Author Archives: joeylott
Author Archives: joeylott
Can you name just one thing that you have completely mastered?
And every master of anything – guitar, woodworking, mathematics, etc. – I’ve ever met or heard speak about their craft has said that the more they learn, the more they realize how much they don’t know.
Those who have “mastered” a craft are merely practiced enough to recognize how insignificant their “mastery” is.
So why did I believe that I could master life?
If I’ve gained any wisdom, it is only to the degree that I have discovered what I don’t know.
In other words, in my experience wisdom is the name given to the natural, open state of not-knowing and not clinging to any answers or any insistence that one needs to or could know.
Yet this conditioned impulse to know, to understand, to name, to define, to solve often continues.
And it can take the form of “Now I know that I don’t know”.
It’s a kind of clinging to the promise of security. As if knowing that I don’t know offers me protection from life.
But here’s a radical notion: we don’t need protection from life. Not even from the most frightening aspects of life.
Because we are life.
This is life.
Not that recognizing this offers protection, mind you. Because it doesn’t.
But there is an opportunity to let go and enjoy the terrifying ride in all it’s mysterious glory.
Don’t think that is protection either.
No protection. And no protection needed. We’re being destroyed before we even existed.
I started to notice something really amazing a few years back.
Since then, I’ve continued to pay attention. I guess you could say that I’ve been conducting a long-term experiment.
It’s been so useful that I’d like to share it with you so that you too can experiment.
The convention when sharing such a thing is to first explain the benefit to you should you choose to do the experiment.
And this gets a little tricky because honestly, the benefit is not something most people would perceive as very beneficial because it involves a lot of discomfort.
Mostly, we are convinced that we don’t want discomfort. And we will go to great (and very uncomfortable) lengths in an attempt to avoid discomfort.
So let me say this again: this experiment involves a lot of discomfort.
But here’s the thing: all that discomfort was the driver of every behavior up until taking up this experiment. Every time there was discomfort, I predictably took evasive action.
I said a wanted freedom, but I didn’t see the irony of the fact that I was actually attempting to further enslave myself by avoiding a large swath of experience.
Do you see what I mean? Isn’t it odd that I said I wanted freedom, but I was trying to blot out maybe 90 percent of what is? Maybe 100 percent, to tell the truth.
Okay. So now on to the experiment.
I am not sure I can fully convey the experiment in a single post. So I’ll not endeavor to do so. But this will be a start.
What I started to see was two very significant points, though I never formulated it as such until just now.
First, there was the insight that my suffering involved avoidance/rejection/resistance.
In other words, suffering wasn’t something that was done to me. Suffering was something I was doing.
This is a very important point.
I started to notice that I was conditioned to resist my experience whenever certain feeling states occurred.
I mistakenly believed that the feeling states were a problem. And for years I had been at war with the feeling states, thinking that would solve the problem.
But once I saw that the feeling states weren’t the problem – that it was my conditioned response/behavior that produced the suffering – I couldn’t go back to fighting with my experience in the same way. I had seen too much.
The second point is this: that conditioned behavior that produced suffering was unconscious. However, once it became conscious, it unraveled.
When I say that it unraveled, I don’t mean that the behavior instantly stopped. Much of the behavior has not stopped even now.
But something changed, and the momentum of the vicious cycle of suffering had been undone.
The experiment goes something like this: whenever I notice that I am suffering, I simply look and pay attention to what is actually happening.
This is not something I do in thought. This is direct.
I simply pay attention to what is actually happening.
Sensations in the body. Conditioned contraction. Rejection. Resistance.
I just pay attention.
And in this seeing, something is released. In that, it becomes clear that there never was a problem. There never was suffering. There never was anything happening.
This is why I can say in the same breath that I no longer suffer and simultaneously whenever I suffer I inquire.
Let me give you a specific and mundane example from this evening.
I was making dinner. I was hungry.
My daughter began telling me what she wanted me to do for her. “Get me water”, “I want an egg now”, “Give me bacon”.
Each time she made a request I was irritated.
She wasn’t asking in the “right” way. She wasn’t playing the game according to my rules. She wasn’t attempting to be pleasing to me.
My conditioned response was resistance.
But what was actually happening?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
Nothing graspable, at least.
My best attempts to grasp and give words to it can only extend so far as to say sounds and sensations were happening.
But even that is too much. That is stretching the truth.
Because the truth is that I cannot grasp or objectify what was or is happening.
To be willing to really inquire in this way without an agenda, without looking for the answer that will satisfy me or give me the results I think I want, is supremely uncomfortable.
And it is supremely delightful.
I received a really wonderful email today. The person wrote that “seeking seems to be [an] addiction”, then proposed a solution to this problem by abstaining from reading for four weeks.
I love this email and thank this person for giving voice so clearly to the core of the dilemma.
I recognize this so well. Here’s an example of how I used to play this game.
I was living in the Los Angeles, California area at the time. One day I decided that I was done with suffering/seeking.
So I concocted a solution: “I’ll drive to Malibu Canyon and hike up to the top of a big hill and sit there until I wake up.”
I drove to Malibu Canyon, hiked up the hill, and sat down.
Then I waited.
“Am I still suffering?,” I wondered.
“Must be,” I thought. “I don’t feel any great, cosmic, psychedelic release yet.”
I continued to sit there.
Pretty soon I started to get cold. And hungry. And uncomfortable.
I hiked back down the hill, got in my car, and drove home. I felt disappointed in myself because I felt that I hadn’t performed the right ritual in the right way. I had failed to have enough endurance to see it through. I had done something wrong.
This played out in small and big ways daily.
Sometimes I’d go on a “spiritual retreat”, expecting that it would give me that great big cosmic, psychedelic release, the enlightenment I thought I wanted.
Mid-way through the retreat I’d start to get nervous. Why hadn’t anything happened yet?
On the last day I was really anxious. Why hadn’t it happened?
As I would drive home from the retreat I’d be really discouraged. Would I never get the enlightenment I wanted?
Thankfully, I never got the enlightenment I wanted.
Instead, I got to discover the obvious gift that I had been overlooking that is in plain view in every moment.
Right now. This right now. Here it is.
The unsettled, insecure, open-ended, unresolved, unclear, confused, uncomfortable feeling that is this right now.
The inability to possess this or know this.
This is the gift.
Why wait? Why put off recognizing this?
Don’t wait for cosmic, psychedelic release or anything else.
Because if freedom is dependent upon cosmic, psychedelic release, that’s not freedom.
Freedom is the freedom that includes it all. Nothing is excluded.
And that’s good news. Because you cannot screw this up.
You don’t have that power.
And this is always the case. Now just as much as four weeks from now. Just as much as after the retreat or ten retreats or a gazillion experiences of grooviness.
The gift is always here.
It is the gift of being vulnerable to this. No guard. No belief that “I know”.
Just not knowing. Just you as you are.
The title of this post happens to be the title of a song off Wilco’s album A Ghost Is Born.
It’s a good song on a good album.
And it’s true.
There’s so much less to this than you think.
Than I think. Than anyone could think.
We’re taught to look for more.
We’re supposed to expand. We’re suppose to become. We’re supposed to grow.
That’s what we’ve been taught to value. That’s what the culture says to do. That’s what spirituality says to do.
But there’s so much less to this than you think. So much less than you’ve been taught.
Stop trying to become. Stop trying to expand. Stop trying to know or understand or comprehend.
Just for a moment.
Just for a moment.
Don’t do it because you’re going to get something from it. Don’t do it because I promised you something.
Just do it to discover for yourself. Do it as an experiment. Do it with me.
Right now I’m going to let go of becoming for a moment. I’m going to let go of understanding. I’m going to let go of protecting myself, being something, knowing what I am, getting out of this, transcending, and all the rest.
Just for a moment, I wonder, can I simply be?
Not because this is something to get and know and own and use as a new shield.
Just to let go of the burden for a moment. To discover what it is to simply be.
Because I have what seems like lifetimes of experience trying to become. But now it is the chance to be without needing to become something.
Not because being is better than becoming. Not because becoming is the new enemy I need to protect myself from.
That’s more trying to figure it out and become something and protect myself.
What is it to simply be for just a moment?
Can we just be together now for this moment?
Whatever is here, can we make no effort to do anything about it?
Whatever feelings or fears or thoughts or stories, can we just be without trying to grasp at any of it or wrestle with it?
Just for this moment now.
There’s so much less to this than you think.
Instant enlightenment sounds cheap in the worst sense of the word. Like something you could get in a drive-thru at a fast food restaurant.
Or like bad coffee. Or mashed potatoes in a box.
“For a limited time only, instant enlightenment is only $1.99. No fuss, no muss. Just add water.”
But I am proposing that instant enlightenment is available, and it is not what you would imagine.
Whereas instant enlightenment conjures an image of some cheap consumable, what I am talking about is that which consumes you.
It consumes you, leaving no trace. And it does so in an instant.
But the catch is this: it is only instantaneous. Try to grasp it or possess it, and it disappears.
When I was most desperate for enlightenment, my sense of urgency was so great that I didn’t take the time to patiently contemplate what the problem really was and what the supposed solution (enlightenment) would be.
All I knew was that I was experiencing what seemed like unbearable, chronic psychological torture. And I wanted relief.
I first started experiencing strange obsessions and compulsions – such as feeling that I must do things to the count of thirteen or that I must turn clockwise only – when I was still a child.
And over the years it had grown into an unthinkable nightmare. Everything I did in an attempt to cure the problem only worsened the problem.
I meditated for hours each day. I prayed and chanted for another few hours every day. I read spiritual books. I attended satsangs and retreats.
Yet things grew worse, not better.
It wasn’t until I had given up everything and lived out of a cargo van, roaming the country on a bizarre search for perfection that I really warmed up to the idea that I might have defined enlightenment incorrectly.
And it wasn’t until I was practically paralyzed and starving from Lyme disease that I was actually willing to begin to explore directly what the actuality of enlightenment might be.
I had, as many of us innocently do, defined my goal – enlightenment – as the extermination of the unwanted states.
I innocently believed that it was possible and desirable to get rid of fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, depression, unworthiness, and all the rest of what I didn’t want.
And that was how I defined enlightenment. That was my goal.
Everything in my life was based upon achieving that goal.
I was failing to achieve that goal, and I believed that was a problem. The more I failed, the harder I tried. But eventually there was no more to try. I was too exhausted.
So I had to look right in the face of what I’d been trying to avoid. And not only look it in the face, but welcome it with open arms as I might welcome my own children.
Welcome it so thoroughly that eventually I realized that it wasn’t the face of fear, anger, sadness, and all the rest of it that I was looking at. It was myself. I was looking at my own face.
This is my own face.
And this is what I would call true enlightenment. In many respects it is the opposite of what many of us have imagined enlightenment would be.
This is the complete allowing of whatever feelings and emotions that may happen.[Interested in exploring this more? Get the free book by clicking the button below.]
I have claimed that enlightenment – the enlightenment of complete allowing – is instant.
“Okay, prove it,” some might say.
Okay. So now that I’ve talked about what enlightenment is (or is not), let’s talk about how to do it (or not do it, as it were).
Fundamentally, enlightenment – at least what I am talking about – is an undoing. It is the release of all unnecessary effort to resist what is happening. Or, more accurately, it is the discovery that the effort is unnecessary, the problem is not real.
So it begins (and ends) with seeing how you make this unnecessary effort.
Once you see the unnecessary effort, in a sense, that is enough. Because simply knowing that it is unnecessary Is all that is needed. Then you know that it is not being done to you. It is no longer suffering.
But in the beginning, most people will dismiss this seeing. It is so easy to dismiss because it does not produce the euphoric absence of unwanted feelings that we are typically conditioned to expect and seek after.
In essence, we respond with a kind of, “Just this?” And then we’re off and looking for a euphoria, an absence of unwanted states.
Even if this single glimpse is, in fact, instant enlightenment, we once again resist whatever is.
Remember, in the beginning of this post I warned that instant enlightenment is instant and if you grasp at it or make any effort, it seems to disappear.
If you want instant enlightenment to persist, the secret is to remain as this instant. Not *that* instant. Not the one that is a memory. But this instant. This right now.
And the best way I know to do that is to simply attend to what is happening directly.
Most of us are accustomed to thought fixation. We habitually look to thought to give us a story about what is happening.
But if you attend directly to what is happening, without a commentary, without a story, you will begin to see the impulses to resist or escape what is happening.
And remember, just that seeing is enough.
Sometimes people who aren’t yet willing to actually try this experiment for themselves will instantly turn to thought and fixate on objections. One of the most common objections (but certainly not the only one) is that what I am proposing sounds difficult and dull.
All I can say is that is not my experience at all. To resist what is happening is difficult and dull. To simply attend to what is relieves that difficulty and dullness.
What I find is effortless aliveness.
But don’t take my word for it.
Try it out for yourself.
If you’re interested in a further exploration of this theme, please get a free copy of my digital book, Lose All the Way. It’s an instant download. Click the button below to get your copy now.
I received an email today from a reader with a few excellent questions in it.
One thing he asked is “how did you know that you realize who you are?”
Another related question he asked is “what makes you so sure about ‘that’ to start to talk about it?”
Here’s what I wrote in reply.
Most of the time when we speak of realizing or knowing something, we mean distinguishing between objects. And when I was concerned with realizing who I am, that was the sense in which I wanted to realize something: I wanted to know something distinguishable from something else.
And to be honest, that was a big part of the problem for so long. I was very concerned in every aspect of life in distinguishing between self and other, this and that, here and there. I wanted to know to protect.
Now I find that this kind of “realization” or knowing is uninteresting. It requires straining to conjure up false senses of separation that aren’t believable.
What makes me so certain is, paradoxically, my complete lack of certainty. It is because I cannot find any reference point for any supposed object that I write and share as I do.
I’m not really a scholar or a philosopher. I don’t know much in that sense. I am more like the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. I just point out what should probably be obvious but isn’t because of conditioning.
I got an email from a reader today asking, “What do you mean by ‘this is it’?”
Here’s my reply.
A reader sent me a link to an interesting blog post on a site dedicated to “biofeedback for a better body”.
Here’s the link to the post in case you want to read it: http://areyouthemovement.com/theres-no-hacking-progress/
What I like about it is that in many ways it shares a similar message to what I do, but in a different context.
What I am often saying – or intending – is this: whatever is happening, whatever your experience is, that is all that is. That is the totality of what is right now. And that contains an incredible gift. That is life itself happening.
And the question is really this: are you paying attention? Or are you rejecting what is happening in favor of focusing on a future fantasy in which you get to be some other imaginary person?
None of which means you cannot or should not do stuff. It just means you have a choice: either do stuff compulsively always trying to get away from what is happening OR do stuff with awareness (which is still going to be compulsive, but it’s so much more relaxed and entertaining and joyful).
I am definitely NOT saying, as many people mistakenly seem to believe, that it is wrong or bad to take actions to “improve” your life. We cannot help but do that. Our entire lives are driven by the compulsion to avoid discomfort. And that is entirely okay.
But can we have awareness of that? Can we actually be aware of what is happening instead of being duped by a fantasy of getting to be somebody else? That’s all.
It seems like a little thing. And in a sense it is. It is not dramatic.
But it is this little thing that changes everything. Just stop trying to be something else. Just stop trying to get rid of what is happening. Start being aware of what is actually happening. Stop assuming.
Don’t like your experience? Okay. That’s allowed. But pay attention to what it is. I mean really. What is it? What is actually happening? What is the experience of not liking something? How do you know? What is the source of that? Is it immutably so? Or is it just due to conditioning?
Just take a look. Find out.
And yes, the picture accompanying this post is a kitten. Because…kittens.
My friend John Veen, author of A Tether Tied to Space, recently self-published a bunch of excellent books. I recommend them.
I find most books in the “spirituality” or “non-duality” or “Buddhist” genre to be completely uninteresting. But John’s writing is enjoyable. He is having fun, and reading what he writes is fun.
John published all his books as paperbacks. Which makes sense. Because physical books are nicer than digital books.
But I told John that 90% of readers won’t buy a paperback these days. They only buy Kindle.
He was hesitant to do so, but he just published two of his books in a Kindle compilation: Is Never Was: Secular Buddhist Confessions.
Here are some examples of John’s clarity as well as how fun it is to read his books:
Bondage seen is freedom declared. With a shout:
tied to a brain cramp.
YOUR NEED TO SHARE THIS IS NEEDY
but your ‘benefactees’ need non-needy.
I hope you check it out and enjoy it as much as I have.
And write a review for any of his books you read. He won’t do any marketing on his own behalf. So this is my little bit just to get the word out. And if you enjoy his writing, writing a review helps others to find his books. I really think John’s writing is clearer and better than just about everything else out there. And I’d like more people to find it.[Correction: I had originally mistyped the title of his book as It Never Was. The correct title is Is Never Was, which is, of course, much better. I have made the corrections here to this post.]
Today somebody sent me an email asking me what of my books or courses or whatever I recommend to somebody who doubts his or her freedom or feels that something isn’t quite right in life.
This is what I wrote.
The short version is this: we unconsciously organize our lives around trying to avoid aspects of ourselves. We are conditioned to imagine ourselves as divided – without even realizing we are doing it. We honestly believe that fear, anger, sadness, and the compulsive avoidance symptoms (anxiety, depression, general angst) are to be gotten rid of and avoided. And we unconsciously and compulsively try to do so.
But that is not only NOT the solution. That is the problem.
We do not need to get rid of those things. And trying to do so is the ONLY problem there is aside from starvation, bombs falling on us, and other similar threats.
But we have it inverted. We think the things we are trying to avoid are the problem.
So the solution is to stop trying to avoid. Any time you feel the compulsion to escape, to avoid, to change, to resist, just stop and see if there is a true threat. And if there are no bombs dropping, no starvation, no one with a gun to your head, just do nothing. Don’t make a move. And be observant as to what is going on. Become aware of the mechanics of compulsive attempts to escape yourself.