What is trauma?

A common definition of trauma is that it’s what happens when our system cannot process what’s happening with us. It becomes overwhelmed and deals with it by creating trauma.

TRAUMA AS A COPING MECHANISM

That makes sense to me. Trauma is clearly a coping mechanism, as is any hangup or emotional issue. In the situation, it’s the best way our system knows how to survive and manage.

HOLDING A THOUGHT AS TRUE TO FIND A SENSE OF SAFETY

We can look at it through the lens of beliefs. Our system creates painful beliefs in order to find a sense of safety. A situation is overwhelming and scary, it creates some beliefs for iself to find a sense of safety, and those beliefs are often painful.

Why do beliefs seem safe? I assume it’s because they give us a sense of certainty. Our mind can tell itself it knows. It knows how something is. That may seem preferable to not knowing and being at the mercy of life.

THE REALITY OF IT

It seems a little silly when it’s laid out like this.

Holding a thought as true doesn’t provide any safety at all. If anything, it makes us less receptive and flexible. It creates a fixed view and identity which makes us rigid and less able to respond well to life and situations. In many ways, that’s less safe than knowing that we don’t know for certain.

Holding a thought as true is also inevitably uncomfortable. It creates friction, stress, and distress. Life will inevitably rub up against any belief and identity we have, and that’s stressful. Also, our mind needs to spend a lot of energy to maintain it. It needs to remind itself about it. It needs to prop it up. It needs to defend it. It often elaborates on it. It needs to look for evidence for its truth. And so on.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE TAKE A THOUGHT AS TRUE?

What happens when our mind holds a thought as true? It identifies with the viewpoint of the thought. It creates an identity for itself out of the thought. In a sense, it becomes the thought. It perceives and lives as if it is the thought.

EXAMINING WHAT’S GOING ON

All of this is hidden from the mind unless it takes a closer look and examines what’s really going on. We live it without realizing what’s going on. When we take a closer look, we can relate to all of this a little more intentionally. A thorough examination may even lead to some of these identifications to fall away. The thought is still here, and recognized as a thought and not true in the way our mind initially saw it.

DIFFERENT SUBPERSONALITIES OPERATE ON DIFFERENT BELIEFS

I should also mention that it’s not that straightforward. Different parts of our psyche tend to hold onto different thoughts as true. Several parts of me believe thoughts that I – as a whole – do not subscribe to, and they inevitably color my perception and life. That’s why a practice to identify these beliefs can be helpful. If I notice something triggered in me, it’s helpful to identify the thought or thoughts behind it, see if I can find related and underlying thoughts, and then investigate these.

EXPLORING THROUGH THE SENSE FIELDS

Of course, there are many other aspects to trauma and many other lenses we can use to understand it.

For instance, we can still explore beliefs and identifications, but we can examine it through our sense fields. We can look at how our mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, and how the sensations give a sense of solidity, reality, and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. As we keep peeking behind the metaphorical wizard’s curtain, the illusion tends to lose it’s reality.

BODY TENSION

Exploring the sense fields in this way also gives us some hints about how traumas – and emotional issues in general – tend to create body tension. Our mind needs sensations to lend a sense of solidity and truth to thoughts, so to have those sensations available it seems to tense up certain muscles to create tension and sensations that go with certain thoughts. Each thought has its own tension pattern, and these seem to have a mix of universality and individuality. If a belief or set of beliefs is regularly activated and perceived from and lived on, it’s likely that it’s associated with a chronic tension pattern in the body.

RIGHT CONTAINER

If we are to explore this, and we have trauma in our system (as most of us do), it’s important to do it in a good setting: Guided by someone experienced, and someone we like and trust. Having enough time to explore, process, and settle after. Knowing we can stop it ourselves at any moment, and be encouraged to do so. Doing it in very small portions at a time. Doing it in an atmosphere of safety, understanding, and support. Avoid overwhelming our system again.

EXPLORE FOR OURSELVES

If we are drawn to it, this is something we can explore in different ways.

I find The Work of Byron Katie to be very helpful in identifying and examining stressful beliefs. The Kiloby Inquiries (KI) is excellent for exploring how it all unfolds in the sense fields. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) is an excellent way to release chronic tension from the body. I also know that many love Somatic Experiencing (I have less experience with that approach although have found the books useful).

Personally, I have mostly used the three first approaches. I started with The Work of Byron Katie almost twenty years ago and did it daily for many years. I have been the client and facilitator for many KI sessions over the years, including with many clients. And I have used TRE regularly for several years, and still use it off and on.

Image by me and Midjourney

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The princes in the tower: Buying into Tudor views on Richard III and what it says about us

I have been following Philippa Langley’s work for about a decade now, after initially hearing about her fascinating story of how she found Richard III in a car park in Leicester. Yesterday, I listened to a Gone Medieval podcast episode where she talks about her research into what happened with the princes in the tower.

For centuries, historians and the public at large have largely bought into Tudor propaganda about Richard III, including that he had the princes in the tower killed because they were rivals to his throne. While all the time, there was an absence of contemporary documents suggesting they died at that time, and other documents strongly suggesting that the princes lived for years later.

WHY IS THIS INTERESTING?

Why am I interested in this?

It’s not because I am particularly interested in Richard III, although I am generally interested in history.

It’s because it says something about us – individually and collectively.

BUYING INTO PROPAGANDA RATHER THAN LOOKING AT REALITY

In this case, we have the Tudor family that violently took over the throne of England. They were concerned about their perceived legitimacy, so they wanted to bolster their image by depicting Richard III – the king they disposed of – as a shady character. They received support in this project from many who saw the benefit of being on their good side, including Shakespeare.

Historians apparently largely bought into this propaganda, including the story of Richard III having the princess in the tower killed. They were happy to base it on works of fiction and the popular view without closely examining the data supporting or contradicting that story.

WE ALL DO IT

We all do this. We all buy into certain stories because it’s a popular view or because it gives us something. We often do it without closely examining the stories and what supports or contradicts them.

We do it collectively, and we do it in our own life.

Fortunately, we all also have a Philippa Langley in us. We have a part of us willing and able to investigate to find what’s genuinely more true for us.

WHAT ARE SOME COLLECTIVE EXAMPLES TODAY?

I’ll give a couple of examples of how we collectively seem to be doing this today. These are my typical bee-in-the-bonnet examples (!).

WHAT WE MORE FUNDAMENTALLY ARE

One popular view is that we most fundamentally are this human self. We are fundamentally this person, a doer, an observer, and so on. Even most philosophers and psychologists seem to buy into this view without apparently examining it very closely through phenomenology or logic. It may or may not be accurate in a third-person view, but is it what we most fundamentally are in a first-person view?

What I find is that to myself, I am more fundamentally consciousness and the world to me happens within and as that consciousness. And I am capacity for all of that – I am capacity for the consciousness I am and all that it forms itself into.

We can find the same through logic. If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we must BE consciousness. And if the world to us happens within and as consciousness, it happens within and as the consciousness we are. The consciousness we are forms itself into our whole field of experience. It’s all we have ever known. This consciousness has no outer edge. To us, we are oneness and the world happens within and as oneness. We are even more fundamentally capacity for all of this. And so on.

GLOBAL ECOLOGICAL OVERSHOOT

Another is a set of collective assumptions about our ecological crisis. For instance, that it’s mostly about climate change, we still have time to deal with it, someone else will do it, and we can solve it through technology or peripheral tweaks to how we collectively organize ourselves.

This is obviously a naive view. We have been in a global ecological overshoot for decades. We would need more than two Earths to support our current collective consumption. That means that we are spending from our ecological “savings account”. This looks more or less OK for a while until we hit the bottom, and then our lifestyle collapses. In this case, it’s the planet’s ecosystems that collapse and our civilization with it. It’s inevitable when we are in ecological overshoot. There is no other way it can end.

WHY DO WE BUY INTO THESE STORIES?

Why do we collectively buy into these stories even if the data is available to show us something else?

I assume it’s similar to why historians have bought into the Tudor propaganda about Richard III.

It’s the popular view so it’s more convenient and comfortable to buy into it. We may be socialized into these views and don’t find a reason to question them.

Going against it is often inconvenient and uncomfortable. We’ll find ourselves in the minority. We’ll meet resistance. Our views may be dismissed and ridiculed.

We may not feel we have the time or energy to investigate closely. Something else seems more important, interesting, comfortable, and so on.

We have other priorities. We may prioritize agreeing with the popular views and being included. We may prioritize living our life without adding extra revolutions and changes. We may prioritize something else over what we would find is more true for us. We may prioritize comfort.

HARNESSING OUR INTERNAL PHILIPPA LANGLEY

How can we find and harness the Philippa Langley in us?

One is to examine our priorities. What’s most important to me? To hold onto my views or to find what’s more true for me? To stay with what’s familiar or to open myself up to something new and different and something my mind may not be able to predict in advance?

Another is to examine my fears around it. What do I fear would happen if I prioritize what’s more true for me? What do I fear would happen if that happens? And so on. How likely is it to happen? Am I willing to have it happen? Would I be able to deal with it?

In general, I find that inquiry is very helpful here combined with sincerity and a willingness to prioritize reality over my personal preferences and wishes and fears. Of course, that’s not something I can always do in all areas of life. But I can investigate one area and one line of assumptions at a time, and do it with as much sincerity I can find in me. And I can use my experience of friction – discomfort and stress – as a pointer to when and where I am holding onto assumptions that are out of alignment with reality. In find that the Work of Byron Katie is very helpful here, as are the Kiloby Inquiries.

Why would we do this? Isn’t it more comfortable to just go along with our current ideas of how things are?

It may seem more comfortable. What I find, through examination, is that it’s actually more comfortable to find what’s more true and honest for me. Living is a fantasy is inherently uncomfortable. It’s something my mind needs to create and defend. It’s out of alignment with reality so there is inevitably friction between my views and reality. Finding what’s more true for me is more peaceful since there is less to defend and there is less inherent friction. (There will always be some friction since there is always more layers and and more to examine.)

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How do I keep my heart open with all the terrible things happening in the world?

Finding it in myself is one path to keeping my heart open.

If I only see it “out there”, it’s difficult to keep my heart open. It’s too easy to go into judgment, separation, self-righteousness, and so on.

If I recognize in myself what I see in others, with concrete examples and viscerally, my heart opens to myself and others.

HOW CAN I DO IT?

The Work of Byron Katie is one of the most effective ways I have found, especially with the guidance of an experienced facilitator. (When done with sincerity and specificity, and allowing ourselves to take in what we find.)

Tonglen is also effective, as is ho’oponopno.

Other forms of inquiry can also be helpful like the Kiloby Inquiries or even the Big Mind process if skilfully facilitated.

WHY WOULD I WANT TO DO IT?

For me, the answer is that it’s more comfortable.

It’s more comfortable to have an open heart to myself and others.

It also helps me respond with more skill and discernment, and less from reactivity. It makes me slightly less annoying and more effective in the world.

REAL LIFE

Is it easy? No, obviously not.

It’s easy when I feel generally good and somewhat removed from what’s happening, and I am doing these practices in the comfort of my home or a spiritual center.

And it’s not so easy when I am in the thick of it and my own hangups, traumas, and painful beliefs are triggered. Going into my old habitual patterns is sometimes easier, at least for a while until the storm fades and I can relate to things with a little more clarity and kindness again.

That’s part of the process. It’s messy.

I can open my heart to that too – to my own struggle and the struggle of others. There too, we are in the same boat.

Helpful contexts for my life

I find I have a few contexts for my life that seem helpful

I can also call them pointers or reminders.

Here are some of them, as they look to me now.

DON’T KNOW & QUESTIONS

I don’t know anything for certain, and mental representations are questions about the world.

The nature of thoughts is that they help me navigate and orient in the world. They cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. That’s not their function. They are questions about the world.

The map is not the terrain. Stories are different in kind from what they point to, unless they happen to point to other thoughts. The world is always more than and different from any stories about it, and also less than any story.

To explore: The Work of Byron Katie. Philosophy of science.

MY MORE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE

In one sense, I am this human self in the world, just like my passport and how most people see me.

And I find I am more fundamentally something else. I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what the field of experience – this human self, others, the wider world – happens within and as.

I am what a thought may call consciousness, and the world to me happens within and as this consciousness. The consciousness I am forms itself into all these experiences.

To explore: Big Mind process. Headless experiments. Basic meditation (over time!).

WHAT WE MOST FUNDAMENTALLY WANT

I can’t speak for all other beings, but I have found some things I – and the different parts of me – more fundamentally want. It’s variations of love, acceptance, connection, safety, belonging, coming home, and so on. If I take a surface desire for anything at all and trace it back to something more essential, I tend to arrive at one of these.

These seem essential and I suspect they are quite universal, based on what I see in the world and what others say.

There is something even more fundamental, and that’s a wish to find our nature, to consciously come home to what we already are. That gives us, in one sense, all the things we look for.

And that doesn’t mean that our human self doesn’t have wants and wishes that we can find the essence of and find ways to fulfill – mainly by giving it to ourselves here and now, and also in life.

To explore: Inquiry, tracing our wishes back to their essentials. What do I hope to get out of it? What do I hope to get out of that? And so on.

THE WORLD IS MY MIRROR

The world is my mirror. Whatever characteristics and dynamics I see out there in others and the world is also here. I can take any statement about anyone or anything, turn it to myself, and find more than one genuine example of how it’s true. (Including true at the moment I have the thought about someone or something else.)

This is wonderful in several ways. It means I can use my thoughts about others and the world to discover more about myself. It means I can find more of my own richness in myself and in how I live my life. I can explore outside of what I thought were my limits and boundaries, created by identities and ideas about myself. I can more easily recognize myself in others. And so on.

To explore: Projection and shadow work. The Work of Byron Katie.

OVERSHOOT

Our civilization is in overshoot. We are using far more resources than the planet can generate, and we are putting way more waste and toxins into the planet’s circulation than it evolved to deal with.

We would need two planets to provide for the resource use of humanity as a whole, and five or more to provide for the resource use of the Westernized and industrialized world.

This cannot continue.

That’s serious enough in itself, but there is something more serious. This is like spending money from our savings without replenishing it sufficiently. It looks fine for a while, until it’s empty and our lifestyle comes crashing down.

In our case, it’s not only our lifestyle that comes crashing down. It’s likely our whole civilization.

Will we be able to transition into a new and more ecologically sound civilization? How will the crash impact us? How many will die? How many species and ecosystems will die in the process?

We don’t know but it will likely be very challenging for us and any other species.

To explore: Articles and books on overshoot and the ecological footprint.

DEATH GIVES LIFE

What comes together falls apart.

That goes for this universe, this living planet, our current civilization, humanity, each of us, and everything we know.

Our mammalian psyche may have a problem with that, but it’s actually wonderful.

It’s how anything is here in the first place. It’s how we are here.

We are here because all the states the universe has gone through have come and gone. Stars died and provided most of the matter making up this amazing planet and us. Species died and made space for us. Individuals died and made space for us.

Death opens up space for something new. Death is how we are here. Death is how anything is here.

Impermanence is even how we can experience anything at all. Each moment is gone and opens space for a new one.

Our civilization will be gone, perhaps opening space for a new one. Humanity will be gone, opening space for other species to perhaps eventually create their own civilization. This universe will likely be gone, opening space for a new one.

It’s all a kind of a dream. What’s here is gone, opening the space for something else.

To explore: The Universe story, the Great Story, Epic of Evolution, Big History.

HAPPINESS, CONTENTMENT, MEANING & GRATITUDE

Happiness comes and goes. Often, what creates happiness are small things in daily life. Holding someone’s hand. A hug. A kind word. Ice cream. A good meal. A beautiful sunrise. And so on. We can set up our life to create moments that spark happiness.

Contentment can come in different ways. We may live a life in integrity and be in relative peace with ourselves. We may relate to ourselves – and especially our distressed parts – with kindness. We may find our nature, our more fundamental home, and find contentment there. We may have been lucky with our parents and upbringing, naturally relate to ourselves and live our life with kindness and wisdom, and find contentment that way.

Meaning is again something else. We can find meaningful activities in our life, and those are often about creativity and expression, being of service to others and the larger whole, or a combination of the two.

Finding gratitude can contribute to each of these. I can find gratitude for the things my personality naturally is inclined to find gratitude for. (I have shelter, water, food, family, friends, a beautiful day, the song of birds, a kind word, and so on.) I can also do a more radical gratitude practice where I find gratitude for everything in my life, whether my personality tends to like it or not. This can bring about even more profound shifts.

To explore: Psychology that addresses these topics. See also this book.

KINDNESS TO OURSELVES

Some of the essentials I seek are love, understanding, safety, and so on.

I can give those to myself. I notice a distressed part of me, and I can meet it as a kind and wise parent would a child.

If our parents didn’t consistently do this for us, we likely didn’t learn to consistently do it for ourselves, so this can take intention, attention, and practice. It can be a lifelong process and more than worth it.

To explore: Resources on reparenting ourselves. Heart-centered practices like Ho’oponopono and tonglen directed toward ourselves. Self-compassion. The Befriend and Wake up process I have written about in other articles.

EVOLUTIONARY CONTEXT

I like to see behavior in an evolutionary contest. It helps me find useful and kind stories to understand myself, others, and other species.

We just traveled with our cat to a new place, and she was hesitant to drink the water. That too makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. In a new place, it’s important to be careful with the water. Don’t drink if it’s not moving or if you don’t see others drink from it. I filled a glass with water, slurped some with delight while she was looking, and she happily drank (a lot!) from the same glass. (This is likely also why cats often like to drink water from the same glass as their humans. They trust it’s safe to drink if they see others drink it.)

I don’t have to beat myself up for having sugar cravings now and then. I understand why. It’s because my ancestors evolved to crave sugar because it helped them and their offspring survive. Sugar was found in rare and nutrient-rich foods like fruits, and the cravings helped them prioritize seeking out and eating these foods. In our modern world, this impulse has been hijacked by the food industry to sell products. I don’t have to be too hard on myself for having these cravings or even following them now and then, these cravings helped my ancestors survive. (And I can find practical strategies for dealing with them. For instance, only buying what’s on my shopping list, and having someone to be accountable to.)

When I am sick, I know that most (nearly all?) of my symptoms evolved to help me heal. The general fatigue and illness feeling motivates me to rest, which helps my body heal itself. Fever – increased temperature – helps my body kill pathogens. Diarrhea flushes out pathogens or undesirable food. And so on. This shifts how I relate to what’s happening when I am sick. I find more appreciation and even gratitude for my symptoms. (It also highlights one of the strange things some do in our culture, which is to try to counter or stop the natural self-healing processes of the body like fever, diarrhea, and so on.)

I have a fear of heights. That too is very understandable from an evolutionary perspective. My ancestors likely survived partly because they had some fear of heights, and the ones who did not were more likely to die young and not pass on their genetics. I can still work on this fear so it doesn’t stop me from doing the things I want.

To explore: Evolutionary psychology.

MY CONNECTION WITH THE LARGER WHOLE

How am I connected with the larger whole? Am I a separate being or is something else more true?

When I find my more fundamental nature, I find that the world – as it appears to me – happens within and as what I am. Already there, the ideas of separation break down, at least in how it all appears to me.

Through science, we also find stories of oneness and connection, and these inform our perception, choices, and life in the world.

As Carl Sagan said, we are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

The universe is one seamless system. It has evolved and temporarily formed itself into you and me and our experiences and everything we know. It will continue to evolve and change itself into something new. (And that may not always conform to our ideas of “progress”!)

Our planet is one living system. Our health and well-being is dependent on the health and well-being of this larger living system.

This helps me feel more connected as a human being, see myself as an expression of the larger whole, and behave in ways that (are more likely to) take care of this larger living system I am a part of.

To explore: Systems views, Universe Story, Great Story, Epic of Evolution, Big History, Deep Ecology.

Image by me and Midjourney.

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Patterns in misophonia & sound sensitivity: humans vs nature

Since I was little, I have had misophonia and sensitivity to sounds. The misophonia is mostly triggered by chewing and paper and plastic rustling, and the sound sensitivity mostly to loud sounds and noise.

GENERAL PATTERNS

I have noticed some general patterns.

My system is more sensitive when I am exhausted or stressed, and it’s much easier if I am rested and relaxed.

The misophonia and sound sensitivity is triggered more easily when the sound is ongoing. The reaction builds up over time.

And I get more stressed if I think I am unable to do something about it. If I cannot do anything about the source, if I don’t have anything to put in my ears (often tight earbuds with music), or if I cannot remove myself from the sound. (That’s why traveling with others in a car, bus, train, or plane can be stressful for me.)

If I am more resourced, the sound doesn’t last too long, and I can do something about it, it’s much easier to deal with.

THE SOURCE OF THE SOUND

And there is also a difference depending on the source of the sound.

If the source of the sound (for instance, chewing sound) is a non-human being or a baby, it’s usually completely fine with me. I may notice a small reaction far in the background, but it’s OK.

If the source is a human that’s not a baby, that’s when the misophonia is triggered.

And it’s the same with noise sensitivity. If the source is humans, it can feel overwhelming. If the source is nature, it’s typically fine.

For instance, I am currently in the countryside in the Andes mountains (El Caucho outside of Barichara). Yesterday, there was construction noise nearby which I noticed bothered me. This morning, a neighbor had the radio on loud, which bothered me. (Especially since it’s Sunday at 5:30 am), while the guacharacas loudly crowing much earlier didn’t bother me at all.

WHAT THIS SUGGESTS

This suggests that my reaction is mediated by my mental field.

If the source is “innocent” as my mind sees it, there is less reaction.

And if I have stressful thoughts about the source, the reaction is stronger. Some of the thoughts I have identified and explored are “they should know better”, “the sound is aggressive” and “this is a symptom of our destructive civilization” (loud machines, chain saws, leaf blowers), “he is inconsiderate”, and so on.

WHAT I CAN DO ABOUT IT

These patterns give me several cues for what I can do about it.

I can continue to support my system to rest and build up energy. (I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome so this is important for me in general.) I can make sure to get good sleep. Eat well. Rest before, during, and after any activity, and extra. Take my vitamins and herbs. (Vitamin D, Siberian Ginseng, and Echinacea seem especially helpful.) Receive energization with Vortex Healing. (Amazingly helpful.)

I can continue to find ways to manage the situation when it happens. I have earbuds with me. For longer travels, I bring noise-canceling earphones. If I am about to travel with people in a car, let them know in advance. If I am in a public space and people close to me are loud, I go somewhere else. And so on.

I have found it helpful to ask myself some questions. Is this too the voice of the divine? (I notice it directly so it’s not a “trick” and I’ll still do the other things.) How I would respond if the source was a baby or non-human being? Are not humans and human civilization also nature?

I can also explore mental representations triggered by these sounds, what they mean to me (underlying assumptions, associations), how I relate to them, and what’s more true for me. I have already done this with The Work of Byron Katie and the Kiloby Inuiries, and it has helped a lot, and there is more to discover.

WHAT’S THE CAUSE?

What’s the cause of misophonia and sound sensitivity?

I am not sure. It’s likely a combination of several things:

My stressful thoughts about the sounds and what they mean.

How resourced my system is.

We evolved in a generally much more quiet environment than many of us live in today, and this likely puts a lot of stress on our system. It’s not surprising if some of us are extra sensitive to sounds and noise.

And it doesn’t matter so much. I have some ways to work with it anyway.

Image by me and Midjourney. And, no, I won’t keep going on with black-and-white woodcuts forever! It’s just what I am drawn to right now.

Earth from ISS

A suicidal / ecocidal civilization: Finding a more real, grounded, and kind way to relate to it all

All civilizations rise and fall, and ours is no exception.

An interesting twist is that ours is the first global civilization that rises and falls and we don’t know how that’s going to look.

INDEX

What comes together falls apart | A civilization fatally out of alignment with reality | Sudden change | Familiarity with systems dynamics | We have the solutions but do we have the collective will? | What will collapse mean? | What can we do individually? | Collapse acceptance | Power-over vs power-with | What’s my history with this? | Notes

WHAT COMES TOGETHER FALLS APART

How can we know that our current civilization will fall?

In terms of history, it’s because all past civilizations have risen and fallen. It’s what civilizations do and ours is no exception.

In the bigger picture, it’s because everything does. What comes together falls apart.

We can notice it here and now. Every moment, what was is gone and something new and fresh is here. And it happens at more obvious and larger scales, including at the scale of humanity, culture, Earth, and the universe. It will all be gone.

Everything we know – collectively and individually – has come together and will fall apart.

A CIVILIZATION FATALLY OUT OF ALIGNMENT WITH REALITY

We can also look at specifics of how our civilization creates its own fall.

The most obvious may be that our civilization is fatally out of alignment with reality.

We operate on a worldview that’s out of alignment with reality. For instance, we assume and emphasize separation in a world where everything is intimately connected. We assume the superiority and rights of humans over other beings. We prioritize the current generations over Future generations. And, crucially, we assume that the Earth has unlimited resources and unlimited ability to absorb waste. (See more below under “Power-over vs power-with”.)

This is reflected in all aspects of our culture and all our systems. (1)

Let’s look at our economic system.

We have created an economic system that assumes an infinite ability of nature to provide resources and absorb waste, and that our health and well-being is not dependent on the health and well-being of the larger ecological systems.

We made those assumptions because it fits our general worldview, and because we practically could at the time it was developed.

At the time, our population was relatively small and our technology relatively simple so we didn’t receive immediate feedback from nature. For all practical purposes, nature was infinite.

We still use that economic system. The problem is that we now have a much larger population and a far more efficient technology, so Earth cannot keep up.

Globally, our ecological footprint would require two Earths to be sustainable. And for the Western world, our ecological footprint would require around five Earths to be sustainable.

We are also putting more waste into the Earth’s system than it can easily deal with. There are plastic particles and toxins in just about every living being. We are in the middle of an insect apocalypse because we (insanely) grow our good with toxins. Our climate is changing dramatically from all the heat-trapping gasses we release into the atmosphere.

We are in overshoot and we are not doing anything significant to change it.

And that overshoot has serious consequences.

SUDDEN CHANGE

Ecologically, we are doing the equivalent of living on our savings. If we lived on the interests – the surplus produced by the Earth – it would be sustainable. But we are digging into the savings. That looks OK for a while. We have what we need. Then we suddenly realize the harsh reality. We are out of funds.

Our climate is similarly set to undergo sudden change. Any system tries to maintain equilibrium for as long as possible. We put heat-tapping gasses into the atmosphere, the system maintains a kind of stability for a while. And at some point, it shifts into a new state, and that tends to happen quickly. In the case of climate, it shifts into a more chaotic and unpredictable state.

That’s what we can expect with our global ecological system as a whole. In the coming decades, we can expect to see a series of sudden and likely dramatic shifts. These shifts feed into the system to trigger a cascade of other shifts.

What may happen?

Several moderate changes are already happening: More extreme weather. Stronger storms. More drought. Heavier rain and flooding. Crop failures. Species extinction. Mass death of insects impacting the whole ecosystem. Mass human migrations away from areas that become unlivable from drought, flooding, and rising ocean levels (eventually tens of meters). This, in itself, is serious but manageable, at least initially.

We may also see more extreme changes: Changes in ocean currents may significantly impact regional climates. The oceans may die due to rising water temperatures, acidification, and low oxygen levels, and this – loss of oxygen production from plankton, etc. – will seriously impact land life. Forests may collapse in large regions due to drought or they may lose their ability to produce oxygen because of increased temperatures. And so on. These are all things experts in the field say can happen, and will likely happen if the current Earth changes go far enough. If any of this actually happens, it’s not realistically manageable for us. It may not be compatible with human life.

FAMILIARITY WITH SYSTEMS DYNAMICS

If we are not familiar with big-picture thinking or systems theories, we may assume a kind of linear and gradual progression. That means we have time. Things look mostly OK so far, so why change too much too soon?

If we are familiar with overshot and systems views, we tend to see it differently. Then we know that things may look mostly on for a while, then there is a sudden shift, and we are screwed. We don’t have time to wait. Changing things within our current sudden is not enough. We need a deep transformation of our civilization as a whole.

WE HAVE THE SOLUTIONS BUT DO WE HAVE THE COLLECTIVE WILL?

We have the solutions.

We know some (humane) ways to reduce our population. (Educate women, provide economic safety nets for everyone, and so on.)

We have many technological solutions that are part of the puzzle.

We know how to create an economic system that takes ecological realities into account, and where what’s attractive and easy to do – individually and collectively – is also ecologically sound. (We have the big picture and know in what direction to move, and the details will be worked out.)

We have the worldviews necessary for a more sustainable civilization. Some elements may be ecospirituality within each of the major religions, the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, deep ecology, systems views, integral views, and so on.

The question is: Do we have the collective will? Will we find it in time?

We are already too late to avoid massive changes to our planet which will impact all of us, so we have minus time in that sense.

Will we be able to create an ecologically sustainable civilization in time to prevent the fall of our civilization? We have to work towards it as much as we can, but it is unlikely.

What we tend to see at the end of civilizations is what we see in the world today: A few who recognize what’s happening, take it seriously and sincerely work towards creating a better and more functional civilization. Many who go into denial, continue much as before, or wait for others to do something. Polarization, infighting, distractions, and the privileged holding onto their privilege even if it’s suicidal. Of course, all of this is common anyway.

There is also a great deal of simplistic misdiagnosis of the situation. Ideas that focus on aspects of what’s happening within the system but not the system itself. Some blame greed, governments, or corporations. Some think there is a technological solution. Some assume it’s mainly about climate change. Some think we still have time because the changes will be gradual and incremental. And so on. All of it is simplistic and myopic. This misdiagnosis reflects and comes out of the worldview that created the situation in the first place. And the misdiagnosis is part of the problem.

WHAT WILL COLLAPSE MEAN?

I don’t know.

What we know is that it will look different from the collapse of past civilizations. They were regional and this one is global. People in those civilizations continued to live their lives, just in a slightly different context. A lot from those civilizations was passed on to other and emerging civilizations. In our case, we don’t have another place to go. We have destroyed our global life-support system to the extent that it may no longer be able to support us, or at least very many of us.

The best scenario may be significant ecological changes, a significant reduction in the size of humanity, and a new emerging civilization – hopefully with some lessons learned. This requires that the more extreme Earth changes – like the death of the oceans – don’t happen.

The worst, from our perspective, is the end of humanity. (Along with many other species and ecosystems.) The Earth’s system changes to the extent that it’s no longer compatible with human life. In this case, the end of humanity happens sooner rather than later. If the changes are as dramatic and rapid as some scientists – and especially those familiar with systems views – think, it may even happen within one or two generations.

In the bigger picture, these are not disasters. This is just what happens. It’s how reality is set up. Things come together and fall apart. Death is the price of life.

WHAT CAN WE DO INDIVIDUALLY?

The question then is: What can we do individually and in small groups?

We can do what we can in our own life.

We can find what we are most drawn to, and do that. Joanna Macy talks about three categories: Stopping actions. Creating and living alternatives. And developing and spreading new worldviews.

In my case, I eat organic and local as much as possible and do a few more things in my personal life. I used to be actively involved in local sustainability organizations. I do healing work for myself and others. I currently have 36 acres in the Andes mountains I am helping regenerate and make into a food forest. (I realize the last one is not everyone can do, and I didn’t expect it in my life.)

We can all find something we are drawn to that’s meaningful and a small part of the solutions. We may not be able to save the world. But we can save our world. We can save ourselves by doing something meaningful.

We can realize that we live within a *system* that’s not ecologically sustainable.

That means that what’s easy and attractive to do is not ecologically sustainable. We all, inevitably, contribute to the destruction of ecosystems, just by going about our own lives. That’s not our fault. It’s inevitable. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for it. (And we don’t need to use it as an excuse either.)

We can find ways to nourish ourselves through our connections with the larger whole.

We can explore the Practices to Reconnect (Joanna Macy), the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, Deep Ecology, ecospirituality, systems views, integral views, and so on. Whatever we resonate with.

We can spend time in nature. We can connect with and nourish our physical body and sense-oriented animal self.

We can get familiar with the bigger picture.

Through the Universe story, the Epic of Evolution, systems views, Big History, and so on, we can become familiar with the bigger picture.

We expect what comes together to fall apart.

During the end of a civilization, we expect an amplification of what we generally see in society: Polarization, infighting, distractions, denial, people holding onto privilege, and so on. It’s what humans do.

We also expect some to do the work to create a better functioning civilization.

And we expect to experience grief, anger, hopelessness, and a wide range of emotions as a response to what’s happening.

We can find more peace with death and change.

Change happens. What comes together falls apart.

It happens continuously, which we notice if we look closely. And it happens at a more obvious and larger scale, sooner or later.

Change and death are what allow something new to exist. It’s what opens up space for something new and different. It’s what allows experience. It’s what allows evolution. It’s how we are here. It’s what allows anything to exist at all.

Everything and everyone is born to die.

It’s meant to be. It’s perfect. It’s how this universe is set up.

We can find gratitude.

We can find the gifts in death and change. As I have mentioned above, it’s what allows anything to be at all. It’s what allows us as individuals to be. It’s what allowed humanity and our current civilization to exist.

It’s what opens the space for something new. When our civilization is gone, who knows what will come in its place? Perhaps some humans will survive and create something new, and even something more aligned with ecological realities. And when humanity is gone, who knows what will come in our place? Perhaps the descendants of the octopus will create a new and amazing civilization that would not be possible if we were still here.

We can allow and welcome our grief, anger, and other responses.

It’s completely natural to experience grief, anger, hopelessness, and a range of other emotions in the face of what’s happening with our world. And it helps to make friends with it and even welcome it.

It’s natural. It’s healthy. It’s something we can channel into action.

We are, in a very real way, a local part of the Earth grieving itself. We are the Earth grieving itself.

These are universal emotions. All humans experience it and many or most species likely experience it in one form or another. It’s one of the things that tie us together. Even what triggers these emotions is universal in its essence.

We can find gratitude.

There is a lot to find gratitude for here.

We are an expression of all of existence. We are part of this amazing and beautiful larger whole.

We are alive. We are alive at the peak, in some sense, of our civilization. We have the basics for life and often a lot more. Many of us live beyond what anyone could have imagined in the past, and better than 99.9% of all humans that have lived in terms of healthcare, food availability, convenience and so on.

We are aware of the larger context of impermanence and can allow it to inform us in sobering and beautiful ways.

By viscerally getting impermanence – including of ourselves and all we know – we can find deep and equally visceral gratitude for our life and what’s here now.

We can find kindness towards ourselves.

We can learn to relate to ourselves and our world with more kindness.

That, in itself, makes a big difference.

It makes our life easier, and we are giving ourselves something essential we all wish for. It’s what we often are really looking for when we think we are looking for something else.

It’s something our civilization doesn’t really teach us and something we don’t learn unless we are lucky with our parents and upbringing. So this work is also part of changing our civilization and our individual and collective worldview.

One of the things I do for myself is to aim at being a good parent to myself, especially when thoughts and emotions visit that it’s difficult for me to meet with kindness. And I also use the befriend & awaken approach.

We can find kindness towards others.

We all do our best with the cards we are dealt. When people go into denial, short-sightedness, and so on, it’s their way of dealing with living in this world. A lot of it, or all, comes from fear.

We can be of service.

We can find meaning and joy in being of service, in whatever form that takes for us. Whether it is supporting humans, non-humans, or ecosystems.

We can find fellowship.

We can find others like us. We can find and create communities. We can support each other.

I did this in the past and lost it to some extent (apart from what I carry with me) due to illness and other life circumstances. Now, it may be time to refind and rebuild community.

We can find our nature, if we are drawn to it.

What do I mean by our nature?

It’s true enough that I am this human self in the world.

And if I look more closely, I find that in my own immediate experience, I am more fundamentally what my field of experience happens within and as. I am, more fundamentally, what a thought may call consciousness, and the world, to me, happens within and as this consciousness. This is what mystics across cultures and throughout time have described. (And talking about it this way is compatible with a range of worldviews.)

Just about anything is an invitation for us to notice and explore how it is to live from our nature. And these types of more dramatic and massive change even more so.

Of course, many won’t be drawn to it. But if you are, then there are ways to explore this. The ones I have found that seem most effective are: The Big Mind process. Headless experiments. Kiloby Inquiries. Basic meditation. And supportive practices like training a more stable attention.

What does this do for us? Not much, necessarily. But it does feel like coming home which is a relief. And it does change the context for everything.

COLLAPSE ACCEPTANCE

What does collapse acceptance mean?

It means accepting that what comes together falls apart.

This civilization will come to an end. Human civilization will come to an end. Humanity will come to an end. Each of those deaths will leave space for something else, which could be a new human civilization or new species eventually developing a new civilization.

It also means accepting the possibility of a more imminent collapse than many expect.

It’s a possibility, it’s not inevitable. We don’t know for certain.

To me, it also means using this to fuel our life – our gratitude, zest for life, engagement, connections, and so on. We can use it to deepen our conscious connection with our life, the life of others, and life in general. We can use it to be good stewards of our own life and life in general. It’s immensely precious as long as it’s here.

POWER-OVER VS POWER-WITH

A few more words about worldviews.

The worldview of our civilization (post-agriculture) has a power-over orientation where we seek power over ourselves, others, nature, and so on. We have a transcendent sky-god out there somewhere and not in or manifesting as everything, including ourselves, others, and nature.

That allows us to see nature – and ourselves and others – as primarily a resource and something to use (and abuse). This is internalized in all of us, and we can train ourselves to recognize it and support and emphasize alternatives ourselves and our culture.

The alternative is a power-with orientation where we seek partnership and cooperation with ourselves (different parts of our psyche), others, nature, and the universe. It’s also to see all of existence as sacred, as the divine or an expression of the divine. (This includes ourselves, others, nature, the universe.)

When this is internalized, it leads to a very different life individually and collectively. We’ll still need to use natural resources to support our own life, but we’ll do it from a different place. We’ll do it with more gratitude, reverence, and seek to find ways to do it that supports not only our own life but the larger living system, future generations, and life in general.

Of course, there will still be times when a more narrow view takes over – times of crisis or when we are caught in trauma, and we’ll make mistakes because we don’t know better – but that will still happen within a larger context of a general power-with and immanent Spirit orientation. And there will be systems in place to protect the interest of life – our own and the wider living systems – to prevent the worst anti-life behaviors.

This is not idealism. It’s what’s necessary for our own survival. It’s how we protect our own survival and the survival of our descendants.

WHAT’S MY HISTORY WITH THIS?

I loved nature from a very early age. As a child, I always said I wanted to become a zoologist. (What I really meant was ecologist but I didn’t know that word then.) I loved being in nature. I loved the hiking, skiing, and cabin trips with my family. I loved sleeping under the stars in the mountains of Norway. I loved the nature documentaries with David Attenborough and Sverre M. Fjelstad. I loved Cosmos by Carl Sagan, which had a huge impact on me and – in many ways – changed my life. (“We are the local ears, eyes, thoughts and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.”)

In my mid-teens, I got deeply into Fritjof Capra, systems views, and the people he references. I also got deeply into Deep Ecology (Arne Næss, a fellow Norwegian) and eco-philosophy, and I got deeply into Jung. I read all the books I could get my hands on from these authors.

Climate change became a big topic in my later teens, in the ’80s, and even then, I saw it as just one expression of the problems inherent in our civilization. We need to make the changes anyway, climate change or no climate change. (Discussing the details about it and whether it’s human-caused or not is a distraction and sometimes an intentional distraction.)

In my twenties, in the US, I read everything I could find about ecospirituality (from any and no particular tradition), ecopsychology, the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, and so on. I used the Ecological Footprint a lot in my work with sustainability. (I was the initial paid coordinator for Sustain Dane in Madison, Wisconsin.) I organized several projects where we used the ecological footprint as a central theme, and also several events and workshops (and one longer retreat) where we used the Practices to Reconnect and the Council of All Beings.

These days, I work on a regeneration project (15 hectares) in the Andes mountain. It feels deeply rewarding to help this land become more vibrant and healthy again and support the lives of innumerable beings. An integrated food forest will provide food for non-human beings and humans. And it may also eventually be part of local eco-tourism. We’ll see. Anything can happen.

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Marina Bajszár: Thoughts, just because you hear them, does it make them yours?

When I look, I find that words are imagined sounds. They are something I hear. Just like I hear the sound of birds, cars, and the wind, I imagine hearing words. They are all sounds.

I also find that words can be mental images. They are something I see. Just like I see a tree, the sky, and houses, I imagine seeing words. They are all images.

When I notice this – when I notice words as sounds and images – it’s easier to recognize them for what they are. They are imagined sounds. They are imagined images.

And this also helps me notice that they are imagined. They are imagination. This is often a useful imagination. It helps me orient and function in the world. And they are imagination. They are fantasies.

What happens when I notice this? What happens when I notice that thoughts that have a charge for me are sounds, images, and imagination? What happens when I rest in and as that noticing? There is a softening of the charge. There is less identification with their viewpoint. There is a curiosity that comes in. Maybe they are not as true as my mind, in its innocent confusion, took them as?

It can be helpful to use a structured exploration here, especially when it comes to thoughts with a strong charge. I have found the Kiloby Inquiries – a modern version of traditional Buddhist sense field explorations – to be the most effective for this. (Marina and I are both trained in that approach.)

And as usual, there is a lot more to explore here.

Why does my mind assume that some imaged sounds and images are actively created by me? It’s usually because they align with my conscious view. The sounds of cars, birds, and waves are obviously not created by me. Some random thoughts without much charge may also not appear to be created by me. But some familiar thoughts with a charge seem to be created by me. It feels like “I” am actively thinking them. And that feeling and assumption is created by the mind. When I explore it, I find it comes from another thought. It comes from mental sounds and images that tell me “I am actively creating those thoughts”. In reality, they are sounds and images like anything else.

I can also notice this more directly. I can notice thoughts – imagined sounds and images – as they appear. They come out of nothing and dissipate into nothing. (And are even made up of what a thought can label nothing.) They live their own life.

Who is that “I” thinking these thoughts? When I explore it, I find the same. I find a collection of mental images associated with certain physical sensations. I cannot find an “I” or “me” outside of this. It’s all happening within the sense fields. It only takes on the meaning of “I’ and “me” through thoughts telling me that’s how it is.

Even if I generally and “globally” get this, there will still be certain thoughts with a charge, and the charge means there is some identification there. A part of me hold those thoughts as true. So it’s worth exploring and investigating them and see what I find.

Coming to my senses

Why do we say “coming to our senses”?

Likely because there is a sanity we can find by literally coming to our senses, and people throughout time have noticed it and found the expression useful and insightful.

GOING OUT OF OUR SENSES

We inflict suffering and discomfort on ourselves by going into fantasies and taking them as true. We imagine a painful past, a scary future, something uncomfortable happening somewhere else. We even put a layer of interpretation on what’s right here.

Right now, I am sitting in a quiet room with sunlight through the window, a candle on the table, and a cup of warm tea. And I can imagine painful past experiences and childhood. I can imagine something terrible happening in the future. I imagine others living a better and more happy and fulfilling life. And I can imagine that all of those imaginations are real and true and define who I am, and I can get lost in all of it.

COMING TO MY SENSES

Instead, I can come to my senses. I can notice the room I am in. The textures, colors, flickering light, smells, the sensation of my legs on the seat and my feet on the floor.

I can notice what’s here in my senses. I can notice what’s here in my imagination. And I can notice the difference between the two. I can notice that what’s here in my mental field is literally imagination. It’s a collection of labels, interpretations, stories, and so on. It’s full of questions about the world. It’s not reality itself. (Although it can become a reality for me if I get lost in it.) None of it is a final, full, or absolute truth. Reality is always different from and more than my imaginations.

That brings a kind of sanity. It helps me ground in what’s here. It helps release charge out of the imaginations.

EXPLORING IT MORE THOROUGHLY

And it may help to investigate this more thoroughly. I can explore what’s in each of my sense fields and how my mental field creates an overlay of labels, stories, and so on, and how those are all questions about the world to help me orient and navigate. They are not anything more. I can also investigate specific stories more thoroughly and find what’s already more true for me (and more peaceful).

THE WISDOM IN COMMON SAYINGS

There is something a lot of wisdom in common expressions.

In this case, “coming to our senses” is a direct pointer to how we can ground, find more sanity, and be more kind to ourselves and others.

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The world doesn’t fit categories

It seems pretty obvious. The world doesn’t fit neat little categories.

So why do I even mention it?

Because it points to something important about how our minds work.

MENTAL FIELD OVERLAY

Our experience can be distinguished into sense fields. We can say that these sense fields are physical sensations, sight, sound, taste, smell, the mental field, and so on. (That distinction itself is made up of categories and we can imagine other ways to make that differentiation. It’s made up for convenience.)

Our mental field functions as a kind of overlay on the world. We make sense of the world through an overlay of mental images and words. And we can say that this overlay consists of labels, imaginary boundaries, stories, and so on. (That too is a somewhat arbitrary distinction made for convenience.)

These mental field overlays are created by our minds. None of it is inherent in the world.

That seems obvious too.

WE IMAGINE THE REST OF THE WORLD

And yet, there is another layer here.

Our immediate experience of the world is filtered through this mental overlay.

And what’s not here in our immediate experience – the whole rest of the world – only exists to us in our mental field.

There is a whole lot of imagination going on here.

We imagine boundaries, distinctions, labels, categories, stories, and so on. And we imagine anything that’s not here in immediate experience. We imagine the whole rest of the world.

ANY THOUGHT IS CATEGORIZATION

In a sense, all this mental field overlay is doing is categorizing. It creates imaginary divisions, labels, stories, and so on. And it’s all a way to categorize the world.

What’s the function of this?

It’s all to help us orient and function in the world.

Without it, we wouldn’t be able to function. It’s all essential for our life in the world.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THOUGHT

Thoughts have some characteristics.

They function as a map of the world, to help us orient and navigate.

They help us explore possibilities before we act in the world.

They are questions about the world. They are always provisional and up for revision. (Even what may seem the most solid to us is that way, including what comes from what we see as the most authoritative source. And the idea of authority is another question about the world.)

They cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. That’s not their function.

THE WORLD IS MORE THAN AND DIFFERENT FROM OUR MAPS

And the world is always more than and different from our maps.

Our mental field overlay is an overlay created by our mind. The distinctions, labels, and stories are not inherent in the world. It’s ours.

IF SO OBVIOUS, WHY EVEN MENTION IT?

Again, all of this may seem obvious. So why even mention it?

It’s because it may be obvious to us in a general sense and intellectually, but is it obvious to us at a more visceral level?

Often not. Our mind and system tend to hold onto some stories as true, often without even realizing it.

And that’s what creates hangups, closed minds, a closed heart, rigidity, contraction, tension, and stress. Taken to the extreme, it’s what creates fundamentalism, bigotry, and intentionally harmful behavior.

EXPLORING HOLDING ONTO STORIES AS TRUE

How can we explore the parts of us holding onto stories as true?

Inquiry is one way, and especially structured inquiry guided by someone familiar with that terrain.

What I have found most effective is The Work of Byron Katie, Kiloby Inquiries, and perhaps also the Big Mind process.

Another approach is any form of therapy we are drawn to and that works for us. That too can help us identify and find some freedom from taking stories as true.

WHY DO WE HOLD ONTO STORIES AS TRUE?

Why do we have such an apparently unhealthy relationship with our mental field?

Why do we hold onto some stories as true even if they are obviously painful and not as true as we pretend they are?

The simple answer may be that we do as others do. As we grow up, we do what we see others do.

Another answer is that we try to find safety in holding certain thoughts as true. It seems to give us an advantage. We can pretend we know how things are. We don’t need to stay open and receptive, at least not in the area of life covered by that particular story.

The reality is quite different. Holding onto these stories is out of alignment with reality. We pretend something that’s not true. And somewhere in us, we know what’s going on. We cannot trick ourselves. And that creates stress.

Holding onto stories as true creates stress in other ways as well. It is created by our mental field so we need to remember, rehearse, and prop up the story. We need to defend it when life or others inevitably show us something out of alignment with the story. We create rigidity in our perception and life. We miss out on options in life. We may get into conflicts with others just because we hold different and apparently incompatible stories as true.

WHEN TAKEN FURTHER

We can take these explorations further.

We may realize that even our ideas about who or what we are are ideas. They do not reflect reality in an accurate or complete way. We can even examine each of these stories and find what’s more true for us.

So what are we more fundamentally?

When I look, I find I am more fundamentally capacity. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am capacity for the sense fields and anything happening within content of experience.

I am the field all of it happens within and as, including any sense impressions that my mental field says is this human self, any ideas of what I am or am not, and any tendency to hold any one of those ideas as true or not.

What releases us from the reincarnation cycle?

A monk asked a Zen master, “What happens when you die?” The Zen master replied, I don’t know.” The monk said, “What do you mean. Aren’t you a Zen master?” And the Zen Master replied, “Yes, but I’m not a dead one.”

– this is a classic Zen story and I am unsure of the origin. I got this version of the quote from Zenkei Blanche Hartman.

Some folks are invested in ideas about reincarnation and what would release us from the reincarnation cycle.

As with any topic, this one is as complex or simple as we make it.

I DON’T KNOW

The simple answer is that I don’t know.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as reincarnation. Or how it works. Or if there is a release from it. Or what would lead to such a release. Or if any of it is really important.

I cannot know.

I know what some folks say about it. That’s, at best, second-hand or X-hand info, and at worst speculation.

I know that there is some research into it and I know some of the findings and some of the ways to interpret the findings. (Reincarnation is just one possibility). That’s very interesting research, but it’s provisional and not by any means conclusive. No research is ever conclusive. There is always more to discover, and new contexts to understand it within which may turn it all upside-down and inside-out for us.

I can know that I, personally, have what seems like memories of the time between lives and some past lives. Here too, I cannot know for certain if this is accurate or not.

I can only find reincarnation and my personal memories as ideas here and now. They happen within my mental field. I cannot find them any other place.

What’s most honest for me is that I cannot know. And for that reason, it’s also the most peaceful. It’s most aligned with my reality, with my world.

EXPLORING IT AS PROJECTIONS

Also as with anything else, I can explore my ideas of reincarnation as a projection. And I can do that in two general ways.

One is to use the stories as a mirror for what’s already here.

Can I find what these stories point to in my direct noticing?

When I look, I find reincarnation here. I find that what’s here is always fresh and different. I find that any ideas of who or what I am is recreated here and now. Any sense of continuity is created by my mental field, it’s a story tying mental images together to create a sense of continuity, time, past, future, and present, and so on. Basic meditation (notice and allow) is good for noticing this, especially when combined with inquiry.

This helps me ground it in my direct noticing.

The other is to notice it as a mental overlay I put on the world.

I can find any and all ideas I have about reincarnation in my mental field. Any ideas of a self reincarnation, or specific incarnations, or release from the cycle, is here in my mental field. I cannot find it any other place.

This helps me hold it more lightly.

EXAMINE THE STORIES

I can also explore the stories more in detail, and how my mind creates its experience related to reincarnation. Here are two of my favorite ways to do this:

I can examine the stories I have.

What is a stressful story I have about reincarnation? (Hopeful and fearful stories are both stressful.) What happens when I hold it as true? How would it be to not have it? What’s the genuine validity in the reversals? (Including when I turn it back to myself.) (The Work of Byron Katie.)

I can explore it in my sense fields.

How does reincarnation show up in my mental field? Can I find it outside of my mental field?

What sensations are connected with it? Where do I feel it?

What happens when my mind associates certain sensations with these stories? Do they seem more solid and real? What happens when I rest with respectively the mental representations (mental images and words) and the sensations? What happens when I recognize the sensations as sensations, and the mental representations as mental representations? Does the “glue” soften? (The Kiloby Inquiries, based on traditional Buddhist inquiry.)

WHAT AM I TRYING TO ESCAPE? HOW WOULD IT BE TO MEET IT INSTEAD?

If I am invested in ideas about reincarnation and a wish to escape the cycle, that points to something I wish to escape here and now.

Which experience am I trying to escape here and now? What stressful story? What uncomfortable physical sensation?

How would it be to meet it instead?

To identify and examine the scary story?

To notice and feel the physical sensation?

How would it be to befriend the scared part of me? What does it have to tell me? How would it like me to relate to it? What would help it relax a little more?

And so on. The Work of Byron Katie and the Kiloby Inquiries are very helpful here, as is any form of befriending or heart-centered approach (toglen, ho’oponopono). Basic Meditation can also be helpful, especially when combined with inquiry.

TAKING CARE OF IT NOW

Here is a more general angle to the wanting-to-escape dynamic.

If we seek release from the reincarnation cycle, it may be because we imagine it as a release from any suffering we experience now. It’s a kind of get-out-of-jail card.

But can I know that’s the case?

To me, it makes more sense to assume that my hangups and struggles will be with me beyond this life. (If there is a beyond.) Why wouldn’t they? So why not find that resolution now?

GIVE IT TO MYSELF NOW

Here is another simple inquiry that can be helpful:

What do I hope to get out of a release from the reincarnation cycle? And what do I hope to get out of that? And that? (Continue until you find the essence. Usually, the essence is something simple and universal like love, contentment, peace, understanding, support, and so on.)

Is it true that’s not already here? How would it be to notice it?

How would it be to give it to myself now? (Yes, I know that giving it to myself seems unnecessary if it’s already here, but I find the two go hand in hand.)

FIND OUR NATURE

As with anything else, there is also an invitation for us to find our nature here.

Reincarnation is a story of change. It’s a story of taking on different selves and roles in the world. It’s a story of different words.

Everything related to this is a story of change.

If it all changes, none of it can be what I more fundamentally am.

I an have an idea of something within content of experience that doesn’t change. But that’ an idea. Here too, it’s not something I can find outside of my mental field.

So what am I more fundamentally?

The Big Mind process and the Headless experiments are the most direct and efficient supports I have found to explore this, along with the slower Basic Meditation.

FIND THE TWO AS THE SAME

If I was to guess what would release us from a reincarnation cycle, I imagine it would be this:

To find the two as the same.

To find the essential sameness in our incarnated and disincarnated life. And to not only see it but viscerally get it. To taste it.

So what is the sameness of the two?

This is something I have had a strong incentive to explore. In my childhood, I had flashbacks to the time between lives, to a disincarnate state, and I had a deep longing for it. So one of my genjo koans (life koans) is to find that here and now.

The most fundamental sameness is that it’s all – any experience whether its in the context of an incarnate life or a disincarnate existence – happens within and as what I am. I am capacity for it all. It all happens within and as the consciousness I am.

And there is more. I can find the same timelessness independent of the content of experience. I can find my nature as love.

LILA

Lila means the play of the divine. All of existence is the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

And we can find that too here and now.

All our experience is the play of the consciousness we are.

It’s the consciousness we are expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

That includes our ideas of reincarnation.

And it includes any changing content of our experience – whether that changing content is waking life or night dreams, this human self changing over time, a disincarnate time between incarnations, new incarnations, and so on.

It’s all the play of the consciousness we are. It’s all lila.

It’s all the existence we are expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

MAKING USE OF IT

We can pretend to believe stories about reincarnation, and that may be comforting for a while and to some extent. But it’s also stressful, especially since we know we cannot know for certain.

So why not make practical use of our ideas about reincarnation?

Why not find what the stories point to here and now? Why not examine our stories about it? Why not meet the discomfort we wish to escape? Why not give to ourselves what we imagine we would get out of it? Why not use it to find what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience?

This grounds what’s otherwise speculation in something that’s already here and now.

We use speculation to find what’s already here and now.

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The world in me

There are – at least – two ways the world is in me.

And I can find both here and now in my own direct experience.

FINDING A PART OF ME THAT MIRRORS WHAT I SEE IN THE WORLD

If someone asks me if I feel or experience something, I almost always can find it and say “yes”. (And in the past, before I learned to not assume that everyone understands this, that has gotten me in trouble.)

Why is that?

It’s because I find that my psychology has innumerable parts. Whatever I see in the world, I can find in myself here and now.

There is always one part of me that has the characteristics I see out there. There is always one part that right now is experiencing what I see out there. It may not be very strong but it’s there, and it’s there at the very least as a potential.

I discovered this first in my teens, and since then daily and over and over.

And it also makes sense. If I imagine a characteristic or experience in someone else, it’s because I can connect with it in myself here and now. I am already connecting with it as soon as I imagine it in others.

Sometimes, what I see out in the world may be somewhat unfamiliar to me. I am not used to finding it in myself, and then the exploration may have to be a bit more thorough and detailed. Sometimes supported by a form of structured inquiry like The Work of Byron Katie or the Kiloby Inquiries.

So the world mirrors me. I can find what I can see in the world in me here and now.

THE WORLD IN ME

There is also another way I can find the world in me. And that is to see that the world is literally in me.

In one sense, I am a human being in the world. That’s not wrong. And when I look more closely, I find I more fundamentally – in my own first-person experience – am something else. I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

I can also find this by examining my sense fields. I notice what’s in each sense field. (E.g. sound, smell, taste, sensation, thought.) I notice that any experience happens within one or more sense fields. (And that the sense fields are all one, the distinction between them happens only in my mental field.) I find that the world, to me, happens within and as the sense fields. I find that the world, to me, happens within and as what I am.

Said another way, and a little more from the logic side, to myself I am consciousness. If I think “I have consciousness” it means that to myself, I am consciousness. And that also means that the world, to me, happens within and as consciousness. It happens within and as what I am. It happens within and as the oneness I am.

When someone says “I am not in the world, the world is in me” or talks about “oneness”, then that’s something I don’t need to take anyone’s word for. I can find it here and now in my own direct noticing.

THE EFFECTS OF NOTICING THIS

This is about noticing what’s already here. Nothing needs to be fabricated. We don’t need to tell ourselves any stories about it, or rely on or trust those stories. We can find it here and now.

Our imagination may tell us we are separate. We may have images of ourselves as separate, and those images are inherited from our parents, teachers, and ultimately the culture we live within. We are told we are separate, and that we most fundamentally are this human self, so in our innocence and from our kind heart, we take it on. We do as others do. We learn to pretend that’s how it is.

And that has consequences. We naturally feel somewhat isolated, alone, separate from others, perhaps separate from our body and nature, we learn to be defensive, and so on.

Noticing that the world is in me, in the two ways mentioned above, and noticing it here and now, also has consequences.

Using the world as a mirror helps me get in touch with more of the natural richness I am. It opens up for recognizing in myself what I see in others in more situations, and that opens for a natural empathy.

Finding the world in me helps me see I am not most fundamentally this human self. It helps me relate to any content of experience a little more consciously. It helps me live a little more from this noticing and from the oneness I am.

Mostly, this noticing is a kind of seed and who knows what comes out of it. There are no formulas here. It’s an adventure. It’s something parts of us already and naturally are curious about and even fascinated by.

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Noticing our nature while holding onto images for safety

At some point in the awakening process, we may find ourselves in a kind of in-between state.

We notice our nature directly, at least when we pay attention to it.

And we also still hold onto some ideas about what we are and identify as these.

THE BACKGROUND

To ourselves, we are consciousness and the world to us happens within and as that consciousness.

We are oneness and the world, to us, happens within and as that oneness.

This oneness learns that it is this human self happening within itself. It’s this human self that it can only see in the mirror or in photos and videos, can only see partially directly, that others and our passport say we are, and that it senses and lives in the world through. This is how most onenesses operate.

At some point, this oneness may become curious about its nature. It may intuit itself as oneness and consciousness. It may have glimpses of itself as that. It may learn how to notice its nature, and to do so more often through daily life.

NOTICING AND HOLDING ONTO IMAGES OF ITS NATURE

At this point, it will often both notice directly its nature, at least when bringing attention there. And it will create and hold onto some mental representations of its nature.

These may be mental representations of oneness, void, capacity, love, consciousness, and so on. And perhaps even Big Mind, Brahman, Spirit, and more.

IT’S NATURAL

This is a natural part of the process. It’s innocent. There is nothing inherently wrong with it.

The oneness we are is used to holding onto mental representations of who or what it is. It’s what it has learned from others. It’s how it finds a sense of safety, although it also brings friction with reality.

Also, when it discovers its nature, it can feel like a treasure and vitally important, so it tries to remember and hold onto it by creating and holding onto mental representations of it and even identifying as these mental representations.

This too comes with inherent discomfort. It’s something we feel we need to remember, rehearse, and even defend. And that’s a motivation to explore further and find a bit more clarity.

SOME WAYS TO EXPLORE THIS

What are some ways to explore this?

We may need some structured guidance, and here are a few I find useful:

Headless experiments help me notice my nature as capacity and what the world, to me, happens within and as. Here, it’s easier to notice the contrast between a direct noticing and my mental representations of what’s noticed.

Kiloby Inquiries helps me explore any identifications still in my system, including of capacity, oneness, love, and all the other identifications we may create for ourselves.

And the same goes for The Work of Byron Katie. This too helps me identify and explore any ideas I have of what I am.

A SPECIAL CASE OF AN UNIVERSAL DYNAMIC

As suggested above, this is a special case of something much more universal.

The oneness we are notices its nature. It recognizes itself as all it knows. To the oneness we are, the world happens within and as itself.

And it will still, very likely, hold onto a variety of mental representations of who and what it is. It will, at least to some extent, identify as these.

As mentioned, this happens out of old habits and because it feels safe. It’s a natural part of the process. And it comes with discomfort which is an invitation to explore what’s going on and find a bit more clarity around it.

What are some of these mental representations? They typically include a wide range of relatively universal ones. For instance: Gender. Nationality. Political orientations. A sense of lack and not being good enough. A sense of separation. All sorts of shoulds about ourselves, others, and life. And so on.

These are not necessarily wiped out by our nature recognizing itself. Usually, they remain in our system.

And that’s part of the process and adventure.

They are inherently uncomfortable, so we are invited to explore what’s going on, find a bit more clarity around it, and shift how we relate to it.

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From seeing to visceral

For some years, inquiry was the center of my focus and something I did daily, whether it was The Work of Byron Katie, the Kiloby (Living) Inquiries, the Big Mind process, or just old-fashioned Buddhist sense field exploration inquiry. (This was mostly from around 2000 to 2018.)

I’ll still do more formal inquiry when I am drawn to it, but my focus these days is more on direct noticing and energy healing.

And I also notice a shift. For instance, when I did The Work on a topic in the past, it was sometimes a seeing of what was more true for me a certain topic, and my visceral experience hadn’t quite caught up. These days, I more often notice the visceral experience.

I imagine it may be more of my system catching up to the seeing, and it happens and deepens over time.

For instance, I saw the “I know everyone loves me, I just don’t expect them to realize it” quote from Byron Katie this morning, and I notice it resonates viscerally with me. Not with all of me since there are still psychological parts that don’t realize it, but more of me get it viscerally. The overall experience is of getting it more viscerally. When I first saw that quote many years ago, I remember seeing the truth of it but not getting it so viscerally.

And, of course, there is always further to go. There is a lot I haven’t examined yet, and there are many parts of me that have not caught up with the seeing.

I am my own final authority

I find that I am my own final authority, and it’s always that way whether I notice it or not.

CHOICES AND ACTIONS

In terms of my actions and choices, I am my own final authority.

I may tell myself I am doing something because of circumstances, or someone told me, or I was forced to, and so on. And, in reality, I am the one making the decisions. Nobody makes them for me.

Even if I think I did it because others told me to, or because of circumstances, or because I was forced, I was still the one making the decision.

NOTICING MY NATURE

Similarly, when it comes to what I more fundamentally am, I am my own final authority.

Others can tell me. I can read things in books. I can make up any number of worldviews and maps telling me different things.

And I am my own final authority. My own noticing is my own final authority.

What do I find if I set aside what I have been told, and what I am telling myself?

What am I more fundamentally?

What am I in my own direct noticing? What am I when I look in my first-person experience?

A LIBERATING REMINDER

I find it’s liberating to notice I am my own final authority.

I don’t need to get too caught up in blaming circumstances, others, life, and so on for my own choices and actions. I did it. I chose it.

And I don’t need to get too caught up in what others tell me my more fundamental nature is supposed to be. I can look for myself.

GUIDES FOR FINDING IT FOR OURSELVES

How do I discover and clarify this for myself?

For me, different forms of inquiry have been very helpful.

The Work of Byron Katie really brings it home to me that I am my own final authority in my choices and actions.

And the Big Mind process and Headless experiments, along with the Kiloby/Living inquiries and The Work, help me notice and explore living from my more fundamental nature.

Set aside looking for God and explore your own experience instead

There are many paths to God, and the two main ones may be devotion (prayer, surrender) and inquiry (investigation). Each one may be important at different times in our process. Both are equally valid and important. Each one offers something unique. And each one can be medicine for the other.

The statement above reflects the inquiry approach, and how the inquiry approach can be medicine for some of the potential pitfalls of an exclusively devotional approach.

WHAT WE MAY MISS ON A DEVOTIONAL APPROACH

If we are exclusively on a devotional path, we may look for God as something far away and out there, unfamiliar and extraordinary. We may get caught up in ideas about God, reality, and ourselves, and perceive and live as if they are true. And we may miss out on recognizing how our mind creates its own experiences.

INQUIRY AS MEDICINE

One medicine for this is inquiry. Through inquiry into our own experience, we may clear up a few misconceptions. We may explore what we more fundamentally are in our own direct experience, and find something we can call Spirit and qualities we associate with the divine.

WHAT WE MAY FIND THROUGH INQUIRY

We may find ourselves as what the world, to us, happens within and as. We may find ourselves as oneness and the oneness the world, to us, happens within and as. We may find ourselves as without any inherent characteristics allowing for the experience of any and all characteristics and experiences. And so on.

We may realize that our nature is already what we can call Spirit, and it has always been what’s the most close and familiar to us, and for that reason also the most ordinary. We may find that all we have ever known is our own nature since the world to us happens within and as what we are.

TWO WINGS OF A BIRD

Clearing up this, we may still enjoy a devotional approach. The two are not exclusive.

As they say in Buddhism, devotion and inquiry are like two wings of a bird.

THE REVERSE – AND GENERAL ORIENTATIONS

We can also find this in the reverse. An exclusive inquiry approach can be one-sided and a devotional approach can be the cure.

And there are some general orientations that guide and support both devotion and inquiry: Receptivity, curiosity, sincerity, diligence, authenticity, and so on.

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Byron Katie: If the voice in your head is you, who is the one listening to it?

If the voice in your head is you, who is the one listening to it?

— Byron Katie

This is a very good question, and it can be difficult to explore without some guidance.

Most people would answer “me” without examining very closely what that actually means.

If we explore it, we may find that we refer to an image of ourselves, and often a set of different images, and often images connected with certain words and sentences and that these images and words are associated with sensations in the body.

What the question points to is what all of this is already happening within and as. It refers to what the world to us – any content of experience – happens within and as. To ourselves, that’s what we more fundamentally are. That’s our nature.

And to find that, we typically need more guided pointers and explorations.

Byron Katie, of course, gives people these pointers in the form of The Work.

We can also do other forms of guided and structured inquiry like the Kiloby (Living) Inquiries, based on traditional Buddhist inquiry.

We can use Headless experiments or the Big Mind process.

We can explore Basic Meditation regularly over time, and find that any content of experience – including the images, words, and sensations we may take ourselves to be – come and go. And we may eventually find ourselves as what it all happens within and as.

And so on.

And here, when it’s noticed, there is an invitation to keep noticing and explore how it is to live from this noticing. And also keep exploring any hints of our mind continuing taking itself as images, words, and sensations in new and more “spiritual” or “awake” ways. (As “emptiness”, “consciousness”, “love”, “oneness” and so on.)

I don’t know the context for Byron Katie’s words, but they were probably said to someone ready to hear them and make use of them. Someone ripe for noticing.

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Perception of the physical when we notice our nature

How does our perception of the physical change when we notice our nature?

Here is what I find for myself.

CONVENTIONAL SENSE

As a human being in the world, I use and relate to objects as anyone else. I move around. Try to avoid walking into things. Make use of objects. Enjoy experiencing certain things with this body. And so on. All the ordinary and usual things humans do.

CONSCIOUSNESS

And in terms of what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience, this looks a bit different.

To myself, I am consciousness. And the world to me – any experience at all – happens within and as consciousness.

That includes this physical body and anything physical. It happens within and as consciousness, and within and as what I am. It’s as if I can put my arm through it.

A night dream is created by consciousness, and it is made up of consciousness. And so also with this body and the physical world. My experience of it is created by consciousness. And it’s made up of consciousness.

To me, my nature is the nature of my body and any physical object.

If we are so inclined, we can say that all inherently is consciousness AKA God, Spirit, the divine, Brahman, and so on. And if I take a slightly more grounded and sober approach, I’ll say that to me, I am consciousness, and to me, the world happens within and as consciousness. It happens within and as what I am.

IN DAILY LIFE

In daily life, I operate in the physical world as anyone else.

And I also notice the dreamlike quality of the physical world. It’s created by consciousness. It’s content of consciousness. It’s made up of consciousness. This helps me hold it all a bit more lightly.

SHIFTS HIGHLIGHTING THE CONSCIOUSNESS NATURE OF ALL

When I was fifteen, there was a shift where it felt like the world – including this human self – was very far away and seemed like a dream. In hindsight, I see this as a shift into a simple observer-observed duality and a perception of all as consciousness. (It was terrifying and confusing to me at the time. A year later, this shifted into oneness and the perceptions I write about in many of these articles.) This shift gave me an early visceral sense of the physical as consciousness.

Later, I have continued to notice and explore this, including through inquiry and sense-field explorations.

When I explore how my mind creates its experience of my physical body, I find that it’s a combination of mental representations and sensations. In general, certain mental representations (mental images and words) are associated with certain physical sensations, and the mental representations give meaning to the sensations while the sensations give a sense of solidity, substance, and reality to the thoughts. That’s how a sense of a solid physical body is created. And when this is explored in some detail, we see through the illusion and the sense of solidity softens. (Living / Kiloby Inquiries is a good way to explore this.)

Note: I have written similar articles on distance, movement, time, doership, and this human self.

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Noticing our nature vs our nature noticing itself

Sometimes I write “noticing our nature” and sometimes, “our nature notices itself”.

The difference may seem small but it’s crucial and significant.

So what’s the difference?

NOTICING OUR NATURE

When I write about “noticing my nature” I am intentionally using a language closer to conventional ways of talking about it. It’s a language that assumes a separate self noticing something.

The upside of this is that the language is more familiar to most people. And the downside is that it’s not all that accurate.

OUR NATURE NOTICES ITSELF

When I write “our nature notices itself”, it may sound less familiar and it’s also more accurate.

This is what’s happening. Our nature notices itself. Our nature notices itself as all there is. It notices the world as itself. Our nature notices the world as happening within and as what it is. Our nature notices this human self happening within and as itself, like anything else.

We can also say that love notices itself as all there is. Truth notices itself. Oneness notices itself as all there is.

CAN SEEM LIKE ONE, THEN THE OTHER

Initially, it may seem to us as if we notice our nature. There is still an idea here of a separate self noticing its nature. In reality, it’s our nature noticing itself and assuming there is a separate self here doing the noticing.

After a while, and especially if we keep exploring, there may be a shift. Here, it’s clear that it’s our nature noticing itself. Our nature is noticing itself as all there is, even if there is still (what a thought may call) a human self here in our sense fields. Any idea of a separate self is recognized as an idea, as something happening as a mental representation.

If there is still a sense of a separate self doing the noticing, how can we explore it?

We can notice that our nature is capacity for it as it is capacity for anything else. Our more fundamental nature is capacity. It’s what allows any experience, including of this human self and any sense of someone doing or observing.

We can notice that any content of experience happens within and as what we are, including this human self and any sense of someone who is a doer or observer. Our more fundamental nature is what it’s all happening within and as.

We can also explore how the sense of someone doing the noticing is created in our sense fields. We can notice how certain sensations and mental representations combine to create ths experience. We can rest in noticing the physical sensations making up the experience. We can then rest in noticing the mental representations. And this, in itself, tends to soften the mental “glue” holding the two together. It allows us to see through the illusion, even as it may still partially be here.

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The body as capacity, space, and consciousness

I just had a conversation with someone who is taking a Vortex Healing class and said she experienced only space in her chest area.

It made me realize that the way I experience my physical body may not be how it is for everyone. At some level, I know that. And at another level, it’s not something I am aware of or think about.

HOW I EXPERIENCE MY PHYSICAL BODY

So how do I experience my physical body?

For me, it’s mainly capacity. Everything is capacity and this capacity forms itself into the content of experience, the world as it appears to me, and this includes how this body appears in my sense fields – the shapes and colors, the sensations, the movement, and so on.

I can also say that this body is space. It’s space and this space sometimes takes the form of sensations. The sensations happen within and as awake space.

And I can say this body is consciousness. It’s happening within and as consciousness, just like the rest of the world appears to me.

HOW CAN WE EXPLORE THIS FOR OURSELVES?

This experience of my body and anything physical came with the initial awakening shift when I was fifteen and sixteen.

And I keep exploring it.

I explore what I most fundamentally am in my own experience, and find what I can call capacity for the world as it appears to me, and what the world to me happens within and as. (Headless experiments.)

I do inquiry on my experience of this body and any sense of being this body. I notice the sensations. Visual impressions. I notice the mental representations associated with these. I notice the sensations are sensations. I notice the mental representations are mental representations. And what’s left is this capacity and awake space taking all these forms. (Traditional Buddhist inquiry and modern versions like the Living Inquiries / Kiloby Inquiries.)

Through this, I also notice how any sense of solidity is created. It’s created in the same way as much else, through associating physical sensations with certain mental representations. The sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. And, in this case, this meaning is physical solidity. Here too, when this is seen and explored and we get familiar with this terrain, the “glue” that holds the sensations and thoughts together softens. We see through how the mind creates its own experience of the world. And what’s left is capacity and awake space taking all of these forms.

Finca Milagros - view

Befriend & Awaken: The essence of many healing and awakening traditions

The befriend and awaken process is what I use the most these days as a practice.

It’s simple, direct, and effective. It includes essential elements from traditional psychological and spiritual approaches.

And it goes straight to the heart of emotional healing, awakening, and embodiment.

It allows for healing and relaxation of parts of me caught up in painful separation consciousness. It allows more part of me to align with a conscious noticing of my nature. And it makes it easier for me to live from this noticing in more areas of my life and situations in my life.

Here is a very brief outline.

NOTICE THE CONTRACTION

I notice a contraction.

I recognize it through one or more of the telltale signs: reactivity, defensiveness, one-sided views, feeling like a victim, being paralyzed, and so on.

I notice the contraction in the body. I notice the sensations. Feel the sensations. Recognize them as physical bodily sensations.

I rest with this noticing.

A PART OF ME

I recognize the contraction as a part of me.

It’s a part caught up in painful separation consciousness. It’s caught up in and operates from painful beliefs, identifications. It’s wounded.

Although it may seem big and overwhelming when I am caught up in it or a struggle with it, it’s not even close to all of who and what I am.

THANK YOU FOR PROTECTING ME

I thank the contraction for protecting me.

Thank you for protecting me.

Thank you for your love for me.

I repeat this and rest in this noticing.

WHAT DO YOU NEED?

I explore what the essential need of this part of me may be.

Is it being seen and understood? Love? Safety? Support?

I give it these in turn and notice which ones allow it to relax and rest, and I rest with the ones that resonate.

WHAT’S THE PAINFUL STORY YOU OPERATE FROM?

What’s the painful story this part of me is operating from?

What’s the essence of it?

What are some of the underlying and more essential stories?

Is it true? What’s more true?

What happens when you believe it’s true? Is there validity in the reversals? Can I find specific examples of how they are as or more true?

WHAT’S YOUR NATURE?

I notice the contraction as a flavor of the divine.

And in more detail:

I recognize my nature as capacity for the world as it appears to me.

I am capacity for this contraction. It happens within and as what I am.

I notice that my nature is the same as its nature, and rest in and as that noticing.

IN PRACTICE

In daily life, I may not go through all of these steps in one go.

If I have time, I typically notice the contraction, thank it, notice what it needs and give that to it, get a sense of the painful story, and rest in noticing the nature of the contraction. Later, I may investigate the painful story more thoroughly, although I have done a lot of inquiry so it tends to happen more automatically.

And if I don’t have so much time, or am in the middle of an activity, I may just notice the physical sensations and thank it for protecting me. And then explore it more thoroughly later (or not).

The sequence is not set in stone, and the particular steps are not set in stone. I use whatever works.

ADVANCED PRACTICE?

Is this an advanced practice? Yes and no.

Anyone can benefit from exploring several of these steps.

And for me, I notice they rest on a lot of practice that I have done in the past.

Noticing the contractions come mostly from Living Inquiries / Kiloby inquiry.

Noticing it as a part comes from parts work.

Thanking it for protecting me comes from parts work and dialogue explorations, and it has elements of ho’oponopono.

Giving it what it needs comes from… I am not sure. It seems a part of a lot of other explorations, including Non-Violent Communication.

Identifying and exploring the painful story comes from The Work of Byron KAtie.

Recognizing its nature and resting in this noticing comes from any exploration of my own nature, including the Big Mind process and Headless experiments, along with basic meditation.

For me, this, simple befriend & awaken process rests on decades of other explorations. So I am honestly not sure how suited it is for people who are not so familiar with these other approaches. I would tend to recommend these more basic ones first, and then this one as people get more familiar with the terrain.

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We are fictional characters

In fictional stories, we are aware that these are fictional characters, even if they sometimes feel real and may capture many human dynamics accurately and with insight. 

To us, other people are – in a sense – fictional. We make up stories about them, and we relate to these fictional stories about them. 

And to us, we ourselves are – in a similar sense – fictional. We make up stories about ourselves and relate to these stories about ourselves. We create stories about our past, our possible future, our identities, our likes and dislikes, and so on. 

These stories about ourselves and others are more or less accurate in a conventional sense. And they are ultimately fictional. They are created by our mind. They are mental representations. 

If we don’t notice this, we may perceive and act as if these stories are true, and possibly even the full, final, and absolute truth. And since that’s not accurate, it tends to create struggle and drama. 

And to the degree we notice this fictional aspect of how we see ourselves and others, we can relate to it all more intentionally. We can notice our mental representations. Notice they are just that, with the inherent limitations in these images and words. And know that reality about others and ourselves is different from and more than any of these representations. 

This is something we all, at some level, know. We know we make up these stories. We know they sometimes are not accurate in a conventional sense, even if we may have held them as accurate before we got more information. We know the downfall in holding them as true because we likely have experienced it. 

What we may not know is how to explore this more thoroughly, and that’s where different forms of inquiry come in. 

Note: The title of this article can be misunderstood. I don’t mean that we – and others – don’t exist. I just mean that the images and stories we have about ourselves and others are fictional. They are made up. They are more or less accurate in a conventional sense, different in kind from what they supposedly point to, and ultimately guesses.

Note 2: I saw an article with a similar title to this one, and wrote this based on what came up for me from the title. Because of my brain fog, it’s difficult for me to read these types of articles these days, but I can use titles and short quotes as starting points for my own exploration.

Two of us – perceiving ourselves as observer and observed

You can talk about ‘myself’ as if there’s two of you: one that is doing or has done something, and the other one who’s watched it and is talking about it. Strange, isn’t it?

– Adyashanti, Silent Retreat Vol. 80, Q&A Sessions, Day 4

In daily life, we tend to take this for granted. We talk about ourselves as something we observe. And we talk about ourselves as someone who observes. And we may not give it a second thought.

It seems a given, and most of us may not even point this out or question it. And if we do, it may just seem like an interesting curiosity.

TAKING A CLOSER LOOK

When we take a closer look, we may find something else.

And it helps to do this exploration with guidance from more structured inquiry, for instance, sense field explorations (traditional Buddist inquiry, Living Inquiries), the Big Mind process, and even The Work of Byron Katie. We can explore it through the Headless experiments. We can explore it through basic meditation, through noticing and allowing any content of experience, and noticing it’s already noticed and allowed before the mind comes in and does something about it. And many other approaches.

Each of these gives us a slightly different view of what’s happening.

What do we find through these forms of explorations?

We may find that any sense of observer and observed happens within the content of our experience. They come and go. Our nature is capacity for both. And they happen within and as what we are.

And when we take another look, we may find that both are mental representations. We have an image of ourselves as observed, as an object in the world. And we have an image of ourselves as observer, as an I. The mind associates each one with a lot of other mental representations, and it also tends to associate each one with certain sensations in the body. These sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to the mental representations, and the mental representations lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. And it’s all happening within and as what we are, which a thought may (unsuccessfully) label consciousness.

THE CREATIVITY OF THE MIND

This shows the creativity of the mind.

To ourselves, we are capacity for all our experiences. And we are oneness. We are the oneness our experiences of anything – this human self, the wider world, anything else – happen within and as.

And that goes for any sense of observer and observed as well.

Our nature temporarily forms itself into a sense of observer and observed.

WHY DOES ADYA POINT THIS OUT?

Why does Adya point our this apparent oddity?

Because it shows that we often take something for granted – in this case perceiving ourselves as both observer and observed – and on investigation, it may reveal itself as something we didn’t expect.

If we look more closely, we may discover something about our nature. We may discover what we are, in our own first-person experience.

THE MAGIC HAPPENS IN THE EXPLORATION

We can read about this and understand it, to some extent, within the realm of stories. That may be a good initial step, but it doesn’t lead to any real transformation.

The real transformation comes when we engage in an exploration of our own immediate experience and see what we find for ourselves, and when we keep noticing and exploring this.

Image: John William Waterhouse’s Echo and Narcissus 1903

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Investing energy into certain images short term

I usually write about my own more intentional explorations here, and not so much about what’s happening spontaneously. So I thought I would make an exception.

THE PAST AND FUTURE AS IMAGES

For a few weeks now, if I talk about the past or future, it’s even more clear that I am talking about mental images and stories. I am reporting on my own mental images and words, and not anything else.

Sometimes, a slight sensation accompanies these stories, and they are recognized as sensations, although I also know what emotion label I can put on them and that these sometimes reflect unresolved issues in me.

INVESTING ENERGY INTO TEMPORARY STORIES

I don’t know if it’s directly related, but over the last few weeks, I notice something else very clearly.

When I need to do something, I intentionally invest energy into that story so I can remember it, and when it’s no longer needed, it lingers for a few minutes. It creates an odd experience of parallel worlds for a little while.

For instance, we have a cat that’s been an indoor city cat for most of her life. Now that we are in the countryside, she is more outside but often under a bit of supervision. If she is gone, I create a mental image of her somewhere outside and me finding her, and my mind invests some energy into this image since it’s relatively important to me.

After she returns or I find her, I see her in front of me, and I also see my mental images of her roaming somewhere. She is here. And my images of her not being here is here. As I mentioned, the images fade after a few minutes, but for a little while, there is a clear and odd experience of parallel worlds.

This happens any time I create mental images of needing to do something or go somewhere, and that’s no longer necessary. The images retain some energy for a few minutes and then it fades, and there is that experience of parallel worlds.

FAMILIAR AND NEW

None of this is really new to me. It’s very familiar. It’s something I have explored and noticed for a long time.

And yet, something is different. I am more acutely aware of it, and it happens without any intention.

This may mean it’s more in my bones and more of a habit. And it likely also reflects another shift in me I am not completely aware of.

INTENTIONAL EXPLORATION VS SPONTANEOUS SHIFTS

I mentioned these two in the introduction and wanted to say a little bit more about their dynamic.

In a conventional sense, these two go hand in hand. Intentional explorations may lead to apparently spontaneous shifts, and spontaneous shifts may lead to further and intentional explorations.

And in a more real sense, this is all happening within and as what we are. We are capacity for both, and intentional explorations and spontaneous shifts happen within and as what we are. They are part of the creativity of the mind.

In a bigger sense, this is life taking these forms. Life engages in intentional explorations and produces spontaneous shifts.

And we can also say it’s all part of the play of the divine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labeling emotions

How do we relate to our emotions?

And do we need to differentiate a wide range of emotions to have a healthy relationship to them?

I sometimes ask myself that question when I see people who seem a bit obsessive in differentiating and mapping out a huge number of different emotions.

LABELING EMOTIONS

It can obviously be helpful to name emotions or emotional states.

It helps communication with ourselves and others.

Labeling the emotions for myself helps me see them as an object within my experience, and that helps me disidentify from them a bit.

And when I communicate it to others, it helps them understand a bit more what’s going on with me.

HOW MUCH DIFFERENTIATION IS NEEDED?

For myself, I find just a few general labels necessary.

For instance… I feel sadness. Anger. Joy. Elation. Hopelessness. Grief. Frustration.

In order to label an emotional state, I really just need the word “emotion” or “state”. That’s enough to recognize it more easily as an object happening within and as what I am. It’s a guest. Something passing through.

And if I want to differentiate a bit further, just a few categories are necessary.

THE STORIES THAT CREATE EMOTIONS

What’s more important for me is to identify the stressful stories that create certain emotions and emotional states when something in me holds them as true. This is where I personally find differentiating and precision helpful.

Pinpointing these stories helps me recognize why I feel a certain way. And it helps me explore them further. It helps me inquiry into them and find what’s more true for me, and it helps me see how my mind creates its own experience by associating certain sensations and stories.

MORE IMMEDIATELY: BEFRIENDING EMOTIONS

For me, the most helpful way of relating to emotions doesn’t require any labeling at all.

And that is to befriend them. Get to know them. Spend time with them. Be with them as I would a frightened animal or child. Listen to what they have to say. Ask them how they would like me to relate to them. Find the stories behind them. And perhaps even notice their nature (which is the same as my nature, and the nature of the world as it appears to me.)

THE ROLE OF LABELING EMOTIONS

For me, labeling emotions in a simple way is helpful, as outlined above.

What’s more important is to befriend and get to know them, whatever label they have. And identify and explore possible stressful stories creating them.

And I am completely open for discovering that labeling emotions themselves in a more precise and differentiated way can be helpful. It’s just that I haven’t seen it yet, in my 35 years of exploring these things.

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The same principles used in magic tricks apply to how we unawake ourselves

How do we unawake ourselves?

The main principles are very similar to the principles of magic tricks.

Of the ones Penn & Teller demonstrate here, several are specific to sleight of hand, and a couple is more universal.

MISDIRECTION

Misdirection means to direct attention away from where the real action is happening.

The magician may direct attention to another part of their body or stage, or use verbal misdirection (say something that’s not true), or some other form of misdiretion.

How does this apply to how we unawake ourselves?

Mainly, it happens through directing attention to the content of stories and away from noticing what we are. When attention is absorbed into stories, it’s difficult to (also) notice what we are. It’s difficult to notice our nature as capacity for our world, and ourselves as what any content of experience – including the stories – happen within and as.

Another misdirection is when attention goes to the content of stories and away from how our mind creates its own experience. Attention get caught up in the stories and we don’t notice how our mind associates particular sensations with certain stories, and how sensations allows the stories to seem more substantial and true, and how the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations.

For many of us, these two forms of misdirection are so ingrained that we may never notice what our attention is drawn away from. In order to notice what we are and how our mind creates its own reality, we may need structured inquiry or some other form of disciplined practice.

SIMULATION

Simulation means to make something appear a certain way, and often in a way we are familiar with, when something else is actually happening.

For instance, we see a head and feet sticking out of two ends of a long box, and assume the head and feet belong to the same person. In reality, they may belong to two different people, or the feet may be fake. The magician simulates a single whole person.

Similarly, our mind simulates a great deal. It takes a diverse range of sensory information and creates it into a simulation of a world. It adds thoughts to this to tie it together further and create another dimension to our experience.

Our mind simulates the world as it appears to us, and we tend to take it at face value. This is part of how we unawake ourselves. Sensory information happens in our sensory fields, and together with thought, our mind creates it into a mostly unified and coherent experience of a world.

If we examine each sensory field and how the mind combines them, the illusion is somewhat seen through. We may see that we cannot take any of it at face value. The world, as it appears to us, is constructed. And the world, as it appears to us, happens within our sense fields.

From here, we may also notice that our world and any content of experience happens within and as what we are.

LIFE’S MAGIC TRICK

Life sometimes takes itself – locally and temporarily – as ultimately something within content of experience, as a separate being. In order to do so, it has to play a magic trick on itself. And it does so through some of the same principles as conventional magic tricks, including misdirection and simulation.

The most impressive magic trick of them all may be that we often don’t even notice that these magic tricks occur.

Life tricks itself without even noticing, until it does.

SEEING THROUGH THE TRICKS ADDS ANOTHER DIMENSION TO THE EXPERIENCE

For me, it adds to the experience to know how a magic trick is done.

I get the enjoyment of experiencing it without knowing. I get the enjoyment of figuring out or learning how it’s done. And I get to enjoy the skill of the performance.

It’s similar with life’s magic trick. We may first enjoy the illusion. Then the process of discovering how the trick is done. And we get to recognize how it’s done while it’s happening. We may also be in awe of both the simplicity and complexity of the illusion, and that it’s happening in the first place.

EXPLORING LIFE’S TRICK

How do we explore life’s magic trick?

How do we investigate and learn about how our mind unawakes itself?

I mention this in most articles here, and will briefly list some of the approaches I find most effective and helpful:

The Work of Byron Katie to investage thoughts we hold as true.

Living Inquiries to explore how our mind combines sense fields (including thought) to create its experience of us and the world.

Headless experiments to find our nature and what the world is to us. (To find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and that this world happens within and as what we are.)

The Big Mind process to do the same, and explore the interplay of the innumerable parts of us.

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The play of life (lila) & finding ourselves as capacity for our world

If we more thoroughly explore lila, we are invited to find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. And finding ourselves as capacity makes it easier to notice all as lila.

Our maps and descriptions of the world reflect something in ourselves. They say something about who we are, as a human being in the world, and they may say something about what we are. And so also lila – the play of life or the divine.

THE CREATIVITY OF THE MIND

Our mind is almost infinitely creative. It takes sensory input from a range of senses and creates the impression of a world. It uses mental images and words to create stories of all kinds, from labels to stories about ourselves and the rest of the world. It can hold these stories as true or not.

It can pretend, for a while and to some extent, that its imaginations about this human self and the wider world are true. It can perceive and live as if these stories are true.

It can recognize itself as capacity for all the content of experience. As what our content of experience – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as.

Everything we know and experience is the mind expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

This is the lila of our mind, of what we are to ourselves.

THE CREATIVITY OF THE WORLD

We know the lila of the mind since that’s what we are. And we can imagine that the actual wider world is the same.

We can see the evolution of the universe metaphorically as an expression of the creativity of the universe, the play of the universe. Everything that’s ever existed, everything we know, and everything we are individually and collectively, is an expression of the play of the universe.

We can also frame this differently. If we like, we can say that everything – all of existence including all we are and experience – is the play of the divine. It’s the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

MAKING USE OF THE IDEA OF LILA

Whether we see lila as the play of the mind, or the play of the universe or existence, or the play of the divine, it reflects something here and now.

How can we explore this for ourselves?

There are many ways, and I’ll mention just a few.

We can use the story of lila to frame our experiences – and existence in general – as the mind and existence expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. This can help us hold it all more lightly and approach it with more curiosity, receptivity, and even playfulness.

We can also explore the particular creativity of thought and how it colors our perception, choices, and life.

For instance, we can explore what happens when a belief is believed, and what happens when we recognize a thought as a thought. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

And we can explore how the mind associates inputs from different sense fields and creates an experience for itself. For instance, it can associate certain thoughts with certain physical sensations so the sensations give a sense of solidity and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts give apparent meaning to the sensations.

LILA & FINDING OURSELVES AS CAPACITY

There is a mutuality between exploring lila and finding ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us.

If we explore lila, we’ll recognize that all content of experience is part of the play. In this, there is an invitation to find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us.

And finding ourselves as capacity makes it easier to notice all as lila.

In a bit more detail:

If all content of experience is part of the play of mind and existence, including any sense experiences and ideas we have about this human self, we may see that this human self cannot be what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. So what are we, more fundamentally, and in our own experience?

We may find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what our experiences happen within and as. (Perhaps aided by structured inquiries like Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.)

This, in turn, allows us to more clearly see all content of experience – including this human self and any thoughts and mental images – as the play of the mind and existence.

LESS DEPENDENT ON ANY PARTICULAR WORLDVIEW

Seeing lila this way makes it less dependent on any particular worldview.

If we are more psychologically inclined, we recognize it as the play and creativity of the mind, and something we know here and imagine onto the rest of existence.

If we take a more cosmological view, we may see it as the metaphorical play and creativity of the universe.

If we have a more spiritual view, we may see it as the play of the divine, and the divine exploring and experiencing itself as all there is and in always new ways.

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The spiritual path & comparing ourselves with others

Comparing ourselves with others seems relatively universal although I am sure it plays out differently in different cultures. It’s also part of what fuels our current consumer culture, and advertisers know how to make use of it.

TWO WAYS TO COMPARE

There are two ways to compare ourselves with others.

One is for pragmatic reasons. It can give us useful information.

The other, which is often overlaid on the first one, is to make ourselves feel better or worse than others. This is not so useful. It can feel good to compare ourselves with someone and make up a story that we are somehow better than the other. But it’s a temporary victory since it means we inevitably are worse than someone else in the world, on the same scale, and we’ll inevitably be reminded of it. And it’s hollow since we know – somewhere in us – that it’s just a mind game.

In terms of spirituality, we can tell ourselves we are more advanced, sophisticated, or mature than someone else and it may feel good for a while. At the same time, we know we are less advanced, sophisticated, and mature compared with some other people. And we know, whether we acknowledge it or not, that it’s a mind game.

We cannot know for certain where people are in their process. We know we are comparing to make ourselves feel a bit better about ourselves. And we know it’s a losing game in the long run.

OUTSIDE VS INNER VIEW

When we compare ourselves with others, we often compare the public image of someone with our inside knowledge about ourselves.

We all have a public persona, which is more or less polished and inclusive. We present a certain image to the world and often leave out a lot of the confusion, pain, and unsavory attitudes and behavior. At the same time, we are often very aware of all the confusion, pain, and unsavoriness in our own life.

So it’s inherently an unfair comparison, and it tends to make us feel not so good about ourselves.

Often, it looks like the spiritual path and insights of others is clean, easy, and perhaps even joyful. And we know that our own spiritual path is windy, confused, didn’t go as planned, and so on.

HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL PATH

The pain of comparison is greatly enhanced or diminished depending on the culture (or subculture) we are in.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers like to present a glossy image of their own path, and of the spiritual path in general, it can lead to a more unfavorable impression of our own path.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers are open about the messiness of their own path, and the spiritual path in general, it can help us see that we are all in the same boat. My own messiness is less painful since I know it’s similar for others.

And if we are in a culture that encourages us to work with projections, then…

MAKING USE OF THE TENDENCY TO COMPARE

…we can make good use of the tendency to compare. We can use it as material for our own exploration, and to invite in healing and maturing, and even awakening and living from the awakening.

We can make a practice of finding in ourselves what we see in others. (And in others what we know from ourselves.)

We can identify and examine our painful comparing-thoughts and find what’s more true for us. (Often, that the story is not absolutely true, and that the reversals have validity as well.)

We can explore how the comparing appears in our sense fields. What are the sensation components? The mental image and word component? What happens when I differentiate the two and rest with each? What do I find when I follow the associations, for instance back in time to my earliest memory of having that feeling or thought?

Instead of indulging in thoughts and feelings relating to the messiness of our own path, we can take a pragmatic approach and make use of whatever comes up.

THESE DAYS

I am grateful that these days, in our culture, there is more transparency and openness about the messiness of the spiritual path. People seem to feel more free to share all aspects of their experience. And many work intentionally with projections and inquiry, which also helps.

A glossy image of the path may serve as an initial carrot. But in the longer run, it seems far more helpful to be open about everything that can – and often will – happen on a spiritual path, warts and all.

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Living from an idea of awakening

This is perhaps obvious, as so much here, but worth mentioning.

We can live from a direct noticing of our nature and what we are. (Capacity for our world, what everything to us happens within and as.)

We can live from our ideas about this.

And we can live from a mix of the two, and one more than the other at different times.

There is nothing wrong with this. It’s natural and innocent. And the images and ideas can be used as a springboard for a more direct noticing.

At the same time, it can be interesting and helpful to examine these mental images and ideas. As we do, they may lose their charge. We learn to recognize them. And we may learn to differentiate between our mental images and the actual direct noticing.

What are some of these mental images and ideas?

It may be awakening, oneness, love, capacity for the world, consciousness, awareness, and so on.

And how can we explore them?

There are many forms of inquiry we can use, either more spontaneous and organic, or more structured. Personally, I find Living Inquiries – a modern version of traditional Buddhist sense field inquiry – very helpful.

Differentiating noticing our nature, and noticing our ideas about our nature

When it comes to physical things, we all know the difference between a description of something and the thing itself. We know that a map is different from the terrain. Actually eating an apple is different from having it described. And so on.

And when what a map refers to is not physical, we may get a bit confused. We have a story about how a person is, and we confuse our story with reality and take our story as true. We have a story about the future and feel and perceive it as if it’s true.

We mistake our mental representations of something with what these refer to. We are not always so good at differentiating the two.

This is where structured inquiry can be very helpful. It can help us recognize our mental representations and how they look and what they tell us. And that helps us differentiate these and what they refer to.

MIXING UP DIRECT NOTICING AND NOTICING IMAGES

This also applies when we explore our more fundamental nature.

Since our nature is not a thing and not even an object within experience, it’s easy to mix up our mental representations and what we directly notice.

From my experience, it seems to often be a mix. I have some mental representations, notice these, and can use them to find what they refer to. And sometimes, if I don’t pay so much attention, I may – without noticing – mistake these mental representations for my nature.

For instance, I can find my nature as capacity for my experiences here and now, and I also notice an image (short movie clip) of the same. I similarly have images of oneness, stillness & silence, and so on.

EXPLORING THE IMAGES

This is where it’s helpful to take a closer look, sometimes guided by more structured forms of inquiry.

The simplest is to notice what mental representations I have, and how they look. What images do I have about my nature? About capacity? Oneness? Love? Stillness & silence? Consciousness? And so on. How do they look? Form? Color? Texture? Size? This, in itself, can make a big difference since it helps me recognize these images more easily.

I can also take a closer look. I can explore how these representations show up in my sense fields. Do my mental representations combine with certain sensations? (So the sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the representations, and the representations give a sense of meaning to the sensations). Is there fear connected to it? Identities? Hope? (The other side of the coin of fear.) Other associations? Memories? A sense of lack? (Living Inquiries.)

I can identify my stories connected with this, and examine these. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

And so on. These more in-depth explorations also help me more easily recognize these images and stories and differentiate them from more immediate and direct noticing of what they refer to.

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Ground of being as other vs what we are

We can see our ground of being as other, or find it as what we are. And that makes all the difference.

GROUND OF BEING

What is our ground of being?

What we more fundamentally are, in our own experience, is capacity for the world as it appears to us. We are what allows any and all experiences.

SEEN AS OTHER

If we don’t recognize that all our experiences happen within and as our sense fields, and within and as what we are, it’s very easy to see our ground of being as other. As something that belongs to the world out there. And as something we typically don’t even consciously notice or recognize as anything of importance.

It’s easier and feels more natural to focus on the content of our experience, not what allows it all. Our focus tends to be on objects, and this what allows our experience of objects.

There is nothing wrong here, but we are missing out of something that can be interesting, or turn our perception inside-out and up-side-down, or even be profoundly transforming for our human self in the world.

FINDING IT AS WHAT WE ARE

If we look more closely, we may find something else.

Conceptually, we may find that to ourselves, we have to be consciousness and anything we experience happens within and as that consciousness. And there is some ground, or emptiness or capacity, here that allows all of these experiences.

And when we explore this through direct noticing of what’s here, perhaps aided by some guidance, we may find the same.

We find that our sense fields – sight, sound, sensations, taste, smell, mental representations – contain our experience of everything, including this human self, the wider world, and anything else.

It’s all happening within our sense fields. It’s all happening within and as what we are.

There is a human self and a wider world, and yet none of it is really other. Any inside and outside happens within the same field of experience.

Here, we may also notice the ground of being which allows it all. And we may find that as our ground of being. This is what we are that allows any and all of our experiences.

It’s what allows and is and takes the form of anything we have ever known.

THE TRANSFORMATION THAT CAN HAPPEN

It may seem inconsequential. What if my nature, or ground of being, is this capacity allowing all my experiences? It’s literally nothing, so how can it matter?

It is what allows our experience. And noticing that it is our nature, and ground of being, can be profoundly transformative.

When we find ourselves as what our experiences happen within and as, we also find oneness. We find that oneness is our nature, in our own experience, and always was even when we didn’t notice.

Any sense of boundaries comes from our overlay of mental representations and taking these as the final word without noticing what we more fundamentally are.

The question here is: How do I live from this? In this situation, and if I take what I notice seriously, how do I live from it?

And there is often a parallel process. Anything in our human self not aligned with oneness and this noticing comes to the surface to more consciously be aligned with oneness. To the extent we support and join in with this process, it can be profoundly transforming and healing for our human self.

This transformation is partly a transformation in how we relate to our experiences, including our contractions. We are invited to find it all as happening within and as what we are, recognize that our contractions have the same nature as ourselves, and rest in this noticing.

HOW CAN WE EXPLORE THIS FOR OURSELVES?

Knowing about this, and exploring it conceptually, can be interesting and – for some – a first step.

And knowing about it in itself doesn’t do anything. The transformation happens when we notice all of this directly.

How can we do that?

The most effective approaches I have found are the Headless Experiments and the Big Mind process. This can give us a taste within a relatively short time and without much if any preparation.

We can also explore this by exploring our sense fields, for instance through traditional Buddhist inquiry or modern versions like the Living Inquiries.

And we can explore it through basic meditation: notice and allow what’s here in experience. Over time, we may discover several things. There is a big difference between noticing our thoughts and getting caught up in their content and stories. All our content of experience comes and goes and lives its own life. Everything is part of our content of experience – this human self, the wider world, emotions, thoughts, states, and so on. We may find that our nature is what allows it all. It’s what all of this happens within and as. And we may find it’s already more than familiar to us, we just didn’t consciously notice before.

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From noticing oneness comes love, and from noticing capacity comes stillness & silence

We could say that love comes out of finding ourselves as oneness, and silence and stillness come out of finding ourselves as capacity.

– from a previous post

This is where words fall short, but I thought I would say a few more words about it here.

WHAT WE ARE IN OUR FIRST-PERSON EXPERIENCE

To others, and in many practical settings, we are this human self in the world. And yet, when we look more closely in our own first-person experience, we may find that – to ourselves – we are more fundamentally something else.

In our first-person experience, we may find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us.

We are capacity for our own field of experience. We are capacity for this human self, the wider world, and anything else that happens in this field of experience.

To us, this human self and the wider world happens within our field of experience. We are capacity for it all. And it’s all happening within and as what we are.

ONENESS & LOVE

We notice that this human self, the wider world, and any other experience happens within our field of experience. We find ourselves as capacity for it all.

Here, we may also notice that this field of experience is a seamless whole. It’s one.

Any sense of boundaries comes from our mental overlay of mental images and words.

And when we notice this, we may find that another side of oneness is love.

It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It’s a love that comes from perception, from oneness, and is not dependent on feelings or states.

Living from this love is another matter. Our human self may still have hangups, beliefs, emotional issues, and so on that color our perception and life, and sometimes kick in more strongly and temporarily prevents us from living more intentionally from oneness and love. This is where healing comes in.

CAPACITY & STILLNESS / SILENCE

Finding ourselves as capacity is finding ourselves as, literally, nothing.

We are capacity for anything in our field of experience, and the capacity itself is nothing.

When we notice this capacity, it comes with a deep silence and stillness.

And resting in and as this can be immensely transforming for us.

I find myself as capacity. I find myself as this silence and stillness. I notice that a contraction in me is also this silence and stillness. Rest with and as it. And may notice that the contraction, in a sense, finds itself as this silence and stillness and tranforms and unravels within it.

ONENESS -> LOVE, CAPACITY -> SILENCE & STILLNESS

This is all in the borderland of being too intellectual, but there is also something real here.

When I find myself as capacity for the world, I also find that the world is one. My field of experience is one, and that oneness happens within and as what I am. Here, I also find it’s love. Oneness, when it’s noticed and lived from, is love. A love not dependent on feelings or states.

When I find myself as capacity, and notice and rest with this noticing, I find myself as silence and stillness.

From noticing oneness comes love, and from noticing capacity comes stillness & silence.

ESSENCE VS SPECIFICS

At least, that’s how it appears to me now, and it’s important to differentiate the essence from the details.

The essence of this is that, in our own first-person experience, we may more fundamentally be something else than our human self, and living from that noticing can be profoundly transforming for our perception, life in the world, and for our human self.

What many report is finding themselves as…. capacity for the world, what all content of experience happens within and as, oneness, love, or whatever other aspects people notice, and using whatever labels they find helpful and may be familiar with from their culture and tradition.

The specifics about how love and stillness & silence fit into all of this may be interesting and have some practical use. For instance, in my case, I find it easier to first find myself as capacity, and then notice the stillness & silence, at least for now. And it’s less important in the big picture.

Tomorrow, or next year, or in ten years, I may write about the specifics in a different way. For instance, I can find this stillness inherent in what I am without first noticing myself as capacity. This stillness in inherent in consciousness, independent of what forms this consciousness takes.

And others who explore this will also find and report slightly different things.

After all, when we create maps in this way, we may not be completely clear about the terrain, we notice different things as we get more familiar with it, we emphasize different aspects of the terrain, we may be influenced by other maps, and we use a language we are familiar with.

And that’s part of our collective exploration of what we are. The essence of what people report seems to be mostly universal, and what we each discover, emphasize, and how we talk about it may be a bit different. It all adds to the richness of our collective exploration.

EXPLORING THIS FOR OURSELVES

If we don’t notice this for ourselves, all of this can sound very abstract and even philosophical or a fantasy.

Fortunately, we can notice and explore this for ourselves, and it doesn’t even have to take that much time or be too difficult.

We can use the Headless experiments to find ourselves as capacity for the world.

The Big Mind process can help us find ourselves as all the different aspects of what we are, how they relate to each other, how we relate to all of them (what we already are), and so on.

We can use basic meditation to notice and allow our experiences, and perhaps especially our contractions, and notice it’s already allowed (by life, mind) and it’s already noticed (in the sense that it happens within and as the ordinary awakeness that’s here). This helps us find ourselves as the capacity for it all we already are.

There are also other very helpful approaches. For instance, we can explore our sense fields through traditional Buddhist inquiry or modern variations on this like the Living Inquiries.

And in each of these cases, it helps to be guided by someone familiar with the terrain, familiar with and skilled in guiding others, and someone we trust and resonate with to a certain extent.

More pervasive emotional issues tend to be felt all over the body

I notice how my mind associates certain sensations with certain thoughts, in order to give these thoughts a sense of substance, reality, and truth, and this also gives a sense of meaning to the sensations.

The more we recognize this pattern and learn to differentiate the sensations with the thoughts, the less charge these thoughts tend to have. The sense of substance and truth in them tends to go out.

I also notice that the mind creates physical contractions in the body, and these – in turn – allows for a stable access to sensations that lend a sense of solidity and reality to certain thoughts. In order to believe and have emotional issues, we need sensations, and in order to have reliable access to these sensations, the body contracts.

If the issue comes and goes, the contractions tend to come and go. If it’s a more stable issue, the contractions tend to be more stable as well.

This is how identifications, beliefs, hangups, emotional issues, and traumas are created. This is how our mind creates all of these, and they are really just different name on the same dynamic.

There is one pattern here I have noticed for a long time: The more pervasive and central the emotional issue, the more I feel those sensations all over the body.

A more limited and peripheral issue may be connected with contractions in a certain part of the body – solar plexus, center of belly, throat, face, and so on.

And a more pervasive issue is often associated with stable sensations all over the body.

When I work on something, and I notice it’s connected with all-over sensations, it’s a good hint that this is a more central issue, that it’s from early in life (sometimes infancy), and that there is a strong and familiar identification with this issue. It has become the water we swim in.

We can still work on it as we do with any other emotional issue. It just means it’s worth focusing on and prioritizing since it may be pervasive. There may be a good deal of branches to explore. And when we find some resolution for it, we’ll likely see the effects in most or all areas of our life.

Addressing the polarities inherent in any emotional issue

If we want to be thorough in exploring an emotional issue, we need to address both ends of the polarity it belongs to.

THE POLARITY

For instance, if we explore the victim part of us, we also need to explore the victimizer in us. They are both parts of the same dynamic and create and reinforce each other. If we only address one, we leave an important part of the dynamic out, and this holds some of the issue in place.

Both ends of the polarity are already in us, so if we want to explore an issue more thoroughly, we need to address both ends of the polarity and the dynamic between them.

SOME OF THE WAYS WE HAVE BOTH IN US

In what way do we have both in us?

I’ll take the victim-victimizer dynamic as an example.

We have victim thoughts like “poor me”, “life is unfair”, and these are also the victimizer thoughts. These thoughts, when held as true, create a sense of being victim.

I can find how I victimize myself when I engage in and fuel those kinds of thoughts. When I tell myself stories making me into a victim, I am the victimizer in that moment.

I can dialog with the victim and victimizer parts of me and get to know them. I can find both in me.

I can find several specific examples of how I have acted in ways that triggered a sense of victim in others.

I can take any story I have about victimizers in the world, turn it back to myself, and find specific examples of how it’s true.

The story of victim and victimizer is a story. It’s not inherent in the world. Both stories are in me. They are part of the mental representations I put on top of the world. (Which doesn’t condone victimization!)

I can find that I am what my field of experience happens within and as, and that includes any and all victims and victimizers I have ever know about. It’s all within what I am.

HOW CAN WE EXPLORE BOTH ENDS OF THE POLARITY?

In general, we can do it using whatever approach we are familiar with and works for us.

For me, I tend to do it through….

Dialog with each of these parts of me and getting to know them, how they see the world, how they see me and how I relate to them, how they see each other, what advice they have for me, and so on.

Inquiry into both ends of the polarity, whether I use The Work of Byron Katie or Living Inquiries.

Energy work for both ends of the polarity, in my case using Vortex Healing.

Connecting with the energy of one and then the other. Notice and allow. Notice they have the same true nature as myself. Allowing them to unfold and unravel, and align more with reality.

A FEW MORE WORDS ABOUT THE DYNAMIC

I’ll say a few more things about the dynamic.

We often identify with one end of these polarities and don’t recognize the other in us, and this is part of what creates and holds the issue in place. We may see one end in us and the other end out in the world, so we overlook the importance of addressing how both operate in us.

Our culture sometimes reinforce issues for that reason. Other people and stories in the culture often reinforce the idea that one end of the polarity is out there and the other is in here, so we don’t get the chance to explore both in ourselves – which is where the solution is.

Both ends of the polarity are needed within us to maintain the issue. Without an inner victimizer, we couldn’t feel like a victim. They depend on each other.

If we only address one, the other end will still be here in us, and that will tend to recreate the issue.

Often, we are aware of the other end of the polarity in us without recognizing it for what it is. For instance, we be aware of the thought “life is unfair” and believe it and feel like a victim. What we may not initially recognize is that this thought, when it’s believed, is what creates the sense of victimhood. It’s not only the thought of a victim, it’s also the victimizer thought. It’s the thought creating a sense of victim in me. When I engage in it, I make myself a victim. It’s innocent and normal, and good to notice.

Projection work, inquiry, and inner dialog are often good ways to find both ends of the polarity in us, especially if we are willing to look at anything – any situation and story – that has a charge for us.

These polarities in us are here to protect us. They were the best way our mind knew how to protect us in a situation in the past, and often early in life. They may be confused and misguided, from our adult perspective, and at the same time come from desire to protect us and kindness and love. In a very real sense, they are confused love.

Own inquiry on the victim

These are my notes on exploring how my mind creates its experience of the victim, using the Living Inquiries which is inspired by traditional Buddhist inquiry. I wrote it as I went along, in order to capture it more accurately.

EXPLORING HOW MY MIND CREATES ITS EXPERIENCE OF THE VICTIM

Where do you find the victim?

I see an image of myself sitting here, and I also notice some sensations.

Look at the image. Is that the victim?

Yes, it feels like it.

Feel those sensations.

Where do you feel it?

A tightness in my belly, chest, throat. In the front, the outer layer of my body.

Feel the sensations. Allow them to be as they are. Notice the space they happen within.

Yes. [some time] I notice they feel familiar.

What’s your earliest memory of having that feeling?

I have many glimpses from childhood, only a few clear ones. I think I must have felt it early in life, when my parents accused me of doing something I hadn’t, or when I didn’t get what I wanted, or felt treated unfairly.

Can you remember one instance?

I am in the living room, playing with lego (or toy cars). My mother is in the kitchen and drops something that breaks. She screams it’s my fault, even if I am just playing on my own in another room. I am maybe three years old.

Look at that image. Is that the victim?

Yes, it feels that way.

Feel those sensations. Notice where they are in the body. Allow them to be as they are. Notice the space they happen within.

I feel a soft contraction in the throat and solar plexus, and the other sensations are there too although a little less. [taking time with this]

It feels very familiar, from childhood. There is a sadness there.

I have the thought: I am unloved.

Keep feeling the sensation. Allowing. Noticing. Notice the space.

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Lao Tzu: kindhearted as a grandmother

When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

How can we become kindhearted as a grandmother?

How can we become kindhearted as a grandmother to ourselves?

Many of us have internalized an unkind way of relating to ourselves. At least to certain parts of us, and in some situations. So how can we invite this to shift into a more kindhearted way of being with ourselves?

NOTICING WHAT WE ARE

As Lao Tzu suggests, one way is to notice what we are. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our field of experience happens within and as. That’s a start.

Here, we may notice that the true nature of all our experiences is the same as our own true nature. It’s all stillness. It’s all what we can call consciousness. It’s all a flavor of the divine.

WAYS TO REPATTERN HOW WE RELATE TO OURSELVES

There are also other ways to repattern how we relate to ourselves and our experiences, and we can do this whether we notice what we are or not.

We can engage in an intentional dialog with these parts of us. We already do, and this dialog is not always so kind. So why not engage in a more conscious and kind dialog? A part of us surfaces – as fear, anger, sadness, discomfort, reactivity, or something else. We can ask it how it experiences the world. How it sees us and how we often relate to it. What advice it has for us. We may get to see that it comes from a desire to protect us, and that it comes from care and love. (Even if how it goes about it is a bit misguided, although also understandable and innocent.) When we see this, we can thank it for being here and for it’s love and care. We can find ways of dialoguing with these parts of us as a kind and wise parents would with a child. And this is a learning process, it’s ongoing.

We can use heart-centered practices as a kind of training wheel. We can use ho’oponopono towards ourselves or these parts of us, and also whatever in the world triggered these parts of us. We can also use tonglen, or Metta, or any other similar approach.

We can explore the painful beliefs in how we typically react to certain parts of us. What are these beliefs? What happens when our system holds them as true? How would it be if they had no charge? What is the validity in the reversals of these thoughts? (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can explore our fears, identities, and compulsions around this, and how they show up in our sense fields. What sensations are connected with it? How is it to notice and allow these, and notice the space they happen within and as? What do I find when I explore the mental images and words connected with this? What is my first memory of feeling this, or having those images and words? What happens when I notice how these sensations and mental representations combine to create my experience? And so on. (Living Inquiries, a modern form of traditional Buddhist inquiry.)

We can allow our body to release tension around this, for instance through therapeutic tremoring. (Tension and Trauma Release Exercises, neurogenic yoga.)

We can find a gentler way of being with ourselves through body-centered activities like yoga, tai chi, chigong, Breema, and so on.

We can learn to say YES to the NO in us. We can learn to welcome the parts of us that sometimes desperately don’t want to us to have a certain experience. These parts of us want to protect us and come from care and love.

We can learn to be with the energy of what comes up in a more gentle, kind, and loving way. With patience. Respect. Gentle curiosity. Allowing it to be as it is and unfold and change as it wishes.

We can spend time in nature. Nature shows us a gentler way. An allowing.

TRAINING WHEELS

These approaches are all training wheels.

They can help us shift from an unkind way of being with ourselves, to a more kind way.

They help us find something that’s simple and natural.

They mimic how our mind naturally functions when it’s more healed and clear.

And they do so whether we notice what we are or not.

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

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

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

THE ESSENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTE

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

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Our mental activity is a kind of dream

I mentioned this briefly in a previous article, and thought I would expand on it a bit here.

THE CONVENTIONAL VIEW ON DREAMS AND WAKING LIFE

Many think of dreams and waking life as categorically different.

A dream is a fantasy and product of the mind. It may say something about our internal life, and that’s about it.

Waking life is real, as it appears to us. It has nothing to do with dreams, with the possible exception of daydreams and fantasies.

THE GENERAL DREAMING FUNCTION OF THE MIND

The reality is quite different.

When we look, we may find that all our mental activity is a kind of dream.

We put mental representations on top of what’s in our sense fields – sights, sounds, sensations, smells, taste – to make sense of them. We label and have stories about what’s here. Similarly, we have mental representations of what isn’t here – the wider world, the past and future, and so on.

In a very real sense, all our mental activity is imagination and a fantasy. It’s a kind of dreaming activity.

It can be very useful in helping us make sense of the world and in helping us orient and navigate in the world. It can be more or less accurate, in a conventional sense. And this dreaming activity doesn’t hold any absolute or final truth.

THE DREAMING ACTIVITY OF THE MIND – IN NIGHT DREAMS AND WAKING LIFE

This general dreaming activity of the mind plays itself out while awake and also in our sleeping dreams.

Both are an expression of the creativity of our mind.

Both create a world for us. Sleeping dreams happen in the absence of sensory inputs. And these waking dreams happen partly as an overlay over sensory inputs (what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste etc.) and partly in the absence of these sensory inputs (imaginations of a wider world, past, future, and so on).

Both can seem real if we take them that way, and we can learn to see through both. We can recognize a sleeping dream as a dream while we dream (lucid dreaming) and we can recognize our waking dreams as they happen (through inquiry). It takes time, but recognizing dreams as they happen can become a new habit.

What we are is capacity for both types of dreams, they both happen within and as what we are. When we notice this, identification with them tends to soften. It’s easier to recognize them as dreams.

Our sleeping dreams are one expression of the general dreaming activity of the mind.

NOTICING THIS HELPS RELEASE IDENTIFICATION OUT OF THE DREAMING ACTIVITY

Recognizing this general dreaming activity of the mind can help us take it a little less seriously. It is immensely valuable in helping us navigate the world. And it doesn’t hold any final or absolute truth.

When we notice that all mental activity is a kind of dream, it helps release identification out of this dreaming activity.

HOW CAN WE EXPLORE THIS FOR OURSELVES?

If we just read or hear about this, it becomes part of the dream. It may be interesting, but it doesn’t really do anything for us.

So how can we explore this for ourselves?

The simple answer is by noticing the dreaming activity directly. By noticing this dreaming activity as an overlay on the other senses for what’s in our immediate environment. And for anything else – the wider world, past, future, and so on – it functions on its own.

And to do this, structured inquiry can be very helpful. We may not be used to noticing this, and may not even know how to go about it, so a structured inquiry will function as training wheels and helps us explore it more systematically and in depth.

The best approach I have found is the Living Inquiries, which is a modern version of traditional Buddhist Inquiry. Here, we get to explore the different sense fields, and how the mental field combines with other sense fields to create our experience of ourselves and the world.

As we get more familiar with this, we learn to notice and recognize the dreaming activity of the mind – the mental field activity – as it happens. And that makes a big difference. It helps us hold this dreaming activity more lightly, recognize it as a kind of dreaming activity, and not something that holds any final or absolute truth.

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Thoughts as an evolutionary experiment

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

Thoughts as tools

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

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

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

Thoughts mimic senses & language

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

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

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

A helpful way of using this tool

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

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

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

Misuse of the tool of thoughts

How can this tool be misused?

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

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

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

Thoughts as an evolutionary experiment

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

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

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

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

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

Abstract and complex thought as a new evolutionary experiment

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

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

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

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

How we can explore this for ourselves

We can explore many aspects of this for ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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How spiritual practices become ongoing

We can bring any prayer with us throughout the day. Prayers tend to become automatic over time and run in the background even if we are focused on daily life activities. They live their own life after a while. The Jesus or Heart prayer is an example, as is ho’oponopono and metta. The words may come and go, but the orientation and energy – for lack of a better word – continues. 

– from A tantric approach to spirituality

I thought I would say a few more words about this.

HOW DO PRACTICES BECOME ONGOING?

This is not a big secret. They become ongoing if they are conducive to become ongoing, and we do them enough so they become very familiar and a new habit. Our system creates and goes into a new groove.

Depending on the practice, they can become ongoing as a new habit, or as something in the background of our awareness, or they can become ongoing in that we can easily access them when needed.

HOW DOES IT LOOK WHEN THEY ARE ONGOING?

This depends on the practice. I’ll give some examples I am familiar with.

Basic meditation is to notice and allow our experience as it is. And to notice it’s already allowed, and even already noticed. This helps soften identification with what we notice, including our thoughts. And this, in turn, helps us notice what we are, which is what all our experiences happen within and as. As we get more familiar with this noticing and allowing, it become a new habit and easier to bring to daily life, and more situations in daily life.

Training a more stable attention is helpful for just about any activity. We can do this by bringing and keeping attention on something, for instance, the sensations of the breath at the nostrils, and bring attention back when we notice our attention got distracted. (The distraction is usually or always a thought with some charge to it, a thought that seems at least a bit true to us.) Over time, this becomes a new habit that benefits us through the day.

We can notice what we are, for instance, guided by some simple inquiries (Headless experiments, Big Mind process). We find ourselves as capacity for the world, as what all our experiences – the world as it appears to us – happens within and as. As we get more used to and familiar with this noticing, it’s easier to notice it through the day and in different situations.

We can examine our thoughts, for instance, guided by the structure and pointers in The Work of Byron Katie. We explore if we can know for certain it’s true, see what happens when we hold a thought as true, how it would be to not have the belief, and find the genuine validity in the reversals using examples from our own life and experience. As we get more familiar with this over time, this too becomes a new habit. We may find that our mind naturally starts examining thoughts this way in daily life. (Using the structure is still helpful, especially if we notice an especially ingrained and stressful belief. It helps us explore it more thoroughly.)

Exploring our sense fields is a traditional Buddhist form of inquiry. (Living Inquiries is a modern version.) Here, we get to see how our mind combines the sense fields – sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, and thoughts – into our experience of the world, ourselves, and anything. We get to see that what may, at first, see very solid and real, is actually created by the mind through combining sense fields. It’s not as solid and real as it seemed. We also get to see how the mind associates certain sensations with certain thoughts, and that sensations lend a sense of solidity, substance, and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts make the sensation appear to mean something. This helps us see that thoughts are thoughts, and sensations are sensations, which softens identification with these thoughts. As we become more familiar with this, this too becomes a habit and something we bring with us into daily life. We may not be able to do a thorough inquiry, but we notice how the sense fields combine, and we are more easily see a thought as a thought and a sensation as a sensation.

Heart-centered approaches help us shift how we relate to others, situations, the world, and ourselves. We learn to befriend the images of these in our own mind, which helps us shift how we relate to all of this in our daily life. (The ones I am most familiar with are tonglen, ho’oponopno, and a Christian version of metta.)

Prayer is a certain form of heart-centered practice. When we engage regularly in prayer – for instance, the Jesus or Heart prayer – it tends to become ongoing. It runs in the background as a kind of orientation and energy. (Sorry, don’t know how to better describe it.) It’s often a combination of periods of intentional prayer with words and noticing it running in the background – through the day and even night.

A COMBINATION: INTENTIONAL PRACTICE & ONGOING

In real life, there is often a combination of intentional practice, a new ongoing habit, and intentionally bringing in the practice as needed. We have periods of intentional practice, at set times or when we find time, and on our own or in groups. We notice how these practices become ongoing in daily life. And if we notice that we get caught in an old habit in a situation in daily life, we can bring in the practice to help shift into the new pattern.

If we don’t engage in a somewhat regular intentional practice, the habit created by the practice tends to fade over time. As we engage in intentional practice again, the habit comes back and often more easily than the first time. Our system remembers.

It can be especially helpful to notice when our old habitual patterns override a practice that has become more ongoing. This usually points to a belief, identification, emotional issue, hangup, or trauma. And we can explore this further.

OLD AND NEW HABITUAL PATTERNS

Why is all this important?

It’s because our old habitual patterns often come from separation consciousness. They may create unhappiness and discomfort for ourselves, messiness in our life, and may trigger discomfort and suffering in others.

Spiritual practices are typically designed to create new patterns for our mind and life that help us in a variety of ways. These patterns mimic awakening and how it is to live from awakening. And as we keep exploring these practices and we get more familiar with them, they become more and more a new habit.

This helps us in our life. It helps us notice where we still operate from separation consciousness (beliefs, identifications, emotional issues etc.). It makes it easier for us to notice what we are. And it helps us live from noticing what we are.