Do people really believe conspiracy theories?

 

For me, it’s difficult to imagine someone actually believing the QAnon and other weirdo conspiracy theories. I understand how people can get hooked on it since it feeds into their emotional issues and they live in digital bubbles that confirm what they want to believe. But it’s hard to imagine they actually believe it. Somewhere in them, they know they live in a bubble. They know the sources are questionable. They know they do it to feed emotional issues.

And that’s really the same with all beliefs, for all of us. Somewhere in us, we know we want to believe but don’t really. We know we cannot know for certain. We know we are largely doing it to feed our emotional issues.

So on the surface, the answer is yes. In a sense, we do believe whatever we appear to believe. We perceive the world through our beliefs. We think and feel as if it’s true. We live and act as if it’s true. And yet, somewhere in us, we know what we are doing. We know we allow ourselves to get caught up in a fantasy. The fantasy of knowing something for certain we cannot know.

If you compare, you lose

 

Thoughts compare. It’s one of the things this tool is built to do.

Comparing is essential. It helps us differentiate. Find better solutions. See ourselves in perspective. Identify areas where we can develop and learn more. And so on. It’s necessary for us to function and thrive in the world.

And yet, if we assume this says something about our inherent value as a human being, we lead ourselves astray. We create stress and anguish for ourselves, and also participate in a culture where this is seen as normal and creates widespread – and unnecessary – stress and anguish for a lot of people.

In the moment, we may tell ourselves it feels good when we compare ourselves to others and come out favorably. We tell ourselves we are better than someone else in a particular area of life, that this means we are inherently better or valuable, and that we can then allow ourselves to feel good about ourselves.

But it’s not that simple. When we get into the habit of this dynamic, we inevitably find someone to compare ourselves with who – in our mind – is better than us, and assume this means our inherent value is diminished or threatened, which means we feel not very good about ourselves.

We can’t have one without the other.

This means it’s a losing game. It’s rigged for us to lose. And that’s a very good thing.

Why is it a losing game?

It’s because this extra assumption has no real value. It’s a way for us to torture ourselves and others. And it’s not based in reality.

The ideas we have about better and worse are cultural. And the idea that this means something about our inherent value is cultural. They are not inherent in existence.

At some point, we may realize that this dynamic is not only painful, but it’s also not inevitable. There is another way.

How can we find another way?

The answer is through becoming aware of this dynamic of comparing ourselves to others and assuming it says something about our inherent value. The most direct and effective way may be through inquiry (The Work of Byron Katie, Living Inquiries, etc.). And inquiry can also help release our fascination with this type of comparing.

What’s the bigger perspective on this?

We can say that this whole dynamic is cultural. The ideas of better and worse, and what is better and worse, is cultural. And the idea that this says something about our inherent value is cultural.

We can say it’s as a(n unfortunate) side-effect of the differentiating function of thought.

And we can also say it’s part of lila. It’s one of the myriads of ways what we are explores and experiences itself – whether we call this consciousness, existence, or even the divine.

From the perspective of a separate human being, it’s unfortunate. From the perspective of existence itself, it’s part of its exploration of itself.

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The simplicity of awakening

 

Separation consciousness is often complex and convoluted because it’s created by belief in any number of different thoughts. It’s a rich fantasy world.

Awakening is simple because it’s what we are noticing itself, and thoughts are recognized as practical tools for navigating the world and not reflecting any final truth. And there is an immense richness in this simplicity.

Of course, in reality, there is often a mix of the two. Even when there is a general awakening, we still have bubbles of separation consciousness in us – and these color our perception and life even when they are in the background, and they sometimes come to the foreground.

Tolstoy was onto this dynamic when he said: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Healthy dynamics are often quite similar, and the unhealthy ones comes in many varieties.

Adyashanti: Every story… is a painful story

 

Every story, in relation to pain, is a painful story.
~ Adyashanti, Silent Retreat Vol. 57 ~ Q&A

I don’t know the context of this quote, but I have found the same.

Any story – when it’s held as true – is a painful story.

Why is it painful? Because holding it as true means to identify with it and the viewpoint created by the story, and it’s just one of many viewpoints all with some validity and none with any absolute truth. Holding onto a story – any story – creates discomfort and pain because it’s out of alignment with reality. Somewhere in us, we know that. And life will remind us.

Life will create situations that rub up against the story so we feel we need to defend it (it seems like defending ourselves since we identify with it) and that, in itself, is stressful. Life will also remind us that the story is just one of many that are valid about the same topic and none hold any absolute or final truth, and we may not want to see it since holding onto the story can feel safe.

When we hold any story as true – no matter how innocent or apparently helpful and beautiful – we create stress for ourselves. We create struggle within ourselves. And that’s the inherent mechanism in that dynamic that invites and motivate us to examine what’s going on.

It invites us to examine the particular stressful story we have, see what happens when we hold it as true, find the validity in the other stories about the same topic, and hold it a little lighter. And it invites us to recognize this dynamic in all stories, no matter what they are about.

This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to hold stories as true. We all do, to different extent, and often without even knowing it. It’s often first when life rubs up against one that we notice it. It’s natural and innocent, although it also creates stress and pain for us, and may lead us to act in ways that creates more stress and pain.

It also doesn’t mean that we need to somehow drop all beliefs in all stories at once. We can’t even if we wanted.

It’s more a process of examining the currently stressful story and find what’s more true for us, and then examine the next. It’s a gradual process, it goes over time, and it’s ongoing. There is no particular endpoint – at least not in this life – and doesn’t have to be.

Werner Heisenberg: Only a few know, how much one must know to know how little one knows

 

Only a few know, how much one must know to know how little one knows.

– Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

In one sense, we don’t need to know much to know how little we know.

We just need to know that our thoughts are questions about the world, educated guesses at most. They are practical tools to help us orient and navigate in the world. Their role is not to give us any final or absolute answers to anything.

And yet, to know that, we often need to wade through a great deal of worldly knowledge. We need to know a lot about different things and see that what we know is a tiny drop in the ocean of all there is to know, and also that what we think we know often isn’t as certain or valid as we thought. Even our most basic assumptions are up for question.

At a social level, this is especially clear when we learn about the history of thought, science, and worldviews, and we see how different it is across cultures and how much all of it changes over time. What we take as a given today – about specifics and our worldview as a whole – will be seen as obsolete by future generations.

There is a shortcut to realizing how litte we know, and that is to examine our thoughts more directly. We can see how our mental “field” creates an overlay of images on the world and makes up what we think we know about ourselves, others, and the world. It’s all created in our own mind. None of it is “out there” inherent in anything. It’s all just questions about the world. None of it contains any final or absolute truth.

If we rely on knowing things to feel safe or loved or good about ourselves, then this can seem distressing. But, in reality, this realization and noticing is immensely freeing.

We get to see thoughts more as they are, and we get to see their role and function and what they can do – which is to provide some provisional and practical orientation and guidance, and what they cannot do – which is to provide any truths or final answers.

That goes for what we collective think we know and understand about the world. It applies to our personal lives and what we think we know about others, situations, and ourselves. And it applies to our most basic assumptions about existence.

Adyashanti: There is more truth and sacredness in a blade of grass

 

There is more truth and sacredness in a blade of grass than in all the shrines, scriptures and stories created to honor an idea of God. […] All of these are labels. All of them are fine. There is nothing wrong with any one of them, until you actually believe they’re true

– Adyashanti

Not every thought is true in an everyday sense of the word, and no thought has any final or absolute truth in it. But everything is truth.

Everything is, as it is, an expression of reality and is reality.

On the one hand, it’s all an expression of and is existence, this unfolding universe, life. It, in itself, is reality and truth. And our thoughts about it are pointers, helpful in a pragmatic sense, and contain no final or absolute truth.

On the other hand, everything – to us – happens within and as what we are. They happen within and as what we may label awakeness, consciousness, or even the divine.

When we humans – or existence or the divine in this local expression as a human – look for Truth, or God, or Home, or our True Nature, we often look out there in what others say or are or in thoughts and ideas. Those can all point us in the right direction. But what we are looking for is what everything – to us – already are. We are looking for what we already are and what everything already is.

How can we discover this? How can we shift out of the trance we have created for ourselves through identifying with and believing some of our thoughts? This is what most spiritual practices are about, although the shortest path to what we already are is often inquiry. (Big Mind process, Headless experiments, Living Inquiries, or something else that brings our attention to what we already are.)

The irony is that since we already are this, it can be difficult to notice. What we are is already very familiar to us. Even when we notice it more consciously, for instance through inquiry, it can seem too ordinary. Thoughts may tell us that this is too simple and ordinary, it can’t be it. What we think we are looking for should come with bells and whistles and fireworks. (Sometimes it does, but usually not when we notice it through inquiry.)

And yet, since it’s what we already are, we can notice it in our ordinary experience. We don’t need any special states to notice it. It’s available here and now, in all it’s extraordinary ordinariness. It’s available through any number of changing experiences and states, including all the apparently ordinary and familiar ones.

Meeting our issues with love, without indulging in them

 

When discomfort and reactivity comes up in us, we have a few different options in how we relate to it.

We can take the scary stories behind it as true and identify with it and act on it.

We can avoid it or pretend it’s not there.

We can try to change it, transform it, make it into something different.

In all of these options, we take the stressful stories behind the issue as true and reinforce it. We indulge in the scary story.

There is another option, and that’s to meet what’s coming up and identify and question the stressful stories behind it. We can meet it with curiosity and love, listen to what it has to tell us, and see where it’s coming from, how it’s not true, and find what’s more true for us. And then allow this to sink in and inform how we are.

We can also set it aside for a while if the situation require something else from us first. If we don’t explore it later, it’s usually because we take the story as true and indulge in it. If we do explore it later, we don’t indulge in the story.

Here is an example:

Say I have a diffuse sense of dread and anxiety and a story behind it saying that something terrible will happen.

I can take it as true and act on it as if it’s true. This creates a lot of stress and can lead decisions I wouldn’t have made if I was less reactive.

I can pretend it’s not here and override it as best as I can. This doesn’t make it go away. It’s still here, influencing my perceptions and actions.

I can try to change it, for instance by telling myself everything will be OK. This also doesn’t make it go away so I’ll secretly believe it won’t be OK.

These are different ways of indulging in the stressful stories creating emotional issues. I perceive and act as if these scary stories are true and I don’t question them.

I can set it aside because the situation calls for me to do something else. This is fine since we cannot always take care of what comes up right there and then. It’s worth noticing if we use this to avoid looking at the stressful stories, which means we indulge in just those stories.

I can meet what comes up and even find some love for it, and not identify or question the stressful stories behind it. This is another way of indulging in the scary stories since – at some level – I’ll keep taking the scary stories as true.

There is really just one way to not indulge in the scary stories, although there are some variations in how we go about doing it.

I meet what’s coming up with curiosity and love, listen to the scary stories, and examine and question them and find what’s more true for me.

Identifying, exploring, and questioning the scary stories, finding what’s more true for me, and allowing this to sink in and inform how I am, is an essential step.

Ancient pain

 

A lot of the emotional pain we experience – in daily life or in a deep healing and awakening process – is ancient pain.

It’s ancient patterns of thoughts and beliefs that create emotional pain.

In what ways is it ancient?

It’s ancient in that it’s universally human. It’s what people from many times and cultures have experienced. (I imagine many other species experience this type of pain as well.)

It’s ancient in that much of it has an epigenetic component. It’s biologically passed on from our ancestors.

It’s ancient in that it’s passed on through the generations through belief and behavior patterns, from parents to children.

It’s ancient in that much of it is passed on through culture, through beliefs, norms, expectations, and so on.

It’s ancient in that much of it comes from very early on in our lives, sometimes even before we had language.

If reincarnation is correct, it’s ancient in that a good deal of it may go back many lifetimes.

Why is it helpful to notice this?

It can help us notice the different ways painful patterns of beliefs and behavior is passed on over time – into our life and beyond.

It can help us be aware of how we pass on these patterns, to our children and others in our life and perhaps even society, and counteract some of it.

It helps us see that we are not alone in this. It’s pretty much universal.

It helps us see that it’s not as personal as it may seem. It’s not just about me.

How we relate to our thoughts

 

One of the benefits of exploring how our mind functions – through mindfulness, inquiry and so on – is that it changes our relationship with our thoughts.

From believing our thoughts we may realize that they offer questions about the world, hold no final or absolute truth, and it works better if we find the grace to hold them lightly.

Instead of fighting with out thoughts, we may realize that it’s easier to examine them and find what’s more true.

Instead of fearing certain thoughts, we may find that by examining them and finding what’s more true, we also find peace.

Instead of thinking we control – or should control – our thoughts, we may find they come and go and live their own life and that’s completely OK.

Instead of thinking we can “chose” to believe a thought or not, we may find that all we can do is examine them and through that magic sometimes happen.

Notes: I saw a very brief article about meta-cognitive therapy which seems to be one of the new hot things today. Apparently, it has to do with how we think about our thoughts so I thought I would write a brief post about what comes up for me around it.

Because of that article, I wrote “how we think about our thoughts” as the initial title, partly because I thought it sounded more snappy. But I changed it since how we think about our thoughts is not so important. It’s how we relate to our thoughts that matters, and that’s far more than just thinking.

The Treachery of Images

 
The Treachery of Images by René Magritte, 1929

To our conscious mind, it’s obvious. It’s not a pipe. It’s a painting of a pipe. We know that an image of something is not the thing itself.

And yet, at some level, we often don’t understand this. Somewhere in us, we tend to hold certain mental images and thoughts as not only telling us something true about reality, but what they tell us as reality itself.

We are confused. We may not even notice what’s happening. And we create a lot of stress and suffering for ourselves that way.

What’s the solution? The first may be to be aware of what’s happening. Identify stressful thoughts. Notice they are thoughts and not reality. Investigate the thoughts.

How do we investigate thoughts? It may be easiest to start with a slightly structured process, for instance The Work of Byron Katie or Living Inquiries.

The Work helps us see what happens when we hold a thought as true, how it would be to not, and to find the validity in the reversals of the thought.

Living Inquires helps us see how our mind combined thoughts with sensations. Sensations lend a sense of substance, truth, and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. Through this examination the “glue” holding thoughts and sensations together softens and there is more space to notice what’s going on.

If we want to go one step further, identify and investigate your most basic assumptions about yourself, others, and the world. Question what seems the most true and obvious. What do you find?

Questioning our most basic assumptions may seem like a luxury or something we do mostly out of curiosity. But we may find it’s surprisingly liberating.

How do I know what to work on?

 

How do I chose what emotional issues or identifications to explore?

When it comes to emotional issues, I usually work on whatever is coming up in daily life. Or any issues I can find related to my parents. Or universal human issues. Or whatever I have written down in the past to work on.

When it comes to identifications, apart from emotional issues, I usually explore the most basic ones. For instance, that I am a human, man, a me, an I, a doer, an observer, consciousness, awakeness, what content of experience happens within and as, and other basic assumptions about me and reality. I especially look for the ones I normally wouldn’t question.

Our mind’s magical truth-glue

 

How does a thought appear true?

It’s one of the things I have explored, and it’s been especially helpful to use different variations of Buddhist inquiry. When the mind holds something as true, how does it show up in the sense fields, and in particular sensations and thoughts? How do sensations and thoughts combine?

What I find is that when we hold a thought as true, the mind finds sensations to associate with the thought. The sensations lend a sense of solidity and substance to the thought, and that makes it seem more true.

It also seems that the mind tenses certain muscles to create sensations that can serve this purpose. The specific muscles and areas of the body correspond to specific thoughts, and vary some from thought to thought. (Although there are some general patterns across people, and each person seem to have some favored patterns.)

If the mind wants to hold a certain thought as true over time, which often happens, then that creates chronic tension in the corresponding area of the body.

This goes the other way as well. The thought that’s associated with certain sensations somewhere in the body gives a sense of meaning to these thoughts. If we ask what these sensations mean, the mind can typically and relatively easily come up with the answer.

When this dynamic is not noticed, or noticed only superficially, the gestalt created by the thought-sensation combination seem true and real. And we don’t really know why although we can always rationalize it and come up with a series of reasons within thought.

When we explore this dynamic in more detail, we get a peak behind the curtain. We get to see how the magic is created. And this has several effects.

Even if the thought feels true, we somewhere know what’s going on. There is a bit less certainty that the thought is absolutely true. We may hold it a little lighter.

To the extent we have explored the thought – and associated and underlying thoughts – the glue binding the thoughts and sensations together is a little more pliable and softer. There is a little more space between the sensations and thoughts.

And this makes it easier to relate to the thought more intentionally and not react to it as if it’s true. There is a little more space to relate to it differently than what we would have in the past.

Why is this important?

This gluing together of thoughts and sensations is at the center of emotional issues and identifications, so these types of explorations help with both emotional healing and awakening.

Fear of the truth

 

I was reminded of this in a conversation this morning.

When we believe something, we are automatically scared of the truth because the truth may destroy what we believe. That’s how it is for us as individuals, and also for us as organizations and groups.

Sometimes, we are also scared of the truth because it goes against what we want others to believe about us.

For instance, when I lived in Salt Lake City in the ’90s, the Mormons (LDS Church) excommunicated a university professor for researching the early history of mormonism (and finding things they didn’t like). What they wanted to present to others as the truth was a glorified and idealized version of their history, and reality turned out to be a little less savory.

Instead of embracing it and chose to be real and transparent, they chose to (try to) get rid of the messenger, and scare others within their church from doing similar things in the future.

Any time we believe something, we are scared of the truth. It doesn’t matter what it is or how close to reality it is. Any thought is just a pointer. It’s not the whole picture. We may see it differently, or in a different context, with more experience. And the reversals of the thought also have some validity to them.

So when we believe any thought, and hold it as a final or absolute truth, we are automatically scared of the truth. We invest the idea of truth into the thought, and We feel we need to defend the thought because reality may show us it’s not as true as we initially thought.

How can we notice when this is happening? For me, I keep an eye on any time I feel something is a given truth. Or when I feel defensive about something. Or feel a need to justify. Or find others who agree so I can feel better. Any time there is a charge on a thought, it means I believe it.

What can we do when this happens? Sometimes, it’s enough to notice this. That, in itself, may help us shift out of it and uncover the receptivity we are. It also helps to admit – to myself – what’s happening. (OK, I notice I have a charge on this thought. It feels true to me, but I know it’s not.) Sometimes, if we feels safe to do so, we can admit it to someone else. And it also helps to explore the thought through inquiry (Living Inquiries, The Work).

When I work with clients (including myself), we sometimes encounter this fear of reality. And it can be helpful – and sometimes essential – to address this fear directly before going further.

All our thoughts: A human invention

 

This Christmas, a Norwegian author (Ari Behn) committed suicide. A close friend of him said he was tormented by feeling that his work was not good enough. I don’t know if that was the reason for his suicide, or how large part it played, but it was a reminder for me.

All our ideas are a human invention. All our shoulds. All our ideas about how our life should be. All our ideas of not living up to an ideal. All our “standards” that we live up to or not.

Why do we take it so seriously when it’s all a human invention?

These ideas and shoulds are not inherent in life. They are not prescribed by life or God or anything at all apart from the human mind. All our thoughts – all our words, ideas, world views, ideals, values and so on – were once created by an ordinary human being like you and me.

They are a human invention. Why take it so seriously? Why torment yourself with these human inventions?

Why take what thoughts say so seriously? They are just questions about the world. They are innocent. None of them reflect any absolute or final truth.

Of course, we are trained to believe our thoughts. For some reason, our society and culture encourages us to believe certain thoughts. I see how it’s a useful way to control people. But it also creates a lot of (unnecessary) suffering.

Why not instead teach people how to question their thoughts? Why not teach this as a Life 101 theme in school?

The most useful approach I have found to do this is inquiry. For instance, The Work of Byron Kate and the Living Inquiries.

Note: The family of Ari Behn were were open about it being suicide. The idea that it’s shameful or something to hide is another human invention, and a very old-fashioned one at that. It seems far better to be open about it. It reduces speculation. And it can generate very helpful conversations about suicide and how to support people who are going through difficult times.

Note 2: When I say that our thoughts are a human invention, it’s not entirely accurate. Yes, the content of our thoughts and what’s held as true and not was invented by someone, and reinvented each time someone decided to take it on for themselves. And yet, this is all the processes of life. Life came up with thoughts, and life came up with what thoughts to take as true and not. Ultimately, it’s all the play of life or the universe or the divine.

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Billy Knapp: Uncertainty. That is appropriate for matters of this world

 

Alice Longbaugh: I never had his certainties. I suppose it is a defect.

Billy Knapp: I don’t think it’s a defect at all. Oh, no. Uncertainty. That is appropriate for matters of this world. Only regarding the next are we vouchsafed certainty.

Alice Longbaugh: Yes.

Billy Knapp: I believe certainty regarding that which we can see and touch, it is seldom justified, if ever. Down the ages, from our remote past, what certainties survive? And yet we hurry to fashion new ones. Wanting their comfort. Certainty, is the easy path. Just as you said.

– from Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Cohen brothers

I found this exchange between Billy and Alice beautiful in its simplicity and honesty.

Uncertainty is appropriate for any idea we have. For anything we think we know, whether it’s the big picture questions or our everyday life. Any thought comes with a question mark, whether we notice or not.

Telling ourselves we have certainty about something is a way to seek comfort. In a sense, it’s the “easy” path since we can pretend to know and we don’t need to question it or explore it further. And yet, it’s not so easy because somewhere we know we are deceiving ourselves. And it’s out of alignment with reality and life may, at any moment, show that to us. Life may present us with a situation showing us that one of our most cherished ideas was not true, or not as true as we wanted it to be.

This is also why we get the preaching pattern (or lecturing or proselytizing pattern). We hold onto a thought or idea in order to find comfort or safety. Somewhere, we know we cannot know for certain if the thought or idea is true. And we probably know, somewhere that we hold onto it to find comfort. And we may, secretly, fear that life – at any time – will show us it’s not as true as we wanted it to be. If we are not honest with ourselves about this, then one way to deal with the inevitable tension inherent in these dynamics is to preach to others. We lecture and try to convince others the initial thought or idea is true so we can feel better about holding onto it for ourselves. At least, others are in the same boat. In an even more basic sense, we lecture others so we can hear it ourselves. We lecture ourselves about the importance of believing the initial thought or idea. We try to remove our own doubt, which is impossible. Doubt is sanity. Doubt is being aligned with reality. We can never completely deceive ourselves.

Uncertainty. That is appropriate for matters of this world. Only regarding the next are we vouchsafed certainty.

Uncertainty is appropriate for matters of this world. It’s appropriate for any thought and anything that has to do with the content of our experience. We cannot know or say anything for certain about this.

Only about the “next” world can we say anything for certain. Perhaps not the way Billy may have thought about it, but in another way. The only thing we know for certain is that we are – what the mind may label – consciousness.

We cannot say anything for certain about the content of consciousness. But we can say for certain that there is consciousness. That’s not only what we are but all we are, in our own immediate experience. The whole world, as it appears to us, and whatever we take ourselves to be as a human being, happens within and as consciousness.

It happens within and as what we are. And we can label that consciousness, awakeness, or whatever else we like. (Of course, the label and any ideas we have about it happens within and as content of consciousness!)

Down the ages, from our remote past, what certainties survive?

And that’s how it is today as well. The certainties we have today – collectively – will not survive. Future generations will have other certainties, and these also won’t survive.

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Adyashanti: As soon as you move out of truth

 

As soon as you move out of truth, you feel it, kinesthetically; you feel it in your body when you’ve disconnected.

– Adyashanti, Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic, chapter 6

One of my current favorite ways of exploring this is the “I can if I want” test.

I can […] if I want, and I want. I can […[ if I want, and I don’t want.

Say each one to yourself and see how your body responds. Does it tense? Does it relax? (Tension is a “no”, relaxation and relief is a “yes”.)

In the last few days, I have had a slight dilemma on whether to use antibiotics or not. I try to avoid it as much as possible, but I have had an infection over several days that didn’t get better. So I said to myself I can take antibiotics if I want, and I want and noticed how my body responded, and then checked I can take antibiotics if I want, and I don’t want. The first one felt like a relief in my body, and the second tension and stress. So I went with my body, got the antibiotics, took it and it felt like a relief. (Of course, my doctor’s advice is primary in this case, but he had left it open for me to decide so I did.)

This is obviously a much bigger topic. It’s not just about everyday or life decisions. It’s also – and perhaps mainly – about the stories we tell ourselves and how we take them. Whenever we tell ourselves an untrue story – a stressful or painful story – our body tenses up. And when we find what’s truer for us, our body relaxes and it’s a relief.

And yes, I know that can sound a bit naive. Most of us would say that some true stories are stressful. And yet, this is what I have found over and over through – for instance – inquiry. The more true stories and interpretations feel like a relief. Something falls into place. My body can relax.

I have written a lot about this in other articles so I won’t go into it much here. But I’ll say that one relief-giving insight is that no story reflects an absolute or final truth. I can hold all of them lightly, as a question. And there is always some validity in the reversals of any story, and seeing that is also a relief. And we have to discover this for ourselves, by examining one specific stressful story at a time.

Why does the body respond in this way? My take on it is that somewhere, we always know when we tell ourselves something not (entirely) true, and when we take it as more true and final than it is, and that is reflected in the body. Our mind tenses up, and so does the body.

We know what we tell ourselves is not true in the way we tell it to ourselves, the seamless whole of our mind-body tenses up, and that’s a sign we are telling an untruth to ourselves and an invitation to find what’s genuinely more true for us.

The tree of knowledge of good and evil

 

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Genesis 2:16-17

Traditional myths tell us something about ourselves, and myths from religion are no different.

In a non-dual context, there is a pretty straightforward way of looking at this.

Before thought, and before taking thought as telling us something that’s fundamentally real and true, there is no knowledge of good and evil. Everything just is.

With thought, and specifically taking thought as telling us truth and reality, there is suddenly knowledge of good and evil. Thoughts tell us what’s good and evil. And what falls into each category depends on our culture, parents, subgroups, and to some extent personal history and preferences.

And that’s how we throw ourselves out from the garden of Eden. Suddenly, we are not innocent anymore. We know what’s good and evil, we judge others by it, and we judge ourselves by it.

Why a tree with fruit? Perhaps because beliefs, including beliefs about good and evil, are a bit like eating something juicy. And these thoughts do grow and branch out just like a tree. We may start with something simple, and from there comes a lot of complexity.

And how do we return to the Garden of Eden and our age of innocence? We cannot return to what was. But we can examine how our mind creates its own experience of good and evil, and there are ways to dismantle it. We can have the same thoughts without so much of a charge on them, and without them appearing to tell us something inherently real about the world. The thoughts can be allowed to be thoughts, and we can relate to them more consciously. We can be more discerning in how we relate to them.

That’s another form of Eden and one that’s a bit more mature.

Myths mirror ourselves, and in this case, they may mirror the shift to believing thoughts, and specifically thoughts about values and good and bad. It threw us out of Eden, but the good news is that we can dismantle the process and find a more mature Eden.

Changing our relationship to our thoughts

 

It’s very important for me to “not think.” I do enough thinking. You can just “be.”

Ringo Starr in Parade Magazine

I am surprised a long-time mediator talks about it this way. If course, he can be misquoted and it may be taken out of context, and he may have more to say about it if asked.

Basic meditation and mindfulness is not about not thinking or getting rid of thoughts, at least not as we conventionally understand it.

In one sense, it’s about noticing thoughts and anything else here, anything happening in our sense fields. Notice and allow. (And to be fair to Ringo Starr, that may be just what he means which means the wording in the interview is misleading.)

In another sense, it’s about thoughts – usually gradually and over time – losing their charge. When they have a charge, they seem true, important, and something we need to pay attention to (i.e. go into as if they are true and keep spinning and elaborating the story). As they lose the charge, it’s easier to notice they are thoughts – perhaps with a charge — passing through. We don’t need to pay much attention to them or elaborate or act on them unless they inform us about something practical we need to take care of.

This tends to happen over time with regular mindfulness practice. And it can be greatly helped and speeded up through inquiry, for instance, traditional Buddhist inquiry, its modern variety Living Inquiries, or even The Work of Byron Katie or some forms of cognitive therapy.

So basic meditation is about changing our relationship to our thoughts and not getting rid of them. As someone said, the mind creates thoughts just like a flower creates smells. It’s the natural function of the mind, and essential for our survival and functioning in the world.

Over time, we may find we appreciate our thoughts as we appreciate the smell of flowers. We may even find we appreciate the apparently stressful ones, at least sometimes and perhaps more often.

We are creating our own reality?

 

To me, healing, maturing and awakening is partly about discernment, differentiation, and clarifying in what particular ways something is true.

In modern spirituality, we sometimes hear people say that we create our own reality. This can be understood in slightly naive (misguided and less helpful) ways, but there is also some truth to it.

So how is it true for me?

In general, I see that my perception of anything is filtered through and created by an overlay of stories – of images and words. And most these are often not even noticed, unless we have spent some time exploring and noticing them intentionally.

Also, as what we are – that which any experience happens within and as – we can say that we “create” our world. Our experience of anything is an expression of the creativity of the mind.

And if we are so inclined, we can say that what we are is the divine, everything is the divine, and the divine creates all these experiences for itself.

There is a related question: are we creating the situations we find ourselves in?

Sometimes, because we live from our limited experience and perception, and sometimes our hangups, wounds, and identifications, that creates situations for us. We sometimes sit in the nest we built ourselves. This is the conventional and ordinary way of looking at it.

I mostly find it helpful to look for how I can use my current situation to heal, mature, and awaken.

It can be helpful to assume that life “wants” me to heal, mature, and awaken. Life sets up situations for me where I can see what’s left, with an invitation for me to invite in healing, maturing, and awakening for whatever in me needs it.

From a bigger perspective, we can say that life creates situations for itself that invites in local healing, maturing, and awakening through this part of itself that’s this human me.

I don’t know if it’s true in any absolute or final sense, but I find it a helpful guide.

I can also do another what if exercise. What if something in me created this situation? Which emotional issue, belief, or identification in me would create it? (This is similar to the – somewhat naive – assumption that we are creating our own situations, but the what-if angle gives it a lighter and more playful touch.)

How has this played out in my own life? This topic is current for me now in a few difficult situations. One is my health (CFS and Lyme) and another is a recent process with the government which took longer than I expected (the wait had some ripple effects).

Some may say (and have said) that I am creating the situations for myself. For instance, I have created the illness. When I try that assumption on, I find it creates stress in me and weird thought patterns. It feels more helpful to see the situation in a more conventional way and use a couple of what-if thought experiments to harvest the value in the situation.

I can look at the situation in a more finely grained way, and in a way that’s more real and honest to me. For instance:

Have I created the CFS and Lyme disease for myself? Not really as they are caused by a virus (EB) and Lyme. And yet, it may be that stress and some stressful beliefs and identifications in me weakened my system and created the conditions for these to move into a full-blown disease. It’s good to address this. It’s very helpful for me to strengthen my system in any way I am able, including through reducing stress and clearing up any chronic stressful beliefs and identifications in me.

The illness has brought to light many areas of myself where I resist my life as it is (other stressful beliefs and identifications), and it’s helpful for me and my quality of life to address these. I can use the illness and the situations I find myself in due to the illness to identify and invite healing for these parts of me.

I can ask myself what if I created this illness, where in me was it created from? (I find a victim identity, overwhelmed by life, and perhaps a desire to hide from life.)

Did I create the delay with the government process? No, I found myself in the same situation as others in the same process. The delay was caused by many social factors, including restructuring and priorities. And yet, here too, I can find stressful beliefs and identifications triggered in me by this situation and invite in healing for these. If life placed me in that situation so I can find deeper healing, which parts of me need healing? Which wounded parts of me were triggered? (Victim, hopelessness.) What did the situation say about me? (I am a victim.) And what if something in me created it, which wounded parts of me would that be? (A victim expecting things to take longer than expected.) 

In this way, I acknowledge the validity in conventional ways of looking at life. I benefit from assuming that life is conspiring on my behalf and places me in situations so I can heal, mature, and awaken and find healing and awakening for more parts of me. And I can even benefit from the angle (held lightly as a what-if question) that something in me created it.

Irrational emotions? No

 

Are emotions irrational? 

Not in my experience. They do their job perfectly. And that job is to follow our beliefs, including beliefs we may not realize we have, and conflicting beliefs. 

We can say that the emotions are always “rational” in that they do their job. It’s the beliefs that not always are so rational. Although they made perfect sense at the time our minds created them. They made perfect sense in that situation and with the inner and outer resources available to us. Since most of them were formed when we were children, they made perfect sense to our child self at the time. 

In that sense, even the beliefs are rational. Although they may not always appear to make sense to us and others now, in our current situation. 

How do we identify these beliefs? And how do we invite them to resolve so we can live in a way that makes more sense to us now? Inquiry – The Work or Living Inquiries – are effective ways to do this, although it does take intention, sincerity, work, and often patience. And the guidance of someone familiar with how to use them effectively. 

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Physical tension to maintain beliefs, wounds, and trauma

 

It’s common to see physical tension as created by stressful beliefs and trauma. At the level of our regular everyday experience, that’s true enough. We have stressful thoughts and with that comes physical tension. It can be stressful thoughts that are recurrent and comes with recurrent tension, it can be more chronic and ongoing, or it can be something that happens rarely.

When we explore this through some forms of inquiry (e.g. Buddhist, Living Inquiries) we may find another connection between beliefs and physical tension. We see how any one identification and belief is associated with tension or contraction somewhere in the body. The thoughts give meaning to the tension, and the tension and contractions give a sense of solidity, reality and even truth to the thoughts. The physical tension is required for the thought to seem true. In a certain way, the mind creates physical tension in order to be able to believe a thought.

This is an abstraction from what I notice regularly in inquiry. I explore an identification or belief. I notice it’s connected with a particular sensation, tension, or contraction in the body. I notice how the thought gives a sense of meaning to the sensation (it seems to mean something when it’s there), and the sensation gives a sense of substance and truth to the thought.

For instance, the thought may be I am not good enough (identity as someone not good enough). I feel it as sensations in the throat. When I feel the sensations, they seem to tell me I am not good enough. And when I look at the thought I am not good enough it seems substantiated by the feeling in the throat.

This all happens without too much conscious noticing. It happens relatively automatic and at the edge of what we are consciously aware of. When it is brought into conscious awareness, through inquiry, the mechanisms are revealed. The man behind the curtain is revealed. And through noticing and resting with what’s noticed, with patience, respect, and curiosity, the connections between these thoughts and sensations tend to weaken and eventually fall away. Thoughts are recognized as thoughts and not inherently true. Sensations are recognized as sensations and not inherently meaningful.

Also, it all seems a bit silly. The mind believes a thougth just because it’s connected with some sensations? It creates these sensations (through tension) just so the thoughts can seem substantial and true? And yet, that’s how it seems to work.

These dynamics can be explored and addressed in a wide range of ways. We can explore the thought-sensation connections through Living Inquiries. We can find what’s more true for us than our initial belief through The Work. Therapeutic tremoring (e.g. TRE) can, over time, release the physical tension giving substance to stressful beliefs and identifications. Vortex Healing can address both the mind (thought) and physical (contraction) side of the equation. We can help the relationship between these thought-sensation “beings” through parts and subpersonality work. We can change our overall relationship to them (allowing them to relax, reorient, and partially resolve themselves) through heart-centered practices. We may notice these dynamics and giving them space to resolve themselves through noticing, allowing, and giving it time (basic meditation).

Note: When I say “stressful beliefs” or “stressful thoughts” here it really refers to identifications. When the mind identifies with the viewpoint of a thought, it takes it as true and make it into a belief. And any identification (or belief) is inherently stressful.

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The energy bound up in identifications, beliefs, wounds, and trauma

 

We bind a great deal of energy up in our identifications, beliefs, wounds, and trauma.

First, what do I mean by identifications? An identification is when the mind takes itself to be a certain viewpoint created by a story. It takes itself to be that viewpoint. It becomes that viewpoint, in its own experience. That’s how a belief is created, including stressful beliefs. (And all beliefs are stressful or become stressful eventually.) And this is also an important component of how emotional wounds and traumas are created and maintained.

And why do they require energy? Our body-mind needs to use energy to create and hold these in place. It needs to consistently fuel and recreate the identifications. It needs to create and hold onto stories creating identifications. And it needs to create physical tension to associate with these stories to make them appear more real, solid, and true. Both require consistent use of mental and physical energy.

What are some of the effects of this bound up energy? The identifications in themselves can create fatigue, depression, anxiety, compulsions, and more. On top of that, these tend to be stronger and more visible when our general energy level is lower because some of our energy is bound up in this way. Over time, having energy bound up may also contribute to the characteristics we sometimes associate with aging (fatigue, lethargy, stiffness, chronic illness).

When do we notice this energy-binding dynamic? Sometimes, we have glimpses of how much energy is bound in identifications. It may be in a smaller way when a specific belief or wound is released. Or it may be when we are released out of identifications as a whole – whether temporarily (spiritual openings or glimpses) or more stably (more stable awakening).

And how have I noticed it? I have noticed it in a few different ways. Most clearly during spiritual openings  when the mind trancends many of the identifications and hangups. In healing and inquiry sessions. And also when I have combined a daily meditation and yoga practice, or have done Breema regularly, and I find the bodymind wholeness that’s whole and healthy in spite of identifications, wounds, and physical ailments.

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Shifting center of gravity into more universal identities

 

In some ways, any challenging life situation is an invitation to release identification with more superficial identities (roles, work, gender, preferences etc.) and shift the center of gravity into more universal ones.

– from a previous post

This is a part of healing and awakening, and – to some extent- sustainability and creating a society that works better for all, including future generations and ecosystems.

We all have a mix of different identities. Some set us apart and some are more universal. Some are conscious and some are less so. Some have strong identifications and some not so much. And they come from culture, family, and personal experience (sometimes reactivity).

Life tends to challenge the identities that set us apart, and the more strongly we are identified with them the more stressful and dramatic we may experience those challenges. For instance, we may be identified with being young but we inevitably get older. We may be identified with being healthy, strong, and active, but get sick. We are identified with a political orientation but realize something else makes more sense. And so on. The identities that set us apart typically have to do with roles we play in life, whether it’s relationships, work, age, gender, or different political, religious, or other orientations.

There is nothing wrong with these identities. They all serve a function. We couldn’t live without them. But when life challenges them, as it tends to do, it is painful to have invested them with too much energy.

And that’s an invitation to notice and question these identities, and perhaps shift our center of gravity into more universal identities. These more universal identities include being human, part of life, part of the Universe, being awareness, that which all happens within and as, and so on.

As usual with these type of things, we cannot consciously shift the center of gravity into more universal ones. Any shift requires a ripening that largely operates outside of our conscious awareness and largely comes from influences far outside of us as individuals. And yet, we can invite it to happen through various practices or explorations.

We can identify and question identities through inquiry (Living Inquiry, The Work). We can engage in practices that come from and help us shift into more universal orientations such as heart centered practices (ho’o, jesus prayer, all-inclusive gratitude practice). We can help more universal identities come alive for us through Epic of Evolution type experiences and practices (Practices to Reconnect). We can do energy work that tends to, over time, shift identifications into more universal ones (yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Vortex Healing etc.). And there is a great number of other approaches that similarly helps us shift our center of gravity to more universal identities.

Note: When I say “influences far outside of us as individuals” I mean influences from the past and from the wider social and ecological wholes. Anything that happens has innumerable causes, and these stretch back to beginning of time and out to the furthest reaches of the universe. And that includes any ripening that happens in us and any shifts in identifications.

Lessons from losing a bag

 

I left my Timbuk2 messenger bag on the train a couple of days ago, and have not had it returned. It contained several things important to me and some that are difficult (or impossible) to replace.

Here are some things I have noticed:

I did experience some shock right away. It seemed unreal, especially since I have never lost anything important in this way before.

It’s helpful to be kind to my own experiences – the shock, sadness, frustration. They are like creatures that just want some presence, kindness, and respect.

I reminded myself that most or all can be replaced in different ways. And that they are just things. I can get by without any of the specific things I lost.

It’s a reminder that everyone and everything comes and goes. In a few decades, everyone alive now will be dead. In a few decades or centuries, everything I have will be gone. In a few millenia, everything humans have now will be gone.

I don’t “own” any of it. I don’t even “own” my own body. It’s all here temporarily. At most, I am a steward of this life and these physical things. And it seems that now, that particular bag with it’s content has passed on to someone else. Just as they came into my stewardship, they are now in someone else’s stewardship.

I get to notice some beliefs and identifications coming up from this situation. Life is rubbing up against them, so I get to notice them more clearly. I don’t consciously believe any of them, but somewhere in me they are believed. Here is a selection:

I am a victim. I am unlucky. Things go wrong for me.

I deserve to have it back. I always return what I find. Life should be fair.

I own those things. They are mine.

It’s hard to live in a world where people are so crude and lack empathy.

It shook me up and gave me a boost to get certain things in my life more in order.

Whenever life goes against our shoulds, we can use it to fuel stressful and painful beliefs. Or we can use it to open to our experience and meet it with some kindness, notice and examine our painful beliefs, and see that we are all in the same boat.

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The rigidity of beliefs and identifications

 

Why is it appropriate to use a strong word as trauma in this way? Because beliefs and identifications are inherently stressful and – yes – traumatic. There is a low-level trauma inherent in any belief and identification. And in some situations, when life pushes up against the rigidity created through beliefs and identifications in just the right way, it can create a full blown trauma as trauma is understood in a conventional sense.

– from a previous post

There is a lot of information in that paragraph, and it may seem a bit opaque.

What does beliefs and identifications mean? A belief is when we hold a thought to be more or less absolutely true. And identification means that we are identified with the viewpoint of that thought. We – as strange as it may sound – take ourselves to be that viewpoint.

Why does it create rigidity? Because the mind goes from the fluidity of being able to consider and recognize the validity in any thought and viewpoint on a subject, to holding one or a few thoughts and viewpoints are true and real and excluding the validity of other – now apparently opposing – viewpoints. And this creates a certain rigidity of the mind.

It also creates a rigidity of the body since it needs to contract certain muscles to support these beliefs and identifications. (See the previous post for more on this.)

Why is this rigidity stressful? When life pushes up against these beliefs and identifications, it’s stressful. And life will since life is inherently uncontrained by any belief or identification, so it naturally creates situations that goes against any belief or identification.

How does this create trauma? It creates trauma, as trauma is understood conventionally, when life pushed up against the rigidiy of the body-mind in a strong way, or a way that’s especially stressful to that particular body and mind.

The role of society and culture. I should add that society and culture plays a significant role in this. Society and culture comes with a blueprint for most of our beliefs and identifications. The ones that may appear more uniquely individual are variations of themes set by culture and society.

Rigity and life flow. This rigidity of mind and body, in a sense, limits and blocks the flow of life. It limits our perception. It limits how we perceive opportunities and make chocies. It limits how we live our lives. And it even limits the mind’s and body’s natural and inherent capacity to heal itself.

At the same time, in the bigger picture, this rigidiy is the flow of life. It’s life creating this rigidy within itself. And in the even bigger picture, it does so in order to express, experience, and explore itself in its richness and in as many ways as possible. Including through temporary rigidity and what that temporarily creates.

Thoughts, charge, identification

 

Finding clarity often has to do with differentiation. And here is a very basic one.

There is a difference between thoughts, bodily sensations, and identifications.

Thoughts are mental imitations of the senses – whether they are images, sounds, taste, smell, movement, sensations, or something else. When we talk about thoughts, we usually mean images and words, and words are typically a combination of mental images (of the words) and sounds.

Sensations are bodily sensations. When the mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, the sensations tend to lend a sense of charge (reality, substance, solidity) to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations.

When there is identifications with a thought, it seems true. The mind identifies with the viewpoint of the thought. Thoughts that are not identified with pass through and are recognized as just thoughts. They are seen as questions about the world. Temporary guides for orientation and action in the world, at most. It’s clear that they don’t reflect any final or absolute truth. Thoughts that are identified with tend to seem true and real. And the mechanism for identification with thoughts is for the mind to associate sensations with thoughts, as described above.

When it comes to tools for exploring these, they each seem to work on certain aspects of this thought, charge, and identification dynamic. They each use a slightly different angle to invite a release of the charge out of the thoughts, and soften the identification with these.

For instance, Living Inquiries tend to release the association between thoughts and sensations. Thoughts are then more easily recognized as thoughts, and the previous associated sensations may still be there but now with less or no particular meaning. The Work helps us recognize that previously believed thoughts are not inherently or absolutely true, and that other angles are as or more valid. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) tends to release the charge from the body which is associated with stressful thoughts and trauma, and the thoughts behind the stress and trauma tends to seem less charged and less true, and there may be less identification with them. Vortex Healing seems to work from both the bodily charge and consciousness side of this dynamic.

A footnote about mainstream psychology: I have for a long time noticed that mainstream psychologists sometimes don’t differentiate between these. For instance, many psychological questionnaires ask about thoughts but not how much charge they hold, or how identified the person is with these. And that’s one of many ways questionnaires can be interpreted in a misleading way.

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I am not useful?

 

Sometimes, we feel we are not useful. Maybe even that the world would be better without us in it.

Inquiry. This comes from thoughts, and it can be good to investigate these thoughts.

The Work. What stressful stories do I have about myself? How others see me? What the world expects from me? How I should be to be useful? What do I find when I examine these thoughts through The Work?

Living Inquiries. What does it say about me that I am not useful? Make a list. Find the statement that has the most charge and examine it. See what thoughts (images, words) and sensations make up this identity. If guided through this process by someone experienced in this form of inquiry, it can help release the stressful charge behind it.

Lila. Also, if it’s real to us, it can be helpful to remember lila. It’s all the play of the divine. The universe and us within it is life – the Universe, the divine – expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself. We are the play of the divine. Our life – as it is right now – is the play of the divine. Nothing is out of order. Nothing is wrong. There is no lessons to be learned. Nothing we are placed here to achieve.

Don’t know. We may discover this through inquiry, or we can remind ourselves, that we don’t really know. All my stressful stories and thoughts about myself and the world are stories and thoughts. They don’t reflect an inherent or absolute truth about myself or life.

The two last reminders – lila and don’t know – can be helpful reminders if they remind us of something that’s real to us. Something discovered through a spiritual opening or awakening, or through inquiry. Otherwise, they may be a pointer, something to explore for ourselves, for instance through inquiry.  Or it may be something not so useful for us right now.

TRE, Breema, Vortex Healing. I should also add that other tools can be helpful if we feel that we are not useful, our lives don’t matter, or that the world is better off without us. TRE can help release the tension, stress, and traumas behind it or created by it. Breema can help us find and experience the wholeness are already are. Vortex Healing can help clear the identities, beliefs, and traumas creating these experiences.

And there are, of course, innumerable other approaches that can help release the charge in the identities and beliefs behind this pattern, and help us (re)find our clarity. The ones I mentioned above are just some of the ones I have found most helpful.

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How to be miserable

 

As the video above, and the book it’s based on, reminds us:

It can be helpful to explore how we create what we want less of in our lives.

If I want to be more miserable, what would I do? Here is my list, right now.

Sleep. Make sure to consistently not get enough sleep, or sleep way too much. Make sure it’s consistenly irregular.

Diet. Eat a good deal of dairy, sugar, wheat. Eat mostly refined and processed foods. If you notice you crave something, then eat lots of it.  (Craving = a sign that your body reacts to it.)

Physical activities. Find ways to move as little as possible. Drive instead of walking. Stay indoors as much as you can. Avoid nature.

Thoughts. Believe stressful thoughts. Indulge in them. Never question them. Treat them as true and unquestionable. Seek out more stressful thoughts. Let them amplify each other.

Social. Spend a lot of time alone, isolated. OR spend time with people who focus on what doesn’t work, who believes and reinforces your own stressful thoughts, who is unable to be present with you, who wants you to change (for their own sake). Set other’s needs before your own. Make those around you miserable. (Complain, be ungrateful.)

Situations. Stay in situations that doesn’t work for you, that feels wrong at a deep level. Grin and bear it or complain instead of doing something to change it.

Attention. Put attention on distractions. Put attention on things that are urgent but not important. On news and drama. Train attention to be scattered.

Activities. Set diffuse goals, and impossible goals. Don’t break goals into doable steps. Always wait until you feel like doing it do actually do it instead of scheduling. Tell yourself that whatever you do isn’t enough or won’t work. Let small setbacks or discomforts mean that you should give it up. Complain instead of making a change.

Why does this exploration work?

It helps me examine what doesn’t work, and how this comes about.

It makes it easier to recognize when I do it.

It makes it more into a “thing” which helps me relate to it more intentionally. These dynamics are seen more as an object and are less identified with.

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Why we feel lighter

 

Why do we sometimes feel lighter? For instance, if something desirable happens, or we have a release through inquiry, Vortex Healing, TRE, or something else?

Stressful beliefs (identifications, trauma) come with muscle contractions. In order to believe a thought, the thought has to be associated with sensations, and these sensations give the thought a sense of substance and reality. The thought feels true. The easiest way to have these sensations readily available is through muscle contractions. So when the mind needs to believe a thought, it contracts associated muscles to provide sensations, and these in turn give the thoughts a sense of solidity and reality. These muscle contractions feel dense and heavy. We – almost literally – feel the weight of our stressful beliefs or identifications.

So when we are either distracted from these stressful beliefs, or they are released, there is a sense of lightness. The muscle contractions lighten up or go away, so we feel lighter.

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Hangups take a lot of energy

 

Hangups take a lot of energy.

What is a hangup in this context?

A hangup is the same as an identification which means identifying with the viewpoint of a thought or story so we perceive the world through that lens. We “become” that viewpoint and live our life as if we are that viewpoint. We perceive and act as if we are it.

It’s the same as taking a thought as true, real, and substantial.

It’s the same as velcro. Thoughts and sensations that seem “stuck” together so the sensations give the thoughts a sense of substance and reality and the thoughts give meaning to the sensations.

A hangup comes from trauma when trauma is broadly defined. A hangup is something the mind seeks refuge and safety in, and it does so out of care or love, and out of unexamined and unloved fear. And that comes from and is trauma.

Why do hangups take energy?

Hangup takes mental energy since the mind tends to be drawn to looping thoughts relating to the topic of the hangup.

They take emotional energy due to the underlying fear which is either dormant, chronically low grade, or triggered.

And hangups take physical energy since they require muscle contractions to exist. The only way we can have a hangup (or identity, belief, trauma) is for sensations to lend substance to the related thoughts, and the only way the mind can have easy access to these sensations is through muscle contraction. If the hangup is chronic, the related muscle contraction will be chronic. If it is triggered more sporadically, the obvious muscle contractions will be more sporadic as well, although there will tend to be a low-grade chronic muscle contraction.

What happens when a hangup is released?

When a hangup is released, there is often a sense of lightness, relief, and more available energy. For instance, we may have an impulse to start or engage with a project that’s meaningful to us but we didn’t have the energy or motivation to spend much time on before.

In some cases, the release of a hangup may feel a bit confusing or even a let-down, but even here the longer term result is a sense of lightness (from reduced muscle contractions) and access to more energy.

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When in a funk, careful about drawing big conclusions

 

A funk or any strong emotional state tends to color our experience of everything. And that goes for our thoughts as well. Our thoughts tend to reflect whatever emotional state we are in. It’s as if our mind wants to be helpful, so it creates or brings up thoughts aligned with the emotional state.

It’s good to notice this pattern.

I notice I am in a funk or an emotional state. I notice my mind creating certain stories that goes with that funk or emotion. And I notice that as the funk or emotional state passes, as it does, then those thoughts pass as well. They were linked to the emotional state. They were not as true as they seemed when they were supported by the emotional state.

As I notice this pattern over time, a part of me also recognizes and knows what’s happening and not to believe those thoughts. A part of me knows they are fueled by the funk or the emotions, and as the funk or emotions pass, the thoughts will not seem as true or real.

And that helps me avoid fueling the thoughts further, draw big conclusions (about life, others myself, situations) based on them, and especially to act on those conclusions.

This is kindness towards myself.

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I am not good enough, original sin, and marketing

 

I am not good enough. I am broken beyond repair.

These are core beliefs for many people.

Where do they come from?

The immediate cause may be childhood experiences and what the mind does with them to protect us.

The broader cause is to be found in our culture. For instance, the marketing industry intentionally reinforces our experience of not being good enough and then promise that their products will make us good enough – at least temporarily. They create a problem and then sell a product to fix it.

And it may reach all the way back to the Christian idea of original sin. In Christianity, we find the same strategy of creating a problem (original sin) and then selling a product to fix it (Jesus as a savior). Christianity has permeated our culture for a couple of millennia so it’s natural that the underlying beliefs and assumptions in Christianity still operate in our culture, even if many or most no longer consider themselves traditional Christians.

As usual, there is a lot more to explore here. For instance, is the core identity of “not good enough” found only in our culture or in all cultures? (I would guess it’s cultural more than inevitable.) It’s also clear that the marketing industry intentionally play on and reinforce people’s low self-esteem so it’s easier to sell them products and services.

There is also the issue of how to tackle this issue. When we work with individuals, it’s helpful to do inquiry on this and help people find freedom from this identity, and it’s also good to help them see the bigger picture and where it comes from in terms of marketing and culture. Working at a group level, we can support critical thinking and media literacy at all school levels, and also work with the marketing industry. (Media literacy also includes being critical to what’s sold by Christianity and other religions.) Ultimately, we need to shift out of a consumerist economy and into one that’s healthier for all of us, including ecosystems and future generations.

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Disappointment

 

Sometimes I look forward to something and it doesn’t happen.

I feel disappointed. Sometimes, I even feel heartbroken.

I know and sense it’s old and not really about the current situation, and it feels a bit childish to get so disappointed. That may be a reason I haven’t thoroughly looked at this yet. The embarrassment and the thought “it’s childish” serve as gatekeepers for entering and exploring the wound behind it.

I recently had this disappointment triggered again.

The situation triggering disappointment, what does it say about me? What do I tell myself about me in that situation? 

I am missing out.

I am unloved. I am uncared for.

I am alone.

These thoughts are familiar to me and came easily. I want to see what more is here.

Others have more fun than me. They are enjoying life more than me. They are getting something I am missing out of.

My life is not worth living. It’s hopeless. It will be like this forever. I am unloved by God. I am unloved by life.

This second set of thoughts are also familiar to me, but I hadn’t seen that they were behind this disappointment and the emotions and states that came with it.

What’s my earliest memory of feeling so disappointed? 

I am 6-8 years old and in London on vacation with my parents. I am exhausted from a long day walking around in parks and galleries, and I want and am looking forward to my favorite thing which is coca cola in a can. (We didn’t have coke cans in Norway.) The street vendor doesn’t have it, and I am grief-stricken and angry. My parents buy me a souvenir knife (a small folding knife with ivory on it and a picture of a beef eater). I throw it hard at the ground.

If I bring myself back to that situation, what does it say about me?

Life is over. My life has no meaning. I am unloved. I am uncared for. Life is against me.

Seeing these thoughts, I also see that it makes sense I felt the way I did. The sadness, grief, hopelessness, frustration, and anger didn’t make sense in the context of the current triggering situation, but they do in the context of this early situation where I was worn out and had looked forward to one thing that I didn’t get.

These thoughts spun around in my mind, and although I was not consciously aware of them I certainly experienced their effects in terms of emotions, moods, and states. As I identified these thoughts and wrote them down, I got to see what created these feelings and states, and I got to see that it all makes sense and that it has to do with early experiences in my life. I got to see the innocence of it all. And there is some relaxing of these dynamics just from identifying the thoughts and seeing the innocence of it.

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Is trauma behind most or all distress?

 

To me, trauma seems to be behind any distress or suffering. And it’s a simple formula:

Trauma -> beliefs, identifications, velcro (as protection, to find a sense of safety) -> distress.

Trauma can come from small or big events, and from ongoing or one-time events. In any case, the mind responds to the event by creating trauma, and it does so through forming beliefs, identifications, and velcro. It does so to protect the (imagined) self and to find a sense of safety. These beliefs, identifications, and velcro then produce suffering and distress. When life rubs up against beliefs, as it inevitably does, suffering is typically the result.

I am using a very broad definition of trauma here. For instance, someone tells us we are chubby when we are little and this  creates a deficiency story of being chubby, which in turn can lead to a lot of distress later in life. An apparently innocent comment can be experienced as traumatic, the mind responds by creating deficiency stories, beliefs, and identifications, and this creates distress.

And the reason it was experienced as traumatic in the first place is that some beliefs, velcro, and identifications were already in place. Perhaps initially just from copying adults and others around us.

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Unconsciously identified with vs noticing as content of experience

 

When something charged is triggered in me and I don’t notice it very consciously, I tend to be unconsciously identified with it. I take on the viewpoint of the stories within the charge. I perceive the world through that filter.

Say hopelessness is triggered and I am unaware of the sensations and imaginations creating it. I take on the viewpoint of that hopelessness and I feel that the current situation or my life, in general, is hopeless.

I am a client in an inquiry session. Anger gets triggered. I don’t notice the components making it up, so I feel angry and get annoyed at the facilitator, the inquiry, or anything else my mind chooses to put it on.

A deficiency story of not being good enough is activated. I feel I am not good enough in relation to anything in my current situation, whether it’s work, a relationship, a task, or even being facilitated in an inquiry session. This story will color my experience and influence how I behave.

I may instead notice that something charged is triggered, and I may also notice the most obvious elements making it up (sensations, images, words) as it happens. I notice it as content of experience, and that softens or releases identification with it. I can relate to it more intentionally.

Hopelessness is triggered by a current situation. I notice the sensations and some images of me looking hopeless. I may notice words saying “it’s hopeless”, “nothing will help”. I relate to these more intentionally and recognize it as a combination of sensations and imaginations. I may recognize it’s not anything more than that. I may recognize that it’s coloring my experience, and at the same time is not any ultimate or final truth nor is it my destiny. There is some distance to it. I can explore it further as an experience that’s here now.

And the same goes for anger or not feeling good enough, or anything else with a charge that’s activated. I can explore the sensations combined with imaginations, and relate to it more intentionally.

In short:

When something is charged, it’s charged because sensations become “glued” to imaginations or stories.

The charge functions as glue or a magnet for identification.

When it’s activated by a current situation and it’s not recognized as what it is, there is almost automatically identification with it. There is identification with the viewpoint of the stories making up the charge.

If I instead notice it as an object within experience and notice the sensations and imagination components, there is a softening of that identification. That happens even if I just notice the most obvious sensation and one or two associated mental images or set of words. And it happens more thoroughly if I take time to inquire further into it.

It can sound a bit abstract but it’s also something I can repeatedly notice just about every day.

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Going to thought to avoid feeling sensations given meaning by thought

 

Most of us go to thought to avoid feeling sensations given meaning by thought. It’s an interesting circularity that begins and ends with thought.

Here is the simple version of what’s happening.

(a) Thought gives a scary meaning to sensations.

(b) Since it seems scary, we want to avoid it.

(c) And the easiest way to avoid it is often to go to thought.

And a more elaborate description:

(a) Thoughts give a scary meaning to sensations. And the same sensations give a sense of substance and reality to those thoughts. These sensations often take the form of a body contraction, and this can be activated in the moment, or it can be more chronic.

(b) Since it seems scary, we want to avoid it. The thought-sensation combination seems scary, so we typically want to avoid looking at it closely. We may be caught in the drama of it, and even that’s a way to avoid looking more closely at the thought component and feeling the sensation component.

(c) The easiest way to avoid it is often to go to thought. These thoughts can be about nearly anything. They can be distracting thoughts. Analyzing thoughts trying to understand the problem. Strategizing thoughts trying to find a solution to the apparent problem. And they can even be the initially troublesome thoughts themselves when we get caught in their content instead of recognizing them as mental images and words.

There is a circularity here. The whole cycle starts and ends with thoughts. It starts with a scary thought held to be true. And ends with thoughts aimed at avoiding taking a closer look at these thoughts, and avoiding feeling the associated sensations and body contraction.

The solution to this and the way out is described in several other posts on this blog.

Why does attention go to painful memories/stories?

 

A client asked why she can’t stop thinking about a painful situation that happened several months back.

More broadly, why does attention sometimes repeatedly go to painful memories or stories?

There are several answers, each with some truth to it.

Symptom of trauma. It’s a common symptom of trauma. Its common with obsessive thinking about the initial traumatic situation or similar (real or potential) situations. Trauma can come from ongoing or acute situations and the obsessive thinking tends to reflect the traumatic situation in either case.

Velcro. When attention goes to certain stories in an obsessive way, it’s because these stories have a charge to them. (Or the mind tries to avoid stories with a charge to them by going into daydreams.) Sensations combine with imagination, lending them a charge and sense of reality while the imagination gives the sensations as sense of meaning. That’s how trauma – and any other velcro – is created.

Resolution. The mind goes to these stories because it tries to find resolution. And the only real resolution comes from the mind meeting itself with presence, kindnessn, love, and some insight into the original situation as well as how the mind creates its own painful memory.

Evolution. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for the mind to return to painful memories to try to learn as much as possible from it and prevent it from happening in the future.

To me, these are all valid. It is a common symptom of trauma. It’s what happens when there is velcro. It’s mind seeking resolution. And it’s built into us through evolution since it makes sense to return to painful situations to try to learn as much as we can from it and prevent similar things from happening in the future.

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Notice push/pull of distractions

 

During any form of meditation, it can be interesting to see where attention goes when it wanders.

This may happen during a training of more stable attention (keeping attention on something, for instance the sensations of the breath at the nostrils), natural rest (noticing and allowing), a heart centered practice (ho’o, tonglen), a body centered practice (noticing sensations, yoga, tai chi, breema etc.), or something else.

When attention gets distracted, it gets distracted by stories that has a charge to them. And these stories have a charge because they are associated with certain sensations. (Sensations lends a sense of reality, solidity and charge to the imagination. And imagination lends meaning to the sensations.) Instead of charge, we can say identification (identification with the viewpoint of the stories), beliefs (at least a part of us taking stories as real and true), or velcro (sensations and imagination associated with each other).

And when I say “distracted by” that can happen in at least two different ways, and there is often a combination of the two.

One is the stories that attention goes to. These may have a charge to them, as described above. And this charge makes them seem important. The charge may be interpreted as a like or dislike. We like or dislike the stories and/or what they are about.

Another is what attention seeks to avoid, which is also a story with a charge to it. When we look, we may first notice the sensation aspect of it (uncomfortable sensations) or the imagination aspect of it (uncomfortable stories). And it appears uncomfortable because a certain story is associated with sensations that makes it appear real, true, and solid.

Explaining it in this way, it may seem complicated, but it can be quite simple in practice.

(a) Keep attention somewhere, for instance in one of the ways mentioned above.

(b) Notice when attention wanders. (This noticing may happen during or after the fact.)

(c) Notice where attention goes. Notice the story or stories it goes to.

(d) Does that story have a charge? Where do you feel it in the body? What are the associated images and words?

(e) What among the sensations in my body did (or do) I not want to feel right now? What did attention want to escape? Find it in the body. Take some time to feel the physical sensations. Notice associated images and words.

This is a simple way to explore it. We can also use inquiry to take it further and explore it more in depth. In most cases, there is a lot of different sensations and imaginations (images and words) connected to what attention went to and tried to avoid.

In the beginning, can be easier to explore it in this setting. It provides a supportive container for the exploration. And really, it can be done in any situation in daily life. Whenever attention gets drawn into a story, I can explore the charge in the story it goes to and also what attention was trying to avoid.

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Velcro = manipulation

 

Whenever I hold a story as true, there is manipulation of myself or others.

Sensations anywhere in the body are sometimes associated with imagination, and this lends the imagination a sense of substance, solidity and reality. It makes the imagination seem true to us. Our mind makes it seem true to itself. This is called velcro in the Living Inquiry terminology. (Velcro = Sensations + imagination.)

This velcro lends a sense of reality and charge to imagination. And this imagination may take the form of a perceived threat, a deficient or inflated self, a compulsion, or anything else. And this tends to leads to manipulation of myself or others.

I manipulate to avoid a perceived threat. To compensate for a deficient self. To uphold an inflated self. To act on a compulsion to fill a perceived hole. To avoid feeling certain sensations associated with a threat, deficient or inflated self, or compulsion.

More generally, my mind manipulates it’s own perception to fit it’s beliefs, and it manipulates it’s own actions to act as if these beliefs are real.

There is nothing inherently wrong here. It’s just the way the mind works. It’s innocent. And it creates suffering, which is why we are motivated to change it to the extent we see and realize what’s going on, and that there is an alternative.

The alternative is to (a) notice what’s going on, (b) be honest about it with ourselves and perhaps others, and (c) examine what’s going on – for instance through inquiry.

Note: Velcro here refers to the same as a belief, holding a story as real and true. And identification, identifying with the viewpoint of a story. And even “ego” as that words is sometimes used in spiritual circles.

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Beliefs ≈ allergic reaction

 

I have often thought that beliefs are similar to an allergic reaction.

There is a stimulus which normally or in itself is harmless. We react to it as if it’s a real threat. And we do so because our mind has a belief about it.

To take an example from my own life: There is a leaf blower outside my window. My mind makes itself stressed and agitated and tries to find an escape – any escape. This is very similar to an allergic reaction. The stimulus (sound from leaf blower) is in itself harmless. My mind over-reacts to it. And it does so based on beliefs (identifications, hangups, velcro).

The same happens in all areas of life. In some cases, as the one above, it’s pretty easy to see. Many don’t respond that way, so it’s clearly nothing about the stimulus itself. In other cases, it may be more difficult to see since a majority responds in a allergic type way.

In all cases, it’s really the mind reacting to itself. The mind produces imagination (images, words) about past, future, or present. Sensations combine with this imagination to give it a sense of solidity, reality, and a charge. The mind takes the initial imagination as real, solid, and true. And reacts to it as if it’s real, solid, and true. The initial imagination is in itself harmless, as are the sensations. So again, this is an allergic type reaction. Since it’s the mind reacting to itself, I guess we could even call it an autoimmune type reaction.

I know what many will think here: Sometimes it’s appropriate to react to things, that’s not an allergic reaction.

Yes, it’s often helpful and kind to take action. What I am talking about here is the additional layer of stress the mind creates for itself through beliefs (identification, velcro). That’s where the allergic type reaction comes in and the over-reaction. That layer is something we can explore, see more for what it is, and find genuine peace with as is. We get to see its innocence, and that it really is OK as is.

As a side-effect of this exploration, this extra layer of stress may even soften and fall away. We see how the mind creates it for itself. We get to see its innocence. We befriend it. We find peace with it. So there is no longer any need for it to hang around.

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