Finding meaning, and holding it lightly

 

We are conditioned to find meaning in the world, and especially in what happens in our own life. It’s put into us through evolution, and it just makes sense that we do so. It helps us survive and function in the world.

One special case is when something happens that we don’t particularly like. Often, it’s in the form of a loss. We lose someone or something, and the mind tries to find a meaning in it.

The meaning may be that we are a victim, or that we are not good enough, or something similar and painful. And in the best case, we find a meaning that help us learn, heal, mature, and find peace with what happened.

For instance, the meaning may be I have an opportunity to learn about impermanence. I can learn to relate to it in a more helpful way. It may invite me to more fully appreciate what’s here and make use of an opportunity while it’s still here. It may invite me to know it will go away, and find some peace with it even before it happens. It may help me mature as a human being and find and deepen my empathy with others who experience loss. That all makes loss meaningful.

I like to keep these meaning-stories as simple and real as possible. I could add to it. For instance, life “wants” me to learn this, or that the loss was a special set-up just for me. But that doesn’t really make sense. It just adds unnecessary complication and drama to it. Some meaning-stories are inherently stressful.

And, in reality, any and each meaning-story can be stressful if we hold it as too real and too… meaningful. If we take it as absolutely true and real, instead of just as a temporary guide, any story will eventually be stressful.

There is a way to do this that seems the most helpful to me.

Find a meaning that’s practical, simple, and real. A meaning that helps me heal, mature, and function well in the world. Hold it lightly, as you are able.

Leave the rest aside. The meanings that seem overly complicated or makes it into something special. The meanings that are clearly stressful or painful.

Take to inquiry any remaining meaning-stories that seem real and substantial, and especially the stressful ones. Examine them.

For instance, use The Work of Byron Katie to see the consequences of holding it as true, how it may be if you don’t, and the validity in the reversals.

Or use the Living Inquiries to see how the mind creates its own stressful experience, how it attaches sensations to stories to give them charge and a sense of reality and substance, and help the mind soften or release the association between the stories and the charge.

To find a constructive meaning, it can help to talk with someone we trust or use some guidelines or tools found in – for instance – the positive psychology world.

And when it comes to holding any meaning lightly and set the stressful ones aside, some form of inquiry can be very helpful.

Note: When I say “I like to keep these meaning-stories as simple and real as possible” I don’t mean that I hold the meaning itself as real. It just means that I try to find a meaning that makes sense to me. A meaning that’s “real” in the sense of authentic.

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Senseless, sensible, coming to our senses

 

Senseless: Lacking common sense, wildly foolish.

Oxford Dictionary

Sensible: Done or chosen in accordance with wisdom or prudence, likely to be of benefit.

Oxford Dictionary

Come to your senses: to start to understand that you have been behaving stupidly.

Cambridge Dictionary

There is often wisdom in traditional sayings and expressions and even embedded in everyday words.

What does it mean to come to our senses? In an everyday use, it means to perceive and act in a more grounded and sensible way. There is a literal truth in that expression. When we are caught in thoughts, we can get a bit loopy and insane. We live in abstractions. We take our own imaginations, our own mental images and words, as reality. We make ourselves crazy that way.

Coming to our senses means to bring attention to our senses, to sensations, sights, sounds, smell, and taste. And also to our imaginations as what they are, recognizing them as mental images and words (imagined sounds and mental images). When we bring attention to our senses, the mind is incapable of simultaneously be caught up in stories and content of thought. It’s either one or the other. (Unless we do both half way, in which case we are still caught in stories and imagination.)

The more we bring attention to our senses, the more we make it into a new habit, and the more we have an actual freedom in shifting attention between our senses and occasionally into stories. Now and then, we do need to bring attention into stories to function in the world. Using stories in this practical sense is natural and kind. And we can do it as needed and while recognizing these stories as imaginations.

There is some effort here in terms of intentionally bringing attention to our senses. And over time, it becomes more and more effortless. Even the recognition of imagination as imagined becomes more effortless more often.

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The mind trying to make sense of what’s happening

 

The mind is a sweetheart, as one of my teachers (Todd C.) likes to say.

It tries to make sense of what’s going on. It tries to help out the best it can.

This happens when an old trauma is triggered by a current situation.

An old trauma is triggered by the current situation. A strong emotion or reaction comes up, the mind thinks it must be about the current situation, and makes up a story that makes it seem as if the current situation justifies the situation. To others, it may seem that the reaction is way out of proportion to the situation, but to the mind it seems justified because of the story it made up. (Afterwards, we may recognize this and feel perplexed or even a bit ashamed Or we may take it as an opportunity to look at the trauma and the initial situation creating it.)

And we also see it just about all the time in everyday life. Something happens, and the mind tries to make sense of it. It interprets. Makes a story out of it. Tries to make it coherent as best as it can. It may make a story out of it that either deflates or enhances the imagined self, depending on its inclination.

The mind is a story maker and we need it to function. We do need basic stories to navigate and orient in the world. And yet, it’s really helpful when we can recognize this as it happens. Recognize the stories as stories. Recognize velcro as velcro. (The charge we experience when the mind associates sensations with the stories.)

Thoughts give sensations meaning, sensations gives thought charge

 

Through inquiry, this can become quite clear:

Images and words give sensations meaning.

Sensations give images and words charge.

Images and words give sensations meaning

Sensations in themselves are simple sensations. They are bodily sensations without any inherent meaning.

When images and words become associated with them, these images and words gives the sensations meaning. They label the sensations and may also tell a more elaborate story about what the sensations mean.

The simple label may be pain, hurt, sadness, fear, anger, frustration, discomfort, joy, elation, threat, craving, or compulsion. The more elaborate story may be a story about me or the world, for instance that I am not good enough, unloved, or superior. Or that the word – or something in it – is dangerous, or welcoming, or anything at all.

The mind tells itself what the sensations mean with the use of images and words.

Sensations give images and words charge

When images and words become associated with certain sensations, these sensations lend a charge to the story told by the images and words. They lend the story a sense of substance, solidity, and reality, and gives it charge.

There is a story, and the sensations the mind associates with the story lends the story a sense of reality, substance, and solidity, and gives it a charge.

Temporary and chronic bodily contractions

In order for the mind to take it’s own stories as real (substantial, solid, with a charge), it needs to find sensations to associate them with.

And in order for the mind to reliably find sensations, it needs to contract muscles in certain areas of the body to create sensations that these stories can be associated with.

These contractions can be temporary and created “on command” as needed.

If the stories are more core and recurrent, the contractions can become chronic and very familiar to us.

Inquiry

Inquiry can help us recognize how stories and sensations come together. It can also help us separate out the stories and sensations, so they become “unglued” and the sense of solidity and charge of the stories soften or fall away. This can help with anxiety, depression, compulsion and just about any other stressful experience the mind creates for itself.

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The part of the mind I call the body

 

For me, in my immediate experience, the body is part of the mind.

My body is part of my mind since it’s happening within and as awareness. All bodies, and any experience, is like that.

Also, anything I think I know about “the body” is created by the mind, by stories, by sensations and an overlay of images and words.

In both of these ways, the body is part of the mind.

So if I say my body tells me….., or my body feels….., I really mean my mind.

My body tells me….. –> My mind tells me…..

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Hollywood, image making, and buying into it

 

It’s the Oscars soon, which reminds me of a recent visit to Los Angeles and Hollywood, the Hollywood hills, and a (quite good) exhibit of movie costumes.

That visit reminded me of how the Hollywood movie industry is all about image-making, and people buying into it. They are very good at creating a certain image through storytelling, pictures, music, and more. People buy into it. (And it has been very profitable to many.)

There is nothing wrong with this. It’s how culture is created and maintained. It’s what’s happening in just about all areas of life, from entertainment to politics to religion to our most basic stories about ourselves and life.

It’s good to notice. Someone makes up stories, and people buy into it or not.

And that goes even for basic stories, such as:

I am unlovable. Life is good. Life is terrible. Life is fair. Life is unfair. Death is terrible. I need more money. I need your love.

What stories do I buy into? What happens when I recognize that someone initially made it up? What happens when I question it, and find what’s more true for me?

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Every story was made up by someone

 

This is very obvious. And it can also make a big difference if we ponder it and take it in.

Every story was made up by someone.

And then passed on by others, and changed.

Any story was created by someone. Stories saying that a word means a certain thing. Or that something is good and something else is bad. Or that this is anger, or sadness, or pain, or joy. Or that loss or heartache is terrible. Or that humans are separate from rest of nature. Or that something called God or Spirit exist.

Stories about these stories were also made up by someone. Stories saying that the initial story is true, or false, or comes from an authority (so you should perceive and live as if it’s true), and so on.

Each of these stories were made up by someone. They are all a thought. They are more or less useful as a pointer in daily life. Their content is really a question only, a question about the world.

 

Comforting stories

 

There are many stories in the world of spirituality. Some seem to apply to my situation now…..

I am being transformed, similar to a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. I am in a dark night of the soul. I am in an awakening process. I am in a kundalini process. It’s a hero’s journey, as Joseph Campbell described it.

All of that may be true. Perhaps in hindsight, and if I had knowledge of more cases, it may be even more clear that what I am going thorough fits a particular pattern. It’s universal and to be expected.

These can be helpful stories. They help make sense of what’s going on. They may point me to people who have experience with this, and can help me through it. They may point me to information that can be helpful. They may help me find other people going through something similar, so I get to see I am not alone in it, it’s not personal, and people do get through it.

They can also be comforting stories. In the pain and confusion, it’s easy to attach to stories like that. They give a sense of meaning and importance to what I am going through, and hope of an easier time – and perhaps rewards – in the future. And that too can be helpful. Comfort can be just the right medicine.

And yet, at some point all those stories seem hollow. They are recognized as comforting stories. Stories my mind use to find comfort.

Reality is, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Reality is also that there are other explanations. For instance, I tried a diksha shortcut (a form of shaktipat) some years back, which did seem to lead to some months in a non-dual state, and also to a collapse later on. A collapse of body and mind, leading to CFS and brain fog, and lots of previously unhealed parts of me surfacing. Some years earlier, just prior to the onset of the dark night, I left my guidance on a major life decision, and continued to do so for a while. That in itself is a sufficient explanation of what happened. And it doesn’t exclude any of the other stories. Including that leaving your guidance on a major decision, out of unloved and unquestioned fear, is one of the ways a dark night sets in.

Recognizing this, at a felt level, is disillusionment. And there is a sense of liberation in this disillusionment. It feels good at a deeper level, since it’s more real. It’s more true. I recognize that some of those “spiritual” stories may be true, in a conventional and limited sense. That I really don’t know. That they are stories, imaginations, and not inherent in reality. That my mind has used them for comfort. And that the comfort part, and holding them as true and investing them with energy, doesn’t seem to fit anymore. It doesn’t fit my life and situation anymore.

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Collete Kelso: Everything happens for a reason

 

Everything happens for a reason, that you make up in your head.

– Collete kelso

We can have many stories about why something happened. Some can be quite painful and stressful. Some can be comforting, for a while. Some may help us relate to our lives in a more kind and helpful way. And all of them are made up. What they refer to are unfindable. At some point, it can be a huge relief to discover that. (And that discovery may not be a one-time event. It’s ongoing, and may involve investigating whatever “sticky” story is here.)

Fascination with scary stories

 

Why are we – some of us – fascinated by scary stories?

I find a few different ways of looking at it.

Evolution

In an evolutionary context, it makes sense that we are drawn to explore scary things through stories. It helps us mentally prepare for similar situations in our own life. We get more familiar with the possible situations and how we may react, we get a bit desensitized to these types of situations so we may be more calm if or when something similar happens in our own life, and we get a chance to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it.

Beliefs

When I take a story about something scary as true, my attention tends to be drawn to these beliefs and what they are about. Again, it’s an invitation to mentally explore these situations in a safe setting, and how I may deal with it if something similar should happen in the real world. It’s also an invitation to explore these beliefs in themselves. Are they realistic? What’s more realistic? What’s more true for me? 

An impulse to wholeness as who I am, this human self

What I see in the wider world is a reflection of what’s here. So far, I have found how each one of my stories of the wider world – including anything scary – equally well applies to me. As long as I think some human quality or characteristic is only out there in the world, or only in me, it’s painful and uncomfortable. When I find it both in the wider world and in me, there is a sense of coming home and it’s much more comfortable. In this sense, being drawn to scary stories in an invitation for me to use it as a mirror, to find in myself what I see out there in the world, and whether the scary story is from “real life” or made up doesn’t matter much.

Finding a characteristic both in the wider world and myself, I can also relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner, so this impulse to find wholeness also makes sense in an evolutionary perspective.

An impulse to clarity as what I am 

There is also an invitation to find clarity here. When I take a story as true, it’s uncomfortable. And finding more clarity on the story, it’s more comfortable. So when I am drawn to what I think of as scary stories, there is an invitation for me to identify and investigate any stressful belief that may come up. Through this, what I am – clarity and love, that which any experience and image happens within and as – notices itself more easily.

I also see that when I take a story as true I tend to get caught up in reactive emotions and one-sided views, and finding more clarity helps me function in a more healthy, kind and informed way in the world.

Summary: Evolution, and who and what I am

It makes evolutionary sense for me to be drawn to scary stories in all of these ways. (a) I become more familiar with the different scenarios of what may happen and how I desensitize to scary situations to some extent, so I can be more calm if or when something similar happens in my own life. I get to mentally explore different ways of dealing with it, in a safe setting and before it happens. (b) I am invited to investigate my beliefs about it and find what’s more realistic and true for me. (c) I am invited to find in myself what I see in the wider world, which helps me relate to it in a more relaxed and level-headed manner. (d) And there is no end to the stories I can investigate, including my most basic assumptions about myself and the world, which helps me function in the world from more clarity, kindness and wisdom. Each of these support my survival and ability to reproduce and raise offspring.

All of these also make psychological sense. It helps me function in the world, and find a sense of wholeness as who I am.

It all makes spiritual sense. It helps this human self – the infinite experiencing itself as finite – survive and function in the world. It’s an invitation for what I am to more easily notice itself.

And all of these perspectives – evolution, psychology and spirituality – converge in one sense, and are the same in another.

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Atheists and images of God

 

A few things about atheism:

When atheists argue against religions and religious institutions, they often have some very good points. There are unhealthy aspects to many religious institutions, including different forms of power abuse. Many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, often using religion as a cover for political or economic motivations. The three Abrahamic religions are based on bronze age/pre-modern mythology, and while the essence may be as valid today as back then, the packaging is often not.

On the other hand, when atheists argue against God, they are really arguing against their own images of God. At best, these images tend to be narrow, often limited to theistic religions. At worst, they are obvious caricatures and distortions of the images found in Christianity and other theistic religions.

Finally, to the extent they believe their own stories about reality, they make their own views into a religion. They mirror the religious people they argue against.

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Play with stories, and then find it here and now

 

When stories about past, future and present are recognized as imaginations, it gives a sense of freedom and fluidity.

For instance, I am free to go into stories about the three times, and also find what these stories are about here now.

I am free to go into stories about the past, future or present, and also recognize the stories and what they evoke as happening here now.

I can ask myself, what is the seed of these stories? What are the feelings evoked by these stories? What are the needs and desires behind these stories?

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Playfulness, wisdom and a toy piglet

 

Towards the end of his life, Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss had a toy piglet. It is perhaps a little odd for a grown and respected man to have a stuffed toy.

What is even more odd is that he and his wife treated it as a child, and wrote a book about him.

It is easy to dismiss it as the folly of an old man. But is that all?

Playfulness was always central in his life, and his playfulness in relating to his piglet is a teaching in itself. It is an invitation for us all to find more playfulness in life, including in how we use our imagination.

And there is also wisdom here.

When we interact with others, we usually assume we interact based on who they are. But we are really interacting with them based on who we imagine they are. When Arne Næss treated his piglet as a living being, it becomes clear that he is really interacting with his imagined piglet. This is an invitation for us to take a closer look at this in our own life.

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Justification and fullness of stories

 

It is very understandable when we try to justify our actions. We are just trying to protect a particular self image, often as “good”, and to find acceptance from ourselves and others and fit in.

There is fortunately a very simple alternative, and that is to find a fullness of stories around what we initially may wish to justify. And to deliberately include both “good” and “bad” stories in a conventional sense.

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Making ourselves smaller

 

Implied even in positive judgments is an idea of yourself as someone who is limited—someone who needs good things to happen to be okay and feel adequate. There’s nothing wrong with something good happening; it’s just that even your positive judgments are small truths that are based on a small idea of your self. Your Heart will contract just as much for a small positive truth as for a small negative truth.
~ Nirmala

A friend of mine posted this on facebook. It is a good reminder that any belief we hold about ourselves, others, or life, makes us, others, or life smaller and more confined than what we really are.

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Gifts of projections

 

There are many gifts in projections.

The most obvious is that projections allows us to orient and navigate in the world. Our world of images create a sense of space and time, places whatever happens in the sense fields in space. connects images of past, present, and future events, places boundaries to create the appearance of objects, filters, interprets, and makes sense of it all. This can most easily be noticed through simple sense field explorations. Without our world of images, we wouldn’t function.

This world of images also creates an infinitely rich world. We can place boundaries anywhere. Find connections anywhere. Look at any (imagined) object from any number of perspectives. Create any number of contexts which dramatically changes how we see something. We quite literally create our own worlds through the images we place on top of the sense fields.

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Biographies

 

I went into a bookstore a couple of days ago and found copies of Sarah Palin’s autobiography prominently displayed in the fiction section. It may have been a staff person who deliberately placed them there, or a customer with a sense of humor. For a book with so many obvious distortions and factual errors, it is perhaps a good placement.

But all biographies and autobiographies are in a very real sense fictional. They are heavily filtered through interpretations and whatever information is available – itself just a selection and heavily interpreted.

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Secular and spiritual dark nights

 

Some folks frown when the phrase dark night is used in secular contexts, for instance describing what many of us go through after losing a job or the end of a relationship. They say it should be used only in its original meaning, as describing the dark night of the senses or the dark night of the soul.

But is it so wrong to use it in a secular sense? Maybe the secular and spiritual dark nights are not as different as they may appear?

Any dark night, whether secular or spiritual, comes about through a friction between our shoulds and reality, or rather, friction between our stories of what is and what should be. It doesn’t really matter what the content of those stories are. The effect is the same: unease, stress, tension, complains, sense of being a victim, perhaps sadness, grief, anger, frustration, sense of loss, and so on.

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Shaking up boundaries

 

Imagined boundaries can be placed anywhere, creating the appearance of an inside and outside, and us vs them.

There are many benefits of imagined boundaries. They are practical. They help us communicate with ourselves and others, and navigate and function in the world. If ideas of better and worse are added, they can give a sense of cohesion within the boundary (whether as an individual or group) and it can help us feel better about ourselves.

And there are also some drawbacks. We may get so used to a particular imagined boundary that we take it as real, as something “out there” in the world. We may get so used to it that we don’t recognize it as imagined, and that equally meaningful and useful boundaries can be placed anywhere.

So it is good to shake it up. It is good to place boundaries at meaningful yet unusual places, as a reminder that these are just imagined boundaries and that other boundaries give meaning as well.

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Don’t want to admit it to myself

 

I sometimes don’t want to admit to myself that a certain story feels true. It comes up as a feeling or image. It feels true for me at a gut level. But at the same time, it goes against a familiar story I have held as true for a long time and am not quite ready to let go of.

This happens naturally in life. Circumstances change. We have new experiences. Things shift.

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Identification, distance, space

 

I notice stories happening in at least three ways….

I can be identified with a story. I take myself as that viewpoint. It is inseparable from who or what I take myself to be. I cannot help perceiving, feeling and acting as if it is true.

There can be a sense of distance to that story. The story happens and there may be emotions there, but it happens at a distance. I am here and the story-emotion dynamic is over there. I have a choice in how I relate to it, and whether or how I act on it in the world.

And when what I am notices itself, the story-emotion dynamic happens on its own. It happens within and as what I am, along with any other content of experience. There is a sense of space within and around it and everything else. Here too, there is a choice in whether or how to act on it. And there is a more clear recognition of the story and its viewpoint as a tool only, helpful in some situations and not in other.

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What I see is what I am

 

What I see is what I am.

That is true in three ways:

What I see in the wider world – in others, culture, nature, fictional and real life stories, science, dreams – is a mirror of what is here now. It is a mirror of the characteristics and dynamics here now.

My world – the world I relate to and live within – is my own world of images. It is my own overlay of boundaries and interpretations on pure perception.

And it all happens within and as what I am and everything is.

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Misdirection

 

Misdirection is one of the many wonderful analogies from the world of magic.

Any belief is misdirection.

I experience the world as if it is true. Any story filters the world and experience, and this experience – which naturally conforms with the belief – is taken as support for the belief. And since the filtering story is taken as true, I don’t even notice that and how it filters experience. I take the filtered experience as real, substantial, true and as support for my initial belief.

I believe the world is made up of objects. (Including however I see myself, as a human being, a doer, an observer). I filter experience as objects. I take that experience, those boundaries, as real, substantial and true. I experience myself as an object in a world full of objects. And that experience is taken as support for my initial belief. (Which most of the time is not even brought to awareness. It operates at the level of images, the first imaginary overlay on pure perception.)

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