Spiritual stories vs what’s here in immediacy

Anyone into spirituality has all sorts of spiritual stories floating around in their minds. And most who are not into spirituality have these kinds of stories as well, they may just dismiss them.

For instance, if we are into mysticism or non-duality, we may have stories about the afterlife, karma, what awakening refers to, what awakening would mean for us and our future, the role of masters, the existence of non-physical entities and deities, and so on.

It’s helpful to differentiate mental representations and our immediate noticing.


For me, all of these stories are mental representations. I cannot find them anywhere else.

Someone created those stories, told them to someone else, and then they reached me.

I may have stories about the source and whether it’s reliable or not. There may be research matching the stories to a certain degree. Some of the stories may even match my own experiences.

And yet, to me, they remain mental representations and stories. I cannot find them outside of that. I cannot find it in my immediate noticing.


For all I know, reality may not be anything like what the stories describe.

That’s a sobering realization and an important one.

In life, it helps us stay grounded and it’s a kind of vaccination against going too far into spiritual fantasies.

And more importantly, it’s a part of learning to differentiate mental representations from direct noticing. It’s a part of learning to recognize mental representations for what they are, holding them more lightly, and also differentiate all that from a direct noticing of what’s here – which is our own nature.

The only thing I can notice directly is actually my own nature. Everything else is a noticing plus a story, a mental representation.


Any story about who or what I am is a story. Any story about the content of experience is a story. Any story about reality is a story.

And what I am left with is a direct noticing of my nature and that any and all experience happens within and as what I find myself as.


When I learn to differentiate the two, I also notice more clearly that all I know is my own nature. Any content of experience happens within and as what I am, within and as my nature. Even the nature of mental representations is my nature.

To me, the nature of everything is my nature, whether I notice or not.

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Awakening is differentiation

Awakening is not just oneness. It’s also differentiation.

Without differentiation, there is no awakening. At least, if we start out from separation consciousness and wish to see what awakening is about. And if we wish to actively support clarification, deepening, and embodiment of the awakening.

So what is it we need to differentiate?

Mainly, the difference between thoughts and reality. Obviously, a thought is as real – or unreal – as anything else. But what it says about reality has varying degrees of truth to it, and even the most accurate thought has no final or ultimate truth to it.

We may know this at a superficial conscious level. We may hear it and tell ourselves I know that. But the reality is often different. At some level, we – our system – takes several thoughts as true even if we consciously may know it isn’t. It requires a much deeper exploration to see this and see through it so the “glue” making these thoughts seem real weakens. (Our mind’s magical truth-glue that makes something that’s not completely true seem true.)

How is this connected to awakening?

When we – at any level – hold a thought as true, there is automatically identification with the thought’s viewpoint. We experience ourselves as the viewpoint of the thought. And that creates a sense of being something within the content of experience – within the world, and an I with the rest of existence as Other.

What the thought is about doesn’t really matter. Taking any thought as ultimately true – somewhere in our system – creates this dynamic. Although some of the core ones are thoughts saying we are a human being, a me, an I, a doer, an observer, and so on.

How can I explore this differentiation?

Through inquiry, whether natural, organic, and unstructured or more structured.

Structured inquiry can be a good way to start, and can help us go deeper wherever we are in the process. And the more natural and unstructured inquiry helps us trust our own wisdom and guidance. (Especially when we already are somewhat familiar with the terrain, perhaps with the help of structured inquiry.)

For me, a combination of Headless experiments (Douglas Harding), the Big Mind process (Genpo Roshi), The Work of Byron Katie, and Living Inquiries (modern version of traditional Buddhist inquiry) has been helpful. But there are many other approaches out there.

What about other forms of differentiation?

Yes, there is the conventional form of differentiation and discernment we need in daily life, to function in the world.

The differentiation I wrote about above is helpful for awakening and also healing for our human self. The daily life differentiation and discernment is essential for us to function in the world.

Just as what and who we are – oneness and this human self – these two forms of differentiation are two sides of the same coin.

Appreciation and differentiation

When I differentiate, it can happen within the context of appreciation or not.

If I differentiate – using thought to sort things out – within appreciation, I find that it tends to invite in curiosity and receptivity. I am more free to explore different views and takes on the topic, find the validity in each, and ways these views may fit together into a larger picture. If I am engaging with someone else, there tends to also be more of a sense of us and a recognition of myself in the other. A sense of exploration and partnership, whether the other person is open to that or not.

If I differentiate and it is not within a context of appreciation, it can be quite neutral. But the stage is also set for more easily going in the direction of a rigid view and a closed heart. Instead of a more open exploration, I may go into justifying or defending a particular view. I may go into polarization. I may experience separation to others and the views they happen to use as a guideline.

Either one is of course fine. And the differentiation without appreciation may be an effective tool in some specific situations. (Tough love, but there can be appreciation even there, just not expressed so directly.)

But in general, differentiation within the context of appreciation seems to be more helpful. When the heart comes in and supports the mind, there is more receptivity and curiosity there, and a willingness to explore the validity in a wider range of views. In some ways, there is a certain intelligence that comes from the heart supporting the mind.

Even when the differentiation comes up with the same in both cases, it is at least more enjoyable to do it within the context of appreciation and a deeper sense of us.

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Inside and outside of stories

In exploring anything, it is a good idea to notice how it appears from the inside and outside of stories.

Take evolution as an example. Lots of people are into evolution in different ways, including evolutionary spirituality.

Where do I find evolution? For me, I find it easily within stories.

But what about outside of stories? What about how it appears here now? What about how it appears in the sense fields? I cannot find it there at all. At most, I can find it as a thought overlaid on the other sense fields.

So this makes it clear to me, in a more real way, that evolution only appears within stories.

And this, in turn, makes it clear that evolution is a story of only practical value. There is nothing inherently valuable or true in it, but it may still have a practical function in the world, and even in the spiritual practice of some folks.

These simple explorations helps put things in perspective. It helps us become more real about it. And it helps release identification out of these stories, so they are revealed as practical tools with no value beyond that.

It takes the drama out of it. There is nothing to defend. No inherent truth in the stories that we need to defend, and no truth in the reversals that we need to defend against. We don’t need to defend the story any more than we need to defend any other practical tool, like a hammer. The only question is when and how is it useful, in a purely practical way.

With evolution, we see that it obviously fits all the data we have collected from biology, so it seems quite useful there. It has some explanation power. And it does add another dimension to how we understand our psychology, so it has practical value there too. It may even add some richness to how we see ourselves spiritually, from within the realm of stories, so it may have some practical value there too, for those drawn to it.

Again, it is simple. Almost childishly simple, as so much else here. Yet, to fully see this, to fully see, feel and love it, and bring it into daily life in a variety of situations, takes some exploration and practice.

Differentiating 1st and 3rd person

Another topic I keep coming back to….

The whole process of Ground awakening to itself is very much a differentiation of 1st person experience and 3rd person identity.

In our first person experience, what is alive in immediate awareness, we are awareness and the content of awareness is awareness itself. It is beyond and includes all polarities, free from any center, absent of an I with an Other.

And in our third person identity, as a he/she/it, an object in the world, as others see us, we are a human self in the world with a particular age, gender, nationality, preferences, set of likes and dislikes and so on. This third person identity is crucial for the functioning of this human self in the world, and it arises in immediate awareness as anything else. When awareness awakens to itself, there is no more or less identification with this human self and its identity than anything else arising.

When these two are confused, there is an identification with our third person identity. This he/she/it in the world becomes an “I” and appears as a subject, and with this identification comes a life and death drama with all its many flavors. What is already alive in immediate awareness becomes filtered through this temporary identification, making this field of awareness and form, inherently absent of an I with an Other, appear as I and Other. Identifying as content of awareness, an object within form, tends to put awareness itself on the other side of the I-Other split, and this is one way this dynamic perpetuates itself.

Differentiating the two allows for a disidentification with our third person identity, which in turn allows awareness to notice itself as the field of awareness and form, already and always absent of I and Other.

Put another way, there is a differentiation of the absolute (awake void and form) and the relative (third person identity), allowing awareness to be awake to itself while this human self still functions with its usual identity in the world.

The gifts of states

Here are a few of the gifts of states, of shifting contents of experience…

Over time, they invite us to recognize and realize impermanence… inherent in anything that comes is its going. Sadness, joy, oneness, bliss, suffering, a particular insight, different types of samadhi… they are all temporary visitors.

They also invite a noticing and differentiation of different areas of the terrain… in my own experience, I can see how different states has allowed me to discover and differentiate aspects of the terrain… the void (allowing identities to fall away), alive presence (soul level), endarkenment (feminine divine), luminous emptiness (masculine divine), the three centers (head, heart and belly, each one in the foreground at different times), oneness (a vague sense of an I one with God), suffering (being caught up on the inside of beliefs), and so on. Each of these are noticed, clarified and differentiated from the other ones by dipping into them through various states.

As Ken Wilber would point out, the states and what they reveal are interpreted through our psychograph… our lines of development and where they are at (their stages) and in particular through the conscious framework we operate from (cognitive line).

Some states offer their particular gifts. For instance, the state of unusual clarity and stability of attention invites us to inquire with more differentiation into what is… including the mechanisms of samsara.

Finally (?), they also offer glimpses of what is ahead on the path, and what we thought was behind us but wasn’t…! For instance, void temporarily wakes up to itself, and is then covered up by a sense of a separate self, which offer a new context to the path and our life… it offers a glimpse of how it is when all identifications are vaporized, and a direction for our continued practice. And dipping into being caught up in particular beliefs, and their accompanying drama and suffering, shows us that more work is required, we were not quite done with that one.

States are visitors which come on their own time, whether invited or not… and they can also be explored in a more systematic way through for instance the Big Mind process (filtered in a limited way through the head center).

Basics and elaboration

It seems that when void awakens to itself, allowing identifications to fall away, some things are obvious. First, that all content of awareness is this awake void itself. Then, that any identifications, any beliefs in thoughts, any absorption into the content of thoughts, clouds over this recognition of being awake void and form (and conversely, that void awakening to itself does away with those identifications).

And inherent in both of those, that there is no inherent center anywhere, no inherent I with an Other. It is just this awake void and any forms as the awake void itself… a field with no center, with no I and Other, and still, somehow, temporarily and functionally connected with this human self, who is able to work with any story appropriate to the situation… without taking it as anything more than a tool of temporary and purely practical function, without believing in it, taking it as more than a relative, limited and pragmatic truth, without being absorbed into its content.

This seems to be the basics of a Ground awakening, and from here, the possibilities of elaboration and differentiation in how it is reflected in stories is endless…

And this elaboration can be explored both before and after Ground awakening through different processes of inquiry, such as The Work and the Big Mind process… both of which allows for a much more finely tuned and differentiated expression of the basics insights. After the awakening, this differentiation can be done with great clarity and precision, to the (limited) benefit of others. And before, in a more approximate way, allowing mistaken identities (which they all are) to more easily fall away.

Differentiating resistance: to experiene, and the French


This is something that is (I assume) clear to folks who have done some meditation practice, and (apparently) can be confusing to those outside looking in.

I just read an anthology of essays by and interviews with the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss, where an interviewer refer to Zen as a philosophy of no-doing, which he (strangely enough) took to mean never getting involved in any sort of social action, and also watched a movie involving the French resistance, and the combination of the two brought it up.

When there is a reference to allowing in a meditation context, it means allowing experience… not resisting experience (including the resistance itself!) This is very different from allowing and not resisting circumstances in the world, such as social injustice and violence against living beings.

The two go perfectly well together. The Germans invade France, maybe kill or torture friends and family, and great sadness and anger may come up, and I can fully allow those experiences. To resist these experiences creates drama and suffering. To not resist them allows for clarity and a sense of ease, even in the midst of the intensity of the experiences and the situation.

What arises may also involve active resistance to the situation that is going on, including actively resisting the German invasion in different ways. In fact, not resisting experience is likely to allow strong empathy to emerge, within more clarity and less drama, which in turn translates to more effective actions in the world.

So there is a big difference between resistance to experience, which only creates suffering for myself, and active resistance to and engagement with circumstances, which may arise from compassion and clarity.

Freedom to play with stories

Tom’s comment on the post on cults brought up some genuinely good points, and put the finger on something that has been in the back of my mind for a while.

We can of course play around with stories and find the grain of truth in each of their reversals. And the value in this is for me to explore my own beliefs and identities around it, to find more clarity there, allowing the grip on any one story to release, and have less to defend. I find a more fluid relationship with the story and its reversals.

What it also does is to take out any absolute truth in any story and thoroughly pull the rug out from under the issue. Which is also the point. It helps reveal that they are all just stories, placed upon a situation that is inherently neutral.

So any charge and rigidity around it, from my side, is diffused. There is a lighter touch there. More receptivity of mind and heart…. seeing the truth in the turnarounds, and allowing for a more genuine connection with others. There is more fluidity.

Which then allows me to play and engage with the conventional views in a more clear, differentiated and receptive way, with less to protect, less rigidity.

So in the case of cults, the exploration allows me to find it in myself, and also how it is not true, opening up some space. Which in turn allows me to use the term in a conventional way with less to protect, less personal investment in it, and so – possibly – with more clarity and in a more differentiated way.

Tom used the example of a murderer, and it is the same there. I can easily find how I am a murderer (eating animals and plants, stepping on bugs, eliminating people in my thoughts, and so on). And I can also find how people labeled a murderer, by society, are not (they were victims of circumstances, their actions local effects of infinite causes, they were blindly caught up in beliefs which triggered the actions without them being able to stop it, and so on).

If I don’t engage in this exploration, it is far too easy to be caught up in blind beliefs about it… which brings with it blind emotions and reactivity. And these are not a good place to come from if I want to make more clear decisions.

Having engaged in the exploration, finding the truth in how we all are and are not murderers, I find myself in the same boat as the person labeled murderer by society. There is more genuine empathy, more of a sense of connection. I am not able to dehumanize him or her so easily.

I am now able to use the conventional definitions of a murderer with more clarity, with a more receptive mind and heart, and hopefully with more differentiation and wisdom.

It does not mean that I will support freeing anyone labeled a murderer (most likely, I won’t). But it does mean that I am able to explore the definition, and make it more nuanced for myself. It means I may be less caught up in blind emotionality and reactivity, which makes it less likely that I would want to see someone sentenced based on flimsy evidence (less scapegoating), and it also makes it less likely that I will support sentences that are mainly revenge based.

I am more free to support a fair trial and fair and appropriate sentencing, and to explore what that really means, all the while experiencing a genuine connection with and empathy for anyone involved, including the one who committed the crime.

There is nothing new here. It is something we all (I assume) know from our own life. In a way, it is just old fashioned common sense… at least the one that comes more from differentiated clarity and compassion.

Awakening into what and who we are (revisited)

There are two main forms of awakening…

Into what we are, as awake emptiness and form, absent of separate self, seeing stories as just stories. This seems to be an on/off switch, either there or not, although when it is not there, it is, funny enough, possible to be closer to it or further away from it.

This is a Ground awakening, awake emptiness awake to itself, and to form as not other than awake emptiness itself.

And into who we are, as a developing individual human self and soul. As a holon in an infinitely larger and evolving holarchy in the world of form, and as a vehicle for Big Mind either awake to itself or not. This is an ongoing process with no end point.

This is an exploration of the always changing and evolving world of form.

Anything happening at the human and soul levels… projection/shadow work, deepening into our shared humanity, relationship work, changes in experiences of senses, and awakening into/as alive presence, luminous blackness, indwelling God, and much more… is all a part of the exploration of who we are.

It is valuable in itself, as part of life exploring itself in all its many forms. And it is valuable as stepping stones into an awakening of what we are.

At the same time, it is helpful to see that it is just a play of form… transient, fleeting… content.. not what we are.

If an awakening into what we are is our main focus, then it is appropriate to not put much emphasis on it.

If an awakening into who we are is our main focus, then it is appropriate to delve more into it for its own sake.

And if an awakening into what and who we are is our focus (as it is for me), it is important to differentiate the two, seeing clearly what belongs to which.

Separate self

Some of the ways there is, and is not, a separate self…

Finding ourselves as emptiness, there is an absence of a separate self… and anything else for that matter. The void is void.

Finding ourselves as awake emptiness and form, and form as no other than awake emptiness itself, there is also an absence of a separate self. There is just one field of awake emptiness and form, with no more or less identification with any part of it. This human self senses, thinks, acts in the world, but there is only the doing and no doer there. It all happens on its own, as part of the field.

Within form, there is also no separate self. There is just a seamless field of form, with infinite causes and infinite effects to anything happening locally… including anything happening to, within and as this particular human self.

And finally, within form, there is a separate self. This human self exists within the world of form. It is a whole as well as a part of a much larger whole. It is a holon in a holarchy. And in that sense, there is a separate self, or rather a separate individual living, relating and behaving in the world.

It is just that this separate self is not really separate from the wider world of form, nor is there a local doer there, nor is it anything else than emptiness itself.

All together, there is emptiness awake to itself and the inherent absence of a separate self in anything. There is the seamless whole of the world of form, with everything local having infinite causes and effects. And there is also the differentiation of this human individual from the wider world, allowing it to function in the world with a particular identity (an identity used for differentiation only, seen as only a relative, utilitarian, limited and temporary, truth.)

Two different things: letting go of identification, and changing the content

The dream about the Nazis was a reminder of something that has been coming up for me consciously as well: the need to differentiate between (a) surrendering of identification with the content of awareness, and (b) changing the content itself.

Until there is a full letting go of identification with content (realized selflessness), there will be a confusion and slight mingling of the two.

Our conscious attitude is to want, or aim, to release identification with content, which – when it really happens – allows any content to be exactly as it is. It happens independent on the particulars of the content.

But this conscious attitude is also exactly that which (apparently subtly) does change the content itself. This attitude itself is an identification with content, in this case with a wish to surrender identification with content (and wake up.) So it automatically changes content. In my case, it brings an (again apparently subtle) disowning of an active and engaged attitude.

It is all OK, and maybe even an inevitable part of the process, but also good to notice.

Disowning a sense of a doer

This is similar to, and another variation of, what sometimes happen when we begin to realize selflessness. We have a taste of it, or intuit it: there is no separate self here. Only the doing, and no doer. And before this is more fully and clearly realized, it may lead to a disowning of a sense of a doer.

The sense of a doer is pushed in the background, or maybe even the doing itself is reduced (we do less, so there is less sense of a doer!)

This comes from confusion, and can create a good deal of confusion as well, but when it happens, it may – again – be a necessary part of the process. It is one of the ways we explore, learn about, and gradually become more familiar with this terrain.

Eventually, as this is worked through and clarified, there is a differentiation between the two: there is the noticing and realization that there is no doer here, only the doing. And this doing is now free to include being passive and disengaged, or active and engaged, in the world. There can be lots of doing there, but still no doer.

Differentiating 3rd and 1st person identities

I went to a headless workshop in Portland a couple of weeks ago. It was led by Richard Lang, who did an excellent job – making it simple, accessible, very clear, and doing it all in a very personable and heart-centered way.

One of the things that became clearer to me is how the headless experiments help us differentiate between our 3rd and 1st person identities.

Our 3rd person identity is how other see us. It is our appearance at different distances, our name, our age, occupation, and so on. It is our identity in the world, as a human being. It is ourselves, as a he, she or it.

Our 1st person identity is our immediate experience of ourselves, which is as no thing allowing all things, no form allowing all forms, emptiness allowing fullness, no color allowing all colors, no identity allowing all identities… or in other words as headless, as capacity for the world, as awake emptiness and its content (which is no other than this awake emptiness). It is ourselves as awake void and all forms as this same awake void.

When our 3rd and 1st person identities are confused, it leads to suffering. When they are seen as distinct from each other, there is clarity and a sense of ease.

When they are mixed up with each other, my first person identity tends to go in the background, and is sometimes not noticed at all. I take on the third person identity and become a thing in the world, up against innumerable other things. I am completely caught up in a world of desire, fear, longing, anger, sadness, loss, and much more.

When they are differentiated, I am awake void full of the world… I am free from anything happening, allowing it all, and everything happening is revealed as this awake void. And there is full freedom for the little one, this human self, to use the 3rd person identity to function in the world as well. Nothing is left out.