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Engaging Change: The Perfectible Month Project

Posted by DGS on September 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM


Got your attention? 

Ok, good.


Is there anything you would like to change about yourself?


If your answer is no, good for you.  Please post comments on what that feels like because for most of us, even the really happy ones, there is always something we'd like to change.


So if your answer is yes... what is the change you want?  


Think on that a minute.  We'll come back to it.   In the meanwhile have you ever considered WHY you want to change that thing?  Or if you've tried changing that thing before, and failed, you may be wondering if, or perhaps even be skeptical whether REAL change is even possible at all?  "Maybe for other people", you might say, "But not for me".

We often get identified with a sort of vortex of personal inertia which leads us to feel like "that's just who I am I guess".   And like the inertia of a large heavy object, the weight of it either seems to keep us immovably anchored and stuck where we are.  Or perhaps the inertia is moving and it feels like we are unstoppably hurtling towards some seemingly inevitable crushing destiny.


But is it true? Is that the way it is? Do we have any agency in our lives?


Sometimes our problem is that we can't see where we want to go in life or what we need to change.  That's where a teacher of some kind can be a huge help for us.  Their function is in pointing out a direction which might be beneficial to pursue.  


But even if we get that direction, sometimes we don't feel we can actually get there.  So can we?  If we can see what we want to change in our lives can we actually DO anything about it?


These are big questions with huge ramifications.  And they are ones where the answers are tightly wound around the spinal cords of our identity.   For someone on a brave spiritual journey, these are questions worth examining.


The project below is a life adventure/experiment to prove that in fact, you CAN change yourself.

MOST IMPORTANT RULE: This is YOUR project.

One of the most important parts of this project is that YOU decide what you want to change. No one tells you what to do. This is a personal journey.  I will say that in some cases there can be a benefit to declaring to others that you are working on something so that through mere shame you are motivated to actually do it.  But that is not required here.  I think this project, let's call it the PMP, mostly functions better as a private exercise.  At least on your first go 'round.


All that is required is intention and effort.  This project is for YOU. You design it. You go through it. You evaluate it. So if you think about that, you actually cannot fail.  Ever heard that popular saying: "What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"  Well here's your chance.


I should also say at the outset that this project is suggested for a month because that amount of time is a really good one for changing an old habit or developing a new one.


HOWEVER, depending on what you are trying to do, you can scale YOUR project to whatever time frame is appropriate for your challenge.  For many things a month is a good amount of time.  For other more challenging habits, you might want to limit it to a week, or a day, even just an hour or so.


The MOST importing thing is to follow the rules as you lay them down and then see yourself stick to them. I'll say that again.  Set your own goals.  Your own rules.  And then KEEP them.  That is the KEY to this project, and to the secret magic which underlies it.


There are no costs, no fees, no special things to buy. You don't need anything else to change your life but the will to do so and the belief that it is possible. That's what this is all about.

So let's get to it.


HERE'S ALL YOU'LL NEED

Below you will find a video which walks you through the steps of the project, and a downloadable worksheet to use.  But you don't even need that.  You can make your own.

Download the free PDF worksheet here.

And here's a video to walk you through it.  No audio, (so unlike the other videos in this article, you can even watch it in your cubicle.  But not for too long because you're supposed to be working.)  This is just a step by step walkthrough.  Make it full screen and pause and advance it as needed. 

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You can go ahead and get started with this.  It's got instructions on it and is all you'll need.  

But if you want to know a bit more about what's going on here, perhaps you'll invest a few minutes into the short discussion below.


Short Discussion Below

Good, you're still here.  That's a good sign of someone really motivated for change.


So as I was saying... most of the challenges we face in life are in one way or another connected to the fact that we wish things to be different than they are.  Now don't get me wrong.  This is not necessarily always a bad thing.  We may, for instance, strongly desire for a loved one to stop suffering.  Those sorts of "good desire" thoughts do sometimes enter our minds.  


But if we're honest with ourselves, (also a big challenge), we have to admit that those good desire thoughts often have to muscle their way through the mosh pit of thoughts centered around things we'd like to change about our bodies, our relationships, our status, and our feelings in the moment. (For the Buddhaheads in the audience that's basically the Eight Worldly Thoughts.  The ups and downs of Fame, Gain, Pleasure, and Praise.)


We ride the vicissitudes of these up and down fortunes like a perpetual roller coaster, the direction and speed of which often feels totally out of our control.


"That's just the way it is" we say in exasperation.  "That's just who I am" we say in justification. And yet, if we press our honesty further, it is also likely that somewhere deep inside we know this is not true.


In our best moments we sometimes connect with a feeling of spaciousness and opportunity.  In fact you could say that exactly what MAKES our best moments so great, IS the feeling of potential and possibility we only too occasionally recognize in ourselves.


And guess what.  In those moments, we are 100% correct.


(Shhh. Here comes a big secret... Ready?)

 

EACH of us has at our very core, an infinite perfectibility.  No one has, (or has ever had) any more perfectibility than YOU.  And no one ever will.  NO ONE.


You are as perfectible as any being who has ever lived, and... are your ready for this?  You are in fact as perfectible as the most perfect being you can imagine.  


So if you can believe that even a little bit,  what have you got to  worry about?  


This is a heavy concept if you think about it.  And it's not just some new-agey mumbo jumbo.  That's serious ancient philosophy, backed by airtight logic, and validated by modern science.  In fact we'll be exploring this concept of the lack of fixedness to things (Emptiness or Shunyata) and the understanding of what that means (Wisdom or Prajna) more in our group over the coming months.  (For some great teachings on this concept go here)


There was also a guy a couple thousand years ago who said "The kingdom of heaven is within you",  so... if that's in there, you must be pretty good inside.  Maybe even better than you realize.


It's a such a big concept that it is perhaps easily dismissed or rejected.  But just like gravity, you don't have to fully understand something to make use of it.  So let's push on shall we?


Pushing On:

Maybe you already believe this concept, or at least believe in it AS a concept, or perhaps you believe that you beieve in it.  Any of those are a good start.  


However, chances are pretty good that you don't, or can't yet allow yourself to believe it in a DEEP way.  There's just too much seemingly contradictory evidence both outside of you and inside of you to really let this concept take over.


Things look pretty fixed and unchangeable to most of us.  They sometimes seem insurmountable.  Too big to change.  So why try?  I have one thing to say about that.

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The size of the challenge or of the challenger is IRRELEVANT. The potential for change is universal.  So...if we can prove that ANY part of you is changeable, then we have basically proven that EVERY part of you is changeable.  The great Nagarjuna said as much.  "If you prove the emptiness of one thing, you prove the emptiness of everything."


Got that?  ANY part changeable = EVERY part changeable. Ok?  So all we have to do is prove that some part of us is changeable to know that our goal is reachable.  Cool huh?


And before you get ahead of yourself saying "Well may be SOME things are changeable, but that doesn't prove...blah blah blah."  YES it does actually. Think about it. There is NO part of you at all which is not ALREADY changing right now, even as you read these words. Your body, your mind, your bank account, your political ideas, your feelings about your neighbor.


ALL changing.


So there is really no arguing whether things change. The more interesting question is, can WE change things we want to change through the force of will? I submit to you that the answer is basically YES.  But maybe not in the way we want it to be.  I'm not going to go off on a new age rant about manifesting wealth or partners or world peace or any such thing.  No disrespect to any philosophy of that kind. The universe is a large and mysterious place with room for LOTS of different worldviews. But I'd just like to suggest that we start with a slightly more focused goal than world peace, or being able to fly and change things into gold.


So let's pick a goal.  Who's goal?  Yours of course.  And that brings us to...


ELEMENT #1: Choose your own goals.

This project actually sprang out of the "Vowed Morality" portion of a Six Perfections teaching. But rather than working with seemingly complex vows you may not understand or agree with yet, let's just make up our own rules shall we?


Imagine a few goals you have for yourself.  They can be big goals, but they should be doable to some measurable degree within a month (or whatever your chosen time frame is).


Not too many goals, ok? (I'm looking at you perfectionists) This exercise was at one time called "The PERFECT Month Project" until I was reminded that some people have a very creative way of preventing change. That is they perpetually set the bar impossibly high so that no one could achieve it.  If that describes you, great!  This project will give you ample opportunity to root out and work with that tendency.   We all have tendencies like this.  And they are not necessarily bad to have.  Think of them like a powerful elephant.  They are not bad or good, they just need to not be out of control.  If you are a perfectionist, you can start by setting only a VERY few or even ONE goal.  And also by making it a VERY achievable one.


On the other hand, if you are more in the lazy camp, don't make your goals too easy, like:
"I promise I won't cause any global wars in the next five minutes". Yeah, that's probably true but unless you are a world leader with an Armageddon fetish, probably not an ideal goal for you. How about giving yourself a little bit of a challenge. This is YOUR project remember. Pick something good that really hits home.


Find that sweet spot for you between "Not Enough" and "Too Much" and set your goals there. You should likely just pick the first two or maybe three things that come to your mind and jot them down.


Go ahead... I'll wait... (whistling)

Got it?


Good, You can change later if you want to. but let's look at those now. (if you didn't write them down just kind of bring them to the front of your mind.)


What are they?  Do they have something to do with changing the way you look?  How about dropping a troublesome habit?  Anyone wanting to change something about one of their relationships? Who wants to FINALLY do that thing that they've been wanting to do for so long?


Good job! First step accomplished. You see potential for change. And you have the desire to get it done which will fuel your efforts. Desire is not always a bad thing, if it is used to help you make spiritual progress.


ELEMENT #2: Examine your thoughts

You may have noticed that even in the process of setting this project up, you can already begin using it to catch yourself stacking the deck either for or against yourself. You can already start to feel where your resistances are and where your old habits want to push you.


In our group we've begun calling this sort of opportunity "Klesha Bait". This is a practice of putting your mind in a situation where the Kleshas or "Mental Afflictions" are likely to come out, and then laying in wait for them. Sometimes we do so from a sort of National Geographic point of view, to just observe and identify them.


But sometimes, when we are ready, the goal is to flush them out like a big game hunter, so that we can capture and destroy them.


Here's how to begin to do that.  Take a step back and look at your goals. What do they all have in common?


There is a HIGH likelihood that these goals are not only about ourselves (that's what we asked for of course), but also meant primarily to benefit ourselves.


This is a private exercise so take a moment now to honestly examine the goals which first popped into your head.  Don't side step this.  It is an extremely helpful part of the project.


If we want to lose weight, WHY do we want to lose it?  To look better?  Better THAN whom? Better FOR whom?  Don't get me wrong. There's no problem using this program to lose weight. I did (100 lbs and counting). But this exercise gives us the opportunity to examine what we think we want, and more importantly WHY we want it, and WHO we want it for.


This is a way of getting to the mysterious underground stream of our intentions. Our intentions are the prime movers of our spiritual trajectory.   That is because a healthy spiritual life or even just a happy life is not just about WHAT we are doing but WHY we are doing it.  Not every church going bible thumper is a Godly person, and not every seeming "heathen" is a devil. Intention is what separates these stereotypes from their individual realities. And intention is what we are working with here.


If our weight loss intentions are completely self centered then the results are simply not going to bring us the happiness we may be seeking from losing weight. Even if you win "The Biggest Loser" competition, or get an endorsement deal from a national sandwich chain, if it is all about you then you've simply swapped one struggling identity for another one. Perhaps a physically healthier one, but not necessarily a happier one.


The same is true for any goal, such as being, more well known, being smarter, being wealthier, even being calmer.  If we are trying to be more "-er" THAN someone else, then we are like a dog trying to catch its tail.  It's an exhausting exercise with no successful resolution.


SO... what do we do? Abandon our goals?


Of course not. Let's just see if we can adapt them. Take losing weight for instance. That's a popular topic.


IS IT POSSIBLE to consider a personal goal such as weight loss, in the context of trying to be healthier FOR others around you who might depend on you?  Or for being in a position to be more energetic and helpful TO those around you?


OF COURSE IT IS.  But again, we really have to stick with the honesty thing here. I know you can cross your fingers behind your back and pay lip service to this idea SAYING "I'm going to do this for others", but deep down really only wanting it for yourself. Don't let your mind off that easily. EXAMINE your tendency to focus on yourself, and even to trick yourself into SAYING it is for others, when at your heart you know it is not.


Klesha bait, remember.  Catch your mind in the act.


This is actually part of the magic of this project if you do it thoughtfully.  Before you even start the project proper, you can use your own dearest goals to examine what you are attached to and how thoroughly those attachments may keep you from even beginning to think in a more spiritual way.  Which is to say, less about ourselves, and more about others.


The primary way to do this is to dedicate your goals to or for someone else. You can dedicate the individual goals to someone or something, such as a goal to be more patient to the person whom you often lose your temper with.  And you should also dedicate the entire project to someone or something.  This can be who you are trying to be better for, or it can even be the image of that better self you will one day become.  Dedicate your efforts to that.


If you are dedicating to a person, it is likely best to do so without telling them about it. If we tell them then the project gains a high probability of becoming an exercise in guilt, or needing praise or approval, or dealing with disappointment, or pride, or a whole host of other nasty stuff. This is YOUR project remember? Just dedicate it to them in your mind and on your worksheet, and just hold that in your heart over the course of your project.


ELEMENT #3: Make it official.

Up above I called it a "form" but the power of this project is that it is actually a kind of a contract.


Fill out the form fully, and then sign and date it. Put the old John or Jane Hancock on there. Try to muster up the feeling of something even more vital and important than a mortgage, or marriage contract, or living will.


Make it serious. That will help you make it count.


Some of you legal heads out there might be saying, "But a contract has to be between two parties. I thought you said this was personal."


ELEMENT #4: Constitute a high object, for you.

I DID say that. And it IS personal.  So who's the other party in this contract? That's one of the other secret weapons in this project.


You're going to go through the downloadable document and choose a few actions of Body, Speech, or Mind to adhere to. You're going to dedicate it to someone other than yourself. You're going to pick a discrete and achievable time frame, and then...


You are going to sign this contract and present it to something or someone which you hold in the highest regard.


So... who is that for you?


Do you have such a presence in your life? If you don't is that because you think no one is above you in any way and you are the absolute architect of your own destiny? And if so, then why can't you change that thing you've been wanting to change about yourself?


We all have the CAPACITY for change, but we don't all have the facility or familiarity with how to do it. and the secret of this part of the project is this equation.


Change requires learning something new.

Learning something new requires you to be a student.

Being a student requires that you allow something or someone to be a teacher.


Now this rabbit hole gets REALLY deep really quickly and we are not saying that you have to go out and enrol in a university, or shave your head and join a religious movement.. In fact the magic of this project is such that you can constitute your own high object. Whatever or whomever works for you.


That's right. What is important here is the FEELING you have about this person or object.  And the sincerity you come to them with. Specifically it should be a feeling of REVERENCE.


Positive change requires the willingness to believe in your own potential. And a great way of doing that is to see someone or something outside of yourself who exemplifies at least a partial realization of that potential.


I like to call this "The Tony Hawk" principle. That's right. The skateboarder. Here's why.

BEFORE Tony Hawk, the 900 (spinning around in the air 2.5 times) was NOT possible.

AFTER Tony Hawk, it WAS possible.

What enabled him to do that?  Was he "superhuman"?  Some may argue, but I think tests would verify that he was "simply human".  No, what enabled him to do that was the BELIEF that he could do it, and the will to try.

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Now, AFTER Tony, at LEAST 11 people have done the 900, and who knows how many kids have gotten there or pretty close to it in their own back yards as a result of the inspiration that Guru Tony Hawk gave them.  He literally breathed life into that goal inside of them.


"I'm not a skateboarder", you say. "What does this have to do with me?"  Well if you want to do anything, it is a HUGE help to believe that it is possible. And in that respect you might want to find someone who for you, demonstrates some familiarity or even excellence with your chosen goal.  And once you've done that, then pay that quality of theirs some respect.


Maybe you have a hair trigger on your anger, and you want to be more patient. Do you have a granny or someone who was seemingly always calm no matter what?  Then get a picture of them and present your PMP contract to them.


Working with low self esteem?   Maybe your PMP goal could be to recall your divine infinite nature at least once per day. Picture someone who doesn't seem to give two hoots what others think of them, but does so in a graceful non-threatening way.  And then make them your guru of that quality and pay that quality of theirs some homage.  It can be quite helpful to daily call that person to mind who seems to recognize and embody that quality you admire.  Don't be jealous of it.  Admire it.


If you have difficulty envisioning someone, anyone, even an historical or traditional figure whom you admire, then certainly that is something you might want to think about.  Why can't you let yourself see the goodness in others.  But in the meantime, perhaps you could print out a picture of a majestic nature scene, or a spiral galaxy before which you feel awe.  Or even small innocent child whom you would not want to lie to.


This is YOUR project. Find someone or something you can feel some kind of reverence for, and then get a picture and put it in some special place for you where it will not be disturbed.


Personally I chose two teachers I have been working with whom I see as fantastic examples of the capacity to change for all the right reasons.  I put a picture of them on my home altar, and I made a big deal out of presenting this document to them in a fancy official way.  Kneeling down and everything.  


Then I laid an offering on top of my contract. An offering could be anything.  A flower, some fruit or a chocolate.  An important memento for you.  You can even occasionally go back and refresh your offering with a new flower or piece of fruit or something, to refresh your intention and keep the fire burning on your project.


ELEMENT #5: Do what you said you would do

The power of holding to your promise is IMMENSE, and it works on you in both deep and subtle ways, as does the power of NOT holding to what you say. In Buddhism one of the karmic causes of depression is simply seeing yourself say or promise things which you don't follow through with, or perhaps never even have any intention of following through with.  (for more on this concept listen to the teachings on depression on this page.)


We all do this kind of thing to some extent, often in the form of fooling ourselves. But some people have a real challenge with this one, and if you fit this description, this project can be a REAL life changer.


All you have to do is pick one small thing.  Just one.  Promise to do it. And then do it.


This kind of "Completion Karma" can start as a tiny crystal of willpower, and end up snowballing into an avalanche of good intention and positive change.


Seriously.  I can't stress this enough.  If you are the kind of person who feels like they have a lot of unachieved goals, then one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself is to set a very small one, and watch yourself achieve it.

It's kind of magic.  Try it.  It works.  As Nike says: "Just Do It"

 

See, you've got guiding angels everywhere. Even in crass commercial culture.

It may be difficult to do, depending on what goals you set. But you CAN do it.

Give it your all. Do it FOR someone else as well as for yourself.


ELEMENT #6: Evaluate without judgement

Chances are, if you REALLY wanted that goal, and you set your goals and time frames reasonably, and you constituted a very strong person to offer it to, and you did it for unselfish reasons... then you probably felt like you succeeded in your project.  And by succeeded I simply mean that you learned something about yourself.  About your ability to change and perhaps about the parts of your identity which may have been holding you back.


Congratulations!! Welcome to the world where anything is possible because you have just proven that you can change for the better simply by using desire to drive good intentions.


VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you did not reach your goal, that does not mean you failed. This is a "project" remember? Your experience of the project IS your result.  If you just tried to do the project sincerely, then you succeeded.  Congratulations!


What did you learn about yourself. Did you aim too high? Did you not feel really committed? Were you not sincere? Did you not want it for the right reasons?


Or... is it just possible that the goal you set for yourself was not REALLY that important to you?


Sometimes we THINK we want something, and then even when we get it, we are still not satisfied.  If that's the case, what is it that we TRULY want?


My spiritual teacher is fond of saying that "ALL desires are just aspects of THE desire, which is the desire for true and lasting happiness."


He often quotes Saint Augustine saying:

"The desire for happiness is essential to man.

It is the motivator of ALL acts. 


The most venerable, clearly understood, enlightened, and reliable constant in the world is not only that we want to be happy, but that we want only to be so. Our very nature requires it of us.

 

The motivator of ALL acts. That's a bold statement.  EVERYTHING we do in our daily lives is in a desire to, as the Dalai Lama often says, "Be happy and avoid pain". 


If that is so then how can this little project help us get closer to that realization? 


I suggest to you that the process of working with our goals and desires, of examining our attachments to them, of trying to modify the intentions behind them.  Of being willing to make ourselves into a student of life, and of dedicating our efforts to others instead of ourselves, these ARE the processes which will bring us to the deep realizations which awaits us.


The realizations that even though there is plenty to do, there was never anything that NEEDED to happen for us to be truly deeply happy. 


This project is an exercise in incrementally recognizing that you have infinite perfectibility. 


Once you prove it to yourself, even a little bit, then you can begin to try to live in that truth.


And that IS deep happiness.


You'll still do things.  Plenty of things.  But not in order to GET or AVOID something. 


You'll act for the sake of acting.  Because it is the right thing to do.  Because you can and you want to.  Because you've realized that living with a motivation to help others brings you that lasting happiness you were previously seeking in even your smallest most selfish goals. 


But this time with this newly enhanced worldview, the happiness lingers. 


With the right intention, your actions become something called "merit", which is inexhaustible.  Like a tree from which you pick a fruit, and two more grow back in its place.


I encourage you to try this project out.  Make it your own.


See where it leads you.


ELEMENT #7: Repeat as necessary

Call up this project any time you need it.  Each one will be different because each time you begin it, you have changed.  You are a different person each time. 


And that's pretty encouraging if you think about it.

Happy adventuring.  And adventure happily.

Download the free PDF worksheet here.

NOTE: This project is based on a number of different authentic teachings and principles.  If you'd like to learn more about what underlies this way of thinking, come check out our group, or our teacher's homepage at lamamarut.org.  And keep an eye out for the forthcoming Middle Way website which will aggregate all sorts of similar teachings, and point you to a Middle Way Center potentially close to you.  Enjoy.

Categories: Thoughts to Ponder

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