Very Good Friends of Carl King, I am about to tell you how Buddhism makes me better than other people.
It doesn’t. I’m making a joke.
But the rest of this episode is not a joke, at least not an intentional one. I’m going to share some common ideas from the world of Eastern philosophy and Stoicism. And how they have helped me be NOT better than other people. Understanding is Useful, so here we go.
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SHOW NOTES / LINKS
Thich Nhat Hanh / The Art of Communicating
The Dalai Lama / Approaching The Buddhist Path
William Irvine / A Guide To The Good Life
Yuval Noah Harari on Meditation
Very Good Friends of Carl King. I am new to Buddhism. But discovering its core ideas made a big impact on my life in recent years. I call myself a Failing Buddhist, which I think is a funny — and also accurate — way to describe the process. Since it’s inherently so difficult.
Part of Buddhism is meditation. That’s also new to me. On the topic of meditation, author Whitley Strieber said something like this, and I’m paraphrasing from memory: “Meditation isn’t something you finally ‘succeed’ at. It’s more like a horse you get on, fall off, get on, fall off, over and over. And that IS the entire act of meditating. Once you’ve done that, you’ve meditated.”
Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, has been meditating for 23 years. He described his own meditation work as painfully boring and even upsetting. He says, “Another second, and I’ll scream. It’s not fun. It’s not recreational. It’s not a time to relax. It’s everything you don’t want to know about yourself. It’s very intense and difficult.”
Yet he does it for 2 hours a day and takes a 60-day silent meditation retreat every year. About the retreats, he says, “Don’t think you’re going to relax. For days on end, you’re just boiling with anger.” Clearly, the process is valuable to him. And hearing about it makes me want to explore it. Someday soon, I hope to do a retreat at a Buddhist monastery.
I’m also a skeptic, which means I don’t believe in God and magic and supernatural things. I don’t even believe anything about the coincidence of this episode being number 69, which looks like a Yin and Yang.
So I think of myself as a Secular Buddhist. Whether that is the correct term, I don’t know. I’m simply not educated enough on the subject.
In the book “Approaching The Buddhist Path,” the Dalai Lama says Buddhism must embrace and be informed by science. When he learned that, contrary to Buddhist scriptures, the earth was not flat and revolved around the sun, the Dalai Lama was quick to say:
“If science conclusively proves something, we should accept it and not adhere to the scriptural pronouncements to the contrary.” I’ve never heard another leader of a worldwide religion say that.
So today, I want to share some common ideas from the world of Eastern philosophy and Stoicism. You can find these things discussed by Sam Harris, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Marcus Aurelius, Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts, Jim Carrey, Ram Dass, Krishna Consciousness, and countless others.
I happened to hear some of them directly from guitarist Steve Vai and even the movie Fight Club. These ideas have been around forever, and it doesn’t matter where we hear them or who says them. There’s nothing new here, and I’m simply putting it in my own words.
The central premise of today’s episode is this: stepping off the treadmill of consumerism and experiencing Disillusionment, in a good way.
This has always been my path, even when caught up in everyday life. I stumble into the traps of materialism, anxiety, and social status games as much as anyone else does. If not more. This is exactly WHY I care about the topic so much. I’m not preaching anything I don’t need to hear myself, every day.
In my previous episode called, “Does Reality Actually Exist?” I referenced two neuroscientists, Anil Seth, and Donald Hoffman. They have both concluded that each of us largely experiences the world as a self-generated hallucination.
Their scientific explanation of it makes sense to me and aligns with Buddhism. If you want to know more about that, you can check out Episode 63 of this show. Accepting that we don’t directly experience reality is part of my life-long “disillusionment” process.
And there’s probably a connection between my autism and my “finding truth” in Eastern philosophy. These things fit together nicely.
As I said in my most recent episode, when I mentioned PTSD and Autism, it can be hard to pull these things apart. Buddhism, PTSD, and Autism are intertwined parts of my material self, and it feels like a chicken or egg question.
Am I going to shave my head and wear a robe? I doubt it. I’m not a devout Buddhist or monk. The Dalai Lama basically says we should take what we can from Buddhism and leave the rest. So I hope these ideas help someone out there, as much as they’ve helped me.
Now here are 43 numbered ideas, which can either stand alone or flow in order.
1 – In Eastern philosophy, there is an analogy of a film projector. In a film projector, a light shines through the film, creating the image you see on the screen. In a materialist society, we are raised to believe we are that film or the image projected on the movie screen.
We are taught to find our “self” there in that illusion. To identify with things we do and feel. And things we buy and put in our houses. But what if those things are not who we are? What if we are instead, not the film, but the light that shines through the film. This is considered our simple, pure awareness. Our true self (the light), is in a way, distorted by the film it shines through.
2 – Now why would we want to identify with the light, or simple, pure awareness — instead of all those things we do and feel, and things we buy and put in our houses? Because of suffering. If we identify with those material things and experiences, and our ego, we become anxious and fearful.
We know we will eventually lose them. We buy products, and they soon lose their meaning. We do activities, but we need to keep doing MORE, and we’re never satisfied. Never good enough. Eastern philosophy suggests we stop placing our self-worth and identity within those things.
3 – Everything we have, we will eventually lose. Everything about us will evaporate. This is all temporary. So we can enjoy things, and people, as they pass in and out of existence. But we can work to not be attached. So that the process of death (in all its forms) is accepted and expected.
4 – Instead of accepting that truth, before we die, we race to make ourselves feel good and successful and important. In its extreme form, we buy luxury goods, like overpriced cars and watches, and socks that signal our sophistication to others. It’s imaginary value.
We go broke, spending money on expensive things, in order to make other people believe we’re rich. In reality, it only signals that we’re broke. Most wealthy people do not show it off by purchasing those things. That’s one reason they’re still wealthy. Eckhart Tolle says, “It’s okay to play with the world of form, but don’t identify with it.” This is tricky.
5 – Showing off possessions doesn’t lead to self-worth or happiness. As Tyler Durden said, “The things you own end up owning you.” It’s a lot of stuff to maintain and be concerned about. Cleaning them, organizing them, fixing them. Carrying them to the next place when you move.
It can help to get rid of possessions because a human doesn’t need all this stuff. We can get rid of things if a. They’re not sentimental and b. They’re cheap enough that we could simply buy them again if we really need them.
We see something in the world and we like it, but that doesn’t mean we need to have it in our house. We can simply appreciate it for what it is, and let it be there in the world. It will not make us whole. Someone else can have it. There’s no need to spend money on it and believe we are more complete because we “own” it.
6 – I grew up believing I needed to “become” something. What I was, wasn’t enough. For example, I thought these things: “I don’t speak eloquently enough. I’m not confident enough. I’m not popular enough. I have dark rings around my eyes. I’m not funny enough. Not enough girls like me. I won’t be ENOUGH until I become a future, fantasy version of myself.”
I saw outrageously successful, famous people and believed THAT was what I needed to be. Anything less would be a total failure. But that was a cruel and unfair comparison.
7 – I used to believe there was a ladder. And that if I climbed that ladder, I would finally achieve a Frank Zappa-like intelligence and creativity and confidence and wealth and independence.
News flash: There is no ladder. Frank Zappa did not try to BECOME Frank Zappa. He was a once-in-a-lifetime mutant. And we can’t beat ourselves up for not being him, or any other person.
8 – We can improve some of our specific skills. Like speaking with authority. Or composing music. Or running. But the belief that we are not good enough RIGHT NOW is simply toxic. Companies prey on this and promise they can improve us. But they mostly can’t.
Most products are unnecessary and worthless. You can go look at a dump or all the garbage floating in the ocean right now. Consider the amount of waste we all create each week. So shopping is a treadmill of buying things we think are important and then throwing them in the trash.
9 – Here’s another personal example. Some people have an inner teleprompter. They can speak at length, effortlessly, in perfectly formed sentences. And I cannot.
When I talk without a script, my sentences come out backward. I think, why does my brain naturally put this part over here, and that part over there? I sound like Yoda. I assumed those other “great speakers” worked hard for it because *I* would need to work hard to have that ability. But that is only one particular talent, and it doesn’t mean much else.
Maybe that person is terrible at a hundred other things. You are probably good at things they are NOT. We all have limited time and limited genetics to work with. So it’s impossible to be excellent at more than a few things at most.
Many people I know who are immensely talented in one specific area, like being a musician, can’t seem to do other basic things. They put all their eggs in one basket. So try to remember, people with a few specific abilities you don’t have are not inherently better than you or “Higher Status.”
10 – Social Status is an illusion. No one is above you, and no one is below you. Rich, famous, talented, and good-looking people are not any more special than you are. There is no single hierarchy. We’re all equals. And if you get into spirituality, beware of the ego once again telling you, “I’m Superior Because I’m More Spiritual Than Other People.”
11 – What if the social hierarchy is a drug, the most powerful drug there is? And social media is a robot programmed to prey on this addiction? Social media can also lead to good things, but I think drug addiction is an accurate description of its current form. It should be reprogrammed.
12 – We present the best versions of ourselves on social media, and in public. But there are no “normal, happy, successful” people who don’t have baggage. Everyone’s got it. Some hide it and some don’t. It’s best to make friends with the baggage. Take your baggage to the park like it’s a dog. Allow me to introduce mine to yours, and NOW we’re actually relating.
13 – It can be liberating to speak about our fears and insecurities, rather than hiding them and feeling shame. We think we’re the only ones with these problems. If you want connection, this is what EVERYONE has in common: suffering and fear. Unless they’re a psychopath!
14 – Life is a train powered by trauma. We think of people as individuals, as if they are disconnected train cars who started their own traumas. Why’s that guy such a jerk? Well, because of causality. All the train cars are joined together. We are those train cars, and the trauma train rolls forward for generations, pushing forever.
15 – Can we “fix” our traumas? Hard to say. Those traumas are part of what creates our material selves. If we’re lucky, they teach us. Eckhart Tolle says something like “Suffering is the path to change.” We will always suffer, but how much of it is needless? Can it be reduced? What type of suffering do we want? Good questions.
Can we reach a state of mindful perfection and live a life with zero suffering? I would not sign up for a course that promises that.
16 – Speaking of suffering, what makes you cringe? I try to push myself to see beyond those things that make me cringe. It could be music, films, books, and even people. I recommend going deeper sometimes. It can be useful to set your opinions aside. There can be value hiding on the other side of the cringe. Be open to questioning your own tastes, and be open to change.
17 – Just because you did something for a long time, doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it. You can stop doing it today. You can go back to doing it tomorrow. Abandon any project. Start over. Mostly no one cares. If someone does care, that’s their own business. That is their own problem to deal with.
18 – There is no single “special thing” you were meant to do. You don’t need to hurry up and figure out what your “life calling” is. This is a fantasy perpetuated by a few rich and famous people who have easy-to-see and easy-to-capitalize-on talents.
It’s healthier to focus on your own path ahead of you. What do you want to do, and what actually makes you feel good, in itself? Or maybe you want to simply help others, and that makes you feel good. The world needs people who do that.
19 – Ask yourself: Do you enjoy doing the thing, or do you only enjoy the fantasy you have in your mind of doing the thing? Are you pursuing an illusion, or are you able to appreciate what is happening here and now?
20 – The expectations of others are largely in your own imagination. It’s surprising to find out how many people truly don’t care what you do. I’ve found this time and again. It’s a cognitive bias called The Spotlight Effect.
We are not the center of everyone else’s universe. People don’t care what we are going through, as much as we assume they do. Because they have their own problems to focus on.
21 – Don’t fall for Life Story Anxiety. Your life isn’t a story you need to write and then live up to. We might get caught up in the “infinite growth paradigm.” As if every year, we need to earn more money, have a more important title, win more awards, sell more T-shirts, or work with even more famous people.
None of that has to matter. You are not a resume or Wikipedia entry. Life Stories are illusions, because your life is you, here, today.
22 – No one’s life can be summed up and reduced to a single “job title.” That’s an industrial factory-worker / ‘50s mentality. You are not your job. You are not that one thing you “do.” Don’t feel you have failed by changing paths and doing something else. You can keep moving forward and growing. Or don’t. It’s OK to simply BE.
23 – It’s perfectly okay to do nothing. Our society has moralized being busy. If you don’t make enough money you’re called “lazy.” But “working” is not the only way to be valuable or contribute value to society.
Your value is not determined by what you “do.” You are 100% valuable simply by being alive. Unfortunately, capitalism is out of sync with this. That will need to change.
24 – We are lifeforms that evolved from more primitive creatures. Those primitive creatures’ brains are STILL physically inside us, driving much of our behavior. Those behaviors don’t go away after only 300,000 years.
So Of course, those behaviors seem SILLY. Accept that some of the time, you’re a silly creature that does things for silly reasons. Say to yourself: “That’s just my silly creature behavior doing that.” Don’t judge yourself. Let it pass. Urges and emotions come and go. Don’t identify yourself with them.
25 – I think there’s a part of the brain that enjoys being upset. And I think it’s called the amygdala. That’s its job. Look for threats, get mad, run from danger. It loves to be angry at music it doesn’t like. It tries to find enemies.
You can’t shut it off. And maybe the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. So try not to get upset unless your life is actually in danger.
26 – Learn to observe your own thoughts and feelings. It’s like a second brain climbing outside of your first brain and watching it. I don’t know how that’s technically possible, but I find it incredibly helpful.
In a conflict with another person, imagine yourself floating above, watching the two people fighting. Be a neutral observer, looking down at these poor humans, caught in their pain, misunderstanding everything, and blaming each other. They are both the problem.
27 – A lot of things, more than we want to believe, are totally out of our control. We take credit, and we believe we’re SO important. But most of life is simply genetics and causality. It’s even possible we have no free will, and we are only along for the ride. I believe that is true, ultimately, which would mean even this episode was predetermined.
28 – It’s okay not to know things. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to not have an answer or a solution right now. That goes for you and others.
29 – When someone does something you don’t like, try to see the motivation behind the motivation. Can you see it? Maybe not. But it’s there. It’s likely pain.
30 – Anger is a mask for fear. When you’re angry, ask yourself, what do I feel threatened by? What weakness am I hiding? An angry person is a person in pain. Or as Buddhists call it, Suffering.
31 – I recently arrived late for my therapy session. My therapist said: “It’s my job not to get offended.” It was profound. I laughed to myself. Isn’t that everyone’s job here on earth? It might be the meaning of life.
32 – Some people feel good all over when they rev their car engines. Some people feel good all over when they read a book. I try to remember that when someone revs their car engine. When I hear that sound, I experience trauma. I have flashbacks of car accidents.
But it’s likely that the guy with the loud car is just trying to feel good. Should I tell him, don’t do the thing that makes you feel good?
33 – It’s rare, but sometimes you’ll encounter a person who intends to hurt you. You can’t go through life expecting that and projecting it onto everyone. Humans wouldn’t have lasted this long if everyone was out to get each other. Our survival as mammals is based on cooperation and caring.
34 – There’s not truly that much difference between people. It’s mostly aesthetics. We think we’re so different because of the products we buy and decorate our bodies and houses with. Are you “Metal?” Or “Country?” Or is your identity a Football team? What difference does that really make? Not much.
35 – We also project our identities on the cars we drive. We think of cars as being distinct models, because of their external bodies. But what if cars had no external bodies on them? What if we could see all those ugly mechanical parts?
Would everyone make such a big deal out of them and attach their identities to them? I think the answer is no. We’d say, what is that HORRIBLE thing moving down the road? But that’s what cars really are. Not their smooth, shiny, colorful shells.
36 – Just like cars without the pretty car bodies on them, what if people had completely transparent skin? We would see all the organs and bones. It would terrify most of us. But those things are there, always. That’s what we are, even more than our skin.
37 – Our bodies should be treated as vehicles. We should keep them healthy, and use them to move us around. That’s the job. But some people obsess and polish their vehicles endlessly. They place so much importance on the car’s external body, making it so perfectly shiny and smooth, that they identify with the car instead of the driver within.
They believe they are their body. This gets into Hare Krishna territory. Just as we will never find self-worth from having a perfect car, we’ll never find it from having a perfect body. Because there is no perfect body.
38 – Learning and improving are a part of life. We all do these in some way, whether we want to or not. It can be physical or mental or spiritual. But when we are learning and improving, it might be too slow of a process to see in ourselves. When you’re going through that, try to trust that it’s happening.
39 – Learning is good. But avoid becoming an Expert Hobbyist. Independent thinking can get out of control. In general, you’re going to be fine trusting the experts.
Also, don’t become a Contra-Expert. That’s a person who attempts to become an expert on a topic simply to argue against a popular viewpoint. To be a contrarian. There’s a lot of money in it. But it’s perfectly OK to have no opinion on most topics.
People ask me what I think about UFOs or UAPs.
That topic sure seems exciting, and everyone is expected to jump to a conclusion. Is it aliens? Is it the military? I just answer, “I don’t know.”
40 – We also like conspiracy theories because we want to believe there’s an exciting reason for everything. But there’s not. We are projecting. The true conspiracy is us. We conspire against ourselves, all day. That’s The Very Boring Conspiracy.
41 – A lot of things become possible if you can accept boredom. It’s a superpower. Often, choosing the option that is boring is better. Options that are made to seem exciting on the surface can be a trap. Marketers know this. So always ask yourself, will the boring option actually serve me better?
42 – There’s a lot of suffering in the world. Should we try to reduce it, for ourselves and others? Seems like yes. My attempted contribution is to eat a plant-based diet. I’ve been a vegan for 15 years. I love animals, I believe they are people, and I hope it’s helping them. Do I ruin the planet in other ways? Yes.
43 – It’s possible for one person to change the world, but it’s unlikely. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try.
Now, what do all of these ideas do for me?
Don’t worry. I’m joking again.
Life is never easy. But Buddism and Stoicism bring me more peace and help me not get caught up in everyday things. I can more easily let go of anger and my desire to have conflict. I waste WAY less time and energy criticizing others. I can focus on my own problems.
I take things less personally, and I can have just a little bit more compassion for people, even the ones who don’t like me. And finally stepping off that treadmill of consumerism. At least sometimes.
To many, I’m sure this all sounds like gibberish. Five years ago I might have thought the same. In fact, when I first bought The Dalai Lama’s book “How To Practice, The Way To A Meaningful Life,” I tried to read it and it made zero sense to me. I thought, oh well. Waste of money. And I put it on the shelf. Years later, I opened it and it was exactly what I needed.
Some of us are into this stuff, and some of us aren’t. And that’s ok. As a hippie might say, we are all on our own trip.
OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Show. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, or anywhere else you consume to these dang episodes.
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