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When I was a kid I was bullied.
A favorite of bullies was to swing their fists at my face, stopping just short of making contact.
“Made ya flinch!”
Ah! Flinching is shameful! Flinching is the problem! If I can stop flinching, I’ll be okay.
So I toughened up.
Ironically, I developed a chronic flinch as a way to protect against flinching. A chronic flinch – a clench.
This is what I am. This clench defines me. Without it, what am I? Who can say? Who can know?
Now I have to defend the clench. I have to maintain it. It is me!
The bullies may not have known it. But they were offering something. A coded message.
I’ve decoded it. Here it is in plain English.
Flinching happens. Life consists of reactions. Don’t pretend otherwise.
Those reactions include shame, discomfort, anger, fear, frustration, etc.
Flinching is allowed.
Now, about that clenching…
Notice how you do it.
I don’t mean to analyze it or think about it. I mean pay attention, observe, see how you do it. I mean how you physically do it.
Then let go.
Forget about the idea that letting go will be a permanent attainment. It won’t. So forget about it.
Just let go.
And you’ll re-clench. It’s practically certain. So don’t mind it.
Just notice that you survived.
First, some context for today’s post.
I recently received an email from somebody in which he wrote to me about an insight he had regarding why he suffers. Although such insights may be interesting, maybe even true, giving attention to them as though they offered salvation is a mistake.
The search for salvation is the only proof that salvation is needed. Give up searching for a moment.
Next, and coincidentally, I received an email from my friend John Veen in which he shared what I think is a very important observation. That observation is that inner awareness and outer awareness are simultaneous. And, in fact, I am convinced, the same.
As I write this, one of the pieces that John shared with me – “Metaphor stew” – is still up for reading on his site. If it is still there when you read this, I recommend it to you.
Thirdly, I received another email from somebody else I have occasional correspondence with, and the topic of it is so coincidentally aligned that I was inspired to write this post.
In that email he observes that despite having discovered the impermanence and emptiness of form six years ago – and despite having experienced a lightness coincidental with that discovery – there remains misery and the sense that the misery is a problem.
The sense is that the misery is a problem is based on an assumption. That assumption is a type of clinging to certainty, to identity.
And ironically, it is also why misery is miserable.
The misery of misery is the clinging, not the misery itself.
Once this is seen, just don’t bother with the “inward” mess any longer.
Of course, you will still bother. You cannot help it. But when you see what is happening, just leap.
What do I mean by “leap”?
I’ve probably related this here on my blog before, but it is worth recounting. When I was a child I used to go to the pool with my dad. The pool had a shallow end and a deep end. At the deep end was a diving board.
The diving board captivated me. I wanted to jump off it into the water.
I climbed the ladder to the board. I walked out to the edge. I peered over. And I froze.
The fear was overwhelming. Though I logically knew that jumping wasn’t likely to kill me – I had seen people jumping off it for months without anyone getting so much as a scratch – that logic didn’t help me.
I eventually climbed back down the ladder.
But I was still drawn to it. So I would climb and walk to the edge again and again. I wanted to jump, but I couldn’t get past the paralysis of the fear.
Eventually, I saw what was going on. I recognized that repeating the same practice over and over was not going to work. I wasn’t getting closer. I wasn’t making progress. I was just repeating the same thing over and over.
Then I leaped.
And, hey presto, I survived.
From then on, the fear remained. Jumping off a diving board into a pool is scary.
But I had the experience. I knew it. It wasn’t logic. It wasn’t theoretical. It wasn’t vicarious.
It was the real experience.
Now I can jump any time I wish.
This is exactly the same when it comes to spiritual pursuits.
There is some sense of bondage that drives us to seek for freedom.
We don’t know what that freedom is because we only know it theoretically as the theoretical remedy to the bondage that we perceive ourselves to suffer from.
Eventually, we find ourselves at the precipice consciously. Before that moment, we’ve been at the precipice, but unconsciously.
In that moment we recognize that we are on the precipice, and we see that freedom is already the case, but we need to leap to experience it consciously, to know it and embody it.
The only problem is that the fear of leaping is overwhelming. So we usually turn to thought. We analyze. We use logic. We convince ourselves that we are making progress, working on it, etc.
But what is needed is to leap, to have the experience.
So leap. Just leap.
The leap is reckless. It flies in the face of all our conservatism. It is wild and illogical. The mind says to stop and think this through, to be sure.
The leap is to disregard all the “inward” and instead leap into the outward. Ignore all the known for a moment. Release yourself entirely and irrevocably into the outward.
No parachute. No cord. No safety net.
Don’t misunderstand me, however. I am not saying to live your life in a reckless fashion, to quit your job, leave your family, default on your mortgage. That’s not the leap I’m talking about.
The leap is from chronic inward focus, trying always to solve the problem of me and my life, to a total release into the outward.
Like jumping off the diving board, this leap is not sustained forever. It is momentary. It is a flash. Like a bolt of lightning, it slices through the dark and illuminates everything for just a split second.
But though it is not sustained, it leaves its impression. Like that flash of lightning imprints an image on the brain of the one who sees it.
Once seen, once experienced, it cannot be undone.
Like leaping off the diving board gives the confidence to do the illogical, reckless release into the outward again and again, so too does the leap I am describing.
This leap means to let go of all the thoughts, the obsessions, the clinging, the clenching, the support, the identity, the reliable, the solid. Just for a moment. That is all that is needed.
This does not solve the problem. All the misery remains.
But it does make clear that the misery of the misery is a function of the clinging. That clinging is the chronic inward focus. That clinging is the attempt to solve the problem of me and my life.
Again, this will not get rid of misery, unpleasantness, fear, etc. But once this is experienced, it is accessible. And each leap reveals the false as false.
Don’t try to solve false problems.
Misery is a false problem.
Me is a false problem.
My life is a false problem.
All my faults and shame is a false problem.
The absence of a sustained state of bliss or a sustained state of leaping is a false problem.
Just leap. See what’s what.
Before I wrap this up, I’d like to share with you a specific example from my life of what I am talking about here.
I used to be anorexic. I write that I used to be. That is not because some of the same obsessive programming isn’t still operating. It is only because I ceased to give chronic attention to it.
Imagine this for a moment. Imagine what it would be like to perceive food and your bodily sensations as a threat – a major problem to be solved. Imagine that this obsession occupies all your waking hours. Imagine that while other people are socializing around you, even enjoying life, you are giving all your attention to what you have eaten or what you might eat and how that makes you feel.
That is what my life was like for a long time.
I had long thought that the solution to that problem was something I could figure out and do. But the more I tried, the more chronic the obsession became. I was not closer to a solution. I was producing the problem.
The solution has not been anything I have figured out or done. The solution has not been to get rid of the fear and anxiety. The solution has been to leap.
Leaping didn’t instantly change my behavior. And it most certainly did not change or get rid of the fears and obsessive tendencies.
Leaping, in this case, has greatly expanded my vision. It revealed how myopic I had been.
Myopia is not wrong. But it is myopic. And if you have the misfortune to be fixated on something rigid and painful, myopia is terribly unpleasant.
The thing about such myopia is that one doesn’t know that one is myopic. It can genuinely seem that one’s limited view is the totality. It can seem that the whole of life is utter misery in the most nightmarish form. This is one reason people kill themselves.
Leaping reveals that the myopia is myopia. It is like that lightning flash that illuminates for a moment the whole of life. It doesn’t change habits or tendencies. But it reveals the context. And context matters. It matters perhaps more than anything else.
You may not be anorexic. But you are myopic. We all are.
Leaping will not be likely to solve your myopia. But it will certainly reveal the infinite context of your myopia. And that changes everything without changing anything.
Life can seem miserable sometimes.
For some of us, it has seemed really miserable a lot of the time.
If and when life seems miserable there is incentive to do something differently.
Hence, we want practices. It seems reasonable; just do the right practices and you’ll get out of jail free. Eventually. Maybe. Hopefully.
But what practice? How can you know?
And that’s where it get’s tricky. You can’t do all the practices. (I tried. I promise you, it’s not possible.)
So which will you do?
And how will you know when the practice is working?
It is a giant mess, actually.
Like a knot. A Gordian knot.
Most of the time we look for other solutions – more, better practices.
But I can tell you from my experience that none of the practices will solve the problem. None will get rid of the knot.
The practices just knot up the knot more, creating more urgency to solve it. Or they can lead to cynicism, which is another type of misery.
That can sound depressing. And it is as long as you insist that the knot must be undone, the problem solved.
But there is one thing that I have found that is highly effective in sorting everything out.
That one thing is to become aware of the infinite ways you try to solve the problem.
Not all in one fell swoop. Not to just get it over with and achieve a state of bliss.
Not to get rid of the problem or the ways you try to solve the problem
Just become curious. For its own sake. Pay attention.
It’s better than the chronic investment into problem solving.
You’ll still try to solve problems. You’ll still try to fix yourself and your life. And you’ll turn curiosity and paying attention into the new practice. Which won’t work.
But then you’ll see that too. And that’s it. Instantaneously the misery is seen not to be what you thought it was. So you’re instantaneously freed from what never bound you.
The discomfort won’t disappear. Nothing changes. But you see it differently. Just for an instant.
I spend most of my time giving attention to thoughts, trying to solve problems.
This is, I believe, part of being human. I don’t have a problem with the tendency to try to solve (mostly made up) problems. To make that into a problem would be, I think, ironic.
But I have noticed that I do this. And seeing this, I instantly am freed from the delusion that any of my thoughts are capable of grappling with life.
instantly there is perfect clarity. Not clarity of an object. Not like something coming into focus. Not clarity of thought. Not that.
Clarity. Just clarity. Like a clear sky.
This is not a clarity that I can possess. Nor something I can gain greater access to. Nor something I can augment or that could augment me.
Of course, in the same moment I become aware that I am still giving attention to thoughts, trying to solve problems. Now I have the new (made up) problem of trying to maintain clarity.
It is funny in the right light.
There’s really nothing to get. Nobody can have this. Nobody can become this. There is nothing to gain.
Still, there is a huge relief in seeing this for yourself. Not to take my word for it. But to observe your actual experience – what is actually happening.
The delusion is ongoing. Freedom is simultaneous.
I offer a paid, online inquiry program. This program and my mention of it in some emails rubs some people the wrong way.
The reason I mention it is that I’ve gotten a few agitated emails about this in recent days, and they’ve caused me to observe something.
We – meaning me and some other people – seem to approach life with the belief that our values/beliefs are correct and true and that everything should fit into that framework.
If something or someone superficially appears to fit into that framework and then in some way or another does not, that generates agitation.
I have thrown out a lot of things – relationships, ideas, cultures, etc. – because of that agitation. I didn’t want to allow the agitation, so I got rid of the object of the agitation.
Maybe that is appropriate in some cases. But maybe it is a mistake in others.
The agitation is pointing to something I cannot reconcile with my values/beliefs.
Are my values correct? Are they absolutely true?
In my case, I can say that much of the time they are not.
This is dangerous, of course. Because when I start to honestly question my values, I start to discover that what I believe myself to be, what I cling to to give my life meaning and order, is not absolutely true. My life becomes chaotic as order disintegrates.
But there’s a flip side. I also become unburdened.
Interestingly, this is another meaning of the word “light”. I wrote in the foreword to John Veen’s recent book about light in the sense of attention. But that attention and honesty can reveal another aspect of light – lightness, to be unburdened.
The objects of my fear are my salvation.
For most of my life I tried to avoid fear by avoiding the objects of my fear.
Here’s an example I have used many times in my writing: McDonald’s.
McDonald’s was the object of my fear. I tried to avoid my fear by avoiding the object of my fear: McDonald’s.
It did not work. It had the opposite of the intended effect. It drew me into a nightmarish web in which fear was everywhere and I also perceived the fear that was everywhere to be the worst thing possible.
Fear is not the worst thing possible. It’s not even bad.
It’s just fear.
The objects of my fear – when I finally give in to them fully – save me from this nightmare.
They do so by revealing that the true nature of fear is not what I thought.
Fear is not even bad. It’s just fear.
It is also a strange kind of ecstasy. But not like I thought I wanted.
When I yield completely to the objects of my fear, when I stop trying to use them as tools to avoid my fear, I am saved from the struggle to be something separate from fear.
What a relief.
My friend, John Veen, recently published a new book titled Losing my grip.
It is excellent. I think it is his best, which says a lot.
John asked me to write the foreword to the book, which I did. And, I asked him if it would be okay to publish the foreword here on my blog for your enjoyment.
He agreed, so here it is.
It is not easy to be honest when we live in a world in which delusion is worshiped.
I am reminded of the Emperor’s New Clothes; in case you are not familiar with the plot, let me give you a brief synopsis. In the interest of vanity, greed, and avoiding the discomfort of being a contrarian, the emperor and all of his subjects willfully ignore the obvious: the emperor has been scammed, and his new clothes are non-existent.
The emperor is naked.
All ignore this truth except one boy, who, in his naivete, declares the obvious: the emperor has no clothes.
The emperor has no clothes. What I mean by that is that life is plainly obvious. It is exactly as it is. It is not dressed up. It does not conform to my wishes.
This is so radically different from what we are sold in the form of spirituality, religion, and philosophy as to be shocking.
Most keep declaring that the emperor’s new clothes are beautiful, elegant, and dashing despite the fact that this deceit is absolutely ridiculous.
There are a few who, by luck, I think, discover how unbearably painful and miserable it is to lie to ourselves so much of the time.
So we start being honest.
That honesty is not something that gets rid of delusion or cancels it out. It merely is the recognition of delusion as it is.
It is the recognition that delusion is all that is. And in that is the recognition of our inherent, unalienable freedom.
John is – and this is not hyperbole – the clearest writer I know of in pointing this out. By finding this book, you are very lucky in my view.
John writes that those describing the intricate patterns and fabulous weave of the emperor’s clothes are the “self-appointed leaders […] on the progressive path.” And he goes on to say that “some of us can no longer stomach these half-baked vendors.”
What to do?
The answer John offers to this question is equally clear: “light.” As in, light the way, your way, yourself.
Here, he is not speaking of literal light. Nor of an imaginary, spiritual light that one can cultivate through practice.
He is speaking of light in the common, metaphorical sense. It is the light that one “shines” on a situation simply by paying attention, being aware in the mundane sense.
There is nothing more to do. And this “doing” is instantaneous and changes nothing.
But John doesn’t pretend that this light is strictly by chance; there is intention involved.
The intention is what he refers to as a kind of religious attention to the nature of suffering.
Be “religious.” Pay attention. And read this book.
I’ve got no stake in the book. But I do openly endorse it because it’s good. It’s entertaining too because John is clever with words.
I have been intending to post this since last week, and I’ve got more stuff I want to write, but I’ve been held up because of some health problems. More on all that in what I hope will be a few more posts in coming days.
A few days ago I sliced up two of my fingers fairly deeply.
I’ve been redoing the metal roof on someone’s house. Yesterday it rained, and while up on the roof I stepped on a slippery patch carelessly. My feet went out from under me, and as I was sliding down the roof, I reached out to catch myself and prevent myself from falling off.
I grabbed the edge of the panel of roofing I had just put on. It sliced into my fingers as it also slowed and eventually stopped my fall.
The slices were clean, so they are healing quickly. All appears to be well enough.
But here’s something interesting I noticed: every time the event replays in my mind, I find myself flinching, trying to glance away from the images and feelings.
Even looking at a roof produces this phenomenon.
Life is happening, totally fresh, totally new. But my mind is grasping, trying to overlay the past, trying to know what this is.
Take a moment and look with fresh eyes. See this as it is.
How often do we see this as it is?
Most of the time we are occupied with the past. Often in the form of thoughts, names, learnings.
All cluttering up the clear view.
I don’t believe that is a problem. And certainly not one to be solved.
But you can be aware of it. You can be curious about it. You can see the grasping, clinging, clenching, flinching, overlaying.
Seeing that, it is obvious that simultaneous, there is the clear view.
However, there is superficial awareness, which is just enough awareness to give a name to something. I can be just aware enough to call it flinching, for example.
But that superficial awareness only gives the dimmest glimpse of the unalienable clear view.
A greater depth of awareness comes through looking closely.
I look closely by examining with curiosity how I flinch.
Slow it down. Look at every facet. Become intimately familiar.
I spend my life trying to win.
I can’t stop.
If I try to stop, I am only trying to stop so that I can win at stopping.
It is an impossible situation.
I cannot win.
But in an instant I can see…for myself…always anew…
that winning was always a fabrication.
There’s nothing to win.
All is already given. This is it.
It includes misery and hope and happiness and frustration and trying and good and bad.
I can’t make it better.
Better was always a fabrication.
This is already it.
But I keep trying to win.
There’s no other game in town.
This is it.
Trying to win is it.
Trying not to win is it.
Trying not to try is it.
Why fight it?
I can’t win.
But fighting it is it too.
it it it it it it it.
Wanting to escape it is it.
Wanting to understand it is it.
Thinking there’s something more to understand is it.
Thinking somebody else has understood it and you haven’t is it.
I can’t win.
It’s a big joke.
It’s a funny joke.
It’s a cruel joke too.
All is it. If it exists, it is it.
There’s nothing else to get.
But I keep trying. I cannot do otherwise.
All that is happening is trying, the resistance.
There is nothing else.
Then seeing. Seeing that there is nothing else.
Seeing that there is also nothing happening.
Then trying. Trying to capture. Trying to possess.
Trying to win.
I can’t win.
I’ve been well outside of my “comfort zone” lately. And it’s caused me to reflect on comfort, our pursuit of it, and the misery that ensues.
I’ve moved to Vermont with my family. We are (out of choice) living in a tent and working 20 hours a week on a small farmstead in exchange for the opportunity to pitch our tent there.
This adventure has me feeling physically, psychologically, and emotionally uncomfortable.
When I am uncomfortable, I attempt – almost, if not entirely, reflexively – to get rid of the discomfort.
My mind seeks to identify the problem. Then to solve it.
That appears to be unavoidable.
In fact, trying to avoid it would just be more of the same. So there’s no way out. There is no escape from it.
But the question is this: will it ever work?
This is why I so often suggest honesty.
Honesty does not solve the problem that the mind generates. Nor does it produce comfort.
Honesty just shines a light. And the fruit of that is awareness.
Not “Awareness”. Just awareness in the mundane sense.
And that mundane awareness reveals the conundrum for what it is. There is no way out. The problem is not what I’ve thought. And I will not be able to escape discomfort.
Which does not mean that one must seek out discomfort or shun comfort. Because the only reason to do that would be to try to solve the new problem that the mind has generated – the problem that states that comfort is the enemy, comfort causes suffering.
That is not true. But don’t take my word for it. Just shine a light with honesty.