Near Enemies on the Path

If we could practice perfect presence and perfect love without any effort, spiritual growth would be easy. Happiness would be easy, too.

But that doesn’t normally happen. The reason we set out on a path in the first place is because, at the root level, we have cultivated a consciousness that breeds discontent. This consciousness then sabotages our efforts to be free of it. (Here I am using the word “consciousness” in a loose way, to refer to predominating dispositions and habits of our mind, of our psyche, which have a momentum and “life of their own.”)

The best explanation for this self-sabotage or “corruption” is that “The mind is a dynamic and living entity that has an agenda of its own survival ahead of your emotional well being” (qtd. Gary van Warmerdam). Gary uses the word “mind” here because he is writing for a general audience, but in other audios and articles he is more specific that the part of the mind furthering an agenda for its own survival is the ego-mind. After all, “mind” can also refer to thoughts, imagination, memory, intellect, subconscious mind, etc; but these aren’t fighting for survival. The ego’s the fighter.

It’s also a shapeshifter; it stays alive by disguising itself in different forms. (But that’s another story…)

It’s important to know that the ego creates this sabotage and corruption in the form of “near enemies,” because otherwise a helpful, liberating practice can become corrupted into something that is being used against you.


A near enemy of meditation is using meditation to shield ourselves from the world in a self-absorbed way.

A near enemy of prayer is to pray from a victimized point of view, reinforcing the Victim part of the ego.

A near enemy of inquiry is to ask a question hoping to get someone else’s answer or looking for answers that support a point of view we already have.

A near enemy of intellectual discernment is to cling to the intellectual conclusions we’ve reached in a rigid way or mistake them for the Truth only experience can reveal.

A near enemy of service is to get righteous and prideful about the good you are doing for others, and reinforce the Judge or Righteous part of the ego.

A near enemy of love is to love while expecting to get something back for your love or to say that what you are expressing is “love” when it really is, in a relationship context, attachment or co-dependency.

. . . Those are just a few examples, and with respect to those practices, those are not the only ways that those practices can be corrupted. We can corrupt in all sorts of ways! Woohoo!

So basically any of our practices can be corrupted and this happens when the ego shapeshifts into a form that reinforces part of itself as we assume its identity. The example of being prideful about giving service is a good example. First, the ego shapeshifts into the Righteous Judge; then we believe in that thought-identity and assume it (like putting on clothes); then that assumption of identity trickles down into our behaviors, emotions, and subsequent thoughts. With practice, you can recognize it not only in yourself but in others as well.

What’s the good news here? An intellectual awareness of “near enemies” paves the way for an experiential awareness. This article lays out the intellectual awareness, which prepares the mind to recognize the shapeshifting when it happens in actual experience. From the Witness Observer point of view comes the possibility of just seeing the shapeshifting happening, and when we are in the Observer point of view, we are not in the ego identity—whichever form it has taken.

Then, as the Observer, we are not “feeding” the ego with our energy by believing and assuming the identities (like the Judge and Victim) that it shapeshifts into. Not only do we not create our reality from ego-based energy in that moment, but we refrain from corrupting our practice through judgment, victimization, attachment, etc.

Awareness, then, is the key to being free of the near enemies created by ego-mind. However, only practicing over time can make us masters in expressing love and presence without corrupting them. (“Practice makes the master.”) It’s just not realistic to expect someone to get it right off the bat. In any field of endeavor, you don’t expect a novice to perform like an adept from the get-go.

This is why, I think, in the Toltec tradition there are three masteries: Awareness, Transformation, and Love—in that order! Love is the “greatest mastery of the Toltecs”—perhaps because it is the most powerful—but awareness is the first mastery. Love, without awareness, can be corrupted into something that is not actually love. Awareness is the foundation.

Yet when the masteries come together in consciousness, the power of love is unbounded, and love, in all its glory, is free to awaken, heal and revitalize its vehicles. This comes about by being real, true, and trusting what we already know in our hearts.


Loving the Ego

In the last post the “synthesis of research” landed, ultimately, on the point that our own hearts are the key to transformation. The spiritual journey is “from ego to heart.” And yet, because when we embark on the journey we are netted in egoic consciousness, the strategies we employ to evolve our consciousness can be unwittingly, innocently based in that same consciousness we are evolving beyond.

Then what kind of orientation can we take that will both serve our deepest wisdom and not reinforce our conditioned tendencies to be separate, willful and combative? This is where the teachings of Matt Kahn come in. Essentially, Matt points to an orientation towards love and heart-centeredness that brings the love the ego is seeking into our present experience. We go from ego to heart by embracing ego with heart.

The following is a transcription from Matt’s course “Whatever Arises Love That,” which points to the difference between what he calls the Old Paradigm of ego-deconstruction and the New Paradigm based in heart-centered consciousness. While the energetic undertones that would normally accompany this message cannot be replicated in a transcription, such that an important aspect of the communication is lost, still I want to include this information on Words Stand Still as a way of bringing some themes together (especially from the last post) in a powerful, heartful way:

. . . The first stage of the transformation process of “Loving what Arises” brings to you is a sense of spaciousness and relaxation in the body. And so, perhaps the question becomes, “why does loving ourselves and being so emotionally in tune with the innocence in our heart, relax the physical body?”

And when I discovered the link between these two things, it was during a very auspicious conversation I had with the universe. And it was an answer that was very unexpected, as I asked the universe, “what is the core of human suffering?” And the reason I asked this question was because, in the very beginning of my journey, I had come to know about the workings of ego, and had pinpointed that to be the root and cause of human suffering, with ego being almost a fictitious character we portray through the roles we play in everyday life, whether in our family or in our work environments, or even the roles that we play in our relationships… that is this imaginary character called “ego,” who we think we are as human beings, along this soul’s journey, that has been constantly seen to be the source of humans suffering.

And yet something deep in me was not satisfied with that answer. It was a fine answer and there was so much evidence to back up [it] being true. But what really struck a chord in me, what really kept me exploration going even deeper, and what never really led to a deep level of satisfaction in that answer, was that for every person that had accepted and seen that it was the identification of ego that was literally seen as the cause of human suffering, typically it led to a strategy of trying to unravel ego [or] get away from ego. And there was something inside of me, something very deep and unexplainable, that didn’t think this was incorrect but […] actually didn’t feel that it was the most direct approach.

And something deep in me motivated me to ask the universe… and before I give you the answer of what the universe told me, which I thought was very compelling, I want to offer you a very intriguing benchmark, because as we know the highest vibration in consciousness is the energy rooted in Love, so all of our words, when rooted in Love, all of our actions, when rooted in our Love, […] when Love motivates all of our words, thoughts, actions, and behaviors, we are embodying the highest frequency in consciousnessWe are carriers of a new reality that is literally transforming reality, for the well-being of all. And so it is our highest aspiration, not just to awaken to the truth of our nature, not just to know who we are, as if it is a fill-in-the-blank word that we put into the space after “I am…,” but that knowing who you are is actually about embodying and bringing forth, through all of your actions and activities, the highest vibration of Love. 

And when I would think about how to approach ego, or how it was typically talked about, about “getting rid of ego,” “destroying ego,” and “unraveling ego,” it didn’t strike me as that was the way Love would approach a spiritual journey… that, in my experience, if Love is the highest vibration, in order to really come into contact with the deepest and wisest teachings in existence, we would have to take a journey, where everything we are encountering, even from our worst enemy, even from our most dramatic past experiences, and even to encountering the ego that we have learned to blame for every moment of suffering in our life, that even that must be met with an embrace of Love, if we are to really take a journey where love is present in every momentary encounter. And to be on a spiritual journey where we are trying to resolve human suffering, without addressing or treating something as Love would embrace something, didn’t feel to me as if I was really seeing the “bigger picture,” [like] I wasn’t seeing the heart of the matter.

[from Chapter 24]

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Synthesis of Spiritual Research 2.0

What is this? What is actually true? What is the point of this world? How do all the puzzle pieces fit together? What is this feeling inside me? And “is any of this even real? . . . or not?”

These are some of the questions that drive and fuel philosophical and spiritual quests. These are the kind of questions that live us. They live us, lead us to new frontiers, new questions, and less answers, perhaps, than we began with.

This post is a synthesis of much “spiritual research” done by the author, concerning inquiries of enlightenment and transcendent human experiences, which have the best chance of furnishing answers to our deepest questions.

Spiritual Teachers: Do you believe them?

If you do research in academia, you can check if your sources are credible by checking their credentials (level of degree, associated institutions, past publications and acclamations), and you can assess their arguments and claims against your own knowledge, logic, and primary sources. In academia, experts are people who have spent a lot of time reading and writing.

In spirituality the situation is quite different. Since the “goal” (if it can be said to exist) is not definite knowledge but exploration of states of consciousness, everything is much more subjective. The “experts,” here, are spiritual teachers and–good heavens!–they may not even have Doctorates!

The spiritual journey is marked by, sparked by, inner feelings and inner knowings. Also, one’s relationship with Life, and with spiritual teachers, must come to be based in trust. But not all teachers are trustworthy, and not all offer the same caliber of teaching and presence to their students.

How do you determine, in this context, who is a “credible source”? Contrary to common assumptions, there are some things we can look at:

  1. Inclusion of information you already know. Does a teacher say things that you already know to be true in your own experience? Can you be sure that at least some of the things that are being said are true? If you can, then you have a reason to listen to the things that are being said that you do not yet understand. It is possible that those things lie, at present, beyond your scope of judgment (to borrow a term from philosopher Michael McGhee); but your scope may very well expand, as life goes on.
  2. Attentional capacity and “Way of Engaging.” An increased ability to concentrate and be present are marks of higher states of consciousness. Having experience with presence yourself helps you to pick up on the degree of presence in a teacher. Their “way of engaging” is also telling. Beings in whom the egoic state of consciousness (ego) has diminished will be less reactive to other people and more focussed on listening and responding compassionately.
  3. Expressions of Emotion and Energy. Another mark of higher states of consciousness is the presence of peace, joy, and love—positive emotions. Conversely, “negative” emotional expressions would be a tip-off that perhaps this person doesn’t have much to teach. (The exception here is where expressions like anger and “wrath” are used in service of teaching, as in the case of masters G.I. Gurdjieff and Chogyam Trungpa. These exceptions call for holistic evaluations of a teacher.) Relatedly, presentation of teachings are sometimes called “transmissions” because of the communication that happens on the energetic level rather than just the intellectual level. Many people, it seems, have positive and profound experiences on the receiving end of transmitters such as Matt Kahn and “channels” of spiritual beings not physically present on Earth.

These are some of the most important criteria we can use to establish credibility vis-a-vis spiritual teachers and teachings. It involves a combination of intellect, intuition and open-heartedness that functions to dissolve doubt and listen more deeply.

Results of Research

Listening, watching, reading and compiling information from many different sources shows that the fundamental shift within the “spiritual journey” is the same for everyone. For humans at this time, the  spiritual journey centers on evolving from ego to heart. It’s about letting go of the egoic state of consciousness—which can be described from many different angles; in terms of attachments, mind-chatter, resistance to life, psychological time, fear-based expression, contracted consciousness, etc.—and “falling” into a way of being, and new expression of consciousness, characterized by compassion and understanding. It’s less noisy, more quiet.

On parallel lines, the Enlightened State has been described by many teachers as egoless perception. Eckhart Tolle calls it the “egoless state.” Adyashanti says “enlightenment is not seeing life through the lens of the egoic mind.” Ramana Maharishi, too, said that “Reality is simply the loss of the ego.”

(Now of course this can easily turn into the ego reacting to itself: “I’m going to get rid of ‘my’ ego!” If we just saw that it’s merely reacting to an idea, then there’s no identification with it, and no problem… This is a tangential point.)

Everyone must come to see, in their own experience, what lies beyond the ego. The only way to know is to experience it for yourself. Yet this can lead to a kind of dogmatism in which inquiry stops, with respect to why practices work, and restricts itself to what to practice–“how to get there.” How do we get there, and why does that work?

Basically, the way to “get there,” no matter who you talk to, involves “being conscious;” that is, accepting or not resisting what is and expressing love. Universally, the recommended practices are mindful, meditative, and/or heart-centered. With the exception of the ancient Western philosophical schools, the practices are not intellectual or head-centered. As Sara Beak once said, “[the journey] can’t come out of the head.”  So if it can’t come out of the head, it has to come from something else.

In a way, there are not many more options: body? heart? awareness itself? All of these are significantly involved, but the most important one is the heart. For it is from the heart that love, acceptance and forgiveness flow; from the heart that the longing for Unity is born; from the heart that our true knowing arises. Reggie Ray, a modern master in the tradition of Tibetan meditation, calls the heart the “first expression of our basic natural unborn awareness.” (We will circle back to discussing the heart soon.)

Now the spiritual practices have the same core elements of letting go and expressing love, even as there are variations in their presentation and the forms they might take between teachers and teachings. So these core elements are the keys, if you will, in terms of what to do to transform consciousness, manifest enlightenment and go the journey. But here again, focussing on what to do, or “how to get there,” to the exclusion of why we are practicing what we are practicing, is a little bit like a dog following its trainer around without knowing where it’s going or for what purpose.

The good news is that there’s at least one good explanation uniting the themes of the journey from ego to heart, enlightenment, and the recommended practices. But it requires that we put the puzzle pieces together. First, these pieces:

“Everything in the universe is made of energy that vibrates, and everything that vibrates imparts or impacts information. The amplitude and frequency of energy is what determines how (in what form) that energy will express itself. We call this a ‘vibration.'” – Teal Swan

“If you understand that everything is energy, you can also understand that everything you think, believe and feel consists of energy. Your attitude–or focus–vibrates, and those vibrations affect the quantum fields that underly, constitute and determine the outcome of physical matter.” – Bentinho Massaro

“…it is helpful to know that everything in the Universe is energy vibrating at a certain frequency. Every person, animal, plant, object, word, thought, feeling, belief (whether conscious or subconscious), and action has its own unique vibration” – Robert Schwartz, Your Soul’s Gift

Without going into too much detail, these three sources pass the tests for credibility (at least  in my view). Although The Secret, the 2006 movie, may have turned people off of the Law of Attraction and its underlying metaphysics (“everything is energy”), there’s still a truth to be acknowledged in this which doesn’t have to be presented in the sort of self-centering, manipulative way it was in the movie. There is a reality not only to ‘everything being energy’ but to the Law of Attraction, as well, and that this knowledge can be used in a heartful, rather than self-centered, way.

The perspective of everything being energy, which we are taking here, redefines our experience in terms of vibration and frequencies, and relates those vibrations to the expansion or contraction of our consciousness, through what we are believing and focussing on. Naturally, we have the same kind of experiences as before, but now we have a sense of the consequences of our attitudes, beliefs, and emotional expressions in terms of vibration, and, thus, consciousness contraction/expansion. The great David Hawkins correlated emotional expressions to an arbitrary, numerical scale of consciousness levels. If we expect that higher consciousness equates to more positive emotional expressions (love, joy, peace), then the Map of Consciousness confirms our expectations.


The total picture becomes more concrete. We go from “Everything is energy” to “Energy vibrates at different frequencies” to “Positive emotional expressions vibrate at higher frequencies.” But how does this relate to the spiritual journey “from ego to heart”? The final piece of the puzzle comes from material channeled by Pamela Kribbe—another source that satisfies the criteria of credibility, especially in light of the quality of the channeled information. The channeled, non-physical being, Jeshua, identifies the third stage of the evolution from ego to heart as such:

Letting the old ego-based energies inside you die, throwing off the cocoon, becoming your new self: the end of the end.

This helps put everything together. If it makes sense that enlightenment is a shift of consciousness ‘out of ego,’ as it has been described many-a-time, and we add Jeshua’s description that it is also an energetic shift (how could it not be, if everything is energy?), then we have an explanation for what is happening within us, on the level of energy, and why the recommended practices are so widely recommended: the release of ego-based energies and growth of heart-based energies transforms consciousness

Really, the language of “energy” is a metaphor to describe what is real. So another, simplified way of describing what is happening is: some real things are diminishing or vanishing (ego-based energies) and some other real things are growing or multiplying (heart-based energies) within us, which has the effect of changing consciousness and, thus, our experience.

A related point about meditation. As teacher Teal Swan describes in this video, feeling and expressing love raises our vibration such that we are able to understand and comprehend the universe more; we get more insight. David Hawkins also writes in his book “Letting Go” that the technique of surrender (the central technique described in the book) breaks our old habit patterns, which frees up our ability to concentrate easily and enter samadhi, or a state of focussed concentration. Therefore, the technique of surrender supports and nurtures “good” meditation. So love and letting go foster the same results we would hope to get from meditation (insight and samadhi). From this point of view, it makes less sense to try and attain enlightenment merely through meditative practice. It also makes less sense to have a meditative practice but make no effort to let go of ego-based energies and live from the heart, if the goal is, still, higher consciousness and greater well-being. From an energetic point of view, it would be wiser to balance meditation with heart-centeredness and letting go. This approach is easier and kinder to oneself than a more austere spiritual path based heavily or exclusively on meditation.

So, where does this leave us? –better yet, where does this lead us? Not to more spiritual knowledge and teachings, but to a more profound experience of our own hearts. To quote Eli Jaxon-Bear, when he was remarking on spiritual teachings, “It’s all a trap… And you know it. I’m just confirming what you already know in your heart…. There are lots of things you can understand… but you can’t grasp Love…. [The teaching] is only for your heart.”

In the end, the journey doesn’t come out of the head. Instead, we are being invited to surrender to the heart. For heart knows the way Home.


  1. Link to “sequel” post: Loving the Ego
  2. Suggestions about how to improve the presentation of this information are gratefully welcomed. (I am often blind to how things are coming across–haha.)

Mediums for Truth: Storytelling versus Logic

Have you ever been saying something that wasn’t true, and caught yourself in the middle of saying it? “No…no, everything I’ve ever said in my life has been factual and accurate.” Thank you, honest reader.

On my first attempt at this post I wanted to make the point that stories are a better medium for conveying spiritual truth, for the reason that they can impart powerful feelings, and speak to the heart in a way that more logic-based teachings cannot.

Well, the second half of that may be accurate. Just think of one of the best fiction books you’ve ever read. Think of a moment in that book that really spoke to you, that really evoked something deep within you. Perhaps it was a big moment in the story, but it doesn’t have to be. In any case, the reason that moment spoke to you so deeply was because it was based in truth—a truth about life. But the story didn’t explicitly tell you “here’s the truth I’m communicating to you.” No, you just felt it in the imaginative experience of the story itself.

I experienced something like this in reading Marquez’s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. There’s something that happens towards at the very end of the book (I won’t spoil what it is) that kind of brings the whole 400-pages of magical realism together. At that point in the story I felt “uplifted” in gaining a new vision of the miraculous unfolding of time, the interconnection of so many human lives, and the magical, mysterious way life sweeps us up. If you asked me, I couldn’t articulate very well what this “vision” consists in, or what truth I learnt, exactly, but I was left with a sense of gratitude just to be participating in life, and a more open mind with respect to my place in this incomprehensibly vast existence.

That was something that no logical argument or teaching could’ve imparted. It had to come through a story—through putting yourself in those characters’ shoes; being transported to a fictional world; being witness to the heartbreaks and triumphs; and seeing the story build on itself so that the meaning accumulates through the story and imbues the climactic events with immense communicative power…. The resurrection of Christ, for example, affects us so deeply because we were there, in a sense, for all that came before: the telling of the parables, the miracles, the last supper, the crucifixion.

So storytelling speaks to the heart. It bypasses the reasoning mind and resistance to life as we let the characters and their lives into our intimate experience. That way, stories give the feel for something that would be very, very difficult to convey in plain prose or logic.

But to say that that makes stories a “better” medium for truth is a tad misleading. Stories awaken the heart and inspire us to move in a positive direction. Hell, they may even trigger a shift in consciousness. And yet, at some point, we’re going to want—or probably need—a more precise understanding with which to orient ourselves, spiritually or otherwise.

That’s where logic and clear conceptual formulations enter the fray. An accurate mental model of what’s happening in our lives can do wonders. Not only does it direct the mind away from delusional suggestions (which further obscure things), but actually gives some concrete advice on “what’s the next step to take;” what will work, what won’t, and why.

Now the imbalance, with respect to conceptual formulations, is to take them as reality rather than as descriptions of reality. Just a little observation reveals that the world isn’t divided up into bits, as our mind makes it seem, but there’s actually a wholeness and a unity that concepts don’t capture—can’t capture. You could say the mind’s “first move” in the chess-game is to divide; in effect, to make things in the world seem separate from one another.

Fixation on this mental version of reality or “virtual reality” leads to some other, undesirable effects (a point made in previous posts on Words Stand Still, like this one, and this one).

However, when used in a balanced way, the intellect can “discern and rift its way to the secret of things,” as Thoreau would say, and shed more than a little light on our situation.

Balance is the key. If we focus too heavily on the logical, conceptually precise version of reality created in our minds, then we may very well just stay there. If we just “follow and trust our heart”—as enlightening and powerful as that is—we may struggle unnecessarily or create suffering, unaware that a good conceptual map could change the way we look at something completely. But if we find a felt, intuitive balance between the mind and heart in our own experience, this translates to consciousness expansion. This, I believe, is how the masters do it.

So what of “mediums for truth”? It depends on what you want to communicate. Whatever medium is chosen, it will still be metaphor for truth—expressions, at best—and not truth itself. Only the truth is the truth. As a master once put it: truth “has never been spoken, never been written, never been imagined.”


  1. This post addresses essentially the same topic as “Paradox and Poetry” from another angle.
  1. The quote at the end of this post comes from here.
  1. Hopefully there will be some storytelling on Words Stand Still soon!

Cultures, Knowledges, and Global Consciousness

One of the blessings of living in the “Age of Information” is having almost all of the world’s cultures (their ways of thinking, living, and expertise) available to us “second-hand.” Through audio, video, and text formats we journey, vicariously, to the far reaches of the Earth and see what is to be seen there; to the canyons of northern Mexico; the mountains of Tibet; the polis of Ancient Greece.

Wherever we go, we find that in these autonomous “spheres” of culture, humans have cultivated special knowledges that may be relatively unknown in the other spheres. For example, in his book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall uncovers the secrets of the Tarahumara, who have hid themselves well in the Copper Canyons of northern Mexico–a culture centered on running as a ritualized sport, supporting a healthy community on many different levels. Building the culture around running has resulted in the Tarahumara attaining seemingly superhuman levels of physical fitness and achievement. They can run literally hundreds of miles in the desert heat, and it’s not a “big deal” for them. It’s just what they do all the time.

And yet, in the West, many of us bemoan running even a few miles consecutively. What’s more, we are, as McDougall points out, plagued by an endless list of problems related to physical health that are basically unknown to the Tarahumara running culture. So do we have something to learn from them?–obvious, isn’t it?

Take another example: the Tibetans. Tibet has a rich history of spirituality and meditative tradition that goes back thousands of years. In his audio course, Mahamudra for the Modern World, Reggie Ray presents the idea that in Tibet were perfected some practices of meditation originating with the Buddha’s teaching, collectively called the Mahamudra (“innermost heart of the Dharma,” says Ray). These techniques are a unique and powerful way to get in touch with, and unlock the powers of, our own inner capacities not only for presence and open-heartedness, but for a deep sense of peace, joy, love, and overall well-being–a sense of being ‘at home’ on the Earth and in a relationship of gratitude with the flow of life. An embodiment of this (and case in point) is the Dalai Lama.

And yet, once again, that kind of deep awareness, presence, and love is uncommon among Westerners. While the ‘mindfulness movement’ gains momentum, the underlying psychology in Western countries, from a mindful point of view, is the same as it has been: rushing, business, distractedness, self-absorption, image-obsession, etc., etc. It is often reported that people struggle to sit still for a few minutes at a time, doing nothing, or are perturbed by just being in silence. This is no one’s fault, and there’s not even anything wrong with this (and certainly not anything wrong with the people who have experienced this). It’s just an example of how different the Western psyche is from the psyche of some of the Tibetan population, with respect to mindfulness.

Well, what do we in the West have going for us that these other cultures don’t? Perhaps many things, but an external observer would have to say, if they were to get to the core of ‘Western excellence,’ that it involves our intellect, imagination, and mind-based creativity. It has to do with technology, art, literature, science, philosophy; critical analysis in general–all of these, and everything that stems from them.

It’s really our capacity to see things in different ways and create whole new paradigms, theories, and artistic expressions that is our great virtue, and simultaneously, our hubris. As Alan Watts pointed out in his lectures and writings, the concentration of our (Western) consciousness in the “head-space” (from which all these good things derive) leads us to feel separate from the world and to use our knowledge to try and control it.

Nevertheless, the mind-based creativities or expressions are, indeed, our unique expression of human flourishing–granted that, nowadays, countries like China and Japan, in the East, are also excelling technologically and scientifically in a way that exceeds their Western counterparts. Even still, one would have to admit of something special being expressed in, say, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings; a Beethoven symphony; the philosophy of Immanuel Kant; the scientific theories of Stephen Hawking. Call it ‘the crystallization of Western creative potential,’ or something less fancy; call it what you will. But the point is it’s real and it’s something that originates within the Western mind.

So we could carve up a philosophical picture that makes these observations: first, Western culture exhibits head-based brilliance, but other cultures have cultivated knowledges that ‘give life to’ physical vitality and spiritual awakening; second, our Western struggles pertaining to health on the physical, mental, and emotional levels are directly related to overlooking what these cultures have learned.

People have observed this before, but too often we may see ourselves, in the West, as fundamentally different from, say, the Tarahumara or Tibetans. The truth is that while our minds have been trained in a way that conforms to the people around us, on the genetic and spiritual levels there’s no fundamental difference between us. This basic unity provides a foundation for McDougall’s point that what the Tarahumara have achieved in physical health is available to us, too; we are born to run. Add to that Ray’s observations in Mahamudra that, actually, Westerners are, in some ways, perhaps better able to undergo the meditation training of the Mahamudra than people who have grown up in that culture.

So we don’t have to land on the almost self-chastising remark that “we ought to learn something from them!” “We” do have something to learn from “them,” but that really begins with the awareness that “we” and “they” are truly US, and they have something to learn from our culture as well. By trading knowledges and joyfully sharing what each culture has cultivated in their autonomous spheres, we create a Global Consciousness in which we gather and apply the secrets that allow for the actualization of human potential on all levels; true human flourishing. 

And because this Global Consciousness includes the self-awareness of the meditative and spiritual traditions of the East, it does not lead to the vain glorification of separate egos, but rather the celebration and community-based support of what humans can accomplish when they come together. We actually ascend to higher levels of consciousness, well-being and creativity when we are genuinely seeking to help others ascend as well, not when we are bent on self-improvement alone. “Everyone together”–that’s the way!







There is No Lack in Existence

October of last year. Doi Suthep mountain, outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’m about 10 days into an arduous meditation retreat. My only real company has been myself for more than a week, at this point. I sleep in a room with no lights, no sheets on the bed except for one blanket. It is very quiet. And there is absolutely nothing lacking.

Sitting and concentrating has had an effect on the mind. In its focus and openness to understand, insights are received daily. They come and come, and there is always more to come.

Going to sleep on the 10th night, I go into a dream state. In my dream, I am in an unlit house which I’ve never been in before, in some room adjacent to the main living space. I am in front of a computer, and there is a man sitting next to me, talking to me. He is a spiritual teacher whom I recognize as Adyashanti. It’s an odd situation.

But it does not occur to me that I’ve never had a conversation with Adyashanti (Adya) before in my life, nor that I do not recognize the house I’m in, nor that we are using the computer for—for what? Words are coming out of my mouth but I’m not aware of anyone speaking them. There’s a sense of witnessing all of what’s happening; it’s very subtle.

I have read Adya’s books, watched his videos and radio broadcasts, so I’m familiar with his teachings. I know he teaches that ‘All is One, All is God’ and chasing enlightenment is as ridiculous as a dog chasing its own tail. So, of course, I was so excited to share with him, in the dream, my oh-so-profound realization that “dog” is “God” spelled backwards, and seeking enlightenment is God chasing itself, like a dog chases its tail. This was the conversation I found myself in the middle of.

Adya was talking to “me”—or my dream self—and responding enthusiastically: “Yeah, yeah, that’s cool. And, hey, check this out!” As he says that, he starts typing something on the computer; he’s searching on Google, I realize. A bunch of mumbo-jumbo, incomprehensible symbols appear on the screen, which are then Google translated (somehow we got to the Google Translate page) into an ancient language. I’m not sure whether its Sanskrit or Pali or something else. As I’m trying to make it out—my dream-self squinting at the computer screen in this dream-world—I suddenly have a realization that lack-consciousness is an illusion.

As I look back at Adya, or the dream-version of Adya, there’s a feeling that, somehow, this is what he wanted to communicate to me: there is no lack, at all.

At the same time as this insight dawned, it was connected to all of human life. I could see or feel somehow that human beings all across the globe, and for so much time, entrance themselves with this notion of lack. It was a very strange kind of seeing in which it was seen that humans are constantly chasing and fixating on lack—which does not exist—and that this kind of fixation, this lack-consciousness, is in a way defining the course of their lives. It was so strange because my reaction was, “This is completely nuts! You’re telling me that billions of people on this planet are running around, getting upset on account of ideas in their mind which don’t signify anything real! You’ve got to be kidding me! This is unbelievable!”

And yet, this is, I think, the profundity and kind of expanded awareness that Adya is trying to point to in his teaching. It is an awareness of what he calls “The Dream State,” in The Way of Liberation—a state of consciousness that pretty much all of humanity has fallen into, characterized by a sense of being separate from the world and—you guessed it!—lack.

When I awoke from this dream, I realized I had encountered this idea before, in a philosophy book. Deleuze and Guattari argue for the non-existence of lack in Anti-Oedipus, in relation to their re-thinking the concept of “desire.” As they say, “if desire is the lack of the real object, its very nature as a real entity depends upon an ‘essence of lack’ that produces the fantasized object” (p. 25). But note that they say “if” because desire is not the lack of a real object; there is no “essence of lack” at all.

This leads them to agree with Marx that “what exists in fact is not lack, but passion, as a ‘natural and sensuous object.’ Desire is not bolstered by needs, but rather the contrary; needs are derived from desire: they are counterproducts within the real that desire produces” (p. 27). Needs, like desire, are produced. According to Deleuze and Guattari, everything experienced in this world is real and produced by what is real; and yet, there is no “lack” in this world.

Now, they reach this conclusion through logic. However, it’s easier just to look with awareness; that is, just paying attention without thoughts or language ‘interfering.’ Looking around as awareness, we can ask “where is lack?” “I see people, things, nature; thoughts, emotions, sensations; all kinds of life but no lack!” Not even something like “hunger” is lacking in anything. Rather it’s a kind of force compelling an organism to eat.

So, this is the point. We cannot find this “lack” in the real world, in our actual experience as opposed to in our minds. We can only find the idea of lack in thought processes—in the mind or imagination, you could say. As a consequence, when we fixate our attention on these ideas of “what is missing” or “what is lacking” from our life as it is, we are actually engaged in a self-hypnosis whereby we imagine that we are lacking something, which in turn creates correspondently negative emotions.

Thought of lack –> Belief in Lack –> Attention fixates on belief –> Negative Emotion

This whole process happening within us—the idea of lack, assent to the idea as “true,” fixation on the belief, and generation of emotion—constitutes lack-consciousness. It is completely a creation of the virtual reality existing in our minds (an illusion), but it is something that humans are doing (“practicing”) all the time. And we suffer for it.

Deleuze and Guattari would agree with Adyashanti on another point: that lack-consciousness is part and parcel to the ego’s way of being (or, in Adya’s vocabulary, the egoic state of consciousness). It’s not just “there is lack” but what we experience is “I lack,” in which “I” is the ego, the egoic identity. By believing this thought we feel victimized, and the ego tricks us into sustaining its way of being.

The ego doesn’t really exist, either, except as our experience of the idea of ourselves. Just as we can never find “lack” in experience, we can never find an entity that we could call “ego” and say “Yep! There it is! That’s the ego right there!” In spite of the fact that we continually act on behalf of this imaginary identity, and we identify (in our thoughts) as this imaginary character, nevertheless, it is nowhere to be found in experience.

The recognition of both these illusions is freeing, even at an intellectual level. Not being a small ego frees us up to greatly expand our sense of self beyond imaginary boundaries. Seeing through the illusion of lack allows us to appreciate the abundance of what is…. There is so much abundance!! This recognition of abundance elevates and expands our consciousness to ‘higher levels,’ from which we appreciate more abundance, which elevates us more…. And on and on it goes.