Understanding oneself, one's drives, one's emotions, the way in which one's mind works, is the minimum requirement for successful relationships. Without this understanding of oneself, without taking the time to learn about oneself, relationships can be merely a tug of war between two independent egos, instead of a coming together.

Finding yourself is easy if you know the tricks, and the first trick is that travelling to distant lands or hiring an enlightened guru is not necessary. Nor do you have to become a monk or nun! All you have to do is cultivate five things, and once these five things are put into action, they can point you toward yourself wherever you are.

Once they are established, it's simply a matter of using them to observe yourself, right here, right now. Within your body and mind is everything you need to find your deeper self. Actually, all things of the universe are right here, within you, represented by your physical aspects, your consciousness, your feelings, your perceptions (labeling) and your thoughts.

Only when we become shrewd enough to see beyond our labeling; which is the outward appearance of things based on our past memories, can we penetrate into our self – which is the one who is shrewd, the one who labels, the one who holds such strong opinions, and the one who loves and hates. Only then do we come to an understanding about everything in the universe, including our bodies and minds. Only then do we understand that they are innocent and cause no problems whatsoever. And only then do we understand that they all have the same characteristics; namely that they all change, that none of them have a "self" standing behind their obvious appearances, and that it is only our perceptions of our own "self" that cause our stress.

Until we become shrewd enough to understand these three characteristics by cultivating the five steps below, we will mistakenly believe the opposite of the three characteristics; i.e., we will mistakenly believe that everything is stable, we will believe that something stands behind everything, and we will believe that things outside of our "selves" are what cause our stress.

Dedication develops when we have seen enough of this world to conclude that something other than this self-centered treadmill we find ourselves trapped on is possible.

Perseverance increases when we begin to recognize our potential to be truly free from negative emotions.

Mindfulness is enhanced when we see the absurdity of the endless circles our minds go through while accomplishing the same predictable, unsatisfactory results.

Concentration strengthens when we realize that our scattered minds are pathways to confusion.

And shrewdness is just something that is there because we don't like to be fooled, especially by ourselves.

Mindfulness is remembering to be alert to all possibilities in life; taking the blinders off. We should be mindful of life at all times. Shrewdness is investigating. When we combine mindfulness and shrewdness, we remember to investigate life openly without bias. Also, when we are investigating, mindfulness reminds us what to investigate, and keeps us from simply labeling things instead of seeing them truly

When shrewdness wanders beyond the boundaries of mindfulness, false perceptions appear, and we begin to label, which is assuming we understand and know something and therefore look no closer. Instead of seeing everything new and original each time, we label it from memory, living in the past, and our lives become merely dead things in our minds instead of vibrant and alive. This is how we mostly live, in dead images of the past. This is why we are truly not alive and awake.

Mindfulness is awareness; Shrewdness is contemplation. Mindfulness keeps watch over shrewdness so that the shrewdness is always directed inwardly, always toward the correct subjects and objects that will take us to understanding of ourselves instead of wasting time judging others. When one focuses with mindfulness and shrewdness, it is easy to discover the three characteristics of life, which are, 1. Stress, 2. The changing natures of all things. And 3. No self. These three things are always with us, and once we establish this inward mindfulness and shrewdness, then whenever we direct the mind toward any problem, we can be very wise and intelligent.

When contemplating with mindfulness and shrewdness, you will see that all contemplations are done in the present. You may have seen a friend have serious problems in the past and project that into the future (I will someday have problems as well), but the contemplation of this will bring you right back into the present to you, or your "I" thought; your "self." It is you, the present you, who will someday be affected.

When one contemplates, one is looking for causes; causes for stress, causes for worry, and causes for your fear, and when one develops contemplation by utilizing shrewdness, then one eventually understands the mind, including all of its doubts and fears. What makes us displeased or pleased? What is the cause of this displeasure? Is it the people we encounter and come into contact with, or something else? What is it that judges all these things? Can we ever be shrewd enough to find out what it is that judges?

Other than the judging, aren't all of these things and people that we come into contact with throughout the universe innocent in themselves? Isn't it only "us" and our "I" thought that changes them from neutral into horrible or wonderful things? This is where we must penetrate, to this "I" thought, this "knowing," this something in the mind that discriminates, loves and hates, attaches to and pushes away.

If we use our dedication, perseverance, mindfulness, concentration, and shrewdness, soon we will be able to recognize this "I" thought, this "knowing" the moment it moves and causes all our stress and problems by its hating and loving, attaching and pushing away.

We will understand with wisdom that within every meeting are the seeds of parting, and then we will be able to see with compassion, and be able to hold those dear that we love without a clinging attachment and dependency that twist relationships into prisons. Everything in the universe is completely innocent and of the same nature. It is only this "I" thought, this "knowing" that causes our problems.

We can only get to know ourselves while we are conscious and aware, therefore we must use all our facilities to understand ourselves. Once we are able to change ourselves by understanding ourselves, we become extremely precious to others, and then magically, all other beings become precious as well.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-nine years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit www.AYearToEnlightenment.com