René Magritte: People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image

People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking what does this mean?’ they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things.

– René Magritte

That’s how it is in life as well. A part of us wishes to eliminate mystery by telling ourselves we understand, we know what’s going on.

Why? Likely in the hope of finding safety. We think telling ourselves we understand makes us safe.

If we don’t reject mystery, we have a different response. We ask other things.

We know we don’t know. We cannot fully know. We live in and as mystery.

We can still use stories. We can still understand in a conventional sense. We may even be an “expert” on something in a conventional sense. And yet, we don’t know any of it for certain. We know the limits of stories. We rest in and as mystery.

This is not just about our conscious view. Many parts of us hold stories as true even if we consciously tell ourselves we don’t. That’s where inquiry comes in. It can help us identify and examine these stories parts of us still hold as true.

Image created by me and Midjourney

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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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Byron Katie: “I don’t know” is a lot of freedom

“I don’t know” is a lot of freedom

– Byron Katie

There is a lot to explore in these types of quotes.

I DON’T KNOW

It’s accurate that I don’t know. I don’t know anything for certain.

Any story is more or less accurate in a conventional sense. They fit the data more or less well.

Even if they seem relatively accurate, they highlight some features and leave a lot out.

They always come from a certain perspective and worldview. And there are inevitably many other perspectives and worldviews that make as much or more sense. Some would make as much or more sense to us now if we knew about them. Some may make as much or more sense to us in the future, with a bit more experience. And some of these would even turn our perception upside-down and inside-out.

Stories are different in kind from what they are about. (Unless they happen to be about mental representations). And that means they are inherently imperfect in terms of capturing anything in its fullness or in a very accurate way.

Reality is always more than and different from any map. (Any story – any mental representation whether it’s a mental image or words – is a map).

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

Any story I have about the world is provisional and a question.

It’s here to help me navigate and function in the world.

That’s why it’s helpful to examine any story we hold as true at some level in our being. And it’s good when we are able to hold them lightly.

THE FREEDOM OF “I DON’T KNOW”

“I don’t know” gives me freedom.

It frees up more of my natural receptivity and curiosity. It gives me the freedom to explore the validity in a range of different stories about the same topic.

It gives me the freedom to relate to these stories more intentionally and make use of them in whatever way makes the most sense in the situation.

WHAT I KNOW

At the same time, I know some things.

In a provisional and conventional sense, I know certain things.

I know what name I go by in this world. I know some about my history. I know how to read and write. I know, to some extent, how to take decent photos and make decent drawings. I know a few things about meditation and many spiritual practices, both from my own experience and from what others say about it. I know some things about the world. I know some things about ecology and sustainability. I know some things about what I feel and think and experience here and now. I know some of my preferences and likes and dislikes. And so on.

I can have an inner knowing or intuition. This too is a question about the world. (Although it often turns out to have wisdom and kindness in it.)

Also, it’s possible to know some things about my nature. I directly perceive something about what I more fundamentally am. I find myself as capacity for the field of experience, and what this field of experience happens within and as. And that is also provisional and a question. I know that this too can be turned upside-down and inside-out at any moment. I know there is always infinitely further to go.

WHEN IT’S USED TO HIDE

“I don’t know” can also be used to hide.

We can use it to hide from others what we know. We say “I don’t know” when we actually do know something but don’t want to share it for whatever reason. Or we just stay silent when it would be more appropriate to share something.

And we can use it to hide from ourselves what we know. We know something we don’t want to know, and pretend to ourselves we don’t know. Or we distract ourselves from it, perhaps by going into compulsions.

In my case, a part of me wants to hide in general to feel more safe. This is a response to challenging situations from early in life, and I still live out that pattern in some situations and areas of life. For instance, I don’t use my name on this website, and I very rarely talk with anyone about the topics I write about here, even if they are central to my life. (I hide to stay more safe, but it doesn’t work. If anything, it just leads to frustration in the long run.)

In some situations, we can use “I don’t know” as a shield or a weapon. (And when that happens, we know.)

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Byron Katie: No one really knows what they are doing

No one really knows what they are doing.

– Byron Katie

I don’t know about others, but it’s true for me. I find I don’t know anything for certain. I am mostly just winging it in life and in whatever I am doing. And from what others report, it seems it’s similar for them.

It’s interesting to explore this a bit further.

I obviously know, to some extent, what I am doing in some areas of life. I know how to write these words. I know how to create a new post here. I knew how to start the computer. I seem to know how to get out of bed in the morning, make breakfast, talk with people. And so on.

And at the same time, the larger picture and the context for my daily life activities is not knowing. I don’t know anything for certain.

I don’t know the wider consequences of my actions. I don’t know the bigger picture of my life and my actions. There are innumerable contexts for how to look at my life that may be as or more valid to me than what I am currently familiar with. I don’t know to what extent my assumptions – about anything including what appears the most obvious – are valid.

And that’s fine. It’s the water we all, I assume, swim in.

Fascinated by mysteries in the world, and the mysteries of existence

It’s built into humans to be curious about mysteries. It motivates to explore and get familiar with more of the world, and this gives us a survival advantage. In today’s world, it’s expressed in many ways: a fascination with scientific investigations, crime mysteries, mysteries in the world, the supernatural, and so on.

I listened to parts of an interview about the latter, with someone who has dedicated his life to collecting strange and supposedly real-life stories from his region in the UK. This is obviously valuable, either as an example of living and continued folklore or as a starting point for a more thorough – ideally scientific – investigation to see what’s behind it. (Probably the usual mix of hoaxes, tall tales, misinterpretations, and perhaps something genuinely unexplained and mysterious.)

What all of this has in common is that it’s happening within the world. It’s happening within the content of our experience, and it’s relatively localized and narrow in focus.

I love some of these mysteries as much as others, but something else is even more fascinating to me.

MYSTERY OF EXISTENCE

There is another mystery, and that’s the mystery of existence.

This is the mystery of what we are. When I explore what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience, what do I find? Am I this human self? Am I any particular content of experience? Or am I more fundamentally something else? What we find is, in one sense, very simple and familiar, and yet it keeps revealing itself and it’s endless in how it unfolds itself in this human life.

It’s also the mystery of who we are, as a human being in the world. This is immensely complex and here too, there is always more to explore and become familiar with. It’s an exploration that offer endless new terrains as well as insights and perspectives.

There is perhaps the ultimate mystery, which is that anything exists at all. Why is there something rather than nothing? To me, this is a question that stops my mind and leaves silence. It’s something I can’t even begin to grasp.

There is also the mystery of the nature of reality. I can find my own more fundamental nature, and yet, is that the same nature of all of existence? It obviously seems that way to me, since the world – to me – happens within and as what I am. To me, it inevitably appears to have the same nature as me. This is a question both for science and inner exploration.

And there is the mystery inherent in anything, including anything within the world. There is always more to explore and discover. Always new insights, perspectives, and contexts. We cannot capture anything accurately within thought since thought is different in nature from what it is about, and is very limited and simplified compared to what it is about. Reality is always more than and different from any maps.

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Adyashanti: The door to God is the insecurity of not knowing anything

The door to God is the insecurity of not knowing anything. Bear the grace of that insecurity, and all wisdom will be yours.

– Adyashanti

What does this feel like? To me, it feels like receptivity, gentle curiosity, and not “landing” anywhere in terms of assumptions about myself, others, and the world.

Wendel Berry: Our real work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings

– Wendell Berry, Our real work

This is true in a conventional sense. When we no longer know what to do, we are turned back on ourselves and need to find a different approach, one that’s outside of what’s familiar to us. We enter unknown territory, and that’s where we learn, discover, and are transformed.

It’s also true in a more universal sense. We never really know what to do. If we are honest with ourselves, we are always baffled. We live in and as the unknown, whether we notice or not. When we notice this, and to the extent we take it in, we open up for the same kind of exploration of an unknown terrain, and the same possibility for us to be transformed.

In practice, we obviously still know what we know and have the experiences and skills we have. We also have the skills and experiences of others, and we have our own inner guidance. We have a lot to draw on, and we’ll make use of it in an ordinary way.

And yet, we also know that we ultimately don’t know. We are always entering the unknown and we live from and as the unknown. And that opens us up for a more genuine receptivity and curiosity, a deeper sense of adventure and discovery, and for allowing ourselves – as this human self and the field it all happens within and as – to be tranformed.

Byron Katie: When you deeply and openly question your reasons, does ‘because’ disappear?

Without reasons, there is no ‘because.’ So question all reasons. When you deeply and openly question your reasons, does ‘because’ disappear?

– Byron Katie

Any “because” is a guess. It’s something we make up to try to make sense of our choices and actions, and the reality is that we don’t know.

When someone asks me why I am doing something, and I suspect they really want to know, I give them an honest answer: I don’t know, and I may add a few guesses and make it clear these are guesses. Since this goes a bit outside of norms and expectations, it often leads to a conversation about it.

If I suspect the question is more for social reasons and to connect, I may just give a standard plausible answer. Unless it’s in a situation where a conversation about the don’t know and the guesses could be interesting.

For instance, why am I writing here? I honestly don’t know. I find it hard to even come up with guesses. The most honest answer is that I am drawn to it. I feel an impulse in me to write here. What’s that impulse about? I don’t know. I find the topics here interesting. Writing here helps me explore them – it helps me to notice, explore, and write it down. Also, I had a wish to give talks, write books, and so on, on some of these topics. Since my life took a very different turn due to major health problems, writing here is doing some of that in miniature. There is a knowing that something here may be helpful to someone, and if just one sentence is helpful for one person, that in itself would be sufficient. (And that’s already the case since it seems helpful to me.) There may also be other reasons: Perhaps I am writing here to avoid direct noticing and feeling? Perhaps I do it to feel smart and clever? (Although I am very aware that what I write reflects my own very obvious limitations.) Perhaps it’s a way to give some sense of meaning to a day where I mostly have to rest and can’t do much of what I normally would do? (That one resonates.)

Byron Katie: Not knowing is the way to understanding

Not knowing is the way to understanding.

– Byron Katie

This can be understood in a few different ways.

When we set out to learn something, knowing that we don’t know much or anything about it is a very good start. We are receptive. Have some insight into our own lack of understanding. And from here can seek out learning and get experience and learn. It puts us in the right mindset for learning.

After we have a great deal of experience, understanding, and skill, it’s still this way. Knowing that we don’t know everything about it puts us in the right frame of mind for continued learning. It opens for receptivity, curiosity, and continued exploration.

We may also find that we don’t know anything for certain. This applies to even our most basic assumptions about ourselves, others, and the world, and it opens for an even wider receptivity, curiosity, and exploration.

It also opens for an understanding of the nature of knowing. We don’t know anything for certain. Any thought or map has some validity in it, we just need to find how. Thoughts are questions about the world. They help us orient and function in the world and have a great practical value. And their value is limited to the practical. Their function is not to give us any final or ultimate truth because they can’t.

Finally, it can help us to notice what we are. To the extent we grok that we cannot know anything for certain about anything, including who and what we are and what the world is, this opens up for noticing what we are. It opens up for finding ourselves as capacity for the world, for our experience of this human self and the wider world.

Not knowing is the way to understanding. When we start out learning something, knowing we don’t know puts us in the right frame of mind for learning. Even after we get far more experience and skills, the same applies. Knowing there is a lot we don’t know helps us find the receptivity and curiosity to continue to learn. Knowing we don’t know anything for certain widens this receptivity and curiosity to anything and everything. And getting that thoroughly opens us to notice what we are.

The mystery in what we think we know

I saw someone talk about the mysteries around us, and he implicitly made a distinction between what’s not a mystery (what we apparently know) and what’s a mystery (what we don’t know).

That’s not wrong, but it’s also a somewhat false distinction.

The mystery is equally much in what we think we know as what we don’t know.

We never know anything for certain. There is always more to discover about anything – new views, information, underlying assumptions, contexts, and so on.

Reality is infinitely rich and will always surprise us.

When we discover that, there is a sense of mystery, awe, and sense of adventure here in anything and everything.

And really, it’s something we admit to ourselves. We always knew. The child in us always knew that we don’t know anything for certain and there is always more to discover.

Do we know it’s related to kundalini?

It’s clear that a lot of things can happen in an awakening process – weird sensations, a sense of overwhelm, disorientation, lack of grounding, feeling you are losing your mind, surfacing of old emotional issues and traumas, outside-of-the-mainstream abilities and sensing, and so on.

Some people like to call some of this “kundalini”. But do we really know that’s what it is? And is it a helpful label?

The upside of the “kundalini” label is that it’s a shorthand for certain experiences people may have in an awakening process, and I assume that’s why some like to use it. The downside is that this label may make us think we understand what’s happening more than we do, and it can come with assumptions that make us overlook other and more mundane causes and remedies. Equally important, if we use the label as if we know for certain, we train ourselves to be intellectually dishonest.

I wouldn’t be able to call any of it “kundalini” or related to kundalini. I don’t have that type of access to the energy system and what’s happening. I wouldn’t know for certain that’s what it is, even if several people have agreed to call it just that.

What I do know is that a lot of different things can happen in an awakening process. I know a range of specific things that can happen and have experienced a bunch of it for myself. I know approaches that can help people in these situations, depending on the person and what’s happening. And that seems sufficient. I don’t need to put a possibly misleading label on it.

Personally, I find it helpful to be honest about these things. To be honest about what I can know and cannot know. To take a pragmatic approach without being too concerned about labels.

And, yes, I too do what I write about here. I sometimes put a label on something without knowing whether it’s true or accurate, and in a way that can be misleading. And if I look a little more closely, I see that no matter how accurate a label is in a conventional sense, it’s ultimately and inherently misleading. Reality is different from and more than our ideas about and our labels for it.

And it’s perhaps not such a big deal. A lot of the people using the “kundalini” label probably do it as a shorthand, knowing it’s a guess and that they don’t know for certain.

Byron Katie: When you fall in love with the unknown

When you fall in love with the unknown, you are free.

– Byron Katie

This is not the unknown that’s outside of what we think we know. This is the unknown within what we think we know. The receptivity that comes from knowing we cannot know anything for certain. And that this applies to everything, including our own personal life and who and what we take ourselves to be.

Is it obvious?

In a Facebook link to an article about the epidemic, someone wrote “it’s obvious” – meaning that the general info about the epidemic shared in the article was obvious. It may be obvious to you. And to others, it may be vital information. And what you think is obvious may not even be correct.

Everything is obvious when we know something. It’s not obvious when we don’t know it. And what we think is obvious may turn out to be wrong and not so obvious after all.

The Fool & Stepping Into the Unknown

Although I am no expert on the Tarot (or even a beginner!), I know it can be very helpful as a projection object. Through synchronicities and universal symbols and archetypes, the cards become a mirror for us.

I enjoy taking a quote or the title of a book and explore it for myself and see what I find. And I also like exploring universal symbols in the same way.

So what about The Fool from the Tarot?

The first thing I see is someone who seems to enjoy the sun and the beauty of life and is about to step off a cliff. Perhaps the dog is trying to warn him?

In a conventional sense, that’s obviously foolish. Here is someone living in his own world and not taking care of the basics of his own life, and that can sometimes happen to all of us.

It’s more interesting to me to explore this in a bigger view. For instance, I can see how The Fool represents awakening.

Stepping off a cliff is similar to stepping into the unknown. We are always stepping into – and living – in the unknown, whether we know it or not.

This moment – and life – is ultimately a mystery. We cannot know anything for certain. Even what seems the most certain to us is ultimately not.

At the same time, we know many things in a provisional sense. We know our name. How we appear to others and in the mirror. What labels we have in society. How to go about our daily life. And much more. All of this is very useful in a practical and pragmatic sense. Even if there is no ultimate or final truth to any of it.

Many will admit that this is accurate, although most of us will also cling to certain ideas and identities as if they were ultimately true. And from this way of living, deeply embracing and embodying all as the unknown may seem attractive, foolish, and slightly disturbing.

The Fool is dressed in a tunic decorated with stars and leaves. He encompasses the whole universe and all of life. He knows about Big Mind and that it’s his true nature. Big Mind may even notice itself as all there is including The Fool knowing about the ultimate mystery of all.

The dog is perhaps warning him from stepping off the cliff. In this view, the dog represents the parts of us scared of embracing the unknown. The dog may also be excited that he is knowingly stepping into the unknown. When we are more free from the constriction of beliefs and identifications, it can free us to more deeply embrace and embody our animal nature. (We are also more free to follow our inner guidance and live a more kind and authentic life.)

The flower may represent beauty and enjoyment of life and nature. Embracing the unknown, we open for gratitude and appreciation of what is – both what our personality likes and what it doesn’t like.

He carries a small bag. In it, I imagine he has whatever he needs for his journey. He doesn’t need much and he carries the little he needs with him. [Note: After writing this, I was informed that the bag contains the whole tarot deck. The Fool carries with him all the archetypes and the wholeness.]

There is a circle above him. Perhaps this represents zero or not knowing. Or the unity of all life. Or the oneness recognizing itself – including as this human self who doesn’t know anything for certain and always steps into and lives in the unknown.

The sun is shining. When we discover ourselves as that which all our experiences happen within and as, we find that which is independent of the “weather” of experience. A metaphor for this is the clear sky above the weather where the sun always shines. (At least, during the day!)

Interpreting The Fool in this way, it becomes a very beautiful image and archetype. He becomes the holy fool.

The ultimate mystery: that anything exists at all

There are many daily-life and conventional mysteries. How did Earth evolve into a living system? Is there life other places in the universe? How to cure cancer? What is gravity? Is there life after death? Why didn’t she answer my phone call?

There is no end to these mysteries. And we have some answers to some of them. At best, these are pragmatic answers that helps us orient and function in the world, even if they are by no means the final word.

In a sense, everything is a mystery, including the things we tell ourselves we understand or have a practical grasp on. We don’t really know what’s going on.

And there is yet another mystery, the biggest and ultimate and perhaps most baffling mystery: that anything exists at all. Why is there something rather than nothing?

As far as I know, we don’t really have any answers to that one. Not even the beginning of an answer. (Apart from mythological ones which, in my experience, don’t seem to touch it.)

For me, this question stills my mind. It shows my mind what it cannot even begin to grasp.

Image: NASA, Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2014

What will happen after death?

What happens after death?

I have several sources of apparent information about it.

Some research suggests life goes on, and that we may even be reborn. I have been very interested in this research since I was perhaps eight or ten years old. And I am also aware that the research on this topic is sparse, there are several different interpretations on the data, and that more and better research is needed.

Religions tell us there is an afterlife of some sort, whether indefinitely or for a while until rebirth. These are religions and have their own agenda, and these are ideas created by someone and then passed on as (often unquestioned) truth.

Atheism says nothing will happen. After we die, we are gone. They make assumptions and are also not always in the truth business. Atheism can be a religion on its own.

Ric W., the current Vortex Healing lineage holder, talks about rebirth and also that we won’t need to be reborn if some of the energetic structures or veils creating strong separation identity have been removed. (As happens in awakening.) This fits the spiritual traditions I trust the most, and if I were to put my money somewhere, it would be here. This too is what someone has said and not something I have been able to verify on my own.

When I do Vortex Healing for people after they have died, I seem to sense how they are and how they experience their new bodiless existence. I tentatively assume this is accurate since when I sense something in Vortex sessions for living people and I check with them, it is most often accurate. Also, in one case I did VH for someone I thought was alive but had actually recently died, and I did sense that his body had fallen away and he still hadn’t adapted to a bodiless existence.

Even as a little child, I had images that looks like memories of life between lives. These images fit perfectly what others describe, even if I didn’t know that at the time. My experience was of all as consciousness and (golden) light, of all as infinite love and wisdom, and there was a profound sense of being home. These are images and although it seems real, I cannot know for certain.

Later on, I had images of past lives that felt like past lives, and others who sense these things have agreed. Again, these are images with some feelings attached to them and I don’t really know. (For me, past life images are useful for reflecting and highlighting issues I have now and I am less interested in whether they are “true” past lives or not.)

So although I have all these sources of information, I honestly don’t know. That’s the authentic answer. Whether it’s one way or another, all I have is what’s here now. My responsibility is to what’s here now. Death comes when it comes, and that’s another phase of the adventure.

As the Zen master said when asked about life after death (paraphrased):

I don’t know, I am not dead yet. Ask me then. (And I won’t answer.)

There is a valuable upside to not knowing what will happen after we are dead, and about anything in the future (or past, or present). It brings us back to immediacy, to what’s here and now. That’s all we have.

Admitting to not knowing

There are a couple of different types of not knowing.

One is that we don’t know anything for certain. Any thought is tentative and inherently a question about the world. It can be a practical guide to help us orient and function in the world. But it has no finality to it. It’s not the last word. Most or all of our collective and individual knowledge will eventually seem outmoded and belonging to a certain phase of our life and development. We can still act on our tentative knowledge while realizing it is tentative. That opens for receptivity and curiosity. 

Another is not knowing in a conventional sense. We may miss information or knowledge, or just don’t know what to do in a certain situation. 

It’s common for us to realize this in a general way while not realizing it thoroughly in all areas of our life. Often, some parts of us believe we know something in a certain area of life.

For instance, I notice I am not always 100% comfortable with my health situation or general life situation, and that shows me that some parts of me believe thoughts about it. Some parts of me don’t realize that these thoughts, that come from culture, parents, friends and more, are tentative. They are questions. They are not the final word.

The examples here are innumerable. Most of us have some ingrained beliefs about ourselves, others, or the world. They can take the form of rigid views and assumptions, wounds, trauma, and hangups. And they can also take the form of believing we ultimately are a separate being and that the physical world is something more substantial than awakeness itself. 

This is where inquiries like The Work or the Living Inquiries come in and can be very helpful. They help us identify and question these thoughts that some parts of us hold as an absolute truth. 

I want to mention another special case of not knowing. When a facilitator or therapist works with a client, it’s normal to sometimes not know what to do next or how to best approach an issue. One way to deal with this is to be transparent, say it out loud, and invite both of you to sit in silence for a while to see what happens. Maybe something will show itself. Maybe not. 

As a footnote, I can mention that when it comes to the reverse, knowing, we cannot know anything for certain in the sense mentioned above. But there is another form of knowing, and that’s knowing what we are. This is a wordless knowing and a resting in and as what we are (that which any content of experience happens within and as). 

Not knowing what we’ll find

A part of Life 101 is having an open mind.

We don’t know what we’ll find in any exploration of life, whether it’s through science, psychological or spiritual explorations, or just through living our daily lives.

We honestly don’t know, apart from that it – most likely – will be different from what we think, expect, envision, hope, or fear. And when we admit to ourselves, and remind ourselves, that we don’t know, it helps us stay honest with ourselves and the process and notice what’s actually here.

It’s easier said than done. Our minds are typically experts at getting themselves caught up in hopes, fears, and expectations. Our hopes and fears have a charge, and that charge makes them irresistible to the mind. (Of course, the mind creates all this itself, but that’s for other posts.)

What can we do? We can notice. Allow. See it’s the play of the mind. Notice the specific fears and hopes. Meet them with kindness and respect. Inquire into the fears and hopes and see what we find. All of that helps the mind soften and release it’s tendency to get caught in its own creations of hopes and fears.

It can also help to see that this is universal. It’s an universal human experience. And it’s here for a good reason. Having hopes and fears, giving them a charge, and even for the mind getting caught in them, all helped our ancestors survive. We wouldn’t be here without it. At the same time, it’s not conducive to more rational big picture or long-term decisions on behalf of ourselves and humanity, or even for our individual contentment (if that’s what we seek).

Note: I mentioned charge above, and have written about it in other posts. The charge comes from thoughts – mental words and images, being associated with bodily sensations. Sensations lend a sense of reality and solidity to the thoughts and make them seem true, and thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. For instance, a set of sensation is taken by the mind to mean that I am this body, and that same idea is given a sense of substance and truth by the same sensations.

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Kurt Vonnegut: The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is

But there’s a reason we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece: it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth in this rise and fall here [indicates blackboard]. The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.

– Kurt Vonnegut quoted in At the Blackboard in Lapham’s Quarterly

The video cuts out just before the interesting part….!

Here is the diagram for Shakespeare.

I perceive, therefore I am

This is quite straight forward, and yet has a big impact to the extent it sinks in:

The only thing I know is that perception (awareness, consciousness) is. That’s all. Any content of experience is up for question.

For instance. I know there is experience here. That’s indisputable.

As for the content of this experience, I see a laptop, a room, a fire place, windows, I hear sounds outside, there is a cat here etc. Thoughts interpret my current content of experience in this way, and also adds a human being perceiving all of this, a me sitting here, and so on. And all of that is made up by images and words. It’s all up for questioning. It is, for instance, possible I exist in some sort of Matrix type reality. All of this content of experience may be created for me. It’s perhaps unlikely, but if I am honest I have to admit it’s possible. (And in a loser sense, it’s accurate. My world, as I perceive it, is created for me by this mind, by life.)

Also, I know quite well that as I question my thoughts and assumptions, including the most basic ones of a me and I, what’s revealed is often quite different from how it initially appeared.

So in this sense, Descartes had a point. If we take cogito to mean perception, he was close. I perceive, therefore perception is.

That’s all that’s known. Anything else is up for questioning. (When I wrote “I perceive, therefor I am” in the title, it’s intentionally sloppy – and more aligned with Descarte’s statement. It’s assumed that the “I” in that statement is questioned too, and that even “perception” is questioned. What is the “I” that’s perceiving? Can I find it? What’s left when I see that my images and words of an “I” are not “it”? And if I look, can I really find perception? Can I remove it and show it to someone? Can I take a picture of it and publish it in a magazine?)

Just to mention it: Questioning doesn’t mean not using conventional views as guides for my everyday life. I will still do that. The only difference is that I am open to question even my most basic assumptions, and from that holding them much more lightly. From taking my assumption as true, solid and real, and identifying with them and feeling I need to protect and defend these identities, I recognize them as assumptions and hold them more lightly. And that gives a sense of ease in my life.

Adyashanti: Then I realized I was back with myself

When my spiritual life really took off, was when I had to seriously entertain the question that maybe this whole enlightenment thing is just a nice pipe dream.

And it was only when I could actually face that, then I realized I was back with myself, I realized I don’t know.

And all of the sudden, when I was back in “I don’t know”, boy, did I have capacities I didn’t even dream of, then they started to come forward.

But as long as I was away from that, in “I know it’s possible, I am gonna get there” that was all belief, that was nonsense. I didn’t know any of that.

– Adyashanti, Kanuga Retreat, session 10

Admitting I don’t know

In my late teens and early twenties, I had a phase where I explored astrology, palmistry and psychics. It was mostly out of curiosity, although there was also an element of wishing to find a sense of safety. There was a belief that I could find a sense of safety knowing – or thinking I could know – something about who I am and my future.

I knew I couldn’t know, of course. And there was quickly little interest in those topics (apart from as projections, and then working with those projections).

Now, there is a genuine relief in not knowing. I see the stress inherent in thinking I know something about who I am (identities) or the future. And – through specific examples – I find the freedom and availability in seeing I don’t know and cannot know.

Every psychic in the world may say I will live until I am 95. And the truth is that I don’t know. That’s more true. More peaceful. More aligned with reality.

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Others know something fundamental about life

Other people know something fundamental about life that I don’t.

That seems to be a common thought or feeling, and one I recognize from my own life as well.

It is easy to understand why we have that assumption. We are more familiar with the facade of others than what is going on internally. And that facade is often one of being in control and knowing what is going on.

The sense that others know something fundamental about life is also a projection. Others are a mirror for myself, so it is a good guess that I know something fundamental about life, but I don’t quite notice or “own” it.

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Gifts of not knowing

There are many genuine gifts of not knowing….

In a conventional sense, there is a huge amount I don’t know about quite literally every subject.

There is a lot of information out there I am not familiar with. I have very limited experience. There are many far more knowledgeable and with far more experience about any subject. And even if I knew more than anyone else, that too is just a drop in the bucket compared to what will be known about it in the future, and that is a drop in the bucket in terms of what is possible to know. There is an infinite amount of possible information, perspectives and experience  about anything in life and in the universe. And what I do know, in a conventional sense, are only preliminary guides. I don’t know any of it for sure. (Apart from that it will change, and often does so dramatically, turning what I thought and my whole perspective upside down.)

So not knowing is shared. It is something we all have in common. It is something all life, all beings, share. We are all in the same boat. Just there is an immense beauty.

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Ignorance is bliss

Ignorance is bliss. That’s another one of those simple, rich and beautiful everyday pointers.

Usually, this statement is used to point to avoiding uncomfortable information and thoughts. I avoid it, so feel better in the short term.

So I can take it as a question and explore what happens around thoughts I tend to avoid.

What happens when I avoid thoughts that makes me uncomfortable? What is the experience? Does the thought surface anyway? Can I prevent a thought from surfacing? What are the practical consequences of avoiding certain information and thoughts?

What happens if I meet these thoughts with interest and curiosity? What happens if I take the time to inquire into them?

What are the specific information and thoughts I tend to avoid? What do I find when I investigate one of these? And another one?

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I need to know!

When something happens I don’t have a ready explanation for, it is a good opportunity to see my need-to-know mind.

As usual, it is easier to first see this in others. And right now, I can see it in the scramble to figure out what happened to Air France flight 447 where media and bloggers elaborate on a wide range of theories in the absence of any data.

This desire to know is partly very practical. Knowing what happened can help us prevent similar accidents in the future, and that is good. But when I compulsively spin stories in the absence of data, it points to being caught up in beliefs.

From here, I can work with it in several different ways.

How do I relate to the emotions and experiences that comes up for me around it? Do I resist these? What happens when I resist? Can I instead be with these emotions and experiences? Can I allow it, as it is, as if it would never change, with kindness and heart?

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The taboo against not knowing

Alan Watts wrote an excellent little book called The Book – On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. [Full text.]

And one of the sub-taboos here is the taboo against not knowing.

If others are like me, we know – at least somewhere – that we don’t know. I don’t really know anything. Any story is just that, a story.

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You have too much fun breaking all the rules

Ohhh you have too much fun breaking all the rules
Ohhh maybe so much fun I just might break them too
You’re trouble
Oooh just trouble
Oooh you’re trouble
Mmm just trouble
Bitter:Sweet, Trouble

One of the synchronicities life is so full of: 

My wife picked up the copy of Astronomy I am reading, looked at an article called Is there something we don’t know about gravity? and read out loud…

Spacecraft flybys and the moon’s orbit aren’t following predictions. Whatever is causing this could usher in a new theory of gravity.

As a punchline, the lyrics of the music we are listening followed with Ohhh you have too much fun breaking all the rules. 

This is another reminder of how life is full of pointers and questions for practice. We create stories about the world, including through science, and life show up differently. It is not limited by our stories or rules. And that is beautiful, there is no problem there. But if we take those stories – any story – as true, we are in trouble. Or rather, we perceive life as trouble. 

You’re trouble
Oooh just trouble
Oooh you’re trouble
Mmm just trouble

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Expectations = plan

M: … but in reality if he went out and used again, it could be tough for me.

Byron Katie: Oh, there’s a plan. “I think I will plan that.” [M laughs.] If you want to know your plan, look at your mind. It will show you. “That will be tough.” There’s a plan.

On my way through PDX to San Francisco, I read short sections of Who Would You Be Without Your Story and then stayed with it for a while, letting it work on me.

The quote above especially made an impression on me, maybe because it is something I have explored on my own lately.

When I have an expectation, I have a plan. I have a plan for how it will turn out, and I may either interpret what happens so it fits my expectation, or act so it is more likely to happen – to the extent it can at least.

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Resistance to don’t know

Resistance to don’t know can show up in different ways…

If I want to know, but can’t find a story to land on, there is a sense of confusion. Identification with a desire to know without finding a good candidate story, creates a sense of confusion.

If I want to know, and find a story that can play the role, I may take it as true. I pretend it is true, and live as if it is true. I make it true for myself in my mind and life, as well as I can. And life plays along as well as it can.

In both of these cases, identification with a resistance to don’t know is identification within content of experience, creating a sense of I and Other. In the first case, Other is the desired and elusive story of knowing. In the second case, Other is any story threatening the apparent truth of the story I decided to cling to as true.

And all of that applies to this as well. These stories are just pointers, questions, something to explore. What I find is another question.

There is no truth to any of these stories., including this one. At most, they can be pointers (apparently) helpful in some situations and not other.

When I go into knowing, there is automatically a sense of I and Other. A sense of being located in time and space. A sense of something – a story and its identity – to protect. A sense of substance and reality in the story.

When I allow it all – including the resistance to don’t know – there is a sense of opening in all directions. Not being located anywhere in particular. Receptivity. Curiosity. No story or identity to protect.

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Everything you know is wrong

everything_you_know1

Helpful insights and pointers can come from any source. Some of my favorites are church signs, book titles and lyrics.

The book above is prominently displayed at one of our local grocery stores, and it is a great question and pointer. Is it true that everything I know is wrong? How is it true for me? What do I find? 

When I use statements from any source as questions in this way, what I find is often quite different from what is intended by the source. That only adds to the rich yield of those pointers. 

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Demystifying and mystifying

mp535carter-the-great-posters

In most areas of life, demystifying that which can be demystified is a practical and sensible approach. (Or so we think in our culture, so why not play along?)

Most spiritual teachers today do a good job demystifying mysticism. They use a clear and direct language. They use a practical approach. They often describe direct experience instead of relying exclusively on traditional – and sometimes confusing – terminology.

And by doing this, what is truly mystifying is left even more obviously mystifying.

Something is. What can be more amazing?

And I don’t know. A story may appear functional in a practical sense, but it is still a story. A story may appear to point to what I am, but it doesn’t really. Even when what I am is awake to itself, that is all that is known. And even that is mystifying.

So it can be helpful to demystify that which can be demystified, such as maps and pointers, leaving what is truly mystifying still mystifying.

And it may be less helpful to do the reverse. To mystify that which can be clear. And to demystify – by taking stories about it as true – that which is genuinely mystifying, which is everything.

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Don’t take it as true

Don’t take it as true. Try it out for yourself.

That is how the Buddhist teachings are presented, and it can be understood in a couple of different ways.

Don’t take it as true. Try it out for yourself. See if it is true. See if the stories are true.

Or… Don’t take it as true, because no story is true. Use it as only as a pointer for your own exporation.

Baffled

One of the reasons I enjoy the magician Tommy Cooper is that he seems to be completely baffled by what is happening. (See Too many bottles.)

And that is how it is for me as well. Whatever happens is completely baffling.

Fingers move. Letters appear on the screen. They reflect thoughts. Others can read them and understand. There is awareness. This human self funcitons in the world. Choices are made. There is a sense of a separate I here or not. There is something rather than nothing.

I am every bit as baffled as Tommy Cooper.

And all of it is a play… Pretending to be baffled. Being baffled. Covering it up and pretending to not be baffled. The tricks themselves.

It is all play.

Not knowing in two ways

Not knowing comes in two distinct flavors…

There is the not knowing outside of thought and stories, and the not knowing inside of thought and stories.

Awareness is inherently free from knowing, and this is noticed when this field of awakeness and form awakens to itself as a field, inherently free from the filter of any story, including the stories of a separate self, a center, a subject and object, and so on. This is the not knowing outside of thoughts and stories, the not knowing inherent in the Buddha Mind. And we can notice this one in a simple way by asking ourselves: is knowing inherent in the awareness of what is happening here now, or does a sense of knowing come from the filter of thought overlaid on this?

Then there is the conventional not knowing, the not knowing within the context of stories. The world is always more than and different from our stories about it (our maps, theories, assumptions, guesses, beliefs), so our stories are of temporary and practical value only. They help us orient and navigate in the world, but not much more than that. Inherent in any story is the not knowing from it having only limited and practical value, at best, and from the equally limited truth in each of its reversals.

Noticing and becoming familiar with both of these forms of not knowing is of great value in our lives. The first not knowing help us notice what we really are, free from and outside of any stories. The second not knowing helps us see stories as only tools of practical and temporary value. Both help us find ourselves as that which is already free from stories, see thoughts as just thoughts, and free us from taking stories as anything more than just stories. There is a mutuality between both, one offering insight into the other.

And they are really just two ways of talking about the same.

Gifts of confusion

What are some of the gifts of confusion…?

(That question came up in a conversation today with a friend, who tends to get contracted when she is confused.)

This is a somewhat confused and exploratory post, so more after the jump.

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