May your inner voice be the kindest voice you know

Through intention and new habits, it can be.

Most of us have an inner voice that’s a mix of the voices we heard growing up – from our parents, siblings, teachers, friends, schoolmates, and so on.

And for most of us, not all of these voices as kind. We learned to speak to ourselves in unkind ways, especially in some situations and areas of life.


What do these unkind voices do to us?

Mainly, they create an atmosphere that feels uncomfortable and unsafe.

At any moment, our inner dialog can turn harsh and unkind.

And this distracts us from our natural kindness, wisdom, and engagement.

It also makes it easier for us to speak to others in unkind ways. The way we speak to ourselves tends to color how we speak to others. We pass on the ways others spoke to us early in life.


The first step is to be aware of what’s happening.

What is my inner dialog?

In what situations do the unkind voices come in? In what areas of life?

Then we can learn to see through and replace these voices. We can find where they come from and who spoke to us in that way early in life. We can examine what they are saying and find what’s more true for us. We can intentionally speak to ourselves in a more kind and supportive way.


This applies to our conscious inner dialog, and it also applies to the inner dialog that’s here and perhaps not so conscious.

The part of our inner dialog that’s conscious is just the tip of the iceberg and the rest colors our experience as much if not more.

How do we be more aware of this inner dialog? What can we do about it?

The most effective way to explore this may be through different forms of inquiry.

Here, we can identify this inner dialog and learn to see through it. Fortunately, we have a clear sign that unkind voices are operating in us: a sense of discomfort and stress. And structured forms of inquiry can help us with the rest.

If we keep at it over time, our unkind inner dialog will lose its power and be replaced with a more naturally kind, wise, and pragmatic voice.

And there is always more to explore. There are always voices we haven’t seen yet. There are often more essential underlying stressful stories, and more stories in the wider network of stories.

For this, I especially like The Work of Byron Katie for finding underlying stressful thoughts, and the Kiloby Inquiries can do the same, as do many other approaches including cognitive therapy.


That’s what the unkind voices tell us, and when we explore this for ourselves we may find something different.

I find they are not as true as my mind sometimes tells me. There is often some validity to them, but they are definitely not the whole picture, and the fuller picture is typically far more kind.

They are not necessary. We don’t need unkindness or even stress to act.

And they are not that helpful, especially if compared with the alternative of clarity and kindness.


I use the term “inner voice” here since that’s what the quote calls it, and it does work.

The term “inner voice” can refer to two different things.

One is our inner dialog, which is what this article is about.

The other is our inner guidance which sometimes but not always takes the form of a voice. Our inner guidance is calm and clear and available for us to listen to and follow or not. It’s neither kind nor unkind, it just offers guidance.

Image: A meme from social media, source unknown (to me).

Our position in our own life is unique

My position is unique.

I am the only one who can find what I am in my own first-person experience. I am the only one who can see what I am here at the center, as Douglas Harding says it.

I am the only one who can give the confused parts of me what they really want. I am the only one in the position to directly meet my experiences, and do so with respect, kindness, patience, and gentle curiosity.

I am my own final authority. I am the one who decides how to relate to what others say and do.

I am the only one who can be a good steward of my own life.

I am the only one who can live my life.

Similarly, I am the only one who can create suffering and delusion for myself.

I am the only one in the perfect position to do all of this.

And that’s how it is for each of us.

Picky eaters

Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina are compiling the first global registry of “picky eaters” in the hope of discovering why some people have trouble with food. They believe it may help find a genetic reason for some eaters’ intense dislike of certain foods, like broccoli, or beans with a “fuzzy” texture. They note some eaters’ pickiness is so deep-seated it interferes with their jobs, their relationships and their social lives. – Hate fish? Can’t eat veg? Doctors study picky eaters from BBC.

Empathy through evolutionary psychology: Picky eaters may survive better in some circumstances and omnivores in other, which is why we as humans have both possibilities, and why we as individuals are genetically predisposed to one or the other, and our environment brings one or the other out more prominently. It’s all natural.

Die Young, Live Fast, and compassion through evolutionary psychology

There is no reason to view the poor as stupid or in any way different from anyone else, says Daniel Nettle of the University of Newcastle in the UK. All of us are simply human beings, making the best of the hand life has dealt us. If we understand this, it won’t just change the way we view the lives of the poorest in society, it will also show how misguided many current efforts to tackle society’s problems are – and it will suggest better solutions.
– from Die young; live fast, the evolution of an underclass in New Scientist

Another example of how evolutionary psychology can give us compassion for ourselves and others, and also practical guides for how to deal with individual and collective challenges.

Compassion as art

A great piece of performance art: Regina Galindo sits naked on a stone bench in a freezing cold room. Clothes are on the floor in front of her. The audience stands along the walls waiting for something to happen. They continue to wait and tension builds as they realize how cold she must be. Eventually, a woman steps up and starts dressing her. Then others do the same, one at a time.

As she is half dressed, a man takes off her clothes again. Afterwards, we learn that Regina feels offended, and others assume he wants to see her naked. I think he may feel that she manipulates the audience, and wants to give responsibility back to her. Or maybe he just wanted to go against the grain and do something different from everyone else. But do we know? Do we know why he did it?

This video is in Norwegian.

Love as content and not

The word love can refer to many different things.

It can mean romantic love, which is really attraction. 

It can mean an open heart and a feeling of love and compassion. A warm feeling of connection. 

It can refer to what happens when a human self functions within the context of what we are awake to itself.

(And probably a lot more that doesn’t come to mind right now.) 

In the first two cases, it happens within content of experience. It is an attraction. Or a warm feeling of compassion and connection. 

And in the third case, it is not content of experience. It is just what happens when Big Mind is awake to itself and functions through a human being. It is independent of any feeling. It is expressed in action in ways that often looks like love and compassion. And it can certainly generate a feeling of love, although it may not, and it doesn’t really matter. 

Specifically, anything this human self experiences – including other beings – is all recognized as awakeness itself, as the play of awake emptiness. So here, acting from love and compassion is as natural as the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It happens without hesitation. And independent of – and flavored by – states. 

So say I pass two guys at a street corner, holding a sign asking for food money. I can act out of a “should” and give them money, maybe feeling a little guilty. I can act out of a warm feeling in my heart, an experience of warmth and compassion for them. Or I can just act, independent of any particular experience of state, from a recognition that the Reality in them is what I am. It is all there is.

Pointers for relating to the path

As with anything else here, this is basic and almost childishly simple… which most important things are. And it is what I need to explore it seems.

Some pointers for relating to the path that I find useful…

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Listening for the genuine question

I am impressed by spiritual teachers/coaches who can meet people where they are, especially when that “where” means a confusing web of stories.

It seems that the best teachers listen – with genuine interest and patience – for the spark within and behind those webs. What is the student really asking? What is alive for them behind the confusion?

I notice for myself that even when I get caught up in stories, there is a genuine question inside of it. And that is the question that skilled teachers are able to uncover and respond to.

Of course, some are smart and make it easy on themselves and their students, such as Adyashanti who asks his students to sit with their question for a while and allow it to distill and clarify over time, before it is asked. That way, some of the layers of additional stories fall away and a more essential and genuine question is left. And the student may find some insights for themselves too in the process.

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Well-wishing and social anxiety

One of the many “open secrets” out there is that well-wishing for others tends to calm social anxiety.

If I am in a situation that triggers social anxiety in me – such as giving a talk or teach – and I take the time to find sincere well-wishing for others, the nervousness subsides.

And if I know in advance that I will be in such a situation, I take some time to find the well-wishing to others in general and specifically to the ones who will be there.

How do I do it? As it becomes more familiar, it is just a matter of shifting into it. But there are also tools for inviting in that shift, such as finding the sincerity in statements like “may all go well for them”, visualizing others as healthy and happy, or doing a practice such as tong-len.

I am not quite sure what mechanisms are at play, but I suspect it has something to do with the miracles of an open heart.

When my heart opens, it opens to whatever is happening. For instance, if it initially opens to my body – through the Inner Smile or some other pointer – it opens to the whole of me as a human being, to others, and to life as it is.

In this case, my heart initially opens to others… and then naturally to myself. There is a sense of coming home, of allowing all of who I am as it is, of the sense of drama falling away, and a softening of the sense of I and Other.

So even when stories about me come up – stories my personality doesn’t particularly like – the sting goes out of it.

In sincere well-wishing for myself, I take the information in those stories seriously and make use of them in whatever ways seem appropriate, but there is little or no sting there.

Food pragmatics

A post on food dogmatism by c4 reminds me that being pragmatic about food is more peaceful, and also, in the long run, probably more effective.

There are many good reasons for eating vegetarian, including ecology (less land used, less antibiotics used), health (helps many aspects of our health), and concerns for our fellow creatures. (Would I want other creatures to suffer for a short lived enjoyment for myself? No.)

And there are also many good reasons for being flexible about our food habits, such as our relationships and, sometimes, our health.

Which is why I often say I eat 95% vegetarian when someone asks me. I eat mostly vegetarian when I cook my own food (rare occasions with smaller amounts of meat), and I’ll eat whatever is put in front of me when I am with others. (I also try to eat organic, local and free range as much as possible, and when I eat with others, I go for mostly the non-meat parts of the meal if I serve myself.)

There are many reasons why it makes sense to not be too dogmatic about food. Relationships is the obvious one. Do I see food choices as more important than my relationships? No. Can I find ways to balance out the two if I am pragmatic about it? Yes.

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Awakeness noticing itself or not

Sorry for this slightly dizzying stream…

It is not important for awakeness whether it notices itself or not. That too happens as content of awakeness, and is no other than awakeness itself.

Getting caught up in the content of awakeness, being identified with it, or noticing all of it as awakeness itself, it is all happening within, to and as awakeness.

But it is, sometimes, important for who we take ourselves to be. When there is identification with content of awakeness, it can, in some situations, seem important. There is a feeling, a thought, of wanting awakeness to notice itself, or at least a curiosity about it, and this too happens within, to and as awakeness.

It is awakeness as confusion, desire, discomfort, blind to itself, noticing itself, releasing identification out of its own content, recognizing its own content as itself. It is all awakeness, and is never anything else than awakeness.

So what is the big deal? There isn’t really.

Only the draw for awakeness to notice itself, sometimes, when it is temporarily identified with its own content.

And the compassion that naturally arises when it is noticing itself, and also sees itself suffer over there, through identification with other living beings.

When awakeness is awake to itself and functions through this human self, and sees itself over there identified with its own content, with another living being, and experiencing discomfort because of it, there is naturally compassion and actions out of kindness and whatever wisdom is available.

There is naturally actions to help alleviate the suffering, in whatever ways the other asks for and is receptive to. In conventional and temporary ways, and sometimes also in helping awakeness notice itself also over there, through the other human self.

Ego as love

I don’t often use the word ego, and when I do, it is mostly to show that it is not very useful.

Or it could be to differentiate the two meanings of the word: In a western, psychological sense, where we want a healthy and strong ego. Here, it refers to the “operating system” for our human self, that which helps it orient and function in the world, and we want it in as good operating order as possible. And in an eastern philosophical sense, where it just refers to a sense of a separate I and whatever comes along with that.

In the second sense of the word, as a description of a sense of an I with an Other, and whatever goes with it, it sometimes has a sinister tone to it. “The ego” as some evil entity lurking somewhere, with no good intentions. (Which is why I don’t like using the word.)

But really, the ego in that sense is just from innocence, an innocent belief in stories, taking them as real and substantial, and temporarily overlooking what we already are.

And beyond that, the ego is pure love. A love for this human self and whatever is within its circle of care and compassion. It is pure kindness, pure compassion behind it. No matter how it may look on the surface.

Ego, in both meanings of the word, is pure innocence, pure love.

And, in the second sense of the word, pure – temporary – confusion.

Compassion independent of a feeling

This is another one of the common landscape features we can come upon when we explore who or what we are, or even if we don’t: compassion independent of a feeling.

As long as we quite strongly take ourselves to be a separate individual, compassion is relatively closely connected with a certain heart feeling. We feel our heart open up, and we act on that open heart. But then something happens, our heart closes down, and we don’t act that way anymore. Or we may still act in a similar way, but now from a should, a belief which usually comes from our culture, religion or even spiritual tradition.

There is nothing wrong in any of this. It is where we are, the particular landscape we are exploring here and now. And it is beautiful with the sweet heart feeling, and the actions that come from it. And even acting on those shoulds has its place as well. As long as we strongly take ourselves to be a separate individuals, shoulds sometimes keep ourselves and others out of trouble. There is a reason why cultures instill them in us the way they do.

But then this changes in a few different ways.

First, through expanding our circle of care, compassion and concern, our circle of us. When we see someone as us, we need less of the heart feeling to act compassionately. (That feeling is there more readily too, for that matter.) As long as situations are not too extreme, and even then sometimes, we will act with respect, concern and care towards these beings.

Whether they are fellow humans, animals, plants, the Earth, and maybe in the future – who knows – fellow beings of this galaxy, as long as our circle of care expands to include them, we will act relatively compassionately towards them because they too belong to us.

Then, more thoroughly, there is another shift when we discover ourselves as Ground, as awakeness, and as this field of awakeness and form, inherently absent of an I with an Other. We may even just glimpse or intuit it, and that is often enough for a change to begin to take place.

Here we realize that all beings and all form is the one I without an Other, and as we deepen into seeing, feeling, and loving this, it seeps into how this human self lives its life. It naturally acts compassionately towards others, with whatever skillful means it has at its disposal, just as naturally as the left and helps the right when it is needed.

At this point, it all happens independent of a feeling. If that sweet heart feeling is there, good. If not, that is fine too. Acting with care and compassion is freed from the feeling.

Another way of saying this is that when this human self operates within the context of Big Mind noticing itself, Big Heart naturally comes in. And Big Heart is sometimes associated with that heart feeling and sometimes not, but its activities in and through our life is not dependent on it.

Moving at the three centers, and in life

When I do inquiry, I notice a relatively common pattern for myself…

As long as I hold onto a belief around something, my relationship with it in my daily life tends to be relatively stuck. Either that, or I relate to it from reactivity and a sense of compulsiveness.

But when things start moving, when my view is released from rigidity and I am able to see the validity of the turnarounds, when my heart opens, when reactivity shifts to a sense of nurturing fullness, my relationship to the topic of my initial belief tends to move as well.

It brings a sense of freedom into my relationship with it. I am not so stuck in habitual patterns around it.

So for instance, doing an inquiry around not enjoying the bus rides where I live not only helped me release the beliefs around it, but also gave me the freedom to find alternative ways to relate to it in my daily life. I find myself taking the bus less and using other modes of transportation more. And when I am on the bus, I feel more free to shut noise out through headphones and music, making the ride more pleasant for me.

In short, I am more kind to myself, and – maybe ironically – I take my personal preferences more seriously.

Being kind to myself also means taking my personal preferences seriously, but now from more clarity, and not from reactivity and compulsiveness.

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine…

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)

As with so many of the saying of Jesus, this one is beautiful, simple and true in many different ways.

It is true through a Jungian filter, where we see Christ as the realized wholeness of this human self, and the ways we treat others as mirroring the ways we treat ourselves. This one is helpful, although a little limited.

More interestingly, it is true in the sense discovered by mystics from any tradition… There is only God. There is no I with an Other to be found anywhere, even if it may appear that way. All beings happen within, to and as God.

God can notice itself or not while functionally connected to a living being (in our case, this particular human self). If it doesn’t, there is suffering. If it does, there is a release from suffering.

And if there is suffering, it is, in a very real sense, God that is suffering.

It doesn’t touch what God is, which is this stainless awakeness untouched by anything in the world the same way as space is not touched by its content. Suffering is nothing else than this awakeness itself, no other than God itself.

Yet, it is experienced as real, substantial, happening to a separate I, so it is very real in that sense.

All of this means that whatever we do for any being, we do for God. Whatever we do for the least one, the one who suffers, we do for God. When we help someone, even in small ways, it is God we are helping.

It is God helping God. God exploring how it is to be finite, to be helped, to help.

All happening within, to and as awakeness.

Ripple effects

We usually have an idea of some effects of some of our actions, mostly on those in our daily life. But we rarely know the ripple effects, including the indirect ones on people we have never met. To be honest, I probably don’t know most of the effects on people in my daily life.

Just as anything I do seem to have infinite causes, anything I do have infinite effects. And I am only aware of a tiny fraction of both.

I occasionally hear from people who changed something in their life because of something I said or did, and it is always touching to me. Sometimes, it is small. And sometimes, it is something bigger. (I recently met someone, by chance, who I had talked with briefly a few years back and had made a major life decision based on it, completely unexpectedly from my side.)

We never know the effects of what we do, which is why it is so important to engage in life even with small contributions. Maybe just a friendly interaction, or a sharing of information or something that has worked in our own life.

As Gandhi said, whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

Of course, we never know the effects of what we do, and can never control it. Something well meaning can have undesirable effects, in a conventional view, and something that comes from reactivity and confusion may turn out to be of great benefit.

If that was the whole story, it wouldn’t matter what we did.

But even from a conventional view, it matters. Well intentioned actions are certainly more likely to benefit than those which are not.

And looking a little deeper, we see that the way we relate to the wider world reflects how we relate to ourselves. When my heart is open and my life engaged, it is so towards others and myself. Whatever the effects of my actions on the wider world, these actions benefit and nurture me in that – very important – way.

So I can realize that I will never know most of the effects of my actions. That each action has infinite causes, so there is nothing personal there in that sense. That acting with an open heart is more likely to benefit others in a conventional way. That no matter what the effects, I don’t know what the outcome really is, even in a conventional way. (As the Chinese story of the man and the horse illustrates.) That acting from an open heart benefits myself in an immediate way. And that I can always learn from my experiences and feedback from the world on my actions.

It all goes together, and I can explore each one more in depth, making it more alive for me.

Not just you

It is difficult to avoid the continuing saga of the McCann case, and from the beginning it brought up a few things for me.

It is obviously terrible for the ones going through it, and especially the parents. It is easy to empathize with them and wish them all the best.

But I also notice something about how they go about the case: they treat it as if it is only about their child, and it is a unique case.

It is true of course. It is about their child, and they are willing to do anything to get her back or at least know what happened to her.

At the same time, presenting it as only about them tends to backfire in a couple of ways.

It creates even more suffering for them, because it tends to make it appear as their situation is unique. It creates a sense of isolation, even in the midst of all the support they have. As they themselves said, they feel that they are the most unhappy people in the world. Nobody is going through something quite as terrible.

It also tends to erode or make more precarious the sympathy they receive from the general public. It is easy to think, well, lots of kids go missing every day. Why is there so much attention on just this case? Why do they get all that money from the public and wealthy folks, while others have to struggle through it on their own means?

An alternative approach, which some others take in similar situations, is to see that it is not just about me.

This is a shared experience. Everyone experience loss in life, including the loss of a loved one. Many experience the loss of a family member without having the resolution of knowing what happened to them. And many also have a child who goes missing, as they do.

They could take this to heart and use the publicity they receive to focus on missing children in general, and even use some of the money they receive to set up or support an existing fund or an organization to help find missing children. It is surely needed.

This would help alleviate their suffering. The loss would be the same, but the added suffering from feeling that they are alone in it would diminish or fall away. They would have a sense of their loss being an universal experience, shared by anyone alive.

And they would receive far more sympathy from the general public, including money if they set or supported an existing fund or organization.

These are two alternative ways of approaching the situation, but it is of course not always a choice.

If we generally have a smaller circle of care, concern and compassion, or take whatever happens to us as intensely personal rather than a flavor of an universal and shared experience, we tend to act as they do. And stress tends to make our circle smaller anyway.

If we have a wider circle of care, and see & feel whatever happens to us as an instance of an universal experience, we would tend to broaden our focus. We can put our effort into finding this child, within the context of it being something many experience. And this could even be more effective in finding this one child because it would tend to generate more interest and active support.

It seems that this also has a cultural component.

In some cultures, there is a tendency to more of an individual focus, as in Britain and many countries in the west. Something happens to me, and it is intensely personal and unique.
In other cultures, including some European ones, there is more of an emphasis on the collective and the shared. If something happens to me, it is within the context of it also happening to many others.

Love filtered

One way to look at our lives is that it is all love filtered in different ways.

Mainly, it can be filtered through a sense of a separate self, in which case it takes the form of love for self with some glimpses of a more selfless love coming through now and then. The love for self is expressed as attraction & aversion and all their flavors such as possessive love, anger, sadness, grief, joy, happiness, and so on.

Also, it is filtered through widening circles of us, of the ones included in our circle of care, concern and compassion.

When these circles leave just about nothing out, there is a more clear expression of Big Heart, of a natural love for all there is, recognizing that it is not separate from this separate self, or that there is no separate self here in the first place.

So we can say that everything expressed through our human life is really Big Heart filtered in different ways. If there is a sense of a separate self, Big Heart is filtered through aversion and attraction. As our circle of us expands, more beings and situations are included in our circle of care even as there is still a sense of a separate self. And as this sense of a separate self thins, Big Heart notices itself more easily and is expressed in a more clear and direct way.

Buddhism is not about becoming good, yet is

A good topic over at Thoughts Chase Thoughts: Buddhism is not about becoming a good person, but becoming a human being.

And really, it is about both. It is about deepening into our humanity, as it is, and as it reveals itself and matures when not resisted. And it is about living from ethical guidelines, from the empathy that naturally emerges from embracing the fullness of our own humanity, and from the inherent goodness revealed behind narrow beliefs and identities.

By deepening in our embrace of the fullness of who we are, as human beings, there is a release of resistance to any of it and also a release of beliefs and identities. This opens for a recognition of our shared humanity, and of ourselves and others, which in turn tends to lead to a natural empathy which spills over into our lives. And this release of beliefs and identities also invites us to notice what we are.

Exploring what we are, untouched by stories, there is a fuller allowing and a wider embrace of who we are, as human beings. And there is also an uncovering of the inherent compassion and wisdom in what we are, this awake void and form, noticing itself, even while operating through this one particular human self.

And by following ethical guidelines throughout this process, we are more likely to stay out of trouble and be less of a nuisance to others in a conventional way, and it also helps us deepen into who and what we are. Ethical guidelines helps us notice what is happening, what comes up in us and how we relate to it. They serve as a pointer for recognizing our shared humanity and ourselves in others. And they mimic how we naturally live our lives within the context of Big Mind/Big Heart awake to itself.

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Two effects of well-wishing

Most traditions include some form of well-wishing for others, for instance in the form of prayer or visualizations, and both as a wish for their happiness (or salvation, awakening) and rejoicing in their current good fortune.

Exploring it for myself, I find that it has two main effects.

First, a well-wishing for others is also a well-wishing for myself, at a human level. It creates an atmosphere of well-wishing where this human self is included. In a more psychological sense, I also see that others reflect aspects of myself, so the well-wishing for specific others is a well-wishing for those specific aspects of myself mirrored in that person. Through all this, there is a sense of wholeness at a human level, a wide embrace of the many aspects of my human self.

There is less war with myself, less resistance to certain aspects of myself, which allows these aspects to be as they are, and also unfold according to their own process, which – with less resistance – includes healing, maturing and developing.

Then, a well-wishing for others directly influence how I experience and interact with others. I see others as (potentially, inherently) whole, beyond whatever they are expressing. I see that they too, as me, seek happiness and to avoid suffering. I see that they too sometimes act from wounds and confusion. There is a more clarity, recognition, and a more open heart, which in turn influence how I interact with others.

Emotions and actions

When emotions come out of stories I believe in, there is a sense of identification with the emotions as well, of being caught up in them. They arise, and I either act on them or resist them, or get caught up in the drama around them both ways.

So I am at the mercy, to some extent, of reactive emotions. And the same is also true, in a certain way, for empathy and compassion. I rely on the presence of the emotion or feeling of empathy or compassion to act in an empathic and compassionate way.

When there is a release from a belief a certain story, or stories in general, it changes. There are still emotions, but they arise as anything else, living their own life, coming and going on their own schedule. There is a freedom in allowing them their life, and also in using them to fuel or flavor action or not.

And, again, the same is true for empathy and compassion. To the extent there is an absence of belief in stories, there is also an absence in a sense of I and Other, so when suffering arises in any living being, there is a natural impulse to help, if the situation calls for it.

There is action from care, concern and empathy, but independent of the presence or absence of the emotion or feeling of compassion. It is more like the left hand helping the right. There is a thorn in the right hand, and the left moves to take it out, even in the absence of thoughts and deliberation, and independent of the presence or absence of particular feelings.

Widening circles of care, and beliefs

In writing the previous post, I thought again of the relationship between widening circles of care, compassion & concern, and beliefs.

Many developmental psychology models use a framework of ego- (individual) to ethno- (group) to world- (universal) to kosmocentric embraces in terms of our views (cognitive) and compassion (heart, empathy).

And in terms of beliefs, these reflect changes in (a) the content of the belief, and (b) how tightly it is held.

At earlier stages, there is more fear, a stronger sense of separation between I/Us and Other/Them, a more narrow, exclusive and immediate concern about ourselves and our group, and less concern about (and awareness of) the wider reaching and longer term impacts of our actions and decisions on ourselves and others. Our beliefs tells us we have to look out for ourselves and our own, that others are less important, that what is good for us may not be good for them and the other way around, that life is hostile, that people are looking for ways to take advantage of me, and so on.

At later stages, there is less fear, a reduced sense of separation between I/Us and Other/Them, and a wider embrace which includes awareness of and concern with far reaching and longer term impacts. Our beliefs tells us that all of life is interconnected, one seamless system, that our own life and well-being is intimately connected with that of the larger life system, that we are all in it together, that all life has inherent value, and so on.

Similarly, at the earlier stages, our beliefs tend to be held tightly and take an either/or form, excluding the grain of truth in all of the reversals of the belief. I am right, you are wrong. The mind/heart is generally more closed. The mind is less receptive, making others wrong. And the heart is less receptive, allowing for less empathy and even for dehumanizing the Others.

At later stages, the beliefs are held far more lightly and in a both/and context, with a receptivity to and interest in the grain of truth in all of the reversals of the initial story. The mind/heart is more open and receptive, acknowledging the validity in views expressed by others, and with a natural empathy for others, finding in ourselves what we see in them.

Most (all?) of us can find each of these in our lives, even in our daily lives, cycling from one to another in different situations and depending on what is triggered in us. And it can be helpful to recognize where we are coming from and what is going on, and also know a few ways to explore it further, allowing knots to untie over time.

Buddha maturing

The conception of the awakened Buddha is maybe a glimpse of our Buddha nature, or an intuition of it, or even just an interest in it. Through the gestation period, there may be more and more glimpses of it, or explorations of it through headless experiments, the Big Mind process, meditation and other practices. And the birth of the Buddha is Buddha Mind awakening to itself, as a field of awake emptiness and form, absent of any separate self anywhere.

(It is usually not as clean cut as this, but it may be a useful generalization.)

The Buddha growing up

The Buddha is born, and may realize its own nature clearly, but it still needs to grow up and mature in its expression in the world. Its vehicle in the world – this human self – has to reorganize and relearn how to function in the world and live its life within this new context of realized selflessness.

Compassion arises

The first thing that happens is that it realizes that it has awakened to itself, yet also not. In the world and the lives of individuals, there are many examples of Buddha Mind not having awakened to itself, and of Buddha Mind experiencing confusion and suffering. So compassion arises naturally, and a desire to help – both with alleviating the suffering itself and in removing the causes of the suffering (if, when and to the extent they seek and want the help.)

Refining its instrument in the world

To do this, the vehicle for Buddha Mind in the world – this human individual – needs to be refined. It needs to continue to heal, mature, develop, and learn skillful means.

Deepening into the fullness of this human self

The more this human individual matures and deepens into the evolving fullness of what it is, the more it can connect with others where they are. It recognizes in itself what it meets in others. It becomes more deeply and thoroughly human, without having to defend or attach to any particular identities. It can allow the evolving wholeness of itself, with all the weaknesses and imperfections that goes along with being human.

Playing the game

Maybe most of all, Buddha Mind awakened to itself has to play the game. It has to take the experiences of Buddha Mind, when it is confused and suffers and takes itself to be just a small part of its own form, seriously. It has to play along, meeting people where they are, even when it is clear that it is all just the dance of the awake emptiness. When awakened to itself, this dance is free enough to play along in whatever ways arise.

The question of evil

Some of the many ways of looking at evil, in the context of Spirit as beyond and including all polarities.


Evil comes out of confusion. It comes out of believing in the idea of I, placing it on this human self, and then creating a more elaborate identity that needs to be defended.

I see myself as an object in finite space and time, and need to protect myself. I take as I, and believe in, the more elaborate identity of this human self, and this also needs to be protected.

And since it is a death-and-life matter, I am willing to use death-and-life means.

Expressions of Spirit

It is an expression of Spirit. It is Spirit expressing, exploring and experiencing itself, in yet another flavor. It is awake emptiness and form, in one of its many expressions, inherently absent of good and bad, good and evil, better or worse.


It ads to the drama of Spirit expressing, exploring and experiencing itself. Spirit creates a sense of I and Other, place the I on this human self and Other on anything else, and the drama is in motion. There is more juice, more engagement, more liveliness, if it appears as a life-and-death drama.

Evolution and development

Souls develop over incarnations, and human selves develop within its lifetime.

Evil actions is simply the actions of an immature soul or human self, when pressed to its limits. When nothing else seems available.

Or we can say that evil actions happen when our circle of care, compassion and concern is exclusive. It may be that we see a strong boundary between we and them, dehumanize the Others, and see it in our interest to harm them, directly or indirectly. Or it may be that we are simply oblivious to the effects our actions have on others, although this is typically not seen as evil.

Over the course of the development of the human self, its circle of care, compassion and concern gets wider and wider. The circle of we and us expands to include more and more people, groups of people, species and systems. It can go from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric and even to Kosmocentric, depending on the inner and outer conditions.

In egocentric, my circle only goes around me and maybe those most immediate to me. In ethnocentric, it includes my group, however it is defined – my nation, religion, ethnicity, age, political affiliation, and so on. In worldcentric, it includes all of us – which can be all of us human beings, all of us beings on this planet, all of this planetary ecosystem, all of us in past, present and future. And in Kosmocentric, it includes all of Existence, beyond and including all polarities. It includes all of Spirit as awake emptiness and the whole world of form.

Belief in an idea

Evil can be seen as coming from a belief in an idea. We believe in the idea of good and evil, create a definition for it (usually coming from culture or religion), and place it on the world.

We place it on top of something that is inherently free from good and evil, and then we act as if it is really there – because it is, for us.

Conventional views as a guidelines

And then there are the many conventional views on ethics, law and so on, which are all very useful (essential) in our daily life. They serve as guidelines for our own behavior, and also for how we will allow others to treat others.

All together

Each of these views, and many more, have a good point. They are each true in their own way. They are each useful. But if we get stuck in just one, something else is left out and what we leave out will most likely come back to bit us. We act from a filter that removes most of the spectrum, and lose much of the information available to us.

We see it all as Spirit, and disregard conventional views, guidelines and laws. We stick only to our beliefs, and ourselves end up acting in less compassionate ways. We see it all as drama, and stoke the drama instead of helping people find relief from suffering and awakening.

The more of the spectrum included, the more we can see, and the more informed, and hopefully compassionate, our actions can be.

Free Will II – a difference between realizing and believing in ideas

There is of course a big difference between realizing and believing in the complementarity of the freedom of awake emptiness, and the absence of I and free will in the world of form – in our case, as a human being.

Realizing absence of freedom

Realizing it is Spirit awakening to itself as awake emptiness and form, inherently absent of I anywhere – and as a whole as an I. This is liberation. It is a liberation from an exclusive identity as a segment of this field, it is a liberation from seeing this human self and its actions as an I, it is a liberation for this human self from having a sense of I placed on top of it.

Believing in absence of freedom

Believing in it, just attaching to ideas about it, is quite different. This happens when there is still very much a sense of I there, placed on the local causality of this human self such as thoughts, decisions and actions. It is still taken and experienced as an I, yet there is a belief in infinite causes, in an absence of free will in this human self, maybe in an absence of I.

And this can take different forms.

Believing, yet still acting as if there is free will

One, and the more healthy variation, is to take it as a spur to practice, to explore this, is it really true? Can I find it in my own experience? Are there really infinite causes to anything I think, do, and experience? Is there an absence of I in this human self?

In exploring this, we take our experience seriously in two ways.

First, we take our findings seriously. We explore seriously, in detail, over and over, and take what we find seriously. We explore the implications of what we find, we feel into what it would mean to live more fully from it.

And, equally important, we take our current experience seriously in the context of our daily life. If there is still a sense of an I here in daily life, then I live from that as before. I take responsibility for my actions. I sincerely try to make the most informed and compassionate choices. I live as if I have a free will, because it seems I do.

Even if we don’t explore it further, it is a good thing to act as if we have free will. It does help in making our lives easier on us and others.

Yet, this too, this acting as if we have free will, is the local expressions of the movements of the whole. This too has infinite causes. This too is inherently absent of an I and free will. It may be good to realize that, but also keep it in the background. Acting as if there is free will is in the foreground, realizing that this too is absent of free will, that this too is grace, can go in the background.

Believing, and making wrong conclusions

The other, less healthy, way, is to take a nihilistic approach and abandon any sense of responsibility. Of course, what we are really doing here is to first attach to a belief of an absence of free will, and then attach to an idea that this means nihilism and abandoning responsibility. This is miles away from what happens in a real awakening, when there is a real realization.

How it unfolds when realized

In a real realization, this human self continues to operate much as before. It still explores options and alternatives. It still tries to make informed and compassionate decisions. It is still very much active and engaged in the world. If anything, there is more of an incentive to making informed decisions, to live from compassion, and to be engaged in the world.

The only difference is that now, there is no sense of an I there anymore. There are thoughts, choices and actions, yet no I there anywhere. It is just an expression of awake emptiness and form, as anything else happening.

There is very much doing, but no doer anymore.

Grace, and also planting seeds

All of this, believing naively there is free will, taking on a nihilistic attitude, Spirit awakening to itself, all of this is also absent of any I or free will. It is the local expressions of the movements of the whole, it is Spirit expressing, exploring and experiencing itself in various ways. It is all God’s will. It is all Grace.

At the same time, there is a planting of seeds in the world of form that allows these things to happen and unfold. There is a planting of a seed that spurs someone to explore for themselves, and some guidelines for how to do it. There is a set-up that brings someone into cynicism and nihilism when they read something like this. There is the infinite causes coming together so that someone still acts as if there is free will, even if he realizes, to some extent, that it cannot be.

Anything happening in and through us has infinite causes, and we can plant seeds for ourselves and others. We can plant seeds for happiness, release from suffering and awakening. And we can plant seeds for misery. We do both.

And both are themselves the fruits of infinite causes.

But here too, it is a good idea to act as if there is free will.

And around and around it goes, until Spirit awakens to itself.

For the benefit of all beings

In Mahayana Buddhism, and maybe especially in Tibetan Buddhism, there is a strong emphasis on seeking awakening for the benefit of all beings.

And there is a pretty obvious reason for that:

If we attain awakening only for our “own” benefit, then that’s it. It stops there. (Not really, but that may be the attitude.) A seed is planted in our human self saying that Enlightenment is it, that it is a goal in itself, and that the continuing healing, maturing and development of our human self is not important.

On the other hand, when the invitation to benefit all beings is planted in our human self, it serves as a catalyst for this human self to continue to heal, mature and develop before and after realized selflessness. The intention comes from from, is form, and is a catalyst and guide for the unfolding of form.

It allows for Self-Realization as well as Enlightenment.

It allows for this human self to actively seek to heal, mature and develop, before and after realized selflessness, because it recognizes itself as a tool for benefiting others in the world of form, even as all these beings, including itself, are absent of any I.

It continues to play the game. It embraces the Absolute, the field of seeing and seen absent of I anywhere, and the relative, including the myriads of beings, the field mistakenly identifying as a finite being and experiencing suffering from it, and the possibility to help the field to wake up to its own nature as the Ground of seeing and seen, inherenly absent of I anywhere.

I know the first step, but what is the second?

I overheard a conversation a couple of days ago…

Somebody asked another how it is possible to not be reactive to what is happening in the world. The other said, I find in myself what I see in the other, and see that we are no different. And the first responded, impatiently, yes, I know that is the first step, but what is the second?

The second is the first step, all over again, and over again, and over again, until it deepens, becomes indisputable, is a lived realization, deepening and maturing over and over.

Whatever I see in you is also here in myself. Whatever I see anywhere out there, is also here in myself.

Knowing this as a general principle is useful as a pointer, as a reminder to look for the specifics. How is this true? How can I find in my own life what I see in your life? How does it play itself out here. How it is alive right here and now?

This exploration, over and over, is what deepens the realization. It is what puts meat on the bones. It is what fills it out. It is what makes it come alive. It is what allows any sense of absolute separation to soften, dissolve, melt away, leaving only an open heart – available to you and me as we are.

It is what any sense of boundaries to fall away, until there is only Ground left – the Ground of seeing and seen, absent of I anywhere.

Wholehearted: whole heart

No new insight, but coming alive in a different way for me now:

To be wholehearted is to receive the whole of the world in my heart.

If my heart is open to some beings and not others, to some aspects of myself and not other aspects, to some situations and not other situation, it is split, broken, partially open, or open only part of the time. If my open heart is only available to some beings, aspects and situations, that means it is available to myself only partially, only some of the time. It is available only half-heartedly, including to myself.

If my heart is open for all beings, all aspects, all situations, it is whole. It is available wholeheartedly. It is available to myself wholeheartedly. With its sense of fullness, warmth, connection, passion, belonging, softening, healing, deepening, coming home.

Beliefs is the reason for half-heartedness. A person, aspect or situation arise, I see it as wrong, and close my heart off.

So inquiring into beliefs is one way to allow them to fall away and the heart to open. When it functions without the filter of beliefs, it is naturally open – available to anyone, any situation.

Another is to allow the person or situation into my heart, which in turns allows the belief to soften.

Heart closing and opening from same situation

This, again, is pretty obvious, but worth mentioning as a reminder for myself…

Any situation can close or open our heart.

A simple example from a couple of days ago: I see an abandoned cat at a truck stop, spend some time making friends with it so I can catch it and find a home for it, and somebody – in spite of seeing me and the cat, walks quickly next us, the cat is scared, runs off, and is not seen again.

So here, I can close my heart to the guy who scared the cat off without concern for it. In this case, the compassion for the cat, and for myself, gets caught up in the drama of closing my heart off from the guy. There is a lot of resistance to experience, and discomfort.

Or I can open my heart to everyone involved, to the cat, to myself, to the guy who scared the cat. We are all in the same boat here. We all operate from conditioning. We all want happiness and freedom from suffering. There is no difference here. So in this case, there is no drama, just a heart open to everyone in the situation. There is peace. No need to resist experience.

And this is the case with any situation.

When I notice that I use a particular situation to close my heart, I can see if I can include the person I closed my heart off from in my compassion. And really, the person I am closing my heart off from is always myself. I close my heart off, and it is closed off from myself right there.

So any situation can either open or close my heart.

When my heart is open to some beings and not to others, it opens and closes depending on where attention goes, and there is confusion, drama, a sense of something to protect, and constant work in analyzing the situation, comparing it with beliefs, and then deciding who to open and close my heart towards. It’s a lot of work, and does not give much peace or satisfaction.

When I include everyone indiscriminately, it is much easier, much less work, more peaceful, and gives a sense of fullness and connection. It even helps me to function and interact from more clarity.

I also notice that when I open or close my heart, I mainly open or close it towards myself. I am the one who lives with the effects of it, 24/7.

The many faces of love

Somebody sent me a question about love, pointing out (accurately) that I don’t use that word much here.

Here are some of the things that came up for me…

Jnana and bhakti

There are two main approaches to spirituality: jnana (inquiry, insight, wisdom) and bhakti (love, compassion, devotion).

Over the last few years, jnana has been more in the foreground for me, in the form of various ways to do inquiry. Before this, there were several (pre-blog) years where bhakti was in the foreground as a practice and lived experience.

Both are fine of course. And at different times in our lives, one may be in the foreground for a while, and then the other, and then maybe neither, and then both.


Another thing about love is that it is used in many different meanings, and also can be filtered in different ways.

It can be filtered through a generally egocentric or ethnocentric or widening worldcentric way of being. Being exposed to people living from the two first of these, it is fine if I am inside of their circle of concern, but not so nice if I am outside of it. (Ku Klux Klan really do love whites, and I am sure it is a genuine love, but I if I am black and on the outside of that love, I may not appreciate it so much.)

Love, even world-centric love, is also filtered through beliefs. For instance, I may love somebody, but also think they should appreciate me, or be with me, or give me money, or generally behave the way I want. Love is then mixed up with much else that may not be so comfortable for those at the receiving end.

The view and emotion of love

There is also the view and emotion of love.

The view of love is Big Mind, or any views that approach Big Mind such as deepening and widening worldcentric circles of concern, a sense of no separation, of oneness, of recognition, and so on.

If I act from these views, my actions may be interpreted by others as coming from love. In reality, I am just acting from a sense or view of no separation, or recognition, or Big Mind, but it certainly looks like love, and I may even experience it as love – or not.

Which brings us to the emotion or experience of love. As with any content, the emotion or experience of love comes and goes. It is sometimes strong, sometimes, less strong, sometimes absent, sometimes mixed up with all sorts of other emotions. It is maybe not the most reliable basis for action.

But the view can be more stable. Unravelling beliefs, or finding myself as witness, the world of form is a seamless field and there is no absolute separation of I and Other anymore. From here, I will naturally live in ways that looks like love. And when the emotion is there to create a fuller and richer experience, that is the icing on the cake.

Impersonal and personal

A final thing that comes up for me is that love can be experienced as impersonal or personal, by either the giver or the receiver.

On the one hand, love in its essence is completely impersonal – embracing everyone and everything.

On the other hand, if my whole being is participating (present, engaged, wholehearted), and I am transparent and receptive, and interested in the other person as a human being, it tends to be experienced – by both, as more personal, more alive, more rich and full.

Forms of Compassion

There seems to be a few different forms of compassion.

Compassion from realized selflessness

One is what happens when Ground – Spirit, Buddha Mind, Big Mind, Divine Mind, Emptiness, What Is – awakens to its own nature. Here, everything arising is revealed as Ground (etc.), and there is no I anywhere.

There is still a functional connection with a particular human self, and when this human self encounters Ground functionally connected with another self, and is (apparently) confused about its identity, then compassion naturally arises. It is as simple as the left hand helping the right. Effortless. Natural. Spontaneous. Without drama.

Compassion in the context of an idea of I

The other form of compassion is what happens when there is still a belief in the idea of I, still an identification with a segment of what is, typically our human self. This compassion is usually mixed with a sense of drama, ambivalence, struggle, effort, precariousness, and so on.

A belief in the idea of I creates the whole sense of I and Other, and the sense of ambivalence, struggle and drama inherent in that experience. And when there is a belief in the idea of I, there are usually beliefs in lots of other ideas as well, which only complexifies and amplifies the sense of drama, struggle and ambivalence.

Even here, the natural and effortless compassion arising from realized selflessness can come through. It is, after all, what we already are, so it will come through at times.


I went to Powell’s bookstore in Portland today and asked for An Interrupted Life, the journals and letters of Etty Hillesum. The person behind the desk looked it up, and asked if it was about the holocaust. As I said yes, I noticed compassion and sadness come up for me, and how the atmosphere changed. I also noticed how much I like that experience of compassion and intimacy.

And I saw clearly how it all comes from a story.

Without the story, there is just clarity. Jesus and Hitler is the same. There is ruthless equality.

With a story comes compassion and sadness. People shouldn’t do those things to each other. It is so sad that such a beautiful young woman, with so many talents, had to die so young and in such a way. And so on.

It is a beautiful story in a way. And as I said, I noticed a great deal of attachment and comfort in the compassion it gave birth to. Yet, it is only a story. Only another delusion. Another veil.

Who wants to hear that? How can it be expressed?

At the same time, I see that conventional compassion has a content, a particular feeling associated with it. And transcendent compassion does not. Transcendent compassion, Big Heart, just acts. There is suffering and the desire of I in the form of you to be relieved from suffering, and it acts. It is the left hand helping the right. No hesitation. No dependence on any particular feeling. It is the ruthless equality of Big Mind appearing as love in action.

Inquiry & Empathy

One of the outcomes of examining my beliefs is understanding and empathy – with myself and others.

I see that when I believe in any particular thought, it brings about certain outcomes in many areas of my life – all of which amount to variations of suffering. Listening to others doing their own inquiries, and looking at people in general, I see that these patters seem mostly universal, shared by most or all of us and played out in very similar ways – with a certain unique flavoring in each case.

This means that it is often helpful to inquire into any belief, even if I don’t at first recognize from our my life. It is most likely there, in one form or another.

At the very least, it helps me understand how it is to be a human being believing that thought – it opens for more genuine empathy from having walked in those shoes. In most cases, I realize that I have walked in those shoes myself, even if I didn’t see it at first. And at a minimum, I walked in the shoes through inquiry, through living myself into how it would be for me to have that belief.

Heart Centered Practice: Fullness, engagement and embodiment

I used to focus on heart centered practices – mainly the heart prayer, Christ meditation (visualizing Christ in the heart and about 5 feet away in all six directions), and gratitude (for everything happening, through for instance repeating the word “thanks” as a mantra) – and it seems that they are slowly coming back. There is a quite different embodiment that comes from heart-centered practices, a different sense of engagement in the world.

There are many ways of talking about this, and I am only scratching the surface here as with everything else (and am obviously far behind many others who have explored this).

Where inquiry and basic sitting practice gives insight and clarity, heart-centeredness gives engagement. The first is a zero/first person relationship with God, and the second a second person relationship with God. One gives the context, the other the content. One gives clarity and space, the other fullness and richness. One gives equanimity, the other joy, gratitude and compassion.

And both seem needed, at least in my case.

There is a continuing deepening into the heart and living from the heart possible, before and after a nondual awakening.

Even the unconditioned is conditioned on awakening

In some spiritual traditions, they talk about conditioned and unconditioned such as such – for instance compassion.

This makes sense when we talk about conventional conditioning, but there seems to still be a condition there – even for the “unconditioned”.

When I am exclusively identified with my human self, anything that comes up for me tends to be conditioned by external and internal circumstances. Something happens which triggers something in me, and the mechanisms behind it are formed by biology, culture and personal experiences. So in this case, (just about?) everything is conditioned – in a conventional sense.

When I awaken to myself as pure awareness, or as what is with no “I” anywhere, there tends to be “unconditioned” compassion and so on. But what comes up is still conditioned on something, in this case the realization of our nature as pure awareness or as what is with no “I” anywhere.

The infinite compassion that tends to come up here is certainly unconditioned by anything in the world of form, although it can be stimulated by it. And it can be described as unconditioned in the sense that everything is just happening – it is emptiness dancing. But we can also say that it is conditioned on awakening and immediate realization.

Breaking Down vs. Breaking Open

Whenever there is a strong experience, I have two (broad) choices.

I can choose to resist. Or I can be with it – or rather be it.

When I resist, there is suffering. If it goes on for too long, and/or is too strong, I can “break down”.

When I am the experience, there is a current of bliss. And I can allow the experience to open my heart and mind. I can break open. The separations between me and others break down – it opens my heart/mind for the experiences of others, and I see that we are all in the same boat. My own pain is a reminder of the pain that all humans experience. It opens for compassion through seeing myself in the other and the other in myself.