Getting Control of Our Lives

At our core all of us want to live rich and inspired lives full of happiness, love, and connection to the people around us, as we explore and immerse ourselves in the great possibilities of life.

Yet the gap between where we are, and that life we imagine, can seem unbridgeable.

This may be one of the things that disappoints us the most. Part of us wants that life we dream of so badly. The problem is we are caught in all sorts of old, self-defeating patterns that we may not even know we are caught in, let alone how to get out of them. These patterns sabotage our lives.

Our Self-defeating Patterns

What kind of patterns, specifically?—the ones that cause us to have emotional reactions of fear, anxiety, anger, and depression. Other recurring patterns cause procrastination, relationship conflicts, and addictions of all kinds. Add to that self-defeating thoughts about not being good enough, being “less than,” or imperfect in some way, shape, or form.

Our self-defeating patterns can make our lives feel like hell. When we are in them, it can feel like the whole world is against us, or there is no hope for us, or “everything is too damn confusing and nothing makes sense.” Or we might be tired of trying and failing to change ourselves and envious of others that have the kind of life we want. We may have even “retired” into a phony apathy that says things like “I don’t care anymore.” Or we may be running away from pains that we don’t dare to face.

So that gap between where we are, and what we want, can seem more and more unbridgeable. As we focus on what’s wrong with our life and our own seeming insufficiencies, the world goes dark. The light at the end of the tunnel appears further and further away.

We are not in Control

Something common to all our “dark” situations is that we are not in control of our life. We believe we are, but we aren’t. Consider this: if we were in control, we would’ve changed things by now! When we try to force, and push, and control our life through thinking more positively, “figuring it out,” or applying more effort, things may seem to improve for a little while, but eventually we fall back into the old slump. Or we obtain some measure of success, but it’s not the happiness we thought it would be.

The Warrior’s Effort

Our normal approach to improve our situation—through thinking and efforting (relying on willpower)—is what we might call the “Warrior” approach of controlling and changing our life. It’s a forceful approach, and has the attitude that “I must do it through my effort. If I keep trying, I will get there.”

The Warrior approach is useful in some situations, and even capable of achieving some goals. It depends on the situation, what’s going on inside us, and the other variables involved.

But for deeper change to occur, the kind of change that creates a fulfilling life—which requires getting free of our self-defeating patterns—the Warrior approach is totally inadequate. From a Warrior starting point, no amount of positive or analytical thinking, or vigorous effort, will get us to a fulfilling life, and there are good reasons why…

The Warrior’s Efforts to “think positive” and “figure it out”

On the thinking side of the Warrior, some common strategies are (1) using positive thoughts to change the situation, and (2) analyzing the situation to death, which involves looking at our predicament from an aggressive point of view and missing the bigger picture that will help us.

Here’s the thing about affirmations. Our positive-thinking, well-intentioned affirmations like “I can do this” or “I can create a happy life” will backfire if we don’t actually believe them at a deeper level. Our conscious mind can say “I can do this” but our subconscious mind believes “I can’t do this.” In that case, when we say “I can do this” we will get a subtle negative feeling that indicates we don’t really believe it.

That’s how affirmations can backfire: we don’t really believe the affirmation, so when we say it, our subconscious mind creates a negative feeling because we are, in a way, lying to ourselves. (By the way, changing the subconscious mind’s opinion/belief can be a lengthy process, and not one the Warrior can do, either.)

Excessive analysis has its own traps, too. One of the big problems is we are trying to analyze the situation we are stuck in with a bunch of assumptions obscuring our view. Analysis—the Warrior’s kind of analysis—has the motivation of ‘getting unstuck’ rather than just seeing the situation clearly. This motivation leads to a kind of tunnel vision in which we can’t see the assumptions that are the real hang-ups—the assumptions that trigger our big emotional reactions.

Another problem is that, by engaging the analytic part of our mind so much, we are cutting off the other faculties we have available to us, and narrowing down our experience in a limiting way. If we create a mental model to ‘figure out’ our patterns with, that could be helpful if it’s accurate, but at best it provides a map out of the pattern rather than actually doing the work of getting out. Sometimes the map is inaccurate, though, because it was made in the heat of emotional reaction, denial, and rationalization (again, the motivation is to ‘get unstuck’ or ‘to win’—not necessarily to see clearly).

The Warrior’s Efforts to win through Willpower

On the willing or “efforting” side of the Warrior, the main problem is that our force of willpower is often put into a game that is rigged. We are set up to lose from the very beginning.

Let’s make this very clear with an example of cigarette or nicotine addiction. Once we are hooked on the nicotine, that is, once we have a nicotine addiction in our nervous system, that creates thoughts, emotions, and cravings or impulses in the body, all revolving around that addiction. In a situation where the addiction is substantial, it is quite likely that our willpower, resolve, and affirmations will not be enough to change our circumstances.

In a situation like a nicotine addiction, many different parts of us are involved in the situation of “relapsing” and “trying to quit.” One part of us (the physical part) is creating cravings for tobacco that another part of us does not want to act on (the part that wants to stop smoking). There’s another part of us (the emotional part) that gets an emotional payoff from smoking that could involve relief, pleasure, or familiarity. Also, on the mental level, the mind begins to form ideas about smoking and being a smoker, which become parts of our belief system and affect our sense of identity. For example, ‘being a tobacco smoker’ is something one likes or doesn’t like about themselves, or something that makes one different from others… something like that.

(In other addictions, the emotional payoff can be negative. For example, sometimes in eating disorders or self-cutting the emotional payoff is a kind of negativity that feeds the part of us that likes to suffer.)

So an addiction can have physical, mental, and emotional layers of depth. To clarify what happens when we use willpower to effort our way out of an addictive pattern, let’s say the sum total of these layers— called the addiction’s ‘physical-mental-emotional layers’—has a “power level” of 90. This power level has accumulated and grown over a period of time in which we were feeding the physical, mental, and emotional parts of us with the chemical nicotine (on the physical level), faith in certain ideas (on the mental level), and emotional payoffs (on  the emotional level). Feeding the parts of the addiction for a long time has made it strong; hence the high power level of 90.

Now suppose our willpower has, approximately, a power level of 30. The willpower (level 30) may be able to “hold off” its opponent (level 90) for a little while—which is the time-period where we seem to have success in quitting—but, eventually, the opponent is going to win. Willpower may hold out for a little while, but sooner or later it’s going to lose.

This ‘difference in power levels’ can be the kind of situation we are dealing with in any of our self-defeating patterns. It is a situation that leads to cycle after cycle of “failure” because it is not something the Warrior can get out of (and the Warrior approach is the only one we know, at this point).

Willpower or effort does play a role in getting out of addiction and other self-defeating patterns, but it needs help. A power level of 30 can’t beat a level 90 by itself. Training the willpower to level 40 through discipline may help a little (training willpower like a muscle), but even then, it’s going to need some assistance.

So what’s the real key to helping out the Warrior’s willpower and getting control of our lives?

The Scout’s Mindfulness

There is another archetype character called the Scout. In contrast to the Warrior, who relies on brute force, the Scout is more of an observer and note-taker, having an attitude of interest or curiosity. To ‘become the Scout’ is to just watch and be aware; to observe what’s happening.

Normally, we wouldn’t think that simply watching or observing would have the firepower we need to change our lives. Why do we think that way? I don’t know. Perhaps because observing seems to be such a frictionless activity, as if “nothing is happening” when we are observing. But something IS happening. Something HUGE is happening, because observing turns out to be the key to freedom.

Yes, observing is the secret to getting control in our lives. The great Indian sage Nisargadatta Maharaj summed it up when he said, “Develop the witness attitude and you will find in your own experience that detachment brings control. The state of witnessing is full of power—there is nothing passive about it.”

Saying that “witnessing is full of power” blows our age-old assumption out of the water—our assumption that “nothing much is happening when I am observing.” We also assume that efforting through willpower is the most powerful way to create meaningful change in our lives, but Nisargadatta is saying that it’s actually the opposite. The frictionless activity of witnessing is a very powerful force. It accomplishes all sorts of things that willpower cannot.

(For an explanation of why witnessing is full of power, see a previous post called “The Power of Your LightSight.” It has to do with what is doing the witnessing, namely consciousness.)

So when we become the Scout, or in other words, when we take the witnessing attitude, from there we can look at our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and cravings without an agenda. We are literally just looking at them with a quality of presence or attentiveness, and perhaps curiosity. That by itself is doing wonders, whether it seems that way or not. This is because when we look at what’s going on inside us from the Scout point of view, we are shining our consciousness on all of what’s going on. The observing consciousness turns out to be the greatest agent of change when its “eye” is not clouded by thinking or efforting.

In the process of observing, sooner or later we begin to detach from thoughts, emotions, beliefs, cravings and aversions. We begin to see them not as belonging to us but as arising from the mind, the emotional body, or the physical body—all coming from conditioning. None of it is personal, and we stop saying that any of it is “mine.” (This takes the ego out of the equation.)

This process of detachment happens because we see that attaching to any of these things has consequences we don’t want. Creating attachments leads to suffering. We come to see, from the Scout point of view, that identifying with a thought contracts us; that identifying with an emotion causes us to react negatively or creates more thoughts of confusion. Etc, etc.

So witnessing brings detachment, and “detachment brings control.” As we let go of attachments, as we get our investment out of these things (physical, mental, or emotional), their power begins to wane. In the process of detachment, their power wanes because we—consciousness—were the source of their power all along. Then, the power level of the pattern’s ‘physical-mental-emotional layers,’ which was 90, drops to 80, then 70, then 60… 50, 40, 30, 20…

As we detach, as we withdraw our investment from thoughts, emotions, and cravings back into our true self (back into consciousness), we are involved in a process of reclaiming our power. What we take our power out of begins to fall apart, or die.

All of this folds into a big paradox. In the activity of witnessing we suspend our efforts to control, and instead choose to merely watch. Yet it is this very suspension of controlling that turns out to bring control. Paradoxically, we gain control by not trying to control—by witnessing. Contrary to our assumptions, trying to control with our mind and will, driven by our ego’s agenda, makes us feel powerless because it doesn’t work. As long as we come from the ego-driven mind and will, we will fail to get control.

Things turn out to be different than we thought they were.

The Scout and the Warrior can work together

So let’s return to the situation of a cigarette smoker with the addiction, and suppose this person is practicing the Scout attitude and being the witness. After a while of doing this, they will have taken their investment out of the thoughts about the addiction, out of the emotional payoffs, and out of the body’s cravings. At this point, these things are seen, from the witness or observer point of view, as the mind’s thoughts, the emotional body’s emotions, and the physical body’s cravings. Many of the elements within the addiction now lose their “charge.” The smoker may perhaps reach the detached and accepting point of view that “it is what it is.”

 Now, the smoker’s detachment from what is happening—thus, their acceptance of it—has created a new situation in which willpower is enough to overcome the temptations to smoke. It was not enough before; “success” was not possible before. There had to be witnessing and detachment that created a new situation where the power levels were more equal, and the battle could actually be won. This new situation could be imagined as willpower (30) versus addictive layers (20 (and dying)).

Conclusion

We become aware that both the Scout’s mindfulness and the Warrior’s willpower have their place in making change in our lives. (The Warrior’s affirmations can also be useful, and even powerful, but only once we have changed our subconscious mind, which again requires Scout witnessing.)

Most of the time we are trying to go about things 100% Warrior and 0% Scout, and this is why we do not get the result we want. Too much efforting; not enough watching! That’s why we need to shift our point of view, and be the watchful Scout as much as we can.

This watchfulness will lead us not only to understanding our situation much better, but by neutralizing the charge in our patterns (through detachment), we will actually be able to change them.

Being a Scout takes practice, but it can be done well. So many people in the Mindfulness Movement are having success doing it, already. Practicing mindfulness—taking the witness attitude—changes our relationship with what’s going on inside us, and returns to us the power to create change.

Once we get free of our old patterns, this gives us the real opportunity—perhaps for the first time in our life!—to create the life we really want: the life our heart has been longing for.

*   *   *

Link: Julia Galef’s TED talk on the Soldier and the Scout

Julia inspired the characters in this essay. In her talk, however, she associates the characters (Soldier and Scout) with different relationships to ideas rather than making behavior changes in one’s life.

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The Most Exciting Thing

What is the most exciting thing about being here, on this Earth, as a free agent of life—a human being with intelligence, awareness, and various faculties and personal gifts?

Before answering that question, I would ask you to consider your past. Consider especially the things that you’ve done that were very special, or interesting, or inspiring. Perhaps they required courage, or commitment, or a willingness to be uncomfortable.

Notice that, while other people were likely involved in those things in some way, you were in large part the creator, the initiator, the innovator, and the way-maker of those happenings. Without your desire to have made it happen, it would not have been. Without your willingness to see it through, it could not have been completed. Without the faculties of your mind, to imagine the end-result, understand the process to get there, and make the cost vs. benefits of taking that course, there would’ve been no motivation to pursue it. Add to that whatever other qualities you may have needed to call upon; maybe the courage to proceed in spite of the parts of you that were afraid.

Looking back, we can see that, while the people and environment around us may have influenced our thinking and decisions, above all, we are responsible for the course of our life, and we are the creators of our lives.

Every action that we take is preceded by some process of rationalization, analysis, imagination, intuition, or instinct that happens within us, within our consciousness. No one else can be held responsible for our relationship to these inner processes but us. Because we determine our relationship with these inner processes, and we decide which one we will act on (and which ones we won’t), we are the creators of our lives in a way that no one else can be.

No one else can hear our thoughts, or see the workings of our imagination, or feel the pull of our intuition, or trust the instinct coming from or gut. Only we can do these things, and only we can choose which of these will influence our actions.

We can also put more attention on these different processes and create different experiences. Putting more attention on our thinking-mind makes visible a “train of logic.” Paying attention to the imagination vivifies amazing inner imagery; and if we take it even deeper, the imagination can lead us through whole dreams, stories, and journeys within our consciousness. Likewise heeding our intuition or gut instinct reveals even more possibilities of life that we may not have considered, if we had just stayed in our head.

Now, instead of looking to the past, project into the future. With all these faculties available to us, so much is available… so much is possible.

Endowed with so much power, we realize our whole life is a canvas for painting the colors of our dreams and creative impulses. Noticing that we have what we need—and perhaps even that there is nothing to lose!—frees us to assume our identity as conscious creators. At our best, we create from joy, from desire, from a childlike excitement to explore and experience—to dance rapturously in the mystery of life.

What, then, is the most exciting thing? Not just that we are the creators of our lives, but the taken-for-granted fact that our life is, truly, ours to create.

Recognizing this fact—recognizing our creative potential—fuels the process of stepping out of our ego and into our true Self, from which we can intuit, pursue, and manifest the life our heart longs for.

Perhaps we’ll end with this, then… Can you imagine what your life can be like? Can you imagine your relationships overflowing with connection, respect, and love? Can you imagine your career being not only fun and satisfying, but helpful to others in a meaningful way? Can you imagine your monetary life being not only stable, but providing you with the resources to live where you want to, travel, and maintain a style of life that you are deeply grateful for? Can you imagine coming fully alive with your mind wide open, your heart dancing, your body grounded firmly in the beauty of this amazing Earth? Can you imagine your soul liberated and gleeful as it explores the endless spiritual dimensions of life?

We all deserve that kind of life, and we can all have it. As Matt Kahn once said, “We can all shine together.”

May you be blessed with the life of your dreams.

The Power of Your LightSight

In Quantum Mechanics the most well-known experiment is called the “double slit.” It is well-known because of its paradoxical and startling conclusions.

It goes like this. Shoot some photons through two slits. On the other side of the slits are receiver-plates, on which the photons make patterns. Run the experiment twice—first while observing and collecting the data; second while not observing or collecting data—and you actually get two different results. When you don’t observe the photons and collect data, the photons make an “interference pattern” on the plate; that is, they make the same patterns as waves would. When you do observe the photons and collect data, the photons make a different pattern—a pattern in which they behave like particles would.

Physicists call this “wave-particle duality” because the photons can behave both like waves and like particles, in terms of the pattern they make on the receiver-plates. It just depends on whether there is observation and data collection, or not.

Another way of saying that is, consciousness, the observing variable, alters the result of the experiment. The presence of consciousness changes the behavior of physical matter. This is why Max Planck said, “we ourselves [as observers] are part of the mystery [‘ultimate mystery of nature’] we are trying to solve.”

If we interpret the results of the double-slit experiment this way, in which physicists discovered the influence, the power, of consciousness on what it is aware of, then we could say they were discovering the power of your LightSight. Allow me to explain.

In spirituality and mindfulness practice, we reach similar conclusions as physicists but from a different method and route. Rather than deal with the physical, spiritual practitioners become expert in dealing with the metaphysical—thoughts, emotions, subtle energies, etc.

In mindfulness practice, for example, one practice involves just being aware of thoughts and emotions as they arise; just to hold them in the light of consciousness without thinking about them or doing anything with them. Pure consciousness is integral to the practice.

What we find in this practice, which, because it’s a subjective experience, can only be verified subjectively, is that thoughts, emotions, and subtle energies mutate just by virtue of their being ‘shined on’ by consciousness. But they do not just mutate randomly. Thoughts tend to first lose their emotional charge before falling away altogether. Emotions, on the other hand, tend to mutate in the way of becoming more pleasant, or “high vibration,” as we say.

David Hawkins described this in his Map of Consciousness. Just being present with the emotion of guilt (vibration of 30), say, allows it over time to morph into apathy (50)  or maybe fear (100); then fear becomes anger (150). Eventually we spill into the positive side of the chart when we reach courage (200), and staying with the phenomenon even then creates, after a while, acceptance (300), gratitude, and peace (600).

I can see how people would be skeptical of this. And yet only our own experience will reveal the Truth to us. For me, I find the Map of Consciousness to be a conceptual scheme that explains my own subjective experience of staying with a phenomenon, surrounding it with my consciousness, and watching my emotional states change into higher vibrational states.

Specifically, I had a physical ailment that caused a lot of pain in… a very uncomfortable place to have pain, on my body. I actually didn’t seek out a cure or surgery for this cause of intense pain, but trusted in the power of my own consciousness to heal, by using the technique Hawkins described in his book, Letting Go. The technique is based in the power of your consciousness: just putting your attention on something (nothing else!) causes it to change in a positive way.

In the early stages of letting go of my resistance to this pain, and just being with it as the consciousness I am, and being totally honest about my experience, I absolutely hated the pain. I said “I hate this fucking pain so much!” Soon thereafter, I found out I was actually afraid of the pain. Then it became “I am angry that this pain is here and that this is happening to me.” Then that became courage to be with the pain and sit through it. Then there was acceptance that “this is my life right now, and I can deal with it.” Eventually it came to a point of profound gratitude: “this pain was given to me as a gift, to teach me how powerful I am.” When I had this thought my body had an energetic response, which I have come to associate with coming into alignment with Truth.

Today the cause of that pain is all but entirely gone. I never sought treatment outside myself. My own experience leads me to believe that it was a form of self-healing—a testament to the power of pure consciousness. But, again, everyone must form conclusions from their own experience.

Thus, on the one hand, we have the physicists reporting that, based on their experiments, consciousness affects the behavior of physical matter. On the other hand, we have the “spiritualists” reporting that, based on their spiritual practices, consciousness affects non-physical phenomena in a positive way. What are these people pointing to?

It’s the power of your LightSight. When you look at something, just look at it, just see it, then the rays of your consciousness go out to that aspect of existence, and that aspect of existence receives the rays of what you are, like plants receive the sunshine and turn their leaves toward the sun. Existence is changed just be being ‘shined on.’ Thus it has been written:

You do not understand the true power of your consciousness. Your consciousness is made of Light. When you hold something in your consciousness, it changes because of that. Your consciousness is a healing force, if you do not bind it by your thinking and your addiction to “doing.” – Jeshua / Pamela Kribbe

Now we can understand why the spiritual teachings point to the practice of “not doing.” You do not have to do anything in order to change experience; just by being conscious, by putting the Light of your consciousness, your “LightSight,” on what you will, you transform reality.

So it is inevitable that you, as consciousness, will change things. You won’t stop being consciousness. But you can bind pure, crystal consciousness with thinking and ‘muddy it up.’ This robs it of its transformative power, temporarily. And yet, free of overthinking, we are empowered to direct our LightSight, at will, to all things wanting illumination, within and without.

It’s as if the Light of consciousness calls forth the Light in all of existence. It’s as if existence is transformed into higher vibrations, alchemically, through the power of presence.

Relaxation is the Key

Matt Kahn and Adyashanti are perhaps two of the “highest level” spiritual teachers of our time, yet they go about things very differently. Matt focuses more on love and loving what arises, while Adya tends to direct attention to our illusions, inquiry, and pure awareness.

But I find that their teachings display two sides of one coin, as it were, specifically on the subject of ego.

Within their teachings—and in many more teachings, besides—it is understood that the consciousness dominated by ego, or “egoic consciousness,” is a kind of consciousness much less satisfying and rich than the consciousness “free of ego.” At the same time, ego is not the problem per se, but the situation in which it dominates consciousness, is. A healthy ego is integrated into the larger consciousness of the individual to whom it belongs, and serves its proper purpose.

So “free of ego” really means free of ego-domination rather than annihilation of an ego-entity altogether. We realize we are much more than the small self we take ourselves to be, but we have no need or desire to destroy something within us. Everything is allowed to be as it is.

To turn back to Matt and Adya, they describe the state of egoic consciousness in different languages. In Whatever Arises Love That, Matt talks about ego as a product of an “overstimulated nervous system.” In Falling into Grace, Adya describes the consciousness created by the egoic mind as the “trance of ego” in which struggle is an absolutely necessary ingredient. Without struggle, the trance cannot continue! Adya writes, “Egos… are addicted to struggle.”

Actually when you combine the two pictures being painted, of an overstimulated nervous system on the one hand, and a trance perpetuating continual struggle on the other, you begin to get a more complete picture, an almost visceral feel for the way ego operates.

The overstimulated nervous system means we are always on the go. (Ego = “I go.”) We are always rushing around, trying to get to the next moment, in the thrall of anticipation, doing, worry, and “efforting” to make things go our way. This originates, Matt teaches, with an overstimulated nervous system that was created in childhood by misunderstood emotional reactions to a world that frightened our innocent, childlike hearts.

This also sheds light on the prevalence of fear within egoic consciousness.

The “trance of ego,” on the other hand, means that we are caught in the virtual reality created by our minds, which we take to be reality, and by believing in or identifying with that virtual reality, we see ourselves as separate from life. We are then combative with life, struggling with it, trying to control it, manipulate it, in order to make things go our way, so we can be happy.

During the whole time this is going on, we are unaware that it is not possible to be truly happy in the egoic consciousness, that our struggle as egos is making us more dissatisfied all the time, and all of the things that our minds are telling us are reality, are just its virtual creations.

But I believe that Adya, with this concept of a “trance,” is endeavoring to put something into words that does not easily lend itself to language. Believing in the virtual reality of the mind, and struggling with life, actually has a hypnotic effect on consciousness, in which we lose a sense of perspective that keeps us sane and, actually, in amazement of life. The state of amazement is lost within the trance; life ceases to seem amazing because it becomes something ‘I’ have to control and ‘do battle’ with.

The complete picture is interesting. We see that ego is rushing, struggling, doing, seeking, and underneath all that is… fear. And underneath that is… misunderstanding.

Peace is something foreign to the ego-mind. In a way, peace is like the opposite of everything ego does. Peace implies unhurriedness. When we are in “higher consciousness,” living from our deeper knowing, we are not in a hurry. We may not even be trying to get somewhere.

Thus, even though Matt and Adya take different strokes, their advice and insight, in terms of how to respond, astonishingly converge. In one word: Relax.

In his love-centered teachings, Matt suggests that the ego-mind and heart actually move at different speeds. The speed of ego is unrelaxed. He suggests that “relaxation in the body reminds you when you are abiding at the proper rate of speed,” and that relaxation begins to unravel the overstimulated nervous system which underlies ego.

In another video, Matt goes so far as to call relaxation “the key to all spiritual success.”

Adya, on the other hand, invites us to let go of the faith in thoughts that make us want to rush, tense up, and struggle:

You don’t need to struggle against yourself. Just the opposite. All you need is the willingness to question your mind’s conclusions, the willingness to just relax. Instead of trying to change now, just let now be as it is, even though your mind may have plenty of reasons why you should resist. (Falling into Grace, 65)

. . . What comes up for me, in comparing these teachings, is that I find resistance within myself to the prospect of awakening consciousness being so easy and “boring” (according to my mind). My hypothesis is that the ego finds the activities that unravel it uninteresting and/or not intense enough for it, so that it makes up clever excuses and thoughts to get us “hyped up” or “worked up” again, which takes us deeper into the trance, the rushing around unconsciously, and the suffering.

And yet, if we authentically desire life beyond the egoic trance—”truly living,” as it has been called—then we will do what is counterintuitive and possibly very boring to realize it. And if we are tempted to stop relaxing and get back to struggling, then it just becomes a matter of discernment and staying true to that authentic desire.

Compare with “The Yes to Life”

“The Sparrow” and The Meaning of Suffering

Mary Doria Russell published The Sparrow, a science fiction novel about Earth’s first contact with intelligent life on another planet, and especially the theological implications of that encounter, in 1996. The main character of the book, Emilio Sandoz, is a Jesuit priest and linguist who is secretly harboring a skepticism about God’s existence. With a team of brilliant and widely experienced friends, as dear as family to him, he makes the trip to Rakhat, the alien planet, and interprets the events that transpire there as, basically, message-carriers from God. He is, as the book says more than once, a “soul searching for God,” and endeavors to make sense of what happens on the journey—the causes for amazement, wonder, and gratitude, as well as the incredible heartbreak and soul-crushing tragedies—in terms of his personal faith in a good and loving God.

Emilio’s mind is fixated on these questions: If other intelligent species exist in the universe, how must our understanding of God be modified? If it is God’s will that the people from Earth meet the people from Rakhat, must it also be his will that the mission is essentially a miserable, nightmarish failure? For once you admit that God created the world or directs its events in a meaningful way, then you have to assume that God allows the seemingly meaningless and horrible suffering that transpires—but why? As the author herself says in the book’s afterword, “you realize that God has a lot to answer for.” This is, essentially, the kind of theological problem she investigates through the unfolding of the plot and characters’ lives in The Sparrow: what do we make God answer for?

Without spoiling all of the plot, we can say that Sandoz endures a suffering on Rakhat that few humans will ever know the depths of, or be able to imagine. Russell, who at the time of writing the book, was working out her own faith questions in converting to Judaism, writes a personal Holocaust into Sandoz’ life. And how do you keep faith when you go through that? Why would a good God ever make anyone endure that?

At the end of the book, she leaves Sandoz as an uncertain man. He is not sure of anything anymore—which leaves the reader, perhaps, with as many questions as he has.

However, before leaving our main character, Russell seems to offer a possible solution to the theological problems that may satisfy our curiosity and quell our anxieties. The scene in which this solution is presented also gives the book its title:

‘There’s an old Jewish story that says in the beginning God was everywhere and everything, a totality. But to make creation, God had to remove Himself from some part of the universe, so something besides Himself could exist. So He breathed in, and in the places where God withdrew, there creation exists.’

‘So God just leaves?’ John asked, angry where Emilio had been desolate. ‘Abandons creation? You’re on your own, apes. Good luck!’

‘No. He watches. He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us, and remembering.’

‘Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine,’ Vincenzo Giuliani said quietly. ‘Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.’

‘But the sparrow still falls,’ Felipe said.

From the point of view of this theology, suffering is meaningful because God is caring about us even as He does not intervene. He is present even when we are in complete despair.

I don’t think that Russell is under the illusion that this is the kind of answer that we want, if we want there to be some kind of “light at the end of the tunnel.” Maybe to her it is telling the “hard Truth,” with emphasis on the hard—that God allows even our deepest despair because intervening in the world he created detracts from the free will of the inhabitants. It is our ability to choose “good” or “bad,” light or darkness, that makes life in this world truly unpredictable and suffused with a kind of meaning that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

On Russell’s view—if hers is the same as the theological statement at the end of the book—then sentient beings really do choose whether they inflict suffering on others, which God allows, but again, God is there watching, knowing, and weeping, even as he allows the sparrow to fall; and they do fall. (Setting the problem of free will aside, here.)

Now, if I may interject my own thoughts here, I agree with Russell on some key points, but I think this theology could be improved, too. From my point of view, the Abrahamic religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—when they talk about a Love ‘underneath’ all of existence, in the form of an all-loving God, are tuning into something real. But then they run into some immediate problems: ‘If Love [God] underies all of this, what is all of this ‘evil’ and suffering about?’ (The Problem of Evil, it’s called.)

I think that Christian and Jewish theology may be improved by integrating the knowledge and experience harvested by the Eastern traditions into its own underestanding of God. For in them, too, you will find the manifestation of “God.”

For example, what did the Buddha say about suffering? That it comes from our attachments which are based in ignorance. If you accept this truth, there’s a kind of empowerment that comes with it, the likes of which you just don’t get in most (but not all) modern Christian understandings. You can create your happiness or misery insofar as you are aware of your ignorance and able to let go of your attachments.

See, the Eastern religions have the advantage of pointing us to real, transcendent experiences through which we behold the nature of reality in our own direct experience and gain insight. It’s extremely direct, whereas in the Christian tradition, by and large, there’s a lot more “guesswork.”

As a meditation teacher once said to me, in practicing meditation, you learn to not attach yourself to experience like you learn to not touch the stove when it’s hot. You put your hand on the stovetop and it burns; then you know not to touch it again.

If there’s something to add to The Sparrow‘s theology, it would be this: that what befalls Sandoz on Rakhat, all the suffering that constitutes his personal Holocaust, is caused by his own ignorance and the ignorance of the sentient beings he encounters. When he loses his friends, there is authentic grief. But he need not have lost his friends in unnatural ways were it not for ignorant acts. And when he is basically tortured, it was because, from a Buddhist point of view, the beings inflicting the suffering were swimming in ignorance and not only doing a great disservice to Sandoz but an even greater disservice to themselves.

When we are in deep states of suffering, we may feel that we want to blame life or blame people or blame God for the misery we have survived, and we may want to take a pessimistic and cynical view of life. If there is someone reading this article who wants to do that, don’t let me stop you.

But when we are open to the idea that we create our own suffering through ignorance, and other beings can inflict great pain and even devastation upon us, but not suffering, then that may be the beginning of the end of suffering. That was what Buddha called Enlightenment: “the end of suffering.” The fight with life is off.

And from this point of view, too, literally all of life becomes learning experience. But you may be thinking… this still doesn’t solve the problem of having suffering in the first place; it just explains how suffering came into existence—through ignorance. Then why does suffering exist, really?

For that question, the best answer I have come across is found in the channeled material of Pamela Kribbe. It speaks to something deep within us:

First, God was entirely GOOD. There was goodness everywhere and all around. In fact because there was nothing else, things were kind of static. His creation lacked aliveness; it lacked the possibility of growth and expansion. You might say it was stuck.

To create change, to create an opportunity for movement and expansion, God had to introduce an Element in his creation that was different from the Goodness that pervaded everything. This was very hard for God, for how can you create something that is not-you? How can Goodness create Badness? It can’t. So, God had to come up with a trick, so to speak. This trick is called ignorance.

Ignorance is the element that opposes Goodness. It creates the illusion of being outside Goodness, of being separated from God. “Not knowing who you are” is the incentive behind change, growth and expansion in your universe. Ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds the need to control, the need to control breeds the struggle for power and there you have all the conditions for “Evil” to flourish. The stage has been set for the battle between Good and Bad.

God needed the dynamics of opposites to get his creation “un-stuck.” It may be very hard for you to comprehend in view of all the suffering caused by ignorance and fear, but God put great value on these energies, since they provided him with a way to go beyond Him/Herself.

God asked you, the ones that belong to the most creative, advanced and courageous part of herself, to take the veil of Ignorance. In order to experience the dynamics of opposites as thoroughly as possible, you were temporarily soaked in forgetfulness about your true nature. You consented to take this plunge into ignorance, but this fact was overlaid by the veil of forgetfulness as well. So now you often curse God for being in the situation you’re in: the hardships, the ignorance – and we understand. In essence though: you are God, God is you.

You may notice in this “theology” that there are strong similarities to Russell’s view. There is a fundamental Goodness or Love that underlies existence, which again is being called “God.” And, like in the Jewish story in The Sparrow, God creates the universe out of love and the novelty of creation–the experience it makes possible.

But here is the great point of divergence: it is God that is having the experience, and not merely watching it or knowing it, as in Russell’s book. The explanation for the universe is the same: Why does it exist? Because it allows for experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible! However here, in the channeled material, we have a new answer to the question of suffering. Whereas in The Sparrow the answer to ‘what makes suffering meaningful?’ was that God was watching and present for it, in this view, God is again present but as the experience itself, and suffering comes about through the mechanism of ignorance—i.e., when God forgets itself.

By the way, this is also how Alan Watts explained the Universe. The Universe is God playing “hide and seek” with itself.

Then when we have experiences of suffering we are actually the Divine having an experience of itself through the filter of “ignorance” or “illusion” or “self-forgetting”–call it what you will. We are still serving the greater God that we are One with by having this unprecedented, novel experience that is, in the whole universe, totally unique. We are giving God a learning experience as God.

Then the way out of suffering is just to remember that you are not “a soul searching for God,” as Emilio Sandoz believes himself to be, as if God were something Other than your true nature… but to realize that, in essence, you are God looking for itself, and this world and everything in it is but a temporary appearance in your eternal presence.

To summarize, we have considered two points of view, both theologically oriented. In both views, the universe exists for similar reasons; it exists because it makes new experiences possible, which is another way of saying experience exists for its own sake. In the view presented in The Sparrow, suffering is allowed within the universe by God but made meaningful by virtue of the fact that God is present for, and cares about our suffering. In this  view God is “outside” the world. In the other view, suffering is made meaningful by virtue of being a “learning experience” of complete novelty for God, in which God is both the experiencer and what is being experienced. In this view, contrary to the first view, there is reason to believe that an end to suffering is possible in this life.

So it boils down to the difference between monotheism and pantheism.

Which spiritual path is “the best”?

Maps will lead you in a variety of directions. And yet, no matter what direction you choose, as long as you are abiding in the speed of your heart, any direction will return you to the kingdom you’ve never left. And yet, any direction you choose not aligned in the speed of your heart, will seem to take you away from the kingdom that is always here, and seemingly remove out of your recognition an eternal truth that always remains. – Matt Kahn

. . . Writing in the Stream of Consciousness . . .

 The Power of Now was the first book that I looked at concerning New Age’ spirituality and information about the possibility of evolving consciousness, the nature of awareness, the trance of egoic consciousness, et cetera.

“Recently, revisiting The Power of Now prompted some reflections about the different kinds of spiritual teachings and the great commonalities, yet notable differences, they share.

“For I still believe, as when I first read Eckhart’s book, that all these spiritual teachings which are based in real experience (not manipulation of any kind), that they are all based in one Truth, one Truth about our Divine identity, the ever-presence of awareness, the power of love, and the possibility of transformation.

“Because what we find, when we look at all these teachings, is that they have the same basic fundamental elements. They propose a path via the message ‘It is possible to transform your life.’ They suggest that your identity is not limited to what you think of yourself. They suggest that the human mind tends to distort the Truth and create the experience of virtual reality, that the human ego, too, tends to have a dominating influence over one’s consciousness, and one’s life, which leads to the experience of limitation and unhappiness.

“And the practices which move us along the path, so to speak, always involve (1) awareness and (2) love. It is a path ‘from ego to heart;’ from ego-based consciousness to heart-based consciousness. In the ego-based consciousness, awareness is caught by the concepts of the mind and the ego’s agendas; there is an “unconsciousness” with respect to one’s life, and the many currents of fear leave little room to give and receive love.

“But in the shift to a disillusioned, empowered, authentic consciousness based in the heart, the mind is allow to be as it is; the ego is allowed to be as it is; life is allowed to be as it is. Loving awareness awakens and the world is embraced with understanding and compassion. Peace and joy are also found here as one’s life, in all its ordinariness, is realized to be the extraordinary play of the Divine.

“This, I believe, is a generally-applicable description of the trajectory of the path, the same path which all of these teachings are inviting us to walk, in different ways.

“And yet, at the same time, we are being invited to walk in different ways. The trajectory may be common but the ‘way to get there’ varies depending on who you talk to. Spiritual teachings often express

  • Different core ideas
  • Different practices
  • Different transmissions of energy

“Let’s go through a couple examples. (I am biased to talk about the particular teachings that I have some experience with.) Consider the Toltec path first. Some of the core ideas are:

  1. Agreements (the belief system); the use of one’s Word
  2. Three masteries of awareness, transformation, love
  3. Voice of knowledge /vs/ Integrity
  4. The dreaming mind, your personal dream, the dream of humanity

And so the practices have to do with taking on new agreements (The Four Agreements), questioning the voice of knowledge, dismantling the belief system, transforming your dream and coming to live in integrity and love.

“So we can see that the core elements I mentioned earlier are there. But now let’s consider another teaching for comparison. Let’s consider the core ideas in a Buddhist tradition, specifically the Mahamudra tradition articulated by Reggie Ray:

  1. The practice of Mahamudra meditation as the primary way of making the journey
  2. The importance of the soma, basically everything not the left-brain, in the meditative practice
  3. Grounding the practice in the Earth
  4. The opening of the heart as the practice deepens and awakens us

Now in this lineage, again, the elements of awareness and love are there in the meditative practice and the opening of the heart, and yet they are there in a different way. In the Toltec tradition meditation is emphasized so much less (at least from what I can tell from the books of Miguel Ruiz), or at least so much less in the formal way that it’s practiced in the Mahamudra tradition. Also, in the Mahamudra tradition, as presented by Reggie, there actually is talk of deconstructing the belief system, as in the Toltec tradition, specifically by comparing the beliefs we have come to acquire throughout our life with the truth revealed by our meditative experience. So again it’s the same but different; it’s the same process (deconstruction) but presented and pursued in a different way.

“Let’s take at least one more, which will be the teaching articulated by Adyashanti, whom I’ve been listening to for a few years now. Now Adya’s teaching can be, in a way, hard to pin down, because there’s a feeling, at least for me, that he’s not giving you a lot to grasp onto as an ego. His most recent book-form articulation of his teaching comes in The Way of Liberation (2014), which is quite different from Falling into Grace (2011). But what these have in common, and I would venture to say that what they have in common with his earlier teaching as well, like The End of Your World, is The Direct Path. This is the same kind of path pointed to by Nisargadatta (whom Adya did a study course on), Ramana Maharshi and Papaji.

“The Direct Path points you back to awareness or I AM. In The Way of Liberation, Adya summarizes the whole teaching by saying ‘Question everything.’ It’s all about inquiry. In a talk he once said, the ‘teachings of deconstructing the Dream State [the virtual reality created by the mind] are deeper than we know.’ In Falling into Grace, too, he calls ‘Time’–or the idea of time–the ‘greatest barrier to awakening.’ This is pretty radical. This doesn’t give you anything to hold onto at all! To me it seems to reflect the idea, which Adya has also said, that ‘Everyone is the One’  and ‘Everyone is enlightened.’ We could say The Direct Path is just about dropping all the baggage, letting go, and being right here, right now, completely. It’s not even a path; it’s falling into grace. . .

“So of course the element of awareness is there, as in the other teachings. The element of love or open-heartedness is also there, but perhaps in a more subdued way. Adya has said many-a-time that Love is inherent to Reality, and it’s as if he’s just pointing directly to the Reality so we can experience that Love ourselves. From that point of view, the teaching is based in love and open-heartedness but it’s what Adya might call ‘Fierce Love’—not giving an inch to unrealities!

“There are many more teachings. Matt Kahn’s teachings are certainly worth talking about, but I have mentioned him in other posts, and, anyway, three examples is enough… Just briefly, what is interesting about his teaching is that awareness is what’s downplayed and Love is given all the attention and focus. As Matt says, ‘Whatever Arises Love That.’

“It should be clear then, at this point, that all these teachings are providing different practices and core ideas with which to orient ourselves, and yet they have the same core elements of love and awareness, and the same trajectory out of ego-based consciousness to heart-based consciousness, when you look at them.

“And an initial question may be, ‘well, what do we do with this?’ ‘Well, which path do we follow?’ ‘Which of these paths is the best?’

“To me it’s important to recognize that this question ‘Which path is the best?’ is an abstract question which desires an answer that will be applicable across the board; that is, an answer that will apply for every person in the world. ‘Which path or teaching is the best?’ presupposes this idea that everyone is the same and if we all just walked the same path to get to the ‘destination’ in the most efficient way, then that would be the optimal state of affairs. Some presupposition like that.

“But of course reality isn’t like that at all. To begin with, people are hardwired differently. We resonate with different things just because of irreducible differences in our personality types and what kind of experiences we want to have as souls in this world. Secondly, people are at different stages in consciousness. What resonates at one stage, and is applicable at one point in time, may not resonate or be applicable at all at a later point in time. You can’t know the future.

“Here I am leaning on the idea of what resonates because I believe that we do, in fact, receive inner guidance and we have an intuition about what we need to attend to in our life or what we need to change or what we may need to reconsider—all of that and more. This self-awareness comes not so much from our mind, ego, and belief system jumping to or grasping for conclusions but from our heart and inner knowing that ‘magically’ arises when are open to receiving it.

“So the question becomes not ‘What is the best path across the board?’ or even ‘What is the best path for my life personally?’, but if we are honest then we can look and see that, actually, we only have this day, we only have this moment, and we do not know if we have tomorrow or even the next moment.

“All we have is right now.

“Then my invitation to you is to look deep inside, in your heart and in your inner knowing, the deep wisdom already existing, at this very moment, within you! This inner knowing already knows the way to go. It knows there is no rush to get there. It knows that All is Well.

“And it knows, too, that our anxiety about finding ‘the best’ spiritual path actually comes from a place of fear and distrust which does not belong to our True Self.

“Then rather than continue to work in the abstract, and basically waste our time with questions whose answers are so limited and so relative to circumstances, we can lay those down, and we can attend to what really needs attending to. We can meet this moment with all of our love and all of our wisdom when we stop filtering it and really get down to ‘fierce unblinking honest,’ as my friend once called it, and humbling surrender to the moment.

“That’s where the path of the one Truth is—that is what all these teachings are really pointing to.

“They are pointing to what is within you.”

Transforming on All Levels

We need to understand that enlightenment is not only a shift in perception and consciousness. It is an existential metamorphosis at all levels, which radically transforms the vibration of our energy system and the delicate balance of various elements in our brain and the subtle bodies. A sudden and complete enlightenment that skips all the intermediate steps would undoubtedly lead to a mental and emotional collapse, if not the physical death. Such a radical transformation as enlightenment requires adequate time for the body and mind to adapt to the dramatic change of energy and identity.Anadi

I used to think of the spiritual journey into higher consciousness as a process in which your point of view changes in a very powerful way, such that you see everything through new eyes. From there, you feel a lot better than you used to–you feel good all the time–and you share that with others.

This is not totally misleading, and yet, an unexamined part of this concept is the disembodied nature of it; and what goes along with that idea of disembodiment, is making the spiritual process less radical and less connected to the Earthy parts of us than it actually is.

The research of Francesca McCartney, the Dharma talks of Reggie Ray, and Pamela Kribbe’s channelings of Jeshua all point, from different angles, to the deeply embodied nature of spiritual evolution. McCartney, a life-long scholar of kundalini energy and kundalini awakening, argues that the kundalini energy is stored in the cells of our body, programmed by DNA, before it amasses at the base of the spine and travels up the spine affecting the chakras and their associated organ systems. Reggie Ray, another scholar but also a meditation master in the Mahamudra tradition, insists on the hugely important but overlooked role of the soma in the Buddha’s teachings, and teaches meditative practice that is deeply somatic and connected to the Earth. Finally, Jeshua, through the medium of Pamela Kribbe, transmits the idea that rather than retreat to the higher chakras (5-7), inner work must go down to the lower chakras (1-3; the sacral, navel, and solar plexus chakras) for the deepest transformation to occur.

Spiritual evolution is, from these points of view, a very embodied and grounded thing, in terms of practice and inner work. But even beyond that, testimonies suggest that in undergoing the process the body changes in deep structural ways. The brain re-structures; the nervous system unravels out of overstimulation. In Dzogchen, too, there is the idea of an advanced practitioner’s body transforming into the Sambhogakaya light body at a certain stage.

So this process of evolution not only creates great change at the psychological and emotional levels, but the body too, is inextricably part of the unfolding. Additionally, shifts happen within the energetic body and on the soul and consciousness levels. We are thus transforming on all levels.

. . . The remainder of this article will present an outline of the different dimensions of our individuated being (a single body-mind with localized consciousness), and how these dimensions may change in this process. It is not exhaustive of all our dimensions, and it does not include the “world of relationship,” but it’s still useful, or better yet, provocative. A more comprehensive discussion of this outline could, I think, run on to book length (which is why I am leaving it as just an outline). But I hope that by listing these phenomena, with sources, the reader will be encouraged to draw their own conclusions about what this could mean for undergoing a spiritual journey. At the very least, our conception of what is possible may be expanded.

Sometimes just acknowledging that something is possible can be… life-changing.

Physical

  • Physical body becomes a “light body.”   (Source: Jasmuheen)
  • Illnesses manifest to purge energies and deepen the process. (Jeshua)
  • Dietary, sleep, and sexual habits change at the level of need and desire, often towards a more vegan diet, less sleep needed, and less sexual desire but more pleasant sexual experiences. (See Letting Go by David Hawkins)
  • Visual field widens. (Adyashanti, The End of Your World)

Neurological

  • Two brain hemispheres find a new balance and harmony. (Matt Kahn interview series: “Now is the time.”) Adyashanti has also talked about a feeling of structural changes happening within the brain, after awakening.
    • The changes that meditation causes in the brain are now well known in neuroscience.
    • See also Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk “My Stoke of Insight” and Sam Harris’ argument in Waking Up that the self is an illusory construction of the left hemisphere.
  • The nervous system unravels out of a state of overstimulation that began, for everyone, in childhood. (Matt Kahn, Whatever Arises Love That)

Psychological

  • Detachment or dis-identification from belief system. (many sources)
  • Great shift in perception from ego to egolessness: “death” of identification with ego. From me-consciousness to we-consciousness.  (many sources)
  • Shift to silent mind. Thought processes decrease greatly in quantity. (Eckhart Tolle put the figure at 80% for himself.)
  • Habits of craving and aversion give way to equanimity of mind. (Buddhist meditation teachings)
  • Fragmented aspects of oneself re-align or integrate with Self or central consciousness. (Theories of IFS therapy (intro), Teal Swan, Matt Kahn (integration teachings))
  • “Inspired thinking” arises from a deeper source within consciousness. (Adyashanti, Falling into Grace)
  • Judgmental mind to non-judgmental mind. (many sources)

Emotional

  • Fear as the predominating “state” of the ego gives way to love, kindness, and compassion which arise from true nature. (many sources)
  • Repression of emotional states is replaced by acceptance. (many sources)
  • Increased quantity of “high vibration” emotional states–peace, love, joy, happiness, acceptance, willingness–and less of the “low vibration” states like guilt, shame, apathy, fear, anger. (See “Map of Consciousness” of David Hawkins)
  • Unconscious fear of emotions is replaced by conscious intimacy with emotions. (Robert Augustus Masters, Emotional Intimacy)
  • Overall shift from mind- (or conditioning-) generated emotions to more authentic emotions based in natural responses and direct perception. (I believe Adyashanti puts the mind-based emotions figure at 90% of all emotions, in Falling into Grace.)

Energetic

  • Kundalini energy amasses at the base of the spine and rises up through the energy channel near the spine. (Research of Francesca McCartney)
  • Seven basic chakras open, and their associated abilities come online. For example: clairvoyant and clairsentient abilities associated with the 6th/7th chakras. (many sources)
  • Auric field expands. (Marie Manuchehri said in a recent talk that one’s auric field may extend 3 city blocks, at most.)
  • The individual being’s vibration rises. (many sources)
  • Mind and heart become one integrated consciousness. (Matt Kahn, Whatever arises Love That)

Soul, Consciousness, Spirit

  • Neurotic personality becomes “sane” and reveals its unique gifts. (Russ Hudson and Enneagram teachings concerning the “Enneagram of the virtues.”)
  • Realization of enlightenment. (many sources)
  • Personal will of the individual being is surrendered to divine will, which seems to coincide with the transition from ego-based to heart-based consciousness. (Adyashanti’s talks, Matt Kahn’s talks (“surrender to love”))
  • Individual being comes “into alignment” with Spirit. (many sources)
  • Consciousness awakens! (many sources)

May these ideas inspire new realizations, explorations, and expansions of consciousness on your journey. We are all meant to live in the happiness and joy that is our inheritance and true nature.

Peace.

 

 

Both/and thinking

When considering whether something is true, we almost always follow the rule of either/or. Either this is true or that is true, but both can’t be true at the same time. It is not possible that A and ~A coexist. Law of non-contradiction.

However, while this Law can hold true for our reasoning mind, it comes with some limitations. For one, it can lead to a kind of black-and-white thinking in which, if one point of view is true, then there is no truth whatsoever in the alternative. And yet as Ken Wilber likes to point out, “no one can be wrong all the time.” So even if the competing point of view turns out to be false by most measures, even then there is some way to explain how it came about as a point of view in the first place.

For example, if someone believes in the conspiracy theory that Americans didn’t land on the moon in 1969, even if that specific claim turns out to be false, there may be some valid judgments hiding explaining their position: that other conspiracy theories are true or have a degree of truth, that propaganda is real and manipulative, that there were nationalistic motives to land on the moon by the end of the 60’s (in the context of the Cold War), et cetera.

Another limitation of Law of non-contradiction is that it doesn’t necessarily hold true when claims are being made with respect to “trans-rational” states of consciousness. So this would apply to spiritual discourse in particular. The reasoning mind always works within the realm of duality. To define one thing is to enter the mind of duality, because that one thing has been separated from everything else at a conceptual level. Yet “non-duality” is so named because it has to do with non-conceptual awareness. No distinctions!—no duality!

In entering the consciousness of non-dual mind and beyond, we have to allow that the normal constraints on our reasoning mind may not apply in the same way or even apply at all. At this level, contradictions can exist. Things that cannot be conceptualized exist and unfold. What Buddhists call “emptiness”—the underlying reality of everything—cannot be conceived or imagined. But it can be experienced.

Oddly, intellectual discernment can be used to our advantage on a spiritual path, but at the same time it is not directly related to evolving consciousness beyond perceptions of the ego-mind and duality-mind. Ego doesn’t go beyond ego; reason doesn’t transcend reason; duality doesn’t collapse duality.

Which brings us to the takeaway point: when considering points of view, may we open our minds to “both/and” thinking rather than the either/or we are used to. Sometimes, it is both this and that simultaneously! With respect to normal discussions, this helps us to avoid black-and-white thinking in favor of more considerate, wider points of view that see truth (be it hidden or self-evident) on both sides. With respect to spiritual discourse, we allow our minds to open to the infinite possibilities of the Universe by not attaching to the preconceived idea that “reality must conform to the rules of our reason.” It doesn’t, it won’t, and by keeping that attachment, we are the ones who have a less pleasant and less profound experience of life; it’s our choice.

May you see Truth in infinite things, from infinite angles. And in that spirit: “To infinity and beyond!”

Dancing with Mystery

“Why did I ever try to catch you? Of course every net that I threw in the ocean, every web that I spun like a spider, every box of words I imagined into existence—of course none of them ever had a chance. You danced out of them, laughing joyfully, jesting at me, wondering when I would start laughing, too.

“But you didn’t even have to dance. You did that because it’s so beautiful and heartful to take a form, and sway, and jive, and fall into the rhythm.

“You didn’t have to dance because you couldn’t be caught to begin with. The White Stag merely imitates the elusiveness you embody. Elusive but ever-available—how do you do that, again?

“. . . I saw you shining in the eyes of my lover, peering forth behind batting eyelashes. Playing innocent; playing infatuated.

“I saw you shining in the eyes of the man with schizophrenia, too. He was hurting, he was confused; and yet, you were there underneath the confusion.

“Once I was looking at the pond in the springtime, when the frost was melting in the ground and things were crawling in the soil. The sunshine caressed my skin.  It was quiet inside; peaceful. You were there shining out of my eyes, too. That was when I knew—when I was quiet.

“In all things I feel you without knowing how. Looking too hard, I can’t find you. Making no effort, I am lost. Seeing from silence, seeing from sincerity—the light returns from mere memory. . . .

“A man says to me, ‘Knock and the door will be opened.’

“Then why do I look in all the wrong places?—and spend all my time futilely?

“What is this mess we continue to make, so ignorant and hypocritical?

“What is this love so fierce and forgiving that makes rulers bow and hardened souls melt at its touch?

“And you dance; and you dance my answers away. ‘Come and dance with me!’ you say.

“I wear a mask of seriousness that you peel from my face. You wear no mask; you playfully dance!—but do not say who you are.

“I see in your face the sun and the moon; the tides and the grasses growing. I see in your face the Radiance dawning, eternally, on everything, everywhere.

“Dancing, not knowing—that’s how you have been dancing.

“So I dance; and I dance my answers away.”

“It’s all the Mind”

We often assume that most of our experience is “set in stone” in some way—that it’s basically unchangeable. Yet realizing that a lot of our experience is manufactured by mind shows us that it actually is changeable; very fluid and malleable, indeed! Experience is as changeable as our mind is.

Again we have to distinguish “mind” from “awareness,” for only from the point of view of awareness, or silent witnessing, can we see clearly how thoughts trigger emotions, structure perceptions, and underlie the basic push-pull dynamics in our life.

“Mind” is not an entity. It’s not an entity because it’s nowhere to be found. You cannot point out your mind like you can point out your hand and say “there it is!” Rather, “mind” is more like water that flows in a space that is not-physical, or metaphysical. Thought-streams are the “water” that flows without necessarily affecting physical reality.

In other words, we can observe thought-streams and notice both that they do not affect physical reality and also that they are not graspable. You cannot hold onto a thought; the best you can do is write it down or think it over again.

Now when we believe thought-streams it’s as if they crystallize into ice; this ice may have an impact on reality. The process of “believing thought” is hard to describe but it can be felt. When a thought is being invested with our faith, our agreement, our “Yes,” then it is being believed; there’s a feeling of giving thought importance. “Yes that’s the way it is!”—followed by crystallization.

Depending on what the thought is saying, the consequences of this crystallizing will be different. In some cases an emotion is triggered. (“I shouldn’t have done that” triggers guilt or shame.) In a lot of cases perception is altered, however slightly. According to teachings of non-duality, perceptions in subject-object “format” itself are structured by thought. (“I am here; that [sound] is there.”) At the level of self-consciousness, thoughts form self-images and motivate behaviors. (“I am a mean person, trying to be a nice person.”) (“I am ‘not good enough’ trying to get people to like me.”) And on and on it goes.

In short: you believe it, you accept the consequences of believing it.

After all, when you think about it, believing in something is like granting reality within your private consciousness, within your “world.” It doesn’t make it into objective fact, but it’s like saying “this is real to me.” Believing or not believing, then, directly relates to the world you perceive and, in a sense, live within.

Once I attended a meditation retreat serving as a manager of students, and would sit in the back of the meditation room as students had their interviews with the meditation teacher. One student came into the room to interview as I sat in the back and listened. He talked to the teacher about all the things he was experiencing and problems he was encountering just sitting in meditation. There was discomfort, reaction to the discomfort; craving, aversion; imagination, projections—all of these things arising. And the teacher said to him, “It’s all the mind,” and she meant that all that phenomena was being generated by the mind and the mind reacting to its own creations. But of course she knew that she was not that mind, he was not that mind; no one is their mind and with practice we can step back from its incessant producing and just allow it to go by.

Paradoxically, that “permission to be,” which awareness gives to mind, is a gateway to peace and freedom. You could say experience changes when we do not try to change it.

“It’s all the mind” means that a lot of our experience is contingent on mind; it depends on our faith in, our investment in, our attachment to mental realities which become reflected on various levels of our experience (emotion, perception, self, body). IN THIS MOMENT the quality and depth of our experience is being created by our mind’s movements and our relationship, as awareness, to them.

Standing before all these movements, silent witnessing transpires without any effort or thought.

Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. – Walden