(An excerpt from The Medicine Bag, a new book by bestselling author Don Jose Ruiz)
Every spring my father, my brother, Miguel Jr., and I travel to Sedona, Arizona, for an annual event called the Gathering of the Shamans. Just a short distance from the Grand Canyon, the area that is now called northern Arizona is sacred to many Native American tribes, including the Hopi, Yavapai, Havasupai, and Navajo.
If you ever visit, it’s easy to see why. The red rocks of Sedona are a unique combination of beauty and power. Home to many vortexes (energy centers), Sedona has long been a destination for seekers to help accelerate inner exploration, meditation, and healing. The more well-known Grand Canyon stretches on for over 220 miles, having been carved into its breathtaking and dramatic shape by the movement of the Colorado River over the course of millions of years. The canyon leaves thousands of visitors each year speechless with awe in the face of the sweeping dance of earth and sky, and the immeasurable power of water to wear down seemingly immovable stone. Its sheer immensity is at once humbling and inspiring.
While seeing this magnificence of Sedona or the Grand Canyon can stop the thinking mind in its tracks, you don’t need to travel to northern Arizona to experience the beauty and benefits of communing with nature. Nature is all around us—it is the literal air we breathe and water we drink, and we are in no way separate from it. We are nature, and nature is us. To be human is to be a part of all life—complex, evolving, interconnected. To live in a way that reflects the truth that all life is fundamentally connected is to walk the path of the shaman.
Because it is life, the natural world is replete with power that both creates and destroys. Water may arrive in the form of life-giving rain, or terrifying floods. Fire may cook our food and keep us warm through winter, or it may decimate entire forests. A cooling breeze may be welcome on a hot summer day, but tornadoes and hurricanes wreak unimaginable damage every year. And earthquakes shake our strongest buildings, even as we depend on the stable earth beneath our feet every single day. For these reasons and more, nature deserves our gratitude and our respect.
Nature is also a great healer. Even modern science is catching up to this ancient wisdom in measurable ways. The New York Times reported in 2018 that a variety of small studies have suggested that exposure to trees and plants may strengthen the human immune system, and also lower stress hormones and blood pressure. This would be no surprise to the shamans of my family’s tradition, especially my grandmother, who taught us a powerful ceremony to tap into the energy of trees that she often used in her healing work.
She would point out that fallen branches and leaves, which are often considered “trash” in the modern world, are important symbols of the power of nature. They have grown through the power of Mother Earth and Father Sun; they have been caressed by wind and drank deeply of the water. The thinking mind very often takes for granted nature’s unmatched ability to create. Even the most incredible structures or fascinating technology built by humans can never compete in complexity with a single leaf. For this reason, I would like to begin this chapter on nature with a ceremony based on what she taught us.
Communing with Nature
Prepare and gather:
To begin, find a quiet place in nature where you can be alone and undisturbed for at least thirty minutes. While the more remote, the better, this can be done in your backyard as well. Collect two or three small branches that have fallen from the trees nearby, ones that have some leaves still on them.
Once you have gathered a few branches with leaves, place them in a small pile in front of you. Take a few moments to reflect on how these branches came to be and what they represent: it all started with a seed, which took root in Mother Earth, was christened by life-giving water, touched by the warmth and light of Father Sun, nurtured by the air, and grew up, extending toward the sky. Think of how important the leaves are in the process; they take in the water, photosynthesize energy from the sun, and pull in carbon dioxide from the air. Now they have fallen to the earth, where they will decompose and help fertilize the soil for new growth to occur. These branches are miracles, representative of the power of life and Mother Nature. These branches are symbols of life and its cycles.
Next, open your container of water and pour a small amount over the branches, including the leaves. Let the water soak in for a few moments, and then say the following mantra:
Let these branches embody this truth:
that all things in nature make their way in cycles,
transforming from one thing into the next,
forever and ever, for always and right now.
I thank them for their gifts, for sharing their energy and power,
and I return them to the earth they came from.
Next, remove some of the leaves and gently rub them up and down a small portion of your arms, inviting the power of nature into your heart. You are now communing with the branches, a symbol for all life, and welcoming their energy into you.
When you have finished rubbing the leaves on your arms, sit quietly for as long as you’d like, absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of nature as you do so. This is your true home, the cradle for all life.
To close the ceremony, scoop some soil from the ground with your trowel and partially cover the pile of branches with it. In this way you are symbolically returning the branches to the ground. They don’t need to be fully buried, as nature will determine their best course. As you do so, offer a prayer of thanks and gratitude to these branches, and to all the elements of the natural world for making them possible.
You may choose to place a leaf in your medicine bag, and when you are in a big city or a place that seems far removed from the splendor of nature, it will be your connection. Or set it on your altar as a reminder of the awesome power of nature. One day this leaf will dry and crumble, and then you will know it is time to do this ceremony again.
(An excerpt from Think Like a Publisher by Randy Davila)
Writing a book will change you.
As a matter of personal accomplishment, it is unparalleled. My friend and fellow author Jacob Nordby says, “Holding up your completed book to the world is a watershed moment in your life.” I couldn’t agree more.
Creating a good book requires the intersection of four things: art, inspiration, craft, and marketing. Many of the writers I meet have a good start on the art and inspiration, but they need improvement in the departments of craft and marketing. If one of your goals is that your book reach as many people as possible, you will have to hone your talents on all four fronts. And if you want to make a living at publishing, you will really have to develop what I call the Author Business Model.
But before we delve into the nuts and bolts of the publishing world, I would like to thank you for picking up your pen, or more likely sitting behind your computer, and writing your book. You see, I have had the pleasure of working with authors from around the globe, both well-published and not-so-well-published, and the one thing they all have in common is that through this sacred craft of writing every one of them is attempting to make the world a better place (even if they may not realize it).
Whether you are writing a self-help book, a history book, a memoir, a novel, or a book in any other genre, the goal of a writer is to educate and entertain the reader, and in so doing contribute to the betterment of humanity. The world needs people like you, so I thank you for showing up.
Whether your book finds an audience here and abroad or you share it with just a few loyal readers, know that your writing will help at least one person—you. Writing is by definition a creative endeavor, one that energizes the mind and nourishes the soul. Although some authors don’t realize this at first, writing is one of those conscious creation activities that makes us feel alive, and that’s why we do it!
So by writing, whether you are conscious of it or not, you help others and yourself. This is why I often say that every book ever written, in some capacity and regardless of genre, is a self-help book.
A quick peek at history shows that what we are doing as authors does matter, that we are making the world a better place. We are privileged to live in the most literate time in the history of humanity, and literacy and education are inextricably linked. More people have the ability to read today than at any point in our past, and the collective education of this planet has never been higher. Undoubtedly we still have a long way to go, but much of our progress has been made through sharing ideas, and those ideas are recorded in books . . . books that would not exist without the authors who wrote them.
What a debt of gratitude we owe the authors who have come before us, who were brave enough to publish new ideas that expanded our thinking even when they were unpopular or posed a great risk to their reputation. While there are countless examples of this type of heroism in authorship, one example that comes to mind is Dr. Brian L. Weiss, author of the international best-selling book on reincarnation titled Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives.
With degrees from Columbia University and Yale Medical School, Dr. Weiss was the head of the psychiatry department at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach when he wrote Many Lives, Many Masters. Dr. Weiss had much to lose when he began writing about the subject of past-life therapy in the mid-1980s. Well respected by his peers in traditional psychiatry, by his own admission Dr. Weiss had no use for “alternative” methods of treatment like past-life regression therapy. But then something happened to change all of that. While using hypnosis to help recall traumatic childhood memories, one particular patient went back “beyond” her childhood, remembering a total of eighty-six previous lives over the course of her months-long treatment. Although Dr. Weiss was very skeptical at first, the healing benefits this patient experienced as a result of excising past-life traumas, combined with the knowledge she received about Weiss’s own life from “masters on the other side,” convinced him that reincarnation was real and that past-life regression therapy could be a useful healing tool.
Despite the objection of many peers in the mainstream medical community, Dr. Weiss made the bold decision to risk his credibility and his career when he decided to publish his findings in a book. No one could have predicted, least of all Dr. Weiss, that the book would go on to sell millions of copies, bring reincarnation and past-life regression therapy into the spotlight, and change so many people’s lives in the process.
In the genre of fiction, there are numerous examples of books that use storytelling to not only entertain readers but also challenge existing societal beliefs. Brown’s 2003 novel The Da Vince Code not only captivated millions of readers with its suspenseful twists and turns but also reintroduced the idea of the divine feminine and its influence on mainstream Christianity. The firestorm that ensued after its publication was notable, to say the least.
These are but two examples, and there are numerous others as well, that we authors are a courageous folk. We put our hearts onto paper, risking the ridicule of critics and sometimes even our financial stability all in an effort to share our ideas with the world. Now comes the challenging part, and the likely reason you are reading this book: What can you do as an author to help your book reach the widest possible audience and make the biggest impact on the world?
Well, the good news is that there are many, many things you can do to help accomplish this goal. And that is the purpose of this book, to educate you, the author, about the essential steps necessary to reach as many readers as you can. As you will see in the following pages, there is so much more to being an author than just writing a book and either submitting it to a traditional publisher or self-publishing. At the conclusion of this book, my hope is that you will understand why I often say “Being a good writer in one thing; being a well-published author is something else entirely.”
What Is Success?
If you notice, I have not yet used the term “successful.” I have not said, “do this and make your book a success.” Before I begin stating things such as “make your book successful,” the first thing I want you to do is evaluate your definition of success.
Many first-time authors define a successful book as one that sells thousands if not millions of copies and earns the title “best seller.” (We will discuss more about “best seller” claims and definitions in Tip #21.) And you can be sure that as a publisher my hope is that every book we produce will sell thousands if not millions of copies. But before we go any further, we must ask ourselves: Is the number of copies a book sells the only metric in determining if it is “successful”?
Not by my definition, and when you are done reading this, I hope not by yours either. I would like to offer you a different set of metrics for determining whether a book is successful or not. Defining success in terms other than number of copies sold means considering a few things. First, do you as the author feel good about the contents of your book? Will you be proud to see your name on the cover? I hope that is the case for you, and if it’s not, I would strongly encourage you to get your manuscript into the best possible shape before it goes to print, because once your book is “out there” it will take on a life of its own, one that you want to be proud of forever.
Second, does your book help or educate people? Does it add value to the lives of its readers? When someone is finished reading your book, will the information you have shared or the story you have told enhance that reader’s life in some way?
To me, these criteria are far more important when it comes to calling a book successful than the number of copies sold.
Now I will prove it to you.
Looking back over your life, there have undoubtedly been a handful of books that had a big impact on your worldview and your individual perspective. Dare I suggest that some of these books were even life-changing? On your list of favorite books I bet there is at least one, if not more than one, which you could hold up in the middle of a crowded shopping mall, scream out the title, and no one would have ever heard of it. In short, this book was important to you and your journey in life, but when compared to other books, it is relatively unknown.
At the same time, I am sure you can think of a time when you picked up a widely publicized best seller with great anticipation, only to find out that you couldn’t get through the first chapter. Yet this book has sold millions of copies, and by that measurement, it is clearly a success.
In hindsight, which of these two books was more “successful” to you?
I hope this little exercise illustrates that success should not be measured simply by the numbers of copies sold. Furthermore, my experience with authors, including the widely published variety, is that if your only metric of success is the number of copies sold then ultimately no amount of copies sold will be enough. So please remember when I use the term “successful” throughout the rest of this book, I mean far more than just the number of copies sold.
One of the best things you can do for yourself as an author is to become educated about the publishing industry. You will want to know as much as you can about the publishing business from the perspective of writer, promoter, and salesperson for your book. Because as you will see in the following chapters, in today’s publishing world, you need to be all three.
Are you ready to learn more about how to be a successful author? Think Like a Publisher is available now from all major retailers and on our website. To learn more about this book, and to continue reading the next few tips for free, click here.
PLUS, Randy Davila, author of Think Like a Publisher and President of Hierophant Publishing and Hampton Roads Publishing, will be offering his Publish YOU Masterclass online for authors who want to take their project to the next level. Registration is open now!
What’s the difference between a friend and a lover?
The distinction is so simple, yet we often don’t consider all that it entails.
Past lovers, whether they were with you for a night or for decades, leave impressions that can linger long after the relationship is over—and in many cases dramatically affect your self-esteem, your capacity for future intimacy, and your emotional well- being. Whether we like it or not, there is rarely, if ever, such a thing as casual sex.
In the current cultural climate, where sexual relationships swing between careless impulse and overly moralized repression, our society has lost the pulse of what truly healthy and vibrant female sexuality is. We no longer know what to do when a sexual relationship falls apart, leaving the wreckage of betrayal, abandonment, neglect, or even abuse in its wake. So many women are suffering—from mild discomfort to full-blown anxiety, from depression to total sexual shutdown; from desperate loneliness to recklessly empty promiscuity.
As women we are capable of so much more, but we are rarely, if ever, shown the way.
Female sexuality is a unique weave of physical energy, emotional connection, mental engagement, and spiritual communion. Sadly, this weave has been ignored, invalidated, or even demonized by much of our society over time. As a result, the mysteries of female sexuality are buried under mountains of oversexualized cultural patterning, dismissal of the rich heritage of deep feminine reverence and power, and ignorance of the vast inner terrain that lives within women.
In simple terms, this means that female sexuality is both powerful and vulnerable, and it is unique in a way that almost all healing modalities, therapies, religions, and even spiritual paths don’t fully recognize. For as necessary and potent as such practices can be, they have gaps in their understanding about some very core concepts related to women. Those gaps become unbridgeable chasms when it comes to reclaiming our female sexuality, caring for that nature, and understanding and clearing lingering sexual experiences.
If you are like so many of the women I work with, you picked up this book because you are carrying heartache, grief, pain, and unmet longing—all of which can be traced back to one or more past lover-ships. These experiences may also have resulted in the formation of sexual habits that don’t fulfill your deepest needs, such as shutting down your sexuality, or overgiving to your partner. For so many of us, after enough heartbreak and disappointment, the desire to love deeply, securely, passionately, and with integrity ends up either dimmed almost to extinction or enflamed with a frustrated anger that burns almost everything it touches.
We must remember and honor the fact that we were created to be sexual creatures, freed from the pendulum swing of oppression and reaction to that oppression. Liberated from all that push and pull, we have the opportunity to recover and know the radical truth, wisdom, and sexual wholeness that is our birthright. This is not a cultural, social, or personality-based liberation. This is a recovery of deep feminine power and knowledge that will free you regardless of circumstance.
Think of “breaking the grip of past lovers” as code for freeing yourself of deeply unconscious limitations and misunderstandings you have inherited about what it means to be a woman—particularly a woman of sexual desire, longings, emotion, and passion. The breaking free process will require you to be more vulnerable and more sensitive with your- self. The good news is that the freedom that awaits you is vastly more powerful and healing than you can imagine.
In my case, the journey to shed the residual impact of past lovers was not a well-intentioned choice toward self-improvement. It was a necessity born of devastation.
When I was in my mid-thirties, my marriage of seven years (my second), was falling apart. After enduring multiple betrayals, I had accumulated a convincing distrust of intimacy—both with my husband and with anyone else I might be romantically close to after that. I was lost inside a tangle of grief, depression, longing, and isolation that was coloring everything, stealing the passion from my life, and relegating me to the kind of subtle despair and unmet longing that I had witnessed in so many other women. I was exhausted from the pressure of single motherhood and shattered by the experience of witnessing what had once been touching love devolve into chaos, dishonesty, and heartbreak.
Despite all of this—and because I didn’t want to lose the relationship we had built, because I was afraid of being financially on my own, and mostly because I came to deeply feel that receiving his full attention and sexual fidelity was how I would feel whole again—I ended up staying despite my partner sustaining an intimate dynamic that eroded my sense of self, my trust in men in general, and my hope of ever finding a full and honoring sexuality. As a result of that relationship, I shut down emotionally and sexually. I became jealous and paranoid. And I came to believe that I was not (nor would I ever be) “woman enough.”
I also lost important time and presence with my son in his younger years because I was emotionally distracted. I got further and further from my own sense of my beauty, my worth, my fullness, and my pleasure. I had panic attacks most nights, and significant depression. I can remember countless experiences of finding myself crumpled up on the floor crying, fighting, in desperate emotional pain. And then the terrible confusion created by all of our “good” times, when I would remember how much we loved each other and believe again that we could make it . . . only to be shattered by more dishonesty. On top of it all, I was so deeply ashamed and humiliated by what was going on in our relationship that I hid the truth from all of my friends. They would have loved and supported me, but in my state I could only imagine feeling humiliated and exposed. So I isolated myself from their support and fell even deeper into my sense of unworthiness. I was so desperate for the relationship to work out that I was hiding the truth from anyone who might call it what it was and hold me accountable to either radically change or to be brave enough to leave the dysfunction that I was tolerating.
Before this unhealthy dynamic, I had generally felt very nourished by my sexuality. Not perfect, by any means, but I had come to a place in my life and my sexual expression where I was free of insecurities that had plagued my younger years. Yet by the time I finally ended our marriage, I felt fractured and unworthy of love or fidelity. My light had dimmed, and I was deeply suffering from maintaining and allowing an intimate relationship that was very much in opposition to my core values.
My pain and shame, mixed with an almost forgotten hope that I would one day have the kind of honoring and passionate intimate relationship I deserved, led me to explore esoteric teachings on the sacred nature of female sexuality. I fell in love with what I found, and over a period of years I walked myself through the disentangling of my relationship and the restoration of my deep feminine nature. It was then that I began a commitment to personal cultivation practices in this area that continues to this day.
Because of the transformation I experienced, I began teaching and supporting other women to do the same, and, lo and behold, I discovered an unspoken epidemic of unresolved intimacies that most women were just tolerating or muddling through. It was stunning how similar our stories were, how devastating and confusing past sexual relationships continued to be, and how much we were all feeling compromised, stuck and lost to ourselves, some- times years after a relationship had ended. What I learned in my own journey and from helping other women recover is what you will find in the pages that followed.
When I look back now, after metabolizing the residual impact of my past lovership and recovering my sense of self, I see that what I experienced was a type of initiation. It was not one I would have ever chosen, but it was one that taught me the importance of honoring my personal power and commit- ting to never relinquishing my sexual sovereignty to the control of someone else again.
In one sense, my failed relationship had cost me a version of innocence. But as I moved through the initiation, I gained a state of personal power that now never leaves me. It was as if losing my power and reclaiming it were necessary steps on the journey to true sovereignty.
The gifts of this, including a present relationship that meets me in my values and takes them even further, have been abundant in all aspects of my life. I would never say it was an easy road, as I spent years feeling lost before finding my way back home, but as I moved through the initiation and stayed commit- ted to it, not only did I clear all residual impact of my past loverships, but I discovered that finding my freedom gifted me the ability to hold reverence and respect for myself regardless of the circumstances that may arise.
As you consider what you have experienced in past relationships, can you sense a golden thread of initiation
running throughout them, no matter however difficult they may have been? For instance, on the other side of betrayal may be the gift that you will never again betray yourself. On the other side of neglect may be your commitment to never again neglect your own essence. On the other side of manipulation may be a radical cultivation of discernment that will never again let you ignore your intuition when it signals that something isn’t right or you are not safe.
I invite you to take a moment—let the costs of past relationship choices serve as fuel for your commitments to what you will choose now and how you will advocate for yourself so that you never lose power like that again. Initiations born of past loverships change us forever, but the full fruit of these is greater love, greater power, and a fierce commitment to our own feminine essence. In my experience, this type of self-commitment actually needed an initiation born of loss and challenge in order to fully evolve. When you complete this type of initiation, you become a sword so tempered by the fire of life’s passages that you cut through any habit of self-rejection and become the greatest friend and ally you have ever known.
You have a life to live, love to share, children to raise, pleasure to experience, and so many gifts still to explore, but if you haven’t cleared the residual impact of past lovers, you are losing time, energy, power, and joy. Tens of thousands of women have now worked with the process in this book, and their stories are full of hope and full of compassion for themselves, for their past lovers, and for you as a woman who must also find her way through the tangled devastation of a broken sexual relation- ship. They are healing fully and finally from emotional neglect, betrayal, infidelity, mistreatment, and vicious manipulation, and so can you.
No matter how bleak or stuck you feel when you think about your past lovership or how deep the cost of a past relationship may have been, there is some part of you that can and will create pure gold from the anguish of it all. This is the spirit of a queen who knows her worth, and who has matured through hardship into a woman who will never abandon her throne again.
This is what you were always meant to be and what you are destined to become. You are both powerful and vulnerable, and by reclaiming both your beauty and your pain, you will free yourself to know more of your own happiness, fulfillment, peace, and pleasure than the world has told you is possible. As women of these times, we are turning the tide from habitual dysfunction to grace-filled empowerment, from collective amnesia to full remembrance of our own mysteries. I am honored to be on this journey of liberation with you. So let us begin…
Break the Grip of Past Lovers compassionately addresses issues of regret, remorse, low self-esteem, and broken trust, while guiding the reader in healing from betrayal, neglect, and manipulation, as well as from experiences that were so beautiful they have left grief and irreconcilable longing in their place.
Are you ready to explore more of how you can reclaim your personal sovereignty? This powerful book by author, healer, and priestess Jumana Sophia is available now from all major retailers and on our website. To learn more about this powerful book, and to continue reading the first chapter for free, click here.
Stop thinking, and end your problems.
-Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation)
Who are we? Why are we here? Why do we suffer?
Humans have grappled with these questions since time immemorial. Philosophers, spiritual leaders, scientists, and artists have all weighed in on them. In Western philosophy, the best answer to the question of who we are is that thinking is the defining characteristic of humanity There is no more concise example of this than philosopher Rene Descartes' famous statement cogito, ergo sum, or, "I think, therefore I am."
This reverence for thinking is in stark contrast to the tenets of Eastern philosophy found in traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism, and certain schools of Hinduism. These traditions at best advocate a distrust of the thinking mind and often go further to claim that the thinking mind is part of the problem rather than the solution. Zen Buddhism offers us the saying, "No thought, no problem."
The brain-powered individual, which is variously called the self, the ego, the mind, or "me," lies at the center of Western thought. In the worldview of the West, we herald the greatest thinkers as world-changers. But who is this? Let's take a closer look at the thinker, or the "me," we all take for granted. This definition will be essential throughout our discussion.
This "I" is for most of us the first thing that pops into our minds when we think about who we are. The "I" represents the idea of our individual self, the one that sits between the ears and behind the eyes and is "piloting" the body The "pilot" is in charge, it doesn't change very much, and it feels to us like the thing that brings our thoughts and feelings to life. It observes, makes decisions, and carries out actions-just like the pilot of an airplane.
This I/ego is what we think of as our true selves, and this individual self is the experiencer and the controller of things like thoughts, feelings, and actions. The pilot self feels like it is running the show. It is stable and continuous. It is also in control of our physical body; for example, this self understands that it is "my body" But unlike our physical body, it does not perceive itself as changing, ending (except, perhaps for atheists, in bodily death), or being influenced by anything other than itself.
Now let's turn to the East. Buddhism, Taoism, the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, and other schools of Eastern thought have quite a different take on the self, the ego, or "me." They say that this idea of "me" is a fiction, although a very convincing one. Buddhism has a word for this concept-anatta, which is often translated as "no self'- which is one of the most fundamental tenets of Buddhism, if not the most important.
This idea sounds radical, even nonsensical, to those who are trained in Western traditions. It seems to contradict our everyday experience, indeed our whole sense of being.
This book will explore strong evidence suggesting that the concept of the self is simply a construct of the mind, rather than a physical thing located somewhere within the brain itself. Put another way, it is the process of thinking that creates the self, rather than there being a self having any independent existence separate from thought. The self is more like a verb than a noun. To take it a step further, the implication is that without thought, the self does not, in fact, exist. It's as if contemporary neuroscience and psychology are just now catching up with what Buddhist, Taoist, and Advaita Vedanta Hindu ism have been teaching for over 2,500 years.
This may be a difficult point to grasp, chiefly because we've mistaken the process of thinking as a genuine thing for so long. It will take some time to see the idea of a "me" as simply an idea rather than a fact. Your illusionary self-the voice in your head-is very convincing. It narrates the world, determines your beliefs, replays your memories, identifies with your physical body, manufactures your projections of what might happen in the future, and creates your judgments about the past. It is this sense of self that we feel from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we close them at night. It seems all-important, so it often comes as a shock when I tell people that based on my work as a neuropsychologist, this "I" is simply not there-at least not in the way we think it is.
On the other hand, this will come as no surprise to those who have studied Eastern religions and philosophical movements, since all of these take as a basic premise the idea that the self as we most commonly think of it does not exist. If this is true, one might then ask, what is left? This question is definitely worth pondering, and we will look at it later after we approach the idea of "no self' through the landscape of scientific findings that point to the unreality of the self and the possible presence of a different model of consciousness.
As I mentioned in the preface, the great success story of neuroscience has been in mapping the brain. We can point to the language center, the face processing center, and the center for understanding the emotions of others. Practically every function of the mind has been mapped to the brain with one important exception: the self. While various neuroscientists have made the claim that the self resides in this or that neural location, there is no real agreement among the scientific community about where to find it-not even whether it might be in the left or the right side of the brain. Perhaps the reason we can't find the self in the brain is because it isn't there.
Yet even if we accept as true that there is no self, we cannot deny that there is still a very strong idea of self. While neuropsychology has failed to find the seat of the self, it has determined the part of the brain that creates this idea of a self, and we will examine this in detail.
Why does all of this matter? In much the same way I found myself deep in suffering after the loss of my father, each of us will experience plenty of mental pain, misery, and frustration in our lifetimes. Mistaking the voice in our head for a thing and labeling it "me" brings us into conflict with the neuropsychological evidence that shows there is no such thing. This mistake-this illusory sense of self-is the primary cause of our mental suffering. What's more, I contend that it blocks access to the eternal, expansive thread of universal consciousness that is always available to us.
To be clear, mental suffering is different from physical pain. Pain occurs in the body and is a physical reaction - like when you stub your toe or break an arm. The suffering I speak of occurs in the mind only and describes things such as worry, anger, anxiety, regret, jealousy, shame, and a host of other negative mental states.
I know it's a big claim to say that all of these kinds of suffering are the result of a fictitious sense of self. For now, the essence of this idea is captured brilliantly by Taoist philosopher and author Wei Wu Wei when he writes, "Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself-and there isn't one."
The Structure of This Book
We will start by looking at the brain, its left and right side, and its effects on human cognition and behavior.3 There are certainly other ways to organize and divide the brain that are important to the process of cognition, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex mentioned in the preface, but it is my aim to make this topic understandable and enjoyable for everyone. For simplicity's sake, we will mostly talk about the left and right sides of the brain and how they affect our thoughts and behaviors.
First, I will explain the idea that the left brain is an interpreter or story-maker. Pattern recognition, language, mapmaking, and categorization are all located in the left brain, and the evidence suggests that it is exactly these types of functions that collectively lead to the sensation of a self and the strong belief in its absolute truth. We will explore how the unique functions of the left brain give rise not only to the sense of self but also account for why it is so difficult to see beyond this illusion and why this sensation creates so much suffering in the human condition.
Once we understand how the left brain operates, we will take a closer look at the right brain and how it works, which includes things such as finding meaning, our ability to see and understand big-picture ideas, expressing creativity, experiencing emotions, and spatial processing. These are all functions that rely on the right brain. After we have examined both sides of the brain and the processes associated with each, I will speculate on what this information may mean for consciousness and how it could also point beyond the ego illusion and toward the mystery of who we really are.
At the end of each chapter, you will find a section called Explorations. These are exercises or simple thought experiments that provide a chance for a deeper, more hands-on understanding of the concepts dis cussed. Through these Explorations, I hope you will be able to access the central ideas of this book in novel and exciting ways that go beyond merely thinking about them.
What we discuss here will show that specific studies in neuroscience and psychology strongly suggest what Eastern philosophies have been saying for millennia: namely that this idea of "me" or the "self'' that most of us take for granted doesn't exist in the way that we think it does. This may be a new idea for you, and before we begin, I want to make clear that I am not simply trying to convince you that your ego is an illusion by heaping mountains of research on you. Rather, I want to guide you to new experiences and open pathways to using different parts of the brain so that you can determine for yourself whether all this is true or not. Einstein said that a problem cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created it. In this way, the sense of self created by the left brain cannot be unveiled by hammering away at it with even more thinking from the left brain. My wish is to guide your consciousness to a different way of looking at your experiences and, in so doing, allow you to go beyond the thoughts of the left brain. I believe this can greatly reduce your mental suffering, as it has mine.
As the ancient Zen axiom states, "No self, no problem."
No Self, No Problem shows how findings in neuropsychology suggest that our sense of self is actually an illusion created by the left side of the brain and that it exists in the same way a mirage in the middle of the desert exists: as a thought rather than a thing.
Intrigued? This title will be released on September 10th and will be available from all major retailers!
(Excerpted from Your Spacious Self by Stephanie Bennett Vogt)
No one would argue that most of us do too much or have more possessions than we need. Or both. With our lives swept up in a swirl of attachments, worry, and endless, mechanical “doing,” our minds become fuzzy on what stays and what goes, what matters and what doesn’t. As humans, it is in our nature to experience clarity and spaciousness all the time. The problem is that we lose focus, get off balance, and forget how.
So how do we dial it back or even begin to reduce the noise, release the stuff that doesn’t serve and support us, and connect with that which makes our hearts sing?
One minute at a time. In present time.
No matter how miniscule the task or effort, the fact is that clearing anything consciously and gently, as this book teaches, creates an energetic opening – a spaciousness – that will work on you slowly and surely to soften your attachments to things, beliefs, and outcomes.
Whether your clutter challenge is the stuff spilling out of the closet or the noise spinning around in your head, or both, here’s what I know for sure – distilled to its bare essence:
Let me explain.
In the end, it is not about tackling the unsightly messes, the boxes of who-knows-what mildewing in the basement, or the clothes that don’t fit.
It’s not about the mountain of mail, the emails that invade your inbox, or the pile of medical bills that the insurance company refuses to cover.
It’s not about the care that needs new tires, the crazy-ass housemate who won’t turn her music down, or the neighborhood dog that barks all night.
Nor is it about “fixing” yourself.
It’s not about the despair you feel over the dishes that no one bothers to was and put away, the to-do lists that get longer by the second, or the fact that you have zero time for yourself.
It’s not about the hopelessness you feel, your inability to say no, or the fear of someone discovering your dark secret.
Clearing is not about any of those things. It is how…you…relate…to…them.
It is the space between the problem and the solution where the real juice is, where the real clearing happens. And the only way to release what isn’t working for you is to enter that sometimes-scary zone called feeling.
Feeling the overwhelm, resistance, attachment, guilt, sadness, worry, despair, shame…
Feeling it all- without judging it as good or bad or taking it personally.
We do not need fixing. The core of our being is not broken. We humans are simply out of touch with our true selves and out of balance. And, by extension, our homes and world are out of balance because we are. Not the other way around.
When you can allow feelings to arise in all their messy glory without fixing or judging or personalizing, tat is when the clutter you experience “out there” – in your home and life – magically melts away.
No matter what your clutter challenge is, as you practice clearing in this way, you’ll begin to notice some shifts taking place in your life. Who knows what that might look like for you. It might start as a tiny peephole of space that wasn’t there before. An ah-ha. A kindness. A quieter dog. A surprise check in the mail. Less junk mail. Fewer pounds. A job offer. Fewer buttons getting pressed. Better sleep. More energy. More joy.
More real, spacious you.
Support the Journey
In this journey, there are two things you can almost count on: First, there is no way to predict what will happen as you clear; and second, no matter how good your intentions may be, if there is a monkey mind lurking in your head space, it is easy to fall off the wagon, get discouraged—or plain lost.
For that reason I am including these reminders to help bring you back. Write them down in your journal or on a Post-it note. If you can remember to adopt these guiding principles as part of your daily practice, I can almost guarantee that you will clear more stress and clutter than you ever imagined possible.
Also, stay tuned for space clearing expert Stephanie Bennett Vogt’s latest book, A Year for You, forthcoming in October, 2019!
from The Wisdom of the Shamans
by don Jose Ruiz
In the Toltec tradition, we have a concept called silent knowledge, and cultivating your connection to it can help you find the truth within yourself.
Silent knowledge is a knowing that is beyond the thinking/discerning mind. It is difficult to write or talk about, because language is the main tool of the discerning mind, but I will do my best to explain.
Silent knowledge is the deep, innate wisdom that is in all things. It comes from the interconnectedness of all beings and creatures. It is the wisdom of the universe. For instance, if you’ve ever simply known the answer to a question without any logical way that your brain could have discovered it—like when a mother can feel that her child is in danger or when you know the moment a relative transitions into death—this is all silent knowledge. It is the universal wisdom that has always been at our fingertips, but that we often neglect to tap into, either because we don’t know or have forgotten how.
Being able to see the next right action in any given situation, disregarding the mitote (the noisy voices that clamor for your attention) in your mind—this is silent knowledge, and as you begin to unravel your domestications and live in a way that feels authentic to you, you will find yourself in touch with it. When you develop an awareness of silent knowledge, you begin to shift your attention to it more often, especially when faced with an important choice or decision.
The insights that you get from silent knowledge can come to you in the form of an inspired thought or even an energetic feeling in your body. In either case, when a message comes to you from silent knowledge, you sense a “knowing” that the insight you are receiving is not from your thinking mind.
Furthermore, silent knowledge never carries the energy of hate, resentment, or revenge. If any message you get originates from this type of energy, then you know that this is not silent knowledge, but coming out of the mind’s addiction to suffering instead.
Another means for accessing silent knowledge is to pay attention to your emotions. When it comes to making decisions, our emotions can sometimes be better indictors that our discerning minds.
For instance, let’s say you are trying to make a decision about a situation and one choice may seem correct logically, but you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Let’s say you’ve been offered a new job with better pay, but when you visit with your potential employer, you get a negative vibe inside that you can’t explain.
Rather than dismiss those sensations, it would be wise to recognize them as clues from the realm of silent knowledge. This doesn’t necessarily mean the answer is a “no” and you shouldn’t take the job, but rather that you should do more investigating before making a final decision.
Silent knowledge is available to you right now, and one helpful step to finding it is to practice outer silence and meditation. Meditation is a powerful tool for many spiritual practices. For the Toltec, meditation is used in a variety of ways, but one of the most important benefits is that in meditation we are able to see past the mitote of the mind. Doing so creates an environment within ourselves that allows us to better connect to silent knowledge.
For this meditation, our goal is to open ourselves to silent knowledge. To begin meditating, find a quiet, comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted for the next several minutes. This could be on the back porch while the pets are inside, in the bathtub because the bathroom door is the only one that keeps the kids out, or in an armchair in the study. There is no wrong place or posture for meditation, so experiment and find what works best for you.
Our goal will be to simply open your mind and allow universal wisdom to be present in your awareness. As you become more familiar with meditation, feel free to ask or meditate on certain questions that you need to have answered. By taking questions into your meditation, you will be bringing them to the source of all wisdom and may receive your answers in the form of silent knowledge.
Once you find a quiet place and a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few moments to settle in. For this meditation, I want you to just listen. Listen to any sounds happening outside of you without putting too much importance on any of them. What do you hear? The wind rustling in the trees? The hum of the refrigerator in the other room? Take it all in, it’s all welcome here. Now I want you to listen to the silence that is just behind the sounds you hear. The silence is there: it’s the space which makes hearing the other sounds possible. Hold that silence in your mind as you find it.
Next I want you to bring your attention inward—listening to the silence that is inside you. Like the silence on the outside, inner silence is underneath all the other sensations you find. The mind will wander and begin to think—because that is the nature of the mind—but when it does, gently try to release those thoughts and find the silence again, and again, and again.
When you first start meditating, you may not be able to hold this silence for long, and that is okay. The key is to judge nothing, but just listen. When the mind wanders, you simply bring it back to listening to the outer world, then the silence on the outside, and then the silence on the inside. If you are new to meditation, begin by doing this for just five minutes at a time. If you like this practice, try to go a little longer and then a little longer each time, building up to thirty minutes or more. Your mind will still wander, but you will find it easier to bring it back to the silence the more you practice.
If you would like to take a question into meditation, ask the question once at the beginning of the meditation and then begin your meditation listening to the outer world and then to the silence behind all the sounds, both without and within. It’s important that you ask your question and then let the question go. In these moments of stillness found in meditation, silent wisdom may come to you regarding your question, or you may find through meditation that the question is unimportant and no longer needs an answer.
Ready to explore more of how The Wisdom of the Shamans can help you find your own inner wisdom? Now available in paperback with a new foreword by Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements and the father of don Jose Ruiz! This title is available from all major retailers and on our website. To learn more about this powerful book, and to read the introduction for free, click here.