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What determines the goals you set? The answer is your context, which is your full collection of beliefs about reality. You’ll always set goals congruent with your current understanding of the universe.
Since no two people have the exact same context (everyone sees the world a little differently), everyone will set different goals. Within your particular context, some goals will seem intelligent while others will seem foolish. And within some contexts, remaining goal-free may be the ideal.
As I mentioned in Podcast #013 – Beyond Religion, I don’t hold a fixed belief system. I view beliefs like software running on a computer. To identify myself with any particular belief would be like treating my PC as a word processor and nothing more. Our beliefs are the lenses through which we view reality. Each lens (belief) is better suited to some situations than others.
Science is a lens. Religion is a lens. Pessimism is a lens. Whenever you view reality in any way, shape, or form, your particular perspective is your lens.
Obviously some beliefs appear more congruent with reality than others. Generally speaking, the most accurate beliefs are also the most empowering. If believing in gravity lets us put satellites in orbit, while other beliefs do not, then the belief in gravity is empowering and therefore more accurate than the alternatives.
For reasonably intelligent people, it’s not that difficult to agree on common beliefs where there’s a clear winner. Science does a fairly good job of identifying some of those beliefs, but common sense will take you pretty far as well. But after accounting for the obvious knowns, there’s still plenty of ambiguity left. It’s up to you to fill in these blanks because there just isn’t enough external evidence either way.
With that in mind, here are some interesting beliefs that I’ve found empowering:
Reality is both objective and subjective. I don’t see the world as either purely objective or purely subjective. Rather I see the world as a constantly evolving flow of thought (subjective) and its physical manifestation (objective). The ongoing interplay between the physical world and the non-physical world is the intersection of multiple dimensions, like water and salt mixing to create saltwater. Sometimes you find mostly water, other times mostly salt. But most of the time, the two are blending together to create something that is simultaneously both water and salt.
Non-duality. Duality means seeing other people as totally separate from yourself — you are you and I am I. Non-duality says that on some level, we’re all the same being. I do not see other people or things in my reality as separate from me. To me that is an illusion, a socially conditioned way of seeing the world that is very limiting. Adopting the belief in non-duality had an expansive effect on my consciousness, and I found it to be one of the most empowering beliefs for me (and one of the most useful, especially with respect to overcoming fear). While my physical senses may be limited to the perspective of my own body, my consciousness is not so limited. I feel my consciousness everywhere I look — I can see it in other people, in animals, and in physical objects.
“I” am consciousness. There is a difference between the good of my physical body and the good of everyone else’s bodies — that is duality. But “I” am not my physical body. “I” am my consciousness, and my consciousness is a lot more than just my body. Ultimately I feel there is only one consciousness that we all share. So the greatest good of all is the greatest good of consciousness itself. When viewed from this perspective, my own personal good and the greatest good of all are precisely the same. Through your physical senses, you perceive that there are many different physical bodies out there in the world — billions of them. But how many consciousnesses do you perceive? Do you perceive any separate and distinct consciousnesses but the one you think of as your own? Of course not… because there is actually only one consciousness, and that is your true identity.
Co-creation and synchronicity. If I believe that I am my physical body, then all I can control is my physical body, and everything else is outside my direct control because it is not me. However, if the truth — the reality — is that I am consciousness, then I should be able to use that consciousness to influence other parts of reality that are beyond my physical body. And in fact, I can indeed do that to a certain degree. I can use my consciousness to manifest changes in reality that are beyond my body and that can’t be directly affected by my body. Many people discover this ability by accident when they manifest synchronicities. But most aren’t aware that they can also manifest synchronicities intentionally. Consciousness is co-creative with physical reality, so there’s a constant back-and-forth interplay. Intentions spawn manifestations, which in turn spawn new intentions. And we can only manifest thoughts that are congruent with our context. A thought to manifest what you believe to be impossible (or unlikely) will simply cancel itself out, like two waves colliding to create an interference pattern. Consciousness creates only what consciousness truly believes. Our thoughts create our reality, but our reality also gives rise to our thoughts.
Compassion and nonviolence. The belief in non-duality gives rise to compassion, the understanding that we are all connected. To harm another person, animal, or the physical environment is ultimately to inflict self-harm. There is no way to get ahead at the expense of someone else because non-duality means that it is all me anyway. Therefore, the presence of conflict in the world is an internal conflict within consciousness itself. Violence cannot be eliminated by one side beating the other to a pulp. It can only be resolved by raising our consciousness to a level where no one finds violence necessary. And since there’s only one consciousness, the only way to remove violence from the world is to first purge it from myself.
Responsibility for thoughts. All thought is creative. Every thought holds the seed of its own manifestation, either through conscious, subconscious, or superconscious action. Therefore, it is wise to raise my awareness of my thoughts and to hold only those thoughts I wish to manifest.
Communication with the non-physical. Call it God, spirit, source, the force, the field of all possibilities, pure potentiality, higher awareness, angels, spirit guides, etc. The label doesn’t matter because words do not define it anyway. The non-physical is an aspect of consciousness, and direct communication with non-physical entities and energies is a learnable skill. Consciousness itself is non-physical, and it is through consciousness that we can communicate and connect with the non-physical realms. The physical world may be the most solid reality we experience, but it is not the only reality we experience… and certainly not the only populated one.
Unconditional love. Unconditional love means unconditional forgiveness; it is not the same as romantic love. Because everything I perceive to exist is a part of my own consciousness, and because every thought is creative, the most sensible thoughts to hold in my consciousness are those of unconditional love. If I hate or dislike anything I perceive to exist, I’m only putting out a prayer to manifest more of it. So there is great wisdom in the intention to unconditionally love everything that exists, just as it exists right now.
Congruence. The more congruent the thoughts running through my consciousness become, the more I experience a pervasive sense of inner peace. Thoughts are co-creative with physical reality. Physical reality is the result of pure consciousness exploring itself. So if there is violence in the world, I will notice that violence and think about it. But also if I think about violence, it will manifest in the world. You cannot have violence in the world without thoughts of violence. There is no reality outside of consciousness. If everyone in the world forgot about the concept of violence, then violence would cease to exist. So the problem of violence isn’t merely that there is violence in the world — it’s also that we continue manifesting violence by thinking about violence. What we do not think about does not manifest.
Living for what is permanent, not for what is impermanent. Everything rooted in the physical world is impermanent. This includes material possessions, money, jobs, buildings, businesses, land, and of course our physical bodies. Given enough time it will all turn to dust. It makes no sense to center my life around impermanent things. I cannot invest my existence in making and selling widgets, buying lots of stuff, and then retiring. There is only one thing that is permanent, and that is consciousness. I am at peace with the idea of death. Even as I experience this physical existence, I know it won’t last. So I don’t live for anything physical. I still enjoy physical pleasures, and I take care of my physical needs, but they’re not the central focus of my life. The central focus of my life is developing my consciousness. If I’m wrong, and my consciousness is not immortal, I won’t be around to worry about it. But it’s clear that nothing but consciousness could possibly be immortal. If I take anything with me to the other side of death, it won’t be my stuff — it could only be my thoughts and awareness. So that’s what I’m going to devote my physical life to working on while I’m here. No other humanly pursuit can possibly come close.
Service. Living a life of service is a natural side-effect of the previous beliefs. This isn’t the idea of service to any particular human cause, such as freedom or animal rights. Rather, it is service to life itself… service to everything that is manifest as a part of consciousness. Developing my consciousness means working to improve everything that manifests within my consciousness. The guiding principles here are unconditional love and peace. So the ultimate ideal is to have every part of consciousness at peace with every other part. That’s a tall order of course, but it provides a fascinating direction to life, one that makes sense both objectively and subjectively.
Direct participation. Since the physical world is the manifestation of consciousness, it makes sense to be an active participant. To experience the world is to experience the manifestation of consciousness. My internal world of thoughts and the external world of reality are fundamentally the same world, only viewed from different perspectives. There’s a wonderful synergy between inside and outside, introvert and extrovert, yin and yang, knowledge and intuition, so I cultivate both my internal and external senses. Different religions tend to favor one or the other — Western beliefs usually favor the external like reading scriptures and attending services while Eastern beliefs emphasize the internal such as meditation and reflection. I find both empowering.
Fearlessness. The fundamental choice we all must make is the choice between fear and love. How you answer the question, “Am I unconditionally safe here?” will determine your polarization. Your answer will be yes, no, or maybe. To answer yes is to select love polarization, and to answer no or maybe is to select fear polarization. These are two very different ways of interacting with the world. My answer is yes. I believe that no matter what I do, the core of who I am (i.e. my consciousness) is fundamentally indestructible and incapable of being harmed. This shifts my dominant focus away from survival and towards curiosity. Consequently, I regard life as a fascinating adventure.
No separation. In my life there’s no separation between my spiritual practice and “living in the real world.” I don’t go to work to make money and then go to mass on Sundays to practice my religion. My beliefs about reality aren’t compartmentalized — they’re with me in every moment of every day. As I type this article, I am in fact expressing my context. I believe our most sacred beliefs about reality should be primary. If you do not act congruently with a belief across all parts of your life, then you don’t really believe it.
I don’t believe you can truly understand a person unless you understand their context. If you project another person’s actions onto your own personal context, then you’re taking their actions “out of context.”
I think the reason certain people throughout history were able to accomplish what appeared miraculous is that they had an incredibly effective context, and they stood out because their contexts were very different from the prevailing social contexts of their times. However, within their particular contexts, their actions were not godlike or miraculous — they actually made perfect sense.
My context is always evolving, but in its current form, I find it extremely empowering. However, it’s a little strange living with these beliefs in the United States today because the prevailing social context here is so different. For example, some people assume that because I run a business, then profit must be my primary motivation. But anyone who assumes my primary aim in life is to build a mega-business, outsmart the competition, make myself enormously wealthy, and then retire to an island somewhere… well, that person is going to have a rough time understanding my behavior because that’s about as far from my context as you can get.
Sometimes there’s a contextual alignment, however. It’s no secret that increasing web traffic is one of my goals. That goal aligns with running a business for profit, but the real reason I pursue this goal is to reach and influence more people, which means I can help raise the awareness/consciousness of more people, which means I can manifest greater positive changes in the world, which means I can manifest greater changes in consciousness itself. To really understand a person’s motivation, you need to understand his/her context. It’s hard to understand someone merely by looking at their outward actions, since multiple contexts can give rise to the same actions.
Obviously it doesn’t make sense to choose a context that conflicts with your personal experience of reality. If your context denies the existence of that which you perceive to exist, then it isn’t a sound context. But there are many ways to reasonably interpret what exists, and that’s where you have the freedom of choice. If some new truth of which you are currently unaware intervenes in the future and proves you wrong, then change your context to reflect the new truth. But there are many blanks left for you to fill in.
Choosing your context is a huge responsibility, and it certainly isn’t easy. But it’s one of the most empowering things you can do — perhaps THE most empowering. Your context is far greater than any goal because it determines the goals you will set.
If your context is rooted in the impermanent, then your accomplishments will be impermanent as well, and none will provide lasting happiness. But if your context is rooted what you believe to be permanent, then you’ll live an entirely different kind of life.