Author Archives: joeylott
Author Archives: joeylott
Doubts remain. Doubts don’t have to go away. Doubts are not a problem.
15 years ago I sat in a park in Santa Monica, California with my mentor, Brian Marc Zimberg, and he guided me to discover directly, for myself, that life is already happening without my effort, without focus on thought…even without any sense of a separate self.
That experience was pivotal. Until that moment, I had been wandering around in the dark, so to speak. I had no idea what I was looking for other than that I wanted relief from the suffering that I perceived that I experienced. So any carrot that was dangled in front of me seemed like a plausible solution.
I chased so many things. I’ll spare you the long, long list. But let’s just say a LOT of things. Ranging from the tame to the insane and extreme. Because they promised an escape from my perceived suffering.
But on that day as I sat with Brian, he guided me to discover *directly* what true peace is. And in that moment it was absolutely clear that this peace is always here. It cannot be diminished. Nothing can harm it. There is nothing separate from it. Nothing needs to be done to attain it or possess it. It is the very foundation of all that is.
And it is absolutely clear and unavoidable and reliable.
Still, ten minutes later, I was again searching for a solution to my perceived suffering. My imaginary suffering. But though imaginary, it seemed real.
I’ve told the story before, so I’ll spare you the grueling details, but for another ten years after that I went on trying to solve the (imaginary) problem of me and my life and my suffering.
Trying more things. Extreme things. Desperate things.
Then, even after ten years when I finally got the joke and saw that I couldn’t get out of this all-pervading peace and wholeness…I *still* believed that I needed to get rid of doubts.
Because I *still* believed that doubts somehow actually clouded or affected or diminished this all-pervading peace in some way.
It’s such an easy mistake to make.
Maybe I shouldn’t call it a mistake. It’s just part of the play. We wake up and then we fall asleep and wake up and fall asleep. And each time we think that something of significance has happened.
Until perhaps some day we discover the bigger joke. The joke bigger than the big joke. The joke whose punchline is this: no one is waking up or falling asleep. Waking up and falling asleep are of no consequence whatsoever to the all-pervading peace that is already the case. And I – even my ideas of myself as a separate thing – are not separate from this all-pervading peace.
Nothing can diminish this all-pervading peace. Not my waking up and not my falling asleep. And not my feelings, my thoughts, my virtue, nor anything else.
All that is happening is the flow of happening. Just as the currents in the ocean don’t diminish the ocean, neither do the currents of me and my life diminish this all-pervading peace.
One of the big doubts that often results in the most unnecessary agony is this one: is this as good as it gets? Is this all?
But here’s the antidote: any doubt starts with assumptions. If we allow those assumptions to remain unquestioned, then we may well set about trying to solve the imagined problems presented by the doubts.
How to question? Not in thought. You’ll just wrap yourself in knots doing that.
To question authentically is to pause, to pause completely for just a moment. Let go of all effort for a moment. And notice how much effort it takes to try to solve the problems. So why bother?
Just remain still for a moment. Don’t make the effort.
And then tell the truth. Not in thought. But directly. What is the actuality of this experience right now?
Before you consult thought, you have to admit, the truth of this right now is that it is neither bad nor good. It is without boundaries. It receives everything without discrimination. And you cannot find yourself as something separate from it.
If you tell the truth, when you are still like this for just a moment, the direct experience is that the “this” of “is this as good as it gets?” can’t be found as a separate thing. “This” is boundless, all-receiving, whole.
“This” is the essence of aliveness.
The unquestioned doubt seems to be a problem. The unquestioned belief that doubts are obstacles seems to be a problem.
But the direct inquiry always reveals the boundless, all-pervasive peace/okayness that is completely reliable.
So what does it matter if doubts arise? What does it matter if you get lost in suffering? What does it matter if you wake up or fall asleep?
All that you need to is inquire directly now and where does all of the problem go? Can it even be found? How can you solve a problem that can’t even be found? And why would you bother trying to solve it?
For me, this kind of pointing was very frustrating. For a long time I got angry with this kind of pointing. Because, dammit, I wanted a *solution*! And this kind of inquiry doesn’t solve a thing.
It just reveals the truth.
Which is better than I could have hoped for from any solution to any imagined problem.
P.S. – Brian Marc Zimberg – the person who guided me in Santa Monica all those years ago – is on instagram (https://www.instagram.com/brianmarczimberg), and recently he’s been broadcasting live on instagram 5 days a week. I believe he’s only doing that one more week, this week.
Also, he’s offering free one-on-one meetings by video chat for a limited time – probably just for this week. You should definitely check him out while the offer is valid.
In 2009 I lived in an unfurnished apartment. As in, no furniture save for the futon mattress I slept on.
No chairs. No table. Just that futon mattress.
I read and I sat and I tried to blank my mind of thoughts and desires. And then I would wrestle with thoughts and desires, trying to figure it out. And by “it” I mean the problem of my life that I was sure I had.
I called Tony Parsons. I called Richard Sylvester. I called John Wheeler.
I contemplated going to India. Or maybe to Australia to visit Sailor Bob.
I was trying really hard to force what I thought was a choiceless. desireless state. This is ironic, I know. But it is what I was doing.
I thought that perhaps I could fake it until I made it. If I could just want to be desireless with enough desire. If I could just get rid of thoughts. If I could just make my life stark enough. Then maybe everything would click. Maybe, magically, I’d have that experience that I thought others were promising was available…to discover non-separation, ego dissolution, etc. as a permanent state.
I had read that there is no choice. I had read that there is no one to make a choice. And so, as these things go, I tried to arrive at a state of no choice and no one. I tried to make it so.
It’s such a common trap. It’s purgatory. This idea of no choice. The idea of no one.
It’s still just an idea, though. It’s not the reality of no choice and no one.
It wasn’t until I made a choice that things shifted.
How’s that for a paradox?
The funny thing is this: if there’s no choice and no one, then who is so concerned about making a choice? What does it matter?
The appearance of choice happens. This doesn’t need to be negated. What will be gained by arguing with the appearance?
Just make the choice. It’s so much better to finally make the choice. Because then you’re no longer arguing with reality. And the whole illusion of a separate self who is has something at stake in the game of whether there is a choice can finally be seen for what it is – just a phantom.
The obvious reality is that choices are happening all the time. What will you eat? Chocolate or vanilla? Or perhaps pie instead? Or maybe a coffee? Or maybe no dessert?
You’re not doing all those things, though. You can’t eat the ice cream and not eat the ice cream simultaneously. A choice is being made.
That’s happening all the time. You’re reading this instead of doing something else. You made a choice.
This is not a problem. How could it be?
It just seems like a problem when your identity depends on getting it right. Then you feel that you have to come down on one side or the other…preferably the correct side. And that, incidentally, is (the illusion of) separation.
It’s just an idea. That’s all. What can it hurt you?
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
The big stuff…the really, really, really big stuff…the stuff that is infinite and indivisible and whole…is that hurt or diminished by the illusion of choice? Does it care? Does the idea of choice matter one iota? Will it in any way cause any harm whatsoever to the really, really, really big stuff that is infinite and indivisible and whole?
No. No. No.
In 2009 I seriously contemplated suicide. A lot.
And I prayed to God to help me.
God helped me. God nudged me off the fence. To start making choices.
The most important choice, in my arrogant opinion, is this: the choice to stop giving (so much) attention to all the small stuff. And to instead give attention to the really, really, really big stuff that is infinite and indivisible and whole (which is non-separate from what is conceived of as the small stuff, by the way).
In my arrogant opinion, the best choice a person can make is to stop squandering their attention on the illusion of separation and to give their attention to self-inquiry. Directly. Experientially. In the most intimate way possible. Before thought. In the body. Subtler than the idea of the body. And completely and always already obvious.
Because if you stop right now…and I highly recommend it…just stop, just pause for a moment right now. Stop giving attention to thoughts and worries and anxieties and stories. And just for a moment, inquire directly. Feel into the direct experience of being.
Not thought. Being. What is always 100 percent obvious. What is always here.
You are. This presence is always here. The feelings come and go. The states come and go. Everything else comes and goes.
But the fact that you are is always here.
Now, pause again. The tendency is to jump back to thought, which says, “Yeah, so what? It’s always here, but what’s it going to do for me? Will it fix my problems? Will it make me feel better?”
But pause. Don’t jump to thought. Just rest in being – what is always here.
And feel into it. Notice that in direct experience, there is no boundary between you and it. And in direct experience, there is no boundary to it. It is infinite. And timeless. And totally unbounded. And it receives everything.
What problem do you have right now?
Now, tell me…why *wouldn’t* you make this choice to inquire directly? It’s a choice. And a good one.
God nudged me off the fence. I’m passing along the favor.
There was a time I thought I was enlightened.
I was experiencing bliss for months.
Which is exactly what I thought enlightenment was supposed to be, I thought.
The only problem was, there was a nagging worry underneath it all…one that I wasn’t aware of until what I had been worrying about came to pass.
That worry was that I’d lose it.
And lose it, I did. The bliss disappeared. In the blink of an eye. And I was devastated.
Everything that happens is a blessing. The loss of bliss included. Because until I lost bliss, I didn’t realize how small that “enlightenment” was. Just how miserable it was.
Even though it was shiny, happy, blissful…even though I was genuinely happy…that worry that it could all be taken away was unmet. I was still making effort to protect myself from it.
When bliss disappeared, I had a choice.
And this is the choice that happens every moment of my life. And I will propose that it happens every moment of your life too.
That choice is not a choice of how I will feel. Not a choice of what I will think. Not a choice of what I will want. Not any of the choices that I think I have to make.
It is simpler. Subtler.
The choice is this: will I tell the truth or not.
And by tell the truth, I mean, in direct experience, what is actually happening? Not what do I think about it. Rather, in direct experience – the simple felt sense of being here – what is happening?
I can’t think my way out of this. No story will save me. No amount of clinging or avoidance will extract me from the unavoidableness of being.
Whatever happens, this is the choice. And it is totally unconditional. Because there are no conditions that can truly obscure this. No matter what the content of this moment – whether bliss or fear or boredom or unworthiness or love or anything else – this choice to tell the truth…to *acknowledge* the effortless truth that is already here as what I call me…this choice is always available.
It doesn’t matter what has happened. It doesn’t matter what I have done. It doesn’t matter how many times I have seemingly forgotten or lost my way or become confused. It doesn’t matter how terribly unenlightened I have been or for how long or anything else.
In this moment right now, equally available to the greatest saint and the greatest sinner, the simple acknowledgment of effortless being.
Bliss comes and goes. It’s nice when it’s here. But it will go. And its presence or absence does nothing to augment nor diminish what is always effortlessly present. Totally obvious. To you. To me. To everyone. We can’t actually miss it. We can only imagine that we could miss it.
But it receives even that. It receives the overlooking and the acknowledgment.
We can’t mess it up.
I’ve always had all my actual needs met.
Air. Food. Water. Shelter.
Yet I’ve lived most of my life as if it was a live or die moment. It commonly feels like I’ve got to get it right, right now.
But when I tell the truth, it’s all just made up in my mind. It’s just story.
Today I heard an interview with a journalist who recently wrote an article in The New Yorker about Facebook.
In the interview, he said that Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) and many of the true believers within the organization believe that Facebook is not merely software or a media company…they view it as a means to influence culture and politics in a revolutionary way. That the prevailing view of Facebook as an organization is that individual privacy is bad for us.
Okay, sure, so that’s silly. I mean, it’s obviously silly. Because none of us would believe that Facebook is a vehicle for ushering in virtuous cultural change. Right?
I mean, we’re not so crazy as to believe that we know what is right and that it’s up to us to force the masses to change against their will…for their own good.
Because that’s a crazy story. Obviously.
Funny thing, though. I agonize over money.
And what people think of me.
And whether I’m getting it right.
What if at the end of my life, God judges me badly?
What if I fail?
Crazy stories, indeed.
Sometimes I think I’m getting somewhere.
I think this is complicated by the fact that in some ways I *am* growing and changing. This is obvious, I’d hope. I mean, I’m not the same as I was when I was 5 years old. I’m taller. Heavier. Stronger. I have more facial hair. My voice is lower. I have more wrinkles.
And I’ve developed, hopefully, some modest gains in the emotional maturity department.
So that’s good. I mean, it would be weird if I was still 4 feet tall, 50 pounds, and throwing tantrums every time I don’t get seconds on ice cream.
But there’s another level in which I fool myself into believing that I’m getting somewhere. I still fall for the old belief that I’m going to get the “get out of jail free” card in life. I alone will master death and sickness and unpleasantness.
Whereas everybody else might have to get sick and die, I’ll be healthy forever. And perhaps much more seductive is the notion that somehow I’m going to get to finally be done with all the feelings and sensations and thoughts and whatever else I don’t like.
Okay, so maybe I haven’t matured very much emotionally after all. 🙂
Because it’s insane. I look around, and I don’t see a single person who gets to be superhuman.
Oh, sure, I read Autobiography of a Yogi. And dozens of other books. I know the promise. I’ve been led around with that carrot dangled in front of me long enough to be familiar with the sales pitch…”In a land far, far away there once was a perfected sage who lived always in equanimity and who healed people with a mere thought and who never had to eat and who had angels flying around him all day and all night…”
But still, I’ve never met any such person. And believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve looked. I’ve wanted to believe fully.
At the end of every day, as I would get into bed, feeling weary from my continued failures to get rid of even the smallest of my unwanted experiences, I would pray, “Please, let me be gifted complete enlightenment tonight so that tomorrow when I wake I will finally be free.”
As usual, the joke was on me. Because I was already free. Freer than I understood.
So free that I was and am free to have *this* experience too. Not only the experience that I deemed acceptable. But *this* experience too.
That’s freedom. And it was already given.
What if I’m just feeling stuff? What if that’s it? What if that’s all that’s going on? What if I’m not transcending it or evolving beyond it or learning to let go of it and be rid of it?
Man, that’s a relief.
I remember learning about Buddhist monks creating intricate mandalas out of sand…only to then destroy them.
I got it on one level. But on another level, it felt strangely threatening. Why put so much work into something without capitalizing upon it? It ran counter to my very Western, very capitalist upbringing.
Because, dammit, I want to have a legacy. I want to achieve something great and lasting.
At the very least, I want to take satisfaction in seeing the fruits of my labors for years to come. Or at least days. Or at least hours.
Now, I see the wisdom in the practice.
No matter what I do, it seems that I quickly succumb to the insidious belief of personal security, personal achievement, personal legacy, and personal power.
The most divine, mind-blowing, heart-opening revelations and realizations…soon become claimed by this insidious belief in mine, mine, mine. My revelations. My realization. My power. My life. My immortality. My security.
And that’s suffering.
It’s not that it’s bad or morally wrong. I’m not suggesting that some God somewhere condemns us for that or that we earn bad karma from some totally indifferent force of reality.
It is just that that insidious belief in personal power is in and of itself suffering. Not cause and effect. Just as plain and simple as possible: belief in personal power = suffering
I’m not saying that everybody should start making intricate sand mandalas and destroying them. The mere act of doing that isn’t a guarantee of anything. In fact, like all things, it can be used in service of the belief in personal power. As in, “Look at me, look how important and enlightened I am making all these awesome mandalas and then destroying them. Boy am I amazing.”
Rather, here’s my question: Am I willing to let go of the belief in personal power, personal accomplishment, personal merit, personal worth? And am I willing to do that right now? And then again and again and again. And if I become deluded again, am I willing to let go again? And can I let go even if the belief that letting go will earn me anything? And that I will be special for letting go?
See what I mean about it being insidious?
It leaves through the front door and then comes in through the back door. I let go, but then there’s a secret belief that I’m doing the right thing by letting go…like it is a way to prove my value, my worth, my specialness.
Letting go in the way I’m talking about is so ordinary. It’s not getting anything. It’s giving up everything. What if I die right now? What if I have failed to achieve my aims of being a successful person? What if I don’t get to be right and good and just and respected? Can I still let go? Can I let go as if there’s no more chance of getting it right?
Can I be totally ordinary? Totally raw? Totally transparent?
And can I do that without expectation that it will give me anything?
Can I allow this present experience totally without expectation that it will become something “better” as a result?
Can I let go of the idea of progress or evolution?
And can I let go of the idea that letting go of the idea of progress or evolution means that there can’t be progress or evolution?
Can I just stop trying to figure it out? Can I just stop trying to be right? Can I stop trying to protect myself against being totally found out?
That’s what I’m talking about.
I’ve squandered an awful lot of my life with a fool’s errand: trying to feel good all the time.
Oh, now, sure, I wouldn’t have admitted that I needed to feel good all the time. But I was deceiving even myself. Because in reality, even if I felt great 99% of the time, the 1% of unpleasantness was unacceptable to me.
So the truth is, I wanted to feel good all the time.
And, to be even more honest, I wanted to feel more than good.
I moved to Los Angeles after I’d dropped out of college. I’d recently broken up with my girlfriend, and it gave me the extra push that I needed to finally stop going to college – something I was unhappy with from the start.
Once in Los Angeles, as I have written previously, I fell in with pot smokers and psychedelic drug enthusiasts. I smoked pot for the first time. Then again. And again. And again.
I called my ex-girlfriend one day while high and declared that I was the happiest I’d ever been.
Not to be mean. But because it seemed like the truth.
And marijuana encouraged me to believe that I could really maintain that euphoric state.
Then LSD encouraged me to believe the same.
Maybe, somehow, I’d get to escape unhappiness. For good. Forever.
I’m not sure how I imagined it would work. Maybe like escape velocity. If I could just get high enough, I’d beat the system.
Later, I believed meditation would do it. Maybe with a boost from kirtan. And adhering to a sattvic diet.
Yada yada yada.
Here’s the thing: that’s totally crazy. And wrong.
It just won’t work. At least it has never worked for me. And I don’t personally know anybody who it has worked for.
I guess it is possible that some people somewhere may have been successful in that endeavor. Maybe somebody managed to achieve escape velocity. Maybe they are completely euphoric all the time.
But it doesn’t work for me. And it probably doesn’t work for you. And, frankly, I doubt it works for anybody.
Because from my perspective, it’s a misunderstanding.
Here’s what I mean. Day is followed by night is followed by day, etc. This is not a problem. It’s not even personal. Day isn’t happening because I’m a good person and night isn’t happening because I’m a bad person. It’s just happening because that’s how it works.
But let’s say for a moment that I have decided that night is bad, unacceptable. Every time day happens, I think, “Hallelujah! I’m doing it! I’m winning! This is going to be the ultimate, endless day! I’ll finally be free of night!”
Then night comes. And I despair, “Why is this happening?!”
I know, I know. Day and night aren’t exactly the same as euphoria and despair (or any of the other polarities of human feeling experiences). And yes, I do have an intrinsic dislike of despair (as well as other negative feeling experience). And I’m not advocating for treating euphoria and despair in the same way. Obviously, that would be ridiculous. (Though, let’s be honest, we’ve probably all thought that was the goal of Eastern-influenced spirituality, right?)
What I’m trying to get at is this: what I’ve noticed in my own experience is that day and night happen and so too do euphoria and despair. In my own life there are ups and downs, lefts and rights. This seems to be the natural flow of things.
If I mistake the flow of life (and the landmarks along the way) as being indicative of my shortcomings in some kind of cruel fashion – in other words, if I take it all really personally – I suffer. Or, put another way, if I am reactive without conscious awareness of the impersonal nature of even that reactivity…I suffer.
But I have noticed that reacting in that way is like reacting to day and night.
Yes, day and night happen. Yes, euphoria and despair happen.
Why did I think I was going to change that? It’s an innocent confusion. A confusion that led to a lot of suffering.
But in the blink of an eye…right now…where is the suffering? Where is the suffering of the past? Where is the future suffering? Where is present suffering?
In this moment right now, the second that I see that it wasn’t ever intended the way I interpreted it…I recognize that I have always been okay. I am okay right now.
That doesn’t mean I cannot learn and grow. Paradoxically, perhaps, I learn and grow most when I’m not taking it so personally. When I see that what’s being reflected is not a condemnation. It’s just a reflection of this as it is.
That makes a world of difference.
I thought for so long that I needed to feel good all the time. But it now seems to me that trying to feel good all the time only prolongs the suffering. Whereas, this simple recognition right now instantly dissolves the suffering.
Not that it gets rid of feeling states. Not that it produces new, more desirable feeling states. Not that it removes all challenge, pain, or discomfort.
Because the recognition doesn’t seem to do that.
But it does do one thing reliably: it reveals that the insistence that this shouldn’t be as it is, is unnecessary. And upon letting that go, I am free to receive this present moment, this reflection of this as it is rather than my delusional, personal interpretation of it.
That sure does lighten the load.
My wife and I have historically had quite different views of regarding money.
When I was in my 20s, I worked as a freelance web developer and instructor. I was in the right place at the right time. My day rate was approximately the same as my average monthly income has been over the past five years.
I was so anxious at the time, I pissed away the money I made. As an example, I purchased several very expensive mattresses in succession, decided that they were somehow toxic, and I gave them away on craigslist.
That was my life. I was hemorrhaging money.
But not as fast as I was making it.
Money surplus gave me plenty of opportunity to continue to indulge my compulsive behaviors so as to avoid facing the underlying feelings and fears.
Anyway, strangely, even having gone through all that, I didn’t learn the lesson: money isn’t real wealth. Money doesn’t equal happiness. Money doesn’t give true security.
So over the past eight years that my wife and I have been together, I have continued to hold to the idea that if only I could make enough money, my family would be happier. I’ve often viewed money as the solution to most problems. And, conversely, I’ve seen a lack of money as the cause of many challenges in our lives.
My wife, on the other hand, has often advocated for reducing our expenditures. She has made strides toward developing self-sufficiency.
In theory, I have shared her ethic: sustainable, human scale, DIY. But when under stress (and I’m easily stressed), I have frequently fallen back on my old position: money is the answer.
The reason that I’m sharing this is not to suggest that money is good or money is bad or that capitalism is good or capitalism is bad or any such thing.
The reason is this: only recently did I realize on a much deeper level that the core insight regarding the directness of direct experience (which I have written about many times over the years) is applicable to most if not all domains of life.
Here’s what I mean, using money as an example. I recently realized – and yes, I know this is a remedial insight – that money is a terribly indirect strategy for happiness. Or love. Or okayness. Or security. Or any of the other things I have used money as a strategy for.
By virtue of being indirect, it is also inefficient. And furthermore, it is often completely hopeless and flawed. In other words, in most cases it will never work. Or, put another way, no amount of money will lead to true happiness or true love or true peace.
I know that should be obvious. And maybe most readers of this blog already know this. But for me, seeing how I had continued to silo off domains of life – spiritual, psychological, somatic, achievement, financial, health, etc. – is eye-opening.
The principal of directness seems to apply to all domains. And, in fact, all domains would seem to be one, not fundamentally distinct.
Again, most readers of this blog may have already realized this. And perhaps had you asked me this a few years ago, I would have been able to see that there is no meaningful distinction between these so-called domains of life. But somehow it hadn’t sunken in as deeply as it has recently.
This principal of directness is profound and powerful. And simple.
The principal is this: Whatever I desire is best available through the most direct route possible. In other words, the quickest route to happiness is to access happiness. The quickest route to peace is to access peace.
Mediators are not really necessary. At best, they are crutches. At worst, they lead to unnecessary suffering.
Here’s what I mean. Let me give you a practical example from my life.
I rent. And thus far in my experience as a renter, renting has meant heightened insecurity (the owners could sell or decide to stop renting) and diminished self-determination (the owners may not agree to all things that I wish to do).
I want greater security and greater self-determination. And furthermore, I have the underlying belief that if I have greater security and self-determination, I’ll have greater happiness.
The means by which I have sought to solve this puzzle is…acquire more money.
In other words, I have been acting under the belief that the way to greater happiness is to acquire more money. Which is indirect and inefficient. And, by the way, doomed to fail, ultimately. Not because more money can’t buy a property title. (Because it can.) But because that’s putting the cart before the horse.
If happiness is the aim, what is the most direct route? Obviously, go right for happiness!
What stands in the way of happiness? Nothing. Happiness, or we could call it contentment or okayness, is readily available. All I have to do is cease looking for it somewhere else, stop making it conditional.
Even at the next level up, however, this same principal applies, making this a very practical principal on many levels. Because once I directly access happiness, which is the ultimate aim, I am also free to explore the next level up – in this case wanting greater security and self-determination.
What is the most direct route to security? Obviously, the most direct route is to access security. And what about self-determination? Obviously, the most direct route is to access self-determination.
This is perhaps so obvious as to cause some people to role their eyes. But at least for me, the more I welcome the profundity of this simple truth, the more it blows my mind and puts me at ease.
What stands in the way of my access to security? Only my insistence in the reality of insecurity. To the degree that I play the victim, I am giving power to insecurity, which has no power on its own. The moment that I cease doing that, it is completely evident that security is the primary reality. It is already given.
Or, if I prefer, I can see it in the inverse. Let’s say that there is only insecurity. This is also a valid way to perceive it. After all, I can never have a guarantee that anything will last But when I fully let that in, I access the security of utter insecurity. In other words, I can be completely secure that there is no security.
This is not a mind game. It’s not just some psychological babble. What I’m suggesting is ways to perceive something and open up to a reality that is primary – that contains and precedes the apparent reality of belief. Belief – such as the belief that I need to do something (like make a bunch of money) in order to be happy or okay – is limiting and divisive and blinding. What I am proposing with these inquiries is to see through the blinding beliefs to what precedes the beliefs.
And, by the way, this principal of directness also applies to the next level up. The next level up in this example is “I need to make a bunch of money”. But we could more broadly call that abundance. Money is really just symbolic of abundance.
I can apply the principal at the level of abundance. What is the most direct route to abundance? Accessing abundance directly, of course. And what stands in the way of me accessing abundance? Nothing. Only my belief that I lack can cloud the present, inalienable reality of abundance.
After all, I have air, water, sensation, experience…all in abundance. And this is perfectly clear the moment I cease to insist that I lack abundance.
I see it again and again the more I look: trying to solve problems from the top-down – starting from the assumption of separation and a hostile reality – doesn’t work. But when I start from the bottom-up and directly access the primary reality…things are much better.
My wife and I were having a disagreement about goats for the past couple of days. It wasn’t really about goats. But it involved goats.
This seems to be how things go in my life, and I assume the same is true in your life. We feel things. These things come up in relationship with others. So in an effort to communicate about them and figure things out so as to live harmoniously, we come up with stories.
But the stories are always around the actual matter. They don’t get to the heart of it.
Anyway, until we got to the heart of the matter, we were having this conflict that had to do about goats. And I was feeling frustrated and discouraged.
When I first got into the whole meditation, self-help, spiritual thing, I did it because I wanted to escape my unwanted feelings.
I didn’t realize it at the time, of course. And had you asked me, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage or the insight to be able to admit it. But in hindsight, it’s clear that I just wanted to escape stuff I didn’t like.
Like frustration, stuckness, discouragement. Plus anxiety, anger, fear, worry, obsessiveness, low self-esteem, etc.
When I was 19, a friend of mine loaned me a Ken Cohen qi gong meditation cassette tape. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again.
I listened to that tape. I think I’d probably burned some sage that I’d gotten at the new age bookstore first. Then I listened to the tape. Eyes closed. And I followed along with the guided meditations.
I had an experience that blew my mind. After some time…maybe half an hour of the guided meditation, I disappeared.
It was a bit like I had fallen asleep. Deep sleep. And maybe I did fall asleep. I guess that’s possible. And maybe I just made up a story upon waking that something else had happened.
But in a sense, it doesn’t matter because waking from deep sleep is kind of the same thing. Not there. But…but…but upon waking realizing that I was there. Just not the usual way I have identified as being this person, this collection of memories, this collection of ideas and beliefs. But still there. Still present so that upon waking I could say, “I was just in deep sleep” or, in this case, “I just had some far out, mind-blowing meditation experience.”
Anyway, I got hooked. Because that experience was so profoundly restful and such a paradigm shift for me.
And because I was convinced (though I wasn’t fully aware of this at the time) that if I could somehow attain that experience while simultaneously maintaining a sense of my habitual identity (i.e. still claiming that I am the source of my own experience as a separate person)…well…then I’d get rid of all the unpleasant, unwanted experiences/feelings.
I tried so many things to attain what I thought I wanted. I’ve listed them off plenty of times, but it’s fun, so I’ll list a few yet again: Rebirthing (i.e. hyperventilation), LSD, Transcendental Meditation, affirmative prayer, kirtan, Holosync (a very expensive binaural beats meditation program), sitting in satsang with every teacher I could find.
Sometimes I got a taste of that same goneness-but-present experience. But since I still had unpleasant/unwanted feelings that returned, I thought that something “hadn’t worked”. Because, after all, I assumed that when “it worked”, I wouldn’t have unwanted feelings anymore…ever.
For such a long, long time I chased after this fantasy. I wanted to get to continue to hold on to all my dysfunctional ideas of who I am, what I need, how important I am, how I’m right…and simultaneously be happy. And furthermore, I had this dysfunctional and deluded idea that happiness meant an absence of disharmony or conflict or unpleasantness.
Yesterday, as I was feeling frustrated and discouraged, I reflected on what it is that I really want. Not what I think I want – which is the absence of disharmony, conflict, and unpleasantness. Rather, what I really want.
As in, what actually is satisfying.
The answer to this question is at once completely surprising and completely expected.
What I really want is exactly what is happening.
Because life isn’t about acquisition. It’s not about winning. It’s not all about me, my ideas, my preferences, my wants, my hedonism, my impatience.
Life is about this present relationship. This is what truly satisfies.
All I have to do is say yes to it.
When I was in college, I undertook a misguided fast. I started by only consuming water for a few days – perhaps three days – I don’t remember exactly. After that, I drank only freshly-pressed juices for what I believe must have been considerably more than a month.
I had already been surviving on primarily raw vegetables and fruit – with occasional cooked beans – for a year. So I was thin to start. But I grew considerably thinner during my fast.
My heart rate slowed to under 40 beats per minute.
I was exhausted by the smallest effort. I would have to pause between flights of stairs in order to regain enough strength to ascend another flight. My apartment was up two flights, and sometimes I had to pause a few times on the way up.
I was cold all the time. I was nervous. I was depressed.
Basically, I felt terrible.
If you’d asked anybody else – even a complete stranger who’d never seen me before – they would have diagnosed the problem right away…I was starving.
Once I finally got a little bit of sense back in me a month or two later, I recall walking past a building and catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I was shocked to see what looked like a walking skeleton staring back at me.
Because until that moment, I had no clue why I was feeling so awful.
I kept reading more books that told me about how filthy I was on the inside, how many dangerous toxins I had accumulated in my handful of years on Earth. How I needed to fast even more to purge myself of all those toxins.
I thought I had toxins in me that were causing my problems. It honestly had not occurred to me that I was responsible for bad choices that were directly producing my symptoms – that I was starving myself.
Even after I saw that reflection of the walking skeleton in the window and even after I started seeing a counselor for help with an eating disorder, I still didn’t fully believe that I was causing the problems with my choices. I still believed my mind and its distorted reality.
Given all that, you might think that once I finally gave up on that approach and I started eating adequate amounts of food and felt better that I would have seen through the delusion of my stories. At least the stories having to do with toxins and “curing” myself with food restriction.
But I didn’t. Not even close. I continued to eat in highly disordered ways, often returning to starving myself, for over another decade.
When I got sick with Lyme disease, I doubled down on my restrictive eating disorder. Because it gave me an excuse. I was afraid, and when afraid, I fell back on my old stories.
I had no idea that I was doing it.
I say that I had no idea that I was doing it. And that’s not completely true. What would be true is this: Out of habit, I completely ignored the wisdom that is always available that has nothing to do with conditioned thinking and reactivity. I identified as the conditioned thinking and reactivity, and therefore, as that identity, I was ignorant.
I could go on to cite dozens of other examples in which I behaved in similarly deluded fashion. How those bad and deluded choices harmed me and often other people.
But here’s the point: I didn’t understand what I was doing in any of those cases. I was so identified with my stories of me as a victim – I had deluded myself so greatly – that I didn’t understand that I was responsible. And that I was abdicating my responsibility.
I was misusing my one true power.
That one true power came out in all kinds of sideways and perverted ways. Suicidal ideation. Resentment. Vengefulness. Manipulation. Restriction. Abstention. Isolation. Compulsive research.
Because I wasn’t owning that one true power. I wasn’t telling the truth about it.
What is that one true power? It’s the power to recognize what the true order of things is. It is the power to discern between what is false and what is true.
And how do I do that? Just look relentlessly. Allow it all to flow as it does, and see that the person I thought I was never had any other power. I never had the power to stop it or control it or manipulate it. That as all merely delusion.
The truth stands on its own. It doesn’t need to be propped up by story.
I don’t need to tell a story to make it so. I just need to stop telling a story long enough to recognize it.