What awakens? What holds a belief?

When I write about awakening and holding a belief, I often write “I” since it’s easier to read and makes it a little more accessible. 

In reality, something else is going on. 

WHAT IS IT THAT AWAKENS?

Our more fundamental nature is what all our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happen within and as. And that’s what wakes up to itself.

It wakes up out of the dream of most fundamentally being this human self or anything else within the content of experience. It wakes up out of the dream of being what any mental representation says we are – an I, a me, a being, an observer, a doer, a witness, consciousness, oneness, love, and so on.

And that process is often both sudden and gradual. There may be a sudden shift and recognition. And refining and clarifying is ongoing.

WHAT HOLDS A BELIEF?

Sometimes, we consciously hold onto a belief. We consciously hold a story as true and create an identity out of it. We identify with the viewpoint of the story and take on an identity as someone who sees the world that way. 

Equally or more often, a part of us holds a story as true. Our conscious view may be quite different. We may not even be consciously aware of the story. And our system still, somewhere in itself, holds the story as true. A part of us perceives and operates as if it’s true. And this will inevitably color our perception and life, whether we are aware of it or not. 

Discovering these parts of us, and inviting them to join in with a more conscious noticing of oneness, is an ongoing and lifelong process. 

A FEW MORE WORDS

As usual, there is a lot more to say about this. 

When it comes to awakening, we can phrase it differently. We can say that it’s Big Mind, or any of the many synonyms, that recognizes itself and wakes up out of taking itself exclusively as this human self or anything else within itself. 

What does it mean to hold a belief? At one level, it means to hold a story as true. And that means to identify with the viewpoint created by the story. This creates an identity for us as well. We create an identity as someone with that view. And this comes with an automatic duality. It creates a sense of I with an Other. “I” am this viewpoint as opposed to other viewpoints. 

That’s also how the oneness an experience of separation for itself. It’s how separation consciousness is created. And it’s what Big Mind – what we are – wakes up out of when it recognizes itself. 

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Do people really believe the more extreme conspiracy theories?

Of course, we never really believe any story. Somewhere in us is more sanity. We know we cannot know anything for certain. We know what’s happening when we hold a story as true. We latch onto the story and pretend – to ourselves and others – it’s true in order to find a sense of safety.

That aside, and in a more conventional sense, do people really believe conspiracy theories? And especially the more extreme ones?

I am sure there are individual differences. And I suspect many don’t actually really, honestly, believe them.

They hold onto them more as a form of reactivity. It may be more an expression of pain and a kind of tantrum.

To test this, I have offered some who hold more extreme conspiracy theory views a bet. For instance, you say that the vaccine is intended to kill off people. Within how many years? And how many? Would you be willing to take a bet, where you set the conditions for whether it goes one way or the other? If this does happen, I give you $10,000 (and put it in my testament in case I die before). If it doesn’t, you give me $10,000.

So far, nobody has taken me up on it. And that tells me they may not really believe it.

Somewhere, they know they cannot know. Somewhere, they know it’s likely nonsense.

Somewhere, they know it’s more an expression of reactivity.

Somewhere, they may even know it’s a bit immature.

And all of this mirrors me, of course. I do all of this too. Not with conspiracy theories, but anytime I hold a story as the final, or full, or absolute truth. Or any time a part of me holds a story as true, which happens more often and sometimes without me consciously noticing.

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The conspiracy that’s actually here when we take conspiracy theories as true

Sometimes, there is a conventional conspiracy behind conspiracy theories. Someone – an individual or organization – creates and/or promotes a certain conspiracy theory, and does so because they get something out of it, whether it’s emotionally, financially, politically, or something else.

And always, if we believe a conspiracy theory, there is a kind of conspiracy inherent in it.

Our mind conspires to hold the conspiracy theory ideas as true and to perceive and live as if it’s true.

The mind tells itself it’s true and makes it feel true for itself. It works to perceive as if it’s true in a myriad ways, including through believing supporting stories and denying falsifying stories. And it lives, as best as it can, as if it’s true.

At a more finely grained level, it associates certain sensations in the body with the stories so the sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the stories, and the stories give a sense of meaning to the sensations.

This is one of the ironies of conspiracy theories. If we hold them as true, we are our own victim of our own conspiracy to hold them as true.

And that goes for any story we hold as true, whether partially or as an absolute, full, or final truth. Our mind conspires to hold it as true, to make it appear true for itself, and to perceive and live as if it’s true.

Of course, in a conventional sense, there may be some validity in any story or not. And it’s always good to take it a step further. We can examine the story, see what happens if we hold it as true, and find what’s already more true for us. We can examine how our mind creates its own experience of it as true if it does. And we can see how it is to hold the story far more lightly, whatever the story is.

Our daily life hallucinations

I have often thought of how strange this may seem to another species incapable of doing it.

Also, when it comes to fictional stories, we willingly and often enjoyably get absorbed into our own hallucinations.

And when it comes to what we call real life, we sometimes unwillingly and painfully get absorbed into our own hallucinations.

HALLUCINATING LIFE

Our experience of life is a hallucination. Our mind puts together sensory input to a more or less unified experience for us. And our experience of life is largely created by our mental images and stories.

It’s often a functional hallucination. Our mental field, combined with the other sense fields, helps us orient and navigate in the world.

And sometimes, when we take our hallucinations to be true and reality itself, we can mislead and create stress and suffering for ourselves.

GETTING TO KNOW OUR HALLUCINATIONS

Fortunately, there is a way out, and that is to examine our hallucinations.

What stories do I tell myself? What happens if I take them as true? How would I function in the same situation without that stressful story? What do I find when I explore the validity in the reversals of the story, finding genuine examples in each case? (The Work of Byron Katie.)

What’s happening in each sense field? What happens when I tell myself specific stories about myself, others, or the world? What’s in my mental field? (Mental images and words.) What’s in my sensation field? How does my mind associate the stories with the sensations? How is it to “take a “peek behind the curtain” and see how my mind creates its own experience? (Living Inquiries.)

When I look at what I more fundamentally am in my first-person experience, what do I find? How is it to keep noticing this? How is it to live from it, in the situation I am in? (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.)

Any realization of depth carries a terrible burden?

“The alarming fact is that any realization of depth carries a terrible burden: Those who are allowed to see are simultaneously saddled with the obligation to communicate that vision in no uncertain terms: that is the bargain. You were allowed to see the truth under the agreement that you would communicate it to others (that is the ultimate meaning of the bodhisattva vow). And therefore, if you have seen, you simply must speak out. Speak out with compassion, or speak out with angry wisdom, or speak out with skillful means, but speak out you must.” – Ken Wilber

I saw this quote in an integral / aqal social media group.

For me, it’s more simple.

In my experience, if I have a sense of “terrible burden”, it comes from a should. And shoulds come from something unexamined in me, it comes from an unexamined belief.

If we notice what we are, we may be moved to share it. It’s the natural movement of love. And it’s free to share or not, depending on the situation and what seems appropriate and helpful.

A BIT MORE

There are a couple of other things in this quote it could be interesting to look at.

Any sense of an “agreement” inherent in life also comes from an idea. It’s not inherent in life. Yes, we may be moved to share as a natural movement of love, but it depends on who we are, our role in life, and our circumstances. That doesn’t mean there is some unspoken agreement inherent in life.

Also, I am not sure what he means by “realization of depth”. Maybe I don’t get it because I have never experienced anything I would label that way. Noticing what I am, my more fundamental nature, certainly has nothing to do with depth (or anything higher). It’s something simple, natural, and even somewhat inevitable.

It may be that he is speaking about something else, perhaps a more intellectual understanding – within the realm of mental images and ideas. If that’s the case, I understand why he is using the word “depth”, and I also understand why he talks about “terrible burden”. Realizing something within the realm of ideas can come with unexamined beliefs and a sense of shoulds.

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Do you experience paradoxes?

I have been asked this a few times, including by a spiritual teacher who saw the experience of paradoxes as a sign of awakening.

My answer is, most honestly, no.

THE EXPERIENCE OF PARADOXES

Paradoxes happen within stories, and if we look at stories more than direction noticing, or we hold stories as true, then there will be the appearance of paradoxes. If we hold any two stories as true, there will inherently be some kind of paradox.

Of course, we may or may not notice those inherent paradoxes, and we may experience them more as cognitive dissonance than paradoxes.

AN EXPERIENCE FREE OF PARADOXES

If we recognize that there is some validity in any story, and that stories cannot reflect any final or absolute truth, there are not really any paradoxes.

Most simply, if we find ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our field of experience happens within and as, there are no real paradoxes. It’s all happening within and as us, and our mental representations are here just to help us navigate and function, they cannot hold any ultimate truth.

EXAMPLES OF POSSIBLE PARADOXES

What’s some examples of typical possible paradoxes?

The most obvious may be that we are this human self, and also capacity for the world. As what I am, I am capacity for the world and what my field of experience happens within and as, and that includes being capacity for this human self, and this human self – along with everything else here – happening within and as what I am. If we look mostly at thoughts, and we think the two are mutually exclusive, it may seem contradictory or a paradox. And if we look at our first-person experience, it’s just how it is and there is a simplicity to it. The more familiar we are with noticing what we are and living from it, the less likely we are to experience any paradox.

Another possible paradox may be that everything physical is void, insubstantial, and also substantial. I find I am capacity for this keyboard and these hands and fingers, and to me, all of it has the same true nature as my own. It’s all capacity for itself. It’s all void taking these forms. At the same time, it’s all happening within and as what I can call consciousness, so it’s insubstantial. I can explore that by noticing how the keyboard and my hands appear in my sense fields, and how my mind associates sensations with the mental representations of keyboard and hands to lend a sense of solidity and substance to it, and how my mental representations give a sense of meaning to the sensations. And in a conventional sense, both the keyboard and my hands are physical. I can easily damage this keyboard by dropping my laptop or dropping something on it, and if I hit my hands on the table, they’ll hurt. I don’t find any paradox here, and I can also imagine that it can seem like a paradox if we look at this in a conceptual way and imagine that each of these has some kind of exclusive truth to them.

PARADOXES AND AWAKENING

So are paradoxes a sign of awakening, as that spiritual teacher seemed to assume? For me, it seems that we may experience paradoxes if we are partly or mostly operating from separation consciousness and have some glimpses or intuitions about what we are. If we see it more clearly, or if we have a more clear relationship with thoughts, it seems that paradoxes fall away.

I should add that this is just my experience. I haven’t checked with others how it is for them.

How things really are?

I saw a quote saying “depression is a healthy reaction to how things really are”.

There is a lot to explore here.

EXPLORING DEPRESSION

At a conventional level, we can take depression as a sign to see if we can change something in our life. There may be things in our situation we are unhappy about and can do something about. This can be range from better communication, taking action to take better care of our needs, be more in nature, eat differently, use our body more, change our job, live a different place, and so on.

When I look at how I spend my time, what priorities does it reflect? What are my real and more authentic priorities, and how can I live more according to those?

How do I relate to myself and my experiences? Do I relate with respect, kindness, and patience? If not, how can I shift this and create a new habit?

There may also be something in our perception we can look at. What stressful stories do I have that create depression? What stressful stories do I have that prevent me from taking action and live more in integrity and from my heart?

THE QUOTE

I understand that the quote comes from a well-intentioned place. Maybe the author wants to tell us that it’s OK to feel whatever we feel (which is true), and encourage us to make changes in our life (which is often appropriate).

At the same time, it seems a bit misguided. Our perception of a situation is not how it “really is”. Our perception comes from our mental representations of the situation, and these are what tend to trigger emotions and depression. We can examine these mental representations, find what’s more true for us than our initial assumptions, and that in itself may shift both our perceptions and what we feel about the situation. It can also free us to take actions so our life is more aligned with our integrity and heart.

BIOLOGY

It’s important to keep in mind that depression sometimes has a biological cause, for instance, from an illness, infection, or a particular diet. If we make changes to align our life more with our integrity and heart, and also examine any stressful beliefs we can find, and the depression is still here, it’s good to explore anything biological that may contribute to or cause the depression.

EXPLORING QUOTES

When I respond to and elaborate on quotes, it’s usually because they come from a clear place. There is an almost endless amount of quotes that do not reflect so much clarity, so I usually don’t respond to these, but it’s sometimes interesting to explore the validity in it and also where it may be less clear, at least from how it looks to me right now.

Believing a thought makes me more stupid than I am, and finding curiosity for it makes me as smart as I am

Believing any thought makes me more stupid than I am. I put on blinders. And when I find curiosity about the thought, it can bring out my natural wisdom and kindness. It can make me as smart as I really am.

This is quite simple, and something we all probably notice now and then. At the same time, it’s not always so easy to put into practice. And that’s why we have training wheels, more structured approaches that can take us by the hand and lead us through it.

THE ESSENCE

We can believe any thought, and when we do, we put on blinders. We pretend it’s true even if no thought is absolutely or finally true. By believing a thought, we limit how we perceive, think, feel, and live our lives. We make ourselves more rigid in our views, thinking, and life. We limit our options. We blind ourselves to other views that may have as much or more validity for us. In a very real sense, we make ourselves more stupid than we are.

If we instead hold the thought more lightly, meet it with a more open mind and heart, and examine it to find what’s more true for us, we can access the kindness and wisdom that’s already here. We open ourselves to other options. We are more able to make good choices. We can make ourselves as smart as we already are.

It sounds simple, and the essence of it is simple. It’s something we all notice now and then. At the same time, it’s not always so easy to do on command. When we get stuck in rigid views, it’s often from a combination of fear and habits. We hold onto the view for safety, as a reaction to an unexamined and unloved fear in us. We are in often the habit of doing just that. And we may not know how to shift out of it.

That’s why we have more structured approaches that take us through this step by step to show us our own wisdom. And that’s why we have guides who can lead us through the steps, help us notice what we may not have noticed on our own, and hold space for us for our own explorations. This support is especially helpful in the beginning, and it also helps us any time we are especially identified with a thought and have trouble thoroughly exploring it on our own.

Eventually, this becomes a new habit and something we find ourselves doing more naturally and spontaneously in daily life, and we may still return to the structure when we want to explore something more thoroughly.

This is a lifelong adventure and process. There is always more to learn and discover about the process itself and from the thoughts we examine.

NOTE

I initially intended to go more into details around this (see below!), but landed on this much simpler version. It’s partly because other articles go more in-depth on different aspects of this topic, and partly – or perhaps mainly – because of an extra bad period of brain fog (CFS). It makes it difficult for me to write and wrangle with longer texts.

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Thoughts as an evolutionary experiment

We can see our human ability for elaborate abstract thought as an evolutionary experiment.

Thoughts as tools

Thoughts are tools. They help us orient and navigate in the world.

They provide us with mental maps of the world. They give us images of the past, present, and possible futures. They provide us with the opportunity to mentally test out actions before we make them.

All of this makes it possible for us to function in the world.

Thoughts mimic senses & language

Thoughts seem to mimic our physical senses and, in our case, language.

In our case, we have thoughts mimicking sight, sounds, sensations, movement, and words (mental images and sounds).

Other species may have thoughts mimicking their own senses, whatever these are.

A helpful way of using this tool

What’s the optimal way to use this tool of thought?

It seems that the best way to use this particular tool is to recognize thoughts as thoughts. They are questions about the world. They help us orient and navigate. They provide maps about the world. They have a very important practical function. They are provisional. They are not what they appear to refer to. And none of them hold any final or absolute truth.

When we recognize this, we can hold them more lightly. We can find the validity in them, question them, find the validity in their reversals and other views, and use them more consciously as a tool. We recognize their value and their inherent limitations.

Misuse of the tool of thoughts

How can this tool be misused?

The easiest is to hold a thought as true. When we do, we identify with the viewpoint with the thought. We take ourselves as the viewpoint of the thought, make it into an identity for ourselves, create a sense of I and other, and feel a need to prop it up, elaborate on it, and defend it if it’s threatened.

When we hold a thought as true – either consciously or a part of us holds it as true – we perceive and live as if it’s true. We get out of alignment with reality since no thought can hold any final or absolute truth, and a thought and its reversals all hold some validity.

This is how a huge amount of human suffering is created, and it’s also how we create a good deal of problems for ourselves and others.

Thoughts as an evolutionary experiment

I assume many types of animals have some form of thought.

Specifically, they may have thoughts mimicking their senses. They may have mental maps of their surroundings. Mental representations of friends and foes. Mental representations of however they communicate. And so on. In most cases, these may not be conscious thoughts.

Human thought has gone a couple of steps further into abstraction. We have developed complex language and mental representations of this language, and that allows us to imagine and explore a wide range of things in our minds. Our minds are immensely creative.

This form of more abstract and elaborate thought is, in a sense, an evolutionary experiment. It’s as if nature said to itself: let’s see what happens with this species if they have this ability. Let’s see how they use it, and whether it aids their survival or becomes their undoing.

We can see how it has indeed aided our survival and made us into a powerful species. And we can also see how it has brought about conflicts, war, and immense suffering, and brought the ecosystems we are dependent on for our own survival to the brink of ecological collapse.

Abstract and complex thought as a new evolutionary experiment

This more elaborate form of abstract thought is a relatively new evolutionary experiment. It may have evolved over just a few hundred thousand years.

In an evolutionary sense, this is a very new tool for us. We are still learning how to use it.

We are systematically misusing it by assuming thoughts can do more for us than they can. They are powerful, and they have helped us create this civilization, technology, culture and so on. At the same time, they have their limits. They can’t hold any final or absolute truth, and we often perceive and live as if they can.

I assume that if we survive long enough, we may also learn to relate to thoughts more consciously. We may learn to recognize what they can and cannot do for us, and their inherent limitations. If this ever happens on a collective scale, it will mean a revolution in human evolution and history.

How we can explore this for ourselves

We can explore many aspects of this for ourselves.

We can explore our sense fields – sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, and mental representations – and see how mental representations combine with the other sense fields to create our experience of the world.

We may recognize how our mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, so the sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. (Traditional Buddhist inquiry, Living Inquiries.)

We can examine any thought we hold as true and find what’s more true for us. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can use basic meditation to notice and allow our experience as it is. This helps us notice and allow thoughts, recognize that they live their own life, and perhaps soften identification with them and hold them a bit more lightly.

In a sense, through examining our thoughts and our relationship with thoughts, and learning to relate to them more consciously, we take the next evolutionary step in our own life. We find a more sane and healthy relationship with thoughts, and that is one of the things that can most help humanity today.

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Who or what believes a thought?

We can obviously hold a thought as true at a conscious level. We may genuinely assume these thoughts are true and perceive and live as if they are. (At a deeper level, we know better, but it may take some sincere exploration to find it.)

We can also hold a thought as true in a less conscious way. Our system holds a thought as true, or a part of us holds a thought as true, while at a conscious level, we may know it’s not true.

That’s why it’s important to work deeper, through deep inquiry, parts work, somatic work, energy work, and so on.

It’s also why it’s important to look at our actual behavior and life to find these beliefs, in addition to the beliefs we are already conscious of.

And it’s why we can have a conscious awakening, while parts of us still operate from separation consciousness. We may notice what we are while parts of us still believe certain thoughts. They may come to expression in certain areas of our life, they may get triggered and come to the surface by some situations, and they likely color our perception and choices and life in general.

MORE DETAILS

As usual, there is more to say about this.

Why do parts of us operate from beliefs when we consciously don’t?

These parts may have been formed early in life when we did take it as true at a more conscious level, and they still operate from these beliefs even if we consciously moved on.

What’s the problem with beliefs?

There is no fundamental problem with them. They are part of life, and they are understandable and ultimately innocent. They function as coping mechanisms for us.

At the same time, they create stress and unease for ourselves, and they bring us out of a more sober and reasoned approach to life. When we act on them, we can also trigger stress and suffering in others.

Also, if there is an awakening here, then these parts will surface and want to join in with the awakening. They come with an invitation for us to recognize their true nature and support them in aligning with reality and oneness, and find deep healing and transformation.

What’s the difference between a thought and belief?

A thought is here as a question about the world. It’s invaluable in helping us orient and function in the world. And it’s incapable of giving us any final or absolute truth about anything.

A belief is what happens when we – at some level – hold that thought as true, as an accurate representation of reality. We try to make it do something it cannot. And when it’s active, it tends to narrow our perception and choices. It closes us down for our natural receptivity, curiosity, kindness, and wisdom.

Spirituality and a need for imagining progress

Our culture seems invested in the idea of progress. Yes, there is scientific and technological progress, and in some ways social progress. But is it inevitable? Only for a while, and it depends on a shared understanding of what that progress consists of and where it’s headed.

The idea of inevitable social progress is not so strong anymore. We see that it comes from a certain European mindset that’s not shared by everyone. It also comes from wishful thinking and a need to feel we are heading towards something better. And the current erosion of democracy and ecological crisis may also make us question the idea of inevitable progress.

So what about western spiritual circles? Here too, we sometimes find an idea of not only progress but inevitable progress. Whatever happens is taken as a sign that we are burning out old karma, or healing something, or that whatever is coming up is on its way out and leaving our system, or that something, in general, is progressing and going in the right direction.

Here too, I understand there are psychological reasons for it. It makes us feel better about ourselves and what’s happening, and we can say it to someone else to feel better about what’s happening with them.

But is it true? Can we know for certain it’s true?

What happens when I hold onto the thought as true? I invest energy into an idea of a timeline, and I get drawn into those ideas as if they are the actual past and future. I use the idea to feel better about myself and my life. I feel a need to support and protect the idea, and seek out others who agree. I feel threatened if someone or something appears to contradict the idea.

How would it be to not have that thought? I find it’s more freeing. It’s more aligned with what’s true for me – that I cannot know.

Is there a truth in the reversals? It depends on the specific situation, of course. Sometimes, what we see as progress can also be seen as a regression. And the reversal that there is no progress has validity in it. I cannot know if there is progress, or if it is as I see it, and these ideas of progress are not inherent in life itself.

So, for me, I prefer to question this thought and hold it very lightly if at all. Yes, I can make a situation meaningful for me. I can relate to it in a way that may invite in healing and perhaps some maturing and clarity. I can use it in a way that seems constructive. That’s about it, and it’s enough.

I don’t need to imagine progress inherent in what happens. I can relate to what’s here in a way that makes sense to me. This is more aligned with what’s honest for me, and it brings me back to what I can do something about.

Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven

it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God

– New Testament, Matthew 19:24

We can interpret these pointers in a myriad of ways, and when we do, we usually make them fit our existing views on life and reality.

I do that too. I tend to take this one as complementing this pointer:

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

– New Testament, Matthew 18:3

If we are rich in deep-seated assumptions and beliefs about what we are, it’s not easy to enter the metaphorical kingdom of God. We need to find the place in us that’s receptive and innocent as a little child to enter that kingdom.

What is the kingdom of God?

For me, it’s noticing that all is the divine, and that what’s seeing and hearing and sensing here is the divine.

Said another way, it’s to find ourselves as capacity for the world. My world happens within and as what I am. My true nature is this awake space full of the world.

How do we enter it?

To notice what we are, we need to temporarily set aside our assumptions of what we are, find receptivity and innocence, and be honest with ourselves about what we find. We need to become like a child. We need to set aside the riches we have in our world of ideas and assumptions.

How do we become like a child?

It can seem almost impossible to do this. How do I set aside my assumptions about what I am and reality?

For me, one answer is practical pointers, and the best ones I have found so far are the Big Mind process and Headless experiments. These can help us become like a child and notice what we are.

It’s very helpful to be guided by someone familiar with the terrain and skilled in using the pointers. This is helpful in the beginning and also at times later on in the process to help clarify and look more closely.

These practical pointers are like training wheels helping us notice what’s already here.

The kingdom of heaven makes us like children

Entering the kingdom in this way also tends to make us like children.

Of course, we still have whatever maturity, development, experiences, and skills we as adults have.

At the same time, the kingdom of heaven invites us to be childlike.

It opens us up to live more from receptivity, curiosity, awe, and a heart open to the world.

Do people really believe conspiracy theories?

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

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

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

If you compare, you lose

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

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

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

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

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

We can’t have one without the other.

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

Why is it a losing game?

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

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

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

How can we find another way?

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

What’s the bigger perspective on this?

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

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

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

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

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The simplicity of awakening

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

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

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

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

Adyashanti: Every story… is a painful story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Adyashanti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting our issues with love, without indulging in them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ancient pain

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

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

In what ways is it ancient?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is it helpful to notice this?

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

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

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

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

How we relate to our thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Treachery of Images

The Treachery of Images by René Magritte, 1929

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I know what to work on?

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

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

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

Our mind’s magical truth-glue

How does a thought appear true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is this important?

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

Fear of the truth

I was reminded of this in a conversation this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All our thoughts: A human invention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alice Longbaugh: Yes.

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

– from Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Cohen brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adyashanti: As soon as you move out of truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tree of knowledge of good and evil

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

Genesis 2:16-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing our relationship to our thoughts

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

Ringo Starr in Parade Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are creating our own reality?

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

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

So how is it true for me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irrational emotions? No

Are emotions irrational? 

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

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

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

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

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Physical tension to maintain beliefs, wounds, and trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shifting center of gravity into more universal identities

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

– from a previous post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from losing a bag

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

Here are some things I have noticed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I own those things. They are mine.

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

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

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

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The rigidity of beliefs and identifications

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

– from a previous post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts, charge, identification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am not useful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to be miserable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why does this exploration work?

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

It makes it easier to recognize when I do it.

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

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