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Life's Purpose



This is a 20 minute teaching on life purpose from a non-dualistic perspective derived from with Eastern wisdom traditions.

Target audience

This video is intended for people who are spiritually curious / interested and who are seeking to clarify either their purpose in life or to explore the way one views purpose from a non-dualistic perspective.


The audience will hear a unique and potentially perspective-shifting perspective on life and life purpose. They may find this perspective lightens the burden they feel to "get life right".


The video is recorded voice over a small number of visuals with concepts / points highlighted.


No preparation necessary.

Other comments

Provided By
London, UK

I coach and teach on topics of personal growth, professional growth and spiritual enquiry.

My aim is to help people live with greater freedom, courage, creativity, and responsibility.

My practice recognises the importance of both clarity (top-down, head-based) and embodiment (down-up, body-based) in evolving self-awareness and acceptance, ultimately pointing to our true, non-dual nature.

On Core Spirit since May 2021

Doug Fraley
Know You Go With the Flow

Taoism sees Life as one big process in which ‘things’ or ‘happenings’ are related and progress in a single flow. That movement follows one principle called Tao. Tao is how reality unfolds.

Despite this underlying unity, everything we observe is part of a duality. This is down to our faculties of perception and cognition. Presented with an undivided whole, a person cannot discern an ‘inside’ without simultaneously discovering (or creating) an ‘outside’. Any ‘left’ must have a space to its ‘right’. No ‘X’ appears unaccompanied by ‘not-X’ as the background against which it stands out.

These seemingly individual elements or qualities don’t exist absolutely, but only in relation to one another. They arise mutually in a conceptual parsing of unbroken reality.

Life’s fundamental relatedness means that I am not independent of nature. The myriad physical, emotional and psychological processes within me are really sub-routines of Nature’s one process. My activities as I observe, decide, act and learn are complex, but they are no more separate from Life’s larger flow than an eddy is from the stream in which it swirls.

It is a matter of realizing that oneself and nature are one and the same process, which is the Tao.
– Alan Watts

Yet… I feel separate, and I seem to take independent action. That is part of the game. As a person, an eddy in the flow of Life, I act based on who I am (my beliefs, abilities, habits, energy, etc) and the situation in which I find myself. ‘Who I am’ is the ‘inside’ and the ‘situation’ is the ‘outside’, but they are in constant interaction. For instance, my habits adjust based on the situations I face, and my routines influence what situations I wander into. Put more simply, inner and outer events are one flow.

This applies to all people. The actions of the ‘unenlightened’ are just as surely resonant with Tao as ‘awakened’ ones. Tao informs all of Life equally, with no preference for the aspects that seem more ‘Taoist’ or ‘flowing’. There is no moral duty to follow Tao; you cannot do otherwise.

Finally, Tao doesn’t announce its intentions. Understanding that events progress in keeping with Tao doesn’t give us any special idea of what will happen or what we should do. It may, though, grant us peace in uncertainty and equanimity during intense experiences. These in turn may allow us to make better decisions.

You and I are part of one flow. As you read this note from ‘the outside’, perhaps it, guided by Tao, impacts ‘your inside’ in some small way. Inside, I hope so.

Doug Fraley
Set Down the Burden - Taoism Shows How

Trade struggle for flow.
We carry unnecessary emotional backpacks through life. The more we see them in their proper context, the more frequently we can set them aside. They may always accompany us, but we needn’t bear their weight.

Reality’s quality check
Life sometimes rejects our demands. Although we want things one way, they turn out another. Other people’s words and actions hurt us, while we let them and ourselves down in speech and deed. We face troubling decisions as we look to an uncertain future.

Taoism sees all of these instances (along with their positive counterparts) as part of a single flow based on the principle, Tao.* Everything that happens, happens necessarily. Taoism is a light-hearted philosophy, but it takes the word ‘everything’ seriously. ‘Everything’ includes every being’s thoughts, feelings, words and actions alongside the universe’s inanimate events.

The Tao is not something we choose to follow or not. We are part of the stream, not swimmers in it. We are special parts of it, though, because we experience the flow. What does Tao’s role imply?

Anything that has happened did so in keeping with this principle. It was wholly legitimate. Yes, we may wish it had been different, but our preferences don’t invalidate life’s seal of approval. Tao’s blessing doesn’t mean past occurrences were just or morally right, only that they were necessary consequences of nature’s consistency. This line of reasoning applies equally to natural events and to human action. Remember, nothing is outside reality’s single flow, deaf to the Tao. Realising this allows us to re-frame blame, resentment and guilt.

Anything that is happening is doing so in keeping with Tao. An event right now is a done deal, signed off and made real. If we are aware of it, then it is already ‘out there’. This includes our interpretation and degree of satisfaction with immediate events. Understanding this softens *discontent *and judgement.

Finally, whatever does happen in the future will do so based on Tao. Any decisions we make will be part of reality’s singular unfolding. How and to what extent we live up to our promises and intentions will be aspects of the same whole. Any victory or loss we have will fit within the larger truth.

None of this changes the fact that we are uncertain what the future holds. We do make decisions, choosing from among options. Just because we see a choice as part of nature’s flow doesn’t mean we know which option is the best one. We’re human, so we have to decide. Each of us will choose based on who we are and what the world is in that moment, and all of that derives from Tao. Recognising this re-contextualises anxiety.

These bold emotions, negative and often intense, are part of nature’s one stream. Our seeing this doesn’t erase them or make us less sensitive to them. As long as we are to enjoy the pleasure in life, we must be equally exposed to pain. No, the opportunity is to discover that our true relationship with these emotions is different to what we’ve assumed it to be.

Life as fight; life as flow
Few grow up seeing themselves as a part of nature’s flow. We seem to be at least partially free of it, even though our bodies are subject to the same forces that govern falling rocks and decaying trees. The world seems to confirm that we are separate from and battling within our environment. So when someone first intellectually agrees with Taoism’s core tenet, they don’t automatically feel as if it’s true. To realise the truth, to understand in real time Tao’s role, to recognise the necessity of every detail of this moment — these are counterintuitive.

But we can question our habitual interpretations and feelings, experimenting with different ‘lenses’. The key is to allow ourselves the possibility that there is an alternative to struggle. Where might we find the necessary courage? Doris Day sang Que Sera Sera (What will be, will be.) The Christian mystic incants Thy will be done. For those in recovery, the Serenity Prayer opens the door:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.
-Reinhold Niebuhr

Sometimes our reminders work. We relax! Then, we don’t see the past as a cosmic injustice or shameful sin. The present is not an illegitimate imposition. Our future is a no longer a problem to be solved, so the pressure to ‘get it right’ diminishes. In such instants, discontent dissipates, fear dissolves, resentment washes away. We might call this magical relaxation surrender, a different way of experiencing life.

To our past thinking, lacking control meant losing freedom. But in these moments of clarity, the recognition that we are part of the great flow frees us. It liberates us from the sense of isolated responsibility that constitutes such a burden.

Each time we move from the way of independence and control to the way of surrender and freedom, it is as if we slip that large rucksack from our shoulders and allow life to carry it.

These free moments pass, and others arise, ones in which old habits overpower our self-reminders. With our nervous systems tensed, we don’t see things clearly enough to remember how everything happens — according to Tao. We return to experiencing life as struggle, for some period.

So, we learn through experience that there are two principal ways to participate in life:

  • As if we are independent of the wider world and in control of life, or
  • As if we are undivided from and floating freely in it.

Taoist teaching helps us question the first path and opens our minds to the availability of the second. The writings also suggest a way of thinking, speaking and acting in daily life, behaving as if we were on the second path, not out of moral duty but as a beneficial practice of reorientation. Some might call this a ‘fake it till you make it’ strategy. It promotes the relaxation through which we drop the backpack. The bag doesn’t disappear; it floats beside us, its weight born by the same stream of which we are a part.

Each time we move from the way of independence and control to the way of surrender and freedom, it is as if we slip that large rucksack from our shoulders and allow life to carry it. After some moments of explicit bliss, the burdenless sense becomes ‘normal’, no longer exceptional. The absence of a load feels natural.

But inevitably, we again detect our backs aching, and we notice the bag’s weight. The more we manage to recognise that relapse itself as part of the great flow rather than judging ourselves for it, the lighter any burden is.

  • Physics views all that happens as part of a single flow based on the initial conditions of the universe and the laws that govern how it evolves moment-by-moment. Although Taoism and physics don’t always say the same things, for the purposes of this article’s content, you can replace Tao with ‘the laws of physics’.
Doug Fraley
Surrender to Life as the Raindrop Surrenders to Water

An analogy for anxious times
As a person, I walk this Earth for some eighty years. Born of my parents, I thrive, suffer and die. As one of billions, I think, speak and act, a tiny yet distinct fragment in a societal mosaic.In my travels, I behold magnificent sites, listen to bewitching sounds and otherwise take in my surroundings. Seen this way, I am a body harbouring a mind. This person is experiencing anxious times in a world turned upside down.

Beyond this human evidence, I suspect there is more to me. I appear ill equipped to fathom just what that is, but in magical moments I can conjure a glimpse of my greater self. It is only an image, a pale representation of the ungraspable, but it holds and fortifies me. No matter whether it is a window on reality or a useful metaphor: when I access it, my world calms, and I process events with less neurotic waste of energy.

In one such moment, I imagine myself as water — not just some water but Water, all the H2O on and around this planet of ours.

When I picture myself as Water, I traverse the sky in cloud guise, sometimes puffy and white, others thundering and charcoal. I hang, muggy, on humid days, beading the outside of a cool lemonade glass. And I fill that glass, mixed with other substances. I float in cubes on the drink’s surface. On high, my vapour drifts, pregnant, until I gather in drops, ice pellets or flakes. Then I fall, for months at a time in Southeast Asian monsoons, hardly ever over deserts’ crust and dunes.

As Water, I cover the poles and mountaintops, cold and solid. I swirl in dancing spirals when winds whip my powdery form from its sparkling blanket on moonlit meadows. Frozen, I flow, glacially slow, thick and white, until I melt on Everest’s lower slopes. Or I crumble as giant bergs into myself, the sea.

I, Water, move as awesome waves in the Southern Ocean, as a short-lived vortex at the swish of a tuna’s tailfin. Lightless and heavy, I rest in trenches eleven kilometres beneath my own surface, which covers three-quarters of the Earth.

I trickle in clear streams. As languid river or rushing alpine cascade, I descend, seeking my ocean self. Fallen rain, I soak the soil, pool in lakes. And I gather in Life, composing and moving through plants and animals, microbes and fungi. Falling over turbines in furious torrents or rising through them with steaming force, I power human endeavour.

In my Water fantasy, I am the hydrosphere, a water world that bathes, cloaks, permeates and connects everything on and in the Earth’s skin. I take vastly different forms, appearing as countless seemingly separate instances. I may be a dewdrop poised on the tip of a drooping leaf, but I am not only that. No matter where, when or how I manifest, I am also all that Water is.

Water outlives and transcends all its forms, but it is not separate from them. How much truer is this of Life?

The lion, the wildebeest, the bacterium, the chicken and the egg are instances of Life. Each lion. Each chicken. Life manifests as the rose, the beanstalk, the truffle and the hemlock leaf. It has cycles and phases. Life consumes and repurposes itself. Life is Ouroboros — the mythical snake eating its own tail.

Yes, the good Samaritan, the executioner, the rich man, the caring mother and the naughty child are Life. Alongside the majestic, Life’s forms include the unkind, the ignorant and the unfortunate. Good and evil sit comfortably in Life’s arms. Innumerable instances of every being I can imagine, these are Life’s equivalents to Water’s drops, flakes, bergs, floes, clouds and mists.

In Life, as Life, an embryo becomes a child (or a cub or a calf…). Life takes care of digestion. It breathes in all its forms. Life fights, flees or freezes when it meets threat. In some awkward cases, like mine, it contemplates itself.

This blessed life
I am a tall, bearded man in London, UK, but is that all I am? If Life both composes and transcends any life, as Water does the dewdrop on the leaf, what does that mean for me?

This man was born and will die. Each of his thoughts and feelings has a beginning and an end. Each experience he has arises and passes. If he is an aspect, a fragment of Life, which am I? The man or Life? I know I am alive because I think and feel, because I experience living. Does the man do that, or does Life? Might Life do it through the man?

The Christian New Testament invites a parallel consideration of Jesus as the Son of God. Was Jesus a man or God? Were Father and Son two entities? Perhaps God lived on Earth as Jesus. Might the Father and Son be One, because the Son is a very special manifestation of the Father? The Father may be God in transcendence; the Son, God made imminent. Could that apply to us all as God’s children, a truth Jesus’s story can help us realise?

Life manifests through every life. Life lives as each life, including this man’s. I am man and Life. The man only exists as an expression of Life. Life only ever appears as a specific being, looking out and experiencing from a particular perspective. Each needs the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

Sometimes, Life, as a life, recognises this truth. If that life is an awkward, self-contemplating one like mine, this recognition may allow it to relax and surrender to Life in even the most challenging times. My life may glimpse itself in the image of the dewdrop — suspended, a liquid prism glistening for some time at leaf’s tip, then falling to earth and continuing its journey as Water, to Water.

Doug Fraley
Here's Why the Obstacle is the Way

Reality can lead us from self-deception to a richer life.
Ryan Holiday shows us how to apply Stoicism to modern life in The Obstacle is the Way. Late in the book, he summarises his message in a few sentences:

See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must. What blocked the path now is a path. What once impeded action advances action. The Obstacle is the Way.

The Way (or Path)
The underlying point is that life sends us what we need to grow and progress. What confuses most of us is that these developmental gifts from life arrive in unattractive packaging. We get passed over for promotion. Our dream date turns us down. We can’t secure the money needed for our venture. Our relationship hits the rocks.

Teacher and author, Mary O’Malley, delivers a similar message in What’s In the Way Is the Way — our pain and disappointment show us the way forward.

Are these wise authors expressing themselves poetically? Or might they be appealing to a cosmic synchronicity that tracks our progress and lays stepping stones to support our journey? Why or how is it that the obstacle is the way? How does nature lay this path for us?

The Stepping Stones
For me, the message makes most sense through a psychological lens.

  • Modern science shows us that unconscious bias rules much of our decision-making and even our perception.
  • Therapists have helped patients for over a century, exposing repressed and suppressed material we cast into shadow, material that squeezes out in neurotic behaviour.
  • Spiritual sages have long shone light on how our conditioning (inherited traits and early interactions) affects our current experience.

What do these perspectives have in common? The power of the individual and collective unconscious. Our perceptual and cognitive processes sift and distort reality into an image or story before it reaches our conscious awareness. How is this so?

  • Far more information bombards us every second than we can manage. We evolved to use filtering mechanisms that focused on what mattered most to life, death and reproduction.
  • Even dealing with a streamlined data feed, solving every problem from first principles would be painfully slow, so our brains evolved to specialise in shortcuts — rules of thumb that delivered workable solutions most of the time.
  • We were each born into a particular culture in a specific era. The dominant belief systems, social norms, linguistic forms and mythical material shaped how ideas — including ours — formed and propagated in that time and place.
  • Even before we could speak, the emotional environment of the household and family moulded our behaviour, thought and perception into a package that would earn the love and care we needed. That package became our self-definition. We polished this image further to fit in as well as possible with peers as we grew.
  • This self-image and its photo-negative — our shadow — projected further to our assumptions and interpretations of others and even the inanimate world. So our specific inheritance and experience refined evolutionary filters and cultural templates.
  • So was born the storyteller — that voice in our head that narrates life as we live it, the false self interacting with a false world, the self-image that meets our projected image of external reality. It brings its own blind spots, filters, judgements, sensitivities and demands to our experience.

The Lamp
The thing is, there’s only one reality. You know the one — Reality. It includes these images and stories, but it dwarfs them and pays no heed to how the narrator says things should be. The mind’s storyteller paints an ideal world — simple, predictable and comfortable. Meanwhile, reality is wild.

Every self-image is false, as is each story of the world. Just as any computer model of the global economy is a gross simplification of the real thing, every story also misses the mark — blunt-edged and rigid in its attempt to portray reality’s elegant chaos. This is why Lao-Tse said the Tao that can be spoken is not the real Tao.

Today’s world differs greatly from the one in which evolution honed filters and shortcuts in our prehistoric ancestors. We may live in a different culture than the one that shaped us as children, or its norms might have shifted since we were young. Our homes are probably not those we grew up in. Most significantly, we now have greater and more flexible capacities to manage the full range of life experiences. But we’re still operating from the story formed from these outdated components.

Each story misses the mark in its own ways — based on individual conditioning. On some fronts, in certain moments, yours may be a useful approximation of yourself and the world. Mine comes closest in other times, in different dimensions. On the whole, though, every story is out of date, never as dynamic as the world it second-guesses.

What shows where each story conflicts with reality? Reality does! Every moment of our lives, it shows each of us where our self-image and our story are disserving us. These moments of misalignment show up as… obstacles! Experiences we do not want. Events we believe should not be happening. What do they look like?

The better question is, ‘What do they feel like?’ They are the moments of our most intense experiences, the ones that include a powerful sense of discomfort in our bodies. The ones that knock our most advanced cognitive capacities offline. We might replace the word ‘obstacle’ with ‘trigger’ — the things in life that touch a vulnerability and grab us. These unwelcome visitors that defy our preferences are indicators of opportunity. They show us where our self-image and its projection onto the world keep us from dealing with reality as it is.

So you see, life doesn’t deliver obstacles. Life delivers itself in all its variety, and each of us rejects aspects that don’t conform to our personal image and story of how things should be. This is the sense in which ‘the obstacle is the way.’ As children, we unknowingly define what we will view as obstacles throughout our years. Life then highlights them for us so that we can update our definitions as we mature.

Life shows me there is no guarantee others will understand me as I am, no matter how loudly I demand they do. It shows you that even those who love you most will sometimes let you down. Life shows the shopkeeper that she cannot control the behaviour of her staff, suppliers and customers.

Each of us has a path with unique details because every person’s conditioning contains not only evolutionary and cultural components but also household and individual ones. The stones making up each path are shaped and laid by that conditioning. My path is mine. You have yours.

The Blindfold and the Invitation
Reality’s lamp has always illuminated the way. Why have we not followed it?

The storyteller in us doesn’t see this light and its messages as helpful guides but as threats. Their strong physical sensations seem to signal danger, so instead of investigating and heeding them, we flee. In fact, our fear of these intense feelings is so great that we’ll do almost anything to avoid them — disappear deeper into our head-bound narrative or create and act out an external drama to distract us. The short-term distractions are painful in their own right, and they create longer-term issues. Worse still, they don’t insulate us from the unwanted sensations.

This neurotic organisation of distractions makes up a great deal of human experience, and it follows directly from our misinterpretation of fear, anger, confusion and pain. These allies invite us to grow — to become true adults rather than grown-ups acting from a child’s psyche.

We flee them. What might we do instead? Life invites us to experience the anger, including the throbbing it brings to our temples. Experience the confusion, including the knot it ties in our gut. By facing them, we demystify them. When we sit with and through them, we gradually erode our association of these powerful sensations with existential threat.

As we progress, our personal stories and images may adjust, but they won’t disappear. Human life is the experience of story. But life transforms when the story includes awareness of itself as story, when the image includes recognition of itself as image.

This awakening requires a relaxed nervous system, one no longer lurching from threat to threat with each intense experience. Life gives us the material we need to carry out our own experimental training, to relax and to see from a new, more courageous perspective.

The reward is not the reliable satisfaction of our preferences. It is a more intimate experience of life through more robust emotional capabilities. We enter a virtuous cycle, building faith that we can work with whatever life brings.

The way, the path, is the journey toward experiencing life more directly, less through our storyteller’s narration. The stones that make up that path are the aspects of reality that our blind spots, biases, judgements and self-deception have hidden or distorted. We’ve avoided these stones throughout our lives — consciously or not.

But these cobbles populate our present and future as well. Reality shows us the path through the triggered intensity of feeling that accompanies each such stone’s arrival at our feet. Life invites us to step here, not turning around, not skipping to the side, not attempting to soar over on the wings of fantasy. In this step we bear discomfort and learn that we can do so again.

By placing our full weight on each cobble and taking it in our stride, we reclaim and integrate an abandoned piece of ourselves. Walking onward, stone after stone, we finally create the adult we were meant to be.

Doug Fraley
Anxiety as a Glimpse of Freedom

Bumps in the road from the illusion of control to letting go.
I recently had what felt like a setback, slipping into anxious worry about an aspect of my future. The theme of this anxiety emerged nine or ten years ago, and it has occasionally risen quite strongly. It is my core vulnerability. Many of us are suffering increased anxiety in this Covid period, but mine had abated in these strange months. I must admit, I thought it had gone for good.

But with a single trigger, innocuous in its own right, it reignited and stayed with me for a day. Although it didn’t seize my thoughts consistently through that period, my mood soured and my sensitivity flared. The final few hours of that spell, plus a few afterwards, brought disappointment in my weakness, for not living my own understanding.

What can I learn from this?

I’ll set aside the details of my fretting episode. For our purposes, they don’t matter. I’m more interested in revisiting my picture of anxiety in its broadest sense and of self-judgement on the spiritual path.

The Spiritual Trek
Climbing the mountain of personal development and spiritual growth often brings a shift in experience, away from suffering, towards a more frequent and lasting sense of freedom or ease. On the surface, we might think we can equate this with a move from discomfort to comfort. But seekers pursuing this shift directly tend to stall on the mountain’s lower slopes.

They run out of steam or give up because real growth requires a mountain trek from prioritising comfort to relating more intimately with discomfort. Those at the summit stand with open arms to welcome comfort and discomfort equally whenever either visits. This summit is not crowded.

I think of the three primary aspects of this counter-intuitive journey as shifts from:

Certainty to openness. Releasing fixed rules and strategies in favour of responding flexibly to each situation as it arises.
Security to vulnerability. Spending less time in defensiveness and facing all experience, including what I fear and what brings discomfort.
Control to faith. Instead of managing myself and my environment to generate desired outcomes, trusting that whatever nature delivers is legitimate and workable.

These are three streams of one broad flow toward surrender or letting go, and movement in the streams tends to correspond with a shift in the view of self: from being a separate agent to being an inseparable aspect of a unitary process. With that recognition, it becomes clear that security, certainty and control don’t exist and never did.

Two giants of the western spiritual world emphasise this necessary understanding in their own way:

…this insecurity is the result of trying to be secure, and… salvation and sanity consist in the most radical recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves.
The principal thing is to understand that there is no safety or security.

— Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity

“I don’t know” is not confusion. Confusion is “I don’t know, but I should know” or “I don’t know, but I need to know.”When you fully accept that you don’t know, you actually enter a state of peace and clarity that is closer to who you truly are than thought could ever be.
— Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Storms that pass
I tell myself that I get this, and I try to practice it. In my anxious spell, I didn’t quite manage. For a period, despite my professed commitment to vulnerable wholeness, I experienced an acute longing for future security. Noticing this ache, the internal voice of spiritual judgement rejected the anxiety, declaring it illegitimate. Hours later, a second voice spoke, judging the first, condemning it for turning from the anxious feeling’s appeal for attention.

The appearance of anxious thoughts and feelings, along with my subsequent self-aggression, serve as a reminder that pain and judgement, like rain and wind, can visit the spiritual valley, summit and all slopes in between. Hoping otherwise is reaching for a spiritual bypass.

Here is a very practical perspective from a gifted therapist, writer and practicing Buddhist:

Anxiety, from a spiritual path perspective, can therefore be understood as the accurate perception of the basically open nature of life, as seen from the… aspect of the self that, quite understandably, wants to feel comfortable, happy, safe, secure, and in control. When faced with the reality of how open everything actually is, that part of us basically freaks out…. At some point or another, anybody committed to a spiritual path may find it important to commit to the experience of anxiety as an approximation of an open state of mind. This is not because reality is itself anxiety producing but because the inevitable engagement of a “personal self” with nonpersonal reality will be experienced as a threat to this self — that is, as anxiety.
— Bruce Tift, Already Free

So anxiety may be a product of moving into vulnerability and openness, while still carrying a sense of separateness. It is a natural (and perhaps even encouraging) part of the process. Beyond this, Tift tells me that anxiety has much in common with the experience at the mountaintop. The difference is that the illusory independence, the ‘personal self’ evaporates before the top. In fact, its dissolution defines the summit.

Let’s set aside that very important distinction between anxiety and enlightenment for a moment to look at the similarity. Both perspectives recognise that reality and life are wild, indefinable and uncontrollable. The illusions of security, certainty and control have fallen away — at least temporarily — from the anxious seeker, just as they have (presumably permanently) for the sage.

But the seeker on the slope feels independent from the surrounding world, so a sense of danger permeates his experience. The illusion of independence and the sensed threat are one and the same. From the summit, the Self is all life’s wild unpredictability. Reality is nothing other than Self and so poses no threat.

Faith and Surrender
Surrender is a necessary step on the path from suffering to freedom. Why, then, don’t I just surrender? Why did I not ‘ride’ the anxious disturbance and carry on the other day?

True realization, true enlightenment, comes through a complete relinquishing of personal will — a complete letting go.
— Adyashanti, The End of Your World

Well, at the deepest level, surrender is not done. It happens. If the separateness, like security, certainty and control, is an illusion, then there is no independent entity to surrender. Surrender is something that arises (or doesn’t) as part of the unitary flow of reality. In my anxious moments, surrender doesn’t happen. Instead, anxiety and judgement do.

At a more practical level, for those of us whose experience still includes the sense of separateness, ‘we’ don’t surrender, because we’re afraid of what will follow.

You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control.But you never had control; all you had was anxiety.
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Instagram, 12 July 2020

That resonates with me! And experiencing anxiety may even deepen the entrenchment of that desire to control. It might make us turn back from our experimental vulnerability. This is shaping up like a vicious circle!

The key ingredient may be the emergence of faith, the trust in life and nature as an intelligent process, the trust that whatever happens is not a mistake. Faith requires the openness that doesn’t cling to one or other belief. Like love, it imposes no conditions.

Faith isn’t based on a belief that life will always satisfy my egoic preferences, protect me from harm or deliver my dreams. From a personal standpoint, it is the confidence that, whatever arises, I will ‘get by’. No outcome will be unbearable. Life may ask me to bear the most I can, but it doesn’t ask me to bear more.

The blossoming of faith, the evaporation of the separate self and the relaxation into peace are entwined. They are not a once-and-for-all finish line but a possibility in every moment. Increasingly, I tune in to each moment’s immediacy. The non-narrative elements of experience come more to the foreground, where mental commentary dominated before. As faith grows, my attempted control sometimes relaxes into life’s flow. I am kind to myself whenever I remember to be.

These moments have ebbs and flows. During the ebbs, I may worry and judge, as in the example that prompted this story. Then, the next moment comes, life’s next offering. I step toward it, up the slope. It’s an awe-inspiring hillside, no less so for its rocky patches.

Doug Fraley
The Many Faces of God

The world’s wisdom traditions point to one truth, but each highlights distinctive features.


Taoism’s rural wholesomeness is a great counter to my intellectual nature. If any tradition forms the bedrock of my understanding, this one, so brilliantly laid out in Lao Tzu’s eighty-one poetic chapters, does. It pictures reality as an organic whole evolving in accordance with a single principle, Tao. This simple root yields abundant fruit.

The Yin/Yang symbol for which Taoism is famous illustrates, better than any long exposition, the mutual dependence of life’s opposites. I would never know good if I did not recognise bad. Neither I nor the world can have one without the other. They arise together, and each contains its opposite’s seed. This calms childish expectations of perfection and unrealistic hopes for an undisturbed existence.

My use here of metaphors from the plant kingdom pays homage to Taoism’s organic nature. Life is fluid; so best if my navigation of it is too. Moral and customary rules are like dry, dead stalks — brittle and likely to break under the forces of change. Let me imitate the green, flexible reed, remaining anchored but bending to absorb life’s gusts and whirlwinds.

Even better, I can emulate water. In its humility, it flows to low places. Untroubled by obstacles, water eases around them or bides its time to build and spill over them. In no rush, even gentle streams carve gorges in mighty mountains. Just as no drop’s movement is independent of the stream’s flow, my personal decisions and actions are inseparable from Tao’s comprehensive unfolding. Far from restricting freedom, this realisation liberates me.

Taoism’s final gift to me, highlighted in its rejection of rules and authority, has been a playful irreverence. In my best moments, I adopt its ironic view of life’s dramas and of my character’s participation in them. Taoism keeps humour close to my heart. Here, the purpose of life is spontaneous creativity and play.

Theravada Buddhism

Theravada Buddhism is anchored in the Pali canon and Gautama’s direct teachings. Through the practice of Vipassana, it introduced me to the body’s central role in seeking what I don’t have and clinging to what I fear losing.

Experimenting on himself, Gautama found that these reflexes, at the heart of human suffering, were not responses to external conditions but to pleasant and painful bodily sensations.

By attending gently and patiently to the coming and going of these internal experiences, I notice that none persist. All are impermanent. This decreases their power and sometimes breaks the causal chain connecting my life events to unnecessary suffering.

Western Therapeutic Tradition / Heart Path
My interest in Carl Jung’s work and my personal experience with therapy deepen the somatic aspect of my practice. Jungian psychology tells me that, as a youngster seeking love and security, I hid certain aspects of myself that seemed to make me unworthy. My behaviour and even conscious perception altered to bury these characteristics from sight — in the shadow.

But hiding my vulnerability doesn’t remove it. I can’t fool life. When my child-crafted image of myself conflicts with reality, shadow elements squeeze out in otherwise inexplicable antics. Like Gautama, many modern Jungians recognise the body’s role in this triggering process.

When I feel this activation begin, I can breathe slowly and attend to my body. The physical discomfort of my image-reality-conflict arises somewhere — usually in my gut or chest. If, instead of distracting myself or acting out, I sit with it until it subsides, I weaken the unconscious association of the sensation with existential threat.

Over time, I can ‘handle’ the discomfort and integrate the associated shadow element into a fuller self. As I repeat this with the various outcast aspects of myself, I disassemble the image built in childhood. I operate more frequently (but sadly not always!) based on present reality instead of blindly replaying reactions from the past.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga uses devotion to a Higher Power as a path to surrender and the peace that accompanies it. Building on Vipassana and the Heart Path, I have tried treating my heart/innocence/body as this divine object of worship.

I shower the innocent child in me with love. He is bravely reassembling himself by opening to things he has always refused to face, and he communicates most simply and directly through uncomfortable sensations. I try to love these sensations, and when that fails, I embrace the very innocence that can’t accommodate the current challenge of integration.


Taoism approaches truth from an organic, poetic angle. The heart paths proceed from psychology via somatic awareness. Advaita Vedanta is a philosophical path, the most natural to me and one on which I’ve spent considerable time. Here, I learned to discriminate between the objects of experience — thoughts, sights, sounds, emotions, internal sensations — and the subjective awareness of them.

A careful exercise on this front reveals that all the ‘things’ I took myself to be were instead objects of which I was aware, elements I experienced. ‘What then,’ the path leads me to ask, ‘am I?’ The first great breakthrough is the realisation that I am the pure Witness of all I observe, while void of observable attributes myself.

The ultimate step involves realising that ‘Observer’ and ‘Observed’ are redundant in this analysis. Everything that needs explaining can be addressed by the presence of subjectless, objectless ‘Observing’, a non-dual non-state that includes, knows and is all possible states.

This may sound bizarre, but it resonates with me intellectually. I applaud it as elegant and persuasive. What I don’t find is that my conceptual agreement with it transforms my experience to equally ‘track’ with it.


The Vedantic path of discrimination risks leaving head-bound seekers in a disembodied limbo. I’ve spent time stuck, believing myself, as the Witness, aloof from the world. But in reality, nothing sits between me and what I observe, because Experiencing is what I am.

The Tantric path of love explores this intimacy with all experience and reacquaints me with it. Tantra helps me ‘wake-out’, as Loch Kelly puts it. The world shifts, no longer appearing to me but in me, then as me. This is a beautiful rounding out of the inward Vedantic journey, and the metaphors of dream and play help it ‘land’ with me.

If I am the unitary field that comprises all of existence and if there is a God, then I am She! The ‘I’ here is not a person but the true Self. One way to make sense of our world is to see it as a dream in the mind of The Divine, populated by the lives that pass on earth. It resonates best with me as countless simultaneous dreams, one for each sentient creature. Within each dream, God, not realising She is dreaming (although that is all She ever does) believes She is the protagonist. This doesn’t mean that our lives aren’t real, just that they are real as dreams!

A parallel analogy sees God as the actor (and set, stage and audience) in a Divine play, performing in the role of every living being. I find these metaphors fascinating, beautiful and surprisingly instructive, whether or not they reflect metaphysical truth.


This tradition of teachings in Tibetan Buddhism reminds me that I am perfect in this and every moment.

From the standpoint of Consciousness, every aspect of experience, including the man typing these words, is exactly as it is ‘meant to be’ at all times. This person may be experiencing confusion, but Consciousness knows that confusion with perfect clarity. A woman may be experiencing toil and sweat, but Consciousness knows that toiling effortlessly.

No moment lacks anything. As Eckhart Tolle tells me, only the ego has an issue with the present moment. Now is always already perfect.


My native tradition gives me two primary gifts: it demonstrates my simultaneous humanity and divinity, and it reminds me of the roles of death and rebirth.

Jesus, as the Son of God, is both human and divine. I don’t take this as a special case but as an exemplar to help me realise the dual natures of my one being. Jesus doesn’t reject his humanity, and no seeker, yearning like myself to realise his true nature as God / Consciousness / All That Is, will do so through rejecting his.

I am Perfection. I am Consciousness. I am God. I am. But I am these embodied in human form. Yes, as a person, I only exist as an embodiment of God. But equally, as Him, I only live and experience myself as and through this person. There is no God’s eye view.

Jesus suffers, dies and rises again. I don’t interpret this as a unique story or one promising eternal heavenly reward after human demise. For me, Jesus’s death and resurrection exemplify the dying to each moment that allows the continual creation of Tao’s flow.

To me, Now is every moment in which God re-creates the world, descending to earth as one of His creatures and experiencing that world — His body — through a particular perspective. Jesus’s story simplifies that continual re-birth to encompass a full (if short) human life followed by death and resurrection. But in reality, every second that passes is a new creation.

Spiritual kingdoms like these ring the Sacred Mountain, sprinkled around the circumference of its base. Each realm’s holiest place houses an eyepiece directed to the peak. Not only do these magnify one or other particular cliff face. Each spyglass, through its mirrors and prisms, also projects its own characteristics onto the summit and the upward path.

Each tradition, fully understood, implies every insight I’ve summarised, and more. For me, different schools point more clearly to certain truths than others, so touring the kingdoms has been valuable.

Regardless, spiritual growth doesn’t happen in these citadels. From them, expeditions launch. I’ve been on several. In the steady upward trek itself, or in a blinding insight from a high rocky ledge, pilgrims awaken. The trek is daily life, how I observe, think, speak and act on that mountain’s varied terrain.

I invite you to visit one or more kingdoms, then enjoy the walk!

Doug Fraley
Resilience - 90 Seconds at a Time

I’ve worked in demanding settings, including U.S. Army Ranger training and top-flight management consulting. Outside work, I routinely (and voluntarily) undertake gruelling cycling challenges and other outdoor adventures. I share this not to brag (honest) but to invite you into my own surprise at how sensitive and downright emotionally fragile I still am. I have to work at resilience.

But I am willing to do that work and want to learn and mature. I am building resilience, and you can too. The good news is that it takes only three simple steps. The sobering truth is that it may involve repeating those steps several times a day for the rest of your life.

First, I’ll summarise them. Then, I’ll explain how and why they work.

Three steps

The following practice works for me. When I say ‘works’, that is when I succeed in step 1. I don’t always manage. In those cases I miss an opportunity and have to live with the repercussions of any childish behaviour that might follow.

When I do my part, the exercise has both an immediate effect and a longer-term, ‘training’ one. In the short term, I act out less frequently, and I seldom slip back into unhelpful internal narratives that would otherwise cycle through my head. I’m normally able to move on. If the commentary does reappear, I can simply repeat the practice.

  1. Notice and name my reaction
    The crucial first step is to catch my emotional activation. My most frequent evidence that I’m triggered includes when I:
  • Blame anyone (including myself) for anything;
  • Yearn for resolution to uncertainty;
  • Daydream negative ‘what if’ scenarios;
  • Explain why I am right for more than 20 seconds.
  • Having noticed the reaction, I silently name it with as little self-judgement as possible (e.g. I’m rambling to justify my recent behaviour.).

I also give a name to the primary emotion I’m feeling. Karla McLaren’s work is helpful here in giving an emotional vocabulary to draw from. She identifies four emotional families. The fourth isn’t particularly relevant to this exercise, but it’s nice to have the full collection:

  • Anger (Anger, Apathy, Shame & Guilt, Hatred);
  • Fear (Fear, Anxiety, Confusion, Jealousy, Envy, Panic & Terror);
  • Sadness (Sadness, Grief, Situational Depression, The Suicidal Urge).* If you are in crisis, please contact a counsellor or crisis hotline;*
  • Happiness (Happiness, Contentment, Joy).

The emotions most likely to appear in intense form to me are Fear, Jealousy and Anger, but I have visits from others as well.

  1. Breathe
    Of course, I’m always breathing! But in this step, I consciously slow and attend to my breathing. I check that I’m breathing through my nose and carry out three cycles of three-second inhale and three-second exhale, paying particular attention to the air passing out through my nostrils.

As I do this, I avoid chest breathing, trying to use my abdomen and allowing the lower ribs in my back to relax and expand for inhalation.

(Breath is central to physiological and emotional regulation. I recommend James Nestor’s Breath.)

  1. Investigate and befriend discomfort
    With my third exhale, I search for the most significant discomfort in my body. There is always a physical marker that accompanies my intense emotional triggers, usually a knot in my gut or a clenching in my chest. In rare cases when I don’t find one, I default to the region of my heart.

After locating this discomfort, I focus on it, not on the commentary that may be looping in my head. To make this easier, I bring my curiosity to it, investigating. Is it sharp or dull? Pinpoint or radiating? Continuous or intermittent?

Crucially, I welcome it. That’s right, I say silently, ‘You are welcome here.’ I’ll share more about this below.

I stay with this uncomfortable sensation until one of three things happens: a) a minute passes, b) the feeling disappears or c) I am overwhelmed and need to bail out of the exercise. The final case seldom arises. Please note, the aim is not to get the discomfort to go away, but it often does.

Finally, I inhale a parting breath into that space, and move on with my day.

How and why this works

Now let’s look at the reasoning behind the process.

  • Give a name: Emotional intensity can create a bypass of the highest reasoning faculties, knocking them offline to hand control to the more (evolutionarily) ancient functions that handle fight/flight/freeze response. Verbal reasoning, including naming the trigger and primary emotion, calls the higher-order capacity back online, so that my unique human cognition engages with the intense experience.
  • Breathe: On one level, the breathing inserts a pause in what might otherwise continue as a downward spiral. Beyond that, those thirty seconds can stem the drive of the sympathetic nervous response (the one that spins me up for battle or escape) and nudge towards ventral vagal’s nuanced parasympathetic function. Slow breaths help this. So does nasal breathing. The effect is also more powerful in the lower, deeper spaces of the lungs and is stronger during exhale than inhale.
  • Locate discomfort: Attending to the body brings me from my past (guilt, resentment, blame) or future (anxiety) orientation into the present. I attend to immediate sensation. The mind can (seem to) wander from this moment, but the body does not.
  • Investigate discomfort: In one sense, bodily investigation is a diversion from my more habitual mental chatter. But it also allows me to work with a simpler, more direct component of the intensity (somatic sensation) than its many-headed, elusive sibling (thought). I might not need to accept the millions of different events, words and thoughts that upset me, so long as I can accept the much smaller set of uncomfortable sensations they create in me.
  • Welcome the uncomfortable feeling: This builds on the slow breathing to contribute to a sense of safety, which is necessary for the shift from sympathetic to ventral vagal regulation. Deeper, this is a poetic component of integrating what is probably a lifelong outcast experience/sensation. This is crucial for the longer-term, cumulative effect of the practice. I am allowing back ‘in’ a part of myself that I defined as ‘other’ in my self-image from childhood. Bit by bit, I am re-assembling my whole self, moving from being a grown-up to being an adult.
  • Stay with the discomfort I: My reaction to intense emotions includes neurotic monologue and disproportionate, ill-directed behaviour. These, painful though they are, serve to distract me from directly experiencing the emotional intensity. My habit over a lifetime has been to dive into internal or external drama to avoid the uncomfortable sensation I am working with here. By staying with it instead, I am showing myself another option.
  • Stay with the discomfort II: Since early childhood, I have unknowingly and automatically associated this uncomfortable sensation with an immediate, existential threat. Yes, a threat to my existence. That helps explain the gross disproportionality of my acting out. As I continue to engage with the experience, I prove to myself that no such threat is present. I teach myself, with the help of this previously unwanted visitor, that the experience is not overwhelming, that I can work with it.

That is a lot happening in 90 seconds! It comes down to accepting present reality, including myself, instead of fighting its deviation from my image of what it should be. Of course, no single instance of the practice completes this liberating shift in my perspective. It is the work of a lifetime.

Practicing resilience

There will always be problems. I cannot avoid disturbing experience. All that I’ve described above does not tilt the playing field of life to bring more good and less bad my way. Instead, it shows I can work with the disturbance. I realise the ‘bad’ half of life is not the bogeyman my childhood innocence cast it as. I cultivate and use adult capabilities that my younger self lacked.

The great thing is that, as the world continues to send me the bad with the good, living with resilience requires the same practice as building resilience — the steps outlined above. Maybe it’s like riding a bike. If building resilience is like pedaling up a hill, then living with resilience is like cycling along the plateau at the top.

I am still on the climb, but I’m developing strength and finding softer gears. I will pedal for the rest of my life. Over time, I’ll handle any bumps with increasing ease.

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