Stage 1 — Empty
Whenever there’s a baby around, everyone focuses his or her attention on the baby. They crowd around the baby just to see it sleep and yawn. They try to make the baby laugh and take turns carrying the baby.
Most people think it’s their physical attributes that attract everyone to babies because they have such cute features. They have eyes that are too big for their heads, and heads that are too big for their bodies. They have short, flabby limbs, and cute, tiny fingers and toes. But are these the real reasons newborns are so lovable?
When babies cry as loud as they possibly can, do you still find them cute?
The answer to this question is simple: babies are beautiful because their minds are empty. They are filled with the peace, joy, and innocence that we find so desirable. We are irresistibly drawn to them when they are sleeping soundly, when they are looking around in awe with their big round eyes, and when they are laughing for no reason other than their joy at being alive. We are also attracted to their presence because it’s familiar. We were all babies once, and we existed in the same peaceful, joy-filled state. In fact, we have it now, even though it might have been long forgotten or covered up by our mental noise.
Stage 2 — Influence
“I don’t want orange juice,” the child argues, as the mom pours the juice into the child’s cup.
“But orange juice is good for you. It has a lot of vitamin C,” the mom says, as she continues to pour the juice into her child’s cup.
“No!” the child says. He takes his cup away. He is adamant that he will not drink something he hates. “I don’t want orange juice. I want a soda!” he says.
The mom’s face darkens, “If you don’t bring your cup over to me, there will be no television for you tonight.” The child reluctantly brings his cup over and lets his parent pours juice into his cup. Even though he hates orange juice, he’s not going to sacrifice his television time for it.
You don’t get to choose what goes into your cup.
Previously, during the first stage, we learned that a baby does not know how to use its mind, because the baby’s mind is so empty the baby doesn’t even know it exists. Now, at the second stage, we begin to learn about influence. The minds get filled up quickly as we get older — not by us, but by the people closest to us, our parents, grandparents, and other caretakers.
When we were children, we didn’t get to choose what we wanted to learn. Our parents made these decisions for us. If our parents served us juice, then we had juice. If they served us tea, then we drank tea. Even if we didn’t like what we were given, we obeyed our parents because we needed them for love and survival. Without them, we would have no food, no shelter, and no toys. We wouldn’t have been able to survive on our own in this world if it wasn’t for our parents.
Our self-worth depends very much on what type of “mental content” we receive. If we come from a loving family with positive attitudes, we will be likely to develop a good sense of self-esteem. But if we come from an abusive family background in which our parents argued all the time, or they didn’t give us enough encouragement, love, and attention, then we will probably find it more challenging to love ourselves.
Stage 3 — Beliefs
Words have no meaning to children. Take the words, “Don’t run around the house!” as an example. In hindsight, as an adult, you know running around the house recklessly can cause injuries. You know where your parents were coming from. But as a child, did you understand why?
Young children don’t understand why they are not allowed to run around freely, even if their parents explain it to them. All they know is that their parents are restricting their freedom. They don’t understand the concept of injury until they injure themselves and experience pain.
The ability to give meaning to our experiences can be the beginning of our negative self-talk.
When we were young, our parents taught us how to speak and read. But once we learned words and their meanings, we would never be the same again. We started to have thoughts and began to lose the innocence we had when we were babies. We started to understand the difference between tall and short, small and big, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong, and good and bad. We gradually became mired in duality.
Once we understand these concepts, the mind wants to judge, tell stories, and assign meaning to every single event we experience, including ourselves. When our parents scold us, we don’t just feel unloved; we believe we are worthless. Furthermore, if we keep having the same repetitive thoughts about ourselves and feel strongly about the events involved, our thoughts become beliefs.
Stage 4 — Identity
Your first lesson on identity came when you were a toddler. One of the first few things that most parents teach their child is how to say their own name and how to identify “Mommy” and “Daddy.”
Initially, toddlers don’t realize that the name is referring to them. They don’t react to the name you have given them. They might look at you for a second when you call them, but then they go back and play their toys. The child doesn’t see themselves as separate from their parents.
But after many repetitions of telling them who they are and seeing themselves in the mirror, they finally realize that this name refers to them and they are separate from their parents. Now, they have an identity: I am Paul. I am Emily. He is Daddy. She is Mommy. There’s an “I” (who is me) and a “them” (someone who is not me).
Once toddlers understand the concept of identity, they start to create boundaries and more separation. First, they start with their possessions: This is my toy. This is my pencil. It’s not your pencil. Then, as they grow older, they begin learning to separate themselves by their gender, ethnicity, nationality, and religion. Finally, they form potentially negative beliefs about themselves and people around them:
I am not good enough.
I am not worthy of love.
They don’t love me.
I need to do this to get their attention.
If I don’t obey my parents, they will get angry.
These negative self-beliefs wouldn’t have existed in the first place if we didn’t have an identity. For the rest of our life, we continue to build our identity with the work we do, our relationships with others, and what we love. We spend time figuring out and establishing who we are, and who we are not.
Stage 5 — Judge
Up to this point, our subconscious mind has been running our lives. Studies have shown that 95 percent of our behaviors and reactions happen at the subconscious level. Our subconscious stores memories, forms beliefs, and creates our identity. It operates efficiently by developing habits and automating what we do. However, these habits and beliefs can cause us to suffer because they are based on past conditioning that is untrue or outdated.
Once we decide to change our identity, our conscious mind takes over and we move to the next stage of the cup — the judging stage. Our conscious mind judges what is good and bad for us.
The Fifth Stage is all about making judgments. Our conscious mind decides what thoughts, beliefs, habits, and behaviors are best for us. We become extra careful and selective about what goes into our cup. Similar to the fourth stage, we protect the cup from external sources. But the difference is that this time we judge what is right for us, instead of letting in negative content automatically because it resonates with our subconscious beliefs. We can use a “spoon” to remove the content in the cup that is making the brew taste bad and enhance the taste by introducing new content.
Stage 6 — Awakening
When you don’t know who you are anymore, consider it an opportunity for awakening.
When we think our life is getting better, something challenging hits us and knocks over our cup. All the mental content we have been protecting over the years is now spilled all over the place. Our identity has been destroyed. The beliefs we hold on to so dearly are no longer true for us. Everything we believe can make us feel good has been ruined.
What do we do then?
Life challenges are not that uncommon. Examples include:
Having a serious accident on the road
Losing a job
Losing someone in our family
Ending of a relationship, and
Having a life-threatening disease
These life situations can cause us to lose our identity, one way or another. The size and severity of the life challenge doesn’t matter. But it does matter what we do after our cups have been knocked over. Here are three possible choices:
- We cry over spilled milk.
- We pick up the cup and start over again.
- We realize we are not the cup.
When your cup is toppled and its content spilled out, do you realize you are still here? Can you feel your heart beating and your lungs breathing? Isn’t this life? Isn’t this who you are? You are looking at the toppled cup. You are the hand that picks up the cup. The only time you will suffer is when you accept the toppled cup as your identity.
We are not the cup and its content. Your cup might be emptied, but it doesn’t take away the aliveness that you are. When you were a baby, wasn’t your cup always empty, and yet you were still alive? Once you became aware that your cup could be emptied, it no longer mattered how many times it was knocked over. It doesn’t affect who you are, because you can always pick up your cup again.
Stage 7 — Mastery
After we have awakened, what’s next? Most of us don’t stay awake after our initial experience. Even though we know we are spirit, and not the mind, we still value the mind over the spirit. It’s shown in our common language. People usually say, “mind, body, and spirit.” They don’t say, “spirit, body, and mind.” The word “mind” always comes first.
Moreover, the mind has more control over us than we realize. We know we are not our thoughts, but do we know it every single moment? When we forget, we fall asleep. In spirituality, this is called “being unconscious.” As we carry on with our daily life, it’s easy to lose our awareness and let the mind remain in control.
We forget we are the master and the cup is only our tool.
What do we do with the toppled cup? Do we throw it away? Leave it lying down? If we put the cup straight up again, the cup might get filled up without our noticing. If we block it from getting filled up, perhaps we are paying too much attention to it. So how do we keep the cup empty forever?
The answer is we don’t. We don’t keep our cups empty all the time. The mind can’t stay empty forever. It has been programmed to get filled up; it was meant to be used. For practical reasons, we need to use the mind for decision-making and our day-to-day work. It helps us to:
Make judgments, and more
This tool, which makes us feel inferior, is the same tool we need to survive in the physical world. We can’t just leave the cup empty.
By keeping our cups empty, we can listen to what others are saying without reacting to their words. Also, being the master of our own cup means we have the choice to empty it, turn the mind on or off, whenever we like. Anytime we want to use our cup, we can turn it over and let it be filled up. After we use it, we pour away the content and turn it upside down again. A cup is just a tool, and we can put it aside whenever we choose.
Once we are awakened and realize who we really are, we cannot unrealize it. Even if our cup gets filled up unnoticed, we can empty it again when we regain consciousness. As long as we are aware that we are the masters — and we are using the mind and not the mind using us — then there are no issues. We don’t have to resist the thoughts and emotions the mind produces; we can just let them be and observe them.