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 confirms our expectations:

map-of-consciousness

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 spirit, 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.

Notes

  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.”

Notes

  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.

The Mindfulness Journey (for “Thinkers”)

The journey into mindfulness, for a person who has identified as  “intellectual,” can be described in terms of one’s relationship with one’s mind. In my experience the journey has looked something like this:

  1. Pre-mindfulness. Identification with almost all thoughts appearing in consciousness. The perspective and content of an arising thought, which is automatically believed, largely determines the quality and feel of the moment. Thoughts may be criticized, but they are criticized by other thoughts, while identification with thought persists.
  2. Beginning mindfulness. Consciousness has a first awakening and creates a “gap” between itself and thoughts, or a “space” around thoughts. Identification with thought is still strong, creating a sort of oscillation between identification with mind (thought) and identification with silent consciousness / awareness. For the intellectual in particular, the subconscious belief “I am the thinker” persists. This belief creates the pattern of “figuring out,” which is now applied to matters of mindfulness and spirituality…. At this stage life can be perceived as more complex, because the intellectual frameworks that the mind perceives through can co-opt the insights of awareness, to become more complex. These added levels of complexity can be a hindrance to mindfulness practice, as the mind becomes less silent.
  3. Deeper mindfulness. The gap or space between mind and consciousness increases, which allows consciousness to realize more. It is realized more deeply that the mind perceives its own “virtual reality” of  a world of separate objects, linear time, and “imaginary causes.” The subconscious belief “I am the thinker” wanes in influence over consciousness, which allows the intellectual “grip” on life to loosen…. At this stage the ‘wisdom of simplicity’ returns to consciousness. It is seen that the mind’s attempts to understand often lead either to ‘running in circles’ or perceiving life as bland, boring, and stale. Being present in the moment allows the bright, fresh, and alive nature of life to be experienced and embraced.

This road-map is meant to be held loosely, since there’s no definitive markers between stages; one floats between the phenomena of these stages repeatedly. Like all conceptual maps, it provides a way for the mind to make sense of (“to see”) what is happening in actual life experience.

I would expect that, as in so many cases, people who identify as intellectuals go through the same kind of experiences in mindfulness, which is why this may be useful. We habitually assume that our private experiences belong to us alone, not realizing how many other people are experiencing the same kind, the same patterns, of problems and challenges as we are. Our experiences are universal.

One of the dominant patterns, here, will be clinging to the mind’s Reason–the mind clinging to its own habits–followed by the rationalization that “this figuring out I’m doing is helping the journey along, really!” Confusion may arise because the mind is looking for orientation, and the conceptual understandings do provide useful orientations, but not Presence or any kind of liberation. If the journey stays primarily ‘in the head,’ then it can’t come to fruition. Clinging to the mind, even in its useful manifestations, creates suffering.

It has been helpful for me, when I have enough mindfulness to see thoughts without identifying, to allow a train of thought to trail off without finishing it. It took some time to see, but now it’s apparent that the mind grasps conclusions. When a train of thought is taken to its conclusion, the mind grasps the answer as if holding something in a fist. There’s an energetic feel to this phenomenon. But it can be side-stepped by remembering that it’s not necessary to follow the thoughts to their conclusion, and they can just fall away. It is the egoic mind grasping for a conclusion. It is awareness that knows it doesn’t need one.

In reaching stage three, the subconscious belief “I am the thinker” wanes, not just on the intellectual level but on the experiential level, and we begin to ‘come back from the dead.’ (In the Toltec tradition they say that those who have not come out of the egoic mind are dead; they haven’t lived yet.) At this stage, we realize that we are not intellectuals, however much we clung to that identity in the past. Living behind a veil of concepts “killed” life; it imprisoned us by putting all our perceptions through a filter. Building a ‘fortress of knowledge’ in the mind provided a certain amount of security, but now our desire to have such great contact with reality is overwhelming, and we welcome insecurity to feel life deeply.

And this is what awaits the “intellectual” who makes the mindfulness journey: to feel so wonderfully alive again. Surrendering the control tower of the head allows us to merge with the flow of life and receive the gift of each moment with an open heart.

There’s Wisdom in Wonderment

In the Metaphysics, Aristotle wrote, “it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize.” This was towards the beginning of Western philosophy…

We’ve all had moments of wonder—or perhaps “wonderment” is a more precise word for what Aristotle was referring to, as in the “wow” that takes your breath away as the word comes out of your mouth.

We can experience wonderment in relation to literally anything in the universe, but often it comes in those extraordinary moments under the stars or in the presence of miracles.

And yet, we are quickly confronted by paradox, because the whole universe is miraculous. Existence is wonder-ful. It is amazing that anything exists at all, let alone this reality of such infinite complexity, so rich with potentials of experience, so overflowing with beauty, emotion, space, reactions, cognition, matter, song, silence; consciousness and self-consciousness.

Which raises the question, how is it that we are not in wonderment all the time?

What I notice about wonderment, as a state of consciousness, is that it has no concern for, no business with, all the things that our ego occupies itself with throughout the day. “Are things going my way?” “How can I make things go my way?” “What do they think of me?” “What do I think of me?” “Will I get what I want, will I get where I’m going?” “How can I distract me from myself?” …And onward marches the lovely narrative.

This leads me to believe that wonderment is a state outside, or transcendent of, ego-mind. If wonderment gives rise to philosophy, it’s no wonder! Philosophy endeavors—although it may not succeed—to consider truth objectively, without being biased by the concerns of the small self. We often philosophize using the intellect, primarily, and as Emerson said, “The intellect goes out of the individual, floats over its own personality, and regards it as a fact, and not as I and mine.”

I also notice that wonderment has something in common with gratitude—another “ego-free” state, since ego-mind operates from a sense of lack (a lack-consciousness), and gratitude is attentive to, and thankful for, what is already present. Wonderment and gratitude are both states of appreciation, and appreciation always concerns what already is. And usually gratitude, if it were put into words, takes the form, “I am so thankful for these blessings…” But often wonderment doesn’t even have an “I.” It’s just, “Wow… would you look at that?”

Wonderment, then, arises from our True Nature, deeper than ego-mind. Byron Katie, once interviewed, said that our Nature would be “fascinated by the drop of a pin.” I love that. To see nothing, to have nothing, but the experience of a pin dropping, and to wonder at that! I feel my heart stirred by just that act, because it’s so pure, so innocent.

Another master, Adyashanti, writes in one of his books that our Nature is the “Great Mystery of Being.” For no one knows the ultimate answers about why anything exists, and why what exists is so incredibly marvelous. At the deepest level, we are a Great Mystery exploring the possibilities of itself in the ever-changing, ever-creative flow of life. This Mystery remains mysterious even to itself (hence its name). And we come to know ourselves–our mysterious Being–not by obtaining a “final explanation” about ourselves, but just by having deeper, more intimate experiences of life.

Viewed in this light, wonderment is a movement of Mystery recognizing its own nature as marvelous, as worthy of admiring wonderment. It is Mystery taking delight in its manifestations, which appear as so many unique expressions, each beautiful in their own way; each wanting to be recognized for their splendor. As Shug says to Celie in Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple,

God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration… I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it…. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it [God] always trying to please us back. [God’s] always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect…. Everything want to be loved.

Later in the novel, Shug’s former husband muses on human life: “I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ast. And that in wondering bout the big things and asting bout the big things you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know noting more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder […] the more I love.”

The way  The Color Purple links wonder/wonderment and admiration to love reflects the truth, I think, of what is going on at a metaphysical level. Wonderment has qualities of a higher state of consciousness, but if Alice Walker is onto something, there is another aspect as well. It’s as if everything we wonder at is conscious and loves that it’s being recognized for what it truly is: wonderful.

* * *

When I was a kid, one of my earliest memories was waking up in the backseat of our car during a family trip to Colorado. First long car trip. When I woke up and looked out my window, I saw mountains for the first time. I probably didn’t even know the word “mountain.” I just saw these gigantic things coming right out of the earth, which had taken on a purple hue with the sun setting (or rising?) behind them.

That was one of the first times I experienced wonderment. There were no words for what I was experiencing—just awe and marvel and wooow for whatever the hell was outside my car windows.

Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time philosophizing and exploring spirituality, looking, in a way, for the source of that wonderment and subtle sense of ‘being home’ that comes with it. But the whole time I explore these different philosophies and spiritualities, I can’t shake the feeling, however much I like them, that they aren’t really IT–ya know? They may be pointing to IT, but their conceptual nature, and their way of coming into consciousness from outside (from someone else) tips me off that they are merely means to an end.

On top of that, we have a way of erasing wonderment, which is so natural to us, with our ideas. As soon as we think we know something, it seems less “magical.” But we only seem to know something by inventing a concept about it. Really, we do not penetrate to the true mystery of the thing in question.

And so it’s important to keep a place in our hearts for wonderment. It will erupt into consciousness when we are no longer pretending to know so much. When that happens, it’s possible to just stay with wonderment rather than go into analytic thinking (the “Aristotelian” route) and erase it.

It’s funny–we can be closer to our True Nature not knowing much at all, just inhabiting silent awe, than when we possess a bunch of spiritual knowledge–or knowledge of any kind. Concepts tend to weigh us down rather than enlighten. Accumulating and navigating a morass of conceptual landscape is not our authentic life. More than in all my seeking of Truth through conceptual knowledge, I was being authentic to my Nature as a little kid, still rubbing my eyes, still throwing off sleep, completely wonderstruck, not having learned a damn thing about “mountains.”

Thoreau on the Purpose of Life

When I was in college, Walden was a life-changing book. I was so enthused by its beauty and intricacy that I ended up not only reading it many times over but writing a long research paper which became a presentation for the Thoreau Society.

Yet there was one line that, until recently, I couldn’t quite figure out. When reading it before, I had the feeling that, “hey there’s something here I’m not getting,” but couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

And this is the line: “For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it [life], whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.'”

The way I interpret this line now not only makes complete sense, to me, but at the same time brings out its great humour and profundity. This line actually suggests what, in Thoreau’s view, is the true purpose of life. But to arrive at that interpretation, we need to understand it in the context of Walden’s subject matter and intent, the role of the chapter in which it appears (chapter Two), and the interpretations available to Thoreau given his deep experiences of consciousness.

Walden is a book about enlightenment or self-realization. From the first sentence, the epigraph, in which Thoreau says he intends to wake his neighbors up, to the last sentence (“The sun is but a morning star”), with its subtle pun/allusion to Christ, Walden is about awakening consciousness and having a direct experience of reality. This is, after all, what Thoreau set out to do in the first place, by moving out to Walden pond: “…to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.” As he says a little later, we must “work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance… till we come to a hard bottom and rock in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is.” Walden tells the story of Thoreau’s quest for reality, or the truth of life.

The whole book makes so much more sense in this light. Many things Thoreau describes are metaphors for inner phenomena experienced on the spiritual journey, just as the words he writes are merely metaphors for the actual world. The various metamorphoses that the “I” character undergoes throughout the book are metaphors for the way the ego shapeshifts in the mind. The chasing of the loon in “Brute Neighbors” is also a metaphor for his hunt of the ego, which keeps appearing on different places on the pond, and as soon as he gets to where it just was, it has then moved to some other place. The allusion to the phoenix mythos at the very end of the book represents the death of the false self and the rebirth of Thoreau’s authentic self, and our authentic self—enlightened consciousness—from the ashes.

There are many more examples, but the main point is that Walden, from beginning to end, intends to wake its readers up to reality. Then the question is: what is the reality we are waking up to? Well, Thoreau’s extensive use of metaphor and allusion, and his reluctance to ever say clearly what he means, suggests that it’s something that can’t really be put into words. It can only be hinted and cleverly pointed to, as if it were something subtle, ineffable, unable to be grasped by the mind.

The closest Thoreau comes to talking about reality is to say that it is ONE. He wrote in a letter to Horace Greeley that he was “born to be a pantheist,” that is, one who holds that everything—literally everything—is one divinity. At the beginning of the “Reading” chapter, he writes that “The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of divinity; and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did, since it was I in him that was then so bold, and it is he in me that now reviews the vision. No dust has settled on that robe; no time has elapsed since that divinity was revealed.” In other words, We are One, and we are a divinity that is not bound by time.

The final piece of the puzzle is to understand the purpose of the second chapter in Walden, “Where I lived and What I Lived for.” The chapter title indicates that it will have to do with the purpose of life (or, at least, Thoreau’s life), and its placement after the first chapter, “Economy,” which had to do primarily with life at the material and physical level, suggests that this chapter will be about the spiritual or metaphysical level of life. Once we have attended to our physical needs and sustenance, we can turn to higher matters.

About halfway through this chapter, Thoreau tells us, in a now-famous line, why he went to live at Walden pond and what his goal was:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.'”

In the first part of this paragraph, Thoreau is basically saying, ‘I went to the woods to find out what is real.’ At the end of the paragraph, he appears to be criticizing the Church’s idea of the purpose of life, the “chief end of man.” But on another level, he’s surreptitiously giving his own view of the purpose of life, which ties the paragraph together. He does find what is real, and that discovery informs, of course, his view on the meaning and purpose of life.

If you can imagine Thoreau’s experience of life, he experiences the present moment and everything in it as the manifestation of divinity or God. It is a state of oneness, of great beauty, and, as Alan Hodder brings to light in his book (Thoreau’s Ecstatic Witness), a state of ecstasy. Everything is this amazing God appearing in tens of thousands of different forms, right now. As Thoreau says, “God himself culminates in the present moment.” And the direct experience of this God, he hints throughout Walden, is freedom.

So “God” is a word Thoreau enjoys using for the one reality, the divinity underlying all appearances. “Glorify God and enjoy him forever,” then, is an expression of the purpose of life, set apart in quotation marks for us. After all, what is there left to do after realizing God? Your life is going to be enjoyable because you know that what you are is essentially One with all that is, and the only thing that makes sense is to “glorify”–granted that “glorifying God” can take a number of different forms: admiring Nature, fighting injustice, writing Walden, etc.

The funny part is that Thoreau is actually borrowing the phrase (“glorify God and enjoy him forever”) from the Church and clergy, whose lives couldn’t look more different from his own. This is where the italics on “somewhat hastily” come into play. It’s as if Thoreau is saying, “you and I reached the same conclusion, but you reached for a definition of God a little too quickly!” The clergy took their definition of “God” from tradition, and imagines God removed from life, for the most part. Thoreau reaches his definition through his own experience, and he finds a God that is absolutely present and, indeed, reflected in the pond water.

. . . As we dive into the text of Walden, we are at the same time being invited to dive into the “waters,” the fluid reality, of life. Thoreau suggests that if you could just see one fact clearly, then you would “happily conclude your mortal career.” To see life clearly, we must give up our prejudices and be fully in the present moment. Walden is simply here to remind us, “It is never too late to give up our prejudices.”

The Education We Didn’t Get

I love the idea of education as a way of learning the nature of the universe, and as a kind of training one undergoes that transforms one’s being, even makes one into a master of something.

As a kid I was thrilled by Harry’s education in the Harry Potter books, where he studies not only how to cast spells and master wizardry, but also potions, divination and the natures of different magical beasts.

I also really enjoyed reading about Eragon’s education in Christopher Paolini’s book Eldest. For those who didn’t read those books, Eragon is a special individual who becomes a dragon rider, and at a certain point in his journey he goes deep into the woodland part of Algaesia, where the civilization of the elves is located, to train with a thousand-year old elf, sage and dragon rider named Oromis. During his training under the master rider, Eragon undergoes a kind of education that combines textual study and hands-on practice as a sorcerer and warrior. He disciplines himself in casting different spells at will, attuning to the energies of all beings around him through meditation, wielding swords and dueling, and of course communicating telepathically with, and riding, his dragon. He trains to become a master rider.

These are, of course, the educations of mythic heroes in fictional universes. Yet over the past year I’ve noticed that there have existed similar kinds of education in the world. We just don’t practice them anymore, in general, and no one tells us about them in school.

For example, in reading Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot, I found that philosophers in Ancient Greece and Rome would become apprentices and disciples of master philosophers who would teach them to contemplate the nature of reality, meditate, and discipline their behavior to conform to the wisest mode of conduct. In some cases this may have involved rituals and initiations where the philosophers would experience reality from a radically different point of view through the alteration of consciousness. We don’t know as much about these ceremonies as we’d like to, but we can see in the writings of people like Plato and Plotinus evidence of mystical experiences of Oneness and Eternity that challenge our customary notions of what is ultimately real.

Another example comes from a retreat I attended, in Teotihuacan, Mexico, where our guide (and master in the Toltec-lineage) informed us that, contrary to popular belief, the plaza and pyramid ruins at Teotihuacan were the site of a spiritual university or “school of enlightenment.” While this can’t be proven with historical evidence or argumentation, experiences that people had while on the retreat point to there being something very special about the ruins. An energy can be associated with a place, as for example you can feel, if you’re sensitive, the energy of a busy, crowded city, which is quite distinct from the energy of a quiet place out in the mountains.

These different kinds of education are notable for two reasons. One, because it’s awesome that this kind of education is possible. Two, and more importantly, because we didn’t get this education growing up in the modern world, and it’s essential that we become aware of what’s possible for us as conscious beings with huge, untapped potential and as creators of reality.

Compared to all the things no one told us about, the quantity of subjects and information, as well as the way we were taught, is astounding. For the most part our education–and this seems to be “global fare”–is almost exclusively focussed on training our capacities to work with numbers and words, in analytic and logical ways, and to absorb and regurgitate numbers and words in the right sequences onto tests. It’s a highly left-brained approach (in the way I was using that term in the last post).

Now, there’s a lot to be said about this. Of course we should teach our kids to read, do math, analyze texts, do science, and all that good stuff. It’s important. And there are some things our education system does well. On the other hand, there are ways that it operates that makes you wonder if we aren’t just training kids to be “good capitalist workers” and people who follow the pre-established rules of society, not question them. We ought to consider this as well.

However as an enthusiast of philosophy and spirituality I want to draw attention to all the opportunities we have to create more awesome lives and a better world for everyone through education at the primary, secondary, collegiate and graduate levels, by beginning to expand our curricula to our other forms of intelligence and modalities of being.

The introduction of meditation and mindfulness into schools is just the beginning. These practices bring in another dimension to education so that it’s not just training the thinking mind but now we are training awareness, as well, to focus on the present, which has neurological and emotional benefits. (As Hadot describes in his book, the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers of the Hellenistic period also practiced focussing attention on the present moment, so as to best attain virtue and happiness, respectively.)

In the same vein, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen monk, has suggested teaching mindfulness of emotions in school so that people can learn to “make space” around their emotional reactions and not have to act them out. They can learn to express their emotions in a healthy way and at convenient times. This would be transformative if implemented on a large scale.

More than that, imagine if we had actual courses dedicated entirely to understanding emotions. Imagine if people learned about the neurological and lifestyle benefits of gratitude in a lecture, and then spent time practicing gratitude through journaling or meditation in the same class period. Imagine if, in school or on a campus, you walked around and everyone was either in a state of gratitude or had a “gratitude program” running somewhere in their brain. That would be amazing.

Now imagine if we had another course on “belief systems.” Imagine we developed interactive courses where people actually examined their own beliefs and how those beliefs shaped their moment-to-moment perception as the course progressed. Suppose there was not one course but “Beliefs 1” and “Beliefs 2,” where in the second course you would identify and investigate the specific beliefs that human egos tend to adopt and the specific behaviors that result from those adoptions. Combined with meditation practice, this would be life-changing.

Really, the list of what we can do goes on endlessly. We could have courses dedicated to studying and experientially investigating the “somatic intelligence” of the body a la Vajrayana Buddhism. We could study different states of consciousness, psychic abilities, healing modalities, and science-spirituality intersections. We could dedicate entire days and weeks to exploring art forms, music, and animal consciousness (a la Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus). We could balance hands-on and practical experience in these fields with theoretical knowledge, and self-directed/student-directed initiatives and courses of study with community involvement. Etc. Etc.

…At this point in time there are cultural barriers, ideological barriers, and barriers of esoteric knowledge to making anything like this happen on a wide-scale. At this point, it’s just a beautiful dream. Yet merely talking about it like this puts the ideas out there and begins the inner revolution. In time humanity will either evolve into higher consciousness, implement new kinds of education, and be able to save itself from ecological destruction and apocalyptic warfare, or the species won’t survive.

With any luck, we’ll rise to the challenge and enter into a new stage of evolution. In the meantime, this kind of education remains something that each person must pursue through their own initiatives. But that makes it all the more special, too.

Life as Art

The philosopher Deleuze says something very profound about nature. He has this way of inferring something about the creative potency of life from what life creates.

For example, when we say “nature” most people think of trees, rivers, mountains, jungle, savanna. We say machines, gadgets, buildings and the like are not natural. But where did those things come from? In the evolutionary process, the amoebas became aquatic organisms, became land organisms, became humans, who made machines.

We think machines aren’t nature because we think we aren’t nature. But this is something the American transcendentalists, and more recent thinkers like Watts and McKenna, loved to point out: We are nature, too. We are life too. We are existence too. We are not a separate process; we are woven of the same universal fabric.

And machines are an extension of the same nature-process. If Deleuze was taking a walk through the city with you, it wouldn’t be uncharacteristic of him to say, “You see all these bikes, cars… metallic, silicon things? That’s nature. It’s on the same spectrum as the rivers, forests, mountains.”

So the next step is to say that it says something about life that it produces these mechanical things. In Deleuze’s philosophy, he thinks of “life” in the abstract. He infers a creative principle, a creative force, “behind”—or more exactly, immanent in—all the manifestations and creations of life.

So he’ll say that nature is machine-like right from the get-go. That’s why, in Anti-Oedipus, he and Guattari (his co-author) describe the human body in terms of “organ-machines.” “Everything is machines,” they say. Our eyes are machines; our tongues, hands, noses are machines—each with specific functions. Those organ-machines ‘hook up’ to external machines. (I’ve got my hands, eyes, brain -machines hooked up to a computer-machine right now.)

Now, if Deleuze can reason like this about machines, we can also do that with art. Life produces machines through humans, but life also produces sculpture, cinema, oil on canvas, music, literature—and the aesthetic “aura” that emanates from these things—through humans. So what does that say about life?

Let’s back up for a moment. Deleuze’s way of looking at life’s manifestations as machine-like, while perfectly valid, is still a rather “left-hemisphere” (leftward) way of looking at it. Here, I’m using “left hemisphere” in the way that I’ve heard neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor and meditation master Reggie Ray talk about it. For them, the left-side of our brain is associated with linear thinking, analytic thinking, intellectual dissection, conceptual compartmentalization, language, logic, reason, and making mental maps. It can see life in terms of a million parts, and appreciate the astounding complexity of it all.

That’s wonderful. However, as Taylor and Ray both point out, there’s limitation that comes with that. The conscious beings (you, me, we) that see life through the left hemisphere can forget that life isn’t actually like that. It isn’t broken up into a million pieces. To our left hemisphere, it appears that way. But that’s just perception—just one perspective or way of seeing it.

So Taylor and Ray direct their listeners back to the right hemisphere and (in Ray’s vocabulary) the “soma.” For Taylor, what’s to be found there is what she calls “nirvana.” And for Ray, he simply speaks about a direct experience of life, a direct acquaintance with the territory (not the mental maps), that everyone must experience for themselves.

The idea I’d like to share today, is that when we shift out of this left hemisphere way of looking at these things, outside the leftward slant, into a more right hemisphere perspective, life’s manifestations appear as artistic expressions. All of them. And not just the solid “things,” but also the processes, relationships and events that unfold in time.

In other words, what it says about life, that life produces art through humans, is: life itself is artistic. Life is an artist—life in the sense of the creative principle or force immanent in the creations we see all around us.

It’s not just that we experience beauty, or that we can call everything art, or that this is a “nice” perspective to take. That’s all relatively true, but the profound thing is, art is in the nature of things. We can experience life as art, like we experience Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and that comes with a feeling of beauty, of intelligence, of meaning. You can’t necessarily put it into words, but who needs to? It’s your experience.

And what better way to get us in this particular mindset than art?—our art? …I was inspired to write this post by watching a film called Synecdoche, which blurs the line between life and theatrical performance. The film Birdman does the same thing, in a different way. Yet another film, Waking Life, blends film, dreams and waking experiences, both in its “rotoscope” animation and philosophical dialogue. All these films compare life to artistic expression such that the division between the two begins to vanish.

Perhaps it was only imagined, to begin with.

And it’s not just films. Before there was Beethoven, there was the symphony of a thousand insects in a swamp at nighttime. The whistle of the wind, the chirping of birds. Before the painting on the wall, the painting of a human face, smiling. Or crying—tragedy. Written alongside the visible scripts in our books, there are the invisible scripts of our lives. The most incredible stories ever told, but told in the living of them. All of this is life’s artistic expression.

…To circle back, then, to our point of origin: We are life, inseparable from its dynamic, creative force. So we, too, are artists, not just of what we normally refer to as “art,” but artists of our lives. Artists of our actions, words, decisions, relationships, emotions, aspirations, beliefs, perspectives…

We do not merely behold the creation; we are creators as well. When we see the art all around us, being expressed in each moment, and embrace our artistic identity as one with life—then, joy arises.