All Personal Changes Start in the Heart

In 1986, concerned friends encouraged me to try vipassanā meditation. I'd been feeling drained, hopeless, and desperate and didn't want to go on medication. At first, sitting still for five minutes felt excruciating to my racing mind. Leg cramps and back pain made it even harder. Gradually, though, these quiet moments turned into sanctuary—twenty minutes, half an hour, an hour at a time. In warmer weather, I even began to meditate on a small mountain near my home. There among the hawks and pines I extended my spiritual practice to include the climb itself. Eventually, I even committed to learning to ascend and descend the steep rock faces with no hands. Being that one fall could have easily killed me, I quickly felt my focus improve.

Gradually then I fell in love with the beautiful stillness of the quiet mind—as well as with orangy-sunshine images on my closed eyelids. Ten years later, in August, 1996, I had my first original idea; that startles cause wounding. A month later, I had the first purposely-chosen aha of my life.

Over time, exploring these experiences—ahas—became my calling. Today I spend most of my time trying to help people to use ahas to make changes. Indeed, at this point, I've spent close to two decades practicing this as a therapist. I've even written and published books with this intention, and my website has more words than the Oxford English Dictionary. Talk about too much information.

"Can You Teach Me to Have More Ahas?"

Then one day, one of my clients asked me a question no one had asked me in my over two decades as a therapist. He asked me, "can you teach me to have more ahas?" At first, I couldn't understand why this man was asking me this. Ahas were all I ever talked about. Why would he need to ask? Then, in a flash of insight, I realized I'd been making an error all these years. I'd been taking responsibility for putting people into the state of mind necessary for ahas. I'd never asked them to take responsibility for this. Within less than a month then, I realized—and began teaching my clients—the five steps I've listed below. Almost immediately, I saw changes in them. And in me. We were all having more ahas than I ever thought possible, this with far less effort. Indeed, it appears this process is so potent that given you make a sincere effort, it's possible to have many realizations a day, every day. I and my clients and students are doing just this.

So now, the pertinent question—do you want to make a personal change? If so, then you must have an aha. Why? Ahas are the only experience which afterwards requires no will power to maintain. The problem is, to have them, you must be in a prepared state of mind—a curious mind, an open mind. Nothing grows in a mind which is in an everyday ordinary state. Enter the five steps. Taken seriously and practiced, these steps can put you into the one state of mind in which you can have ahas. Of course, to be successful, you'll need some explanations as to what these steps mean, in particular, the last step. But if you can embrace these simple steps, you'll soon be making the changes you've been wanting to make.

The Five Steps to the Open Mind

The five steps are:

  • All Emergences Start in the Heart
  • Curiosity is the One Required Feeling
  • You Cannot Make Yourself Curious
  • You Can Notice When You Are Not Curious
  • Whenever You Believe You Understand, You Are Not Curious

Now there's the kicker. Do you feel certain you've understood what you've just read? If so, then your mind will be blank and empty. Certainty empties the mind. More important, you cannot have an aha in an empty state of mind. Your mind must be open. Unfortunately, most adults—and most children over the age of two—spend most of their time in states of mind where they think they "get it" right away, and this certainty prevents them from having ahas. In effect, the harder they try, the fewer ahas they have. Does this sound familiar?

What would an open mind be like right now? Can you allow for the possibility—no matter how seemingly unlikely— that learning this simple set of steps can change your life? Then your mind is open. Indeed, it's just possible you've taken the first step towards the becoming the person you've always wanted to be. What's next? Read on. And remember, the faster you think you understand what you're reading, the less you'll actually benefit. Certainty always closes the mind. And if you find yourself struggling to gain this openness? Then just go back to the beginning—and allow for the myriad possibilities which exist in all things. After all, you deserve to become the person you've been longing to become.

Good luck on your journey.

Logically Assessing What You're About to Do

Most people begin attempts to change by logically assessing the method they've chosen. In effect, they look for proof a thing will work before they've tried it. If it then sounds logical, they proceed. Otherwise they dismiss it and tell others it didn't work.

Obviously there are several flaws in this sequence of events. For one thing, none of the best things in life are logical—falling in love, finding a calling, and losing weight to name but a few. For another, you can't use another person's aha, no matter what people tell you and no matter how great the person is. You have your own.

The biggest flaw in this line of reasoning though is the belief that logic can replace experience. This is where the open heart comes in. All experience starts in the heart, not in the head. Moreover, you cannot feel feelings of any kind and simultaneously use logic. Logic shuts off the heart. At the same time, it's hard to stop doing this. Logic is most people's safety net. But if you keep in mind that starting with logic prevents ahas, you may have a chance to have one.

The Hand on Leg Experiment

Are you having trouble believing experience starts in the heart? Then try this. Try to experience your hand on your leg just by logically describing it. Now actually put your hand on your leg. Now contrast and compare these two experiences. And yes, physical feelings are different from mental feelings. However, all feelings, whether mind or body, originate in the heart. Thus even the experience of your hand on your leg begins in the heart.

To Change, You Must Feel Curious

Most people, as they begin their attempts to change, feel all kinds of feelings. Some feel driven by a need for success. Some feel driven by a need to escape their failures. Whatever drives you though, only one feeling is required. You must feel curious about what you do not know about what you want to change.

What is curiosity, and why is it so important? Curiosity is what young babies experience all day long. It's the experience of falling in love with not knowing something. It's also the experience of realizing you want more of something. It's also the experience which drives all personal change. And it's also the reason babies learn so quickly.

The Two Kinds of "Not Knowing"

This makes the experience of curiosity the complementary opposite of the one most people feel when they don't know something—the ashamed, embarrassed, frustratingly insecure feeling of not having an answer. In a way then, we could say that there are two ways to experience not knowing, the white kind and the black kind. The white kind is the lively pull babies feel every minute of the day; curiosity. The black kind is the deadly disinterest adults fear will never end; the "why bother reading this, I already know it, there's nothing new here" feeling.

The Two Kinds of Curiosity

One more thing to know about curiosity is that there are two kinds of curiosity. Moreover like all things in the real world, these two curiosities are a pair of complementary opposites. On the one hand, you can be curious about what you'll see with your body's eyes. This is the body's curiosity. On the other, you can be curious about what you'll see with your mind's eye. This is the mind's curiosity.

Babies from birth to about age two live constantly in a state wherein they have access to both kinds of curiosity. Without trying. They're just born this way.

Finally, know that curiosity is also the test for having had an aha. In other words, the proof for that you've had an aha is that you feel more curious than ever after things begin to click into place. Conversely, if you think you've got it all, then you cannot have curiosity. Curiosity exists only when you know you don't know something.

Curiosity and Orgasms

Ironically, the more you try to feel curious, the less curious you feel. In a way then, curiosity shares much with orgasms. The more you let your immediate personal perceptions guide you, the more likely you are to hear fire crackers and bells go off. Here by "immediate personal perceptions," I mean direct experiential perception. And by "direct experiential perception," I mean you are seeing evidence right there in front of you.

No coincidence it was vipassana meditation (insight meditation) that taught me to be in this state of mind. In fact, I've read that a synonym for "vipassanā" is paccakkha (Pāli; Sanskrit: pratyakṣa), meaning, "before the eyes." Thus the type of awareness denoted by "vipassanā" is that of direct experiential perception, as opposed to knowledge derived from reasoning or argument—logical understanding. In other words, you can either feel curious—or you can logically understand something. But you cannot do both, at least not at the same time. In truth, the experiences of curiosity and logical understanding are mutually exclusive. So when you begin attempts to change with logic, you prevent yourself from changing.

Whenever You See You're Not Curious, You Become Curious

The good news is, you can use what I just told you to learn to notice when you are not curious. Ironically, the moment you realize you're not curious, you become curious. For instance, if as you read the previous sentence you just felt flat and empty, then you cannot have an aha about it no matter how you much effort you make. As I've said, the more you try, the less you'll change.

If you were to now reconsider as to what you missed in what I said, then you'll begin to feel curious and it's just possible you may have an aha. Again, you can either be sure you know or sure you don't. And no one feels curious about what they think they know, including what you're presently reading.

So why must we feel curious? And what's the best way to notice when you're not curious? Let's see.

Development of the Threee States of Mind

Why Must You Be in the Curious State of Mind in Order to Have an Aha?

In a moment, I'll explain the fifth and final step. In this step, you regain power over your state of mind. Before I do though, I first need to briefly describe part of the development of the mind. Specifically, I need to talk about how the states we call the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious develop.

Direct Experience

To begin with, babies are born in the state we call the conscious mind. By this I mean they take everything in as immediate personal perceptions. They do this because they have neither words nor logic to get in the way yet. They simply take things in with their senses and this input goes straight into their minds.

This is why I refer to this as direct experience. Babies this age connect directly to whatever they pay attention to. Know it's the intensity of this direct experience which makes babies curious about everything they sense. To them, this place is the only place that exists. This time is the only time. Moreover, if you've ever smoked marijuana, you know what this feels like.

Unfortunately, with marijuana, the direct experience goes beyond what babies feel. Not only do you feel curious. You also lose you incentive to keep looking further. On the one hand, this intensifies these experiences to the point where they can feel like spiritual experiences. On the other, the mind loses its sense of discernment, making any and all trivial details seem important.

Indirect Experience

All this changes at around age two, when babies begin to assign sounds to what they see. Here the more babies focus on labeling what they sense, the less they sense. Experientially, this makes them one step removed from what they sense. For obvious reasons then, I call this indirect experience.

Indirect Indirect Experience

Finally, at around age seven, babies learn to tell time. Again, this changes everything about the way they experience their world. Having a sense of how time unfolds allows them to develop logic. This moves their focus away from visual, here and now experiences, and onto non visual, cause and effect experiences. And the more they do this, the more detached they get.

You Can't Feel Curious When You're Two Steps Removed From Life

Now take a moment to consider what I've just told you. At about age seven, children become two steps removed from their experiences. Not only are they separated physically from their experiences, because they use words. They are also separated time-wise, because they use logic to predict what they may sense. In effect, from age seven on, they less and less live in the physical here and now. Words abstractly reference the physical. Logic abstractly references time. This is why I call this state of mind, indirect indirect experience. It's two steps removed from life. And it's these two layers between you and life which kills your love of learning.

Are you beginning to see why you cannot use logic to have personal ahas? And yes, it can seem you've done this at times when you see the logical beauty in something. In reality though, if you have an aha, something has preceded this logic—something in the physical here and now. And besides, this is easy enough to test for. Try feeling curious and at the same time, use logic to solve what you're curious about. For instance, try feeling curious about what the heck I'm so worked up about here and at the same time, try to answer this question with logic. What you'll find is, the minute you turn to logic, you lose access to your feelings.

Lastly, if you're interested in reading more about how these states of mind develop, then try reading A New Look at an Old Metaphor. It's an in depth look at these wonderful old words.

The 5 States of the Curious Mind

The 4 States of the Searching Mind

Here is a summary of the things I've told you—with one thing added—the fourth state of mind.

So if you read the columns from left to right, what you'll see are the three states of mind I've been telling you about. On the left is the Conscious Mind, the state of seeing something with no words. In the middle is the Subconscious Mind, the state of referring to something you're seeing with words. And on the right is the Unconscious Mind, the state wherein you're using logical words to refer to an unseen thing.

Know that in the Relationships part of the site, I refer to these states as the acts of Observing, Natively Interpreting, and Synthetically Interpreting. If you're interested you can read more there. Indeed, it would actually be a good idea to do this as one of the best ways to learn is to come at the thing you're trying to learn from several different viewpoints.

Finally, the fourth state is the state in which you have an aha. Or if you prefer the scientific term, the state in which you have an emergence. Whatever you call it, in this state you have access to all three of the other states. Indeed, it's the only state in which you can simultaneously feel curiosity, words, and logic. Obviously, getting into this state is the whole goal here. Knowing where you're trying to go though can be helpful in getting you there. In other words, the more you know about these states, the better your chances to get into these states by choice, and ultimately this is the best of all worlds.

If You Think You Understand, You Don't

Admittedly, this step is the hardest step of all. It requires a leap of faith the size of whatever you're trying to change. Having just explained what and why you must make this leap though, hopefully you'll find it a bit easier. At least, you have a picture for what it is you're trying to do.

The easy part is knowing when to take this step. You take it every time you might be learning something. Do this even when you're reviewing what you consider to be stuff you understand well. Be especially vigilant when talking to young children and teens. Also try to keep this in mind whenever you buy things, especially things which cost only a few dollars or less.

The "Are You Enlightened" Experiment

Now let me ask you. Did you just assume you understood what I've been saying? If so, then try this brief experiment. Get a piece of paper and without looking back, try writing down the gist of the last two sentences. Now try explaining the natural reasons behind what I said.

If you can do this, you're far beyond the need to be in a body. Does the word, "enlightened" come to mind? All kidding aside, even I could not do what I've just suggested. I'd easily need several hours just to begin to assemble those thoughts. Even then, I know I'd be far from an expert in naming the best times to use this step. I'm only now beginning to be aware of it as I listen to people speak. I say this knowing I've been taking this step this for more than a decade now. Yet even as I write this, I'm well aware of how little I actually grasp.

Better yet, try this. Try teaching what I've just said in those two sentences to someone close to you. The real test for whether you know something is trying to get someone else to understand it. What you'll find is that the more you think you get something, the less you'll be able to teach. And visa versa. And remember, the test for this teaching will be for that person to write down and explain what you said.

What's most important to keep in mind here is the price you pay when you don't do this. You can either believe you understand something or you can feel curious about what you don't know. And yes, you can also feel there is nothing worth looking at. But the minute you feel this, you've just assumed you know what this something means.

My point? To have an aha, you must feel curious. And you cannot feel curious about what you think you understand.

The "Can I Teach This" Experiment

If you really want to explore how you feel in situations wherein you think you know something, try the following. While sitting across from someone you trust, ask this person if you can tell them something important to you. Something you think you understand—such as a prior event you've repeatedly told them about—would be good. Even better would be something you've had an aha about. Now try to get them to understand what you're saying.

Now realize, no one can get across the depth of an aha to another person. That it was life changing and important to you, yes, you can get across this. But the deeper meaning, the real sense of what has changed in you, in truth, there are no words. And this is not you. It's just the nature of ahas.

Now take a moment and consider what it feels like to be unable to get this across. Try as you may, doing this is just not possible. An aha is a personal thing. The focus here though should not be on your failure to get your experience across. Your focus should be on how it feels to not know how to get this thing across.

This uncomfortable feeling precedes all curiosity. This uncomfortable feeling is what makes us so reluctant to admit we don't know. This uncomfortable feeling is what kills our curiosity.

The Importance of Being Able to Directly Experience of Your Progress

Most people lose interest in trying to change things they want to change because they fail to retain direct evidence for their progress. For instance, when a dieter has a bad food day, they often lose sight of their progress, then quit because they only see the failure. This often happens at a time when these folks were finally succeeding in their effort. But experiencing this one setback as the only thing they know then causes them to quit.

It seems then that it's very important to retain the ability to directly experience your progress. Here good way to start is to learn about the two kinds of direct experiential perception for progress. One kind is to perceive the progress you make mentally—the other, the progress you make physically.

This means there are two kinds of proof for your progress—the kind you see outside you; with your body's eyes, and the kind you see inside you; with your mind's eye. The inside you progress is mental progress. The outside you progress is physical progress. Know that like all pairs of complementary opposites, this pair accounts for all real world possibilities. This means you can never fully understand any pair of complementary opposites.

My point for telling you this is simple—these pairs are a good way to teach yourself to be curious. Since no one can ever know all of anything—and since these pairs always refer to the full scope of what they refer to—these pairs can push you into learning how to not know without feeling uncomfortable. They can also teach you to experience more of your progress as the less you know, the more you see your progress.

logical geometry of all possible truths

[1] Certainty is possible only in theory, impossible in the real world

In the real world, all things are constantly changing. But in theory, unchanging things exist. This means certainty is possible only in theory.

[1] You can't have a fight without someone being certain

Two people who feel uncertain cannot have a fight. To have a fight at least one of the two people must feel certain. This does not mean there will be a fight, only that it is possible. The worst fights occur between two people who are certain the other is wrong.

[2] The one who is not curious is responsible for the fight

If two people are curious, they cannot have a fight. Therefore, if a fight occurs, the person or persons who are not curious have caused this fight.

[4] Babies don’t quit because frustration doesn't kill their curiosity

Frustration can exists in all three normal states of mind. But only in the conscious state of mind can curiosity and frustration coexist. Pre-verbal babies only have access to the conscious state of mind. Therefore frustration cannot kill curiosity in pre-verbal babies .

[5] A calling is a career in which you feel curious a lot of time

Most people work in careers wherein they look forward to not being at work. A calling is a career in which the person spends most of their time in a conscious state of mind. In this state, frustration cannot kill curiosity. Thus a calling is a career in which you do not mind being at work.

  • Which state of mind are you in right now?
  • Can you reach the fourth state of mind?