Book Review: Above The Fray
Perfectionism, it has been said, is a blessing and a curse. While it drives us to try harder, it also moves the goal we are reaching for just far enough away that, try as we may, we will never reach it. But what if perfection already existed around us in everything we do, even in the most difficult of circumstances?
In his new book, Above The Fray: The Awareness Project Owen Thomas Ashton, MD encourages readers to adopt a dramatically different perspective on change, adversity, obstacles and growth – one that makes it possible to see all of these things as indispensable to increasing awareness, and greater joy.
“Life on this planet is chaotic and unpredictable. The ‘fray’ will always be with us. We must learn to live above the fray, which is, as the Buddha said, ‘Like the lotus flower, which grows out of the muddy water but remains untouched by the mud,’” writes Ashton.
For many, this is a concept that seems a bit out of reach. However, Ashton contends that the world we live in – our domesticated consciousness – is nothing more than an illusion.
“We want to live in an illusionary world that seems so real as to make us want to live our lives surrounded by the insanity we call ‘normal.’ In this way we suffer and we justify our suffering by accepting what we have always been told to be true,” writes Ashton.
How we begin to change and to stop repeating the patterns that cause us pain is through awareness.
“I believe that at the moment of birth into this physical world, every last one of us arrived in a state of spiritual perfection,” writes Ashton.
Yet from the time we begin hearing the world “no,” being taught endless lessons that serve to convince us that acceptance and the good feelings it brings are only conditional, we begin feeling rather imperfect.
“The true self-destruction – the true exodus from perfection – begins when we start seeking validation for our position in respect to everything we learned from the people and culture that raised us,” writes Ashton.
The result is a host of falsehoods that plague us every day. We believe that we are not good enough. We believe that we are not equal. And we believe that we are separate from one another.
Yet these falsehoods and the belief system they ascribe to comes not from within, but rather from the environment around us. The choice we all have is whether or not to believe them.
“Fortunately, this manner of living runs completely contrary to the natural way we can choose to live. If we want to find truth, peace, and happiness, we need only to become aware of the natural way. Once we achieve that awareness, we can finally relax and enjoy our journey in this life,” writes Ashton.
We can also let go of the negative thoughts that are a result of our domestication, and instead find our true nature, as part of the universal subconscious mind.
“We are in fact, no greater and certainly no less than the entirety of the universe,” writes Ashton.
The path begins with surrender. Accepting a new awareness and attaining higher insight become nearly impossible without completely surrendering to the concept.
The first level of awareness, according to Ashton, is shame, guilt, fear, and pride. This is where most of humanity functions. Change at this level requires that we embrace the possibility that our lives, our fears, and the image we seek to protect are nothing but an illusion. Ashton’s advice here is to practice kindness to transcend our ego-based fears.
We also need the courage to act with bravery in the face of opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement, which is the second level of awareness. Yet it is also adversity and failure that provide the motivation to change, learn, transform our lives, and advance.
It is through believing in the synchronicity of the universe – that all events are related in a symphony of harmonious occurrences that always result in meaning – that we come to find the third level of awareness: joy, grace, love, and peace. Characterized by the belief that everything is as it should be, this level of awareness understands that the only thing that is constant is change.
“If we embrace change – or even seek it out as a way to improve our lives – it can be a radical deconstruction of what is, and a radical reconstruction of what we want,” writes Ashton.
Often, it is a reconstruction that leads to enlightenment, which is the fourth level of awareness, and one that offers unity within ourselves, others, and the world around us – and the ability to stop thinking about the way things are, or how others see us, and start thinking about how we wish things to be.
At some point, we will all face the same decision in our lives – to keep living as things are, or to change them for the better. Offering an approach that empowers us through awareness, Above The Fray: The Awareness Project reminds us that the capacity to change exists within us all.
Above The Fray: The Awareness Project
Owen Thomas Ashton, MD
Softcover, 228 Pages