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.

Outer space and spiritual explorations

 

Since childhood, one of my main interests has been space, space exploration, and science fiction. And I have had an intuitive sense of the connection between space exploration and spiritual exploration. Why is there this connection?

Here are some of the parallels I find:

Both involve exploration of (for us) unknown territory. Space exploration and spiritual exploration are both an adventure and an ongoing and endless discovery.

Space appears infinite and what we are the same. To us, outer space seems infinite. And when we discover what we are – what this experience happens within and as – this “space” too appears without end.

From space we see Earth as a single whole and a single living system. There are no border visible. We are in the same boat. Our destiny – of all Earth life – is interconnected. We are inspired to take care of all life and future generations to the best of our abilities. This recognition of the oneness of all life can also come through spiritual explorations.

Through the Universe Story – as told by modern science – we see that the universe and all of existence is one whole. It’s one seamless system evolving in all the ways we see around us, and as us and our experiences and life. As Carl Sagan said in Cosmos (paraphrased), we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe exploring itself.

Through spiritual explorations, we can find something very similar. We find ourselves as the One locally expressing itself as this human self and the experiences of this human self. We find ourselves as that which our experience – of this human self, the wider world, and the universe as it appears to us – happens within and as. We find ourselves as that “no-thing” that’s capacity for all of this.

So there is no surprise if I experience an intuitive connection between space exploration and spiritual explorations. Both involves ongoing and endless adventure and exploration. Both involves the appearance of something without end. Both gives us a realization of Earth and all life as a seamless whole. Both involves a recognition of Oneness and our human self as a local expression of this Oneness – beautiful and amazing in all its richness.

Note: As a child, I was deeply fascinated – and somewhat transformed – by Cosmos by Carl Sagan, and also read anything I could find about astronomy and science fiction. In terms of science fiction, I loved the classics like Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and others.

The Work of Byron Katie as shadow work

 

In a Facebook group for The Work of Byron Katie, someone asked for recommendations for how to do shadow work. For me, the most obvious answer is to do The Work! It’s a direct and powerful approach to working with projections in general and the shadow in particular.

In The Work we….

(a) Project out on someone or something else, and do so with pettiness and without much if any filter. (This is the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet.)

(b) Examine what happens when we believe the thought(s). In this process, we also get a more detailed sense of what we see in the other. (Step three in TW.)

(c) Turn the initial thought around in several different ways. This includes finding in ourselves what we see in the other, with several specific and genuine examples. (Turnarounds.)

The process helps us (a) project without holding back, (b) examine this projection, and (c) find what we see in the other (also) in ourselves.

Each step helps make the process gentler and together they make it easier to find in ourselves what we see in the other, recognize it, own it, and – often – experience relief from (finally) finding it in ourselves.

After a while, after doing this process many times, it also becomes easier to do this spontaneously in daily life. The inquiry lives in us.

What is the shadow? It’s whatever qualities and characteristics in us we deny, reject, or overlook, and see more in others (and the world in general) than in ourselves. It’s whatever doesn’t fit the image we have of ourselves or want to have of ourselves. It’s whatever it’s easier for us to recognize in others than in ourselves.

It’s often what we and our culture sees as undesirable, although – depending on our image of ourselves – it can also be qualities our culture generally see as desirable qualities. (In some cases, our own gentleness, kindness, wisdom and so on may become our shadow.)

As we work on our own shadow, the ideas of desirable and undesirable tend to soften and are recognized as our own ideas and culturally created. Even the apparently undesirable qualities and characteristics have something of value in them. By recognizing them in ourselves we become more whole and real human beings. We have a far greater repertoire. We learn to relate to these parts of us in a more conscious way and make use of these parts of us in a more conscious and constructive way. And we realize – in a more visceral sense – that we are all in the same boat.

What I see in you is also in me. And – if you are like me – what you see in me is also in you.

And that’s perhaps more important than holding onto rigid ideas of me as inherently better or worse than you.

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The dream of the divine

 

Sometimes, it can seem like the world is a dream and that may be more accurate than we realize.

Dreams at our personal level

At our local and personal level, we can explore how the world is as a dream in a specific way.

In dreams, all the content of our experience – all that happens in the dream – happens within and as consciousness. It can’t really be any other way. It makes logical sense. And we can notice it when we do lucid dreaming.

In our waking life, it’s the same. All content of our experience – including our human self and the wider world and anything else – happens within and as consciousness. We can notice this through different forms of inquiry. In my case, I have found the Headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and the Living Inquiries, to be especially good at revealing this.

From this, we see that what we are is consciousness, and what we often take ourselves to be – like this human self – happens within and as consciousness. In other words, who we are happens within and as what we are.

This can seem abstract at first, if it’s just an idea or something someone else points out. We can then get a taste of it for ourselves, perhaps through inquiry or spontaneous revelations. And we can then continue to explore it and get more familiar it and allow our life to be transformed within this noticing.

If the world sometimes seems like a dream to us, it may be because it’s more true than it first seems. Just as our dreams happen within and as consciousness, our waking life happens within and as consciousness.

The dream of the divine

Similarly, we can say that all of existence is the dream of the divine. It’s all consciousness and all of existence happens within and as consciousness. It happens within and as the divine. And this consciousness – right here and now – is no different from this consciousness. It’s the same consciousness.

These experiences – that we may take to be “ours” – are the experiences of the divine. These experiences of sights, sounds, sensations, taste, smell, movements, and thoughts are the experiences of the divine. These thoughts saying these experiences belong to “me” as this limited and local human self are the thoughts of the divine.

Alan Watts’ thought experiment

I love a thought experiment from Alan Watts.

Say you can decide what you’ll dream about. First, we may chose to dream very pleasant dreams. After a while, that may get boring and we throw in some challenges, and perhaps some that seem very serious and a matter of life-and-death. If we know we are dreaming while we dream, we won’t experience the full effect of it. So we may also decide to forget that we are dreaming while we are dreaming so the dream feels more real to us.

By following this process, we see that what we end up with is the life we have now. There are perhaps a lot of good and pleasant experiences. It’s mixed in with challenges – big and small – that makes it more rich, juicy, and interesting. And we – as the divine – have temporarily forgotten we are dreaming in order to make it seem more real and make us more invested in the dreams.

The play of the divine – lila

Why is this happening? Perhaps for the divine to express, explore, and experience itself. For the divine to explore and experience its own potential infinite richness made a little more manifest.

The world can be seen as the play of the divine. And this is not a new discovery or noticing or speculation. In the Indian traditions they call this lila.

The world is real… and a dream

Our world is real in a certain way and also a dream in a certain way. That’s why I said “a little more manifest” in the previous segment.

Although there is validity to all our conventional ideas about the world and our lives, it’s all happening within a larger context that changes how we see it when this context is more alive to us in our immediate noticing and experience.

Even what we tend to experience as most physical is still happening within and as consciousness. The physical is real in that we experience it as physical and this seems to be a shared collective experience. At the same time, it’s our own mind – through combining thoughts and sensations – that gives it a sense of solidity and physicality. (How the mind creates its own experience through combining sensations and thoughts can be explored through inquiry, for instance Buddhist inquiries or a modern version of these such as the Living Inquiries.)

As we explore all of this, we may find that the world is simultaneously kind of real and kind of a dream.

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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How do we find peace?

 

There are many ways to find peace. Here are some approaches I have found helpful.

We can create a certain life. A life that feels right, nurturing, and meaningful. A life where we have nurturing relationships. Meaningful work and activities. A life aligned with our values and what’s important to us. A part of this is to heal and mend – as far as possible – any challenging relationships.

We can invite in healing. We can invite in healing for parts of us not in peace. We can invite in healing for trauma and emotional issues.

We can reorient. We can learn to befriend our experience as it is, including the experience of lack of peace (!). In this process, we also learn to befriend (more of) the world as it is.

We can find ourselves (more) as our human wholeness. As we find ourselves as the wholeness of who we are as a human being, there is a sense of groundedness and peace even as life and thoughts and emotions goes on. This is an ongoing process, perhaps including body-centered mindfulness and projection work, and the peace is of a different kind.

We can explore our need for peace. If we feel a neediness around peace, what’s going on? Do we have stressful beliefs about living without peace? Do we have identities rubbing up against the reality of sometimes lack of peace? Is there a trauma or emotional issue telling us we need peace? Examining this and find some resolution for whatever may be behind a need for peace can, in itself, help us find more peace.

It’s stressful to feel we need peace and fight with a world that doesn’t always give us the conditions we may think we need for peace. And it is, perhaps ironically, more peaceful to find peace with life as it is.

We can live with (more) integrity. Living with integrity gives us a sense of peace, even when life is challenging. Living with integrity means to clarify and follow what’s important to us, and to live with some sincerity and honesty – especially towards ourselves.

We can follow our own inner guidance. Following our inner guidance – in smaller and bigger things – connects us with an inner quiet and peace, even when life is stormy. We can learn to follow our inner guidance through experience. And it’s also helpful to notice when we connect with our inner guidance and don’t follow it, and examine what fears and stressful beliefs in us made it difficult for us to follow it.

We can connect with the larger whole. This larger whole comes in three related forms. One is the larger whole of who we are as a human being (mentioned above). Another is the larger whole of the Earth and the universe. We can connect with this through Earth-centered practices, the Universe Story, and more. The third is what we are.

We can explore and get to know what we are. What we are is what our experience happens within and as. As we learn to find ourselves as that, there is a different kind of peace. The peace of being like the sky that clouds, storms, clear weather and anything else passes through.

Each of these is an ongoing process and exploration. It’s not a place we arrive at for good and don’t have to pay attention to again.

The kind of peace we find in each of these ways is somewhat different. In a sense, they complement each other.

As for how to find these types of peace, there are many approaches and I’ll mention a few here.

To heal, I have found parts (subpersonality) work, inquiry, heart-centered practices, TRE, Vortex Healing and more to be helpful. To reorient, I have found ho’oponopno, tonglen, and all-inclusive gratitude practice to be helpful. To find myself as my human wholeness, I have found body-centered mindfulness (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema) and projection work (inquiry, shadow work) helpful. To explore any neediness around peace, I have found inquiry to be helpful. To live more with integrity, it’s helpful to explore what in me (usually a fear, stressful belief, trauma) takes me away from living with integrity in any specific situation. To follow my inner guidance, it’s helpful to practice in smaller situations and likewise explore what in me (fears etc.) takes me away from it. To connect with the larger whole of the Earth and Universe, it’s helpful to use the Practices to Reconnect (Joanna Macy), Universe Story, and similar approaches. To explore what we are, I have found Headless experiments, Living Inquiries, and the Big Mind process to be helpful.

Photo: Flowers from Zürich ca. 2013.

Accelerated awakening?

 

If we seek awakening, we can take the traditional slow and steady approach, or we can try to accelerate it or take shortcuts. The slow approach may be “safer” than the apparent shortcuts although one is not inherently better than the other. And in either case, it’s good to look at our motivation.

Ways to accelerate awakening

We can have glimpses of what we are. Sometimes, this happens spontaneously without any apparent preparation, intention, or wish. We can also invite in these glimpses as a way to give us a taste of what awakening is. Some forms of inquiry, like the Big Mind process and the Headless Experiments, can give us a glimpse in a relatively short time and usually in a grounded way without the bells and whistles, and this can also give us more time to explore the different facets and dynamics around it.

Some also use psychoactive drugs, ideally under supervision of someone familiar with how to do it. Since this can come with side-effects, depending on the drug, I can’t recommend it and haven’t been drawn to try it for myself.

These glimpses can give us a taste of awakening and what we are, they can serve as a temporary guide (although can also be a bit misleading, especially as we add ideas to it), and they can – in that sense – accelerate awakening. As we dip into tastes of awakening through inquiry, we also get more familiar with what we are and it’s easier to notice it in daily life. And some forms of inquiry, like Living Inquiries, can help remove identifications and beliefs that typically prevent us from noticing what we are.

There is also the classic slow and steady approach to awakening. Here, we spend time with spiritual practices, with others on the path, and under guidance of someone familiar with the process. We spend time in prayer, meditation, body-centered practiced, and whatever other practices are available to us, and this provides a steady and gentle nurturing to the awakening process.

This more traditional approach is often seen as safer as it provides a lot of support and preparation work for the awakening which, in theory, makes it easier to function within the awakening if or when it happens. If done right, it also gives us a lot of benefits on the way in terms of grounding, healing, support, community, and so on. Of course, this all depends on the tradition, the community, the guide, and our fit with it and the fit with where we are in the process.

There is also the transmission or shaktipat approach. This may give a temporary spiritual opening or glimpse of awakening. Adyashanti describes this happening with retreat participants when he first started holding retreats (he stopped doing it since he found it less useful). This approach may also force the process and come with serious side-effects and challenges – sometimes because it happened a little too fast, and sometimes as the energy bangs up against blocks in our system. In some cases, energy transmissions may accelerate the process in a more balanced and integrated way.

And there is personal energy work, for instance through different forms of yoga. This can be a good way to nurture awakening, especially if combined with meditation and inquiry. As with the other approaches, it’s important to have good and experienced guidance.

These are all traditional approaches to awakening. Some cultures use psychoactive plants to offer glimpses or reality or shifts into it. Some traditions – especially in Asia but also other places – use shaktipat, inquiry, and/or personal energy work. And just about all traditions emphasize the more slow and steady approach, either on its own or in combination with the other approaches.

Personally, I have experience with all of these approaches with the exception of drugs. I have been mostly drawn to inquiry and the slow and steady classic approach. When it comes to energy transmissions, I have so far found only one that seems to be effective, predictable, and balanced, and that’s the awakening path built into being a Vortex Healing student.

Accelerated awakening and spiritual crises

An awakening process comes with different forms of challenges and sometimes spiritual crises. It’s tempting to say that the more accelerated paths come with more risk although I don’t really know. Challenges and spiritual crises seem to happen no matter which approach we take and whether our approach is slow and steady or more accelerated.

What I can say is that an accelerated path may also accelerate the crises (they may happen sooner rather than later). And a more slow and steady approach may allow us to prepare – in our mind, body, and energy system – for the different phases of the awakening process, which may make it a slightly smoother ride.

Mainly, there are no guarantees and we do what we are drawn to anyway.

Our motivation in wanting to accelerate awakening

Whether we seek awakening in the more traditional, slow, and steady way, or we seek a more accelerated path or shortcuts, it’s good to look at our motivation.

Typically, some of our motivations come from a sense of neediness, lack, and wanting to avoid suffering. There is nothing inherently wrong in this type of motivation. It can give us a drive that can be helpful for a while. At the same time, this type of motivation is inherently stressful and can drive us to make compulsive choices we otherwise wouldn’t have made.

Addressing the issues behind this slightly compulsive surface motivation – often some variation of neediness or lack – can reveal a deeper layer of motivation.

It may reveal a deeper, quiet and steady motivation that comes from – somewhere – knowing what we are.

Assumptions and context

I should mention that this view on awakening and ways to accelerate the process is based on an assumption that awakening is a natural, organic, and built-in process in all of us and – in the bigger picture – all beings. Everyone is on this path. For some, it may be far in the future and for others, it may happen now.

When it happens, there is a gradual preparation and build-up to it. It follows a similar process to a seed growing into a sapling, maturing into a tree, growing flowers, the flowers turn into a fruit, the fruit matures and eventually ripes and falls off the tree. In this analogy, the flowers may be early spiritual interests and perhaps practices, and the fruit is the awakening that ripes and matures over time.

We can support the ripening through practices and embodying it as best we can. As mentioned above, there are also other ways to accelerate this process. If we wish to accelerate this natural and organic process, it may be good to ask ourselves where that wish comes from and examine it. And it’s good to be aware that trying to accelerate, or even force, the process comes with some risks.

Finally, I want to mention that the awakening process tends to spontaneously accelerate at different parts of the process. It seems to have natural cycles of apparently slow phases and accelerated phases.

The bigger picture

Awakening is a natural and organic process. It’s what we are seeking itself, finding itself, noticing itself as all there is, and learning to live from and as it through this human being in the world.

What this looks like is a process of exploration or even a play, and many have called it the play of life, existence, or the divine – Lila.

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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.

Projections in the context of awakening

 

How do projections look in the context of awakening?

On a spiritual or awakening path, projections are important for awakening and healing in the usual way – with perhaps a couple of extra layers to them to explore.

Specific to the spiritual path may be projections onto spiritual teachers, teachings, and concepts related to awakening. The process of projecting itself is the usual one. We see something out there – in teachers, teachings, awakening, etc. – that’s already in here, in us. And it’s projected in two ways. One is that the qualities and dynamics we see out there is also in here. The other is that what we see out there is an overlay of imagination from our own mind. (What we see out there may fit consensus reality and what others agree is there, or not, that doesn’t matter so much here.)

So we see something that’s in ourselves – as a potential or already here more strongly – out in the world. We get familiar with it there. In the best case, that helps us find it in ourselves and what we are. And it’s the role of spiritual teachers and teachings to help us recognize what’s happening and find it in ourselves. (Of course, they don’t always do it for whatever reason – they may not recognize what’s happening or they have a vested interest in not helping students recognize and find in themselves what they project out.)

Layers of the projections

There are different aspects and layers of the projections.

We have what most people think of when they hear the word. We can call these “blind” projections. We see something in the world – in other people, situations, anything at all – that’s in ourselves, but we are mostly or only aware of it out there. These projections are mostly of qualities, characteristics, and dynamics. And the reason they are “blind” – that we only see it in others and not in ourselves, at least in the moment – has to do with emotional issues, beliefs, and identifications.

Then we have more conscious projections. We see something out in the world and are aware of it also in ourselves. This awareness can be a general awareness or more finely grained. We can always find more examples of what we see out there also in ourselves – in our own thoughts, actions, and how we live our life.

We can also be aware of the more basic dynamics and elements of the projections. We can notice the overlay of thought – of mental images and words – our mind puts on the world. With some experience, we can notice it as it happens. This helps us to recognize the projections, and it also helps us hold our mental overlay more lightly. (And not automatically assume it’s “true”.)

There is yet another layer. Projections – blind, conscious, and the mental overlay – happen within and as what we are. They are part of the creativity of the mind. If we are so inclined, we can even say it’s part of Lila, the play of life, the Universe, and the divine.

In general, projections can be a temporary apparent hindrance – or detour or distraction or pitfall – if they are blind. And they can be a great support for awakening and healing if we work with them more consciously and with some skills and sincerity. It’s helpful before awakening and within awakening.

Examples

This is all distilled and abstract so I’ll go into a few more details and give some examples.

A regular blind projection happens anytime I see something in someone else that I don’t acknowledge in myself. It’s often accompanied by emotional charge, defensiveness, righteousness, blame, and so on. And it can also be accompanied by admiration, longing, and a wish to have what we project it out onto in our life. Whether it’s one or the other or a mix depends on how our mind judges what we project.

Trump is an example for me. For a while after he was elected, my mind dehumanized him. I saw him as a liar, bigot, con man, and so on, and I felt upset and angry that people could elect someone like him. I was aware that this was a projection but I hadn’t taken the time to explore it as a projection. It functioned more like a “blind” projection, at least at an emotional level.

As I took time to explore it more, I could find the qualities I saw in him also in myself. I could – and can – find it in how I see him and his followers. (I am bigoted, a liar, a con man, etc. in how I see him and his followers, especially when I don’t acknowledge I have those qualities too.) And I can find examples in my life when I have done all of those things. I may not have done it in exactly the same way he does it, or to the same extent, but I can find examples – even if some are smaller and apparently more “innocent”.

Going through this process, I am more at peace with Trump and his followers. I see myself in them. We are in the same boat, in that sense. I don’t agree with most of his policies. I still think he operates mostly as a con man. I still see many of his followers as ill-informed and acting on misinformation. If I was in a position where it was reasonable for me to actively speak up about it and promote other solutions, I would do that. (Right now, I live in Europe and my energy goes to finding healing for myself.) And yet, the emotional charge around it for me is much less. I have more empathy and understanding. I am seeing the situation less as us vs. them and more as a larger us.

I have also experienced the other form of blind projections many times in my life. I admire and am fascinated by a woman (usually a partner). I see some people as awake – or perhaps unusually mature, insightful, and kind – and admire them and wish the same for myself. And so on. Again, it’s a process of allowing the projection, notice it, and find the qualities and characteristics I see in the other also in myself. Phrasing the projection and finding specific examples help a lot.

Conscious projections also happen all the time. I see someone as kind, and find it in myself. I see beautiful nature, and find that in myself. I see (imagine) the boundless nature of outer space and find that as what I am.

There is some fluidity between blind and conscious projections. It’s rare a projection is completely blind. And in daily life, we are often aware of a quality more in others or more in ourselves, depending on where our attention is. Bringing awareness to projections, and finding in ourselves what we see out in the world, is also an ongoing process. We can always find more examples. We can always expand our conscious identity to include more.

How do we get more aware of the basic dynamics and elements of projections? Working with projections in a conventional way brings some awareness into this. And we can also explore it more explicitly through some forms of inquiry, like traditional Buddhist inquiry or their modern versions. We typically need to explore this over and over – and bring it into daily life – before this noticing becomes a habit and second nature.

If I used Living Inquiries to explore how I see Trump (which I haven’t, at least not as a longer and formal inquiry), I would probably find some clues to why my relationship to him is charged (emotional issues) and how my mind creates its experience of him in general. I may find how my mind creates an image of Trump and this image is associated with sensations (tension) in my body. I may find that my mind has a lot of associations with this image and the connected sensations, going back to specific (traumatic) situations in my life and childhood. I may find how my mind creates beliefs and identifications in order to protect itself against him, people like him, and what he stands for. And so on. I get to see the emotional component and how it connects to my own experiences. I get to see how my mind creates blind projections in order to protect itself. I get to see how beliefs and identities are part of this projection. I get to meet and get to know the fears behind all of it.

When it comes to noticing how all of this happens within and as what I am, there are some modern forms of inquiry that can give us a taste. Big Mind process and Headless experiments may be most direct, and Living Inquiries gives us a taste through most regular inquiries into more emotional issues.

As usual, each of these points can be elaborated almost endlessly so I have given just give a few pointers here based on my own experience.

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How it works: Awakening

 

I know the title is a little presumptuous! Although it’s also good to demystify awakening to the extent it’s possible.

First, what is awakening?

It’s what we are noticing itself.

What we are is what our experience happens within and as. (We can put may labels on it, like consciousness or awakeness, and those labels also happen within and as what we are.)

Usually, what we are does not notice itself. Our mind takes itself to be something within the content of its experience, and that something is generally this human self. How that happens can be described from different angles. At one level, it happens when the mind takes any story as true and identifies with the viewpoint of the story. That shifts our experience of being what we are and into something that happens within the content of our experience. We experience ourselves as an object in the world and a particular viewpoint. What this is shifts with the story our mind happens to engage with at the moment. And, as a general container, we take ourselves to be this human self. That’s not wrong, but it’s just a small part of what we are.

What’s the process of awakening?

What we are can notice itself in glimpses. More or less clearly. Out of the blue or from intentional exploration. And it can also notice itself more stably through different states and situations in daily life.

For most of us, what we are comes into the foreground in daily life without us really noticing. It can happen through flow experiences, or any time we “forget” or “lose” ourselves in what’s happening. Why don’t we notice? Perhaps because it’s so ordinary. Or not so strong. Or that we think we know what we are – this human self – and this is not that.

It can happen out of the blue without any obvious precursor. And it can also happen gradually or more suddenly as a(n apparent) consequence of intentional exploration. I’ll say more about this below.

Initially, what we are may more easily notice itself in certain situations (which is where the intentional exploration comes in). And over time, it can notice itself through changing states and also in more and more situations in daily life. It can clarify and become more stable, and this process of living from it in more situations in daily life is called embodiment.

Also initially, we may still take ourselves to fundamentally be a separate being although one that’s ONE with everything. This tends to clarify and we realize that we were never this apparently separate being. What we are just started noticing itself more clearly. In a popular phrase: it woke up of the dream of being a separate being.

What we are noticing itself is often a bit fluid and changing throughout the day. It can be more or less in the foreground and more or less obvious or clear. It’s often a gentle context for our daily life. After a while, it becomes ordinary while also somewhat extraordinary.

As a human being, we are much the same even when what we are notices itself. It doesn’t magically and all of a sudden transform us. (Although that can happen.) This means we tend to have the same emotional issues, hangups, and traumas before and within awakening.

When these emotional issues are triggered, it tends to hijack our attention and we temporarily take ourselves to be separate. What we are noticing itself goes into the background and is overshadowed by our old patterns. This is why healing of emotional issues is vital for embodiment, for living more from what we are in more daily life situations.

What’s the consequence of awakening?

The only certain one is that the context of our life changes. What we are notices itself and our human life happens within that. Our human life, in itself, doesn’t have to change that much.

In practice, our human life does tend to change. We tend to live more from the experience of oneness, which means a little more open mind and heart and from a bit more compassion and empathy and concern for the far-reaching and long-term consequences of our actions.

It also seems that awakening often starts a process of healing emotional issues. These may come to the surface to be seen, felt, loved, and more consciously included in the oneness. One way to talk about this is that the initial awakening is a global awakening, and this healing process allows more parts of us – the ones still stuck in painful separation consciousness – to awaken and align with the global awakening. As mentioned above, this is also vital for the embodiment process.

How can we understand awakening?

In my mind, there are two ways of understanding or interpreting awakening.

In the small or psychological interpretation, we can say that in our own experience, we are consciousness, and this is what wakes up to itself. Whether there is an actual human being here or an actual physical world, or whether we fundamentally are separate or not, doesn’t really matter. What matters is what we are in our own immediate experience and the pragmatics of this noticing itself and what it does for our life.

In the big or spiritual interpretation, what we are is the same as what all of existence is. All is One, or Spirit, or God, or the Divine, or Brahman, or Big Mind, or Allah. The label is not important.

The small interpretation is helpful because it can make this more approachable for people within a more conventional mindset or setting. The big interpretation is perhaps more inspiring. And both seem to fit (most of!) the data of awakening equally well.

Why are there so many myths about awakening?

There are many myths about awakening: It’s reserved for special people. It’s something unusual. It’s something very different from our ordinary experience. It will solve all our problems. We become a saint. There is something we can call a final or full awakening.

I don’t know why there are so many myths about it. I suspect it’s because it used to be the domain of certain spiritual traditions and they partly obscured it based on misunderstandings and partly had vested interests in making it appear special.

Why is it important?

It’s not for most people and that’s OK. For some of us, it’s important because it’s part of human experience. It says something about who and what we are. It does help us live in a way that’s more conscious of the whole which can help society, humanity, and the Earth.

What are some methods for inviting what we are to notice itself?

These are the traditional spiritual practices and the newer variations on these.

It can help to know the words and the theory, but this is just a starting point and initial pointer. The words are, in themselves, not important.

Training a more stable attention supports this exploration – and anything we do in life – so it’s more than worthwhile to include in our daily life. Even just a few minutes makes a difference.

Basic meditation is to notice and allow. Notice what happens in the sense fields. Allow it all to be as is. This tends to shift identification out of the observed (content of experience) and it makes it easier for what we are to notice itself. (Initially, we may take ourselves to be the observer, and then notice that this too happens within the content of experience.)

Inquiry is a great support. We can get a glimpse of what we are through forms of inquiry like the Big Mind process and the Headless experiments, and also Living Inquiries. Through The Work, we may – over time – find how our thoughts are not true which allows space for what we are to notice itself. And through Living Inquiries, we explore how the mind creates its own experience – including taking itself to be a separate being, this body, the observer, consciousness, etc. This too tends to allow space for what we are to notice itself.

Guidelines for behavior is important to reduce drama and distractions in our life, and they tend to (roughly!) mimic how we naturally live when what we are notices itself and this is more embodied.

Prayer – at least the contemplative and heartfelt variety – helps shift our identification out of the content of our experience, it shifts our attention to a much larger whole, and it creates space for what we are to notice itself.

Heart-centered practices help us reorient. They help us shift from an us-vs-them orientation to befriending the world and our own experience. Again, this creates space for what we are to notice itself, and it mimics how we naturally live when what we are notices itself through daily life.

Body-centered practices can help us train more stable attention. It can also give us an experience of our body-mind wholeness which makes it easier for what we are to notice itself.

Some forms of energy work can also support awakening. I am most familiar with the awakening process supported when we go through the higher levels of Vortex Healing training.

As mentioned above, inviting in healing for emotional issues makes it easier to live from the noticing in more situations in daily life. It supports embodiment.

Note: Apologies for this slightly disorganized article. I chose to write this without outlining or editing too much, not because that’s better but because I felt a little overwhelmed by the thought of organizing and editing it!

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Do we live within a virtual reality? And the one thing we can trust

 

Do we live within a Matrix-like simulation?

We cannot really know. Even if a Morpheus comes to rescue us, we cannot know that that world is the real one.

And we do know that our perception of the world is filtered through our very limited senses, is pieced together by our brain, and is strongly colored by and filtered through our conscious and less conscious assumptions about ourselves and the world. In a very real sense, we are – collectively and individually – living within our own virtual simulation.

In short, we cannot trust any of the content of our experience. We cannot trust our senses. We cannot trust our interpretations, thoughts, and views about it.

So is there anything we can know for certain? Yes, fortunately. We can trust what we are. We can trust what the content of our experience happens within and as.

We can have fun with how we phrase this:

The content of our experience is unreliable and cannot be trusted. We can only trust what we are.

We can also say that who we are, and the world this character lives within, is notoriously unreliable and cannot be trusted. We can only trust what we are.

What is wholeness?

 

What is wholeness?

There are several forms of wholeness, all part of the main form of wholeness.

There is the wholeness of what we are. We are that which the content of our experience happens within and as, whether we call this awakeness, consciousness, or something else. This makes our experience into a seamless whole, whether we notice or not.

As soon as the mind believes its thoughts and latches onto the viewpoints of some of these thoughts, there is an experience of fragmentation and it’s more difficult to notice what we are.

The process of what we are noticing itself is called awakening. And the process of living from this in more situations in our life is called embodiment.

There is also a wholeness of who we are, as this human self. Again, the wholeness is already here. And yet, there is also a sense of fragmentation since we tend to identify with some of who we are and disown or ignore other parts of who we are. The process of finding our wholeness as who we are is what Jung called individuation.

There is also the wholeness of the world and the universe. The Earth is one seamless living and evolving system. The universe is also one seamless evolving system. And we – as human individuals and species with our culture – are an intrinsic part of those systems.

Finally, there is the wholeness of all of existence. Whether we use a small (psychological) or big (spiritual) interpretation of awakening, we can say that all of existence is one. We can also say that everything is existence exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself.

How do we explore these forms of wholeness? I have written many articles on each of them but I’ll say a few words here.

To explore the wholeness of what we are, we can use inquiry (Headless experiments, Big Mind Process, Living Inquiries, etc.), often combined with meditation (basic meditation, quiet prayer, training stable attention), and perhaps mindful movement (yoga, taichi, Breema, etc.).

To explore the wholeness of who we are, we can use psychology (parts work, shadow work, projection work), bodywork, relationship work, and more.

When we explore the wholeness of Earth and the universe, we can use systems views and integral (aqal) maps.

And what about the wholeness of all of existence? It includes all of the above, although we can most directly explore it as we explore what we are.

Note: The examples of approaches above are just the ones I have found useful. What works for you may be different, and what I use in the future will probably also change as I discover other approaches.

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The “I can if I want” test

 

I love Life 101 topics. The ones that are simple, practical, and can change your life.

This is one for when I notice a should. When I feel I should do something and notice tension or stress.


The original thought may be: I should go to the presentation.

Change it: I can go to the presentation if I want.

Check it (a): I can go to the presentation if I want, and I want to. Notice how it feels in the body.

Check it (b): I can go to the presentation if I want, and I don’t want to. Notice how it feels in the body.

Which one allows the body to relax? Which one is true for me?


This is a very good little exercise: It’s simple. It can be done in a few seconds in just about any situation. It shifts our thinking from a should to a can and a want. And we check in with our body to see what’s true for us.

The body relaxes when we find what’s true for us. It can breathe. Release. Let go.

This is a form of inquiry, and I think it’s from cognitive therapy and/or ACT. It’s also similar to the I should -> I want to because inquiry where we list reasons and see if they hold up. They are both useful although I like this one since it makes use of checking in with the body and learning to trust the body. There is a part of our mind that knows what’s true for us and this is reflected in the body.

Knowing how one of the magic tricks of life is done

 

I enjoy watching Fool Us with Penn & Teller and also learning how the tricks may be done. (Often, there are several ways to do each trick.)

One thing I pay attention to is the audience reaction. Sometimes, the strongest audience reaction is to tricks with an amazing effect but disappointing method. (For instance, when the magician surreptitiously instructs an audience member in what to say or do.)

Other times, the method of the trick is as or even more amazing than the effect. These are typically tricks that take years to master like Kostya Kimlat’s third performance and The Evansons. They are both impressive although the first has a simple method and the second a complex method.

Life is full of magic tricks from the big magic trick of anything existing at all to the myriads of smaller magic tricks of how life expresses itself.

One of the magic tricks of our mind is of special interest to us. The effect is the mind creating a temporary experience for itself of ultimately being a small part of the world. And a related effect is the mind believing a thought (taking it as true), identifying with the viewpoint of thoughts, and creating emotional issues, hangups, and traumas. The method is the same for both, and the second creates the first, so it’s really one and the same trick.

We can discover how the mind does this trick. We can learn the theory of it, which is a starting point. And, more importantly, we can explore it in real-time, as it happens, in our own experience.

The best way to do this may be to mentally divide our experience into sense fields and then see how these combine to create our experience. It’s slightly arbitrary how we divide up the sense fields (e.g. taste, smell, sight, sound, sensation, thought), although the two important ones are sensation and thought (mental images and words).

I initially explored this through traditional Buddhist inquiry and more recently through the contemporary version called Living Inquiries.

When we explore this, often over and over, in our own experience, we learn to recognize the magic trick and how it is performed. Our mind gradually becomes less fascinated with the effect and less caught up in it. The charge that made the effect seem real gradually goes out of it.

(This is partly because we recognize that the charge comes from the mind associating certain sensations with certain thoughts, and the sensations lend a sense of reality and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. When we see that the connection is only an association, it’s easier to recognize sensations as sensations and thoughts as thoughts, and we are no longer so caught up in the effect of the magic trick.)

The effect of this trick is certainly amazing. It’s the One creating an experience for itself of being separate and one among many.

And what about the method? Is it disappointing or amazing? In my experience, it’s both. It can be almost laughably simple when we first discover it. And yet, it’s also impressive in its simplicity, elegance, and effectiveness.

P.S. The Evansons is an amazing act, and – as mentioned above – they use a complex method (system of verbal cues) which requires years of practice in order to appear smooth and effortless. They say they do mentalism, and we can see that as either a tongue-in-cheek white lie that’s part of the performance, as misdirection, or as a mostly innocent bordering-on-unethical form of deception. I am with P&T and prefer when the magicians/mentalists are more transparent and tell the audience what they are doing, or – in this case – what they are not doing, without necessarily revealing the method.

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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.

The depth of popular culture

 

Some folks see popular culture as inevitably shallow. But is that true? And is it true that shallow is bad?

First, is shallow bad? No. There is nothing inherent in life telling us what we should be into. There are no requirements.

Many have stressful and busy lives and need something undemanding to help them relax and switch gears. Nothing wrong in that. (Although we can question a society that sets us up for such busy and sometimes stressful lives.) At one time or another, easy pop culture serves a helpful function to us.

And for most of us, it’s just one part of a much more varied cultural diet.

Is it true that pop-culture is shallow?

Yes, it’s perhaps true in a conventional and limited sense. There may be less soul and more formulas in much of what we find in pop-culture.

It’s easy to find exceptions. There is often depth to aspects of what we find in pop-culture. Something surprising, moving, or something that gives us an insight into ourselves or the lives of others. And some of what we find in pop-culture obviously has more depth, richness, and complexity to it, for example, stories rich in archetypes like Star Wars (original trilogy) and Pan’s Labyrinth.

It also depends on what we define as popular culture. Bach is quite popular. Is that pop culture? Chopin was a pop-culture superstar in his time.

And it depends on how readily available something is to us. When we have to put more effort and intention into finding something, it can seem more sophisticated, for instance when we are into the pop-culture of another time or culture.

Finally, we bring the depth to it.

When I watch movies, including the most mainstream Hollywood movies, I often look for archetypes and archetypal dynamics.

I take it as I would a dream, see the different parts of the story as parts of me, and find it in me.

I notice what I react to and look for the beliefs or emotional issues it triggered in me.

I notice what I am fascinated by and find what the fascination is about and then see if I can find that in myself.

So when it comes down to it, if we see something as shallow, we can only blame ourselves. We take a shallow approach to it.

We bring the richness or the shallow to it.

A personal note: In my late teens and early twenties, I had judgments about pop culture and went deep into more “high” and “sophisticated” art, music, books and movies. There was nothing wrong with this, and it was very rewarding and I still enjoy that type of culture. But it also came from insecurity. I wanted to be “better” and more sophisticated. I didn’t feel good enough as I was. Now, fortunately, I feel more free to enjoy all of it.

If we have ideas about high or low culture, or one thing being better than the other, it’s a reminder to take a look at ourselves. Where in me does it come from? Do I try to create an identity for myself to feel better about myself? How would it be to enjoy it all independent of labels?

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.

What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t suffer?

 

Most of us have a complicated relationship with suffering. It’s terrible and familiar. It’s something we want to avoid, and it seems unavoidable. If we don’t already live with it, even if it’s very low grade, then something can happen at any time that triggers it in us.

If we are on a path of healing, or awakening, or embodiment, we need to explore our relationship with suffering.

The obvious relationship is our fear of suffering and wanting to avoid it. I can befriend this great and explore this through inquiry, Natural Rest, and so on.

And yet, there is another side that’s equally important. Or more important since it’s more likely to be overlooked. And that’s our attachment to suffering and fear of what it means if we don’t suffer.

What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t suffer? What do I fear may happen if I don’t suffer?

Here are some stressful stories I find for myself. Most of them don’t have much charge and none of them match my conscious view, but they may still operate in me low-grade and influence my perception and life.

I need to suffer to heal, mature, awaken and embody. It gives me material to awaken etc. It’s required to awaken etc.

It’s noble to suffer. It’s heroic when it’s in the service of a bigger cause. (Healing etc.)

Others who have been on a deep spiritual path have suffered. (Buddha, Jesus, St. Theresa, etc.) If they suffered, I need to too.

If I don’t already suffer, I’ll be taken by surprise when suffering comes and it will be doubly painful. It’s better to brace for it.

If I don’t suffer in a situation people expect me to, they will judge me.

If I don’t suffer, the divine won’t see me as worthy of a good life and awakening. By suffering, I show the divine I need it and deserve it.

After finding these, I can explore them in any way that works for me. In my case, I’ll use inquiry (e.g The Work, Living Inquiries) to find underlying stories and help release the charge out of them, change my relationship with it through heart-centered practices, and/or identify the emotional issue(s) behind the strongest one(s) and work on it with Vortex Healing.

I wanted this article to be simple and a starting point. The topic is much more complex. For instance, what is suffering? How do I go about exploring my relationship to it? How can I befriend and find more peace with it? How can I release the charge in suffering? I have written about that in other articles.

Monty Python and questioning everything

 
Every Sperm is Sacred from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life

I am listening to Halfway to Hollywood: dairies 1980-1988 by Michael Palin and mentioned Monty Python to my partner who was unfamiliar with them.

I realize why I liked them so much in my childhood and early teens (and still enjoy much of what they made). They are questioning everything, or at least any conventional middle-class norms, expectations, unwritten rules, double standards, small-mindedness, and irrational or misguided religious beliefs.

And I love questioning everything, even back then. It’s what led me to first informal and then guided inquiry.

What are the most basic assumptions or beliefs in society or a group? What are my most cherished and basic assumptions and beliefs? What are the effects of holding onto and living from them? In what way don’t they hold up? What are some other views that are equally or more valid? What’s the bigger picture?

Awakening and experiencing the world as insubstantial

 

This is a common experience in the awakening process:

The world seems insubstantial. And this human self, that we perhaps previously took ourselves to exclusively be, seems insubstantial along with it.

It’s completely natural. It’s part of the process. It’s part of what we are waking up to itself. 

Here is my experience with it and some ways of looking at it.

The world seems insubstantial. All matter seems insubstantial as if I could put my hand through it. It’s as if it’s in a dream.

Why is it that way? Because it’s all consciousness. It’s all happening within and as consciousness.

In a spiritual interpretation, I can say it’s all Spirit, it’s all the divine. In a smaller or psychological interpretation, I could say it’s all consciousness to me since I am – even if there is a separate being here – consciousness. To me, I am the consciousness it’s all happening within and as.

Why am I writing about this? Mostly to reassure others who may be on a spiritual path (with or without knowing it), experience this for themselves, and perhaps feel disturbed by it.

It’s normal. Nothing is wrong. It’s part of the process. It’s a part of waking up to reality, and reality waking up to itself.

For me, this shift happened when I was fifteen and found myself shifted into or as the “observer”. I found myself as what observes the world, including this human self. At the time, it was disturbing and I thought something was wrong. (It happened after the onset of CFS although I didn’t know about CFS either at the time.) A year later, this opened up into a more full-blown opening or early awakening. Here, everything without exception was revealed as the divine. Any sense of being a separate being was revealed as the divine temporarily and locally experiencing itself that way, as part of the play of the divine. The world still seemed insubstantial but it wasn’t disturbing anymore. And it’s still that way.

This experience of the world as insubstantial can happen spontaneously and out of the blue (as it did for me), it can happen from certain drugs or plants (I don’t recommend it), and it can (seem to) happen from spiritual practice. It can also happen suddenly (as in my case) or more gradually over time.

The easiest way of having a direct experience of it may be through inquiry, for instance, Living Inquiries, the Big Mind process, or Headless experiments. The Living Inquiries gives us the most detailed look of what’s happening “behind the curtain”, and we get to see how the mind creates its own experience of a substantial material world.

I’ll say a few words about what’s going on behind the curtains:

The mind creates its experience of the world through a mental overlay on the other sense fields. And this is enhanced when mental images and words are associated with sensations in the body. The sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. When this happens “behind the curtain”, it all seems real, solid, and self-evidently so. When we take a closer look, it all starts to appear more as it is – and this includes experiencing the world, as it appears to us, as insubstantial. As consciousness. As awakeness.

For it to sink in, we typically need to discover it for ourselves, over and over again.

So, does this mean that nothing is “real”? Not really. In a sense, the world is real as it appears to us conventionally (with individuals, food to eat, bills to pay, people to treat with respect and so on), and the sane and kind approach is to live and function as if it’s real.

On the other hand, the word does appear a certain way to us because of this mental overlay, and we do well to investigate this overlay and how it creates a certain world for us.

When we see through it, it doesn’t mean that the conventional world goes away. We still operate and function within it. We just hold it all more lightly. We (more) know what we are.

In the words of a man who (possibly) lived a long time ago:

We are in the world but not of it.

Adyashanti: Everything you define yourself as is an image

 

Everything you define yourself as is an image. Behind that is not a better version of yourself.

– Adyashanti

I couldn’t help laughing out loud when I read this. As so often, it’s funny because it’s true.

Everything I define myself as is an image. Everything I define anyone or anything as is an image.

And behind that image isn’t a better version of me or any version of me. Behind it is the silent awake mystery that everything – all my experience of myself, others, the world – happens within and as.

There is always a lot more to say about this.

My mind creates an overlay of images and words on my sensory experiences to make sense of it all. These images and words sort the world into me (this human self) and the wider world, and then continues sorting and creating labels and identifications on just about everything. This is essential for us to be able to orient and function in the world. We wouldn’t be here as individuals or a species unless the mind did this.

And yet, these images and words are questions about the world. Suggestions. If we take them as anything more, we misguide and mislead ourselves and create stress and suffering for ourselves and others (we serve as triggers for this in others). They are not complete since what they refer to are different from, more (far more qualities, characteristics, and fluidity), and less (silent mystery) than our words and images.

We can know this to some extent and understand it intellectually. And any time something in us is triggered – any time there is a charged reaction to something – it shows us that something in us doesn’t quite get it yet. That’s OK. It’s natural. It’s the human condition. And it’s good to be aware of.

And if we are so inclined, we can explore what’s happening through inquiry, parts work, energy healing, or any other approach we have access to and find helpful. For me, Living Inquiries (based on Buddhist inquiry), parts work (Voice Dialog, Big Mind process) and Vortex Healing, are the approaches I use most right now.

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Addressing fear of healing: a detour that can speed up the process

 

When we work on deep-seated issues, there is often a fear of not only entering it but also of healing from it. This fear is a guardian of the treasure that’s there when we enter it, get to know it, and find healing for it. It’s a big part of what holds it in place.

The fear is also innocent, natural, and very understandable. It’s there to protect us. The protection is partly wise and partly a bit misguided. It’s wise since entering the issue without proper guidance can further traumatize us and make it worse. And can be a bit misguided since entering it with some guidance is what allows it to heal.

So when I work on deep-seated issues in myself or others, I often address this fear as well. If it’s strong, I may treat it as its own issue.

In a sense, this is a detour and slows down the process. In another sense, it’s what allows for a more real and deep healing of the issue. Slow is sometimes faster. What’s slow in the short run can be faster in the long run.

I often address this fear when I work with inquiry, Vortex Healing, and parts work (Big Mind process etc.).

What is evil?

 

What is evil? What does it refer to?

As usual, there are many answers – each with some value.

Personally, I don’t find the word very useful and rarely if ever use it, apart from when I explore it in inquiry or as I do here.

So with that caveat, here are some answers to the question: what is evil?

The easy answer is that nothing is inherently evil, and nothing is what we call it. Evil is in the label. The idea of evil is created from a mental overlay.

We could also say that it’s intentionally causing harm to others, whether as a byproduct of getting to another goal or for its own sake. This is tricky since we all cause harm to other living beings in our daily life – especially to non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations.

And that’s a reminder that what’s evil depends on who we are. If we are a human, then evil can be seen as what other humans do to us when they act in ways that systematically harm us. If we are a non-human or an ecosystem, we can say that the current behavior of humans is evil since it systematically harms non-human life. Animals are imprisoned and killed just so they can provide food or other products to humans, and they often suffer immensely in the process. Ecosystems are systematically damaged and destroyed so what’s extracted from them can temporarily support human activity. And if we are any being in the future – any future human or non-human being or ecosystem – then the current human behavior is evil. It’s destructive for all future generations. This means that, in a sense, we are all evil. Each of us is evil to someone. And our current human society, the way it’s organized, functions in an evil way. If we chose to use the word evil, and if we want to be honest with ourselves, we have to include this view.

And, related to “it’s all in the label”, evil – as anything else we see in ourselves or the wider world – is a projection. It’s an idea we put on something in the world. And the idea, as any other idea, is made up by our own mind by a combination of mental images, words, and sensations. We may feel that something is evil, because it’s connected to sensations in our body that makes the idea seem solid, real, and perhaps even true. And that, in turn, is happening because we have learned it from our parents, friends, subcultures, and our culture in general. (That’s probably why I don’t find the word very useful or compelling: I didn’t grow up in a culture where it was used much or was seen as meaningful.)

In a more pragmatic sense, what we conventionally label evil in humans is often their reaction to their own trauma and pain. Hurt people hurt people. When we see someone acting in a way we can call evil, it’s often because they themselves have deep wounds they don’t know how to deal with in a constructive way, so they react to their deep pain by inflicting pain on others. Or, at the very least, by not caring very much if they inflict pain on others. (This gives us some understanding and empathy for people acting in this way but doesn’t in any way condone their actions. It’s still our duty to do what we can to stop harmful actions.)

This lack of caring can also happen if we are very removed from the consequences of our actions. If most humans today can be seen as evil from the perspective of non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations, it’s not because we wish to inflict pain and suffering on these. It’s because the consequences of our actions are often far removed from us. We don’t see the consequences and don’t get immediate feedback. And it’s also because we live and operate within a social system that’s created in a world (in the 1800s) where the resources and garbage-absorption capacity of the natural world seemed infinite and is still – for the most part – considered infinite in our economic system. It’s not, in itself, evil, but the consequences can certainly be experienced and seen as evil.

How can I work with this in my own life?

I can explore my ideas of evil in this way, and through inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries, Big Mind process etc.). I can find in myself the qualities and characteristics I see as evil, and see “out there” in the world and other people. (Even if what I find are perhaps much smaller or even just seeds and potentials.) I can put myself in the place of others – including non-human species, ecosystems, and future generations – and ask myself how they would see my behaviors, and perhaps use that as a correction. I can inform myself about the far-reaching and distant consequences of my actions and use this as a correction and guide for my own life. I can invite in healing for my own traumas and wounds so I am less likely to create and operate from ideologies aimed at protecting me from my own pain (racism, sexism, uncaring anthropocentrism, general dehumanization etc.), or lash out when my pain is triggered and harm myself and others.

Personally, I find my actions are evil from the perspective of nonhuman species, ecosystems, and future generations. It’s not intended to be evil, but I know it can easily be seen that way. After all, I operate within a system that doesn’t take the long term and distant effects of our actions much into consideration. It’s not incorporated, because it didn’t need to be when our system was developed. I also know I my actions have caused suffering for others, especially when I have not been able to be completely honest or in my own integrity because of my own pain and fears. That is something I am working on, both in terms of finding healing for my issues creating this behavior and preventing it by being honest, taking care of my own needs (some of it has happened because I didn’t), and be more in integrity.

From pushing to allowing

 
I notice a (familiar) frustration with my body’s lack of energy. I want to do more but am unable to. Along with this is a sense of pushing. Wanting to push through. Push so I can get things done. Push life so my health improves. I notice this and know it comes from beliefs, identifications, and something that’s not felt and seen. So I take a step back. Notice what’s here. Open to it. Allow it. Take time with it. And notice a curiosity about what’s behind it. I notice fear. I open to this fear. Allow it. Notice where in my body I feel it and the sensations connected with it. Notice it happens in infinite space. I also notice any fear of this fear, or feeling or opening to this fear, and include that in what I open to and allow. Whatever is here is included in what’s allowed and welcomed. I notice a curiosity about this fear. It seems to be a fear of not being enough. Of being judged. Of not being able to take care of what needs to be taken care of. It’s a survival fear. In the moment, this is enough. Connecting with, allowing, and befriending this more primal survival fear is enough. Something profound shifts. There is a sense of returning home, returning to what’s more real. It’s a relief. The initial frustration and pushing makes sense in a different way and identification with it softens and falls away. I know I can keep exploring, and probably will at some point. I continue noticing any associated sensations, images, and labels. I can explore my first memories of feeling this frustration or pushing, and – more to the point – this primal survival fear. I see it’s innocent. It’s very understandable and human. This primal fear is essential to most or nearly all living beings. It’s what has kept us alive for all these generations going back to very early organisms. It’s what has kept me alive. It’s a friend and it’s a big relief to actually and finally get to know it and befriend it. Running away from it is innocent too and very natural. And it creates stress, pushing, a fighting with what’s here, and make me overlook the innocence in it and the primal fear behind it, and I miss out of seeing all this and making friends and peace with it.

Response to physical crash

 

This is a quick note about something I notice with my physical health condition. I’ll mention it here since it points to a more general and universal pattern, and one I assume most of us experience in different areas of life.

Because of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), I sometimes physical crash. I exert myself and this is followed by a kind of physical collapse. My body shuts down.

When this happens, there is often fear. A primal survival fear is triggered.

When I notice this, I can open to and allow the fear. This allows the fear to be experienced and acknowledged (and even welcomed and thanked). It’s experienced as a part of me and not who or what I am, so I can mentally and emotionally stay neutral or even genuinely appreciative of my life.

And when I don’t notice, or don’t want to notice, there is a reaction to the fear. My mind identifies with the fear and the (sometimes catastrophic) stories related to the fear. I feel the crash it terrible and that it means something terrible about my life and future.

And that sometimes leads to a corresponding emotional crash and shutdown. This can take the form of a mix of irritability, hopelessness, catastrophic thinking, fears, depression, blame, judgment, and general turmoil.

So there is a physical crash, which triggers primal fear, which sometimes triggers a reaction to or identification with the fear, and this can lead to an emotional crash.

It does pass, both the physical and emotional crash. But it is much easier when I notice the primal fear, open to it, find some curiosity about it, and can allow and welcome it.

Doing vs allowing

 

When “I give a Vortex Healing session, I notice two different orientations I can operate from.

One is to gently use my intention to guide the process, notice what I sense and be receptive and adjust the session accordingly, notice that the divine is guiding and doing the healing, enjoy watching the process, and find gratitude for being allowed to be part of the process.

Another aspect of this is noticing that it all – the giver, the recipient, the channeling and everything else – is happening within and as the divine. The divine plays all the roles.

The other is to be caught in the “doing” of it. Whether it’s the minimal “doing” of using my intention, sensing what’s happening, and adjusting my approach based on that feedback. Or a more course “doing” of feeling “I” am responsible for the outcome, or overly question or be self-conscious about the process, or something else.

The first tends to come with a sense of flow and ease, and the second with stress and exhaustion. A gentler touch is not only much easier but it, most likely, allows me to be more of an open channel and not get in the way of the process.

As so often, this applies to other situations and life in general. It’s stressful and can be exhausting to be caught up in the “doing” and being a “doer”. And there is often a sense of ease and flow when we have a gentler touch and can step out of the driver’s seat in the mind.

How can we explore this more intentionally? One quite effective way is through inquiry, for instance the (Buddhist-informed) Living Inquiries. Here, I get to see how my mind creates its own experience of being a doer, how the charge in it is created (making it seem important to be a doer, and making it seem real), and perhaps the fears in stepping out of this role.

Other approaches I am familiar with is Breema which allows for this exploration and stepping out of (thinking that we are in) the driver’s seat. And the Big Mind process and Headless experiments which gives us a taste of what we are. And I assume it does tend to come naturally, over time through Vortex Healing and the feedback and awakening inherent in that process.

In general, any approach that allows for some awareness and exploration of this dynamic is likely helpful, as is any approach that invites in awakening – and healing of whatever in us thinks it needs to be a doer to stay safe.

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.

Niels Bohr: A deep truth

 

A deep truth is a truth so deep that not only is it true but its exact opposite is also true.

Niels Bohr, paraphrased

Yes, this is true (!) in my experience. Although, I find that any statement with some truth in it has reversals that also has some truth in it. It doesn’t have to be a deep statement. Words are only pointers, and we can find some validity in most statements about the world.

The question is specifically how something is true. When we identify that, we avoid assuming that all statements are somehow equally true (they are not) or true in the same way (they are not).

Therapeutic tremoring is not enough in itself

 

I love therapeutic tremoring. It’s as natural as it can be. It reminds me that I am a mammal and am part of nature. It allows the inherent wisdom in my system to take over and I (the conscious me) can take the back seat. It allows deep tension to release out of my body. It tones and relaxes the tissues of my body. It frees up energy from being bound up in contracting muscles.

And yet, it’s not sufficient in itself. For mammals in the wild, it may be and probably often is sufficient. But it doesn’t seem sufficient for us mammals called humans who live in a (often pretty screwed up) culture and were not taught or encouraged to naturally use therapeutic tremoring from early childhood on.

We need to also approach it from the mind side. Tension is created by stressful beliefs and identifications. Releasing tension out of the body certainly improves our well being and how our body functions, and it can even lessen the stress connected with these beliefs and identifications. But it doesn’t resolve the causes of the tension and underlying stress in our life and body.

To do that, we need to bring the stressful stories we have about ourselves, the world, and certain situations into awareness. We need to find them, investigate them, and through that allow them to find a resolution. We can do this on our own, with friends or confidantes, with a therapist, and through a range of different modalities.

How do we (re)learn therapeutic tremoring? The approach I am most familiar with, and find very helpful, is Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE).

And what modalities can we use to help resolve the causes of stress and tension? We have to find one or more that works for us (that we like, resonate with, and get results from), and it helps to have a good guide, at least at first. Again, for me, inquiry complements therapeutic tremoring very well. As do energy healing (Vortex Healing) and heart-centered practices.

Note: Some call this neurogenic tremoring, and that’s accurate although a little too broad. There are many types of neurogenic tremors (for instance shivering to warm up our tissue and body). Therapeutic tremoring is the tremoring built into our body through evolution specifically to release tension and stress, including tension and stress from traumatic experiences.

Conversely, tremoring is a little too specific! When the body releases tension in this way, it can do a lot more than just tremble. We may stretch (often on one side of the body, and then symmetrically on the other side), make sounds, cry, laugh, and so on.

A hole in us: filling it, seeing it’s not there, and living the opposite

 

Many of us experience that there is a hole in us. Something is lacking or missing. We are not quite enough. Not quite OK.

This is created by beliefs we have about ourselves and the world, and identifications. And it’s rooted in our culture, our family patterns, and our own journey through life.

We can approach this in a few different ways. Tracing the sense of lack back to a belief and identity, and seeing how it (most likely) was created early in life, can be helpful in itself. It helps us see it more as an object (a part of us) than a subject (what we are). Being honest about it with ourselves and others helps for the same reason, and it helps us see it’s a universal experience.

We can dialogue with these parts of us. Get to know them. Befriend them. Listen to what they want to say to us. Be a friend to them. Give them our kindness, wisdom, and love. (Parts work.)

We can give these parts of ourselves love through heart-centered practices such as ho’oponopno and tonglen. And we can do the same towards ourselves as a whole, and towards those who trigger these parts of us now and in the past.

We can seek out situations where we feel loved and cared for, by ourselves and others. We can seek out people and communities that genuinely love and care for us.

We can increase our overall sense of well being. For instance through mindful movement (yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema etc.). Training a more stable attention (e.g. by bringing attention to the sensations of the breath). Find gratitude for our life, both what we like and perhaps what we don’t so much like (all-inclusive gratitude practices). This creates a different context that makes it easier for the not-enough parts of us to reorient and heal. (Although the healing may require one or more of the other approaches as well.)

We can identify and investigate the beliefs creating a sense of lack and not-OKness, including underlying and related beliefs. We can come to find what’s more true for us (and more peacefully true) than these stressful beliefs. (The Work.)

We can explore how our mind creates its own experience of these beliefs, identities, and stressful situations triggering them. We can see how they appear in each of our sense fields (sensations, thoughts, images, sounds, taste, smell etc.), and how the sense fields combine to make them seem solid and real to us. And through this investigation, the “glue” looses its strength and the sensations appears more as sensations without (stressful) meaning, and the thoughts appears more as thoughts without (stressful) substance and reality. (Living Inquiries.)

We can use energy work (often combined with some insights or simple inquiry) to release these beliefs, emotional issues, and identifications. (For me, Vortex Healing.)

We can even shift into what we are (that which these experiences happens within and as), and notice that it’s all what a thought may call consciousness. It’s all happening within and as what we are. Sometimes, we call it the divine or the One. (Big Mind process, headless experiments.)

So when we experience a hole in ourselves, we can fill it through befriending this part of ourselves and giving it care and love, and we can see through it and see it’s ultimately not real in the way it seemed to be. And we can also live in a way that helps us reorient and rewire and shows that these parts of us are not who we are. (Living turnarounds in The Work of Byron Katie.)

Finally, we must all find our own way through this. The examples I gave above are just examples based on what am familiar with and have found helpful. And finding our own way often includes finding someone who has gone through it themselves and can guide us through it.

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When spiritual teachers say stupid things

 

I am against organ donations because organ transplants take resources away from other health services.

Paraphrased from Ric W. on FB

Ric is the main teacher of one of the modalities I find most helpful, and when he talks about healing or awakening, it usually makes complete sense to me. But when he posts about social issues, I often find I disagree. Sometimes, I even think his views seem a bit naive.

In this case, he posted this to an international Facebook group which makes it seem as if he is making a broad statement that applies to all countries and situations. In Norway, people get the health care they need even if some with organ transplants need a small portion of the health care resources available. Even in the US where he lives, it’s hard to see that it’s true. Insurance companies pay for the health services people need and have paid for through their insurance, whether it’s organ transplants or something else.

Also, he is using the “divide and conquer” argument where he sets two vital issues up against each other while we, as a society, can afford both. We spend a huge amount of money and resources on far less important things. (In the US, on a ridiculously large and bloated military budget.) It’s the argument politicians use when they want to set groups up against each other, for instance by saying “society spends resources on immigrants that retired people should have had”.

Of course, it is true that organ transplants increase the overall cost of healthcare in a society. But it’s negligible. It’s a cost most of us agree is worth it. And a lot of other and less vital things bring up the cost as well. In the US, privatization increases the overall cost dramatically. In most countries, doctors perform or prescribe costly treatments they know won’t work or are ineffective.

It is also true that, as he said, that in the big picture, life and death is not so important. But it is important to us as humans. And I want to live in a society that’s kind and honors life.

So what do we do when spiritual teachers or guides say stupid things?

First, is there something in it? Does he see something I don’t? In this case, I haven’t found it yet but I am open to it.

Then, I can be relieved. He is just a human being. He may have knee-jerk ideas about things. He may not think everything through. His social views may, at times, seem unnecessarily harsh. He is a human as we all are. He is not perfect. He has his own issues and limitations. It’s a gift that he shows me this.

Finally, it helps me see my own issues. Something in me got triggered when I saw what he wrote. I reacted to what he said, considered it for a while, and then – as part of the reactivity – decided that what he said seemed stupid, harsh, and uninformed. It was my way of dealing with the discomfort it brought up in me.

I can do inquiry (The Work) on the stressful thoughts it brought up in me. (He is stupid. He should be more responsible in what he says. He may influence others to not support organ transplants. His view is harsh, heartless, and uninformed. I don’t know if I can trust his views on anything now.)

I can do inquiry (Living Inquiries) to see how my mind creates the reactivity, and also see how it creates what it reacts against and when it was initially formed in my life. And, in the process, invite sensations and thoughts to separate so the charge may go out of these issues (beliefs, identifications, traumas) in me.

I can do Vortex Healing for what it brought up in me, even if I don’t know exactly what it was.

And much more.

So when spiritual teachers say stupid things, it can come with many benefits. I may find the grain of truth in it, or it may help me see something from a different perspective or a different context. It brings him down from the pedestal and among us humans, as I see him. And it helps me find my own emotional issues, triggered by what he said, so I get to explore and perhaps find resolution for these.

I want to add a few words about the “life and death is not important” view. In the big picture, it is true. It’s all the play of the divine. The different masks of the divine. And yet, one of the pitfalls of spirituality is to dismiss the human. We go into Big Mind, and find ourselves as Big Mind, and dismiss or value less the human views and perspectives. (If this happens, it’s often a way to try to protect ourselves of the pain inherent in our human existence. It doesn’t work, but it can give a sense of temporary relief.)

As I see it, a more mature view is to include both and embrace the human, including our valuing of life. To me, that’s one of the most beautiful things about humans. We value life. And few things are as beautiful as a society that values life. In this case, that values life enough to give people organ transplants when they need it and follow up so they can stay healthy as long as possible.

Finally, I should add that I know that Ric may say these things precisely to initiate a process in people just like it did me. It may be, unconsciously or consciously, a teaching tool. Outside of when he talks about healing and awakening, where he seems amazingly precise and insightful, he may allow himself to say controversial things in order to stir things up a little. I imagine I would be tempted to do the same if I was in his position.

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It’s not who you are

 

And remember, it’s not who you are.

When I worked at a clinic a little while back, one of my co-workers would say this to clients after they did the enneagram test. (We used the test so we wouldn’t overlook some possible core issues for the clients.) He would say it mostly to pique their curiosity, to counter their tendency to take the results as who they are, and also because it’s accurate.

When I find my enneagram types according to an online test, in what way is it who I am? The results do hint at how I cope with core issues from my childhood.

And in what way is it not who I am?

It’s not who I am because the test may give different results depending on when I do it and which situation(s) I have in mind when I answer the questions. So in a limited enneagram context, the results may not be who I (always) am.

It’s not who I am because I am a whole human being and the enneagram types only touch upon aspects of who I am and how I am in the world. (What it does address is partly how I typically cope with core wounds from childhood.)

I am not destined by what the test points to. Yes, I may have those dynamics in me and tend to use those coping mechanisms, but when I become aware of it, and when I find more healing for the core issues behind it, I can relate to these dynamics in me more consciously. I may find myself living differently.

Beyond the human, there is what I am. That which any experience, including what the enneagram types point to, happens within and as. In this context, I am also not limited to any enneagram type or any label at all.

And this goes for any personality test, any label, any role we have in society. It’s not who we are. It may or may not be accurate in a conventional sense. And as who (human self) and what (Big Mind) we are, we are far more, different, and not defined by it.

So what enneagram types am I? When I do the tests, my most prominent ones tend to be 9 and 1. Peacemaker and perfectionist. When I grew up, I was taught to avoid conflict (peacemaker) and that doing things well was safe (perfectionist). So by seeking peace and perfection, I can avoid conflict (which I am scared of) and also failing or being disapproved of (which I am also scared of). These types suggest that if I want to work on core emotional issues, I may do well to address conflict avoidance and fear of being unloved or disapproved of, and the early childhood situations where I learned this.

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What is the present?

 

I saw a couple of videos about what the present is. Is it what happens right this millisecond? Or these few seconds? Or even minutes?

When I look at my experience of time, I find an overlay of thoughts (images and words about what happens in time) on top of another overlay of thoughts (an image of a timeline), on top of what’s happening in the other sense fields.

For past and future, it’s a series of images and words on top of the timeline either stretching back in time or forward in time, with sensations lending it a sense of substance, solidity, and reality.

For the present, it’s images and words on top of the “present” part of the timeline (the middle), and if the present is what’s happening in my immediate surroundings, then these are on top of what’s happening in sight, sound, taste, smell, and sensations. And, again, sensations lend these thoughts about the present as sense of solidity, reality, and truth.

So it doesn’t really matter how “long” the present is. It’s created in thought, as is past and future. In a sense, it’s imagined. And at the same time, our ability to imagine the past, future, and present is vital for us functioning in the world. We need it to orient, learn from the past, imagine different futures, and relate to what’s happening here and now.

And it does help to recognize that this is what’s happening, as it’s happening. It helps us hold it all more lightly.

The Living Inquiries is what I have found most helpful for exploring this in detail. And when I have found it, in depth, one or more times, it’s easier to notice it as it happens, in daily life.

When people say “be present” or “stay in the present”, what do they mean? It may mean to stay with what’s happening here and now, and that’s often helpful. But really, it means to notice that my mind creates an idea of a timeline, and then places other thoughts on top of it to populate my past, future, and present. I notice how my mind creates its idea of time and what happens in time, and that it’s all happening in immediacy.

Even if I am absorbed into thoughts about past, future, or present, one little noticing is all that’s needed for me to see that it’s all happening in immediacy, here now. My attention can be absorbed into thoughts about past, future, and present, and I can notice that’s what’s happening. And that helps me hold it all with a lighter touch.

One thing I like about this approach is that it’s pragmatic. It’s relatively easy to notice, especially through some guided inquiry. And it fits the understanding of modern psychology (although it’s still in its infancy) and even common sense.

At the same time, my impression is that many people tend to see past, future, and (their ideas of the) present as real, solid, and true. There is a past, future, and present, as it seems to us, and it’s populated with, more or less, what we think it’s populated with. That’s an understandable assumption, and it’s one that can only survive as long as we don’t take a closer look.

I also find the idea of time travel interesting. As a story device or a thought experiment, it can be very entertaining and even illuminating. If we take it as anything more than that, it means we assume there is an actual, real and solid past and future as a “thing”, that it’s somehow stored somewhere, and that we can conceivably visit it. That’s an example of taking our mental timeline of past, future, and present, investing it with a sense of solidity (through associating it with sensations), and taking that sense of a solid and real timeline as actually true and real “out there” somewhere, as a place we can visit. Again, this impression can only survive for as long as we don’t take a closer look.

Readiness

 

When I worked with addiction clients (at the Kiloby Center), I noticed that it was relatively easy to see how willing, ready, and wholehearted the clients were about being sober, and that the more willing, sincere, wholehearted, and receptive they were, the more likely they were to succeed.

That’s how it is for any of us in any area of life, including healing emotional issues and changing our orientation to life (befriending).

So how do we arrive at this readiness? It seems that the main factor is recognizing – deeply, viscerally, through experience – that the pain of changing (and there is often some pain involved) is less than the pain of staying in the old pattern.

Is there a way to prepare the ground for readiness? As with so much, it comes through grace and on its own time. At the same time, there may be some ways to invite it in. Inquiry is one. Heart-centered practices is another. Being really vulnerable and honest with ourselves and (a trusted) other is yet another way, and a vital component.

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The benefits of knowing it’s all selfish

 

There are many benefits to knowing that what I am doing is selfish, even when it also seems kind.

It aligns me with reality and truth and I avoid the stress of pretending something else.

It’s easier for me to take care of my own needs so I am in a better position to live the life I want.

I am less prone to burnout. I am less likely to tell me I am doing it for someone else so there is less chance of resentment.

It’s easier for me to stay in my own business. I am less likely to go into blame, victimhood and so on.

There is less sense of self-importance. I know I am doing it for myself so I can’t so easily use it to boost a false sense of self-importance or tell myself I am better than others. 

If I don’t immediately see how what I am doing is selfish, how can I explore or find it? Here are a couple of suggestions.

If I tell myself I am doing something because I need to, I can write down the “need” statement first (“I need to drive the kids to school bc there are no busses”) and then change it to a “want” statement (“I want to drive the kids to school because I want them to have a good education, and I enjoy spending the extra time with them”).

If I tell myself I am doing something noble or altruistic or for someone else, I can ask myself what I get out of it. Here is an example: I moved to Wisconsin to support my wife in her education. What did I get out of it? In what ways did I do it for myself, for my own reasons? It made me feel good to support her. I wanted the best for her. I got to be with her. I got to apply for US residency which I wanted. I got to be a good husband and see myself that way. All of that was selfish, and some of it selfish in the best way.

The Work of Byron Katie is also a great way to explore if what I am doing is selfish, and to find that it is, in the best way, and that it’s completely innocent. (At least, that’s what I have found so far. I am open to discover something else.)

I’ll add a few examples I have found for myself. When I do something that seems kind, for someone else, and in the interest of the larger whole, I do it because it feels good. I am aligned with my guidance. I know all is interconnected so I am really doing it for myself, for the whole I am intrinsic part of. I notice it’s all happening within and as what I am, so it is – as they say in Zen – like the left hand removing a splinter from the right.

Sometimes, I may do something because it makes me look good. It feeds into a desired self-image or how I want others and myself to see me. It can make someone like me. All of that is also selfish and when I look I find it’s innocent. It’s what we humans do when we are caught up in stressful thoughts and neediness.

So yes, when I have looked, I have found that what I do – even when my mind tells me I need to do it or what I do out of kindness – is selfish. It’s often selfish in the best way. It’s innocent. And it’s a huge relief to admit to myself it’s selfish and it comes with many benefits to see it.

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Serving oneself

 

I watched the 2017 documentary about Spielberg, and one of the many things that struck me was when someone said he is totally unselfconscious and it’s almost as if he is an employee of Spielberg.

If that’s true, and it seems there is a good amount of truth in it, it’s one piece of the explanation for how he has been able to so wholeheartedly do what he loves and be so productive, make movies across many different genres, with such skill, and for so long. He has been getting out of his own way.

So the question for me is, if I am an employee of Per (this human being here), how can I best serve him? How can I be a really great employee? What would I do in this situation? How would I approach this task if I was an employee of Per?

Again, this is a very simple pointer or inquiry, and if we apply and follow it, it can be life transforming.

Reactivity isn’t realness

 

Some people (and movies!) seem to think that reactivity is the same as being real and authentic. In a way, it is since it’s part of human life. And in another way, it’s not.

When we are reactive, we react to our own uncomfortable feelings and associated thoughts. We react to them as a way to avoid them, and the way we avoid them may be through blame, complaints, anger, sadness, victimhood, going into and recycling stressful thoughts, and more.

So what’s more real? To me, it’s to notice I go into reactivity (the symptoms are not hard to recognize), stop, take a breath and a step back, and notice what I am really feeling. Often, it’s fear. And then feel it, give it space to be here, admit to it to myself, and perhaps – if the situation is right – admit to it to someone else. And that someone else may be the person who initially triggered the reactivity in me.

As Adya says, when I find and admit to myself or someone else what’s more real and true for me, it feels like a confession. It’s vulnerable. And the reactivity is not needed anymore.

Say I am reactive when I am visiting my parents and have the thought that my mother nags my father. I notice my mind goes into complaints and blame. My muscles tense up. I see images of her nagging my father in the past and future. My breath is more tense and shallow. I get shorter with them. I want to be somewhere else. I am starting to fantasize about leaving and being away from the situation. I leave sooner than I normally would. All of that is reactivity.

So I can notice. Get closer to what’s really going on and notice what I am really feeling. And I notice fear. I am afraid of what the nagging does to both of them. (And my father not speaking up about it.) I am afraid of what it does to their health. I am afraid of what it does to me. I am afraid it’s harming my relationship with my parents. (Which it doesn’t, only my reactive thoughts about it does.) I am afraid I’ll have been and will play out similar underlying dynamics in my own relationships.

And when I notice that, something falls into place in me. I am more authentic and real with myself. I am in touch with the underlying feelings and thoughts, the ones my mind initially reacted to in order to avoid. And there is a relief here. A sense of coming home. Knowing that while I can’t do anything about their relationship (it’s not my business and it’s futile even trying), I can address this in myself.

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Does The Work only work at the thought level?

 

Does The Work of Byron Katie only work at the thought level?

That’s one of the concerns I have heard from people new to The Work, and it was one of my initial concerns as well.

In my experience, The Work can go very deep and can be life-changing. Especially when I follow the simple instructions and I am facilitated by someone trained in and experienced with The Work. When I stay with the situation, get close, use some of the subquestions (for number 3), feel what’s happening in my body, go back in time to my earliest experiences with the stressful thought, and also look at my scary images of the future. When I am still, get close, and take time to find genuine examples for each turnaround. And when I select a juicy living turnaround and bring it into and apply it in my daily life.

In addition to the obvious cognitive shifts, I often feel energetic and emotional shifts when I do The Work, and I do notice how my life changes when I bring the living turnarounds into my daily life.

The Work can be “just” a cognitive exercise if we take it that way, and it often stays at that level if we don’t follow the simple instructions or don’t have a skilled and experienced facilitator. And it can be profoundly life transforming if we do.

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Parliament: Testify

 

Once I was a hollow man
In which a lonely heart did dwell
You know love came creeping upon me
Bringing life to an empty shell

Now I heard so many times before
That your love could be so bad
I just want to tell you people
It’s the best love I ever had

Don’t you know that 
I just want to testify
What your love has done for me
I just want to testify
What your love has done for me

Ooh, ooh luscious
Sure been delicious to me
Ooh, ooh luscious
Sure been delicious to me

I just want to testify
What your love has done for me
I just want to testify
What your love has done for me

Parliament, Deron Taylor / George S Clinton, Testify

I listened to this song by Parliament and realized it falls into place more for me when I turn it around to myself. (When I hear songs or watch movies or read stories or look at the world, I find it interesting to explore it as I would a dream, as if all aspects are in myself.)

I can understand the lyrics of Testify in a conventional sense, as someone who comes alive through the love of someone else. I allow myself to come alive because I tell myself I am loved and lovable.

And when I see that, I also realize I can give myself that love.

How can I give myself that love?

I can do loving things for myself (take a bath, make a good meal etc.).

More importantly, I can find love for whatever parts of myself come up, and especially those parts I previously have shunned and pushed away. I can find love for my experience as it is here and now, even if it’s uncomfortable and something I previously have shunned.

To get started, I can do this with the help of a structure. It can be a basic meditation such as natural rest. When I notice and allow my experience, as it is here and now, it’s a deep expression of love. It can also be a heart-centered practice such as ho’oponopno, tonglen, or metta. Or I can do it through a simple inquiry such as the Headless experiments or the Big Mind / Big Heart process.

If I want to be more thorough, I can also find and investigate any beliefs that prevent me from finding a deep and lasting love for myself. I can do this, for instance, through The Work or Living Inquiries. A common thought is that I am not worthy of love or I am unlovable. One of my thoughts is that the love of someone else (preferably a woman beautiful inside and out) is more important or worth more than my own love.

These are all very natural and understandable thoughts, and it can be a great relief and open up a whole new dimension of the world when the charge goes out of them (Living Inquiries) or we find what’s more true for us (The Work).