Alan Watts: My philosophy is not concerned with what should be but with what is

People often ask me why I smoke and drink. I don’t preach, remember. My philosophy is not concerned with what should be but with what is.

– Alan Watts

Another beautiful Alan Watts quote, and, as usual, there is a lot to explore in it.

I too am interested in the descriptive more than the prescriptive. I am interested in the exploration and what I find. I am interested in what’s already here.

That doesn’t mean that the prescriptive doesn’t have a place. It has often been used by religions, philosophers, governments, and those in power to regulate society. In the best case, it can help society to function more smoothly.1 In the worst case, it’s used to maintain hierarchies and power for the few privileged and to justify inequality and injustice.

At an individual level, it can be used as a temporary (artificial and external) guideline to keep us out of trouble. For those on a spiritual path, it can also roughly mimic how we would live if we did live from our nature recognizing itself.

It also doesn’t mean that exploring our nature can’t be transformative. It often is. When our nature consciously recognizes itself – and recognizes that it’s forming itself into all of its content, including anything related to this human self – that creates a context that can be transformative for our human self and life in the world.2 This too is more about noticing, exploring, and describing more than anything prescriptive. The way this unfolds cannot be prescribed, no more than we can prescribe how a plant should grow.

When it comes to smoking and drinking and similar things, I take a pragmatic approach. I was never drawn to smoking, and alcohol doesn’t feel good in my body. I’ll have a small amount of wine or beer (oatmeal stout) very occasionally, and that’s it. My mind is weird enough as it is so I don’t need to make it weirder. My health is challenged enough so I don’t need to make it worse. It’s not from shoulds or morals. It’s just what happens to work for me, it seems.

NOTES

(1) The Ten Commandments is an example of guidelines to help society run more smoothly. Other guidelines also have a practical function. For instance, when some religions say you should stay indoors during a solar eclipse (and add to the motivation by saying it’s “bad luck” to look at it), I assume it is so people won’t damage their eyes by looking directly at the eclipse.

(2) It seems that, over time and in its own time, the human self and psyche transform to be more aligned with this oneness. In the best case, old wounds, hangups, and traumas – which are created by and operate from separation consciousness – realign more with oneness, which is what we call healing, and when the human self operates less from these wounds it lives more from (a very ordinary kind of) kindness and sanity. This happens more easily when we actively join in with that process and invite in that healing for the wounded parts of us. I assume it’s an ongoing process without any finishing line, at least not within the relatively short lifetime of this human self.

Image dreamt up by me and Midjourney

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Alan Watts: No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along

No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along or that the whole object of playing it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.

– Alan Watts, This Is It and Other Essays on Zen and Spiritual Experience

Yet another beautiful quote from the weird and wonderful Alan Watts.

QUALITATIVELY BETTER?

Why do we get sometimes caught up in ideas of progress and improvement? I suspect it’s largely because of our Western culture. At another level, it’s often because we try to compensate for a sense of lack.

There is nothing wrong with aiming to change our life or the world. That’s a natural and healthy impulse. There is not even anything wrong with the ideas of progress and improvement. And yet, it’s good to examine our thoughts about it.

Do I assume that when I label something progress or improvement, it’s anything else than my own label? Do I assume that what I label progress or improvement is qualitatively better? Do I assume it will somehow give me what I really want? If I explore what I really want, what do I find? What’s the essence of it?

IDEAS OF IMPROVEMENT

We have this idea that we or our lives should improve in quality over time. To us, improvement in quality may mean that… We should be more mature. More healed. More perfect. More awake. More evolved. More embodied. Our lives should be more together. We should have more in place. We should achieve more of our dreams.

We often have an idea of a finishing line. If only this happens, then I will have arrived. I will be loved. Saved. Understood.

We think that our life has to have some significance or meaning apart from just living it as it is.

These are ideas inherent in our Western culture and some religions. We need to improve to be worthy of love, safety, acknowledgment, and so on. We often learn this in childhood. Our parents give us love and approval if we improve in certain ways.

QUESTIONING THESE IDEAS

It’s good to notice and examine these ideas and dynamics.

Does progress and improvement mean an improvement in quality? Does it mean I am better? More lovable? More acceptable? More safe?

Does it give me what I really want? Does it give me the essential universals I really want? Love? Acceptance? Safety? Being seen and understood?

Can I find progress and improvement outside of my ideas?

What if (what my mind calls) progress or improvement is not inherently or essentially better or worse?

Ideas of improvement and progress are mind-created. They are not inherent in life or existence.

THE UPSIDES

Of course, it’s understandable if we wish to find more healing or change certain aspects of our lives. That’s natural and even healthy. It can help us to find some peace or healing or a more comfortable life. It can make us a little easier to be around.

It’s also easy to see how these dynamics have fueled much of the art, science, and what we think of as progress in our society and civilization. They are not bad. They have upsides. They can help us achieve and find some kind of success in society.

It’s important to acknowledge this. I love much of what we think of as progress in our society. I am grateful for whatever healing and maturing has happened with me. (Difficult to tell what’s actually happening though.)

THE DOWNSIDES

These dynamics also come with downsides, and it’s good to notice.

If we get caught up in some kind of improvement project, it’s often in response to a sense of lack. We feel we are not enough, so we want to improve ourselves or our lives until we are enough. That won’t happen. As long as we try to compensate for the wound in us, nothing will ever be enough. Our only choice is to examine the sense of not being enough and find some healing for how we relate to it, and perhaps even find healing for that “not enough” part of us.

Also, what we think of as progress in society and our Western civilization comes with downsides. In our case, it has meant ecocide and massive destruction of nature. It has meant occupation and theft around the globe. It has meant massive suffering for women, children, non-Europeans, and non-human beings. (And also for the ones doing all of this.) It has meant abuse of nature and destructive extraction of natural resources around the world.

MY STORY

In my case, life placed me in a position where I had to face this part of me. I have the “not enough” wound in me. I did a lot to try to compensate for it. (I often excelled in academics and got top grades. I was at the University library and poured over articles when others were out partying. I put my heart and soul into art and even, for a little while, became a kind of art star in my teens. I threw myself into meditation and several forms of spiritual practice and did it for hours a day. (I even found a way to do it 24/7 through the heart prayer/Jesus prayer). I went to therapists. I worked to improve my local community and help make it more sustainable. I did a lot more than what was expected of me in whatever I was doing.) Then it all came crashing down with my health. I no longer could do these things. I could not read books anymore. I could hardly express myself coherently verbally. My memory was shot. The awakening shift from long ago was not anything “I” could take credit for since it was so obvious that “I” did nothing to make it happen. I had nothing in my life to help me feel better about the “not enough” part of me. So I had to find more peace with it. What if I am not enough? What if this, my life as it is in all its mundane lack of glory, is enough?

That’s a key too. I have found a little more peace with it because all other avenues seemed impossible.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Hans Børli: I see and know that I see / Jeg ser og vet at jeg ser

I see
And know that I see
So simply is happiness created

Jeg ser.
Og vet at jeg ser.
Så enkelt blir en lykke til.

– Hans Børli

The consciousness I am sees and the consciousness I am knows that it’s seeing. The consciousness I am forms itself into all of it – what’s seen, what sees, what knows the seeing. Noticing that is like coming home and brings up a kind of quiet bliss and happiness.

Sting: You could be me in another life, in another set of circumstances

Don’t judge me
You could be me
In another life In another set of circumstances

– Sting in Tomorrow we’ll see

This refrain from Sting frequently comes to mind when I see people in different situations and with other values and orientations from me.

I could be them, in another life, in another set of circumstances.

We are both the product of a slightly different set of infinite causes going back to the beginning of time and out to the widest extent of existence.

Their life, my life, are both expressions of existence, of this universe. We are expressions of this living planet. We are expressions of the same seamless whole.

I can find them in me. I could be them.

In a very real sense, I am them. Whatever story I have about them, I can turn around to myself and find genuine and specific examples of where it’s true. To me, they happen within and as the consciousness I am. The consciousness I am forms itself into my experience of them and all I see in them. It’s me.

Danielle LaPorte: Right now there are Tibetan Buddhist monks in a temple in the Himalayas endlessly reciting mantras for the cessation of your suffering

Right now: There are Tibetan Buddhist monks in a temple in the Himalayas endlessly reciting mantras for the cessation of your suffering and for the flourishing of your happiness. Someone you haven’t met yet is already dreaming of adoring you. Someone is writing a book that you will read in the next two years that will change how you look at life. Nuns in the Alps are in endless vigil, praying for the Holy Spirit to alight the hearts of all of God’s children. A farmer is looking at his organic crops and whispering, “nourish them.” Someone wants to kiss you, to hold you, to make tea for you. Someone is willing to lend you money, wants to know what your favourite food is, and treat you to a movie. Someone in your orbit has something immensely valuable to give you — for free. Something is being invented this year that will change how your generation lives, communicates, heals and passes on. The next great song is being rehearsed.

Thousands of people are doing yoga right now intentionally sending light out from their heart chakras and wrapping it around the earth. Millions of children are assuming that everything is amazing and will always be that way. — Someone is in profound pain, and a few months from now, they’ll be thriving like never before. They just can’t see it from where they’re at.

Someone who is craving to be partnered, to be acknowledged, to ARRIVE, will get precisely what they want — and even more. And because that gift will be so fantastical in its reach and sweetness, it will quite magically alter their memory of angsty longing and render it all “So worth the wait.”

Someone has recently cracked open their joyous, genuine nature because they did the hard work of hauling years of oppression off of their psyche — this luminosity is floating in the ether, and is accessible to everyone.

Someone, just this second, wished for world peace, in earnest.

Someone is fighting the fight so that you don’t have to. Some civil servant is making sure that you get your mail, and your garbage is picked up, that the trains are running on time, and that you are generally safe. Someone is dedicating their days to protecting your civil liberties and clean drinking water.

Someone is regaining their sanity. Someone is coming back from the dead. Someone is genuinely forgiving the seemingly unforgivable. Someone is curing the incurable.

YOU. ME. SOME. ONE. NOW.

Danielle LaPorte

This is beautiful because it’s true.

Of course, I may not be the one doing these things. Some of this may happen to someone else. Someone I haven’t met may dream of adoring me, and we may not meet. I may not resonate with yogis and heart chakras. None of it may directly have anything to do with me. That’s not the point. The point is that this too is the world we are living in, and it’s part of what makes it beautiful and precious. And if some of it happens in my life, that’s icing on the cake.

David Attenborough: Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist

We have a finite environment—the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.

– David Attenborough in an interview at the World Economic Forum 2019

I love David Attenborough and what he says, although I would say it slightly differently.

ASSUMPTIONS OF INFINITE RESOURCES AND CAPACITY

The problem is not growth in itself, since growth can be defined in many different ways.

The problem is to assume that our planet can provide infinite natural resources to sustain our civilization, and to assume it has infinite capacity to absorb the waste and toxins of civilization.

That assumption is clearly madness. That’s the assumption at the core of the economic system we have today. It’s at the core of the ecological crisis we find ourselves in. It’s at the core of why our current civilization will end. And it’s at the core of the crisis we as humans find ourselves in.

A TRANSITION INTO A DIFFERENT CIVILIZATION?

Will we be able to transition into a different kind of civilization? How many of us will die before we do? How many species will go extinct? How much damage will we see to our life-support systems?

Will we make it all? Will our planet change so much that it’s the end of humanity? (It’s perhaps not as unlikely as many assume.)

OUR ECONOMIC SYSTEM

How did we get ourselves into this situation?

There are many answers.

Our economic system was developed at a time when we could assume infinite natural resources and an infinite capacity of nature to absorb our waste. We were not that many and our technology was not as advanced, so we could live in that fantasy for a while.

Today, the situation is very different. We are far into overshoot. We are using far more resources than the Earth can recreate. We are putting far more waste and toxins into the planet than it can handle.

Just like using money from a bank account, it may look OK for a while, and then there is a sudden crash. We are seeing the beginnings of that crash.

ALTERNATIVES

Our current economic system is just one of many possible.

It’s easy to imagine an economic system that takes ecological realities into account, and many have worked on developing and implementing versions of that.

We have the solutions.

The real question is: Do we have the collective will? Are we going to find it in time to avoid a massive collapse of our civilization?

OUR WORLDVIEW

Another answer is our worldview. We have a worldview that assumes separation – a separation between humans and the rest of this living system we call Earth. We assume a kind of superiority of humans and the right of humans to do what they want with the rest of this living system. We assume no limits to nature and what it can do for us.

We have a power-over orientation rather than power-with. In a power-over orientation, we see nature and sometimes even other people primarily as resources, as something we can make use of for our own benefit. In a limited sense and in some situations, that’s OK. But in our civilization, that’s the primary orientation. In a power-with orientation, we seek cooperation with others and nature. We seek to find mutually beneficial relationships. We seek to live within the natural limits. We seek to live in a way that benefits life as a whole and not just ourselves.

We also have an idea of a sky god, a god that’s transcendent and somehow outside of this universe. That too allows us to see nature as primarily a resource and something to use for our own narrow and often short-sighted benefit. If we saw Spirit in the universe and in Earth and ourselves, it would be very different. In this kind of worldview, we would treat others, ourselves, and nature with more reverence.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Our civilization will not last. All civilizations come and go. Humanity came and will go.

Everything that comes together falls apart.

Death creates space for something new.

In our case, another human civilization may develop in the place of our current one.

Or humanity may go sooner rather than later, and – given a few million or billion years – another species may develop another civilization.

It’s not wrong or bad. It’s how this universe works. It’s how we came to be here.

The death of stars created most of the elements of this planet that formed themselves into us and all we know. The death of species allowed our species to evolve as it did. The death of individuals created space for new individuals, including us.

We are transitory just like anything else, and something else – equally amazing – will take our place.

The larger whole we are a part of will transform itself into something else.

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann: My people are not threatened by silence

My people are not threatened by silence. They are completely at home in it. They have lived for thousands of years with Nature’s quietness. My people today recognise and experience in this quietness the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all. It is easy for me to experience God’s presence. When I am out hunting, when I am in the bush, among the trees, on a hill or by a billabong; these are the times when I can simply be in God’s presence. My people have been so aware of Nature. It is natural that we will feel close to the Creator. Our Aboriginal culture has taught us to be still and to wait. We do not try to hurry things up. We let them follow their natural course – like the seasons. We watch the moon in each of its phases. We wait for the rain to fill our rivers and water the thirsty earth…

When twilight comes, we prepare for the night. At dawn we rise with the sun.

We watch the bush foods and wait for them to ripen before we gather them. We wait for our young people as they grow, stage by stage, through their initiation ceremonies. When a relation dies, we wait a long time with the sorrow. We own our grief and allow it to heal slowly.

We wait for the right time for our ceremonies and our meetings. The right people must be present. Everything must be done in the proper way. Careful preparations must be made. We don’t mind waiting, because we want things to be done with care.

We don’t like to hurry. There is nothing more important than what we are attending to. There is nothing more urgent that we must hurry away for.

We wait on God, too. His time is the right time. We wait for him to make his word clear to us. We don’t worry. We know that in time and in the spirit of dadirri (that deep listening and quiet stillness) his way will be clear.

We are river people. We cannot hurry the river. We have to move with its current and understand its ways.

We hope that the people of Australia will wait. Not so much waiting for us – to catch up – but waiting with us, as we find our pace in this world.

If you stay closely united, you are like a tree, standing in the middle of a bushfire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burnt; but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree, you have endured the flames, and you still have the power to be reborn.

Our culture is different. We are asking our fellow Australians to take time to know us; to be still and to listen to us.

– Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann (Aboriginal activist, educator, artist and 2021 Senior Australian of the year)

I have noticed a few things in my own life related to much of what she so beautifully mentions here.

When I am in nature – for instance at the cabin in Norway or in the countryside in the Andes mountains – I naturally get up at dawn and go to bed early. I follow the natural cycles. It just makes sense in those settings. (A more urban setting tends to disconnect me more from nature, although only to a certain extent.)

In general, it’s difficult for me to do anything unless the time feels ripe – the situation and something in me is ready for it. I organize my life, as far as possible, so there is some flexibility in when I do my tasks so I can do it when it happens naturally.

It’s also very difficult to know anything very far in advance. I cannot easily plan more than two or three weeks ahead because my intuition and inner guidance don’t work that far in advance. Too much may happen and too much may change in me between now and then.

I love silence. I love the sounds of nature without too much human noise. I don’t really understand the tendency of some in our civilization to want noise and to want to play loud music or anything loud. (I understand it may be fun and exciting for a little while, they enjoy the contrast, and that some may want to drown out their own inner distress that way, but I cannot connect with it viscerally so much.)

I sometimes have a strong inner guidance about a situation, and it turns out later to be accurate. If others are involved, it can create a challenge for me since I cannot explain it rationally so they understand.

The image is created by me and Midjourney, very loosely inspired by aboriginal art.

Non-existent self?

The tragedy and comedy of the human condition is that we spend most of our lives thinking, feeling, acting, perceiving and relating on behalf of a non-existent self.

– Rupert Spira

To me, talking about a non-existent self seems a little one-sided.

THE SMALL SELF

If we experience a self, then for all practical purposes there is a self.

It may not exist the way we think it does, and it may not be what we think and assume it is, but it’s real to us.

For practical purposes, there is a human self here functioning in the world, and what the passport tells us about this self and the identities we have created for it all has some validity.

More essentially, there is also the appearance of a doer and observer. If I have the experience of a doer and observer, and perhaps even being this doer and observer, then that’s real for me.

WHAT I MORE FUNDAMENTALLY AM

At the same time, it’s not what I more fundamentally am. When I look, I find I more fundamentally am what this whole field of experience – which includes the wider world and this human self – happens within and as what I am.

For lack of a better way to talk about it, I may call that consciousness. To myself, I am more fundamentally this consciousness that any content of experience – to me – happens within and as.

WHAT I AM FORMS ITSELF INTO ITS OWN CONTENT OF EXPERIENCE

The consciousness I am forms itself into an experience of the wider world and this human self, and perhaps also a doer and an observer, and sometimes also into BEING this doer, observer, and/or human self. (It may even form itself into an experience of being the IDEA of consciousness, which then distracts from a more direct noticing.)

This is all the play of the consciousness I am. It’s some of the many ways it’s expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself and it’s apparently infinite potential.

MEDICINE FOR A CONDITION

I assume Rupert Spira talks about a non-existent self as medicine for a condition.

It’s medicine for the condition of being stuck in the idea that there is a self here and that it’s what we most fundamentally are.

I also assume that his phrasing is intentional and that he in other situations talks about it in other ways and addresses the other side(s) and the bigger picture.

STUCK?

The alternative is that he is stuck in the idea of a non-existent self.

He may be stuck out of a phrasing habit while really knowing better.

Or he may actually be stuck in the idea, which then distracts from a more direct noticing and a more fluid way of talking about it.

I don’t know him or his way of talking well enough to say. (I have never been drawn to his pointers too much, perhaps because they seem a bit one-sided?)

In any case, I prefer to take the more generous view. I’ll assume it’s intentional and that his direct noticing is more sincere and that his talking is generally more fluid and inclusive.

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Byron Katie: Believing what you fear makes it true for you, and that doesn’t make it true

Believing what you fear
makes it true for you,
and that doesn’t make it true

– Byron Katie

At a general intellectual level, this seems obvious: Holding a thought as true and experiencing it as true doesn’t make it true.

And yet, for many parts of me, it seems not obvious at all. Many parts of my psyche operate as if holding a thought as true makes it true. They mistake mental imagination for what it supposedly points to.

Any time there is any charge on a thought, any time there is reactivity, defensiveness, and so on, it’s a sign that a part of my psyche holds a stressful thought as true.

And to explore that, it helps to have a structured process preferably guided by someone familiar with the terrain. The most effective approaches I have found so far are The Work of Byron Katie and the Kiloby Inquiries (based on traditional Buddhist sense field inquiry).

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The beauty of common expressions (AKA “thought-terminating cliches”)

I saw this quote posted on social media, and thought I would explore it and see what I find.

What the quote calls “thought-terminating cliches” I prefer to call “common expressions”.

HOW IT IS FOR ME

In general, I love taking idea fragments – from quotes, book titles, or common expressions – and using them as a pointer for my own exploration.

I assume it’s like that for many of us, and for most or all of us sometimes.

I hear or think of a common phrase, and see what I find. Typically, I find the validity in it, in the reversals, in other ways to look at it and the bigger picture, and also that all of that are questions about the world here to help us orient and navigate in the world.

SOME COMMON EXPRESSIONS

What do I find if I explore the phrases in the quote?

It is what it is. For me, this is a beautiful expression. It reminds me that reality is what it is, and my experience of it and ideas about it are very limited. It is what it is, and I cannot know for certain anything about it. My thoughts are questions.

It’s in God’s hands. Yes, in a way everything is in God’s hands. Everything happening locally is the expression of movements in the larger whole. Everything has innumerable causes stretching back to the beginning of time and the widest extent of the universe. It’s good to be reminded of this now and then. (And not use it as an excuse for inactivity or harmful actions.)

YOLO. This too is a wonderful expression. I only live once. This moment will never return. What’s here in my experience is something I will never experience again. It’s something nobody has ever experienced before and nobody will ever experience it in the future. This moment, as it is, is infinitely precious. And it’s also all I have. My world is all I know, and I can only find the past, future, and somewhere else in my fantasies (sometimes very useful fantasies) happening here and now.

THOUGHT-TERMINATING CLICHES

What do I find when I explore the idea of “thought-terminating cliches”?

There is a valuable reminder in the idea of “thought-terminating cliches”, and that is that reality is always different from and more than our ideas about it. Reality is always far richer.

At the same time, the idea of a “thought-terminating cliche” can in itself become a thought-terminating cliche. We can agree with it and overlook the value and beauty of common expressions. We can overlook or reject the wisdom in them. We can overlook their value as a short hand to ease communication. We can overlook their value as a pointer and seed for our own exploration.

Perhaps most importantly, if someone hears or thinks of a common expression and doesn’t explore it further, then it says something about them. Not the common expression itself.

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Rumi: Things are such

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
Or watching the rain, petting a dog,
Or singing, just singing — could be doing as
Much for this universe as anyone.

– Rumi

Yes, that’s my sense of it as well.

VALUING PRODUCTIVITY

Does this poem have to do with value and productivity? It’s at least easy for us, in our Western culture, to see it that way.

There is nothing wrong with valuing productivity. We need some level of productivity to collectively and individually survive and thrive. (1) It makes sense that it’s part of our culture, and probably any culture. (2)

At the same time, if it goes too far it has downsides. In our Western culture, we have valued productivity to the extent that we often equate our worth with what we do in the world. We have lost sight of our value from just being who we are and being part of existence.

THE VALIDITY OF THE POEM

When I explore what Rumi points to, I find a few different things.

Doing simple things, or just being, does a lot for our universe. For the universe we each are. When I sit outside hearing the birds and looking at the trees and flowers, does as much for my universe as just about anything.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. So even the simplest of activities, or just the experience of rest, does as much for the universe as anything.

The idea of productivity or value is mind-made. It’s not inherent in reality. So anything does as much for the universe as anything else.

WHY IT’S APPEALING

So there is no wonder this poem, in this particular translation, is attractive to many in the modern world.

We are trained to (over-) value productivity and equate our worth with what we do. And that comes with downsides. It fuels over-work. It may lead us to ignore our deeper interests and passions. And if or when we are unable to be as productive as our culture tells us we should, our self-worth may take a hit.

So this poem is an antidote to that idea. It’s medicine for that particular condition.

NOTES

(1) And the right kind of productivity. The kind of productivity that puts food on the table, a roof over our heads, and so on.

(2) Although the form this value takes in different cultures probably varies enormously. It can take the form of degrading and devaluing those who are unable to be productive. And it can take the form of valuing everyone and each person’s unique contributions, even if they are not very active in a conventional sense.

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Nothing matters, everything matters

We can explore this in different ways.

CAN APPEAR AS A PARADOX

If we take thoughts as holding exclusive truth, then this can seem a paradox. (1)

How can both be true?

THE NATURE OF THOUGHTS

If we recognize thoughts as thoughts, this seems different.

Thoughts are questions about the world. They are here to help us orient and navigate in the world.

Thoughts cannot hold any full, final, or absolute truth. That’s not their function. (2)

Here, we recognize that everything and nothing and matters are all ideas. They are mind-made and not inherent in the world.

THE VALIDITY OF BOTH

And there is validity in both.

When I explore this, I find…

Nothing matters

To matter is an idea. I cannot find it outside of an idea. It’s not inherent in reality. Nothing matters because I cannot find “to matter” outside of my ideas of it.

Everything matters

To me, everything happens within and as the consciousness I am. It’s literally me taking all these forms. Everything matters because to me it’s all me.

Also, as a human being, I love this world. I love nature. I love all the ways reality shows up. I love how the universe has formed itself into all we know. I am part of this world so everything matters to me.

It’s all true in its own way.

NOTES

(1) To get to this point where thoughts seem true AND mutually exclusive, we have to do a lot of mental gymnastics. We have to convince ourselves, against overwhelming contrary evidence, that our thoughts somehow are true. (Whatever that means.) And we have to convince ourselves, again against overwhelming evidence, that whatever validity is in different thoughts is mutually exclusive.

(2) Our ideas about the world highlight some features and leave other things out. They leave out an infinite amount, and we mostly don’t even know what’s left out. They are different in nature from what they point to. They reflect our unique viewpoints and biases. The world is always more than and different from our ideas about it.

CG Jung: Among those in the second half of life… there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life

I have treated many hundreds of patients. Among those in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook.

– CG Jung

I don’t know exactly how Jung understands the term “religious outlook” and I won’t speak for him.

For me, I understand it in the widest sense possible. I would perhaps say “meaning, purpose, and connection with the larger whole”.

We all seem to have a deep need for meaning, purpose, and a sense of connection.

Why? Because existence is already a seamless whole. If we don’t consciously notice that, we will have a sense that something is missing. What’s missing is our conscious recognition of the connections that are already here, and perhaps the conscious cultivation of connections that are especially meaningful and important to us.

That connection is with ourselves as who we are, as a human being with a body and psyche. The connections here are with our body, subpersonalities, deepest needs and wishes (which tend to be simple and universal), and so on.

The connection is with our nature, with what we are. With our fundamental nature as consciousness, and noticing that the word to us happens within and as this consciousness. (And oneness.)

The connection is also with others, social systems, ecosystems, Earth as a living and evolving whole, the universe as an evolving seamless system, and existence as a whole. (I would call existence as a whole God.)

All of this is already a seamless whole. We are already in a relationship with it all. And as what we are, it’s all already happening within and as what we are. And if we are not consciously noticing these connections – and how it’s happening within and as what we are, we’ll feel we are missing something.

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Dogen Zenji: When buddhas are truly buddhas, they are not necessarily aware of themselves as buddhas

When buddhas are truly buddhas, they are not necessarily aware of themselves as buddhas.

– Dogen Zenji in Genjo Koan

In some cases, the oneness we are recognizes itself and lives its life through and as a human being, and there is no awareness of it being unusual or having a name. It may not ever have heard about it, or it has heard about it but doesn’t apply it to itself. It’s just a natural and uncontrived living from and as itself as oneness.

In some cases, the oneness we are recognizes itself and there is an awareness of it as having a name, but it’s not a focus, and it’s mostly forgotten. The metaphorical center of gravity is mostly in oneness, it knows full well about labels and perhaps maps of the process, and labels are not important in daily life.

It’s mostly when the oneness we are has a tenuous conscious grasp on its own nature that it feels a need to hold onto labels and to remind itself about those labels. And that’s not wrong. It’s natural and innocent and a part of the process.

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Claude Monet: Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.

– Claude Monet

How would it be to set aside the impulse to understand, and instead find love for what’s here?

How would it be to find love for what’s here as an expression of life or existence?

Or find love for it as happening within and as the consciousness I am? (As it appears to me.)

And in this context, we can explore how to understand it.

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Adyashanti: The ego is waiting for a cosmic finish line: “I’ll be really really conscious so I can cross the finish line, then I don’t have to be conscious anymore”

The ego is waiting for a cosmic finish line: “I’ll be really really conscious so I can cross the finish line, then I don’t have to be conscious anymore.”

– Adyashanti

This fits my experience.

A part of me is scared and tired of having to deal with things all the time, so it wants it all to be finished. It wants the challenges to be finished. This can take many forms, including ideas about awakening or enlightenment being that finishing line.

That’s natural and innocent.

And it’s good to be aware of. It helps me see that this is a part of me. It feels scared and tired. It wishes for some comfort and care. And I can give it that. I can be with it. I can understand. I can find love for it. I can notice that its nature is the same as my nature.

What is the “ego”? As far as I can tell, it’s the dynamics that happen when we – or a part of us – hold a story as true. The oneness we are takes on the perspective of the story, identifies with and as it, and perceives and lives (to some extent) as if it’s true. That’s inherently stressful since it’s out of alignment with reality. That stress may lead to that part of us wanting it all to be over, perhaps through a kind of cosmic finishing line.

These parts of me wish for liberation. And I am the one who can give it to them. I can be their friend and guide.

I can be there for them. Listen to the painful story they operate from. Identify the painful story. Examine it to find what’s genuinely more true for me. Feel what these parts of me are feeling. Meet it with kindness and love. Recognize that these parts of me come from love, they wish to protect me. Give them what they really want. (Often a variation of something simple and universal like a sense of safety, being loved, understood, or supported.) Recognize that their nature is the same as mine. (AKA consciousness.) And rest in and as this and allow that to transform me, it, and our relationship.

Roshi Shunryu Suzuki: When you feel the oneness of everything, you naturally don’t want to harm anything

When you feel the oneness of everything, you naturally don’t want to harm anything.

– Roshi Shunryu Suzuki

I love exploring quotes. What do I find when I look at this one?

WHY A FEELING?

First, why does he use the word “feel” in this quote?

After all, when our nature recognizes itself, it’s not a feeling. As they say in Zen, it’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It’s a love that’s not dependent on shifting states and feelings.

I imagine he may phrase it so it’s more relatable. He knows it’s not a feeling, but it’s an easy shorthand even if it’s also a bit misleading. And quotes always come in a context where it may make more sense.

He could also refer to a sense of oneness, a kind of intuition of oneness. That’s something that can happen before there is a more clear and direct noticing. That too would make it more relatable to more people.

FEELINGS RELATED TO OUR NATURE RECOGNIZING ITSELF

There can be feelings related to our nature recognizing itself. When it happened here, there were many, probably partly because this human self was an angsty teenager not at all prepared for it.

From what I remember, it was first mostly just recognition and a sense of finally coming home to the reality that’s always been and that I have always known even without consciously knowing it.

And then a little later a mix of amazement, wonder, awe, overwhelm, shock, enthusiasm, and more. These were my human reactions to it, the response from my human self. And they were very much colored by the personal situation and make-up of my human self.

There was also another feeling created by these responses and one that’s difficult to describe in words. It was a kind of very comfortable bliss, like a kind of blanket. And for a while, I got a bit attached to this feeling. (This particular feeling went away later.)

And there is also another kind of bliss inherent in this recognition, or in our nature. This is a quiet bliss that seems less related to my human response to it.

GETTING IT VISCERALLY

There is another side to this, and that is what happens when the recognition matures us into it. As we get more familiar with this new terrain, and as more parts of us align with it, we get it more viscerally. We get it more with our whole being. Our center of gravity shifts into it.

This too is not really a feeling in the way we typically use the word, but since it’s more visceral it also fits.

WHAT DOES THE QUOTE REFER TO?

All of this is peripheral to what the quote really refers to.

OUR NATURE

In a conventional sense, we are a human being in the world. That’s an assumption that works for most practical purposes. Here, not wanting to harm anything depends on conditioning, empathy, feelings, and so on.

When we explore what we are in our own first-person experience, we may find something else.

I find I more fundamentally am capacity for what happens in my sense fields, my content of experience. I am more fundamentally capacity for the world, for any sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, and mental image and word. I am more fundamentally capacity for anything any thought or sense may tell me I am.

I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what any content of experience happens within and as.

Said with other words, I find I am what a thought may call consciousness, and the world to me happens within and as the consciousness I am.

ONENESS AND NOT WANTING TO HARM

Here, there is oneness. The world to me is one.

And when the oneness I am recognizes itself, and explores how it is to live from this recognition, it’s natural to not want to harm anything. It would be like harming myself. It wouldn’t make sense.

This is not dependent on any changing feeling or state. It’s just dependent on the recognition. (Which is, in a way, a state – a state of recognition.)

OUR HUMAN SELF MAY NOT BE COMPLETELY ON BOARD

And yet, that’s not all that’s in play here.

Our nature may recognize itself, and doing harm may not make any sense.

And life is more complicated. In some situations, doing what seems the most right may bring some harm. For instance, right now, I have a family situation that requires me to be away from my cat. I know it brings her distress but something else takes priority. That’s just a simple example, but it’s the kind of situation we often find ourselves in.

Also, our human self may not be completely on board with oneness.

Our psyche and personality were typically formed within separation consciousness, and many parts of us may still operate from separation consciousness even after there is a more general recognition of oneness.

These parts of us inevitably color our perception and actions in the world. They sometimes get triggered more strongly. And we may even get caught up in them in some areas of life and at some times.

That’s part of the process too.

MIRRORING

There is an interesting mirroring here.

When the oneness we are takes itself to most fundamentally be something within itself, a separate self, then not wanting to harm depends on conditioning, empathy, and so on.

And when it recognizes itself, then conditioning tends to interfere with living from and as oneness.

Of course, it’s not that black and white. In the first case, the oneness we are shines through often enough. And in the second case, much of our conditioning does support living from not wanting to harm ourselves or others.

WHY IS THE TITLE LAST?

Then there is something peripheral that I have been curious about from the first day of getting into Zen when I was twenty-four in Salt Lake City.

Why do we put the title after the name? Why do most say “Shunryu Suzuki Roshi”? It’s like saying “John Smith, priest” instead of “priest John Smith”.

Yes, they may do it in Japan, but that’s because several languages in Asia use a reverse order from us.

I like to put Roshi first.

And yes, I know this has to do with a few different parts of me. One that wants things to make sense to myself and others. A part of me that likes to investigate and look at things from different angles. And also a slightly contrarian part of me that ties into the two others.

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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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Ibn ‘Arabi: O Lord, increase my perplexity concerning Thee!

O Lord, increase my perplexity concerning Thee!

– Ibn ‘Arabi in Fusus al-Hikem and quoted in The Honesty of the Perplexed: Derrida and Ibn ‘Arabi on “Bewilderment”

Why would we ask for perplexity?

The simple answer is that it helps us with receptivity, and it’s closer aligned with reality.

NOTICING MYSTERY

This is not about creating perplexity.

It’s about noticing that everything is ultimately mystery.

THE MYSTERY THAT’S ALREADY HERE

What we think we know is just that, what we think we know.

Any thought is a question about the world.

Thoughts are maps to help us orient and function in the world.

They are provisional and always up for revision.

They will change with experience and information.

And there are other contexts and worldview that fit the data as well or better, and will make as much or more sense to us, and that will turn everything inside out and upside down for us.

They cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth.

The world is always more than and different from any map.

And that leaves the mystery. The mystery that’s already here.

NOT ONLY ABOUT GOD, AND ONLY ABOUT GOD

This is not only about God. This applies to everything.

And if we call everything God, then it is only about God.

RECEPTIVITY

Why is this important?

As mentioned above, it’s closer aligned with reality. It comes from noticing what’s already here.

And it helps open us to be a little more receptive. It helps us find curiosity and go outside of what we already think we know.

NOTICING WHAT WE MORE FUNDAMENTALLY ARE

It’s also a kind of prerequisite for noticing our nature. The more we shift out of any ideas of being anything in particular, or that any view has any real truth in it, the more we can find what we more fundamentally are.

As soon as we hold onto any ideas of being anything in particular, we identify with an identity, we identify with the viewpoint of that story, we take ourselves to be something within the content of experience. And what we more fundamentally are is something else. We are capacity for it all, and we are what it all happens within and as.

Holding onto that as an idea does the same, it ties us to a particular view and we take ourselves as something particular within the field of experience instead of the field itself.

The solution here is noticing what’s already here. Noticing what we already are. Noticing what we already are most familiar with. Noticing what’s all we have ever known.

And to notice with some guidance from someone familiar with that particular terrain.

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Something comes from nothing

When you combine the Uncertainty Principle with Einstein’s famous equation, you get a mind-blowing result: Particles can come from nothing.

“Nothing” doesn’t exist. Instead, there is “quantum foam”, Big Think

Any map or worldview is something we can explore as a projection. We can use it as a pointer for what’s already here in our experience. And that goes for worldviews from science as much as it does for worldviews from religion or mythology.

In this case, it points to our nature.

For daily life practical purposes, I am a human being in the world.

And when I explore what I am in my own first-person experience, I find something else.

I find I more fundamentally am capacity. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am capacity for any and all experience.

And from and within and as this capacity appears experience. This capacity takes the form of consciousness and experience.

From nothing comes something.

And I am all of it. I am capacity taking the form of consciousness and content of experience.

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Chelan Harkin: The worst thing we ever did was put God in the sky

The worst thing we ever did
was put God in the sky
out of reach
pulling the divinity
from the leaf,
sifting out the holy from our bones,
insisting God isn’t bursting dazzlement
through everything we’ve made
a hard commitment to see as ordinary,
stripping the sacred from everywhere
to put in a cloud man elsewhere,
prying closeness from your heart.

The worst thing we ever did
was take the dance and the song
out of prayer
made it sit up straight
and cross its legs
removed it of rejoicing
wiped clean its hip sway,
its questions,
its ecstatic yowl,
its tears.

The worst thing we ever did is pretend
God isn’t the easiest thing
in this Universe
available to every soul
in every breath

– from “Susceptible to Light” by Chelan Harkin

I agree with the essence of this poem, love that it is expressed in the form of a poem, and understand it’s written for effect.

At the same time, I would nuance it a bit.

SKY GODS

The sky-god phase was a phase in our western human culture. It didn’t happen in all cultures or for all of humanity. And I I suspect we are seeing the end of this phase, or at least the end of its monopoly.

It’s not inherently bad or wrong, but it does come with drawbacks and limitations as any view, and more people realize that these days and seek a different approach.

THE PLAY OF THE DIVINE

And who did all of this if not the divine, through and as us, culture, and evolution?

In some ways, we can say we did it. And it’s more fundamentally life who did it through and as us. Or the divine that did it, through and as us. And it’s also life – through and as us – that’s becoming aware of this now and seeks another way to see it.

All of it is life (or the divine) expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

EASY AND NOT SO EASY

And yes, that makes God the easiest thing. It’s everywhere and every experience. It’s what’s experiencing and the experience, and those two are really one.

And that’s not always so easy for the divine – when it locally and temporarily takes the form of us – to fully comprehend. After all, as us it’s living within a culture where the sky-god view is ingrained, and where it has trained itself to see itself as separate.

That too is part of its dance and exploration of itself in always new ways.

FINDING IT HERE AND NOW

As usual, I like to explore this as a projection.

This is all happening here and now.

When I explore what I am in my own first-person experience, I find I am what the world to me happens within and as. To me, the world happens within and as what I am. Any ideas – of sky-gods, immanent divinity, people doing this and that, this person being a certain way, and so on – happens within and as what I am.

To me, all happens within and as the consciousness I am. I can project this out and say that all of existence is consciousness (AKA the divine, Spirit, God), and all of existence is the divine exploring itself, and that may be accurate. And yet, it’s more honest for me to stay with my own immediate noticing.

For me, all happens within and as what I am. I am this consciousness taking all these forms, and metaphorically exploring itself as all of these forms.

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Alejandro Jodorowsky: I am the others, the others are me

I am the others, the others are me

– Alejandro Jodorowsky in Jodorowsky’s Dune

I can find several ways it’s true.

The first two are more loose and poetic. The next three are something we can check out for ourselves in our direct noticing. And the last one either depends on our definition or is an assumption – at least for me now.

POETIC & SENSE OF US

We can mean it in a loose and poetic way.

I have a sense of fellowship and a sense of us.

So I am you and you are me in the sense that we are all in it together.

SYSTEMS VIEW

We are all part of and expressions of larger social and ecological systems.

We are expressions and parts of a larger whole, just like cells are part of a larger organism.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

In this sense too, I am you and you are me.

MIRROR

I see in others what I know from myself, whether I know I know it from myself or not.

I can take any story I have about someone else (or anything in the world), turn it to myself, and find genuine and specific examples of where it’s true.

You are my mirror. You are me.

I am your mirror. I am you.

This is something I can find for myself by exploring projections. One of my favorite ways is through inquiry and especially The Work of Byron Katie.

SENSE FIELDS

To me, the world happens within and as my sense fields.

To me, any experience is found within sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, thoughts, and so on.

To me, you happen within and as my sense fields.

Here too, you are me. And to you, I am you.

This is something I can explore and find for myself, by noticing my sense fields and how any experience happens within them. Traditional Buddhist sense field explorations are especially good for this.

WHAT I AM

In one sense, I am this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that’s not wrong and it works pretty well.

And when I look closer at what I am in my own experience, I find something else.

I find I more fundamentally am capacity for the world and anything that happens in my sense fields. I am what allows any and all experience, including what I think of as you.

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what you, to me, happen within and as.

If I want to put labels on it, I can say that to me, I am consciousness and the world happens within and as this consciousness I am.

In a very literal sense, you are me. And to you, I am you, whether you notice or not.

This is also something I can check out and find for myself, perhaps most effectively through forms of inquiry like the Big Mind process and Headless experiments, and also Basic Meditation.

SPIRIT

We can take this one step further.

If we call all of existence Spirit, the divine, or God, we can say that we are all aspects and expressions of Spirit.

I am you and you are me.

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Keith Jarrett on CFS & music creation

I was saying to the disease: I know you are here and I have accepted your presence, but I am still going ahead with this work. To start it I have to make it as intimate as possible.

As soon as it got complex, I stopped. I wanted to stay close to the song, to sing it. So I was turning my disease into a song.

The disease taught me a lot. The greater the experience, the deeper the simplicity. Time is the most complex part of that simplicity.

– Keith Jarrett from the documentary “The Art of Improvisation”, 2005

In this quote, Keith Jarrett talks about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and how it helped him simplify and become more intimate with the music. He didn’t stop making music, he changed his relationship with making music.

I love what he says here. It mirrors how my relationship with spiritual practice shifted when my CFS dramatically worsened some years ago. I also had to simplify and become more intimate with it.

For instance, basic meditation is to notice and allow what’s here. Instead of intentionally noticing and allowing, I shifted into something more simple and intimate. I notice that what’s here in my field of experience is already noticed and allowed. It’s already allowed. (By space, mind, life, existence.) It’s already noticed by consciousness before any conscious noticing. I align with what is already here instead of trying to manufacture anything or achieve something through effort. It may not look like a very big shift, and yet it makes all the difference. And it is more closely aligned with reality.

I was aware of and explored this difference long before this happened, but the CFS motivated me to be more simple and intimate in this noticing, and more diligent in finding the most simple and effortless way to notice.

And that’s happened in other areas of life as well, including in my connections with others. I have had to drop a lot of pretense and facades and be simple and more intimate, especially in my more close relationships.

Nicolette Sowder: May we raise children who love the unloved things

May we raise children who love the unloved things

May we raise children who love the unloved things-the dandelion, the worms and spiderlings.

Children who sense the rose needs the thorn

& run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards sun…

And when they’re grown & someone has to speak for those who have no voice

may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things

and be the ones.

– Nicolette Sowder, May we raise children who love the unloved things

Nicolette Sowder is the creator of Wilder Child and Wildschooling.

And yes, I love this poem.

I love anyone who loves the unloved things.

I love finding love for the unloved things in nature, in people, and in myself.

FINDING LOVE FOR MY OWN EXPERIENCE

For instance, it seems that any part of me that experiences stress, unease, discomfort, and so on, and goes into reactivity, does so because it’s unseen, unfelt, and unloved. Meeting it with love makes all the difference. I can meet it as I would like to be met when I feel that way. (When I identify with those parts of me.)

And to really meet it with love, I can do a bit more. I can dialog with it, listen to it, hear what it has to say, and see how I can shift my relationship with it to be more helpful. I can also find what’s more true than its familiar stressful stories, and help it find it for itself. And we can both notice that my nature is the same as its nature. We share nature. (AKA consciousness, we are both consciousness, we are the same, it happens within an as what I am.)

FINDING LOVE FOR THE UNLOVED

Finding love for the unloved – in people, nature, and ourselves – is crucial for our own well-being.

It’s crucial for creating a society that works better for everyone and especially those less fortunate.

And it’s crucial for the survival of our species and civilization. We are now facing the consequences of not doing this, and not speaking up for those without a voice, and life is showing us that our own survival depends on it.

Life is giving us a masterclass in finding love for the unloved and giving a voice to the voiceless.

It’s up to us if we realize what this class is about, and whether we learn and change and transform as needed.

C.G. Jung: The shadow is the first manifestation of our future inner wholeness

THE SHADOW AND OUR WHOLENESS

The shadow is the parts of us that don’t fit into our conscious self-image.

It’s not an entity or anything like that. It’s just whatever is here where we say “that’s not me”.

For that reason, we tend to see it in others and not in ourselves. When we see it in others, we are often annoyed by it. We dislike it.

So what we dislike in others, and obviously in ourselves, is a manifestation of our own wholeness.

It’s a part of the wholeness we already are, it’s just not yet the wholeness we consciously recognize, embrace, and relate to as part of ourselves.

In that sense, the shadow – and anything that annoys us in others – is a reminder of what can be our own future conscious wholeness.

It’s the wholeness we already are. And it can be the wholeness we embrace if we have the receptivity and willingness to explore and embrace it.

We push it away because it doesn’t fit our self-image, and it doesn’t seem desirable to us. And, in reality, there are great gifts in it. It helps us find more of our wholeness. And the essence of it is always useful in our life.

AN EXAMPLE

What are some examples of this?

One thing that sometimes annoys me in others is being noisy. I see them as inconsiderate and unconscious.

When I can find that in myself, I see that I am often inconsiderate – for instance in my mind when I see them that way. I am often, and really always, unconscious. There is always a lot in myself I am not conscious of, and there is a vast amount I am not conscious of when it comes to others and the world. Most of what is – in the world, others, and myself – are things I inevitably am not conscious of.

When I have those thoughts about someone else, I am describing myself and I am describing myself as I am in that moment.

Also, how would it be for me to be more free to sometimes be noisy? Maybe it would feel liberating? Natural? Maybe I would find another side of myself I would actually enjoy, at least now and then?

Simone Weil: There are two atheisms of which one is the purification of the notion of God 

There are two atheisms of which one is the purification of the notion of God 

– Simone Weil

One atheism is a rejection of there being any God or Spirit or anything divine. Typically, it’s actually a rejection of a certain image of God or the divine, or of a certain culture that goes with one or more religions, although it’s often presented as something more general.

The other is more discerning. It’s a differentiation between our mental representations of God from what these mental representations refer to. We can reject our images and mental representations without rejecting God or the divine. This is a purification of the notion of God.

The first is a belief. It’s a belief that there is no God or divine. We are attaching to ideas as if they are the reality. The second is a sincere exploration of the difference between our ideas and reality itself.

A CONVENTIONAL EXPLORATION OF THE SECOND ATHEISM

A conventional exploration of the second atheism is what I mentioned above.

We notice our images of God and the divine and reality as a whole. We get to know them. We recognize them as mental representations.

And we set them aside. We know that God and reality is always different from and more than our ideas and maps. We find humility here. We find receptivity. We find curiosity.

We ask God to reveal itself to us – in ways beyond and free from the limits created by our ideas and notions about God and reality and anything.

(Note: I should mention it’s been a long time since I actually read Simone Weil so I don’t know if this is how she would talk about it. This is me, not her.)

ANOTHER MORE IMMEDIATE EXPLORATION

For me, this is how the second one looks:

In one sense, I am this human self in the world. It’s what others, my passport, and my thoughts sometimes tell me. It’s an assumption that’s not wrong and it works reasonably well. It’s also an assumption I need to learn and a role I need to learn to play in order to function in the world.

And yet, what am I more fundamentally in my own first-person experience? What do I find if I set aside my ideas about what I am and instead look in my immediate experience?

I find I more fundamentally am capacity for any and all experiences. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am capacity for whatever appears in my sense fields – in sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, and mental representations.

I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what the world – this human self, others, the wider world, any experience at all – happens within and as.

I find myself as what thoughts may imperfectly label consciousness. I find myself as the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as. I find myself as no-thing which allows the experience and appearance of any and all things. I find myself as having no boundaries and no inherent characteristics, which allows the experience and appearance of boundaries and any characteristic.

I find that another word for the oneness I am is love. It’s a love that’s independent of any states or feelings. It’s a love inherent in what I am. It’s a love often obscured by my very human hangups, issues, and traumas.

To me, the world happens within and as what I am, within and as consciousness, within and as oneness, within and as love. To me, the world appears as what a thought may call the divine or God.

The small interpretation of this is that this is all psychology. As a conscious being, to myself I have to be consciousness, and the world as it appears to me has to happen within and as consciousness, within and as what I am. I cannot generalize from this and say that this is how reality or all of existence is.

The big interpretation says that everything is as it appears. Everything is consciousness and the divine. Everything is God.

If we call existence God, then this is the atheism that is the purification of the notion of God.

This is the atheism that differentiates our ideas about God, ourselves, and everything, from what’s here in our immediate noticing.

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Jonathan Louis Dent: Imagine if we measured success by the amount of safety that people feel in our presence

I want to live in a society that values helping people feel safe. That’s how we all can flourish.

And this is not only about our personal interactions or what happens in groups. It’s also how we structure and set up our society. Do we have social safety nets so people can feel safe from a life in poverty? Do we support people to get the education they want? Do we encourage people to follow their deepest fascinations even if it doesn’t make personal sense to us?

FINDING IT FOR MYSELF

When I notice that wish in me, I know it’s advice for myself.

It’s an invitation to find ways to bring it into my own life.

I can find and choose to be with people who help me feel more safe.

I can help others feel more safe, as best I can.

And, perhaps most importantly, I can support my own inner community in feeling more safe.

HELPING MY INNER COMMUNITY FEEL SAFE

Growing up, I didn’t learn to consistently make my inner community feel safe. I didn’t learn to consistently support and be there for myself and all the different parts of me and my experience.

Why? Because I didn’t receive it from those around me when I was little. They didn’t know how to do it for themselves so they couldn’t do it for me.

So how do I learn to help my inner community feel safe and supported?

The first step is recognizing when parts of me feel unsafe and unsupported. How does it feel?

How do I habitually respond to it? Do I react? Perhaps with some form of avoidance? An avoidance that takes the form of fear, anger, compulsions, blame, shame, guilt, or something else?

What is my conscious inner dialog? How can I change it so it helps my inner community feel safe and supported? How can I do it in a way that feels honest? (Tricking myself doesn’t work.)

What happens if I do heart-centered practices on my images of others, myself, and different parts of me? If I do tonglen, ho’oponopno, or metta? Does something shift?

What are the stressful stories creating a feeling of lack of safety and support? What do I find when I examine these and explore what’s genuinely more true for me? What are my stressful stories about not feeling safe and supported? What am I most afraid can happen?

What do I find when I dialog with the parts of me that feel unsafe and unsupported? How do they experience the world? How do they experience me? What advice do they have for me? How can I best be a friend and ally to these parts of me?

How is it to notice that these parts and experiences have the same nature as I do? That I am fundamentally capacity for it all? That they are happening within and as what I am? How is it to rest in and as that noticing?

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

As mentioned, I did not grow up around people who knew how to consistently do this for themselves. So I didn’t feel all that safe and supported, and I didn’t learn to do it for myself. And that means doing it for others is also lacking, in spite of my best intentions. So this requires a lot of work and attention from my side. It takes time. I still feel I am just a beginner when it comes to this.

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“I don’t know” is the only true statement?

“I don’t know” is the only true statement the mind can make

– Nisgaradatta Maharaj

These type of pointers is meant as medicine.

In this case, it’s medicine for the tendency to take thoughts – or some thoughts – as true.

And as with any thought, it’s not entirely accurate. It leaves something out.

Mental representations are questions about the world, whether we notice or not. They are maps of the world and help us orient and function in the world. They are different in kind to what they are about. (Unless they happen to be about mental representations.) Reality is always more than and different from these maps. And they cannot contain any full, final, or absolute truth.

And that goes for Nisgaradatta’s statement as well. His statement also has limited validity, and there is validity in its reversals.

We can know certain things. We can notice our nature directly. (Our nature can notice and “know” itself in that sense.) We can know things in a provisional, limited, and conventional sense, although these are not final or absolute truths.

His statement is not the only true statement. It doesn’t hold a final or absolute truth any more than any other thought.

In general, I find it helpful to explore pointers in this way and especially pointers from the non-dual world. What are they meant as medicine for? What’s their validity? In what ways are they not so valid? What’s the validity of their reversals?

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Kurt Vonnegut: Everything is nothing with a twist

Everything is nothing with a twist

– Kurt Vonnegut 

This is a surprisingly accurate pointer, especially when it’s specified a bit. 

To me, everything is nothing with a twist.

In one sense, I am this human self in the world. It’s what my passport tells me and how others see me, and I need to be able to play that particular role in order to function in the world. 

And when I look in my first-person experience, I find I am more fundamentally something else. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what any content of experience happens within and as. 

Said another way, I find myself as consciousness. I am the consciousness the world, to me, happens within and as. I am the consciousness this human self and anything else happens within and as. 

All that is just to say that I am nothingness that takes the form of any and all experiences. 

To me, everything is nothing with a twist. 

It’s not a metaphor. It’s not poetry. It’s not even science. It’s direct noticing. 

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What you seek is seeking you

What you seek is seeking you

– attributed to Rumi

I imagine this has been expressed by many through time and across cultures and traditions. It’s an expression of perennial insight or wisdom.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

It’s often used to mean that if we seek something essential – love, or truth, or home, or the divine / God, or our nature – then that seeks us. Or even that it’s seeking us whether we are seeking it or not.

IS IT ACCURATE?

In a practical sense, it seems accurate.

When we seek love, truth, the divine, our nature, and so on, and do so with sincerity, receptivity, honesty, and diligence, and with some good guidance, then things often move and fall into place in ways we didn’t arrange or made happen on our own, or couldn’t have. We invite grace. It’s as if what we seek is seeking us.

In some cases, that grace happens without us consciously seeking it. Something happens that puts us on the path. We receive guidance and pointers without asking. Our nature reveals itself to itself without any conscious interest or intention on our part. Here, it definitely looks as if what we seek is seeking us.

NOT ALWAYS THE WAY WE WANT

When what we seek is seeking us, and when grace happens, it can happen in many different ways.

It can be in the form of a glimpse or shift, meeting someone that puts our life in a different direction, finding a book, finding a guide or community that’s a good match, and so on.

And it doesn’t always happen in a way that our personality likes. It’s not always pretty. What puts us on a different course can come in the form of an illness, accident, loss, conflict, and so on.

It can come in the form of gentle or fierce grace.

IT’S ALWAYS HAPPENING

We can also say that the quote is always accurate. Our seeking is always, in its essence, for the essential. And the essential is, in some ways, always seeking us.

Whatever it looks like we are seeking, we are really seeking something essential. We may think we are seeking comfort, love from another, approval, success, money, admiration, being understood, ice cream, and so on. And even here, the essence of the seeking is a seeking for love, truth, the divine, and our nature. (We can find this for ourselves by taking a surface desire, asking “what do I hope to get out of this”, repeat that question, and see what we are most essentially seeking.)

And even if we are caught up in surface seeking – which we all are at different times and in different ways – what we are essentially seeking is seeking us. Love, truth, the divine, and our nature is seeking us. It’s inviting us to notice the essence of our seeking. And it’s inviting us to notice the love, truth, the divine, and our nature making up our whole experience and reality.

Reality is set up so the invitation is always here. We are swimming in it whether we notice it or not. We are swimming in our seeking of the essential, even if it takes the surface form of seeking all kinds of things. We are swimming in the invitation to notice the love, truth, the divine, and our nature that’s all we know, whether we notice it or not.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

We also have the usual bigger picture.

This is all happening within and as the consciousness we are. The seeking, the sought, the process, the apparent failures and successes, and so on are all happening within the consciousness we are. What seeks and what is sought happens within and as what we are. It’s the consciousness we are taking all of these forms.

It’s the oneness we are going into a trance forgetting itself as oneness. It’s the oneness we are seeking to notice itself as oneness. It’s the oneness we are seeking to wake itself up from the trance.

FINDING IT FOR OURSELVES

I am very aware that this can sound abstract, distant, and convoluted.

That’s OK since this is not about the words. This is something we can find for ourselves.

In a conventional sense, we may appear to be this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that works relatively well, although it comes with some inherent discomfort.

And when we look in our own first person experience, we may find something else. I find I am more fundamentally capacity for the world as it appears to me, for any experience that’s here. I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as.

This oneness is what goes into a trance of taking itself as someting within the field of experience and the rest as “other”. This oneness is what seeks to find itself. This oneness is what seeks to release itself out of the trance.

The essence of this process is to differentiate our mental representations about ourselves, the world, and anything from what’s here in our immediate noticing. The first may tell us we are something in particular within the content of experience. The second shows us we are what our experience happens within and as.

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Am I dreaming or awake, right now?

Whatever we come up with, we may find it difficult to justify the answer. We cannot come up with any watertight argument.

We cannot know for certain. And for a very good and important reason.

To us, dreams and waking life happens within and as consciousness.

They happen within and as what we are. To us, there is no difference between the nature of the two.

This doesn’t say anything about the nature of waking life or existence itself. It also doesn’t say that we shouldn’t take waking life seriously or not be good stewards of our life. It just says something about how this particular question appears to us when we look into it.

And it says something about what our more fundamental nature is, in our own first-person experience. Which, I assume, is why the question was created in the first place.

Cartoon: Drawing by Schulz, text attributed to Stephen LaBerge.

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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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I am held by something older than time

I am held by something older than time

– a social media friend of mine in one of her posts

That’s my experience too.

WHAT’S OLDER THAN TIME?

I am held by something older than time in the sense that it’s more primary, more fundamental, and goes before time. It’s what any sense of time happens within and as. It’s what any sense of space happens within and as.

And that something is my nature. When I look, I find I am what any and all content of experience happens within and as. It’s what time happens within and as.

To me, it’s what time happens within and as.

It’s not something far away or for special people. It’s not something particularly mysterious in a conventional sense. It’s what I am already most familiar with. It’s what takes the form of any and all experience, including time.

My nature is older than time. It’s what metaphorically goes before time. It’s what time happens within and as. It’s the timeless taking the form of time.

HOW DOES IT HOLD ME?

This is what holds any and all experience. It’s what holds any experience of this human self. It’s what holds itself.

My nature holds itself and any and all experience, including of this human self and anything associated with it.

A SENSE OF IT VS NOTICING VS FINDING OURSELVES AS IT

We can have an intuitive sense of this. We can sense there is something here that seems older than time. That’s often what’s expressed in poetry and by some mystics.

We can notice and find it more directly. We can notice our nature as capacity for any and all experience, including time and space. And we can explore how to live from this, and invite the different parts of us – formed within and still operating from separation consciousness – to join in with this noticing and living from it.

And we can, also through grace, viscerally and undeniably find ourselves as that which any and all experience happens within and as, including time and space. And live from and as it, and invite the different parts of us to join in with this.

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Byron Katie: When you walk in a dream and know it’s a dream, that’s love

When you walk in a dream and know it’s a dream, that’s love.

– Byron Katie

Night dreams and waking life both happen, to me, within and as the consciousness I am. In that sense, waking life and dreams are not very different.

And waking life, to me, is interpreted by my overlay of stories making sense of it, from the most basic stories that outline, differentiate, and label, to the more elaborate ones that tell intricate stories. This too is a kind of dream, it’s a layer of stories created by my own mind.

When I recognize waking life as happening within and as consciousness, as happening within and as what I am, there is love. It’s all happening within and as oneness. It’s a love that comes from recognition and is not dependent on feelings or states.

Similarly, when I recognize my stories as stories, and viscerally get that they are stories, it opens for love. It opens for receptivity, curiosity, and love. And this goes for any stories – about myself, others, situations, the world, life, the divine, my nature, and anything else.

Quote: Maybe you are searching among the branches

Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots.

– attributed to Rumi on the internet

This obviously applies to many things in life, including psychological healing and awakening.

In terms of healing, we may try to find resolution through focusing on surface manifestations and single issues.

And for any real healing to take place, we often need to go deeper. We may need to find the essential story behind the issue. We may need to address a whole network of issues supporting a particular issue. We may need to address underlying issues and assumptions supporting the issue. And we may need to address the whole life situation of the person as well.

In terms of awakening, it’s common early in the process to get caught up in and search among the content of experience. We may look for states and particular experiences. We assume that what we are looking for is “out there” somewhere.

And as we find more maturity in the process, we recognize that what we are looking for – our nature – is here across and independent of changing states and experiences. It’s something that can be found and noticed here and now. We don’t need to go looking for any particular states or experiences.

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Zig Ziglar: The chief cause of unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want now

The chief cause of unhappiness is trading what you want most for what you want now.

– Zig Ziglar

Combined with a dream I just had, this quote – which I just saw on social media – helps me see that I have a pattern of doing just that. I have often traded “good enough” or things that are easy and attractive enough for what I really want.

In my twenties, I abandoned a life I deeply loved and that felt deeply right in order to support my new wife in her career and ambitions. Looking back, I see ways I could have done both but I didn’t.

In that process, I abandoned a prestigious PhD (equivalent) program in clinical psychology which deeply felt like the right track for me. Again, I could have taken a short break and picked it up again, but didn’t and waited too long.

These days, I often feel I miss a spiritual community of like-minded people. I have tried out different groups with at most moderate success. At the same time, I know there are groups I resonate deeply with, for instance, Jes Bertelsen’s Vækstcenter in Denmark and the international Headless community, but I have not followed up on either of those. I can easily join online meetings in the Headless community and haven’t so far. (I plan to in the near future.) I can also attend courses at Vækstcenteret relatively easily.

I love Breema and it feels deeply nourishing and whole-making for me, and I haven’t done it much for the last several years, mainly for lack of a local community of practitioners. (I used to live in Eugene, Oregon, with a very active community and was much more involved there.) There is no reason I can’t join the online offerings, plan on going to the Breema Center again, and also offer classes where I am.

I sometimes meet people I feel a resonance with and want to get to know better, but don’t nurture these connections for whatever reason. Sometimes, I think they won’t be interested in hanging out with me and that I am not “good enough”.

It’s not that my life feels deeply off track (as it has at times in the past due to my own decisions based on fear). It’s more that some adjustments are needed, as my dream this morning showed me as well.

So what’s most important to me? And how can I bring more of it into my life?

The most important: Finding my nature and living from this. Truth. Love. Authenticity. Sincerity.

Other important things: Nature and be in nature. Community of like-minded people. Taking care of relationships that feel right and good to me. Meaningful activities – art, community work, sustainability. In short, nurture nurturing relationships and activities.

Also, very important: Being a good steward of my life. Making good decisions for me now and for my future self (as best I can from what I know now).

And some that come to mind appear superficial but there is more to it than meets the eye: Wearing clothes I really like. (I sometimes “save” these and wear OK clothes instead.) Eating the best quality food. When I bring things into my life, choosing high-quality things I really like. (Relatively good with that one.)

What it comes down to is clarifying my priorities with honesty and sincerity. (And setting aside for a while what my personality considers practical or possible.) And living from sincerity and authenticity.

Note: Several things this morning came together to nudge me to take a closer look at this. A friend from the Zen center in the US moved to an affiliated Zen center in The Netherlands a year ago, is very happy with the decision, and encouraged others to follow their dreams. A quote by Sting said something about being willing to risk. And the dream was maybe the main nudge. (In the dream, a Danish woman in Portland, Oregon – which is one of my favorite places – invited us to live in her beautiful house. And I met another woman I felt a deep resonance with who wanted to join our marriage and it felt deeply right for all of us.)

Grant Barrett: If you find yourself angry or irritated by something… it’s probably because you don’t have enough data

If you find yourself angry or irritated by something about language, it’s probably because you don’t have enough data. 

– Grant Barrett, A Way With Words, episode 1594 Familiar Strangers, about 12 minutes in

Yes, the more we understand the background for variations and changes in language, the more we’ll tend to find appreciation for it rather than being annoyed.

For instance, I remember my uncle being upset about changes in the Norwegian language over his lifetime. If we know that language always changes from generation to generation, and that’s why we have different languages and don’t speak the same as our ancestors, we’ll tend to be more at peace with it. It’s just how it is. Language changes with how we collectively change and it’s how we adapt to new places and conditions. We may find that annoyance gives a place for fascination.

That’s how it is in life in general as well.

If I find myself angry or irritated by something, it’s probably because I don’t have enough data. 

I may not know enough about the other person and her or his background and history and current situation, and what they struggle with and how they deal with it. 

I may not know enough about my own patterns and dynamics, and how I deal with the parts of me struggling and in pain. I may not have thoroughly enough found love for what’s been unloved in me, or seen what’s been hidden. 

I may not know enough about the bigger picture. I may not recognize thoroughly enough how everything is happening within and as what I am. I may not know enough about the bigger picture of life and the play of life. 

When it comes to language, we find there is an innocent and often fascinating and perhaps even beautiful reason why language is as it is and changes as it does. 

And in life, the more I understand and examine it, I find the same. There is often an innocent, ultimately impersonal, and fascinating reason why things are as they are. I may even find it beautiful, and sometimes also heartbreaking. 

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Beginner’s mind

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.

– Shunryu Suzuki

Suzuki here talks about a beginner’s mindset, which all of us can benefit from in any area of life. In many ways, it’s our natural state of mind. It’s what we see in healthy children and adults. And yet, we sometimes leave the beginner’s mindset. Why? And what can we do about it?

BEGINNER’S MIND

What Shunryu Suzuki talks about is a beginner’s mindset of receptivity, curiosity, and a readiness for learning.

In a conventional sense, we are somewhere on the beginner-expert scale in any field. We may be more or less familiar with a field than others. We may have more or less knowledge. We may be more or less skilled. And we can still adopt and benefit from the mindset of a beginner.

TWO TYPES OF EXPERT’S MIND

The expert mindset comes in two forms.

One think it knows and closes itself off from new discoveries and learning. It’s immature. And, really, it’s caught up in scary stories about what it means to be receptive and more aligned with reality. This is the one Suzuki refers to in the quote.

The other is more mature and less caught up in fearful stories. It allows the natural receptivity and curiosity of the mind to come out, and it’s consciously more aligned with reality. This is the real expert’s mind. It’s the mind of the ones who are real experts.

TWO TYPES OF BEGINNER’S MIND

Similarly, beginner’s mind comes in two forms. It can be more or less mature and skilled.

An immature beginner may think she knows more than she does. She may think she’ll learn what there is to learn quickly. She may think there is an endpoint and finishing line.

A more mature beginner knows how little she knows. She knows it takes time. She knows there is no endpoint and no finishing line. We can learn anywhere and from anyone. There is always more to learn, explore, and get to know about anything.

THE WAYS WE LEAVE BEGINNER’S MIND

We can leave beginner’s mind in several different ways. In each case, we miss out on discovering or learning something – whether it’s about a topic, others, ourselves, the world, or reality.

For instance, we meet someone who is more skilled at something than we are, this trigger a sense of lack in us, and we react to that sense of lack by telling ourselves we are an expert. We go out of receptivity, curiosity, and interest in learning.

We may be more skilled than the ones around us, they tell us we are an expert, so we tell ourselves we know. We have arrived. And here too, we go out of receptivity, curiosity, and an interest in ongoing learning.

We find ourselves in a situation where something is presented at a basic level, we tell ourselves we know better and have nothing to learn from it, so we miss out.

We find we are naturally gifted at something, float on this for a while, and miss out on real progress.

We can leave beginner’s mind in yet another way.

We tell ourselves we are no good at something, so we don’t even try.

We tell ourselves “she or he won’t like me” so we don’t even try getting to know them.

In my case, I have a pattern of telling myself “it’s too obvious and boring” when it comes to my own insights or familiarity with what I write about here. I often do it with these articles (which is a reason one of three remains unpublished even if finished). Or when I consider sharing these things in another way.

WHEN WE LEAVE BEGINNER’S MIND

If a beginner’s mind works so well, and it’s what we see in healthy children and adults, why don’t we adopt and function from it more often?

The main answer lies in our fears. We have unmet fears and unquestioned painful beliefs. Instead of befriending and exploring these, we react to them. And we react to them by telling ourselves we know and that there is safety in knowing.

We seek a sense of safety in tell ourselves we know. We feel we have something solid to rest on, even if it’s true in only a very limited sense. And this tends to close our minds. We are less open to continuing to learn.

Said another way, we take on a protective identity. Any time we identify with an identity, it’s for protection purposes. We tell ourselves that’s who we are. We find a sense of more solid footing, even if this identity may be painful. And we close down our mind by doing this. We are less receptive to what’s actually here and available to us.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?

Any time I notice I adopt the mindset of someone who knows, it’s a sign I go into a protective identity. I am reacting to my own fears and unquestioned beliefs. And when I notice this, I can explore it in any way that works for me.

For instance, I can use a version of the befriend & awaken process which includes elements from a range of approaches. I notice the contraction in me. Feel the physical sensations. Thank it for protecting me. Notice the painful beliefs and identities behind it, and find what’s more true for me. Explore what this part of me really needs (love, safety, being seen, support?) and give it to it. Notice that my nature is its nature. And so on. And rest in and take time with each of these.

BEGINNER’S MIND & EXPLORING WHAT WE ARE

I suspect Suzuki wasn’t only giving good life advice in the quote. He pointed to an essential orientation if we wish to explore what we are in our own first-person experience.

If we are to notice our nature, we need to set aside what we think we know about what we are. We need to set aside what we tell ourselves about what we are. And instead, notice.

And that requires beginner’s mind.

A BEGINNER’S MIND IS ALIGNED WITH REALITY

Why does the mindset of a beginner work? Why does it help us learn?

The surface answer is that receptivity, curiosity, and an open mind creates the conditions for real learning.

And the more basic reason is that it’s aligned with reality.

There is always more to learn. It’s an ongoing process.

What we think we know is always provisional and up for revision.

There is always someone else who knows more than us about a field or parts of a field.

Even beginners can know more about certain things than we do and we can learn from them.

What we humans collectively know is a drop in the ocean of what there is to know and get familiar with.

Any map – any mental representation – is a question about the world. It’s different in kind from what it refers to. It’s a simplification. And reality is always more than and different from our maps.

What we know and are familiar with is about the past. And what’s here now is fresh and different. (Even when a thought says otherwise.)

And when it comes to our nature, realizing what we are is something we can only do through direct noticing. We have to set aside what thoughts tell us and instead notice. Often guided by structured inquiry and a good guide familiar with the terrain.

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