P N C O

Mostly photography, with the occasional philosophical contemplation

Self-Improvement

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Self Improvement

Like so many of us, at one time I became somewhat obsessed with the idea that I could improve myself all the way up to enlightenment. I was convinced that I was here to make that realization and the best way to do it seemed to be improving myself on all levels. So I started reading a lot of philosophical and spiritual books. Also I started having some mysterious and unexplainable experiences which seemed to come from a different world. I was intrigued by my own success and it never came up to me that these things could just happen by themselves.

Alan Watts explained my situation to me in a video on self improvement. As a start, he pointed out that our whole educational system – and after that the business world – is only occupied with the idea of improving and growing. In school we get grades and degrees to show that we have learned something. But instead of seeing the learning as the real goal, the degree has become the goal in our society. So the curiosity of a child who just wants to learn about the world is seen as bad and is replaced by the insatiable mantra “improve yourself and you’ll become the best”.

The same goes for work. When we work because we like what we do, we tend not to focus on the money we earn with it. The money is not a goal in itself, but is a necessary good since you need money to survive and eat in this world. So far there is no problem with money. The problem arises when the money becomes the goal. The reason why you started working in the first place (e.g. because you like making good clothes) is pushed to the background and is replaced by the need to earn as much money as you can. Success is no longer measured by your ability to do what you really like doing, but instead is measured by the amount of money you can accumulate. More money means more improvement.

But it’s just an idea in our head. What if there is nothing to improve?  What if the world happens to be just as it is right here, right now? We’re in constant conflict with this idea. Because we feel the need to improve ourselves, we’re unconsciously telling ourselves that we’re not good enough. We think we need to overcome all our flaws in order to be a good person. But what if it is actually perfectly fine to have flaws? I’m not saying we should stick with old and toxic behavior; we should try to let go of the idea of improving ourselves.

Just look at growing up as a child. As a child, you’re not busy improving yourself and yet you grow. It’s a basic characteristic of human existence: you are born as a child and inevitably you will start to grow and learn. It’s part of being human. And it explains why we are so curious by our nature. If we can see that there is nothing to be improved, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with us at this moment, we can start to relax and breathe. We can start to observe the world in a new way. There is no need to look for something to be improved. Why make the world a better place, if it is ok right now?

To me this is a powerful mirror. If I look at my own situation; I think I want to help other people. What does this actually mean in the light of self improvement? It still reflects that I want to improve myself, helping other people being the disguise.  So I still believe at some level I need to improve myself in order to be whole. But where is me? If I look I can’t find it anywhere. The world seems to be rolling by itself just fine!

*The quote used in the image comes from the website https://www.tinybuddha.com

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10: Nature’s Gift

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A few months ago i came across a documentary about the work of Joanna Macy. She’s an environmentalist with a Buddhist background, who has done a lot of work to help people cope with the problems the earth is now facing. And which we are facing. Her work is called ‘the work that reconnects’ and this summarizes it perfectly. For myself it has been a process of years in which i’ve learned step by step to start to reconnect with myself again. Due to circumstances i became lost in a world of mind which was disconnected from the larger whole which was always there, but i couldn’t see back then. Through my own pain came the recognition of something larger.

With a personal crisis i really was forced to look deeper into my inner life and had to face my inner demons. The gifts i’ve received from going through this growth process are immense. Cause they’ve all learned me that it’s important to strive to become a better person. Not to be seen as a better person, or to gain recognition. Instead, it’s out of an intrinsic value that i recognize within myself and within others. I owe it to myself, my parents, brother, friends and family and i owe it to total strangers. The process was hard and difficult as it always is, just like in stories. And sometimes it still is tough. But luckily i’ve learned ways to deal with difficult emotions and situations. Buddhism has brought me a way to work on inner and outer peace. I’ve learned that i’m not the stories my mind tells me. So much of what i remembered from childhood now makes sense. Experiences  which didn’t make sense at that time, make perfect sense now. There is more balance in my life.

And with this new found balance there is room for new things to arise. When i first heard the message Joanna Macy was speaking of, i felt a longing to experience this myself. Although i’ve studied about nature, i never felt the connection which i knew from when i was younger. The exhilaration, joy and pleasure just to be in nature was replaced with a more rational way of looking at nature and its various uses. At the end of the study, i became aware of this discrepancy. I knew that it was not for me to find work in this field. I did felt the connection, but on a different level. When i heard someone saying that he knew a women who had studied nature conservation only to find out that she was actually looking for her own relationship to nature, i understood. This was also the case for me. I´ve always felt a curiosity to understand nature, cause i wanted to understand myself. So when i studied nature without seeing the relationship between nature and myself, i got lost in the woods. Joanna Macy gave me a few bread crumbs which brought me back on the path.

More recently i was looking for a workshop to learn more about the work that reconnects. After some failed attempts to find a workshop, i was lucky enough to find one right in my own hometown even though these teachings are not yet well known in the Netherlands. So i signed myself in to the workshop about deep ecology which was held this weekend. At a beautiful farm in the rural part of the municipality we came together with 9. Under the guidance of two wonderful persons, we were invited to start to uncover our concerns, fears and worries about what is happening on the planet right now. Some were angry, some were very sad. For myself, it was a search.. a search for the words, a search for what i really feel about the current situation. And so i spend the weekend, opening myself up to what lives inside of me. I could sense a longing for connection, a longing for being. An authentic wish to once again take my part in the whole and leave all my protective shields behind.

By working with and in the group, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone, sometimes together, we created a space in which everyone could be and could share their concerns for the planet. We talked about animals and plants and how they suffer by the hands of human actions. A deep sense of belonging, of wanting to explore our pain and struggle with the current situation was present throughout the weekend. Each made their own discoveries, small and little. As a group we could see that it was not about what ´they´ do. It´s about what we do and what i do. Only i can make the change and connect with nature again. And that´s what i´ve felt throughout the weekend. The connection is always there, but it takes responsibility to be able to be aware of it. If i´m only focusing on what i want and what i need, i´ll close myself off and lose the connection. But if i am able to look beyond my own needs and see all the needs of all those around me, it´s easy to see we´re all together in this. There is one beautiful planet and we´re all on it. Yes, we are struggling. We might need to change drastically. But it´s our personal freedom to choose how to change. Or not to change.

To become aware of this responsibility is on the one hand a heavy weight. But on the other hand i see it as a precious gift, a wonderful opportunity to learn to cooperate. First of all to cooperate with myself and not to fight myself. If i can befriend myself and appreciate who i am, i can be of so much more value than when i´m lost in inner turmoil. Learning about deep ecology and the work that reconnects has given me a platform with which i can investigate this further and to explore where my strength and weakness lies. Cause i feel that this was just the start. It felt like a younger part of me was there all the time, who was waiting for this to happen. I could sense his joy and his pain. And i could also sense the wisdom which lies within. Knowing there´s no true separation. It makes me feel whole and in contact with my true nature, which is not limited to this body.

The bigger challenge which lies ahead is to learn to use this information and experience to share this with others. This writing is an early attempt.  As it all feels so fresh, i´ve chosen the image of young wet grass. I felt it was right for me to share a bit of the experience. As so much happens on an internal level, it is difficult to really describe what i´ve learned from the weekend. But if there is one thing, it has to be gratitude. And the interesting thing is that it´s not just gratitude for nature, life, all beings and the people i was with. I was taught that i can be grateful for the person i have become. It really feels humbling to hear that and it helps me to share more of my authentic self instead of adapting to others. And that is also more valuable. Cause i´ve always felt intense joy when i could help others or see others excel. When someone is truly sharing his or her inner drive and passion, it is so inspiring. It made me realize that i can be of much more help if i am grateful of myself. Not out of arrogance, but out of recognition of my place in the whole. So i´m looking forward to explore the work some more and find out what it all means what i´ve learned this weekend.

 

 

3: Butterflying my life

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I´m always amazed by all the beautiful butterflies. So delicately build and yet so agile in flight. They´re in our stomach for a reason. Tingling, joyful, exciting, almost too much too bear. And yet also very gentle, colorful and peaceful. They call to me in a way i can´t describe.

The most amazing part of the butterfly is its capability to transform. Starting as a small caterpillar, they morph into pupa before the final metamorphosis is completed. I often feel the same. One day someone said to me i was not yet showing who i really was and he compared me to a butterfly in pupa stage. Funny enough i sometimes feel like that. Knowing that it’s me who prevents the final transformation. Luckily every night i sleep under a blanket filled with butterflies.. and i’m working on transforming myself. I’ve come to realize it’s all about letting go. Letting go of my expectations, of thoughts, feelings and ideas about who i should or should not be.

In this way the butterfly becomes a powerful reminder to wake up to what’s actually here. Dealing with everything as it is, is so useful. At this moment there is no need to improve anything. Once the moment is here, it is all here. Nothing is left out. So i can rest and just enjoy whatever arises. If i make the transition or not is not even the point, cause everything i need is already here. I just need to recognize. Clearing my thoughts, creating space by being mindful and meditating, accepting.. all are part of the ongoing process of self(less) inquiry.

Searching for the truth has always led me to the same conclusion, whatever angle i used to tackle it. See the ego for what it really is. For me it’s the cocoon. It has its purpose and is very useful in my every day life, but it is not who i really am. The first time i recognized i was identifying myself as the cocoon, it was wild. I could feel the space which lay beyond. But also there was fear and anxiety. What would happen, once i let go of this cocoon, of this protection i had been carrying for so many years?

I’m still learning to let go of the cocoon. Every now and then i get the change to see through the holes which are now there and see the wild open spaciousness which lies ahead. The experiences have shown me that this spaciousness is my true home. Pure from the beginning, simple and full of love, wisdom and understanding. Which gives me the breathing space i need to deal with the cocoon which is still here. No longer it is necessary to fight it. As the caterpillar´s instinct tells it to create the cocoon, so i now know from deep down inside that everything is ok. I know it´s safe to let go. With the cracks appearing in the cocoon, i can taste more and more of the freedom which lies ahead of me. And with that i´ve learned that death too is another transformation.

Am i ready to let go?

Experiental

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Today i’ve wandered through the forest, seen and heard many birds.. came back home full of experiences and photographs

The interesting thing about all these experiences was that earlier today i was reading a book by Lama Tsongkhapa in which he describes how much we’re attached to our senses.. and indeed, in the forest i was constantly on the watch for sights and sounds. Perhaps that’s the downside for me of taking the camera with me. Or better said, it’s a lesson for me. First relax the mind, eyes and ears and then engage with the forest, connect with it without wanting to grasp at certain experiences (like seeing a kingfisher or a squirrel)

So today ended up being both rewarding in terms of photographs and in applying wisdom..

 


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“The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
ALICE MORSE EARLE

first heard this quote in the movie Kungfu Panda. Today could be replaced by this very moment.. is there any other moment than this present one? 

wish you all a lovely weekend 🙂

The Beauty in Impermanence

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A Tulip decaying

A Tulip decaying

Impermanence

Once we’re willing to look deeply into life
Seeing that all what we work for and strife
Is shattered at the inevitable end of us all
We all know nobody can escape death’s call

We can wish for eternal existence
Hold on to what is most dear
But in the end death is always near
Accepting this fact of life will lead to freedom

 


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Out of the closet

Today I found out what an interesting thing the mind is. And for your information, this blog won’t be about my sexual preference 😉
As I was sitting in the train I wanted to do a bit of mantra recitation using a rosary. I did it the last few days, though I always tried to keep the rosary out of sight. Today while traveling it was way more crowded and so it felt inconvenient to do the mantras.
When I made my transfer it was more quiet and the next station was forty minutes travel, so I started there.

While doing the practice I noticed an ever increasing feeling of uneasiness and tightening in my stomach area. Even while I write this hours later, I can still feel the knot. This brings me back to the mind. I know that this has to do with I, the word and the thoughts, ideas and feelings which make up this concept. As a student of Buddhism I’ve been introduced to the idea that there is no separate entity called Pieter which lives independently from the world in which I live.
This idea really helps me to understand what is going on under the surface. Somehow I fear that people might see me doing practice. I meditated once at a pretty open and busy spot in the woods and while I sat there someone passed me and looked at me for quite some time. At that time there was also the tight knot in my stomach. Somehow I feel exposed.

This brings me to the title of this blog. It’s almost like I have the idea that I need to separate between my normal self and my spiritual self. Like there’s any difference.. the mind wants to control how I appear to the outside, so anything threatening this control will result in a response from both body and mind.
Today I was very keen on not being seen while reciting mantras. This eagerness to secrecy created the tension. As I noticed the rising of this sensation in the days before this, I know that the difference lies in my response to the sensations. Today I gave in to the fear of being seen as weird etc. And because of that I started experience more fear as a result.

This whole process is so interesting to watch unfolding as it is happening. Yes, there is discomfort. But I don’t have to fight it. The real nasty feeling is all due to the labeling of the mind. The knot in itself is neither good nor bad. My resistance to it is what keeps it in place.

So I’ve come to the conclusion yet again that much if not everything I hold for my ‘I’ is actually made up out of resistance (to what was and to what is). The past can only live on in the present, so a lot of what has happened in the past survives because of my resistance to it – whether on a conscious or sub/unconscious level.

As I remember hearing Adyashanti say, there will be resistance in the progress. But don’t resist the resistance.

So I let go of my efforts to ease the discomfort and instead shed a bit of light in the darkness. I have to come out of hiding.
Yes, I am a person engaged in spirituality.
Yes, I practice Buddhism.
And as a note to myself: and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!


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Sensitive Thoughts

I just found out I am way more sensitive than I am willing to admit. But i realize that’s ok. I had this idea that i would figure it all out and then life would settle. Lately i’ve been giving the chance to see that this is not entirely true. Or should i say.. it couldnt be further away from the truth.

In my early twenties i found out about philosophy and started getting interested in religion and spirituality. What started off with reading something about buddhism, quickly turned into a rollercoaster ride. Zen, Shamanism, Gnosticism, Taoism, you name the ism and i’ve probably heard of it. With all this reading, I never really found what i truely searched for. In fact i might not know what i’m searching for in the first place. Its the all too familiar cycle. I’m trying to search for meaning in life by searching, instead of living.

I was living my life by giving in to all kinds of addictions and thought that i was doing fine. But when i quit smoking marihuana, i found out how little i knew of life. It turned out that i held a lot of disruptive emotions in my body and mind. And they were controlling me instead of me controlling them. It has been a painful journey so far, but as i look back i realize how much i have learned about myself in so little time. The last ten years i have been going on using automatic pilot, but because that doesn’t work anymore, i’m forced to really look at my life in a new way. It means i actually start feeling the pain i have, instead of pushing it away to the back of my mind either by overthinking or dosing myself to oblivion.

It turned out that i was holding myself back from seeing things which had happened in the past. And with the marihuana gone, all barriers were gone. So finally, all the oppressed thoughts and feelings came to the surface, totally surprising and overwhelming me. Luckely after a few weeks i also started to see progress. Friends told me i was being more social than before and i started looking better as well. Even though i couldnt really belief it at that time, i do think that they provide me with a valuable mirror. And now as the months pass, i still have bad days. But the one thing i have learned from all this, is that its ok to have these bad days. I got caught up in the imaginative thought cycle that my life could only be happy and nothing was allowed to intervene with that. But what i actually did, was that i closed myself off from the rest of the world creating my own little safe haven. Which wasnt safe after all, cause soon the cracks arrived on the scene.

The thing which troubles me at times is that i seem to mix up my personal thoughts and feelings with thoughts on life, the universe and everything. I dont leave much room for growth, for exploration or simple fun. Its like i have to determine what life is, in order to feel safe with it. But what all the reading has taught me, is that there is no such safety in life. Life is all about flow, everything moves constantly. Only change remains the same. So i still dont quite understand why i have this urge to understand life, for its always searching for some kind of finality. I’ve been writing about Oneness a lot in the past and i have the intuitive feeling that its here, but i still cant grasp my mind around it. Because its in the experience, that i’m searching for the experience. I’m always missing the point.

I truely love people like Alan Watts, Anthony de Mello, Rupert Spira and especially Ramana Maharshi. But the Non-duality also troubles me. It troubles me because i cant grasp it with my mind. They tell me to leave the thoughts. Go find the I Am in you. Ramana Maharshi said the only real question one should ask themself is “Who am I”. Who is the I in our thinking and in our awareness? Cause we all feel this I presence. But we tend to see this I as our body and thoughts. And i realize that i have been living like this for all my life. So with all the old pains coming to the surface this new notion of Self as presented by non-dual thinkers is alien to me. Yet i feel there is a tremendous truth in the teaching of Non-Duality.

I still have to figure out what its got to do with me and my life. For i get confused in trying to understand the role the pain has, while at the same time trying to distance myself from the pain. And thats where the sensitivity comes into play. I become so sensitive of my own thoughts and confusion, i block myself from just living and breathing in the now. Instead i go on pondering what i shouldve done in the past or should do in the future. Just to get away from my inner confusion, hereby adding to the confusion.

I try too much, i strive too much and i know it.. i am what i am and yet here i am searching for myself. Thats the great paradox of my life and secretly i think some part of me likes this.
So instead of trying, i’m willing to change the old ways for the better. Returning to a more realistic and positive outlook on life, i am once again where i started this journey. Life is still unknown, but more and more im relaxing into the thought that this might actually be the key to life. To help me live life instead of thinking it all out. To paraphrase a quote from my favorite movie Waking Life “Life lived is life understood”