Putting Your Soul into your Being

  1. Body Cleanse
  2. The Mind’s Cobwebs
  3. The Bliss of an Empty Mind
  4. Clearing the Gunk Out of Your Head
  5. Exercises in Mind Emptying
  6. Clearing Relationship Gunk
  7. Putting Your Soul into your Being
  8. Dropping the Excuses
  9. Seeing the Light
  10. You Can’t Win

Cutting Your Soul Some Slack by Putting Your Soul into your Being

Somehow I think I’ve used this story before, but it fits this section like a glove.


I once worked with a client who was upper middle management, and under stress. He worked ridiculous hours, was physically ill, and deeply unhappy and unsatisfied. He had applied for another position, and was convinced changing jobs and provinces was going to solve everything. He wanted some help in the mean time.

I suggested he head off to the Toronto Zen Centre, and learn to meditate.

He said, “It’s going to be hard fitting in 15 minutes of meditation a day. I guess it’s worth it, though.”

I said, “Hmm. I don’t remember saying ‘add it in.’ I was wondering what might change for you if your life became your meditation, and if everything you do was filtered through that.”

Vocation: Life as Meditation

In other articles, I’ve talked about vocation. A vocation is a ‘being-choice.’ This is uncommon for most. In the west, we are conditioned to find meaning in numbers and accumulation. ‘Getting ahead’ is the goal—more money, promotions, recognition by the masses. Relationships are judged by how they appear. Parenting is about creating successful kids—I just saw an ad in the local paper for a P.H.D. program for pre-schoolers. Don’t ask.

At the core of each of us is a pull to find depth, meaning, and purpose. The problem comes when we see this longing as something to be added on.

cross parade

Churches are famous for shoveling this bilge—come to us, and we will save you. Give us an hour a week, and a tithe, and all will be well. And if you can give more, your crown will be even shinier.

We, on the other hand, propose a radical alternative. What if finding your depth was your only goal?

I know. You’re thinking, “I can’t move into a Zen Monastery! I have a life!”

I won’t ask you how your so-called life is working for you. I know. I hear it, day in and day out. I see it in the sad faces on the streets. My clients cry for just a little peace, just a moment of contentment. And in that, they are settling for way too little.

Here’s a Zen story for you:

A guy named Harry is on a quest for enlightenment, or waking up. He tries everything. He goes to school. Nada. He becomes a life coach. More nada. He worships in the local shrine-of-choice. Mucho nada.
Finally, he decides to climb a mountain in Nepal, to visit His Holiness, Rama Dama Ding Dong.
It was an arduous trip. (Aren’t they always?) Finally, near death, he collapses on the ground near a steep path. He looks up, and an old man is walking down the path with a big bundle of firewood tied to his back. Harry says, “I’m looking for Rama.”
“I am he,” replies the guru.
“Oh, thank god!” Harry says. “I’ve been searching for so long. Please, tell me, what is waking up?”
The guru takes off the bundle of wood, sighs deeply, and smiles.
In that instant, Harry woke up. Then Harry’s mind got involved. He asked, “Please, pardon another question, but what happens after waking up?”
Rama picks up the bundle, places it on his back, and continues down the hill.

This is an important story, and it captures what I’m trying to do with this series of articles. There are several aspects to the story, but the important part is this:
There is walking with the burden. There is enlightenment (waking up.)That is followed by walking with the burden.

The burden of living stays the same.
What changes is the approach.
The goal, then, is to shoulder your burden with presence, determination,
and a sense of humour.
All the time.

It seems to me that life in the 21st century has been dumbed down and cheapened. Perhaps more so than ever before, people are fixated on buying happiness at any cost, and then depressing themselves when what they bought doesn’t have any lasting effect.

Simple Presence as a Spiritual Discipline

In other articles in this series, I’ve talked about the process of coming into simple presence. The idea is disarmingly simple: I pay attention to what I am doing. As I noted in the article, the attention is simple. I wish only to notice, fully, the experience I am having.

Most of what passes for life these days is emphatically a mental walk in the past or the future. Mostly, people are waiting. Waiting for the next promotion, the next stock tip, the next man or woman to come along and sweep them off their feet. Of course, stuff shows up, and then people seem to forget. The person, place, or thing does nothing to fill the void the person feels, and they forget that it never does.

So, they go after more of what never worked in the first place.
This is the classic definition of d..u..m..b

Spirituality: an Overarching Principle

The spirituality side of this equation is definitely a shift in perspective. First of all, it’s not about ‘finding religion,’ leaving it all to Jesus or Mohammad or the Buddha, or adopting another technique, prayer, or mantra. In a sense, the spirituality I’d like to suggest is much more bare-bones-Zen. Sit. Stand. Walk. Act. Be present.

I can’t suggest what your spiritual focus ‘should’ be. I have enough trouble unpacking mine. Nonetheless, here are some hints.

1. Get help unpacking your overarching principle

The idea I’m putting out here is that there is an overarching principle that you can choose to live your life by. Go talk to someone about this!!

In general, such principles have to do with, broadly, being of service, and/or finding your own depth. In a prior article, I mentioned Scott Peck’s idea of four stages of faith. The key movement is from (using his categories) doubt to mysticism.

The doubt stage is interesting, as this is the point when you finally realize that the way you view reality, living, purpose, relationships—in other words, the whole enchilada—isn’t working and can’t work.

Mysticism is a complete and profound shifting of your understanding. The rest of today’s points concern this shift.

The shift is (and must be) total.

You can’t get away with fiddling around. Mostly this is where my clients are stuck. They come in, say, successful at work and sucking at relationships, or feeling empty and unfulfilled, or sick at the body level, and thus totally distracted by running around trying to find a doctor who will provide a pill, operation, or remedy.

My mother wasted the last decade of her life in the vain search for such a cure.

What I see is a lack of focus, purpose, and commitment. The only alternative is a relentless dedication to stopping behaviour that does not work, doing more of what does, and making everything you do about fulfilling your overarching principle.

3. The shift is to selflessness.

No, not putting others first. That’s your mommy talking in your head, trying to get you to play nice in kindergarten.

Selflessness is the realization that you are, at your core, without a self. This is not a philosophical concept—it must be felt, accepted, and lived.

This is what is often called ‘the leap of faith.’ In Zen, “Chop wood, carry water.” This means that the ‘I’ dissolves in the being and doing, and thus, one is an action as opposed to a noun.

This is hard, as the west is built upon ‘rugged individualism,’ getting one up on others, being somebody. And yet, at the end of the day, dead is dead, and dead is the goal of the game of life. You will be remembered by what you did, not what you talked about doing.

4. The shift is universal—it overrides everything.

As I noted above, my push is to simplicity. I’m not looking for one scheme to use at work, another to use with friends, another to use with Darbella, another to use with enemies, etc.

I want one guiding principle,
applicable in all situations.

Let’s say, for example, that mine is, ‘discovering my depth and purpose for being.’ When I go to work, and am tempted to act like a child, I say, “Is this action getting me closer to or farther from my purpose?”

If farther, I have a breath and don’t do it, if closer, I enact it. This is not for the benefit of anyone, including me. It’s because I want to know more of my purpose.

Same with, say, being in relationship. “Is this action getting me closer to or farther from my purpose?”

5. The only mastery is self-mastery.

In my book, Living Life in Growing Orbits, the exercises are all designed to help readers reach self-mastery. Each exploration is personal, as the only relevant data is ‘you and yours.’

Now, this seems to contradict the ‘selflessness’ idea, but of course it doesn’t. Most people use ‘self’ as a bludgeon, as in “You are not allowed to ‘make me’ miserable. You are to put me first. You have to accept me as I am. You have to go first. All because of my fragile little ego-self, which might just burst and leak all over the floor.”

Selflessness recognizes that all of this ‘me, me, me’ is patent horse-shit, and only used as a defense mechanism and excuse for not taking full responsibility for yourself. 

Self-mastery is accepting yourself (all of yourself) as you are, incorporating your Shadow side into the mix, recognizing that you are responsible for every bit of your experience, and making clear and ‘masterful’ choices about life and living.

6. It starts now. No excuses.

Each moment, each exchange, each relationship, is an opportunity to master yourself, or be a victim living on auto-pilot.

I, for one, am sick of listening to people defend being stupid about how they live. Again and again, they tell me stories of how hard done by they are, and whine in victim-speak, in an endless, monotonous drone.

I say, “Get over yourself.” The stare back and give me a variation of, “How can I be happy if others won’t cooperate?”

Phooey. Do what I’m suggesting, or don’t, but stop with the excuses. I’m only suggesting it would be nice if you got this before your toes curl up. After all, reality is, we are (my new, favourite description) all circling the drain.

7. Speak and live your truth.

Not to smarten up others. Stop trying to fix the others in your life and get busy on yourself! No one cares, anyway, so it’s time for you to care—about you!

Make a difference by finding yourself. Master your mouth, your emotions, and your path. You may have the ability to dump your crap all over everyone, but never once in 25 years of counselling and 30 years of working on myself, have I ever seen doing so as helpful. It’s just another excuse for staying stuck.

I have a bad habit of angering myself as I observe other drivers. In the past, I’ve yelled, shot the bird, and otherwise acted like a 6‑year-old. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve been thinking about this behaviour. I’ve let go of excusing it as harmless and a way to get some anger out. Instead, I’m asking “Is this action getting me closer to or farther from my purpose?”

Of course, the answer is ‘no,’ so, I’m breathing and letting the anger go. Oddly, this works, each and every time (he says with a rueful grin.) Of course, I have the right to get all indignant. But when all is said and done, all I end up is angry, and the world goes on.

Acting like a spoiled brat does not get me to the depth I seek. So, I let it go.

This is what self-mastery looks like, and every example of self-mastery is equally small. We are talking about moment-to-moment living, after all.

More next issue!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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