Does our timeless nature mean we live forever?

I sometimes hear people say:

My timeless nature means I’ll live forever.

My physical body happens within me so I’ll live beyond this physical body.

For me, it looks a bit different.

TIMELESS IS NOT THE SAME AS ETERNAL

Yes, I find myself as what the world to me happens within and as.

I find myself as the timeless that time happens within. I find myself as the spaceless that space happens within. I find myself as what this physical body and the rest of the world, as it appears to me, happens within and as.

And that doesn’t mean that I – meaning this oneness the world to me happens within and as – will live forever, or continue to live beyond the death of this physical body.

IDEOLOGIES ARE NOT THE SAME AS REALITY

Yes, there may be many religions, spiritual traditions, and ideologies that say that we’ll live beyond this physical body.

There is even some research pointing to that.

And that’s all second-hand information. It’s not something I can test out for myself. I cannot know for certain.

MEMORIES ARE NOT THE SAME AS REALITY

My whole life, from early childhood, I have had what seems to be a memory from between lives and before this life.

When I look, I see that this apparent memory consists of mental images and words, associated with some sensations in my body.

Those mental representations and sensations are just that. They may not point to anything real. Again, I cannot know for certain.

BEING HONEST

I notice that if I tell myself I’ll live forever, or beyond the life of this physical body, it’s stressful.

I tell myself something I cannot know for certain. I tell myself that what to me is imagination is reality.

I know I cannot know for certain.

And that’s stressful. It’s also stressful to have to remember that imagination, recreate it, enhance it, support it, defend it, and so on.

What’s more honest for me is that I don’t know.

I’ll get to see when that phase of the adventure comes.

What I can find here now is my nature. I can find myself as what any content of experience – including time and space and this physical body and the world as it appears to me – happens within and as.

And that’s enough.

There is a joy in being aligned with reality.

In being honest with myself.

When we don’t know how little we know

If we are familiar with a topic, it’s often easy to recognize how little novices know or understand about it, and it’s easy to recognize their misconceptions and limitations.

And the more we are familiar with any topic, the more we tend to realize how little we know. And we tend to realize that this goes for any area of life or knowledge. We tend to find intellectual humility. (Of course, there are exceptions.)

None of us know what we don’t know. But we can know generally how little we know. We can find some intellectual humility and curiosity and even appreciation for the beauty of knowing little, no matter how much we know about something in a conventional sense.

The more mature and experienced we are, the more we tend to viscerally know how little we know.

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

For instance, what do I mean by knowing little? Don’t some know a lot about certain things? Yes, of course. We can have a lot of experience in certain fields and areas of life. And even then, what we think we know may not be entirely accurate. There is always more to be familiar with and learn. Our understanding will change with new insights and experiences, sometimes incrementally and sometimes dramatically. There may be other contexts to understand it within that makes as much or more sense, that will put everything in a new light, and may even turn everything upside-down and inside-out. In the bigger picture, what we are familiar with and think we know – as individuals and collectively – is a drop in the ocean compared to what there is to experience and understand. And we always think we know, we don’t actually know.

Where do I think I know a lot? Perhaps about this particular topic since it’s been of interest to me since my early teens. (Philosophy and methods of science.) Also, perhaps about the essence of awakening. (Although I am very aware that here, there is infinitely further to go and my sense of who and what I am can and likely will change dramatically as life continues to explore this through and as me.) And certainly any time I stress myself by holding any thought as true. (Stress is a sign my system holds certain thoughts and assumptions as true, and that these may not be consciously identified and certainly are not thoroughly investigated so I can find what’s already more true for me.)

What are some examples of where I tend to notice how little folks know about a topic, even if they may assume they know a lot? I sometimes notice it in news stories on topics I am relatively familiar with. I sometimes notice it in articles summarizing a field I am more familiar with than the author. I sometimes notice it in people who are exploring spirituality and awakening and have simplistic notions that betray a lack of experience or go into wishful or fearful thinking that reflects unexamined projections. I see it in some who reject the insights and expertise of professionals in a field and think they know more than them based on having read a few articles on the internet or listened to some podcasts.

Why is this important? It’s of vital importance since we need to be well informed to make good choices, both at an individual and collective level. If we are to deal with the huge challenges we are faced with these days – ecological crisis, mass migrations, pandemics, hunger, poverty – we need to be well informed and make good collective decisions. And we cannot do that if we are misled and assume we know more than people who have spent their life studying certain fields, or if a significant portion of the population misleads themselves in that way.

How do we balance knowing and knowing we don’t know? It’s not necessarily that difficult since they are two different things. We know more or less about certain topics and areas of life in a conventional sense, and this is based on data and logic that’s more or less solid and our assumptions work more or less well when tested out in practice. And no matter what, there is always more to know, our context for understanding may and probably will change, and we always think we know even when our assumptions are based on solid data and logic and work well in practice.

Are there not cases where experts are mistaken? Or intentionally mislead people? Yes, of course. Experts are human and make mistakes. Whole fields change over time and what’s taken as gospel truth today will be seen as old misconceptions a decade or century from now. And that doesn’t mean we need to wholesale reject the current content of science or mainstream views or assume we know more than experts just because we read or heard something. We need to know how little we know. In most cases, mainstream science is the best we have right now, even as we know the content of science changes with time.

Why do we sometimes like to think we know more than we do? It’s partly from a lack of experience and maturity. And there are likely also psychological dynamics at play. For instance, we may go into those ideas to compensate for a sense of lack or inferiority. The more at peace we are with ourselves, and the more psychologically healthy we are, the easier is for us to find peace with, genuinely appreciate, and live from the receptivity of not-knowing and knowing how little we know.

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Does my timeless nature mean I won’t die?

I sometimes see people who have found themselves as timeless say that it means they won’t die. Our timeless nature means we won’t die.

When we find ourselves as capacity for the world, we find that all our experiences – including of space and time – happens within and as us. We are timeless and time happens within and as us.

From here, it’s easy to assume we won’t die. This human self comes and goes, and what we really are stays around.

It can seem convincing, but it all depends.

To myself, I am consciousness, and that’s how it would be even if the materialist view is accurate. This human self and the brain may be what supports and allows consciousness to exist, and – to myself – I would still be consciousness. I will still find myself as capacity for the world, and all my experiences will happen within and as what I am. In this case, when this human self dies, I – as consciousness – dies. What I am dies with the body. (This is the small interpretation of awakening.)

That’s why I am a bit more careful with stating that I – as what I am – will be around even after this body is gone. I don’t know. And if I am honest, I have to admit that the scenario above is possible.

There are hints of something else. We have accounts of people apparently remembering past lives, and research that seems to support it. We have stories of near-death experiences and people perceiving things they couldn’t through their physical senses. We have stories of sensing at a distance and healing at a distance. We have synchronicities. And so on. It’s possible to dismiss this, especially if we don’t know much about it. And yet, many of us have experiences of this and more which hints at something more. (I have experienced most of it myself.)

To myself, I am consciousness and the world to me happens within and as the consciousness I am. That means that, to me, the whole world appears as consciousness. It’s made up of consciousness. It has to appear that way. It’s inevitable, whatever its true nature is. And these experiences – of near-death experiences, sensing and healing at a distance, and so on – suggest that the true nature of existence may be the same as our own. (This is the big interpretation of awakening.)

So if I am honest with myself, I cannot know if “I” – as consciousness – continue after the death of this human self. And yet, it does seem possible, but not because I find myself as timeless and what time happens within and as. It’s because of these other experiences and research into these phenomena suggesting a life beyond death.

Is my true nature the true nature of all of existence?

Is my true nature the true nature of all of existence? This is a side to awakening that is interesting although it doesn’t have great practical importance for us at an individual level. I thought I would briefly revisit the topic here.

My true nature

Our true nature is capacity for the world, that which all our experiences happen within and as. The content of experience is the normal one – this human self, thoughts, emotions, sensations, the wider world, and so on. The awakeness here is the ordinary awakeness all conscious living beings have. The only thing that changes is that our true nature – this awake capacity – notices itself as all of it.

Since the world to us happens within and as what we are, it seems that the world has the same true nature as ourselves. It has to appear that way to us.

If I am honest, I cannot say that I know for certain that my true nature is the true nature of all of existence.

What are some of the features of our true nature? My true nature is capacity for the world. It’s awake. And it is – if it separates itself a bit from itself – conscious of itself. Those are three aspects that stand out.

The true nature of existence as a whole?

So what about existence as a whole? What can I say about it?

It seems that the true nature of humans is the same as mine, based on their reports. And I have to assume that the true nature of all beings is the same. It’s difficult to imagine it’s otherwise.

Beyond that, it seems that existence as a whole is capacity for itself. It has to be no-thing that’s filled with itself, otherwise, it wouldn’t exist.

Is it awake? Parts must be. In this universe, any conscious being is awake in this sense, whether their true nature notices itself or not. There may also be non-embodied beings that are awake. And yet, other parts may not be awake, like rocks. (When I say awake in this context, I just mean the ordinary awakenes of all conscious beings.)

Is the true nature of all of existence conscious of itself? No, that doesn’t seem to be the case. It is, locally, through some beings, perhaps through some non-embodied beings, and perhaps in a divine realm, but that may be about it.

Does it matter?

Does it matter whether my true nature is the true nature of all of existence?

Not really. It matters in the sense that it’s good to be honest about what we can say something about and what we are guessing or imagining. It also matters for physics and cosmology and our general worldview, although most mainstream physics and cosmology don’t (yet) address these questions. But in a practical sense for us as individuals living our lives in the world, it doesn’t matter so much.

Is all of existence consciousness?

This is a related question. Since my world happens within and as consciousness, it appears to me that all of existence is consciousness. But is it really? It’s a thorny question and I am not sure if I can say much about it, and it also depends on our definition.

We can say that the universe is the body of the divine, or the divine taking a physical form.

And we can, depending on our definition, say it’s consciousness that appears to us as matter and energy. But it’s not necessarily as a whole awake consciousness in the way consciousness is locally awake in and as living beings.

Summary

So locally, existence notices its true nature here and some other places. To me, the true nature of all of existence seems to be the same as my true nature since it happens within and as what I am. It seems that the true nature of all beings is the same as my own true nature. All of existence must be capacity for itself. It’s awake locally through beings in whatever form they take. And the true nature of existence is conscious of itself locally through and as some beings.

What’s the difference between mysticism and insanity?

Mystics typically report experiences and insights that are well outside of consensus reality and what’s considered normal. So why are they not considered insane? What’s the difference between mysticism and insanity?

There may be several reasons.

Although mysticism is fringe, it’s often culturally accepted. There is a tradition for it in most cultures.

Mystics talk about God and Spirit, and our culture gives us a larger leeway when we talk about that topic.

Mystics often report similar experiences and insights to each other. In the essence, there is a universality.

Mystics are usually well-functioning people. They typically manage their life and relate to other people in a way that’s not a problem for others or society.

To the extent mystics are empathic, kind, and perhaps have some wisdom, they are given some leeway if what they talk about sometimes sounds odd.

And perhaps most importantly, it depends on how we relate to our experiences and insights and what stories we tell about it.

To the extent mystics are intellectually honest, they appear more sane and ordinary even if what they report is out of the ordinary.

In my case, I emphasize the pragmatics of it – practices and what they can do for us at a very human level.

On the rare occasions I talk about my own out-of-the-ordinary experiences, I have evaluated my audience and wouldn’t talk about it unless I know they understand or have a genuine personal interest. I also often preface by saying I know it sounds weird, I am clear that I hold my stories and interpretations about it very lightly, and I find ways to talk about it that are as down-to-earth as possible.

Mystics are loony?

When you see “mystic” there, you know, it means basically loony.

– Michael Palin in No Such Thing as a Fish 20 hour podcast.

I love Michael Palin, and I am sure he would have a more nuanced view on this in a different setting and conversation, although I thought it was an interesting comment.

He referred to a specific person who may have been a bit loony. (He wanted to crash a plane half-way up Mount Everest and walk the rest of the way.) And in that particular podcast setting, it’s easy to make fun of groups nobody there belongs to. It creates a sense of cohesion.

So is there some truth to it? Are mystics loony?

The looniness of mystics

Yes, mystics can definitely be seen as loony from a mainstream view. Mystics are wrapped up in an obsession with the divine, and most people don’t even know if there is such a thing as the divine, and if they do, they don’t think it’s possible to have any kind of direct connection with it. So yes, it can seem weird and perhaps a bit crazy.

The path of the mystic does often come with experiences outside of the mainstream – of the divine in all, of perceptions of oneness, visions, synchronicities, seeing things others don’t, perceptions at a distance, strong energies running through the system that can’t be measured by modern medicine, and so on. This can be seen as loony.

Some mystics also get caught up in certain interpretations and fantasies that are not grounded in intellectual honesty, and this – rightfully so – can seem loony.

There are many types of mystics. All have experiences outside of the mainstream that can seem weird and even crazy to others, even if they are real experiences and reported faithfully. Some may be a bit crazy in their interpretations if these are not grounded in intellectual honesty. And a few may actually be a bit crazy in a DSM sense. (Although not the ones I know about, or the ones most known from history.)

The sanity of mystics

Then there is the sanity of mystics.

If we notice what we are (Big Mind), get familiar with it, explore how to live from it, and are honest in our interpretation of it, we tend to be quite sane. In a sense, we are saner than most since we are more aware of our true nature.

Most perceive and live as if their fundamental identity is this human self, while in reality this human self and the wider world happens within and as what we are. So if we wanted to reverse the “loony” statement, we could say that it’s loonier to believe and live as if you fundamentally are something you are not.

Many mystics also work on their relationship with themselves, others, and the world. They befriend their world and live more from kindness and a sense of unity of it all. That’s not loony at all. It’s sane.

Loony and not

So are mystics loony?

The answer is yes, no, and it depends.

Yes, they can seem that way from a mainstream view.

Some may actually be a bit loony if they latch on to interpretations not grounded in intellectual honesty, or if they have some actual mental disorder. This goes for anyone independent of what label we put on them.

And no, to the extent the mystic notices what they are and live from it to the best of their ability, live from kindness and a sense of oneness, and have some intellectual honesty.

A note about the label mystic

Mystic and mysticism can refer to many different things, from the most outlandish beliefs to glimpses “beyond the veil”, nature mysticism, and non-duality. In mainstream western society, mysticism is probably mostly associated with the two or three first ones. Non-duality may not necessarily be perceived as mysticism, partly because Buddhists and others have done a relatively good job taking a pragmatic approach and bringing it down to earth.

Intellectual honesty in spirituality: Zen and not dead yet

The Emperor asked Master Gudo, “What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?”

“How should I know?” replied Gudo.

“Because you are a master,” answered the Emperor.

“Yes sir,” said Gudo, “but not a dead one.”

– I heard this story almost 30 years ago but can’t find an original source right now. It seems to be quoted a lot without a source.

This is honesty. There is a huge amount of bs in spirituality, and it consists mostly of people pretending that stories are reality.

Do we know that reincarnation exists? Or the soul? Or any afterlife? Or karma? Isn’t this just what someone else has told us?

Is it something we can check for ourselves? And if not, why repeat it or pretend we know it’s true?

Why not instead be honest? Why not admit we don’t know?

There are other ways to use these concepts and ideas that seem more helpful. For instance, why not explore these concepts and ideas as projections? Why not use them as something we can explore here and now? How can I find where they fit my experience?

For instance, I can find a kind of reincarnation here and now. I notice that each moment is fresh and new and something is kind of recreated. I notice that any ideas I have of a me or I are recreated here and now. In that way, “I” am reborn. (Any ideas of continuity are just that, ideas. I cannot find it outside of my ideas. This means that reborn even in this sense is also based on an idea on not something actual I can put my finger on.)

I can find karma in that something that happens has consequences. Actions has consequences. Through how I think, feel, and act, I create habits and grooves that it’s easier to follow in the future. When I act in the world, the world responds. This is the karma I can find in my own life and check out for myself. Beyond that, I don’t really know. (Even here, I cannot really find karma, cause and effect, and so on outside of my ideas.)

What about the afterlife? I can find it in my ideas, but not outside of my ideas. I can find timelessness here, and that all my experiences happen within and as this timelessness. I notice that this human self – and the idea of time itself – happens within and as that timelessness. But I still don’t know if there is anything after this human self dies.

Of course, I know that not everyone are interested in or inclined to explore in this way. For many, holding onto ideas is comforting and sufficient. It’s that way for me too, sometimes and in some areas of life, and probably in ways I am not even aware of. That’s completely fine. But I prefer to be honest about it, at least as much as I can.

The role of intellectual honesty in spirituality

For me, intellectual honesty seems an intrinsic part of spirituality. After all, spirituality is an exploration of reality, and intellectual honesty guides and supports that process.

This is another large topic perhaps better suited for a book, but I’ll say a few words about it.

Intellectual honesty is intellectual honesty no matter what the topic is. In general, there seems to be some universals to it and some universal findings. And there may also be some universal findings when it comes to spirituality.

How does intellectual honesty look for me in general?

I don’t know anything for certain.

Thoughts are questions about reality.

Thoughts help me orient and function in the world. They can be more or less valid in a conventional sense, and it’s not their function to give any final or absolute truth.

Life is ultimately a mystery, including what we think we understand or know something about.

How does intellectual honesty look for me when applied to psychology?

The world is my mirror.

(a) My mental overlay of the world creates all the maps, separation lines, labels, interpretations and so on that I operate from as a human being in the world. Anything I can put into words or images is just that, my own words and images. It’s not inherent in the world.

(b) Also, what I see “out there” reflects dynamics and characteristics in myself. Whatever I can put into words about someone or something else also applies to me. When I look, I can find specific examples of how it applies to me.

I am my own final authority. I cannot give it away, no matter how much I try.

I operate from a wide range of underlying assumptions. It’s good to bring these to awareness, as far as I can, and question them.

How does intellectual honesty look for me when applied to spirituality?

Awakening can be understood in a small and psychological or big and spiritual way. In both cases, it’s about what we are noticing itself and then living this human life in that context. We are capacity for the world as it appears to us. Any content of experience happens within and as what we are.

In the small interpretation, we say that this is MY or perhaps OUR nature. In the big interpretation, we go one step further and say it’s the nature of EVERYTHING.

What we can say for certain is that it seems to be our nature. And although saying it’s the nature of everything is a leap, there are some hints that this may be the case. (I have written more about this in other articles.)

What are the benefits of intellectual honesty?

It helps us stay honest, on track, and grounded. And it helps us avoid detours created by wishful or fearful thinking. (Although these detours become part of our path and have their own function.) It helps us – individually and collectively – to make better decisions.

Why is intellectual honesty important in spirituality?

I have mentioned a few things about this above.

Spirituality is about reality. It’s about noticing what we already are and living from it. It’s about seeing through our assumptions about ourselves and the world. And in that process, intellectual honesty is invaluable and essential. It keeps us on track. It helps us see through what’s not aligned with reality.

Can intellectual honesty be learned or trained?

Yes, absolutely, although it does require readiness and willingness. We can learn about cognitive bias, logical fallacies, and so on, and learn to recognize them in our own thinking. There is always more work to do in these areas for all of us, and especially in recognizing it in ourselves.

Does intellectual honesty preclude trust, devotion, or poetic expression?

Not at all.

I can trust an approach or a guide, at least for a while and to some extent.

I can engage in devotion and devotional practices towards the divine.

I can enjoy poetic expressions and even engage in my own.

Are the examples above all there is to it?

No, these are just some examples that come to mind. There are a lot more out there and variations and clarifications of these. And probably a lot I am not aware of and won’t be aware of in this lifetime.

Are the examples above examples universal?

They do not represent any final or absolute truth, although it seems that many of these are relatively universal. And it’s always possible to go further with each one of these and other insights and pointers.

The examples I gave above apply to the part of the terrain of reality I am exploring. If we explore other parts of the terrain, there will be some other ones that applies specifically to that terrain. For instance, if we see ourselves as a more conventional Christian, we may chose to “believe” something while also admitting we don’t know.

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Intellectual honesty on the spiritual path

For me, spirituality is about being consciously aligned with reality, and deepen in clarifying and living from it. 

That means that intellectual honesty is an important component. So how does that look? At least for me? 

Here are some examples: 

In immediacy, content of experience – input from all the sense fields including thought – happens within and as what I am. I can say that it’s all happening within and as consciousness, or awake space. The whole universe appears as happening within and as what I am.

It appears as consciousness (aka love, wisdom, the divine, Spirit, God). And I can go one step further and tell myself the whole universe and all of existence is consciousness. That fits how it all appears to me, but I also know it’s an assumption. It’s going one step further than what I can be more certain about. 

And the same goes for a whole range of other things. I may have direct experiences of something. Someone – great spiritual masters – tells me it is a certain way. It may fit some research. It may make complete sense to me. I may wish it to be true. All of these may align. And yet, I don’t know for certain. All I know is that some stories, some overlays of thoughts, make sense and seem helpful to me in orienting and functioning in the world. They are not the final word, and there is no absolute truth to them. 

That’s how it is with ideas about God, life beyond death, reincarnation, divine beings, angels, distance healing, awakening, ESP, and anything else. At best, they are ideas that seem to fit the data, make sense, and help us orient and function in the world. And that’s about it. That’s all I can say about it.

This is as honest as I can be about these things now. It’s as aligned with reality as I can make it for now. It’s as aligned with the divine – if I see reality as the divine – as I can make it. And there is a great freedom here. I don’t need to defend anything.

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