The memory resurfaced. Days-gone-by illuminated my consciousness, beckoning me to leave the present and return to the past. “I miss that time,” I thought, as I remembered a lucid summer from two years ago, a time when I felt vibrantly alive.
I’m content with where I’m at, mentally, spiritually, and creatively, but the summer of 2018 had a different quality to it. I had a powerful spiritual awakening and a huge upgrade in my reality. I’d uncovered parts of myself I didn’t know existed, including levels of creativity never before experienced, and a vitality and aliveness which had me bouncing out of bed each day, eager to get to work on my business, to explore, to adventure.
An adventure it was; those summer months felt like learning how to live again, from a different place. My receptivity was wide open, I’d stumbled across a deeper reality, and I’d never felt more awake, more connected to myself, my spirituality, the universe surrounding me. I was seeing everything with fresh eyes, as if for the first time.
Such highs are common throughout the awakening process, but they aren’t ever-lasting. Since then I’ve continued to grow and develop, with similar moments of aliveness coming and going, with plenty of shadow work thrown in for good measure. Spiritual growth is circular, and although I feel the ways I’ve grown, there’s a certain quality about these months I can’t shake.
Spiritual growth is an unlearning process. Awakening into the true nature of reality requires constant unlearning of false beliefs and a re-discovery of the direct experience of the present moment. Conceptual reality is a house of mirrors, a myriad of illusion. Of all illusions, psychological time is the trickiest to detect.
Seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years… The passage of time is seemingly objective and compatible with experience. Events appear to unfold sequentially, superimposed onto the clock. But the past is a memory. The future is imagination. Life is eternally present, an infinite succession of Nows.
As Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” So much of our attention and energy is spent on holding on to days-gone-by or worrying about things that may never materialise. How does life change, once liberated from these opposing forces?
I’m enchanted by exposed brick, arched ceilings and passionate discussions about the nondual nature of existence. The magical space I’m sitting in, this sweet July afternoon, is the cellar of Castello di Titignano, Orvieto. Its shade and air circulation offers respite from the intense Italian sun. I’m grateful. And cool.
Barrels of fermenting grapes from nearby vineyards are replaced with pop-up chairs, projector screens, speakers. A colourful poster for SAND Italy 2019 reminds me of how far I’ve come. 12:35pm. It’s my turn to present at the Science and Nonduality Conference:
Welcome to the Age of Re-Enchantment: Magic Transforming Mental Health and the World.
Here we goooooo! Months of visualising, mind-mapping and soul searching has come to this.
We are told to be aware, to pay attention, to create space. Yet conscious engagement with thoughts, with the intention to change them skillfully, has immense benefits. Although counterintuitive, it boosts the ability to be mindful and accelerates spiritual growth.
Maturing the ego and cultivating a skilled, self-serving intellect, is just as rewarding as the transcendental elements of spiritual practice. But the message in the West is often black-or-white; the ego is all bad, the solution to troubling thoughts is always being in the Now.
Living in the present is simple and impossibly hard. The complexity of mind distracts in a multitude of ways. Neglecting the quality of thoughts makes presence much harder; if your thoughts work against you, the task is greater. Yet it’s rare to see spiritual guidance on techniques adjusting the thinking mind.
In poker, an unlucky hand, an opponent’s provocation, general impatience, or bad luck may drastically impair a player’s decision making process. Regardless of ability or experience, when this is extreme, a player takes high-risks or consistently makes irrational moves, in a futile attempt to chase losses. In game terminology, this psychological trap is called tilt.
The tilt mindset influences more than just financial investments. We invest in a multitude of ways; be it with time, emotions, creativity, or physical energy. In any situation, decisions may be impaired thanks to the accumulation of investments made, just like the poker player on a losing streak, spewing chips when the odds aren’t in favour.
Psychologists call this cognitive bias the sunk-cost fallacy. Away from gambling, it’s difficult to spot because success is linked with stories of unrelenting determination and a “never-say-die” attitude. Quitting equates to weakness. If you really want to succeed, never, ever give up!
But sometimes quitting is the best decision. In any venture, the refusal to quit can become a hindrance to success, growth, or progress. It takes a calm, measured assessment of a present situation to spot the sunk-cost fallacy. Pride, stubbornness, guilt or fear are some egoic traits motivating us to continue on a set path, even when the signs point in a new direction.
Honesty and knowing when to quit
A challenging relationship taught me the suffering caused by a refusal to quit. I’d invested so much emotion, time, energy and daydreams of perfect futures, I felt the relationship had to work. I’d created a fantasy I was attempting to make reality, despite signs indicating the relationship was over. The sunk-cost fallacy caused me to hold on, when all I needed to do was let go.
A storyline developed. I told myself I’d only be happy when we were together, in the same city, three years in the future. It dawned on me that I was holding on to the belief she was “the one,” and we were destined to be together, no matter what. Quitting was far from easy. But as I slowly sobered from the intoxication of what could’ve been, it became clear my decision was based on a “what if,” not the truth of the situation.
Awareness of the sunken-cost fallacy adds clarity to such decisions. We can then choose investments wisely, based on our present understanding, not an outdated notion or chasing of metaphorical (or literal) losses. This takes an honest assessment, like the poker player who knows when to call it a night.
I encourage you to ask yourself — where am I investing time, money, or energy, based on investments already made, rather than based on the present reality?
This conscious approach uncovers investments that have become stale. Without curiously exploring, much goes unquestioned. Yet we only have a limited amount to invest, and creating a dynamic and value-filled life means consistent assessment to align to the “what is” rather than the “what was” or “what could be.”
Flexibility and opportunities to learn
Every investment provides opportunity to learn. Quitting doesn’t erase experiences gained along the way — with a mind primed for growth, those lessons are injected into new investments as we learn to spend our time, money, energy more wisely. In this way, quitting adds flexibility to our lives, allowing us to view new opportunities with fresh eyes.
Impermanence (annica in Buddhism) is a universal truth. Everything is in constant flux, all is transient. The Buddha taught increased well-being, harmony and reduced suffering are possible when we allow greater flow into our lives. Embracing impermanence allows the old to leave gracefully, providing room for the new.
Quitting can be viewed as failure. Or it can be viewed as letting go to create space for the infinite potential of new opportunities, people, or experiences closer aligned to the person we are becoming. With limited energy, letting go of what no longer serves us allows us to invest in what does.
Quitting takes courage, especially when it closes the door of familiarity and opens the door of unknown possibilities. But when enacted skilfully, quitting is an act of faith — in ourselves, and in the universe.