? My ego? My body?” What the enlightened teachers tell us is that if we do such inquiry, if we engage in this spiritual process of elimination, we will realize the answer to every question is “no.” We are not any thing that can be witnessed or observed, we are That which witnesses or observes all those things. You and I are what’s left when every thing else has been eliminated. When we disidentify from all objects arising in awareness, we realize we ARE Awareness.
So, if you are interested in enlightenment, seeing your Self clearly, recognizing your Original Face, your true spiritual identity, then live with the mantra, “Who am I—NOT?” In moments of meditation, ask the following questions. As you do, sit in silence and stillness for at least a minute and allow insight to arise.
• I have a name, but I am not my name. If I take away my name, what’s left? Who am I?
• I have a story, but I am not my story. If I take away my story, what’s left? Who am I?
• I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts. If I take away my thoughts, what’s left? Who am I?
• I have emotions, but I am not my emotions. If I take away my emotions, what’s left? Who am I?
• I have a body, but I am not my body. If I take away my body, what’s left? Who am I?
• I have roles, but I am not my roles. If I take away my roles, what’s left? Who am I?
You and I are That which remains when all objects are removed. When the process of elimination is complete, and you recognize that you aren’t any thing that can be seen or experienced, you’re left with the simple, peaceful realization that you ARE Awareness.
“Nothing real can be threatened; nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”
A Course in Miracles.
Author & Relationship Coach