Do you want to stop suffering? Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Which do you want first?
Okay. The bad new is that I cannot stop your suffering. That’s not within my power to do.
The good news is that I can tell you how to stop suffering. I can give you precise directions. And as much as anyone can guarantee anything, I can guarantee that if you follow these precise directions then you will no longer suffer.
In fact, not only will you cease to suffer if you follow these directions. You will discover that you are the true source of joy. But this is not as you imagine it will be. In fact, it is exactly like right now. So the trouble isn’t with circumstances. The only trouble is with what you give attention to. And up to now you’ve given your attention to a very limited part of life rather than remaining with the source of all that is.
Are you confused yet? Good. Because disorientation may well be an essential ingredient to the end of suffering. Why? Because the path you’ve been walking has been leading you in the wrong direction. But you’re so addicted to that path that as long as you can still find the path, you keep walking it. So I’m mixing you up so that you can start to go in the right direction.
So what is your suffering? We all have different names for our suffering. I was OCD and anxious. I was paranoid. I was MCS. I was anorexic.
What names do you give to your suffering?
I’m going to let you in on a big secret that will completely change your life when you really hear this. Are you ready? Seriously. This is very, very important if you want to stop suffering.
Here’s the secret: the seeking for an answer is the suffering.
Here’s another secret that hardly anyone is telling you: it’s all seeking.
Whether you think you are trying to solve a problem like anxiety or pornography addiction or OCD or abusive anger…or if you think that your problem is that you long for God or Nirvana or Brahman or Cosmic Consciousness or whatever your particular flavor happens to be, then it’s all still seeking. Can you see that? In all forms of suffering the seeking is what is common. The objects of the seeking may be different, but the seeking itself is always the same.
Now, you may say that you’re suffering is different. You may believe that your suffering is because of what happened to you as a child. Or it’s because of malnutrition. Maybe you believe your suffering is because of your economic or social circumstances. Well, then keep on seeking. Because I don’t have the answers you’re looking for. In fact, I don’t have any answers. I’ve just got the end of the searching for answers to non-existent problems. And yeah, I know that I’ve just lost 99% of you. That’s alright. Most people aren’t ready to stop seeking for answers.
I remember what it was like to keep on seeking. I know the pain of that. I remember sitting in my apartment in Vermont praying for hours and hours on end that there might be an end to the suffering – an end to the seeking. I would go to sleep every night and pray that something magical would happen in the night as I slept that would change everything so that upon waking in the morning I would no longer suffer. I would no longer seek for the answers.
I had searched and searched and searched. I read Osho and Papaji and Eckhart Tolle. I attended satsang after satsang. I meditated for hours a day. I had to have the answer. I had to discover the truth. I was desperate. I was on fire with the desire for true and abiding peace.
And still, every morning I would wake up, and I would find that I was still me – still the seeking me, the obsessive me, the compulsive me, the anxious me, the fearful me, the separate me. And so it would all start all over again.
Things got worse and worse over the years. I was a mess. I was terrified that if I didn’t wash my hands and rub them together exactly nine times that God (even though I didn’t believe that I believed in a personal God…since that wasn’t very hip in satsang circles) would punish me by withholding spiritual enlightenment for even longer!
This continued for years. I was writhing in pain, unable to sleep at night, sick with Lyme disease in a drafty cabin in the woods of Maine. I was so mentally-constipated that I started flying into a rage at the drop of a hat. I was paranoid. I cannot even begin to do justice to the psychological anguish I experienced. And still I sought after what I imagined to be the truth. I would read Nirmala and Joan Tollifson. I would watch Tony Parsons videos on YouTube. I even bought a phone card to make overseas phone calls to Richard Sylvester in the U.K.
So I know a thing or two about suffering. I know that it sucks. And if I could, I would tap you on the forehead and wake you up. I would end your suffering. But I don’t know how to do that. If it worked that way, then surely we’d all be awake to the truth by now.
But although I cannot tap you on the forehead and wake you up, I can point you in the right direction. And, I can give you guidance. I have traversed the path, and so I can take your hand and show you the way. But whether or not you will hear me or believe me or understand me is not something I get to control. Whether you will actually take my hand and walk this path with me, I cannot know.
All I can do is make the offering.
I hope you receive it. I hope you do because I want to see you know yourself as you are. I want you to know yourself as true peace and freedom. I want this for you because I know how wonderful it is. And I know that it is truly available for each of us when we know where to look. It’s not difficult. It’s not a long process. It’s actually way simpler and easier than you have ever imagined. It’s actually instantaneous. And it can only happen right now.
I can show you how. I just cannot guarantee that you’ll do it or that you’ll understand it.
I understand why you are confused. And please admit that you are confused. Because this is an important first step. If you think you know then you are already full. And true freedom is emptiness. So just for this moment be willing to admit that you are confused.
The reason you’re confused is because you are still looking for the answer “out there.” You think that when you get more information then you’ll understand. But the more you seek, the more confused you get.
Consider for a moment: what is clarity? Isn’t it when things are…clear? Clarity is not a thing. It is the natural state that is evident when you no longer are cluttering your vision.
But don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t about stopping anything. I’m not inviting you to take on a new compulsion of trying to stop everything or get rid of everything. Because that won’t work. That just leads to more clutter. Because now instead of looking for the answer in all the clutter, you clutter your vision with all the attempts to clear your vision.
It’s so much simpler than that. It’s much closer than that.
When I was confused, part of my confusion was trying to figure out what to do about the confusion. I tried lots of things, including LSD and meditation and prayer and satsang. I did rebirthing and listened to Alan Watts. I practiced yoga. I did pranayama. I did qi gong. All that I did was an attempt to figure something out. I thought that I could solve the problem through seeking out the answers.
This seeking is the confusion. When you are confused you overlook the real answer. And the real answer is to stop the seeking. When you cease to look for an answer then you realize that the whole premise was false. There never was a problem. Or, rather, the whole problem was the seeking for an answer to a non-existent problem. It’s like a dog chasing his tail. Even if you get the answer, you’ll just end up biting yourself in the ass! It’s not the true answer because there is no true problem.
You find that hard to believe because you have a true problem. I know. I was there. I had real problems. Really. I was on the edge of death. Literally. I was really sick. Not just mental constipation, but physiological sickness. I was so sick I couldn’t stand for days at a time. And still I kept on seeking for answers.
But believe it or not, there are no true problems. There is only what is happening. And what is happening is the totality of what is. This is not a problem. It just seems like it because you’re seeking for an answer. Consider that for a moment: when you seek for an answer you are presupposing that there is a problem.
Now, am I suggesting that you shouldn’t get out of the way of a semi-truck about to mow you down? No. Of course not. Knowing that there are no problems doesn’t suddenly make you suicidal or brain-dead. Actually, in my experience, it’s quite the opposite. Suicidal impulses (I’m speaking from my own experience) are a product of seeking.
But hold on a second. Because I know that the danger here is that you’ll try to take on a new belief that there are no problems. That won’t work. That’s just more seeking. Now you’re trying on for size the new answer: “there are no problems.” But you’re still presupposing that there is a problem!
Are you ready for the secret for how to stop seeking? I’m going to tell you, and then I know what will happen; 99% of you will dismiss this. You’ll think that it is too simple. Or you’ll try it and decide that it doesn’t work because it doesn’t solve all your problems. But I promise you that this is it. If you want to stop seeking and stop suffering then this is the only way to do it of which I am aware. It is so simple that anyone can do it. It is so direct that it produces immediate results. And it will work every time. But it’s not glamorous. It’s not going to produce a spiritual fireworks display most of the time. It’s not going to get you out of debt overnight. It’s not going to make you drop 50 pounds in a week. It’s not going to give you what you think you want. But it will definitely give you what you truly want – true freedom. At least I believe that. Maybe I’m wrong. But the only way to know is to do it. So are you ready?
The secret is to turn your attention from what you think about what is happening and give your attention to what is happening. This is very, very simple. In fact, it’s so simple that it’s effortless. The effort is all in giving your attention to the thinking and the story about what it all means.
Now, I know that I heard this message many times for years before I finally “got it.” So I do understand that if I left you with just that then 99% of the 1% who actually are still reading at this point would fail at this. But don’t worry. I’m going to give you very clear instruction.
Again, much of the problem is that you’re confused. I know because I was confused too for a long time. I heard the message to be with what is directly instead of giving attention to the story, but somehow I never actually understood it. And until you have the experience of being with what is, without jumping to the abstract thought about what it is, then you’ll remain confused. The reason is that once you experience what I’m pointing to, then you will no longer have so many doubts. Because this experience is so direct and immediate and clear that you will know what I am talking about from here on out.
The confusion arises from the fact that you have lived for so long in a very narrow way. You’ve imagined that reality is only knowable through your thoughts. You even think about your emotions and the sensations in your body. Instead of simply being the direct experience of what is happening, you give it a name. You call it sadness or anger. You call it pain or pleasure. But in doing so, you miss out on what is more immediate than that.
What is more immediate than thought is the direct experience. So let me guide you through an exercise that will give you the direct experience.
I call this exercise the Big Chill. You can do this any time, but it tends to be most profound when you are experiencing a “problem.”
The first step is to notice that your attention is on thought. You can notice that your attention goes to the analysis of what this is, what it means, and what you need to do about it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you’ll get a better sense of this the more you stay with this.
The second step is to notice that in your body there is a physical sensation. If you’re experiencing a “problem” then the chances are that this physical sensation is something that you habitually avoid. You probably avoid the sensation by jumping right to the thoughts about it rather than experiencing it directly. So what you are going to do now is meet this sensation directly without going to thought for help in trying to solve the “problem.”
Attention is a funny thing. It likes to have something to focus on. I’m going to show you how to direct your attention to focus on awareness, which is another way of describing the totality of life. The way to do this is not how you would imagine, however. The reason is that awareness is not an object. So if you look for it, you will not find it. In order to have attention focus on awareness, you have to trick yourself to stop looking for an object. I’ll show you how to do this.
The next step is to begin to scan your body using your attention. Move your attention to the top of your head, and begin to scan down your body, part by part, until you get to the bottoms of your feet. At each part, simply notice what is happening. Don’t try to change it. Just notice. Be curious. Notice how you’ve never really done this before. Notice that you’ve usually jumped right to thinking about what is happening instead of actually noticing what is happening.
Continue to scan the body from head to toe over and over again. Each time, simply notice what is happening. Simply notice what changes. You’ll notice that what is happening is always different. Thought tells us otherwise. But thought isn’t very sensitive. Thought is rather blunt. We apply names to experience, and we miss out on what is actually happening. Because the truth is that every moment is new and different. What you have called pain or sorrow or frustration or anger or joy or freedom or anything else isn’t the same in the next instant. So stay with what is actually happening rather than giving it a name. Just experience it. Just notice how it changes. Be curious.
What you’ll likely notice is that as you do this, your attention will start to naturally become attracted to something that is even nearer than the sensation, even nearer than the experience. You cannot force this. But you can allow it. Stay with the process because this process starts to turn your attention in the opposite direction from that which it is accustomed to going. And when your attention gets turned in this way, then you can notice this thing that is not a thing. This is awareness. This is you as you truly are. You are formless. You cannot see yourself. But you can recognize yourself. And when you turn in this way, attention naturally becomes attracted to its source.
As I said, it’s not glamorous. I don’t promise you that you’ll find yourself bowing before the Guru’s feet. Nor do I suggest that your mind will unfold like a thousand-petalled lotus. You’re not particularly likely to meet Krishna or Jesus through this practice. But you can discover yourself.
This is unlikely to ever be popular. Because, let’s face it, most people are addicted to seeking. They’re not ready to stop. They’d rather pay $1000 for a mantra and the promises of special powers than take a moment to recognize what is always here already. That was me too. I didn’t believe it could be so simple. But it is. Really. Suffering is complicated. Freedom is simple.
Freedom is the simplest thing ever.
Freedom isn’t glamorous. As I write this I’m wearing the same pants I’ve worn for a few weeks. I’m typing next to my daughter who is taking a nap. I’m next to her because we live in a one-room casita. There are flies buzzing around. My partner and our son are out for the day. My partner is the one who normally picks up around the house, so right now the counter is stacked with dirty dishes and empty food containers.
It’s not glamorous. It’s free. It’s true freedom. It’s the freedom to finally be who you are. This is a real relief.
Freedom doesn’t give you anything. It takes away. It takes away all that is false. It takes away suffering.
So go ahead. Go read the next book. Get the next practice. Seek some more.
But when you’re done seeking, then you discover this.
So now you may have some questions. Post your questions in the comments section below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org (I’m very approachable.) When I receive questions, I’ll add them here along with my responses.
Q: I’m not experiencing anything like what you talk about when you describe the Big Chill. Am I doing something wrong?
Probably. You need a certified Big Chill trainer to check your practice.
Seriously, though, whatever you are experiencing is exactly what you are experiencing. Just stay with that. Just notice what you are experiencing. Notice how thoughts arise. Notice that “I’m not experiencing anything like what you talk about” is another thought. You have a choice to either jump to the thought or to stay with the direct experience.
At first this practice can be odd because you may be accustomed to always jumping to thoughts. As such, when you stay with the direct experience you may initially think that what you are experiencing is “nothing.” But that’s just from the perspective of thought. Thought cannot know what is. Thought is just thought. It’s not good nor bad. It’s just limited because it is only thought and life is so much more. So from the perspective of thought what is happening may seem “blank” or “boring” or “difficult” or any number of other things. But just notice that those are all just names – which is to say, more thoughts.
In my experience, doing the body scans without trying to change anything (with a curious attitude) is the most direct way to trick your attention into turning toward its source. So my encouragement is that you stay with the process. As long as you are genuinely giving attention to noticing what is happening in the body (without trying to change it) then this ought to turn your attention toward its source. The obstacle may be that you are still giving attention to thoughts about what is happening instead of what is happening.
Q: How can I know the difference between what is happening and thoughts about what is happening?
Thoughts are part of what is happening. So are sensations. So are memories. So are sounds. It’s all what’s happening. So it’s not that you should ignore thoughts. The danger here is that sometimes misunderstand the instruction and then believe that they should try to ignore or deny or stop thoughts. They try to make thoughts bad. There’s nothing wrong with thoughts. Don’t do anything with thought. Let thoughts happen as they do. Just notice that they are happening.
Typically I find that the instruction to give attention to the sensations in the body without trying to change anything is the most effective. I suspect this is because sensations are closer to the source than are thoughts. (Of course this is utter nonsense since there is no such thing as distance from the perspective of totality. But somehow this instruction seems to be effective.) In any case, just become curious to see and experience all that is happening as it is rather than as you think it to be. Start to be curious about what a sensation feels like rather than what you think about it. Don’t even give names to how the sensation feels. Just feel it. And regarding thought, start to be curious about what the actual experience of the arising of a thought is rather than the thought about a thought.
If you’re giving labels to experiences then that’s a pretty clear indicator that you’re giving attention to thought instead of staying with the direct experience. This isn’t wrong. It’s not bad. You haven’t failed. That’s all just more thought. Instead, just stay with the process. Do the body scan and be curious.
Q: I notice that my body seems to relax as I do this process. Is that normal?
It’s pretty normal. It’s not the goal. But it is a by-product. And a rather pleasant one at that.
When I first discovered this practice I was in a very, very desperate point in my life. Mood swings is too mild of a term. I was suicidal and angry.
I started to notice that physical tension accompanied the emotional distress. During that time I played around with attempting to directly physically relax. It was very effective. But it was also extremely difficult to maintain because I was directly confronting the habit of responding to life with resistance and tension.
So it was years later that I finally discovered this better, gentler, and more effective approach. Rather than trying to relax, all you need to do is notice what is happening. There is a natural intelligence within the body, and typically when you give attention to what is actually happening (rather than what you think is happening) this give the intelligence a chance to produce a relaxed state.
Although being relaxed is enjoyable and the most appropriate response in most circumstances, the goal is not to be relaxed. Because if that was the goal then it would make freedom dependent on relaxation. And that is not the case. Freedom is primary. Freedom is not dependent on any circumstances. You are free whether you are fixated on thought or not. you are free whether you are tense or relaxed.
So physical relaxation is often a rather pleasant by-product of turning your attention to its source. It’s not a requirement. And I wouldn’t recommend giving much attention to it. Just enjoy it as what is right now!
Q: It sounds as though you searched for spiritual enlightenment rather intensely. Do you think that is necessary to discover the true freedom that you describe?
No. I don’t.
First of all, let’s be clear. I think the whole idea of spiritual enlightenment is crap. It’s just another thing to seek after. It’s just another carrot on a stick. It’s not reality.
Reality is the ever-present, unconditional freedom that knows no opposite. You already are this freedom.
So why don’t you know this already? Because you’re still seeking. My advice is that you stay with what is instead of jumping to the thoughts about what it means. Notice that right now there is what is happening. And notice that your attention is going to a very specific and narrow part of that – the thoughts about what it is and what it means.
Stay with what is, which includes the thoughts, but isn’t defined by the thoughts.
Perhaps the other part of your question has to do with understanding what it is that causes someone to be ready to actually look for themselves and stay with direct experience. And that is a mystery. That is why I say that I can give you the instruction that will point you to true freedom, but I cannot guarantee that you will hear it or heed it.
But if you’re waiting for someone to do it for you, then you’ll be waiting forever. We’ve all heard the exciting tales of the people who seek out the guru in the Himalayas who awakens to endless bliss when the guru touches her on the forehead. That’s just another story to keep you seeking. It just keeps you in suffering. The answer is to stop seeking. And the most effective way I know of to do that is to turn your attention to direct experience, which draws attention back to its source.
Q: How can I know when my attention is resting in the source?
You’ll know because you won’t be looking for answers any longer. You won’t have any problems.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that shit won’t still happen. If you live in California then you’ll still be at relatively high risk of experiencing earthquakes. If you live in Florida then you’ll still experience hurricanes. There will still be misunderstandings. Cancer still happens. Nuclear disasters still happen. Shit still happens.
Q: So what do you mean when you say that I won’t have any problems?
What I mean is that you won’t be seeking for answers to insoluble things. This is suffering. Suffering can be of two basic sorts:
The first sort of suffering is suffering that is a complete fabrication. I used to wash my hands countless times every day. (Okay, I probably did count…but that was more of the same problem!) It wasn’t because my hands were dirty. It was because I was afraid not to. So what was the real problem? There was no real problem. It was a complete fabrication. The suffering was real. It’s just that there wasn’t actually a problem.
The second sort of suffering is when you are presented with a situation in which you cannot do anything to change the situation, but you desperately try to change it. As an example, I have breasts. I’m a man with breasts. This used to be a problem for me. Now it’s not. Or, rather, it never was a problem. Now I see that clearly. And it’s much more enjoyable to see clearly.