Updated: Apr 22
Ever since completing my epic two-part blog on ego, I’ve found writing surprisingly difficult. My ego is still retaliating against me. And in all fairness, ego really is such a beautiful story-teller, far superior to me. I enjoy the stories. More so, however, when I recognize them as such.
But with the state of the world thrust into disruption, it seems fitting to explore some deeper truths that have been bubbling to the surface of late. To get there requires stripping away even more layers of ego. Thankfully, if not ironically, the pandemic has afforded us time to examine and question the narratives we’ve fallen in love with.
The stories about the people, circumstances, and environments we face in our lives are all written by ego. They are not an expression of the true, aligned you. Consider the last assumption you made about a person, place, or thing that turned out to be wrong. Maybe it was a simple misunderstanding. That was your ego at work.
One way to start recognizing ego is by tuning into such memories; feeling the emotional landscape of the narrative and then detaching from it. Become aware of your awareness. Allow a space between processing what is difficult to process, and the processing process itself. I have found that pause can transcend space and time, revealing deeper truths. Grabbing the moment to just be is a lovely way to drop into the Dao. The Dao...or middle, non-duality, balance, alignment.
In that moment, there is a detachment from narratives. This is ego-death, but it's not finite. The stories written by ego serve a larger purpose. They are myths, symbolic representations of truth that may come in handy, particularly during times of disillusionment...if you can recognize them as such.
The Bible is made up of powerful, symbolic stories, written by ego. They are interpretations of truth with morals that are useful even in modern times. But we’ve all seen the dangers that come from taking those stories too literally.
And so it is, I believe, with the Law of Attraction (LOA). American history has a history of exploiting other traditions for their riches (e.g. yoga, Buddhism), “developing” and selling them as commercial resources (i.e. capitalism), and ignoring the rich cultural context from whence they came. There was a time the LOA turned into a very westernized, postmodern religion almost.
The Law of Attraction came to sound too idealistic for many. The base idea that you can really have anything you want...if you only just believe… Most of the things I believed were coming to me in my 20s somehow lost their way. That is until they found me, usually as warped versions of what I originally wanted, in my 30s. When they did come, I didn’t want them anymore.
In hindsight, I think I mangled up the process with misinformed or half-concocted intentions. So I thought it long overdue to analyze the Law of Attraction in practice. There are three lenses I use in my work that are particularly helpful here: Daoism, Gratitude, and the universal Truth that We Are One.
Daoism: the Duality of Judgement
The fundamental disconnect I first found in the Law of Attraction is the “want” side of it. Traditional Buddhism encourages the release of judgement and the release of attachments. Anything you could possibly want is, by definition, a desire. Desire causes suffering, but it is what birthed us and sustains our lives. So the purpose of a Buddhist life is to meditate and cultivate mindfulness to eventually attain nirvana, the only state sans desire.
Now within Buddhist philosophy, there are variations on the theme of desire, including craving, expectations, and wants. At the heart of it all, as this Daoist sees it, is judgement. Judgement functions along a spectrum of good and bad. Surely there are terrible acts that are easy to condemn, such as war, rape, murder, etc. There are also acts that are easy to praise, such as triumph, success, and love.
Thich Nhat Hanh was a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, author, and peace activist. Martin Luther King, Jr. called him “An apostle of peace and nonviolence.” After the Vietnam war, Hanh learned of a twelve-year-old girl who was raped by a pirate and then killed herself. In his poem, Please Call Me By My True Names, he writes,
“I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.”
You can not have one end of the judgement spectrum without the other. At the very core of a Zen Buddhist’s compassion is the release of all judgement, good and bad. Traditional Buddhists call it Nirvana. A Daoist would say there only is and call this place, the Dao. I call it flow or alignment. Some people even describe this middle road as non-duality.
Part of the bastardization of the Law of Attraction includes a belief that the universe manifests on an ego-centric measurement of time. You already have everything you need within. You carry it inside you at all times and instead of focusing outward, an inward focus will reveal your Way (or Dao). By cultivating your own mind, you will simply BE. That is where you will find gratitude.
And once you’ve discovered true gratitude, you find it has its own energy. That energy unlocks Truth. The energy exchange that makes life dynamic is what the Law of Attraction is really all about. It is written in the Bible to "give, and it will be given to you." You get what you put out. It is energy, not ‘wants.’ Some believe that energy comes back to you in the form of “wants.” It may or may not, but the larger dynamic at play is energy.
We Are One
SGI International, a community created around Nichiren Buddhism, chants together privately and collectively around the world. Their core philosophy in the words of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda is this:
“That each of us has unfathomable potential, and in striving to bring this forth....we undergo a process of positive internal change that affects our family, our workplace, society and ultimately the entire web of life.”
This community chants not only for their own happiness but for the happiness of others. The chant is Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. As it was explained to me, Renge roughly translates to “non-linear cause and effect.” Less literal than the Law of Attraction, “Renge” means the happiness you chant for others will return to you. But the return may be in an unrecognizable form. Not unlike the Bible’s “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In National Geographic’s docu-series, The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, Freeman explores “The Power of Miracles:”
“Everything that happens to us is a result of things that we are connected to. What we call divine intervention is merely connections we weren’t aware of. Makes me wonder if we shouldn’t maybe stop trying so hard to control our lives and learn to ride the wave of life.”
I would attribute the popularity of the Law of Attraction to an irresistible desire for divine intervention. This is a desire, and desire is a cause of suffering according to the Buddha. He offered four Noble Truths as a way to break free from suffering, achieve Nirvana, and align with Truth.
I would sum up these Truths with the following dictum: Surrender Control. Why hold on to anything that does not serve you? Release control of your circumstance and release attachment to judgement. That is how to find alignment with your own flow, a Nirvana that lies within us all, because We Are One. That is why there is always #AnotherWay. Everything is perfect when you live in the moment. It is only the ego trying to sway you away from that.