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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.
I like feeling good. There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t suppose. In fact, if I didn’t get to feel good sometimes, life would probably be unbearable, and I’d off myself.
But for me, getting really honest with myself about the subtext of my seeking/being is painful and important.
Whatever fancy language and ideas I might throw around, the secret desire is to feel good.
Why do I do things? To feel good.
Even if and when I seek to make peace with not feeling good – even when I aim to be honest about not getting to always feel good – my intention is to feel good.
It is inescapable. I cannot transcend my futile desire to escape discomfort and gain eternal-momentary pleasure.
I cannot avoid my shortsightedness and impulsivity.
But I can tell the truth. I can get real about my intention.
The purpose of life is not feeling good.
The purpose of life is not whatever I think the purpose of life is.
My pursuit of eternal-momentary pleasure is not noble.
But neither is it wrong.
I don’t have to suppress the desire.
I can just acknowledge it.
And in acknowledging it, I offer myself the opportunity to inhabit the murkiness of real life. Neither this nor that. Not entirely pleasure nor entirely pain.
Of course, my only motivation for doing that is because it will feel better than not doing it.
So I am trapped. I cannot transcend myself.
But I can tell the truth. Again and again and again.
When I don’t tell the truth, that is fine. I’m not getting anywhere by telling the truth. I’m not transcending anything. It’s not actually better in any ultimate sense.
But as soon as I acknowledge that, I am telling the truth.
Not as a thought or a memory.
Rather, as a present, honest, vulnerability. A humility. An acknowledgement of the heartache of being. The longing to become something else. The wish to transcend, escape, avoid.
Just that. That’s all. Nothing that will get me anywhere.
But strangely, it is better.
At least that’s what it seems.
So then I seek it out. I idealize it. I turn it into a religion. It will save me. It will help me to transcend.
Again, I tell the truth. I am just doing what I must do: trying to feel better.
That is all. Nothing bad. Nothing good. Nothing that will get my anywhere. And nothing that will prevent me from getting anywhere.
First of all, thank you to those who have made a pledge of financial support through Patreon. Your support makes it possible for me to do what I do.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that I do on this blog, in books, and in videos. What is it that I want to share? What is it I want to invite people to consider in their own lives?
The cop-out is to fall back on the “nothingness card”.
Which is not entirely untrue. After all, to me, the willingness to discover again and again that my ideas of myself and life are empty of the inherent meaning I think is there is very important to me.
Without that, suffering is multiplied many times over.
But suffering multiplies when I stake my flag in the “nothingness camp” as well. Because as soon as I do that, I am claiming that I now know something that is fundamentally true of myself and life.
Which is not true.
And perhaps more importantly, the “nothingness card” does not have the heart of compassion and humanity that I believe is essential to what I am and what I wish to share.
So a more complete truth is that what I want is to explore the ways in which we suffer and find out how to suffer less or suffer better.
Suffering better might seem like an oxymoron. But I’ve come to see that suffering is not antithetical to peace or freedom or whatever we want to call that which we actually desire.
Suffering is, in fact, essential and unavoidable. And it is our attempts to avoid it that produce the greatest suffering.
So that’s one piece of this puzzle.
But there’s more.
I’ve also realized that one of the things that I have to share that is unique to me is the way in which I view this exploration of suffering and aliveness and freedom and so forth as very ordinary.
I don’t believe that it is necessary or desirable to retreat from the world we live in – the relationships, environments, etc.
I don’t believe that we need or benefit from special meditations or spiritual practices. I really do not. And that is kind of shocking to admit that fully to myself and to you.
But part of my unique voice is that I honestly believe that a discovery of what we most want (and I really ought to write a piece exploring that a bit more in detail and come up with a clear way of referencing that) must be integrated into and spring forth from our real, daily lives.
I find that my mundane life – my anxieties, my fears, my relationships, my environment, money problems, health problems, etc. – is a far greater guru than any other and a far greater practice than any other.
Yet I am not suggesting that being flung about in the stream of life with eyes closed is as desirable as being flung about with eyes opened.
Because I don’t think that is true.
I find that there is a huge difference between the two.
I just think that is one of the most important things we have available to us to do: open our eyes, tell the truth.
Everything else that I’d ever done – the prayers, the meditations, the pranayama, etc. – was done with eyes closed. I was willfully blind to what was actually happening. I was fighting and flailing, struggling against life. I was metaphorically shouting, “no, not this!”
But I never opened my eyes (again, metaphorically) to even see what it was that I was proclaiming was unacceptable.
So opening my eyes is the most important thing, I think.
I heard a story on the radio a few days ago about the Volkswagen “scandal” in which the company programmed the on-board computers in their U.S. diesel cars to cheat the emissions tests. This is incredible when you think about it. Many people must have been involved in this project to intentionally deceive regulatory agencies and customers alike.
It worked. They pulled the wool over everybody’s eyes for years.
But it made things more complicated. When the Europeans wanted to toughen up emissions standards to match the U.S. standards, diesel car makers complained that it wasn’t possible. But then everybody said, “uh, well, VW does it, so it must be possible…”
And I saw how I do that in my own life. And how it appears that others do that in their lives.
Lies that seem harmless. Or lies that seem like they are short-term.
But they aren’t harmless. Nor are they short-term.
They have far-reaching implications.
The lies result in an identity that needs to be protected. And I (we) come up with rationalizations.
Such as “my income depends on it” or “my family would be devastated if the truth came out” or any number of others.
And yeah, it’s complicated. Because should O.J. Simpson go to prison if he can avoid it? I wouldn’t.
So it’s not a matter of needing to always tell the truth or needing to always be completely transparent.
That would be an interesting experiment. And I may want to play with that.
But what I do believe is important – based on my own experience – is honesty with myself.
And interestingly, that’s not as straight-forward and easy as I would have naively believed a handful of years ago.
Because it depends on awareness. Just as the implication of deception are far-reaching and lies build upon lies to build a huge web of deceit, so too does honesty build upon itself to generate awareness that reveals more opportunity for honesty.
Many of those opportunities are difficult. How aware do I really want to be? Or, to put it in more dramatic terms, “can you handle the truth?”
Recognizing my faults, my shortcomings, my ugliness, my badness, my capacity for cruelty and insensitivity…as well as my capacity for generosity and sensitivity…that is often heartbreakingly painful.
So this is not a feel-good strategy I am proposing.
In fact, I’m not exactly proposing anything specific with this post. I’m just exploring the subject and “thinking out loud”.
But I do believe that honesty with myself forms a virtuous cycle that allows me to suffer less and suffer better. I believe it gives me greater compassion, patience, and understanding. I believe it makes me more nuanced and reflective.
I am happier for it.
But not in the way I would have thought I wanted to be happier.
I am not richer. I am not more attractive. I am not even a nicer person or easier to get along with.
I’m just more compassionate, patient, and, understanding of my failings.
I’ve been taught in my life that it is possible and desirable to perfect myself and become pure of spirit and mind. Ironically, this belief just led to greater violence and division in my experience.
Through more honesty with myself, I have not become more perfect or purer. I’ve merely acknowledged my shortcomings.
But this has greatly eased the violence and division in my experience. Not eliminated. Just eased.
This division and violence that I see in myself – and the capacity for more or less of it – is something that I have also been seeing at play within society.
At present, I see more violence and division rather than less.
I believe that violence and division is borne out of these lies – the “little, harmless” lies that build upon one another to form identities and groups.
This is a subject (how these lies and identities play out in society) I want to explore more in future posts. I believe it is important.
This is not just about me, my freedom, my enlightenment. That kind of thinking and pursuit of my freedom, my enlightenment, is a function of the lies. It is the only logical escape from a nightmarish identity and world created by these lies. The suffering is so great, so scary, so unbearable – I must jettison into enlightenment or spiritual realms.
But that never worked for me.
I have to slowly, painfully, humiliatingly tell the truth, one step at a time, moment to moment.
It is not a quick fix. Not a fix of any kind, in fact.
See you next time.
I am ordinary.
This is a revelation after a lifetime of aspiring to be a superman – to transcend the ordinary.
I am habituated to delusion – believing in transcendence through self effort. If only I work hard enough, pray enough, meditate enough, do enough good, have enough faith, hope enough, sacrifice enough.
That habituation results in misery if I do not inquire honestly.
I am habituated to compare my deluded self-concept with my deluded concept of the perfected person. In other words, I compare what always falls short with what always is out of reach.
The conclusion of that comparison is always that my self-concept is lacking. Thus, the conclusion is that I must work harder, do more, etc.
But that conclusion is not fully truthful.
Underneath that comparison is the discomfort and terror of being myself. The comparison – the striving – is a game with the futile aim of avoiding or getting rid of the discomfort and terror of being myself.
The logic is that if I can become the perfect person, I will be rid of the unwanted feeling.
Telling the truth does not make me feel better.
The discomfort and terror of being myself remains. In fact, it comes more into focus. The discomfort intensifies, if anything.
But it does offer a strange relief.
The relief is from trying to be something else. Trying to transcend. Trying to grasp. Trying to become. Trying to attain.
What I’m talking about is not resignation – though it shares some similarities with resignation.
It is simply that telling the truth reveals that the feeling cannot be avoided. Not even a superman could avoid it.
And whatever I thought the feeling was and whatever I thought it would do…I didn’t actually know. It was just a story I used unwittingly to keep the cycle of misery churning.
There is no superman. There only is, only was, and only could be what I am.
If you want to know freedom, you cannot afford to offer comfort to ideology.
Freedom is the whole truth.
Ideology is, at best, the partial truth.
Ideology is relatively true when it is true.
“I am tall.”
This is true; I’m taller than the average man.
But it is not the whole truth; compared to a 50 ft. tall tree, I’m not very tall.
Or, perhaps a better example. “I am smart.”
I am smart. Sometimes. In a limited way.
But clinging to that belief as the whole truth is a terrible disservice to me and everybody else.
If I believe that it is the whole truth – or willfully reject the whole truth even if I don’t fully believe the ideology – I can do some horrific, stupid, and dangerous things. All while blind to what I am doing.
Nazis could not have all been inherently more evil than you and me.
Ideologies have limited utility. Yet we often cling to them as though they could save us from reality most of the time.
It won’t work. It only makes for suffering.
It only makes us blind.
This is extremely relevant to so-called non-dual philosophy adherents.
“Nothing is happening.”
This is true.
It is also not the whole truth.
Something is happening. Clearly. And we have to willfully reject and blind ourselves to that obvious reality in order to generate more suffering for ourselves.
That doesn’t mean “nothing is happening” isn’t true. It just means it’s not the whole truth.
Even if it is the whole truth, in fact, (which, in a sense, it is)…as soon as I cling to that as an ideology, it ceases to be the whole truth.
“There is no choice.” “There is no self.” “There is no separation.” And on and on.
These are true, but not the whole truth.
If you hold these ideologies up as shields in an attempt to protect yourself somehow from the terror of freedom in it’s fullness, they do harm.
This is the difference between description and prescription.
The ideology promises to protect you. But it actually imprisons you.
Freedom cannot be separated from terror.
Do not shield yourself from the whole truth.
The whole truth includes it all. Which includes the metaphorical fire that burns away whatever is unnecessary.