Last Updated: May.02.18
M: “Wise One, she’s gone. Why?! After all we’d been through?”*
In my world, nothing ever goes wrong ~ Nisargadatta Mahara
(Credit: Image by Josephine Wall – a talented artist whose work I love. Check out her art gallery here)
Fate! How many tears have been shed…how much suffering have we endured, because of this word, on the journey to pursue our dreams?
The ambitious and arrogant believe their hands can cover the whole sky, their little sky.“Only dead fishes flow with the flow”, they said.
The gullible and superstitious entrust their whole life to it. “Que sera, sera” (Whatever will be, will be) is their motto.
And what about us, the dream-walkers?
(I define a dream-walker to be someone, who decides to walk toward his dream. A dreamer dreams of nonexistent things during daytime, and then continues dreaming at night; whereas a dream-walker goes to work to make the thing that he dreams every night become a reality)
Have you ever heard the proverb: “Man proposes, God disposes”? Let me tell you a story that illustrates it beautifully.
During the Chinese Three Kingdom period (AD 184-280), Zhuge Liang (wiki), who has been compared to Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War, was the Prime Minister of Shu Han. He plotted a trap to kill Sima Yi, a military general of Wei, one of Liang’s greatest enemies. At the time, the Wei army was many times larger thanShu army. After several moves with careful calculation, Zhuge Liang lured Sima Yi and his troops into a dead-end valley, where a Shu general set fire using straws and fire-arrows to block the entrance. Covered in smoke and flame with no way out, Sima Yi thought that his end was near. Not so, the wind changed direction abruptly, dark clouds gathered up. Soon, rain poured down in torrents, which ended the fire. Thus, Sima Yi and the Wei army walked away from their doom. Seeing his whole plan destroyed by the pouring rain, Zhuge Liang sighed: “Man proposes, God disposes!”
Has something similar happened to you? You thought you’d got everything figured out, you’d tried your best, you’d been 100% sure this time you’d make it. Then the unexpected showed up in the end that upset the whole plan.
I’ve got quite a few.
On the journey to our dreams, there’s no guarantee our next move will turn out exactly according to plan. In fact, if you were like me, failure would be the default outcome.
No matter who you are, the good guy or the bad guy. No matter how you do, whether you play it fair or you cheat. No matter what you rely on, whether it’s a tried and true method, experience, or logical reasoning.
Some believe that the wicked always win. I believe in the law of sowing and reaping, that good deeds bring good results. But neither of us are happy with what we get. Why is that?
We have different names for this unexpected factor. Some call it fate, others luck, or karma. Let’s call it fate.
Because of fate, we might fail the next time we try. If so, how can we benefit from this fact? How to make fate work in our favor, so that there are less suffering and frustration on the journey to our goals?
Dream-walkers, who have this ability, are said to be “awakened”. An awakened dream-walker knows what he can control, what he can’t control, and how to use such knowledge to enjoy the journey to pursue his dream.
Today I will show you the art of becoming an awakened dream-walker.
We have 4 parts:
I. Why we fail
II. How the law of Cause & Effect, not fate, explains why we fail
III. The art of becoming an awakened dream-walker
IV. Final thoughts
I. Why We Fail
If you read my story, you’d know that I’m an ultimate failure. I’d started out to do many things, and failed on most of them. In fact, starting-over is my specialty.
It took me 10 years to quit smoking for good. Before that, I’d tried almost every way a quitter could imagine, without lasting result. And, after each rebound, I often questioned myself why I failed.
You know how risky such decision is, to question ourselves why we failed,
because if you’re not careful, you might fall for the more insidious one,
to question ourselves, why we failed, despite all the good things that happened in our lives 🙃.
Anyway, let me hand you some of the most “enlightening” answers I came up with.
1. It’s Fate
Instead of cracking our brains days and nights seeking answers for the unanswerables, there’s one ready-made: Man proposes, God disposes.
Take a look at the case of Dongfang Bubai, a novel character in Swordsman, the 2013 Chinese television series (1). Swordsman is the most provocative adaptation of Jin Yong’s (Louis Cha) famous wuxia novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer.
Dongfang Bubai is the main female protagonist, who is an invincible martial artist and the cunning leader of the Sun Moon Holy Cult. In her obsessive quest to dominate the wulin (Chinese martial artists’ community), Dongfang kills anyone who stands in her way, and uses poison pills to force subordinates to submit to her will.
Dongfang Bubai has tremendous fame, power, and wealth; but she never experiences true love, until she meets Linghu Chong, the main male happy-go-lucky protagonist.
Linghu Chong is the love of her life, because, in Dongfang’s own words, with him by her side, then “having supreme power, or becoming master of the wulin, is no longer important”.
And she does sacrifice everything, even her own life, for him; but in the end, fate still refuses to give her a happy ending.
Now, why did this lady try every possible way, from the sweetest trick to the most wicked plot, yet failed to win the man’s heart?
And why did she, after sacrificing her wealth, power and fame, even her own life, for the love of her life, yet still die lonely in the end?
If neither trickery, nor sincerity work, then what else other than fate could be used to explain her case?
Most Gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don’t find out til too late that he’s been playing with two queens all along ~ Terry Pratchett
Although Dongfang Bubai is a novel character, I’m sure you can find many similar cases.
When we came to this world, many things have already been predestined. The families we were born into, the natural talents we possess, the environment in which we grew up, the people who cross(ed) our paths…
Some people we liked/disliked the first time we met. Some arrived and helped us tremendously, then departed forever. Others showed up and turned our lives upside down, then vanished before we plan any payback. And we hardly know why.
Sound familiar to you?
Walking on this human life is like walking in a foggy night, nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen next.
That’s why under such condition, the idea that “It’s God’s will”, or “Everything depends on fate”, seems understandably comforting.
Comfort from what? From fear of the unknown. We fear what we can’t understand. So, it’s better to place the unknowns in God’s hands, rather than being paralyzed by our fear.
In fact, you can find similar sayings in both Western and Eastern cultures, and religions (ex: the Bible) as well.
What about Buddhism? I’m an amateur on this, but let me give you my best explanation. Fate is taken to be the results we receive during this lifetime for the actions we conducted in the past and in past lives. So, in this sense, there is no Buddha/God that controls our fates. Things have been predestined because of our past deeds, which were performed via minds, body, and mouth. They include thoughts, actions, words, and diets.
For example, the wealth you have during this lifetime have already been set and stored in a wealth account. The size of your account depends on how much you donated in the past and in past lives. Suppose your lifespan is 80 years. So, during that time, money from the account will flow into your life via various means. But if you committed bad deeds (bank robbery, frauds, etc.) to get the money quickly, then you could have withdrawn all the wealth that you’re entitled to within the first 40 years. So, during the last 40 years, you won’t have anything left from the account.
Now, of course, nobody can prove this, and point out that “There it is, that’s you in the previous life. This was what you did”. It’s purely a matter of whether you believe or you don’t.
I’m not asking you to become a believer.
I am a believer.
Anyway, although Buddhism’s philosophy doesn’t support the notion of God’s will, it still agrees that things have been prearranged.
2. What you think is right could be wrong
More realistic than “Everything depends on fate” is to question our assumptions. Perhaps what we thought is right, could be wrong.
Suppose you want to grow an apple tree, but all you have are orange seeds, then no matter what you do, when harvest time comes, all you get are oranges.
Likewise, my passion is running. But since I’m 30 something, no matter what I do, I won’t be able to dominate 100m races like Usain Bolt. The required ingredient(s) simply isn’t there.
And sometimes, it’s not a matter of do or die. It’d be foolish to keep banging our heads against a wall until we break a hole to get through. Sometimes, it’d be wiser to take a step back, analyze the situation, prearrange the whole deal, change our direction, to find a way around the current obstacle. Just don’t change your decision to reach your goal, though.
That’s why I think my countless failures to quit smoking are actually blessings in disguise, to bend my ego a little, teach me to be more flexible, more willing to change my way of seeing the world, and harden the desire to stop smoking and turn it into an obsession.
Failure is a great way of testing to see whether the goal that we’re after, after all, is what we really want. A windy day will make any smoke vanish without a trace, but can enkindle a real fire, turn it into an inferno.
Besides, there’s no shame to admit that we’ve changed our minds. For that’s the way most popular theories, our ways of explaining this world, operate. One theory dominates, until someone with a different theory shows up.
I believe that, waging a debate to find out whose idea is right, is pointless. People of different philosophies simply can’t communicate. Everything is possible, if the right conditions exist.
You may think that a diamond stone is worth a fortune. But, for your child, it’s nothing more than a toy used to play marbles (my favorite game in elementary school). So, whose opinion is right? Well, it depends on the circumstance and our experience in life.
Now, what if you saw your child using the stone to play marbles, and you punished it?
You see, everything is relative, but suffering comes the moment someone becomes dogged in his own opinion.
3. Every cloud has a silver lining
This idea is basically positive thinking in action.
Today’s success could be a failure in disguise. Failure could be the seed for tomorrow’s success.
Many times things taste sweet at the beginning but turn bitter later on. You must experience this first hand (I’m not talking about understanding it intellectually – through logical reasoning; nor intuitively – through the sixth sense; I mean having empirical knowledge on the subject) to realize that,
Everything has two sides, like flipping a coin. And no matter it’s a head or tail, the more you are curious about the other side, the less you suffer, now or later.
Everything has two sides. For every action, there is a reaction. We define something to be good, because we want to separate it from the bad, the evil. For someone to be a teacher, there must be a student. A strength could be a weakness in another situation.
For every winner, there’s a loser. Thus, if someone is laughing, it probably means someone else is crying. But it also means that the former won’t be able to keep his laughter forever, just like the latter won’t cry long.
A success ceases to be success, if it’s impossible to fail. The first time your baby stands up on its two feet, you call its ability to stand on its own a success. You stop calling it a success, however, after the child learns how to run. Now, standing up becomes normal, something expected and routine.
Likewise, a success today used to be a failure somewhere. That’s why, when I was applying for work experience after graduation, I found it amusing whenever I heard an owner of an accounting practice told me: “We don’t hire people with no work experience here”. I wondered who had hired them in the first place.
Again, everything is relative, high/low, up/down, in/out. Nothing is absolute and permanent. And so, the search for such perfection is naive.
II. How the Law of Cause & Effect, Not Fate, Explains Why We Fail
1. The law of Cause & Effect & the missing component
It sounds strange that the law of cause and effect has anything to do with fate. After all, if A causes B, and if we get C, then it must mean that fate plays a role in it, and the law is wrong, right?
The law states that for every effect there is a definite cause. So, we naturally assume that a desired effect (a goal) is caused by one and only factor, a specific cause. But, there are actually 3 elements in the law of cause and effect:
The real law of cause and effect states that:
Every effect has a cause and a condition.
A cause and a condition combine to make an effect.
All effects have a cause. All effects have a condition. There are no exceptions ~ Jodo Shinshu Shinrankai (2)
A condition (sometimes referred to as circumstantial, contributory, or secondary cause, in contrast with the direct cause) could be any external factor that affects the whole process. For example, planting an apple seed (cause) gives us an apple (effect). But, due to various conditions, none of the apples are alike, even though they come from that same seed.
To grow a tree, we need water, soil, fertilizer, sunlight, labor, etc. Some people argue that even with all these stuff, a tree wouldn’t grow if it had no life source within it. And I agree.
These are conditions. Different conditions result in different outcomes. That’s why the same seed may give us apples with different qualities, sizes, or no apple at all.
So, the law of cause and effect should be called the law of cause, condition, and effect (CCE).
This model of CCE explains everything that happens in this world.
Thanks to conditions that we have variety in life. We look different, even though we have the same parents. People of the same background and education end up in different places. Even twins born with the same DNA, through different lifestyles, end up with different DNA (study by Stewart et al. (3)), and different destinies, too.
And because of conditions, we have successes and failures in life. The guy said: “Look, this is what I’d done. I used this technique and got great results. You could do the same. If it works for me, it’ll surely work for you!”. I followed the advice to the letter. Sure enough, nothing showed up.
Why was that? I didn’t know.
Now, I have some clues. It’s the conditions that gave me results that were different from what I’d expected.
It’s easy to figure out how to do something, whether it’s developing a habit, learning a skill, or building a successful business. The best way is to copy what others had done. One Google search gives us lots of results.
Replicating the same success, or at least “good enough” outcome, is another story. It’s because we mortals can never foresee which condition will influence the next outcome, nor how much contribution a condition will make.
For that reason, I believe that searching for the best advice is a waste of time. The best advice must allow all factors, which affect the outcome, orchestrate well with each other. And that remains unknown until after the fact.
Failure to understand this will lead to pointless suffering and frustration for any of us, the dream-walkers, who journey to pursue what we want.
And that’s what had happened to me. Before I learned CCE, I’d thought I wasted 10 years, and suffered greatly, to finally quit smoking for good (my story here). Now, things seem to make perfect sense.
So, combining with the first part, my answers to the question: “Why do I fail?”, my search for the X factors, are because of fate, wrong assumptions, immature and uninformed judgments, or the search for the impossible ideal.
With regard to CCE, these factors could be the cause, or the condition, or both, that lead to the next outcome. A (wrong) cause, combined with a (unfavorable) condition, won’t give us the desired effect.
So, fate is simply a word we use to account for the unknowns.
Sadly, what we know is very tiny compared to what we don’t know, or worse, what we don’t know that we don’t know. If so, should we give up trying?
2. Why our actions matter
Despite uncertainties, our actions are essential in making our dreams come true, because they are the causes that set CCE into motion.
Let’s take an extreme example. Suppose I want to win a lotto (since the topic is about fate, I want to make it clear that I NEVER think winning a lotto, nor gambling, is a good way to get rich. I just use the example to make a point). What is the cause, then? It’s simple, buy a lottery ticket. But, buying a lotto doesn’t guarantee me to win, if the right condition isn’t there. However, not buying a lotto means I’ll never win. So, my action still matters, because it gives me a chance to win.
Another example, suppose I want to grow an apple tree. I have all that are required: apple seed, water, soil, fertilizer, etc. One may say that the seed is the cause, and the rest are conditions. However, instead of planting the seed to the ground, I place it into an empty cup. You see, no matter how long I leave it there, the seed will never grow.
So, the seed, and those conditions, by themselves, do not produce anything. Only when I plant the seed into the ground, water it regularly, give it enough fertilizer, and give it time, I will have an apple tree. Without me doing the labor, there will be no effect.
You see, everything that comes our way is like the seed, the water, the soil, the fertilizer, etc. These conditions that life gives us, by themselves, rarely produce anything worthwhile. To get the desired outcome, we need to take action. And with the right actions, we can make those conditions to work in our favor.
CCE dictates that for every action and condition, there is an outcome (effect). Under a favorable condition, we will get the desired outcome. While we have little control over what will happen, the number of conditions, and how each condition might affect the result, but we can control the cause and change the circumstance by our actions. So, we shouldn’t yield to fate, or whatever life hands us, because we have the power to influence more than one of the input. That’s why twins living under the same roofs end up having different destinies.
And if what we do matter despite of fate, what should we do, then? In the next section, I’ll show you step-by-step strategy to take advantage of CCE, so that fate works in our favor rather than against us.
III. The Art of Becoming an Awakened Dream-walker
The purpose of this section is to outline a strategy so that dream-walkers can apply to pursue what they want, and serenely accept the fact that on their journeys many things won’t go as planned.
As I’ve said, CCE dictates that a cause, combined with a condition, gives us an effect. Plus, we have the power to influence more than one of the input. So, before talking about the strategy, it’s worthwhile to point out what we can control, and what we cannot control.
1. Control vs No Control
Control is an important issue, because it’s the quality that separates a helpless child from a mature adult. We want to control many things. We want to control our thoughts, emotions (and thus our feelings), and behavior. We want to exert control over other people, things, and events. Our modern world seems to hold an impression that the more control one has, the more power and prestige one seems to possess.
More control not only gives us a sense of security, but also enhances our health and longevity (study by Mallers, Claver, & Lares (4)). In that sense, losing control causes a feeling of helplessness, which is a sure sign of decay. I guess that not many of us are willing to go into prison, handing the control of our lifestyles and many important decisions for our well-being over to other people.
We can control the inner world, our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. We can also control our responses to events that occur in our lives. Even in the mid of greatest struggles, we still have the power to attribute deeper meaning to our experience, and decide what to do.
But we can’t control how the outer world responds to our behavior. We can’t bend the outer world to our will. We can put people in a situation to follow us, but we cannot take away their ability to choose their own destinies. Likewise, there’re many things and events in this vast world that lie beyond our control. I can’t foresee, nor control an earthquake, the weather, nor diseases like cancer. To me, these things don’t occur, they just happen.
So, putting control into the context of CCE, below are a few points that you need to know:
- Firstly, we have full control of the cause via our actions. Spiritually speaking, the mind, its thoughts and intention, governs all actions of the body. So in this sense, we control the cause via our minds.
- Secondly, we have some control over the second element, the condition.
Using the example of planting a tree, planting the seed is the cause, while water, soil, fertilizer, wind, and sunlight are necessary conditions for the tree to grow properly. We can decide the quality of the water, the soil, the fertilizer, but we have no control over how the weather turns out to be.
- Thirdly, what we know that we know, we can control. That means what we know that we don’t know, we cannot control. But, it also means what we don’t know that we don’t know, we can’t control, either. This might sound confusing. Let me give you an example.
Suppose I want to plant an apple tree. I know that I’ll need an apple seed. I’m also aware that I don’t know what an apple seed looks like, so I need to find out. This is what we know that we don’t know.
Now, let say instead of planting the seed into the ground, I put it into a pot indoors, and wait. Obviously, without water and fertilizer, and enough sunlight, even if the seed does germinate, the seedling can’t grow. But since I don’t know about this, I might wrongly conclude that the seed I used was no good. This is an example of things that we don’t know that we don’t know.
- Fourthly, since we can’t fully control the condition, we can’t control the outcome, either. This is perhaps one of the hardest things to accept. With so many of the X factors, the unknown factors, it’s naive to expect that things must turn out exactly the way we planned.
To know what we have control over and what we don’t have control over is wise. Education and experience can help us that. Here’s what’s even wiser: To be willing to accept what comes our way, after realizing that we don’t have control over something. I think very few people can do that.
And that’s the essence of the art of becoming an awakened dream-walker: Focus your attention and energy on those factors that you can control, and learn to accept and work with what you cannot control.
2. Focus on the cause
For each effect, there’s a cause. If we sow an action, we’ll reap a result. What we do comes back to us, one way or another. Not to think so, is foolish.
Now, as for when we reap what we sow, that depends on the condition. The effect will come under the right condition.
To know the cause in the past, look at the present. To know what will happen in the future, look at the present. While we can’t go back and undo past mistakes, we have the power to make our future better and more meaningful.
We exert this power via our behavior. More specifically, via our thoughts and conduct. Because the mind controls the whole body, it follows that what we think determine what we do, which cause future outcomes, which eventually shape our destinies.
Good thoughts cause good actions, which cause good results. Bad thoughts cause bad actions, which cause bad results. Simple, right?
So, if you want to know what your future looks like, study yourself closely.
What do you think regularly?
What do you do regularly?
What do you eat regularly?
What do you say to others?
What do you say when you talk to yourself?
What’s your routine?
What do you do before work, at work, and after work?
What do you do in your free time?
Spend a few weeks to take notes of these questions, and you’ll have a good estimate of how your future turns out to be.
Conversely, want to know what brought you here? Go back in time and ask yourself the same questions.
Likewise, a dream-walker needs to focus on what causes his desired outcome, then directs his thoughts toward that cause, and away from the negative.
The steps below show you how to apply this concept:
i. Study the real cause and work on it
You need to find out the root cause of the desired effect. This is easy to say than to do, because there might be several factors (ex: conditions or secondary causes) that affect the final result. Thus, this step requires knowledge, education, and careful planning.
You acquire knowledge by reading (books, articles, or biographies/autobiographies), listening (audiobooks, podcasts) or learning tutorial videos and online courses (sites like Udemy, Coursera, Lynda, etc.).
You get educated either by experimenting (trial-and-error), or observing and imitating. Trial-and-error takes up lots of valuable time and energy, whereas observation and imitation are much easier. You can observe how successful people work, read their stories, study their pasts, and follow the trails that they left behind. You don’t have to follow their paths all the way to the end, though. You just need their guidance, as a teacher or a mentor, to lay the foundation in the beginning.
A complex goal may require reaching several milestones before you can arrive at the final destination. If so, you need to apply reverse engineering to make a plan of how to get there. Reverse engineering is a technique often used in business to outline steps to reach a goal by working backward from the end all the way back to the present (I discuss the entire goal-setting & planning process here).
Once you’ve already found out the real cause, you need to work on it. That means hard-work and labor. The more time and effort invested, the faster the result shows up. There’s no way around this.
Sadly, in this instant, fast-food world, patience is a rare commodity. Some people even try to harvest the fruits without planting the trees. If we don’t sow the seeds, then come harvest time our hands will be empty. Even if we do get anything, they’re merely stolen goods, which will then activate CCE to bring ill consequences later on. An entrepreneur dreams of becoming financial independence one day. So does a bank-robber. But each has a very different ending.
Getting something for nothing only happens in the dream world. The moment a dreamer becomes a dream-walker, he ceases living in his dream, and stumbles into the real world. This means everything stops revolving around me, everything now revolves around us. Everything I do now does not affect only me, but also affects the others.
People want to live a long and healthy life, yet they smoke cigarettes, eat junk foods, and don’t exercise. They want to have good friends, yet they refuse to be nice and respect others. They want to get good skills, yet they spend all of their free time watching television and playing computer games.
I can hear many saying that my examples are just common sense. Everybody knows that. I certainly hope so!
And yet I’m amazed at the number of people that are fooled by advertisers to believe that certain magic pills, like vitamins, diet pills, supplements, or protein powders, will take the hard work out of quitting smoking and losing weight (or gaining muscle).
I’m also familiar with (because I’m guilty of it 🤭) the thinking that kindness and respect should be reserved for a selected few; and that we should be friendly to only those who act friendly and welcome us.
And we never stop searching for the shortest route to success (you know the type – “5 easy steps to X”).
Getting something for nothing rarely happens in the real world. And when it does, it might be a curse rather than a blessing. Everything has two sides, so remember to check the other side of the coin.
Therefore, what we receive in the end is a reflection of what we put in during the process. If you don’t like what you get, then change what you do in the beginning. This is called focusing on the cause.
Points to consider:
- Find out the root cause of the desired outcome by:
- Acquiring knowledge by reading (books, articles, or biographies/autobiographies), listening (audiobooks, podcasts), or learning tutorial videos and online courses
- Getting educated by experimenting (trial-and-error), or observing and imitating
- Applying reverse engineering to make a plan of how to get there
- Work hard on the cause
- Remember that getting something for nothing rarely happens in the real world
ii. Prepare for opportunity
Knowing the cause of our desired outcome is one thing. We need the right condition as well. Such favorable condition is called opportunity. But since opportunity doesn’t show up often, we need to be well-prepared.
Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity ~ Lucius Seneca
And that means instead of staying idly while waiting for the next opportunity, we should spend time honing our skills, refining our products, and business philosophy.
Learn to become the kind of person, whom opportunity will notice the next time it crosses your path.
Below are a few suggestions:
- Focus on your strengths
- Invest in self-education
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a positive appearance
- Be kind to others
- Be more tolerant & less critical of mistakes of others and your own
Another way to prepare for tomorrow success is to act as if you were already a success. Success and happiness are elusive, people rarely have them by chasing after them. Instead, learn to become a magnet that attracts them wherever you go.
To do that, you need to know how successful people live their lives, then act accordingly. This requires the knowledge, which you’ve acquired in the previous step, about an expert that you admire in your field.
What sort of man is he?
What’s his daily routine?
How does he work?
What would your hero do while facing adversity?
So, begin with that end, even if you feel like a phony. Keep acting, and you’ll begin to become more like that person. It might take some time. But don’t wait until you have proof to act, because that’s like waiting for the effect to show up before you start working on the cause.
That’s why, in the goal-setting process, I ask you to state your goal in a positive, assertive, and present manner; then rewrite your statement daily. Doing this repeatedly creates a deep impression on our subconscious mind, as if you’d already reached your goal. This allows your faking to feel more natural.
Suppose I want to be a successful writer, so how can I pretend to act like one? That requires writing to take up a major part of my workday. That also means spending lots of time refining my ideas, my writings, both current and old posts. Plus, as a well-known writer, I write because I care, the topic is my passion; and because I have something to contribute, not because I have to fill my blog with something. Also, as a successful writer, I need to write daily regardless of inspiration (honestly, this one is hard).
Now, an experienced writer can bust out 1,000 words an hour, does that mean I have to do the same thing? No! The difference between a pro and a novice is skill. We’re not talking about faking the result. We’re talking about having the same mindset and attitude.
In the beginning, what’s important is not the result but the plan and the attitude that a beginner brings into the field. So, be careful when you compare yourself to your hero.
Points to consider:
- Be well-prepared while waiting for the next opportunity by:
- Practicing your skills
- Refining your products/ideas/business philosophies
- Focusing on your strengths
- Investing in self-education
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a positive appearance
- Being kind to others
- Being more tolerant & less critical of mistakes of others and your own
- Act as if you were already a success by:
- Adopting the same mindset and attitude as your heroes
- Reminding yourself that in the beginning, what’s important is not the result, but the plan and the attitude
iii. Beware of the bad causes
Equally important as focusing on the real cause is staying away from the bad causes. Bad causes are those that may stop or prevent the desired outcome from coming into reality.
Once you find out what really causes the desired effect, you must cut yourself off of all the other causes that contribute nothing to the result.
We’ve discussed that the mind controls the whole body, which includes our actions. So our thoughts have the power to shape our destinies. Thoughts are the seeds that dream-walkers sow in order to bring something from their dreams, the invisible world, into reality, the visible world.
Thus, sowing unhappy thoughts brings us unhappy results. The same thing applies to negative and hostile thinking.
All spiritual teachers agree that we become what we think about. We also become how we think all day long, said Wayne Dyer.
If you want to find success, but all you think about are your mistakes and failures, then you are a failure yourself. If you want to be happy, but you keep thinking about all the things that make you miserable, then you’ll remain a miserable. If you want to find peace, but “accumulating more” and “keeping up with the Jones” are your dominant thoughts, then you’ll continue being restless, no matter how many stress-relief activities you take part.
See the way thinking might prevent us from achieving our dreams? It’s hard to move forward by looking backward. It’s hard to find abundance when scarcity is all you look at. Beware of what you think, because it might expand into your life.
Plus, it’s also important to stop doing those things that slow your progress. An easy way to become a success is to stop doing things that make you a failure. You won’t believe how much faster you can reach your destination, once you accelerate your speed by dropping these bad causes.
For a journey from point A to point B, taking a diversion, or taking too many breaks are the bad causes. If you want to be a pianist, practicing a violin is a wrong cause, and a bad one. If you exercise to lose weight, yet sugary foods and combo meals are your go-to, then these are the bad causes that stall your progress. If you go out chasing two butterflies at the same time, you catch none.
Our time and energy are limited. We don’t have enough time to do all the things that we want to do. But we have more time than enough to do the one thing that we really want to accomplish. So, beware of spreading your limited resources over multiple directions. Spreading resources over multiple directions is a formula for disaster, to become a wandering generality. It makes the total much less than the sum of the parts.
According to Steve Jobs, focus doesn’t simply mean saying “yes” to the one thing that you’re working on. Focus means “saying no to 1,000 things”. Steve attributed this idea to the success of his career and Apple.
Success requires intense focus. Your dream must be your top priority. This is one of the things that allow someone with average ability to achieve much more than the talented.
And that’s the moral of the story of the turtle and the rabbit. Slow and steady wins the race. So, now you know why I put the turtle in EnjoyYrJourney logo 😉!
If you want to get to mount Olympus, make sure every step you take is in that direction ~ Socrates
Points to consider:
- Stay away from the bad causes that may stop or prevent the desired outcome from coming, like NOT:
- Attending to things that contribute nothing to your goals
- Taking too many breaks
- Pursuing two goals at the same time – Multitasking
- Beware of negative and hostile thinking, because they might expand into your life
- Focus – Make your dream the top priority
- Remember Steve Job’s saying that focus means “saying no to 1,000 things”
iv. Balance your thoughts with the desire to achieve what you want
The idea here isn’t about focusing our thoughts on our goals like the third step. It’s about aligning our thoughts so that they harmonize with our desire to attain our goals.
Why is that? Although an awakened dream-walker journeys out to pursue his dream, he does so gently, gracefully, and serenely. It’s only in such manner that he can find happiness while going after what he wants.
My philosophy is that happiness is the juice that we must squeeze, from the everyday things that we do on our journey, rather than something being postponed until after we reach the destination.
Sounds great? But how could we do that?
This is perhaps one of the challenges in life: Learn to enjoy all wonderful things on the journey, while not forgetting your goal. Don’t let all the miracles of this world pass you by unnoticed. Don’t miss anything.
I’m not telling you to take a diversion to check things out, or take more vacations to travel around the world (although some of you, the workaholics, should!). I’m telling you to slow down, to stop trying.
Your need to achieve, to arrive, isn’t that important. Don’t be like one of those overly ambitious, whose philosophy is achieving at all costs.
Being ambitious, or not; either way is fine. Because even if one reached the top of the world, in the end, wouldn’t we all end up nothing more than a bunch of ashes underlying the ground?
That doesn’t mean we should give up chasing our dreams. It means we should put death into perspective (don’t keep it in front of you, please!). With death coming suddenly, life’s so fragile, and all our money can’t buy an extra minute. Under such perspective, wealth, fame, power, all external achievements aren’t that important.
Remembering the fragility of this life forces me to drop all the meaningless pursuits to follow my dream, yet at the same time enjoy my journey and all the wonders of this world.
Therefore, do the work that you’re required to do. But take your time. Relax. Good things take time. Only by this way that you grasp what Mahatma Gandhi means when he says: “There is more to life than increasing its speed”.
That’s one of the reasons I’m against setting fixed deadlines for your goals, because they put pressure on you, and force you to speed up.
Moreover, it’s critical to have goals in all major areas of life (career, finance, health, personal development, social, spiritual). That way, we can achieve work-life balance by not pursuing one goal at the expense of the others.
Working hard is good. Working ALL the time is bad. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to become a workaholic, especially for those who have just started a new business or working as self-employed.
Points to consider:
- Balance your thoughts so that they harmonize with the desire to achieve your goal
- Remember that happiness must lie in the things you do every day on your journey, not something being postponed until after you reach the destination
- Learn to enjoy all wonderful things on the journey, while not forgetting your goal by:
- Slowing down. Take your time
- Putting death into perspective (don’t keep it in front)
- Giving flexible deadlines for your goal
- Have goals in all major areas of life (career, finance, health, personal development, social, spiritual)
To sum up, you find out the root cause of the desired effect. Set your mind firmly on your goal. You stay away from the bad causes that prevent you from achieving your goal. You go to work and prepare yourself for the next opportunity. And you do all these in a relaxed, peaceful, and serene manner. This is how an awakened dream-walker focuses on the cause, the thing that he has control.
Remember, CCE governs everything in this world. There’s no cause that gives no effect. Just like in physics, energy never vanishes, it merely changes form. The same applies to actions. All actions, whether in physical, mental, or spiritual form, will be transformed to return effects, soon or later.
Control your actions, and soon or later, the odds are, more often than not, you will control your destinies.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, there’s no guarantee that the next outcome turns out exactly like what we want. Therefore, we need to learn how to…
3. Detach from the result
If you were like me, failure would be a default outcome. And when you know that you have to deal with failure fairly frequently, wouldn’t it make more sense to prepare yourself for the bad news?
It’s not about preventing, nor avoiding, failure, it’s about having the right attitude to face it when it comes. People spend enormous time looking for ways to succeed, yet they neglect this aspect. Thus, many give up way too soon before any result starts showing up.
Don’t let that happen to you.
Although one can control the cause and part of the condition, such influence is limited by knowledge, education, and experience. So, what we can control are just a tiny fraction compared to what we cannot control. This insight makes us less anxious for demanding specific results and more willing to accept whatever is coming up.
Now, allow me to make myself clear about this point. I’m NOT suggesting that we should stop planning and leave everything to the future. Planning is fine, provided we treat it like that – a plan, a projection – and no more. We project different scenarios and plan proper responses for each scenario. The problem comes when one confuses such prediction, about what might happen, to be a statement of truth.
The purpose of planning is not to find out whether what we expect to happen, will in fact happen in the future; but to design our responses should any of those things happen. Trying to find out what will happen in the future is like betting on the throw of a dice. The overly-confident, the “expert”, and the “novice”, all have the same odds of winning – 1/6.
So, plan for the future, focus on the cause, but take life as it comes. We’ve already dealt with the first two parts. What about the last one?
One might say: “Stop worrying about the result, because you can’t control it anyway!”.
Well, things aren’t that simple. Focusing on the cause, doing the best you can do doesn’t automatically give you the peace of mind to take life as it comes.
So, to accept things as they come, one needs to learn how to detach from the result.
Detachment involves observing our behavior as if we were an entity outside of ourselves. It means we take one step back and observe our actions, so that there’s some space between the performer and the performance. Such space allows us to keep emotions neutral.
It’s pretty much like an audience is watching a movie. The audience can see and understand clearly how the main actor behaves and how the ending turns out. Being separated from what’s happening on screen, he can sit back and observe how others react to the main actor’s actions, enjoy scene after scene, and see how the story unfolds. He wants to know the ending, but he doesn’t try to guess what will happen in the end. He doesn’t identify with the experience.
Note: Detachment doesn’t mean cutting yourself off from others. It doesn’t mean we don’t give a damn about the result. It doesn’t mean we run away from trouble, or deny responsibility for our actions. Detachment means we see ourselves separate from the events. It is the absence of a desire for things to happen in a certain way. This way of thinking grants us the freedom to flow with life.
The steps below show you how to practice detachment from the outcome:
i. Nurture mindfulness to be present
Being mindful is a synonym to being present. Let me tell you this zen story, which illustrates the essence of mindfulness:
Two zen students were about to cross a river. A young, beautiful lady asked if they could help her cross the river because its current was too strong. The students had a dilemma, because zen practice prohibits them to touch any women.
Then, the older student picked the lady up and carried her on his back across the river. The younger was so taken aback by what his brother had done that he remained silent for the rest of their journey.
Finally, when the two arrived at their temple, the younger couldn’t bear the silence any longer, he questioned his brother:
“Don’t you know zen students are forbidden to touch any woman? How could you carry that lady?”
The older gave him a smile back:
“I dropped her there at the river. Brother, are you carrying her all the way here?” (From someone wise)
Whenever you are, be there. That’s the essence of mindfulness.
Mindfulness allows us to be more conscious of our thinking, so that we can catch ourselves whenever we fall into the habit of thinking excessively about what happened, or what’s going to happen.
Besides, our thinking is responsible for the way we feel. What we think about an event makes us feel a certain way. Notice that I didn’t say that the event causes us to feel a specific way. I said that because we think in a certain way, we feel in a certain way. Suppose that my flight to LA is delayed by 3 hours. That’s a neutral fact. But thoughts such as “I can’t get there on time”, or“I’m stuck at the airport for another 3 hours with nothing to do”, etc. make me upset. So, being mindful of our thinking gives insight into our emotions.
Being aware of our thinking patterns also lets we take back control of the mind, so that we can:
- keep our thoughts (and emotions) away from negative thinking, or the kind of thinking that doesn’t contribute to our performance (ex: Thoughts of self-pity, victim mentality, helplessness, resentment towards others, etc…Such thoughts lead to fear, hatred, hostility, frustration, disappointment, shame, apathy, etc…) and
- direct our focus toward the present moment, and remain objective when we study the result (we still need to see the result to evaluate our performance, right?).
One thing to remember is that we must keep a ‘take-it-easy attitude’ while practicing mindfulness. We observe our thoughts and emotions, but we don’t analyze why we think or feel that way. Don’t judge your thoughts and emotions. The purpose of being mindful is that we can direct our focus back to the present moment, the current task, or toward constructive thinking that’s useful to improve our performance. Don’t criticize or scold yourself for thinking negative. If a thought isn’t right, let it go, and direct your mind back to what is.
It’s like I’m following a route guided by a GPS. Anytime the device realizes that I take a wrong turn, it doesn’t complain/blame/criticize/scold me for being a failure/loser. It simply recalculates the route and shows me correction steps to get back on track. Act like the GPS.
Points to consider:
- The essence of mindfulness is: “Whenever you are, be there”
- Nurture mindfulness to be aware of your thinking patterns, so that you can:
- Keep your thoughts (and emotions) away from negative thinking, or the kind of thinking that doesn’t contribute to your performance; and
- Direct your focus toward the present moment, and remain objective when you study the result of your action
- Keep a ‘take-it-easy attitude’ while practicing mindfulness by:
- Simply observing your thoughts and emotions,
- Not analyzing or judging them
- Not criticizing or scolding yourself for thinking negative
- If a thought isn’t right, let it go, and direct your mind back to what is
- Act as if you were a GPS, and your mind the driver
Meditation is the best way I’ve found to develop mindfulness.
ii. Use meditation to nurture mindfulness
This is the best idea that I’ve got, that will give you great results, if you ignore the rest.
It’s often said that an average person has about 70,000 thoughts a day (but please don’t ask me to cite studies as proof. To me, “70,000” is not a number, but stands for “countless”). Meditation raises your awareness. You become more receptive to your thoughts. Your mind in a typical day is like a sheet of paper with full of scattered thoughts written all over the place. And when you meditate, you replace that paper with a blank sheet of paper, so that when a thought is registered in the mind, you’ll notice it right away.
And since meditation raises awareness of our thoughts, it also helps us keep our emotions in check. I’ve found that people take actions based on emotion, not logic. So, meditation is a powerful tool to handle stress and take disciplined actions toward personal growth.
The good news is that you don’t have to drop everything, sit quietly in a corner and chant mantras, in order to meditate. I discuss how to practice and incorporate deep-breathing meditation into daily life here. You can practice this technique while running, eating, even working. And once you get the hang of it, you can meditate while performing simple activities that do not need much attention. It’s pretty much the same way like you’re breathing, thinking, talking to yourself, all day long, even when you’re not aware of it.
But why would we want to meditate all day long, anyway? It’s because we want to maintain self-awareness all day long. Thanks to all the paranoid news reporters (I discuss what’s wrong with consuming news daily and how to kick the habit here), who spend 90% of their time on describing world problems with vivid details, without giving us proper solutions, most of our thoughts are negative.
And since we attract what we think all day long, it’s no surprise to see many problems coming our way, and everyone else seems to be fine, except us. Some suggest that we need positive thinking to counter this mentality. I don’t deny the benefit of positive thinking, but thinking positive isn’t simple like reading those pick-me-up, feel-good stuff that flood the web.
The best way to counter this issue is to be aware of our thoughts. By being aware, we take back control of our minds, rather than letting them drag us to wherever they please. Being in charge, we have the power to choose one thought over another. We don’t have to kill our thoughts. I don’t believe it’s possible to not think at all.
We don’t need to do anything dramatic. Whenever an unwanted thought emerges, we acknowledge it, then move back to our breathing, or other kinds of meditation that you practice.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how many negative thoughts you possess, what matters is how soon you become aware of them and get back to your meditation.
Thus, deep-breathing meditation is a simple, yet powerful way to maintain self-awareness, so that we can observe everything happening around us, yet not letting ourselves be dragged into its dramas.
Points to consider:
- Meditation makes you more receptive to your thoughts and emotions. It’s a powerful tool to handle stress and take disciplined actions toward personal growth
- Practice deep-breathing meditation, a technique that can be practiced and incorporated into daily life:
- You can practice this technique while running, eating, even working,
- or while performing simple activities that do not need much attention
- Use meditation to counter perpetual negative thinking:
- Remember that you have the power to choose one thought over another
- Whenever an unwanted thought emerges, you acknowledge it, then move back to your breathing, or other kinds of meditation that you practice
- It doesn’t matter how many negative thoughts you possess, what matters is how soon you become aware of them and get back to your meditation
iii. Cultivate the witness
This is a wise advice offered by Ram Dass, an American spiritual teacher, who’s widely known for his book Be Here Now. In his own words:
The witness is your awareness of your own thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Witnessing is like waking up in the morning and then looking in the mirror and noticing yourself – not judging or criticizing, just neutrally observing the quality of being awake. That process of stepping back takes you out of being submerged in your experiences and thoughts and sensory input and into self-awareness.
In other words, cultivating the witness means being conscious and alert of your own thoughts, your self-talk. The opposite of this is getting lost in thoughts.
Have you ever experienced anything like this? You start reading what looks like an interesting article. You see the title, you know the topic. You scan through the intro to get to the main content. After 15 minutes, you finish the piece, but you can’t recall what the main points of that article! Been there before? That’s what I mean by getting lost in thoughts.
Initially, you can practice observing your thoughts while being alone. Stay quiet. Turn off the music. Remind yourself that the witness and the mind are separate entities that occupy the same body.
I give the witness a name different from the thinking mind. I treat him as a wise, divine, awakened being, an ideal, future self that I strive to be. You can do the same. You may call the thinking mind your own name, and give the witness a different name; or the other way around.
Watch your thoughts come and go, as if they were clouds in the sky. Don’t inquire where they come from, or where they’re going. Surrender your control. Don’t try to hold on to a thought or emotion. Don’t suppress it either.
Keep reminding yourself that your thoughts do not identify you. You’re an observant of thought, not an analyzer, nor a criticizer.
Points to consider:
- Cultivating the witness means observing your own thoughts
- The witness & the thinking mind are separate entities occupying the same body:
- Give the witness a different name from yours
- Treat him as a wise, divine, awakened being, your ideal, future self
- Watch your thoughts come and go
- Don’t analyze, inquire, or control your thoughts
iv. Let each thing have its own place
The mind can focus on only one thing at a time. Imagine you’re a worker on an assembly line, working on semi-finished products that are being lined up and run mechanically, waiting to be attended. After one is completed, you need to move to the next one. You can’t look back and forth, you have to concentrate on the current product.
Likewise, unless it’s time to reflect, don’t occupy your mind with past activities. When you finish doing something, put it down, leave it alone, stop carrying it mentally, so that you can focus on the next thing. Don’t let your past performance drag you down. Don’t replay the tape.
Because if you do, you’ll unavoidably let one mistake start a downward spiral, in which the first blunder erases your confidence, which leads to another error, and another, and eventually you have no more confidence to continue your journey.
Perhaps this is one of the few qualities that I can brag about, beside too many flaws that embarrass me. You see, I tried to quit smoking, and failed. It’s disappointing the moment I yielded to the urge to smoke back. And the blending of many negative feelings afterward, like sadness, frustration, humiliation, and distress…gave me an experience that’s hard to put into words. Perhaps because such experience feels so bad that many people, after failing a few times, refuse to give it another try.
But then I went to sleep at night, and the next day I was back to normal, full of hope, that today would be the day that I quit for good. Although it took a long time for that day to finally become a reality, I kept trying one more time. I didn’t dwell on past failures. So, I didn’t let them discourage me.
The same thing happened when I tried to develop the habit of exercising daily. For a person, who didn’t play any kind of sport, nor exercise a single day after high school, you can imagine how hard it was, to get educated about training and running, to go to the gym, and work out daily.
I put “going to the gym” and exercising apart, because at first, there were many days I went to the gym, but didn’t exercise at all 🤭. And you know what I mean, don’t you? But I didn’t let one lazy and embarrassing day linger on my mind long.
Don’t stumble over something behind you ~ Seneca
Therefore, learn to reserve a mental place for each type of activity, so that after you finish an activity, put it back to its own place. It’s like the way an office worker closes one client’s file, clears up his desk after completing the job, before starting another.
Clear your mind from the last thing you worked on to bring it back to the neutral state. That way, the worry, the stress, or whatever challenge and error from the prior activity stop bothering you, and you can focus fully on the next item.
A simple and effective way to achieve this is performing a 5-minute meditation, as mentioned in my deep-breathing meditation post, between major daily activities, or whenever you feel moody.
The beauty of this technique is that once you master it, you can perform it during your work and play, from simple and mindless tasks like cleaning and cooking to more complex ones, as long as they don’t need much attention.
Points to consider:
- Focus on only one thing at a time:
- When you finish doing something, put it down, stop carrying it mentally, so that you can focus on the next thing
- Unless it’s time to reflect, don’t occupy your mind with past activities
- Don’t dwell on past failures
- Let all things (both physically and mentally) have their own places, so that after you finish an activity, put it back to its own place
- Clear your mind from the last thing you worked on to bring it back to the neutral state by:
- Performing a 5-minute meditation between major daily activities, or whenever you feel moody
v. Stop comparing yourself to others
I’ve found it insidious to compare my results against others’.
Because comparing leads to jealousy, the thinking that, someone else’s success means there’s less room for my success. So the only way for me to go up is to put others down. Compare yourself to another, and the two of you will never be the same again.
Because life isn’t fair! Each of us is widely different in terms of talent, ability, education, and experience. Besides, sometimes, one stroke of luck is worth more than nine parts effort.
Because we never know the price others have paid (and/or will pay) to achieve that level of success. And, many times, if we knew that price, we wouldn’t be willing to pay.
Points to consider:
- Stop comparing yourself to others, because:
- Comparing leads to jealousy
- Otherwise, no matter how close the two of you are, your relationship will never be the same again
- Life isn’t fair! No one holds the same cards and nobody knows for sure who really gets the favor
- You never know the price others have paid (and/or will pay) to achieve that level of success
vi. Be solution-oriented & focus on trends while evaluating performance
With regard to the last point, if you do compare, then compare your own performance against industry standards or market performance. Instead of comparing to others, compete against yourself. Use your past performance as a benchmark. Such benchmarks allow us to measure our progress.
And when you evaluate your work, spend only 20% of the time on the result and the problem. Invest 80% of your time looking for ways to improve future performance.
Besides, don’t expect your progress to be a straight-line. It’s gonna have lots of ups and downs, and many times we have to lower ourselves deeply before we can make the jump. That happens frequently in sport (like broad jump) and in life.
Working as a self-employed for 10 years has made me become time
conscious obsessed. I live by my calendar. I put everything, both personal and work related matters, on the list. And I track time spent on all activities daily. But, I’d become forever miserable, if I expected myself to follow the calendar strictly every day. Some days I’m productive, whereas others I just want to sit around being lazy and procrastinating. So, I try for a relatively good average, instead.
You should do the same. Strive for an upward trend and a relatively good average. Ignore all the peaks and the troughs.
Points to consider:
- Compare your own performance against industry standards or market performance
- Compete against yourself. Use your past performance as a benchmark
- Spend only 20% of your time on the result and the problem, 80% of the time looking for ways to improve future performance
- Don’t expect your progress to be a straight-line
- Focus on trends, not isolated performance
- Strive for an upward trend and a relatively good average
- Ignore all the peaks and the troughs
vii. Cultivate gratitude habit
By gratitude, I don’t mean the be-thankful-because-you-have-something-to-eat mentality. That’s no gratitude. Rather, it’s a sick way to seek comfort in hard times by comparing ourselves to others, who are less fortunate than us.
I discuss the true meaning of gratitude and how to cultivate it by adopting a “student of life” attitude here.
As a student, I realize not only that life is the ultimate teacher, but also that I’m obligated to make the best use of the lessons to repay life’s favors. And so every day I try to see:
- Every bad deed as a test of endurance, if being done to me; or as a warning of a bad example not to follow, if being done to others.
- Every good deed as a good example to follow.
- Every failure as a test of patience and a lesson.
- Every success as a test of contentment and a warning against greediness.
Looking at the result from this perspective, we’ll be grateful for whatever shows up for our effort. Success, failure, good luck, or bad luck…all are meaningful to us, because they teach us valuable lessons to reach our goals. Thus, our gratefulness would replace sadness, frustration, disappointment, etc., if there’s any.
Points to consider:
- Gratitude is different from the be-thankful-because-you-have-something-to-eat mentality
- Find the true meaning of gratitude by adopting a “student of life” attitude:
- Life is the ultimate teacher, and
- We’re obligated to make the best use of the lessons to repay life’s favors
- Adopt such attitude while treating your result
- Check out my post for steps to cultivate gratitude
viii. Stop expecting success
It doesn’t make sense to tell a committed dream-walker to stop expecting his dream to become a reality. If we’re not expecting to reach our goals, then why even try?
It’s because we have no control over the outcome. We can influence only part of the cause and the condition, based on what we know. As long as there’s an unknown, the X factor, we’re unsure about the result.
So, expecting the result to show up, wanting things to happen in a certain way guarantees to bring us more suffering than joy.
Let’s turn this around. Instead of expecting for the best, expect that we will work hard, work smart, work consistently. These factors are within our control. Work on the cause, and the result will eventually come under the right condition. It cannot not coming, because it’s a law. If you sow apple seeds, soon or later, you’ll reap apples. Suffering comes the moment we want to get them ASAP.
This is the attitude that I believe we dream-walkers should take on our journeys.
Do that, and you will grasp the wisdom behind this saying:
Pain is certain, suffering is optional ~ Siddhartha Gautama
Points to consider:
- Remember that we have no control over the outcome
- Instead of expecting success, expect that you will work hard, work smart, work consistently
- Trust CCE that the result will eventually come under the right condition
- Wanting to reap the result ASAP only invites suffering
ix. Re-define success
The last point leads to a need to re-define success. For me, success has nothing to do with money, power, or getting the result that I want.
Perhaps because there’s such a huge gap between how much of these things that I want compared to how much I currently get, so I decide to re-define success, to save my ego a bit (Just kidding 😉! But there’s a lot of truth in it).
Anyway, my definition of success is this:
Success is having a proper use for all the gifts that life offers in the pursuit of what we want.
With regard to CCE, this definition sums up what we’ve discussed so far. I have a dream, to one day become a source of inspiration to boost courage and confidence in others to follow their dreams. And EnjoyYrJourney is my journey to realize this dream.
I’m trying to exploit all the things that I have (talents, knowledge, skills, wealth, relationships, networks, etc.) or all the stuff that fate throws at my face (opportunities, accidents, random events, external circumstances, environmental conditions, etc.) to make my dream come true.
As long as I’m doing that, I’m successful. It doesn’t matter much as when that day comes. My dream doesn’t have a deadline.
My friend, if you set a deadline for your dream, beware. Beware that, on your journey, you might treat everything you do and everyone you meet to be nothing more than a means to achieve your dream. Beware that, from that day going forward, the only value that is worth considering in all things you encounter, might be whether it will take you closer to your dream, everything else is secondary.
Points to consider:
- Re-define your success:
- Success is having a proper use for all the gifts that life offers in the pursuit of what you want
- Beware of setting a deadline for your dream, because then you might treat everything you encounter to be nothing more than a means to achieve your dream
In summary, to detach from the outcome, first, always remember that what we can control are just a tiny fraction compared to what we cannot control. Detachment involves creating some space between the performer and the performance, as if we’re watching ourselves performing on stage. Such distance allows us to calmly observe what’s happening and how others react to our actions.
Remember, detachment from the result doesn’t mean we don’t give a damn about the result. Rather, it is the absence of a desire for things to happen in a certain way.
You practice detachment by:
i. nurture mindfulness to be present,
ii. practice meditation,
iii. cultivate the witness and observe your thoughts,
iv. clear your mind after finishing a major activity,
v. stop comparing yourself to others,
vi. be solution-oriented and focus on trends while evaluating your performance,
vii. cultivate gratitude habit by adopting a “student of life” attitude,
viii. stop expecting the result to show up or things to happen in a certain way,
ix. and re-define success to focus on finding a proper use for all the gifts that life offers in the pursuit of what you want.
Remember, CCE governs everything in this world. There’s no cause that gives no effect. You’ve done your job. Now, relax and let the rest take care of itself. All of your efforts won’t be in vain. All your actions, whether in physical, mental, or spiritual form, will bear fruit, soon or later, under the right condition.
But then, what would we do if the wrong condition shows up? What if we become victims of the Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”? What if somebody takes the wrong turn? What if someone else gives up?
My friend, when it comes to blaming, most of us are a pro. And sometimes it’s much easier to point the finger and blame others or random lucks for our failures, than to blame ourselves.
Practicing detachment using the above steps helps wiping off the self-blame, by creating some space between the performer and the performance. But it doesn’t remove other items on our blame list, and the bitterness attached to them.
Therefore, an awakened dream-walker needs to learn how to…
4. Go with the flow
We have limited control over the condition. Using the previous example of planting a tree, for a seed to bear fruit, we need soil, water, fertilizer, sunlight, etc. We have control over the quality of the water, the soil, and the fertilizer. So, we should take great care of these factors.
But we have no control over how the weather (the rain, the wind, the sunlight) turns out to be.
Likewise, there are zillions of random events that we have no influence.
Thus, learn to accept the things we can’t control with serenity. It means accepting whatever fate has decided without resistance.
When I was young (my translation: being cocky), I used to sense a smell of complacency in the air whenever I heard someone said “Go with the flow”. It sounded to me like a bitter sigh a person gave before surrendering to fate. Why be so weak and submissive?…Why not take charge and create the life we want to live?…I wondered.
Well, many things happened that have made me realize how foolish I was.
You see, we learn to let go only when we face problems we can’t deal with. Now I know that it takes strength to accept things as they are. It’s pretty much like the way of the water: weak and submissive to all forces; yet the harder you grasp it, the less you can hold it in your hand.
So, going with the flow means we accept the cards that fate hands us peacefully and calmly. Instead of trying to change any of those things, we use them to help us move forward toward our goals. We deal with unexpected changes by being flexible enough to alter our priorities, without abandoning our dreams.
Therefore, going with the flow is a mindset, rather than a skill. But we can develop it by following the steps below.
i. Seek the path of least resistance
Instead of trying to change the unfavorable conditions that come our ways, start looking for opportunities that are aligned with our dreams.
This means we go to places where favorable conditions are present. These conditions are circumstances or events that let us move closer to our goals.
Suppose you want to become a public speaker. Favorable conditions could be a public speaking class, a local Toastmaster club, having a friend working as an MC, or a friend who is a good listener that is willing to correct your speech.
It would be a lot easier to plant seeds in spring rather than winter. I didn’t say it’s impossible. I’m saying it’s easy.
So, be like water, follow the path of least resistance. Learn to follow the course of nature in the pursuit of your dream. Seek a path with favorable conditions that allow us to get better results with much less effort.
Of course, getting the answer is not easy, but it’s out there. Sometimes we recognize opportunities around us easily, once we have a goal in mind. Other times, we need to seek them out. And you know that saying from the Bible: “Seek, and ye shall find”.
Be smart to make educated guesses on your search, though. It’s like when we study the cause. Explore the environment around you. Observe and experience things.
And if something you try doesn’t seem to be right for you, don’t linger there too long, move. Don’t waste too much time investigating the “why” and the “how” it doesn’t fit in. I learn this from Eugene the Poet (I discuss here). Eugene didn’t bother to defend himself when Piers, one judge, pressed the X button. He continued doing what he’d dreamed to do on stage, which was sharing his poem for all those who want to listen.
Thus, it’s fine if some people don’t share your passion. Continue doing what you love. And if you do it long enough, eventually your effort will land on someone else, who does.
One way I use to check whether the current path that I’m approaching is right for me, is applying the incremental analysis technique in accounting. Basically, I want to know the extra costs (in terms of things we value in life – money, energy, time, health, relationship, lost opportunity, etc.) that it takes me to get the extra benefits. If the incremental cost seems to be less than the incremental benefit, it might be worthwhile to explore this path further.
Now, people value different sorts of things in life, I understand that. And that’s fine because we don’t expect different people to make the same decision under the same circumstance. However, this strategy is useful in helping us consider the price we have to pay for something that we want. You can also use incremental analysis to compare various options, by selecting the best cost-to-benefit ratio.
Do that, and we’ll achieve better results with much less effort.
Points to consider:
- Don’t try to change the unfavorable conditions. Instead, start looking for opportunities that are aligned with your dreams
- Be like water, follow the path of least resistance that lets you get better results with much less effort
- Searching for a path with favorable conditions isn’t always easy, but it’s out there. So,
- Be proactive in your search
- Be smart to make educated guesses, like the way you’d study the cause – Explore, observe, and experience things
- If something you try doesn’t seem to be right for you, don’t linger there too long, move
- Use incremental analysis – compare the incremental cost against the incremental benefit – to check whether the path you’re approaching is right
- Costs include things you value in life – money, energy, time, health, relationship, lost opportunity, etc.
- Use the analysis to compare various options, by selecting the best cost-to-benefit ratio
ii. Don’t force a condition to happen
Be proactive in the seeking of favorable conditions, but do NOT overdo it.
What do I mean by that?
Overdoing means we try to “force” a condition to happen, when it’s not yet ready. Successful people don’t force things to happen. Here’s what they actually do, if they can’t find a favorable circumstance: they try to make an opportunity more likely to happen.
People mistakenly believe that successful people try to create opportunities rather than waiting for them. Such confidence is dangerous, because success breeds more confidence, and eventually, these people will attempt something beyond their reach. When that happens, sacrifice and compromise would be unavoidable. But these acts will then become bad conditions for their (or others’) later actions, which will bring adverse effects. So, their successes won’t be complete and long-lasting.
Since that’s not my definition of success, I instead prefer working on myself, refining my skills while waiting for opportunities to cross my path. As a dream-walker, you should do the same, my friend.
Wanting something, and yet being able to take your desire lightly at the same time, allows you to lead a carefree life. Wanting something and expecting one’s desire to be fulfilled at once, is the birth of suffering.
Suffering from what?
From wishes that are unfulfilled.
From prayers that are unheard.
From hopes that seem like hopeless.
From dreams that seem forever to come true.
That’s why I’ve told you to slow down, to stop trying and expecting success or demanding things to happen in a certain way. The more you try, the more you become attached to the work. And the more you are attached to the work, the more you want to control the result, or impose your expectation upon it.
So, do the work, but do it effortlessly, without trying, like the way of the water, flowing gently with (not against) the stream.
I think that’s what Lao Tzu means when he suggests that “a sage acts, by doing nothing”.
Doing nothing doesn’t mean we stop acting. It means we act without striving, nor expecting certain outcomes. We only can do this if we trust CCE fully, that our actions will bring the desired effects. The law works regardless of our opinions.
And in this way, this idea is like another of Lao Tzu’s saying:
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step
The sage finishes the journey by taking one step at a time, without being hurry, nor being effortful.
If the light is green (NOT all the lights, mind you), then we work to move forward on our journey. But if a favorable condition isn’t coming our way yet, work in preparation instead.
That way, we can nurture our dreams and not become victims of “The Law of Diminishing Intent”, while waiting for their times to shine. This is truly what it means to go with the flow.
That way, we gradually learn how to let go of the need to go faster, to achieve more, to stop competing or comparing ourselves to others.
Remember: don’t flow against the stream. Some people fight really hard to flow against the stream! If you buy that philosophy, you’d be restless. Your life would be an eternal battle, forever fighting and being fought.
People fight for more, we contend with less. People move forward, we take one step back. This is the way of an awakened dream-walker: to enjoy the journey to pursue his dream, by letting things take their own course.
Points to consider:
- Forcing things to happen leave unseen adverse effects
- Work on yourself, refine your skills while waiting for opportunities to cross your path
- Wanting something, and yet being able to take your desire lightly at the same time, allows you to lead a carefree life
- Do the work effortlessly, without trying, like the way of the water, flowing gently with the stream
- Don’t flow against the stream:
- People fight for more, you contend with less;
- People move forward, you take one step back;
- so that you can enjoy the journey to pursue your dream, by letting things take their own course
iii. Learn to let go
Isn’t it ironic? We wish to speed things up on our way to the future, yet demand things that are passing by to move in slooooooooooow motion.
People try to cling to toxic relationships long after the romance had gone.
Others refuse to give up old habits, even when they realize the behavior contradict to what they want to become. It’s hard to be a heathy smoker or drinker, a fit overeater, a stress-free workaholic, an active couch-potato, a happy whiner, a positive naysayer…
And all of us, sometimes in our lives, are victims of the past. We attach to past stories, whether they were successes or failures, good or bad memories, as if what happened in the past would define us.
That might sound ironic, but it’s much easier to hold on than to let go. Letting go isn’t simple like opening your hand to drop a ball you hold in your hand.
It’s like you’re clinging to a tree at the top of a cliff for your dear life. So, letting go could mean a painful fall into the deep valley. It could mean a fall into the void, where you’d be a stranger to everything around you (or the other way around). It means a fall out of the familiar territory, into something you’ve never known before (and never wish to know).
No exaggeration here! If you’ve attached to something for so long that you care to remember…like me, started smoking since 17 years old, you’d know what I mean.
For me, lightening up a cigarette felt so easy, so normal, so refreshing and relaxing. It meant easing up a little bit, taking the world off my shoulder. It meant seeking comfort for my problems and loneliness from a trusty friend. It was a can’t-miss ritual to complete any kind of activities, working, thinking, playing, eating, etc. It meant to be me. I’d long forgotten what it felt like, to live life as a normal person, someone smoke-free.
In that context, letting go of something we’ve been clinging to feels like tearing something inside of us. The resulting emptiness is scary.
But, isn’t it true that whatever has a beginning must have an end? (I’ve heard somebody says “except the sausage!”). If so, does that mean all the good things will eventually leave us for good?
That’s why I believe that we come to this life NOT to learn how to love. Not loving. Loving is one of humans’ most basic instincts. I strongly believe that we come to this life to learn how to let go.
And letting go would become easier, if we’ve done well in the preceding step – not forcing a condition to happen when it’s not yet ready. Because then we could take it lightly when the condition does show up, or when it’s time for it to leave.
Another way is to experience our own deaths, metaphorically speaking. It’s no accident that you can find the idea that “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” in every culture. To become wiser, we need to experience our own deaths.
At night, after you complete the Gratitude exercise, while lying on bed to sleep, imagine you’re clinging to a tree branch at the top of a cliff for your dear life. You try your best to climb up to the top. But when you nearly get there, the branch can no longer support your weight and breaks. You fall into the valley. While falling, you look back and see the tree moving further and further away from you. The tree stands for whatever you’ve been holding on, whatever gives meaning to your life or journey.
Imagine we’re dying makes us realize that, on our way to or back the graveyard (depending on how you look at it), we’re always alone and naked. Everything we thought we have is just an illusion, that includes our possessions, titles, accomplishments, relationships and our loves.
And when you wake up the next morning, imagine that you’ve just miraculously survived the fall. You come back to life empty-handed, and now continue your journey. But, having experienced your own death and the impermanence of all things, you’d now make your come-back with a whole new way of living.
I thought about this technique while watching the Swordsman 2013 series that I’ve mentioned before. There’s a similar scene, in which Dongfang Bubai is clinging to Linghu Chong’s hand, who’s also holding on to a tree at the top of a cliff in an attempt to save her. His action moves her, and especially after he admits that Miss Dongfang will always be in his heart. The joy is swift! For Linghu Chong asks her what poison she forced Yingying (Linghu Chong’s current lover) to drink, right after that. Suddenly, heaven turns to hell. Dongfang Bubai seems lost, her gaze turns down, for a second. When Dongfang regains her conscious, her pupils get darker and smaller, the kind one often gets after making a grim decision. With her dark eyes, now narrow and contain an abyss with an endless depth of sorrow, Dongfang forces a half smile with tightened lips and a muffled breath of air through her noses, that fades so fast no one realizes it, and gives the answer in a monotonous voice, then lets go of Linghu Chong’s hand to fall into the valley.
So, practice the technique, imagine that you’ve already died when you wake up the next morning, and now on your way back the graveyard. That way, during the day, you’ll experience a whole new way of being: welcome every chance encounter, yet keep calm when it’s time to say farewell.
Points to consider:
- Remember whatever has a beginning must have an end
- We come to this life NOT to learn how to love, but to learn how to let go
- Don’t become a victim of your past. What happened in the past no longer define us
- Practice letting go by:
- Not forcing things to happen when they’re not yet ready
- Practicing deep-breathing meditation and doing gratefulness exercise
- Performing exercise to experience your own death
iv. Going with the flow doesn’t mean giving up our control or our dreams
Now, I’d like to clarify this point: “going with the flow”, “letting things take their own course” should be taken within the context of CCE. Going with the flow doesn’t mean letting ourselves be swept away by the river of life, or leaving everything to fate.
It doesn’t mean saying “yes” to everything. It doesn’t mean being lazy. It doesn’t mean stop paying attention to all things and conditions around us. It doesn’t mean stop responding to things. It doesn’t mean stop doing, acting, working, or walking toward our dreams. It doesn’t mean sitting idly, waiting for things to happen.
“Stop trying” doesn’t mean you give up controlling the steering wheel and let your car run itself into a ditch. No! You still hold your hand firmly on the wheel to control the car, direct it toward your destination. But you do not drive over the speed limit, cut people off, or accelerate before yellow lights in order to get ahead of the traffic and arrive 5 minutes faster.
Letting go doesn’t mean giving up your dream. It doesn’t mean cutting yourself off from the others. It doesn’t mean you run away from trouble, or deny responsibility for your actions.
It means we accept the cards that life hands us serenely, and try to work with them, rather than trying to change them. It means that in case of bad lucks, we’re flexible enough to alter our priorities, without abandoning our dreams. Thus, we need knowledge and experience to go with the flow.
It means we’re content with life’s offers in the present and keep calm while waiting for the convergence of the right conditions. But we need to take action the moment the right condition(s) show up.
It means we practice Lao Tzu’s wisdom “Act without action” in everything we do. By “acting”, it means we pay attention to work hard on the job. By “not acting”, it means we don’t expect success in everything we do. That doesn’t mean we expect failure, though. It just means we’re content with the outcome.
And I’d like to close with this example. I believe that, one reason why Thomas Edison could keep trying, after failing 1,000 times to find a cheaper and more durable material to light the light bulb, was because the condition(s) at the time allowed him to continue his experiment.
Applying CCE, Mr. Edison understood the cause. He knew the theory of how to make the light bulb work. He just needed to find out the right material to keep the light on as long and as cheap as possible. So he went to work on the cause, experimenting various materials.
Secondly, he detached from the result. He didn’t let 1,000 bad outcomes discouraged him. In fact, he was grateful for every single one of them. Each result educated him about what’s not working, so he could start the next test a little wiser.
And the conditions at the time seemed to favor him also, so that he could continue the experiment for as long as it took. Of course, due to lack of facts, I wouldn’t say that everything was favorable, but we have to admit that he got (or managed to get) enough support from relevant stockholders.
Question: Why the dog keeps barking?
Answer: Because he can.
But here’s another that’s worth considering: Because no one tries to stop him!
Imagine what would have happened if Mr. Edison had run out of money? Or what if all his staffs had given up and refused to carry on his experiment?
Under such unfavorable conditions, I imagine that an awakened dream-walker wouldn’t let all the skeptics and the critics bring him down. He might seek support from outside the company, or let others continue his experiment. But if all that’s not possible, he’d accept that now may not be the right time to finish the work, and wait for the next opportunity to resume his experiment.
On the other hand, a person, who’s determined to do whatever it takes to make things happen, might use unethical means, bend the rules, or take shortcuts to get the work done. He might achieve his goal, but soon or later, he’d have to deal with the results of such acts during fateful times.
Points to consider:
- If you haven’t practiced ALL of the previous steps in this guide, don’t bother to try to “go with the flow”,
- for “going with the flow” doesn’t mean “going with the flow”
IV. Final Thoughts
My friend, many years ago Oscar Wilde said:
There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
As a dreamer, be wary the moment you become a dream-walker by making a decision to walk toward your dream, because you’re walking into a curse. I believe the tragedy lies not in the “getting” or “not getting” what we want, but in the manner of our pursuit. The fool leave everything to fate. The arrogant fight really hard to resist the flow, to swim up the stream. Both suffer in the end.
Trust the law of cause, condition and effect. Follow the art of becoming an awakened dream-walker.
And you will turn the curse into a blessing to enjoy the ride toward your destination.
Of all the steps we’ve gone through so far, you may notice that there’s one theme I keep repeating over and over, that we need to be aware of our thought patterns, and take control of our minds to stay in the present, rather than letting them drag us to wherever they want.
Well, because that’s the essence of this art, to become an awakened dream-walker. The word “awakened”, spiritually speaking, refers to people, who realize that they aren’t their thoughts, their thoughts do not define them, and that they control their thoughts, rather than letting external events or the actions of others control their thoughts.
Thus, awakening isn’t about changing what they do daily. It’s about changing what they think about what they do. They still take necessary actions to pursue their dreams and face obstacles on their journey, but they do these with a whole different attitude.
People do the things that count, then count how much has been done. They choose to forget. People attach to the results. They let the results take care of themselves. People run away from the now by darting back and forth to the past and the future. They stay in the present. People “try” to arrive. They take one step at a time. People hold countless ideas about how things should be. They know things are exactly where they are supposed to be. People feel frustrated because some days, nothing seems to go right. They know that some days, nothing seems to go right, and yet it’s alright. People read this guide, and think there’re lots of things to do. They read and see there’s nothing to do. Just be.
The bad guy believes that trickery is the key to win. The good guy believes that sincerity is the key to win. The awakened know that there’s no key to search for, because the door is locked inside. All that they can do is knock, and wait.
Instead of focusing on the negative, what went wrong, or will go wrong, they know that in this world, “nothing ever goes wrong”, as Nisargadatta Mahara said. So, they focus on finding out what blessings and learning the lessons that those events bring them, and being in the present. Thus, the awakened still experience the pain, but they don’t suffer.
They don’t suffer, because they no longer identify themselves with the actions. They are now the witness, observing the writer writing an article, or a speaker speaking on stage. Thus, things and tragedies no longer happen to them. Rather, they are events that happen in that scene. Such state of mind lets them choose proper thoughts and actions to respond to the events.
I’m just a novice in this art. Throughout my life, I’ve seen incomprehensible things that happened to many people, rich and poor alike. I’ve often wondered how some could manage to stay happy and lead a carefree life; whereas others suffer.
I want to be like the former. This guide is my attempt to learn how to apply the principles on my journey toward my dreams. My aim is not to get there as soon as possible, but to enjoy the road all along.
So that if any of my dreams come true,
Well, that isn’t my concern!
For things are exactly where they are supposed to be.
And knowing this, I can now be at peace, because I learn to turn miseries and hatreds into blessings to those dreams and loves that are lost.
If you benefit from this post, share it with your loved ones, so that they benefit, too. Everybody wins, when somebody shares!
and until our paths cross again, enjoy your journey!
*W: “If you truly love her, where else would she be, other than in your heart?”
- Swordsman, the 2013 Chinese television series.
- Jodo Shinshu Shinrankai (2012). The teachings of Buddha And The Law of Cause and Effect.
(2) Jodo Shinshu Shinrankai (2012). The teachings of Buddha And The Law of Cause and Effect. Retrieved from http://www.lifespurpose.info/buddha/causeandeffect/lawofcauseandeffect01.html
(3): Stewart, L., Evans, N., Bexon, K. J., van der Meer, D. J., Williams, G. A. (2015). Differentiating between monozygotic twins through DNA methylation-specific high-resolution melt curve analysis. Analytical Biochemistry, 476, 36-39. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ab.2015.02.001
(4): Mallers, M. H., Claver, M., Lares, L. A. (2014). Perceived Control in the Lives of Older Adults: The Influence of Langer and Rodin’s Work on Gerontological Theory, Policy, and Practice. The Gerontologist, 54(1), 67-74. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnt051