a few months ago

Instant Enlightenment

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.

First, Let’s (Un)define Enlightenment

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.

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How to Do Instant Enlightenment

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.

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7 months ago

Realizing Who You Are & Certainty

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.

People do often speak about “realizing who you are”. I don’t tend to do that very much because I have lost interest in knowing who I am in the conventional sense.

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.

7 months ago

What do you mean by “this is it”?

I got an email from a reader today asking, “What do you mean by ‘this is it’?”

Here’s my reply.

This right now, what is happening – including, but not limited to the commentary seemingly about it – is all that is happening. We are conditioned to fixate on the commentary – as if we could figure this out, as it it were a puzzle that needed to be figured out. But, in fact, it is all perfectly obvious and already complete. Nothing needs to be understood, puzzled out, done about it, fixed, sought, or anything else.

But we are so conditioned otherwise that we are effectively blind to the obvious. We seek and seek and seek and try and try and try. All for nothing. Because it not only can’t solve the imagined problem. It only reinforces the only problem there is: conditioned, imaginary division between self and self. (And no, that’s not really a problem either. But it is the only lie, I guess I should say.)
I’m reminded of the story that Alan Watts would tell of the cat being viewed through a slit in the fence. As the cat passes by we say, “Oh, it’s a head”, “Oh, it’s a body”, “Oh, it’s a tail”. This is what conceptualization does. It divides what cannot be divided…but only conceptually.
In reality, what is, is. It includes conceptualization as a facet of a unitive process.
8 months ago

Progress

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.

8 months ago

Is Never Was: Secular Buddhist Confessions

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:

BAH!


FURROWED BROW

tied to a brain cramp.


YOUR NEED TO SHARE THIS IS NEEDY

but your ‘benefactees’ need non-needy.

(Stalemate.)


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.]
8 months ago

Suffering in a Nutshell

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.

Oh. Well, I’m biased. I think my latest work is the best. 😉 So the radical self-acceptance program is my recommendation.

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.

That the short version.
Of course, none of this is so different from much of what I’ve written in books. So I’m not really proposing something all that different than what you would find in You’re Trying Too Hard or The Best Thing That Never Happened or many of my books. It’s just that I’m a bit more methodical and systematic about it in my latest project.
Also, what I wrote about the ONLY problem apart from bombs and starvation is a tad hyperbolic. So don’t take it too literally. I’m using bombs and starvation to represent a class of real problems. As opposed to the problems most of us think we have that aren’t actually life threatening or of the same magnitude as those kinds of problems.
Also, I am NOT trivializing the real, felt, horrific effects of our non-problem (but “sure as hell seems like a problem”) “problems”. Keep in mind that I used to be TERRIFIED of Walmart trucks and McDonald’s trash. The terror, the stress, the felt symptoms were absolutely real and horrific. I am NOT dismissing that. And yes, tragically, people kill themselves because of the very real horror of those symptoms.
But I maintain that they are not actual problems if we understand problems as being genuine threats to our safety. They are conditioned responses to stimuli.
Think of it like this. Lab technician sadists cage rats then shock the hell out of those rats repeatedly while pairing the shock with a tone.
Soon, hearing the tone scares the bajeezus out of those rats.
The symptoms the rats experience are absolutely real and horrific.
But the tone is not a real threat. The tone is not a real problem. It is just a freaking sound. That is it.
We are the rats. 99.9 percent of our problems are tones.
What is the answer?
1. become aware of how we unconsciously are conditioned to react to the harmless stimuli in our lives
2. stop reacting that way
3. repeat
There are more nuances, of course. That’s why I created a program that lasts 3 months. But that’s the essence of it.
8 months ago

What about ego?

Today I received a very thoughtful email from a reader asking me about the view I express in You’re Trying Too Hard (available for free now) regarding ego.

He pointed out that while there is no actual ‘psychic structure’ called ego, there is a phenomenon in most humans of the facade we use to interact with the world, and perhaps that could be called ego as well as anything else.

Here’s what I wrote in reply:

I agree more or less with what you have written.

I wrote that book nearly 4 years ago. It was a very truthful expression of my own experience. And I think it is a useful book because of the directness and clarity of it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t without shortcomings.

One of the things I’ve learned over these 4 years interacting with a lot of people on this matter is that most people (just as I was) are locked into a chronic state of what I call unconscious self-rejection. And I believe that is a neurological habit formed from early childhood conditioning.

We could call that ego if we want. But what I take issue with is that in popular talk on the subject, ego is made out to be the enemy. I don’t see it that way at all. In fact, to posit the existence of a separate self and an ego at odds with one another is to reinforce the fundamental problem.

The approach I have been taking and suggesting is to explore what unconscious self-rejection is, how it works, and what the consequences are. And then to ease into allowing everything, most importantly that which we are conditioned to reject (about ourselves).

And ironically, the popular talk of ego actually projects all that is unwanted or feared or rejected onto this imaginary separate thing called ego that must be defeated or gotten rid of. Which is the very problem, not the solution.

Incidentally, for anybody interested in learning more about the approach I am taking to discussing this, I have a free email course that introduces the idea. You can sign up for it here.

10 months ago

Happening Happening

I got an email today from somebody asking me how it is that identification can happen if there is no one to identify and how it is possible for there to be any change if nobody can make change happen.

This is a common theme among questions I receive.

Of all the things I’ve written about and spoken about, this business of there being no findable separate self seems to be the one thing that captures people’s attention the most.

Which, for my tastes, is unfortunate. Because I don’t think it’s all that important. Useful? Perhaps. To a certain extent. But not necessarily all that important.

I think a lot of people hope that seeing that who they’ve taken themselves to be is nothing more than an idea without an actual reference point will be…uh…enlightening.

And I suppose it could be. It all depends on how seriously you’ve take this idea. I suppose if you took it very, very seriously – really believed deeply that you are some reference point that the idea of the separate self refers to – then maybe it would be a major revelation to discover it was only an idea. Or maybe just a function of the nervous system.

But in any case, the separate self that we assumed was findable isn’t findable as we thought it would be.

In most cases this is no big deal at all. Just modestly useful in as much as whenever there is suffering that hinges on the assumption that the separate self could be found, the lack of findability would short circuit that suffering to some extent.

But still, don’t get too excited. Because it’s really not that big of a deal.

I’m reminded of those maps from hundreds of years ago that showed sea monsters at the periphery of the known. Whether or not anybody really believed one could just fall off the edge of the world, I don’t know. But the belief in the finability of a separate self is somewhat like believing you can fall off the edge of the world: discovering it’s not true doesn’t fundamentally change anything. But it might possibly remove some superstition and a touch of fear. Maybe. That’s not guaranteed either. But it might.

Anyway, the original point of this post was just to say this: we assume that there is an central actor making choices and doing stuff. And that assumption runs so deep, so to speak, that we wonder things like, “How could there be no chooser when choice is happening?” and “How could there be no one to identify or identify with when there is identification happening?”

And what I wanted to write about that is that all that we can say for sure without making assumptions is that happening is happening. This is happening happening. Identification is not proof of anyone doing the identification. Choice is not proof of a chooser. Life is not proof of someone doing life.

[image credit: Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina]

10 months ago

Who Has Concepts? Who Can Look?

I got an email a few days ago that reads:

You always mention that there is only „what is“ and that everything else is just conceptual.

So I was wondering „who“ is having these concepts? If there is no separate self then „who“ can take a closer look and see that there is no separate self?

If concepts just happen, like everything else does, then there is no one who could actually „do“ something.

In my conception I most of the time feel like a solipsist individual: Everything is happening around and for and through me.

And then there are times where I totally buy into the materialist idea, that we’re animals running around on their hind legs with brains that produce thought and the notion of a consciousness.

Could you share your thoughts on that?

Here’s my reply:

I don’t intend to say that “everything else is just conceptual”. In my view – what I actually perceive – there is only what is happening. That “everything else” that “is just conceptual” is what is happening. So it’s not excluded. There’s just what is happening.

And as far as I can tell, all that is happening is equal in weight, so to speak.

We do tend to be conditioned to give undue importance to the conceptual stuff, which is probably why so many people talk trash about concepts – because otherwise we keep on giving excessive focus to them.

But I’m not suggesting that we should swing to that extreme and condemn concept.

Still, the question remains: who can look? Who can either give undue importance to concept or condemn concept or see it as equally what is happening?

And I don’t think it matters. I don’t think it is worth getting hung up on trying to puzzle that out.

If you happen to firmly believe that there is some central character here around which all of (your) life happens, so be it. That is not a problem. Then you as the central character can look and investigate.

If you don’t happen to have such a firm belief and you can entertain the possibility that even the sense of self center is just more of what is happening – all equally happening without some having more importance than others – then fine. In that case, just let the looking happen. Let the investigation happen.

I do propose that if you truly investigate into the nature of what is happening, you’ll likely discover that no autonomous self center is needed for looking to happen.

But I don’t think it matters that you come to see it that way. It isn’t the conclusion that is useful so much as the looking with an open mind.

We’re so conditioned to look for conclusions. But in my view it is that insistence upon conclusions that is the problem we are wrestling with. What if life doesn’t really have conclusions? What if it is just a question? What if it is just open? Just happening?

10 months ago

Self Improvement, Subconscious Mind, Knowing Oneself

Three emails to respond to in this post

How to Know Oneself?

I got an email in which the person asked me what is the fastest way to know oneself as one truly is.

The answer – and hopefully this is not too surprising – is this: this right now is already yourself as you truly are. It is already known. Whatever is known right now is all that there is to be known (right now).

The idea that there is some “true self” to know and that you don’t presently know it just feeds into the same old nonsense that claims that there is something deficient about you. So it is appealing; if you just know your true self then you won’t be so deficient. Then you won’t have unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings.

But the unpleasant, uncomfortable feelings are your “true self” whenever they are happening. Or if there are pleasant, comfortable feelings, that is your “true self” when they are happening.

Don’t look for something else. Don’t insist there is something wrong with you or what is happening. Allow this right now completely, including the discomfort and the resistance and the thoughts and the feelings and all of it.

This right now is the only truth there is. Stop trying to get rid of it. And stop believing you know what this is or how it should be.

Subconscious Mind

I got an email asking me to write about the subconscious mind and re-programming it.

Sure. Why not. Here you go.

There is no subconscious mind as a thing. But as a concept it may have use as long as we don’t get hung up on believing it is a real thing that we need to be concerned with, do battle with, fix, improve, repair, etc.

We each are conditioned to believe – in a way that we might call below the conscious threshold, or subconsciously – that life is a certain way, that it plays by certain rules, and that we know who we are in relationship to life.

We could call that the subconscious mind. Again, don’t get hung up on that.

Fundamentally, those beliefs are based on the assumption of separation. Here I am. There life is. And I am endangered by scary life. Plus, to make matters worse, I am separate from myself. I have to control my scary, unacceptable, bad, impure self so that I can survive and become pure and acceptable.

How to re-program the subconscious mind? Stop assuming any of these thoughts are true. Stop acting on the assumptions in an attempt to protect yourself and armor yourself from both life and yourself.

Be vulnerable. Or, rather, acknowledge your innate vulnerability. And discover that none of your armoring and protecting from life and yourself ever actually kept you safe. It just kept you miserable.

Self Improvement

The third email asks:

Can I ask – how do you feel about improvements that people can make to their lives which help their mental & physical health and wellbeing?

For example a good diet, sleep, regular exercise, having a purpose, belonging to a community or tribe.

If people don’t have these things but are awake, how does that affect those things?

Are we perfectly whole as we are and have everything we need, and those things are bonus improvements to anyone’s life?

Like do you still need those things as well as being awake? Is it worthwhile seeking out or waiting for the opportunities.

Here’s my reply:

We’re already awake. This is awakeness. This is the experience of awakeness. Don’t make awakeness into some future state you can earn or acquire.

We have needs. To deny that is only to suffer. We need to sleep. We need to eat. We need companionship.

Try to live without water. You won’t survive very long.

Awakeness is already the case and does not get rid of the need for water.

I’m reminded of the claims of breatharianism. When I was duped by the whole raw vegan thing a couple of decades ago, I was particularly interested in the promises of breatharianism.

The story goes: there are pure people who can live on breath alone. And then there are even people who have transcended the need for breath – who live on light alone.

The progression is: raw veganism, fruitarianism, fruit juice only, water only, breathing only, light only.

When you are purified enough, you’ll experience only bliss living on light.

See, there’s something wrong with you. You, in your gross state, are dependent upon horrors like food. OMG! That’s why you’re not always blissed out. If you want to have constant really good orgasm feelings then don’t have sex and don’t eat and don’t think. Just concentrate on Divine Light ™.

What is wrong with food? What is wrong with sleep? What is wrong with thought? What is wrong with anger? What is wrong with…gasp!…jealousy, fear, worry, anxiety, or any of the other experiences that happen?

If you’re a drunk waking up in the gutter every morning and your liver is failing and the only thing you can actually remember is puking. If you want a better experience for yourself, why wouldn’t you take steps to improve your life? Go to rehab. Join a 12-step program. Do Buddhist meditation. Eat more vegetables. Do psychotherapy. Get a new career. Whatever.

There’s no conflict between self improvement and recognizing your inherent okayness. Your inherent okayness isn’t about your behaviors and lifestyle being ideal. It’s just about recognizing the conditioning that seeks to avoid yourself because you judge yourself as unacceptable. So it’s just about discovering that what you have judged as unacceptable about yourself is allowed. Even if it is uncomfortable and terrifying.

So you can acknowledge your innate okayness and at the same time do things to support a healthier, happier experience. Because if you don’t do the latter, you’ll die. Just like if you try to be a breatharian, you’ll die. Because you’ve got to do the basic stuff to take care of your needs – needs that “awakening” couldn’t possibly resolve.