Author Archives: joeylott
Author Archives: joeylott
I am imperfect.
I am conditioned to believe that I must be perfect.
That my behavior must be perfect.
I must get it right.
And so I am at odds with myself as I am. Me versus the reality of myself.
But wait! There’s good news!
My imperfect, hopeless, helpless, wretched, miserable, vindictive, spiteful, impatient self AND my conditioning to be at odds with my imperfect self AND the whole ball of wax…
…is not a problem.
It is the opportunity.
Don’t try to solve the problem of yourself.
Just see. Open your eyes for a moment, and see.
That you see is miracle enough.
It’s cold in Vermont. And we’ve got snow on the ground.
I’m normally cold-averse. But today as I stood in the cold, I caught a glimpse of something…uh…transcendent.
No, transcendent is the wrong word.
That inclusive glimpse goes something like this:
me (it’s so cold), me (cold is uncomfortable), me (I don’t like cold), me (why me?), me, me, me…
IT’S A FUCKING MIRACLE THAT THIS IS HAPPENING!
me, me, me, me…
The glimpse is not a thought, of course. But the thought follows. And it is a radical shift from the status quo (me).
It is like being slapped sober for a second. “Holy shit! This is happening!”
And the “this” in “this is happening” isn’t some thing that I have suddenly cognized. I can’t tell you what “this” is.
It is perfectly evident. Before cognizing. Before thought. Before awe. Before anything.
“This” is ordinary. Nothing apart from. Not some other experience. Just this, exactly as it is.
If “miracle” is too sensational of a word, then we could just say that “this is happening” is outside of the usual story. And I guess, in that sense, it is transcendent. Not transcending what is. Not transcending the ordinary. But transcending the story.
Hours later I was struck by how odd it is to assume that I am the source of my experience.
I do assume that I am the source of my experience. That is the status quo. That is very normal.
But it is odd.
One of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote in the introduction to one of the editions of Breakfast of Champions about growing up in Indianapolis during the height of the syphilis outbreak.
He wrote about seeing syphilitics crossing the street, walking bolt upright, not under their own command. Under the command of syphilis.
My friend Luis recently mentioned (during an episode of Completely Ordinary) that when he’s painting and more broadly in life, there’s a clear sense that he’s not the source of the painting, the life. He said something, half-jokingly, about “just being the guy that cleans the brushes”.
It is scary to fully acknowledge that I’m not the source of my experience.
Not being the source of painting is scary. After all, if my livelihood seems to depend upon my performance as an artist, I want to have a story that I can do art. I can make it happen. I’m the source.
And being controlled by syphilis is scary. Like being a zombie.
Here’s a funny thing, though: everything that I think of as me is actually an effect as far as there is such a thing as effect. I think of myself as my experience.
If you had no experience, who would you be? Isn’t your definition of yourself dependent upon your experience? Isn’t your experience what you take yourself to be?
There’s experience. And sometimes that experience is fear. And fear has this aspect to it that conjures a sense of being the source of one’s experience.
Then we try to fix it.
We can spend a lifetime trying to fix it.
But it doesn’t need to be fixed.
All that is happening is experience.
And that is already a miracle.
Or if “miracle” is still a bad word…at least it’s mind blowing.
We are trained to do more. But take a look around. How’s that working out?
But we keep working overtime to keep the whole mess moving forward.
Then, somebody like me says, “See what effort you make that is unnecessary, and just stop that unnecessary effort. Just for a moment. Just experience directly that it is unnecessary.”
And it’s no surprise that, given our training, we twist that into “Oh, I better try harder to stop the unnecessary effort.”
No, no, no!
That’s not it.
Less. Less. Less.
There is a certain baseline of effort that is necessary to be.
Effort is required to breathe, for the heart to beat, for nerve impulses. Effort is required to defecate and urinate. Effort is required to eat.
But how much more effort do we make on a daily basis? On a moment-to-moment basis?
Take a look. Really look. Don’t think about looking. Don’t judge whether you are looking.
And by look, I mean feel.
I mean feel what it is to be you right now. And feel how much effort you are making that is above and beyond the baseline.
Not because the goal is to always be at baseline. Not because “unnecessary effort” is bad.
But just to see what is what. To be able to discriminate.
Well, here’s a good reason.
Because you’re going to have a disagreement with somebody. Your spouse. Your mother. Your son. Your neighbor. Your boss. Your employee.
And that is hard.
And it often generates “hard feelings”
And “hard feelings” are unbearable.
So we do all kinds of stupid things.
But if you can discriminate, then you start to become aware of the hard feelings. And you also become aware of the soft feelings underneath.
The soft feelings aren’t always nice either.
They are often scary.
Fear is a soft feeling, for example.
But we spend so much time wrestling with these hard feelings, trying to get rid of hard feelings by trying to rearrange circumstances – making others behave as the “should”, buying stuff, getting drunk, whatever – we overlook the soft feelings.
If you just can discriminate – which is possible through paying attention to what is unnecessary effort – something happens. You can’t fool yourself so much any longer. Then you realize that these soft feelings are here all the time.
And that all the unnecessary effort is not doing you much good.
You’ll still make the unnecessary effort. But it will be half-hearted.
Because you’ll know that this other dimension – what feels like a bottomless sea of unsettled soft feelings, of terror, of emptiness, of longing, of uncertainty – is always here. You can’t escape it.
So maybe it’s not worth trying so hard to escape what you can’t escape.
You’ll still try out of habit. And because the fear of doing nothing is sometimes too much.
But that’s okay.
The goal isn’t to reach baseline and cling to it forever.
The goal is what is already the case. Life happening.
You can’t fuck it up.
No matter what, it seems that I want an escape.
No, scratch that. I think I want an escape.
But I don’t really want an escape. And that is the great joke that I appear to be eternally laughing at/with/as.
Every time I see the absurdity of thinking that I want an escape, I find myself in/as this eternal laughter.
Because it’s funny. Not because it does anything for me. Not because it alleviates the horrors that happen.
Because shit happens. And the shit hits the fan. Frequently. Daily. Hourly. A lot.
The lie is that the shit shouldn’t hit the fan.
The lie goes on to suggest – very compellingly – that the shit hitting the fan is proof that I need to work on this mess. I need to do something. I need to fix it, fix myself, get it all under control.
Which leads me to think that I want an escape.
Because deep down, I always know that I cannot get it all under control. I mean, come on! It’s absurd! I’m going to get it all under control? Really?
Including hurricanes? And tornadoes? And earthquakes?
Hell, I can’t even get my own kids under control. I can’t even get my own feelings under control! And I think I stand a chance of getting it all under control?
I’m not fooling anybody. Least of all myself. Which is why this knowledge of reality generates this ongoing anxiety. It’s jabbing its elbows into my ribs, whispering, “you’re a failure.”
Which I think I need to escape. Because that seems scary and unpleasant.
Nightmarish, to tell the truth.
But here’s the miracle: I’ve got it all upside down and inside out.
And in an instant. Right now.
Not understanding. Not the meaning of the universe. Not God speaking to me in English sentences.
Just clarity. Clarity of the situation. Which is a mess. Which is nightmarish. Which is the shit hitting the fan.
So this clarity doesn’t negate that.
It is not an escape.
But it reveals that I had it all wrong. The nightmare may still be a nightmare. But it’s a nightmare. That’s all.
That doesn’t change the nightmare. At least not necessarily.
And if I think it needs to change the nightmare, I’ve got it all upside down and inside out once again.
I haven’t achieved the state I thought I needed to achieve.
I haven’t transcended the mess I thought I needed to transcend.
I haven’t become what I thought I needed to become.
That is really good news.
It is available right now.
Stop for just a moment. Stop believing your foolish insistence that this shouldn’t be just as it is.
You will keep trying to solve the problem.
You will keep being fooled – deluded that there is a problem.
There is no problem.
Not that problem, at least.
Being fooled is not a problem.
Being deluded is not a problem.
Trying to solve non-existent problems is not a problem.
See how easily you just tried to turn a non-problem into a problem?
But that’s not a problem either.
We’re all in this together.
None of us are immune to delusion and seeking to solve non-problems.
It’s not a problem. We don’t need to be immune.
Let it all be.
It’s already being anyway.
There’s nothing anybody can do about it.
Nothing that needs to be done about it.
You can’t screw this up.
No matter how hard you try.
There are so many scary, sad, and upsetting things that happen.
At least if you’re paying attention.
And I’m not talking only about terrorist attacks, mass shootings, hurricanes, tsunamis, and so forth.
I’m talking about the stuff that is inevitable. The stuff that is lurking in the shadows of our minds, reminding us in whispers that we too will die, we too will endure pain, we too will lose people we love.
But the news events – the terrorist attacks, mass shootings, etc. – are like salt in the wound. It reminds us of the things we’ve tried to shove under the rug, so to speak. We try to cover them over with achievements and vacations and objects…
…and with spirituality.
Spirituality is what we hope will help us…on OUR terms.
I sure did, at least.
“If only I meditate enough or inquire enough or pray enough or chant enough or think enough positive thoughts…then I’ll transcend the fear and pain.”
This kind of attitude is rooted in the same kind of perception that generates the “problem” in the first place, though. It is not the solution. It is more of the same.
This is trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.
It’s doomed. And it’s a rejection of what is. It’s insane.
What about this instead: Pause. Take a time out. Release the tension in the head. The tension in the gut. Not perfectly. Not according to how you think you need to.
Just do it. Just let it go, including letting go of the insistence that letting go must look and feel like something other than this experience right now.
Just try it out. Instead of using spirituality as a way to grip ever more tightly, let go of being spiritual.
Recognize the ugliness, the aloneness, the terror, the discomfort that you are. Stop trying to get rid of it or distance yourself from it.
Just for a moment.
You’ll tense up again momentarily. That’s fine. This isn’t about trying to achieve a state.
Just see. See what you do. See the innocence of it. See the purity of it.
It’s already pure. Even the tensing. Even the rejection. Even the horror.
Earlier this week I saw something clearer than I remember having ever seen it.
Think about this for a moment. We do we do things that are not in our best interests?
For example, why do some people gamble themselves to death? Why do some people pair up with abuser after abuser?
Or, in my case, why would I have starved myself day after day for years?
My answer: because we’re trained elephants.
There’s a story about training an elephant. I don’t know if it is it true. But it is a useful story in this case.
The story states that if one tethers a baby elephant to post using a heavy chain, the baby elephant soon learns that it cannot escape.
The story goes on that as the elephant grows, one can use rope, then twine, then eventually nothing. The elephant will remain close to the post. The elephant doesn’t try to escape.
What on earth do I mean by all of this?
Here’s what I saw: I work hard most of the time to generate and maintain habitual states.
These states are rarely actually desirable in any meaningful sense. They are often unpleasant, in fact.
But I am trained to stay in these states.
I will go to great lengths to stay in these states. Even if it requires starving myself.
Even if it means believing a great big lie: the lie that such a state even exists in the first place.
It was all a lie.
We all got so mixed up. Confused. Disoriented.
We don’t even know what we’re doing.
But take a look. Pay attention. You’ll see.
You’re working hard to create and maintain states.
And that requires so much effort and strain all the time.
Worst of all, it doesn’t produce the benefits we hoped it would.
Like safety. Or okayness.
You can try to use this insight for self-help if you want.
But there’s a problem. That problem is that the big side effect of being a trained elephant is that you view everything that is not your “safe zone” as a threat. Anything more than a few feet away from the (non-existent) post your mind is tethered to – to you that is the danger zone.
You work hard to maintain states because you think you want to avoid the danger zone.
You’re completely blind to what is in the danger zone. And self-help requires that you can see where you’re headed and know whether that is correct or not.
There’s another option that is not self-help, though.
That option is this: LET GO.
Letting go means you’ll drift into the danger zone.
Allow the states to come and go. Allow the fear to ebb and flow.
First, two things:
Okay, .Now for the topic of today’s post.
I was lying in bed this morning. And I noticed something in a way I hadn’t noticed before.
I’m sharing this with you, but not so you can live vicariously through me. Rather, so you can look for yourself.
Seriously: if you don’t look for yourself, what are you doing? Otherwise, you’re just reading a menu. No matter how many times you read a menu, it won’t give you the actual experience of eating the food.
Eat the food. Taste life. Go all in.
Okay. So I was lying in bed. And my kids were bouncing around. This was not a classically relaxing time – not a time conducive to what most of us think of as the opportunity for self reflection, etc.
Point being, you can do this now. Whatever is happening. You can look for yourself. Don’t put it off.
I noticed all this emptiness. All this space. The sense of it “within”.
And then I noticed how full this space is.
It’s completely full of space. Filled with emptiness.
Look for yourself.
Don’t analyze it. Don’t think about it. Just look for yourself.
Don’t be bothered looking for an answer here, either. Don’t waste your time trying to get it right.
Just feel. Just experience. Notice. Pay attention.
Maybe you don’t call it space. Or emptiness. Maybe you have a different sense of it.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Point is, the experience is full.
This, whatever is happening right now, this actual experience – regardless of how I conceive of it or you conceive of it…
It is full.
I don’t need to fill it. And I cannot hope to get rid of it.
This is full and alive.
But please don’t waste your time trying to file that away for a rainy day. It won’t work.
This is full and alive and it is only accessible right now.
It’s full and alive with confusion, doubt, fear, regret, sorrow, grief, pain.
It eats all.
Despite its fullness, it can devour all. And there is just totality.
This is not ecstatic, either.
It can be, of course.
But it is not guaranteed to be ecstatic.
It is ordinary. Mundane. Miserable as well.
The emptiness or space or ordinariness or unpleasantness or discomfort or whatever we normally overlook or dismiss…
That is it.
We tune it out because of conditioning.
Too boring. Too painful. Too mundane. Too uncomfortable. Too disgusting. Too scary.
Whatever justification we have, we’re overlooking what is staring us in the face:
This is it. Whatever we are hoping to find somewhere or sometime else…we’re fooling ourselves.
Because this right now is already totally full.
Then will be full too, of course.
That’s the comfort we can always turn too. We can’t escape it.
We are like the Prodigal Son in that way.
But why wait?
It’s such a big joke, that question. But I would not have guessed as much once upon a time.
I took it seriously.
After all, Ramana – that revered saint – is said to have said it was serious. Just asked that question earnestly enough, and *shazam!* you’re enlightened. Just like him.
So enlightened. So very enlightened.
Which, by the way, was code for “I won’t have to experience the stuff I don’t want to experience any longer.”
Do you see what a joke it is?
But it gets better.
First, a little diversion to provide some context.
This summer I moved to Vermont.
And I got bitten by a few ticks this summer.
They are so tiny, some of them. So tiny you can easily mistaken them for specks of dirt.
Anyway, I got bitten a few times by these tiny, tiny, speck-of-dirt-like ticks.
And I found myself so completely exhausted that I was sitting, staring at a wall for half an hour before I worked up the energy to stand up.
A familiar experience. One that I recall from the lowest points in my Lyme disease journies.
I thought hard about it. And I decided to take antibiotics.
I went to the doctor. Got the prescription. Took the drug.
And within days I felt better. WAY better.
I finished the 21 day course.
Then, a few days later, the symptoms returned.
So I went back to the doctor. Got another prescription.
This time, a higher dose.
At the higher dose, the symptoms stopped. But I got more than I bargained for.
I became incredibly irritable. Zero patience.
I felt as though I was in a vice. And the vice kept tightening and tightening.
Squeezing out everything.
All my ideas of myself…no room for them.
Who am I?
We look at questions all wrong.
We think the value is in the answer. We think we’ll be rewarded by answering correctly.
We think we’ll find out who we are. Then the heavens will part. Then the good times will roll.
Look at the question differently.
Let the question point right back at the emptiness, the absence that is already here.
At its best, a question can do that.
Who am I?
Stop looking for the answer. Just look and see that the question and the questioner and the entire context are equally empty.
And that seeing does not change anything. It doesn’t bring about the good times. It doesn’t part the heavens. And it most certainly doesn’t get rid of experiences. It doesn’t even get rid of preferences.
We can be so blind that we don’t even see how blind we are. We don’t even know how narrow our concepts are. We don’t even know how crazy we are.
We honestly believe that we have to fix things. That we have to get rid of what is unwanted or scary.
It’s a huge joke.
Who am I?
In the late 90s I saw a movie called Office Space. It was pretty funny to me because I’d had just enough corporate experience to recognize some of my experience in it.
There was a character in the movie who had been fired. Nobody wanted him there. But he wouldn’t stop showing up. They even moved him to the basement. All by himself. But he kept showing up.
Then they took his stapler. And it was the last straw. He freaked out. He’d been clinging to the stapler as his lifeline. Grasping desperately at something. Anything.
We’ve been fired. We’ve been edged out.
Take a look. It’s laughable how much we’ve been edged out.
I’m typing this while sitting out under the night sky. About 140 degrees of dark sky and stars and a few moving, blinking lights from airplanes surround my head. Hurricanes just beat the shit out of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding regions. Massive earthquakes hit Mexico. Attacks in Afghanistan. Bali is being evacuated because of a volcano. The planet is hurtling through space at something like 63.5 gazillion miles per hour.
And that’s just superficial stuff.
Then there’s all this god damned experience stuff happening. I mean, the stuff that happens now and now and now and now.
Like whatshiface in Office Space, I’m clinging to staplers. And by staplers, I mean agency.
I’m not going to waste our time getting in arguments about whether we have any agency. Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? Who cares?
What’s obvious if only we take a moment to see it is this: whatever agency we might have is infinitesimally small.
Now, of course, something being small doesn’t mean it’s worthless. I’m not suggesting that. But in terms of how much leverage I honestly expect to have in all this whole big mess…well, let me just tell the truth: not much.
I pretend and lie to myself a lot. I imagine that I have a lot of leverage.
Here’s one such lie: I can be good.
Now, again, I am not going to waste our time arguing that I cannot be good…within a very, very, very small window of agency. Perhaps I can. Meaning, maybe (maybe) if the stars are aligned right and all my history and everything else is just so I will get to choose between being a little less nice or a little more nice.
Or, if things are a little different – just one little thing a little different here or there – maybe that choice is radically different. Instead, now I get to exercise my choice between being slightly less murderous or slightly more murderous.
Because whatever happens, my agency – to the degree that I have any (which we won’t debate right now) – is, at best, infinitesimally small.
But I cling to staplers.
Until I don’t.
What a relief.
A guy wrote me the other day. He seemed very earnest. I could relate. I had been like that once. I wanted relief so badly. “Just tell me what to do. What is the truth? Please help me!” is what I was silently shouting.
But the truth is here. It’s the earthquakes. The tsunamis. The hurricanes. The crickets. The music. The breath. The stars.
And it’s that god damned experience happening.
I suggested to the guy that maybe he could just stop giving attention to thought as if it was trustworthy. Or, put another way, just stop believing it.
I didn’t mean that he should or could get rid of the fear and doubt. That’s very unlikely to happen.
I just meant don’t believe the thoughts. Just see what is happening without giving so much attention to the commentary.
And, bless his heart, he clung to staplers. He replied, “But if I don’t believe my thoughts, I’ll do bad stuff.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the gist.)
Just let go for a moment. Maybe you could try it out for just a few minutes each day. See what happens.
Chances are, not much that doesn’t already happen.