Bøygen [2] represents an apparently unmovable obstacle that it is often tempting to avoid and walk around, which is sometimes a good idea. But other times, it may be good to stand our ground. To hold and allow it, stay with it with some receptivity and curiosity, take our stories as questions, take it as an invitation for exploration. 

For me, one bøyg is Bernadette Roberts. From the descriptions in her books, it seems that her awakening is the garden variety one, the one mystics from all the great traditions attempt to describe and point to, Ground awakening to itself. At the same time, she insists that it is not. It is different somehow, although  – to my limited knowledge – she is not all that specific or clear about how. (She may well be somewhere.) 

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Exploring Bernadette Roberts’ views on the different traditions yesterday was an uncomfortable experience for me. There was a sense of contraction and tension coming up, obviously because I have some beliefs about how she should relate to those traditions.

I had the thought that she should be more receptive and have more appreciation, as I know from my own  teachers and friends – and sometimes myself. And then I saw that the advice was for myself.

It reminded me of how important receptivity is for me and in my own process. A receptivity of mind, heart and body, and in relationships to myself, others and the wider world.

I notice over and over the shift from tension to receptivity, and what happens there.

When there is a receptivity of mind, there is a quiet sincerity in exploring the truth in any statement and view, the truth in their reversals, and also a receptivity in seeing it all as a mental field creation. These stories are invaluable in a practical way, for my life in the world, and are free from value beyond that.

When there is a receptivity of heart, it is there for whatever arises… this human self, others, life, situations. There is a receptive kindness there, independent of the likes and dislikes of the personality.

When there is a receptivity of body, there is an allowing of experience and emotions, and this gives a sense of nurturing fullness, and of healing at an emotional level.

And from all of this, there is appreciation. Appreciation for my human self, with all its quirks and wounds. Appreciation for others, as they are. Appreciaiton for stories, for the grain of truth in each of them. Appreciation for situations and experiences, including the most difficult ones in my past.

If it was a conscious strategy

I have looked more into Bernadette Roberts‘ take on the different traditions, and am as baffled as ever. She seems to consistently use a straw man argument, present the traditions in ways people familiar with them would not agree with, and use examples that seem like bizarre caricatures.

It is of course easy to just say that, well, she is obviously awakened, yet still acts out of some conditioned patterns playing themselves out this way. It may alienate quite a few people, but seems to work for others, so that is fine. Why not?

But I would like to go a little beyond that. For instance, I can ask myself if this was a conscious teaching strategy, coming from infinite wisdom and kindness, how would I see it?

If it came from infinite wisdom and kindness, I would see it as an invitation for each of us to investigate for ourselves.

In what ways do the people in these traditions themselves see it? What is the grain of truth in what she is saying? What is the gold there, in the practices and pointers she dismisses? What happens when a teacher uses the same teaching strategy as her? How does it feel for me when I assign to those views? How would I do it differently? What happens if I come more from a genuine appreciation of the different traditions and their pointers? Can I make the same points, yet in a way that invites in receptivity in myself and others?

I find the conscious teaching strategy question very helpful for myself, and I can apply it to any situation – and especially those my personality doesn’t immediately like or agree with. Of course, in most cases it doesn’t really come from infinite wisdom and kindness, in a conscious way at least, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the shift that is invited in for myself, in how I receive the situation.

Note: See this post for how I continued working with my hangups around this.

Bernadette Roberts

The topic of Bernadette Roberts came up again, or I could say the conundrum 🙂 (See the comments of that post.)

To me, it seems that her descriptions of her own path and awakenings are beautiful and clear, quite similar to what have happened here at different times, and what has been described by mystics from many traditions.

For instance, she differentiates between oneness/unity, where there is a sense of an I one with God/all, and selflessness, where there is a release of identification with a sense of I and Other. And that is awakening 101, found among mystics of each of the traditions, experienced by many today as well, and something we can investigate for ourselves using tools such as the Big Mind process, headless experiments and investigating the sense fields.

(For me, there was first a shift into realized selflessness awakening, coming out of the blue, after consuming a great deal of alcohol one time and then being “absorbed into” the witness for about a year. Then, after some months, a shift into a oneness/unity state, which lasted for several years. Then a dark night for a few years. Then a gradual emerging of the oneness state, then a realized selflessness phase for a few months, and now a oneness phase again where things are worked through some more.)

But when she talks about the different traditions, it seems that very few of the ones familiar with them would agree with how she describes them. Sometimes, it seems that her take on them are 180 degrees turned from what you would actually find there. To me at least, she seems to use a straw man argument, fighting windmills and imaginary foes – as I described in the initial post.

But that is only one possibility, and the other is that I have got it completely wrong. Which is of course true anyway. Any story such as these is just a story, more or less accurate in a conventional sense, and also having nothing to do with what it appears to refer to in another sense.

What it comes down to is its effectiveness as a teaching strategy and pointers for own investigation. How effective is her take on it as a teaching strategy? And how effective is it as a pointer for own practice?

And then finally what this is really all about: a mirror for myself. In what ways do I do exactly what I see in her? When do I overgeneralize? When do I use straw man arguments? When am I blinded by my own stories about something?

Note: See this inquiry for how I worked with one of my hangups around this.

Working with “What is Self? “

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, and didn’t publish it since it clearly came, at least partly, from being in the grips of my own shadow and beliefs. The content is maybe OK enough, but the tone is certainly from being caught up in beliefs creating a sense of I am right and she is wrong. I am smarter than she is. I get it, she doesn’t quite.

So having said that, here it is…

I have just started on What is Self by Bernadette Roberts, and see that it is going to be more challenging than The Path to No-Self.

As long as she writes about her own experience and path from unitive life to realized selflessness, it is wonderful, clear, vivid and differentiated writing. But as soon as she sees this as more than one general category of the awakening process, and starts comparing it with her understanding of other’s writing and systems, it falls apart pretty quickly.

Essentially, she seems to be in the grips of the belief somebody should have told me and even they deceived me in terms of the difference between the unitive life and realized selflessness, when what seems to be going on is that she didn’t see what was right in front of her, and clearly expressed by many. And then she sets out to find evidence and proof for her belief, which, of course, is easily done. It is the job of the mind to find proof for its beliefs.

Specifically, she overgeneralizes. She tends to present the phases of her own path as more generally true than it is. There are many more patterns than just this one.

Then, she filters and interprets what she reads by others to fit her belief that nobody else, or very few, have ever written about that distinction (!) And then sets out to prove it as best as she can, often by shooting down her own idiosyncratic interpretation of the writings (which typically seem far from what the authors and traditions themselves would agree with). She fights windmills, foes created through her own particular interpretation.

She also, for some reason, compares her experiences with realized selflessness with Jung’s ideas about the Self, which is a hopeless project from the start. Jung’s Self is the whole of the individual body-mind, and at an entirely different level than Ground awakening. It is a comparison of what was never meant to be compared, of what is on two different levels as if they were on the same.

Some things that come up for me when I read her book, and some topics for me to explore and clarify for myself…

  • When she uses the word “consciousness” she seems to refer to a combination of awareness and its content, which seems confusing (at least, it makes it confusing to me). More precisely, she seems to refer to awareness (seeing) + its content in the form of the human mind such as thoughts, emotions etc. (the seen). It seems easier and clearer to talk about it as awakeness and its content of whatever arises here now, which indeed does often include emotions, thoughts and so on.
  • The difference between unitive life (oneness) and realized selflessness is pretty basic and elementary, and described by lots of people in many different traditions. Even Bhagavan of diksha fame, who talks about these things in very simple terms, is very clear about the distinction between oneness (an I here stably One with God and all existence) and realized selflessness (void awakening to itself). And the various traditions of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sufism, are often equally clear and explicit about this shift.
  • She talks about the shifts from ego-state to egolessness to no-self as qualitatively different, which they are, especially in the experience of it. But there is also a difference in degrees. In both the ego-state and egolessness, as she defines it, there is a belief in stories, and specifically in the story of a separate I, overlaid on what is. Although many stories are stripped away in the egoless state, the core story of an I with an Other is still there, and the two phases are the same there. When this final story falls away, and is recognized as only a story, Ground is revealed to itself. There is just this field of awake void and form, awake to itself as a field inherently absent of an I with an Other, without a center anywhere.
  • She mentions that realized selflessness must be awful for someone who does not believe in, or relate to, Christ. But Christ or not, it is just awake void noticing itself. There is an inherent neutrality here, allowing any content to come and go, including absence or presence of Christ, in whatever form that presence may be. Void awakening to itself is void awakening to itself, independent of content.
  • She mentions that Hinduism has a problem in explaining the relationship between a (false) sense of separate self and Brahman, but, to me at least, the way Hinduism talks about this is exactly its strength. There is only Brahman, which is awake void and form (my words there), and when there is a belief in any story, there is an overlay of a sense of a separate self. This field of awake void and form is filtered through a sense of I and Other, which creates the appearance of a separate self, and it seems very substantial and real for as long as it lasts. But it is all the play of the same awake void. What is here now, this awareness and its content, is Brahman, whether there is an appearance of an separate self there or void is awake to itself and there is realized selflessness. (If I knew the terminology of Hinduism better I could use that, but in absence of much scholarly knowledge I have to use my own words.)
  • more to come…

This may or may not be accurate about her (in a relative and limited sense), but it certainly describes me. As I write this, I am doing exactly what I see in her. For instance, I have a belief, and then set out to find (or produce) evidence for it.