This article is the second in a series of posts that aim to bring you the most unusual and effective teachings from a variety of spiritual traditions to help you live and work from essence (your true self) rather than from personality (your ego).
Vernon Howard (1918-1992) was an extraordinarily gifted spiritual thinker who wrote books and gave classes from 1965 until his death in 1992. Barely anyone’s heard of him, which is odd because his insights into the chaotic human condition are as profound as any of today’s metaphysical maestros such as Eckhart Tolle or Byron Katie.
Perhaps it’s the language – he speaks of “God” and “Satan” – but if you dig deeper you’ll notice he uses these words symbolically. God, he says, is our true nature and Satan he equates with negativity of any kind.
In any case, you will be drawn to him. Or not.
There is a way out of suffering
Vernon Howard tells us there is a way out of confusion and suffering and that anyone can find it, but people must stop looking for their “true self” first. This is because it’s too easy to slip back into fantasy and memory and miss it completely. Rather, it’s more important to find who we are not before we attempt to find who we are. This, he thought, was a much more interesting approach anyway.
As such, he devised practical exercises for his students to help them recognise their false, socially-constructed selves and to snap them out of compulsive thinking.
Each lesson a gem
Each lesson is a gem. They have wonderful titles like, “You can’t think your way out”, “Let the world win”, “Jolt yourself”, “Walk consciously”, “Abandon thought”, “Defy Dracula”, and “Drop phoney self-images.”
They may look easy but don’t be fooled – they require vigilance. Take this teaching for example:
“The next time you enter your home or leave your home, know you’re passing through the doorway.”
Try this one today and you’ll be surprised how often you forget yourself the minute you resolve not to.
A prescription to end all mental drama
Vernon Howard recommends we do three of his exercises a day.
I’ve put them on little cards and each morning I gather them together, give them a good shuffle, close my eyes and draw three from the deck. These are my daily lessons and after only a week, I’ve noticed changes. Each task is like a mild “shock” to the system and I’m more focused and alert in just about everything I do now.
I’m especially fond of the “Don’t be timid” lesson as a daily way to notice and honor people more. All you need to do is be aware you are passing someone on the street. You don’t have to say or do anything, just know you’re passing them. It’s amazing how much more connected you feel to strangers — and how much more alive the world becomes — when you quietly heed humans on the periphery of your life.
An exercise in invisibility
This teaching is my favourite and it’s for all of you who have had enough of our culture’s obsession with wealth, fame, youth, celebrity, house prices and reality TV.
It’s called “Become Inconspicuous” and here it is:
See how you attract attention to yourself. Deliberately make yourself inconspicuous to others. “From now on I am going to knowingly let people ignore me by attracting no attention to myself in order for me to understand how desperate I am to have others notice me.”
Next time you’re in a group you are to become invisible so that nobody pays any attention to you – no talking, no gestures. You are going to rid yourself of the false self always seeking attention.
Vernon Howard’s website is chock-full of articles, lessons and interviews. Check it out.